Serving Your Community

In this episode, Drs. Darrell Bock and Brian Fikkert discuss alleviating poverty, focusing on how best to help those in need and emphasizing each person's dignity from being made in the image of God.

About The Table Podcast

The Table is a weekly podcast on topics related to God, Christianity, and cultural engagement brought to you by the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. The show features interviews with guests who are experts on the chosen topic, and each episode is hosted by a member of The Hendricks Center’s team.

Timecodes
01:08
Fikkert’s background and calling for ministry to the poor
07:50
How to help communities become sustainable
18:19
What homo economicus is
28:30
Why humility is everything
32:24
How Genesis 1 connects us to the image of God
36:16
Understanding the spiritual battle against Satan brings clarity
46:36
Relationships are key to human flourishing
Resources
Transcript

Voiceover: 

Welcome to The Table podcast, where we discuss issues of God and culture brought to you by Dallas Theological Seminary. 

Darrell Bock: 

Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I'm Darrell Bock, executive director for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And my guest is Brian Fikkert, who is president and founder of the Chalmers Center. Whenever I interview someone who's a founder, I expect to see a lot more gray hair than I see on you. So, anyway- 

Brian Fikkert: 

It's plenty gray, brother. 

Darrell Bock: 

I know, I know. It's coming in. I know. I get that. And professor of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College. So thank you, Brian, for being a part of our time today. We're going to be talking about community development and the things associated with it, and the way in which churches can minister effectively to those around them, those kinds of things. So my opening question is always a tradition here at The Table it's, so what is a nice guy like you, how did you get into a gig like this? 

Brian Fikkert: 

I keep asking myself that question. Very briefly, at a very early age, I felt called to work in the space of poverty. And so life has been about just trying to figure out what is my role in that space. And when I went to college, I discovered the field of economics. I was very good at math. I discovered economics as a field where you can apply math to questions that I really cared about. And so in God's grace went and got a PhD in economics, focusing in international economics and what they would've called third world development and following graduate school, I took a job at the university of Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC, was doing consulting at the World Bank and so on, but the Lord did kind of three things to me during that time. And the first is I was growing increasingly disenchanted with how economists think about what a human being is. 

Brian Fikkert: 

Economists reduced a human being to a rational material, very self-centered creature that they call homo economicus and here I'm studying poverty. I was focused on India at that time and there was no spiritual dimension in the framework of my discipline. And I didn't really buy that story. A second thing happened, I was an elder in my church, and I was assigned as a liaison to our deacons who were tasked with caring for the poor. It seemed to me that our deacons were making the opposite mistake. They were reducing human beings to spiritual creatures. And kind of the message was that if you just repented your sins, your poverty would go away. And that didn't seem quite right to me either. The third thing happened, I was asked to teach a Sunday school class and I was walking through a Christian bookstore. And I'd like to tell you that 40 days of prayer and fasting went into this, Darrell, but it was more like, "Crud, I've got to teach Sunday school. What am we going to do?" I grabbed the book off the shelf and it was called The Glorious Body of Christ. It was a book about the doctrine of the local church and in the process of teaching about the local church, I fell in love what the Bible says the local church is, the body and bride and fullness of Jesus Christ, who declares His kingdom in words, and in deeds to whole people: body and soul. 

Brian Fikkert: 

And so I fell in love with that. And so at one point I wrote a letter to Covenant College and said, "Somebody should start a center that would equip churches to be what God has called the local church to be, the very embodiment of Jesus Christ, who ministers to whole people in words and in deeds." And so that was 25 years ago when being able to start the Chalmers Center to equip churches, both in the United States and across the world in strategies that they can use to minister to the whole person in ways that restore the poor as image bearers, who can work, support themselves through their own work, and glorify God in the process. 

Darrell Bock: 

That's wonderful. And I'm going to assign you an inaugural place in the M and M's club, which stands for Math and Money. Okay? 

Darrell Bock: 

So, let's talk about the Chalmers Center a little bit. You've given us a little bit of a preview about it. Tell us how long has it been around and what are you seeking to do and kind of where do things stand with the Center? 

Brian Fikkert: 

That's great. So the Chalmers Center, our full name is The Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College and by economic development, we mean helping the poor to be able to work and to support themselves through that work and to glorify God in the process. And so we started out saying, "How can we help churches in the United States or in the majority world of Africa, Asia, and Latin America to pursue economic development strategies, to pursue strategies that restore the poor to those who can work?" And so I internationally started working this space of microfinance and micro enterprise development. We've helped churches all over the majority world to start savings and credit associations where poor people come together and save and lend their own money to one another, so they can start small businesses, they can pay school fees, they can pay for medical emergencies. And in those groups, those savings groups, the gospel is present both in an evangelistic sense, but also in an all of life redeemed sense of discipleship and a biblical worldview of what human flourishing looks like. On the US side of our work, we've been more involved in financial literacy, helping the poor to manage their resources better, but also in jobs preparedness training, helping people get off of welfare and into the workforce. And so that's where we began. We started piloting those initiatives in the United States and around the world, in God's grace had some success and started scaling those initiatives often working through other organizations that can equip churches on a larger scale. And so we're working with Compassion International, with Tier Fund, with Hope International, with Prison Fellowship. We kind of scale through others, but the Lord has been working here and a number of years ago, we thought we should write a book to sort of capture some of our core principles and that's what When Helping Hurts was. And we put that out there some of the core ideas that were behind our economic development strategies. And we kind of meant that as a one-off project and God took that in all kinds of directions and at levels we weren't anticipating. We started to realize that people were using our ideas, using these core ideas in a wide range of things, in healthcare or in housing or in agriculture. And we started to realize that perhaps God had given us something that was of more general application than simply our economic development strategies. And so now as an organization, we're really doing those two things. We're trying to scale our economic development interventions, but we're also trying to help churches and parachurch ministries to create new ministries on their own, using some of the core principles that are in our DNA. 

Darrell Bock: 

So, Brian, let's talk about When Helping Hurts a little bit. Now it's been a while since I've read it, but I seem to remember there were three kind of levels of interaction and thinking about the space and that the tendency is of people to get parked in one of those, as opposed to actually thinking through the full sequence. So why don't you help us with what those three areas are and how to think about the way in which we engage with communities in a way that can help them become sustainable, really? 

Brian Fikkert: 

That's really it. So boy, you've got a great memory, so not all poverty is created equal. So just imagine for a moment, a homeless person on a street corner, that person is lacking housing, often has inadequate clothing, maybe inadequate food. And now imagine a person in Indonesia just after the tsunami has hit. They're also lacking adequate housing and food and clothing. So on the surface, they look the same, but they're very different, aren't they? The one is experiencing a crisis, it's an emergency and it requires an emergency response. But that person who's homeless is in a chronic situation. They've been in that situation for long periods of time. And so they look the same, but the underlying conditions are very different. And so we believe we have to diagnose the situation well. So in When Helping Hurts, we talk about three kinds of approaches to poverty. 

Brian Fikkert: 

One is relief. Relief is a handout. It's providing something to somebody that they can't provide for themselves. And so this is not the point of the parable, the good Samaritan, but the good Samaritan's a great example. Here's the dude lying on the side of the road, he's bleeding to death. He can't help himself. And the good Samaritan comes along and rescues him. That's relief work. But then once the bleeding has stopped, we should move out of relief and into what's called rehabilitation, trying to restore the poor individual or community to the pre-crisis conditions. And as we move from relief to rehabilitation, we stop doing things to people and for people, and we start doing things with people. We start to ask them to contribute to their own recovery. Not because we're a bunch of uptight Republicans, although we might be that, but because we want to restore them as image bearers. An image bearer isn't someone who simply passively receives things, an image bearer is one who stewards his or her own gifts and abilities and talents. And so rehabilitation asks the person to contribute something to their own improvement. And then development is the final stage. And that's really helping an individual or community to move to a higher level of human flourishing than they've ever experienced before. Relief, rehab and development. And here's the key idea, the number one problem that most churches and in Christian ministries face is this: They often provide relief kinds of assistance in contexts in which development is actually the right intervention. We provide handouts to people for long periods of time who are not incapable, who are not in a crisis, who they actually have the ability to contribute to their own improvement, but we treat them as though they can't do anything. And so we actually replicate some of the worst features of the federal government's welfare programs. It's an irony that so many of us are very critical to federal government's welfare programs for creating all kinds of dependencies. But the church often does this. We provide relief to people who really need development. 

Darrell Bock: 

So the goal here is to move someone ... I mean, relief makes sense when someone's in the midst of a disaster. They've lost their home to a tornado or hurricane, tsunami. So they're homeless, they're in need. They don't have access to the things that they're used to. They may even have been separated from their ability to earn a living for a time, depending on how widespread the disaster is, that kind of thing. That makes perfect sense in that situation. But the question is, how do I pick up and move on from there? 

Brian Fikkert: 

Yeah. 

Darrell Bock: 

And so in thinking about rehabilitation and reestablishing, what that is that they can do and be, and then obviously sustaining and developing that, you're moving from dependence to self-sustaining, if I can say it that way. 

Brian Fikkert: 

That's it. Yeah. It's a very different kind of process. Relief, quite frankly, is very easy. It's simply dispensing things. It's ladling soup out of a bowl or it's dropping grain out of an airplane. It's very simple. What's really hard is development, which is really a very relational process, which wants us to walk with people who are poor over long periods of time in particular ways that are empowering, that accentuate the gift the person has. It's a very different kind of thing. 

Darrell Bock: 

I'm familiar, in fact I think we've done podcasts on this, of women who've gone into parts of Africa, in very poor communities where they have given them a skill, sewing or something like that or the designing of jewelry that kind of thing and then they import it to the United States, giving these women a means of work and income, which then they're able to sustain their way of living as a result with very interesting and positive effects. So I'm taking it that that's the kind of thing that you're talking about. 

Brian Fikkert: 

Yeah. Very much helping ... We try to root all of our work in God's redeeming story. And as you know, Darrell, that story is a story of creation, fall, redemption and consummation. 

Darrell Bock: 

Right. 

Brian Fikkert: 

And so we believe that we want to move with the direction that God is moving. And that's a direction of restoring all of creation, including humanity to what we were created to be. And in the garden, what Adam and Eve are created to be are not just a bunch of beggars. They're created to be priest rulers who extend the reign and worship of God through the whole earth. And so when that woman walks into your church asking for help with her electric bill, God has wired her for something and he's called her to a certain purpose. And we believe that we should go with the flow of God's story in her life. A story of redemption, a story of restoring her. One of my colleagues once said in Christ, we get our jobs back. We get our jobs back as image bearers, as new creatures in Christ who get to be priest, rulers who extend the reign and worship of God through our work, that's God's design. I like to win, Darrell. So I want to be on God's team because He wins and he's going in a certain direction and we want to go in that direction. 

Darrell Bock: 

That's interesting. You talked about the role of work and being ruler priests. I tell people that we really don't appreciate how Genesis, one gives us location and that we're created men and women in the image of God. We were designed to collaborate together so that the creation hums, I tell people we're designed to be hummers. 

Brian Fikkert: 

I love that. 

Darrell Bock: 

And we're designed to help the creation run well and to operate well. And that we have an underdeveloped theology of stewardship that we ought to have a theology of what I call "stewardology." The study of stewardship, how we manage the gifts and abilities that God has given to us in working together to manage and make the creation hum. And I think that what you do is helping people to think through some of the details, some of the logistics, if you will, of how that can work. 

Brian Fikkert: 

That's exactly right. I love that. Making the creation hum. Poverty deviation is about restoring people to being hummers. You got it. I really also appreciate what you said about this idea of cooperation. In the garden of Eden, we are hardwired to dwell in the presence of God and also to live in community with others. That's out of that deep community with God and with others that Adam and Eve are called to work, but the community precedes the work. 

Brian Fikkert: 

So often when we work with the poor in the United States, we tend towards kind of a highly individualistic approach that sort of says, "Go pursue the American dream, pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You can do it." Well, the problem is we're not actually wired for autonomy. We're wired for community. It's out of the security of community with God and with others that we discover who we are. We rediscover who we are. And out of that, we actually have a basis for taking the risk of working. And so central to all the Chalmers Center's work is really deep community. The community precedes the action. And that really informs how you design your poverty alleviation strategies. It's about community. 

Darrell Bock: 

That's interesting. One of the things I like to say is that the creation didn't get its promotion from good to very good until man and woman were created alongside one another to be a complement to one, or she was created to be the complement to him. And by the way, the term for that is not a term of weakness, it's a term of strength. It's the ezer, the helper, and God describes Himself as a helper. So this is a strong term that we're dealing with and we're designed for that cross-communication. Actually, the core ethic of the Bible is structured the same way. We're supposed to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. So we're made for this ethical triangle is the way I like to refer to it. The way in which I relate to God sets up the way I relate to other people. And again, what you're doing I think is trying to help people see that in the economic realm. Now, you mentioned another character or creature or thing. I'm not sure how to describe it. Was it homo economicus? 

Brian Fikkert: 

Yeah. 

Darrell Bock: 

I guess I've met a lot of those. I don't know. A genus, a species? I mean, what in the world is homo economicus? 

Brian Fikkert: 

Yeah. Darrell, I actually think that understanding the story of homo economicus is absolutely fundamental for preparing the Church to be salt and light in the 21st century. Because there is a dominant story that is encircling the world and it's the story of globalization. And globalization has multiple features to it, but one could argue the primary feature of globalization is the spread of a particular economic system from the West to the rest of the world. And there's a lot of good features of Western economics. Quite frankly, Western style capitalism has resulted in more dramatic reductions in material poverty than any system ever known in all of humanity. So, I want the audience to hear, I love markets. I'm an economist. Markets for me are just the grooviest thing ever. But at the basis, at the very foundation of mainstream economic thought is this creature called homo economicus. And the idea here is that economics, as a discipline, is very much rooted in sort of the enlightenment thinking that has so impacted the West. Some would call it Western Naturalism. And the idea here is that there is no God. And so the world is fundamentally a material kind of place and human beings are fundamentally material creatures. And because there's no ultimate God, the human being is put in the place of God. And so all of economics is centered around serving this creature, the human being. But the human being is reduced to a self-interested, completely autonomous, not a relational creature at all, a self-centered completely autonomous material being. And so human flourishing in this real view comes from consuming more stuff. 

Brian Fikkert: 

And so work in the discipline of economics isn't a good thing. Work is a necessary evil. Work is something you do to earn the income so that you can buy more stuff. But if you could get the stuff without working, that would be better. And so winning the lottery would be better than earning the income. Well, that's not how we're wired. We're not wired that way. We're actually wired in such a way that more stuff isn't equivalent to human flourishing. We're wired in such a way that living in right relationship with God, with ourselves, with others, and with creation is what we're designed to be. In that biblical paradigm work is not necessary evil, work is actually central to humanness, central to being an image bearer. So it's completely different paradigm and requires a different way of being in the world. 

Darrell Bock: 

So what's the alternative? I'm going to coin new terms, homo spiritus or spiricus or whatever? 

Brian Fikkert: 

Great question. 

Darrell Bock: 

I think about when you're describing this figure in the way in which our culture sets us up to think about our work, a secular space sometimes versus a spiritual space, which can be a challenge because that tends to make schizophrenics out of Christians, if they're not careful. I'm thinking about the fact that it's almost like the Book of Judges on steroids. Everyone's doing what's right in their own eyes for their own self-interest. And when I talk about this, I say, "It's a little bit like being on a highway and saying you're in your car, but there're not going to be any lanes or any rules to drive. Everyone's got to try and get to where they're going." And we see that in places like Manila and other places, what that results in, which is answer's not much. So, in reorienting the person from homo economicus to whatever, homo spiricus or whatever we're going to call this alternative person, ideal person, what do they need? What's missing? 

Brian Fikkert: 

Fantastic question. So recently, I've co-authored a book called Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty isn't the American Dream with a theologian named Kelly Capic. Some of our audience might be familiar with some of Kelly's work. And we argue in that book that the primary story of homo economicus isn't working, it does tend to alleviate material poverty, but it seems to transform us into a creature we're not wired to be. And there's all kinds of evidence that this isn't good for us. Anxiety and depression are exploding in the West and it's exploding wherever markets are spreading. And so we need to better story than that. And we contend that the US church hasn't given us a very good story. And we contend that the US church is engaged in something that my good friend, Darrell Miller calls evangelical gnosticism, that we basically have decided the real goal is to get the soul beamed up to heaven. And so we do a lot of evangelism to get the soul beamed up to heaven, and once we know that the person has been saved and that their soul is going to go to heaven, we don't really have a story for this life. And so what most of us do is we revert to the only story we know that's the story of the American dream. And so we've kind of got this homo economicus story. We're living Monday through Saturday, knowing that our souls are going up to heaven. And so we worship God on Sunday morning, get our spiritual fuel there. And then Monday through Saturday, we live largely like the world does: fairly self centered, fairly materialistic lives. And so there's a need for a better story. 

Brian Fikkert: 

And we believe that story again, begins in the garden. And in that garden, the human being isn't just a body and they're not just a body that contains a soul in the way that my glass here contains water, but rather the body and the soul are highly integrated, but then there's more. Again, we're hardwired for relationship with God, with ourselves, with others and with the rest of creation. So we're not bodies. We're not bodies and souls. We're body soul relational thingies. So that what happens, I don't have a name for this yet, but for me, it's the body soul relational thingy. 

Darrell Bock: 

Homo relationcus! 

Brian Fikkert: 

We are! So what happens to us relationally affects us spiritually and physically and vice versa. And that profoundly shapes how we live, what flourishing looks like, and it would profoundly shape how we work with the poor. Let me just give you a quick example. When I leave the house in the morning, if I have a little bit of a fight with my wife, my relationship with the other is strained. Well, I can feel that in my body all day long, that the stress of that, there's a tension from that. What's happening to me relationally affects me physically. Social scientists, natural scientists are discovering this in spades right now. There's a famous Ted Talk out there entitled The Opposite of Addiction is Relationship. They're finding that if they take people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol and put them in supportive communities, oftentimes the addiction goes away. What's happening to us relationally affects the rest of our personhood. And that shapes what human flourishing looks like, and it shapes how we work with the poor. 

Darrell Bock: 

I mean, if you go into a church and you're trying to help them with this, what does that look like? And what skills are you actually trying to give to the churches to help them in this area? 

Brian Fikkert: 

Yeah. Great question. So we have a wide range of resources. They all come out of this framework that the human being is hardwired for relationship that due to the fall, our relationships are strained and broken. And that bubbles up in different ways for each of us. And so I can talk about some tools in a second, but what I want the audience to hear is that fundamentally it's not about tips and tricks. It's actually about a posture. And the posture is the good news of the gospel. And the good news of the gospel, Darrell, is not that you and I are okay. The good news of the gospel is that we stink, and that Jesus shows up and through His grace and His mercy, He redeems us. The problem is we start to think that our better smell, if you will, our sanctification is our own doing, but it's not, it's a free gift from God. And so our posture towards the materially poor is one of you're broken and I'm broken and Jesus isn't broken. And so it's a posture of humility, a posture of mutual brokenness and of mutual healing. And so the goal isn't to turn Uganda into the United States, the goal isn't to turn the inner city into the suburbs. All these places are fundamentally broken. The goal is to turn all these places into the new Jerusalem, the new creation. And so it's more of a posture of taking a beggar by the hand and saying, "I found the bread of life, we can feed on Him together," than it is putting food in people's hands. Although there's a role for that. So the posture is everything. It's everything. 

Brian Fikkert: 

Practical skills. A woman walks into your church asking for help with her electric bill. We've got a book called Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence. What do you do in that moment? There's all kinds of principles in there and resources in there. But very quickly, it starts out with that posture of humility. And then it starts out trying to apply the story of creation, fall, redemption. Most of us start off with just the fall. You start off saying to this person, what's wrong with you? How can I fix you? Well the Bible doesn't start with Genesis chapter three, it starts with Genesis chapter one. So start there. What gifts and abilities do you have? What are you capable of? What kinds of resources do you have? What are your dreams? How can we help you to use your gifts and your resources to achieve your dreams? What obstacles are you facing? How can we walk with you in community to help you use your gifts and your abilities to be all that God has created you to be? So it starts off with what's good, what's right, what's beautiful here. And then it uses that, it builds on that, to get the person out of the condition that they're in. It's highly relational, highly empowering, very asset based, not just needs based, very participatory. It's a walking kind of process. 

Darrell Bock: 

Well, I love the fact that you want to drive people back to Genesis one. We talk about this all the time. I say the gospel needs to start in Genesis one, not Genesis three. Genesis three introduces the problem, but you got to know who you are, who you're supposed to be, why God made you, et cetera. And my observation is that as a result of the technological revolution that we've been a part of in our lifetime, there are more of us more tightly connected than we've ever been, which means that there are more choices than there have ever been. One of the effects of that is the ability to have kind of a monolithic culture has dissolved, which means the Judeo-Christian net that was around the West also has frayed and in many cases is gone as well. And so I compare life to a bazaar, B-A-Z-A-A-R. If you've ever been in the middle east, a bazaar is a pretty interesting place. It's active, it's buzzing, there's a lot going on. And there are a lot of booths doing a lot of different things. And then I make the observation that the bazaar has some booths and some of them are pretty bizarre. And you've got this challenge of kind of getting people feel dislocated. You're talking about depression and that kind of thing. Well, we've made people so individualized and so isolated from everybody else. And we've got all these options on the table and people are finding, they're struggling to get located. And Genesis one gives us location. It gives us a sense of who we are, why God made us, what we're supposed to be, how we're connected to the people around us, et cetera. And it sets the compass for life. Well, if people have missed the compass for life and don't understand who they are, they don't know true North from South or East or West. And they're hovering out there in the middle of this bazaar with all these voices and options coming out each saying, what one bazaar keeper said to me, "The best way to happiness is through your mother-in-law's heart in my booth," as trying to get me to get by a gift for my mother-in-law. That is the ... How can I say that? The dislocation that a lot of people feel and the gospel starting in Genesis one by defining who we are, helps us to get located. And then everything grows out of that. 

Brian Fikkert: 

You've got it. Not bad for theologian. That was awesome. That's exactly right. One of the primary qualities of material poverty around the world is a marred identity. That relationship to self is really broken. People don't actually know who they are. They don't know they're image bearers. In much of the world as you know, people are enmeshed in traditional religion, sometimes called animism, which teaches that human beings are not fundamentally different from animals or trees or dirt. And so if you're a member of a tribe in Africa, and you've been told for centuries that you're no different from the animals, it's not exactly a dominion story. It's not a story of I'm in charge of the created order. I'm called to make something. It's a story of "hunker down because spiritual forces are overhead and they're controlling everything, and I'm not really in charge." And so central to poverty alleviation in much of the world is actually a worldview shift that says you're actually made in the image of God. He's given you dominion over the created order, not to exploit it, but as an act of service and cultivation of God's creation and through Christ's death and resurrection, you can be restored to that. It's central to everything is that rediscovery of identity. That's really what it comes down to. But once people get that, it unleashes them. 

Darrell Bock: 

I agree. And in thinking about what that entails and what that can involve, that sense of location also gives us a sense of vocation and understanding how God has made us and gifted us, what the role and the unique assignment that we may have in the space where God has us. And it allows us to connect to him and to others in a way that's healthy. And that moves us along. I really do think that most people wrestle with and are searching for that sense of location and they either give up, which plunges them into the depression, or maybe even a suicide, or they redefine themselves. I tell people, this is why identity becomes so important in our culture, because what people are grasping for is a sense of location that can say, "This is who I am." And if they don't understand who they are being made in the image of God and connected to God, then they're going to grasp for something that's going to give them a kind of self definition. And when that self definition is separated from God, you've got a problem. There's a backside of this that I think's important. And that is understanding the sense of dislocation should make Christians empathetic for where people are and their need, and thus their need for the gospel. And sometimes we aren't empathetic enough. We just say, "You're wrong. You're in a bad place. You need to fix this, et cetera." But when someone's identity is damaged and that's true of all of us, but when someone's identity is damaged and they react, they become self-protective by default. And I think that sometimes we're slow to recognize and empathize with the plight that people have put themselves in. Granted, they've made choices, in many cases bad choices, and granted sin is at work. But the other reality is, I'm sorry to go so long- 

Brian Fikkert: 

This is great. 

Darrell Bock: 

But the other reality is that this is a spiritual battle that Satan is involved in, and Satan is engaged in deception. And one of the ways the deception works from Satan is that he's working on us, he's incognito. Most people don't even recognize that he exists and that that's part of what's going on. I tell people if you're an atheist or an agnostic, and you don't believe God exists, you don't believe in spiritual forces and that kind of thing and yet spiritual forces are at work, that's a disadvantage. You don't even know what's going on around you. 

Darrell Bock: 

And then I say to Christians, it's one thing when someone disagrees with me to say, "You're the enemy whose ideas need to be crushed." It's another thing to say, "No, you're not the enemy. You're the goal. And not only are you the goal, but I recognize that you're trapped. There's an entrapment that's taking place. Only the hard part of this entrapment is you're trapped, but you might not even realize you're trapped." Okay? And all that is going on spiritually. And the challenge of that, of Christians understanding and being empathetic with that, I think is one of the things that the church is slow to realize. So we fight like the way the world does. We make the person the enemy, rather than the goal. We want to convince them they need to fix their life rather than sharing with them the good news that only God can fix you and go from there. 

Brian Fikkert: 

Darrell, you got it! And if I had had choose one, well, there's a couple of really important passages actually. But Ephesians chapter two is so helpful. It's the funniest chapter. Paul basically says, "Man, you really stunk. You really were-" 

Darrell Bock: 

Well, you were dead and your trespasses and sins. 

Brian Fikkert: 

"You were dead, you were dead. But God!" And he goes through all the riches of God's grace. And then he says, "Therefore, remember who you were." This constant reminder that I too was dead in my trespasses and sins. I too was an enemy of the cross. I too was in that situation. And if we don't remind ourselves of that, we always are going to come across a holier than thou, a sense of pride, a sense of superiority. And when you're dealing with the poor, it's a disaster, because they're feeling a sense of shame. So we come at them from a top-down approach and exacerbates the very shame they're feeling. So it's only through the gospel that we can actually effectively work with the poor because it puts us in the right posture. 

Darrell Bock: 

So you come alongside and you aren't the savior rescuer. You're just a pointer. You're a pointer to what does work and what can help and what can be, I'll say it this way, what can be fully restorative. I mean, granted, we can restore people to a given level through material means, but we can't restore their soul. And God's got to restore the soul and He's got to restore the soul in a way that really re-equips someone, almost reboots them. I don't want to turn the person into a machine, but it really is a rebooting that you're talking about with enablements and capabilities, otherwise they wouldn't have. 

Brian Fikkert: 

We're new creatures in Christ! We were this kind of a thing. Now we're that kind of a thing. The gospel in the West have been reduced to its legal dimensions. That's the forensic dimensions. And I believe in all that. We really have a legal problem before a righteous and holy God, Christ's death and resurrection pay the penalty for that. That's all true. But there's an anthropological thing going on. We were this kind of creature. Now we're that kind of a creature. It makes a difference. It makes a difference in our lives. It makes a difference in our ability to function. It's a here and now thing. 

Darrell Bock: 

Yeah. Now I don't want to lose the strand that you were on. So you said Ephesians two is an important text. Let me make one observation about Ephesians two and then I'll ask you what the second text is. And that is I like the second half of this text where, what I call the Protestant creed, 2:8, 9, salvation, by grace through faith, not of works lest any man should boast. Everyone knows 2:8 and 9. And then I say, keep reading. 2:10 is beautiful. It's "for we are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" and then of course walk is the dominant verb in the second half of Ephesians, which is Ephesians 4-6. But then I say, "But that's a paragraph break." 

Darrell Bock: 

And I go, "No, no, no. Keep reading." What's the first good work that we're supposed to be engaged in after Ephesians 2:10? That's Ephesians 2:11-22 in which God in Christ has taken estranged groups of people, not just individuals, Jews and Gentiles who were at each other's throats--the Gentiles wanted to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth--and brought them together in Christ, in a ministry and in a relationship of reconciliation, which allows them to care for one another relationally, et cetera. So if the gospel in our ministry isn't taking us to a place of reconciliation at a corporate level, we have not finished the journey that God has started. 

Brian Fikkert: 

Which leads to the second passage, Colossians chapter one. Jesus Christ is described there as the creater and sustainer and reconciler of all things. And so He cares about our souls, but He also cares about our bodies and about our relationships to reconcile, to put things into right relationship. Again, He cares about dirt. He cares about turtles and giraffes and the Green Bay Packers. He cares about the whole thing and because He's active and present in the whole thing that changes everything. When I walk into a poor community, I know that Christ has been active in that community since the foundations of the world. I can discover good there. There's a good, there's a hope. There's something good there. Even in the most destitute places, there's going to be something good because Christ has been there and I can fan the flames of that and point people to that say, "There's good here in your communities. Good here in your life. Christ has been present. Now let's discover the rest of what He wants to do in reconciling all things." It changes our posture. 

Darrell Bock: 

So two thoughts, I'm going to go back to the animism that you mentioned a little earlier about some people believe that people are nothing more than like the animals, which always raises for me a question and that is, I've been in lots of streets in lots of cities. I've never seen the first Baptist Church of Dolphins or the first Methodist church of Bears. I've never seen animals in a situation where they gather together and bond together and recognize that there's something outside of them that they need to be organized with and deal with that spiritual ... how can I say? Need and void that a lot of people possess. So that's one observation. Second observation about Colossians, one is this that yes, God is the creator. And we're accountable to a creator. That's one part of it. But God is also a redeemer, which means He's a restorer. 

Darrell Bock: 

So one deals with the forensic side of things, if I can say it that way, the declarative thing, am I righteous or am I guilty. But the second is the relational restoration. And I like to make the observation that the fruit of the Spirit, if you actually think about the fruit of the Spirit deep down, it's all relational. Everything that shows that God is at work in my life, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, I mean, it's relational. This is a criticism, but I sometimes make the observation: as wonderful as the Apostles' creed and the Nicene creed are, there is not a word about ethics and our relationships with our fellow human beings in either of those documents. So if we have an orthodoxy that's only interested in God and in God proper and in our relationship to God and it doesn't extend to how we're supposed to love our neighbor and how we're supposed to relate, we've got a hole in our theology. 

Brian Fikkert: 

We do. Darrell, you probably know the story behind this better than I do, but so I'm in a Presbyterian tradition. I teach at a Presbyterian college and it's interesting in the catechism I had to memorize as a kid, the Westminster Shorter Catechism. There's a question, what is God? And I can recite it all for you. What's so interesting is that never talks about the fact that God is love. God's a spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. And it never says He's full of love. What happened here? How can we miss the love part in our description of God? It's kind of important. 

Darrell Bock: 

Yeah, exactly. Or to come at it another way, it's the same point. When you look at the structure of the Old Testament and what drives the promise of God, it's the covenants. Covenants are relational agreements that God has made with the people that He's made. And so these covenants are commitments that God is driving for, that are operating at a relational level and that help to underscore why He's made us and that kind of thing. And so all these elements are important. So when theology is just ideas and it's not tied to the relationships and the responsibilities that we have for one another, if it doesn't push us in a corporate and others-centered direction, then our faith is truncated and isn't what it ought to be. 

Brian Fikkert: 

That's exactly right. What's so crazy is that the secular world is discovering this in spades. 

Darrell Bock: 

Exactly. 

Brian Fikkert: 

There's a whole science of happiness that's emerged in the past 30 years. People are studying what makes people happy. And the answer is always relationship. I've got at my desk, my other office, the Oxford handbook on happiness. It's about this thick, all the research on what makes people happy and the answer is clear as a bell. It's relationship. All the metrics right now for human flourishing that are being produced, there's a whole industry right now of metrics on human flourishing, they're all about how can we measure relationship? Because that's the key to human flourishing. 

Darrell Bock: 

We'll leave it to an economist to talk about metrics and concrete criteria that we can look for and that kind of thing, something that we can quantify. 

Brian Fikkert: 

Of course. 

Darrell Bock: 

Yeah, yeah. They're called accountants for a reason. And so anyway, our time, believe it or not, has flown by. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with us, to share a little bit about what the Chalmers Center is doing in the work of community development and the ministry of the churches. We've just scratched the surface. We're talking about having a long term give and take with one another about what we do in sharing in that together. And I'm looking forward to the partnership that we're talking about forming together as we talk about this space. But there's probably no better space to have initially had the conversation in than the nature of the gospel and the purpose why God made us. So I want to thank you for helping us walk through that space. 

Brian Fikkert: 

Darrell, thank you so much for all your work. We're thrilled to be working and partnering with you and what a great story. This God story is the greatest story. We get to go out and tell that story, and we can do with great abandon and great joy. And so we look forward to working with you in that space. 

Darrell Bock: 

Well, thank you again, Brian. Really, really appreciate it. We thank you for watching The Table. We hope you'll join us again soon. If you want to see more of our episodes, it's at voice.dts.edu. That's voice.dts.edu. And we hope to see you again soon. 

Voiceover: 

Thanks for listening to The Table podcast. Dallas Theological Seminary. Teach truth, love well. 

Brian Fikkert
Dr. Brian Fikkert is the Founder and President of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College, where he also serves as a Professor of Economics and Community Development.    He is coauthor of the best-selling book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself as well as: 
  • Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions 
  • Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence  
  • From Dependence to Dignity: How to Alleviate Poverty Through Church-Centered Microfinance 
  • Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How we Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give 
  • Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty Isn’t the American Dream  
  • A Field Guide to Becoming Whole: Principles for Poverty Alleviation Ministries  
  Dr. Fikkert earned a Ph.D. in economics from Yale University, specializing in international economics and economic development. He is the author of numerous articles in both academic and popular journals. Prior to coming to Covenant College in 1997, he was a professor at the University of Maryland—College Park and a research fellow at the Center for Institutional Reform and the Informal Sector.    He and his wife Jill have 3 adult children and live in Chattanooga, Tenn. 
Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary's Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) for 2000–2001, writes for the Christianity Today's Places and Space series, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College, Chosen People Ministries, the Institute for Global Engagement, and Christians in Public Service (CIPS). His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.
Contributors
Brian Fikkert
Darrell L. Bock
Details
June 28, 2022
evangelism, ministry, poverty
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