Review of When Helping Hurts
“ Good but not great is how I would describe the book When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself. I would argue that Christians can and should learn from the insightful way that these authors look at poverty and its alleviation. I would also say, however, that the book can grow tedious and the ideas do not appear to be transferable to all contexts.
What I Liked
The authors of this book have a clear love for the poor, but not the sort of adopt-a-stray-puppy love that many wealthy folks have toward those less fortunate. The truth is, sometimes adopting a poor person or people group as your pet project might harm them and you, and Christians need to know this truth for themselves.
I found the authors’ description of different kinds of poverty very helpful. Not all people who we think of as poor are impoverished in the same ways. The poor could have extra need for healing in their relationship to God, self, others, or the rest of creation. This book addresses all these categories.
The authors also do very well when pointing Christians toward more than one kind of aid that a poor person might need. While our gut reflex is to give immediate relief in the form of food, money, or service to someone in need, the authors wisely attempt to guide readers to a bigger-picture approach. Sometimes immediate relief is needed. Sometimes rehabilitation or skill-development is more appropriate. The authors show us how wise decision-making in this category can be a life-saver for the needy and the helper alike.
What I Did Not Like
While much of the book is very solid, I have to confess that this book simply grew hard to read after a while. The authors obviously had even more information, volumes worth of information, that they wish they could have packed into this little book. Unfortunately, the broadness of scope that they work toward in later chapters makes the reading far more tiresome than it is in the beginning of the text where readers are just becoming acquainted with this new view of poverty and help.
This book would be an excellent resource for church deacons or benevolence committees who need to think very clearly about how to help the needy in their area. It is a good work for pastors to ponder as they consider mission trips and giving for the congregation. Even county ministerial groups might want to take a look at this work for guidelines for how a larger group of churches might think differently about the poor. But, do not think many should pick this up for pleasure-reading. It get’s thicker as you go.