The Unpopular Truth About the Dangers of a Dave Ramsey Only Approach to Christian Finances

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No one wants to write a post like this. It’s so easy to be misunderstood and misinterpreted. It also makes me, the author, sound like a grumpy young man.

But, something’s been troubling me. So, I feel like I must write this post.

I’m concerned by the direction Christian finances is heading.

To be blunt, I’m concerned about the amount of Christians who allow Dave Ramsey to be the sole authoritative voice on Christian finances.

Let’s also clear one thing up from the very beginning of this article – I’m not simply criticizing Dave Ramsey in this article. I’m concerned about how many Christians are magnetically attached to his teachings as if they are infallible doctrines.

Why I’m concerned:

Dave Ramsey is everywhere. You can turn on the TV and watch him. You can look at a billboard and see him. You can turn on the radio and hear him.

I recently did a search for Financial Peace class locations and was amazed at the number of churches hosting the class within the local area of where I searched.

Dave Ramsey is extremely talented. He is a brilliant man. A talented entertainer. A gifted marketer. A God loving Christian.

Ramsey is a voice, but he should not be the voice in Christian finances.

I think the Christian church in North America is heading in the wrong direction when it allows, encourages, and endorses Dave Ramsey and his principles to be the sole voice of Christian finances.

His advice (like all advice) has an important place for a stage in our lives. However, I think every Christian should eventually graduate beyond the Baby Steps program and reach for a stage of extravagant giving.

Again, this is an indictment of ourselves, not Dave Ramsey.

Carrots are good, but if you only ever eat carrots, I’m going to be concerned. Some sweets are nice, but go overboard with it, and I’m writing your parents.

That’s why we have the food pyramid – to help us balance our diet. I think Christians need a similar type of financial pyramid that help us challenge members in all aspects of Christian finances.

Why I don’t believe Dave Ramsey should be the sole, authoritative voice on Christian finances:

I had a whole list of reasons here, but deleted them because they seemed too harsh and judgmental. Instead, I’ll simply ask you a question.

If Jesus were planning a financial seminar, would he invite Dave Ramsey to speak? ¬†Would you hear his ‘amens’ echoing throughout the seminar, class or video?

I think, at the very least, Jesus would sit through the seminar, class, or video, and at the end he’d say, “OK. That’s a great start, but we need something else to flesh out these teachings.”

Should we stop listening to Dave Ramsey, stop reading him, and stop hosting Financial Peace classes?

Absolutely not!

Using his materials will really help people – especially those Christians in debt. However, I think we must realize that his approach to finances could be dangerous if that is the only one that we’re listening to.

Who else should we as Christians listen to?

Ron Sider – after reading the book Just Generosity by Ron Sider, my wife and I were excited about starting the graduated tithe. To this day, that decision is very close to the best financial decision I’ve ever made.

Hey, I disagreed with a lot of stuff that Sider had to say about government programs, but I listened to his voice and was changed for the better because of it.

Larry Burkkett – God clearly had his reasons for calling Burrkett home when he did. I wish he was still able to provide us with godly advice. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Burkett is that he desperately wanted to be sure his financial principles came from the Bible.

A.W. Tozer and Tim Keller (Counterfeit Gods and The Pursuit of God). You’d think that a guy who writes a blog about Christian finances wouldn’t be impacted by books that helps us identify the possibility that money could be a god in their lives. As I read these books, I felt convicted that God wanted more of my time, attention, devotion and love.

Randy Alcorn – guess what? Another person I don’t 100% agree with. In fact, I’m not sure we’re on the same page when it comes to an ‘eternal perspective’. But, I’m 10,000% glad that I read the book. It helped me develop what I believed is a healthier way to look at money.

Craig FordTransforming Your Financial Diet. Yes, this is my book, but I won’t write something that I don’t support! This book goes against the grain. It’s intended to challenge Christians to embrace a completely different vision for their financial lives.

My final challenge to churches and Christians:

At one point in my life, 95% of what I knew about money came from the Lampo Group (Dave Ramsey’s company). Without any hesitation, I would say my view of money is much healthier and much more likely to honor God once I broadened my financial horizons.

For Christians who have only read material by Dave Ramsey, I challenge you to read one of the books or one of the authors listed above. Be prepared to reject some teachings, but be prepared to discover new areas where you need a financial transformation.

For churches who have exclusively taught Financial Peace, why not consider rotating another teacher / curriculum / perspective? I’m not calling for any churches to drop Financial Peace, but to add additional voices to the mix. From my survey and questioning, it seems like most churches only do Financial Peace.

Churches must help Christians discover these other sources of financial wisdom.

Now all we need to do is find someone who can market and entertain us with a counter-cultural financial message, and we’ll be golden.

Thoughts?

Was I too harsh on American Christians? Do you think a Dave Ramsey only approach is unhealthy? Are you or is your church guilty of only teaching Ramsey’s information?

Comments

  1. Devin says

    I think that you are much too easy on Dave Ramsey. I see him as a self promoting loudmouth with many conflicts of interest who rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Just because someone promotes themselves as a Christian doesn’t mean you can give them an automatic pass for whatever they are selling.

  2. says

    Craig,

    I couldn’t agree more that there needs to be some alternatives to Dave Ramsey and there ARE so much better budgeting tools out there. Dave has done a wonderful job with awareness, marketing, and getting everyone “jazzed up.” But there is definitely a lack in updated materials. I’m leading an FPU group right now and the DVD’s are the same as in the mid-2000′s. The budgeting tools are not easy to use, nor effective (and are not even included in the price of FPU!!!)

    I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to help people take the next step with their budgeting, goal setting, and getting to the point of extravagant giving. Your book, “Transformng Your Financial Diet” is a huge step in the right direction.

    I also developed some tools, started with simple Excel file and then became a whole portfolio of tools that provide a step-by-step or cookbook-style approach to creating one’s budget. All are a fraction of the cost of FPU and will get you started with meat and potatoes right away to quickly exit the stranglehold of debt and becoming all what God made you to be.

    Anyone can check those out at http://www.budgetingmoneytips.com But I’m not here to sell, this is a ministry for me. But I want everyone to be aware there are OTHER CHOICES OUT THERE!!!

    Peace,

    Mike Kastler
    Budgeting Coach
    http://www.budgetingmoneytips.com

    • says

      Mike,
      I do think that this is one area of weakness in the Ramsey work – the products he recommends or creates. Take budget software as an example, the tools he has are not very good at all. There are other (better) products out there. I haven’t used your tools, so I can’t comment on them.

  3. R Lanotte says

    In the early years of this century, our church offered the Crown Ministries curriculum. My husband and I took the class. At the time, I felt is was quite scriptural with a strong foundation in the Word. I do remember at the time feeling that some of Christ’s parables were taken out of the context and applied in ways they were never intended to be applied, but I couldn’t argue the point that parables use already established earthly truths to illustrate spiritual truths, so this never became a big concern for me.

    Now our church offers only the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace class. It draws participants from all over the city (Colorado Springs, CO) and appears to be well-attended. I’ve looked at Dave Ramsey’s website and read some of his books. Can’t say that I’ve had any “ah-ha” experiences as a result. The methodologies he employs really aren’t that different from others I’ve read about over the years.

    I would say that the biggest difference I’ve noticed is that Mr. Ramsey is definitely a showman and with his info-mercial style, seems to really draw people in, generating much enthusiasm for “getting with the program” and losing the debt. Crown Fininancial Ministries had a God-centered focus in their mission and approach 12+ years ago. That might have changed, but listening to their radio spots, I don’t think so.

    I’m in my 50′s, so I’ve also been exposed to other teachings and teachers: Ron Blue, Mary Hunt, Charles Stanley (produced a series on stewardship and money management in the mid-90′s), Craig Ford :-), and others. The initial book I read in the late 70′s that really helped me get a straight head about personal finance for a Christ-follower was a paperback by a woman titled something like “It Only Hurts Between Paydays” and published by a Baptist concern.

    So, should a church exclusively offer only Dave Ramsey and Ramsey-esque programs to teach proper financial stewardship? No, especially when there are so many excellent God-focused, Word-based resources available.

    R Lanotte

    • says

      Thanks for sharing so many valuable insights. I don’t have much to add, but I would like to say that I agree. I like your thoughts about Crown as well. The reality is that it is difficult to find a ‘perfect’ program. As we use resources and tools we need to be sure we are supplementing the course with other ideas to balance out areas of weakness.

  4. Emily M says

    I agree with you 100%. Everything in moderation is key. I agree with DR on several points- paying down debt, saving for emergencies, etc. However, I don’t agree with Dave when it comes to having no credit history. Unfortunatly, I listened to this advice for far to long. Now, when mortgage rates are low and home prices have dropped, I do not have enough credit to buy and I’m stuck renting at high rates. I’m not going to blame DR- he’s done what works for him. It’s my own fault for not having a more diversified view. Thanks for writing this post. I hope people listen.

    • says

      Emily,
      I could see how that advice could have a negative impact in your situation. I agree that we shouldn’t obsess over a credit score, but it will impact us at different times in our lives.

  5. Pamela McNeff Smith says

    I agree with you, and I think Dave Ramsey would as well. I actually facilitate Financial Peace University, and during the last class, I teach on working out your own financial situation with God just as you have to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Example: If my husband and I were to follow Dave Ramsey to the letter, we would not be saving for retirement yet. But, the fact of the matter is that our employer has a double-matching program: you put in up to 5%, they put in up to 10%. We prayed about it, and the answer was to take the retirement contribution. Are we debt-slayers? Yes, we are. Do I use an envelope system and have a written budget? Yes, I do. But do I only “listen” to Dave Ramsey? No.

    Dave Ramsey has a gift of putting finances in order, and showing others how to do it. His ministry/program is blessed because God is a god of order ( read Numbers and Leviticus if you don’t believe me), and he helps people eliminate fear of their financial situations. But talking about finances is a lot like being a doctor. No one doctor can know everything about the human body – no one person can know everything about finances. So I read and educate and listen to many source of information because Mr. Ramsey can’t know everything. That’s just a matter of wisdom. Proverbs 15:22 Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.

    • says

      Pamela,
      I love the fact that you mentioned Dave would agree as well. I think that’s true.
      I’ve openly admitted on this blog that my posts could be dangerous in the wrong hands. I guess we all need to take responsibility for what we’re learning. We should sift through the material instead of accepting everything without serious consideration.

  6. says

    Dave Ramsey is one voice in a broad spectrum of voices. Back when I was 21…I had a lot of debt… and I listened to John Cummuta’s “Debt Free and Prosperous Living” system… and it worked! So when Dave Ramsey entered the scene…I avoided reading his material.

    But then I picked up the “Total Money Makeover” from the library, and I read it, and it made sense to me.

    Some people need a kick in the butt to get their finances in order.. and Dave Ramsey provides that in abundance.. if others want a softer approach… then can look elsewhere.

    As people read from multiple personal finance authors, you’ll find where they agree and disagree on particular subjects… and it would be prudent for one to take ideas from multiple experts and find what works for you.

    • says

      David,
      There are many people who found Dave Ramsey at just the right time and found is material very helpful. Lord willing, those same people will, as you say, broaden their horizons and read from multiple authors. I’ve found that folks who don’t write directly about finances have had a significant impact on my finances too. This is because of the relationship between spiritual life and finances.

  7. Lionel says

    I agree totally with what you wrote in your article. I have taken the Crown Financial classes and the perspective is somewhat different. I believe that we named a broad view on finances as long as it is biblically based.

  8. kk says

    I’m glad you have written this perspective on Christian finance programs and authors.

    My husband and I are leading the Dave Ramsey FPU currently at our church. We have also gone through and led the Crown Financial Ministries studies in the past. Both programs can inspire people to delve deeper in their faith and finances. Both programs do not go far enough for the personal application aspect of really applying the principles to individuals.

    I feel that we must have a personal responsibility to keep studying and reading a variety of personal finance and Christian perspectives. It is up to us to really apply what we learn in order for real changes to occur in our lives.

    I believe that each person responds differently according to where they are in both their faith walk and their financial situation. God will open our eyes and hearts at a particular time for me to learn something and apply it where I am. I can study one subject in a particular season in my life and it will affect me then I can re-study the same material and it will affect me in a completely different way.

    It is still ultimately up to me (not the instructor or program) to apply anything I learn into my personal faith walk and financial situation. Too many people expect a “pill or magic” system to get them out of tight places where their own poor decisions have led them. Unfortunately this is the way our culture is at this time–quick fixes or running away from the problems.

    I am happy that there are a variety of programs and educational materials available. The first step-starting to get your financial house in order is important. As we become more educated-we realize just how much we really don’t know…

    Hopefully, we will develop a hunger for more ways to delve deeper and grow. Our faith walk is a life long journey not a destination…

    As with any subject–It is up to us to verify the truth and accuracy by studying, knowing and applying the Word itself.

    I agree that it would be good for churches to offer a variety of Christian financial learning opportunities and studies.

    • says

      kk,
      I think one thing I did underestimate in this post is the value and importance of the facilitator. A good teacher could take this material and comment at the right places and introduce a variety of subjects. Almost everyone I know tweaks lessons and material to improve it. Thanks for helping me see that.

  9. Meg says

    We agree. We also like Randy Alcorn’s perspective on money in The Treasure Principle. We appreciate your resources and would like to encourage Christians to be committed to making money for the purpose of giving. Another aspect of Dave Ramsey that is concerning is his harsh remarks towards those who struggle with decision making and money. Our words need to edify and uplift as well as be constructive. Anyway, thanks for the thoughts.

  10. says

    I think there is plenty of room out there for a variety of voices out there, Dave Ramsey, Crown, Alcorn and all the others as well. I think different authors and speakers speak to different people at different times in our lives, and I think God can use Ramsey, Alcorn or whoever to reach someone for Him.

    As far as Ramsey goes, I think he’s kind of an interesting case. He is marketed pretty heavily to Christians, and is taught in a lot of churches, but it isn’t exclusively a “Christian program”. As such it does play to a non-Christian audience as well and doesn’t dwell on Christian topics. Because of that I think some folks that are looking for more of a Christian focus with more in depth discussion of faith topics may need to look elsewhere. The reason I think a lot of people use his program though is because it’s entertaining, and it’s very effective. It actually helps a lot of people.

    For me I think Ramsey can be a good starting point if you’re trying to get your finances in order, but it’s important to check his teachings against the Bible, and against other experts in Christian finance..

    • says

      Peter,
      There is indeed a value to multiple voices and we need to listen to different advice at differing points in our lives. I think some of the other material (say Alcorn) will create more deep spiritual thought and consideration with finances. Perhaps some of the material will be more spiritually beneficial in the long term.

      The Christian element of his show is interesting. I know that most Christian radio stations won’t play him because of his language. However, many of those churches also teach his materials.

      Thanks for the comment.

  11. says

    I totally agree with what you are saying. BUT … but you (as well as most Christians) might not agree to (or believe) what I have to say about this. I believe that Dave Ramsey is a Teacher. I’m not doubting that. But I believe as Ephesians 4:11-13 states is that Christ gave more than just ONE teacher (namely Dave Ramsey) to equip the church in financial matters.

    The text reads, “And He [CHRIST] gave some, APOSTLES [plural]; and some, PROPHETS [plural]; and some, EVANGELISTS [plural]; and some, PASTORS [plural] and TEACHERS [plural--NOT just Dave Ramsey; for the perfecting [MATURING] of the saints, for the work of the ministry [especially if their ministry is in the realm of BUSINESS], for the edifying [building up] of the body of Christ [the temple of God]. TILL [Till or until is a time word meaning--indicating the point reached, as far as, i.e. up to a certain point] WE ALL [THE WHOLE CHURCH] come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”

    I believe Christ has given ALL five of this ministries (even some who specialize as their niche in financial matter) UNTIL the church is mature, operating in their ministry (or business), built up and UNIFIED! The church is OBVIOUSLY not YET any of these things. So I (personally) believe until ALL FIVE of this ministries and ministers (PLURAL) are recognized and functioning properly then the church will not be all these things. But the church WILL be all these thing because the Word has SPOKEN it. Jesus gave (and will continue to give) ALL five of these ministries (even in the realm of business {Dave Ramsey is a financial teacher}) UNTIL the church grows up.

    I believe their are financial apostles, financial prophets, financial pastors, financial evangelists, even financial elders/bishops, financial deacons, and financial saints out there like a lot of you brothers and sisters who have posted and commented on this subject. Many of you are modern day/end times financial leaders. We need more than a financial teacher (singular) like Dave Ramsey to grow the church up in financial matters, especially if the wealth of the sinners will come into the hands of the just who shall live by faith. YOU PEOPLE who made a comment are it! Go out and start growing up the saints and unifying them in money matters.

    As Jesus would say, “Go and do likewise!”

    Christ bless and love you all!
    Ricardo Butler

  12. Loreann says

    Gotta agree with you here. I don’t think any ONE thing or person (except Jesus of course) is 100% right for EVERYONE. We are all unique and I think we all benefit from a variety of information.

  13. Bill says

    I agree that we don’t all have to follow Dave Ramsey’s way of doing things. In my experience, I have read books by other authors and found them useless. Dave addresses an area that I have never heard taught anywhere else and that is the emotional aspect of money. I was not convinced that debt was not a good thing until I went through FPU. I also didn’t think my credit cards were a problem until I went through FPU. Once we dealt with those two things, our financial situation improved greatly. But I also understand that credit cards are not as big of an issue for some like it is for me.

    Dave says himself that most of what he teaches is from Larry Burkkett. He just packages it differently. That packaging made all the difference for me.

  14. says

    Let me add one more to your list of suggested reading – our book, Money & Faith in Motion. Our company is affiliated with the credit counseling industry, and we wrote this book with guidance from a local Bible college. While Dave Ramsey has done good things, his “no credit” approach simply isn’t practical for everyone. Our book will teach you how to budget, manage credit carefully, and encourages sound money management so that people have enough resources to bless others.

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