The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? by Richard Stearns is a beautiful book. First of all, what I love about this book is that it was recommended to me by my brother-in-law, Jim, who is not an active church-goer, who has some serious misgivings about organized religion, and often wonders if Christians are more of a problem than a solution. The fact that he alerted me to this book keeps me believing in miracles and reminds me that God has a sense of humor. But, beyond that, this is the first new book that I have gotten passionately excited about in a looonnnnggg time. It is a book that the entire theological spectrum should appreciate. It cuts through the liberal-conservative, progressive-fundamentalist bovine excrement to raise Christian love and compassion front and center. This isn’t about debating right and wrong — this is a visionary book about being Christ in the modern world. I love this book.
Stearns is the current CEO of World Vision and this book is in part autobiographical — telling amazing stories about the work of World Vision, but even more personally talking about what it means to align one’s work and career with one’s faith. But even beyond that, Stearns raises incredibly important theological and practical questions about God’s will for our world. Here are a few quotes from the opening pages of the book:
…being a Christian, or follower of Jesus Christ, requires much more than just having a personal and transforming relationship with God. It also entails a public and transforming relationship with the world.
If your personal faith in Christ has no positive outward expression, then your faith — and mine — has a hole in it.
Yet we are the carriers of the gospel — the good news that was meant to change the world. Belief is not enough. Worship is not enough. And Christian community is not enough. God has always demanded more.
All of us who live in the world share responsibility for tackling the world’s problems and showing compassion to our fellow man (sic).
This book asks the question, What if? What if each of us decided with renewed commitment to truly embrace the good news, the whole gospel, and demonstrate it through our lives — not even in big ways, but in small ones? What if we each said to God, “Use me; I want to change the world”? There are now two billion people on earth who claim to be Christian. That’s almost one in three. Have we changed the world? Certainly, but our critics would be quick to point out that the changes have not always been good. So have we changed the world the way God intended? Have we been effective ambassadors for the good news that we call the “gospel”?
The whole gospel is a vision for ushering in God’s kingdom — now, not in some future time, and here, on earth, not in some distant heaven. What if two billion people embraced the vision of God transforming our world — through them?
Our charge is to both proclaim and embody the gospel so that others can see, hear, and feel God’s love in tangible ways. When we are living out our faith with integrity and compassion in the world, God can use us to give others a glimpse of His love and character.
The book is filled with such basic yet provocative statements and questions. This is more than a personal biography. It is a call to authentic Christian discipleship — a challenge to put belief into practice, faith into action. Every United Methodist congregation could benefit greatly from the study of this book.
The vision that Stearns elevates is both biblical and grounded in a rich theological history. While there is nothing new in this book, it is deeply profound. The heart of the gospel has been excised, leaving the hole to which Stearns refers. Holding onto the “good news” for ourselves misses the point. Good news to the poor, good news to a broken world, good news to the lost, the hungry, the hurting — this is at the heart of “gospel.” Lacking compassion for and commitment to the whole human family, our news is significantly less than “good.”
The bottom line of this book is the necessity to be an “active” disciple. Passive faith is no faith. Belief without action is empty. Faith without works is dead. Anything less than a commitment to be Christ’s hands, feet, voice, and heart for the world is inadequate. Churches live up to their purpose when they equip and mobilize individuals to grow in discipleship and to serve as one body.
What does God expect of us? Nothing less than our lives, nothing more than we can give. Stearns challenges readers to embrace the whole gospel, not just the pleasant, comforting, less-costly sections. Christianity is not a comfort zone — discipleship is, by definition — anti-comfort, and there is absolutely no room for complacency, conceit, or selfishness.
Read A Hole in Our Gospel. Study it. Pray about it. And encourage everyone to take the next step in their discipleship. It may just be the key to the transformation of the world.