In which I review Global Poverty: a Theological Guide

Things I have recently finished reading for work – a new Global Poverty: a Theological Guide by Justin Thacker.

A disclaimer, as I embark on a short review: I work for one of the organisations whose theological work is crititqued in the book and we come out of it pretty well, so… either I’m predisposed to like the book because it likes my organisation and its work, or I’m predisposed to like the book because the theology of the organisation I work for and the theology of the author are generally in sync.

Thacker divides the book into five sections: creation – fall – Israel – redemption – consummation. His aim is to provide a thorough acount with multiple perspectives on poverty, but rather neatly, it also shares a structure with a now-common way that a number of scholars (Tom Wright, Kevin Vanhoozer, Chris Wright, among them) break down the narrative structure of the Bible. Given my organisation’s work, the shared space between Thacker’s book and Chris Wright’s work (The Mission of God, most notably), will provide me some nice room to explore overlapping ideas in the future, and that, for me, is always fun.

Within these five sections, Thacker explores a number of key ideas:

  • In Creation, what it means to bear the image of God (individually, and corporately as a part of a collective humanity), emphasising human agency, dignity and relationality. These essential elements of flourishing are what, fundamentally, we’re looking to encourage when we deal with poverty.
  • In Fall, what sin is and how the existence of sin (individual and systematic) contributes to global poverty. Of critical importance, the fact that sin exists within and damages relationships, breaking the shalom that is the mark of the flourishing community and the kingdom of God.
  • In Israel, the purpose of Israel and the paradigm it provides for the church. Thacker argues that the key to ‘learning’ from Israel, in engaging with poverty, is to ask ‘What does it mean to be a holistic blessing?’ – that is, to be engaged in the business of political (socio-economical) and spiritual liberation within a community of God’s people in which the distinction beween ‘mine and yours’ breaks down. In the process he points out that much of the Old Testament’s teaching, law and prophecy command the powerful, not the poor, demanding that those who have the power to make a difference in the world take responsiblity for making a difference.
  • In Redemption, the nature of the gospel and salvation, followed by an assessment of a number of secular theories and contemporary theologies of development in the light of this understanding. So we look at modernisation theory, dependency theory, human rights and capabilities approaches, and then at Catholic Social Teaching, Liberation Theology, Pentecostal theologys, Christian Aid and Tearfund.
  • In Consummation, the nature of Christianity’s ultimate hope and what this means for how we think about, talk about, and try and tackle poverty. In particular, Thacker is concerned with the reality of the statement that the ‘poor will be with you always’ and the establishment of a sounder, stronger motivation for working for justice and to challenge poverty.

To cut a long story (and a potentially long blog post) short, I really like this book. I think it’s fundamentally sound and incredibly sensible, both in what it says and how it says it. The book’s not radical – well, unless being essentially right is radical, which on this subject it may be. It doesn’t get hyperbolic in support of things it is arguing for or judgemental about the things it is arguing against. I think the Fall section is incredibly helpful in unpacking the concept of sin and particularly systematic sin and our relationship with it and I think the Consummation section is incredibly encouraging for those of us working to articulate and support a biblically sound narrative for tackling poverty that is motivating and sustaining without accidentally making everybody think they can be a superhero. And finally, the writing is such that it’s really easy to read, which is something I cannot appreciate highly enough.

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