Can we make poverty history while the poor are always with us?

Can we make poverty history while the poor are always with us?

A guest blog from our church media partner the Church Times 

Theologian Justin Thacker joins the Greenbelt Ideas programme this year. Here, he speaks to SCM Press editor David Shervington about his latest book, Global Poverty: A Theological Guide.

DS: So what made you want to write the book?

JT: One of the things I love about the Bible is its richness, diversity and complexity, but one of the problems with that is that it lends itself to a proof-texting approach, particularly in relation to poverty. If you want to find verses that say poverty is the result of laziness, you can do that. If you want to argue that it’s all the fault of corrupt governments, there’s plenty of texts that point in that direction. So I wanted to take a more systematic and theological approach to poverty to try and provide some kind of grand narrative that we can apply to the issue. Of course, I’m sure my biases affect the way I write as well as others, but what I have at least tried to do is provide an overview that eschews a proof-texting approach to the issues.

DS: Why do we need to think theologically about global poverty?

JT: As I try to show in the book, one of the problems with much contemporary Christian thinking about poverty is that it tends to be quite shallow, aping the range of secular ideas about poverty that are currently on offer, whether one’s penchant is for a capitalist, socialist or liberationist view. It might well be the case, and I argue this in the book, that many of those secular ideas are correct but what I wanted to show was the particular contribution that theological thinking about poverty provides. One example of this is the way I show how a confidence in the ultimate victory of Christ over poverty helps us steer the appropriate path between an over-confidence in our own ability to solve poverty (and therefore a detrimental over-reach in our poverty alleviation efforts) and a pessimistic defeatism that says we shouldn’t even bother trying.

DS: But given that Jesus tells us that the poor will always be with us, isn’t trying to eradicate poverty a bit fruitless anyway?

JT: I spent quite a bit of space in the book discussing these words from Jesus. I think the real question is what drives us to engage in the work of poverty alleviation? If our motivation is fundamentally to do with ourselves perhaps so that we can look back at what we’ve done at some point in the future and say, ‘haven’t we done well –we’ve eradicated poverty’ then we are missing the point. For the truth is that the work of poverty alleviation requires people who are in it for the long-term. We strive towards the goal of eradication not because we are going to get there – we are not, the poor will always be with us – but because to work towards that end is to be in step with the Creator God who will one day bring that eradication about. It is about working on God’s agenda on behalf of the poor, not working on our own. We are not the saviours of the world; God is and realising that brings motivation that lasts.

Global Poverty: A Theological Guide is published by SCM Press. This interview was originally published on the SCM Press blog .

Find out more:
Listen to Justin Thacker on the Church Times podcast (episode 8, from 15:03) 
Come to Justin’s talk at Greenbelt: 12:30 pm Monday 28th August, in The Leaves

For more at the festival about aid and advocacy and a holistic approach to global development, see our main partner Christian Aid.