Book Reviews  Human Dignity  Human Dignity  Poverty

How to help broken people become whole

A practical and dignifying approach to poverty alleviation

After many years ministering in Third World Countries among low-income communities, I have asked myself how churches can help and care for the poor in a meaningful way. It took mountains of good effort but always questioning if it was an effective way to do it. I started looking for answers by reading and hearing from others. Providentially, I came across Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty Isn't the American Dream.

In this book, Brian Fikkert and Kelly M. Kapic aim to equip God’s people with a set of lenses through which they can view their poverty alleviation efforts. They provide theological, anthropological, and cosmological concepts and principles to form a view of social and cultural change that can improve initiatives to alleviate poverty. They offer a helpful framework for ministry leaders, staff, volunteers, boards, donors, and individuals who are involved directly with materially poor people.

Fikkert and Kapic structure the book in three main parts; each of them begins with initial thoughts and ends with reflection questions. Both sets of questions prepare and guide readers in profound and transformative ways, encouraging readers to ponder and take specific actions to help others without hurting them. 

Fikkert and Kapic emphasize the concept of "materially poor," understood as brokenness that every human being suffers from because of not experiencing four fundamental relationships God intended for us. These are: (1) not having a spiritual intimacy with God; (2) not reflecting God’s inherent worth and dignity; (3) lacking community with others; and (4) not being good stewards of the world God created to sustain his image-bearers. In that sense and because of the fall, every person is unable to experience the fullness of joy that God designed for these relationships. We are all broken and poor in different ways. This brokenness levels the moral ground and provides a healthier perspective for alleviating suffering and poverty of broken people.

Both writers help readers discover better ways to serve those in need by carrying it out in a more dignifying way.

Fikkert and Kapic debunk some misguiding “metanarratives” or overarching accounts about the nature of God, of human beings, and the world. They propose that embracing God’s story as centered on the person of Jesus Christ will have profound implications in any poverty alleviation effort. This Christ-centeredness will help Christian understanding of human nature and personhood. People are whole, connected creatures characterized as mind, affections, will, and body who are intrinsically wired for flourishing through these four fundamental relationships.

Both writers help readers discover better ways to serve those in need by carrying it out in a more dignifying way. Becoming Whole is a useful tool to help us understand "people experience flourishing when they serve as priest-kings, using their minds, affections, will, and body to enjoy loving relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.”

Any person, church, or ministry wanting to provide and alleviate poverty needs to consider the theological, anthropological, and cosmological assumptions at play when caring for the poor and apply the resurrecting power of Christ to identify and address its material and spiritual causes. In this sense, Becoming Whole provides a distinctly Christian and practical approach to the alleviation of poverty.

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