Baby Mama or Bride?

Our friend, Matt Marino (of “Cool Church” fame), has written another great post on the church: The Church is Christ’s Bride, Not His Baby Mama. Here’s a preview: In case you are not up to speed on the last decade’s slang, a baby mama is someone with whom you made a baby, but have no commitment to and […]

No Compromise: 2013 National Conference Preview — R.C. Sproul Jr. and Ravi Zacharias

In less than two weeks thousands will gather in Orlando for our 2013 National Conference. These three days will be a call to stand with conviction, not bending with the winds of relativism and faithlessness.
In the lead up to the conference we’re …

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

Benedict XVI, who turns 86 in April, will abdicate the papacy at the end of this month. The election of a new pope is a good opportunity for a brief tutorial on some of the aspects of the papacy that the mass . . . Continue reading →

Toxic Charity

Toxic CharityThere is some of the missionary in every Christian. As the Lord extends to us the ability to trust in him and as he begins that work of transforming us from the inside out, he gives us the desire to share our faith with others and to extend his love to them. Since the church’s earliest day this desire has motivated Christians to leave behind all they know and to travel to the earth’s farthest reaches. A relative newcomer on the scene is the short-term missions trip and other similar means through which Christians can participate on a part-time basis as “vacationaries.” Such ministry is the subject of Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity.

Toxic Charity is a book about doing missions right. The subtitle pretty much lays it out: “How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It).” Lupton honors the mindset that compels Christians toward foreign short-term missions and inner-city projects at home, but believes that the church has failed to ask simple questions like these: Who is really benefiting? Who are we really seeking to serve? Is it the poor and those in need, or are we primarily serving ourselves? He contends that “what Americans avoid facing is that while we are very generous in charitable giving, much of that money is either wasted or actually harms the people it is targeted to help. …The compassion industry is almost universally accepted as a virtuous and constructive enterprise. But what is so surprising is that its outcomes are almost entirely unexamined.”

It is not the Christian’s motivation he questions as much as the unintended consequences of rightly motivated efforts. “For all our efforts to eliminate poverty—our entitlements, our programs, our charities—we have succeeded only in creating a permanent underclass, dismantling their family structures, and eroding their ethic of work. And our poor continue to become poorer. … Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.” In Toxic Charity he offers “basic operating principles that distinguish wise and prudent charitable efforts from the destructive do-gooder practices currently dominating the compassion industry. After describing the problem and hearing stories of people who are modeling solutions, my goal is to provide for caring people a checklist of criteria they can use to determine which actions they should undertake when they want to help others.” The simple fact is that we like to give—to give money, to give food, to give help, to give whatever most immediately meets a need—and then to walk away. But this kind of giving is harming rather than helping.

Drawing upon four decades of urban ministry, primarily in poverty-stricken areas of Atlanta, Lupton offers a better way forward, and does so in the form of an “Oath for Compassionate Service,” a missions equivalent to the doctor’s Hippocratic Oath.

  • Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
  • Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
  • Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
  • Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served. Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said—unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
  • Above all, do no harm.

These are good guidelines, but something crucial is missing, which brings me to my one significant critique of the book

Toxic Charity’s great weakness is that Lupton appears to hold to an incomplete gospel—a social gospel. His is a gospel of love and service and charity, but not a gospel of Christ’s atoning death satisfying the just wrath of God and saving people from the eternal consequences of their rejection of God. He believes “compassionate people desire to see wholeness restored to struggling communities and to the people who reside there.” I agree entirely. However, compassionate people will differ significantly on what they understand by “wholeness.” Lupton’s version may include some vague kind of spirituality, and Christian spirituality even, but he never makes clear how the gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection makes us spiritually whole. In fact, he never makes the gospel clear at all. He mentions in an off-hand way that he is a Presbyterian married to a Roman Catholic and that they alternate churches week-by-week, one Sunday in her Roman Catholic mass and the next in his Presbyterian service. This does not sound like a sign of spiritual strength or health, and may go a long way to explaining the weakened gospel.

This incomplete gospel leads him to propose incomplete solutions—solutions that may save people from hunger and poverty, but still leave them facing an eternity in hell. I do not counter-propose that we offer help to the poor only to create opportunities to preach the gospel to them; however, to help people economically and to offer them no gospel at all is a badly missed opportunity and a woefully incomplete understanding of our calling in this world.

Is Toxic Charity worth reading? I believe it is. Much of Lupton’s diagnosis of the issue is both helpful and convicting. The book is quite helpful as far as it goes. However, the reader will still have work to do as he applies these principles to a more complete gospel. My recommendation would be to read one other book first: When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. This book has a a holistic understanding of poverty that includes a relationship with God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once you have read that, you may wish to follow it up with Toxic Charity.

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10 Foolish Obstacles to the Foolishness of Preaching

Who in their right mind would choose a regular 30-45 minute monologue from one sinful man to many sinful hearers to communicate the most important message in the world?

Pastoring the Pastor [Book Review]

A book review of Pastoring the Pastor by Tim Cooper and Kelvin Gardiner

A La Carte (2/12)

You have undoubtedly heard of the pope’s decision to resign, effective February 28. This legal-humor blog asks, Can the pope legally resign? Russell Moore suggests two of the pope’s legacies that we ought to honor and conserve. Carlton Wynne says that at a time of papal succession, “we would do well to remember the futility of all competing alternatives to the supreme and sufficient priesthood of Christ.”

I Will Not Let You Go – “I got into a fistfight last week. Well, I suppose you could call it a fistfight. I got hit about 10-12 times without landing a single punch myself. It’s been a while since I have been in a fight. As a police officer, I probably get into more fights than the average middle-aged man. But at 46, my reflexes are not what they used to be—so I got a little beat up.”

Putting Your Spouse First – “One of the greatest takeaways from my parents’ lifelong romance was to set priorities in the proper order: God first, then spouse, after the spouse the kids, and then everything else. No doubt they had a unique perspective, having been in love with each other since Dad was five and Mom was three.”

How Jesus Rescues Any of Us – Skip Ryan was pastor of Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas, until he resigned, having confessed an addiction to painkillers. This video shares his testimony to God’s grace in his life.

Beauty Is For Everyone – This post is from a couple of weeks ago, but I only saw it yesterday. I love the big point of it: Beauty is an artist’s gift to everyone else.

End Times Infographic – The end times was infographic I was never brave enough to take on. Josh Byers did quite a good job of it here.

A Religious Group Loses Funding – This very well may be a sign of things to come: a religious organization in Canada was receiving government funds “to help dig wells, build latrines and promote hygiene awareness in Uganda through 2014.” But because of their religious convictions, they have now lost that funding.

Train up a child in the way he should go – but be sure you go that way yourself. —C.H. Spurgeon

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Check out

Endtimes infographic, New Image for Black Men, Big Fight, Depression Seminar, Pundit Pastors?

“Particular Voices” (Jeremy Walker)

This won’t float everyone’s boat, especially when I tell you that Particular Voices glories in the strapline, “Interesting bits and pieces of 17th century literature” (I can already hear Levy’s disdain as he readies another “last of the Puritans” jibe)…

In Christ

Here’s an excerpt from In Christ, Burk Parsons’ contribution to the February issue of Tabletalk.
Repetitio mater studiorum est. “Repetition is the mother of all learning.” The Apostle Paul understood this. Under the inspiration and superintendence of t…