Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Does Dave Ramsey Promote The Prosperity Gospel?

A recent series of articles, tweets and blogs claim that Dave Ramsey promotes the prosperity gospel. 

That has sparked a number of cyber tantrums, on both sides of the cultural divide.

One more tantrum won't hurt anything! So I want to weigh in.

First, Dave Ramsey does not promote the prosperity gospel. To claim he does demonstrates a lack of understanding of both the prosperity gospel and of Dave's message.

Secondly, as the son of missionaries, I have spent considerable time working among the very poor. I have fought the ills of poverty and ignorance with every fiber of my being and have tried to make the plight of the poor visible to those with more resources. Because of this background, I resonate with those who insist we take into account the systemic and intergenerational components of poverty. Also, I need to say I am not a wealthy person, at least by American standards.

Perhaps these personal features of my life will help establish a measure of credibility for my opinions about Dave Ramsey.

Thirdly, the prosperity gospel is a Christian heresy. It is rooted in Gnostic mysticism. It teaches that reality is spiritual rather than material; that one can create new realities through the purposeful brainwashing of one’s self. In the Christian version, one uses scripture verses as mantras to deny any visible and material evidence that might seem contrary to one’s desired outcome.

Christian Science practitioners are the most articulate presenters of this belief system. The Charismatic Christians who preach the prosperity gospel – which is not a small percentage of them unfortunately -- developed their ideas from a handful of early Pentecostals who had been highly influenced by Christian Science.  The Christian Scientists were, in turn, influenced by Sufis. 

I know. That’s more information that you need in a short blog. But there it is.

Fourthly, Dave Ramsey’s view of wealth accumulation and stewardship is more akin to early American Puritanism and Reformed Protestantism than to the Prosperity Gospel. In short, his views arise from a specific understanding about how Christians ought to interpret the principles of the Old Testament when it comes to managing one’s material resources.

Fifthly, Dave, along with the most passionate warriors against poverty, teaches that poverty is a curse. However, he believes the best way to fight that curse is by developing new character and by establishing new habits. He desires to teach people how to become responsible stewards of those resources under their influence, and, if possible, to multiply them.

In other words, Dave’s beliefs are consistent with Judaism and older Protestant theology when it comes to the acquisition and management of wealth.  We may disagree with his interpretation, and many Christians do, but what he says is most certainly not an endorsement of the prosperity gospel.

Does Jesus and other Biblical teachers say that wealth is spiritually dangerous?

Absolutely.

The Bible says the same thing about sexuality and power. 

It also warns about the dangers of alcohol.

The Bible is rarely black and white because it is a spiritual exercise program more than a rule book. It rebukes workaholism by commanding covenant people to rest one day a week. Then, it turns around and rebukes the sluggard and the slothful.  It is simply impossible to make the Bible into a tool that advances either political liberalism or political conservatism.

Christianity suffers when we mold our theology around secular ideologies. For that reason, we should not pretend that either Rush Limbaugh or Karl Marx are Christian prophets. Christianity has its own ideological grounding. We study what is says and then carefully construct any implications we may see for the fields and disciplines in which we work, including economics.

Victor Hugo’s Jean Val Jean may do a better job than any of our current political leaders as a symbol of Christian economic theory. Better still, I would suggest the teachings of John Wesley or Abraham Kyper. These people began with the gospel and then thought about the implications for economic life rather than use the gospel as a means to advance their presupposed economic theories. 

What Dave Ramsey has done superbly well is to enlighten hundreds of thousands of poor and middle class people about the tyranny of loan sharks, the hypnotic methods of Madison Avenue marketing gurus and the economic slavery that results from falling into credit card debt.

In her critique of Dave’s teaching, Rachel Evans rightly acknowledges that she personally knows many people who have benefited from following Dave’s economic advice. (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/11/30/what-dave-ramsey-gets-wrong-about-poverty/). She overstates her case however when she seems to claim that Dave’s teachings helps the middle class but does not help the very poor.

The fact is, when poor people begin to view themselves differently, they often begin to discover resources they simply did not recognize before. Sometimes, it takes a person like Dave to turn those lights on for people dazed by dismal economic realities.

Evans is also correct about her claim that Dave has become wealthy from the work he does.

Dave, like every other Christian must give an account to God for his stewardship of his wealth. It would be inconsistent though to blame him for being wealthy while at the same time insisting that poverty harms people. I mean, where is the line that one crosses to step out of poverty and obtain an appropriate level of wealth? And, where is the line that separates an appropriate level of wealth from greedy acquisition of too much wealth?

Where are those lines? Who decides? The poor certainly don’t want to be poor and we don't wish them to remain poor. But what if they do so well they go on to become wealthy? Where did they go wrong? How were they to know when to stop building wealth? 

Of course, those are the wrong questions to ask. For a Christian, the right questions are about stewardship and ethical management rather than about one's levels of material resources. 

I abhor the prosperity gospel. However, we must acknowledge that it is more popular among poor people than among either the wealthy or the middle class. And why is that? Well, as a person from Appalachia who spent considerable time in Latin America, I will tell you.

The Prosperity Gospel tells poor people that God wants to deliver them from poverty – right now. Furthermore, God does not even see them as poor. Nor, does God or His people intend to treat them as poor. God sees the poor as already rich, already deserving and already equal to everyone else. All that is left for the poor person to do, says the prosperity preacher, is to accept God’s view and then learn to manifest that reality in the material world.

A lot of poor people find that message refreshing. Thats why they receive it joyfully. Rich people don't get that. Middle class people don't get it either, especially the educated ones.

But here's the deal. 

Some rich people treat poor people with contempt, as though poverty were their own fault. As a pastor, I have observed this attitude many times, although professing Christians usually expressed it subtly. Poor people don't like that.

Some intelligent people view the poor as the helpless victims of unmanageable forces who must therefore be herded (for their own good) into the solutions intelligent people propose. Poor people don't like that either. 

Some people  -- including some Christians – believe that no one is responsible, at any level, for anyone else. In that view, the poor, the ignorant, the handicapped and the addicted are all on their own, unless they happen to have families or churches who care enough to help them. Poor people certainly don't like that. 

In contrast to all these various shades of cruelty, the prosperity gospel promises poor people immediate dignity and prosperity, simply because they are made in God’s image and likeness. It claims that the poor can change their material situation simply by becoming aware that they are God’s children and by becoming generous as sign of their faith in their coming prosperity and as a means of accessing God’s unlimited abundance. Poor people like the sound of that. 

However, the Prosperity Gospel also ends up being cruel because it does not actually offer the kind of instruction that poor people need to rise out of poverty. It ends up being little more than a form of wishful thinking. Nonetheless, it often appears like a raft to drowning people, to people who have believed they were helpless victims of personal and societal forces beyond their control. That's why poor people embrace it. They need something more than a care package or charts and statistics. They need real change but the prosperity gospel can't deliver it.  

Dave Ramsey does offers real hope for poor people. He doesn’t mince words though when denouncing the cruel and empty promises of wishful thinking -- including the wishful thinking promoted by the property gospel. 

“You won’t win the lottery,” he says. "You must accept reality, however difficult."
“Your ship won’t come in if you didn’t send out a ship.” “
“The credit card company is not your friend.”

Unlike many Southern Evangelicals, I believe government plays a valuable and spiritually appropriate role in providing infrastructure to advance the common good. So I believe in government investment in things like education, mass transit and the like. That means I am not an Ayn Rand libertarian, which is incidentally a stance I find as incompatible with Christianity as any form of socialism. I believe that healthy cooperation between private, corporate and government structures produce the best results for the citizens of any given community.

I m quite sure that Dave probably disagrees with me about some that. Nonetheless, I promote Dave's teaching to everyone I can, including the people of the church where I am the pastor.

Why?  

Because I care for the poor.


The main reason I support Dave's work is because he understands one essential thing: poor people need more than help; they need deliverance from poverty. That only occurs when poor people experience a genuine spiritual shift that affects their perspective on life and lifestyle.

However, and this must also be noted, no one can pull themselves up by the bootstraps if they have no boots. That's where Christian stewardship comes in. Because bootless people have no boots to offer their neighbors. If someone like Dave doesn't teach us that, the ones who will be harmed the most are the poor. 

4 comments:

Diane Howell said...

Great blog. You never cease to amaze at how well you are able to communicate through written word. Thank you for taking time out of your crazy busy schedule to post.

Kimberly Wyse said...

I was raised by godly parents who taught me solid financial principles. Although we were never wealthy, and sometimes very poor, we always seemed to have money for what we needed. My parents were good stewards, which often meant I had far fewer toys than my friends, wore discount store clothes, and drank water when we went out to eat. I resented the restrictions placed on me by their carefulness and when I was out on my own, denied myself little. As a result, I ended up drowning in credit card debt. I kept expecting God to swoop in and miraculously rescue me, but I did nothing to change my habits. In my 30s, I realized God wasn't going to honor me for sinful over-indulgence. I got serious and followed Dave's principles, as well as my parents' teaching, and made a huge dent in the debt. When I married, God did provide the rescue that I had longed for. But the principles I learned during that time of extreme discipline have carried through into my marriage. My husband trusts me to manage our finances, something he would've been unable to do before. I've learned that we have money because we show constraint. We live beneath our means and are able to be generous with others. It's one of the most beautiful lessons God has ever allowed me to learn. If only I would've accepted my parents' teaching at a young age... And yes, I believe Dave Ramsey SHOULD be wealthy. He's worked hard to achieve it, teaches the principles to others, and would be weird if he was living in a trailer! He quietly gives away much of his wealth to worthy causes. His arrogance is at times off-putting, but his message is true.

Job561 said...

Amen brother!

Anyone that claims Mr. Ramsey professes the Prosperity Gospel has never actually listened to Mr. Ramsey.

Prosperity Gospel Loser..... I guess said...

John Piper, as much as I love and respect his contribution to the Christian walk as well as the reformed church look and parrellel them selves to the biblical but today modern day pharisees. They comment on churches that they feel haven't been "enlightened" as they have as if they were the varsity church and anyone that disagrees with there lofty but limited knowledge of the bible is junior varsity. They say they preach Christ centrality but have little to no evidence in there churches of the presence of God with evidence of souls saved, bodies healed, or humans delivered. Note these are all things that JESUS did! Srry had to vent about him and his so called depravity focused big business reformed church.

Face the facts people.
Ps. I am a middle class African American and benefited from the wealth teachings in the bible you would probably call the "Prosperity Gospel". My life is closer to Jesus and deeper then ever before.
Take it from a prosperity gospel lay person.
So much division in the church because of this it's childish really.