Warning: I will offend people in this post.
Before I get to the offensive stuff, I have a confession. I have financial difficulties. In fact, I would even go as far to say that I am experiencing spiritual bondage in the area of finances. I admit that it may very well be my greatest failure and area of doubt. This line of thought has been on my mind since my college years, but it has increased pretty heavily the past couple of days.
In the past, I have shared my problems with others. I began to notice a pattern. When I openly share my financial problems with people I believe to be “safe,” every single person who offered to assist (excepting one guy, who himself was a financial planner) tried to guide me to Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey. I have a problem with this fact. He has helped many, I can not deny that. The fact that so many think highly enough of him to refer me to his stuff is a testament to his influence. Most of the time, when people consistently agree on something, I begin to get suspicious. This financial guru is no exception. Hesitantly, I tested the waters. I would skim his famous book, tune in to his radio broadcast, and watch a video on YouTube. Personally, I do not like the way he presents himself. I believe his presentation spoils his message.
Before I go too far into my rant, I think it is appropriate to disclose that I have never fully gone through his Financial Peace program. With that said, from what I have seen of his program, gleaned from some of his writings, and heard from his mouth via radio and web broadcasts, he seems to speak to our self-centered pride more often than not. What I have been exposed to lacks grace and humility. After mentioning my concerns to dear family friend, one of the most recent to recommend Ramsey, the response was, “Ok…. understand….his personality is direct, strongly masculine, very extraverted, gritty humor. no nonsense type of guy who turns some people off. He may appear worldly. However he speaks into eternal truth.” Well, then. It seems as though my objection may be dismissed by implying that I have thin skin. I should just put on my big boy pants and listen to his message. He is speaking eternal truth, after all. Am I simply so weak that I am not able to handle a strong, masculine approach? Even if that was the case, is it appropriate to expose me in order to desensitize me, to make me grow up? While that may work, I am not quite sure that is the best approac. I need a measure of grace when being fed truth.
This gets to the root of my concern: how can we describe something as beneficial or good news if it is truth without grace? As Christians, should not our message to the world and to each other be full of grace AND truth? I am learning that we have not really been good at that. It only takes one quick glance at the Church in the USA to see that one without the other is useless. Our churches are still plagued by perspectives out of the modern age, when we pursued a pure, universal truth. When we found what we were looking for, we wielded our “truth” in such a way that we were ready to conquer whoever opposed it. There was little grace. The irony was that even if our truth was grace, we still used it as a weapon! How did that work out for us? I think the current relevance of the Church to our culture is evidence. The effectiveness of reaching our culture with this attitude is painfully obvious. What is required is both grace and truth, in relatively equal measure.
Enter the political climate in the USA this election cycle. I am reminded of a particular US presidential candidate. We have someone who “tells it like it is” who is also described as a bully. The defense that I have heard about his methodology is that desperate times call for desperate action. Among the Christians, I have heard the point that Jesus sometimes employed abusive language. They point to Jesus cleansing the temple or his lambasting the teachers of the law in Matthew 23. Is this supposed to grant permission for us to speak truth and act without grace? Are we being like Jesus when we do so? Jesus was blasting the established religious leaders. Jesus reserved his harshest language for those who claimed they had it together! Sure, he was speaking the truth. He was speaking to people who believed themselves to be perfect! Is that what we are witnessing these days in the public arena? If so, I continue to be ashamed of my people.
I close this rant by turning back to Dave Ramsey. Perhaps someone can help me find where he addresses my financial concerns. I am willing to be corrected. Here is what I believe is the root of my personal financial woes: I believe the lie that I am on my own. God has left me alone to deal with my own financial troubles. The source of my problem is the same heretical theology that says, “God only helps those who help themselves.” If I am truly honest, I will admit that I feel abandoned by God because I can never do enough to pull myself out of this financial pit in which I find myself. I struggle with this lie because I continue to be exposed to it. Well intentioned advice givers continue to serve it up to me. If this truly is the case, is it much use to me if you use a heavy-handed approach to apply clear financial principles in order to help me? Besides, if I accept such help, would it not simply serve to feed my errant theology and my selfish pride? Is it not better to first address the problem for what it truly is, a spiritual crisis of faith?
Just to clear things up, I plan to go through Ramsey’s Financial Peace program this summer. I hope to be proven wrong about him and find grace along with the eternal truths he conveys.