By Rev. Loren Richmond
Dave Ramsey begins the book retelling his own riches-to rags-to riches again tale; how he earned his first million, blew it all frivolously, and then pulled himself out of debt by working 80 hour work-weeks. But this book is about more than financial advice; it is about divinely sanctioning wealth. So confident is Ramsey about God’s divine approval of his wealth that he recounts the certainty that “God smiled” (3) when he wrote the check to buy himself a Jaguar with his new found riches. Chapter two is titled, “The War on Success.” The Legacy Journey: A Radical View of Biblical Wealth and Generosity is first and foremost a defender of wealth. Published in 2014 it seems almost certain this book is in response to the critique he faced a year ago.
Rachel Held Evans accused Ramsey of promoting a “prosperity gospel,” basically that if one is in right relationship with God, one’s bank account will flourish. This book only seems to continue that trend. In the first chapter Ramsey confidently asserts, “If you do the things I teach from God’s Word… then over time you will become wealthy…you will become at some point one of those ‘rich people’” (5). A couple pages over he declares that handling money God’s way “you end up wealthy” (7). If this isn’t prosperity gospel, what is?
Not only is Ramsey certain all good Christians are meant to be rich, anyone asserting otherwise is a “toxic ‘Christian’ voice” (yes he put the quotation marks around “Christian”)(13). According to Ramsey, this idea that Christians are meant to live in a “spirit of poverty” is a reincarnation of the Gnostic influence of early Christianity (26). Apparently the countless monks and nuns throughout the centuries that took a vow of poverty had it wrong. Apparently the millions of Christians in developing nations in Africa and South America are not following God or else they would be flat out loaded.
Conveniently, while Ramsey has no problem telling his readers what they should and should not buy, “I can tell you with 100 percent certainly that anything you buy with debt—is not a blessing” (69), he’s far less willing to let his own financial dealings be held to a similar scrutiny. The money God has given Ramsey is his to manage and apparently God only trusts Ramsey to manage that money (186) and the amount a (rich) person has is solely between them and God (77). One can only wonder, if it really is “God’s money,” why is Ramsey so concerned with keeping and protecting it?
And if Ramsey’s assessment of spirituality is scary—his exegetical skills are even worse. Despite openly admitting he’s “not a biblical scholar” (51), Ramsey has no problem interpreting the passages of scripture critics point out such as Luke 18:27 and Matthew 25:14-30. Failing to cite a single biblical commentator (six of the sixteen citations in the book are to his own books); Ramsey asserts that the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18 isn’t about money at all but instead grace (46). Continuing on into Luke 19 and the story of Zacchaeus, Ramsey somehow conveniently stops reading when Zacchaeus promises to give half of his money to the poor and repay anyone he had defrauded four-fold. The Bible tells that it was only AFTER this promise that Jesus said salvation had some to Zacchaeus’ household. But of course neither story has anything to do with money.
The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 is perhaps the preeminent text of Ramsey and his ilk. This story, according to Ramsey, is the biblical justification for wealth acquisition and why equality isn’t biblical. Yet Ramsey’s interpretive shortcomings are apparent to anyone paying attention to the context. Jesus had just come from the temple when he began this long diatribe. He tells three parables, the parable of the Ten Virgins, the parable of the Talents, and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Ramsey would surely admit Jesus isn’t literally talking about ten virgins, or literally talking about sheep and goats. So why does Ramsey think Jesus is literally talking about money (a hyperbolic amount of money at that?). Because it justifies Ramsey’s entire system.
Amazingly enough, Ramsey fails to see himself in the parable of the rich man who builds bigger barns in Luke 12. Referencing the story himself (169), Ramsey asserts the only problem of the rich man was his worship of wealth. Yet despite the rich man being called a “fool” in the Bible for preparing to “eat, drink, and be merry,” Ramey says it’s okay to live it up and enjoy one’s wealth (53). For all his talk of contentment, it’s hard not to think Ramsey is just as guilty as the rich man of worshipping wealth—nearly the entire second half of this book is dedicated to maintaining and preserving one’s wealth.
What seems most perplexing amongst his many inconsistencies and flat-out hypocrisy is his assertion that one should be “careful not to let politics set you up to misinterpret scripture” (52). Surely Ramsey is the impartial interpreter! So certainly it couldn’t be Ramsey’s politics influencing his idea that those critiquing him are “envious” (71) and should “mind your own business” (73). No, Ramsey clearly keeps his politics and religion separate. That’s why he says, no one wastes money like the government and that he “doesn’t need the government to redistribute the money” God asked him to manage (156). If there was any doubt about where Ramsey’s true allegiance lies he reveals such when he states that “we do not all bring the same level of economic service to the marketplace. Service to the marketplace generates wealth, not your inherent value as a human” (43). That’s right, free-market capitalism determines a person’s worth, not God. It seems pretty obvious that Ramsey’s god is actually free market capitalism.
In the end, Dave Ramsey’s The Legacy Journey is an unabashed defense of wealth and the 1%. It is an attempt to divinely sanction a global economic system which has enriched a small fraction of people like himself while exploiting millions (probably billions) of people. It promotes an individualistic spirituality that is neither historically Christian nor in any sense biblical. It simply ridicules the poor and financially insecure for not being rich and privileged. The Legacy Journey, and the teaching of Dave Ramsey it promotes, is neither Christian nor biblical—but rather worldly, selfish, and uncaring.
Loren is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) an is serving in a United Church of Christ church. He is a 2013 graduate of Phillips Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity. He can be found online at therelentlesstheologian.blogspot.com, with sermons in text form at Hendersonchurch.org.