Review: Another Way to Love

Another Way to Love highlights the Christian calling to relieve the plight of the underprivileged

Danny Katz in his ‘Modern Guru’ column for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald tells us why Christians aren’t really interested in engaging in the here and now.

  Everyone knows Christians have NO passion for retaining a liveable world. They just want to die, go to heaven and sit on puffy cloud-stools dipping crackers into Philadelphia cheesy dips like those angels on the TV ad.  

Katz’ assessment no doubt causes Christians to wince, and to offer up a protest. The book, Another Way to Love: Christian Social Reform and Global Poverty, edited by Tim Costello and Rod Yule, suggests that Christians have every reason to be deeply engaged in the world that is – and always have. It is a compilation of several writers exploring the Biblical call to 'love your neighbour' and what that means for dealing with the challenge for our times—the sickening scale of global poverty. It’s a reminder to those who would call themselves believers of their intrinsic calling to engage with and on the behalf of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized.

  I am fascinated that people outside of the church have a very keen sense of what Jesus did and a deep appreciation for his vision,” writes Costello. “I am equally fascinated when they are angry or disappointed by the church. It is usually because they expect the church to represent Jesus and be like him in living out his vision. Where did they get that weird idea? The Christian voice in social engagement and reform has made a major contribution to the culture of our modern world.  

While it is mainly written to the faithful, this book deserves a much broader audience. Those who have ever wondered what role ‘faith’ played in the motivation of the Bonhoeffers and Wilberforces and Martin Luther-Kings of the world, will find some answers here. And to some extent the book shows why it is that they were so underwhelmed by support from the mainstream church.

Another Way to Love presents a challenge to forge a link between belief and action. The book seeks to quash the notion that faith begins and ends in individual salvation where one is merely in a holding pattern until the Philly cheese gets passed around. As Old Testament scholar, Andrew Sloan explains, seeking to do the will of God involves intregating the social (justice) the personal (mercy) and the ‘spiritual’ (walking with God).

The book aims to highlight the Christian calling to be engaged with the world and relieve the plight of the underprivileged. It challenges the notion that the church’s role is one of proclamation and never political involvement. Sometimes merely providing aid relief is not enough; advocacy is another, vital way to love, as it stresses the need to change entrenched structures that serve to keep the poor in their place. Jesus’ vision was deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures and Andrew Sloan’s chapter on the Old Testament and Christian Social Engagement goes a long way towards rehabilitating the ‘first testament’ from considerable bad press of late. The implication of being made in the image of God is explored as is Old Testament teaching about the character of God and the role of the prophets in speaking on behalf of the weak.  Another chapter explores the life and teaching of Jesus characterised by a radical inclusion that overrode social, economic and racial boundaries.

It is an important book for approaching a deeply troubling element of the modern world

Anne Robinson, Chair of World vision Australia, who writes the foreword, says “deep seated poverty is fundamentally a lack of power and a paralyzing sense of hopelessness”. Issues around fair trade are considered here, as well as child slavery, the horrifying impacts of climate change on the poor, as well as the need for debt relief. A fascinating chapter by Bill Walker looks at the development of strategies where marginal communities engage with their governments to become more accountable for providing services.

The nature of the book it is best thought of as something in which to dip in and out. But there are some gems here. It is an important book for approaching a deeply troubling element of the modern world.

When it comes to dealing with the history of Christian involvement in the world, Mark Hutchinson provides some valuable insights into the role of the church in ending the practice of infanticide and the (not unrelated) elevation of the status of women in the early centuries after Christ. The early church in Rome had in its care “more than fifteen hundred widows and distressed persons,” he tells us. We also learn of Christianity’s influence on universal education and human rights

My favourite chapter was an interview of National Director of World Vision India, Jayakumar Christian. His insights into the nature of poverty and the dilemma’s of “playing God in the lives of the poor” are profound and clearly born out of years of work on the ground with some of the world’s most impoverished people.

This book sets up a powerful challenge to those who would call themselves believers—calling them out of the clouds and back to earth. It’s a call to individuals and nations to put self-interest aside; approach poverty with the type of envisioned irrationality which characterised the 18th century campaign to end slavery—brought about by the British engaging in “voluntary econocide” as one historian has put it. If this book helps to mobilize the church into playing its part in changing the systems that keep the poor in their place, it will have achieved it’s noble aim.

Bronwen Hanna is a former ESL teacher. She has a degree in Political Science and volunteers for Jubilee Australia