Ben Carson and the Cherry Picking of Scripture

Comments made by Ben Carson, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, at the National Prayer Breakfast have received a lot of attention the past few days. While he spoke about a lot of things, the thing I took interest in were his comments about tithing and the analogies he made concerning our progressive income tax. 

The fairest person he knows, according to Carson, is God who required 10% of everyone regardless of their financial situation, whether in a lean year or a fat one. 10% regardless of circumstances or financial station in life.

Now, I think a sincere, fair-minded person could suggest such a tax policy and that it should be considered on its merits. What I have a problem with is the way he cherry-picked one aspect of Israel’s economic structure to support his point. 

If you’re going to pick an aspect of Israel’s economic policy, why not start with the prohibition against charging interest. Or how about forgiving debt every seven years (my current favorite). Or how about allowing land to revert to its original owner every fifty years. Or how about leaving part of your profits in the field for the sake of the widow or orphan or alien.

I think when taken all together it is clear that the economic aspects of the law are designed to take care of the helpless, not to take advantage of those in need, and to make sure that no one is buried under the mistakes of the past. 

I doubt that my suggestions has any chance of becoming law, anymore than the principle of a tithe has of becoming our tax policy. My point with this little post is to suggest that we should take great care when using texts that represent a very different social circumstance than our own as policy suggestions for today. 

About Mark Love

I am the Dean for the School of Theology and Ministry and Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who is a practicing new monastic in Abilene, TX. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and two amazing granddaughters.
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8 Responses to Ben Carson and the Cherry Picking of Scripture

  1. Tim Spivey says:

    I like capturing the Spirit of what God was after better than “blueprinting” the government of Ancient Israel–which assumes a theocracy, Hebrew nation-state, and divinely anointed king. Not a more-or-less secular democracy like our own–even if one reads texts in the NT about the role of government quite expansively. There is a myriad of difference between then and now–and the question of government’s role is one we’re going to hold in tension for some time, I’m afraid. However, capturing the spirit of how God was calling His people to live is something we should all be concerned with. I myself would welcome a call to give an extremely high portion of income to help the less fortunate–and many Christians would. I wouldn’t welcome a tax to that effect, because I’m not a fan of what government would likely do with the money, or it’s efficiency in it’s deployment. Thanks for the stimulating thoughts, Mark.

  2. Bradford Stevens says:

    Somehow when we teach tithing people assume that the 90% belongs to the individual. The biblical perspective is that 100% belongs to God and that we are simply a “Trustee” of the gifts that God has given to us. Someday, each will be asked to give an accounting of what one has done with his or her gifts. Our response needs to be that we used all for the glory of God!

  3. Dave D says:

    The point Dr. Carson was making is that God wants all to give. Not just the richest! That is not “cherry picking” that is a fact.

    • Mark Love says:

      Dave, I don’t think that was all he was saying, but again my problem is less with his point and more with his use of scripture in a very proof-texting kind of way. It doesn’t do justice either to Israel’s social situation or ours.

  4. Justin says:

    Dr. Love,

    Dr. Carson was delivering a speech…not writing a systematic theology. Did he leave out other Scriptures on money? Of course. So too has President Obama, Rev. Wright, and a great many advocates of Left-wing political solutions. Were they, too, guilty of “cherry-picking”?

    Wouldn’t you agree that any sermon you’ve ever preached has–virtually of necessity–accentuated certain truths of Scripture and downplayed (or perhaps even downright ignored) others? That doesn’t mean that you don’t believe in those truths…they merely weren’t the topic of that particular sermon.

  5. Donna says:

    I happen to like what Carson said. I think he spoke well and made a point and gave his opinion. I stand with him any day!

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