Acton Institute Powerblog

It’s Not Enough to Care About ‘The Poor’

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Poverty-In-America“Each of us has a personal responsibility to heed the call to care for the poor,” says Jennifer A. Marshall. “The Bible doesn’t leave us room to make poverty someone else’s problem.”

Long before LBJ’s call to combat poverty, Christians heard a higher call to compassion for the poor. How to live out that biblical command in the context of 21st-century America is the challenge. And it’s one that thinkers such as Sherman, author of the book Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, have encouraged Christians to think about more deeply.

Good intentions, they argue, aren’t enough. Truly effective compassion means striving for human flourishing and seeking the conditions that make it possible. The good news is that the good news has equipped the church for the kind of relational restoration of individuals and communities that is so urgently needed for fighting poverty in America today.

[. . .]

Effective compassion doesn’t settle for handouts; it strives for true human flourishing that goes beyond material need. Made in the image of God, human beings are by nature relational. Brian Fikkert, co-author of the book When Helping Hurts, suggests that four fundamental relationships are essential: right relationship with God, self, others, and the created world.

Seeking holistic thriving helps us keep the created dignity of those we serve at the heart of our efforts—while also keeping us in touch with our own needs in these spheres. In our pursuit of flourishing, we need to consider how appropriate roles for marriage and family, church, business, and government—not to mention personal responsibility—can help prevent and overcome poverty. Effective compassion draws on all these roles and calls for right relationships among them.

Read more . . .

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Lewis C.

    Joe, I know you’re a big fan of that piece, just wanted to post a comment here I posted on Gospel Coalition.

    Regarding Mrs. Marshall’s affiliation with a conservative think tank that takes a very ideological stance on the “causes” and “solutions” to poverty, I feel (Gospel Coalition contributor) Tim Keller’s note of caution in his book “Generous Justice” serves us well here:

    “The divergent theories of justice in our society are very powerful, and Christian authors are usually influenced by one of them or the other. Some of these books [listed in his footnote] will assume a more conservative individualistic theory of justice and others the view that poverty is almost completely the result of unjust social systems. And you, the reader, will also be influenced by these theories. So, for example if you are a political conservative you will find little objectionable in Amy Sherman’s book but you will have much to object to in [Robert] Linthicum’s book. I propose that readers remember that the Biblical concept of justice is very comprehensive and therefore it should be possible to glean great ideas from all kinds of sources.”

    I don’t have a lot of faith that Acton shares this view, but just some food for thought.

    • Lewis,
      One of the things that has hurt the reputation of the Gospel is the conflation of conservative politics with conservative Christianity. Not that Christianity should be so joined with other politics, but that the conflation has caused some to think that if one is to get a Christian to work for social justice, the Christian has to be made to leave their faith. This is an evangelical tragedy because such people who work for social justice will never consider Christianity because of how they have seen it represented.

      So we need a smorgasbord of differing views by held by Christians on politics, Social Justice and poverty.

      • Lewis C.

        So you, me, and Tim Keller agree. Excellent. We’re almost certainly in the minority here.

        • Lewis,
          I don’t know your political leanings but the difference between Keller and I is that I am an anti-capitalist Leftist. I don’t think Keller leans that way. The less conservative one leans, the more general the concepts of justice are being advanced as opposed to the more specific. Keller does appreciate both that and the harm that too much Church control over society can have to both society and the reputation of the Gospel. And that is where Keller and I agree.

          • Lewis C.

            My point was much simpler: we all agree that, as you argue, we need a smorgasbord of different views held by Christians on politics, social justice, and poverty. As opposed to letting an ultra-partisan think tank tell the church what the gospel means for social action.