Once again IN CASE you are new here AND actually care, then be advised: This post is part of an on-going series. I keep introducing each post in the red print. If you want to follow along from the start, please scroll down through the archives. They are in order, but the series does get interrupted sometimes. Also, this is the second of two related series. So if you scroll back into July, you will find I did much of the same response with the book When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert.
In response to Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton:
Loans vs. Giving/Free Gift
Well, I think it’s clear that I am already getting deep into my second point of contention which I have against Lupton’s book Toxic Charity – even in the previous argument. So, at this point let me take just one or maybe two steps back and set the stage for my argument on this. These points all impinge on each other, and so to discuss one at length is to begin discussing the next as well – at least in my analysis. They are not sealed off from each other, but effect each other in various ways. Thus, if we are not careful, this will become confusing.
We have already determined that Lupton sees the creation of DEPENDENCY as a BAD THING… an undesirable outcome, and though he never uses the term itself it is nonetheless effectively calling DEPENDENCY “evil.” By virtue of the fact, as he rightly points out, that GIVING ALMS to the needy creates (or at least has the strong potential to create) DEPENDENCY, then he is therefore calling the act of giving – or even the gift itself – evil because it is the cause of DEPENDENCY. Lupton takes care not to call the GIVER evil, rather he wants to honor the sensitive heart that offers the gift. But he wants the people doing this giving to stop just giving and start worrying about the damage their gift will unleash.
DEPENDENCY! (among other damages).
Dependency has become the wages of the sin of giving.
But we have already seen that the Bible fully recognizes this DEPENDENCY, not as evil or as a problem at all, but as a result of God’s gracious giving AND thus views the dependency as desirable and GOOD.
Lupton had come with an entirely secular agenda, I would still find the same problem with it, BUT at least he wouldn’t be characterizing God’s plan with worldly wisdom. This is taking the Lord’s name (or will) in vain. The fact that he dares to represent God and address God’s people with his concerns and agenda means that he absolutely must take into account God’s Word.
I am willing to give leeway to the notion that people of faith can (and sometimes do) come to the honest and sincere differing opinions on issues, but Lupton, as an expert, and a thoroughly educated expert at that, really can and should do a much better job of handling God’s Word in this presentation.
The differences of opinions Lupton highlights (pages 45-48) between 3 Christian “ministry leaders,” as featured (he says) in a January 2011 Christianity Today article, is not enough. His observation of Gary Hoag’s citation of Matthew 10:8 actually opposes his own thesis. He quotes a guy who quotes Jesus in complete opposition to his own book! Yet, Lupton offers absolutely NO analysis or evidence that this passage should be understood differently from the way Hoag presents it.
To be far to Lupton, the other two “ministry leaders” (again, pages 45-48 of Toxic Charity), demonstrate a array of views alright, but we should not be fooled here. These other opinions, which increasingly move along a spectrum closer to Lupton’s (it seems), show absolutely no biblical support – and for that matter none is offered by Lupton either.
So, basically, what we have, even right there in Lupton’s own presentation is biblical evidence against his own thesis! Yet Lupton just drops his analysis as far as Scripture is concerned and disregards it.
Wow! Who does that?
… and who reads it? buys it?? and teaches this worldly wisdom in Sunday school???
Suddenly, dropping God’s Word after bringing it up – even a verse that SEEMS to completely oppose his point… well that’s just nuts. How can this be??? How can the book-reading public sit with this??? How can the church, the people of faith who hold so tightly to God’s Word, just swallow this??? You don’t have to actually be a Bible scholar to see what I’m talking about here. (I’m surprised HarperOne publishers didn’t send it back for more editing!)
This is drifting more and more into a discussion about whether or not Lupton listens to God before he speaks, which is already proven to be EXTREMELY anemic, if NOT FUNCTIONALLY nonexistent. But I said I want to talk about Lupton’s appeal for the use of LOANS in place of GIVING.
Some pages where Lupton talks about making loans to the needy as a better, “more effective” way of offering them help can be found here: Pages 18, 28, 96, 110, 111, 113-120, 129, and 141. I will concentrate on his analysis of LOANS as a means of charitable salvation but, this is probably a good point at which to give mention to Lupton’s appeal numerous times to sound “business principles” as well. See pages 17, 22, 72, 75, 95, 104, 107, 108, 130, 131, 144, and 179.
That’s quite a lot of references to making loans and treating the poor to a business mentality. Never mind the role(s) loans (to the poor no less) played in the 2007-2008 global recession or even the Great Depression of the 1930s. Never mind the greed frequently and rightly associated with loans, loan-sharks, banks, stock brokers, day traders, hedge fund managers, investment firms and so on. AND never mind the traditional relationship (OR LACK THERE OF NORMALLY) BETWEEN RICH BUSINESS FOLX AND POOR PEOPLE! I mean never mind the whole point of having gated communities that perpetually keep poor people out of sight and out of mind!!!
Yeah. NEVER MIND ALL OF THAT!
That is all just basic worldly wisdom, and I wouldn’t want to start relying on it now.
Let’s just look at Jesus briefly.
When does Jesus ever offer a loan to the poor?
GOT A VERSE???
When does Jesus, St. Paul or Peter or John ever instruct us to make loans to the poor in order to effectively help them???
GOT A VERSE???
When does Jesus ever suggest that when the poor get the discipline of paying off a loan that they will FINALLY have dignity and take OWNERSHIP of their wealth which then translates into successful living???
GOT A VERSE???
Why does Lupton actually tell us “sound business principles are also good principles for responsible charitable investing” (page 104) in a book suggesting it grounds itself in “the teachings of Jesus” (page 15), analysis of Micah 6:8 (page 41), or a story of a lame man who asks for money “in Scripture” (page 46)?
Which takes precedent here, Jesus and Scripture or loans and business principles? God or Mammon? Because you really can’t serve both! (Matt. 6:24) (Scripture citation, mine!)
I’m just not convinced that making money/generating wealth is the Divine answer to the poor’s problems no matter how much worldly wisdom seems to bear it out. But of course, that’s ME and MY concern; let’s see what Jesus says about these things.
What does Jesus have to say regarding loans?
“Lend without expecting ANYTHING in return,” says Jesus (Luke 6:34).
(That’s gotta hurt the ol’ thesis. Huh, Lupton???)
Just when Lupton was convincing us that the discipline, the dignity, and the sense of ownership a person gets from paying back a loan translates into EFFECTIVE CHARITY and lasting positive change (“Salvation,” anyone???), Jesus comes along and knocks out the leg of that stool Lupton’s thesis was standing on.
Is that all Jesus says about lending?
Jesus also says (and we know this from “the Lord’s Prayer” no less), “Forgive us our debts as we forgive the debts against us,” (Matt. 6:12). Later Jesus tells a fascinating parable about a servant who owed a debt he could not repay but how the master forgave it. Yet later the same servant found another who owed him, and he did NOT forgive that debt. When the master hears of it, he throws the unforgiving servant into prison! (Matt. 18:23-35).
Just imagine what it would do to the whole financial industry if all the banks and mortgage brokers took Jesus seriously! Just imagine what it will be like for all those servants who were forgiven by God the debts they owed, but who then did not in turn forgive the debts owed them … come time for Judgment! I mean, if our culture REALLY treated Jesus as if he were REALLY Lord of all and honored his word over that of Mammon, then the whole financial system would collapse in an instant.
It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of a LIVING God! (Heb. 10:31)
The fact of the matter is we don’t really WANT Jesus as Lord. He turns everything upside down. No longer can you count on the way we order our world with money and debt! We just have no idea how to live naked and unashamed in the world GOD CREATES. We actually prefer the fear and death, the enslavement of our imaginations.
But I digress…
The thing is this: Lupton looks at charity – “traditional charity models” – and sees ineffective waste, low (or no) return on investment, and he sees dependency, all of which he thinks is evil. He goes to the same source as Corbett and Fikkert to promote ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) and claims that this is how you deal with the image of God, you look for the strengths – the assets and build on that.
Contrast that with St. Paul’s words to the PROUD Corinthians when he tells them “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, … the weak… to shame the strong… the base and despised God has chosen, and the things that are NOT so that he may nullify the things that are, SO THAT NO ONE MAY BOAST BEFORE GOD!” (I Cor. 1:27-29). Yes, Jesus at one point had equality with God in every way, but he did not regard that as something to grasp. Instead, he took the FORM of a human, in fact the form of a lowly slave – even more he HUMBLED HIMSELF in obedience to the point of death – even the shameful agonizing death of a Roman cross (Phil. 2:5-8) and there he bore “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).
Yeah. St. Paul has a lot to say about Jesus and about the image of God. But not one single verse, not one single prayer, not one single sermon, not one single hymn of all of St. Paul (or any of the other apostles) looks for God’s image in the pride, the assets, or the feeling of ownerships one gets when paying back a loan. No matter how common the sense Lupton makes of that, it is worldly wisdom and not God’s. It doesn’t even aim at God’s glory. And for that matter, Lupton offers no kind of biblical citation for any of that kind of thinking, yet we just swallow it.
No. On the contrary, look at what Lupton actually says:
“Effective service among the less privileged requires a significant degree of awareness and delicacy. Sometimes even the most innocent and well-meaning attempts to help, inflict pain. Made in the image of God, we were created with intrinsic worth. And ANYTHING THAT ERODES A RIGHTFUL SENSE OF PRIDE AND SELF-RESPECT DIMINISHES THAT IMAGE.”
I think it is clear now (if it wasn’t before) that Lupton just is not really dealing in good theology and certainly has run afoul of Scripture. He totally missed the point of DEPENDENCY and now he’s made a mess of Jesus’s teaching about LOANS in his rush to avoid DEPENDENCY.
But all of this mess Lupton has made stems from his attack on GIVING. He is so sure that the GIVING of money, assets, and goods-n-services causes damage that he has made a mess of sound BIBLICAL principles in his analysis all through. And this is where Lupton has all but called giving evil. I am convinced that if Lupton has his way he will do away with GIVING all together or in almost all circumstances you are likely to come across.
Lupton has taken care not to disrespect the Giver. The “intentions” of a giving heart are “good” (page 2). Lupton is careful to appreciate the “compassion boom” of recent years (page 2), but will spend the next 189 pages attempting to get you to rethink and revamp the way you show your compassion with giving.
However, the act of GIVING and the object of GIVING (the GIFT) he blames with all manner of evil, of unintended consequences, of failure and indignity, of shame and futility.
Yeah 189 pages devoted to highlighting the misery of the GIFT and of offering alternatives like LOANS in its place.
Lupton points out the observations made by “Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo” from her book, Dead Aid. All this international aid comes pouring into Africa, but it produces “opposite effects.” People fight over their share of the funding; “…corruption, nepotism, and political intrigue festers…” (page 94).
I can’t help but wonder why Lupton points all this out with regard to Africa – as if it is a sudden revelation that needs the quote from a published economist. Don’t we all already see this kind of thing happen in the US Congress AND complain about ‘lobbyists” for just this kind of corruption?
It’s called “greed,” and it’s a sin. You can read about it in the Bible! The Bible actually addresses it without blaming the generosity of givers at all, but Lupton has his readers discovering it in Africa and thus blaming the gift!
That just smells really rotten at levels I don’t need to expose.
Let’s just listen to Lupton a moment and then answer him specifically.
“So why is humanitarian aid still so popular? Why does it continue to be a moral imperative among the affluent cultures TO IMPOSE charity on the less fortunate? Why do the Oprahs and Bonos, the USAIDs and Millennium Challenge Corporations, the national churches and parachurch agencies, the local church service-project volunteers and mission-trippers all buy into the belief that GIVING TO THE POOR IS A GOOD THING?
The heart! That’s what moves us to help. It’s that imprint of the divine, the essential attribute of our humanness, that impels us to reach out, even sacrificially, to help another in distress.”
Did Lupton just credit GOD? The “imprint of the divine” on our hearts???
This may not be a biblical observation, but it is a theological statement. Whether it actually finds biblical support is still up for grabs, actually, but of more immediate concern to me at the moment is the fact that this is one of the rare moments where Lupton appears to be having it both ways at once – what we might call self-contradictory.
Here’s the thing: Lupton is asking these questions to build a rhetorical steam with which to argue against such giving. He is already pointing out all the corruption that coincides with this giving, as we saw in the quotation just cited. Also, in case it’s not already clear, the whole book is written to dispute such giving!
But here we have Lupton crediting/blaming the “divine imprint” (GOD) with the very thing his whole book disputes. He has tried to separate the giver from blame while assigning it to the act of and the object of giving, but here in a rare moment of candid admission, Lupton gives God the credit/blame for the very thing he refutes!
Personally, I think that if Lupton looked closely at passages like Luke 6 or Matthew 10:8 or Mark 10:17-27 where Jesus tells at least one rich man to sell all he owns, count his riches in heaven, GIVE ALL HIS WEALTH TO THE POOR, and then come follow…, then he would be in a much better position to say his theological statements AND probably write a very different kind of book. But as it is, it almost looks like he purposely sidestepped such passages.
I’m wondering, WHY?
Maybe it wasn’t purposeful. I don’t actually know that. BUT, Lupton holds a Ph.D. I’m thinking he knows a thing or two about quality research. He claims to be Christian AND IT WOULD SEEM he is a life-long Christian at that. So, if these things are true, then there is practically no way he never heard of these passages I cite here (a short list of which I could have added more).
ACTUALLY, his book even quotes (or paraphrases) a line from Jesus in Luke 6 (a very pertinent line no less!) though without citation. AND his book also quotes Jesus in Matthew 10:8 AND DOES CITE it that time!
But I’m thinking there is no way you grow up in the faith never hearing/reading about the rich young man in Mark 10 who wants to know how he might find eternal life. And I’m certain that if you have a Ph.D. and a few published books under your belt then you should be familiar with Mark 10 just to show your thorough at least.
AND THEN you need to examine these passages (or others which like them have at least a strong prima facie case about how GIVING to the poor is a good thing) and with exegetical, hermeneutical, and theological insights explain to the church you are trying to persuade NOT to GIVE how Jesus doesn’t really mean what he says there!
But… no surprise… Lupton doesn’t.
So why not?
Is he afraid God’s Word will cast too much doubt on his common sense/worldly wisdom? Dare I ask: Would Lupton actually want to lead God’s people astray?
IF HE CAN MAKE A REASONABLE, BIBLICAL CASE TO THE CONTRARY, THEN I’M ALL EARS!
But he doesn’t even TRY.