Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns

Stearns identifies what his book is about at the very beginning: “What does God expect of us?” It is a simple question but, as Stearns says, the answer is not so simple. “God asks us for everything. He requires a total life commitment from those who would be His followers.” (P. 1) Being a Christian entails a public and transforming relationship with the world, not just a personal and transforming relationship with God.
Stearns weaves his own story into the book. He was a successful Christian, CEO of Lenox, and driving a Jaguar to work. He received a call in January of 1998 from people at World Vision who were looking for a new president. He struggled with the call but ultimately accepted.
Our gospel has a gaping hole in it – the command to go into all the world, to lift up the poor and marginalized, challenging injustice, rejecting worldly values, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. “Proclaiming the whole gospel...encompasses tangible compassion for the sick and the poor, as well as biblical justice, efforts to right the wrongs that are so prevalent in our world.” (P. 22) Christianity is more than just belief. Stearns quotes his former pastor, “It’s not what you believe that counts; it’s what you believe enough to do.” (P. 87)
Previous generations were not aware of world wide needs. Loving their neighbor meant immediate neighbor. Now we can see the suffering around the globe. “And yet only about 4 percent of all U. S. charitable giving goes to international causes of any kind.” (P. 102) Part of the problem concerns the news media. An airline crash in the U. S. or the latest movie star divorce are headline news while the 26,575 children who die daily from largely preventable causes related to poverty go unnoticed.
Stearns notes that the church has a poor record regarding injustices in the world. Slavery was not opposed by the church (as a whole) for hundreds of years. The church was also missing in the 1950s and 60s regarding the issue of segregation. We might wonder how the church stood by when great atrocities occurred in the past. Are we doing the same today by ignoring the poor and hurting in less developed countries?
Is our lifestyle consistent with our faith values? The average giving of church members in 2005 was under 3% of their income. Of the money that is given to churches, only 2% goes to overseas ministry of any kind. “If every American churchgoer tithed, we could literally change the world.” (P. 218) There would be an additional $168 billion for use in ministry to those in need.
Stearns has a daring prayer on page 198. It reads in part, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, to see the world as you see it. Let my heart be broken by the things that break your heart.”
What can one individual do? Stearns gives several stories of the impact of just one person who took Jesus’ commands seriously. One does not have to be rich or be talented. One just has to be willing. “It starts with you. In the end, God simply calls you to be faithful to the things He has given you to do.” (P. 277)

The book is big and an expensive. Because of that, it will not have the impact it could have had as an affordable paperback. Yet it is worth the price and effort to read the book. You just might be the one...
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