When Helping Hurts, Chapter 3 – “Are We There Yet?”


  • “Building on the concept of poverty as being rooted in the brokenness of human beings’ four foundational relationships, this chapter explores what successful poverty alleviation entails and paves the way for the principles, applications, and methods to be discussed in the remainder of this book.”  Fikkert and Corbett (F&C)
  • Repairing relationships (with God, with self, with others, and creation) that were broken in the fall is done through the power of the cross. Jesus died and rose not just to save our souls, but to restore all relationships that were tarnished in the fall. This is the work of reconciliation. Poverty is alleviated through a restoration of these relationships.
  • Those who are seeking to alleviate poverty must never forget that we too suffer from poverty of relationship because of the fall. We are not saviors of the poor. Rather, we too are on the path of reconciliation.
  • People and processes, not projects and products, are the means of alleviating poverty. That is, we cannot throw money at the problem and expect it to be fixed. Doing so presupposes that poverty is just a lack of material stuff. Instead, we are called to much deeper interaction with those in poverty. We need to give our dollars, AND ourselves in relationship with the poor.
  • Non-Christian worldviews see poverty as a result of unjust systems (liberals) or individual sin (conservatives). The Christian view (which also corresponds to reality), is that systems AND individuals are fallen, broken, and in need of restoration. Christians must not make an excuse for individual sin by blaming the system. Likewise, Christians must not let unjust systems that encourage poverty to go unchecked and unchanged by blaming the sins of the poor.

My Thoughts

C&B make a bold claim. “Ultimately, the profound reconciliation of the key relationships that comprise poverty alleviation cannot be done without people accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” Wow! That is heretical to modern ears. The idea that we need Jesus for anything flies in the face of the pervasive secularism of our age. C&B rip directly into the idea that any poverty alleviation strategy can be successful without relying directly on our creator and sustainer who is Lord over all things.

Is their statement true? I’ve heard of programs that are not based upon the gospel that have had some measurable success. Many argue that the welfare reforms of the 90’s lifted millions out of poverty. Successful prison recidivism reduction strategies have been implemented in many states that do not explicitly preach Christ crucified. I have no doubt in my mind that some alleviation of poverty can be done by well meaning non-Christians or secular individuals.

However, simply looking at employment statistics, income, and education level does not tell the whole story. Just because people escape material poverty to get a home, a good income, and a Master’s degree does not mean they are out of poverty. How many middle class Americans are addicted to food, drugs, shopping/credit cards, or pornography? How many middle class Americans suffer from depression, loneliness, broken marriages, workaholism, and a lack of meaning in their lives? How many middle class Americans are actually in poverty of relationship? People with money in their pockets, a roof over their heads, and food on their tables haven’t necessarily escaped poverty.

We must always remember that when we are working with the poor. We need them. They need us. I hear that so often in my ministry in the prison. Volunteers look forward to their interaction with the men of our congregation because they relate to Jesus in that individual. God is reconciling us to him by reconciling us to the rest of the body of Christ – which includes prisoners. The men in our congregation are pulled out of a poverty of relationship as well. They know that they are valued, loved, and not forgotten.


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