This edited work derives from a 2002 conference at the University of Notre Dame, and is supplemented by several chapters written by other invited authors. Its focus is to reinvigorate discussion on the option for the poor as a theological concept. Unsatisfied with impressions that concern for the poor and liberation theology were a passing fad, the essays collected here aspire to, in Groody’s words, “throw some more socioeconomic wood on the theological fire” (2). Although the authors come from differing contexts, and use different approaches to speak of the option of the poor, they are united in their desire to reinforce the option for the poor as the heart of theological reflection (4). Although each author offers a valuable contribution to the book as a whole, it is not possible to offer a review of each essay here.
The edited work consists of an introduction and sixteen chapters. The chapters are loosely organized into eight parts. Each essay is related to the theme of the option for the poor, but there is also tremendous diversity in the direction and substance of each contribution. Although the focus of the volume is poverty, many of the writers remind us that they speak of something beyond just economics. Different chapters focus on the option for the poor in regards to culture, gender, and race. Additionally, several authors offer reflections on theoretical frameworks and their implications for social justice discourse. J. Matthew Ashley, for example, provides a very detailed analysis of the need to recover apocalypticism as a core Christological symbol in order to properly live out the preferential option for the poor. Other authors offer very pointed essays about specific issues or contexts. Patrick A. Kililombe reflects on the recent history of small Christian communities around the world by speaking of the experience of these communities in Eastern Africa. Mary Catherine Hilkert and Maria Pilar Aquino offer readers valuable contributions in regards to feminist perspectives. The final two chapters of the book give readers an overview of Asian theological methodology in relation to the option for the poor (Aloysius Pieris) and an overview of social justice in Judaism (Michael A. Signer).
There are several positive qualities that set this work apart from others about the fundamental option for the poor. Firstly, this book does not attempt to offer a single answer to a complex problem. In reality, it allows a variety of voices to speak about the Christian response to poverty, injustice, and oppression. Rather than simple answers, the authors weave together a diverse patchwork of insightful reflections, criticisms, and difficult questions for the world to struggle with. Secondly, although the authors are not offering a tightly knit “fix all” the essays build upon one another. It is evident that many of the writers have read the other chapters and have related their own thoughts to the relevant ideas found elsewhere in the book. This helps readers see the commonalities throughout the text. Finally, many of the authors succeed in drawing in various other important theologians, religious leaders, events, and church documents that provide a secondary layer of scholarship to the volume.
Groody’s edited volume is to be commended for these positive qualities. It is well written and the authors all contribute very meaningfully to the theological dialogue on the option for the poor. The articles remind readers of the centrality and urgency of the preference for the poor, and urge us to act. Some of the articles seem best suited for higher level graduate students because the level of prior knowledge assumed. However, the text as a whole would be accessible and very valuable for graduate students and seminarians. This is a timely and recommended read.