for many people, dave ramsey—christian financial author and radio personality—is a financial messiah. he has droves of ardent disciples and masses of ready-and-willing evangelists. try googling something having to do with dave ramsey criticism and you’ll quickly find blogs or forums in which hordes of his disciples adamantly tell the critic why ramsey is the next best thing to the second coming of jesus.
so why do people so steadfastly follow ramsey?
let me propose my hypothesis: dave ramsey teaches little more than the american dream cloaked in simplistic biblical selling points.
allow me to unpack a loaded statement like that a little.
i should start with some qualifiers.
1. i think some of the pragmatic principles ramsey teaches are certainly not bad things. it’s good to pay off debt. it’s good to not be shackled by credit cards. it’s good to set aside emergency money. but……pragmatics are not my problem.
2. to be completely transparent and vulnerable, i don’t write this as a person who has my finances all figured out. let me just keep it real: we have a pile of student loans from my graduate studies, we basically live paycheck-to-paycheck and we could do much better in cutting out some of the non-essentials (like eating out or cable). so, just know that i speak into this not as a financial expert, but someone who is simply jesus-oriented (which i’ll get to in more length).
3. as just stated, my fundamental starting point for any financial conversation—or any conversation, for that matter—is a jesus-centric perspective. now, as i often say, you and i both may root our perspective in jesus values, but we may end up with very different ways in which that plays out. in this case, though, i’m simply making the point that my interest primarily lies in understanding what it means to live in the way of jesus and not just what it means to make good pragmatic financial decisions (like saving or investing or retirement issues or whatever).
alright, those are the qualifiers, so let me now jump into my argument.
my fundamental issue with dave ramsey’s plans are not, as stated, with the particular pragmatics, but the overall guiding values. if you’re not familiar with dave ramsey or his schtick, his fundamental plan revolves around 7 “baby steps”:
1. $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund2. Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball3. 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings4. Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement5. College funding for children6. Pay off home early7. Build wealth!
Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’”The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.