“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!
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
I am just finishing this book and already chomping at the bit to find my place in the puzzle. nnPreviously I read RADICAL:Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt. The two books dovetail. Radical will give you a five point starting place and a blog to talk with others who have read it and want to be transformed into who God intended us to be. nnIt is thrilling to find those willing to confront the Church and challenge us to follow the whole Bible and to point out our blind spots. This is not a pick and choose, menu faith. nnWish these books had been around 10-20 years ago so I would not have wasted so much of my life. After reading this I wonder how could I have missed so much of reality.