By Jesse Medina
In a Christian world represented by private individual relationships with Jesus, altar calls, and personal holiness, Richard Stearns asks, “Is there a hole in our gospel?’
To answer this question, one must first ask what it is that God wants of us and while affirming the more traditional answers (i.e. church attendance, prayer, belief, self-denial), Stearns takes it a step farther, to the Biblical answer: everything. Using Jesus himself as the model he balances the personal and transformational relationship with God by coupling it with the public and transformational relationship with the world.
It is at this point that we find the answer to the original question of whether there might be a hole in our Gospel the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Not one to beat around the bush, Stearns says it like this, “If your personal faith in Christ has no positive outward expression, then your faith and mine has a hole in it.”
Stearns begins the book by telling the story of his encounter with a thirteen year old orphan child named Richard living in Uganda raising his two younger brothers. His parents had been orphaned by AIDS and he now held the charge of raising them despite the fact that he was only a child himself. The experience overwhelmed Stearns and his response was to question where the Church was where were those who were called to love their neighbors, provide for the orphans, and love the unlovable? Most importantly, what gospel, what “good news,” does the Church have for this young orphan or the others who are found in his situation, even today?
The sobering answer, for many of us, is a gospel with a hole in it.
Recapping his own personal journey, Stearns tells of how God called him, then a CEO of an organization making luxury dishware, to give up a multi-million dollar salary to “settle” for the position of a CEO of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to tackling the causes of poverty and injustice worldwide. Stearns admits his shame when looking back on the whole experience. Despite his consistent generosity towards missions and regular church involvement, he was hesitant to say the least to follow God’s call toward a career in advocacy for the poor. In fact, he didn’t want the position at all. Nonetheless, God tends to be persistent when he is calling someone. It was only a matter of time before Stearns caved he knew what he had to do.
Stearns spends much of the book laying the theological groundwork for what he calls “the whole gospel,” by bringing to light passages throughout Scripture, including much of Jesus’ own teaching and ministry. The whole gospel, according to Stearns, is more than simply personal relationships with Jesus important as they may be but also includes the hard work of caring for the physical needs of those who have them.
Another major portion of the book is the startling and heart-wrenching statistics surrounding the extreme poverty that many in our world live with on a daily basis. One of the primary strengths of the book, when it comes to the often dry statistics, is Stearns ability not just put to names and “faces” to the numbers by sharing personal stories, but by jerking the reader out of comatose oversight, forcing the reader to pay attention and not get lost amidst the numbers. One way he personalizes the numbers is by setting them within our own context. With 9/11 still on our minds, he asks us to consider how we might respond if we woke up tomorrow to a headline indicating that one hundred jet liners had crashed, killing 26,500 people. Understandably, our country would be in uproar we would utilize every possible resource to not only understand what had happened, but also prevent it from ever happening again.
But it happens every day. And the worst part of all is that it is largely preventable.
Stearns recognizes that the enormity of the problem facing us will often paralyze us from doing anything about it. To motivate the reader, Stearns takes the reader through a series of stories, some Biblical and some not, where people, though they had little to offer, surrendered their lives to God and he did amazing things through them. It is not our ability that God is looking for, but our availability.
Needless to say, if Christians today do not answer the call to begin caring for our neighbors, though they are but hours away from us, we will be forever living with a hole in our gospel. A hole, it should be noted, that is able to filled if we can only manage to do our own small part. But the question, and it will always come down to this, is whether we will answer the call. Will we use all of the various resources readily available to us to alleviate poverty or will we settle for a hole-filled gospel?
The book is long it spans 26 chapters and 279 pages. There are times when the material gets repetitive, but such will be the case when the author is attempting to paint a picture as large as Stearns’ (which, really, is God’s picture). Nevertheless, it is worth the read. Every Christian needs to know that the Kingdom life is more than personal prayers and comfortable church pews, but also involves the messiness of being willing to get involved in someone else’s life. Especially in America, we have a unique advantage when it comes to alleviating poverty.
It is no easy task, that’s for sure. It will take long and hard work. As for this reader, I have no choice but to take up my cross and follow Jesus wherever I find him and I thank Mr. Stearns for painting the picture so clearly and vividly. Most of all, I thank God for the vision that he is giving people like Stearns.
May we all catch a hold of it.
Jesse is a twenty-something married guy living in Colorado who is trying to figure out what it means to follow Christ in the twenty-first century. He is finding that there is no one way to be Christian, no single belief system, no single Bible interpretive method. Faith is too messy for that. You can read more of his thoughts at his blog, Balancing Tension.