Eugene Cho is a pastor and founder of One Day's Wages, an organization that he sacrificed a year of his own salary for in order to begin. To say the least, he's an intriguing character in today's evangelical landscape.
The fact that he believes “Justice is not peripheral but rather, central to God's story” is evident throughout his book, Overrated: Are we more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing the world?
Eugene calls his book a “confessional” and indeed it is. Rather than feel academic, Overrated is personal, seamlessly weaving together principles with his own narrative.
I read Overrated on the heels of an international short-term mission trip and was both challenged and encouraged by it. To be clear, this is not a book about short-term mission trips. Instead, it's a book about justice, which Eugene defines as the “pursuit of shalom that God intended for the world and humanity.” According to him, “God's heart for justice is an expression of grace itself. God hasn't given up on His creation.”
As such, Overrated approaches justice from a holistic perspective, tackling not just one particular issue but overarching themes present throughout a multitude of justice issues. It is, in places, rightfully critical. For example, Eugene reminds readers that “We should not serve on the condition that recipients behave the way we deem right or make our services contingent on someone's theological and spiritual convictions. That is a distorted 21st century version of colonialism.”
To this end, Eugene raises the questions, “Is it possible to do justice - unjustly? Is it possible that we’re doing justice and creating an unhealthy dependence? Is it possible that we’re doing justice and making ourselves out to be Western saviors or heroes? Is it possible that we’re doing justice by exploiting the poor and not extending dignity?”
In the days and weeks ahead, I will certainly continue thinking about my answers to such questions – both as I seek to live justly in my own life and as I plan justice experiences for the teens I'm privileged to pastor. Even so, I have no doubt that doing so won't leave me paralyzed, something that's all too often the unintended consequence of reading something critical about justice initiatives.
That, perhaps more than anything else, is what differentiates Overrated from other books on justice. Despite being critical, Eugene offers a compelling charge to people to stop making excuses and instead start doing something about injustices. According to him, “The danger of making excuses is that eventually we start believing them.”
Instead of making excuses, Eugene challenges readers, “Don't be lazy and make assumptions about people. Ask their story. Then, listen. Really listen. Be humble. Be teachable.” He reminds us that “Sometimes we're so obsessed with wanting to do earth-shattering things, we can forget the mundane and simple things. Sometimes the most significant things we can do to change the world involve how we live our lives every day.”
My prayer is that those who read this book will take seriously that challenge and begin doing justice – not just on short-term mission trips or day-long justice experiences – but throughout their everyday, ordinary lives.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Overrated from Youth Worker Journal in exchange for an honest review of it.