Is there good news for the poor?

Good News for the Poor by Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden

Grove Books £3.95 Digital version also available

Reviewed by Andrew Carey. Church of England Newspaper October 1 2021

From his lifelong experiences of supporting poor urban communities, Vinay Samuel writes revealingly about the spirituality which poverty brings. “The poor rarely, if ever, forget God. Their poverty will not let them forget God. So their poverty keeps their hope and generosity alive, retaining these key attributes of their personhood as God’s creatures.”

In contrast writes Samuel. reflecting on Deuteronomy 8 12- 14, “God becomes at best distant, often invisible and forgotten,” by the wealthy and comfortable.

Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden have been an enduring partnership in the church for many years and their paramount concern has been to bring the insights of the global church to the councils of the church, in particular the worldwide evangelical movement. As Anglicans they have been at the centre of the global south movement recalling the Anglican Church to a renewed focus to orthodoxy. But this orthodoxy is built on a passion for the world’s poor and a deep belief in sacrificial love.

I’ve been privileged to visit Vinay Samuel’s Divya Shanthi Christian Community in Bangalore, and in my short visit was deeply impressed by all the activities which were centred in the community there. Vinay’s delightful wife Colleen decided that I looked the part to introduce the children at the school to Rugby. In truth I hadn’t played for more than 25 years. So I rushed out to a sport shop to buy a rugby ball and an assembly was called and we formed scrums and rucks and I suspect the children were thoroughly confused about the obscure rules of rugby which they had never heard of before. The great thing was that we laughed together, and that was exactly what Colleen wanted.

This is really to say that the ministry of the Samuels in Bangalore turns normal expectations on their head. A visiting westerner is not there to preach down to these children or to share some outside wisdom but to be brought into the experience of the community.

And therefore this reflection on the gospel as good news for the poor arises not just out of theology wisdom but out of the practical commitment of working among and alongside poor communities. In his opening essay, Vinay Samuel looks at the themes of creation, the covenant and jubilee regulations, reconciliation, the neighbour, and the Holy Spirit. He concludes that the relationship of the kingdom of God that most needs growth today is that of “joint heirs, joint regents and joint stewards between the wealthy and the poor”. Commitment is all that is needed.

Chris Sugden provides an analysis of Christian ministry in the context of poverty. He points

to the priority of mission to the poor, though he does not mention the words ‘bias to the poor’ which were popularised by the former Bishop of Liverpool, David Sheppard. In one passage he argues that the gospels provide powerful antidotes to the view that the poor are victims of the past and have no choices for the future. He argues against the notion that sets the poor in chains as perpetual victims of forces they cannot control. “This false consciousness is an expression of sin and death that destroys God’s purpose of life.”

The idea of the atonement itself announces that the price is paid for the past and this releases in the poor a new sense of identity. By grace they are no longer victims, but called to be God’s sons and daughters.

Sugden also writes: “God did not send his Son into the world as an economist, politician or a businessman. He sent him  to bring his kingdom, to break the chains of the past, give hope for the future and build an intemational cross-cultural community of care.”

A powerful contribution to an urgent debate that the church must address in the wake of increasing indebtedness and vast inequality

Andrew Carey