“The Hole in our Gospel,” a new book by Richard Stearns, analyzes modern Christendom’s commitment to the whole Gospel, not just the altar call.
“More and more, our view of the Gospel has been narrowed to a simple transaction, marked by checking a box on a bingo card at some prayer breakfast, registering a decision for Christ or coming forward during an altar call,” says Stearns, director of World Vision in the United States.
Stearns strongly believes that our 21st Century suburban Gospel needs an overhaul.
Heeding the Gospel, according to Stearns, would bring God’s kingdom to earth in the here and now.
“If your personal faith in Christ has no positive outward expression, then your faith – and mine – has a hole in it,” he writes.
Most Christians treat the Gospel as fire insurance. It’s a switching mechanism for re-routing as many hell-bound souls to heaven as possible. The afterlife is the ultimate priority. Life here and now matters little, so Christians make minimal difference in the world beyond the cul-de-sacs where they live.
Stearns challenges that idea.
He reminds us that we’ll be judged in the afterlife for our treatment of people in this life.
“Focusing almost exclusively on the afterlife reduces the importance of what God expects of us in this life. The kingdom of God, which Christ said is ‘within you’ (Luke 17:21 NKJV), was intended to change and challenge everything in our fallen world in the here and now. It was not meant to be a way to leave the world but rather the means to actually redeem it.”
Early in the book, Stearns draws the reader into the discussion Jesus had with religious leaders in Matthew 22.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” a Pharisee asked him.
Jesus’ answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Stearns speculates that the third greatest commandment is introduced in Matthew 28: Make disciples.
He calls Matthew 28 a “bookend to the momentous announcement in Luke 4 that Christ came to preach the Good News to the poor, restore sight to the blind, release captives and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. But it is more than a call to proclaim; it is a call to make disciples.”
From these verses, Stearns confers that we are to: Love God; love our neighbors and then go and make disciples who will do the same. Stearns argues that the Church misunderstands and misapplies the Gospel.
“What ‘Good News’ have God’s people brought to the world’s 3 billion poor? What ‘Gospel’ have millions of Africa’s AIDS orphans seen?” he questions.
Stearns supports his argument not just with statistics, but with a narrative of what he’s touched and seen firsthand. He’s visited cities like Rakai, Uganda, ground zero of Uganda’s AIDS pandemic.
He’s sat with boys like Richard, the 13-year old head of his household. In that city alone, there are 60,000 children orphaned by AIDS.
This book emphasizes the faith-transformed life, where the world is changed as believers’ lives are altered through the power of the Gospel.
“Light dispels darkness; it reverses it,” he writes.
At first glance, it seems that Stearns falls too far on the side of a “social gospel.” But Stearns makes the case that true faith will produce deeds that collide with despair – in direct opposition to the apathy, ignorance and spiritual impotence that has overcome some believers.
“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,” Stearns writes.
“The Hole in our Gospel” is intended for anyone who says that a personal relationship with Jesus should be kept private. And it is specifically for people who evaluate faith by putting check marks in the proper theological boxes.
It is Stearns’ fervent hope that his readers will come to the conclusion he came to: “If Jesus was willing to die for this troubled planet, maybe I need to care about it too. Maybe I should love the people who live on it more. Maybe I have a responsibility to do my part to love the world that Jesus loves so much.”
Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., was chosen to be a part of President Barack Obama’s new Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The council is composed of religious and secular leaders, as well as scholars from different backgrounds.