American whites should feel guilty. And all cultures are filled with goodness, truth, and beauty. You haven’t read well if you didn’t get these two points from When Helping Hurts. We’ll follow the author’s thinking on these two tracks before looking at the real cause of poverty and then closing with some painful advice.
We all use stereotypes, and language would be difficult without them. A stereotype is a summary of dominant characteristics. It is not meant to be an exhaustive catalogue just like saying that Toyotas are dependable is not false because of the occasional Toyota that may be a lemon. They are illustrations, which are meant to communicate at least one point. Stereotypes may be wrong, but using them is not necessarily wrong.
And Fikkert does that with us throughout this book. On 247 he says there is “one step that is more important than” anything else in the book. What is it? “It is the step of repentance … our repentance.” (italics and ellipsis in original) The book is filled with “like us” and “we too” or as this final example shows (only 3 pages from the end), the most important thing we could remember about helping the poor is to repent ourselves.
Who is the “us”? And what did they do? He’s talking about the average reader of this book in American evangelicalism. The average reader is an evangelical white male. He needs to repent. He has capitulated to a modern worldview (90, 248), has a god-complex (60, 62, 248), is a syncretist (248), and is—amazingly—guilty of the prosperity gospel (66). For those who are theologically in tune, Fikkert even takes a swing at someone who sounds suspiciously like a dispensationalist whom he accuses of “replacing the biblical Jesus with ‘Star Trek Jesus’.” (44, 248)
I have searched the book and found only the mildest comments directed toward the poor themselves. They certainly are not told to repent as “we” are told is the most important step for helping the poor. Whenever anything negative is said about the poor or their worldview, “we” are included. Repentance is needed when someone is guilty, and apparently, that guilty party is “us.”
So, let’s get this straight:
- A lot of people are desperately poor in the world.
- The most important thing that can be done for them is for us to repent of our pride. (63, 247-248)
- We should not tell the poor about the problems with their thinking. (112-113)
- Therefore, we are guilty for their poverty, but they are not.
The authors subscribe to a popular, but faulty view of culture. When Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, was debating a Mennonite on the topic of culture, the Mennonite summarized the two views brilliantly with the following lines: “Mouw views culture as fallen, but still created. I [the Mennonite] view culture as created, but fallen.” That’s it. One side starts with the tendency to find good things in the cultures of the world, and the other side looks at the various cultures through a negative lens.
Notice Fikkert’s attitude toward poorer cultures, “Hence, as we enter a poor community, there is a sense in which we are walking on holy ground, because Christ has been actively at work in that community since the creation of the world!” (122) “While sin has brought enormous brokenness, Christ has been sustaining all of creation—including culture—since the dawn of time and is in the process of reconciling all of it.” (129) It is not hard to find this language and reasoning throughout the book. I’m sure he would acknowledge that things like suttee in India (the cultural practice of burning widows alive) were bad, but stereotypically, when he looks at a people group’s way of doing things, he is going to focus on the good, not the bad. He is not modeling Biblical love in this way, but unbiblical gullibility. In case, we have forgotten Proverbs being simple is a vice not a virtue.
What if Christ’s work in a poor culture has been a work of reprobating judgment such as we read in Romans 1:21-25 “They became foolish in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. … Therefore, God delivered them over…”? Even though the authors by default assume that the cultures of the world are filled with goodness rather than badness (123), many societies have been so mastered by their own sinful lusts, that they are being eaten from the inside out.
Abraham Kuyper’s brilliant line about every square inch of creation being under the control of Jesus Christ has been commandeered by evangelical postmoderns who don’t want to admit that the entertainment of their current culture in 2014 is a degraded mess, or that 200 years ago thinking was closer to Scripture on things like amusement, meditation, and evangelism. Therefore, they have to swallow the largest unchewed bite ever: the lie that all cultures are equally good, true, and beautiful. The one exception to the multicultural motto is of course, that classic Western culture is rife with rot.
Fikkert and Corbett do discuss worldviews on 79-94, but the section is startlingly weak, like watching a man play at boxing with his 5 year old, no punches actually land. What do I mean? They urge American Christians to “repent of [their] modern worldview” (90), but they never call on the poor to do the same. Rather, according to the authors, a poor black in America needs to see that he “is also a victim of powerful systemic forces.” (85) Why don’t they address the cultural values of initiative, hard work, planning, humility, and delayed gratification? Why not discuss the need for fathers and the material devastation that happens without them?
Again, “people have more confidence to face an unknown future if they are bringing forward positive elements of their past.” (129) Why are we spending our time trying to find out good things about their culture, when several bad things make up the pack of jackals that is stealing their wealth?
And the third shall suffice to stand for all the rest in the book. A pastor in a poor country was given a free house by an American ministry, but he doesn’t want to live in it because he doesn’t like it. (135) In a section on worldview, they should talk about how that man should be grateful for grace and eagerly trying to learn how this other group could have so much disposable income.
I can close this section by saying that at least Fikkert and Corbett were consistent with their views on culture. They never raised their voices at the cultures of those in poverty, and they never missed a chance to sneak in a kick at those with Western culture.