Book Review: Jesus’ Economy by John Barry

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John Barry was a chief editor at Logos/Faithlife Bible software. He ended his stint with Faithlife in order to work with the poor all over the world and create sustainable business models to help get people out of poverty. He started a non-profit called Jesus’ Economy and has now combined his ministry with his writing in filling a gap with some practical theology for the kingdom to benefit from his insights. That is where Jesus’ Economy comes in…

As he starts the book he sets the tone with these words,

“I could no longer just address their physical poverty through aid and relief or just their spiritual poverty through preaching the gospel. The two are intimately connected and must work together to bring about real change.” p.7

The truth is, the Gospel is both because God cares about whole people. It is time we fully reject our Platonism (dualism between material and immaterial, body and soul) and our incipient gnosticism (that the body and soul are not interconnected) and begin seeing people for ALL God made them to be – whole people.

This involves a change in the way we see and love people. That means changing what comes natural to us into what comes natural for God. Simply put, loving people right where they are because God loves us right where we are.

The book is written in four parts:

Part 1 – The problem of poverty. How our world works.
And envisioning a better reality.
Part 2 – God’s view of the impoverished. What the Bible says about poverty.
And what that really means.
Part 3 – The myths of poverty. What followers of Jesus should say in response. And really understanding poverty.
Part 4 – Some very practical ideas for overcoming poverty.
How you can truly love people. And why it won’t be easy.

These sections come together into a meaningful look at the human condition when it comes to poverty and spirituality and our calling to help alleviate it in effective ways.

In Part 1, John spends considerable time working through the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. He gives statistics that paint a picture of a world that has improved on many levels when it comes to poverty and yet has a long way to go.

With all of the time, money and attention that has gone to alleviating poverty, he asks and answers why he thinks it is still such a salient issue today. Some tackle physical needs. Others are tackling spiritual needs. Few are tackling both. This goes back to his holistic view of humanity, poverty and solutions (p.24).

What approach does Barry put forward? A combination of microloans, training, fair trade, enforcing ethical standards, “while connecting that same person to a global marketplace.” (p.25). This combination can help create a consistent job creation system. One of the major obstacles is the enforcement of ethical standards. The flip side (negative) of this is corruption. This is where church planting comes in to help stabilize the community and create a biblical ethic. This is what he calls the combination of “job and church creation.” (p.28)

This isn’t just a book for churches, institutions and governments. This is a book for you and for me. It is a call to be part of the solution. It is a call to love the people God puts in front of you. We think what we can do matters little but John demonstrates that our interconnected world ensures this is not the case and the ripple effects of your compassion reach far further than you might imagine. You can do more good than you realize if you are willing to look out to see what God is already up to and jump in with him!

But the real “Key to overcoming poverty” isn’t governments or even us. It is Jesus (p. 32).

This is where things get tough but it is also where things get right because in Part 2 John reminds us that this isn’t about money. This is about forming and maintaining relationships with real people in hard circumstances. That is what love requires. The difficulty level is only high if our “allegiance” to money is greater than our allegiance to Jesus (p. 42). If that isn’t very helpful we have to turn to our love of Jesus himself who lived an impoverished life. We create relationships where we want them badly enough even when the distance (socially, economically, spiritually, etc) is great.

One of the things that I appreciate about John is his ability to integrate scripture with social issues. He is an expert in both. This is one thing that sets the book apart from others who have set out to write similar books. This is the first book on poverty I have read that took into account the social backgrounds and customs of Jesus’ day when exegeting (interpreting) the relevant passages.  Then he goes on to make incredible contemporary application. There are MANY passages in the Bible that deal with poverty and money and I am quite sure that he deals with nearly all of them (from the prophets to Jesus to Paul and Acts with the Jerusalem collection).

Another thing I appreciate about what he expresses in the book is first hand experience. He has walked the walk and has stories to back up his theology just as much as theology to back up his stories. He isn’t a scientist in an ivory tower. He isn’t a minister who doesn’t know the scholarship. He has both and, again, his integration of scholarship and ministry will be helpful to all who read this book. And I do hope you will read his book! Also, he, like Paul, models self-sacrificial ministry. It is hard to describe that without feeling like an author is patting themselves on the back but he pulls it off well.

Last, John is a man with answers and he is also a man with questions. He is growing but, like all of us, not all the way there yet. His vulnerability and humility shine through the pages of this book. He recognizes that we are all on a journey through the tensions in regard to poverty and how Christians can help. He is sharing his journey with us and then inviting us to journey alongside him…to hear his stories and participate in solutions. How many books can you say do that? Unlike many books that are a call to engage ideas, this book engages ideas that call us to engage real people…people who are actually accessible to us in our every day lives to people all the way around the world we may never meet.

Thank you John for writing this book. Thank you for calling us to as radical a calling as has been calling out to us for millennia in the pages of the New Testament. Thank you for devoting yourself and using your God-given talents to serve the least of these. May your tribe increase.

I believe this book is a needed wake up call to Christians to be engaged in the process of healing whole people through self-sacrifice. It is a wonderful addition to the extant resources on alleviating poverty with up to date information and biblically informed practices. This would be a great book for any Christian to read. It would also be a great book for benevolence deacons to read and be informed on how to better do their work. It would also be a very helpful read for missions committees or missions ministers. Please point those in leadership in these areas in your congregation to this book! But let me repeat, at its heart, this is a book for all Christians. Also, this gives me a moment to point you to John’s non-profit “Jesus’ Economy” in case you are looking for a place to invest in the lives of those working their way out of poverty.

You can find a copy of the book and/or more information about the book at any of these sites:

  5. (bottom of the page)

One Response

  1. In the conservative coC we have long argued that we must feed the spiritual person first, thus no soup kitchens, food pantries, etc.
    But when we look at Jesus He did both and it worked.
    We kind of toss our example of Christianity and mercy out the door in favor of legalism and sacrifice. In fact there were times when Jesus fed the people or gave to the people or healed the people with no vocal message given…his act of mercy and grace was the message.
    A friend of mine once said, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
    So true.

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