BOSTON — A Hummer, a 1957 hot rod, a comfortable house in a gated community — if Bob Vigliotti wanted something, he bought it. Cash or credit didn't matter. As a successful commercial real estate developer from Naples, Fla., he could afford it. Until he couldn't.
In 2007, the budding economic downturn claimed one of his major projects. For two years, Vigliotti, 58, battled depression as he bled $1 million cash. But Vigliotti said just when he thought there were no answers, he found them in the Bible: debt reduction, simpler living and, most of all, faith that God would provide what he needed. Vigliotti won't buy on credit now, is selling his pricey vehicles and is looking to downsize to a condo.
"The angst, anxiety and the depression is gone, and that's huge," Vigliotti said. "(The Bible's words) are alive today, and not just history book words."
Depending on your view, the Bible is divinely inspired or a collection of tall tales. But many see it as a source of financial wisdom that transcends individual faith and the centuries between when it was written and today's tough times.
"All sound professional advice, I found, ... has its roots someplace in Scripture," said Ron Blue, author of "Surviving Financial Meltdown" and founder of the Kingdom Advisors, which trains Christian financial professionals. Blue uses the Bible for guidance on everything from budgeting to long-term investing and handling an inheritance.
But Robert Manning, author of "Credit Card Nation," said biblically based financial advice isn't sophisticated enough in a world of rising health care, housing and retirement costs, where people need to learn to take advantage of complicated credit and tax laws.
"If you're going to go pre-New Deal, 1924 America, that's basically what this advice is driven by," Manning said. "It sounds so good and plausible until you actually put it into reality, and it just doesn't work."
Purveyors of biblically based financial advice count up to 2,300 verses on money management. Frequently cited verses in the Old Testament book of Proverbs urge careful spending, including "The plans of the diligent lead to profit, as surely as haste leads to poverty." Another warns debtors that "the borrower is servant to the lender."
Blue sees advice to diversify stock portfolios in a verse about a man's "bread" from Ecclesiastes: "Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land."
But the many verses can be interpreted in different ways.
For instance, in the gospel of John, Jesus says "I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full," which some "prosperity gospel" preachers see as a promise of material wealth to faithful givers. Others say it's an assurance of joy or contentment.
The Bible's core financial principles aren't pliable, as the varied interpretations might suggest, said Matt Bell, Christian author of "Money Strategies for Tough Times." But during an economic downturn, people can be pulled every which way by someone holding up a Bible and handing down their version of financial wisdom, he said.
"Any time someone is in a point of pain, they're especially vulnerable," Bell said. "That's where they especially need wise counsel."
Plenty are willing to give it. Financial guru Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University course has enrolled more than 750,000 families. Crown Financial Ministries, based in Gainesville, Ga., says it will give 300 seminars and "coach" 10,000 people this year.
Regional events and workshops are offered by authors such as Bell and Kevin Cross, a Florida accountant whose book "Building Your Financial Fortress in 52 Days" changed Vigliotti's view of money.
Whatever brand of financial philosophy they offer, Manning sees self-interest in church-based advice on money management because struggling members give less to the church and also take more away in the form of financial aid. He said such ministries can be a way to impose "social control" by convincing churchgoers to use their money only in church-approved ways. They're also "a hook to bring people in, to have them rejoin the flock," he said.
"They went on their wayward ways, and look what it got them into," Manning said. "But if they come back to the church and they follow the prescription, life is going to be on autopilot again."
Blue said reaching people with biblical financial principles is much more about affecting what's in people's hearts than what's in their pockets. Money and the pursuit of wealth are huge sources of stress, and God wants us to handle it properly so that we can be at peace, he said.
"The way you spend money is a function really of your character, your values and your priorities in life," Blue said. "So when the Bible speaks about money, it's not as interested in making you a millionaire as it is helping you shape the character of your life."
Sally Geckeler of Johns Creek, Ga., turned to biblical financial principles after her husband died in a ultralight plane crash in 2004, leaving her his business and three boys to raise. When she began to view money as God's possession, and not hers, her fears eased and now she makes better financial decisions, she said.
"I have to have goals and reasons I do things, not just go frivolously spending it on whatever I desire," said Geckeler, 48.
James Hudnut-Beumler, Dean of the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University and author of "In Pursuit of the Almighty's Dollar," said he respects many Christian financial advisers for taking the "magic" out of faith-based money management by emphasizing sound choices, and valuing things that can't be bought.
But he said the Bible is ultimately a profound account of God's relationship and enduring love for humanity. There's a danger its greatness can be diminished if it comes to be viewed as a sort of financial fix-it book for helping people manage personal finances.
"Suddenly, you're crediting the Bible for something quite less than what it might have done for you," he said.
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