Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 6, no. 2 (August 2015)

playlist_add_check Review Article

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself. 2nd ed. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014. 288 pp. Paperback. $12.91.

[The first edition of When Helping Hurts was reviewed in the February 2011 edition of Missio Dei by Monty Lynn, Professor of Management at Abilene Christian University.1]

When Helping Hurts has become a mainstay on the bookshelves of many who are interested in addressing poverty with a biblical approach over the past six years. This is the book’s third printing and an extended second edition. The first edition has received very positive responses and challenged many to rethink the ways in which they interact with and attempt to empower those who are poor. However, it has also caused some readers to feel paralyzed and unsure how to move forward in their interactions with the poor. In this edition, authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert have sought to address the question: What do I do next? Corbett and Fikkert write, “Because our desire is to unleash and to equip and not to paralyze, we have written this second edition, adding part four to enable you to get started in more effective approaches to poverty alleviation” (16).

In part four, Corbett and Fikkert address the question, What do I do next?, in a practical manner. They recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all formula that applies to all development work. However, they provide five core principles that they believe can help churches or ministries get started with using the asset-based, participatory processes that were introduced earlier in the book. They describe these principles in an accessible manner by illustrating them in the narrative of a fictional church (Jerry and Parkview Fellowship). Throughout part four, Corbett and Fikkert describe how Jerry and Parkview implement the five principles in their development ministries. This is really helpful, as the reader can grasp the concepts and principles described throughout the book in a formulated way. The authors succeed in communicating how one might implement truly helpful development principles, even though the difficulty of diverse contexts is always in view.

In the second half of part four, Corbett and Fikkert outline different paths that Jerry and Parkview might take in their pursuit of a more asset-based, participatory approach to development work. While the first half of part four describes concrete principles, the second half outlines four steps that will help the church move along in the process of development work. Rather than placing the burdens (e.g., time commitment and money) solely on Parkview and its ministers, Corbett and Fikkert describe different methods of involving church members and the community. This approach involves assessing the gifts of church members and providing church members with opportunities to use their gifts well. It also involves the community by connecting people with services they may be unaware of (e.g., Department of Social Services, Salvation Army, or other church ministries). part four concludes with a description of a number of ways the Parkview example could play out.

Corbett and Fikkert conclude the book with the final and most important step in the process of development work: repentance. This repentance is an integral part of overcoming our own poverty. Development workers must take this step at the very beginning and continually repeat it throughout the process of poverty alleviation and development work. Without this step, our efforts will most likely continue to do harm to both them and us. Repentance enables the reader to walk with the poor rather than provide resources to the poor and addresses the root causes of the poverty of both the materially poor and the relationally poor.

In his review of the first edition, Monty Lynn identified the absence of an in-depth case study. In the second edition, Corbett and Fikkert offer the fictional narrative of Jerry and the Parkview Fellowship as a case study illustrating one way to implement the approaches to poverty-alleviation and development described in the first three parts of the book. This provides the reader with a way to better visualize the methods and principles described throughout the book and how they can play out in a real-life setting. Corbett and Fikkert recognize that “it is impossible to provide a ‘one-size-fits-all’ pathway to success” (16). However, with the addition of the case study, they provide a real-life example of practical and concrete steps for confidently moving forward in the work of poverty-alleviation and development.

Brady Kal Cox

Graduate Student

Graduate School of Theology

Abilene Christian University

Abilene, Texas, USA


1 Monty Lynn, review of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 2, no. 1 (February 2011): 124–25, http://missiodeijournal.com/article.php?issue=md-2-1&author=md-2-1-lynn.