Serving God in a Migrant Crisis | Book Review

Millions of people are on the move today. They cross international borders fleeing war or persecution, seeking better economic prospects, or both. How should Christians respond?

A 2016 Lifeway Research surveyof 1,000 U.S. pastors revealed ambivalence. On the one hand, “Most pastors say Christians should lend a hand to refugees and foreigners, and believe caring for refugees is a privilege.” On the other hand, “pastors say their churches are twice as likely to fear refugees as they are to help them.”

Patrick Johnstone, writing with Dean Merrill, thinks Christians need to be more hopeful: “I firmly believe that for Christians today, the current migrant surge is not a problembut a potentiality” (emphasis in original). He surveys the state of global immigration today, outlines a biblical and practical case for welcoming immigrants, then identifies what Christians individuals, churches, and relief agencies can do.

I largely agree with Johnstone. As a Christian in America, I believe we are a big enough and wealthy enough nation to welcome immigrants. The strengths of Johnstone’s book are that it humanizes the immigrant crisis, shows why fears of immigration are overblown, and outlines  biblical attitudes about and actions toward “foreigners.”

The weakness of Johnstone’s book is that it doesn’t wrestle with questions of law or public policy in a sustained or realistic way. On a handful of occasions, Johnstone concedes that he is not arguing for “open borders.” He then criticizes existing legalimmigration policies, even as he downplays the problem of illegalimmigration. “The needs of real people—God’s highest creation—must always trump political arguments and personal fear.” If immigrant need always trumps policy, then what’s the point of trying to enact policy in the first place?

So, read Serving God in a Migrant Crisis to see how you and your church can respond to immigrants and refugees both at home and abroad. But if you’re looking for Christian guidance on immigration policy, keep looking.

Book Reviewed
Patrick Johnstone with Dean Merrill, Serving God in a Migrant Crisis(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2018).

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