Updated on 05.27.11

Theming in Personal Finance: Do Dave Ramsey and Larry Burkett Work Without Jesus?

Trent Hamm

A few days ago, I met an employee of a local Christian talk radio station. We had a nice conversation about a variety of things, ranging from the programming on the station he manages, people we both knew, and so on.

At the end of the conversation, this person gave me a pamphlet describing a local business that offers personal finance counseling locally. This business uses a lot of Christian material in the advice they offer – in fact, I could count twelve different direct quotes from scripture in the pamphlet I had in my hand.

When I took the pamphlet, the person I was talking to immediately compared the people at the business to Dave Ramsey and implied that their advice had an additional strength due to it being Biblically based.

This business – and people like Dave Ramsey and Lary Burkett that mix Christianity and personal finance – ties Christian beliefs and strong personal finance ideas together in ways that reinforce each other.

Let’s see if I can spell it out a bit more clearly. You have a person who is in personal finance trouble and they’re also a devout Christian. Their Christian faith attracts them to a person like Ramsey or Burkett, a person who ties some very solid pieces of personal finance to Christian themes. These tactics work, reinforcing to the person not only that the personal finance ideas work, but that their Christian faith is true as well.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think it’s a very good thing.

In fact, I think a lot of books try similar approaches, tying personal beliefs to personal finance. Your Money or Your Life spends at least some of the pages appealing to community-oriented people and environmentalists. A lot of books focus heavily on women’s issues, mixing some feminism in with the personal finance message.

Here’s the thing, though. The personal finance information provided by these books work without the other material. It’s because of the strength of that personal finance material that it’s able to be coupled sensibly with religious views and secular views, with liberal views and conservative views.

I often look at such material as being something of a candy coating around a bitter pill. To a person who really hasn’t evaluated their personal finances and their future, the things you have to do to find great money success seems really difficult. However, if you can tie the principles to other core values that already exist in your life, the ideas become a lot more palatable.

In fact, as micropublishing begins to take off, the door is open to this type of theming to ever-smaller groups. Personal finance for atheists? Personal finance for liberals? Personal finance for Christian conservatives (well, we already have that to an extent)? Personal finance for Democrats or Tea Party members?

Sure, why not? As long as the personal finance principles are true (and aren’t twisted into an advertisement for buying overpriced gold or other such nonsense), it’s a great idea to tie the core beliefs of someone to good personal finance practices. Why? Good personal finance practices work hand in hand with most human beliefs, and good personal finance practices allow people to be more effective at following those beliefs.

A Christian with good personal finance habits can support a mission. A liberal with good personal finance habits can run for office or financially support candidates they believe in.

Personal finance works. It can support you no matter what your other beliefs are. If you’re finding it difficult, there are almost always powerful ties between your other beliefs and personal finance. Never be afraid to bring them together.

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  1. Marta says:

    Christian based personal finance adds another layer that I didn’t notice you mentioning. It adds CONVICTION. Its easy to blow off something that you’re avoiding, even when you know its good for you. Having a conviction that God wants you to follow this plan can remove a lot of the excuses. Its not so much that the two are compatible, but that they MUST be linked.

    Also many non Christian personal finance couselors may scoff at an in debt person giving +10% of their income in Tithes and Offerings, and advise them to apply that to debt/investing instead. Honoring God with your money is a key principle of Crown Financial, and faith that giving brings financial blessing as well (and I’m not talking prosperity gospel, but that God will meet your needs miraculously).

  2. Doug says:

    One thing I’ve heard Dave Ramsey talk about is linking Christian labeling with commercial endeavors. He noted that far too many “Christians” used religious symbols in their business, and that they usually use them to try and gain a foothold via social networking. “You’re a Christian, I’m a Christian. Hey, you should use my company to pave your driveway!”

    He specifically said that when he sees a cross or a fish on a business card, that makes him more suspicious of the vendor’s motives.

    If you’ll note, the book “The Total Money Makeover” doesn’t feature Christian imagery on the front cover (I’m not sure about “Financial Peace”). Why? Because the message is a good one, and is only strengthened by biblical references. Ramsey doesn’t need Christianity to sell his work; the message is already good. Ramsey uses biblical references to show that people have known about debt being a bad thing for a long time. 3000 years ago, some Jews knew that being in debt was bad. That still holds true today, despite the constant messaging we receive to the contrary.

  3. Kate says:

    I totally agree with Dave Ramsey and his suspicion of vendor’s who flash the Christianity symbol. In our area there was a rash of signage with the 10 Commandments and businesses started putting them up. I do not purchase anything at those stores and I do not frequent stores that use any kind of religious quotes, etc. in their signs or promotional material.

  4. TeacHer says:

    This is something I’ve thought about a lot. Currently, I’m following loose version of Dave Ramsey’s plan (I’ve tailored some aspects of the plan to my own needs) but I resisted this approach for a long time because of the Christian overtones in Ramsey’s work. I’m not anti-Christian by any stretch, I just don’t happen to BE Christian, so I wasn’t really taking his approach as something that would work for me.

    But then I realized that my thinking was just plain stupid.

    If the financial principles are good, who cares if there’s a Christian (or Jewish, or Buddhist, or whatever) overtone to the writing itself?

  5. kristine says:

    @Doug and kate- I agree with you. There is a fine line between making the connection in principals of behavior and faith (as in personal finance), and as in the case of the driveway paver- pimping out Jesus. Sorry to be crass, but when someone uses their relationship with god as a selling point for totally unrelated merchandise and services, that’s what it is-putting it out on the street to make a buck. No different than the moneychangers. Faith profiteering. Ick.

  6. Laundry Lady says:

    I think that the quality of anyone’s work should speak for itself, whether Dave Ramsey, Larry Burkett or your local driveway paver. My husband used for work for a financial planner. He is a great financial planner, and takes the integrity of his work seriously. But he also happens to be a practicing Christian. He has a lot of Christian clients, at least in part because of networking among Christians, but also because of how he conducts himself. He has just as many clients who aren’t religious. He does good work, therefore he attracts clients. If anything his Christian clients like that he understands their commitments to tithing and such, but honestly any good financial planner should be willing to work with a client to help them achieve their goals, whatever they might be. Hiring someone of the same religious faith doesn’t guarantee that you will share the same values or goals.

  7. Borealis says:

    The Bible and probably all religions teach people to think about the future, think about family and other people important to them, and think about more important things than money. Thus, there is a lot of wisdom in religion that is applicable to finances.

    Personally, even though I am religious, I would be skeptical of someone who made their religion much of the sell on financial advice. But I don’t mind, and even appreciate, people who make sense outside of religion but also show some religious integrity in what they advise.

  8. tb says:

    christian personal finance? what does that mean? is it different from methodist or mormon personal finance?
    i could really care less about anyone’s religious affiliation. i care much more about their ethics, morals, and values. being a christian does not guarantee the possession of any of those things.

  9. Perhaps the reason “Christian” personal finance can work without Jesus is because we’ve twisted the message He brought to fit our society’s desires.

  10. BrentABQ says:

    While I suspect that the biblical references are more of a “write what you know” rather than deliberate bias. It does detract from the message for me. It reminds me that Dave Ramsey is not your financial advisor, he is not paid to make your life better. He is paid by selling you books, materials and seats.

  11. Cindy Brick says:

    BTW, Trent, I was surprised (and pleased) to hear you mention Larry Burkett — so few people know about him nowadays, since his death some years ago. But his sage advice predated Dave’s considerably. (There’s also Ron Blue, who’s still around.) A lot of Burkett’s fears for the future have come true, as far as our country goes…see his book The Coming Economic Earthquake.
    I think you’re missing part of the point, though. Part of living the Christian life like you should is acting responsibly. That includes all areas of your life: emotionally, physically, and of course, financially. Of course Christians, like anyone else, deal with crises and hard times, as well as good stuff. Not to be prepared, or dealing responsibly with these situations, is not honoring the Savior whose example you follow.
    That’s the whole point guys like Larry Burkett and Dave Ramsey are making.

  12. Alex says:

    I would love to find a personal finance book for atheists. Hopefully it’s titled “You REALLY Can’t Take It With You”.

  13. Justin says:

    I agree with Trent that most of the financial principles Dave Ramsey teaches can be used whether you’re a Christian or not.

    As several readers point out though, Dave teaches more than just finances. He also teaches that Christians are called to give back at least 10%, whereas people who aren’t Christians can use that first 10% to do whatever they want.

  14. Vicky says:

    I am talking to the Christians here. I am surprised to see it is offensive to Christians that local businesses sometimes identify themselves as Christ followers. The Bible tells us that in the final days we will not be able to buy or sell without taking the Mark of the Beast. Many believe we should form Christian networks where we can barter and trade with one another since the marketplace will be closed to us. Of course, that doestn’t mean exploiting Jesus for profit, but I don’t mind Christian businesses identifying themselves as such. I just found it curious.

  15. Andrew says:

    The problem with anything identifying itself as “Christian” is twofold:

    1. Many people will view the business as cyncially trying to rip off gullible people who sincerely believe.

    2. Many other people will run, screaming, as far and as fast as they can, having identified “Christian” as meaning “bigoted, right-wing, exclusionary, smug, plastic. greedy, and unpleasant to be around”

    Not saying either is necessarily true.

  16. JS says:

    I agree with Andrew. Another problem is that any business that flashes religous symbols better follow the principles of that religion, or people will judge them far more harshly than a business that didn’t affliate themselves with the religion.

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