One of this book’s greatest contribution to modern day evangelicals is that it helps them get past looking at their financial status solely through American eyes by giving Western Christians a statistical snapshot of the globe. If we could just grasp the reality of the world, we could see just how rich we are.
This is compounded by the fact that we do not give nearly as much as we think we do. Plus, we rationalize it! A fantastically annoying example given in the book was the attitude of one Robert Schuller. Another great one is the friend who felt the best way to help the poor was by purchasing Jaguars; talk about a non-sequitor.
Another great contribution Sider makes with this book is his discussion about true Christian community, especially the concept of “economic koinonia”. To illustrate this concept, Sider shares a snippet (pulled from Martin Hengel’s work) from church history and quotes the Christian philosopher Aristides (ca. 125):
He that hath, distributeth liberally to him that hath not. … when one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them see him, then he provides for his burial according to his ability … And if there is among them a man that is poor and need, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy…
This economic koininia continued on and even the pagans took notice, as when Emperor Julian complained that “the godless Galileans feed not only their poor but ours also”.
Sider later points out that
“for the early Christians, koinonia was … an almost unconditional sharing of their lives with other members of Christ’s body”.
Sider gives a more modern day example of such an attitude at the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., where “economics figured prominently in the membership commitment” and members “share unlimited liability for one another”. This type of “love mandate” is a great idea. It could help more church bodies create true community.
The next contribution I want to point out transitions naturally from the last one and it is this: Sider gives us some incredible examples that serve to inspire and enlighten. The reason why I think this is important is because it is easy to get bogged down by the numbers in a book like this but some real-world stories help us see what can actually be done and ways we can do it.
One of the most awesome examples is that of Eastminster Presbyterian Church, which slashed their building program by 2/3 in order to rebuild 26 churches and 28 pastors’ houses in Guatemala after a severe earthquake struck in 1976. The church went on to borrow $120,000 and pledge $40,000 more to continue the work there and eventually built a seminary! This astounding story needs to be repeated time and time again with other churches in other locales.
Another important contribution the book makes is that it helps us realize that the causes of poverty are usually numerous and complex:
“If we think most poverty results from laziness when, in fact, inadequate tools and unfair systems are major factots, our best efforts will fail. If we think unjust structures are the only cause of poverty when, in fact, personal choices play a role, we also will fail”.
Even though the author does then try to lay out a cogent explanation, this statement shows a good balance in how we should approach the issue. This is key because on the back of the book Sider says that conservatives, “who blame sinful individual choices and laziness” and liberals, who “condemn economic and social structures” are both right … and both wrong. There is some truth to this and we must know what causes poverty so we can help curtail it.
The last good thing the book does that I want to add is that Sider strives to give practical suggestions for practical steps we can take to truly help this problem. I think it is important for us to at least begin to try, even if we may not agree with all of his exact prescriptions.