Authored by the Theological Advisor for Tearfund, this book is a major work aiming to give a biblical understanding of, and Christian responses to, the desperate poverty so many experience. He argues that, fundamentally, poverty has to do with the way human beings use the power God has given them. He explores this theme in three major sections, covering Old Testament material, the teaching and action of Jesus, and the church’s ministry.
There is much that is helpful and engaging. His outline of the covenant relationships in the Old Testament is clear – including an insightful description of the limitations of the Mosaic administration.
He works through the Beatitudes and presents fresh challenges to us all. His description of the early church should leave us humbled, and stir up a longing that our own churches might conform to that pattern more than they do.
Finally, the reality of the poverty he portrays, and the God-given challenges to care for the poor and uphold their rights, should galvanise the hardest hearts. It is a sober lesson to be told that Evangelicals as a group have become less generous with their wealth over the last 20 years despite becoming richer!
Yet I did have misgivings. It is not an easy read and it took some discipline to get into the book (and I like reading). I was expecting more concrete examples of the abuse of power – how it has led to poverty and how it has been overcome. Without this, the analysis felt abstract.
It also became reductionist, in that most of the criticism was levelled at the ’empire building’ policies of the USA and the weaknesses of global capitalism in general. I found this superficial and simplistic, even though there were some valid insights.
Despite the attempt to challenge the church and its members to greater practical commitment to uphold the rights of the poor and to model radical generosity, I felt the author never ‘got down to the level’ of the pastors and members of ‘regular’ churches. Without this, the book felt designed for academics, degree level students, and those already engaged with helping the poor in organisations.
It doesn’t describe how ‘ordinary churches’ have taken up the challenge practically. Nor did it tackle the feeling of being overwhelmed expressed by many individuals when they ask, ‘Where do I start?’ Instead, the reader is made to feel that simply to live and work in the West is to be complicit in the power-abuse he describes.
So, some very important biblical principles helpfully stated, but significant weaknesses in application, which left me disappointed.