by Paul Brett
from Signs of the Times No. 68 - Jan 2018

I approached this book with suspicion. Eerdmans is an Evangelical publisher, and the story is about something happening in America.

The title itself suggested a feast of emotion, not to say sentimentalism. The foreword confirmed my fears:

Changing the world isn’t easy, and it doesn’t come cheap. But what an incredible privilege it is to be chosen and equipped for this purpose by our loving God.

So what is this about? Back in 2014 the LaSalle Street Church in Chicago received a windfall from the sale of some land for development. They decided to give away $500 cheques to each of their 300-odd members with the instruction ‘do good in the world’. Nine months later after much discussion, discernment, listening and prayer they apportioned the remaining $144,000 to a range of projects under four headings: supporting the local community, supporting global neighbours, sustaining LaSalle and investing in people.

184 pages, followed by questions for reflection and discussion, describe how Jane, David, Dan, Eric, Stephen, Kristen, Emily, Ruth, Mahalia and other LaSallers each used their $500. Some of the other larger projects addressed social and racial justice in Chicago and funded an art centre designed to foster connection across racial and socio-economic lines. Others trained pastoral and public leaders in East Africa, and irrigated small-holder farms in Tanzania. Yet others supported and developed LaSalle’s own premises, and made available to congregants small amounts for a variety of purposes.

This story is about the transformative power of generosity.

Spending on others makes us happier than spending on ourselves

the authors say.

Generosity is a simple compelling truth. It’s also a universal truth… Generosity is forever linked to joy.

Christian faith leads to the practical love of neighbour. Whatever that faith might be, we might conclude, if this is the result, the implication, then it can’t be bad.

The book is written in a very easy, popular style. We are told:

The church’s bills were publicly draped like laundry on the line.

One paragraph says simply ‘Hmmm’.

Biblical verses and stories from Old and New Testaments support the theme that there will always be enough, that ‘generosity is our true identity’. News of LaSalle’s LoveLetGo campaign spread round Chicago and to ‘every continent but Antarctica’. It is a remarkable story. I contacted a friend, a retired pastor and academic, in that city to see what he had to say about all this. It seems the story had barely percolated to his area.

Readers of Signs of the Times and our Modern Believing journal will want to question the way in which the Bible is used. The most dramatic example comes towards the end where the authors calculate the distance Jesus must have walked between his 37 recorded miracles at 80 miles, or assuming that all the miracles were not recorded, some 40 miles. The authors write:

Within forty yards of our church, we would likely stumble on several needs for a miracle.

Modern Church members will also be aware that symbolic action like this may change lives but it does not necessarily change the power structures of the world. Love of neighbour has a structural, institutional, political dimension as well as an individual, personal one.

Who, then, should read this book? Any congregation reviewing its stewardship programme and wondering how much to give away to charity, and any diocesan department encouraging a generous approach to its Evangelical parishes, would benefit from taking a look. Search for LoveLetGo online to find out more. Whether it should find a place on Modern Church reading lists is another matter altogether.

Paul Brett is a retired priest living in Bath. He was formerly Director of Social Responsibility in the Diocese of Chelmsford.