Earlier this year, we had Matthew Barnett over to speak at our church for a conference. He is the founder of the Dream Center, a church in Los Angeles that does an amazing amount of work with the poor in their city. Our church very much enjoyed his passion and humour as he told his story and attempted to inspire us to do similar things.
To be honest, this is not the type of book I usually read. I think it is fair to say that Matthew Barnett is more of a motivational and inspirational speaker than a noted theologian or Bible expositor. I even find church names like “the Dream Center” to be rather off-putting. But I was sufficiently impressed with some of the points that he made to get a copy of his book.
The book has two main elements to it. First, is simply to tell the story of how the Dream Center got started, including the tale of how he spent a night on the streets to better understand the situation of the homeless, and how they came to purchase a large disused hospital that became the base for a wide variety of ministries. There are many moving stories of people whose lives had been transformed through their contact with the Dream Center.
The second element is to persuade you that you have a “cause” which God intends you to dedicate your life to. The important thing then is to find what our personal God-given cause is and to live it out. Barnett is clear that this “cause” will involve serving others in some way. He also encourages us not to wait to find our “cause”, but to just get started doing what we can.
It would be possible to critique this book as being theologically light-weight. There is little if any connection made with the gospel, there is very little use of Scripture – though there is an appendix of relevant passages at the end, and the idea of finding “my” cause might strike some as being too man-centred. It is also clear that meeting the needs of the poor and needy is very much his clear passion and priority, with other concerns not really addressed (one wonders what discipleship structures they have in place for example).
Having said that, it is clear at least to me that this church has grasped something of God’s heart for the poor, and is showing his love in very real and practical ways that is resulting in genuinely changed lives. I also appreciated his rejection of the definition of “success” in terms of numbers; instead focusing on obedience to God’s call on your life.
Overall it is probably worth checking out if you are looking for some practical and real-world stories of what a church can do to show God’s love to the people in its area. But for a biblical and theological basis for social justice, I’d recommend Tim Keller instead.