Mark Allan Powell states that he writes Giving to God in order to present a guide to biblical stewardship that will be faithful to the teaching of Scripture, to the promises of Christ, and to the needs of those who view giving to God as an opportunity and expectation for their journey of faith.
Giving to God: The Bible's Good News About Living a Generous Life
Mark Allan Powell
The book is divided into two parts. The first presents a biblical and theological perspective of stewardship as a joyful relationship with a giving God. The second is to make practical application of those perspectives.
Part One: Belonging to God
Powell claims that when we live the life as a steward God wants us to live, that is, a life as people who belong to God; it will be the best life possible. There are three aspects of the steward's life.
The first is acts of worship. In worship we give something we value -- money -- as a sacrifice to God. It is harder to part with money in worship than sing a hymn we love. Giving an offering is our opportunity to express love for God by giving something we value. Where there is love, there are gifts. The major question is not the why and how for those who give with hearts full of devotion for the God who loves us.
In worship we move from self-centeredness with attention to our wants and needs toward making God the center of our devotion. "Worship is what makes life worth-while."
The second aspect is an understanding that money is an expression of faith. The core problem with stewardship is a "fundamental misunderstanding or false claim regarding ownership." When God gives it is not a transfer of ownership. God is only letting us use something that still belongs to God. "We own nothing, but manage everything. God trusts us in a way that we are reluctant to trust each other and places confidence in us beyond anything that our record thus far would seem to warrant."
"A faithful steward is a persons who a)views this world as God's good creation and is grateful to be a part of it; b) knows that God cares for those whom God has made and is ready and willing to rule their lives; and c) trust God to provide him or her with whatever is needed to be content. Faithful stewardship is a matter of becoming such a person and acting accordingly. Indeed, when faithful stewards do become people who are extra ordinarily generous or thrifty, it is because they are living the way that they want to live, acting on a faith that tells them they belong to God."
The third aspect is a spiritual discipline. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Is this bad news or good news?
It is bad news because "Jesus is stating flat-out what will happen, whether we are careful or not. Where your treasure is that is where your heart will be! You can't avoid it. You can't prevent it. Your heart will follow your treasure."
It is good news in that Jesus is prescribing what we can do about it. "The point is . . . how we spend our money determines what sort of people we become." What we do with our treasure affects our hearts!
Jesus seemed to say, "Give where you want your heart to be, and let your heart catch up. Don't just give to things you care about. Give to things you want to care about. Don't decide the amount of your giving by how much you care, but how much you want to care. As yourself, If I were the sort of person I would really like to be, and then what would I do? How would I spend my money? Then, do what you would do if you were that sort of person. Put your treasure where you want your heart to be, and, Jesus promises, your heart will go there."
Part Two -- Our Duty and Delight
How we as Christians are to use our money for God? What does "giving to God" means in that context? In this portion of the book he seeks to make practical application of those perspectives.
The first component is faithful living. We give everything to God when we submit ourselves to the rule of God, the Lordship of Christ and the direction of the Holy Spirit. Stewardship is 100%. As stewards we are to put all our finances under God's will. Financial stewardship includes how we acquire, regard, manage, and spend money. Powell then proceeds to aid the reader to examine each of these activities in the light of biblical perspectives.
The second component is Faithful Giving. "Giving to church or charity is an act of renunciation. We take a portion of our money and we give it away. We completely give it away for others to use in what we hope will be a God-pleasing manner. "In the New Testament church the reason people gave seems to encompass four concerns: the support of ministers, provide for those in the church who have need, for other communities of faith in distress and the funding of worldwide mission and evangelism.
Ten mixed motives for giving are identified. Some are some positive while others are negative. Some are spiritual and some practical. They include motives such as gaining recognition to conveying the Christ within us; from attaining power or influence to expressing love for God.
Powell concludes this section by focusing a particular text from Romans 15:27, "They (Macedonia and Achaia) were pleased to do this and indeed they owe it to them." In this verse he finds giving as something Christians does both because it is a responsibility to give but also that it is a delight.
This theme continues to be examined as a guide for practicality in the next two portions of the book.
Some giving is a duty. Other giving is a delight. Powell than asserts that this two motives of giving can guide our church today. As members of the congregation we have a responsibility to provide for the support of the congregation. For that we give as a duty. But there are also activities by the congregation that reach out, touch and change the lives of people. We give to these causes out of delight.
From this perspective he proposes a process to guide how people are to give:
First estimate your proportionate share of the church's budget costs and contribute accordingly, even if there is a sense in which it seems like just paying the bills or fulfilling an obligation. And then, once you have done this, you will be in a position to move on to the second type of giving and to discover what "giving from the heart really means.
The motivation to give from the heart (delight) is best described as sacrificial giving. This is in addition to and after one has given out of duty. This where the good news of stewardship is located. Powell writes, "I have found it helpful to evaluate my own giving in these terms: I am called by God to support my local congregation in an appropriate manner and I am invited by Christ to renounce mammon by giving money in a sacrificial sense that goes beyond the commonsense standards of what would be a reasonable expectation for me."
The book illuminates the process in more detail including how to figure out what your fair share is for supporting the local congregation. Tithing is a transcendent principle where we give 100% to God by using everything as God would want. Tithing as a guide for giving is "sacrificial" and goes beyond what we ought to do as a duty.
The book concludes with a recitation of the joyful experience that people have when they live and give of all they are to God. The book concludes with this statement: You can be a generous person and live in this joy as one who knows God, loves God, pleases God, and benefits others. I invite you to accept God's invitation to generosity, to live a one who belongs to God and to give as one for whom giving is a duty and a delight.
An additional value of the book is the questions that are asked at the end of each chapter. Effective stewardship leaders ask good questions that engage the hearts and the minds of people.
In conclusion, I appreciate the theological and biblical work present throughout this book. However, I am skeptical of the results in a congregation if the suggested practices he advises were introduced in most congregations. When 20% of worshipers give zero and a larger percentage give approximately $200 a year, I believe the formula, if it is understood, would be taken seriously by only a very few persons and to the detriment of the body as a whole. I would rather spend my time on all the previous chapters the author gives us.
Overall, this is a fine book that can assist discussions on what it means to be giving to God. I recommend its use among congregational leaders, small groups and a resource for solid stewardship sermons.
Reviewed by Jerry Hoffman
Mark Allan Powell is Professor of New Testament, Trinity Lutheran Seminary.