In Walking with the Poor, Bryan Myers presents theoretical background as well as practical direction for doing the work of “Transformational Development.” The book begins with a survey of scholarship regarding theories of development. From there Myers provides a biblical theology of development. This section surveys Roman Catholic thought on the topic before explaining how the entire narrative of scripture informs transformational development. One key idea in this section is that the story which ought to frame our understanding of development is not the story of capitalism or modernity, rather it is the story of the gospel. The individuals who take part in development also have stories; the development workers have stories, the community in which development takes place has stories. The biblical story reorients all these stories, provide a picture of what reality actually is like.
Bryant then transitions from thinking about the theology behind development to thinking about the nature of poverty. He draws upon the work of Jayakumar Christian, a PhD graduate from Fuller and a colleague of his while at World Vision, to argue that the nature of poverty is relational. He says, “The poor are poor largely because they live in networks of relationships that do not work for their wellbeing.” (Myers 2011, Kindle Loc 779) Yet it is not only the materially poor who ought to be considered poor. The “non-poor” are also poor in another sense. They are not who God created them to be. They fail to live out their God-given identity and vocation because they embody a god-complex.
One key idea in the practice of development is “transformational development.” This is a holistic approach to the development of the entire person in the context of their community. By helping people to discover their true identity as children of God and by empowering them to fulfill their vocation—originally given in Genesis 1 as the cultural mandate—developers can help take the poor out of poverty.
Myers does a good job of articulating a gospel-centered account of transformation. If understanding one’s identity and one’s vocation is a crucial step in coming out of poverty then this means that the gospel will need to be clearly articulated. There needs to be a clear explanation—in terms of life, word, and deed—that explains God’s good design for humanity, it’s fall, and its rescue through Christ.
Overall, this book serves as a great introduction to the idea of development. It provides a history of the practice, a theology that undergirds it, and practical steps for doing it well as Christians.