Being Right May Not Be Enough

It’s tempting for me to dismiss Russell Kelly’s last outburst in our back and forth on tithing.  But I can’t quite bring myself to do so.  The whole encounter has been rather bizzare, given that we both agree on the most important premise: that tithing is an Old Testament concept, not a New Testament one.  Let me start by making two important points.

The first is that his charge that "you seem to want to judge me as very narrow minded" is not correct.  What I said was that he is "narrow-focused."  There’s a difference.  I’ve taken the trouble to find Dr. Kelly’s entries on other blogs, and basically he’s a "one-note" (thus the drone analogy) instrument about the falseness of tithing.  He’s like a one-issue candidate: he or she may be right about that issue, but if the candidate is elected, he or she will have to deal with the wide variety of matters other than the issue they’re running on.  My purpose in the original post (and follow up with him) was to broaden the debate to include the whole spectrum of Christian "prosperity teaching" and stewardship as a two-way street in the church, but he has chosen not to do so.  That’s his prerogative, and I’m sorry I offended him in the process, but he has to realise that some of us look at things from a different vantage point than he does.

And that leads to my second important point: although I am Pentecostal in affiliation and ministry employment, my Christian intellectual formation is heavily Roman Catholic in content.  That explains my view on the relationship between the Old Testament and the New, and that also explains my conviction (in part; my formative years in Palm Beach were the actual genesis of this) that selling all is the stewardship ideal of the New Testament.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy to do or not frought with practical difficulties.  But it’s like the Sermon on the Mount; it’s hard to put into practice, but the more of it we do, the better off we and the church are.  To its credit, the RCC does more to facilitate this ideal than just about anyone else.  But even if we never get to this point–and most of us don’t–the total commitment of our lives and resources is where we want to go in our Christian walk.

That last point, of course, is what Bernie Dehler (my other commenter on the original post) was trying to say, and I agreed with that.  But I suspect that Dr. Kelly’s reluctance to face this issue–and, if he did, his job of refuting the tithe enthusiasts would be a lot simpler–is a product of his Baptist/Evangelical formation.  Evangelical Christianity has brought the faith to new levels in many ways, but there are certain places where, to put it bluntly, Evangelical Christianity has pandered to the world around it in order to become respectable and accepted.  And I’m not thinking about prosperity teaching, which is relavtively new; I’m thinking about issues such as the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the reality of miracles and spiritual gifts and manifestations after the Apostles, and of course the business about selling all.  As far as Baptists are concerned, one could throw in the whole business of combining an Arminian view of election with a Calvinistic view of perseverance ("once saved, always saved,") which obviates the whole need for discipleship.  My comment that "Dr. Kelly is an adherent of a religious system that is simply too conventional and bourgeois to grasp the basically radical, revolutionary nature of the Gospel" needs to be seen in that light.

Finally, at this point in history, Evangelical Christianity in the US in in a tight place.  Out of favour with the country’s elites for at least a century, those elites are very much "on the move" to do it in, and many things that are going on–including Charles Grassley’s grandstanding–are a part of that.  My corporate and ministry experience, though, tells me that we need to do more than gripe about "corruption" or ape the world’s social goals (as the Episcopal Church is doing with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.)  We need a constructive plan that works, and one that may be a major departure for American Christianity to boot.   Such a plan may put many people out of their comfort zone–including people such as Kelly and Dehler–but the survival of the faith will depend upon it.

When I look at Dr. Kelly’s website and admire the long list of Christian preachers he refutes, a line from the "John Boy and Billy Show" comes to mind: "We like a good fight down here."  That’s what I thought when I saw his original comment.  But we all need to keep the following in mind:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  (Ephesians 6:12)

Finally, on a more personal note, I make a lot on the site about growing up in Palm Beach, probably too much.  (People do find it interesting, though…)  My wife, on the other end, grew up in very serious poverty.  But she and her family tithed and gave offerings through the whole dearth of resources.  They also backed this up with serious Christian living and very tight management of their substance.  The blessings we have today are in no small measure a result of that faithful (and comprehensive) stewardship.  (Dr. Kelly might argue that being married to me isn’t much of a blessing, and he’s probably right!)  People who have the same experience (and there are many) will find Dr. Kelly’s message very offensive, especially his characterisation of tithing as a "lottery," which is one reason I satirised it the way I did.  The next reaction he gets may exhibit more anger and pain than mine.

3 thoughts on “Being Right May Not Be Enough”

  1. Hi-

    One of the main problems I see with tithing is that 10% is WAY TOO MUCH for the poor and WAY TOO LITTLE for the rich. “Stewardship” is a better program… managing all of our time, treasure, and talent for the Lord (and there are various ways to give to the Lord outside of the local church). It is so easy for a rich person to give 10% and then get self-righteous, and a poor person to struggle with it and feel (unnecessarily) guilty. That is a great shame, I think.

    I agree with you that we should be “well rounded” and know how to talk lovingly and with logic with all kinds of people.

    …Bernie
    PS: Please call me; I’d like to give you some more info. 503-317-0746.

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