Tithing by Douglas LeBlanc: The Ancient Practice Series

Tithing can be a tricky topic in some crowds. I have never really understood why it is such a taboo subject. Maybe it is because I am a pastor’s kid, maybe it is because it was never really a question whether you gave or not. So I guess I do not really understand the trepidation that many people have when dealing with Tithing.

Tithing is part of the The Ancient Practice Series, of which Tithing is the fifth book that I have reviewed.  These books are all completelydifferent in tone from one another.  This book is described by the author as a journalistic survey of tithing from a variety of sources.  So the author interviews people from a variety of mostly Christian backgrounds (there is one Orthodox Jewish Rabbi as well.)

This is certainly one way to get a variety of perspectives about tithing but it does not get at any of the hard questions or issues that I have. There is an assumption that the tithe, at least the majority, goes to the local church. But there is never a discussion about why, in an age of weak denominations, poor giving to international missions and strong para-church organization, about why tithe should go to the local church. (Personally, I give almost nothing to my local church and have not for most of my adult life. I have always attended local churches that have had plenty of resources, while having a number of friends that raise their own support for local or international missions. I also believe that the tithe as instituted in both the Old and New Testament was to be used in significant portion to serve the poor.)

Another issue that is not addressed is US Christians’ very poor participation in the tithe. Even if you think of the tithe as completely voluntary and not attached to a 10 percent amount, very, very few Christians participate in a meaningful way.  The average Christian in the US gives less than 3 percent to all causes, Christian and secular combined.  There is one really good quote from the Ronsvalles (Empty Tomb Inc), “If I am not trusting God with my money, am I really trusting him with my eternal salvation?”

The final big issue in my mind that was not adequately addressed is dependence on God.  The above quote hints at it.  But in the US, almost no one is really destitute.  There is poverty, but only a few really worry about where there next meal is coming from.  So when we give, it is almost always out of plenty, not out of poverty.  How does this affect how we give?

Tithing, like all of the other books in the series except for a small portion of Scot McKnight’s book Fasting, has virtually no real history of the practice. So it does not really meet the task of introducing the reader to the Ancient Practice, but rather casually surveys the modern practice.

This was far from a bad book. It was brief (I read it during one of my nieces long naps). And it was well written. It just did not address any of the questions that I think should be addressed when talking about the tithe.

UPDATE: Others have had a very different take.  Books and Culture Magazine said it “is one of the best on the subject that I have seen.”  Here is a podcast from the Books and Culture editors talking about it. http://blog.christianitytoday.com/podcasts/upload/tithing.mp3
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Disclosure: This book was provided free by Thomas Nelson for review purposes. It was donated to a pastor doing research.

6 Comments

Tithing does seem to get an inordinately strong reaction out of many Christians. I would probably get less of a reaction out of some Christians for denying the trinity (FYI. I don't- just a hypothetical example) than for suggesting that tithing is not a mandatory practice for Christians under the new covenant. At a church people i know attend, they were told things to the effect of that they had to tithe and tithe using that church's (rather illogical) way of calculating their income to tithe from, or they weren't really Christians. I have heard numerous times people called thieves if they did not consistently meet the 10% mark. Tithing very easily turns into a legalistic burden.

The stories in that book were good, but i thought they could have done a much better job at laying a theological and historical foundation on the topic.

    I have friends that worked for a church and had 10 percent withdrawn from their paycheck before they got it. It was never talked about before they started working there. Everyone they talked to about it agreed that it was probably illegal, but it “served as an example to the people”. So the church was going to continue to do it anyway. They didn’t work there long.

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