The oft-repeated quote "Money is the root of all evil" would suggest that religion is the last thing you would want to mix with financial planning decisions. But Ronald Blue, for one, thinks many people misunderstand the relationship between God and the pocketbook.

Take a look at the Bible, he says, and you'll note that many people get the quote wrong. The correct quotation is: "The love of money is the root of all evil" (Timothy 6:10).

That may represent a slight difference to some. For Blue, a financial advisor who is a staunch believer in the melding of religion and finances, the distinction means everything.

"If you can hold the wealth you have with an open hand, you're free," he says. "My own belief is that unless you teach your children to give, you'll never give them financial freedom. The people who are least free are those who hold it tightly."

If the Bible did say money was evil, Blue would indeed be in a pickle. His biblically based wealth-management firm, Ronald Blue & Co. LLC, headquartered in Atlanta, has about $2.2 billion in managed assets, spread out among 15 branch offices and 3,000 clients nationwide.

Blue is the author of six books, and the co-author of three others, that espouse the belief that the alignment of one's spiritual and financial goals is among the keys to a happy life.

His best-selling book, Master Your Money, was written in 1986 and is in its twenty-sixth printing. By Blue's estimate, about 1 million copies have been sold.

He's a frequent public speaker, averaging between 50 and 75 talks a year, and is a periodic guest on evangelical Christian radio and television shows such as The 700 Club, Focus on the Family and Family News in Focus. Among the principles that flow through all his books is: "The absolute beginning point is an understanding that God owns it all." That means we are the stewards of wealth rather than its owners. He's a hearty endorser of charitable giving, and he was one of the founding directors of the National Christian Foundation, a donor-advised fund he started in 1982.

The parents of five children, he and his wife, Judy, have written on the value of teaching children financial principles at an early age. "Money management is a reflection of spirituality," Blue says in Money Matters for Parents and Their Kids, which he co-wrote with Judy in 1988. "The reality is that we are managing God's resources for some brief period of time. An owner has all the rights; a steward has only responsibilities."

Yet Blue understands that a practice like his can make some people uncomfortable, and he is quick to dispel the notion that he's a Bible-thumping advisor who talks to clients from a pulpit. Although many clients may be drawn to the firm because of a commonality of values, Blue maintains they generally come because of its reputation for competency. He notes that not all its clients are Christians, and there are no "spiritual qualifications" for the firm's 220 employees, including its 50 financial advisors.

"I don't think it's for religious reasons, and I don't think my books have anything to do with it," Blue says of his company's success. The firm has grown so large that he rarely meets with clients and instead devotes himself to the strategic side of running the business.

Observers say that on a strictly financial basis, Ronald Blue & Co. is building a strong reputation. "They're a first-rate firm and easily on the short list of who will be the dominant competitors [among advisors] in the United States," says Mark Hurley, president and CEO of Undiscovered Managers, which does research for the company.

Hurley credits the firm with building a national presence through acquisitions during the past several years. "They operate like a business, as opposed to a practice," he says.

One of the challenges for Ronald Blue & Co., in fact, has been managing growth, says President Doug Wilson. Its client base has been growing at about 10% a year, much of it through acquisitions. Half its branch offices, for instance, were added as a result of mergers, including recent ones with companies in Dallas, Phoenix and Washington. "We merge on the basis of shared purpose and cultural alignment, not as a financial roll-up," Wilson says. That's why the firm formed a two-person team a year and a half ago with a mission to search for businesses that could potentially fit in with Ronald Blue & Co., he adds.

As for other client growth, Wilson says, much of it is through word of mouth. Like Blue, he feels the firm's religious philosophies are secondary issues for clients. "I think the majority of our clients are looking for competence first, and the shared world view is a tremendous resource that validates that competency choice," Wilson says.

A former client, Wilson left a job as executive director of human resources and strategy for Eli Lilly to join Blue in 2000. "What was so compelling was the opportunity to create for other clients the experience that was created for me," he says.

Blue has built businesses before, but not with a Bible under his arm. The son of a factory worker, Blue grew up in a middle-class home in Lafayette, Ind., with a desire to strike it big in business. "I was raised in a religious home, but to me, it was all form and no substance," he says. "I wanted to be successful, whatever that meant."

After graduating from Indiana University with a master's degree in business administration, he joined the management group of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. A few years later, at the age of 28, he started his own CPA firm in Indianapolis. By 1974, Blue had built the business into a clear success. He also owned a couple of small banks and belonged to several exclusive country clubs. As for his income, "I was making more money than my dad ever dreamed possible." On paper at least, he was a millionaire, and he was enjoying it.

A few years earlier, however, Blue's wife, Judy, had turned to religion after coping with an illness that almost killed her. Blue would have none of it. "I told her I didn't want to be challenged in my decisions and my lifestyle," he recalls. "I threatened her with divorce. She didn't say anything about it for the next two years."

Yet Blue says his wife influenced him nonetheless. "I came to an intellectual decision that the Bible could be believed and that there was a guy named Jesus, and he had been resurrected," he recalls.

Then one day in 1974 when he was on his way to play golf, Blue says he did something that was unusual for him: He prayed. "I believed I needed a savior," he says. "Over a period of time, my value system changed, my life changed, and I became convinced what I had done was the right thing."

Three years later, Blue left the CPA firm to become administrative vice president of Leadership Dynamics International, an Atlanta-based ministry. He made 11 trips to Africa over the next few years, designing evangelistic campaigns and leadership and management seminars.

The ministry work, however, soon led him back to personal finance. First, he did a financial plan for a minister at a Dallas seminary. "I just gathered information and identified goals and said, 'You're on the right track.' He just needed someone to tell him he was just doing fine."

Then he did a financial plan for a doctor in Phoenix that included giving $1 million to charity over a five-year period. "That really launched things," he says. "I realized there were a lot of people with high charitable objectives. They just needed a road map."

He then founded Ronald Blue & Co. in 1979 and was hired by Campus Crusade for Christ, an international ministry, to meet and work with the organization's large donors. It was a relationship that solidified his business early on, he says. "It gave me credibility and a national clientele," he says.

By this time, Blue was seeing connections between his financial work and the Bible that formed the foundation of what he now preaches in his books and speeches. "As I read the Bible, I began to realize there was something behind that common sense I used as a planner," he says.

Encouraged by friends, Blue put the observations to paper, writing Master Your Money in 1986. The book struck a nerve in the Christian world, as Pat Robertson and the heads of other large national ministries started offering the book to donors. "All I did was codify common sense and relate it back to the Bible," he says.

In talking about borrowing, for example, Blue pointed out that it is not wrong for a Christian to borrow money, but it can be a dangerous practice if not done wisely. One of the biblical passages he used to illustrate this is: "The wicked borrows and does not repay/But the righteous shows mercy and gives." (Psalms, 37:21)

In another section, he writes: "Proverbs, 22:7 says, 'The rich rules over the poor,/And the borrower is servant to the lender.' ... This verse does not prohibit debt, of course, but it certainly cautions against the use of debt."

Blue wasn't the first to draw parallels between the Bible and personal finance. Before Master Your Money, author Larry Burkett had applied biblical principles to topics such as taxes and getting out of debt.

Blue, however, took biblical financial writing to a new level, says Scott Kays, president and founder of Kays Financial Advisory Corp., and the author of Achieving Your Financial Potential, which also draws comparisons between the Bible and finances. "Ron was really the first one to extend it further into investments, insurance, and take it to the extent he took it," Kays says.

Kays also credits Blue and Burkett with bringing money matters more out into the open within the Christian church. "There is a religious perception, if I can put it that way, among some camps that church is not the place to talk about sex and money," he says. "But there are a lot of us who contend the Bible talks about these things pretty openly and blatantly."

While Blue says his firm's religious philosophy can help create strong bonds with clients, it does not pervade the financial advice given by the firm's advisors. In fact, he says, the firm's financial planning recommendations are grounded in finance and would be just as applicable to an atheist as they would be to a religious person.

"It makes a difference in the relationship, but in terms of the advice, it doesn't make a difference," he says. "I can relate to someone who doesn't believe in the Bible at all and give the same advice."

At the same time, he says, clients can feel comfortable bringing up issues involving religion. In a recent meeting with a family client, for example, Blue was working with a couple who were struggling with the decision of what to do with a psychological-testing business that the husband had spent 50 years of his life building.

They were torn between leaving the business to their children and selling it. "As mature as they were, it was a hard process," he says. "The father believed that God had given him the ability to build this company."

Blue drafted a plan in which the company was left to the couple's children in their will, then had a day-long family meeting to discuss it. With the couple, their two daughters, their son-in-law and granddaughter present, Blue started asking questions.

"Do you trust your daughters?" Blue asked the father.

"Yes," he answered.

"OK, then that means you would trust their judgment with what they do with the company, right?" Blue said.

After the father nodded, Blue turned to the daughters and asked, "You've got the company, your dad has been dead five years, and someone offers you $100 million for the company. What are you going to do?"

"Sell it," the youngest daughter said.

Turning back to the father, Blue asked, "Is that OK?"

After some hesitation, the father finally said, "Well, if I guess I said I trusted their judgment, it has to be."

It's the type of family meeting the firm routinely has after laying out an estate plan, Blue says. "The biggest thing is they came in really uncertain and really fearful," he says. "By the time they ended the day, they said they felt really good about what they did and where they were headed."