Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Suggestion on Lev 8.23

Lev 8.23 reports that "[Moses] slew it; and Moses took of the blood of it, and put it upon the tip of Aaron's right ear, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot."

In this post, Keith has an interesting suggestion on what's going on in the passage.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


My son, a second grader, has "bowlful" as one of his spelling words for this week.

That didn't seem right to me, and neither of our unabridged dictionaries included the word (although both dictionaries are pretty old, the newest being at least 35 years old).

So I did a web search, and, sure enough, the word popped up, as in, "I ate a bowlful of cereal."

One of the synonyms listed for "bowlful" is the word "containerful." Seriously.

"Bowlful" still seems weird, but once you learn the trick, anyone can do it. As in, "I have a mugful of coffee." "I have an officeful of books and a deskful of papers." "That sure is a planeful of people." Or, "This morning I filled up the car, and now I have a tankful of gas." Or even, "I have a blogful of posts," and "I have a wallful of pictures."

Friday, November 23, 2007

A New Dimension of Division Between Reformed & Lutheran on the Supper?

The standard take on the difference between Lutherans and Calvinists on the supper focuses on the local presence of Christ in the sacrament. Lutherans affirm that Jesus' body and blood are present in the elements; Calvinists deny a local presence. So Calvinists affirm that Jesus body and blood are "spiritually" present in the sacrament, while Lutherans affirm that Jesus' body and blood are truly present, being received "not only spiritually by faith, but also orally -- however, not in a Capernaitic manner, but because of the sacramental union in a supernatural and heavenly manner" (Epitome, art. VII.6).

As important as this argument may be, there does seem to be a second point of disagreement, at least between Lutherans and the take of some more modern, more sacramentally-inclined Calvinists, regarding what the Supper does.

In a recent post here, Reformed pastor Doug Wilson presents what I think is a relatively modern Reformed take on the Supper as a "covenant-renewal" ceremony. Here's how he presents it:

"The heart of this ritual is the oath-taking implicit in it. The oath is what makes this ritual a sacrament. No oath, no sacrament. As we make our vows, as we renew covenant with God, we are doing so in the heavenly places, and we are doing so in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit.

. . .

In this oath, which you are about to renew, you are solemnly engaging to be the Lord’s, along with all that you have and are. And God, for His part, is solemnly engaging to take up your part, as you trust him, working out His sovereign will, working and willing in accordance with His good pleasure. And that is a meal that you can partake in with great joy."

I posted some time ago questions about what it means that the Supper is a "covenant renewal ceremony." I won't reiterate those questions here.

Rather, I want to focus on what the Supper does. Wilson's answer would seem to be in the first sentence above, "The heart of this ritual is the oath-taking implicit in it." As I understand Wilson's explanation, for him, the Supper constitutes an oath by which Christians offer to God the promise that they are wholly his. (Or, perhaps more accurately, in the Supper, Christians are renewing their promise to God that they are wholly his.)

I certainly do not deny that Christians wholly belong to God. Yet I disagree with the notion that the "heart" of the Supper is that, every time Christians partake, they renew their promise to God to do everything he wants them to do. All of the action in this understanding of the Supper is on man's side -- what humans offer to God.

This is very different than the Lutheran understanding, which looks at the Supper and does not see human obedience being promised to God, but rather sees God's forgiveness being offered by God to man on account of the promise that Jesus kept. Man's only obligation in the Supper is to receive the forgiveness that is offered there. As I wrote in my earlier post (o.k., so I'm reiterating a little), Jesus Christ made and fulfilled the covenant with God, so we do not have to. Christians are third-party beneficiaries of the covenant between God and the second Adam, Jesus Christ. (This, incidentally, is a covenant that does not need to be "renewed.")

When we receive the Supper, we receive God's forgiveness in the bread and the wine:

"The promise of the New [Covenant] is the promise of the forgiveness of sins, as the text says, 'This is my body, which is given for you'; 'this is the cup of the new [covenant] with my blood, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Therefore the Word offers forgiveness of sins, while the ceremony is a sort of picture or 'seal,' as Paul calls it (Ro. 4.11), showing forth the promise. As the promise is useless unless faith accepts it, so the ceremony is useless without the faith which really believes that the forgiveness of sins is being offered here.
. . .
"[The remembrance of Christ in the Supper] is rather the remembrance of Christ's blessings and the acceptance of them by faith, so that they make us alive. . . . The principal use of the sacrament is to make clear that terrified consciences are the ones worthy of it, and how they ought to use it" (Ap. art. 24.69-70, 72-73, emphasis added).

In the Supper, it is not I initially who offers and God who receives, but it is rather God who offers and I who receive. The Supper is not about humans obligating ourselves to God, but it is about humans receiving the fruit of what God freely chose to obligate himself toward humanity -- the forgiveness of sins. It seems to me that the question of who offers what to whom in the Supper is a question at least as important as the question of Christ's presence in the Supper.

After all, Christ sacrificed his body and his blood to secure forgiveness for me. I therefore receive that forgiveness when I receive his body and his blood in the Supper.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How Many Tithes? -- Redux

I do not want to beat a dead horse, but I wanted to sharpen two points regarding my skepticism that the OT teaches three tithes rather than just one. First, because the tithe in Deuteronomy is listed among other Levitical offerings and, secondly, because provision for the Levite continues to be the tithe's primary purpose.

Again, consider Dt 12.6-7:

"There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offering, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. There also you and your household shall eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God blessed you."

The tithe sits with all the other Levitical offerings. Consider:

Burnt offerings. Lev 1.3.
Sacrifice. Ex. 29, Lev 3.1.
Tithes. Lev 27.30-33.
Heave offering, Ex 29.28.
Votive & freewill offering. Lev 7.16, 23.38.
Firstborn of herd and flock. Ex 22.9.

It just seems to me to be a really forced reading to see a brand-new tithe authorized in Deuteronomy 12, smack in the middle of all of these other previously authorized offerings, and considering that a tithe was previously authorized as well.

But if Deuteronomy 12 does not authorize a new tithe, then Deuteronomy 14.23-27 cannot either. The Deuteronomy 14.23-27 tithe seems clearly to refer to the same festival as discussed in Deuteronomy 12.

"You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. And you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where he chooses to establish his name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the first-born of your herd and your flock . . . there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household" (vv. 22-23, 26).

Further, just as the concern with the Levitical tithe is support for the Levite, so, too, the tithe discussed in Deuteronomy 12 and 14 are concerned with the Levite (Dt 12.12, 18-19, 14.27, 14.29).

The tithe in Deuteronomy 12 and 14 seem to fit seamlessly with the tithe authorized in Leviticus. What Dt 12 & 14 authorize is [a] that the Levitical tithe be brought to a centralized location along with all of the other offerings, and [b] it authorizes Isrealites to skim a bit off the top in order to pay for the costs of the festival.

Dt 14.28-29, then, too, fits, into this scheme. God makes a one-year-out-of three exception to the requirement that the tithe be brought to the centralized location. Instead, it remains in the local town. Calling this a "poor tithe" again neglects that the Levite receives first mention in the purpose of the tithe (v. 29). Only after the Levite is mentioned -- which coheres with the main purpose of the tithe -- are the others mentioned, the alien, widow and orphan.

So that's the nub of my argument. Let me again stress that I'm mainly interested in reading the Bible correctly. I think the tithe passed away with the Levites (although not the obligation to generously support ministers and generously give to the poor). So I'm not arguing for one rather than for three to avoid paying tithes in the amount of 23 and one-third percent. But, shoot, even if God did want all of these tithes to continue on into the New Covenant, I'd be happy to pay it. I owe him my life, after all.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tithing – Part I. Introduction, the Number of Tithes, and the Tithe in Leviticus 27 and Numbers 18

Here are the three points I’m going to discuss.

First, I’m first going to look at the claim that the Old Testament taught two or three tithes rather than just one.

Secondly, while I think there is at least one pretty good Biblical argument that Christians should tithe, I nonetheless think that the weight of the evidence is that the tithe was intrinsically linked to the fact that God did not give the Levitical priesthood an inheritance in the land of Israel, and so passed away with the coming of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

Finally, I’ll argue that, regardless of the tithe passing away, God calls Christians to continue to fulfill the needs that the tithe fulfilled in the OT, particularly in regard to supporting pastors and in assisting the needy.

I first want to consider the argument that the Old Testament teaches not just one tithe, but two or three tithes. The first time I ran across the argument that the Scriptures taught more than one tithe was years ago in an obscure book by an equally obscure Presbyterian named R.J. Roushdoony. So I was sort of surprised to find the same argument in Lutheran Pastor John Kieschnick’s new book, The Best is Yet to Come. Nonetheless. After doing a little more checking, there seems to be support for the view among a number of commentators, so I’ve looked at the topic again.

As best as I can figure it out, commentators base the argument for three distinct tithes mainly on there being three arguably distinct purposes identified in three different groups of passages:

[1] A tithe for support of the Levites (Lev 27.30-34 w/ Nm 18.21-24).

[2] A festival tithe (Dt 12.6-17, 14.22-27).

[3] A poor tithe (Dt 14.28-29, 26.12).

According to the argument, tithes [1] and [2] are offered annually, while the poor tithe is offered once every three years. Basically, the argument is that OT Israelites tithed 23.3 percent of their annual gain. (The OT also teaches contributions beyond these tithes, mainly to support the temple and to assist poor and vulnerable people.)

Now I’ve really worked to try to understand how these different passages can be construed to talk about different tithes, and I guess I’m still open to argument if I’m missing something. Nonetheless, my best reading of these passages suggests to me that the all of these passages are talking about the same, single tithe.

Now, I recognize that someone (like Dana Carvy’s church lady) could say, “Well, Jim, how convenient that you find a tithe of only 10 percent instead of 23.3 percent in the Scriptures.” All I can say is that I’ve tried to check myself and my attitude at the door, and tried my best to give the Scriptures the best reading that I’m able. (Although, the question is also moot in a sense, because whether the OT teaches one tithe or three, I conclude that the tithes probably all passed away with the coming of the New Covenant in Christ.)

Most critically, contrary to the commentators who see three different purposes in these three sets of Scriptures, it seems to me that a single, unified purpose unites the tithe discussed in all of these passages. And that unified purpose is that God established the tithe to provide support to the Levites because God did not give them an inheritance in the land of Israel like he gave to the other eleven tribes.

Leviticus 27 establishes that the tithe is “holy to the LORD” (vv. 30, 33). But it does not discuss any specific use or purpose for the tithe. The first time a rationale is provided for the tithe is in Numbers 18.

Here God tells Aaron that he’s providing the (or a) tithe to the Levites, because the tribe of Levi is not given an inheritance in the land of Israel (because Levi is given to Aaron’s family to assist with the tabernacle). So God gives the Levites for service in the tabernacle, and their inheritance in the tithe substitutes for not having any inheritance in the land:

“And to the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting. . . .

“For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, ‘They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel’” (Nm 18.21,24).

Tithing – Part II. The Tithe in Deuteronomy 12 and 14

The passages on tithing in Leviticus and in Numbers occurred prior to Israel’s forty-year sojourn in the wilderness. As Israel was about to enter the promised land in Deuteronomy, cultic centralization becomes a need in the face of the geographic dispersion Israel would face as they spread throughout the promised land.

The nations whom Israel would dispossess served their gods in decentralized altars, “on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree” (Dt 12.2). In contrast, Israel would bring offerings to God largely at a single location:

“You shall seek the LORD at the place which the LORD your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish his name there for his dwelling, and there you shall come. There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your heard and of your flock. There also you and your households shall eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you.
. . .
“And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.
. . .
“You are not allowed to eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or new wine or oil, or the firstborn of your herd or flock, or any of your votive offerings which you vow, or your freewill offerings, or the contribution of your hand. But you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and daughter, and your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all your undertakings. Be careful that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land” (Dt 12.6-7, 12, 17-19).

It seems pretty obvious to me that the tithe discussed in Deuteronomy 12 is the same tithe commanded in Leviticus and in Numbers.

First, in v. 6 (and in v. 11), the tithe is listed in the middle of all of the sacrifices and offerings discussed and authorized in the book of Leviticus. Take a look at the list again: “burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, the contribution of your hand, votive offerings, freewill offerings, and the firstborn of heard and flock.” No one argues that the other six categories of offerings listed in this passage in Deuteronomy are anything but offerings commanded in the book of Leviticus. It seems highly implausible that God inserted a command for an entirely new, second tithe in the middle a passage talking about the need to offer six other existing Levitical offerings only in a centralized location in Israel. The most plausible reading to me is that the tithe discussed here, like the other six offerings, is the same tithe written about in Leviticus.

Secondly, this passage in Deuteronomy identifies the same reason as the book of Numbers identifies for the Levites to receive the tithe, namely, “the Levite who is within your gate . . . has no portion or inheritance with you” (Dt 12.12). Further, the passage concludes in v. 19 with the admonition, “Be careful that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in the land.”

It seems to me that the same purpose underlies the tithe discussed in Deuteronomy 12 as underlies the tithe discussed in Number 18.

To be sure, in Deuteronomy, the LORD authorizes a festival when bringing in this tithe (and all of the other sacrifices and offerings) to the centralized cultic location he will establish. As best as I've been able to understand, the existence of the festival is the main reason that commentators argue this passage establishes a second, new tithe distinct from that commanded in Leviticus and Numbers. This is, they claim, a “festival tithe” as opposed to the “Levitical” tithe established in the earlier books.

Yet Leviticus and Numbers do not provide any specific instructions regarding how the tithe described there is to be collected or distributed. I see no reason to assume that Deuteronomy 12 does anything more than provide instructions regarding how and where the other tribes are to bring in the Levitical tithe after they've entered the promised land (as they are about to do). That a festival is associated with the collection of the tithe (along with all of the other Levitical sacrifices and offerings) seems no more than a way to facilitate cheerful giving.

So, too, the tithe discussed in Deuteronomy 14.22-27 is concerned with the Levite (v. 27). What it adds to the laws in Deuteronomy 12 is the authorization to turn the tithe – literally a tenth of the crops & etc., harvested from the land – into a more portable form of wealth, namely cash. The passage authorizes this exchange if the distance between the Israeli residence to the centralized offering place is too great to haul a great load of produce and animals (v. 24).

As best as I can understand, commentators who see a new, second tithe commanded here seem to think that the non-Levitical Israelites could or would consume their entire tithe at the festival. Yet v. 27 seems aimed precisely to forbid anything close to this: while God wanted the Israelites to rejoice when they brought in their tithe, since the point of it was to provide for the Levite, they could not “rejoice” to the point of depriving the Levites of the bulk of the tithe. It seems to me that this passage only means that God graciously allowed the Israelites to skim a bit off the top of God’s his portion to pay for the expenses associated with the festival as they brought the one tithe to the centralized sanctuary.

Tithing – Part III. The Tithe in Deuteronomy 14 and 26

Finally, the tithe discussed in Dt 14.28-29 and in Dt 26.12-15 is again concerned with the Levites and with the location and means of giving the tithe. Israelites are to bring the tithe to the centralized cultic location two years out of three, but in the third year are to deposit the tithe in the local town.

In calling this a third tithe for the poor, commentators seem to ignore that here, too, the Levite is provided for out of this tithe for precisely the same reason articulated in the other passages, namely “because he has no portion or inheritance among you” (v. 29). To be sure, Isarelites bring this tithe into the local town instead of to God’s centralized sanctuary, and God also provides for the most vulnerable members of society – orphans, widows, and aliens -- in this tithe. But these individuals are “like” the Levites in that they have a tenuous relationship to the inheritance in the land, and are people whom God is particularly concerned to provide for.

This, and the immediate proximity of verses 28 and 29 to the discussion of the tithe in verses 22 through 27, makes it hard to believe that this is a brand new tithe being commanded here, as opposed to a law relating to the issue addressed in the other Deuteronomic tithing laws – the issue of where the tithe is to be brought. Two years it is to be brought to Jerusalem, and there is a festival associated with the trip. In the third year, the tithe is to remain in the local town, and is to provide for the local poor and needy in addition to the Levite.

We should also keep in mind that the tithe was not the only means of providing for the poor and alien in Israel. There were interest-free loans for the poor that were then forgiven every seven years (Dt 15.1-11), Israelites had to leave gleanings in the field for the poor to gather, they also could not prevent people from eating among the “standing grain” as they passed through the fields. There was also a form of Old Testament “workfare” in the form of temporary indentured servitude which, again, could last a maximum of six years (Dt 15.12).

My impression is that, just like the portion of the tithe that went for the cost of the festival, even the third-year tithe was mainly reserved for the Levites. Plus, we should remember that the Levites weren’t wholly dependent upon the tithe for their support. They were provided pasture lands around the cities for their cattle and other animals (Nm 35.1-5, Lev 25.34).

We should also remember that the tithe would provide the Levites with a ten percent surplus relative to the other tribes that would allow tithe money to go for the costs of the tithing festival and the third-year sharing with widows, orphans, and aliens, without undermining the basic rationale for the tithe of providing for the Levites.

Consider this simple example. There are twelve tribes. For simplicity, assume that each tribe has ten members. Also assume that each member of the eleven non-Levitical tribes realize a gain of $100 a year. In response, each non-Levite Israelite would tithe $10. So their after-tithe net income would be $90 a year.

So the tribe of Levi would receive a total of $1,100 from the other eleven tribes. Dividing this up among the ten Levites means that each Levite would receive $110 from the tithe.

Of course, the Levites would not keep the entire $110, they had to tithe the tithe God (Nm 18.26). So the Levites would tithe $11 per year of what they received from the other Israelites, leaving them with $99 a year. This is ten percent more than the net income of the non-Levitical Israelites. So if roughly $9 per Levite went to pay for the festival expenses in the two years in which the tithe was taken to Jerusalem, and if $9 went to the widow, orphan, and the alien in the third year when the tithe remained in the local town, then the Levites would still have roughly the same income as all of the other Israelites. So it doesn't seem to me that the festival and providing for orphans, widows, and aliens, is financially inconsistent with the tithe mainly being for support of the Levites.

Tithing – Part IV. The Tithe has Passed Away in the New Covenant, Probably

God gave the tithe to the Levites because they did not have an inheritance in the land of Israel. Given the change in priesthood in the move from Old Testament to New (Heb 7.12), and the change in the relationship of God’s people to the land (Heb 12.22, Gal 6.16), it seems pretty obvious to me that the tithe cannot be binding in the New Testament.

The best argument I know of in support of the continuing validity of the tithe comes from the fact that Abraham offered a tithe to Melchizedek (Gn 14.18-20, Heb 7.1-10, cf., vv. 11-28). Melchizedek preceded Moses (and the Levites), and represents the order by which Jesus is reckoned a priest (Heb 7.14-17).

Ultimately I’d have little problem accepting the argument, and I’d have zero problem submitting to a requirement to tithe. Nonetheless, this argument doesn’t quite get me there for a couple of reasons.

First, the author’s argument in Hebrews is only that Abraham’s one-time offering to Melchizedek demonstrates the superiority of the Melchizedekian priesthood relative to the Levitical priesthood. It doesn’t appear that Abraham continued to pay Melchizedek tithes, and so it doesn’t seem entirely plausible that Abraham’s seed (i.e., Christians, Gal 3.29) would have a continuing obligation to continue to pay tithes that Abraham did not apprently pay. In contrast, the Levitical tithe represents an on-going obligation to offer a tenth. So its fulfillment seems to me to be fatal to the argument that Christians must tithe as law.

Further, just because a Biblical practice preceded Moses does not mean that it survives into the New Covenant. After all, the Scriptures report animal sacrifices by Noah, Abraham, and others. Yet there is no question that Christians cannot practice animal sacrifice for religious reasons in the New-Testament era.

Still, even if Abraham’s offering to Melchizedek doesn’t constitute binding “law” for the Christian, I think it entirely possible to construe Abraham’s offering to Melchizedek as a sort of offering of an "honorific tenth." In that sense, it seems entirely commendable for Christians to imitate Abraham’s example, offering at least a tenth to Jesus, who is the fulfillment of the promise of the Melchizedekian priest.

Secondly, and more generally, the absolute silence of the post-resurrection narratives about the tithe seems to speak volumes. As we will see below, the New Testament Scriptures speak very often about the Christians' need to support pastors and the needy. I have a really hard time believing that if the tithe contined into the New Covenant, the writers who talked so much about the need to support pastors financially would talk all around the tithe while never mentioning the obvious need bring the tithe into the church.

Tithing – Part V. Christian Support for Pastors and for the Needy

Just because the tithe disappears with the abolition of the Levitical priesthood, that does not mean that Christians can or should low-ball the church in their giving. (That being said, I also think it’s somewhat goofy to claim that while God only claimed ten percent in the Old Testament that he claims “all of it” in the New Testament. God claimed everything in the Old Testament as well as in the New, Dt 8.18, 1 Chr 29.12,14, 16.)

Financial offerings in the New Testament must fulfill the same important functions that tithe fulfilled in the Old Testament – in particular, paying pastors and providing for the needy. (Keep in mind that needy people received significant help in ways other than by the tithe in the Old Testament.)

I think the NT Scriptures are pretty clear in regards to both sets of people. Here are some passages:


“The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him” (Gal 6.16).

“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scriptures says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Tm 5.17-18).

“The Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Co 9.14).

“I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Phil 4.18).

The Needy

“Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Tm 6.17-19).

“Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful” (Titus 3.14).

“Do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb 13.16).

“He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Eph 4.28).

“Pure and undefiled relgion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas 1.27).

“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (Jas 2.15-16).

“Be devoted to one another in brother love . . . contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality” (Ro 12.10, 13).

“Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God” (Acts 10.4).

“Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Peter 4.9).

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Heb 13.2-3).

“For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you” (2 Co 9.12-14).

“For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me” (Mt 25.35-36).

“Whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn 3.17).

So even if the tithe is no longer binding, the Scriptures nonetheless clearly call the Christian to support their pastors and to be generous toward the needy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thank you, Megan

God alone is our perfect father. But my ten-year old daughter, Megan, wrote this paragraph for school. It brought a lump to my throat:

"A perfect father would do a number of things. He would love me and care for me. He would be kind and patient. He would play games and have fun with me. He would watch movies and have a good sense of humor. He would be there when I get sick. I could tell him my problems. That's how I would describe a perfect father, and that father is my father."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Lots 'O Stuff

Sporadic blogging, I know. Lots of stuff going on.

At work: Something like ten job candidates in a week and a half. I have a half hour office meeting with each of them individually, and then attend each of their hour and a half job talks. (I enjoy hearing about new research at the job talks, but they do put a dent in the work day, especially when two are scheduled in one day.) And I also went out to dinner with four of the candidates. (Again, that's typically fun, but it burns the entire evening. Usually the only time I see the kids is before they go to school.) All this on top of my normal teaching, editorial, and administrative duties. (My own research? I used to do that.)

Last Tuesday and tomorrow night (Tuesday) I spoke (am speaking) to a group of about eighty inmates who are about to start a lengthy program with a group I used to go into prison with. But volunteering with this program, on top of my own program that I started at a local prison, plus a new church ministry (see below), I had to drop something so as not to neglect my wife and kids. I won't miss making the 140 mile round trip every Tuesday night, but I very much miss the men and the other outside volunteers. I am grateful that they included me at the start of the program. It was a real blessing to see some of the men from previous sessions (who help the outside volunteers with the small groups, once the main body of the program begins). Basically, I get to talk about the Gospel and how it affects our lives in response to God's grace in Christ.

Our church started a big push on "small groups." So Meg and I are leading/hosting a small group at our home. We're huge supporters of the concept and the initiative. I'm a fanatic on the point that in order to "be" the church, local churches need to facilitate strong relationships between church members. ("By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another," Jn 13.35.) I don't know anyway to do it better than through small groups.

So things have been a big busy recently. I expect this week to calm down a bit. We'll see if I can catch up and blog a little more frequently.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Blog Name Change

I got the blog account mainly so I could post on other blogs. Because I needed a name in order to register for a blog, I came up with "Lutheran Guest" on the spur of the moment, since I figured I'd mainly be a Lutheran Guest on other people's blogs.

The Third Moment was the running header of the editorial column I wrote for the Brown Daily Herald. I always liked the title, so I'm recycling it here.

The title has two sources. First, there is the "third moment" in statistics, which is "skewness." That probably sums up more of what I think than I care to admit. So 'nuff said about that. (Incidentally, the first two statistical moments are "mean" and "variance.")

Secondly, T.S. Eliot wrote a letter to Stephen Spender in which he laid out his three moments of criticism. The first moment, Eliot wrote, is surrender to the text. The second moment is recovery. And the third moment is criticism in light of the first two moments. There is no criticism, Eliot wrote, without the first two moments.

When I read a text -- whether it's a bit of fiction or a math text -- my goal is to be sympathetic reader, which I take to be equivalent to "surrendering to the text." In doing so, you get inside the logic of the text and see the world from within. I take surrender to the text to be critical to understanding a text (which I take to be Eliot's point).

I'm not entirely convinced that "recovery" is absolutely necessary for criticism. First, I think it's possible to remain, as it were, "inside" a text and yet to recognize certain problems, particularly with coherence. I think you can point out that certain claims within a text are inconsistent with the internal logic of the text without necessarily extricating yourself from the text. Secondly, I would be concerned that "recovery" not necessarily imply that what you were before engaging a text is necessarily correct, and is the only baseline for criticizing a text. If that's true, then learning can't really occur. (I should stress that I don't think Eliot meant it in that way; only that his "second moment" might be taken in that way.)

Nonetheless, the first two moments are absolutely necessary for criticism. To be sure, by "criticism" I don't necessarily mean being critical. Rather, it means evaluating the text, whether it's in terms of how much I've learned, or what I had hoped to learn, but didn't. But it can sometimes be critical, in the sense that I have a sympathetic understanding of the text, but the narrative lacks coherence, or the results do not follow from the text's logic, or whatever.

Or perhaps Eliot's third moment and the third statistical moment do ultimately touch here, at least in image. That in "recovery" and "criticism" we necessarily skew what we just read, as we attempt to make sense of it in light of all that we already know or believe. Nonetheless, you're never quite the same person after surrendering to a text as you were before. And so reading offers both promise and risk.