Thursday, May 13, 2010

Book Review: Hungry For Life

Blundell's book is no mere theological treatise or a biblical meditation on social problems. Hungry For Life is a manifesto. A call to arms for affluent North American Christians to live more faithfully and generously; using our resources to confront the horrible poverty most of the world lives in.

Blundell begins by showing us the problem of poverty, and the devastating effects it has on people in the developing world. And, he, boldly maintains, that affluent North American Christians are spiritually impoverished by their (our) lack of response to the needless suffering of our sisters and brothers around the world. The mark of faithful living, he says, is not how we worship or pray, but how we care for the poor.

He then moves on to the biblical foundations of his argument, expertly outlining how the core message of the bible is care for the poor as a faithful response to what God has graciously given us - life and salvation. He takes us through the hard words of the prophets, Jesus' commands, the Letter of James, and other passages to show that his basis for the Christian mission to alleviate the needless suffering poor has a deep biblical foundation.

He doesn't mince words. He's angry at the North American church for its spiritual complacency and calls for its radical renovation. He calls the church to repentence and transformation, not mere "behaviour modification" as he puts it. Nothing short of wholesale change will lift us from our spiritual impoverishment and a slavery to the sin of idolatry - "worshiping the God of money" as he puts it. He calls Christians to greater generosity as a response to the North American affluence that is keeping us spiritually malnourished. He calls us to a simpler lifestyle to confront our consumerist culture and free up resources for international development. He calls us to a greater prayer life where we lift up to God the concerns of the poor, and so we can connect to the source of all life. Blundell's vision is holistic.

But unlike most prophetic voices, he has a plan. He has crunched the numbers. He has formed an organization. He models what he preaches. He provides a framework for moving churches to action.

His book is a challenge. But his intent is to inspire Christians to action rather than make them feel guilty. His organization, Hungry For Life, from which the book drew its title works to connect congregations with communities in developing countries so churches can help where they're needed most, and develop life-changing relationships along the way.

Each chapter has a series of questions that help the reader dig more deeply into the material, which I found quite useful. And the final chapter and Appendices provide the answer to the "Now What?" question that people often ask after reading these types of books.

What surprised me about this book was that Blundell comes from an evangelical background. He's an ordained Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor and got his MA in International Non-Profit Leadership at Trinity-Western University. His evangelical credentials are solid.

But he spends little or no time talking about sharing the gospel with the poor. Which I found refreshing. Too often we think that the sole job of Christians is to lead people to Christ. We say that we need to spend more time preparing people for eternity rather than responding to bodily needs.

Blundell doesn't cover this disconnect. And his biblical exegesis might tacitly say why: there are a lot more passages about caring for those in need than about saving people for heaven.

What I would have liked more of was a broader discussion about what people in developing countries can teach us affluent North American Christians. I worry about the insidious paternalism that marks many development efforts, where the "poor" become objects, recipients of our generosity, rather than partners in creating a more sustainable world for all people. While Blundell doesn't give off this vibe, I was looking for more stories and examples about how those in developing countries develop mutual relationships with the churches with whom they connect.

For Blundell, North American church transformation can only occur when, with God's help, we re-orient ourselves away from our materialist culture and learn to live generously and sacrificially, responding to the cries of the poor, and learning from them along the way. This book should be read by every thoughtful Christian who longs for a church that connects more deeply to God and the world.

(NB: Book has been provided courtesy of the author and Graf-Martin Communications Inc. Available now at your favourite bookseller)

No comments: