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A Lutheran view of Dave Ramsey

by Jonathan Conner

If you’ve ever been flipping through radio channels and heard people yelling, “WE’RE DEBT FREE,” then you’ve no doubt encountered The Dave Ramsey Show.

Host and financial guru Dave Ramsey based both the show and his nine-week personal finance course, Financial Peace University (FPU) — a popular program offered by many churches around the country — on the astute premise that “Personal finance is only 20 percent head knowledge. The other 80 percent … is behavior.” Ramsey, an entertaining and engaging speaker, is clearly qualified to motivate course participants to act on the expertise he offers in financial areas ranging from budgeting to insurance, retirement plans to home buying/selling and more. The course format (a highly polished video presentation followed by small group discussion and accountability) is also well designed to maximize lasting behavior changes, leading to “financial peace.”

As the radio show’s callers will attest, Financial Peace University offers a lot to shout joyfully about, including being debt-free. Further, it’s wonderful to have available to us a financial program developed by a Christian businessman who emphasizes the Gospel as well as tithing and giving. Yet Scripture repeatedly exhorts us to preserve sound doctrine (Acts 20:28–31; Titus 1:7–11 and 2:1, 7–8; 2 Tim. 1:13–14, 3:12–17, 4:16), and so we are called to examine Ramsey’s use of Scripture and lovingly offer cautions where needed.

Here’s a brief overview of FPU’s strengths and potential pitfalls.

FPU’s strengths

The plan

Perhaps the greatest strength of FPU is Ramsey’s list of “7 Baby Steps,” which offers beginners a financial plan broken down into concrete, achievable milestones. In summary:

  1. Save $1,000 for emergencies.
  2. Use the “debt snowball” to pay off debt.
  3. Save three to six months’ expenses for emergencies.
  4. Invest 15 percent of income into tax-favored retirement plans.
  5. Save for children’s college.
  6. Pay off your home early.
  7. Build wealth and give.

These steps, along with the budget (next paragraph), form the backbone of FPU.

The budget

“You will either learn to manage your money or the lack of it will always manage you,” Ramsey says. He insists on a written cash flow plan — a budget — that must be done “on purpose on paper every month before the month begins.” He emphasizes the benefits of budgeting not only to achieve personal financial peace, but also to strengthen relationships and generous giving.

The proverbs

Scripture, especially through the proverbs, provides wise counsel for daily living. Ramsey leans on biblical proverbs throughout FPU, regularly citing wisdom such as “My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, have given your pledge for a stranger … save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter” (Prov. 6:1,5), and “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Prov. 22:7).

FPU’s potential pitfalls

The proverbialization of Scripture

Ramsey makes a clear presentation of the Gospel in Session 9, even grounding our giving in the giving nature of God. He clearly believes that true peace (even financial peace) cannot be achieved apart from the Prince of Peace. Yet it must be lovingly pointed out that, in his motivational enthusiasm to make a point, he consistently misuses Scripture. His aforementioned strength of relying on proverbs at times becomes a weakness, as he lifts verses from their context and transforms into financial advice verses that simply aren’t. For example, Ramsey repurposes Jesus’ words in Luke 14 about counting the cost of discipleship — a passage that has nothing to do with money management — to teach the necessity of making a budget.

Overstatement

Ramsey boldly proclaims that FPU presents “God’s ways” of handling money, a method for “being biblical in finances.” Charitably, Lutherans would interpret this as an overstatement that tests the limits of accuracy. Particularly after the cautions above regarding misquoted biblical texts, it would be more accurate to assert that the course offers “wise ways” of handling money — and of that there is no doubt.

Unqualified statements and buzzwords

A dynamic stage personality, Ramsey often caps verbal crescendos with energetic exclamations: “God thinks you’re awesome!” “That’s how you win with money!” “That’s God showing up!” These statements play well, but they can all too easily veer into error. God is indeed favorably disposed toward us — because of Christ. We “win” with money — when we see it through the lens of vocation, as a means through which God provides for us and our neighbor. God indeed “shows up” — not because we do something to unleash His blessing, but because He has graciously promised to be with us in His Word and Sacraments.

Despite these concerns, Ramsey nonetheless offers an outstanding, proven resource that can help you get your finances in order, to the benefit of yourself, your neighbor and the Church!

The Rev. Jonathan Conner is pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa.

This article originally appeared in the September 2018 print edition of The Lutheran Witness. For a more thorough review of FPU, along with a thoughtful positioning of FPU and an in-depth theological evaluation, download “Financial Peace University: Preview and Review,” a free resource from LCMS Stewardship Ministry

7 thoughts on “A Lutheran view of Dave Ramsey”

  1. I think the main purpose of this program is to not be indebted to anyone in order to build personal wealth so you can reach your goals and give to others generously. This goal is in no way sinful and it would benefit all of us well to consider steps to follow to make this happen. The old “Just because you want it doesn’t mean you should get it” mantra is a very helpful

    If you are in great debt AND can filter out the bible garbage, Ramsey’s program can work for you. You MUST be able to dismiss the guilt, and the God will be more pleased with you part.

    Pros –
    1- proven track record if you can stick to the rules.

    2- Teach yourself to figure out wants vs needs.
    (If you NEED a new fridge, you do not need to buy the $1200 one. OR if you want the $1200 one, find it cheaper buy buying used on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace! We got a $1200 one for $400 this way!)

    3- Give to the Lord. You can start small, but give to the Lord. HE doesn’t need your money, but you need to train yourself to think of others before yourself.

    I understand the financial steps he lays out and why, but I do take issue with a few.
    1- He charges $500 to take his course!!!!! Seriously?!?

    2- not all debt is SINFUL. Is it better to not be in debt? oh yes! Credit cards may be a huge problem for some and a huge blessing to others. Pay them off completely each month and with the right kind of card, you can earn anything from cash back to frequent flier miles! This is wise use of credit cards! Shoot, we paid off the last 18 months of a variable rate loan that hit 7% by transferring it to a 0% for 18 month credit card! It saved us a bundle! Dave Ramsey would not have been happy with us!

    3-You do not need to pay off the smallest amount first! This might be helpful to you if you need to have a quick success to motivate you to continue, but structly financially speaking pay the debt with the highest interest rate first will save you the most money! If you can move any of your debt to a lower interest rate card, by all means do it!!! In fact, you can call a credit card card company and request a 0% or 5% rate for xx months if you do a balance transfer to their card! (Just make sure the amount of money you will save during those xx months will be greater than the transfer fee.)

    4-You do not HAVE to pay for your child(ren)’s college educationk outside . I know it is expected these days, but no, you are not denying your kid anything if you do not save for that for them. It is not a bad thing for a person to learn to figure out a way to get that thing that they want. They may need to attain their goal in a non-traditional way, but that is not bad either.

    5. – One more. 18 months to pay off a gazillion dollars of debt?? Ok if you are mismanaging $120,000 a year, maybe, but many of us do not come close to that income base. It is not a race. The sooner the better, but sometimes it will take 3 or 4 years. Sometimes getting two extra jobs is not even an option due to time commitments to your best paying job and your family.

    I say this as a Pastor’s wife of ten kids. My husband has only served small congregations that have never paid anywhere close to district scale. It can be done, but it takes commitment, determination and often creativity. What motivates us is that if he’d ever loses his job, we do not want our home or cars repossessed.

  2. I find it very hard to take seriously one who claims to be a Christian and who sprinkles his conversation with “frickin” this and “frickin” that. His conduct belies his Christian profession.

    The tithe is an Old Testament law practice, found in two or three places in Scripture. If one reads them, one learns that, when a worshipper brought a tithe, he and his family got to eat a portion of it at the Tabernacle/Temple. Outside of historical references to the tithe, the New Testament never prescribes it. The instructions on giving are to give out of a grateful heart. If we are to tithe as a matter of law, we also should be sure that our clothing is not made out of two types of yarn or put tassels on the four corners of our clothing (Deuteronomy 22).

  3. Delwyn Campbell

    Insofar as Ramsey’s course is about behavior modification, it leans heavily on the Law, as behavior modification programs tend to do. His misuse of the tithe, a common practice in contemporary Christianity that I have also seen in the LCMS, treats money the way the Scriptures treated living and growing things – specifically fruits, vegetables, and domesticated livestock. Even though money existed at the time that the LORD instructed Israel concerning the tithe, neither silver nor gold was included among the items to be tithed.
    Using Dave Ramsey is no different than using Aristotle’s “Ethics.” It’s good from a “Law” perspective, but empty from the perspective of the Gospel, because it’s stated purpose is behavior modification, not salvation

  4. I agree with the first post. This is a faith based financial class, not a financial based faith class. The class never proposes itself to be a bible study – far from it! It’s all about getting your own house in order, for your future and so that you can live, and give, generously. Something that broke people without a plan have a hard time understanding. Generosity is encouraged throughout Dave’s teachings, something you would think would be applauded by the Church.

  5. Your issues:

    -Luke 14 being nothing about money management: Jesus said that you should count the cost before building a “tower” insinuating it would be foolish (and poor stewardship) to not do so. That statement IS related to money. It’s not his overarching message, but that portion is directly talking about financial stewardship.

    -Overstatements: When he says that “God says you are awesome” he is describing why Jesus died for each one of us and why, in turn, we should have a giving spirit. There is no issue present.

    -How you win with money – the best way to win with money is by not sending it to banks and credit card companies.

    Show me 1 place in the Bible that God’s people are blessed by debt or debt is spoken of highly. There aren’t any.

    ———-

    People receiving hope from Dave’s program are not being led astray. This class leads people out of debt so they have margin. People don’t donate when there are bills to pay to keep the lights on and food on the table. Broke people don’t feed poor people.

    Is his class the be all end all for theology? No! He even says that it isn’t a Bible study…the principles are time tested and the wisdom continues to bless many families. As a Synod, we should embrace this class, not throw stones at it.

    Brett L Jacobitz
    6 time FPU coordinator

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