The perspective of another: The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns
Author’s note: This post is another offering in a series about how the Church ought to respond to poverty. I recently received a book from Thomas Nelson Publishers called “The Hole in Our Gospel” by World Vision’s president Richard Stearns that attempts to offer how the Church responds to poverty. Since I have been reading the book and am currently on page 77, I posit some initial thoughts. It won the 2010 Christian Book Award by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.
Richard Stearns asks the question: “Is our faith just about going to church, studying the Bible, and avoiding the most serious sins–or does God expect more?” In particular, he looks at how he tried to be a “good Christian” in America. Yet the book seemingly centers on encountering Christ in the face of the poor.
Building off of Rich’s on story about how he came to be the president of World Vision, the book cuts to the chase quite immediately by meeting another Richard, a 13-year-old boy heading a household in Uganda after his parents died of AIDS. I appreciate the opening as gazing into the face of someone and encountering our own humanity. Then we back up into how Rich got pulled into the gig as the president of World Vision anyway. His honesty is brutally upfront, humiliating, and real. He wonders how he got to the point where he could resist God’s call on his life, particularly when responding to the call of God meant leaving a very successful position as a corporate CEO. He encounters certain passages of Scripture that He just wants to tear out, including the story of the rich young ruler.
At this point, I think we really get at the crux of what is probably missing in our gospel, particularly as Rich Stearns posits it: namely that we construct a gospel that does not force us to confront our own poverty. I think that Rich is generally correct in saying that our churches do very little to make poverty of our neighbors visible to us. I sincerely appreciate the work of World Vision. Also, as president of World Vision, Rich comes at this with a very unique vantage point because of the people he looks at eye-to-eye. I generally support the work of World Vision and hope that God touches people’s hearts to make a difference in this organization.
But… I think it would be a mistake to assert that child-headed households only exist in Africa. Or that Christians only have an obligation to the poor who live far away from them. In America, we have child-headed households. Some of these children are innocent, suffering from the sins of their parents, particularly if those parents are drug addicted or in prison. Some of these children deal with the consequences of their own choices, such as the choice to engage in sexual intercourse. Still other of these households are children who have been orphaned owing to extreme tragedies that claim the lives of both parents. I remember being 17 and grieving with my classmates as a fatal car accident claimed the lives of both the mother and the father who had 5 surviving children. The oldest child was 19 at the time. Not quite “child-headed” but an experience that rocked our small community to its core as we tried to grieve together.
Richard Stearns is right to ask the question: Where is the Church? How is the Church responding? And I think I would like to say that caring about people requires encountering people, fully aware of their poverty and our own as we try to live out Christ’s commandment to love one another.
Seeing as I still have roughly 200 pages to read, I’ll offer another review of the book as a whole after I’m done.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”