Book: Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty
Author: Aaron Armstrong (website)
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2011)
Review by: Andrew Guastaferro (Safe Harbor International)
In Cruciform Press’ recently released book Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty, author Aaron Armstrong does an excellent job of bringing together a strong theological perspective of poverty and service to the poor. Armstrong’s insights are directed by Scripture and fleshed out in a way that is both understandable and foundational for any Christian looking to grow in their theology of poverty. Armstrong shares his heart for writing this book, saying:
While we are responsible for pursuing biblical solutions to poverty, our only hope for an ultimate solution is in the return of Christ, when he will put an end once and for all to sin, suffering, and death, and bring about the new creation. That’s the hope I want to share with you in this book (11).
While Awaiting a Savior proves an excellent read as a biblical introduction to issues of poverty, Armstrong builds upon the work of other authors on the subject offering many insights that the well-read will surely find invaluable. To present a book that is short, easily understood, foundational, theologically deep, and insightful to readers from a variety of backgrounds is no easy feat! But I believe that Armstrong accomplished this well by the grace of God.
In this particular review, I thought it would be best to bring out some of the key themes discussed. It is not comprehensive by any measure, but offers a taste of the content found therein. The short time it would take you to read Awaiting a Savior in its entirety would be well worth your time!
1. The propensity of sin drives us towards poverty. And since poverty will persist as long as the heart of man is ruled by sin, man’s effort to “End Poverty Now” is impossible (10).
Armstrong does a great job of discussing the utter sinfulness within the heart of man as causing all kinds of evils that contribute to poverty (i.e. corruption, oppression, environmental decay, etc.). A second point that is not so commonly talked about, however, deals with the fall of man and God’s ensuing curse upon the ground (Genesis 3). Armstrong describes this curse as causing a resistance against the fruitfulness of man’s toil (18). This is a major point, bringing a biblical perspective. He says:
In fact, the fall has made poverty the default setting, an ever-present gravitational pull intent on dragging us down. This is true not only because it is now harder to produce material wealth but also because the fall triggered an ongoing cascade of relational challenges characterized by blame-shifting and excuses about our sin, as well as an ongoing desire in each of us to play God over one another (20).
And yet the popular and ever-growing movement of secular humanitarianism in certain Christian circles proposes that poverty can be overcome by addressing the effects of sin without regard to the problem of sin itself. In other words, the symptoms are treated rather than the root cause. Armstrong shows how such movements aimed at “ending poverty” in this lifetime are unbiblical. First, we look to Jesus’ admonishment to Judas: “the poor you will always have with you” (John 12:1-8). Second, God says that the intention of man’s heart is continuously evil (Genesis 6:5-7; 8:21-22). Man is therefore drawn towards evil because of sin and since we cannot remove the human factor from this world, we can conclude that poverty will always be an issue. So to get behind a movement of “ending poverty” is a futile attempt so long as sin reigns in the heart of man. And we know this will be the case until Christ’s return, eternal judgment, and creation of a new earth and heaven! There are many movements and great ideas out there, but they are all pressing against the problem of sin that perpetuates the evil that causes poverty.
Armstrong is very clear to steer clear of a fatalistic response though. The reality is that both Sin, and the effects of sin throughout creation, is the Poverty from which all other poverty flows, which is a perspective that should significantly affect our paradigm of addressing materials needs (23). Armstrong says: Ultimately, poverty can only be addressed at the heart level, one person at a time, as salvation through the shed blood of Christ pushes back against the fall of man (46-47). And as recipients of God’s grace through Christ, we are called to respond to God’s covenant faithfulness…
2. The gospel compels us to serve the poor because covenant faithfulness always leads to ethical faithfulness (56).
Armstrong fleshes out this theme through a couple of key passages, and is clear to instruct that Jesus didn’t start with the demands of citizenship. He started with grace! (65). First, John the Baptist offers instructions on ethic faithfulness to people after they had repented, not before (Luke 3:10-14) (63). This is also demonstrated through the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus taught grace before he taught ethics vis-à-vis the Beatitudes. Armstrong summarizes: We want the demands of the law—even if it’s just so we can disobey them. But the good news of the gospel includes the fact that grace always comes before the demands of the kingdom (66).
Why is this important? Because caring for the poor must begin with God’s grace. We must view our own poverty and utter dependence on God’s grace as the source from which all hope can be communicated to those whom we serve. Ultimately, Armstrong clearly brings out the primary motivation of our care, a statement that should set the Christian apart from all others: We are called to care for the poor because God is glorified in our doing so (67-68).
3. The “poor you will always have with you” passage (John 12:1-8) is a source of opportunity not discouragement.
This is another one of those key themes that really builds upon the work of other authors who have written on the subject. Instead of viewing this passage in a fatalistic way, Armstrong encourages readers to view service to the poor as an opportunity to serve Christ. First, transformation isn’t always going to happen the way we may expect or hope because of sin’s pervasiveness. Our call isn’t to eliminate poverty and every factor that causes it. Our call is to be faithful with the little that God has entrusted to us. Empowered by His grace and trusting in His provision, we can both expect poverty to persist and expect God to work in miraculous ways in transforming the poor around us! Second, Armstrong discusses how to serve the poor is to serve Christ, and the persistence of poverty gives us opportunity to do so in innumerable ways (77-78). In Matthew 25:31-46, we read: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” The reality is that there are many, many opportunities to minister to “the least of these my brothers”.
4. Our hope for an ultimate solution for poverty and suffering is found only in the promises of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
Armstrong concludes the book appropriately with the hope of the gospel: that which is to come when God abolishes all sin, unrighteousness, poverty, and suffering. We are to keep our eyes focused on Jesus Christ and His return, and in doing so, we offer the poor something that is radically different from the disillusioned “End Poverty Now” movements of today’s society:
Without the hope of the coming of the new creation, we have nothing to offer those who suffer in poverty. It is this hope we must share, whether we’re working for relief, development, or social reform (97).
Awaiting a Savior is an insightful, biblically grounded piece that packs a punch when it comes to developing a solid foundation for the theology of poverty. I recommend this book to those just beginning to think about issues of poverty as well as those who have spent considerable time in the trenches of service. Awaiting a Savior can be read and discussed over the dinner table as an effective learning tool for children. It can be used by churches as missions and service ministry training as well as many other platforms.
I was blessed by this book. I hope and pray you will be too.