Few ideas and causes have captivated the current generation more than that of poverty and social justice. This emphasis upon relieving the oppressed is commendable but not without some concerns. The confusion that exists about what constitutes the root cause of social injustice and poverty to begin with is concerning . And without properly identifying the root cause one cannot properly identify the right response. It is also concerning that the tone and manner used by those leading the way to garner support for social issues resembles more of the guilt and manipulation techniques of an old-school fundamentalist evangelist ripping off the stats of people who are going to hell that very instant (“Breathe in. Breathe out. Ten people just went to hell.” – yes I have heard that) while railing on the audience for not being better witnesses. Many others simply recognize that the goal of ending global poverty or social injustice is unreachable by our efforts and just give up. So what reason is there for poverty? How can we speak of social issues without becoming legalistic? Is it all hopeless anyway?
In his new book Awaiting A Savior: The Gospel, The New Creation and The End of Poverty, Aaron Armstrong confronts these questions with clear biblical thinking that has been immersed in the gospel. He does this by locating the story of poverty within the grand story of God’s word. The importance of this perspective is invaluable since it allows him to lead us to see that “the root cause of poverty is sin.” Yet this is exactly the perspective that is missing from much of the conversation and action surrounding social work today. The problem then is that “the idea that we can wipe out injustice and inequality for good overlooks the fundamental problem of our sinful nature.” This leads to the basic premise of Aaron’s book which is “that our good faith efforts to address legitimate questions of poverty and injustice must never lose sight of the fact that poverty will persist as long as the heart of man is ruled by sin” (emphasis his).
What this means then is that the “hope for truly resolving the injustices of this world is not to be found in utopian visions of global partnership, or pouring massive amounts of money into relief efforts, or even in providing food, education, and opportunities to people who don’t have them. While we are responsible for pursuing biblical solutions to poverty, our only hope for an ultimate solution is in the return of Christ, when he will put an end once and for all to sin, suffering, and death, and bring about the new creation.” This is good news. And Aaron does a fantastic job of setting the curse of poverty within the context of the curse of God upon Adam (and humanity) and then tracing it clear through to the cross and finally to the New Heavens and the New Earth. At every turn Aaron keeps reminding his readers that because “Sin, and the effects of sin throughout creation, is the Poverty from which all other poverty flows” then the only way to truly provide relief for this poverty is in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But Aaron doesn’t stop there. He offers wise and strong caution about how we are to conceive of our relief efforts by pointing to the efforts of those at the Tower of Babel as a warning. He then goes on trace God’s demand for his people to care for the poor and oppressed throughout the Scriptures making it clear that those who are truly God’s people are going to care about the needs of those around them. So what we are led to see in this book is that “real-time, physical service to the poor is a form of real-time, physical service to Jesus.” And lest we wonder about whether someone is deserving of our efforts Aaron reminds us of the gospel-truth that “we must avoid notions of anyone being “deserving” of our help. None of us deserve the grace of God, yet he freely gives it!”
It won’t take you long to become convinced that this isn’t an issue that you can ignore but must do something about. And it is here that Aaron does some of his most important pastoral work as he wisely steers his readers away from asking the wrong question – “am I doing enough”, which focuses upon goals and not people, legalism and not grace – to asking the right question – how does God’s gracious work in Christ on behalf of sinners motivate and sustain our relief efforts? And this is the right question because “caring for the poor starts with understanding the grace Jesus has given to those who believe in him.” The gospel is the only thing that can truly motivate us to give of ourselves – because God gave himself.
This book finishes by taking a look at the biblical, wise, and practical ways in which we can provide care for the poor and oppressed as we await the Savior for ourselves and looks forward to the New Heavens and the New Earth where God will eliminate poverty and all human oppression and injustice. In the end Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, The New Creation and the End of Poverty hits on every cylinder and though it is not a long book (only 114 pages) it packs a punch without being punchy or condescending. This is a book that speaks to the very heart of some very difficult issues facing our current generation and Aaron has done the church a great service in writing this clear, convincing and gospel-saturated book.