Friday, October 28, 2011

Dave and Me

Dave Ramsey, Me, and the Apostles

When economy turned downward, Dave Ramsey wanted to do something to counteract the panic, to give helpful counsel, and to offer workable solutions for folks worried about the economy. The program took place in a church. It was simulcast by Fox News and by churches in communities large and small all over the country. The lead pastor of the church and people attending the live event were interviewed. People watching via satellite had an opportunity to ask questions. Then Dave offered people the right to download the pod-cast for a small fee to distribute as they wished and offered packages of the DVD at very low cost.

I used to listen to Dave when I was driving during his program. I finally quit, because it is pretty much the same show with the same questions and answers every day.  

Just about everyone will find something to disagree with him about. Businessman who have built successful businesses with the prudent use of debt will not agree with his stand against business debt. Those who believe there is inherent value in gold will not like counsel against buying gold. Those who do not believe his economic teaching derived from the Bible, and that some of his Biblical interpretation is wrong, might wish that he would just dispense the economic advice on common sense grounds and refrain from saying what the Bible supposedly says on various subjects. 

But, even allowing that his teaching is not always right, most of us would do better following his advice to the letter than not following his advice at all. He promotes responsible behavior and disciplined living. He cares about people and wants to help find ways to free themselves from debt and to improve their economic lot. He appears to be one of those people who has been successful and made a lot of money without losing his principles or touch with reality. And, by his words, he surely seems to be an evangelical Christian.

Christians who are cultural and political conservatives are attracted to people, programs, and organizations with whom they seem to have much in common. They appreciate, Fox News, World Magazine, Rush, Sean, et al.  They are a welcome counterbalance to the aggressive secularism of the “mainstream” media and the strident anti-theistic point of view.

All this can lead to looking to men like Dave Ramsey as teaching a “practical Christianity” which may be far more relevant to “real life” than what goes on in our churches on Sunday. Conservative churches now offer everything from weight-loss clinics to “Financial Peace Universities,” to how to be a more likeable, more successful person seminars, to guidance for how to vote.  It seems they are making an impact on the world. They offer optimism in the place of pessimism, promote  responsibility in the place of irresponsibility, emphasize “rubber meets the road” matters of life in place of the “not so big a deal” theological ones, and attract and help a whole lot more people than churches that put the emphasis on the “old” God-centered worship, offer Biblical teaching grounded in sound principles of interpretation and respectful of the confessional history of the church, and promote a Christian living, to focus on eternal happiness, but not much to this-worldly success and happiness.

But I keep coming up against the same things over and over again:

(1)         What is often seen today as promoting practical Christianity that makes an impact on politics, economics, work, family values, and such things, for good is not distinguishable to me from the old late 19th and early 20th outlook and practice that took over the mainline churches. It sees worship not as an end in itself but in terms of what it can contribute to the improvement of the individual and society. It sees doctrine not so much as the discovery, organization, reception, preservation and communication of timeless truth but as something that is important (and sometimes true) only to the extent it helps people and makes the world a better place. As I read the history of what happened to American Protestantism, I see so much of what is happening with Christianity today as a more up-to-date form of the “do-gooder” Christianity of yesteryear that was promoted, not so much by intelligent, self-conscious theological liberalism, but by “moderates” who wanted the church to be more practical and relevant. It did not so much attack traditional doctrine or reject the historic Gospel as marginalize them.

(2)         I cannot find this kind of thing going on in the church which is supposed to be our pattern – the Apostolic church. The Apostolic church preached the gospel of what God had done in Christ, called people to faith and repentance, organized people into a spiritual community that stayed in the world but was distinct from the world. This community (the church) proclaimed the Bible and dispensed the sacraments, which were its weapons of warfare and tools for work. It saw itself pilgrim people whose citizenship was in heaven, whose Savior and thus its affections were in heaven, whose hope of setting the world right was his coming again at the end of the age.

(3)         I find in the New Testament that the church’s practical ministry was showing people the way to be forgiven by and reconciled to God, of encouraging and enabling those called by God into the church to live Christian lives, to endure trials, and to love one another. You went to church not lose weight, have a better social life, be more successful in business, or be a happier person. You went because, as you worshiped God with his people and in fellowship with them, you found that the ordinary means of grace affected those things in your life. The practical effects of Christianity were real and substantial but limited. The full coming of the kingdom was “then” not yet. People could have eternal life now, but its  fullness awaited the resurrection. People could have peace now, but not the full measure of Biblical peace (health, wholeness, prosperity) until the kingdom finally comes with the coming again of our Lord who will restore and renew all things.

Get out of debt if you think it wise and can. But don’t bring the debt-free gospel into the church. It distracts from and can dilute, if not replace, the true Gospel. Don't try to improve Christianity by making it more practical. Don't change the message from proclaiming how to save your soul to teaching how to save your money.h saving souls to saving money. Don't let the mission change the Word and sacraments that deliver people from the debts of which the Lord's Prayer speaks to delivering from the debt of which the Total Money Makeover speaks.


Moose-Tipping said...

My wife and I are in the process of getting out of debt using Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University as a guideline. She listen to Dave Ramsey podcasts almost every day; I, not so much (you're right-- it's the same problems with the same advice 95% of the time... similar to Dr. Laura...).

I have to disagree with the stance that churches offering classes like FPU, Weight Watchers and others are marginalizing the importance of the message. If anything, these classes are bringing folks into the church who otherwise would not be there (there were several of these in my FPU class), and are helping give good, solid guidance to those already in the church who are in need of it. It's a ministry, just as other classes (senior fellowships, youth ministries, etc.) are ministries that serve the end purpose of nurturing the people, believer and unbeliever alike. One recurring message of FPU is that you "Live like no one else, so that you can eventually GIVE like no one else", and Dave always talks about budgeting 10% (or more) to the church as part of your monthly budget.

In short, I find no detriment to the church through ministries such as Financial Peace-- only an additional shepherd watching out for the wellbeing of the sheep.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

I understand that you and your wife have been helped by FPU, and for that I am glad. I understand that you think that offering such classes can aid in outreach and can increase giving to the church. Where we disagree is on whether the Bible teaches us that offering such things is part of the church's mission in and to the world. As I say in blog, I think the answer is no and that to include it both takes us where the Bible does not and has the effect of distracting the church from the unique ministry Christ has assigned uniquely to it.

Chris H said...

Your first point is one I've been thinking about a great deal lately too. The turn to the practical and the existential is so prevalent throughout evangelicalism today that I also wonder if we're heading down the same path as the mainlines. One difference, of course, is that the footprint of denominational churches in evangelicalism seems to be much smaller so it will be harder to track a corporate shift towards liberalism, but I wonder if it isn't already going on. The emergent movement might have been the harbinger of such a shift, it seems to still be extremely attractive for young evangelicals who may be the leaders of tomorrows liberal churches.

Warren Hill said...

Whenever 'practical programs' such as FPU are brought into the church, they do not come in 'cleansed' of the other associations these programs have that are not so good. We (and community members we are trying to reach) are attracted to these programs because they do indeed include significant truth that is rooted in Scripture. But they also connect the church and it's ministry, by implied endorsement, to other things these programs included. I've lost count of how many times I've cringed when hearing Dave Ramsey call employees of Bank of America, Chase, American Express, and other institutions he doesn't like 'not intelligent life', and worse. We have these people in our churches and communities. It's part of his radio persona 'shtick' to castigate certain folks in a manner that none of us would allow a teaching or ruling elder to do. Yet the 'teaching' of these programs is put out there with the authority of the church behind it. His financial 'rules' become a new little form of 'law' for the congregation - debit cards, not credit cards - 15 year mortgages, not 30. I agree with most of his 'tools' personally - but they have no business becoming 'little law' in the church.
It is not just Dave Ramsey's program that doesn't belong in the church, it's any other teaching authority that does not meet the requirements we put on teaching by the elders of the church. We shouldn't allow other, untested, teaching authority in the church - whether by DVD, simulcast, in person, or otherwise.