Friday, August 14, 2015

Freedom, Justice, and Hope: Toward a Strategy for the Poor and the Oppressed

by Marvin Olasky, Herbert Schlossberg, Pierre Berthoud, and Clark Pinnock
(foreword by Tetsunao Yamamori)
1988 / 171 pages

Here I am again, recommending a book that's more than 25 years old. At least one of its authors is still writing, though, and the situation it examines is still an ongoing problem, so it's worth your reading time.

Freedom, Justice, and Hope (FJaH) is an ideal read alongside a book I recommended two months ago, When Helping Hurts, which clarified some of the basic Christian principles behind effective relief and development. In a sense, FJaH  prequels When Helping Hurts by debunking some of the myths behind Christian development initiatives motivated too often by guilt and hostility to free markets. That debunking left room for the much more Biblical proposals of When Helping Hurts.

So what does FJaH reveal that is still very relevant today? The foreword, by Tsetsunao Yamamori, the president of the aid organization Food for the Hungry International, sets the stage by posing three questions about relief and development: "..are we spending funds in a way that truly helps man and glorifies God? Are we providing material and spiritual nourishment? Are we following the Bible or worshiping the idols of our age?" The rest of the book, a collection of papers shared at the 1987 Villars Conference on "Biblical Mandates for Relief and Development," answers these questions.

Marvin Olasky (who has three other books recommended in this blog) opens the discussion by asking "Is There a Way Out?" - dealing with the frustrations involved in seeking to save Ethiopians from the famine ravaging their country at that time. Olasky stresses that material aid without spiritual change and diplomatic pressure on oppressive governments that divert that aid to their own military is useless, and possibly worse than useless, since it feeds into our materialistic views of relief and development. Jesus Christ gave the poor of his day more than material aid, and so should we, in His name.

Pierre Berthoud's essay, "Prophet and Covenant," explains the implications of the prophecies of Amos, a book that is often used by left-wing Christians to justify governmental and even Marxist approaches to helping the poor. Berthoud reveals that the book of Amos is not "a call for class warfare...." Rather Amos condemns Israel's refusal to to acknowledge God as the only Lord of creation, to work out God's creation mandate, and to recognize God's image in other human beings. All of these sins and failures still hinder development today, and understanding that makes clear that more than food and funds are necessary to help the poor.

Two of the essays following, both by Herbert Schlossberg (author of the excellent Idols for Destruction), contrast the subjective reasoning and fallacies behind models of development that stress the need for centralized planning (i.e. government control) with the objective research into the success of the free economy. Sandwiched between these two essays is Clark H. Pinnock's analysis of "The Pursuit of Utopia," revealing why failed statist programs keep coming back - because human beings want to set up the kingdom of heaven on earth, without acknowledging the King.

Schlossberg then outlines such "Imperatives for Economic Development" as a Biblical worldview, discerning oppression when it occurs, and Christian discipleship. Strangely, many Christian authors seem to believe that an economy can be successful without Christian values - when the people do not believe in developing the earth, when the nation is mired in corruption, or when leisure is more important to the people than work. No amount of aid will help a nation that, as a whole, rejects the fruits of the gospel.

Olasky then describes "The Beginning of Hope." He tells how even a pair of secular liberal reporters were able to discern the crippling effects of fatalism, a belief in evil spirits, a lack of respect for family, and the shunning of necessary work - although their proposed solutions (population control and still more government aid) were irrelevant to these forms of spiritual bondage. It is only the gospel that can change things in the Third World (or the "majority world") from the ground up instead of from the top down.

The last chapter of the book is a set of principles for economic development agreed upon by forty evangelical scholars, known as "The Villars Statement on Relief and Development." It summarizes the ideas of the Villars Conference, and affirms that Freedom, Justice, and Development are the best way to help the Poor and Oppressed. You can get a copy of this insightful book at here.

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