DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Perkins and Polanyi

Written by: on January 24, 2019

In 1982, John M. Perkins wrote With Justice for All: A Strategy for Community Development. In this seminal work which paved the way for Christian community development, Perkins reminds us that poverty is much more than just a lack of money but it is indeed a lack of options.[1] Perkins also reminded us that we indeed have a hope. He states, “To correct economic injustice, we must pursue a strategy of development – empowering people to become self-sufficient through the power of the gospel.”[2] In fact, Perkins and his work pioneered the way for the Christian Community Development Association.[3] CCDA and it’s ideologies are based on Perkins understanding of Redistribution, Relocation, and Reconciliation.[4] Perkins, and many since, have sought after a just distribution of resources, living among the people, and bringing people back to God and one another.[5] Perkins understands that true reconciliation also involves economic justice.[6] He continually advocates for black Americans to have genuine access to the land, education, and capital that will really allow them to create wealth and bring economic independence for themselves and their families.[7]


In 1957, Karl Polanyi wrote The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Polanyi’s work received slow recognition however by the time he passed away in 1964, he was celebrated as the father of neoliberalism.[8] Polanyi spends many chapters bringing forward complex and at times contradictory arguments, which gives the reader credence to derive very different interpretations of the same work.[9] Part of the reasoning for this complication is actually due to the shift in location during the writing of this book, which lead to some dramatic shifts in his thinking.[10] Despite some of it’s stark contradictions, Polanyi’s theory of the always-embedded market economy has made one of social science’s most significant contributions.[11]


As I was struggling through Polanyi’s very challenging work, I was struck by his theory that the economy of the people, as a rule, is “submerged in social relationships.”[12] In fact, he goes on to claim that the processes of production nor distribution has anything to do with economic interests tied to things, but production and distribution is more closely linked with social interest. He asks, “But how, then, is order in production and distribution ensured?”[13] Polanyi argues that it is not be economics at all, but by reciprocity and redistribution. He defines reciprocity as the organization of a society through gender, family, and kinship and redistribution is for most effective for all those who are under a common chief and are located in the same area.[14] He goes on to further define reciprocity and redistribution by using an pattern of symmetry and centricity.[15]


I cannot help but link reciprocity and redistribution of Polanyi with Perkins redistribution, relocation, and reconciliation. Both men are striving to create a society that understands an economic order and a societal equality that is based in social relationships. I wonder if maybe they are just two sides of the same coin?


[1] John M. Perkins, With Justice for All: A Strategy for Community Development. Baker Books, 2011, ix.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “CCDA Philosophy”, Christian Community Development Association, January 24, 2019,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Peter Slade, Charles Marsh, and Peter Heltzel, Mobilizing for the Common Good the Lived Theology of John M. Perkins. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013, xi.

[7] Ibid., xi.

[8] Karl Polanyi. The Great Transformation the Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. 2nd Beacon Paperback ed. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001., Loc. 323

[9] Fred L. Block., and Margaret R. Somers. The Power of Market Fundamentalism. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2014., 73.

[10] Ibid., 73.

[11] Ibid., 96.

[12] Karl Polanyi. The Great Transformation the Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. 2nd Beacon Paperback ed. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001, 47.

[13] Ibid., 49.

[14] Ibid., 49.

[15] Ibid, 50.

About the Author


Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

14 responses to “Perkins and Polanyi”

  1. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    This is a great comparison Karen! I think both men are working hard to develop community building strategies that create opportunities for a vulnerable demongraphic. I feel like Perkins is working towards strategies to enable black Americans to have fresh access to a starting point through redistribution—the goal being independence, whereas Polanyi is looking for ongoing regulatory redistribution resulting in an integration of enonomy and regulatory power. What do you think?

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I would agree to a certain extent. I also think that Polanyi is advocating for us, as is Perkins, to recognize our interdependence. I think both men would agree that we’ve made things commodities that never should have been and it’s played out in a distorted order of society. I think both are looking to right those relationships.

  2. Hi Karen. Thanks for the insights here. Question: I have not read Perkins, but would you be able to tell me briefly what he meant by “Redistribution, Relocation and Reconciliation?”

    I can imagine what he’d say about reconciliation, but it’s hard for me to imagine what he’d say about redistribution without it sounding communistic. I know many Christians base their doctrine of socialism on the early church when they freely gave up their resources to help others. But see, that’s where the comparison ends Communism and socialism demands one to be generous whereas Christians willingly give out of joy.

    Curious to read your thoughts and what Perkins has to say about those three “R”s.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Harry – first and foremost, you should most DEFINITELY read Perkins. He’s a modern prophet in so many ways. Perkins really seeks out redistribution which ends up for many becoming a more just distributions of resources in the first place. CCDA says, “When God’s people with resources (regardless of their race or culture) commit to living in underserved communities, seek to be good neighbors, exemplify what it means to be a follower of Christ, work for justice for the entire community and utilize resources to address the problems of the community alongside their neighbors, then redistribution is being practiced.” Essentially, when you relocate to a community, it becomes YOUR community, which means it’s problems become YOUR problems. There is no longer and “us and them” mentality. So one ends up seeking the good of the city because it will benefit them and their neighbors. “Seeking a just distribution of resources and working for justice in underserved communities contributes greatly to helping people help themselves, which is at the heart of Christian Community Development.”

      Hope that helps!

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    As always thank for your very well organized presentation of your thoughts and views. Thanks for the suggestion to review Perkins views on community development. I believe there is material here we can utilize in our urban locale within Houston. Thanks again for a solid reference and presentation.

  4. Mario Hood says:

    Great post! I will need to pick up the Perkins work now as I am intrigued by the similarity of this works also.

    My pastor preached a series on money a few years back and it was one of the best mind shifting series that we have done mostly because he helped me (and others) to see how the thoughts we have about money come mostly from society and not the Bible. This was the 1st time I realized how much of Western Culture I still live through and not Kingdom culture. Redistribution was one of those terms. Long story short, from that series I decided to clean out my closet and give things away I didn’t need and from that point if I ever bought anything new then something “old” would have to go.

    While this may not be in the same vein as providing land and economic growth I know that taking care of one another is a part of God’s kingdom and any small part actually plays a big part.

    When is the last time you heard a message on a Sunday that is similar to Perkins? How do these reading impact you to move forward?

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Mario – I loved your comments here, thanks for sharing them. I am so intrigued by what your pastor preached – do you have a link to the sermon somewhere?

      I really love Perkins because he challenges me to think differently. So my husband and I have intentionally figured out ways to not just live in our community but be IN our community. For instance, we intentionally put our kids in the public school system here. They may not be there best, but I believe that it’s our commitment to the betterment of our school system, so we are active members in our schools. We also make intentional choices to live and work in the same area. For instance, we both work in Azusa, but we live in this community as well. We shop here when we can, we eat here mostly, etc. So we’re investing not only our time, but our dollars as well.

      Those are just a few of my thoughts, but I have many more to share – let’s get coffee in London! 🙂

  5. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Great post Karen. I have heard of some folks buying Carbon Credits to offset the fuel they burn when they travel as a manner of “redistribution.” I love how so many of our research topics share certain components.

  6. mm Mary Mims says:

    Karen this is a very thoughtful post with the comparison of Perkins and Polanyi. I think they both realize how economies can be structured to take advantage of the less fortunate, leaving them with fewer opportunities. Perhaps if people cannot hear from Perkins, then maybe the other side of the coin, Polanyi will speak to them.

  7. mm Sean Dean says:

    This great Karen, you’d never know you pulled an all-nighter to get it done. 😛

    In all seriousness, putting Perkins and Polanyi together is a stroke of brilliance. (I’m equal parts impressed by you and annoyed that I didn’t think of it). Perkins work on systemic poverty is a perfect counterweight to the hefty free (or not so free) market work that Polanyi writes about. Rather than saying that Perkins and Polanyi are two sides of the same coin, I might say they are yin and yang working together to make up a full circle of understanding of economic culture.

  8. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Uhhh…I am definitely adding Perkins to my reading list – thanks friend! It may be after this program but I am intrigued.

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