20 February 2012

Book Review: The Hole in Our Gospel



“Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” - Bob Pierce

For quite a while I kept hearing good things about Richard Stearn’s book, The Hole in Our Gospel. Someone at my church read it and said it revolutionized his thinking. The book was available for purchase for a while at church, and others who read it agreed that it was eye-opening. Recently I got around to reading it for myself. While I appreciated the book a great deal, I suspect that it was less less of an impact on me because most of it really wasn’t news to me. I’ve been trying to get informed over the past few years about issues of poverty and justice around the world, and so perhaps that prior knowledge stole some of this book’s thunder, so-to-speak.

One part autobiography, one part World Vision promotional work and one part Bible study, Mr. Stearns crammed a lot of data and quite a few stories into slightly less than 300 pages of text. These three threads are interwoven throughout the book.

The autobiographical portion details how Mr. Stearns became a Christian, going from a convinced atheist to a committed Christian, his professional rise (with setbacks) in the business world, and finally his struggle with the call he perceived to accept the role of president of World Vision USA. It was on this latter decision that the narrative becomes a little tiresome in places. I suppose because it was such a monumental shift, not only for him but also for his wife and children, he wanted to convey how hard it was to step down from a place of wealth to one of much less wealth. Further, he clearly didn’t believe he was the one for the job due to his lack of prior experience with poverty and relief work. Still, not so many words were needed to get this point across. On the other hand, I appreciated his story of coming to faith in Christ so much that I shared it with my teenage daughter.

Clearly, as World Vision president Mr. Stearns has a duty to advocate on behalf of the good work his organization is doing. This isn’t something I can criticize, but only note as fact regarding this book. Clearly this is where his experience lays as well, so it is natural that he would cite more examples from his charity than any other. At the same time, he does mention throughout the book several other ministries that do great things for the poor around the world. So it isn’t “all World Vision, all of the time.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of this book for many Western Christians, and evangelicals in particular, is the Bible study. Verse after verse is presented to support helping the poor as a biblical mandate. He mentions The Poverty and Justice Bible, which I have discussed elsewhere, and emphasizes the reality that around 2000 verses or more of the Bible deal with poverty and justice issues. This fact may surprise some Christians, particularly those who only think in terms of Christianity as a transaction that gets them to heaven (personal salvation through Christ, avoid egregious sins, repent often then wait for eternity to come) rather than as a call to grace-filled, Spirit-led active discipleship in this world while we prepare for resurrection and New Heavens/New Earth.

This book is generally very good, but I would recommend it in particular to anyone who wants to begin exploring for the first time what the Bible really says about helping those in need. It will most certainly help give you a clearer vision of God’s heart for the poor.