What Causes Poverty & Do I Even Care?

What Causes Poverty & Do I Even Care?

Some people can debate until the cows come home about the causes of poverty (and they do!): socially unjust systems, political bias, economic inequality, laziness etc. In Niddrie, that is not the issue. I have a church to pastor and a community to serve. I have to work every single day with what is. I will leave the debating to others with far greater intellectual capacity (and time) than I. I have to deal with the lady who has been raped by multiple family members, the rent boy selling himself to men to feed his meth habit, the murderer, the child abuser, the pimp. I have to bring the gospel to bear on these people and help them to work out what it means to walk in step with the Spirit of God as they begin the slow, painful walk of the Christian life. These people are not part of an outreach programme. We don’t do ‘ministry’ to them out of the back of a van every Thursday evening with a small group of believers. We don’t do it a couple of times a week in a school assembly. We do it day in and day out as we work and live in a broken, diseased and spiritually bleak environment. Mercy ministry is not a tag line or a line in our church’s financial budget because we happened to get hold of a copy of Generous Justice.

Tim Keller (and others) have argued for the complexity of poverty. Not all of the poor are lazy. There are other issues too. Poverty can be the result of oppression, disaster and sin. The issue I have is that in Brazil I saw injustices and people working 100-hour weeks for peanuts. But they slogged and still remained poor. The answer? The gospel. In the scheme here many people don’t work a jot (nor even intend to) and earn far more than a Brazilian could ever hope to. The answer? The gospel. Its pastoral out workings may be different and how we get there may be different. But it is the same gospel message to the same lost sinner in need of the same one and only Saviour. There is no deserving and undeserving poor. There are just undeserving people who may receive salvation through a great and gracious God. That is the bottom line in any of this debate. The only real, true way that love, mercy and justice work together is seen in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only the gospel that can truly paint that picture for our fallen world and our broken communities.  Feed people, clothe them, love them but, for goodness sake, hold out the gospel to them loud and clear. That’s the only thing that is going to save them from what is to come. If I have any time left after that I might consider thinking about the bigger picture. For now, I want to preach Christ, disciple His people, and begin to work on planting more churches in housing schemes across the country.

The rest I will leave to the armchair theologians.



    While I share your sentiment on many levels, perhaps that is because it is where my heart lies in terms of dealing with actual people and actual situations. I want to see the gospel changing real people in real communities. And while I agree that it is only the gospel that can bring about that change in individuals and communities.

    Is there not something to be said for the argument that if you love people (as the gospel commends us to do) then you will not only be concerned to work to alleviate the effects of (for instance) unjust systems (like you describe in Brazil and we still have in South Africa) but you should also work to alleviate the systems that create (or at least significantly contribute to) many of these problems. I think the case could be made that while this is not the gospel – it is a significant implication of changed gospel lives?

    Your last comment sounds a bit like you are writing off some of the good advocacy work done by some of these other Christian organizations or Christians involved in them. I suspect you are trying to say that it is not enough but it sounds to me like you are writing them off a bit…


    Thanks John

    As I said in my post, my job is to pastor a growing church and therefore I have no time to be engaged in fighting unjust systems – nor is that even my job or the job of the local church! Of course I would encourage active participation from church members involved in this type of ministry and/or who work for organisations involved in relieving these situations. I am not writing anybody off – on the contrary I saying that at ground level we are fighting other, more pressing and immediate issues. Hope you are well.

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