If Christian Personal Finance Can Work Without Jesus, It Isn’t Christian!

June 27, 2011 — 18 Comments

       About a month ago, Trent at The Simple Dollar posted an article titled Theming in Personal Finance: Do Dave Ramsey and Larry Burkett Work Without Jesus?. Trent says he thinks it’s a good thing when people tie Christian beliefs with good personal finance advice in a way that reinforces both. He goes on to say that the personal finance information in many books that do this would work without the other material (the Christian parts).

       I agree with Trent. Good personal finance advice is good personal finance advice. It doesn’t matter if you dress it up with Bible verses or political views. Spending less than you earn is always going to be good advice. Saving for future needs is wise. Avoiding ridiculous consumer debt just makes good sense.

       But I find his initial question interesting. Do Dave Ramsey and Larry Burkett (‘s advice) work without Jesus? In other words, can Christian personal finance advice work without Jesus? And my answer is that if it can, it isn’t Christian!

What Makes Christian Personal Finance Christian?

       Here’s what I mean. If all the advice that any “Christian” finance guru gives can work without Jesus, then the advice itself is not Christian. If Christian personal finance blogs are just giving the same advice that all other personal finance blogs give, then there’s nothing uniquely Christian about them.

       Now I’m not saying that Christian personal finance advice should not include any of the same material as “regular” personal finance advice. As I said before, good personal finance advice is good personal finance advice. It doesn’t really matter where it comes from.

       But for it to be Christian personal finance advice, it needs to be consistent with the message of Christ.

Twisting Scripture

       On Trent’s post, I left a comment saying, “Perhaps the reason ‘Christian’ personal finance can work without Jesus is because we’ve twisted the message He brought to fit our society’s desires.” You see, if Christian personal finance advice just takes regular personal finance advice and dresses it up with a few carefully chosen Bible verses, then it’s just twisting Scripture to fit in with the ideals that our society already accepts.

       But if you start with the message that Jesus brought and that Scripture as a whole teaches, then you’re not going to come up with advice that fits in with society’s standard way of doing things. Too often, Christian personal finance does it the other way around. We start with the world’s ways and fit Jesus into it. There’s nothing Christian about that. In fact, that’s just telling people what they want to hear.

       If “Christian” personal finance advice revolves around budgeting, getting out of debt, saving and investing, and growing your income just so you can reach your goals and your dreams, then it’s no different from the regular personal finance advice. The focus is all about you – which is what we want to hear.

       But Jesus didn’t come with a message all about you. He brought us a message that was all about God and others. He didn’t come to tell us how to get rich and retire early. In fact, He had some strong warnings for the rich and a parable about a man who was all too happy with his ability to retire early. Rather, He taught about how we should serve others and how we should give God our primary focus. He told us that if we want to serve money we won’t be able to serve God.

       So if you’re reading a “Christian” personal finance book or website and there’s not something in it that’s really challenging how you think about money, it might be good to step back and ask yourself if it’s really giving you Christian advice or just plain advice.

The Emphasis Here at Provident Planning

       I’m trying to avoid that here on Provident Planning. When I did my initial study of personal finance in the Bible, I was very challenged by what I read. Rather than emphasizing material comfort and luxury, God emphasizes contentment. Rather than glorifying early retirement and amassing wealth for yourself, He holds up generosity as a greater goal.

       It’s not always easy to keep the Christian aspect of personal finance in the forefront. But I hope you’ve realized from what I’ve written that the kind of approach to finances that I’m encouraging can’t work without Jesus.

       When I talk about contentment, I’m talking about contentment in Christ. I’m talking about contentment that is steadfast through all trials and all circumstances. I’m talking about a kind of contentment that realizes nothing in this world compares to the glorious riches we have in Christ. I’m talking about a contentment that you can’t explain or experience without Jesus.

       And when I talk about generosity, I’m not talking giving just to meet your obligation to God so you can do what you want with the rest. I’m talking about generosity as the ultimate goal of your personal finances. I’m talking about generosity that sacrifices to meet the desperate needs of others. I’m talking about a generosity that you can’t explain or experience without Jesus.

One Voice Among Many

       I’m not the only one trying to emphasize Christian personal finance that’s true to Christ’s message.

       I’ve had great conversations with my friend Kevin Tupper at Christian Simplicity (currently under construction) about “living a life that’s inwardly rich toward God and outwardly rich toward our neighbors” and the implications that has for our finances.

       My friend Craig Ford at Money Help for Christians just announced that he’s going to spend more time focusing on spiritual issues of money and the problem of materialism in American churches.

       And I’ve just finished reading Chuck Bentley’s The Root of Riches and will be posting an interview with him next week. Chuck’s book is focused on how we will never be truly rich unless we’re rooted in Christ. All the right behaviors in the world aren’t going to help us if we still hold on to the wrong beliefs.

       These are just some of the people who are passionately pursuing a kind of Christian personal finance that absolutely cannot work without Jesus. And I’m glad to be working alongside them as I learn and experience a transformation of my heart that only comes from God. I pray you’ll join us as we seek God’s will for our personal finances rather than trying to find ways to justify our own will for our money.



Corey is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in religion. While he enjoys learning and writing about Christianity, another one of his new passions is writing about personal finances in order to help others make wise decisions with their money.

18 responses to If Christian Personal Finance Can Work Without Jesus, It Isn’t Christian!

  1. Glad to have you back contributing your wise insights, Paul! Root of Riches, as well as “Money – God or Gift” (Jamie Munson) [http://amzn.to/isuPga] are both in que for my reading.

  2. Thanks, Jeremy! I’m glad to be back. I’m not sure how many wise insights I’ll have, but I’m hoping to share what I feel God has put on my heart. I appreciate your comments, too, and I’d group you in with the others I mentioned at the end of the post. I haven’t heard of that second book, but I do recommend Root of Riches. I should have my interview with Chuck posted on Monday.

  3. I’m excited to read the interview!

  4. Josh [—–] June 27, 2011 at 9:01 PM

    Not for me to declare whether you’re on the right track Paul, but from where I’m sitting it sure looks like it.

  5. Thanks, Josh. I hope I’m on the right track. I’m still learning and growing, but I feel like I’m heading in a good direction.

  6. I wrote about this a while back:
    Some “Christian” money management advice strikes me as awfully materialistic.

  7. I think you hit some of the key marks of how Christian financial advice should be different there, Michael. I would probably tend to emphasize generosity a little more, but I think that’s implicitly included in your first, second, and fifth bullet points. Thanks for commenting!

  8. I’m hesitant to ask this – but it’s been on my mind since yesterday. Do you think Dave Ramsey and his advice would qualify as “Christian”? I’ve taught FPU several times, and admire the life change that Ramsey has had on thousands of households … but I wonder if it’s truly Christian or not. There’s definitely more than a flavor or two of materialism in his presentation.

    Thoughts? (Feel free to plead the 5th).

  9. Are you trying to get people to start a riot at my house, Jeremy? 😉

    I’ll plead the 5thish…I will say the FPU material is certainly lacking in the spiritual arena and I have more than a few qualms about it. (I’m not saying that’s a reflection of Dave or anything like that…) The personal finance advice is fairly good, and Dave does a great job of motivating people and marketing the program. But I’m not sure enough time is devoted to examining our core beliefs about money/the world and how they line up with Scripture. But I don’t think I’m going to go beyond that for now. I haven’t been through the course myself, but I’ve read enough reviews and read his book to know what it’s likely to cover and what it’s lacking.

  10. I think he has some definite weak spots, among them:
    (1) Tendency for his followers to believe everybody is morally obligated to follow the Dave Ramsey Plan, e.g., that it is a sin to have a credit card. The way I see it, his plan is like a diet. It works for people who can’t control their weight (or debt) by less drastic means. But it is *not* morally binding on everyone and it is *not* a sin not to follow it. People become remarkably legalstic about “should I do this on Baby Step 2 or on Baby Step 3” but these may be people who simply can’t make any financial decisions at all for themselves.
    (2) Some superficially non-Christian aspects, including his macho habit of occasionally taking God’s name in vain (ouch!) and undue pride in one’s own accomplishments. One gets the feeling one is looking at materialism that is in the early stages of being Christianized (like a new convert) rather than something that is Christian down to the roots.
    (3) There are technical points one can dispute, about return on investments, somewhat uninformed advice about education, etc., and some of them have been disputed in my blog and other blogs.
    On the plus side, he does a good job of (a) passing along old-fashioned practical methods of living with low financial risk, and (b) showing people that it is *possible* to get out of debt. I listen to his shown regularly, more for the questions than the answers — I want to know what kinds of financial problems people get into!

  11. Yep, what Michael said. :)

    To elaborate on #2 a bit – what bothers me the most is how FPU seems to feed on our desires for wealth rather than questioning those desires in the first place.

    Two examples – 1. Dave’s “plan” for how you can buy a new car every so many years with cash. It’s really nothing more than saving ahead. But it feeds on our perception of new cars as a status symbol/achievement without even asking why we want them in the first place. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with new cars, but it seems like it’s just assumed to be a good desire.

    2. Live like no one else does now so you can live like no one else does later. It’s rooted in good, conservative advice (spend less than you earn and such). But it so clearly feeds on our desire to live in luxury and extravagance without even asking, “What does God want me to do/desire?”

    To me it just seems like so much of it assumes that our normal American goals and dreams are good and healthy. I think we need to start by questioning why we desire those things and look at them as huge accomplishments. We have to start by making sure we have God’s view on these issues rather than starting with our view and making God’s Word support that.

  12. Amen – I think you both have gotten at what’s been eating inside me with Ramsey.

    I’ve processed the thought a lot – and I think while there are certain weaknesses and downfalls (I’ve estimated I’m a 75% supporter of Ramsey), Ramsey almost has to take such a hard and fast line to reach certain audiences. The public opinion doesn’t like warm water – they want either hot or cold. So saying “Well, you can use credit cards if you’re careful” isn’t going to sell any books (or FPU classes).

    So I think there are definitely some causes for concerns, most of which have been identified above by you two. But I think Ramsey’s level of success (as he would measure/define it) is only possible through the hard, fast line he draws in the sand. And that line is intentionally drawn on a beach that attracts both Christians and non.

  13. Kevin Tupper and I will be working together on some stuff that will probably be considered warm water, but we hope to address some of those fundamental questions that really get to the root of our beliefs and transform the way we view money. I’m sure you’ll hear more as time goes on, but that’s something I’m looking forward to working on.

  14. Jeremy, I was going to come back and say something similar. Ramsey definitely does a significant amount of good. I would like to improve his ministry, not shoot it down. At the same time I believe (as the poet Piet Hein put it) “truth is constructed in such a way that it cannot be exaggerated” — exaggerations are falsehoods, and even well-intentioned falsehoods are falsehoods. If he would present his plan as something like a diet, which people adhere to voluntarily, rather than as a moral imperative, it would be better.

  15. How great to have you back Paul! I have missed your thoughts. I am restarting my blog soon and I will be happy to mention yours. While mine focuses on different things at times (fibro, loss of my mother) I do occasionally comment on the materialistic Christian bent of some authors and bloggers. I am looking forward to your posts and the upcoming interview.

  16. Thanks, Donna! It’s good to be back. I think you’ll really enjoy the interview. Chuck and I had a great conversation. I’m transcribing it now and am excited to get it posted on Monday.

  17. Good words, good heart, Paul. I found you via googling “Dave Ramsey house” and your comments on another blog re: whether or not it’s OK for Ramsey to have a $5 million dollar home (mortgage or not). LOVED what you  had to say there and the spirit in which you said it.

    Thank you for your wise words–I’ve been uncomfortable for quite some time on the idea that a sound financial plan will get wrapped in a Christian cloak and then fed to millions as “Christian” for church-goers everywhere to gobble up (and pay for). You hit the nail on the head on this one. I especially like how your turn the questions from “what’s the best way to pay for this new car?” to “why do we need a new car?”

    Exactly. Whether I have a $5million house or a $500K or a $50K one, it’s about my heart and where God  is in it and figuring out, daily, how to live for God and not my own desires.

    I’ll be back often!

  18. Thank you for your encouragement, Jane!  I’m looking forward to hearing more from you.

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