|I wrote a Book Review, MYERS, BRYANT L. Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011. 386 pp. $20.00 paper, for The Journal of Religion.
Below is an excerpt of the book review.
This 2011 revision of the 1999 classic, Walking with the Poor by Bryant L. Myers, tackles the important worldwide problem of poverty and questions on how to solve these problems. This book addresses both an intellectual approach to poverty and a practical approach to the poor, as the author has served as a transformational development senior manager at World Vision. This book has been received well since it was first published and has received worldwide attention, as it has been translated into Korean, Old Chinese Taiwan, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic.
Myers’s book is primarily a theoretical and theological inquiry that was born in 1970s arguments over whether social action and evangelism were not incompatible. The book lays out the problem of the modern worldview, which serves as a backdrop to his research, reflection, and steps for action. The problem in the West, as Myers sees it, is that the spiritual and material domains of life are separate. This problem has led many Christians to live in two separate worlds—the spiritual realm and the secular realm. This separation has created problems, as it implies that these two worlds are lived under different principles and that these two worlds need to be separated rather than understanding that they are intimately connected. Realizing
|this connectedness will help us analyze and critique our present social time, place, and circumstances. Thus, this book brings to light how we need to address this dichotomy so that our lives can be whole, free of the alienation of charity from justice described by Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in veritate 2009.This book is written from an evangelical perspective, with the word evangelical understood as affirming the uniqueness of Christ, the need for personal conversion, the importance of the Bible as a guide to life, and a commitment to doing mission in the world.Using the Bible as a point of departure for new ways of thinking, we see that poverty is caused by sin, that fundamental weakness of the human condition dissected by St. Augustine.
It is from this point of view where we need to analyze the situation and context of poverty.The argument begins by suggesting that our world is something that we can improve. There are many problems, and as Christians we cannot separate ourselves from these problems. We are to face them and tackle them as best as we can. Chapter 3 is a search for an evangelical theology of poverty and development. The poor already have a story, as God has been active in their story since its very beginning, whether the people have recognized God’s involvement or not.
Chapter 4 suggests an inward journey to see what our assumptions and preconditions are regarding poverty and the poor. This approach requires the reader to examine their prejudices about poverty and how perhaps they are directly linked to the poverty found in the poorer countries around the world. The next chapter emphasizes that it is the Christian view of salvation that points to the cross and the resurrection as the only framework that can truly bring us home and save us.
Chapter 6 emphasizes that the transformational development journey belongs to God and to those who are on that journey, not to experts, donor agencies, or development facilitators, and it especially does not belong to the individual “as some beacon of personal piety” ð76Þ. Both the person and the organization must be directed to the message of the gospel.The rest of the book examines the practice of transformational development, how a development program is designed, how is it monitored, how it is evaluated, and how Christianity is expressed in the context of doing transformational development. Witnessing is a central feature of our faith commitment; it is not an option, and the challenge is to discover a framework for thinking in a way that is consistent with the principles of transformational development.
We must avoid separating evangelism and discipleship. This is a false dichotomy. It is incumbent on us to see things, and how all things relate, in the manner in which Jesus might have seen them. The book urges that everyone must participate in change, as transformational development is a journey that every person and every organization must travel.
This book emphasizes the importance of theology. We need to do theology be- cause God is at work in God’s world redeeming and restoring it, and our witness to that fact constantly needs better glasses, to integrate person, society, and God. This means that development is a theological act as much as it is a problem-solving act. One’s vision of a better human future and how one works toward that future are grounded in one’s theology and understanding of the biblical narrative. This means the Christian development practitioners must take time to develop their theological skills just as they develop their technical skills. The two must go hand in hand………