Alan Cross blogs at Downshore Drift, where this was originally posted.
Since the 1990’s I have had a real interest in working with and ministering to the poor as an expression of worship to God and love for people. Verses like James 1:27 (Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world), Isaiah 1:17 (Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow), Isaiah 58, Matthew 25:31-46, and Luke 4:18-19 (The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor) all influenced me greatly. When I was a very young Christian, I read David Wilkerson’s account of the beginnings of his ministry working with gangs and the urban poor of New York City (The Cross and the Switchblade) and I knew that I wanted to have a part in that. When I went to San Francisco for seminary in the late 90’s, my ministry was to street kids, drug addicts, and the homeless in places like the Tenderloin and Haight-Asbury districts. We started an urban ministry team that had homeless church in what was known as “Crack Park” and I got to work with and learn from people like Andrew Jones, Eric & Linda Bergquist, Steve Wright, Thom Wolf, Phil Busbee, Russ Taylor, Joe Svoboda, and a host of others who had the same focus and desire. My heart was shaped and formed in the streets with the urban poor from around the world.
When I moved to Montgomery to work at Gateway Baptist, there was a shift in my focus in that I worked in a surburban, all-white congregation in the South. But, very quickly, we began to project ministry through mission trips and through a weekly ministry at a local housing project where we saw people freed from drug addiction and where we saw gang leaders come to Christ. At one point, I was basically the chaplain for a branch of the Crips gang in North Montgomery, having lead the leader of the gang to Christ on Easter Sunday at a community block party that they were having. We learned a ton and saw God do great things. But, through all of that work and seeing people come to Christ, I became frustrated because we were helping individuals, but their environment was such that they stayed trapped in vicious cycles of dependency, immorality, crime, and brokenness. People wanted a change, but we were only focusing on the spiritual and it wasn’t getting into every facet of their lives. We needed a more holistic approach.
Later, we stared Community Development Initiatives (CDI) with the purpose of “developing creative partnerships to bring spiritual, social, and economic transformation to communities around the world.” It is a very small platform with a few volunteers, but we have helped Gateway Baptist (the church I pastor) and others facilitate development work in India, Haiti, the Gulf Coast, Montgomery, AL, Europe, Africa, and New Zealand. With our partners in North India, we have developed the India Child Sponsorship initiative and are helping to provide education and support for dozens of orphans in a region of the world that is immersed in poverty and spiritual darkness. Throughout all of this, I have kept learning and growing about what makes holistic, transformational development on spiritual, social, and economic levels possible. We need to address the whole person in his/her family/relational structure on both a local and global perspective addressing their spiritual and social needs while also working toward economic advancement and justice. The Gospel is the message about how one is made right with and reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ. But, theimplications of the Gospel address every facet of life. We need to focus on both.
Here are some significant resources that have shaped me over the years in developing a Biblical, holistic perspective toward Christian development work and the proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel of the Kingdom with all of its implications. I am providing links so you can see the summaries of each book.
- Walking With the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development by Bryant Myers
- When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . And Yourself by Steven Corbitt and Brian Fikkert
- The Hole In Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World by Richard Stearns
- The Descent to Compassion by Steve Wright
- Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress by Lawrence Harrison and Samuel Huntingdon
- Underdevelopment Is a State of Mind: The Latin American Case by Lawrence Harrison
- Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage a Flat World by Bob Roberts, Jr.
- Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Cultures by Darrow L. Miller
- Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street by Tomas Sedlacek (Foreward by Vaclav Havel)
- The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor by David Landes
- Progress-Prone and Progress-Resistant Societies: Mariano Grondona’s Paradox and a Cultural Typology of Humane Developmentby Thom Wolf (free pdf)
- India Progress Prone: 21st Century India and the Baliraja Proposal of Mahatma Phule by Thom Wolf (free pdf)
- The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi
- Truth and Transformation: A Manifesto for Ailing Nations by Vishal Mangalwadi
- How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture by Francis Schaeffer
- The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution by Barry Asmus and Wayne Grudem
- Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel by Ronald J. Sider
- Travesty in Haiti: A True Account of Christian Missions, Orphanages, Fraud, Food Aid, and Drug Trafficking by Timothy T. Schwartz
This is all a good start. There is a lot of material out there involving Christian thought and influence. The books by Harrison are secular in nature, but they address the role of culture in determining progress and economic advancement. The prescriptions noted in his work are strinkingly similar to how the Bible tells us to live. Sedlacek is a world renowned economist, but he is also a Christian and you can see that influence in his work. Wolf writes from India and gives us a global perspective. I also studied under him in seminary, so he has influenced me greatly. Mangalwadi also bridges the East-West divide and gives us a view of what has made the West prosper.
I believe that Christians need to think and minister holistically – spiritually, socially, and economically. As Scot McKnight demonstrates in The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, we do not need a truncated gospel that only concerns itself with how individuals get to heaven. We also must consider the implications of the Gospel of the Kingdom and how God, through Jesus is making all things new.