Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Okay, so I don't actually know where Dave Ramsey stands on the doctrines of total depravity, irresistible grace, and limited atonement, but I can say with confidence that there is principled agreement between Calvin’s theology of wealth and Ramsey’s financial ethical principles. The question worth pursuing is: how do Ramsey and Calvin agree? In order to pursue this question, we must ask first of Calvin: what is wealth strictly defined; what is wealth from a theological perspective; and what is the place of wealth within the Christian life? This will put us in a position to demonstrate in principle where Dave Ramsey fundamentally agrees with Calvin.


Calvin understands wealth rather broadly. He defines it as anything which is of "earthly benefit." This benefit could classify as something which is strictly necessary – that is, physical goods or services that by necessity are required for sustaining life. Earthly benefit can also extend into things made "for our delight and good cheer," (ICR, 720). If we factor this spectrum of purposes together, we can say that for Calvin wealth is defined as: any product or service that contributes towards a definite and identifiable end, whether that and be defined by necessity or enjoyment. This definition may include products or services that are: strictly necessary (i.e. water), necessary and enjoyable (i.e. food and clothing), or intrinsically and strictly enjoyable (i.e. gold, silver, ivory, marble). The purpose of wealth is identified by “the natural qualities themselves of the things,” (ICR, 721).



Calvin identifies two polarizing tendencies with regard to a proper theology of wealth within the Christian life. One view tends to see wealth as a provision to the Christian only in so far as it is necessary for sustaining one's life. Although the motive behind this stands on wealth is praiseworthy, the strictness of the stands is more or less un-biblical because it fetters "consciences more tightly than the word of the Lord – a very dangerous thing," (ICR, 720). The other view tends to see wealth as a provision that is "not to be restrained by any limitation but to be left to every man's conscience to use as seems lawful to him.” In other words, wealth is not only necessary but is to be used according to the conscience of the one who possesses it.


Calvin maintains that wealth has a definite place within the Christian life. On the one hand, wealth is necessary for one's life as a pilgrim, which "we ought to use its good things insofar as they help rather than hinder our course," (ICR, 719 – 20). On the other hand, one's use of wealth is not strictly determined by “every man's conscience.” He has no desire to bind the conscience to “definite and precise legal formulas; but inasmuch as Scripture gives general rules for lawful use, we are surely to limit our use in accordance with them.” In other words, once use of wealth is determined by natural quality and purpose of the benefit itself.

Why is this case? How can Calvin argue such a mediating position on wealth? Calvin argues that “The use of God gifts is not wrongly directed when he is referred to that end to which the author himself created for us, and he created them for our good, and not for our ruin.” In other words, the proper use of wealth is defined by its specific purpose, which is ultimately based in God as the author and directed toward us as a good. If wealth is used in accordance with its proper purpose, then the Christian has glorified God in the process because he has done something in accordance with the mind of God and in response to his kindness.

Calvin states more fully that earthly benefit has been, “created for us that we might recognize the author and give thanks to him,” (ICR, 721). This statement sums up what wealth is from a theological perspective. Notice that he identifies the nature wealth as “all things created.” This means that all earthly benefit has its true origin in God and yet is distinct from God. It must be recognized that “all things created” in this context does not exclude artifacts and implements manufactured by man. Remember, Calvin included food and clothing with in his examples of earthly benefit, (ICR, 721). Notice also that earthly benefit is “for us;” that is, we are proper recipients. The purpose of wealth has two dimensions to it. There is subjective dimension – as recipients we are meant to “recognize” and “give thanks” in response to wealth acquisition. There is also an objective dimension – God communicates through wealth that he is the author of earthly benefit and as such he is kind.


It should now be more abundantly clear to the reader how one stands on wealth is actually a reflection of one's attitude toward God. If one maintains that wealth is merely strictly for our necessary benefit, then one is in fact denying God's creative involvement in products and activities that are clearly intended for purposes other than essential survival. In addition, such asceticism will actually cultivate an attitude of ingratitude and discontentment because one is needlessly denying a benefit that is not at all prohibited by God himself. On the other hand, permitting oneself every benefit within one's possession will also result in ingratitude. So to sum up – what is the Christian attitude towards: wealth in general, wealth in their particular circumstance, and their individual financial responsibility?

Wealth in General – Every Christian must possess an indifferent attitude toward wealth. Calvin states, "Those who use this world should be so affected as if they did not use it."

Circumstances of Wealth – every Christian should be mindful of his/her financial circumstance. Calvin states, "They should know how to bear poverty peaceably and patiently, as well as to bear abundance moderately." In other words, individual financial circumstance should not determine one's attitude toward wealth or your fellow human beings. That attitude of the rich should be modest and the attitude of the poor should be patient.

Financial Responsibility – The third and final rule is accountability. Calvin states, "All those things were so given to us by the kindness of God, and destined for our benefit, that they are, as it were, entrusted to us." This means that all Christians everywhere are required to have a sense of personal financial responsibility.

Calvin and Ramsey

So how do you Calvin and Ramsey agree? Ramsey roughly holds the same position regarding the nature of earthly benefit, or money. Ramsey maintains that money has to basic properties. First, "money is active," (FP, 19). In other words, money is a type of social power that is constantly exercised through its continued use. Money has a place within society as a reciprocal instrument, which "requires you to take the initiative to control it," (FP, 20). The second quality is "money is amoral," (FP, 20). This point emphasizes the instrumental factor of money. Money is impersonal; that is, it requires an intelligent agent to make use of it. Money is not responsible, rather it is the one who uses the money that requires responsibility. Ramsey states, "the way you act your money or lack of it will show us whether you are good or evil, but the money itself is neither," (FP, 20).

I would argue that Ramsey’s first stated quality about money would agree with what Calvin means by possessing an indifferent attitude toward wealth. To be indifferent does not mean that you pretend wealth does not exist, it simply means that you are aware of its limits, purposes, and uses. You understand the reciprocal and social dimensions of wealth that requires personal initiative on your part. Second, I would maintain that Ramsey's second quality of money regarding its moral status would agree with what Calvin has to say about financial responsibility. Ultimately, money is not accountable before God, but the one who uses the money is accountable.

Most fundamentally, however I believe agreement can be perceived between how Calvin and Ramsey understand the supreme importance of a moral reflection. Ramsey stated in strictly anthropological and ethical terms, "extreme amounts of money or extreme lack of it magnifies character," (FP, 24). Calvin, from a theological perspective, could modify the statement by saying something like, "extreme amounts of money or lack of it reveals ones attitude toward God. In other words, if it is true that all things are created by God for our good, which are to be used according to their purpose, then the improper use of them in any way is indicative of what one believes about God.

For instance, if a Christian were to take an extreme attitude regarding one's budget, that a Christian should only budget for what is strictly necessary for survival, then in effect one is making a theological claim about God. That is, God only wants us to earn money insofar as it keeps us alive. This action is a patent denial of God's goodness which is revealed in the main purposes of other created objects (and" created objects" by the way extends to technological artifacts as well). Or take the case of somebody who believes that there finances are only to be regulated by their own conscience; that is, they are free to be as liberal and indulgent as possible. In this case, there is in fact a denial of gratitude. Yes, it affirms that God has made all things according to their purpose for us and for our good, but it places a one-sided emphasis on "for our good" and he fails to acknowledge the good God behind the thing. I realize, it's not Ramsey's intent to be this theologically overt, but in my opinion is ethical thinking on the matter not only extends into the theological realm, but in fact agrees with Calvin’s theological thinking.

P.S. I'd love to know what you think with regard to these matters:
• do you think it's possible to develop a theology of money like Calvin?
• Did you think Calvin is being fair to Scripture?
• Do you think he's being too lenient?
• Do you think he's being too strict?
• Do you think that wealth has nothing to do with theology?
• I invite your comments…

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Speak with Imprecision!

Did you know that Jesus instructs us to cultivate speaking and listening skills in the Sermon on the Mount? Okay, so he never explicitly says, “Thou shalt not speak with imprecision!” But he nevertheless teaches us that this must be the case, if we are to develop genuine friendships. The Sermon on the Mount is a discourse on friendship: friendship with God and friendship among men. The startling feature about this theme is the way in which Jesus approaches it. He begins by addressing the problem of hatred, which is the destructive force that undermines friendship, and name-calling. He states that “you have heard that it has been said long ago, ‘do not murder’ and whoever murders is subject to judgment, but I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother is guilty of murder. Whoever calls his brother a fool is guilty before the Sanhedrin and whoever calls his brother a moron is in danger of the fire of Gehenna!” (Matt 5:21-22, my translation).

The principal here has two dimensions. Negatively – hatred is part of the prohibition of murder – this is a destructive force to friendship. In addition, abusive language is an extension of hatred and thereby a further violation of the prohibition to murder. This much is prominent and readily accessible in the text. Positively – love is the fulfillment of the law – this is the edifying force for friendship. Love between brothers is what constitutes true community. In addition, non-hostile negotiable language is a further extension or expression of love. Love – that is, an attitude of goodwill that seeks the benefit of one's neighbor – is a necessary condition of the heart that is fully expressed in the words we choose to use with our friends. Jesus affirms this principle when he addresses the problem of dealing with those who may be angry at you. He states, "Even when you are offering a gift on the altar and then and there remember that your brother has something against you, then go, leave your gift on the altar, and be reconciled to your brother," (Matt 5:23, my translation).

The verb "to be reconciled" means to come to terms with your brother. From this it can be inferred that reconciliation involves a skillful use of nonhostile, simple, and unambiguous language. Nonhostile – means that you are not using fighting words or name-calling. Simple – means that you're using ordinary language. Unambiguous – means that you must use language that is not attempting to hide, deceive, or subvert.

The Sermon on the Mount is a discourse on friendship. To be sure, all human friendship must first be grounded in friendship with God (Matt 5:8 – 10). This being established, this friendship extends into human to human relationships. Friendship between brothers is constituted with love (5:21). Love is expressed with a skillful use of language (Matt 5:22). This means that the fulfilling the law does not mean merely avoiding hatred among men but also speaking simply, peaceably, and unambiguously to men. In other words, do your friends a favor by cultivating your ability to speak clearly, truly, and peaceably.