Dave Ramsey’s ministry was a God-sent for my wife and I a few years back when poor money management forced us to move in with my in-laws for three years. I’ve written about our story before and how Dave’s Financial Peace University literally changed our lives. It taught us to be faithful stewards with the money and jobs God provided. To honour God with the little things in life. To be wise with what we have. And in the process, it brought about greater peace and less stress in our home.
Yet being the armchair scholar that I am, I couldn’t help twitch at some of Ramsey’s biblical claims. Particularly when he starts talking about tithing – that Christians must tithe 10% each week because the Bible says so. News flash, it doesn’t.
But I had to put aside some of the nuances of Ramey’s claims and remember that he’s not a biblical scholar or theologian. He’s not operating or functioning in those roles, neither is he claiming to do so.
So when Christians attack Ramsey for his “Pelagian ways” (it happens!), I roll my eyes. Unlike most of his critics who depend on soundbites and the least generous interpretation of his comments, I actually took his course. He’s not putting works before faith.
Most recently Rachel Held Evans swung Thor’s hammer in an opinion piece she wrote for CNN about what Ramsey gets wrong about the poor, using statistical soundbites from an article on his website which correlates the habits of the rich and the poor. She states
“One need not to be a student of logic to observe that Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor.”
I read the original article. Nowhere does Corey suggest that “these habits make people rich or poor.” The original article simply had a title and a list of statistics. No such confusion exists there because no such claim was made either way.
Rachel interpreted the article to be saying that Dave and Corey were suggesting that certain habits “make” people rich or poor. Then based on her interpretation she accuses them of “confusing correlation with causation,” a conclusion drawn by her astute “logic”.
I’m hoping you see the irony.
I read the article and interpreted it differently. What Corey and Dave were suggesting, it seemed obvious to me, was that our habits contribute to our state of being. This isn’t exactly a news flash. I’ve heard statistics by leadership expert Michael Hyatt on how most successful people go to bed early and wake up early. I never took that statistic to mean that if someone has the habit of going to be late and waking up late, they cannot be successful. That would be an ungenerous and false interpretation of the point Michael Hyatt was making. Just as Evans does here to Ramsey. They weren’t confusing “correlation with causation.” Rachel’s “logic” was based on her interpretation of the information they provided. [See Update at the bottom.)
As a Christian I’m compelled to challenge Evans ungenerous assumptions about Dave’s teaching. He is her brother in the Lord. So I have to ask myself why she would jump to such preemptive conclusions, then plaster her opinion of his teachings all over a secular media source prompting scoffers in the comments to make claims like:
“just one more in a countless line of scammers using a bronze age book of stories to squeeze money out of gullible fools. It’s been going on for 2000 years!”
This is why it is so important for Christians to address each other in Christian venue’s. The image of the Church is already in disrepair and I think Evans’ taking to CNN to offer heavy-handed accusations to a fellow Christian does Christ more harm than good.
Rachel, please put down your hammer and stop whac-a-moling other Christians.
She then goes on to say that Dave’s teaching “flirts with what Christians refer to as the prosperity gospel, the teaching that God rewards faithfulness with wealth.” She then takes a small, subtle step forward from “flirts” to “brand”:
“Ramsey’s particular brand of prosperity gospel elevates the American dream as God’s reward for America’s faithfulness, the spoils of which are readily available to anyone who works hard enough to receive them.”
So now he’s not just flirting with the prosperity gospel. He’s actually got his own “brand.” I’m not going to defend everything about Dave Ramsey and what he believes. He seems to fit with the American Evangelical who thinks that America is special in God’s eyes. But let me reiterate that, unlike Evans, I actually took Dave’s course. I’m no fan of the prosperity gospel, and I can testify that Dave is far too down to earth to be lumped in with that crowd. His “correlation” is based on principles – not promises. If you take the time to listen to a few of his radio episodes you’ll hear as people call in with their personal situations that he does not offer a “pie in the sky,” “just have faith,” flat generalized answers to every dilemma. He tries to offer wisdom and practical advice and, yes, sometimes suggests that at the end of the day we need to trust in God. Who’d disagree with that?
But as someone who is put off with the prosperity gospel – and as someone who actually took his course – I can tell you that Dave’s prosperity message amounts to this: We are blessed in this country (are we not?), so let’s not squander what God has blessed us with by living in debt. His message is definitely built on capitalism (so if you like Cuba’s economics, Dave’s message isn’t for you). If you’ve managed to get out of debt than where do you go from here? Well, you begin to accumulate wealth. But at every step along that way Dave encourages and teaches “giving.” This is a large part of his message that is sorely overlooked in Evan’s opinion piece.
In fact, she pummels Dave’s “brand of prosperity” with verse after verse like:
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.”
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
“… nor riches to the intelligent”
One could be left with the impression, from Evans’ a-contextual proof-texting, that people with money are doomed to hell. I’m assuming that Evan’s is not saying that. But her article doesn’t make any qualification to suggest otherwise. I just have to assume the best of her, hope she would do the same for me, and sit here scratching my head wondering why she wouldn’t offer any similar courtesy to Dave – her brother in the Lord.
And, by the way, to the best of my knowledge Dave has never said that the only cause of poverty in the first world nations is laziness or anything like that. Generalizations are the unfortunate necessities of anyone who would dare speak meaningfully about any given subject. Could Dave incorporate a few additional qualifications in his work? Sure, probably (as Evans could). But as a commenter on CNN aptly put it:
“If you’re looking for a public figure who takes on all social and economic injustices in a political way, you’re looking in the wrong place if you’re looking to Dave Ramsey and you’ll undoubtedly have a skewed perception of the value and impact of his teachings. His talent addresses a specify issue in America…”
‘Aint that the truth?
We are not all Shane Claiborne’s; we are not all Rachel Held Evans’; we are not all Dave Ramseys’. If Rachel were suddenly to turn her attention to helping countless people get out of debt, I’m sure Dave would have much to criticize her about. That’s not where she’s at. She’s got a different ministry. Is every part of what she teaches square on all the time? Her critics would beg to differ. But she’s good at what she does, no one can doubt that. It’s the same with Dave.
And here’s the big point for me that Rachel is missing. I’m sitting here in our humble home, writing from a paycheque to paycheque income with a wife on maternity and a new baby girl. I’m writing from the perspective of one who grew up in “the projects” surrounded by friends and communities that depended on government cheques and welfare just as we had.
I’m in the perfect place to shout praises to Rachel’s heavy article. Except that what my life taught me – my life raised in some of the poorest communities in Windsor, in the projects, surrounded by cockroach invested homes and on welfare, a life Rachel fights to give dignity to – what my life taught me is that what matters in terms of a persons financial wellbeing, more times that not, is not how much money someone makes. But how they handle the money they receive. Rachel’s dislike for Dave’s generalizations doesn’t make them any less true.
And that’s where Dave comes in. With a practical eye on general truths about the economic society we live in, he offers principles which are shared in the scriptures – places like Proverbs (would Evans have any use for the sweeping generalizations in that biblical book?), for helping people get out of debt.
And I think that’s a ministry that would benefit the poor much more than some “social activist” running around defending my right to be poor.
Words are cheap. Don’t defend my right to sit next to a pond. Don’t keep me dependent on you by tossing me a salmon from time to time. Teach me to fish, please.
And the truth about me. I’m sitting here typing this article in a home that has my name on its deed. Three years ago I did not believe I’d ever own a home. As a child we moved every three to five years because we lived in geared to income housing. Having a stable place to raise a family was just not a future I ever imagined being a part of.
I’m not boasting except to say, thanks Dave, for your ministry.
UPDATE #1: December 3, 3013 – 2:00pm
When I first read Corey’s list on Dave’s site, my starting point was that Dave and Corey are reasonable people. With that positive assumption I read the list as a look into a correlation between the habits of the rich and the poor.
Dave updated the post with a response to critics who preemptively concluded the most negative scenario and Rachel seems to have been responding to that as much as the list itself. This blows my mind a bit because I felt like Dave really laid to rest his concern for the poor, his understanding of the complexity of society and so on.
But the line that gave Rachel opportunity is this one:
“This list simply says your choices cause results. You reap what you sow… There is a direct correlation between your habits, choices and character in Christ and your propensity to build wealth in non-third-world settings… the only variable in the discussion you can personally control is YOU…”
Rachel gets hung up on the word “cause.” But “reaping and sowing” is a biblical principle (not promise). In other words, there is a correlation between reaping (in this case, our habits) and sowing. Dave goes on to explicitly use the word “correlation.” When he used the word “cause” he obviously meant it in the sense of “correlation.” This is the confusion that Rachel seems to be building her article on.
She then had a choice. Assume Dave meant “correlation” and that he misused the word “cause.” Or Assume that Dave, in confusing “cause” and “correlate,” meant “cause.” She assumes the latter because, frankly, the former would have made for a much less eventful one sentence article:
“Dave Ramsey, on his site, used the word ’cause’ in place of ‘correlation.’ I’d beckon him to correct that error. Thank you. ~ Rachel”