Friday, November 01, 2013

Help Needed ... please

Here is what the video looks like.
Click here to go to it.
Can I have 30 seconds of your time? So, for every day over the next two weeks, you can help my wife and I win a Caribbean Cruise!!! Please go to this link, "like" the Idealshape Facebook page, and then vote for MY video. You can vote ONCE per day for TWO weeks.

That's it!! It should only take about 30 seconds per day. You can watch my video and leave comments below if you'd like ... 

Thanks for your support!

Monday, September 09, 2013

Paul R. Fink 1930–2013

Paul Fink (2/6/1930-9/7/2013) went to see our Lord this past Saturday, September 7, 2013. He was 83.

One of my first memories of Dr. Fink was a School of Religion business meeting at Liberty University. Dr. Fink was suffering from a very serious heart condition, such that he could die at any moment. The doctors couldn’t operate because of his diabetes, so they were trying to figure out a way to fix the condition. Dr. Towns asked him for an update and he said this: It’s an amazing feeling knowing that at any moment I might open my eyes and be in the arms of my Savior, Jesus Christ. They found a way to fix the problem and he taught for several more years. He retired in May.

At Columbia Bible College and Liberty University
Where he began his training and where he served the Lord for decades
Paul Fink received his B.A. from Columbia Bible College in the 1950s (now Columbia International University). He completed both his Th.M and Th.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary, with an Adv. M.Ed. from the University of Southern California. He did some post-doctoral study at Purdue University.
Before getting his training as a minister of the gospel, Dr. Fink served in the United States Navy from 1948-1952. He taught for 55 years (see list below for details).

He was also the Founder and President/Instructor of Amherst County Bible Institute, Madison Heights, VA 1983-1989; 1996-2013. This ministry provided free education to mainly minorities in the Madison Heights area. Dr. Fink did this free of charge, just desperately trying to help these aspiring and active ministers to be more fully trained. One of his biggest concerns in the last few years of his life was finding someone to replace him in that ministry. The last I heard, no one was willing or able to fill his place. He was also an interim pastor of over 17 churches.

Dr. Fink threw his life into teaching, mentoring students, and his Bible Institute. But he did find some time for writing (see his list of publications below). Dr. Towns, the former Dean of the School of Religion at Liberty University, who attended Columbia Bible College with Dr. Fink in the 1950s, would travel around the world, find a Liberty University graduate, and ask them: “What was your favorite class while at Liberty?” He said that the consistent response was: “Inductive Bible Study Methods with Dr. Paul Fink.” Over and over again, that was what he heard.

Dr. Fink and I at his retirement party
I shared an office at Liberty University with Paul Fink in his last year of teaching. He moved to part-time and so he would use my office on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s. My name was on the door, but I took my name out and put his name in. He would then take his name out and put my name in. This went back and forth for over a month or two, until he found a way to put them BOTH on the door. He was a very humble, prayerful man. Heaven just received a true vessel created for honor (cf. Rom 9:21). He will be missed by his wife, Mary Lou (married for 62 years), his six children, and his twenty grandchildren. Please be in prayer for them.

I rejoice that Saturday, Dr. Fink opened his eyes and finally saw his Savior, the One he truly put his hope in, the One he served for over half of a century, the One he loved above all others, the One he sought to bring glory to every day of his life.

Southern Bible Training School, Dallas, TX 1958-62
Professor of Homiletics and Pastoral Theology at Grace Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, IN 1963-79
Adjunct Faculty at BIOLA College, La Mirada, CA 1969-70
Professor of Biblical Studies and Pastoral Ministry, Liberty University 1979-2013

Contributor to the Liberty Bible Commentary: 12 Minor Prophets
Contributor to The Open Bible: wrote 35 articles.
Contributor to Wilmington’s Survey of the Old Testament: wrote over 90 articles.
Contributor to the Christian Life Bible: 2 Peter
Contributor to The Annotated Bible: Minor Prophets, Romans, Pastoral Epistles, and Petrine Epistles.
Contributor to The Teachers’ Bible

Friday, September 06, 2013

Beloit List

What stuck out to me in the Beloit List about the class of 2017 (college freshman this year):

Eminem and LL Cool J could show up at parents’ weekend.
GM means food that is Genetically Modified
As kids they may well have seen Chicken Run but probably never got chicken pox
They have known only two presidents
Courts have always been ordering computer network wiretaps
With GPS, they have never needed directions to get someplace, just an address
There has never been a national maximum speed on U.S. highways
Don Shula has always been a fine steak house
Their favorite feature films have always been largely, if not totally, computer generated
They have never really needed to go to their friend’s house so they could study together
Their parents’ car CD player is soooooo ancient and embarrassing

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Some Thoughts on Presenting the Gospel

I love sharing the gospel with unbelievers, both in large settings and individually. I've taken courses in seminary on evangelism, both at the M.Div. and Ph.D. level. But my suggestions here are really based upon my experiences in witnessing one-on-one.

First, you don't have to present the entire gospel in 2 minutes or less. I think Christians feel pressure to make their gospel presentation very short. When they do this, they sometimes (inadvertently) cut out some important truths. It's better to present well what you have time for than to short-change the entire presentation. For example, if I were using Gilbert's model (God, Man, Christ, Response), I would much rather do a thorough job with the first two points and then, if I'm running out of time or they have to go, make an appointment to complete the conversation.

Second, ask questions. I am familiar with many different methods for evangelism: Evangelism Explosion, The Four Spiritual Laws, The Bridge, Share Jesus Without Fear, and The Way of the Master. While I don't use any of them, I use all of them. What I mean is, I don't just stick to one model, but I have a conversation with the person I'm witnessing to. I ask them a lot of questions. I show a genuine interest in them, who they are, what they think. I'll ask them questions for as long as they want to answer. The questioning usually starts with where they are from and how they were raised, to the kinds of church experiences they've had, to their thoughts on the after-life. I try to continue asking questions (both theological and personal) until we hit a dead-end. Every time I've done this, at some point, the person will then say: tell me about you. Since I've shown a general interest in them, they now want to do the same. I just respond with: what do you want to know? And they usually will jump right to the end: what do you think about the after-life? I then usually repeat the question, making it clear that they really do want to hear my opinion. They nearly always repeat the question. So now I have an unbeliever almost begging for my testimony and the gospel. I have their ear, because I've earned it by showing an interest in them.

Third, rabbit trails are good and bad. I try to stay away from issues not central to the gospel (like speaking in tongues for example), but if they have a genuine interest in an area, again, I will show that my care is for them as an individual not just to get "my presentation" out. So if they really want to go down a rabbit trail, I'll follow them for a short time.

Fourth, ask if they understand. I try to be super-clear when presenting the gospel, so this question can be painful. Why painful? Because the person typically says either: 1) "Yes, I understand." But they really don't, or 2) "No, I don't understand ....". How do I know they really don't when they say they do?

Fifth, once they believe they understand the gospel, ask them to explain it to you. This is where you have to listen very closely for many reasons. You want to make sure that they have truly understand the central components of what you've told them. You want to look for a works-based salvation on the one hand and an easy-believism gospel on the other. Some people will describe back a gospel based on works, not because that's what you presented, but because lost people have a difficult time understanding God's grace. Others will describe an easy-believism gospel because that's all they've ever heard. Make sure you correct their misunderstanding.

This fifth point, I have found, is a missing key in most evangelism. People can answer "yes or no" questions easily. Give them a multiple choice test and they'll do fine. But ask them to explain the gospel and you'll quickly hear what they don't understand. Doing this helps them to really grasp what the gospel is AND helps us to understand what we might have said that was unclear. This part, while it can be painful to hear a mutilated gospel at time, can be so amazing as you hear an unbeliever explaining to you the gospel. 

What about a response? There are many ways you can lead people in a response to the gospel and I do it differently for different people. My favorite way is the following:
1) Ask them if they believe what they've just explained.
2) If they say yes, ask them if they believe in Jesus, who the Bible declares Him to be and that He paid for their sins. Ask if they have repented (make sure you define this term).
3) If they say yes, I ask if they think they are a Christian. This gives another opportunity to clarify the gospel. If they say "no," I can then ask why. If they say "yes," then ...
4) I ask them to "pray the gospel" back to God, praising Him for what He has done for them. I don't lead them in a prayer, but I lead them to the One who saves. So they pray to God and give Him honor and praise.

Sixth, keep Christ the focus of everything. Don't be sidetracked by the pitfalls I described in earlier posts. Stay focused on the glory, wonder, and love of Christ. Show how beautiful and glorious He is and let the Holy Spirit work in their hearts to convict them of their sin and lostness. Don't be manipulative, but be loving and Christ-centered.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Saved from Hell?

One more problematic presentation of the gospel I want to mention that occurred to me writing those recent posts is a particular manifestation of a manipulation of people when the "gospel" is preached: "You don't want to go to hell do you?" In the end, some evangelists will lean upon an appeal to fear, specifically the fear of going to hell. In the end, they communicate that the gospel is the power of God to save you from hell. That's the "salvation" part of the gospel, is that it gets you out of hell. However, scaring people into coming forward and repeating a prayer doesn't mean they are actually responding in repentance and faith. It just means ... well ... you scared them!
What does the gospel save us from? R. C. Sproul's book Saved From What? explains that the gospel saves us from the wrath of God being poured out upon us (1 Thess 1:10). That is basically a description of hell. But my concern is not that this is incorrect, but it can be like "reverse carrot stick" evangelism. Rather than attracting people to Christianity with things other than the glorious Jesus Himself, we scare people away from the alternative (by the way, I'm not suggesting Sproul did this in his book). While it is totally true that we are are saved from God's wrath, I don't believe that's the best motivation for coming to Christ, nor should it be the only motivation. We are saved "from God," that is, from God's wrath, but we are saved "for God," that is, to bring glory to God in our lives.

I still hold that the attraction should be Jesus Himself, honoring His life, death, and resurrection; that scaring people into a decision isn't a full gospel presentation; that we need to focus more on the content of the gospel and not just the responses to it (though those need to be defined carefully and correctly).

Monday, August 19, 2013

Confusing the Response with the Actual Gospel

An evangelist came to a church I was attending several years ago. He came preaching a message on Christian living. It was an okay sermon, very energetic. About 95% of it was directed toward those who were already Christians and how to live as a Christian. Then, right near then end, he "appended" an appeal to get saved. Said that without Christ we are lost and will never be able to have a relationship with God. Then he said that if they wanted to have a relationship with God they needed to "repeat this simple prayer." He had everyone close their eyes and those who wanted to become a Christian were to repeat his words in their heart and really mean it. Then he proclaimed that those who prayed that prayer were saved. What's wrong with this? Here is a non-exhaustive list:
1) He actually never mentioned faith/believing.
2) He quickly referenced "repent from your sins" during the prayer, with no definition or explanation given for what repentance was.
3) He was compelling people to respond ... but what were they supposedly responding to? The gospel? No, the appeal to be in a relationship with God. But what did that mean? He didn't say!

Is this the content or the response?
Many preachers confused the appropriate response to the gospel with the gospel itself. Repentance and faith are the appropriate responses to hearing the proclamation of the gospel. However, they are not the gospel itself. Note what Jesus says in Mark 1:15 (HCSB): "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!" The saving response to the good news (the gospel) is repentance and belief. But if we are repenting and believing in the gospel, then they are not the gospel itself. They are the responses not the content. So the problem with this presentation of the gospel is that it confuses the appropriate responses with the actual content of the gospel. Therefore, when repentance and faith are presented as if they are the content, the gospel has not actually been presented. So what is the person who responds by prayer a pray actually responding to? They are responding to the general concept of becoming a Christian, but that is not a response of faith, it's a response to belong to a group, to be a part of a religion or an organization. This is a huge problem today. What is the content of the gospel?

Greg Gilbert (What is the Gospel?) and Trevin Wax (Counterfeit Gospels) do a great job simply explaining this, though in different ways (both books were mentioned in a previous post). Gilbert uses four words to summarize the gospel: God, Man, Christ, Response. Each word has several concepts connected to it (these are my summaries, not Gilbert's).
God - He is creator there we are accountable to Him

Man - Adam rebelled against his Creator and transgressed God's law. Therefore he was separated from God and all his descendants, which is all of humanity, are separated from God. All people are born enemies of God. We are in a desperate situation, declared guilty before God.
Christ - God initiated a relationship with mankind over and over again: the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant are two examples of God initiating a relationship to mankind. But His ultimate initiation was sending His Son, Jesus Christ, the God-man, to live a perfect life and die a perfect death. His sacrifice was for us. He died in our place. God himself paid the penalty that we could never pay in order to restore us in to a relationship with God. Christ's victory over death and sin, that He was who He said He was, was ultimately demonstrated by the resurrection.
Response - Now repentance (turning from sin) and faith (trusting in Christ Himself and His work on the cross as sufficient to pay for our sins) can be explained in a context as a response to the gospel.

Trevin Wax organizes it differently. He pictures the gospel as a stool with three legs. The first leg is the gospel story: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. The second leg is the gospel announcement, which is very similar to the "God, Man, Christ, Response" explanation above. The third leg is the gospel community. He says "the gospel story is the context in which we make the gospel announcement" (Wax, 154). Without the gospel story, the gospel announcement can easily be understood, especially in a culture that is unfamiliar with the Bible. Then he says: "The gospel story and the gospel announcement lead to the formation of the gospel community" (Wax, 155). Here Wax explains that once someone has heard the gospel story and announcement, if the presentation of the gospel ends there, they might misunderstand that being incorporated into a local church body is not just an option but is essential. The church is birthed by the gospel and is the place where we are sanctified. The body of Christ is one of the tools that God uses to make us more like Christ (to sanctify us). American individualism gets in the way of this tool.

Is this more complicated then just saying: repent and believe! Yes, it is. Does it take more time? Yes, it does. Sometimes it might take several meetings for the unbeliever to understand. Sometimes they won't understand the first, or second, or tenth time you explain it. Make sure you do the true work of an evangelist and give the content to the gospel, not just the proper response when witnessing to unbelievers.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Robert C. McQuilkin

Robert C. McQuilkin (died 1952) preached a sermon called "Surrender and Faith." Here are two quotes that I particularly appreciated:

“But I want to remind you that saving faith is not just saying is not just saying with your lips that you believe that Christ is the Son of God. The devil, the demons, believe that and they tremble and they’re waiting they’re judgment. Well they know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. There is a believing even in the works of Christ that is not saving faith.”

“Saving faith is committing myself to the Lord. And when I say I believe in Christ as my Savior, I wish you young people would get this, you are taking Christ as your Lord. If you think you took Christ as your Savior and did not take Him as your Lord then you never were saved. Because, Jesus the Savior is Lord.”

Friday, August 16, 2013

Columbia International University

Many of you know that I have moved to Columbia, South Carolina to begin teaching in the Seminary and School of Ministry at Columbia International University. CIU has an orientation process for their new faculty that I've already appreciated greatly. It really helps new faculty (especially those who were never students here) to grasp well the ethos of the school and its history.

CIU has a broad evangelical statement of faith. This is in contrast to a denominational college or seminary that might be Presbyterian, Baptist, or Methodist. The only unique aspect to the statement of faith (or, doctrinal statement) that is more narrow than a broad evangelical stance is the statement on premillennialism.

CIU purpose statement is to "educate people from a biblical worldview to impact the nations with the message of Christ." We have five core values:
1) The authority of Scripture - Scripture governs everything CIU is about. It is inspired and inerrant.
2) Victorious Christian living - This has been explained in several different ways, but basically it is the expectation that a Christian will be growing in Christ-likeness and not stagnant in their faith.
3) World Evangelization - CIU is most known as a missions sending school (though it is much more than that). The emphasis upon reaching the lost throughout the world for Christ is felt throughout campus. When driving on to the main road leading to the campus (called International Blvd), flags of nations throughout the world are flying (see picture to the right).
4) Prayer & Faith - This is a community that relies upon God for everything and demonstrates that reliance in prayer. Several days throughout the school year classes are cancelled so a dedicated time in prayer can be spent.
5) Evangelical Unity - We are a diverse faculty coming from various perspectives: covenant and dispensational, paedo-baptist and credo-baptist, calvinistic and arminian. We avoid dogmatism on non-central doctrines and avoid compromise by holding to an strong evangelical, orthodox doctrinal statement.

As I blogged previously, I have had many connections to Columbia, SC and CIU over the years. I'm excited for classes to begin next week and to get back to teaching. This is a wonderful place with so many godly, humble, meek servants of our Lord Jesus Christ. It truly is an honor to be working here.

Carrot Stick Evangelism: A Distraction and Detraction

Edward and I were at a sub shop eating lunch. He was raised Jewish, but really didn't know much about Judaism, the Old Testament, not to mention Christianity. I had been meeting with him for a few weeks and he had started attending church. He had heard the gospel several times at this point and we had spent several hours going through the typical apologetics-type questions unbelievers ask. Then he said: "Many of my friends say that if I go to church and become a Christian that I'll have a better life: better friends, better finances, better health, a happier marriage, you know, those kind of things. Do you think that's true? Do you think that if I become a Christian that all those areas in my life would get better?" This, I think, is kind of a trick question coming from Edward.

A clear, faithful presentation of the gospel should be one of the main goals in evangelism, but some times we focus on other things, things that end up distracting and detracting. What is carrot stick evangelism?

The phrase comes from the idea of leading a donkey or horse by tying a carrot to the end of a stick and holding it in front of them to lead them in the direction you want them to go. You hold out a "reward" for the animal when it does what you want it to do. You try to "attract" them to go in a certain direction.

So carrot stick evangelism is when we hold out things other than Christ as the reward or attraction to the Christian faith. What are these "other things"? It could be deliverance from depression or some illness. It could be a happier marriage or friends that are trustworthy. It could be a non-prosperity gospel explanation that when you use your resources the way God intends, that your finances will be in a healthier place. It could be that God will relieve you of all your anxiety. We can be so tempted to hold these things out in our evangelism, tempted to attract people to less anxiety, more health, a better marriage, etc. But is that what we should be attracting people to in our presentation of the gospel?

My answer is an unqualified "no"! And I'm NOT just talking about prosperity gospel preaching. Don't place the carrot on the stick in front of unbelievers of a "better life". I do believe that following the principles laid out in Scripture will typically lead to a more joyful life, in marriage, friendships, finances, etc. But ... but what if God decides that suffering an illness will help make you more like Jesus and bring Him glory? What will that young convert think when he is diagnosed with cancer three months after "making a decision" for Jesus? He'll think what many have said after hearing the "carrot stick" evangelism method: Christianity doesn't work. Instead of attracting unbelievers with these superficial things, let's attract them by lifting up Christ, His life, His death, His glorious resurrection and ascension. When the glory of Christ is explained, when His love as expressed in His life and death is explained, that is what should be attracting unbelievers. And what's their reward? Not just the avoidance of hell (another "iffy" gospel presentation method), but they gain Christ. Christ is both the attraction and the reward! If someone "makes a decision for Jesus" because they want a better marriage, I ask this: is that a true conversion? Did they convert to Christianity or to a man-made religion that gets them whatever they want? So this method distracts from what is the only thing that can truly draw them to God, Christ; it detracts from the glory of Christ by presenting a "better life" as more praiseworthy, more glorious than Christ himself. So how did I answer Edward?

"Edward, I do believe that following the principles in Scripture typically leads to the things you've mentioned, but I do not want you to come to Christ so you can get those things. I want you to become a Christian because you fall in love with the God of the Bible who has already demonstrated His love for you in the life and death of His Son. I want you to be attracted to Christianity because Jesus is so glorious! I want you to see that the reward of becoming a Christian is knowing Christ! Not some temporal reward of better health or more money. So, let's talk about Jesus and what he's done for you."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Critiquing Some "Gospel" Presentations: Part 1

When I began teaching New Testament Survey at Liberty University in the Fall of 2006, I quickly discovered that many of my students did not have a firm grasp ... or at times ... any grasp on what the gospel was. So I began looking for a short book on the gospel to supplement a New Testament Survey book. The only two book that came close to what I was looking for were: 1) God is the Gospel (2005) by John Piper; and 2) Saved From What? (2002) by R. C. Sproul. There were problems with both, however.

With Piper's book, I didn't feel comfortable using any book by him with the heated dialogue that was taking place about Calvinism at Liberty University during this time period (aka, the almost debate between Ergun Caner and James White). The same problem crossed my mind when Mark Dever's published his helpful work The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (2007).

Sproul's book brought similar baggage, but I was able to use it for a year. It did a fine job in what he was trying to do and it ministered to many students in a powerful way. But it still wasn't exactly what I was looking for. And I was still uncomfortable using a book by someone so Reformed at Liberty University at that time. Also, the resurrection of Christ was heavily minimized, about 2-3 references in the entire book.

And then an explosion occurred:
- Greg Gilbert's excellent book: What is the Gospel? (2010)
- Trevin Wax's wonderful book: Counterfeit Gospels (2011)
- Matt Chandler's The Explicit Gospel (2012)
- Paul Washer's first two installments of his (soon to be) trilogy: The Gospel's Power & Message (2012) and The Gospel Call and True Conversion (2013).
I'm sure more could be added to this list! Regardless, D. A. Carson has repeatedly stated that when the gospel is assumed by one generation, it can easily be denied by the following generation (Basics for Believers, 27). These are not identical presentations of the gospel, but they are all very helpful. Reading through these works (and listening to this sermon by Paris Reidhead) has helped me to see two specific problems with gospel presentations in many sermons today that I want to focus on (not that their aren't others):
1) Carrot Stick Evangelism
2) Just Explaining the Response

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Tithing After the Cross

Over a year ago I was contacted by and old professor of mine, Dr. David Alan Black, and he requested that I write a book for the new publishing company he was editing for, Energion Publications. Specifically, he wanted me to write  in the Areopagus Critical Christian Issues series on the topic of tithing. As some of you are aware, I have published two scholarly articles on tithing (co-written with Dr. Andreas Kostenberger: part 1 and part 2), a lengthy monograph called You Mean I Don't Have to Tithe?, and a four views book called Perspectives on Tithing. So, why did I agree to write another book on this topic?

First, the monograph is very long, somewhat technical, though very documented. While there are over 1800 footnotes to support the research in You Mean I Don't Have to Tithe?, some people have found the prose too technical, the length too overwhelming, and the price too high (it's about $37 on It contains most of my thoughts on the subject, but it can be a little overwhelming.

Second, the chapter I wrote in Perspectives on Tithing is very limited. To go from over 300 pages to about 30 was a difficult task. I had to edit out so many thoughts that it made the argument less than convincing for some.

Third, while the monograph has almost all the content of this new book, Tithing After the Cross, the structure of this new book makes it an easy resource. See, the monograph is an inductive study on the issue, beginning with church history, then going through both the Old and New Testaments, and then theological systems. The new book is structured around the specific arguments for the continuation of tithing. So there are five categories of arguments: 1) Old Testament Arguments, 2) New Testament Arguments, 3) Theological Arguments, 4) Historical Arguments, and 5) Experiential Arguments. The arguments for tithing are discussed in order from weakest to strongest in each chapter. The book ends with a summary of principles for giving in the New Covenant. So, if there is a particular argument for tithing that you want to research and/or understand, you can easily access it in this book.

Fourth, this book was not written in scholar-ese. I attempted to make it understandable to lay people, not just pastors and scholars. It's under 100 pages in total length.

Fifth, this book is the most affordable. Right now amazon has the paperback on sale for $8.99 and the Kindle version for only $2.99. Now people won't have to take money away from their tithe in order to afford the book ... I'm just joking! :)

I'll end with some of the endorsements it has received:

Craig L. Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament
Denver Seminary, Denver, CO
"David Croteau has already published a detailed study of all the significant biblical, theological and historical evidence for and against tithing as a mandatory practice for Christians. Here he distills the highlights of that research in brief, accessible form, responding to the most common arguments for tithing. Croteau convincingly demonstrates that believers after Jesus’ death and resurrection are not required to give ten percent. Instead they are exhorted to generosity and sacrifice, which for a few Westerners may be less than ten percent but for many of us means much more. Here is essential reading for the Christian who wants to be
biblically obedient!"

Andy Naselli, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology
Bethlehem College and Seminary, Minneapolis, MN
"This book is thoughtful, clear, pastoral, convincing, and convicting. It does not lead to a position that Christians should give less than ten percent. Rather, (a) if the foundation of giving is our relationship with God and the grace and love he gives us and (b) if the amount we give is based on our income, what we determine
in our heart, the needs of those ministering to us and of fellow Christians, and generosity, then why give only ten percent?"

Michael A. Grisanti, Ph.D.
Professor of Old Testament
The Master’s Seminary, Sun Valley, CA
"David Croteau has provided the Church a concise and helpful argument for a biblical approach to giving for modern times. By contending that God does not require tithing for believers today, Croteau does not seek to minimize the giving of God’s people. Rather, he wants people to give in accordance to the pattern provided
by the Scriptures: generously, cheerfully, and sacrificially. May God’s people understand that we should not limit our giving to 10% of our resources, but to give in light of God’s abundant mercy and grace toward us."

George Athas, Ph.D.
Dean of Research and Senior Lecturer in Old Testament Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia
"With sharp simplicity, David Croteau exposes a range of assumptions that many Christians employ in their thinking about tithing. He demonstrates how these assumptions can appear to be biblically based, and yet surprisingly be flawed. Croteau then uses sound biblical principles to shape a wise and godly attitude towards financial giving for the Christian. His concern for biblical faithfulness and God’s grace is evident throughout, and his explanations are enlightening and encouraging. Croteau is to be commended for serving the Christian community with these valuable (pun intended!) insights on what can be a controversial or even burdensome topic for believers."

Robert L. Plummer, Ph.D.
Professor of New Testament Interpretation
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY
"There are many soundbites on tithing, but few exegetical studies - even fewer that are understandable to the average layperson, well-written, and concerned about the practical generosity of God’s people. Well, there may only be one book that fits that description, and you’re holding it in your hands."

Russell S. Woodbridge, Ph.D.
co-author of Health, Wealth & Happiness: Has the Prosperity
Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ
"If you want a concise overview of a better way to give generously to the Lord, then this book is for you. Dr. Croteau has provided a resource for the church to examine biblical principles for giving today. He fairly responds to the arguments for tithing today, and winsomely presents his view of grace-driven giving. Whether or not you believe tithing is still applicable today, this book will help you sort through the issue, and become a more generous giver."

Sunday, July 07, 2013

The San Francisco Plane Crash

I had a wonderful, but exhausting week, in South Korea. I was invited to teach through Paul's Epistle to the Philippians on Jeju Island just off the coast of mainland South Korea. I would be speaking to about 25 college-aged students from South Korea, Japan, and the United States at the Word of Life Bible Institute. Saturday began with a drive to the Jeju airport, followed by a quick 1 hour flight to Gimpo Airport in Seoul. After a bus ride across town, I arrived at the Incheon Airport in Seoul for my United Airlines flight to go home. We were flying through San Francisco.

I actually went to high school in the Bay Area (Foothill High School in Pleasanton, CA) and received my M.Div. from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary just north of San Francisco in Mill Valley. So the area brought back a lot of fond memories, including the first apartment my beautiful bride and I lived in: a one-bedroom coming in under 500 square feet. This planned layover at SFO would be short: about 2 hours. No time to visit friends.

Our plane arrived about 20 minutes early. The pilot joked at how rare that was and asked us to excuse them for the next time we traveled when they would be their typical 5-10 minutes late. So at 11:05am we touched down, a very rough landing that the pilot tried (in vain) to joke about ... not very funny. Regardless, I needed to get through immigration, get my bag, and get rechecked in and go through security in under 90 minutes. So I rushed through everything and in record time, getting to my 1:00pm flight gate at 11:45am.
As I approached the gate, I saw a crowd at the window looking outside taking pictures and video. I wondered: "Haven't these people ever been to an airport?" It was odd to see them so fascinated with the plane that I figured was pulling up to the gate. As I smirked I looked out the window and saw this ...
Picture from my phone at SFO on 7/6/13

Cancellations for incoming flights
 That was when I noticed: everyone was silent and serious. After a minute or two, I asked someone what happened. The first of many pieces of misinformation I would receive that day: "The plane was taking off and it crashed." In fact, the plane was landing, but I didn't find that out for some time. We all were just staring out, waiting for the inevitable: the cancellation of our flights. And then they came ...

We all were told to go re-book our flights. The problem was, the airline had no idea when the airport would re-open. So I quickly rescheduled my flight for 10:15pm that night.

While waiting for the 10:15 flight, I went in to a restaurant to grab a bite to eat and watch the news. When I saw the picture on the screen I started to shake: the plane that crashed took off from South Korea at the same time as mine and was one of the options I had looked at for flights. If our plane had not been early, we would have been landing at right about the same time. I don't know exactly what I was feeling, except a sense that I had been close to death. In reality, I was safe in my Heavenly Father's arms. But that (truer) reality didn't kick in for a few minutes.

Rumors circulated that the plane had done cartwheels, that no one had died, that 60 had died, that 2 had died, that an engine had failed on descent, that no planes were leaving SFO until Monday, etc., etc. Eventually my 10:15 flight was cancelled. So I got back in line again. This time I was told that all flights from SFO, Oakland, and San Jose were book for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. It might not be until Friday until we all can get out of the Bay Area. I quickly called the phone number given to me and took the first flight out of Oakland: Monday at 6:00am.

Now I needed a place to stay. I asked the airline if they could provide a voucher since I was getting a connecting flight (most people around me were flying out of SFO, not connecting). They said that since the situation wasn't there fault, I was on my own. So, my precious wife got on Facebook to reach out to friends around San Fran. An old friend, Brad, called and invited me to stay at his house. He gave me directions on how to take the shuttle to his place, but at that point I had been up for almost 24 hours straight (I can't sleep on planes). I found my way to the shuttle. After driving for about 25 minutes I asked the person in front of me: "Please tell me we've been here before" (I thought my exhaustion finally got to me!). She informed me that we were driving in circles, around and around the airport until the shuttle filled up. So, after about four circles, we finally left the airport. In all, it took almost 2 hours to get to the end of the line where my friend lives.

On the way we passed Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, where I had studied from 1997-2000. From the freeway I could see the first apartment my wife and I lived, a restaurant where we had a date (right next to the Ferrari dealership), and many other places of memories past. Every 2-3 minutes I would smile large and sigh as I had a memory of a place. It had been 13 years since I had seen this area, but there were a lot of good memories.

I went to bed rather quickly and woke up over 11 hours later. We talked for about four hours, enjoying great conversations about Exodus International (he had been on staff there in the 90s), Rob Bell, spiritually abusive churches, the emerging/emergent church, his writing projects, my writing projects ... all stuff from the past 13 years we wanted to catch up on! However, we didn't have a way for me to get to the Oakland Airport Monday morning, until a high school friend of my wife's called.

C.J. is a fireman in San Fran. He was actually on a boat at the airport the previous day searching in the water for any survivors. He came to Novato (25 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge) and took me to his house near Oakland to stay for the night. Now I'm preparing for bed for an early (4am) taxi ride to the airport. If tomorrow goes well, I'll have started my trip in Jeju at 9:45am and it'll (Lord willing) end in Columbia, SC tomorrow at about 6 or 7pm. I think that's like almost 70 hours, but the time zones are rather confusing for me!

Please pray for a safe, quick trip tomorrow. I really miss my family.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Is 10% a "Good Place to Start"?

In a recent article, John Ortberg said: "Tithing is a bad ceiling but an excellent floor." In fact, I've heard many pastors say that while they can't prove that tithing is mandated for Christians, or that while they (only) think it is (they are a little unsure), it's still "a good place to start". First, why would they claim it's a good place to start? Second, is it really a good place to start? This second question digs in to why this really can be an important issue in the life of church members.

Two main reasons come to mind. First, they misunderstand tithing in the Mosaic Law and think that it was 10% of income. We never see any example of a person commanded to give 10% of their regular income nor any example of someone doing that. Neither Abraham, Jacob, Old Testament Jews, or Jews in the New Testament are described this way. The literature between the Old and New Testament don't describe Jews tithing in this way and Josephus (late 1st century) doesn't describe Jews tithing in this way. Second, some have recognized that Jews never gave 10% of income, but when they get to the New Testament, they appear to be "mesmerized" by the English dictionary definition of the word "tithe" being "10%". They seem to just fail to connect the dots.

Here are my reasons for YES:
- easy to calculate
- not unreasonable for most
- sounds biblical
- if every Christian did it, the financial needs of the church would be easily met

Here are my reasons for NO:
- It is unfair. If Bob the Christian makes 1 million dollars a year and Joe the Christian makes $20,000 a year, giving 10% is financially easy for Bob, but brutally difficult for Joe. After giving 10%, Bob still has $900,000 to live and Joe only has $18,000. Joe's gift would be very generous and sacrificial; Bob's gift would sound very generous to our ears, but wouldn't be sacrificial in comparison.
- It is unreasonable for some. There are some people who have no business giving 10% of their income. Whether it's unforeseen medical bills, a tragic accident, or a job loss, we have a huge percentage of Christians in significant debt today (sometimes they are in debt because of foolishness and/or materialism, of course). I've heard pastors say that if you give 10% regularly, then God will take care of you financially. That is true for some, but for others, people I've know who have given far beyond 10%, some have ended up filing for bankruptcy! All the while praising God for "taking care of them"! I've heard many pastors say "You can't out give God," but I've actually seen people who gave so foolishly that they DID out give God. I know that sounds so offensive to many, but God has given us a brain between our ears and He expects us to use it. When you keep giving 10%, or 12%, or 14% while sinking deeper and deeper in to debt, something needs to change! This is not an isolated issue, either. Simply search online for stories about people going bankrupt who were tithing ... you find a lot of stories. You'll even get to read about the government writing and changing laws about tithing while filing for bankruptcy. The problem has become so widespread that the federal government has needed to get involved.
- While the word "tithe" means "10%," and while the word "tithe" is used many times in Scripture, is does not logically follow that Christians are required to give "10% of income." There are many things in Scripture both described in stories and prescribed/commanded in the Mosaic Law that do not directly apply to Christians: the Levirate Law, circumcision, Saturday sabbath keeping, etc. What we do not see in Scripture is any pattern of giving 10% of regular income on a regular basis. In fact, we don't see even one story of this.
- While tithing sounds and even feels so pragmatic, while it seems that the church would have so much money if only people tithed, that is not a good reason to require it or even strongly recommend it as a place to start.
- Saying that 10% is a good place to start ends up robbing people. We have two groups that get robbed: 1) The poor are fleeced of money they need for food and shelter. 10% is too high of a burden for some. I could paint this picture in pages upon pages, but I'll spare you. Let me simply say: even the Old Testament law had a lower requirement for giving for those who were poor: if you were not a land owner, you did not pay anything in tithes. 2) The rich are robbed of the blessings they could have by following the New Testament principles for giving. Someone making 1, 5, or 10 million dollars a year should never think that he has satisfied some biblical mandate or concept by giving 10%. In fact, when I've had the privilege to teach New Testament principles in local churches, I'll hear a story about someone making a modest income (less than $100,000 a year) deciding to up their giving to 30% or more! The "10% of income" concept, even when presented as a starting point, becomes a bullhorn that tells the wealthy "don't worry about giving much beyond 10%, you've met the requirement!" Again, this becomes the mindset EVEN WHEN THE PASTOR SAYS IT'S THE "floor of giving" (a concept I disagree with).

Therefore, for some, it is not an excellent floor. Now recognize this: I'm not saying that God wants you to give less then 10%, regardless of your financial situation. He may want you to step out in faith and trust Him. However, He also may want you to learn to be wise and cut back on your giving. Each situation is different, but following the New Testament principles of giving will lead to truly generous, sacrificial, and joyous giving. 10% shouldn't be considered the floor NOR the ceiling.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tithing and Church History (Response to DeYoung part 8)

Historical Theology can be a tricky discipline. It isn't enough to simply list people off who agree with your particular theological stance. Even giving a citation could be misleading. Instead, getting to the reason they believed what they believe is important. Too many times the reasoning has been left out of the discussion with tithing. Other times a more full-orbed perspective on the ancient document or person is needed to grasp their reasoning.

DeYoung cites three historical sources that advocate tithing: the Apostolic Constitutions, Irenaeus, and Augustine. Let's look at those in order.

1) The Apostolic Constitutions (300s)– This document truly is an early and strong advocate for tithing. Two things should be considered when citing this document for tithing. First, the Constitutions equated/likened bishops to priests and Levites and the tabernalce to the Holy Catholic Church. Those two views seem to have driven its stance on tithing. If you disagree with either of those views, you may want to reconsider using this document as a source to back up your views on tithing. Second, in the introductory notice to the Ante-Nicene Fathers (Volume 7), on page 388, the editors noted that books 1-6 are the earliest portions, with book 7 being “somewhat later,” though still very old. The portion in the Apostolic Constitutions that contains the advocacy for tithing is found in book 7. Also, DeYoung rightly notes that the section in the Constitutions that advocates tithing says to utilize “freewill offerings” to support the poor. However, it should be noted that tithing was used for this function in the Old Covenant.

2) Irenaeus (died in 200 A.D.) - Admittedly, the quote from Irenaeus given by DeYoung (from Against Heresies, 4.18.2) is a difficult one to interpret. DeYoung believes that Irenaeus was mandating tithing. However, note these scholars who appear to differ from DeYoung's interpretation of the ambiguous Irenaeus quote:
- Powers (dissertation titled “An Historical Study of the Tithe in the Christian Church to 1648”) said: “the whole spirit of Irenaeus was that the law of the tithe had been abrogated” (Powers, page 21).
- Charles Feinberg (in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 5:758) concluded only that the church fathers emphasized Christian freedom in giving.
- Stuart Murray (Beyond Tithing, 99-101, 106) said that Irenaeus rejected tithing.
Irenaeus' quote, when read in context, is much more ambiguous than DeYoung leads on.

3) Augustine (around 400 A.D.) - I readily admit that Augustine did truly advocate tithing. But two factors need to be considered. First, Augustine clearly misunderstood the Old Testament's teaching on tithing. He is crystal clear in his belief that Jews gave 10% of their income under the Mosaic Law. This misunderstanding of Augustine's fed into his advocacy for tithing. Second, Augustine believed (and practiced) that Christians should sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. This is truly the command of Christ. However, since Christians are so unwilling to do that, they should at least give what the scribes and Pharisees gave, especially since our righteousness needs to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. That is a summary of Augustine's teaching. So recognize his view that tithing isn't really the command for Christians, but sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor. He actually lessened the command down to only 10% of income. I've never actually heard someone utilize that argument in a pulpit, but that was Augustine's. Jerome, John Chrysostom, and Augustine all argued that way.

So while those three sources argued for the continuation of tithing (and there are more), what DeYoung did not mention in his sermon were the early sources that went in the other direction, arguing against the continuation of tithing. I'm not going to get into the specifics of their reasoning (as I don't necessarily agree with how they reach their conclusions and I've done this already in You Mean I Don't Have to Tithe?), but here are a few early sources arguing against the continuation of tithing:
1) Didascalia Apostolorum (about 225 A.D.)
2) Origen (died about 255)
3) Epiphanius (about 370) – This last ancient source, though he is not well-known today, is interesting as he was known as a defender of orthodoxy.

After studying the doctrine of tithing throughout church history, I've concluded that their were godly men on both sides of this debate. The early church was divided in her views, in the Middle Ages advocacy for tithing grew, but division occurred leading up and in to the Reformation. There has not been a consistent view on this issue over the last 2,000 years. The key thing to remember when studying tithing (or other doctrines) in church history is not so much “who concluded what” but more “why and how did they come to that conclusion.” Then we can weigh their arguments and not just say “I'm with Augustine” or “I'm with Epiphanius”!

This series will have one more concluding post.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tithing and Biblical Theology (Response to DeYoung part 7)

DeYoung stated: “How you view tithing has a lot to do with how you view the Old Testament.” This a great transition in his sermon into the area of biblical theology. In fact, what makes the tithing topic fascinating to me as a scholar is its relationship to biblical theology. As a Christian layperson, I'm more curious about how this topic should influence my financial giving to the local church and other Christian ministries. But it is where this topic touches biblical theology that really fascinates me.

DeYoung stated: “I would say every law from the Mosaic Covenant remains and every law must now be understood in light of Christ's coming.” We are in complete agreement on this point. I'm not one of those who say that the Old and New Covenants have no relationship between them. DeYoung refers to those who might say “rip out that page” when referring to the Mosaic Law. While I might be an ardent advocate for grace giving (or, post-tithe giving), I find a tremendous amount of value in the Mosaic Law ... each and every law. And when I read a law that I don't find much value in, I realize that the problem is with my lack of understanding, not the law itself.

Some views on the relationship between the Mosaic Law and Christians
Some say: Every law that is not repeated is repealed. That's the basic stance of some in the dispensationalist camp, particularly older forms like Classic Dispensationalism (think Scofield and Chafer) and Revised Dispensationalism (think Ryrie).
Some say: Every law that is not explicitly repealed continues. That is the basic stance of some in the reformed/covenant theology camp.
Some say: The law has three parts: civil, ceremonial, and moral. The civil laws don't apply because we are not the nation of Israel, the ceremonial laws don't apply because Christ fulfilled them, but the moral laws all still apply.

I think the first two views are overly simplistic. In the third view, I reject that three-fold division. My view (developed from a J. Daniel Hays article in Bibliotheca Sacra) is that every law in the Old Covenant is a manifestation of God's eternal character, therefore every law applies to Christians. But in order to figure out HOW each law applies, we need to get to the underlying principle of the law. The laws, as they are manifested, give the earmarks of being manifested for a particular people at a particular time in a particular place under a particular covenant. So when laws are tied to cultural or covenant aspects that are not directly relevant for New Covenant believers, the way the law applies will be changed ... but that doesn't mean it doesn't apply.

Tithing is connected to: the Levites, priesthood, festivals, and land (and possibly other things as well). All four of those Old Covenant entities are not directly applicable in their Old Covenant manifestation to Christians. We don't have Levites in the church, the priesthood has changed significantly as we are the priests, the festivals, which were pointers to New Covenant realities, have been fulfilled and are no longer literally celebrated, and our relationship to the land has drastically changed. This greatly impacts the issue of the continuation of tithing today.

Furthermore, two specific things that DeYoung states need comment. 1) “So when we look at tithing I don't think there is anything in the coming of Christ that would set apart, that would remove the principle of tithing, but rather should intensify.” I totally agree with this statement in a vacuum, but he seems to believe that the “principle of tithing” is the idea of giving 10% of income, a concept that seems TOTALLY FOREIGN to anything in Scripture. You can't assume the underlying principle, you need to prove it. 2) He states that we are not an agrarian society. I've already responded to this, but this is a common and (apparently) compelling argument by those who mandate tithing for Christians. However, first century Israel was not an exclusively agricultural society, and neither was Israel of Moses' day. Even back in Genesis we see references to money and those who worked trades other than agriculture: Tubal-cain (Genesis 4:22) worked with bronze and iron. While I recognize that the society was more agriculturally based back then, it wasn't exclusively agricultural. That should lead to the question: if an Israelite made money/income apart from crops or cattle, does the Old Testament mandate him to tithe? The answer is: no. Why, because of the extremely tight connection between the land and tithing.

Next we'll look at the three references DeYoung made to tithing in church history.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Hebrews 7, Melchizedek, and Tithing (Response to DeYoung part 6)

DeYoung does a fine job putting Hebrews 7 in context. He recognizes that the author of Hebrews is really trying to prove that Jesus is a superior high priest and that Jesus was in the order of Melchizedek and not of Aaron or the Levites. Then DeYoung says this: “And though the chapter is not about tithing, I think there is a fair implication that if the people of God tithed to the Levitical priests, and if Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, a king and a priest, would not Christians now tithe to the high priest and king of the church? The analogy is not that you tithe to your pastor, but you tithe to the Lord Jesus Christ who is a superior priest.”

DeYoung believes this is a “fair implication,” therefore he seems to agree that this is not the point of the passage. However, let's look at his specific argument that it is a “fair implication.”
- people of God tithed to Levitical priests
- Abraham tithed to Melchizedek (a priest)
- Christians tithe to Jesus (a superior priest)

The problem here is three-fold:
1) When the people of God “tithed” to the Levitical priests, how much of their income did they give? Think about this for a minute: how much of their income did they give? If you know the answer to that, you are smarter than I am! They did give about 23% yearly from their crops and cattle, but if they made any income by other means (fishing, arts, building, etc.) they were not required to give anything from that. And since the animal tithe probably was only rarely actually 10% (read Leviticus 27:30-32 closely), no one really knows how much was required in this “tithe”.
2) How much of his regular income did Abraham tithe to Melchizedek? The answer: we don't know. We read of one story of Abraham giving 100% of the bounty of war away, with 10% of that going to this priest/king Melchizedek. But we don't know that Abraham EVER gave 10% to any priest again. There is no indication that this was a pattern or habit.
3) If we are to follow this pattern, then which one should we follow? Give 23% of our crops and cattle? Give 10% from the spoils of war? Neither of these examples is “10% of income,” so how is this a “principle” or “pattern” for us today?

I think DeYoung's “fair implication” has some significant problems. He then cites New Testament scholar Reggie Kidd saying that the biblical story seems to include “tithing principally” even if there will be adjustments “in the New Covenant situation.” I honestly have no problem with the idea of a tithing principle, but the content of that principle is the issue. Why is the principle “10% of income” when that was never practiced regularly by anyone in Scripture? It seems to me that each of the tithes in the Mosaic Law may have their own principles. For example, if the Festival Tithe was given to teach the “fear of the Lord,” (Deuteronomy 14:23) then that is the underlying principle: fear the Lord in the area of your finances and you've kept the underlying principle to the Festival Tithe. What would make someone think that the “10% of regular income” concept would continue, when that is not present in the Abraham narrative nor the Mosaic Law?

Next we'll briefly look at DeYoung's discussion on how tithing fits into one's view of biblical theology.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Paul and Tithing (Response to DeYoung part 5)

While DeYoung notes that when Jesus said the words contained in Matthew 23:23 He was still under the Old Covenant, he quickly points us to 1 Corinthians 9:13-14. I'm very impressed by DeYoung's reference to this verse. In my book You Mean I Don't Have to Tithe?, I list twenty arguments for tithing in order of weakest to strongest, and this verse was the second strongest argument for tithing (in my opinion) and it is hardly ever utilized in pro-tithing resources.

As is usually the case, paying close attention to context will radically change the way this verse is used, however. Sometimes we have difficulty understanding the context of a passage because the chapter break was placed in an unfortunate spot. This is one of those examples. See, the content of 1 Corinthians 8 is essential for understanding what Paul is trying to communicate in 1 Corinthians 9.

1 Corinthians 8 is Paul discussing food sacrificed to idols. In short, he says that while there is nothing inherently wrong with eating food that has been sacrificed to an idol, if it causes your fellow Christian to stumble, you should not act on the right to eat the food. So, Paul says to restrain your liberty if it hinders your fellow Christian. 1 Corinthians 9 begins with an ILLUSTRATION of restraining liberty. It is not a new topic, but a continuation of 1 Corinthians 8.
So Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9 that those who work have a right to receive wages; he then gives several proofs of this concept; and then he explains that he restrains his liberty/freedom/right to get wages for the sake of other Christians.

Structure of the Argument
I. Discussion on food sacrificed to idols
II. Conclusion: restrain your liberty for the sake of other Christians
    A. Illustration
        1. Workers deserve wages
            a) Arguments from the natural order
                1) soldiers receive wages
                2) farmers receive wages
                3) shepherds receive wages
            b) Arguments from the Old Testament
                1) Deuteronomy 25:4 and oxen who tread out the grain
                2) priests who served at the altar
        2. Conclusion to Illustration: vs. 15: “But I have made no use of any of these rights ...”

This is the context of the argument. So, could Paul be arguing that ministers of the gospel (vs. 14) should be paid “in the same way” as priests? In saying that you encounter several problems, including that you would have to disconnect the previous four arguments from “in the same way” and assume that Paul is now ONLY building off of the last one. But there are three OTHER problems with leveraging this verse for tithing:

1) No priest received ten percent of his income from the Israelites. I discussed earlier the “priestly tithe” mentioned in Numbers 18 for this very reason: priests received a “tithe of the tithe,” or, one percent. Of course, since multiple tithes were given, that wouldn't be the total contribution received by the priest. So, if this verse is arguing that ministers of the gospel should be paid like priests, then they receive about 2.3 percent, not ten (that's ten percent of the 23% received by the Levites). Sadly and ironically, this is about the average giving today.

2) The overarching context is about rights and forgoing rights. Notice 1 Corinthians 9:15 above where Paul explicitly says he has “made NO USE of any of these rights.” Now, if this is stating that ministers of the gospel should receive 2.3 percent in contributions, that would have to be explained alongside of the idea that Christians would only need to give 2.3 percent if the pastor did not forgo his right to a salary. In other words, it's not that Christians HAVE TO give this “2.3 percent tithe,” but they only have to give it if the minister of the gospel decides he wants a salary.

3) If you thought what was just written was a little confusing ... then good! It is true that tithing was not a strictly Jewish practice. However, the way Gentiles practiced tithing varied GREATLY from Jewish tithing. So, if Paul was going to incorporate the Mosaic Law of tithing into the New Covenant, an he would need to explain to both Jews and Gentiles how it would carry over ... but especially for the Gentiles. How could Paul expect the Gentiles to have such a nuanced understanding of the Mosaic Law?

While DeYoung has utilized the best Pauline verse for tithing in his sermon, this verse cannot carry the weight of the tithing argument. DeYoung does cite other texts in 1 and 2 Corinthians, but none of them explicitly nor implicitly refer to tithing. Next we will discuss Hebrews 7:1-10 and Melchizedek's tithe to Abraham.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Old Testament Tithing Passages - Response to DeYoung (part 4)

DeYoung correctly notes that tithing occurs before the giving of the Mosaic Law: “This principle of tithing predates the Mosaic Covenant.” Of course, what exactly is meant by “principle” is up for debate. He quickly covers Genesis 14 and 28. He concludes: “We do see that this principle of tithing is operative even before the Law of Moses establishes it. This principle that you would give a tenth of what you have to one who is a superior king or priest above you.” This is an interesting way to summarize Genesis 14 and 28. We see one example of someone giving 10% from the bounty of war and then giving the other 90% a way as well. We see another example of someone promising to give 10% of all his possessions at some point in the future. The way DeYoung phrases tithing is giving “a tenth of what you have” before the Mosaic Law. Abram (Genesis 14 occurs before his name was changed to Abraham) gave 10% of the bounty of war to Melchizedek, but it doesn't say 10% of all his possessions. Jacob promised to give 10% of his possessions, but most likely it was over 20 years before he actually had to do it. So is tithing the giving to a superior 10% of possessions or 10% of income. In Abraham's case, it's 10% of the bounty of war. This is NOT what the Mosaic Law prescribes in Numbers 31:28, which says that from the spoils of war an Israelite had to give 1/500. So if the idea of giving a tenth is some universal, God given principle, then why do the Israelites only give 1/500 from the spoils of war? Wouldn't this verse undermine the concept that “10%” is bound up with an eternal giving principle called tithing? And Jacob promised to give 10% of all he possessed when God kept His side of the deal. Does that mean that people back then would give 10% of their possessions, not 10% of their increase? Is that the "principle" to be understood? Should that be practiced today?

DeYoung says “There were actually three different tithes required in the Old Testament.” It is true that the Israelites in general had to give three distinct tithes, but there is a fourth required tithe: the priestly tithe. This is a tithe required of the Levites. They would take 10% of what they were given through tithes and give that to the priests. This is not really a critique of DeYoung, as it wasn't really necessary to include that in his sermon, but more of a clarification on tithing in the Mosaic Law.

His understanding and description of the three tithes was quite well done. It was very impressive to see how well he understood the differences between the Levitical, Festival, and Charity tithes. He concluded that Israelite tithing totaled about 23% on a yearly basis. Not including the Sabbatical Year in the calculations, I would agree that 23% is about the yearly giving in tithes for the ancient Israelites.

He gives an interesting possible understanding connecting Matthew 23:23 with the three tithes (where justice = the Levitical tithe, mercy = the Charity tithe, and faithfulness = the Festival tithe). Then he has a few statements that puzzle me in the conclusion to this discussion:
1) “Even if that's not the case, and there's no way of knowing for sure ...”
2) “Jesus reinforces this principle that you ought to have tithed.”
3) “Now a tenth is the amount.”
Why are we unsure about the amount Jesus was referring to? What could possibly be the justification for thinking that Jesus had anything in mind except the 23% idea? If he was referring to the tithing laws I discussed in a previous post, those found in the Mishnah, then it would be a 20% tithe. So if Jesus is reinforcing a “tithing principle” in Matthew 23:23, it would be anything but 10%. So: how did we go from 23% to 10%? Where is the justification for lowering the standard from the Mosaic Law's 23% all the way down to a measly 10%? As many tithing advocates would ask: on what basis would we expect God to require less in the New Covenant than He required in the Old Covenant? If that is a valid argument (which I doubt), then 23% is the standard, not 10%.

When a pious Jew decided to faithfully practice the tithing laws, did he give 10% of his income? I already mentioned above that from the spoils of war only 1/500 was required, but there are many more problems with this “10% of income” idea. First, Leviticus 27 is very clear that the tenth animal that passes under the rod must be given as a tithe. So if an Israelite has nine cows, how many are given as a tithe? ZERO. If he has eleven cows, how many does he give? ONE. In neither situation would he actually be giving 10%. Notice also that it isn't the FIRST one that passes under the rod, but the TENTH one. This could provide a challenge to DeYoung's integration of the “principles” he found with firstfruits with the “principles” he found in tithing. Second, where does the Old Testament say “income” or “increase”? It doesn't. It specifies certain products connected to the land that must be tithed. It's this connection to the land of Israel that is extremely important when analyzing the issue of tithing through the grid of biblical theology. See, the overarching reason that God required a tenth from certain products from the land is because God himself provided the land for Israel. If an Israelite had an increase/income that was NOT connected to the land, nothing in the Old Testament says that they were to tithe on that. So, if an Israelite made a plow for someone and was paid 10 shekels, they did not have to tithe one shekel. That income was not connected to the land. Third, while Israel was primarily an agricultural society, it was not solely agricultural. Even in Leviticus 25 we see rules for an ancient banking system (e.g. Lev 25:36). The book of Genesis contains dozens upon dozens of references to money. So it wasn't like they ONLY dealt in animals and crops. To say that there was a shift in the economical system would be correct, but it wasn't a shift from “no dealing in money” to “only dealing in money.” In summary: 1) not all “tithing” was actually 10%, and Leviticus 27 makes this crystal clear; 2) all tithing was connected to the land of Israel; and 3) Israel's economic system may have been shifting, but Israelites dealt in money way back in Genesis.