Russell Earl Kelly was quick to respond to my piece The Backlash Against Tithing. But, like our Confederate ancestors at places like Gettysburg, he may have charged without properly assessing what was in front of him.
Let me start by reiterating one important point that Dr. Kelly has obviously missed: I do not say that tithing is a New Testament concept. It isn’t. It’s an Old Testament one. Selling all is the standard of the New Testament, whether we’re talking about the rich young ruler or the Jerusalem church. The fact that American churches–liberal and conservative alike–do not teach this is for two reasons:
- American culture is too bourgeois for selling all. For the moment, at least. That may not last.
- The concept of the Jerusalem church was so successful that no other church mentioned in the New Testament emulated it. It’s dangerous to make an argument from silence, but in this case there needs to be a good reason not to perpetuate the model that the Apostles themselves started in Jerusalem.
That being the case, it remains to discover just what is expected of Christians relative to giving to the church. It should be self-evident that, in the face of the high standard of the New Testament–communal living or not–10% is cheap. Given that, I think that 10% is a reasonable starting guideline. If you have people in the church who are too destitute to pay it, then it’s the church’s obligation to do something about that. One of the reason why Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire after only three centuries is because it took care of its own, something churches are rediscovering in wonderful ways today.
Now to another point that he makes:
Tithing is not the magic lottery-sty [sic] not the secret to success.
This gets us into the whole issue of prosperity. Unfortunately Dr. Kelly has chosen to engage a Palm Beacher in debate on this subject, so he’s in for a wild ride.
Prosperity is a relative term. Since he lives in a Mega Millions state (up here, we get the Powerball numbers, too) when I think of a "magic lottery," I’m thinking big. Given the grandiose way that prosperity resulting from giving is set forth, I’ve always felt that the resultant wealth from this should result in net worth comparable to the people I grew up with, and the influence on the society that goes with it. With very few exceptions, that hasn’t panned out. Part of the problem I discussed in my piece If You’re Going to Take the Land, Take It, but there are other good reasons as well.
For most Evangelical Christians, prosperity is a decidedly modest proposition–reasonable housing for the family, decent transportation and clothes, good health, etc. That’s what’s being promised, and is usually an integral part of the "redemption and lift" theology so common today. In addition to the lifestyle changes wrought by salvation in Jesus Christ, the financial aspects of this are twofold: supporting the work of the church (so that others can experience what you have) and not allowing the consumerist urge to overspend and go into debt to become de facto "idol worship." The main fault with the way most churches present stewardship is they dwell on the former to the exclusion of the latter, with the result that their members are so far in debt they’re unable to give. (I discussed the debt problem in my original post, but that’s another point that Dr. Kelly overlooked.)
Since we’re getting into depth of content issues, I need to present my challenge.
My Challenge to Dr. Kelly
I noted on his site that he likes to see his book reviewed. The list even includes the website of my current employer. If he wants make Positive Infinity another notch on his gun stock, my challenge is as follows:
- I will be glad to read and post a review of his book if and only if he commits on a public forum (his site or mine will do) that he will do the same for a book of mine, and do so by the end of this year.
- Once this agreement is made, we can exchange books. His is available online; I can email him a copy of mine. (Click here for the website for these books.)
- Again, before the year is out, once he has read my book, he must post a review on his site, whether he thinks the book is relevant to his idea or not. He must do this in a place where it can be found. In my case, I discuss just about anything, so that’s not a problem for my posting of the review of his book.
- This agreement must be made by the end of this month (November 2007.)
Let the games begin!