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Gary A. Anderson, Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition (New Haven: Yale, 2013), 222pp.Gary A. Anderson, Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition (New Haven: Yale, 2013), 222pp.

           In his previous book Sin: A History (Yale, 2010), Gary Anderson showed how by the end of the Old Testament period, the idea of sin changed from a weight or burden on your back to that of a debt that a person must repay. And so the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our debts." This new book continues his exploration of this economic metaphor. In particular, Anderson tries to show how almsgiving is not just a utilitarian act of social justice to help the poor (Bill Gates does that), not only an ethical act done purely out of principle and altruism with no element of self-interest or expectation of reward (per Kant), and not even merely a sign of a believer's personal faith (per the Protestant Reformers). Rather, for Anderson, a Catholic professor of Old Testament at Notre Dame, almsgiving is a "merit-worthy" deed that enjoys pride of place as "the privileged way to serve God."

           Anderson focuses especially upon the Jewish books of Tobit and Sirach, along with two texts that speak of a treasury in heaven — Matthew 6:19-21 and the story of the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10). For Anderson, texts like these and others like Matthew 25 and Proverbs 19:17 ("Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord") are to be understood literally and not metaphorically. There is a spiritual reward for our financial generosity. God will repay the loans we have made to him. He defends the doctrine of purgatory and the notion that merits can be transferred. He responds to the strong Protestant rejections of these ideas, as in the works of Sanders and Bornkamm, but he always does so in a non-polemical if unapologetic manner. When we give to the poor, our sacramental acts reveal important things about the character of God, the world he made, and his people.

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