I am grateful to Thomas Nelson for the review copy of The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns.
Part autobiography, part biblical challenge, Stearns wants to raise our awareness to the needs of the poor in the world. More than that, he wants us to realize the amazing resources we already have at our disposal that would alleviate a lot of suffering, but we are sitting on our resources rather than using for the good of the Kingdom.
Stearns was a very successful CEO in the corporate world when World Vision came calling in 1998. They asked him to be president, leaving behind a very wealthy opportunity in his company. Stearns had been challenged along the way to do more for the gospel and for the poor in this world. After refusing the job, he ended up taking it and has led World Vision for the past 11 or 12 years.
The biblical challenge is clear. There is a need to bring justice to the poor of this world. There are solutions that can be brought to the poor through the Church. Yet, the American Church sits on incredible resources and does very little. Stearns’ statistics are bone-jarring. American Christians gave less to the Church in 2005 as a percentage of income than they did in 1931 during the Great Depression.
The book is not just a challenge to give. It is to open our eyes to the needs of the world. It doesn’t take billions of dollars to make a difference. It just takes each believer stepping up and doing something that will reach beyond their own world.
There are a couple of observations that bother me somewhat. First, Stearns had the luxury of moving from CEO to World Vision. His future is secure. In one sense, it is easy for a millionaire to talk to others about giving. A lot of talk I hear about stepping up to give comes from people of means. I do not mean this to be completely critical of Stearns. He sacrifices in his way. But these stories of Jesus dealing with people to make life changes seem to come from the top end of the pay scale.
The second observation is his examples of good churches and bad churches. He is very critical of American churches, but really only hits on the megachurches. He came from a megachurch as a member and probably attends a megachurch when he is home. He sees the massive wealth of those congregations and gets fed up with them spending it on themselves.
The “good” examples come from small churches… in Africa. He doesn’t find any good examples of small churches in America. I pastor a small church in America. Am I lumped in with the megachurches? How can I successfully answer the call to reach the poor of the world in my context? He doesn’t really address that.
Again, those are not meant to be overly critical. I am challenged by this book. I am all too aware of what is happening in this world and desire to see small incremental changes by every believer. If every believer WOULD make small incremental changes in their giving and focus, we could tackle some HUGE problems for villages in poorer parts of the world.