ECPA 2010 Christian Book of the Year Award Winner! What Does God Expect of Us?
Is our faith only about going to church, studying the Bible, and avoiding the most serious sins—or does God expect more? Have we embraced the whole gospel or a gospel with a hole in it?
More than twenty years ago Rich Stearns came face-to-face with that question as he sat in a mud hut in Rakai, Uganda, listening to the heartbreaking story of an orphaned child. Stearns’s journey there took much more than a long flight to Africa. It took answering God’s call on his life, a call that tore him out of his corner office at one of America’s most prestigious corporations—to walk with the poorest of the poor in our world.
This anniversary edition of The Hole in Our Gospel features new content along with full-color graphics on poverty statistics, a guide for churches on short-term missions and international engagement, and an index of Scripture on poverty, justice, faith in action, and more. The Hole in Our Gospel changed people’s lives, and some of those personal accounts also appear in this anniversary edition. Stearns’s compelling story demonstrates that the whole gospel was always meant to be a world-changing, social revolution, a revolution that begins with each one of us.
The Hole in Our Gospel is also available in Spanish, Vacío en nuestro evangelio.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Richard Stearns went from success to significance when he left the corporate world behind to become president of World Vision U.S. in 1998. After 20 years as the longest-serving CEO of the Christian relief and development organization, he plans to retire in January 2019. Stearns holds a bachelor's degree from Cornell University and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. His professional career included leadership roles at Gillette, Parker Brothers Games, The Franklin Mint, and Lenox Inc., where he became president and chief executive officer in 1995. Stearns brought corporate best practices to World Vision, where he inspired a culture of outcome-focused management. His lasting legacy is his leadership in calling on the Church in America to respond to some of the greatest needs of our time, notably the HIV and AIDS pandemic and the global refugee crisis. Stearns and his wife, Reneé, have five children and five grandchildren and live in Bellevue, Washington.
Read an Excerpt
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
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 World Vision, Inc.
All rights reserved.
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.
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 (Matt. 5:13–14). They were to be the "yeast" that leavens the whole loaf of bread (Matt. 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 COR. 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 we'd 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 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 (for example, Matt. 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 homed 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 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.
The revolution began in Nazareth, where Jesus grew up.
Picture for a moment your neighbor's son's being asked to speak at the Sunday service at your church. Can you imagine your shock if he stood up, read the Scripture 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.
Excerpted from The Hole in our Gospel by RICHARD STEARNS. Copyright © 2014 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.
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Table of Contents
Part One: The Hole in My Gospel—and Maybe Yours,
Chapter 1: A Hole in the Whole, 3,
Chapter 2: A Coward for God, 13,
Chapter 3: You Lack One Thing, 23,
Part Two: The Hole Gets Deeper,
Chapter 4: The Towering Pillars of Compassion and Justice, 41,
Chapter 5: The Three Greatest Commandments, 52,
Chapter 6: A Hole in Me, 60,
Chapter 7: The Stick in Your Hand, 74,
Part Three: A Hole in the World,
Chapter 8: The Greatest Challenge of the New Millennium, 83,
Chapter 9: One Hundred Crashing Jetliners, 92,
Chapter 10: What's Wrong with This Picture?, 100,
Chapter 11: Caught in the Web, 111,
Chapter 12: The Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 117,
Chapter 13: Spiders, Spiders, and More Spiders, 135,
Chapter 14: Finally, the Good News, 144,
Part Four: A Hole in the Church,
Chapter 15: A Tale of Two Churches, 155,
Chapter 16: The Great Omission, 165,
Chapter 17: AWOL for the Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of All Time, 173,
Chapter 18: Putting the American Dream to Death, 186,
Chapter 19: Two Percent of Two Percent, 193,
Chapter 20: A Letter to the Church in America, 203,
Chapter 21: Why We're Not So Popular Anymore, 208,
Chapter 22: A Tale of Two Real Churches, 213,
Part Five: Repairing the Hole,
Chapter 23: What Are You Going to Do About It?, 225,
Chapter 24: How Many Loaves Do You Have?, 232,
Chapter 25: Time, Talent, and Treasure, 239,
Chapter 26: A Mountain of Mustard Seeds, 256,
Appendix 1: Q&A with Reneé Stearns, 267,
Appendix 2: Take Action, 273,
Appendix 3: Charts and Infographics, 292,
Appendix 4: Church Resource Guide, 293,
Study Guide for Small Groups, 305,
Poverty and Justice Concordance, 332,
Scripture Index, 351,
General Index, 354,
About World Vision, 363,
About the Author, 364,
Bonus Material: Introduction from Unfinished: Filling the Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns, 365,