November 25, 2010

Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy.

I loved this book! And I hope you read it. That's the only way I can start this review. Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, has written a powerful apologetic for that important Christian ministry, but more than that, he has challenged evangelicalism to espouse a fully orbed gospel of the kingdom.

The book is part testimony and autobiography, with Stearns recounting his own journey from new Christian to successful corporate executive to president of World Vision. And it is a great story, easy to relate to, and well told. I found it easy to relate to Stearns' journey, his excitement for the gospel but also his reluctance to step out of his comfort zone into new territories. His story is written with obvious honesty and candor, and I thin it lays important groundwork for and integrates well with the book's overall message about broadening the way we understand the gospel and our role to spread the gospel to the world.

The core vision of the book is about getting beyond a traditional view of the gospel as an "otherworldly" message of hope for the hereafter to a Jesus-centered kingdom vision about changed lives, spiritually and physically. We are called not only to preach but to also embody the gospel. "This gospel that we have been given—the whole gospel—is God's vision for a new way of living. It inaugurates the reality of God dwelling within us, His followers, no longer in a temple in Jerusalem. . . . God's kingdom was going to begin on earth through the changed lives of His followers, and its hall markes would be forgiveness, love, compassion, justice, and mercy" (276).

Stearns is well aware of the dangers of preaching a "works" righteousness, and he addresses that concern a couple of times in his writing. He is also aware that some may want to read his message as a call away from traditional evangelistic preaching to a social gospel, a charge he anticipates and subverts a number of times as well. In all, I think Stearns has done the church a great service in writing this call to follow Jesus in his kingdom ministry. For if God truly loves the world, aren't we going to do everything in our power to overcome disparity, disease, poverty, and oppression as we do everything we can to overcome spiritual blindness, poverty, and oppression. And, in fact, the two can't and shouldn't be separated. For each side of the gospel fits with the other: a preaching without works of love is only words, and a life of compassionate action is one of the best apologias for the gospel we preach. Highly recommended.

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