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four years later: dave ramsey déjà vu

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Monday, December 2nd, 2013

four years later: dave ramsey déjà vu

over the past 5 years, there’s been a handful of posts here on this blog that have struck a chord and taken on a life of their own, still generating conversation and driving traffic. for the most part, they weren’t expected and certainly weren’t planned. it happens unexpectedly and organically.

one of those posts was right around 4 years ago in which i posited that mega-popular financial author and radio personality dave ramsey was little more than a prophet of the american dream, rather than a purveyor of a financial perspective that reflects the way of jesus. since that post went live, i’ve had countless people challenge me on my position (some, in fairness, who have been thoughtful and open to dialogue) and even 1 person (whom i had never met previously) who took me out to lunch to unexpectedly ambush me with a prepared defense of ramsey (trust me, it was as weird and awkward as it sounds…).

while the dave ramsey disciples are greater in number now and are just as intense as ever, i’ve watched with great interest as a recent dave ramsey controversy has rippled across the internet. what i suspected (and proposed) four years earlier is finally seeing the light of day by many more people. in a strange way, it’s been a relief to watch it play out.

i was first turned onto its origins a couple weeks ago via a tweet from dave bazan.

i encourage you to read the linked article for yourself. i began writing a post shortly after reading it, but it never made it out of draft status. plenty of others had already chimed in and many more have since then. the general consensus is that the post on ramsey’s site (not actually penned by ramsey, in fairness) is offensive, short-sighted, divisive and ultimately, unhelpful. the response was swift, but the more pointed and thoughtful responses came after ramsey offered some additional commentary, in which he called critics of the article “ignorant” and “immature”.

as per usual, the most thoughtful and helpful response was penned by rachel held evans. she said precisely what i was thinking and eliminated the need for the post that i begun but never published.

much like my post four years ago, she begins with due praise, saying,

Much of what Ramsey teaches is sound, helpful advice, particularly for middle-class Americans struggling with mounting credit card bills. I have celebrated with friends as they’ve marked their first day of debt-free living, thanks in part to Dave Ramsey’s teachings and all those white envelopes of cash he urges his students to use instead of credit cards.

she quickly, though, turns the corner.

But while Ramsey may be a fine source of information on how to eliminate debt, his views on poverty are neither informed nor biblical.

in my post post years ago, i suggested that ramsey is more concerned with the american dream than the way of jesus. rachel held evans agrees, saying,

For Christians, Ramsey’s perceived “direct correlation” between faith and wealth should be more troubling than his other confused correlations, for it flirts with what Christians refer to as the prosperity gospel, the teaching that God rewards faithfulness with wealth.

Ramsey’s particular brand of prosperity gospel elevates the American dream as God’s reward for America’s faithfulness, the spoils of which are readily available to anyone who works hard enough to receive them.

But such a view glosses over the reality that America was not, in fact, founded upon purely Christian principles (unless one counts slavery, ethnic cleansing, gender inequity, and Jim Crow as Christian principles), so we should be careful of assuming our relative wealth reflects God’s favor. (The Roman Empire was wealthy, too, after all.)

my goal (and i believe rachel held evans’ goal) isn’t to besmirch dave ramsey. the pragmatics of much of his financial advice are good and have excellent, proven results. but underneath the surface of that advice is very dangerous and non-jesus-like views on poverty and the poor. here’s to hoping more and more of ramsey’s disciples begin to see below the murky waters.

as always, the comment line is open. 😉


  1. bonniecasad says:

    Its been a while since I’ve come around (your blog), but I wanted to comment anyway! First, the Ramsey debacle served to justify my own dislike of the man and his teachings. I was interested to see his response to his critics as petty and misguided as I would have expected. Second, I’m a long-time fan of RHE, and I like to see two worlds collide. 😉

  2. Larry Dunham says:

    My biggest problem with Rachel Held Evans’s criticism of Dave Ramsey isn’t that she disagrees with him; everyone has a right to their opinion. It is that there is so much in her piece that simply isn’t so.

    The advice on diligence found in Proverbs that Ramsey likes to quote has absolutely nothing to do with the “prosperity gospel” which teaches that God is obligated to provide fabulous wealth to the believer who has faith and gives the right amounts to the church.

    The “20 Things…” post on Ramsey’s site was designed to show correlation, not necessarily causality. People who have a written financial plan are more likely to achieve their goals than people who do not, but a plan is not a guarantee of success.

    Her idea that long-term poverty in America is a “systemic” issue is just silly. A child can now go from Kindergarten through college with no out-of-pocket expense, but how many people in poverty take advantage of that, versus how many drop out? Many schools are not great schools, but even the worst school still has math books, English books, history books–there is still an education to be had–the number one problem children face is not any kind of societal neglect, or racism, it is parents who do not push their kids to excel in school, and get out of their situation.

    There is a shortage of hope, but that is not the fault of society–there is nothing standing in their way but a lot of hard work.

    Ramsey’s point is that the disciplined, prudent approach to life taught in the Bible pays financial dividends, not just for personal aggrandizement and selfish indulgence as the “prosperity gospel” teaches, but to have enough to provide for one’s family and help others. Held Evans needs to point out why that approach is a problem for her. Perhaps it doesn’t fit in with her agenda for everything to be provided by a government program with wealth extracted by force from productive people and 80% funneled to bureaucrats instead of making its way to people who need it.

  3. Just Plain Bill says:

    I listened to a Dave Ramsey interview with Mark Cuban and found it enjoyable to hear Mr. Cuban’s perspective. He is a very successful businessman and has made a lot of money. But at the end of the interview, Mr. Ramsey referred to Mr. Cuban as “living the dream.” That struck me as if to say, “isn’t it just great to have accumulated such wealth.” I contrast that with my first memory verse as a new Christian mentioning “abundant life.” If that’s what Mr. Ramsey means about “living the dream” then funny how that verse never caused me to associate “abundant life” to TV Show celebrity or sports team owner. While I like a lot of what Dave has to say, I conclude he’s double minded. In Christian mode, he quotes Scripture looking to be blessed and be a blessing. In empire-building/accumulate wealth mode, the Bible does not hold sway so much as he responds to disagreement with derogatory comments (“ignorant”, “immature”, “God, what a moron.”) It would be great if his response to disagreement made people think of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned Galations 5. As for the verse in Timothy that starts with, “They that will be rich….” I’m not sure meditating on such a verse spurs the Spirit filled believer to make wealth such a goal so that the super rich are considered to be “living the dream.” I also agree with Larry Dunham’s rebuttal of some of Rachel Held Evans’ criticisms. She speaks of wealth inequality as “injustice.” What would be just, in her view, then. There’s a parable where the Lord says, “Take from him that has one pound and give to him that has ten pounds.”

    • Larry Dunham says:

      I understand completely your comments about Dave Ramsey’s public treatment of people who disagree with him. I don’t know him of course, so would find it difficult to defend or explain why he sometimes is rude to people who have different ideas. If I were him, I would hope I would simply point to results from people who have followed my suggestions, rather than engage in name-calling.

      In his defense he quite often admits he is imperfect and that he sometimes loses patience with people when he should not. I have heard him criticize people on the air, then come back from a break and walk back some of the harshness of something he said before the break.

      As an imperfect person myself, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and not expect personal perfection of him. In any event whatever his peccadilloes, they are not related to the value of his advice.

      One hundred dollars a month for 40 years at 12% return (historical annual return of S&P 500 for the last century) would come to $1.3 million, enough to provide, in todays dollars, $52,000 per year for the rest of that person’s life, adjusted each year for inflation, without the money ever running out.

      Not a billionaires existence, but enough for a debt-free person to have a decent house and car, food and healthcare, with enough money left over to travel to see the grandkids once in a while, and still be able to pay for an occasional car repair for a poor single mom at church, without worrying about whether Congress votes for an increase in their Social Security check that year.. That’s not the “prosperity gospel”, that’s the abundant life, and it’s freedom, and it’s what Ramsey calls people to.

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