Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

When Charity destroys Dignity – Glenn Schwartz (1)

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been busy reading Schwartz’s book When Charity destroys Dignity: Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement. One of the reasons why I read the book was because of a post by Glenn Penner on the relevance of the Three-Selves formula (a topic which I will come back to at a later stage). I then reacted to that post (you can read it and other reactions in that post’s comments) after which Glenn told me to read this book. I promised to do so and I also promised that I would give my impressions on the book after I had read it. I’ll do so in two parts: Today I’ll give the negative remarks and tomorrow I will give the positive remarks.
To be very honest, I struggled through this book. The reason is that the first part of this book actually contains an adaptation of sixteen lectures which Schwartz presents on overcoming dependency. My personal opinion is that the book would have been much better if he had started from scratch. After the third chapter I felt that I now knew more or less everything that he wanted to say and then I struggled through the rest of the book (with the exception of a few chapters to which I will come back tomorrow.) Schwartz makes a really strong point of the importance for churches to overcome dependency and it is clear that he is passionate about this. He makes this point over and over and over again, each time mentioning how important it is for a church “to stand on its own two feet”.
But what worried me was that I felt that Schwartz sees only two main problems in the church: dependency and lack of the Spirit. (OK, it’s not as simple as that, but that is how it feels while reading the book.) If missionaries had spent more time on ensuring that the new converts were Spirit-filled instead of just converting them, then these new Christians would have been more willing to become independent and then the church would have grown much faster, Bibles would have been distributed on a larger scale (!) and – so it seems – most problems associated with missions would have been avoided. In my opinion these remarks are just too simplistic. Obviously I agree that churches should become less dependent on outside sources for their existence. But with my experience in the missions I cannot see that the solution is as simple as he tries to make it. His remark that independent churches started because church leaders had reached their ceiling and wanted to become financially independent is also just too difficult to believe. One needs to read the books by people like Bengt Sundkler to get a better understanding of the dynamics behind these, literally thousands of independent churches.
One of the “selling points” of the book is the anecdotes included (which makes good reading) – except when you start reading the same anecdote for the third or fourth time, probably also caused by the fact that this book wasn’t planned from scratch. The impression is given that he only has a few stories to share to prove his point.
One thing which irritated me was his remark that 2 Corinthians 9:7, where Paul says for God loves a cheerful giver actually indicates that we should give hilariously. This is because the Greek word used in that verse is hilaron, which Schwartz then links directly to our English word hilarious! One doesn’t need an extensive knowledge of Greek to know that this is not how one works with the Greek. Cheerful or happy are strong enough words to translate the verse! This verse has got nothing to do with giving hilariously!
The author was a missionary in Zimbabwe for two years from 1961. Then from 1965 he was a missionary in Zambia for just over five years. It seems that he still visits Africa occasionally to lecture, but I really wondered if he had kept track of changes in the missions setup in Africa. He mentions time and again how missionaries come from America and other Western countries and expect the people amongst whom they work to speak English, to have English church services, to use Western hymn books, etc. I have fairly wide contact with missionaries all over Africa, and I really doubt whether this is the norm. Most long-term missionaries are very sensitive to the culture and language of the people where they are working.
The one place where I experienced something of what Schwartz describes was at a theological school at Lilongwe in Malawi, run by the Presbyterian Church of America where I expected at any moment to hear the Malawian students break out and sing the Star Spangled Banner! But on the other hand, this school was started within a specific context of giving excellent theological training to a selected group of students which would enable them to further their studies even up to PhD level and in such a way become theologians within their own country. And the reality is that, should they wish to further their studies in the USA or UK or any other Western country (even South Africa), then a good knowledge of English is essential.
OK, these remarks are sufficient on the negative side. Tomorrow then some positive remarks on what I believe one can learn from this book.
By the way, I have another book which I am starting on now, which has a contrasting view to what Schwartz propagates. This is the book by Rowell: To Give or Not to Give. I’m mentioning this, because after Schwartz had written his book (including the preface), he wrote a Postscript to the Preface in which he expresses his concern about Rowell’s book. So, I will be reading that book as well and will give my critical remarks about it once I’ve finished and then hopefully we can once again share some in depth thoughts about Giving without creating Dependency.


Thursday, August 23, 2007 - Posted by | Africa, Giving, Mission


  1. Looking forward to the ensuing posts!

    Comment by wlh | Thursday, August 23, 2007 | Reply

  2. […] my views on Glenn Schwarz’s book: When Charity destroys dignity. You can read my negative remarks here and my positive remarks here. I mentioned then that I ordered two books at the same time with […]

    Pingback by To give or not to give? John Rowell « Mission Issues | Monday, September 10, 2007 | Reply

  3. […] Part 1–Negative interaction […]

    Pingback by Self-supporting churches: Are we there yet? « A Mission-Driven Life | Saturday, September 15, 2007 | Reply

  4. I appreciate your review of the book. I too found it very hard to read. It was probably one of the most poorly written books that I have read in a long time. It seems that there was no editor present in the making of that book.

    However, I felt the information in the book was very good. I did not agree with the author in some of his points, but he gave a very strong argument for his perspective. I appreciate being able to see what the issue is and getting a different view on money on the mission field.

    Comment by dpeach | Monday, August 4, 2008 | Reply

  5. Where is the second “positive” post to this?

    Comment by Julia | Tuesday, August 4, 2009 | Reply

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