Let me tell you: It’s not easy being filthy rich. You would know, wouldn’t you? Most of us feel like we live in poverty, but that’s only because we restrict our comparisons to the people closest to us. When we elevate our gaze a little, we see that most of us qualify as being among the richest people in the world. Compared to the mass of humanity, we have fantastic wealth.
For many years Dave Ramsey has taught people how to manage their money well, and countless thousands of people can testify to his impact on their lives. While much of his effort has gone into helping people climb out of debt and live financially sustainable lives, he is now turning his attention to the matter of leaving a legacy.
In his new book The Legacy Journey he deals head-on with first-world wealth and a host of related issues. He builds this legacy journey around a 4-part framework: Now, Then, Us, Them. In the Now stage he wants you to focus on the most immediate issues like getting out of debt, living on a budget, and preparing for emergencies. The Then stage begins to look down the road a little, preparing for retirement, saving for college funds, and setting a future vision. When it comes to Us, it is time to begin to accumulate a generational legacy which will build wealth to leave to children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. And then, with those other pieces in place, comes Them, where you can look around the world and use your wealth to make a major impact on other people’s lives and well-being.
There is much in this book that is good and helpful. On the positive side, Ramsey pushes hard against simplistic financial thinking that owes more to latent socialism than to the Bible. He deals very well with the spiritual side of money, showing how money can be the best of servants or the worst of masters. He teaches that all money is God’s money and that we are to think of ourselves as stewards rather than owners of our wealth. He shows how building wealth and building a legacy of wealth is, and is meant to be, hard work, and proves the importance of properly training our children to understand money. And he provides sound counsel on thinking about the future and planning for it while avoiding the most common pitfalls. These are all the things he is known for and the things he does so well—they represent genuine strengths. But there are some weaknesses as well.
My most significant concern is Ramsey’s sloppy use of the Bible. Much of what he teaches is wise, but then he makes the unfortunate choice to back it with out-of-context Scripture. Here is an example: “Your goals must be in writing. Habakkuk 2:2 says, ‘Write the vision and make it plain.’ There is spiritual power in writing down your goals.” If there is, we certainly don’t learn that in Habakkuk 2:2! His misuse of Scripture weakens rather than strengthens his book.
In a similar vein, this entire book, and even the idea of the legacy journey, is premised on Proverbs 13:22 which says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” Ramsey takes this Proverb literally and universally and makes it God’s instruction to each of us, saying that as Christians we are to accumulate enough wealth that we can leave a substantial inheritance to our children and their children. But I am not convinced. Proverbs was written in a specific culture where land and inheritance had a very different meaning than they do today. While it may be good and generous to leave wealth to our children, I am not convinced it is a biblical mandate. This is especially the case today when lifespans are increasing and we now inherit our parent’s money in our 60s or 70s, typically long after we really need it. And even then, what is the purpose of stockpiling millions so I can leave it to my kids and they can leave it to their kids who can leave it to their kids? Why not put that money to work right here and right now? Ramsey counters this by looking at people like Bill Gates who mean to give away their fortunes: “On the surface, that may sound like a good or generous thing—and it is. The problem is, though, one of the biggest personal fortunes in the history of the world will totally vanish within one generation. Even though the money will be spent in wonderful ways, it will still be gone forever.” But that money is not gone—it has been converted to good purposes. If anything it has been elevated, not lost!
Ramsey also comes across as a little defensive about wealth. Much of the book deals with accumulating wealth and rewarding hard work with a comfortable lifestyle. That is a tension we all feel, I think, but I’m not sure that he does much to resolve it. His counsel generally leads away from generosity and toward comfort—perhaps not the Bible’s consistent emphasis. I understand the tension and understand his emphasis, but it may be too simplistic to say, “Our ability to build wealth, use wealth for the kingdom, and enjoy the wealth God gives us all boils down to whether or not we can keep that wealth in perspective. And that’s a matter of contentment.” Yes and no. But at some point we need to feel and deal with that difficult relationship between our comfort and the poverty of so many others.
And then there is my concern that this legacy journey essentially calls on people to spend almost all of their lives giving ten percent of their income to the Lord’s work, and to only really crank up the generosity in that fourth and final stage. Yes, we need to learn to live free from debt and prioritize caring for our families, but with the Bible’s constant calls for sacrifice and generosity, it seems odd that lavish generosity would be left to the end. Planning to be generous and accumulating wealth in order to be generous is not the same thing as actually being generous.
All-in-all, The Legacy Journey is a helpful book with many strengths, but it still left me unsatisfied. As an overall strategy for faithfully stewarding God’s money, I am just not convinced. I think there must be stronger, more biblical, and more satisfying answers.