Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, with Katie Casselberry. Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence. Moody Publishers, 2015. See here to buy the book.
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert teach economics at Covenant College and are involved in the Chalmers Center there. Katie Casselberry was also instrumental in the development of this book.
This book is a sequel to another book that Corbett and Fikkert wrote, entitled When Helping Hurts. According to Corbett and Fikkert, some churches got the wrong idea from When Helping Hurts, concluding that they should not give to the poor who come asking them for help. Actually, Corbett and Fikkert say, they are advocating that churches provide even more help than financial assistance: that people in churches develop relationships with low-income people, work with them to improve their situation, and even offer financial assistance, if that is determined to be wise. Helping Without Hurting refers to When Helping Hurts, while going into more detail about how to assist the low-income.
This book does come across as patronizing and as assuming that poverty is a result of character flaws rather than something that happens to a person. Yet, to its credit, it does make a conscious effort to avoid and to counter that kind of attitude. It acknowledges that poverty can be due to a number of factors, some beyond the control of the low-income person. It presents racism as a real problem that holds people back. It denies that it is offering a one-size-fits-all approach, recognizing that each individual situation is different. It encourages churches to work with the low-income rather than telling the low-income what to do.
A number of times, I wondered how feasible its approaches are. Reading this book, one may get the impression that churches have lots of money, such that they are able to contribute to low-income people’s bank account, or to pay half of their electric bill. One may also get the impression that churches have an abundance of experienced people who are able to teach vocational skills, or that people in churches have the time to work with low-income people. The book would have been better had it included more stories of churches actually doing these things, or perhaps offered guidance on how, say, to establish a job-training program. To its credit, the book had a number of anecdotes and case-studies, as well as recommended resources that can hopefully assist the low-income. Still, something seemed to be missing.
Greater sensitivity to current economic problems may also have enhanced the book. As the book acknowledges, some areas lack economic development. There are also the factors of stagnant wages, the decline of U.S. manufacturing jobs, and robots replacing workers. At the same time, this book does well to argue that the church should try to muster whatever resources it has (i.e., people with contacts in the business community) to work with the low-income and hopefully improve their situation. What we need in this society are people who care and who try to help more, not less, and this book does well to promote that.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.