1. The rational approach. Of the world’s nearly 6 billion inhabitants, ¼ live in severe poverty. An estimated 1.3 billion people survive on less than the equivalent of $1 per day. Nearly a billion are illiterate. About 840 million go hungry or face food insecurity.
a) We take for granted our access to clean tapped water. But in the developing world only 68% of the population have access to safe drinking water; in the leaste developed countries this drops to 38%. Nearly 2 billion people in the Third World do not have access to proper sanitation facilities, and illness caused by this account for over 35% of the deaths of young children in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
b) Whereas one-fifth of the world’s population lack the basic necessities for survival, more than another one-fith live in affluence and consume four-fifths of the world’s income. In 1988 the wealthy nations contributed $92 billion to the Third World – less than 10% of the world’s spending on armaments; but this was more than offset by the total debt service on $142, resulting in a net negative transfer of $50 billion.
2. The emotional approach. Personal experience and observation leads to descriptions of tens of thousands of homeless people in Calcutta, say, sleeping on the streets at night, and by day hanging their blankets – often their only possessions – on some convenient railings. Men and women scavenge in the city garbage dumps like dogs.. ‘To be sure, Christians should be provoked by the idolatry of a Hindu city, as Paul was by the idols in Athens, and moved to evangelism. But, like Jesus when he saw the hungry crowds, we should also be moved with compassion to feed them’. (cf. Acts 17:16-17: Mk 8:1-3)
Our emotions should be stirred not only by the absolute poverty of Third World slums, but also by the relative poverty of the decayed and deprived inner-city areas of the West. Here, long-term unemployment, neglected housing, and poor educational opportunities, lead to a sense of alienation.
3. The biblical approach. Psalm 113 teaches that the incomparable Lord champions the cause of the poor and despised. Cf. 1 Sam 2:8; Lk 1:51-52. Jesus both enunciated and exemplified the principle that ‘everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself with be exalted’, Lk 18:14; cf. Php 2:5-11.
Based on Stott, New Issues Facing Christians Today, 260-264.