The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? the Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World by Richard Stearns (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009. 352 pp)
The World versus the Pulpit
A few years ago, my theological convictions about the world shifted. Born and raised in a conservative evangelical church, I found the things I observed in the world to differ from the things I heard from the pulpit.
A defining quality of the church I attended during my youth as well as the evangelical church as a whole is the ability to focus seemingly on salvation exclusively. One is supposed to first worry about his or her own salvation, then immediately begin converting everyone else.
This emphasis on securing a place in the afterlife resulted in the neglect of obligations in the current life. Of course, if pressed, anyone attending the church would assuredly affirm missions, charitable giving, and assisting the poor as a good thing. But, the fear of liberal theology and social justice led them to an individualistic ethos. Put simply, one must do good things for others but should not expect to hear any communal decrees on the issue.
The Preferential Option for the Poor
The more I read the gospels, the more I found a Jesus not mentioned during the Sundays of my youth. While Jesus certainly discussed the Kingdom of God in future terms, he also continuously urged his disciples to understand the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Stated differently, Jesus focused an inordinate amount of his little time on earth serving the poor.
Right at the crossroads of this debate between the Kingdom of God in the present and the Kingdom of God in the future resides The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns.
The president of World Vision – one of the largest relief and development organization in the world – Stearns gives testimony of his journey from influential CEO to the leader of an NGO seeking to make a difference in the lives of the poor around the world.
The Hole in Our Gospel
Having seen poverty firsthand, Stearns uses strong language in order to shake the American church out of its stupor.
“[God] is sick of churches and people who just ‘go through the motions.’ And he is weary of seeing a shiny veneer of faith but no depth of commitment. That is the hole in our gospel, and until we fill it, ours is an empty religion, one that God despises” (184-185).
Similar to my own observations about the American church, Stearns recognizes the schism between those that believe in meeting the needs of the poor and those who find it necessary to convert the world to Christianity.
Discussing the source of the split in the 1920s, Stearns writes,
“And so began a kind of war between faith and works. It continues to be played out today. The ‘works’ proponents downplayed the importance of soul-winning and instead emphasized the works of caring for the poor and fighting injustice wherever it is found. The ‘faith-only’ proponents, on the other hand, considered this view worldly. They focused solely on efforts to get the world to accept God’s redeeming grace – a salvation by faith alone” (201).
In my mind, this split is a false dichotomy. In the gospels, Jesus speaks both about the present and the future.
Similarly, Christians ought not to focus on merely the here or merely the not yet, it is their imperative to hold them in unison, to be concerned both with the immediate needs of humanity but also their spiritual state.
A Bunch of Rich People Doing Nothing
For this reason, The Hole in Our Gospel must be mandatory reading for those in the American church. In a clear and convicting fashion, Stearns outlines the grim statistics:
“It is important to put the American Church in perspective. Simply stated, it is the wealthiest community of Christians in the history of Christendom. How wealthy? The total income of American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion. (That’s more than five thousand billion dollars.) It would take just a little over 1 percent of the income of American Christians to lift the poorest one billion people in the world out of extreme poverty. Said another way, American Christians, who make up about 5 percent of the Church worldwide, control about half of global Christian wealth; a lack of money is not our problem” (216).
One of many examples, this quote functions as a wakeup call. If Christians are to follow Scripture, they must rethink charitable giving.
One Dollar per Year
Luckily, Stearns mixes these shocking statistics with statements of hope:
“The lack of clean water causes millions of needless child deaths each year. Yet the cost to bring clean water to one person costs only one dollar per year! When you realize that a gift as small as a dollar can save a life, it is hard to argue that you’re not wealthy enough to make a difference” (267).
Can you part with one dollar per year? If all Christians could rethink the gospel and accept the present and the future ramifications, could we end poverty? Stearns believes we can even if it is much more difficult than his previous statement paints the issue. All it takes is mending The Hole in Our Gospel
Read this book.