Larry Burkett freely admits that he has a money problem—a natural tendency to be a bit of a tightwad. He says that in the early years of his marriage he and his wife Judy frequently butted heads over money matters.
One of eight children, Burkett grew up poor, the son of a chronically underemployed electrician on the wrong side of the tracks in the otherwise affluent snowbird haven of Winter Park, Florida. His wife, by contrast, grew up in relatively well-to-do circumstances, with a lumber yard and orange groves among her grandparents' assets. While the ambitious Burkett worked at Cape Canaveral/Kennedy as an electrician during the 1960s while taking a full load of night classes, he constantly badgered his wife, Judy, to turn down the thermostat, turn off lights, and stop standing with the refrigerator door open.
Now that Burkett has long held court, through his organization Christian Financial Concepts (CFC), as evangelicalism's financial answer man on everything from balancing a checkbook to balancing the national budget, it is hard to imagine such simple beginnings. This prolific author's more than 70 books, booklets, workbooks, organizing systems, and even novels were largely responsible for creating "money" and "finance" sections in Christian bookstores. Burkett certainly paved the way for other evangelical financial advisers such as Ron Blue, Austin Pryor, and Dave Ramsey, as well as growing stewardship groups such as the Longwood, Florida-based Crown Ministries. Burkett has been a major figure in evangelical radio since the early 1980s. His daily five-minute feature, How to Manage Your Money, is now heard on over 1,100 stations, while his half-hour weekday call-in show, Your Money Matters, airs on over 300 outlets.
Given the touchy subject with which he deals and the Gantryesque image that has plagued evangelical leaders, Burkett and CFC have cultivated a rather austere image. By all accounts, both he and the organization have conducted themselves in an honest and unpretentious manner. Nonetheless, Burkett is a figure not untouched by controversy about the nature of the advice and opinions he gives his readers and listeners.
So, how did Burkett rise to become evangelical's financial answer man, and what exactly is he telling people?
One-eyed Man in the Land of the Blind
It began with his conversion. In the 1960s and '70s, Burkett continued to move up the ladder in a variety of electrical-engineering jobs with General Electric, and as vice president of TestLine, a small electronics firm. Her husband's drive to succeed, though, meant that Judy Burkett now lived the life of a "workaholic's widow," caring for their four children and their Titusville, Florida, home. During one of Burkett's typically long workdays in 1970, two Campus Crusade workers came door-to-door through the neighborhood and walked Judy through The Four Spiritual Laws. Undergoing a conversion experience, she soon began attending Titusville's Park Avenue Baptist Church. Through her influence and a Bible study run by a local dentist, her husband also soon accepted Christ.
Like most new converts, Larry enthusiastically jumped into church activities and joined a group of Christian businessmen. Money and the biblical way to handle it were ongoing topics of interest. At one Bible study, Burkett mentioned he had found over 100 verses dealing with financial matters. One of the men disagreed, arguing that God was not interested in the subject. To prove a point, Burkett, armed with a yellow highlighter and his Bible, in the following weeks marked every biblical passage that dealt with finances. He found over 700 verses, which he subsequently organized into his own private "financial concordance." Burkett soon found himself giving advice; as he said in a 1996 article, "By default, I became the financial counselor in my church. When somebody had a question about money, they would call me."
In the mid-1970s, he worked in Campus Crusade for Christ's deferred-giving and estate-planning division, but Burkett was anything but a natural salesman—he hated asking for money. His personal passion was understanding the practical implications of biblical teaching on the role of money in individual believers' lives. Burkett's reputation spread, and he was invited to speak to a class of graduating seniors at Dallas Theological Seminary on the rudiments of personal budgeting and church finances.
Burkett's apotheosis did not come until after the talk, as he sat with faculty members over lunch. Surrounded by professors with earned doctorates in biblical studies, theology, and ancient languages, he found himself inundated with questions about money-related Bible verses and requests for advice on the most elementary matters of financial management. Burkett says he thought to himself: It is really true that in the land of the blind a one-eyed man can become king.
That experience, coupled with his desire to help Christians understand "God's perspective on finances," eventually led Burkett to borrow $25,000 from friends to self-publish his 1975 book Your Finances in Changing Times. Carried in Campus Crusade's Here's Life catalog, the book was hardly a blockbuster, selling an estimated 30,000 copies in its first six years. Nonetheless, his growing popularity as a seminar speaker convinced Burkett that it was time to strike out on his own as a Christian financial counselor. In 1976 Burkett left Campus Crusade and, with Judy, formally incorporated Christian Financial Concepts (CFC), running it from the basement of their suburban Atlanta home.
CFC, the former "Mom and Pop ministry," now operates on an annual budget of over $12 million and employs 134 staff members at its headquarters in Gainesville, Georgia. In 1999 its staff fielded more than 400,000 telephone calls, letters, and e-mail requests for help and information while providing oversight to 40 volunteer seminar speakers and 1,200 volunteer referral counselors across America who dealt with nearly 20,000 counseling requests. CFC purveys a dizzying array of resources and financial teaching aids.
Burkett finds the basic financial truth that undergirds all others in "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it " (1 Corinthians 10:26, NIV). That includes all of a believer's money and possessions as well. Burkett argues that God uses money in numerous ways in the individual Christian's life. Based on his reading of the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 and Christ's question in Luke 16:11 ("Therefore if you have not been faithful in the [use of] unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" NKJV), Burkett contends that the use of money is one of God's primary training grounds for every believer. Indeed, Burkett argued in a 1985 workbook that the "way a Christian uses money is the clearest outside indicator of what the inside commitment is really like."
These beliefs, however, do not parlay into Burkett's advocating a vow of poverty. "I believe God wants us to lead a comfortable life," he wrote in a 1995 booklet. Burkett's reading of how Romans 12:5-8 describes the gift of giving implies that first "there must be a gift of gathering." Convinced there is no inherent spirituality in being impoverished for poverty's sake, Burkett sees the potential of a dangerously pharisaical streak of pride in those he calls "stoics" who crow about a simple lifestyle and "believe that to follow Jesus a Christian must sell everything and become a pauper."
While he teaches that Christians need not fear being wealthy, Burkett also counsels that such blessings do not provide a license to either hoard money or spend it on a lavish lifestyle. Burkett clearly is no advocate of "health and wealth " teachings, having nothing but scorn for "prosperity peddlers" whose teachings he sees as little more than a mask for greed. Every Christian, he wrote in his 1987 book Answers to Your Family's Financial Questions, should shoot for a personal status "somewhere between the careful and the foolish hoarder. hellip; God wants us to have some surplus but not an attitude of selfishness or greed."
Burkett goes so far as to argue that any Christian, at any economic level, who has a relative excess of money is to provide for the needs of the organized church, fellow believers, and the needs of destitute unbelievers. He bases this on 2 Corinthians 9:8:"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (NIV). In his view, giving 10 percent of one's gross income "is a minimum testimony" that in most cases should go to one's own congregation. Both Burkett and CFC stress that Christians should keep local, congregational commitments before giving any money to parachurch organizations (including CFC). The proper use of money within the local church has also been a major thrust of Burkett's writing, and an area CFC has targeted through materials like the Business Management in the Local Church series and audio sets such as The Dollars and Sense of Administration.
Burkett is also irritated by the church's tendency to expect a lower standard of living for those in "full-time Christian service " in light of verses such as 1 Timothy 5:17-18: "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor hellip; 'Do not muzzle the ox.' " He feels even stronger about the need for individual church bodies to return to a New Testament model of caring for widows, orphans, and other destitute people within the congregational family. In Burkett's view, someone who falls within the care network of the church should never have to tap into welfare or any government programs for basic support. Young widows and divorces with children should be able to stay at home with their children until the children are in school. In his 1991 book, The Complete Financial Guide for Single Parents, he touts alternative ways for churches to meet these needs, through daycare centers, summer latchkey programs, and Big Brother programs.
While some people quibble with the precision of some of Burkett's biblical rationales for giving and stewardship, most evangelical leaders would rejoice if they could count on their constituents for the sort of financial commitment he preaches. Although national surveys routinely show that members of evangelical denominations are the most generous givers among all religious groups, their giving still does not come close to Burkett's high ideals. And evangelical giving has begun to decline, according to Sylvia Ronsvalle, coauthor with her husband, John, of Behind the Stained Glass Windows (Baker, 1996), a study of congregational giving patterns in 15 denominations."Evangelical giving is, on average, at about 4 percent of household income, but it's dropping," she says.
Much of Burkett's counsel on personal finance is pure economic common sense, although his justification always leads back to the Bible. Burkett strongly urges every individual and family to be firmly committed to drawing up and following a budget. To determine the priority and necessity of purchases, Burkett advises a three-tiered approach to spending that he once called a "Volkswagen/Oldsmobile/Cadillac" strategy of needs, wants, and desires. Needs include food, clothing, housing, job-related expenses, medical care, savings, educational provisions, and other basics; wants involve choices about the quality of goods—steak or hamburger, new or used car; and desires are those things that we can afford only after meeting all obligations, material and spiritual.
The cornerstone of Burkett's counsel—and the mantra by which he is best known—is his emphasis that "God's people should be debt-free." Burkett's views on debt are based on numerous biblical passages, including "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender" (Provverbs 22:7) and "Owe no one anything except to love one another" (Romans 13:8, NKJV). He is a firm believer that debt is the equivalent of bondage, and that its eradication—after providing the basics needed to live—should be viewed by all believers as financial task number one. No single topic gets as much space in Burkett's writings and radio time as the problem of debt—his advice about avoiding and getting out from under it is made concrete by anecdotes of any number of " Paul and Julies" and "Bill and Pams" who foolishly went into the red through careless spending, poor record-keeping, risky investments, or get-rich-quick schemes.
Apparently it is a message many evangelicals need to hear. According to Burkett and CFC, the profile of the typical caller to Your Money Matters is a married woman in her mid-to-late 30s with two children and an annual household income between $35,000 and $45,000. On the average, Burkett claims, they carry a balance on their credit cards of $7,000 to $10,000, still owe around $6,000 in educational loans, maintain vehicle loans of about $20,000, and owe an average of $120,000 on their homes.
Nonetheless, Burkett's tough stance on debt alienates a portion of those who come into contact with his materials or radio program. This may partially result from what seems to be a major communication problem with many of Burkett's readers, listeners, and would-be constituents who believe he is against borrowing money under any circumstances at any time.
While I researched this article, a number of casual conversations elicited responses like:
"Burkett? He says it's unscriptural to take out a mortgage to buy a house," or "Oh, isn't he the guy who says you have to save up all the money before you can buy a car?" That's not the case. Burkett will concede that Christians may go into debt for housing and—if they are willing to do so—an automobile, although he strongly pushes the wisdom of buying used cars. Borrowing for these necessities, covered by a payment contract, he feels, is legitimate as long as one faithfully meets the note's condition of the payments.
But it seems clear that's not what many people, awash in a sea of easy and abundant credit, take away from his radio program or from CFC seminars and materials. The "no debt" message is what comes through.
Six Principles of the Biblical Investor
Burkett finds his biblical model of a canny speculator in Solomon. In Investing by the Book, (1992), Burkett referred to David and Bathsheba's son as
"the best investor the world has ever known" because he embodied three key traits: He diversified his investments (Ecclesiastes 11:2: "Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the Earth"). He invested ethically (Ecclesiastes 12:13: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments"). And he relied upon good counsel (Proverbs 15:22: "Without consultation, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established").
Burkett's specific counsel for today's "average" investor not quite gifted with the wisdom of Solomon emphasizes adjusting one's investment strategies for the different seasons of life; using what Burkett considers the most sound investments (a home, rental properties, mutual funds, insurance, company retirement plans, and government-backed securities); and avoiding "investment halls of horrors" such as commodities, partnerships, tax shelters, precious metals, gemstones, coins, and stocks.
How sound is such advice?
"It would be hard to find someone who has done more for helping with people's personal finances," says Bruce Howard, an assistant professor of economics at Wheaton College, although he also criticizes Burkett's pessimism about the overall economy.
Brian Wesbury, vice president and chief economist for the Chicago-based investment house of Griffin, Kubik, Stephens & Thompson, likewise argues that Burkett's personal financial guidelines are"almost perfect. " Wesbury, a former chief economist for the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, cites Burkett's emphasis on debt reduction as especially important in the current economy:
"In the inflationary period of the 1970s, being in debt was nowhere near as painful as it is now; in this era of near deflation, he is giving excellent advice when he tells people to reduce debt to a minimum."
Nevertheless, Wesbury disputes some of Burkett's investment specifics, and believes he is particularly "too focused on 'hard assets' " in touting real estate over stocks.
Gary Moore, who considers himself a former friend of Burkett's and now a staunch critic, thinks Burkett's main problem is a pessimistic worldview that plays into the fears of his audience."I believe a biblical worldview has always asked us to number our blessings and focus on the milk and honey rather than spy on the sizable giants in any promised land," says Moore, a former senior vice president of Paine Webber who now has his own investment firm (Counsel to Ethical and Religious Investors).
"The facts are that Larry's listeners are average Americans, which means they are among the top 1 percent of all wage earners in human history. But few 'feel' that way," Moore says. "The American economy and stock market have been wonderful for two decades. But tens of thousands of evangelicals missed much of them as they were often hunkered down in T-bills, despite the biblical teaching of the parable of the Talents."
"A lot of doom and gloomers come and go on Wall Street," Moore adds. "But I can't remember one being as deeply pessimistic and wrong as Larry."
National Doomsday Prophet
Burkett began branching out from his role as a personal finance guru in the late 1980s. A staunch Republican, his interest in politics grew steadily as he became increasingly appalled at the nation's moral slide, Ronald Reagan's inability to corral the national debt, and George Bush's refusal to toe the line of fiscal austerity. Burkett has been a player in GOP campaigns for statewide office in Georgia, as well as the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a "nonpartisan research and educational organization" that "actively supports private enterprise, limited government, and individual responsibility." In 1994 he—along with Bill Bright, James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, and Donald Wildmon—helped create the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal defense team aimed at counteracting the efforts of the ACLU in religious freedom cases.
His overt political activity has been much less consequential, however, than the influence of his books The Coming Economic Earthquake (1991, rev. 1994), and Whatever Happened to the American Dream (1993). A self-described admirer of the Austrian libertarian economist Ludwig von Mises, Burkett points to the problem of the national debt (exacerbated by the continual spiral of consumer debt) as the overriding problem of the American economic scene. In line with most conservative and free-market analysis of recent American history, he traces the nation's economic troubles to the introduction of Keynesian policies and the expansion of the national debt during the New Deal.
During the Great Depression, Burkett believes, the American people hungered for a strong leader, much like the children of Israel who sought a monarch and ended up with King Saul. Americans ended up with Franklin Roosevelt. The implementation of New Deal policies and subsequent decades of government overspending and overcontrol saw the abandonment of biblical financial practice—i.e., free-market capitalism with minimal government intrusion—on the macro level. To Burkett, who sees the nation's economy as reflective of its overall moral condition, our rejection of godly economic principles and the postwar rejection of Judeo-Christian values go hand-in-hand.
Burkett envisioned the Reagan administration, at least on a financial level, as an opportunity to reverse this situation, an opportunity he believed was lost when Congress refused to match tax cuts with promised spending reductions and then failed to live up to the Gramm-Rudman Act. Unhappy with George Bush's failure to live up to his predecessor's policies and sure that the U.S. was headed for a major recession by the mid-1990s, Burkett released The Coming Economic Earthquake in early 1991. The book sold over 550,000 copies and Burkett himself believes that it played a role in the rise of Ross Perot and Bush's subsequent defeat by Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election.
Burkett was, and is, appalled by Clinton—in any number of ways. In terms of his economic impact, Burkett likened the 1992 election and Clinton's reneging on promises of a tax cut in favor of raising taxes to "the American people decid[ing] they didn't like 'Captain' Bush [and] elect[ing] 'Captain' Clinton who has been airlifted onto the Titanic and is now steaming full speed toward the mid-Atlantic ice pack." Burkett's 1993 response was Whatever Happened to the American Dream (a book which had significant input from Republican congressmen Tom DeLay of Texas and Dan Burton of Indiana), followed up the next year by a second edition of The Coming Economic Earthquake, advertised as "revised and expanded for the Clinton Agenda."
In the new books, Burkett continued to hammer away at government spending, the financial unrealities he believed were contained in Clinton's proposed attempt to reform the health-care system, and what he saw as the excesses of the environmental movement. (Burkett is a virulent critic of the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund and does not believe that either global warming or the ozone hole constitutes a credible scientific problem.) Throughout all the books was the message to individual evangelicals to use their personal ballot and opinion to change national spending policies, with the warning to be ready to hunker down for possible rough times ahead.
The predicted "economic earthquake" never occurred, however. In fact, the exact opposite happened—the United States experienced a major upturn in which the stock market climbed to never-imagined heights. Still, Burkett does not think his analysis was mistaken. If anything the timing was off, because the election of the 1994 Republican Congress and the defeat of Clinton's health-care plan served as partial corrective steps that delayed an inevitable, cyclical, downturn.
"I don't pretend to be a prophet," he said in our interview. But, he believes, "Some of our warnings may have had an effect in turning up the heat" against excessive government spending. Burkett's new book, Crisis Control in the New Millennium, sounds many of the same warnings as his earlier volumes. Now, however, the national comeuppance for our government and consumer debt has been cloaked by a "bubble economy," which, for a variety of factors, has evaded the larger troubles of the international market. This bubble, Burkett is convinced, must pop sooner or later, and he believes that the year 2000 is a likely candidate, brought about by international complications stemming from Y2K fears.
In radio broadcasts and his recent book, The Millennium Debugged (Bethany House, 1999), Hank Hanegraaff—no stranger to controversy himself—has criticized Burkett's earlier predictions of an economic meltdown, fingering him as one of the major evangelical culprits in spreading alarm about Y2K. In Burkett's defense, anyone who read his writings or CFC's statements on Y2K can see that he was certainly no head-for-the-hills-with-your-generator-and-ammunition panic-monger. While he forecast the possibility of some inconveniences and minor shortages in the U.S., his basic stance differed little from most middle-of-the-road analysis and official government pronouncements.
The problem which Hanegraaff does legitimately pick up, however, is his tendency in both his radio broadcasts and writing to indulge in off-the-cuff verbal scenarios of possible outcomes. Again, as in his pronouncements against debt, there appears to be a major disconnect between Burkett and his audience—not just on Y2K, but on his generally gloomy views of the economy. Bruce Howard recalls how in the early 1990s the economics department at Wheaton began receiving calls from concerned alumni who had read Burkett's material. One frantic woman "had come home from work and found that her husband had put their house up for sale after reading The Coming Economic Earthquake." Another man who had read Burkett's books called and told Howard he was considering "building a bomb shelter and hiding out" somewhere in the Southwest. "This was doubly crazy," Howard said, "because I knew Larry had not told these people to do anything like this, but this was the message they somehow extracted from what he was saying."
Howard eventually became concerned enough about evangelical economic pessimism to write his own book, Safe and Sound: Why You Can Stand Secure on the Future of the U.S. Economy (Tyndale, 1996). Good news, apparently, does not travel as well as bad within the evangelical community—Howard's book only sold about 5,000 copies.
In light of recent fluctuations in the stock market indices, one wonders what effect—good or bad—Burkett's latest warnings might be producing among a few of his constituents. To avoid taking a major hit in the market, Burkett advises the readers of Crisis Control to consider the status of their own investments and their capacity for risk. Burkett writes,"if you cannot manage a prolonged market turndown—financially, emotionally, or by virtue of your age—don't wait until such a crisis occurs. It will be too late. Take your profits and/or your investment capital, and run! Now! The most you can lose are the taxes you will owe anyway and a few months' potential profits." After sharing his own story about having cashed out 70 percent of his stocks in July 1998, Burkett warns/consoles his readers:
"above all, don't panic. After this economic crisis comes and goes (as it must), the ensuing recovery should leave our economy stronger than ever. hellip; You can always switch back into the market by mid-2000. If my analysis (feelings, guess, whatever) [author's words] is correct, you'll miss a major market and economy correction."
From William Jennings Bryan to Pat Robertson, the tendency of successful evangelical leaders to move beyond their expertise to grapple with larger problems is hardly a new phenomenon. For all his personal piety and good will, for all his talent at helping people see their way clear of personal financial quagmires, is Burkett out of his depth at this level of analysis? Do you trust the mechanic who can tune the engine on your Chevy to come up with a five-year plan for General Motors? Financial analyst Brian Wesbury argues that one of Burkett's mistakes in looking at the big picture is to assume that "the same rules which apply to the individual also apply to the economy in general. Our national debt is something we owe to ourselves—and something we offset with absolutely tremendous assets, resources, know-how, and potential. " Another problem that Burkett sees as a major warning sign—the national trade deficit—is, in Wesbury's opinion, a questionable indicator of an economy's health. He points out that the United States usually operated at an enormous trade deficit until early in this century, yet the national economy was incredibly prosperous. By contrast, he points to contemporary Japan as an example of a very favorable trade balance existing alongside a stagnant, ailing economy.
Beyond the macroeconomic nuts and bolts of Burkett's prognostications lie deeper questions about his attempt to wed biblical prescriptions to major socioeconomic problems. For Burkett this matter boils down, as he said in our interview, to his belief that "the Bible is an infallible source of truth and is true for every generation." Christians, however, have been known to disagree about what the Scriptures teach. If the various strands of the church cannot agree on the mechanics of salvation or sanctification, how are we to agree upon—much less operate upon—biblical principles for economic life?
Wheaton's Howard, for one, has trouble picturing exactly what shape a "biblical economy" might take. Howard wonders how Burkett would square biblical concepts such as the Jubilee with his support for a lean, nonintrusive government. While Howard does not doubt Burkett's personal good will, he wonders what steps Burkett would consider legitimate for the government to take regarding the nation's economically disenfranchised:
"What do you do with a national economic liability such as the person who can't read?"
Burkett clearly feels compassion; his teachings on a variety of scores—such as his empathy for single mothers—provide clear evidence of that. Indeed, Burkett's life has been touched by personal trauma. Seemingly at the zenith of his influence, Burkett was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in March of 1995. He subsequently underwent two painful operations that removed one of his kidneys and his left shoulder blade. Burkett's cancer went into remission, but he now lives with chronic pain.
Viewing his ordeal as an opportunity to help fellow believers in similar circumstances, Burkett wrote his 1996 book Damaged But Not Broken (retitled Hope When It Hurts). Offering spiritual comfort, financial advice, and information on cancer-treatment resources and strategies, Burkett tells the story of his ordeal. Even in this, however, Burkett is something of a contrarian, taking on prevailing American medical wisdom by touting the benefits of immunotherapy and nutrition over the conventional use of chemotherapy. Although his regimen has been curtailed, Burkett stays busy writing, speaking, and broadcasting. And Christian Financial Concepts—with or without Burkett—appears set as a major organizational presence within the evangelical community for years to come.
Ultimately, however, an emphasis on the "big picture" dimension of Burkett's teachings and influence may be a burdensome benchmark by which to judge the man and his ministry. Perhaps Burkett should be forgiven for not having figured out all of the subtleties and intricacies of macroeconomics. One look at this morning's Wall Street Journal or a text about U.S. economic history shows that he has plenty of company.
Counsel for Rising Evangelicals
Perhaps Burkett's real significance lies in his being the first major figure in modern evangelicalism to get many evangelicals to think strategically about money. The 1970s brought the advent of books like Harold Hill's How to Live Like a King's Kid and the growing popularity of the "health and wealth/name it and claim it" brand of prosperity teaching touted by Kenneth Copeland and Robert Tilton. At the other pole, growing affluence promoted much soul-searching as evidenced by the impact of books like Ron Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Between the two poles was Burkett, whose teachings provided a middle ground in which God honored traditional American virtues of hard work and expected his people to live a decent, comfortable life—even as all one's assets ultimately belonged to God and one should strive to advance the work of God's kingdom and help those in need.
More fundamentally, it must be remembered what a service Burkett's advice is for many evangelicals. It is easy to forget that the vast majority of people who bore the titles fundamentalist, Pentecostal and even evangelical in the previous 100 years tended to fit into one or more such categories as Southern, rural Midwestern, and poor/working class. And although the scrub-faced, prosperous evangelical residents of recent decades have likely been a computer technician in Kansas City, a mid-level manager in Indianapolis, or a teacher in San Bernardino, it's very likely they were born in Atoka County, Oklahoma, or traced their roots to small-town Michigan, or had parents who had given up on the prospects of farming in east-central Mississippi.
For these evangelicals who came of age in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Burkett seems to have provided valuable counsel amid the maelstrom of American economic life. During this time, a multiplying abundance of consumer goods—made ever more tempting by the exertions of Madison Avenue and a never-ending revolution in consumer credit—made materialism a soul-vexing national malady. At the same time, periodic recessions, bouts with runaway inflation, soaring interest rates, and changes in the very nature of the American economy tested the patience, knowledge, and foresight of the most financially savvy. Undoubtedly this was doubly true for those whose family background or life experience found the problems associated with mortgages, credit cards, taxes, saving for children's college educations and retirement not only complicated but strange new territory.
Against this backdrop, it is no wonder that many American evangelicals, like so many nouveau riche young rulers, began to cry out What must I do to be saved? as they confronted the twin dilemmas of personal finances and their obligations to God. Having achieved a tenuous prosperity in a land whose moral and societal values were increasingly contrary to their own, where could they find the sorts of answers they sought? The instincts of people at First Congregational or St. Andrew's Episcopal might have been to consult Dean Witter about such problems. The folks at Antioch Baptist and Centerville Nazarene inclined their ear to Larry Burkett, because he seemed to have first consulted a yet higher financial authority.
Larry Eskridge is associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College.
See today's related article, "Forgive Us Our Debts," and last week's article, " We're in the Money!"
Christian Financial Concepts has an online presence that includes online financial tools, devotionals, and links to Burkett's articles and daily radio programs. Burkett's money columns for Crosswalk.com are archived on their site.
CCNfn reported last year on Larry Burkett and the trend of using biblical wisdom in financial planning . Larry Burkett critic Gary Moore's Web site offers articles, resources, and "laudable links." Crosswalk.com has also done an interview with Moore where he outlines his views on financial planning for Christians.
All of Larry Burkett's books are available from the Christianity Online Bookstore.
Last year, Christianity Today looked at the issue of tithing . Our sister magazines have delved into money articles as well. Campus Life has discussed financial stewardship for college students, and Today's Christian Woman looks at why it pays to be cheap. Marriage Partnership helped a couple come together on money matters, offers couples long-term money management advice, and interviewed Christian financial guru Bob Russell.
A few of the many Web sites that deal with money from a Christian perspective include Live It!, Crosswalk.com, and iBelieve.
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