Hope Rising: How Christians Can End Extreme Poverty In This Generation, by Scott C. Todd
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]
It took some time in reading this book to examine what the author was really saying and what his approach was. In fact, some of the sarcasm and apparent manipulation through a guilt trip was highly offensive, as it appeared that this author was taking a particular position stating that merely giving money to poor and starving nations would ensure the end of poverty. Instead, as the book continued, the point of the author and his stance became more clear. Like many books in my collection , this particular book is part of what can be called the “Social Gospel” trend among many Christians, seeking to coordinate the propagation of the Gospel with a concern for the practical needs of people in order to better lives not only in the world to come but in their material conditions here and now. This particular book manages to combine breathtaking idealism with a rigorously practical outlook on the fruits of Christian generosity.
This book is relatively short (slightly under 200 pages of main text) but manages to contain five sections and thirty chapters. The organization of the book is skillful, if somewhat provocative. The first section deals with the problem of expectations, in that we largely get out of life what we expect, and that low expectations of ourselves and our world tend to lead us to be less effective and less successful than we would otherwise be. The book then provokes the reader into dealing with the question of poverty, making a strong position that we are not all poor, that it requires hope to get out of poverty but that poverty robs us of hope, and looks at the practical reasons why children die of poverty. After this, the book looks at the sort of people that will end poverty, looking at practical examples of generosity and love, as well as the sort of power we have through God’s Spirit. The fourth section of the book looks at the primary colors of social change, looking at how ordinary people can help with poverty through smart consumerism (fair trade), the role of government in fighting corruption and providing rule of law and justice, the role of businesses in ending extreme poverty (including providing jobs and opportunities for people to rise), and the role of the church in tying material help to a larger vision of a godly world in accordance with the laws and ways of God. The fifth and final section closes on a note of optimism, talking about the sort of fasts that can help the poor and needy, the importance of tithing , the problem of being a seed among thorns in an affluent society, and an optimistic note about the role of children in providing optimism. It is easier to reward the optimism of a child than it is to try to kindle anew the hopes of one who has grown cynical in a wicked world.
For all of its optimism, this book does not shirk on those aspects of our world that have made it difficult to do more against poverty. Among them is an ignorance of how successful we have been in recent decades in alleviating the suffering of many, robbing us of encouragement to do even more. Also, the author comments honestly about the moral corruption of our government in seeking to divide the spreading of the Gospel and the provision of aid, pointing out that if Christians donated directly to organizations rather than relying on government aid, then such a bifurcation could be avoided. Additionally, the author speaks honestly about how the corruption of third and fourth world countries themselves  creates difficulties, and points out again that providing aid directly to churches and other non-governmental organizations is a far more effective use of foreign aid budgets than giving them to corrupt governments. This book, in other words, is no pollyanna tale of aid, but rather is clear-sighted about the difficulties faced by people in extreme poverty who make less than $1.25 a day (which was the case for me when I worked in Thailand, for example).
To whom is this book directed? For one, this book appears to be directed at either very idealistic adults or younger people who want to change the world for the better and help make it a more just place. The way that the author writes about HIV widows whose husbands died because of getting HIV from a prostitute, and stories about twelve year old girls who die in Tanzania because of the lack of available antiviral medication, and stories about preteens and teens and obscure Mennonite women who have helped make the world a better place through their practical idealism suggests that this book is targeted at women and children, as this is much more of an emotionally-driven work than a logically-driven one. Whether this particular appeal, or others like it, will be successful is something that we will have to see in time. As for me, I agree with much of this book’s content but found the way that this author worked to be somewhat questionable on a moral basis, especially given the author’s near absence in discussing the laws of God apart from a very selective list. A wholehearted approach of seeking to rebuild society with a comprehensive and godly legal and moral order would have been scarcely more ambitious than what this book seeks, and would have been a lot more just to both the audience as well as those the author sincerely wishes to help. Such a work would have been a useful millennial blueprint to a better world that could have given practical bones to the fervent ideals of the author. Sadly, though, we cannot review those books that might have been, but only those books that are written.
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