Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 03/07/2012 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A superb biblical theology of poverty in about 100 pages, with ample real-life application.
I tend to be more concerned with my own poverty than anyone else's. My assets comprise of two older model vehicles which the bank doesn't consider assets, a violin, a piano, and assorted electronics. At the time of posting, my smallest student loan still comes in at $500 more than our retirement savings, and our total student loans still amount to tens of thousands of dollars. If you were to stop me on the street and ask me if I'm poor, I'd be quick to say an emphatic "Yes!"
We live hand-to-mouth from month-to-month, one of the many North American families who are a single paycheque away from bankruptcy. I have long considered our condition to be one of poverty, despite the fact that we eat delicious, wholesome food every day and have a shelter over our heads every night. Did I have anything to learn from Aaron Armstrong's Awaiting a Savior? More than I knew.
That said, Armstrong didn't have me from hello. With some weariness I waded into the first chapter thinking, “here we go again, back to the beginning and good/bad old Genesis 3. Appealing to the created order is all well and good, but do so many preachers and authors have to do it, and so often?" Then Armstrong theologically hamstrung me with one italicized sentence: "It was a world in which poverty could not exist." There is simply no denying this. In subsequent paragraphs Armstrong doesn't merely reconstruct the Creation/Fall narrative, but annotates it with direct implications about universal sin and how it underlies all poverty. The curse naturally and necessarily extends to economics. A side note: those who view Eden and the Fall as a myth may have trouble accepting the starting point of this book.
So will those who hold to a prosperity gospel. Armstrong ably demonstrates that in our fallen world, capital-P Poverty is the issue: "The fall has made poverty the default setting." Armstrong contrasts, and rightly condemns, two alleged "Christian" approaches to understanding poverty: one being that the Church's main mandate is to terminate all poverty; the other being that the Church does not need to do anything about poverty while waiting for Jesus to return. "As Christians," Armstrong contends, "we don't have the option to ignore true poverty, and we must not waste our time and resources on approaches that ignore the pervasive presence of sin in every heart."
Unlike other Christian books on poverty, which sometimes miss the forest (a full-orbed biblical approach) for the trees (the immediate and pressing need), Armstrong combines a biblical approach with a becoming urgency. The adjective "biblical" is so bandied about in our time that it has lost some of its specificity, so let me be clear about Armstrong's biblical approach in Awaiting a Savior: the chapters move progressively through Scripture, alighting on major passages that have direct implications for poverty. Given Armstrong's biblical approach, these aren't random hops from passage to passage, but are sequentially designed to bring the book to its climax.
In terms of writing style, Armstrong has a very pleasing turn of phrase. He knows when a complex, nuanced, well-punctuated sentence is in order. He uses parallelism to great effect. His short sentences are often devastating: "God responded with a curse." He is eminently quotable, even in the space of only about 100 pages – the standard length of a Cruciform Press publication. And he offers a superb definition of "neighbor": "Someone who has a genuine need, a need we become aware of, and a need we are able to meet, even if it results in inconvenience to ourselves—this person is our neighbor." Pastors, copy and paste this into your sermon research files and give Armstrong the credit. Better yet, plug his book!
I have learned much about poverty from this author who has obviously spent vast amounts of time studying the topic and even more time poring over the biblical data that speaks to it. Post-reading, I'm left with the sense that understanding poverty – its causes and solutions – is not simple, but neither is it over-complicated. With the assistance of Armstrong's survey of poverty-related texts in Scripture it becomes more understandable while remaining heavily and appropriately nuanced.
In the end I find I am poor after all, but not only in the way I thought at first: "In the final analysis, sin is the poverty from which we all suffer." More importantly, I am incomparably rich in Christ, as Paul is fond of saying in Ephesians. Recalling these two parallel truths indicates that Armstrong's book has done its job. Some books long since completed pop into the mind now and again, while some books hum in the background for the rest of one’s livelong days. For me, Awaiting a Savior is likely to number among the latter.