The Hole in Our Gospel
By Owen Sallee, Coordinator for Urban Involvement
The Hole in Our Gospel: The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World
By Richard Stearns
Thomas Nelson, 2009, 320 pp.
Each day, 26,575 children around the world die from preventable disease. That’s a shocking statistic, but it’s one we’ve heard time and time again. Sadly, those aren’t kids I know, so far too often I’m lulled into inaction because distance, distraction, and media overload prevent me from recognizing my need to respond. Even if I were to respond personally, the need is so big. How can one, limited individual really make a difference?
Richard Stearns’ The Hole in Our Gospel records the World Vision president’s story of personal response to pressing world issues. Stearns began his professional career as a successful business professional, unable to connect personal faith to lived expression of faith values. Later in life, encouraged by his work as the president of the global Christian humanitarian organization, Stearns strives to close the “hole” in his understanding of the Gospel, refusing to separate personally held belief in God from pursuit of justice for God’s people around the world.
The encouraging message of this book is this: If even the president of one of the world’s most-recognized humanitarian organizations finds this process challenging, there’s hope for me, too, as I attempt to bridge the gap between love for God in my heart and love for people lived out in caring, justice-seeking action.
The Bible’s mandate, Stearns claims, is that individuals faithfully respond to God by doing their part to promote the well-being of those around them. Jesus’ parables and teachable moments with his followers emphasize this point: Stearns notes that the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) and Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18) remind listeners that individuals are responsible for their response to the needs of those around them. Recounting the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16), Stearns emphasizes the Bible’s clear message to those who have the means to help but fail to do so. He writes:
“The plain conclusion is that the rich man went to hell because of his appalling apathy and failure to act in the face of the gross disparity between his wealth and Lazarus’ poverty. He was aware of the beggar’s plight, had the power to relieve his suffering — and yet chose to do nothing” (p. 187).
“…it is not our fault that people are poor, but it is our responsibility to do something about it. God says we are guilty if we allow people to remain deprived when we have the means to help them. It is our moral duty to help our neighbors in need” (p. 123).
Stearns’ message is not only for individuals. He also calls the church to respond to God through social action. Too often, the church focuses on spiritual nurture and the good feelings of its members, failing to grasp the importance of faith working itself out as practical, hands-on response to the needs of the world. “If Church leaders do not have an outward vision to become salt and light in our world, to promote social and spiritual transformation, pursue justice, and proclaim the whole gospel, then the Church will fail to realize its potential as an agent of change” (179). Were the church to reach out with a holistic, self-giving embrace of the suffering world, Stearns argues, the world’s perceptions of American Christians and America itself would change. “…the whole gospel involves more than preaching; it also means caring about the whole person and finding ways to meet that individual’s needs” (p. 248).
Working together as the Body of Christ, the Church has the financial capacity to give more toward global poverty relief, education, nutrition and healthcare than all the world’s governments, according to him. This impressive corporate response, however, would be dependent on the tithe-giving of all members of the American church. Again, it’s not about any one individual, but the faithful work of all of us together: “If each child of God does his or her doable part, then collectively we can set aright a topsy-turvy world” (p. 256).
The Hole in Our Gospel challenges American Christians to remember their place in the family of the Body of Christ and the responsibilities that come with affluence and relative security. This message from this individual is also an encouragement. It’s taken even Rich Stearns some time to realize this mandate and develop a response. As I consider my response, I’ll give to God’s work at home and around the world and seek to use my time, abilities and assets in support of those in need around me. Though they’re small steps, these conscious choices will help close the hole in our Gospel, the gap between personal faith and faithful response.
Owen Sallee trained under World Vision's Vision Youth Initiative, and he was a youth director for Choose Life Youth Ministries in White Center for 12 years, during and following his time as a SPU undergraduate. He is a 1999 SPU graduate, and in 2006, he completed his master’s degree in school counseling at Seattle Pacific.
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