Bruce, What Do You Think of Russell Earl Kelly and His Position on Tithing?

tithing

Several weeks back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Byroniac asked:

Bruce, have you ever heard of Russell Earl Kelly and his book, “Should the Church teach tithing?”. And if so, do you plan to blog about it? I promoted it as much as I could, and got ZERO attention for it, probably because I was not important enough to be noticed or because wherever I go I seem to become the proverbial black sheep. Considering that I have lost every single popularity contest I have ever been in, both inside and outside the church, I suppose this is not surprising. Anyways, even as a freethinker now, I still agree with the majority of what this guy teaches about tithing, to the best of my memory.

For readers who are unfamiliar with Russell Earl Kelly:

Russell Earl Kelly is an American Christian theologian, apologist, author, speaker and blogger. He writes nonfictional theological books. Russell is best known for evangelizing and debating why tithing 10% to one’s church is not a Christian obligation…

Russell graduated Cum Laude from Sprayberry High in 1962. From June 1962 until June 1966 he was in the U. S. A. F., received 22 semester hours in Chinese Mandarin at Yale University and was soon promoted to the Transcription Department while serving in Taiwan. Russell graduated Cum Laude from Southern Missionary College in Tennessee in 1976, now called Southern University Of Seventh Day Adventist, and served two churches in Georgia, four in North Dakota and one in South Carolina.

Although legally blind since 1989, Russell subsequently completed a Th. M.. and a Ph. D. at independent Baptist-oriented Covington Theological Seminary in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia in August 2000. His dissertation was on the subject of tithing. From that dissertation came his first book, Should the Church Teach Tithing? A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine. His second book is Exposing Seventh-day Adventism, published in 2005. His third book, From Gethsemane to Ascension, An Ultimate Harmony of the Gospel, Easter and Resurrection Plays, February 2008, is in conversational style…

You can check out Kelly’s horrible looking Front Page/Windows 95 era looking website here. According to Sitemeter, the site averages about 500 page views a day. You can read his blog here.

Kelly is a 70-year-old New Covenant Independent Baptist who loves to put PhD after his name and talk about tithing. One would think that Kelly has a degree from a respected university, but he doesn’t. He earned his PhD at Covington Theological Seminary, an unaccredited Independent Baptist institution in Ft Oglethorpe, Georgia. Want a doctorate? It will cost you $2,395. Work required? 40 credit hours and a 25,000 to 50,000 word thesis. You can check out Covington’s catalog here.

I have made my view of unaccredited IFB doctorates quite clear in the post IFB Doctorates: Here a Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor. That said, education aside, Byroniac’s question is about Kelly’s view on tithing. While I have not read Kelly’s book, I do think his view on tithing is generally correct. Kelly states:

New Covenant giving is: freewill, sacrificial, generous, joyful, regular and motivated by love for God, fellow Christians and lost souls. Do not burden or curse God’s poor who struggle to feed and shelter their family. Although there is no set percentage for Christians to give, all should give sacrificially or lower your standards of living in order to further the reach of the Gospel.

Kelly, like many Independent Baptists, is a dispensationalist. There is no possible way for one to be a dispensationalist and still believe tithing is for today. There’s nothing in the New Testament that remotely teaches that Christians should give 10% of their gross income to the church (the storehouse). Preachers who believe in tithing must use Old Testament proof texts to prop up their beliefs. IFB preachers pretty much ignore the commands of the Old Testament except for the verses on tithing, women wearing men’s clothing, and sodomy. Many preachers added to the tithe requirement demands for special offerings and Faith Promise missionary offerings. It is not uncommon to see poor IFB church members giving 10-20% of their income to the church, believing that if they did so God would open the windows of heaven and pour them out a blessing. Like their faith healing counterparts, IFB preachers promise wonderful blessings from God if people will just open their wallet and give an above 10% offering to God.

While I think that Earl Kelly, based on what I have read on his blog and website, is full of himself, I do think he is essentially correct when it comes to tithing and what the New Testament teaches about giving. His teachings haven’t caught on because, for many churches, abandoning the tithe would bankrupt them and force their preacher to get a real job. Preachers have a vested interest in maintaining good cash flow and the tithe is the best way to do so.

When Polly and I were first married, we were tithers. We also gave a lot of money to missions and every time the church took a special offering we gave liberally. I would preach sermons on tithing, rebuking those who were stealing from God. I would preach from Malachi 3:8-10 sermons about those who robbed God:

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

As my theology began to evolve and I was influenced by New Covenant theology and Calvinism, I came to see that tithing was an Old Testament command no longer in force. This change in belief was helpful because it allowed me to put an end to me receiving a pittance of a salary and then making it even more of a pittance by giving a tithe and offering. It made no sense for me to tithe when the church was not even paying me a living wage. Now, in the end, we often gave more than 10% of our income to the church or to parachurch ministries. Instead of seeing the church as the bank through which all funds must go, we gave some money to the church and then helped ministries and individuals as God led us to do so. Buying a homeless man a meal was just as important as giving the church $20.

Generally, I think most churches have way too much money and are poor stewards of what they do have. I had a banker in Somerset, Ohio tell me one time that I would be shocked if he told me how much money many of the local churches had on deposit. He told me this because he thought the church I pastored was different, knowing that we rarely had a $100 checking account balance.

I was of the opinion that money was meant to be spent. Yes, take care of the church building, fund ministries, and pay the preacher. Anything above that should be spent on ministering to others. The last church I pastored was sitting on a pile of money and the first thing I did was help them spend it. They had so much money in the bank that they hadn’t balanced the checkbook in years. I balanced the account for them and found that they had $5,000 more than they thought they did. In the seven months I was there, I had the church spend money on remodeling the building. Quite frankly, it was a dump. Of course, the church was fine with spending the money. Doing the actual construction work? A handful of men did all the work. Most of the members were quite happy to let others do the work. They were too busy bitching about the remodel to help, complaining about everything from wall and carpet colors to lighting. I lasted seven months and was so glad “God” led me elsewhere.

Do you have a tithing or giving story to share? I’d love to hear it. Please share your story in the comment section.

Note

You can download Kelly’s book here.

Paul Cohen thinks Kelly is a false prophet.

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18 Comments

  1. Geoff

    I see that the Republican politician Ben Carson is trying to argue that biblical tithing should become the basis for US taxation, so that everyone is taxed at a flat rate of 10%.

    It is truly unbelievable that someone of his intelligence could possibly argue this, though I see he doesn’t believe in evolution, so he’s not single issue stupid. Why should someone earning a pittance and just getting by, be required to pauper themselves by paying at the same rate as a billionaire? Yes the figures being paid are vastly different, but the underlying concept does not stand analysis.

    Biblical tithing has no place in a modern, highly refined, western economic system.

    Reply
  2. Nikki Dole

    My “tithing story” is that I tithed at least 10% of my gross income from the time I got my first job until I left the church and religion last year. My husband and I would give about $20,000 in a good year when we had bonuses at work. I nearly weep in my cheerios thinking about all the money I gave our mega-church over the years, knowing it mostly went to the mortgage of the church’s many opulent buildings, fancy lighting and high tech equipment. Tithing and condemning gay people are 2 of my deepest religious regrets.

    Reply
  3. Angiep

    In California I don’t think the tithing concept holds much weight any more. When a new church opens, they say, “We won’t ask you for a dime.” I think that is probably true; it costs too much to live here to give your hard earned income away. I think most of the churches here survive on income from their daycare centers. Lots of working parents mean lots of kids in day care and none of it is cheap.
    My favorite story about tithing, since you asked, is that when I was a young wife and mom, I had to share a car with my husband. Of course he took it to work, so I was pretty much stranded all day. We made the sacrifice willingly in our devotion to God. Then at one point it seemed God made it possible for us to buy a used car with the little money we had saved up. It turned out to be a complete lemon that cost us a lot of money we didn’t have, until fortunately someone came along and bought it off us. I felt so let down by God, that he would lead us to this blessing and then have it turn out to be a curse. Moreover, after all the money we spent, we couldn’t afford another car. To make matters worse, everyone I knew had a second car. I knew that if we weren’t tithing, we could afford a second car payment. That experience actually had a profound effect on my faith and probably greatly accelerated my downhill slide away from religion. So ultimately I guess I don’t regret it…but to this day I do regret all the money I gave to the church over the years.

    Reply
  4. Jada

    My generous parents left my brother and me a healthy inheritance. There was no way ‘the church’ was getting however many thousands of dollars from me. It’s been my privilege and pleasure to cut out the middleman and give directly to the charities *I* believe in. I also like to be able to give locally and directly to folks who’ve lost everything in a fire, or to someone who’s had something vital to their well-being stolen from them, to the food bank, etc.

    My brother, of course, gave those however many thousands to the church, which is fine; his life, his choice. I’ll say this one thing about that, though: I think it’s more comfortable for him to tithe and not really think about it – let someone else be in charge of actually disbursing it ‘on the ground’ – rather than look at what’s really going on in his own community and think about what he can do to help directly.

    Reply
  5. Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

    Rather than only answer the question (in complete agreement even), Gerencser first replied with a stinging attack on my education. He began by quoting part of my Wikipedia article. He ignored my evident intellectual reasoning capacity as evidenced from an accredited B. A. degree in theology and 22 semester hours of Chinese Mandarin from Yale University – both fully accredited.
    Gerencser: Kelly is a 70-year-old New Covenant Independent Baptist who loves to put PhD after his name and talk about tithing.
    Kelly: The same is true of Dr. Billy Graham and was true for Dr. James Kennedy. Yet Billy Graham does not have an earned PHD or THD from any school, accredited or otherwise. Graham’s highest earned degree is a B.A. in Anthropology at Wheaten College.
    Gerenscer: One would think that Kelly has a degree from a respected university, but he doesn’t. He earned his PhD at Covington Theological Seminary, an unaccredited Independent Baptist institution in Ft Oglethorpe, Georgia.

    Kelly: Covington’s accreditation is listed on its website.
    a) It is wrong to say that Covington Theological Seminary is “unaccredited.” However, it is correct to say that it is not “government accredited.” Along with hundreds of other church schools, it chooses not to be told by any government how to run its school. The same was true for many highly respected schools for many decades.
    b) Covington had permission from the State of Georgie to grant my Ph.D.
    c) Many top Christian leaders have PHD degrees from schools which were not government accredited or even accredited by any Christian accreditation organization. Dr. Charles Stanley received his PHD from Luther Rice before it was upgraded. The same is true of Dr. Donald Barnhouse. The Southern Baptist Convention has had several presidents with degrees from non-government accredited schools.
    d) A theology degree from a government-accredited school does not prove that its theology is correct. The government does not sit in Bible classes to determine if correct theology is being taught! Thus Notre Dame can give PHDs in theology to Catholics and Brigham Young can give PHDs in theology to Mormons. The PHD has no bearing on whether the holder of such degree has been taught biblical truth. I consider myself fully versed to debate any person holding any degree from any school.

    Gerenscer: Want a doctorate? It will cost you $2,395. Work required? 40 credit hours and a 25,000 to 50,000 word thesis. You can check out Covington’s catalog here.

    Kelly: Yes, check the web site out please. Gerenscer is a liar!!! He is merely quoting the FINAL costs AFTER one has already earned hundreds of hours in the prerequisite Bachelors, Masters and other prerequisite programs. If he bothered reading their web site, he should have been honest about those facts.

    Gerenscer: I have made my view of unaccredited IFB doctorates quite clear in the post IFB Doctorates: Here a Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor.

    Kelly: While I agree that much of Gerenscer’s criticism of degree mills is valid, that does not apply to all non-government accredited schools, including Covington Theological Seminary.
    Gerenscer should criticize Dr. Billy Graham, Dr. Charles Stanley and Dr. Donald Barnhouse in the same manner. He should tell us how a government-accreditor validates a person’s theology.

    Gerenscer: That said, education aside, Byroniac’s question is about Kelly’s view on tithing.

    Kelly: Totally unnecessary personal attacks having been made ….

    Gerenscer: While I have not read Kelly’s book, I do think his view on tithing is generally correct. Kelly states:
    New Covenant giving is: freewill, sacrificial, generous, joyful, regular and motivated by love for God, fellow Christians and lost souls. Do not burden or curse God’s poor who struggle to feed and shelter their family. Although there is no set percentage for Christians to give, all should give sacrificially or lower your standards of living in order to further the reach of the Gospel.

    Kelly: Thank you. That is great news.

    Gerencser: While I think that Earl Kelly, based on what I have read on his blog and website, is full of himself, I do think he is essentially correct when it comes to tithing and what the New Testament teaches about giving.

    Kelly: I cannot understand why he is so mean spirited. His attacks make himself look bad.

    Gerenscer: As my theology began to evolve and I was influenced by New Covenant theology and Calvinism, I came to see that tithing was an Old Testament command no longer in force.

    Kelly: Many, if not most Calvinists, also teach tithing. Some of my most vocal opponents are Calvinists (and fellow Fundamental Baptists).

    Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
    russkellyphd@yahoo.com
    http://www.tithing-russkelly.com

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      The reason for my “attack” is simple. I don’t like preachers like you. I’ve had my fill of IFB preachers parading around with their doctorates making everyone think they have a degree the same as someone who went to an accredited school.

      During the time you did your work at Covington they offered life experience credit. Did you receive such credit? My point on quoting the price was to show the cost of a PhD program. Several readers are currently in graduate/doctorate programs. I thought they would find the cost and requirements amusing.

      Be glad I at least agreed with you on tithing, not that it matters since I am an atheist.

      Reply
      1. Michael Walter

        You are a blessing to all – you only “attack” those you do not like.

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          I “attack” beliefs and practices I disagree with or are harmful. I generally do not “attack” people personally.

          Reply
  6. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

    Poor Russell Kelly, spends all his times defending his “doctorate.”

    http://russkellyphd.blogspot.com/2015/05/covington-theological-seminary-russell.html

    Reply
  7. Bud

    I read Russell Kelly’s book. First let me say being “full of himself” is not relevant. As far as his school, some of the biggest heretics come out of accredited schools that preach tithing and/or are getting wrapped up in mysticism, prosperity gospel, and the list goes on. So let’s not go there and stick to what is important. Russell Kelly has done a great service for the Church in teaching people what Biblical tithing is and is not. By the way, the tithing hoax is another great book on the subject for those who don’t have the time to dig deep into Kelly’s book. There are others but be careful of those that get off into some other potentially dangerous areas. I have read a number of them.

    Reply
  8. Russell Earl Kelly

    How does the U.S. government “accredit” theology courses? There are fully accredited theology courses at Mormon and Catholic Universities that are wrong. Honestly I spend very little time defending my PHD school. I have a fully a accredited degree from a fully accredited SDA school and its theology stinks. I also have 22 semester hours in Chinese from Yale and Ivy League schools went unaccredited for a long time. The fact is that tithe-teachers with PHDs from fully accredited schools will not dialog with me. ATHEIST??? C. S. Lewis was right. You have no basis of right or wrong to judge anybody. That little light you call a conscience is God trying to reveal Himself within you. I pray for you.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Russell Kelly comes up for air, humbly brags about his advanced education degrees, and attacks atheists, reminding them that they have no standard of right or wrong. Throwing in an I pray for you, Russell Kelly returns to the muddy hole from which he came. Bruce says, bye, bye.

      Reply
    2. Geoff

      C.S. Lewis got all sorts of things wrong in his fairy tale vision of the world. It is perfectly possible to argue that being an atheist carries with it a higher sense of right and wrong than being a believer in god, whereby your behaviour depends on received commands.

      i am bound to say that Christian apologists tie themselves in knots whenever they try to engage this kind of discussion, and which is why a theology qualification from any educational establishment tied to a particular denomination is absurd. It’s a bit like a medical school giving accreditation for courses in faith healing, or voodoo, or homeopathy.

      Reply
  9. Mary

    I am a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. I love the Lord, I love his Word and I believe in tithing. My education cannot be compared to Mr. Kelly’s. Although I respect any person who has a religious education, I don’t believe we need to be theologians to understand God’s Word. To me the Bible is profound, yet very practical and simple, and as long as I have been a Christian, 34 years now, I have kept that belief. Actually, I stopped tithing twice before, reason being, I made poor financial decisions and didn’t think I could afford to tithe any longer. I quickly learned the opposite. Experience taught me that tithing wasn’t a law from the Old Testament that didn’t apply to me anymore, which I had been taught also, but a way for all believers to honor God and His Kingdom with their finances. I understand I am free under grace to give or not, but that doesn’t mean I can do away with any of His commandments…Matt 5:17-19. I love to tithe and to give and no theologian will ever change that. I also live by the conviction and leading of the Spirit of God within me, and my conviction is it all belongs to God. It is his to begin with and his ways make more sense to me than yours or mine. Mr. Kelly’s exhausting theology doesn’t change anything for me. I am not giving to God when I tithe, nor am I giving to my pastor or church, I am simply returning to God what belongs to Him! I understand it is not mine to begin with. Simple! When I give an offering I do so because I want to give, the same way I want to give my child a gift, and the same way I want to give if someone is in need.. from my heart. Why do theologians always have to complicate things and seek to disprove God’s Word? I think they alienate and confuse people, and lose common Christians like me which make up the majority, instead of fulfilling the great command.. “go ye therefore and make disciples of all nation’s”. Such a dissillusion. Where is Mr Kelly’s following of disciples?

    Reply
  10. Brian Vanderlip

    And now Mary arrives to share her love of the offering plate of Jesus. She clears up the fact that the message is for everyone and not just those with degrees. She explains quite clearly that she wants to give to the church, to renew the pews or get a stained glass window, or to send lily-whites to darkest regions of the Congo with New Testaments in hand. Or is it just hungry children? Do you feed the poor, Mary? And do you believe that is because Jesus died on a Cross? Go ye therefore indeed, Mary but best stay close to home and give to the needy directly rather than see it siphoned of by the church need for a bigger building! Why do theologians have to complicate matters, Mary asks. Because, Mary, your faith is uniquely yours and those theologians need it to be God’s, not yours! Unfortunately, there are as many unique faiths as their are Christians. And your faith is every bit as valid as any faith with degrees or without. They are all based in human fantasy.

    Reply
  11. Michael Mock

    And here Mary proves that line from the Catechism: “We look for the resurrection of the thread, and the life of the world to come.” Ain’t no post so old that somebody can’t bring it to life again if they have faith!

    Reply
  12. Mary

    Well, my apologies for such a delayed response, but I have indeed been busy feeding the poor. I do thank you for your honesty and appreciate both of your responses. I do agree with some of your thoughts, and much of what you say is true in Christianity today. However, just because something exists in the church today doesn’t make it the truth. There are many hypocrites, but that doesn’t mean I have to be one, nor does that mean every Christian or pastor is one. I too was once a wounded soldier, dissillusioned by other Christians. I started to become suspicious and judge everyone until I finally saw myself becoming quite synical. Thank God he delivered be from that bondage. I freely give, with wise discernment as to the soil in which I sow. The rest is in God’s hands. I only pray you can find this peace if you are truly a Christian. If not then I pray you find Christ.

    Reply
  13. Brian Vanderlip

    Thanks Mary, I wonder if you would consider how strongly your feelings inform your faith. You speak of bondage and hypocrites, of being a wounded soldier. I would hazard that your disillusionment was to do with your self-respect and the approach to cynicism quite natural considering the church as it is! Feelings can be bondage indeed as you say here and my view is that feelings in evangelical Christianity trump reason and factual testing. When one speaks of peace being found, I consider it rather odd. What peace do you mean? Do you feel fine that the church is such a mess because you are not? You know, there is great relief and peace in giving up on yourself as if you do not deserve decency and respect and are only worthy because of someone else. I know that you will find hardship and challenge again where you now find peace because that is simply the human experience. I have been in your shoes myself and so have many others here on this blog. I used the archaic, generic words just as you do. And I preached the exclusivity of Christ too. I am convinced now that I was quite misled in all that and carried along by feelings rather than the obvious facts. I do not need to find Christ, Mary. Neither of us is lost, you know. I am not born evil and neither were you. The Bible is a human construct and full of errors. We must try to accept the facts we know to be true and put aside feelings that are not supportive of those facts. The American president is a man who knows about facts as a Christian, that they mean little and that he can manipulate and sway people to do his bidding. He is not attached to the factual but lives in his feelings. He uses Christians as tools to build his power. He knows for himself that love is not given but bought. I wonder if he has ever known love he did not purchase. Be careful what you buy into with your feelings. Beware your peace, Mary. Best wishes.

    Reply

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