Subtitle: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures.
Baker Academic, 2016. 197 pp
A theology for advocacy, that’s what these five authors are after.
They offer lots of good theological reflection in support of advocacy and they critique fellow evangelicals at some length for under-emphasizing its importance. Evangelicals, they say, tend to focus on relationships and not systems, and tend to limit their approaches to evangelism, development and relief. The authors do acknowledge that there is good advocacy being done by many evangelical development agencies. But, these are exceptions. Most evangelical efforts to relieve poverty stop short of political advocacy for three reasons: tendency to think to individualistically, tendency to avoid tough conflicts and donor alienation, inadequate theology. So creation, Trinity, redemption, and other subjects get a look as to their relationship to advocacy.
The authors dig into the theology issues, building a theology of systems and organizations, and then work into a theology of the church that can underpin the church’s role in the public square. The Lordship of Christ in every sphere is the starting place. The weakness of the cross is the church’s power to address “the powers” and there is a section on advocacy and the powers. The church is to “live into the Kingdom of God, that is, embody it in the present. Second, live it out. Here is N. T. Wright’s idea (and the Reformers?) that every single thing we do no matter what our vocation, has vocational kingdom significance. Third, and here the authors cite Yoder, an Anabaptist who might not be expected to speak to this topic at all, but Yoder says the church is to witness to the state by telling what the church itself is doing to live out the principles of justice within its own community.
The authors conclude this section by reminding us that “success” in advocacy is to be judged by the metric of faithfulness not results. I found this section contained lots of interesting ideas, but none explored in enough depth to be compelling.The final section of the book looks at examples of the practice of advocacy including a very nice little section on some work of the CRC! You will read about the Kortenhovens and diamonds in West Africa, the CRC and the Micah Challenge, and a quote by our own Peter VanderMeu
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Subtitle: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can be Done about it.
Oxford University Press, 2007. 195pp
Some countries do develop, but some seem trapped in poverty.
Economist Colliers book attempts to explain the nature of the traps. These are the countries in which aid doesn’t work very well; change in these countries must come predominantly from within. We need to find ways to support the internal agents of healthy change. We need some new applications of tools used in other settings: military interventions, international standard setting, and trade policy, to name a few. The entities that now use these tools have no knowledge or inclination to use them to address the bottom billion, therefore much politicking needs to be done!
Collier bases his book on tons of statistical analysis, but he writes to be clear, interesting, and accessible. The political right will have to come to understand that global growth will not solve the problem of the bottom billion. The political left will need to come to understand that military interventions, and trade, and stimulating growth, will be valuable tools for addressing the situation of the bottom billion. Collier warns that the crises facing the bottom billion will soon create conditions that seriously threaten the other four billion. Fifty-eight countries, mostly small, contain Collier’s bottom billion, the ones he assess as really really stuck. They are countries that are not growing. Collier says growth rate is much more significant than poverty reduction. So, what are the traps that seem to have caught the countries in this bottom billion? Civil war, the turbulent effects of huge resources suddenly available in a society completely unprepared, being landlocked with bad neighbors, bad governance in a small country.
So, what to do? The second half of the book discusses the what and how of interventions that could help. Sometimes his economics gets quite far above my pay grade. But a key idea is to see that within those countries, there is always a strong group that is powerfully invested in opposing change. How to identify and how to help those working for healthy change from within - that’s the challenge. International standard setting, military interventions, and trade policy - three good starting places according to Collier. He explains what those might look like in the second half of the book.
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Subtitle: Navigating the Path to Peace.
Orbis, 2017. 270 pp
Broadly ecumenical, but with a clear Roman Catholic perspective throughout, this book asks what the church and Christianity, and in fact all religious faiths, have to say about poverty and justice. The book is straightforward in speaking Scripturally to the challenges of globalization, poverty, markets, justice, environment. Groody asserts that everyone has a “big story” a super story, which is our explanation of how we got here and what it all means. It’s how we make sense, how we analyze, evaluate, and for the Christian the super story is God and God’s work in and thru Jesus. We don’t just read the Scriptures, the Scriptures read us.
In one short example, Groody neatly affirms and critiques “free markets”. On page 23 Groody says, “The central focus of this book is to explore in more depth how Christian theological and spiritual reflection and other academic disciplines, can help us understand better and respond to the challenge of justice and the call to build a more humane global village.” On page 29 he’s got a section heading that stopped me in my tracks: “Christian Discipleship: Making Visible the Invisible Heart of God”.
To be a part of what God is doing in me and in history is to play a role in working for global justice and peace. Groody mines Scripture and early church for teaching on justice and what that means for my life and the life of the church.There is a chapter on Catholic social teaching, and then studies of the social teachings from the main world religions. Groody looks at King, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and a few other “images of mercy and ikons of justice” as he calls them.
There’s a chapter on liberation theology and then a chapter that looks at the Catholic church’s liturgy as expression of God’s radical comprehensive work in the world. The last chapter discusses Christian spirituality as it relates to the journey toward justice and peace -
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Subtitle: The socio-political mission of the Church in the age of Globalization
Wipf and Stock. 2006. 208pp
Can’t do better than to quote Richard Mouw’s comment on this book, “In this important book Richard Gibb provides an illuminating critical survey of key theological explorations of topics relating to political-economic concerns. But unlike so many theological explorations of such matters, that stay mostly on the level of generalization, he demonstrates - in ways I found extremely insightful - the actual connections of theology to urgent issues of economic justice, globalization, and political authority.”
Globalization is here and it’s real, with all its benefits and all its dangers. So we better have an authentic biblical-ethical response. Who is our neighbor in this new reality and how do we respond to that neighbor’s needs? Gibb explores the meaning of grace in post-Reformation theology and then unpacks what that means for shaping the church’s socio-political mission in an age of globalization.
Why, Gibb wants to know, is the grace-driven theology of the Reformed tradition contributing so ineffectively to socio-political debate? There is an urgent need for the church, as a community defined by grace, to provide a critique of globalization, and to develop an informed and respected voice, so we can be fully and effectively engaged. One thing I missed was a treatment of the difference between church as organism and as institution, a distinction that I think has been important in CRC conversations about this topic.
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Subtitle: Christian Mission in the Postmodern World
InterVarsity Press. 1998. 132 pp.
A Mennonite perspective on the calling of the church in society. Underlying assumption: the “evangelism/service dichotomy” should be dropped. The church’s interventions as it carries out its mission have been marked by insensitivity and domination themes, not to mention that unscriptural dichotomy of word and deed. Yes, this book is 20 years old, and it does show.
But if you want to really understand the kinds of paradigm shifts that development agencies were going through on the journey, the Mennonite journey feels like reading the diary of siblings. Yes there are key distinctions between Reformed and mennonite thinking on social engagement by the church, but you might be surprised by how familiar some of this book’s story feels.
Krause clearly names lots of the changes in themes and norms in missions and helps us understand and appreciate where we are as Christian (and Reformed) mission agencies. We are operating in macro-complexities that were unimagined 20 years ago, and learning how to be more alert for the certainty of unintended negative side effects of our best efforts. Which brings us to the complexities added as a result of a much greater appreciation of the spiritual powers we encounter. New attempts by Christian development agencies in the 80s and 90s to think through a more holistic or transformational, even spiritual(!), development model are simply and clearly presented. This is part of World Renew’s story too, and listening to our Mennonite sisters’ and brothers’ story is pretty helpful.
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Subtitle: Becoming a Risk-taking, Justice-seeking, Disciple-making Congregation
Tyndale Momentum. 2012. 247 pp.
This is a how-to book for getting a church to move from talk to effective action. The action being called for is to work for justice for the two-thirds world that lives in suffering because of radical injustices. The book is closely aligned with the work and message of the International Justice Mission. How does the church itself go through the transformation necessary to engage in the work of transformation in the world? So well written, so vivid, so full of powerful stories, and helpful discussion…. This book is better than good.
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Subtitle: A Christian Primer
Orbis. 2009. 204 pp plus copius references and notes
“A Resource for Teaching” says the cover, and it is! Discerning what’s really happening, and interpreting the facts correctly, and then choosing what actions should follow - these are the steps the author uses to organize his thinking. What is standing in the way of justice and peace in our world, and what must be done about it?
The book begins with a section on history and the themes that underlie today’s conversations about justice and poverty. Next come sections on poverty and development, and human rights, and war, and peace in our times…. And the book closes with a section on Christian faith and the issues of poverty.
This book has a Catholic world view, and it’s written to be a comprehensive study of justice and peace. It’s thorough, broad, deep, very readable. Chapter 8, for example, is titled “Christian Faith, Jesus, and Catholic Social Teaching”. It’s beautiful. It might not say everything you would hope for as a Reformed believer, but there’s not much to disagree with, and there are certainly some fresh and helpful insights.
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Subtitle: Traditional and Contemporary Issues in our Communities and the World
Anderson Publishing. 2015. 232 pp
This is a textbook. It doesn’t have a Christian perspective.
It’s a thorough, systematic look at definitions of justice from a variety of religious traditions and philosophies, issues, political contexts, and examination of strategies for achieving justice. It is well-written and readable, but it’s academic, lots of descriptive stuff, not much prescriptive.
I would call this a reference work. If you want to look up a topic or event related to justice in the history of thought or politics, you could use this book. There are discussion questions, and notes galore.
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Subtitle: Empowering Families, Churches, and Schools to Make a Difference in God's World
Kregel Publications, 2019. 336 pp
And Social Justice for All provides resources to engage kids in understanding and responding to fourteen justice issues such as clean water, creation care, immigration and refugees, hunger, race, and poverty.
Includes high-interest conversation starters for each age group to challenge thinking and assumptions, family devotions to anchor each social justice issue in God's Word, engaging, age-tiered activities for reading, playing, observing, creating, connecting, and experimenting in God's world, and tips and internet links to extend awareness and invest resources in social justice.
Throughout each chapter, children speak their own thoughts about injustice and what they think God is calling them to do. By looking at both the roots of injustice and what Christians can do right now to help, And Social Justice for All empowers both adults and children to encounter a broken world with insight and empathy.
Simple yet powerful, it lights the path for families to make a real, God-directed difference together.
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Subtitle: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
The New Press. 2011. 261pp
If you think racism is dying in American society, this is one of the books that will wake you up.
Alexander says in her preface that she’s writing for three specific audiences: people who care deeply but have no idea how big the problem of racism really is; people who have intuited the deep continuities between our history of race in America and what’s happening today but need the data to back up those intuitions; people who are trapped in the system - that they might not be forgotten. That about says it.
This book became a best-seller by so vividly portraying the crisis of Black male incarceration, and why and how the system works so differently for Whites. This is a consciousness raiser! And it’s so readable.
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Subtitle: Evangelism, Development, and Shalom
MARC. 1993. 175 pp
How to recover the lively view of the Bible that puts Scripture at the heart of thought and action about every issue society faces today.
And even though it’s a quarter of a century since it was published, the book still speaks pretty compellingly! What’s truly holistic mission -- that’s the question this book addresses. And how to do that cross-culturally!
This includes a lot of good thinking about the complexities of development, but also the opportunities not always so visible at the start, and the importance of being aware of the role of the “powers” in many community settings.
This is basic stuff, well presented, and a great starting place for folks just getting into thinking about how the Gospel and community development intersect.
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Anchor Books, 2009, 292 pp.
Maathai, a Kenyan, writes of the big challenges facing the continent of Africa in the arena of human development.
More important, this is a book about African opportunities, responsibilities, and accountability, much more than it is a book for international development workers. When she looks at the causes for the decades of poverty, causes present in injustice and conflict, in corruption, and in economics, she looks not only at the key role played by national and international policies, she also looks at “moral, spiritual, cultural, and even psychological” factors.
She examines history, leadership and governance, ethnicity, environment, as well as the tasks facing individual Africans and their families. She’s talking about the importance of cultures of honesty, hard work, fairness, justice. The three-legged stool needed to provide the appropriate context for healthy development has these legs: robust democratic principles, equitable distribution of resources, and strong cultures of peace. If the stool has only one, two, or no legs, it will be broken or blown away by the forces that continue to pummel the continent. There is an important role for the international community.
The challenge is to discern and nurture the healthy movements. In fact what often happens is that stereotypes and paternalism and naive benevolence undermine progress. Toxic benevolence creates dependency. Issue after issue, story after story, Maathai presents us with her own wisdom and insight about what Africa needs - what it REALLY needs. The perspective is complex and the situation is vastly difficult, but Maathi is undaunted in her role as prophet. She does not offer an overtly biblical analysis, but she opens the way for a radically biblical approach to nourishing the healthy initiatives and discerning clearly and avoiding the toxicities.
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Subtitle: A Narrative Approach to Social Transformation
Baker Academic; 2002. 247 pp
Bradshaw’s “narrative approach” calls for discovering and unpacking the “story” that gives overall meaning and purpose to a person or community’s life.
The narrative explains who we are, why we’re here, how to live, and it provides explanations and guidelines, values and morals, for all of life. The development enterprise is the adventure of discovering the breadth and depth of the biblical story, and discovering where it connects with and differs from the story of the community in which the development worker is functioning. Then and only then can true sustainable development be discerned and practiced…. and extended beyond individuals and communities to include systems, institutions, societies. Sound familiar? Pretty Reformed thinking!
Bradshaw is obviously someone who has practiced, thought, evaluated, discerned about development from a deeply and radically biblical perspective. There are lots of stories about how deeply and creatively biblical thinking can help to break through old patterns, stuck spots, dead ends, unintended negative consequences of the best intentions. Bradshaw takes on all the classic themes of development from economics to gender to justice to reconciliation, and analyzes them in fresh ways. And he does the same with biblical material to help infuse creative biblical thinking into the development enterprise. Clearly he’s very aware of the dangers of mechanical managerial approaches, and he mines Scripture for a transformational model which stresses story, relationships, and biblical values.
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Good Books. 2004. 338 pp
When I open this book to a random page just to see what it smelled like, my eyes fell on this sentence: “Life flows with a spirit of appreciation and celebration because we’re not trying to escape the reality of a world gone wrong but seeking to live the reality of the Reign of God coming to birth among us.” If that’s not Good News, I don’t know what is, and if it’s not Kingdom theology, well, call me Anabaptist. (If you can’t guess this book’s approach from the author’s names, that’s a BIG HINT.)
This book looks at the Anabaptist approach of village level grass roots caring and neighboring. Is it successful? Or should everyone get onboard with the mega-level USAID, World Bank, CIDA, and the like? This is a complex question, and doesn’t really have an either/or answer; but this book argues that the values that should govern human relationships and community development at the personal level must be faithfully expressed in the structural and macro and institutional dimensions as well.
This book is rich with stories that help us understand the complexities and surprises that turn up as we live life as community developers. The book also discusses trends and themes in development in helpful ways.
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MARC, 2001, 216 pp
This is a good biblical treatment of development, poverty, and how to analyse and strategize from a thoroughly biblical perspective. As you would guess, she is passionate about a genuinely holistic approach that takes seriously the whole biblical perspective and the whole poverty scene -- causes, effects, cultures, values, and all!
She comes at this by focusing on the theme of power, disempowerment, empowerment, and she unpacks the power theme richly, acknowledging up front that this kind of development is neither simple nor easy. Ajulu sees NGOs using a “welfare” approach early on, which was replaced by the development approach which focused on capacity building for self-reliance. She espouses an approach that sees holistic empowerment as a process encompassing individuals, communities, and structures.
The rich need to be empowered too -- educated, motivated, equipped to address poverty. Along the way you get biblical riches, analysis of different theories of development, reviews of a variety of agency approaches, and it’s all very readable and great for discussion.
This book came out almost 20 years ago, so that is a limitation to its overview, but it’s meaty and solid and useful.
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Subtitle: How to Alleviate Poverty through Church-Centered Microfinance
2015. 314 pp
Top-notch book, following up on the almost classic When Helping Hurts. The setting is entirely overseas, not the NA church scene. But it does discuss church-integrated approaches.
There’s lots to appreciate here, like a biblically based but not simplistic approach, clarity, readability, and for me the treatment of the church’s role was especially valuable. Among many other practical and highly useful topics, there is a really good discussion of the difficulty of working in a setting where help has always come in the form of cash -- the pattern of dependency and expectations is really tough to break.
I appreciated how thorough and well-organized and readable this book was.
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Subtitle: Strategies for Home, Community, and World
Westminster John Knox Press, 2006. 159 pp
Economic globalization (EG) is exacerbating the problem of poverty. It is making it ever more difficult to answer the question: what should we do about it? More to the point, it is resulting in benefits for those of us not in poverty, which makes it harder to get over the hurdle of moving to action.
These authors are out to challenge both the inevitability and the beneficence of economic globalization. Being nice moral people won't cut it, they say. Jesus calls us to a radically new way to live; happiness is not plunging into the economic scene with all our consumer instincts on full blast. The authors have major reservations about free market economy, which seems to result in reducing social spending. They assert that the current model of EG leads to greater and greater inequality as well as negative impact on the environment. The value of the common good is eclipsed by the focus on individualism.
The authors severely critique profit as the prevailing motivation for structuring society and human activity. The authors go on to discuss how households, communities, and environments can be shaped to achieve more justice and equity. In the opinion of these authors, neo-liberal capitalism has captured our ideology. But our purpose in life is to work toward making the world more just. The book’s focus is to explain what that would look like at the levels of household, community, and public policy.
Many readers will take issue with their analysis, but that does not take away from the value of some of the ideas they propose for how we can live more compassionate and more stewardly lives.
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Public Affairs, 2011, 273 pp
A deep dive into micro enterprise. This book’s subtitle is “A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty”, and it received the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Book of the Year award. That should clue us in to the thoroughness of this book!
It delves deep into the economic lives of families in poverty, the real life ways that decisions get made, and why micro enterprise is so much more complex than it seems.
This book underlines how important it is to pay attention to all the broad complexities of life in which the poor function, assess results and make adjustments quickly without making assumptions about how things are REALLY working for the poorest. AND, the writing is lively, clear, interesting, anecdotal.
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Moody. 2015. 147 pp
The classic! How churches can do benevolence without creating dependency. Good theory and helpful practices and procedures and discussion guides. This is just simply good stuff.
My own experience says that this concept is SO right, and SO much more difficult to bring off in the domestic scene than it is overseas. This is a great book for a discussion group or outreach task force in your congregation.
It’s not too long, it’s interesting, and it’s very down to earth. But don’t expect advocacy in the political system to get much attention.
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Subtitle: Divine and Human Rule in a World of Need
IVP Academic. 2008. 243 pp
Really good biblical study of God’s rule and poverty. As the title clearly says, this is a study of power, and how it’s misused, and how it CAN be used by God’s people for his purposes.
This question shapes the book, which is a biblical theological study of poverty and its causes and how the Body of Christ should respond. It’s about community development -- the development of the community that is the Church of Jesus.
It’s Kingdom theology more than it is development theory or practice, but it’s good at what it does. And it does unpack some political implications of its theology.
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Subtitle: A Tale of Changing Lives and Changing Lands
Kumarian Press. 1994. 130 pp
Very local, very human and personal, very holistic.
Forty years ago Roland Bunch developed what he came to call “people centered development”, and wrote about it in his well-known Two Ears of Corn. He writes the introduction to Smith’s book, and in it names CRWRC (now World Renew) as one of the early adopters of people centered development. And there’s a Wendell Berry quote, “The problem of world hunger cannot be solved until it is dealt with by local people as a multitude of local problems of ecology, agriculture, and culture.”
Loma Linda was a training farm for peasant agriculturalists in Honduras. Here the story starts - a story of a few local folks, competent, caring, communal, who work in loving local ways to carry out the big vision of equity, justice, cultural integrity, ecological sustainability. This is the “human farm” where people are developed just as surely as is agriculture, income, earth-care, and human community.
NGOS MUST start with building the knowledge, motivation and skill of the poor. Understand the patterns in the communities and countries and families and values and myths and culture of the hungry peasant. Folk wisdom is used and transformed. New relationships develop with God and others.
In short, this is a beautiful story of the local people, the heroes, who inspired each other and challenged each other, and loved each other, and taught each other, and it’s a wonderful beautiful story, chock full of wisdom about local agricultural development among peasant farmers. I loved it.
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Subtitle: Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate
IVP. 2009. 212 pp
This book is nine years old, and so it feels dated, especially in its discussion of the legalities of the immigration process. But there is a section on Biblical teaching that’s valuable, and also a discussion of the politics of immigration reform in the US.
What are churches doing, and what should they do, is a section, and there’s things that the reader as individual can do or advocate for.
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Subtitle: Thinking Christianly About Immigration
Brazos Press. 2013. 139 pp
This book focuses on Hispanic immigration and how to think biblically about it. It does not promote any particular solutions, but is concerned to help Christians think and talk biblically and sensibly in the public square about immigration.
Good biblical material about people on the move and what the Bible teaches about us and them. The author also makes it a point to help the reader understand the cultural identity issues and the economic impacts of Hispanic immigration.
The author is obviously writing about the border with Mexico, but also makes the point that there is a border that Christians need to cross in terms of obedience.
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Subtitle: Are We More In Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?
David C. Cook. 2014. Pp 229
Ready to Walk the Talk?
Ready to face the reality that we often help others because it makes us feel better, and not because we love them so much.
Ready to engage where it’s down and dirty? Is there a cost to discipleship?
Really? How come I’m so hesitant to bear the costs? Yes, I confess, I often try to glamorize, or at least get praise, for my good deeds.
Am I ready for my own life to change because I’m following Jesus so faithfully?
Cho is easy reading, and has a sense of humor too. But he’ll challenge you. This book could be a great one for a small group to read to check out an area of spiritual health we don’t often face together. Could doing good be harmful to my spiritual health?
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Subtitle: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World
Scribner. 2012. 269 pp
We need innovators! So what kind of education, play, parenting, experiences shape kids and young people into innovators?
That’s what this book is about. Play, passion, purpose - three P’s.
Not directly about development, but some good discussion about the kind of people it takes to create real change. Could help you watch for this characteristic when you interview applicants?
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