Note: the first version of this article assumed Brunson is referring to Frank Viola in his criticisms of an author he does not name in his sermon. However, after further reading it is entirely possible that Mac Brunson is referring to George Barna, and not Frank Viola, or perhaps to both who authored Pagan Christianity. I have made minor edits to this article reflecting this.
It is not very often that a pastor from his pulpit will impugn the motives of another Christian with whom they disagree over tertiary doctrinal matters, but that is exactly what Mac Brunson did last Sunday in his sermon defending the tithe doctrine.
While Brunson didn't name the author he spoke of, it was quite clear that it was either Christian author Frank Viola or George Barna. A stronger case could be made for the latter, but that is not the intent of this article to determine which. Brunson can clear this up by publicly stating who he was referring to if he wishes.
Mac Brunson said:
"This week I read an interesting statement by a very popular writer who has made multiplied millions of dollars selling his books to churches and Christians and pastors and denominations. I mean MILLIONS of dollars. He's written tons of books. And now having given the church advice over the last 20 years of what churches should be doing and why churches are not doing it and why churches aren't doing what they should be doing and he's given all this correction - he now no longer believes that tithing is biblical. Not only that he no longer believes that there should be a church staff, pastors or staff and he no longer believes there really should be church buildings. That's really convenient after you've made millions isn't it? Made millions off the church and then all of a sudden I'm just gonna decide 'Well you know what, I don't have to tithe all this'.
And this is what he said: 'Tithing is Jewish, but it is not Christian'. I thought Christianity was built on Judiasm. I got a Jewish Savior. Most every one of these guys that wrote this book is Jewish."
This is shameless on several levels.
First of all, why not give the author's name? Isn't that quite cowardly to not give the name of whom he speaks, so that people listening could go check out the author's book themselves and not take Brunson's word for it? From Brunson's description above he probably is referring to Christian authors Frank Viola and/or George Barna who have written the book "Pagan Christianity". If I am wrong, and Brunson was referring to someone else, I apologize in advance. But I don't think I'm wrong here.
Secondly, if he's going to call into question the author's arguments against tithing, why not accurately represent them? In the book Pagan Christianity, Viola says: "Tithing does appear in the Bible. So yes, it is biblical. But it is not Christian. The tithe belongs to ancient Israel. It was essentially their income tax." Viola and Barna go on to address the very arguments that Brunson used in defending the Christian tithe, including Abraham and Melchizedek in Genesis 14, and then the often abused verses in Malachi 3.
Thirdly, why call into questions the authors' motives as being financial? If the argument is that we should discount the author because he made "millions" off of the church and had a financial incentive to write against the tithe, what does that say about how we should view a mega church pastor who himself has made millions directly off of tithers, and has a financial interest in convincing people to give 10% of their income to his church? Let's face it - for Christian authors like Viola and Barna these days to come out and speak AGAINST the tithe will actually cost the author readership and speaking engagements in evangelical circles! Even their publisher, Tyndale, had to put a disclaimer at the front of the book. Read the foreward section of "Pagan Christianity" written by Viola, and the introduction written by Barna, and you will see they have a heart for Christ and His church and the gospel, and desire for Christians to fully understand where the current church practices come from, including tithing. Brunson's argument discrediting the authors is terribly weak, and it is a cheap shot, in my opinion. He should be ashamed - disagree with their viewpoints, but to question their motives from the pulpit is a disgrace.
Fourthly, the statement Brunson makes: "That's really convenient after you've made millions isn't it? Made millions off the church and then all of a sudden I'm just gonna decide 'Well you know what, I don't have to tithe all this'.", this is classic. Who really has made millions off the church? An author? Yes, Viola and Barna have written books and have sold them on the free market and yes Christians are their primary readers. Viola is a popular author and is a strong voice for "organic church" in our culture. But to say either of them have made millions "off the church" is ludicrous, especially coming from a pastor who has, well, made millions himself OFF OF THE CHURCH. And I mean MILLIONS. Pastors like Brunson earn six-figure salaries, earn money from selling books themselves, earn income from speaking engagements at other churches, and advertise Holy Land trips on their church websites and travel the world with their families. So who is really the one that is "making millions off of the church"? Is it Viola and Barna, or the mega church pastors who teach the tithe?
Fifthly, if Brunson is referring to Viola, I'm not sure where Brunson gets the idea that Viola's views on tithing are something he has come to AFTER he has made millions, which is argument is based on. I don't see evidence of that. Viola's book Pagan Christianity was first published in 2002. I sure hope that Brunson is right on that, or he is carelessly misrepresenting Viola's convictions on this matter. If he is referring to Barna, well, Barna has a right to come to a different view, and if he does it doesn't mean his motives are impure, and for sure it doesn't say anything about whether he is generous or not in his giving as outlined in the New Testament.
I would like to close by giving you some quotes from Viola's and Barna's book. After reading these, you'll see why mega church pastors who hang the 10% tithe around the necks of their people don't like Viola and Barna's views.
"If a believer wishes to tithe out of a personal decision or conviction, that is fine. Tithing becomes a problem when it is represented as God's command, binding upon every believer."
"Under the Old Testament system, tithing was good news to the poor. However, in our day, mandatory tithing equals oppression to the poor. Not a few poor Christians have been thrown into deeper poverty because they have felt obligated to give beyond their means."
"They have been told that if they do not tithe, they are robbing God and breaking his command. In such cases, the gospel is no longer 'good news to the poor'. Rather, it becomes a heavy burden."
"Conversely, contemporary tithing is good news to the rich. To a high earner, 10 percent is but a paltry sum. Tithing, therefore, appeases the consciences of the prosperous without impacting their lifestyles. Not a few wealthy Christians are deluded into thinking they are 'obeying God' because they throw 10 percent of their income into the offering plate."
And there is more. I highly recommend my readers checking out their book "Pagan Christianity" from your library. I doubt you'll find it anywhere in your CHURCH'S library however! :) You can buy it from Amazon.com here. You can visit Viola's website here.
You can see from the quotes above, why someone like Mac Brunson would certainly not like these authors' views, and would take opportunity to go after them from the pulpit. But go to Viola's website and read his biography, and make up your own mind. Read about George Barna - read his introduction to Pagan Christianity for yourself - don't just believe your preacher's characterizations of their motives. Read for yourself.
I am glad to say that Viola and Barna are not the only voices exposing the false tithing doctrine. As far as I know neither of them is nor ever was a Southern Baptist. But as we'll look at in the coming days, there is another voice who is daring to expose the false tithing doctrine, and he is one of our own. He is a Southern Baptist. He earned a Ph.D. at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and conducted his extensive tithing research under the tutelage of Dr. Andreas Kostenberger at SEBTS. This author's name is David Croteau, and we'll be discussing his recently released book on tithing as well.
I will return to look at more of Brunson's arguments for the tithe to give them a full hearing by my readers later. But if you want to listen to Brunson's sermon yourself in its entirety, go to this link:
It is the Sunday a.m worship service, dated September 12, 2010.