In the latest issue of Encounters Mission Journal (December 2010 on the theme, Justice and Mission) I reviewed Andy Matheson’s recent book In His Image: Understanding and Embracing the Poor (Authentic Media).
I was reading it while Redcliffe’s MA in Bible and Mission students were taking a class in missional hermeneutics called, ‘Reading the Bible Missionally’. We agreed with Matheson when he suggests that we often neglect the first two chapters of the Bible when formulating ideas about humanity in relation to the mission of God. His book makes a timely and important contribution to the discussion.
Here’s the review:
In His Image is a popular level book written by the International Director of Oasis. Drawing particularly, though not exclusively on his extensive experience in India, Andy Matheson challenges the reader with the importance, complexity and possibilities of standing alongside the poor as a way of participating in the mission of God.
His particular angle, as the title suggests, is to view the issue of poverty (in its many guises) through the lens of all people being made in the image of God. This gives the book a welcome coherence which sets his discussion helpfully within a robust framework.
Following two introductory chapters on the meaning of the image of God and an analysis of the various dimensions of poverty, Matheson then works through a series of relatively short chapters that unpack and illustrate his discussion:
Community; Wholeness; Change; Empowerment; Compassion; Justice; Prayer; Receiving; Celebration; Prevention; and Perspective.
I appreciated the use of the image of God as a starting point, not least because it puts Genesis 1-2 more on the agenda than has often been the case. While he does not compromise on the reality of humanity’s rebellion and sin, Matheson is keen for the reader not to rush past the opening chapters of the Bible, ‘after all, Genesis 1 came before Genesis 3. People are made in the image of God before sin comes into the world. In fact, the fall in Genesis 3 is so horrendous because our creation in God’s image in Genesis 1 is so wonderful.’ (p3)
I found the book’s anecdotal material profoundly challenging, not just because of the heartbreaking stories of broken lives and desperate poverty, but also because of the way Matheson combines honesty about his own failings with a resilient hope that God is at work in the midst of seemingly overwhelming need.
Although his focus is his own experience in India he also draws helpfully on stories from elsewhere, most notably from the work of Oasis in the London area.
A number of key, up-to-date issues are dealt with well, including the difference between development and transformation, the relationship between the local/personal and the global, the need for prevention rather than just dealing with the aftermath of abuse (e.g., with people trafficking), and the importance of genuine partnership.
The book is clearly not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject of poverty, but it certainly makes a significant contribution to the discussion. More than merely discussing these matters, In His Image spurs the reader towards more informed action. A very good and readable book, on an ever-pressing issue.