“Putting the American Dream to Death”
A Review of
The Hole in Our Gospel.
Hardback: Thomas Nelson, 2009.
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Reviewed by Chris Smith.
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Richard Stearns’ recent book, The Hole is our Gospel is a testimony in the old-fashioned sense of the word, the story of a life transformed by the good news of Jesus. Stearns recounts how he rose to prominence in corporate America, and eventually – after much resistance – became the president of World Vision. In parallel with the story of his career, Stearns also tells the story our how his understanding of the Gospel was transformed. He explains this shift in the book’s introduction:
[B]eing 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 (italics retained from the original).
Stearns proceeds to describe the Gospel in terms of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, clothing the naked and liberating the slaves, and draws upon the rich biblical tradition of justice in order to do so. When Stearns went on at length about his own story in the opening chapters of the book, I was worried that the Gospel that he would eventually describe while arguing for social justice would still leave much leeway for individualism and consumerism, which are themselves at the roots of widespread injustice in the world. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case! Stearns is convinced that churches (and not just individual Christians) are essential to God’s redemptive work of restoring justice to all creation. He says, for instance: “I love the Church and truly believe that it is at the center of God’s plan for world.” And indeed, in his final section of the book, which is written for churches, he pulls no punches, even going so far as to proclaim death to the American dream. Stearns speaks powerfully and prophetically of the sins that impede churches in the United States, and I pray that his message will be heard. However, I wish he would have fleshed out in more detail a practical vision of what it would look like for churches to repent of these sins and to move forward in obedience to our call to be the tangible body of Christ in the world. The Hole in Our Gospel is clearly intended for evangelical audiences, and I pray that it will be read and prayerfully reflected upon, especially Stearns’ insistence that Jesus’s Gospel of Justice is not just for individuals, but churches. Its message of repentance makes it perfect reading for this season of Lent. May Stearns’ prophetic words lead us to our knees, to tears, but ultimately to transformation!