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to the dave ramsey disciples: beware of moths and rust

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Friday, August 7th, 2009

to the dave ramsey disciples: beware of moths and rust

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 Fund

2. Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball

3. 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings

4. Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement

5. College funding for children

6. Pay off home early

7. Build wealth!

ok, on most of this: fine. again, the pragmatics are fine. whereas i have multiple reasons for planning to not pay for my childrens’ college, if you so choose that, fine. from a pure financial standpoint, there are some debatable points (like paying off small debt first, the particular types of investments he suggests, etc.), but overall it’s fine.


as a jesus follower, i have a major beef. in essence, my problem all boils down to the essential trajectory of his schema: get rich.

now, the first thing the ramseyites would argue is that this isn’t the point. they would argue that it’s accumulating wealth so that you can give it away. no doubt, ramsey talks quite a bit about giving, giving and giving. he talks about the fact that giving helps us to be selfless people. i absolutely agree. the problem is that—as my hypothesis states—this is not what ramsey’s plan is fundamentally about. it’s about, 1.) amassing wealth and then 2.) giving a little away. again, my hypothesis: dave ramsey teaches little more than the american dream cloaked in simplistic biblical selling points.

the biblical selling point is that you simply amass all this wealth to give it away. that’s the cloak. what’s underneath the cloak? amassing wealth. that’s the american dream part.

“so what’s so wrong with living the american dream?”, you ask.

well, i guess nothing if following jesus isn’t your primary worldview. amassing wealth ≠ following jesus. don’t get me wrong. i’m not saying wealthy people can’t follow jesus, but i am suggesting that seeking to stockpile wealth is incompatible with following jesus.

brace yourself for a difficult exchange (luke 18:18-23):

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.

dave ramsey? what sayest thou?

yes dave, it does allow you to buy a luxury vehicle (like you drive) with cash instead of credit. yes dave, it does allow you to invest in high risk growth funds and build greater profits. yes dave, it does provide for the “security” and “protection” of your family’s future.

but at what cost? i have little interest in preparing for my family’s future in pure monetary means. i do have interest, though, in teaching my children that when you make more than what you need, you don’t buy stocks, but you give it to people who don’t make what they need. i want to teach my family to be sheep instead of goats. i want to teach my family to not be concerned with moths or rust.

jesus living has little to do with building wealth. it absolutely has something to do with positioning yourself to be able to give away your surplus, but that doesn’t mean amassing cash reservoirs. it means living more simplisticly. it means cutting away the things that keep us from seeing the needs of others. it means forgetting about “making sure my kids are better off than i was.”

i’m not saying dave ramsey doesn’t have many, many good ideas. i could certainly stand to use some of his principles involved in paying down debt and eliminating the need for credit. but, i hope to never chase the american dream, even if it is bathed in bits of biblical feel-good undertones.

thanks for listening dave ramsey disciples. the comment line is open. 🙂


  1. Morgon77 says:

    In the meeting with the rich young ruler, the only commandment that Jesus didn't mention was envy. Which can also be stated as greed.

    He knew the young man's heart. He knew the one thing truly standing between the young man and being able to follow Christ. And then he challenged him to face it and give it up.

    I think that it's very dangerous to treat this passage as a condemnation of wealth, as I've known many people who can be very prideful about being poor, in which case it's obvious that there are other major road blocks in their lives. And as I'm sure you're aware, it's very possible to be poor a lot of the time and not be very spiritual at all in it.

    At the same time though, yes, Ramsey's message is very much about the American dream.

    Which falls very much under the Greg Boyd question, "Are you a Christian American, or an American Christian?" Which one is the adjective, and which one is the actual noun that you are?

    Money and the various necessities that we're convinced that we need can be an amazing grip on us. How much do we hold back from serving Christ because of what we're convinced that our family's need, that they won't have if we aren't there working or spending so that they can have it?

    That, if we lived far more together, sharing together, wouldn't be a problem?

    But that wouldn't be very American.

  2. ryanByrd says:

    thanks, todd, for bringing out a very good point that i certainly wasn't very clear about. i definitely do not think that the story of the rich young ruler was singularly about wealth being bad. my point was more about the amassing of wealth and the disciplined, strategic, ardent pursuit of wealth.

    i should have been much more clear about that. and you make another great point when you talk about being prideful of poorness, but yet having no spiritual value in that. i've certainly fallen victim to that mentality many, many times.

    thanks for the great comments.

  3. Tania says:

    Don't know if you have ever read much about the late Rich Mullins. OMG. He was NO perfect man, but I respected his view on money.
    I've read that Rich never knew how much money he actually made. Sounds a little careless, huh? Though he made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, he asked his accountant not to tell him. That way, he wouldn't be tempted to keep some of it. All his income went straight to his home church. He told them to give him enough to live on. In the 1990's, he ended up living on about $25,000 a year. Because he was a minimalist, he still had thousands in the bank at the end of the year!
    He wasn't trying to get wealthy. He gave away everything he had. He believed material posessions and money were to be used, not collected.
    Before I got married, I became disgusted with how much "stuff" I had collected. I began giving away everything and simplifying my life. There's something about clearing out the clutter…and sometimes it opens our eyes to how much or how little we have invested in eternity.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think that most of us have already "amassed wealth" if we are compared to everyone in the world. We are already living the American dream.

    Most in the world don't have a nice home, a big screen TV, a dependable vehicle or an internet connected mobile phone. All things that even the lower middle class take for granted here. I think we should all the aware of the perspective at which we view things.

    Even those of us who aren't "rich" by American standards could do much more to get Biblical about giving and sacrificing things that we think we need.

    I try to remember this every time I am tempted to upgrade to the HD package or to upgrade to an iPhone or any other number of acceptable monthly fees. I try to think about how many people in Africa could drink clean water if I just did without the thing "I just have to have."

    Just some thoughts. I am just as guilty of these things myself. I say modify DR's baby steps.

    1) Pay off/get rid of as much as you can.

    2) Help as many people as you can with the result.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I would like to point out to the original poster that Baby Step 7 as you have quoted is not how Dave states it in his FPU program, Build Wealth and Give a BUNCH of it away, not a little as you have alluded. I have taken FPU and it has brought me closer to Jesus than what I was before because it has broken the chains of bondage, “The Love of Money”. Whether it was your intention or not you make it sound like Dave is in love with money. He denounces this in his FPU program and points out that the love of money is the root of all evil, seeing as how money is amoral and it is us humans that make it good or bad. He uses the brick analogy that he can either build a shelter with it or throw it through a window but having a bunch of bricks doesn’t make a person bad or good. I would like for you to consider the possibility that a person with out a lot of money can be in bondage to the love of money and vice versa.

    “The Great Misunderstanding” lesson is where he explains that we were knit in our mother’s womb, more like crocheted, by the ultimate giver, God. Since we are created in his image, God, and he knit us in our mother’s womb then we must be givers. He also goes on to say that if we are not giving then we are not acting according to our spiritual DNA. Dave talks about giving throughout his program and explains that we should be giving through the whole process and that giving will increase as a result of paying off debt, controlling our money, and making wise purchases. He teaches that we are to be good stewards, not of the 10% that we tithe but of it all because God owns it all!!!

    I would also like to point out to you that in Proverbs 13:22 it says “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children.”

    Also there are more than 800 verses in the bible on money, why do you suppose that is? Because God knew how money could get in the way with our relationship with him. Think of it this way, the love of money can cause us to drift, just like when a car is out of alignment it drifts. So in order for us to come into alignment with God we need to get money out of the way, if your not worried about paying the bills do you think you might be a little more focused on him? If people are out of debt do you think they might give above their tithe? Let me ask you this also, what could the people of God do for the kingdom of God if they were out of debt? How much more could you give if you had no debt?

    Maybe just maybe it might be a little easier for people to do what God has called all of us to do if we are managing God’s money God’s way. What happens when we tithe? I’ll tell you, God pours out his blessing on us and not all of his blessings are spiritual. How much better will he clothe us compared to the birds and flowers?

    Oh and by the way Dave is fundamentally all about being a good steward and that the borrower is slave to the lender. I believe a slave is usually in chains but most definitely in bondage. I know that Jesus died to free us. So tell me how Dave isn’t Jesus centric? Dave is all about changing people’s behavior so that they can live without bondage and become more like our creator in giving. As my Mom would say clean up around your own porch first. Or if you prefer pull the plank out of your own eye before you help take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

    In his lessons he talks about helping others by sharing the budget forms, debt collector information, as well as tithing and giving.

    You make it sound like you are better than him because you’re poor and Jesus centric. I think what the real issue is that you are disguising your love for money with a cloak of spirituality. I bet your religious and like to tout your works. In case you didn’t know God hates religion. He wants a relationship.

    I challenge you to go through FPU but with an open mind and heart and listen to what God speaks to you about what Dave teaches and then come back and post what God spoke to you about Dave’s teachings which are God’s teaching.

  6. Jason says:

    Well said, anonymous! Dave has helped my family (including elementary age children) learn to handle money using God's principles. It has freed us from the slavery of debt, and allowed us to become more involved in ministry because our time and money were freed. Dave Ramsey is no Jesus, but he clearly loves and follows Jesus, and his teaching points to the savior. And there is a lot of proof in the fruit.

  7. AJ Rice's Mommy x 2 says:

    FPU has saved my marriage- because Dave showed my husband and I the weay to manage money the way God wants us too. Before attending FPU we were barely putting anything in our church's collection plate. Now we have it as our first budgeted item.

    Unless you have read his books, or attended FPU then I am not sure you are one to judge. Maybe you should try the debt snowball method for handling the student loans you have.

    I am praying for your family and you that God leads you to FPU and the path towards financial peace.

  8. Natalie says:

    You should probably take the class and apply the principles to your own finances and spiritual walk before bashing the program. FPU has changed lives, marriages, families, and churches for the better – and not just financially! If you had taken the class you would have heard Dave talk about the virutues of giving, the evil of greed, and the goal of getting out of debt to use your greatest wealth building tool – your income – to retire with dignity AND give like never before!

    Good luck!

  9. JustJan says:

    FPU is a great program. In the interest of full disclosure, have been a coordinator for 9 classes and I am an ELP for tax services.

    Dave is trying to get folks to be better stewards and to think about their finances from a biblical perspective. Dave's ministry would not be necessary if churches had been teaching folks to stay out of debt and live on less than you make. However, most churches limit teaching on stewardship to a few Sunday morning messages a year that say "you really ought to give more/tithe."

    With that said our FPU classes emphasize that saving up riches won't save you. You cannot buy security. This recent hitch in the economy has been a wonderful opportunity to remind folks that you need to do all you can to be a good steward of your money, time and talents, but they are ALL gifts. We should put our trust in the God who provides, not in the stuff.

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