Im sure Mr. Stearns is a fine person. I am not questioning his love for the Lord, or his sincere desire and commitment to humanitarian efforts. He rightly exhorts and encourages believers to serve more, give more and pray more for those in need. Believers are commanded to do those things. Let me say that again: believers are commanded to do those things. Showing the love of Christ through service is not the issue. The issue is that while Mr. Stearns claims his assertions are biblically based, they are, instead, constructed from misuse, manipulation, and misinterpretation of Scripture. The bottom line is that he teaches a different gospel that minimizes and skews the purposes, accomplishments, and importance of Christs first advent and the purpose of the Church until He returns. His gospel is not about saving souls: its about changing the world and eliminating poverty and injustice. He teaches the utopia of the Kingdom-Now fallacy. He has found a way to justify NOT presenting THE gospel and is critical of believers who do nott support his. He fabricates history and espouses bad economics. Mr. Stearns may do great things in his effort to help the less fortunate, but so do the Red Cross and UNESCO and countless other secular organizations that offer no eternal hope. What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world (or whose life becomes easier) and looses his soul? Change without Christ ultimately just makes people more comfortable on their way to hell. Is that what God really called us to do?
A few examples:
1) Mr. Stearns teaches a distorted biblical definition of the gospel. This gospel---the whole gospel---means much more than the personal salvation of individuals. It means a social revolution. (pg. 7) Unlike Mr. Stearns, Jesus never called for a social revolution. In fact, the religious leaders of his day accused Him of exactly that, of being an enemy of Rome, and Pilate said He was not guilty. According to Mr. Stearns, a gospel without a call to social change is not the gospel. Evidently, the writers of the NT did not realize that, because none of them called for social change. Mr. Stearns would change John 3:16 to say, For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would bring about social change. Evidently, there have been two thousand years of believers who have misunderstood the gospel and the purpose of it.
2) Mr. Stearns teaches a distorted understanding of the kingdom of God. He continually teaches that God expects believers to establish the kingdom by eliminating poverty and injustice, and that if we just buckle down and give it our all, believers can change the world. However, what is Scriptural is that the world is depraved and will become more so until Christ returns. Jesus said that the kingdom is within us, that His kingdom is not of this world, that flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom. His first advent was about a spiritual change within individuals through His Spirit, not a social revolution that we can force upon a lost and godless world. Mr. Stearns says that "the world was changed forever by the twelve disciples, and if we just take our faith to the next level, we can affect that kind of change, too." (pg. xxiii) History does not support that claim. The disciples were all martyred for preaching about Jesus, mans sin and need of a Savior. Paul did not go to Rome to bring about social change. John was not boiled in oil and put on Patmos because he was instigating social revolt. Of course we are to stand for righteousness, to be salt and light to influence the world around us, to help those in need. Will that change some things? By the grace of God, maybe, but changing the world is not the command of God that Mr. Stearns claims it to be.
3) Mr. Stearns teaches the gospel of salvation does not have to be verbalized. He gave an example with and experience he had with some villagers in an area he had visited after an earthquake in India in 2001. He claims they heard the gospel, because they saw him doing concrete love and action. (pg. 10) Really? Did those villagers receive a miraculous understanding of who Jesus was, why He came and what He did by watching Mr. Stearns do good works? Or that they were sinners in need of a Savior? According to Romans 10:17, faith comes by hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ. Jesus told the disciples to preach the gospel (Luke 24:46 - verbal). Mr. Stearns quotes Scripture that tell us to make our faith visible, but he basically ignores the ones that mention proclaim/proclaiming (62 verses), preach/preaching (144 verses) and teach/teaching (255 verses). Showing the gospel is subjective; presenting it is not. There are times when the gospel cannot be presented, or the Lord for whatever reason does not give us the opportunity to do it, but sharing the good news should always be our heart. Helping people can make them more receptive to hearing the message, but they should hear it. If we do not tell them, who will? If we love them enough to show, should not we love them enough to tell?
4) Mr. Stearns teaches a non-biblical purpose for Christs first advent. He says that the purpose of Christs first coming was to change the world through social change. Jesus said He came to seek and to save the lost. The Word says that He came to save us from our sins. The writers of the New Testament preached that first and foremost.
5) Mr. Stearns teaches a works salvation. Ephesians 2:8, For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. But using the sheep and goat judgment of Matthew 25 as his text, Mr. Stearns says judgment is based on acts of love. He says, We would much rather believe that the only things needed for our salvation are saying the right words and believing the right things not living lives that are characterized by Christs concern for the poor. (pg. 46)
6) Mr. Stearns presents an incomplete Scriptural understanding of "the poor." He would have us believe that "the poor" always and only refers to economic status. He uses Luke 4:18 to show that the Lord intended that "the recipients of this good news [of salvation] were to be, first and foremost, the poor, just as Jesus promised in the Beatitudes." (pg. 9) Is that what Jesus promised? No. In the first Beatitude in Matthew 5:3, Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," those who knew they were destitute spiritually, hopeless without God, those who would humbly bow before Him admitting their need for forgiveness and accepting His provision of a Savior through His son. Such people would be the opposite of the proud and arrogant Pharisees and Sadducees. The Greek idea of "poor" includes those of low social status, people with no honor or position, not just the economically disadvantaged.
7) Mr. Stearns presents a false depiction of the Church. He says all we care about is presenting what he deems to be a small part of the gospel, to get people saved and then go on down the road. He says that to the Church, the gospel is about saving as many people from hell as possible---for the next life. It minimized any concern for those same people in this lifeWe have also stripped it [the gospel] of much of its power to change not only the human heart but the world. (pg. 5) In a true story, Mr. Stearns told about a Bible that had had every OT and NT verse cut from it that dealt with poverty, wealth, justice and oppression. He said it represented an American Bible. (pg. 11) How dare he? He insults the work and memory of the countless American Christian men and women in our countrys history who gave their lives and sacrificed their families in ministry to help the people that Mr. Stearns cares about. And that includes World Vision before they sold out to the social gospel. He seriously disparages todays believers who (whether in fulltime ministry or as part of their in daily living) explicitly share the gospel AND minister to the needs of poor, widows, orphans, oppressed, imprisoned, diseased and hurting people everywhere. How arrogant.
There are other issues, but I'm tired of typing, and I imagine you're tired of reading. Please pray for discernment if you get this book.
The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns, is a memoir regarding Stearns captivating journey toward true Christianity. Stearns goes from the CEO of Lenox Tablewares to the president of World Vision when called by God to make the switch. Stearns is truthful and blatantly honest about his journey and what is missing in todays Christianity. He uses parables to portray his journey and to compel other to do the same. It is enthralling, with stories of brokenness and healing. This book shows and tells through captivating chapters that make the reader want to read more. It will change your perspective on topics such as hunger, service, and what really matters in the world. It will convict you to want to act and make the world a better place for all of mankind. I recommend this book to people of all ages, though the younger generation may have a more difficult time getting through it.
This book, by the president of World Vision, a charitable organization focusing on the needs of impoverished, neglected, and abused children, argues for what I would call "militant Christianity", by which I mean a "hands on" approach to human want in a world dominated by war, injustice, oppression, disease, famine, poverty, and other visible ills. Refreshingly, the author, a conservative Christian, does not diagnose the source of these ills as "sin" (the rain does not stop falling in Africa because Babylon is partying in New York). That alone makes the book's Christian basis not only thoughtful, but also compelling. The basic message is this: if you follow Jesus, then what are you going to do for the (very real and acute) needs of others? Note the form (a question), with implied answers. If the answer is a hand-wringing: what can I do?, your response (as I read the author's intent), amounts to: I don't care (in one form or another). If the answer is: whatever I can, your response (again, as I read the author's intent) is: alright, Lord, what do you want me to do? (very risky). It is easy to see why those who profess to follow Jesus fall into a soporific "comfortable Christianity" of the sort which the author eschews. Interestingly, however, the author does not overstate the case for Jesus as social revolutionary. The "casebook" illustrations simply show how acute the pain of others in need is (e.g., orphaned children in a country whose infrastructure is all but non-existent). The appeal is to the heart. It is the heart which, because of the teachings of Jesus, demands a response. Channeling that response into effective action is also a component of the author's message. The book has its shortcomings. It is overly long on the "casebook" side, probably by about one-quarter. The author also states, but does not develop, the very significant thesis that "culture blindness" obscures what the author calls "our sins of apathy and judgment", a phenomenon which is as alive today (e.g., response to AIDS victims) as it has been historically (e.g., responses to racism and slavery). As a result of this underdevelopment, the author's summary observation, that "the institutional Church often fails to rise above and challenge the popular culture and values", is both inaccurate, and waters down individual responsibility for the shortfall between professed faith (e.g., I follow Jesus) and its demonstration in works conformable to basic precepts of that faith (e.g., love one another as I have loved you; Jn. 15:12). I believe that the author was reaching for development of this thesis, but that it somehow got sidetracked (I am not sure why). That is the "hole" which remains in the author's conception of the gospel. Nevertheless, the book is very readable, and admirable as a call to action for professing Christians. Recommended for those who wonder whether and how they could do more to manifest their faith in Jesus.