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God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power, and the Kingdom of God

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The author explores the relationship of poverty to powerlessness, integrating anthropology, sociology, politics and theology, and offering pragmatic responses. Extensive bibliography.


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The author explores the relationship of poverty to powerlessness, integrating anthropology, sociology, politics and theology, and offering pragmatic responses. Extensive bibliography.

30 review for God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power, and the Kingdom of God

  1. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Jayakumar Christian's God of the Empty-Handed is a helpful overview of poverty from a Christian perspective. He analyzes current thought on how to define poverty, the nature of powerlessness and the kingdom of God. Each of those three strands take up an entire section on its own. The first part examines different understandings of poverty. He considers secular understandings, liberation theological understanding, evangelical reflections, historical, and contemporary responses. Each of these secti Jayakumar Christian's God of the Empty-Handed is a helpful overview of poverty from a Christian perspective. He analyzes current thought on how to define poverty, the nature of powerlessness and the kingdom of God. Each of those three strands take up an entire section on its own. The first part examines different understandings of poverty. He considers secular understandings, liberation theological understanding, evangelical reflections, historical, and contemporary responses. Each of these sections contains an overview of the thinking as well as a criticism of each of the different groups he considers. Throughout the book Christian's writing is measured and thoughtful, and this section is no exception. Particularly insightful and helpful is his criticisms of the ways people have defined poverty in the past. Poverty is complex, and any simple definition will result in problems when we try to alleviate poverty. By the end of the first part Jayakumar Christian has started to give us his own understanding of poverty. Poverty is best understood as powerlessness. He then moves to discussing powerlessness in part 2. Powerlessness is complex and has many different facets. In Jayakumar Christian's analysis powerlessness involves: -Captivity within the god-complexes of the non-poor (all those who are not poor, both rich and middle class. He does not mean it negatively), structures and systems. -Exclusion from the mainstream of life. -A community of persons becoming non-community. -Lack of love and compassion with resultant insecurity. -Physical isolation -Acute vulnerability to natural disasters -Extreme dependence on limited environmental resources and vulnerability due to depleting environmental resources. -Present physical weakness -Distorted interpretations of remembered and shared history -Hopelessness -Marring of their identity -Erosion of faith in the private and public arenas of life -Distorted understanding of power. Each of these work together to create the powerlessness of the poor. Most interesting is his discussion of god-complexes. A god-complex is when people try and play god in the lives of the poor. The future of the poor is influenced, as are many other areas of life by those who have a god-complex. Those who have god-complexes operate as if their power can never be challenged or changed. The power can manifest itself in many different areas, from the religious to the social life of the poor. God-complexes keep the poor powerless. After having discussed and analyzed the powerlessness of the poor, Jayakumar Christian moves to his analysis of the kingdom of God, and his solution to the powerlessness of the poor. The solution for him is to understand what power looks like in the kingdom of God, and to use that power to help the powerlessness of the poor. The kingdom of God brings about a redefinition of power, which then provides the poor with what they need to live the abundant life. This is not merely adding a tacking on Christ to their lives, but redefining what is meant by power and a good life. Distorted interpretations of history become history seen through the eyes of God. Marring of their identity is transformed through their two identities of being made in the image of God and adopted by God through Christ Jesus. Instead of being excluded from mainstream life, the kingdom of God includes all. Instead of a breakdown of community, relationships are part of a covenant community. Instead of believing that power is held by those within god-complexes, power is understood to come from God. Instead of hopelessness, those who believe are given hope that Christ has come and will come again in glory. "Kingdom power serves as a prophetic critique of the world's understanding of power that effectively perpetuated and perpetuates the powerlessness of the poor." God of the Empty-Handed effectively manages to challenge the traditional understandings of poverty, and to propose a distinctly Christian way forward. Both the analysis and the proposal are helpful and needed for any discussion of poverty (the discussion of powerlessness also applies to racism in the church). His understanding of poverty as powerlessness and his re-understanding of power within the kingdom of God are incredibly helpful ways of understanding the situation of the poor, and our relation to them as Christians. While I respect many Christian organizations working among the poor such as CCDA, I have always been the most enamored with the Catholic Worker movement. I believe this is because the Catholic Worker movement is attempting to bring about a redemption of the poor through the kingdom of God and by redefining what power means. The movement has problems, and valid criticisms may be made of the Catholic Worker, but they stand apart because they are attempting a uniquely Christian response to poverty. Their response does not merely include an added spiritual dimension, but their whole organization reflects the kingdom of God. I suspect this is at least partly because Roman Catholics have thought a lot deeper on issues of poverty, and for a lot longer than many evangelicals. Being able to turn to a wealth of Christian reflections on the social and economic spheres of the world from church history helps the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Worker be rooted and grounded more deeply than many Protestant organizations working among the poor. This does not necessarily have to be the case, and books such as God of the Empty-Handed give an encouraging sign that Evangelicals are starting to think more clearly about how we should think about the poor in the world. Jayakumar Christian's understanding and redefinition of powerlessness provides a helpful guide to thinking about the kingdom of God more generally. Why in the New Testament are Christ and the epistle writers opposed strongly to wealth? "Blessed are you poor"; "Woe to you who are rich"; "How hard is it for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God? I tell you it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."; “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.", etc. If we try and understand wealth through the lens of powerlessness and power in the kingdom of God, I think we can shine some light on this question. Wealth brings worldly power, and worldly power gives us the ability to enter into a god-complex relationship. Even if we intend well, we still view power the same way as the world does when we use our power to control the lives of the poor. The kingdom of God redefines power, but as long as we use the power from wealth the same way as the rest of the world does, we are not living according to the kingdom of God. We cannot add a Christian veneer to power, power must be redefined. Wealth also tempts us to distort our understanding of power. All wealth, like all power, ultimately comes from God. When we are wealthy, we are tempted to think that our wealth and our power come from us, and not from God, which is a distortion, and ultimately blasphemy. Powerlessness and power within the kingdom of God can serve as a guide to understanding our ways of living in the world. In several of Jayakumar Christian's analyses of ways poverty has been defined, he points out a lack of focus on wealth creation as a potential problem. I am not sure how this squares with his understanding of power within the kingdom of God, and I am also unsure how wealth creation can continue without the ongoing exploitation of the environment. Unlimited wealth creation is impossible without exploitation, and I think this was an area of the book which was left unresolved. Which leads me to the main criticism of the book. The idea of the book is fascinating, and Jayakumar Christian's mostly pulls it off. But the book was not done as well as it could have been. The literature review is helpful, and his analysis of powerlessness and redefinition of power in the kingdom of God were all good, but each was too short. Especially the last section on the kingdom of God. This should have been the most substantial part of the book but instead was the shortest part of the book. God of the Empty-Handed is more of a summary of other peoples ideas than Jayakumar Christian's original ideas. He seems to have them, and they are interesting, but this book unfortunately doesn't develop them well. This book works well as a prolegomena for a discussion of the kingdom of God and the redefinition of power. But as a standalone book, it falls short.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    This book is blowing my mind in so many ways I can't even describe it. If you have ANY interest in poverty, its causes, and a holistic response, you must find it. It is out-of-print, but I am sure it can be found. Seriously, I want to tattoo it all over me so I don't forget it. It is that rare book that can actually change your life. Get ready. This book is blowing my mind in so many ways I can't even describe it. If you have ANY interest in poverty, its causes, and a holistic response, you must find it. It is out-of-print, but I am sure it can be found. Seriously, I want to tattoo it all over me so I don't forget it. It is that rare book that can actually change your life. Get ready.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brendan

    This book stands out to me as a grounded, thorough, and comprehensive grasp on what it means to fully understand the deep reaches of poverty and complex social systems of power and exploitation in the global context of development work among the poor. What stood out to me in this book is that Jayakumar Christian weaves into his analysis the implications of poverty on the entire system of social relationships; that is, governments, NGOs, religious institutions, and the non-poor are properly includ This book stands out to me as a grounded, thorough, and comprehensive grasp on what it means to fully understand the deep reaches of poverty and complex social systems of power and exploitation in the global context of development work among the poor. What stood out to me in this book is that Jayakumar Christian weaves into his analysis the implications of poverty on the entire system of social relationships; that is, governments, NGOs, religious institutions, and the non-poor are properly included (implicated) in broken systems of poverty. By developing this idea of the non-poor’s “god-complexes,” where they seek to totalize and aggrandize their power and status, Christian shows how people in social systems, through both religious and secular forms of “idolatry,” perpetuate and reinforce brokenness between the poor and the non-poor. Included in this analysis is a very comprehensive sketch of poverty as defined by broken relationships and lack of access to power, an important lens for understanding poverty alongside material lack. You won’t find many stories in this book or flowery language to explain his ideas, although there are many examples and interesting anecdotes. The book as a whole is dense and rich prose, heavily footnoted and carefully composed. It is not poetic or narrative-driven. This is both a challenge for readers but also the strength of the book. It doesn’t seek to shape ideas around just one specific view or argument, and it doesn’t just present the most recent or faddish ideas as authoritative or an end-all solution. It covers dead-ends in historical ways of thinking about poverty and antiquated ideas about power, and humbly incorporates those as alternatives and critiques to contemporary responses in our understanding of poverty, inequality, and injustice.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Excellent analysis of mission, and a critique of how well our theologies consider poverty and power dynamics. His work on the idea of "God Complex" is an important contribution to my work and others around mission by people who have an excess of resources and feel compelled to use them in ways that do not necessarily help people in need. Excellent analysis of mission, and a critique of how well our theologies consider poverty and power dynamics. His work on the idea of "God Complex" is an important contribution to my work and others around mission by people who have an excess of resources and feel compelled to use them in ways that do not necessarily help people in need.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John Henry

    To preach the gospel to the poor, we must begin to understand poverty. Poverty, ultimately, is the loss of identity and a forgotten vocation. For any people, their material circumstance is secondary to their relational circumstance. Many who are poor according to a materialist measurement, are rich and have all they need, especially deep and fulfilling relationships. Many who are rich in the eyes of the world are poor, especially in the West where we have the highest divorce rates. Preaching the To preach the gospel to the poor, we must begin to understand poverty. Poverty, ultimately, is the loss of identity and a forgotten vocation. For any people, their material circumstance is secondary to their relational circumstance. Many who are poor according to a materialist measurement, are rich and have all they need, especially deep and fulfilling relationships. Many who are rich in the eyes of the world are poor, especially in the West where we have the highest divorce rates. Preaching the good news to the poor, being on mission in our context and in our world, is to be ambassadors of reconciliation to those who are cut off from right relationship with God, with themselves, with their neighbor, their community, and their environment. This book outlines how to preach the gospel to the poor.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    This is a well-written, very thorough look at the history of how poverty, power relationships, and poor people have been viewed and where it fits in with the Kingdom of God. The only downside is that it is very theoretical - there are 225 pages of buildup, mostly relating what other people think, to finally get to the last 13 pages of what he believes is true about poverty, the Kingdom of God, and our response.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Paul Nix

    Very important book for developing a critical and holistic approach to mission among the poor. Jayakumar Chrsitian is the director of World Vision India, and thus brings a powerful perspective on development and mission. His main contribution in this book is to articulate what power means in the Kingdom of God, and how to utilize that power in development, which is always in the context of powerlessness in the context of relationships. The book also has a great bibliography.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jason Harris

    Reads like a converted PhD thesis. Too intellectual for normal use; not rigorous enough for significant academic value. Still, a substantial contribution to the literature, particularly from a Christian perspective.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tory

    great book that provides a framework in understanding poverty and poverty theories

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Digs into the relationships of powerlessness and poverty. Solid and challenging.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Antoinette Carole

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tamar Martin

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lily Dunn

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nina

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brent Vermillion

  16. 4 out of 5

    Yuri

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jake

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kate W

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gena Thomas

  20. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Smith

  21. 4 out of 5

    Luuya

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dalaina May

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

  24. 5 out of 5

    Emily Goldberg

  25. 5 out of 5

    K.J. Ramsey

  26. 4 out of 5

    Pat Dawson

  27. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brent

  29. 5 out of 5

    Marcos

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kai Ling, Phoebe

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