Q & R: a new kind of tithing?

Here’s the Q:

I have read many of your books and I am currently in the middle of A New Kind Of Christianity. As best I can recall, you do not address tithing. My wife and I have had several discussions about tithing and what is included and how are the charities not supported by the church included. How do you interpret tithing?

Here’s the R:

Thanks for this important question. In light of my response to “the authority question” in the book, I wouldn’t lean in the direction of quoting a verse to mandate tithing as a law. But because of my responses to “the gospel question” and “the church question,” I would see financial generosity as a super-high priority for Christians like us who are obviously part of the privileged few, evidenced simply by our having internet access, the ability and leisure to read, etc.
The place I’ve written the most about this subject was near the end of A New Kind of Christian. The theme of generosity in contrast to consumerism and ingratitude is also an important theme in Everything Must Change and in my upcoming book, Naked Spirituality. Speaking personally, for our thirty-one years of marriage, my wife and I have set as our goal to give away at least ten percent of our gross income each year. We begin with our local church, and continue with offerings to organizations and individuals that we believe in. We look forward to continuing this practice. If you’d like to learn about average giving patterns in various religious communities, here’s a good source, although I imagine more current data is available: http://library.generousgiving.org/page.asp?sec=28&page=223
If folks have never given before, I’d encourage them to identify a percentage of income they are ready to start at. The average among committed Christians and Muslims tends to run between 2.5 and 3.5%, so I would hope folks could start at least there. (Giving at least 2.5% to the poor is one of Islam’s five core practices.) Then, as your income increases, you can notch up your giving level to and beyond the ten percent level. I originally was challenged to think about graduated tithing by Ron Sider’s important book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving From Affluence to Generosity – you can read about more about graduated tithing here. (BTW, if you’re financially well-off and would ever like to know about some causes I’m aware of that need some major donors, please contact me.)
Thanks again for raising this question – I hope every reader of this blog will make an informed decision about their giving level – choosing a level of giving that is proportional (a percentage of income), joyful (not begrudging), and sacrificial (giving to the point where it hurts, and then giving more until it feels good). If we don’t make prayerful, thoughtful commitments in this regard, a thousand influences will drive us to keep increasing out standard of living at the expense of our standard of giving. In light of God’s goodness to us, and in light of the inequities in the world and the needs of our neighbors, responsible financial stewardship only makes sense.