The Rich, the Poor and Dave Ramsey
A few weeks ago financial advisor Dave Ramsey set off a furor when he put on his web page an article entitled 20 things the Rich Do Every Day. It drew contrasts between the habits of the rich and the poor. It started simply as a posted list without commentary but quickly drew the angry rebuttals of many, believers and unbelievers alike; you can read some of the more thoughtful ones here and here. Many of the responses were a lot less kind. As a result Ramsey has since expanded the article to include replies to the furor.
I’ve pondered this subject for a while before weighing in because, as always, I find the ground a lot muddier than people on both sides seem to think. To being with, some time back Peggy and I went through Ramsey’s Financial Peace seminar. We found it very helpful and I can credit the improvement in our financial state in large part to adopting some of the principles he taught.
Even as we took the course however we frequently analyzed and discussed its teaching. We saw some things as practical to us; some as not needed or wise; and some as too simplistic for the economic realities we were in. We also saw some danger in that, for the very poor, there was no real way to enact his plan in total and live. If you take his advice literally you could boil it down to a simple four steps.
1. Get rid of all debt.
2. Live on cash alone.
3. Pretend that no need will ever arise that you can’t pay cash for.
4. Blame yourself if they do.
I doubt seriously that Ramsey himself would ever use that four-step metaphor; he is merely teaching taking, as best as you are able, personal responsibility for solving your problems, an altogether sound idea. But his words have been lost in a fog of left/right politics where the game of blame the rich vs. blame the poor reigns.
Not surprisingly, since Ramsey is a Christian and takes at least some of his teaching from his understanding of the Bible, our faith has been dragged into it. In fact, many Christians, on both sides, can be said to have eagerly jumped into it. The net result is that Ramsey and his supporters have engaged his Christian detractors in a very public war of competing theologies of wealth and poverty. Quotes taken out of context fly back and forth and the whole thing probably leads non-believers to assume that if people who love the Bible can be that far apart on what it teaches what chance do they have of understanding it?
So what can we know for sure? And how can we take that knowledge into practice? Here are some favorite conclusions of mine.
– The God of the Bible is overwhelmingly concerned about the poor and needy.
– He clearly wants His followers, in both the OT and NT, to be concerned as well.
– He reserves some of His harshest language for the uncaring rich.
The OT includes a fair amount of specifics on treating the economically downtrodden, little of which can be easily applied into today’s culture. The NT has some, but less, in specific. This is not an accident. I feel that God is essentially putting the problem out there and handing us the ball. It is up to us to respond. This, of course, will lead to dissention and difference. I am OK with differing ideas, in fact that is to me one of the strong points of a democracy. But here is my warning to my fellow evangelicals –
By and large, the evangelical team has sided with the small-government conservatives. We give them “biblical” cover for opposing government-based solutions. If we want to say to the government, and to the left, that they need to butt out of the solution process we need to demonstrate and provide caring, faith-based answers to the problems that are really out there.
“The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.” Proverbs 22:7&8.
It is interesting that the first half of that is foundational to Ramsey’s teaching while the second half is loved by the left. Is it any wonder God chose to put those verses side-by-side?