The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World

The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World

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by Richard Stearns, Tommy Cresswell
     
 

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This is a story of how a corporate CEO faced his own struggle to obey God whatever the cost, and his passionate call for Christians to change the world by actively living out their faith. Using his own journey as an example, Stearns explores the hole that exists in our understanding of the Gospel.

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Overview

This is a story of how a corporate CEO faced his own struggle to obey God whatever the cost, and his passionate call for Christians to change the world by actively living out their faith. Using his own journey as an example, Stearns explores the hole that exists in our understanding of the Gospel.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

"What does God expect of us?" This is the central question that recurs often in Stearns's book. He answers this question by highlighting the social injustices prevalent around the world and emphasizing that many Christians in the United States remain oblivious to these needs. Stearns (president, World Vision U.S.A.) left his corner office in 1998 to help orphans in Uganda, answering God's call. Through many personal anecdotes, he pleads passionately for greater involvement by Christians in global crises of hunger, disease, and poverty. He also indicts American Christians for omitting the necessity of action from their faith. While Stearns's book includes some fresh statistics and current stories, the classic in this subgenre of Christian literature remains Ronald J. Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Overall, Stearns's work falters from an overreliance on subjectivity and emotional appeal. Optional for larger public libraries and specialized collections.
—Dann Wigner

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596440272
Publisher:
eChristian
Publication date:
10/28/2009
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 6.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Hole in Our Gospel


By RICHARD STEARNS

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2009 World Vision, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4185-7381-2



CHAPTER 1

A Hole in the Whole


Faith today is treated as something that only should make us different, not that actually does or can make us different. In reality we vainly struggle against the evils of this world, waiting to die and go to heaven. Somehow we've gotten the idea that the essence of faith is entirely a mental and inward thing. —DALLAS WILLARD


Where Is the Hole?

So how can our gospel have a hole in it? As I mentioned in the prologue, the word gospel literally means glad tidings, or good news. It is shorthand, meant to convey the coming of the kingdom of God through the Messiah. One dictionary has this definition:

Gospel—glad tidings, esp. concerning salvation and the kingdom of God as announced to the world by Christ.


The amazing news of the gospel is that men and women, through Christ's atoning death, can now be reconciled to God. But the good news Jesus proclaimed had a fullness beyond salvation and the forgiveness of sins; it also signified the coming of God's kingdom on earth. This new kingdom, characteristics of which were captured in the Beatitudes, would turn the existing world order upside down.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3–10)


The kingdom of which Christ spoke was one in which the poor, the sick, the grieving, cripples, slaves, women, children, widows, orphans, lepers, and aliens—the "least of these" (Matt. 25:40 NKJV)—were to be lifted up and embraced by God. It was a world order in which justice was to become a reality, first in the hearts and minds of Jesus' followers, and then to the wider society through their influence. Jesus' disciples were to be "salt" and "light" to the world (see Matthew 5:13–14). They were to be the "yeast" that leavens the whole loaf of bread (see Matthew 13:33). His was not intended to be a far-off and distant kingdom to be experienced only in the afterlife; no, Christ's proclamation of the "kingdom of heaven" was a call for a redeemed world order populated by redeemed people—now. In other words, the perfect kingdom of God that I just described was to begin on earth. That was the vision first proclaimed by Jesus, and it was good news for our world. But this does not seem to square with our twenty-first-century view of the gospel. Somehow this grand vision from God has been dimmed and diminished.


The "Bingo Card" Gospel

Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. —2 Corinthians 9:13


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. I have to admit that my own view of evangelism, based on the Great Commission, amounted to just that for many years. It was about saving as many people from hell as possible—for the next life. It minimized any concern for those same people in this life. It wasn't as important that they were poor or hungry or persecuted, or perhaps rich, greedy, and arrogant; we just had to get them to pray the "sinner's prayer" and then move on to the next potential convert. In our evangelistic efforts to make the good news accessible and simple to understand, we seem to have boiled it down to a kind of "fire insurance" that one can buy. Then, once the policy is in effect, the sinner can go back to whatever life he was living—of wealth and success, or of poverty and suffering. As long as the policy is in the drawer, the other things don't matter as much. We've got our "ticket" to the next life.

There is a real problem with this limited view of the kingdom of God; it is not the whole gospel. Instead, it's a gospel with a gaping hole. First, 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. Yes, it first requires that we repent of our own sinfulness and totally surrender our individual lives to follow Christ, but then we are also commanded to go into the world—to bear fruit by lifting up the poor and the marginalized, challenging injustice wherever we find it, rejecting the worldly values found within every culture, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. While our "joining" in the coming kingdom of God may begin with a decision, a transaction, it requires so much more than that.

I believe that we have reduced the gospel from a dynamic and beautiful symphony of God's love for and in the world to a bare and strident monotone. We have taken this amazing good news from God, originally presented in high definition and Dolby stereo, and reduced it to a grainy, black-and-white, silent movie. In doing so, we have also stripped it of much of its power to change not only the human heart but the world. This is especially reflected in our limited view of evangelism. Jesus commanded His followers to take the good news of reconciliation and forgiveness to the ends of the earth. The dictate is the same today.

Christianity is a faith that was meant to spread—but not through coercion. God's love was intended to be demonstrated, not dictated. Our job is not to manipulate or induce others to agree with us or to leave their religion and embrace Christianity. 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. It is God—not us—who works in the hearts of men and women to forgive and redeem. Coercion is not necessary or even particularly helpful. God is responsible for the harvest—but we must plant, water, and cultivate the seeds.

Let's look more closely at this metaphor, used often in the New Testament to describe evangelism (see, for example, Matthew 9:37–38; Mark 4:1–20, 26–29; Luke 10:1–3; and John 4:35–38). For most of the twentieth century, American evangelists really honed in on this idea of the harvest, believing that the fruit was already ripe and just needed to be picked. This was the essence of Billy Graham's great global crusades, Campus Crusade's pamphlet The Four Spiritual Laws, The JeSUS Film, and evangelism explosion. All of these tools and efforts were highly effective at proclaiming the good news that our sins could be forgiven if we committed our lives to Christ. Many millions of people did commit their lives to Him. In fact, my own life was influenced by both The Four Spiritual Laws and a Billy Graham Crusade, so I can personally attest to how successful these "harvest techniques" are at harvesting fruit that has already ripened.

But what about the fruit that hasn't ripened? For most of us who made our first-time commitments to Christ as adults, our stories were not of instant conversion the first time we ever heard about Jesus. In fact, according to the Barna Research Group, only about 6 percent of people who are not Christians by the age of eighteen will become Christians later in life. It is rare that a simple recitation of the gospel will cause people to instantly change their minds. It usually takes much more than that. Our own narratives typically involve a journey of discovery marked by relationships with respected friends and loved ones, reading, discussions, learning about the basis for the Christian faith, seeing the difference faith made in the lives of people we knew, and witnessing genuine faith demonstrated through acts of love and kindness toward others. In other words, before we became "ripe" for harvest, a lot of other things had to happen first.

Think about all the things that must happen before there can be a good harvest of crops. First, someone has to go and prepare the land. This is backbreaking work that involves felling trees, pulling massive stumps out of the ground, extracting rocks and boulders from the field, and moving them aside. But there's no harvest yet. Next the soil has to be broken up. The earth needs to be plowed, fertilizer churned in with the soil, and orderly rows tilled to prepare for the seed. Then the seeds must be carefully planted and covered. But still no harvest. Perhaps a fence needs to be built to protect the plants from animals that might devour them. And always, the seedlings must be carefully watered, nurtured, and fed over the long growing season.

There are sometimes setbacks—bad weather, blights, floods, and insects—that can jeopardize the harvest. But if all of the hard work is done faithfully and with perseverance, and if God provides good seed and favorable weather, finally a glorious harvest is the result.

Haven't we heard the stories of faithful missionaries who dedicated their whole lives in another country without seeing even one person embrace Christ as Savior—only to learn that fifty years later there was a tremendous harvest? In our instant-gratification society, we would prefer to go directly to the harvest. Who wants to do all of that hard work of stump pulling and boulder moving? But isn't all of that "other" work the essence of the coming of the kingdom of God in its fullness? When we become involved in people's lives, work to build relationships, walk with them through their sorrows and their joys, live with generosity toward others, love and care for them unconditionally, stand up for the defenseless, and pay particular attention to the poorest and most vulnerable, we are showing Christ's love to those around us, not just talking about it. These are the things that plant the seeds of the gospel in the human heart.

Didn't Jesus always care about the whole person—one's health, family, work, values, relationships, behavior toward others—and his or her soul? Jesus' view of the gospel went beyond a bingo card transaction; it embraced a revolutionary new view of the world, an earth transformed by transformed people, His "disciples of all the nations" (Matt. 28:19 NKJV), who would usher in the revolutionary kingdom of God. Those words from the Lord's Prayer, "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven" were and are a clarion call to Jesus' followers not just to proclaim the good news but to be the good news, here and now (Matt. 6:10). This gospel—the whole gospel—means much more than the personal salvation of individuals. It means a social revolution.


Jesus Had a Mission Statement

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. —John 10:10


The revolution began in Nazareth, where Jesus grew up.

Picture for a moment your neighbor's son being asked to speak at the Sunday service at your church. Can you imagine your shock if he stood up, read the scriptures pertaining to the second coming of Christ, and then said, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing"? That is exactly what Jesus did in the synagogue in Nazareth, except He referred to the Messiah's first coming. This happened at the very start of Jesus' public ministry, immediately after His baptism by John the Baptist and the forty days in the wilderness, facing the temptations of Satan. Listen to this remarkable passage:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:14–21)


The passage Jesus read was a messianic prophecy that envisioned a future messiah who would be both a king and a servant. As perhaps Jesus' first public statement of His identity as the Messiah, what He said in Nazareth was a declaration both of who He was and why He had come. It was in essence Jesus' mission statement, and it laid out the great promises of God to those who receive the Messiah and His coming kingdom. In this mission statement, we see three main components.

First, we see the proclamation of the good news of salvation. Take note that the recipients of this good news were to be, first and foremost, the poor, just as Jesus promised in the Beatitudes. When we talk today about proclaiming the gospel, we typically mean evangelism, a verbal proclamation of the good news of salvation and how it can be received by anyone by asking God's forgiveness and committing his or her life to Christ. But this is not the whole gospel.

Second, we see a reference to "recovery of sight for the blind" (v. 18). In the original text from Isaiah 61, there is also a promise to "bind up the brokenhearted" (v. 1). These references indicate that the good news includes a compassion for the sick and the sorrowful—a concern not just for our spiritual condition but for our physical well-being also. We see this same concern time after time in the ministry of Jesus as He healed the diseased and the lame, showed empathy for the poor, fed the hungry, and literally restored sight to the blind. Jesus clearly cared about addressing poverty, disease, and human brokenness in tangible ways.

Third, we see a majestic commitment to justice. Jesus has come to "proclaim freedom for the prisoners," "to release the oppressed," and "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18–19). In the first century, the allusion to prisoners and the oppressed would have certainly meant those living under the occupation of Rome but also, in a broader sense, anyone who had been the victim of injustice, whether political, social, or economic. The proclamation of "the year of the Lord's favor" was a clear reference to the Old Testament year of Jubilee, when slaves were set free, debts were forgiven, and all land was returned to its original owners. The year of Jubilee was God's way of protecting against the rich getting too rich and the poor getting too poor.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Hole in Our Gospel by RICHARD STEARNS. Copyright © 2009 World Vision, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“Read this compelling story and urgent call for change—Richard Stearns is a contemporary Amos crying ‘let justice roll down like waters….’ Justice is a serious gospel-prophetic mandate. Far too many American Christians for too long a time have left the cause to ‘others.’ Read it as an altar call.” --Eugene H. Peterson, translator of The Message, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, BC

“Rich Stearns calls us to exhilarating obedience to God’s life-altering, world-changing command to reflect his love to our neighbors at home and globally. The Hole in Our Gospel is imbued with the hope of what is possible when God’s people are transformed to live radically in light of his great love." --Gary Haugen, President & CEO, International Justice Mission

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