Perspectives on Tithing (ed. David Croteau)
Review by Craig Batts
“When evangelicals in the United States, living in the most prosperous global economy, still give less than 3 percent of their income to Christian causes – something is wrong with our understanding of God’s mandate for generous giving!” 
These words are the first to greet the reader upon opening the cover of one of the latest books in the Broadman & Holman Perspectives series. Jeff Iorg’s endorsement would probably draw little argument from the majority of pastors in today’s materialistic culture. Few issues have such regularly felt consequences in the local church as the practice of tithing. However, as Scott Preissler laments, “Stewardship remains the once-a-year sermon for most pastors, who seem afraid to deliver this biblical teaching to their local church members” .
Usually we have little trouble defending our perspectives when we possess strong convictions and confidence about their biblical basis. The problem with tithing, as with other topics, is that many possess some level of conviction without much more than a shallow biblical basis for that conviction. Many of these convictions are rooted more in pragmatic concerns and custom than in Scriptural exegesis. Perspectives on Tithing is an excellent tool to help rectify this problem.
In the introduction, editor David Croteau does an excellent job of succinctly presenting the diversity of opinions on tithing—from the broad principles of “the relationship between the Mosaic law and Christians” to the minute details of the debate over tithing on one’s gross or net income . Croteau also presents every direct Scriptural mention of tithing in chronological order with brief comments regarding some of the major positions and their implications. Above all else, he urges readers to base their views on tithing upon Scripture: “For those of us who hold to the authority of the Bible, Scripture itself needs to be the final arbiter” . The contributors of this book take this call seriously, and their execution of this is indeed the greatest strength of the book. For all their differences, each author builds his position from direct interpretation of Scripture and then moves toward practical application from there.
Ken Hemphill and Bobby Eklund’s first chapter, “The Foundations of Giving,” begins with a clear statement of their position. From there, they illustrate its usefulness in God’s plan to teach and guide us toward holiness. They take a more holistic, “big picture” approach to the biblical presentation of tithing. Instead of building their position by interpreting one passage and then adding to it by interpreting the next passage, they take into account the entire breadth of Scriptural commentary on tithing and apply it back to the interpretation of each passage. Ultimately, their position is that a 10 percent tithe is “the foundational base from which believers can and must be challenged to become grace-givers” . In other words, 10 percent is a good starting point, but believers should give above and beyond that amount, as they are able according to the Lord’s provision. Their assertion is that the appropriate amount will vary for each individual depending upon their financial circumstances. They call for a shift from the mentality of “giving what we must” to “giving what we can.”
The next contributor, David Croteau, takes a completely different approach. He believes that tithing is no longer a requirement for New Testament Christians . He offers a detailed exegesis of Scripture as the foundation for his position. He disagrees emphatically with the pro-tithing interpretations of some key passages. His argument is the most scholarly in tone and technical in approach of those in the book. He is well versed in the minutia of the Law and uses that knowledge as a key component of his argument. Specifically, he includes a systematic analysis of the differences between “Pre-Mosaic Law Tithing and Mosaic Law Tithing.” In this, he contrasts Abram’s tithe to Melchizedek and Jacob’s promise of a tithe in Genesis 28 with the Mosaic Law tithing system . Though he opposes the view that tithes are a requirement for Christians, he does advocate generous giving, even going into great detail to explain the motives and guidelines for such giving.
Reggie Kidd in Part III provides another dramatically different approach. In distinction to the other contributors, Kidd eschews most of the Old Testament references to tithing and focuses primarily on the New Testament for the foundation of his position, specifically “Matt 23:23-24 (and its parallel Luke 11:42) – the one place where the New Testament speaks of tithing in anything like a prescriptive fashion,” along with a heavy emphasis on the writings of Paul to the Corinthians. . Kidd’s presentation is less scholarly and more conversational in tone. He is honest about his background and how it shapes his perspective. While his chapter is well intentioned, it is also not well organized. His position is not as easily discernible as the others, and only begins to take some semblance of shape about halfway through the chapter. His conclusion remains quite nebulous. Even he says that he is “reluctant to give specific answers to questions about tithing that many perceive to be vital, such as whether the tithe is a starting point or baseline. I don’t think such questions are vital” . Basically, he focuses on the heart and believes that the details will take care of themselves if the heart is right.
The final perspective also could not be more opposite from the preceding chapter. Gary North’s chapter, “The Covenantal Tithe,” is the most dogmatic of the group. He states that “you owe God a payment of 10 percent of your net earnings and profits,” that ten percent is entirely sufficient, and “you owe all of your tithe to your local congregation” . He takes a systematic approach and engages each instance of tithing in chronological order. North builds his argument on the concept of hierarchical tithing (or lower priests tithing to higher priests), which he traces from Abram’s tithe to Melchizedek (Gen. 14) through the Bible. He then correlates this to modern Christians and Jesus Christ, the ultimate High Priest . He provides concise, clear answers to the most detailed of questions, even devoting a section to the question of whether a tithe is to be paid on gross or net income.
Reflections & Criticism
The introduction and appendix are the book’s main drawbacks. It is difficult not to read these sections as extensions of the editor’s own argument as presented in Part II. After reading Croteau’s argument, it becomes clear that the detailed comments and the Scriptural references to tithing in the introduction serve as both the groundwork for his own position and a counter-argument against the other contributors. Additionally, the final chapter by Croteau seems self-serving and unnecessary. He indicates that the purpose of this section is to counter the argument in which “some pro-tithing advocates have said that Christians have always practiced tithing and that only recently has this practice fallen to the wayside,” and “to demonstrate that various views have been expressed by Christian leaders throughout the past two millennia” . The article then overwhelmingly highlights opponents of tithing throughout church history. It is essentially an argument against tithing being a consistent doctrine. However, nowhere in this book do any of the other authors (each of which hold some version of a pro-tithing position) suggest that tithing was a basic principle throughout church history or include this in their arguments.
The body of the book is a different story, though. Each of the four positions are delivered by their respective authors and then addressed by the other three contributors in a brief rebuttal. This structure is an excellent format. On the surface it may seem like a weakness, as it does not present the reader with one clear unassailable “right” answer. However, it is actually a tremendous strength, since it forces readers to consider not only the basis for their own positions, but also the possible flaws. It is obviously important to know what we believe. However, knowing why is just as critical.
Despite the criticisms of Croteau, it is worth noting that his argument is the most consistent and well presented. Though I do not personally agree with all of his conclusions, his presentation has provided me some unexpected food for thought. Of the three other pro-tithing positions, the Hemphill/Eklund chapter stands out. Their consideration of the breadth of Scripture’s teaching on tithing gives their argument a healthy balance between technical and practical appeal, as it includes exegesis of critical passages and the implications of their position for one’s overall theology.
Regardless of someone’s position, how long he has held it, and how well defined it is, additional reflection is always beneficial. This book can help one to evaluate his view and ensure that it is based upon sound interpretation. Once the weaknesses of one’s position are found, Scripture can then be used to strengthen it. If the objections cannot be overcome, then there are at least three other options available. Perspectives on Tithing is an excellent tool for one of the most practical issues a member of the local church must face.
 Jeff Iorg, Perspectives on Tithing: Four Views (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011), endorsements.
 Scott Preissler, Perspectives on Tithing, 173.
 David A. Croteau, Perspectives on Tithing, 2.
 Ibid, 3.
 Ibid, 176.
 Ken Hemphill and Bobby Eklund, Perspectives on Tithing, 20.
 David A. Croteau, Perspectives on Tithing, 57.
 Ibid, 67.
 Reggie Kidd, Perspectives on Tithing, 98.
 Ibid, 117.
 Gary North, Perspectives on Tithing, 153-154.
 Ibid, 151.
About the Author: Craig Batts is currently serving as the pastor of Mt. Bethel FWB Church in Rose Bud, Arkansas. A native of Elm City, North Carolina, he graduated from Free Will Baptist Bible College with honors in 2006 with degrees in Pastoral Ministry and Biblical Studies. He previously served as the Associate/Youth Pastor at Cofer’s Chapel FWB Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He and his wife Ana have four young daughters (Lainey, Ansley, Isabella, and Olivia). His academic and ministry interests include practical theology and the early church.