Paul Sheldon's Reviews > When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself

When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett
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Sep 11, 12

bookshelves: church-the, theology

Steven Corbett is the community development specialist for the Chalmers Center for Economic Development, and an assistant professor in the department of economics and community development at Covenant College. Brian Fikkert is and associate professor of economics at Covenant College, and the founder and executive director of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College. These two men have partnered to write a book challenging Christians, specifically North American Christians, to rethink how they approach poverty-alleviation both at home and abroad.

This book consist of three major parts. Part 1 establishes the groundwork for all poverty-alleviation by helping the reader understand the nature and implications of poverty. Part 2 then builds from the groundwork of part 1 a structure of poverty-alleviation based on three key components of an effective alleviation strategy, namely relief, rehabilitation, and development. Part 3 applies the concepts of relief, rehabilitation, and development to “ecomonic development” helping the reader understand the fundamentals of a strategy for the alleviation of poverty that is effective and glorifying to God.

This book does not promote a social gospel, it does not diminish the importance of evangelism and discipleship (for example, “the gospel and its implications for humans’ relationships to God, self, others, and the rest of creation must be clearly presented and modeled in all poverty-alleviation strategies.”), and it does not speak to every area or even most areas of missions and outreach. The goal is simply to address how the church can more effectively minister to the needs of the poor. Think of missions and outreach as a pie and poverty-alleviation as a piece of that pie. This book simply focuses its attention on that one piece of pie. Additionally, it should be noted that this book is not the be-all end-all book for poverty-alleviation. By the authors’ own admission the issue of poverty is multifaceted, far reaching, and extremely complex. This book is simply and introduction to how the church should start thinking about poverty-alleviation so as to produce lasting results.

As good as this book was (and I consider it to be very good) there were a few things that I think could have been better handled. First, I think the first chapter, if not read carefully, could lead the reader to think that poverty-alleviation was the singular, or at least most significant, role of the local church. That is not the authors’ intention, but I think the possibility is very real. Second, while the importance of proclaiming the Gospel and discipling believers is stated throughout the book I would have like to see more specifically the connection between evangelism and discipleship and poverty-alleviation, rather than a simple acknowledgement that the connection exists.

What I loved about the book was the clear explanation and illustration of why so much of what is currently being done in the realm of poverty-alleviation is not only ineffective but also harmful to the poor. I appreciated the care which was shown in explaining why people are poor. I think the authors’ description of the cause of poverty was very balanced. They point to four primary causes: lack of knowledge, oppression by powerful people, personal sins of the poor, or a lack of material resources. I believe we tend to think there is only one cause for poverty, as a result we respond in only one way. The balanced approach to dealing with poverty resonated with me, and helped me to see that while most churches (mine included) tend to most often provide the type of aid that is the least helpful they can through a balanced approach to poverty-alleviation be quite effective in ministering to the needs of the poor.

This book has without a doubt helped to reshape the way I think of poverty-alleviation and the role the local church plays in that arena of ministry. I can envision this book being beneficial for either a personal or group study. While it only serves as an introduction to the complex issue of poverty-alleviation I am certain that it will be a powerful tool in the development or redevelopment of ministries focused on glorifying God by tackling the tough issue of poverty.
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