Dave Ramsey ignited a twitterstorm last week on his radio show when he advised “Dan in Washington DC” that it didn’t make him a “bad Christian” for evicting a tenant who could not afford an inflation-driven rent increase. News sources including TMZ and The Wrap had a field day bashing Ramsey’s advice, at a time when rising home and rent prices are making it difficult for many people to obtain affordable housing, and when many cities are feeling overwhelmed in grappling with how to address the growing number of displaced persons.
Whether or not you agree with Ramsey’s advice, the current rent rant exposes a deep deficiency within the Financial Peace universe that has long been felt, but remains unaddressed. The issue is this: Our financial problems do not end when we get out of debt. They just morph into new ones. Wealth has an amazing power to deceive us.
When we go from a negative net worth to a positive one, money can retain it’s power over us by seamlessly shifting from fear to love. And whether you fear it or love it, money still owns you. That’s why Jesus warned,
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."Matthew 6:24
Ramsey has helped thousands, if not millions, of people with his message to be responsible and get out of debt. But the deeper question remains. Have they been set free from money as a master?
True financial peace finds its hope in God alone.
Twenty-two years ago, as a young accounting professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I read through the entire Bible highlighting every passage I found on wealth. I ended up with 115 pages, single spaced, 12-point font. When I classified the verses into 22 categories, I was surprised to find that debt came in dead last. In fact, I found no command in the Bible to get out of debt, except perhaps Apostle Paul’s writing to the Romans (13:8),
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”
Indeed, Ramsey’s call to get out of debt hinges on the oft-quoted one half of one Proverb (22:7), “and the borrower is slave to the lender.” Clearly no one want to be a slave. Point taken. QED.
When it comes to debt, however, the Bible says much more to the lender than to the borrower. Specifically, God commands the lender to be merciful, to lend money to the poor without usury (Deuteronomy 23:19, Psalm 15:5), and to return a person’s cloak at night taken as security for a loan (Deuteronomy 22:13). Jesus went even further.
“And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked."Luke 6:34-35
Ultimately, how Christians handle wealth should reflect God’s character. His “kindness, justice and righteousness” (Jeremiah 9:24). Ramsey tends to emphasize justice at the expense of kindness and righteousness.
In the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, Jesus gives what I think is the most succinct command to Christians when it comes to handling money well.
“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."Luke 16:9
When we use our wealth to love others as God loved us, we fulfill the Great Commandments. And when he gets the glory, so that people see him for who he is, we fulfill the Great Commission. In so doing, we use worldly wealth to gain friends forever.
Returning to Ramsey’s advice to Dan, he emphasized the justice that underlies any basic understanding of economics. The owner has the right to fair rents, which includes raising rents commensurate with inflation. Moreover, Ramsey twice repeated Jesus’ oft-quoted Golden Rule, “Treat others as you would want to be treated.” He even identified opportunities to exercise mercy on an individual basis—in his case, carrying a tenant who had cancer rent-free during her time of need. To this, I say, “Kudos to Dave!”
Could Ramsey improve his bedside manner to listeners who are facing difficult times? Undoubtedly.
Could he focus as much on God’s kindness and righteousness as he does on his justice? This would go a long way to quell his legitimate critics—those who aren’t just misquoting him to promote their own agenda, or to demonize Christians at large. Only Ramsey knows how much of his advice was given to keep simple his message of personal responsibility and debt reduction.
Ultimately, Ramsey’s motto, “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else,” is not worth the paper it is printed on for Christian who don’t understand that it is freedom from money as a master, not getting out of debt, that really matters. “What good is it if you gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?”
It is not enough to “live like no one else” if you don’t intend to go on “to live like no one else.” And this takes wisdom, as we follow Jesus advice to use our worldly wealth to gain friends forever.
John Thornton is the L.P. and Bobbi Leung Chair of Accounting Ethics at Azusa Pacific University, and author of Jesus’ Terrible Financial Advice: Flipping the Tables on Peace, Prosperity, and the Pursuit of Happiness.