You know how sometimes vanilla people can go all salsa on us? They’re bland and ordinary until they experience a pivotal event like a spouse being killed by a drunk driver or a bullied child committing suicide. Suddenly they turn hot and piquant. They’ve seen life from a different perspective and emerged with a new mission — to stamp out drunk driving or crusade against bullying. That’s the picture I have of Richard Stearns, author of The Hole In Our Gospel.
As an executive at Gillette, then Parker Brothers Games and finally CEO of the Lenox table and giftware company, Stearns’ life was tasty American vanilla all the way. Then a set of circumstances led him to World Vision. The change in him began when he listened to the story of an orphaned boy in Rakai, Uganda, on his first World Vision assignment. It continued in encounter after encounter with the poor in over a million miles of travel to all the inhabited continents of the globe.
In The Hole In Our Gospel, Stearns presents a compelling challenge to westerners, especially the church, to forsake their myopic pursuit of wealth, comfort, and self-realization and to fulfill the uncomfortable command of Jesus to care for the poor. As Stearns says in the book’s introduction,
“…being a Christian or follower of Jesus Christ requires much more than just having a personal and transforming relationship with God. It also entails a public and transforming relationship with the world.”
The book’s 26 chapters are divided into five sections in which Stearns explores a variety of topics. He talks about the gospel and what it is. He describes his own journey of faith and how he came to head World Vision. He names the many challenges that the poor of the world face (disease, poverty, lack of water, hunger, political turmoil) and drills down with details, statistics and stories that bring facts to life. He exposes the self-absorbed tendencies of people in developed societies and challenges especially the church to remember the poor. As he says in the beginning of the section that examines the western church’s response to poverty around the world:
“Where was the church of Jesus Christ? That was the question I cried out that first day in Rakai, Uganda, after seeing the suffering of orphans living in child-headed households. That question has troubled me ever since. Where indeed was the Church? If the world as I have described it truly is wracked with poverty, injustice, and suffering, and God has clearly called us to embrace the whole gospel – characterized by love for our fellow man, a commitment to justice and proclamation of the good news of His salvation to all people – then we must next look at His Church and ask whether it is being faithful in its responsibility to bring the whole gospel to the whole world.”
Stearns is well qualified to meddle in this way. As a former member of the lethargic Christian majority, he understands the mindset. But now, as the face of World Vision, he has seen with his own eyes the grim reality of how the rest of the world lives. And so we can’t shove him aside as someone who doesn’t understand us or doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Stearns’ voice is warm, his writing style interesting and easy to understand. He wields a variety of persuasive tools including statistics, Bible exposition, and stories. Finally, like a good salesman, he goes in for the close, challenging each reader to personal action.
The hardcover edition appears sturdy enough to withstand the hours of handling it will receive if the book is used with the Study Guide section at the back. The end-matter also includes the book’s website URL where visitors can share stories, join a forum, find church resources, view videos and more. The book’s last pages contain a list of notes and references footnoted in the text.
This book reminds me of the Ronald Sider’s classic Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Like that book, you won’t be able to get through The Hole In Our Gospel and remain unchanged. So beware. Reading this book may just tip your dosimeter into the radioactive zone or change your status from sleeper cell to activated. You yourself may turn from vanilla to salsa.