In this episode of TGC Q&A, the fourth in our six-week series on faith and work, Robby Holt and Brian Fikkert answer the question: “How can we include the poor in the conversation?”
• Connecting the conversation (:43)
• Biblical foundations (1:48)
• Economics (3:10)
• Creation: work as part of God’s design (4:14)
• Image bearing (7:12)
• Positive view of culture (9:28)
• Fall: the impact on relationships (11:58)
• Broken people create broken cultures (14:50)
• Redemption: inviting the poor (17:29)
• The communal basis for flourishing (25:23)
• Realizing we are part of the problem (28:41)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of Serving the Poor.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Robby Holt: Hi Brian, thanks so much for having this conversation with me today. I know that you know, I’ve been really involved in the faith and work movement when I lived in Chattanooga, with you and in other places. And I love that movement we both do. And you’re known for helping God’s people the church meet the needs of the poor in a way that honors God and the poor and and helps the church today. Can we talk about maybe connecting these conversations? Together?
Brian Fikkert: It’s so important, Rob, you know, I love the faith and work movement as well. But boy, we need that connection to to the issue of poverty alleviation. You know, throughout the Bible, God’s people are called to care for the poor throughout the Old and New Testaments. One of the primary manifestations of being a sincere follower of Christ is that we spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry to satisfy the needs of the oppressed, and so so in all of our lives, but certainly in our work, bending ourselves towards the restoration, the poor just profoundly central to what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Robby Holt: Amen. Well, I have one idea about how we can integrate these conversations. Brian, I noticed when I read Tim Keller’s excellent book, every good endeavor, the structure of that book was creation, fall redemption. And then when I read when helping hurts years ago, I noticed the structure of that book is creation, fall redemption. So how will help us to see that that both these movements are undergirded by these really good biblical foundations talk about that?
Brian Fikkert: Well, Robbie, I like to when it’s on me on the winning team, and I found this generally speaking, helpful to be on God’s team because he wins. God, God’s kind of got a story, idea of creation, fall redemption, ultimately consummation. And so I think we want to move with the flow, if you will, of God’s story, what he’s doing in the world. And so when that woman comes into your church asking for help with her electric bill, what is God’s designed for her? What is your plan for her? How do you kind of get on board with God’s plan for her and God’s plan for her in fact, his plan for all human beings, is rooted in that grand story of creation, fall, redemption, consummation. So that, that frames how we think about her how we think about what success is like in her life, and how we think about shaping success and walking with her as she moves towards God’s plan for her.
Robby Holt: Great, Brian, I know you’ve been really involved in helping the church serve the poor globally, when you help Christians in you know, West Africa, in really poor countries. Do you ever talk about economics or finance? Or did you address economic issues, issues of work and labor? Oh, totally,
Brian Fikkert: You know, the Chalmers center that I’m privileged to be part of really seeks to help churches to help restore people who are poor to all that God has created them to be. And so in our work in the majority world of Africa, Asia and Latin America, we’ve done a lot in the space of micro finance and micro-enterprise development, because they’re done. There’s done up jobs, employ people, so people could be self employed. So it’s really in that context been about how do you help people to start their own small businesses that that to get that they can work, support themselves through their work and glorify God in the process? In the US context? We’ve done some of that, but we’ve been a little more focused on helping people to to get employment with existing companies than helping those companies provide welcoming environments so that the poor can flourish in their work settings.
Robby Holt: That’s great, would it would it be okay, what if we went through just creation and then fall and then redemption and just talk about how we flesh these things out in cases where we want to see God’s people who were created to work and flourish been their lives to do what Jesus did which is to lift up the pork we do that totally
Brian Fikkert: You know, when that woman walks into her church asking for help with her electric bill flourishing for her like comes down to what is she wired to be what what is God created her to be? What is this creature called a human being? And you know so often in the West I think we’ve misunderstood the very nature of the human being Western civilization has kind of said the human being is a material creature is it happiness comes from more stuff. In that paradigm work is really just sort of unnecessary evil that we have to endure to get the stuff because the stuff is what makes us happy. And so often the church is just kind of tapped a soul on to that kind of said, you know, the real story is getting the soul to heaven for all eternity. And so that’s the real game. And so there’s not really much to guide us until then. So we kind of might as well live our best life now with just sort of more stuff. But the Bible gives a different story, doesn’t it? And you’ve helped me with this, and others have helped me with this. But this idea that the human being is really an integrated Body, Soul relational creature, we’re not just bodies. We’re not just souls, we’re body, soul, relational creatures, they’re highly integrated. And we’re made to live in right relationship with God with ourselves with others and with creation and our relationship to creation is in fact one of work, right. And so God creates us this way, this kind of body soul relational thingy, and he puts us in this garden of Eden. And as you know better than I theologians are discovering the Garden of Eden was actually a temple was a place for God and human beings to weld together in deep community in that garden Temple is sort of the launching pad, if you will, out of that deep community, with God and with others, human beings are launched out into the creation to be this, these priests, rulers are supposed to spread the rain and worship of God through all of the earth. And so that’s God’s design. For us work isn’t just some sort of necessary evil work is central to humaneness sit and work as worship is central to the humanists. And that’s true for those of us in the work life movement. But it’s true for the poor that that woman who’s walking into your church asking for help an electric bill, she is hard wired, designed, rated to be this royal ruler thing, and that’s in flow with the trajectory of God. It’s a certain that’s our goal for her because rods goal for her, but in the fall happened, what happens in the fall?
Robby Holt: Yeah, well, let me back up one second, we’ll talk about the fall. But Brian helped me here, like, let’s say, I live in Austin, Texas, or Birmingham, Alabama, or Portland, Oregon, and I’m a member of a church, and I’m a deacon, and I have the sense that I’m supposed to care for the poor, and help my body care for the poor. If I’m thinking of the poor, not just as other over there, as someone made in God’s image, how it helped me relate to myself, and then relate to them so that I can walk alongside them, what are some ways to help me
Brian Fikkert: Terrific, you know, it’s rooted in the first step in God’s store, that the process of creation, right, or the stage of creation that God has, has endowed all of us with gifts and abilities that were to us to spread his reign and worship through all of the earth. And that’s true for you and I have rich truth, the materially poor as well. And so, so if I’m a deacon in the church, you know, I’m always asked this question, Should I write the check for the gas bill? Or not? Or should I give money for the groceries or not in? Those are important questions to ask. But but those questions are so narrow, the bigger question is really, what is this creature made to be that’s a person, it’s an image bear with gifts and abilities and assets. And so the thing I want to be doing, is helping this person discover their gifts, their abilities and their assets. And just asking them that question, what are you gifted at? What are your abilities? What are your hopes? What are your dreams, the very act of of identifying those gifts, identifying those assets, we sometimes call the call this asset base development is really central to poverty alleviation because it’s about restoring them what it means to be an image bear. And so the very process of saying, What gifts and abilities to have, is actually part of the restoring process. It’s not just a matter of cataloguing those things, although it is that but it’s helping people to consider something that perhaps they’ve lost sight of, they have abilities that they have gifts, that they have something to steward here. So that’s our approach as deacons and deaconesses. In the church. It’s not just about write the check or not. It’s about discovering image bearing discovering gifts, mobilizing those gifts, in the direction of God’s plan.
Robby Holt: Awesome bronze. So before we move to the fall, we will talk about the fall. What I’ve already heard from you is just from the doctrine of creation, that we’re good, the work is good. God created us as a royal priesthood to cultivate his good creation. And O’Brien you and I love that the the story of the Bible begins in this cosmic temple garden, but it ends in a beautifully cultivated city. All this development happens, but also into all of us individually are created in God’s image to be royal priests. So everyone we meet has contributions to make they have roles to play So that’s, that sounds like a very positive view of work and money and economy and something.
Brian Fikkert: And it’s a positive view of culture, you know, you know, we, some Christians tend to have a kind of a negative view of culture a negative view of, of economic life or or of government, or, or work. Yeah. And in fact, what we should anticipate is that as human beings were unfolding the created order, as they were pursuing this calling of being this, this, these royal priests, that they would create culture, yeah, that they would create stuff, and the culture that they would create would be conducive to human flourishing, to be consistent with mastering proper relationship with God with ourselves with others in creation. So the Packers would have been part of the world in a row without sin, because there were human flourishing bounds. Now, the New England Patriots, they show up in the next phase we get to the fall. But in a world without sin, the Packers will have existed. We’re joking around right now. But the truth of the matter is that the church, many Christians have have had a tendency to have a negative view of culture, a negative view of of business or arts or governments, it’s that that’s a terrible perspective that undermines the goodness of God’s creation and undermines who Jesus really is right Colossians chapter one says that Jesus Christ, the creator, and sustainer, and reconcile are all things. Hebrews one says, He holds all things together by as powerful word. And so to have a negative view of the Creator orders have a negative view of the very work of Jesus Christ is active, sustaining of all of creation. So I think one of the beautiful things that are formed faith is it does have a very positive view, historically, of the credit order, seeing Christ as center as the central actor and holding the culture together in
Robby Holt: One thing that you’ve helped me see in previous conversations, Brian is through the creation, we have four key relationships, or crave relationship with God, that’s the most important this is God’s world. And God’s better than his gifts. He’s better than his creation, and were created for relation with God also have relations with myself that’s damaged, and what we’re about to talk about our relationship with others and our relationship with the whole creation. So that’s all you can see that in the creation itself. But once we get to the fall, Brian, how does the fall impact all for these key relationships?
Brian Fikkert: You know, the fall is comprehensive in scope, right? And so what we see happening is that Adam and Eve rebelled against God, I think a number of us have tended to view that rebellion in legal terms. And so we talked about this idea that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, the wages of sin are death. And we certainly believe all of that, right. The Bible teaches that it’s that we do have a legal problem before a Holy Righteous God. But to reduce the fall to a legal problem is to not fully understand what’s going on here. Adam and Eve are hard wired to dwell in God’s presence as part of their, their makeup as persons again, we’re not just bodies we’re not as body for souls tacked on. We’re Body Soul, relational creatures. So what happens to us relationally affects us physically and spiritually, even when Adam and Eve are tossed out of the garden. It’s not just a legal issue. It’s not just the change of address, they’re pulled away from the very being that they’re designed to be anchored to. It must have been terrifying thing. It’s like the tether in their life has been severed. You know, one of my favorite movies is this movie Gravity were George Bullock and Sandra. Notice George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are sorry, I’m getting confused. So I’m a fossil. So Senator Booker and George Clooney, they’re tethered to the spaceship right in outer space and the tether is broken. Well, their primary reaction at that point isn’t Oh, man, I’ve got a legal problem. Even the Martians are going to find me floating around through outer space on a passport I’m going to have a legal problem. I’m an illegal alien so to speak, little pun their their thought would have been This is terrifying. And they’re grabbing under rocks and they’re grabbing on the space degree and they’re they’re grabbing on each other to study themselves was terrifying. That’s more what we’re talking about here. Atomy are cast out of the presence of God is dwelling place would have been terrifying and so that that broken relationship with God ripples through their entire being messing up their bodies, messing up their souls, but also messing up the relationships with themselves others and with Bration. And so it’s a comprehensive disaster that every aspect of our being
Robby Holt: Brian is the problem now with like poverty and other issues is the problem. One aspect of the creation. Is there one thing in the creation story Longer where’s the core problem that’s running through everything
Brian Fikkert: Right? So, of course that the current the the, the fall is cosmic in scope, right? The entire creation is cursed. We as individuals are cursed, the very land is cursed and broken people create broken cultures and broken systems. There’s all this debate right now about, you know, systemic injustice and in racism and all of these issues. Okay, this is an easy one, this is a really easy, the fall happens, individuals are broken systems are broken and demonic forces are unleashed in the world. The Church throughout history is taught that our problem is the world, the flesh and the devil. It’s a really easy one, we’re broken, the cultures that we create are broken, and satanist forces are unleashed. And all three of those things contribute to the undermining of human flourishing. This shouldn’t be controversial. It’s all three.
Robby Holt: Yeah, so you just said, we individually, we are guilty sinners, and we’re broken. And the sinners actually were created to work together and we create broken systems, and the evil one exploits both and it’s very, very comprehensively broken. It’s easy.
Brian Fikkert: It’s really easy. All this controversy, Robbie, thing we just talked to you and me.
Robby Holt: The Packers fans.
Brian Fikkert: The reality of it is in any particular situation, one or more of these three factors may be more or less in play. But our lenses that the worldview that we use in any particular situation, obvious set of lenses, they’re tuned to broken individuals, broken systems and demonic forces. And there, it’s gonna be hard to sort those things out, they play off of each other. Yeah, we don’t need to sort of choose one or the other. It’s, it’s all of this in the mix, to be a tune to all of it. And that means this goes back to some of our questions for the for the faith and work movement, holy cow, our workplaces ought to be places of hope and healing, and places where those who’ve been marginalized can be, can recover their sense of vocation, their sense of calling. And the systems don’t always foster that. And so part of our environments to say, let’s create systems that enable the poor to flourish, recognize it, they bring their own brokenness into it just as you and I do.
Robby Holt: Yeah. Let me transition us just for a minute to talk about redemption. Yeah. And you and I agree with the gospel coalition. And because the Bible does the redemption is in the person of Jesus Christ. And he’s the cosmic Lord of all things now. And one reason we love the faith and work movement is because Jesus is Lord of every sphere of life. We don’t want to box him out of any sphere of life. But what’s interesting to me is not what not but what along with that, what’s interesting is, when the eternal Son of God, eternally in glory, sharing when with the Father, and all the wealth of being the eternal Son, the only begotten, eternal Son of God, when when he entered into this creation, as a human being to renew and restore us to rescue us from all that otherwise would have been lost. He didn’t merely become a human. But he became a poor human, were told in the Gospel of Luke, when Joseph Americana presented him in the temple, and they gave the offer of purification for Mary. They gave the offering that the poor people were allowed to get who couldn’t give the standard offering, that we’re told is the state of offering Leviticus. So he was born into a poor family, Jesus Himself tells us, the foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man, which is a reference to Daniel, like the one who’s going to get all the kingdoms and all the glory and all the honor, the southern man has no place to lay his head, our our Savior was born into a poor family. He lived an impoverished life when he goes to cross and pays for Robbie Holtz in and Brian fikkert said, and those who are listening to this, when he pays for our sin, He takes all of our debts upon Himself that we never could have paid. And if you believe in Jesus, you are now united to him. And he’s the rightful heir of all things after He’s crucified. He’s raised again, vindicated as the only obedient son that ever was. He’s now the rightful heir of everything, and then on Earth. And if you believe in Jesus, he’s paid your debts, and his inheritances belongs to you. And so Paul summarizes this and says, for you know, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake, he became poor so that you through his poverty might be made rich, say your things eight, nine. So Brian, since since we’re redeemed by an all glorious, all wealthy savior who became poor, to make us eternally wealthy, how can that help us think not only about our daily work, but about including the poor, when we’re thinking about having good careers and creating good work, like how does help us include the poor more and our faith and work vision?
Brian Fikkert: Well, again, it goes back to the to the garden story right were created to be that royal priesthood, that holy nation were priests, rulers were supposed to spread the rain and worship of God, from the garden throughout all of the earth. And now Now, the new creation has done your 2000 years ago, the new creation, Dawn’s through Christ’s death and resurrection. And so we get to live into that new creation right now. And that new creation there ought to be there is no poverty, where it’s all going it’s ruled out poverty. So we get to live into that story. Inviting the poor into that story is the greatest calling ever. And so it means you know, we get in Scripture, glimpses of what it means to live out that kingdom story in the here and Nana, we don’t know exactly how to go from Leviticus and Deuteronomy to 21st century in Austin, Texas, or, or in Chattanooga, Tennessee, or even in New England, where the Patriots are, we don’t know exactly what it means to destroy the evil around us in any particular setting. But we do get some glimpses of what the kingdom looks like in the old New Testaments. And what we read are these this idea of gleaning that should bend ourselves, those of us who own the means of production, those of us who who have access to capital can provide for work, we’re giving a glimpse that’s not just about the bottom line of profits, but that it’s it’s a bending ourselves towards the poor so that they, along with us, can experience the joy of being restored to productive work in Christ. One of my friends, Rusty Pritchard, I know Robbie knows him as well. He said, he said to me, Brian, and Christ, we get our jobs back. Yeah, really what it is, do we get our sins forgiven that we get our jobs back our jobs as royal priests as royal priests? It that’s good news for the poor. And so it means bending our workplaces to say how can we help the poor to get act to get access to the means of production so that they can be restored as humanists? You know, I got to share a little story real fast. This Saturday night, somebody invited me to a, it’s a restaurant that’s that’s housed in a church here in Chattanooga, and it was really crowded. And we were waiting in line and all these people in this restaurant, and all of a sudden a guy comes up to me says, Hey, dude, he kind of sucked when the army kept on moving and took me a minute to register who he was this sick guy who has gone around door to door in my neighborhood begging for yours. And you know, when he comes knocks on my door, you he does, he’s getting you off there and helping her to go pick them over the head. Dude, you know, I’m not about giving you stuff. So I’ve given him work around the art to do but I ran out of stuff. You know, I ran out of jobs, he could tell us making stuff up for mouse around stuff. Well, here he is. He’s working now in this restaurant out of the church here. And I need to figure out who he was. And so that I realize he’s working in the kitchen. So in the kitchen, and I said, Can I please speak to William to help him come out? I said, Willie, what are you doing here? And he goes, Well, he kind of chuckling he says, I came this church begun. And it kind of like I do with you, Brian, you know, and it came this church bag and they said they wouldn’t give me any food or they gave me a job immediately. And you know, is it to be honest with you. I think that he had been on drugs and alcohol before his, his countenance was clear. His eyes were clear. He can look at me, he could talk to me. And I said, Well, what happened? He goes, Oh, they just gave me a job. We’re wired for work. And so you’ve got this church that’s bending itself to provide a chance for William to be who He is credited, who has been created to be and it ripples through his whole being he’s a different creature. His eyes are clear, his face is full of joy. And I simply have to say what you know, what do you like? What can you because you can be to this, my family is this my family, yours is here. They give me a new reason to be to be alive. And it’s I’m being restored. And God is restoring me. We’re made for this it’s humaneness need to bend ourselves to give people access to the means of production so they can fulfill who they are. And that’s part of how the Phase work movement connects here. How do we provide access to people to the means of production so that they can be who God has created them to be?
Robby Holt: I love that story, Brian, because this church welcomed him. So he’s hearing a lot about God’s love for him in so he’s, there’s opportunity for him to hear the gospel and be restored to God. Apparently his writing with himself is better his countenance is lifted. modally you know, his relation with other people I belong here. And if he with creation, like he’s doing work, you know, like, he’s he’s contributing. I mean, that’s a really great story. I love that. And I love that you can add to the gleaning laws and I think that’s what I think Brian and I would love to say to business owners into people that like if you own something you have if you have like assets that are productive those like bracket same means of production if you have a a what kind of asset I’m trying to say brand jewelry…
Brian Fikkert: If you got machinery if you got business you have got you are the modern day farmer okay? You’re the farmer from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. But that’s who you are. That’s right. Welcome to who you are that you are and your job includes not justice but your job includes allowing the poor to come and lead and cleaning wasn’t a handout it was coming to work be part of this experience this in community I can’t overemphasize the the communal basis for flourishing back in the garden. Again, the garden temple, God is meeting with his people, out of that deep community are launched into work. We often say to people in America go get a job, but I got to be careful here. Robbie’s gonna never talk about the Trinity. Because whatever you say is going to be a heresy. Whatever you say, So you believe the Trinity. We believe the truth and I’m gonna say it wrong. Every person’s gonna say it wrong. So Robbie, fix this for me. The Father, Son and Holy Ghost existed in community before they acted, the act of creation flows out of community. Adam and Eve existed in community before they were called to act. The community is the basis for action. You guys work is terrifying. You’re yourself out there. You’re You’re it’s risk taking. It’s scary. We need supportive community to cheer us on to say you can do this thing. I even you I’m with you. It’s not a doggy dog world in the Garden of Eden its community provides the basis for the risk-taking of work
Robby Holt: Brian, you told one story, I bet we need to close. But I want to tell one story, a wonderful story about someone who included the poor in his business. And it’s a really important story. So there was a guy I call him Bo. He had a really productive business. And there is a a woman, she was a she was a refugee. She had a kind of Disick connected connection to his family. But she was from the wrong people group. You know, she was an alien. And she she hung in there with her family and she needed to feed her family. And so she went to him and he hired her. Well, that’s the story of Boaz and Ruth. Right. That’s who I’m talking about. And because Boaz practice, gleaning, he just did what God’s word said, and created space for Ruth. I think a lot of times we think, oh, yeah, I’ll do this. You know, I’m the powerful, wealthy person here. And I’m gonna make room for this little person over there. Well, Ruth is Jesus Christ, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother. So I think a lot of times when we include people that are have material poverty in our lives, some of my closest friends have had severe material poverty. And I’ve learned from them that I have spiritual and emotional and relational poverties that I didn’t realize I had, and, and by including people that are different, especially with material poverty in our lives, they’re made in God’s image, and God has a plan for them. And don’t be surprised if you know your life changes a lot in some ways that are really good and significant, like maybe four with Ruth and Boaz, it led to the birth of our Savior. That’s pretty big.
Brian Fikkert : In the case of Boaz, he got married to her to exactly lives.
Robby Holt: In the faith and work conversation, we talk about common grace a lot. So if I’m, if I’m as a business person, I’m going out in my city to work with artists, or marketers or whoever there are people out there other business leaders and city leaders, and they’re gonna have great ideas and solutions because God is generously blessing. His image bears whether they know him or not, right, Jesus said, The Father is making it rain on the just and unjust alike. So common grace, but the other thing we say is, even though our God is so generous, he’s constantly funding the world to bring about his purposes, which is ultimately the new heavens, New Earth. For believers, we actually believe that the penalty for our sin has been paid and the power of sin is broken, the presence of sin is still in us. So our non Christian friends, sometimes they they’re seeing really important things, but we the Christians who want to maybe address issues of poverty or fix things and help things our city, we got to realize we’re part of the problem. And that’s that humility that when you said the word humility reminded me of that. So if that’s true for the faith, work movement in general, let’s remember that God is best common grace is doing good things outside of the church and we’re still struggling with sin, then we think about poverty. We have to believe the same thing that Brian and I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to poverty. because it’s more than material and we believe that there’s a lot of partners out there that haven’t met Jesus yet, and we need to have the humility to work with them when it makes sense.
Faith & Work Resources:
- Every Good Endeavor, Timothy Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf
- Work: Its Purpose, Dignity and Transformation, Dan Doriani
- The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, Darrell Cosden
- A Theology of Work: Work and the New Creation, Darrell Cosden
- Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work, Tom Nelson
- Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed), Jeff Van Duzer
- Faith and Work: What Needs to be Read and What Needs to be Written
Gospel-Centered Poverty Alleviation:
- When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself, Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett
- Sharing God’s Heart for the Poor, Amy Sherman
Other Helpful Faith & Work/Poverty Resources:
- Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give, Michael Rhodes and Robby Holt, with Brian Fikkert
- Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty isn’t the American Dream, Brian Fikkert and Kelly Kapic
- A Field Guide to Becoming Whole: Principles for Poverty Alleviation Ministries, Brian Fikkert and Kelly Kapic
- Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, Amy Sherman
- The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity, Tom Nelson
- Whatever You Do: Six Foundations for an Integrated Life, ed. Luke Bobo