Yay! We are now up to Chapter 1 of When Helping Hurts. I thought we would never get here. IF you have read these posts in this series up to this point, you already know how I have nit picked this book to death in the introduction. It has died the death of a thousand cuts now, and we are only just opening the first chapter now.
However, you also know that my real problem, my big problem, with the book is how unbiblical it is. That too, I have demonstrated repeatedly, and in fact is shown a thousand ways with a thousand cuts. The book has almost completely fallen flat on just that point. It claims to be biblical and theological, but that is misleading.
I did NOT copy my opening notes in this chicken-scratch notebook back at the start of these posts. But I opened my analysis asking some questions and making some observations even before I began critiquing When Helping Hurts. SOME of those points are only just now coming to bear on the critique. Thus, I will offer an abbreviated recap of part of that now:
Is When Helping Hurts biblical?
Consider these three overly simplified criteria/options demonstrating whether a book (any book, for that matter) is biblical:
- Little or no attempt to be biblical at all. Practically (or even purposely) a “secular” approach to whatever topic.
- Biblical citations/allusions made, but frequently abusing biblical context, limited to proof-texting, and frequently misapplied. But nonetheless, peppered intentionally with citations.
- Thoughtful explorations of biblical text, theological research, engagement with context and exegetical matters AND ONLY THEN applied.
These are oversimplifications, for surely other options might exist and/or the matter of clear delineation between these options can sometimes be blurred as well.
As we now join Corbett and Fikkert in Chapter 1 of When Helping Hurts where more than any other chapter in their book, this categorical criteria comes to bear. Not the only chapter, but the main one. And so with this abbreviated backdrop in mind, I now go back to the original chicken-scratch notes. Chapter 1 of When Helping Hurts is by far the best chapter in the whole book, and IF Corbett and Fikkert had kept closer to it’s message, their book would be both very different over all, and draw far less criticism from me.
Let’s get back into it.
CHAPTER 1 (finally)
WHY DID JESUS COME TO EARTH?
TO BE FAIR (in the interest of objectivity)
There is much in this chapter of When Helping Hurts to commend! There’s about 3 pages of it that I really like!!! Corbett and Fikkert make a valiant effort to be biblical and theological in this chapter and make many powerful (in some cases inspirational) assertions. In fact, if they didn’t betray some of the biblical ideals and the attempts to actually write biblically and theologically at other points in the book but rather had continued in this vein, I expect they would have written a very good book.
Let’s break it down and sing its praises to the extent we can:
Way back on page 7 [of this chicken scratch composition book, not of When Helping Hurts] under the “OVERALL/OVERVIEW” remarks, I asked, “How biblical is When Helping Hurts“? I outlined 3 overly simplified options in which to categorize a book as being biblical. It is because of some of the work done on some of the pages in Chapter 1 of When Helping Hurts that I must say it is more difficult to refute this book – esp more difficult than Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton which only alludes to and/or cites Scripture a total of 6 times in the whole book and offers some theological reflection in vague terms only 6 other times as well. AND THAT IS, by my count, A TOTAL OF 12 ALLUSIONS TO BIBLE IN THE WHOLE BOOK!!!
Writing like that does practically NOTHING to demonstrate a biblical basis for its assertions, but rather merely assumes it. [And we all know what ASSuming too much does!] In fact, the point where Lupton provides a quote and citation, that text he cites and the illustration he employs, both argue AGAINST his thesis, but readers hardly seem to notice.
Contrast that with Chapter 1 of When Helping Hurts (which promotes an almost identical theses as Toxic Charity) and by my count Corbett and Fikkert cite (and multiple times they quote) Scripture 37 times in one chapter! Theological analysis/reflection absolutely saturates most of the pages in chapter 1.
Though When Helping Hurts lacks a full and robust exegetical analysis of the passages it does cite and quote, there is some historical context provided at some critical junctures AND ANYWAY, a large swath of it, though deployed in the manner of mere proof-texting, happens to jive with my view(s) of Scritpure too. In fact, there are three pages (40-42) where in the margin I penciled in “Good Point” or “Yes!” not simply because I agree in principle, but because the analysis at those points is very strong, imaginitive, and inspiritng! And thoroughly biblical!!!
In fact, those bits are so good that if I were writing a book (despite the fact that my thesis would prove detrimentally contrary to Corbett and Fikkerts) I would be happy to quote these guys from those bits.
Yes. There is a lot in Chapter 1 which I too find foundational, not merely for a ministry involving the poor, but for a “Christ-centered, fully orbed kingdom perspective” (page 48). Thus, I could not categorize When Helping Hurts with the first option as I outlined above, AND for that matter, these pages in Chapter 1 of When Helping Hurts buck the trend of the rest of the book being at the shallow end of option 2.
Perhaps I could make other praiseworthy observations about it, but I think these praises capture the truly high points well enough. I want to be fair in my analysis and point out the places where I find value. It’s not as if every word on every page of When Helping Hurts is just sheer trash to be rejected outright.
[If you read When Helping Hurts and found Chapter 1 to be inspirational, reasonable, biblically sound, I would not fault you for it. Thus, I think this chapter covers a multitude of sins in the rest of the book. As I read the critique of other readers, I find the principles outlined in Chapter 1 of When Helping Hurts drives much of the acceptance of the rest of the thesis. Therefore, I must acknowledge the good and the impact of this chapter and then separate it from the damage done throughout the rest of the book.]
However, there is a lot of GARBAGE in Chapter 1 too, and we might do well to note how Corbett and Fikkert transition from treasure to trash. There is really not any trash to note in Chapter 1, though the transition is there. Thus, in order to demonstrate it, I need to get into the critical bits. And this is where rebuttal gets more difficult.
The critical bits
Perhaps I should actually borrow from Corbett and Fikkert some of their own insightful remarks to help map out the distinction. On page 31, the opening words of the whole chapter, they write this:
“Why did Jesus come to earth? Most Christians have a ready answer to this question. However, there are actually nuanced differences in how Christians think about this most basic issue, and those small differences can have dramatic consequences for all endeavors, including how the church responds to the plight of the poor.”
(I chose to embolden the particular thought I want to address in that quote.)
Corbett and Fikkert ask this very basic theological question (“Why did Jesus come to earth?”) to achieve two related aims. On the one hand, starting with the cogitations on a question such as this, they can construct a biblical/theological worldview and talk about it and show its relevance to the topic of the book over all. On the other hand, they can show how Christians (esp in the modern, west) hold some basic popular views on this question that (though not entirely without merit) are largely mistaken and actually not biblical – or at least stand to be challenged by a closer biblical analysis.
Oh yeah, Corbett and Fikkert want to straighten out some unbiblical thinking the rest of us might be suffering.
“Why did Jesus come to earth?”
As Corbett and Fikkert tell it, “.. the vast majority of people say something like,’ Jesus came to die on the cross to save us from our sins so that we can go to heaven'” (page 33).
If Corbett and Fikkert are right about this, and I am inclined to let them have the point, then this is one of those “nuanced differences” that seem “small” on the one hand but turn out to have “dramatic consequences” in the long run. In my view, this idea applies to the differences I have with Corbett and Fikkert and When Helping Hurts too. However, their illustration (and the dynamic insights they draw from it) wind up confusing the issue, I think. Thus, this will be a complex argument, one I will try to simplify and untangle from theirs as simply as I can (but I fear it may remain rather complex).
In order to simplify the case I make against Corbett and Fikkert here (to the extent I can), I will rephrase some of their concepts in my own words, however I definitely invite any reader of mine to examine Chapter 1 of When Helping Hurts closely to determine if I fairly represent their argument. I do not want to misrepresent them, but I will rely on you to judge it.
Okay. So, these “small nuanced” differences that transition into “dramatic consequences” as far as When Helping Hurts is concerned, start with an illustration of the pop level response to the question, “Why did Jesus come to earth?” vs. a biblical examination of that question.
“Most people,” according to Corbett and Fikkert, provide the answer that Jesus came to die so that we can go to heaven. Whereas, according to Jesus, he came to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy which impacts many facets of “this life” in the “here and now.” Not that any of this excludes and impact on “the hereafter” or the “afterlife” at all, but his mission was also for life in THIS WORLD and has special significance for “THE POOR.”
Corbett and Fikkert then demonstrate how the embrace of the afterlife meaning – esp to the exclusion of the here-and-now meaning – has “dramatic consequences” for Jesus’s continued mission (via the church) in the world today. The pie-in-the-sky worldview of many Christians leaves the world Jesus came to save just to languish instead!
One of the illustrations Corbett and Fikkert employ for this insight comes from the testimony of Charles Marsh in his book The Last Days… (pages 35-38). Near the end of the chapter, Corbett and Fikkert pull this illustration together with lessons learned from the genocide in Rwanda (pages 46-48).
***AT THIS POINT***
I would do well, I think, to point out that in the broad strokes, I understand and concur with Corbett and Fikkert in their view that the OTHER WORLDLY, pie-in-the-sky worldview held by many Christians today is (or can be) detrimental to the faith and to Christian witness in the world. I agree that the Jesus-message and mission is FOR THIS WORLD and not strictly FOR THE NEXT. We absolutely must work to implement the GOSPEL in the here-n-now, and that will impact the food, clothing, and shelter of the poor with the LOVE of God.
I even think the terms they use, “Christ-centered, fully orbed kingdom perspective” are a good way to designate the view that both they and I would advocate in place of a pin-in-the-sky view so many at a pop level hold and which leads to “dramatic consequences.”
However, there is another “small nuance” they overlook right in the midst of the otherwise fine analysis they offer which also likewise has “dramatic consequences.” And in this case, they are like those “vast majority of people” they point out on page 33. They need to think through some stuff that previously they have not.
In my view, at least in part (let me say that again, because I don’t think this explains away everything – AT LEAST IN PART), call it a “small nuance” if you like, Corbett and Fikkert, in their rush to bring back the THIS WORLD, HERE-N-NOW LIFE into the Gospel worldview, have then/thereby short-changed the power and meaning of the Gospel FOR THIS WORLD.
I’m sure that needs explaining. I am still searching for a better, more succinct way of phrasing it, but…
Here’s the “small nuance” they fail to account for in their own work: Corbett and Fikkert are absolutely right to insist that the message and mission of Jesus is FOR THIS WORLD and not exclusive to life in the hereafter. However, Jesus ministers to and dies for THIS WORLD and THAT IS THE ANSWER TO THE PROBLEMS OF THIS WORLD. Basically, there are “dramatic consequences” to Jesus’s death and resurrection which are going overlooked here.
[Let me rephrase it like this: THE PROBLEMS OF THIS WORLD are THIS WORLDLY in nature AND MUST ADDRESS THIS WORLD. BUT THE SOLUTION to the PROBLEMS OF THIS WORLD are in fact OTHER WORLDLY.]
Okay, let me do a little more to shape up the idea I am getting at, and if need be re-read these three paragraphs a couple of times to get the parts working together. Because the problem is that even though Corbett and Fikkert rightly point out that Jesus and his Gospel, his Lordship come to fruition on a Roman cross, is FOR THE HERE-N-NOW, they then run to worldly wisdom from the HERE-N-NOW to either supplement or even replace what Jesus says and does in order to address the HERE-n-NOW.
Am I making sense yet?
Okay, well I will go ahead and say more to unpack the idea, but those 3 paragraphs above were my attempt to summarize the “mall nuance” difference between Corbett and Fikkert and me which then have dramatic consequences later – each paragraph adding a layer to the one before it, but aiming at succinct.
Corbett and Fikkert have rightly discerned that THIS WORLD needs saving, but have wrongly discerned that either the Gospel of Jesus can’t do it, or that the Gospel of Jesus needs help and can’t do it alone without WORDLY WISDOM getting involved. Thus the “small business classes” and so forth. Thus, all the appeal to conservative vs. liberal ideals etc….
Now, I am getting irritatingly redundant in an effort to be clear on this, but basically, they introduce ideas, plans, ambitions that you don’t find in Jesus and the Gospel he brings; you find instead WORDLY ideas, plans, and ambitions of theorist and practitioners from many decades that SEEM TO MAKE BETTER SENSE at being “EFFECTIVE.”
Consider this contrast: Jericho
How does Joshua and the armies of Hebrews defeat Jericho? Do they win with ANY of the usual battle strategies? Do they teach Jericho’s battle strategy at West Point or the Naval Acadamy?
NO. Of course not.
God tells Joshua to gather the people and march around the city everyday, and then on the 7th day, they march around it 7 times and blow their trumpets. At that point the walls fall down as if – AS IF – as if the trumpets were basically the People of God announcing the fact that God has just entered the battle field!
What a strange strategy! Other worldly, in fact! A play book NOT FROM this world, but definitely FOR this world.
I just really expect that these strategic instructions felt rather counter-intuitive to Joshua and most of the Hebrews with him. This is THE WAY God wanted them to engage the problem, but it didn’t make much sense. It sure isn’t the worldly wisdom of a sneak/surprise attack like those they teach in military academies. But it is the battle strategy revealed to Joshua by the captain of YHWH’s host!
Now this may be just a little theological speculation, but WHY do you think THIS IS THE STRATEGY GOD ORDERS???
Well, no doubt there is important theological significance of marching one time for six days and then seven times on the seventh day. No doubt such a strategy points the theological eye back to the first creation and the theological imagination to the NEW CREATION. And somehow all of that (and more!) comes to a head in the Battle of Jericho.
There is another theological strand in this cord of rich meaning and purpose, AND we see God re-deploy it time and time again in various ways and various settings and it is obvious as the nose on your face!
Do you see it???
Well, let me ask a question which surely will make it jump out at you:
Who gets the glory for THIS BATTLE STRATEGY? Joshua or GOD???
I mean they could have planned a stealth attack, or they could have devised superior weapons, or they could have lured the people of Jericho into a trap, OR -oh my- they could have invented their own version of the Trojan Horse before the Greeks did it. And IF they had deployed ANY of those fine and proven battle strategies, they might well have won the battle without God’s divine intervention AND certainly Joshua could get the glory.
Instead Joshua trusts God and takes him at his word. He instead deploys the very UNWISE (by worldly standards) – even FOOLISH (1st Corinthians, anyone???) strategy of blowing their own cover and surprise and marching around and around for days and blowing the trumpets. I’m betting this strategy TESTED Israel ever bit as much as it tested Jericho. And when those walls finally fall, it has NOTHING to do with Joshua’s engineering, but everything to do with trusting obedience to God which in turn brings all the GLORY to God where it belongs.
I’m thinking how foolish this battle looks and feels on about Day 3!
(We marched, but nothing happened.)
Again on Day 4, (Wow! This feels silly! Common sense tells you we should have planned a surprise attack! If this doesn’t work, we will probably die AND look stupid too!)
Feel me yet???
I mean it’s almost like God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the week things to shame the strong, the base despised and things that are not to shame the things that are!
Oh my! I might have read that somewhere!
(hint: 1st Cor. 1:27-28)
It’s essentially the same point Corbett and Fikkert make by quoting Mark Gornik on page 43, but I stick to it while they abandon it.
We see this theological strand in the cord of battle strategy over and over and over again!
Think of these biblical examples:
Moses vs Pharaoh
Shepherd boy vs. Giant
or my personal favorite the BEGGARS at the Gates of Samaria vs. the Army of Aram (II KINGS 6-7)
Did you see how I worked in that very biblical example of God using beggars – NEEDY PEOPLE – to save his king and nobles???
Yeah, that story becomes very important again later when we are actually discussing homeless beggars and the like….
Just wait for it.
In every one of these cases (and more too!), we witness the people of God learning to TRUST and OBEY God rather than conventional wisdom and to lean NOT on their own understanding or on “small business classes,” but to seek God’s GLORY that we may not boast!
[Now, I gotta say, if you are a professor of economics or social work at a state school or a leader in a government agency, then all this learning to TRUST and OBEY God stuff, seeking his GLORY in our own humiliating and foolish battle strategies will seem out of place. But to smuggle all of their secular wisdom into a church? What do you think the church is there for???]
(By the way, Corbett and Fikkert flirt with this idea again on page 43 when they say “It is strange indeed to place the poor at the center of a strategy for expanding the kingdom, but history indicates that this unconventional strategy has actually been quite successful.”)
In the final analysis, it’s not actually Moses vs. Pharoah, but God vs. Re (or the principalities and powers), not really a shepherd boy against a giant, but God vs. FEAR, and not really beggars vs. Aram, but God vs. PRIDE. Point being, however you slice it, God is at work in the small, weak, foolish, humble things, and people of this world, and God is fixing the problems of the world at levels we can’t really understand but which we can trust. When HE prevails, it will surprise us all as well as our enemies, but we will all then KNOW THAT YHWH IS THE LORD!
And of course the premier example of all of this is that humble prophet from Naz (a place reportedly nothing good comes from, btw) gets crowned KING of the JEWS via a Roman cross when he is utterly rejected by his own people! And…
THAT IS AN OTHER WORLDLY ANSWER AND INTERACTION WITH THE REAL PROBLEMS OF THIS WORLD!
WHO DARES TO THINK THEY CAN PERFECT IT?
Take care not to blaspheme!
I hope you can see the stone that Corbett and Fikkert have rejected. They leave this part out of their otherwise mostly fine analysis in Chapter 1 of When Helping Hurts.
I agree with their assessment and that of C. Marsh that the old pastor was ignoring the terrorism of racism with the Gospel right when he should have confronted it, AND that the old pastor justified himself by charactierizing the Gospel as a fix for ANOTHER WORLD which will only be realized in the next life.
But, that leaves open the question of how the humble Gospel might confront the terrorism and racism!
While southern pastors turned a blind eye to this problem, the Federal Government did not. The president sent in troops with guns and tanks and FBI agents to investigate. And through all that BIG GOVERNMENT worldly wisdom, the problem was definitely addressed, though not resolved.
But I wonder why Corbett and Fikkert would wish for that worldly type of wisdom via the church (or would they send in the “small business class” teachers for that too???). I’m just spit-balling here, but based on the reactions to church (as well as school) shootings in recent years by many southern and West Texas pastors, I’m betting Corbett and Fikkert may well think old pastor Marsh should have armed his church with shotguns and gone out to confront the white, racist terrorists.
However, that is all ironic for disciiples of Christ/followers of Jesus who are told to put away their weapons and love their enemies and take up crosses and follow!
What if… and I’m just spit-balling again… what if old Pastor Marsh showed up at a cross-burning rally with a handful of his parishioners and began preaching against the fear and hate and racism like John the Baptist? I mean armed with only a few witnesses and a Bible vs. the KKK idiots with their shotguns and torches – SOME OF WHOM very likely might attend Marsh’s church on Sunday mornings – old Marsh would appear quite humble and vulnerable and MIGHT LOSE HIS LIFE for the cause (Dr. King did!).
And I can’t predict for sure what would have happened. Marsh might really get killed! But I really expect not.
I expect that those good ol’ boys under those hoods weren’t exactly ready for killing a white Baptist preacher! Esp. if he was THEIR pastor!
Maybe. But probably not.
I think the moral authority which really was God’s GLORY would overwhelm those idiots and disarm them in their tracks.
But I would bet on it.
IF they killed old Pastor Marsh, then Marsh would be martyred and go be with Jesus all the sooner on the one hand, and the legacy of faith in God on the other would be so DEEPLY convicting to those good ol’ boys that killed him that I bet they would unravel after the fact! And thus, the old pastor would have GLORIFIED God either way – but done so with the Gospel!
That OTHER WORLDLY message and mission deployed IN and FOR THIS WORLD has divine and mysterious power. But our guns and our “small business classes” are nowhere listed in our arsenal.
I hope I have demonstrated – at yet another level – the very thing Corbett and Fikkert highlight when they say that “there are nuanced differences in how Christians think… and those small differences can have dramatic consequences….”
As you can see, I have been entirely biblical with my rebuttal too, and so it’s now a matter of discernment. Which of us in these opposing views that can both be fairly characterized as being biblical is actually the more faithful to God and his word?
And at this point, I have now come far afield of When Helping Hurts. In order for me to make my case further, I will now return to the trail Corbett and Fikkert chase down and hopefully show where their otherwise very biblical presentation transitions into “unbiblical (p15) assumptions” esp. about “the nature of poverty” and God’s Gospel approach to it.
One of the most glaring deficiencies – a real fly in the ointment (to put it conversely) – is found on page 41 right smack dab in the middle of one of the best paragraphs on one of the best pages of the whole book! I mean right at the point where Corbett and Fikkert really have me jazzed they say this:
“And in the very first passage concerning the gathering of the church, we read, ‘There were no needy persons among them’ (Acts 4:34)” (page 41).
I mean the 3 paragraphs leading up to this point and the 3 paragraphs following it are very insightful, scriptural, and helpful. But go read Acts 4:34 for yourself. You will find Corbett and Fikkert do not quote it in its entirety, and they do not add the verse following it (which has bearing on it). Nor do they quote or cite Acts 2:44-45 which resonates harmoniously with 4:34 perfectly!
Why do Corbett and Fikkert fail to quote the whole verse? The part which explains HOW the CHURCH addresses the issue of the needy people among them?
I suspect the reason they don’t quote that part is because their thesis (arrived at on completely other grounds) is diametrically opposed to that part of God’s Word. You see, the part they just danced all around and neglected to acknowledge says those people of means in that church sold their wealth off and shared the income with all the needy folx in that church and THEN “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34)!
But Corbett and Fikkert wouldn’t endorse that part of what the Bible clearly teaches; instead they endorse the sponsoring of “small business classes” which clearly is an “unbiblical assumption about the nature of poverty [but embraces]… best practice methodologies developed by theorists and practitioners over the course of many decades.” (see page 15 again for that quote).
Ahhh… but I’m not merely nit-picking Corbett and Fikkert for failing to quote the whole verse or for failing to analyse it in its full context; I’m noting that they’re actually rather good attempt at being biblical then transitions to a very subtle undermining of itself, which (to my mind) actually begins under the ALL CAPS heading “AN ARMY OF OUTCASTS” but finds ever more tangible expression under the bold print heading “THE GREAT REVERSAL” on page 45 and especially under the next bold print heading on page 46, “AN IMPORTANT TASK.” Let’s get into it.
Okay, I’m sure I’m out on a limb with the first part of my point here, so I will merely mention it and not labor it, since it won’t win me any prizes on the one hand, and is the weakest part of this rebuttal on the other, BUT…
Corbett and Fikkert assert this:
“The claim [that “God has chosen the poor…to be rich in faith…] here is not the that the poor are inherently more righteous or sanctified than the rich. There is no place in the Bible that indicates that poverty is a desirable state or that material things are evil.” (page 43)
Yes, this is that first slippage of transition, in my mind, that I detect even before we get to “The Great Reversal.” As I see it, Corbett and Fikkert, still in the midst of an over all good argument, suddenly make this bold assertion. Yes BOLD! Bold in light of passages like Mark 10:23, 25 or even Mark 4:19; Luke 12:15-21; Eccl. 5:10; Matt. 6:24; Rev. 18:19 and I Tim 6:10!
Oh wait… you mean I Tim. 6:10 doesn’t say MONEY is the root of all evil but rather it’s the LOVE of money that is the root of ALL KINDS of evil???
Just how far do you think you have distanced yourself from the root of all kinds of evil by pointing that out? You arrogant self-righteous twit! You think you can check off the box that you know the difference between all the money you have, all the money you work so hard to obtain, and all the money you hope to have piled up for yourself at retirement when that day comes and your LOVE for it? What about the occasional LOTTO ticket you buy AND THEN come talk to me about “the LOVE of money”!
Look again. I think you are loving your money! And you can’t serve both God and Mammon! (A lesson that goes over real well at the “small business classes” I am sure.)
But really now… with all these passages of Bible impinging on such a bold assertion as Corbett and Fikkert so easily make there on page 43, it sure seems to me that even if we decide they are right, the Bible is begging them to justify that assertrion.
But maybe that’s just me.
Let’s move off that relatively weak point and see if we don’t detect the transition from all the good quality biblical insight of the earlier pages in Chapter 1 of When Helping Hurts and into the unbiblical assumptions that so easily accompany the politics Evangelicals who will even vote for a self-professed, “Two Corinthians” quoting “pussy-grabber” as long as he claims to be conservative and to hate liberals.
Look, I don’t want to be a baby-killing liberal any more than the next Chick-fil-A or Hobby Lobby customer, but then I’m not a liberal-hater either. No. I’m sure the Bible says to love your enemies, and that’s a tall order for anyone, but championing a hater – esp one so blatantly opportunistic about his appeal to Evangelicals rather than his anything-but-pious life should be a no-brainer.
(Now I understand completely that our current president was not even in the running back when this book was published, but all the earmarks of the same appeal are there, and some of them surface on page 45).
In their description of “The Great Reversal” Corbett and Fikkert tell us, “However, this all changed at the start of the twentieth century as evangelicals battled theological liberals over the fundamental tenets of Christianity.” And with that off-the-cuff statement about a tangent issue, our writers establish themselves on the side of those battling liberals.
It’s curious that the liberals being battled against were not entirely wrong in their views. Those liberals seemed to have the right idea about the mission and message of Jesus being FOR THIS WORLD and as part of that package they were caring for the poor when the evangelicals moved away from such care (for a time).
Of course, Corbett and Fikkert are singling out the THEOLOGICAL liberals in particular when they use that word, and that is not the same as political liberals per se. But despite the technical difference between them, Corbett and Fikkert waste no time drawing upon the catch phrases and complaints popular among political conservatives who openly oppose political liberals too. So, yes, the politics come in for review too.
What POLITICS am I referring to particularly?
“It is important to note that the Great Reversal preceded the rise of the welfare state in America.”
And then specific mention is made of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and FDR’s New Deal, two features of liberal politics that conservatives single out for sharp criticism, ridicule, and even hate quite frequently.
Why is mention of “the rise of the welfare state in America,” LBJ’s “War on Poverty,” and FDR’s “New Deal” made in a book about “When Helping Hurts“??.?
Well, ostensibly Corbett and Fikkert want to show that these politically liberal policies are not the cause of the Great Reversal, rather it was those “theological liberals” that Evangelicals were battling with long before the politics caught up with them. But actually, I’m scratching my head here, wondering why that matters to the thesis Corbett and Fikkert promote.
Let me see if I got this straight
The conservative Evangelicals of yesteryear began mistakenly withdrawing from charity support for the poor in their reaction to theological liberals who seemed to twist some of the fundamental tenets of Christianity. (One wonders if the liberals – the theological liberals – were disregarding the Bible and its teachings about miracles and providence and obedience to God’s Word – like say… oh… “Sell all you own, give it to the poor, and come follow…” OR the church selling all their property and bringing the proceeds to the church and no one went in need….) I mean, hey, I am a conservative, but after giving Corbett and Fikkert a hearing on this, I think those liberals they lament were probably the heroes in the analysis they want to scapegoat!
Anyway, the conservatives were opposing these liberals rightly (on some undefined level) but the liberals were still caring for the poor, as meanwhile the conservatives stopped for a time, and thus due to battling with them, the good Evangelicals let care for the poor slip by the wayside. But all of this happened way before “the welfare state,” FDR, and LBJ so those liberals don’t really factor into this, but their stupid version of poverty relief get trotted out here along the way.
Is that it?
Is this recital of American politics vis-à-vis church politics just a rhetorical way of bashing liberals for giving a dollar to a bum while making it all sound justified on modern political grounds – all meant to supplement our theology (since the biblical theology just ain’t really getting us here)?
So why exactly, then, did FDR and LBJ get mentioned here and what difference does that mention of them make?
I’m starting to wonder why these Evangelicals get any praise. They stopped “helping” the poor at all! The liberals kept helping! [Remember the first of two convictions Corbett and Fikkert tell us prompts them to write this book back on page 28? Where is that right about now???] Yeah, according to Corbett and Fikkert – not me! I didn’t research this; they did.- yeah, according to Corbett and Fikkert, the liberals kept caring for the poor when the good conservatives stopped. Yet they make no case whatsoever that those theological liberals were doing it wrong or ineffective or doing harm. No. All that is standard complaint about FDR and LBJ, but those guys have nothing to do with any of this because the Great Reversal came long before they did.
So again… Why are we talking about this? Why bring all this up?
I think we have some smoke-n-mirrors here! And in a chapter that was doing so well at being biblical just a few pages back, I think this now is starting that transition into its self-fulfilling prophecy of leading churches into “using poverty alleviation strategies that are grounded in unbiblical assumptions about the nature of poverty…” (see page 15 again).
I come to page 46 under the heading “An Important Task but Not and Exclusive Task.”
Basically, the whole section consists of one unfounded assertion after another, but even more, it’s really one outlandish, unfounded assertion after another.
My assertion about all their assertions may seem strange considering they cite 3 Bible passages mid way through the first paragraph. So let me address that briefly.
The Bible is authoritative for the church specifically. To join the church is to join the People of God who bend the knee to Jesus willingly now in THIS WORLD. We cannot expect individuals, families, and governments outside the church to be both outside the church AND beholding to God’s Word. That’s just a moot point. Even if people outside the church show an interest in God’s Word, we cannot expect them to honor it.
And anyway, it looks to me like all that is intended to segue into a focus on parachurch ministry, in reality. [I don’t think Corbett and Fikkert truly want to address the church in the fullest sense, but to address the parachurch ministries, and address the church insofar as she supports those parachurch ministries.]
But “para-church” is not biblical. Nice, but not biblical. In fact, we might call it “theologically liberal” though that would not fit the standard definition of it – yet I can’t help but think how such a blatant disregard for what otherwise isn’t liberal.
HEY! I’M A CONSERVATIVE!!!
But it’s this quote I find jaw dropping on this basis:
“Hence, while the church must care for the poor, the Bible gives Christians some freedom in deciding the extent and manner in which the local church should do this, either directly or indirectly.”
Well, the Bible very directly commands me to “give to all who ask” (Luke 6:30), but Corbett and Fikkert disregarded that – wrote a whole book about how doing that causes harm, yet here we claim the Bible gives us all this freedom to decide how a church will care for the poor, yet NO citation is given???
The mistake is so glaring, I am embarrassed for Corbett and Fikkert to point it out.
To sum up my critique of Chapter 1 of When Helping Hurts, I must say the biblical theology of this chapter is refreshing. A strong effort is made and much improvement over that of the intro shines through! The use of Bible is necessary, and Corbett and Fikkert definitely step it up.
The take away seems to be that Corbett and Fikkert reveal two different kinds of handling of the Gospel (or two different worldviews which are often generated by those of us who devote ourselves to the Gospel). The difference is “nuanced” and “small” at first, but it makes for “dramatic consequences” in the long run. And on this point (as far as it goes in the hands of Corbett and Fikkert) I agree with them.
However, merely pointing out that many Evangelical Christians mistakenly adopt a worldview in which the Gospel ONLY impinges on the afterlife and saving souls in order that they go to heaven when they die, and limiting the Gospel to strictly this OTHER WORDLY, pie-in-the-sky mentality when actually the Gospel really does impinge upon matters in THIS WORLD, this life here-n-now does not yet dictate a right or wrong way to serve the poor. So much of all of that is right, true, and accurate, but begins to assume too much while it stops too short. And with the aid of rhetorical force and the use of political ideas, the fact that the real thesis of When Helping Hurts comes unhinged from the actual Bible gets obscured. Small nuances lead to dramatic consequences.
I am pointing THAT out, which is more difficult amid a stash of Bible citations. The trick is to show how the proof-texting on the one hand is not really honoring the biblical context, and thus God’s Word, and on the other, how the rhetorical effect obscures this feature.
I think I have done that now.
Even though I have begun to criticize in broader strokes now (rather than word-for-word/paragraph-by-paragraph) the only part of Chapter 1 I have left untouched (I think) is the preview and reflection questions. I think for now I will just leave them be. I consider them to range from harmless to manipulative in nature, really, but I think if I was successful in refuting the meat of the chapter, then the questions fall under their own weight.