Posts tagged with: brian fikkert

Over at the IFWE blog, Elise Amyx takes a look at Brian Fikkert’s argument about the origins of the modern American welfare state:

According to Fikkert, the evangelical church’s retreat from poverty alleviation between 1900 and 1930 encouraged the welfare state to grow to its size today. Church historians refer to this era as the “Great Reversal” because the evangelical church’s shift away from the poor was so dramatic.

In Faithful in All God’s House: Stewardship and the Christian Life, Gerard Berghoef and Lester DeKoster make a similar case. They argue that “the church is largely responsible for the coming of the modern welfare community.” They also cast the hopeful vision that another reversal might occur: “The church could be largely responsible for purging welfare of its faults and problems if enough believers caught the vision.”

While Fikkert is largely drawing on the early twentieth century in America for his argument, Berghoef and DeKoster examine more broadly the Christian perspective on the relationship between faith and works of charity. This dynamic is, after all, is a perennial challenge for Christian social engagement, and the interaction between the Social Gospel and evangelicalism in America is just one example. Another is the reversal over the last century or so in the Netherlands, where there has been a move from Abraham Kuyper’s claim that “all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior” to the church’s plea “for social security that is not charity but a right that is fully guaranteed by government.”
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Everyone agrees that during times of natural disaster, people need help. With “Superstorm Sandy” pummeling the eastern third of the U.S., it is easy to see that many people will need aid in the form of  food, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities, and we are obliged to help.

But we should be smart about it.

Brian Fikkert, author of “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…or Yourself”, gives three reasonable guidelines for helping in these situations. First, he says, help must be immediate. No one should have to wait for crucial needs and services. Second, this type of help should be temporary. Why?

 It should only be provided during the time that people cannot participate in their own recovery. Determining when to stop relief is never easy. We can make the mistake of ending our relief too early, but we can also err in creating unnecessary dependency by extending it too long.

Finally, Fikkert says, relief requires partnership. This is a key element in the aid of any sort. When relief turns to pity, a situation of paternalism and not partnership is created, and that is unhealthy for both parties. As Michael Fairbanks, co-founder of The Seven Fund has said,

 …you create that parental relationship. I’m helping you. You should be guided by me because I have a bag of money. The responsibility for your future is actually on me, not on you because I have the resources to develop you. It’s patron-client; it’s master-slave; it’s donor-recipient. It’s all broken.

Fikkert reinforces this:

 Experts say relief is typically needed only for a week or less before you should transition into a rehabilitation development strategy, working with people to help them move forward rather than merely doing things for them. As you do this, look for opportunities to form relationships. As we walk with people over time, we can address the deeper issues of life and what it truly means to be a fully restored human.

As we continue to examine how we can best help our fellow human beings, whether it is in time of naturall disaster, on-going entrenched poverty or personal crisis, it is good to remember that forming relationships is always better than simply dropping supplies into someone’s lap and moving on to the next big problem.

Read Brian Fikkert’s “Help Without Hesitating” at the Gospel Coalition.

This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.

Brian Fikkert, a Professor of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College and the Executive Director of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development, takes a look at Arthur Brooks’ The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise in this week’s edition of CPJ’s Capital Commentary.

I think it’s a pretty balanced review, and Fikkert rightly highlights some of the important strength’s of Brooks’ work. But he also highlights some specifically theological concerns that have animated my own engagement with “happiness” research:

At a fundamental level, Christians must reject Brooks’ ethical standard: human happiness as defined by autonomous human beings. Brooks’ ethics are rooted in Enlightenment humanism rather than the transcendent standards of God’s moral decrees. To determine if the free enterprise system is moral, Christians must determine if it satisfies biblical standards of justice, not autonomous humans’ notions of happiness.

It’s important to note, of course, that as the head of AEI Brooks is making a case to a much more heterogeneous audience than simply like-minded Christians. And he’s trained as a social scientist, not as a theologian. But I think it would be interesting to hear how Brooks would address some of these challenges not firstly as the president of the American Enterprise Institute but as a professing Christian.

The answer Arthur Brooks gave to Josh Good of Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE) at Dr. Brooks’ plenary at the most recent Acton University is a great place to start: