It took six posts to get us through Chapter 1 of When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert. There is just SOOOOOOOO much to nit pick. However, in this post, it’s probably not fair to call it “nit picking” since my review in Chapter 2 is just so heavily devastating. The fruit hangs low too. I can’t believe the observations I make here have not been made before me. I am not that smart. This is not some great intellectual debate. The thesis is just that pitiful.
The only thing I can say is that I just did not drink the Kool-aid. It must be some tasty Kool-Aid too, because it seems like everyone and their dog is drinking it. But for you few who read here, if you haven’t read When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert before, should be able to see what I am talking about. I will be as fair as I can to them, but as I shine a biblical light on their book, it collapses under its own weight magnificently.
Enjoy. (oh, btw, this post is not nearly as long as the others in this series)
Chapter 2 (page 51)
“WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?”
What is the problem?
Well, with barely 27 pages left in this composition book for me to make my chicken-scratch notes, I reiterate the lack of BIBLE and/or the misuse and ABUSE thereof (to the extent it is used) as my chief problem. Maybe not Corbett and Fikkert’s but since this book is addressed to churches and Christians – then it sure is mine.
By my count, Chapter 2 cites/alludes to Bible passages 8 times total (counting one in the review questions at the end and once in the footnotes.) I also note that at least one citation quite effectively (ironically) argues AGAINST the point it’s meant to support. Contrast this against 9 (count them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) times nonbiblical sources are cited or alluded to (some of which have no connection whatsoever to the Bible). Here is the list of them:
World Bank (page 51)
“the true poverty experts, the poor themselves” (page 51)
Cornel West (page 53)
Bryant Myers (page 56)
Westminster Shorter Catechism (page 57)
The “Cultural Mandate” (page 58)
research from around the world (page 64)
Robert Chambers (page 70)
Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen (page 71)
Also One TABLE and Two DIAGRAMS are offered and repeatedly referred to as authoritative.
What is the problem? According to the chapter???
Well, put in my words, my rephrasing and truncated repackaging (which I hope is fair to Corbett and Fikkert’s intent), I say:
The problem is a misdiagnosis (which is a metaphor Corbett and Fikkert use for) a flawed definition of “poverty.”
For Corbett and Fikkert, “poverty” correctly defined and rightly diagnosed is really a matter of FOUR BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS.
Relationship with God
Relationship with Self
Relationship with Others
Relationship with Creation
These broken relationships manifest in at least 4 forms of poverty (which it turns out may or may not have bearing on “material poverty,” which is of course (or was at least before When Helping Hurts was published) JUST “POVERTY”…
which actually is the focus of this chapter and most of this book in the final analysis ANYWAY… but I digress….)
Anyway, the 4 forms of poverty are:
Poverty of Spiritual Intimacy
Poverty of Being
Poverty of Community
Poverty of Stewardship
At any rate, Corbett and Fikkert want us to correctly define and diagnose the underlying problem of these broken relationships rather than simply treat the symptom which is “material poverty.” They go to pains to show how these broken relationships lead to these other 4 poverties which often manifests in “material poverty,” but along the way, they ironically show how (apparently (based on page 27)) Brian Fikkert, being a “workaholic” which causes him to suffer a “poverty of stewardship” has made him “unlikely to experience “material poverty” (see page 64 for details).
AT THIS POINT I should probably say something nice, before I forget.
All this talk about broken relationships (and the quote from Bryant Myers on page 62 comes nearest to making this clear) is actually a rather jumbled up way of speaking about SHALOM, the Hebrew word for “peace” that means so much more than the mere absence of conflict (like that word is typically used in Modern English) but branches out and speaks of the presence of complete harmony between every particle of God’s creation with all the other particles of all of creation!
It is a biblical concept, and heavily theological!
Yay to Corbett and Fikkert for trying! However, funneling all that shalom down into matters of poverty (or not) is reductionist to say the least. Corbett and Fikkert start off in the right ball park, but just like they so sadly suggested in Chapter 1 about “small” and “nuanced differences” having “dramatic consequences” (see page 31), they fall victim to it again.
Why all the reliance on the worldly wisdom of THE WORLD BANK, of “the poor themselves,” of Cornel West and Bryant Myers among others, especially when ignoring Jesus’s words in Luke 6:30 or Mark 10:21 or the biblical example of the church in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:34?
You see, I’m all in favor of examining SHALOM as part of this process, I even see a clear and valiant attempt to be biblical in considering “the Cultural Mandate” and a study of biblical stewardship that MIGHT flow out of that. I really do! But you can’t expect me to take seriously a persuasive case about how to “help” the poor while you call it “biblical” yet ignore these important passages and then go lean on Cornel West to help hold the glue in your cobbled-together theological assertions all designed to undermine the words of Jesus you just ignored!
NOPE! Not havin’ it.
I really think all this redefinition of “poverty” really just helps create the smoke-n-mirrors on the one hand, and then lends credibility to the rhetorical effect and manipulations on the other. Despite all the fancy, hifalutin exercises to the contrary and in the middle of the chapter, the “poor” refers to the “materially poor” at the start and still has them in mind every step of the way … all the way to the other end of the chapter (and the book for that matter). Thus, all the redefining of terms doesn’t actually change the meaning we started with at all.
Instead, it winds up giving us pointless jargon about “experiencing a poverty of being” which reminds me I need to talk gently to my “inner child” too!
When does St. Paul ever say, “Don’t give a dollar to a beggar on your way to the temple, he has a ‘poverty of being,’ and that’s his underlying issue. If you give him a dollar, you’ll just exacerbate his ‘poverty of being’ which might lead to a devastating poverty of spiritual intimacy too?
Got a verse???
(I didn’t think so.)
Space just doesn’t allow me to dwell there any longer, and sadly some of that was the better contribution of this chapter! But I’ve really got to get into Jayakumar Christian’s contribution about “the god-complex” and Fikkert’s battle with the health-n-wealth gospel before I run out of space.
Oh… man! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black… WOW!
First off! Is the term “god-compex” in the Bible at all? Is it even a biblical concept? As image bearers, is it appropriate or inappropriate? Should we try to be like Jesus or not? Should someone warn Jesus not to have a “god-complex”?
Just exactly WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT here? Misters Redefine everything???
Hey man, I’m thinking, if you’re gonna bring it up, and esp if you’re gonna use that term for it, then you have a lot of explaining to do. However, Corbett and Fikkert don’t. They don’t explain it.
Look here how the writers of a book called When Helping Hurts define this term:
“…a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority in which [the helper(s)] believe that they have achieved their wealth through their own efforts, and they have been anointed TO DECIDE WHAT IS BEST FOR LOW-INCOME PEOPLE, whom they view as inferior to themselves.”
(I added the emphasis.)
I mean these guys write a whole book devoted to HOW BEST TO HELP LOW-INCOME PEOPLE, and they jump through all manner of rhetorical hoops to actually oppose the words of Jesus in Luke 6:30 while claiming to be biblical as they ignore how the church in Acts 2 and 4 help needy people so they can justify themselves telling you, the proud owner of their best-selling book which dares to speak for God, NOT TO GIVE MONEY to a person who needs it and /or asks for it because THEY (the writers with the god-complex who are now setting you up with one while warning you against it) KNOW BETTER than the poor (who they list as “true poverty experts” on page 51). These MZUNGUs seem to know better than misguided liberals and even better than you and me!
But don’t take my word for it; listen to Fikkert TALK ABOUT HIS OWN gOD COMPLEX!:
“Few of us are conscious of having a god-complex, which is part of the problem. We are often deceived by Satan and by our sinful natures. For example, consider this: why do you want to help the poor? Really think about it. What truly motivates you? Do you really love the poor people and want to serve them? Or do you have other motives? I confess to you that part of what motivates me to help the poor is my felt need to accomplish something worthwhile with my life, to be a person of significance, to feel like I have pursued a noble cause… to be like God. It makes me feel good to use my training in economics to “save” poor people. And in the process, I sometimes unintentionally reduce poor people to objects that I use to fulfill my own need to accomplish something. It is a very ugly truth, and it pains me to admit it, but ‘when I want to do good, evil is right there with me’ (Rom. 7:21).”
Wow! He even used Scripture finally, but used it to call his whole project into question.
And yet… somehow doesn’t see it.
[I guess if I read Luke 6:30 or Mark 10:21 and felt compelled, based on the words of Jesus, to give money to a poor person – NOTICE EVEN FIKKERT FORGETS TO CALL THEM MATERIALLY POOR OR “people suffering poverty of stewardship” or whatever – that I would be having a god-complex since I would be trying to be like Jesus. Of course, doing that does NOT mean I think I know better than the poor person themselves, so that superior part is not really jiving, but actually, I am trusting the poor person knows how to use that five spot I just gave them… but wait, that is what prompts this book huh? The poor person Fikkert has reduced to an object so he can fulfill his need to sell you this book is likely to buy some booze if I give them a five spot, and so Fikkert knows better what they need than they do, and he is having the superiority complex here, not me!]
Midway through the next paragraph Corbett and Fikkert say this”
“The way that we act toward the economically poor often communicates – albeit unintentionally – that we are superior and they are inferior. In the process we hurt the poor and ourselves. And here is the clincher: this dynamic is LIKELY TO BE PARTICULARLY STRONG WHENEVER MIDDLE-TO-UPPER-CLASS, NORTH AMERICAN CHRISTIANS [the people mostly likely to purchase this book, btw] TRY TO HELP THE POOR, GIVEN THESE CHRISTIANS’ TENDENCY TOWARD A WESTERN, MATERIALISTIC PERSPECTIVE OF THE NATURE OF POVERTY.”
(I added the emphasis)
It’s almost like the writers suddenly see clearly the log in their own eye and then help you get one in your eye too!
They move from this cathartic confession to an illustration of Creekside Community Church which is made up of white, professional types who reach out to the black residents of a “nearby housing project.” Just then the narrative asks, “But what could they do to help” (see page 66). I’m thinking: WHY NOT PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR like Jesus says? Hey, it’s a biblical idea!
Well, Creekside gets all these Christmas gifts for all the residents and their kids, and as our writers report, “The congregation felt so good about the joy they had brought that they decided to expand this ministry….”
“Unfortunately, after several years, Pastor Johnson noticed that he was struggling to find enough volunteers….” And the reason given? “Pastor, we are tired of trying to help these people out… their situation never improves…. They don’t deserve our help.”
What happened to “spend yourselves”? Remember like was quoted from Isaiah 58:10 on page 56, on of the very FEW times we went to the Bible in this discussion??? What happened to the “trial and error process… necessary before a proper diagnosis can be reached”? As Corbett and Fikkert themselves have already said, “even after a sound diagnosis is made, IT MAY TAKE YEARS to help to overcome their problems.” (see these quotes on page 56)
I mean NEVER MIND for the moment, that such observations about making a correct diagnosis so as to treat the underlying problem and not just the symptom suggests that there is a LOT of trial and error involved and even then it may take several years!!!
Makes for an awful alternative that is hardly any better than getting it wrong!
(I mean, if my doctor’s diagnosis is that bad, I am getting a second or even a third opinion! But since we could just trust God’s Word in the Bible in this instance, it surely suggests we should do that!)
I said, “Never Mind” all that!
Do you REALLY THINK I MEAN NEVER mind? Or am I just using the rhetorical effect forcefully here?
hmmm… turn about is fair play!
But, really, never mind all that, at least for the moment Get back to Creekside and apply these thoughts to their situation like page 56 would have you do in yours. “Spend yourself,” be patient with the trial and error, and even give the diagnosis YEARS to see if it will make any changes.
BUT DON’T! Please DON”T let Creekside off this hook, esp when they say they are “tired” that it doesn’t seem to be working, and that “these people” don’t “deserve” our care!
Oh! And while we are at it, these PROUD fathers who are hiding out because they feel ashamed to receive the FREE GIFT of GOD on behalf of their kids??? – Well, they need to learn some humility. No doubt they don’t suffer anything the poor in the church of Acts 2:44-45 and 4:34 didn’t suffer, but then PRIDE is actually THE UNDERLYING PROBLEM that prevents many from following Jesus and receiving his blessings! It’s not unique to the poor or the rich, nor is it a new idea!
And finally on pages 68-70, Fikkert REPENTS of the health -n- wealth gospel.
Actually, he tells a story about one of his many experiences in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya. As he tip-toes and slips-n-slides around the slum on the poo and mud and other ick, he gets asked to preach at a humble church he finds worshiping there. In addition to learning Fikkert can cobble together a good Presbyterian sermon off the cuff just for the asking, we join him in experiencing what James meant when he said, God chose the poor to be rich in faith.
Sadly, Fikkert makes no mention or application of James 2:5 as he did on page 42, but this would have been a great place to ponder that text!
You see, suddenly, as Fikkert is preparing his impromptu remarks for the sermon, the members of this destitute congregation are allotted “a time of sharing,” which doesn’t mean they spit a sandwich or a can of beans, but rather they “cried out to God” (page 69).
“Jehovah Jireh, please heal my son, as he is going blind.”
“Merciful Lord, please protect me when I go home today, for my husband always beats me.”
“Sovereign King, please provide my children with enough food today, as they are hungry.”
Let’s listen to the impact Fikkert reports this episode had on him:
“As I listened to these people praying to be able to live another day, I thought about my ample salary, my life insurance policy, my health insurance policy, my two cars, my house, etc. I REALIZED THAT I DO NOT REALLY TRUST GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY on a daily basis, as I have sufficient buffers in place to shield me from most economic shocks. I realized that when these folks pray the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer – Give us this day our daily bread – their minds do not wander as mine so often does. I realized that while I have sufficient education and training to deliver a sermon on God’s sovereignty with no forewarning, these slum dwellers were trusting in God’s sovereignty just to get them through the day. AND I REALIZED THAT THESE PEOPLE HAD A FAR DEEPER INTIMACY WITH GOD THAN I PROBABLY WILL EVER HAVE IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.”
Yeah… Fits well don’t you think? I mean with the rest of this chapter which demonstrates that even though these people live in abject “material poverty” and have NOTHING, nothing except a FAR DEEPER INTIMACY with God than Fikkert will ever have in his entire life, nevertheless, Fikkert (who I now see as completely out of touch with the poor and with his own humanity and with GOD) has a responsibility (according to this chapter) not to give these people a solitary dime, but rather to correctly diagnose their broken relationship with God, with self, with others, and with creation. Otherwise he might HURT them!
But my mind keeps going back to his own Bible quotation on page 42 from James 2:5: “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?”
Maybe Fikkert, ironically, is/was THE NEEDY ONE.