Yesterday I wrote about how I feel indebted to the advice Dave Ramsey gives in his book Financial Peace. It helped my family accomplish so many things without needing to go into debt, and I am really proud of that.
No Christian would dare to argue against the virtues of becoming debt free. It’s why there are so many microfinance organizations now. Debt is a burden that keeps people from delighting fully in God’s world, his salvation and his blessings. We are called as Christians to suffer in many things, but debt is not one of them. As N.T. Wright comments on in his little book The Lord and His Prayer, we should read “forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who have debts against us” as both a metaphor for sin, a literal plea to forgive financial debt, and a command that we forgive those who are in financial debt to us. If we are really called to be a kingdom-minded people, then we need to practice the jubilee that Israel never did and help those around us who are struggling financially.
The problem doesn’t lie with debt, but with saving. Once someone gets a handle on his or her finances, what are they supposed to do as their bank account starts to grow and grow and grow? Healthy finances create an opportunity for greed and selfishness to grow at the same rate as a bank account (and with such low interest rates today, probably faster).
This post originally started as a piece about Dave Ramsey’s $4.9 million dollar palatial estate and how there needs to be deep discernment when it comes to holding a tremendous amount of wealth as a Christian. Ramsey breaks down his views on purchasing, with cash, such a large estate over on Bible Money Matters. A conversation about the ethics of such wealth can continue over there. What I find crucial and hopeful is that, whether you agree with him or not, as a Christian, Dave Ramsey has actually tried to think about the ethical questions amassing so much wealth can cause a Christian to wrestle with.
Ramsey outlines his logic as this: he tithes 10%, he uses the house for fundraisers and ministries, he is not going into debt, and he made sure his company was healthy before making the purchase so that he didn’t compromise his employees well being. Agree or disagree, he is at least thinking through the issue instead of plunking down almost five million dollars just because he can.
The deeper issue here, and one I really wrestle with, is that there is so much wisdom and compassion in how Ramsey and others warn about the dangers of debt and help people escape from it. Yet, it seems to me, we need to be just as warned about the dangers of wealth, and maybe, just maybe, we need to be learn and be prepared as Christians to escape from wealth as we do from debt.