Review: Money, Debt, and Finances

"Any Christian book on this subject faces a challenge: it must deal with both timeless principles and contemporary applications—issues that transcend time and context and those that are inexorably bound to a particular time and a particular context. Money, Debt, and Finances strikes just the right balance." - Challies

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Mark_Smith's picture

Money and evangelicalism is a strange thing. We tend to believe in the "sovereignty" of God is most things, but when it comes to money, things get odd. We stridently oppose the prosperity gospel, but we honor those who have money as "working hard," being "prudent" with their money. If you have a high paying job "you sought the Lord" and "He blessed you" with that profession. When it comes to poor people, it depends. Some are accepting, but others look down on those that "don't work hard." Even worse, if they are in debt, then they definitely did something wrong.

I remember listening to Larry Burkette years ago being conflicted. I had won a big scholarship to go to a great school, but it just didn't work out. I failed at the school but it was there that I learned about Jesus Christ and became a Christian. I left that school but wanted to try somewhere else. Burkette INSISTED it was NEVER God's will to borrow money to attend college. I had nothing. Working a minimum wage job wasn't going to cut it. It was not uplifting to me at all. To this day when I hear Crown Financial Ministries or Dave Ramsey on the radio I get triggered... seriously. I felt more condemned than uplifted.

Ask yourself this, in the typical evangelical church, will you find lawyers or janitors on the board?

T Howard's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:
Ask yourself this, in the typical evangelical church, will you find lawyers or janitors on the board?

At our church we have neither. We have shepherds.

As for finances, we teach and believe that Christians ought to be faithful stewards of all the resources God gives to us, and we should not live in a way that encourages covetousness or greed. Taking on substantial debt to keep up with the Joneses is different than taking on substantial debt to purchase a reasonable house or to afford college education.

That being said, I would almost always encourage young people not to take out large student loans to pay for college. There are almost always better, less expensive options.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Burkette INSISTED it was NEVER God's will to borrow money to attend college.

Maybe "never" is too strong, but certainly "almost never" is in the ballpark.

Ask yourself this, in the typical evangelical church, will you find lawyers or janitors on the board?

Not sure how this question answers anything. Should we judge a church leadership team by the occupations of its members? 

When it comes to poor people, doesn't it depend? People are "poor" for a whole lot of reasons including personal choices about education, how to spend money, not working hard, not holding down a job, etc. And yes, in a great many (probably most) cases, debt means they did something wrong. Why is that hard to accept and deal with biblically?

Bert Perry's picture

...has engineers, a pathologist, a veterinarian, nurses, retirees, a prison guard, a general contractor, and yes, at least one janitor--he cleans hospital clean rooms for a living.  (OK, time to stop feeling so darned proud of my church, we have our problems, too)  I believe that in a couple of years, we'll have a lawyer on the deacon board, too--good guy, loves Jesus, cuff links, and fountain pens, just like myself.  Not that I'm biased or anything, but of course I am.

To the question of financial advice, I've not read the book endorsed here, but I've read things by Burkett, Ron Blue, and Dave Ramsey.  My take is that Ron Blue had the best grasp of the 10th Commandment--really a key issue in finance as a whole--and Ramsey really has the best grasp on the psychology of overspending and how to overcome it.  

I believe Blue also noted that there is good and bad debt, the good being for a productive purpose, and the bad being for depreciating assets.  The flip side of that is that he reported that the best car for him was (and this was back in the 1990s) the Oldsmobile he'd bought new out of college, and which at the time had something like 200,000 miles on it.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

Larry wrote:

Burkette INSISTED it was NEVER God's will to borrow money to attend college.

Maybe "never" is too strong, but certainly "almost never" is in the ballpark.

Ask yourself this, in the typical evangelical church, will you find lawyers or janitors on the board?

Not sure how this question answers anything. Should we judge a church leadership team by the occupations of its members? 

When it comes to poor people, doesn't it depend? People are "poor" for a whole lot of reasons including personal choices about education, how to spend money, not working hard, not holding down a job, etc. And yes, in a great many (probably most) cases, debt means they did something wrong. Why is that hard to accept and deal with biblically?

Yep, been dealing with that attitude all my Christian life. You should examine yourself to see if you are judging people unfairly based on your views and not fairly. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

Yep, been dealing with that attitude all my Christian life. You should examine yourself to see if you are judging people unfairly based on your views and not fairly. 

Attitude? What did I say that is questionable or debatable? And why is it debatable? Forget attributions of attitude (which I think are inaccurate); which part of what I said do you disagree with and why?

I am not judging people unfairly. In fact, I haven't judged anyone at all. Do you believe that every single poor person is hardworking, faithful to their jobs, and never mishandling their money? If not, then what is your disagreement with me?

Mark_Smith's picture

Some people like you assume debt is evil and if you have it, except the almighty mortgage, then you were not a good steward. That is what I am addressing. 

If you are poor, the system is set up for you to get poorer. Your car dies. A kid gets really sick. All of this destroys you financially. 

No amount of saving can help you with a $180,000 hospital bill for example. Or if your car you just bought used blows a motor. Or your basement floods due to the water heater exploding and insurance doesn't cover it. These are all cases I have observed. 

Mark_Smith's picture

was that most churches, maybe not yours because you all apparently go to awesome biblical churches, but TOO MANY evangelical churches pick leaders on the basis of wealth, power, and charisma. Biblical knowledge has little to no role to play. And you can deny it all you want, I have seen it with my own eyes!

 

Larry's picture

Moderator

Some people like you assume debt is evil and if you have it, except the almighty mortgage, then you were not a good steward

I have never said any such thing and don't believe it.so perhaps be more cautious in understanding what is being said before responding to something that isn't being said. I am happy to engage with you on what I actually said if you want to respond to that. But please don't assume things about my positions.

Mark_Smith's picture

"And yes, in a great many (probably most) cases, debt means they did something wrong. Why is that hard to accept and deal with biblically?"

Larry's picture

Moderator

Yes, I said that. But how in the world did you get from that point (that should be relatively undisputed) to the idea that I assume debt is evil and if you have it you weren't a good steward. It is quite clear from my statement that I did not mean all debt and I am sure that you think some debt is the result of doing something wrong being a bad steward. I said a "great many and probably most" which is put it at at least 51% of cases. Again, I imagine you think at least 50% of people in debt are bad stewards to at least some degree. So I imagine we agree in the main but somehow you missed that. 

Isn't debt the result of bad stewardship in at least some cases?

 

Mark_Smith's picture

I wasn't attacking you. I am addressing the typical idea I have seen in my last 28 years in churches. The idea is the people in control think debt is bad mainly because they have been blessed to not be in bad situations where they had to take on debt to survive. Then they go and find a couple of Bible verses to condemn debt.

I have seen this over and over again. And it makes the people who this is wielded against feel like failures, and it isn't right.

I could tell you my story again, but I will spare you. That is why I am very careful when I see stories about debt and "stewardship" because it too often is a tool used by some to hurt those who did not have the advantages they had.

Bert Perry's picture

....not Mark's situation in particular, but other situations which persuade me that I do extremely poorly if I do not pay attention to everything around a debt situation.  Sometimes it's a clear "guy walked into the whirlwind through little fault of his own", sometimes it's "under the surface, you've got someone who's really making some bad choices."  I've tried to help in a situation or two with disastrous results because I didn't see what was under the surface.  Thankfully it wasn't the deciding factor in the disasters that followed, but it was help wasted because I didn't understand what I was getting into.  Other times, I've helped and have been glad I did.

Long and short of it; we need to get to know one another better.  I'm not quite sure how it's done.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

The idea is the people in control think debt is bad mainly because they have been blessed to not be in bad situations where they had to take on debt to survive. Then they go and find a couple of Bible verses to condemn debt.

What about those who have concluded the Bible warns about debt no matter their "blessing"? And what about those who have decided that debt is bad quite apart from the Bible? 

I have seen this over and over again. And it makes the people who this is wielded against feel like failures, and it isn't right.

I have never seen this but if teaching makes people who have failed feel like failures, is that really a problem? Isn't that kind of the point of teaching? To expose the wrong and bring about change? And if we don't expose the issues, how will change be brought about?

What would you say to someone who makes $15/hour and has $20,000 in credit card debt for things like TVs, vacations, eating out, video games, etc? Would you say that is bad or good? What would you say to someone who goes out and buys a brand new car because they can get interest free financing for 72 months?

Mark, perhaps you can help me understand the controversy here. No one is talking about medical debt that is outside of one's control. We are talking about consumer debt for the most part. What is hard or controversial about saying that debt is unwise and dangerous and perhaps even sinful?