Several months ago, I wrote that I had misgivings about reviewing books on The Simple Dollar if they had a strong religious theme running through the book. My biggest concern was that I tend to write for a secular audience and when I delve into a book that is heavily threaded with the themes of a particular religion, I run the risk of pushing away people who aren’t interested in swallowing their personal finance advice with the sugar of religious theming.
My conclusion at the time was simple: I’m quite willing to review books with Christian overtones, but in the review, I’d make the theme clear but focus on the advice without the religious aspects.
Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to read several personal finance books with very strong religious overtones. These books attempt in various ways to tie good personal finance behavior – frugality, good investing choices, and so on – to a Christian faith.
Some of these books were awful. Rather than focusing on actual useful advice for readers, the books focused on finding a Biblical verse that backed up every single point and perspective. While that might be a worthwhile read on its own, it becomes a real problem when the writer doesn’t actually apply any theological rigor to the book and uses conflicting and competing quotes in different parts of the book to make different points. Not only did the book not leave behind strong personal finance advice, it also led to confusion about the faith aspects as well.
Other books were much, much better. Instead of focusing on finding a theological backing for each point, the writer would instead focus on the finances and, on occasion, use a very pointed Biblical or theological reference to illustrate a specific point.
I love it when books do this well. If an author can actually illustrate a point with strong examples and references from a variety of authoritative sources, it makes the book stronger. Points don’t appear to be made out of thin air – they actually have weight and reverence.
From my perspective, Christian themes are acceptable – and even welcomed – when they support a personal finance argument that makes sense on its own. They can provide a call to authority that can really resonate with believers – and that can often be enough to encourage people to apply some serious change to their life.
On the other hand, if you attempt to make a personal finance argument using Christianity as the sole backbone, you’re likely to fail. Why? Money does not operate by the same rules that many aspects of life do. You can’t simply apply the rules of common sense and good moral judgment to financial issues and expect immediate success.
In order to succeed with money, we have to know how it works. We can’t just simply blindly apply the rules that work in every other aspect of our life and expect things to work. Instead, we have to learn how it works and find ways to make personal finance success match well with our own beliefs.
In the end, if you want to succeed financially, you need to play (at least to an extent) by the rules of money. All of the faith-based ideas and positive thinking in the world can’t directly turn a nickel into a dime. They can be incredibly positive tools and can put your heart and mind in the right place, but if you walk into the money game without knowing the rules of how that game works, you’re going to run into a lot of trouble, no matter what your intentions.
So, how do I feel about Christian themes in personal finance books? I welcome them – but only if they recognize that Christianity is a powerful guidance to help people navigate the game of money. Money has its own rules – the best we can hope for is to know how to play the game in a way that’s in line with our own beliefs.