Book Review: Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life by Robert Lupton

June 11, 2012

One insight I find very practical from Robert Lupton’s book, Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life is when he explains the deepest poverty by writing, “Perhaps the deepest poverty of all is to have nothing of value to offer in exchange [for the service being received]. Charity that fosters such poverty must be challenged.

We know from 40 years of failed social policy that welfare depletes self-esteem while honorable work produces dignity” (p. 26-27). I have personally seen Lupton’s words lived out first hand in my work at United Way of Stanislaus County (UWSC). At UWSC we are fortunate to receive “welfare-to-work” individuals who are able to work at our office at no cost to UWSC. Often these are young women who have a child and little support from family members in the area. While working with them at our office we have seen them encounter great change in their lives as they learn and become accustomed to working in an office, maintaining regular office hours, getting along with coworkers, and accomplishing work. Before working with us they were perceived as women on welfare who had nothing to offer, but after working with us you can tell they have a sense of pride and dignity for being able to contribute and serve others.

Lupton touches on a feeling that people often have when working in nonprofit work when he explains, “Anyone who has been given the unfortunate task of dispensing free (or nearly free) commodities will soon have familiar war stories to tell. Something seems to go wrong when one with valued resources attempts to distribute them to others in need. The transactions, no matter how compassionate, seem to go sour in the mouth of both giver and recipient” (p. 26). This happens far too often in both church work and nonprofit organizations. I think the root cause of this “sour in the mouth of both giver and recipient” is the lack of balance and rest for the giver. Often people who give away these free items are so passionate to give and serve that they do it often, too often in fact. When you give to others, you need time to replenish yourself, rest, and gain perspective on what you are doing. As Christians we might call this our Sabbath or daily prayer time. If you put too much effort in serving others, you begin to feel resentful when they let you down.

A question I would like to pose to Lupton is, “How do I help someone without implying that they are broken and need to be fixed?” Lupton tells us that, “When my motivation is to change people, I inadvertently communicate: Something is wrong with you, but (quiet subtly) I am okay” (p. 22). I believe this is a relevant scenario that we must deal with delicately because it deals with all of our interactions when we attempt to serve others. If we are able to answer this question correctly it will allow us to impact more people.

Another question I would like to pose to Lupton is, “Do you believe the ‘non-community friendly churches’ you define in chapter five do more good than bad?” In chapter five Lupton describes the unfriendly tension many large churches have created in their cities and neighborhoods and how that has negatively affected the neighborhoods they operate in. I have heard it argued that these large churches attract different groups of people who normally are not going to church and who might not ever attend a church. Thus, new people are being reached for Christ and because some large churches are trying to reach people who are not normally attending church (which is a bigger population that people who do attend church) they normally grow faster and larger than established churches. In addition I have heard it argued that larger churches have the ability (because of their large numbers of people) to deploy many people to other countries for mission trips and are able to impact local communities in a positive way at a high level. My question for Lipton is if he thinks the so called “good” that these churches do because of their large numbers outweighs the so called “bad” neighbors they are to the immediate local community.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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