Overrated: a book review

What if we are more committed to the idea of justice than we are to actually living justly? Are we overrated? Do we talk a good game but fail to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Pastor and activist Eugene Cho has written a book–a confession of sorts–which chronicles his struggle to live a life of world changing. In Overrated he challenges us to not just change the world, but allow ourselves to be changed in the process. This is a book written to encourage us in our pursuit of justice, and to encourage us to count the costs (17-8).

BookCover-3D Cho tells us how he came to care about issues of justice and his first steps into trying to live out his calling to care for those on the margins. He founded One Day’s Wages, an organization which seeks to alleviate extreme poverty by challenging people to give a day’s wages to the cause. Cho did not ask anyone to give up anything he wasn’t willing to give. When One Day’s Wages was founded, he gave up an entire year’s salary for the cause of justice. Some may find Cho’s emphasis on justice misplaced but he argues that living justly is an integral part of the life of discipleship. Justice may not describe discipleship in its entirety but it is impossible to conceive of the Kingdom of God without hoping and striving for the justice of all.

Most of Overrated describes Cho’s journey to deeper places and his challenge to us to tenaciously pursue a disciplined life. He discusses the challenge of living simply and prophetically within an upwardly-mobile culture of consumers (chapter three) and describes the challenges he faced in living out his calling when there is no formula or easy fixes (chapter four). When he first got the vision of planting a multi-ethnic church in Seattle it took longer than expected and he struggled to find other work to make ends meet. Cho warns seminarians, “Be careful, your degree in seminary will soon make you useless to society” (86). Cho knows. He was turned down by Taco Bell when he needed a job. For Cho pursuing his calling meant daily faithfulness and awaiting God’s timing and provision.

But Cho urges tenacity in our pursuit of justice (chapter 5) and a self examination which asks “why am I doing this?” (chapter 6). He also exhorts us to life-long learning where we have more depth than our soundbites suggest. In a social media world, we need more depth than 140 characters allows (chapter 7) We need expertise and we need to live out the sort of lives we are calling others to (chapter 8).  One area of self examination that Cho suggests, is to audit our efforts at justice (chapter nine). Are we doing justice, justly? When we send shoes to the two-third’s world are we alleviating the problem of global inequity or are we assuaging our consciences and failing to combat the bigger systemic problems?

What Cho has discovered is that behind our call to change the world, we are also called to change ourselves. God is at work in the world and we are commissioned to work for his purposes (the restoration of all things) but there is soul work to be done in ourselves. By sharing pieces of his own journey Cho challenges us to examine our own lives and learn from his steps (and missteps). I appreciate Cho’s humility, grace and humor as he presses into some serious issues. We all know people who cast more shadow than light. I for one, have been (still am) one of those people. I am grateful for Cho’s challenge to do the hard internal work while remaining committed to real-life-justice. There is no either/or approach. There is no ‘heart religion’ or ‘social justice.’ Real justice flows through those who have counted the cost, examined themselves and have continually sought to love their world well. Changing the world is possible, but we need to change ourselves first.

Of course justice is a journey and we are all at different places. Cho wisely puts his chapter on doing justice, justly late in the book. Steve Corbitt wrote When Helping Hurts and Bob Lupton wrote Toxic Charity to help us think through how we give to the poor and marginalized. Unfortunately it is possible to use either of these books as an excuse for inaction (if helping can hurt, I better not give until I know more, etc). By placing this concern within a narrative of a lived-out commitment to justice, Cho shows how the concern to give intelligently and strategically is a stage of growth along the way. For some of us, we may need to give badly and generously before we give generously and well. Some of us need to hear the biblical imperative for caring for those on the margins (which Cho explores in chapter two) before we can answer the ‘how we give’ question.

I first became aware of Cho’s work through his blog. Some mutual friends shared his posts on Facebook and I discovered a passionate advocate for racial and economic justice. I have been challenged and spurred on by Cho for several years now and am excited to see his first book come to print. I highly recommend it for world changers and couch surfers alike. Wherever you are on your journey, this will spur you on to greater justice. Five stars: ★★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received an advanced review copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

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