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.