Bob MITCHELL, Faith-Based Development: How Christian Organizations Can Make a Difference. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017.  pp. 229.  $26.00 pb.  ISBN 978-1-62698-214-7.  Reviewed by Ann MICHAUD, Fordham University, Bronx, NY, 01458. 


Mitchell’s basic premise is that the inclination of modernity toward secularization has resulted in a neglect or dismissal of religion as non-progressive and superstitious. Consequently, religion and its influence have been excluded, for the most part, from post- WWII developmental studies within the academy.  It is only with the dawn of this millennium that religion has once again begun to receive serious consideration.  Yet even now, the expectation is that religious influence must be compartmentally separated from the more scientific aspects of any study, and its value is seen, at best, as utilitarian. 

It is Mitchell’s claim that “there is virtually no academic literature that seeks to explore the links between religious beliefs or theology and development work at the level of field practice.”(10) 

One of the primary reasons for on-going religious compartmentalization is the effort to avoid offending potential donors – often Western governments or secular agencies – who may not agree with the faith aspects of a cause. But the founding and driving sources of Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) and the majority of the populace whom they serve maintain holistic world visions in which faith and religion are not only integral, but often the central motivating factors.  Mitchell proposes that education and the promotion of faith literacy could eliminate the need to relegate the religious aspects of a cause to the sidelines, without requiring participants to accept and embrace those faith elements as their own. 

There are a myriad of religiously-motivated reasons why Christians enter into transformative faith-based development work – and have done so since the very earliest moments of Christianity’s existence.  Mitchell discusses ten of these.  But the present demand to maintain a secular approach while concealing one’s deepest motivation and impetus for one’s work can be disheartening.  Mitchell’s desired contribution is to present the benefits of maintaining a distinctively-faith-based approach to development work.  What distinguishes faith-based organizations from other development organizations, he insists, is not their operational theories of change (how they do what they do), but the Christian beliefs and motifs that undergird the reasons for their work (why they do it).

Mitchell’s central challenge to a prevalent Christian view of salvation, a change which could be transformational in its impact, is as follows:

An important understanding for development agencies is that God’s kingdom will be established on earth, not in heaven above.  The New Testament does not teach that ultimate hope is found in the immortal soul of the redeemed ascending to God in heaven for an afterlife commencing upon death....the redeemed inherit a renewed, transformed earth at the time of the general bodily resurrection…. God’s eternal kingdom will reign on earth forever. (42)

He then goes on to discuss at length the specific aspects to which FBOs must be attentive in order to be healthy and effective.  These include their worldview, vision of the kingdom and understanding of ministry, personal transformation, opposition to evil, application of prayer, and relationship to the church – which may necessitate “harmonious ecumenical relationships” (114).  Accountability and faithfulness are key.

Mitchell’s book is an asset for those intending to form FBOs or for existing FBOs that are seeking to keep their organizations strong, effective, and life-giving – particularly in terms of establishing and maintaining internal policies that promote responsible practices, creating supportive environments for their own staff, and working effectively with external sources and donors.  His positions are sometimes challenging to practitioners of FBOs, requiring healthy self-examination and introspection as well as professional assessment and review.