Before reading “The Hole in our Gospel”, the back cover gave me pause. How much was I going to gain from a book recommended by Madelein Albright?
Quite a lot, actuallly. There are many areas where Mr. Stearns and I disagree theologically (see below). However, we are in perfect agreement when it comes to the overall point of his book–that the Western church is altogether oblivious to the great needs being faced by the rest of the world.
Richard Stearns knows what he is talking about. Once the CEO of Parker Brothers (of Monopoly fame) and Lenox (makers of find china), Stearns accepted the call of God (and subsequent dramatic cut in salary) to become executive director of World Vision–a Christian organization dedicated to bringing relief to the poorest regions of the world. The book is in a large part his own testemony of how God brought him from said oblivion to a burning passion to help the poor.
The book is full of heart-wrenching stories–many of them first-hand accounts–that should galvanize Christians to action. One that brought me to tears was the account of a Hatian woman offering her starving children to passing strangers with the words “You pick, just feed them.”
One thing I appreciated about this work was that Stearns did not let it become a screed against the rich and powerful, nor did it descend to the anti-American depths of Shane Clayborn’s “Jesus for President”. Rather it is an impassioned appeal to the portion of the Church which has experienced material blessing to be generous with that part of the world which has not.
I also appreciated the fact that the book is not completely in bed with liberal politics. While Stearns pays the predictable respects to the likes of Jimmy Carter, there are many examples in the book that can and should be appreciated by social and fiscal conservatives like myself. Consider this description of Uganda’s encouraging fight agains the AIDS epidemic:

Then Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, declared war on AIDS as a threat to Uganda’s future and security. He called on every sector of Ugandan society–schools, churches, the media, businesses, and the health care system–to join the battle and invited international governments and aid agencies to help. Education was central to his campaign, and he and his wife even went door-to-door offering AIDS tests. Billboards were visible everywhere, calling people to absinence, faithfulness to one partner, and safer sexual choises as part of one’s patriotic duty. The result was astounding. The incidence of HIV infctions fell from 21 percent to about 6 percent between 1991 and 2000.

Did Madelein Albright read that section?
The above section also highlights another aspect of the book I appreciated. Though Stearns paints a pretty bleak picture at times, the tone of the book is positive and hopeful. The reader comes away thinking “Perhaps there is something that can be done!” or, better yet, “Perhaps there is something I can do!”
As I hinted at above, I cannot end this review without a doctrinal caution. It worries me when I read phrases like this:

More and more our view of the gospel has been narrowed to a simple transaction, marked by checking a box on a bingo card at some prayer breakfast, registering a decision for Christ, or coming forward during an altar call.

While I am totally in his camp when it comes to “registering a decision for Christ” and “coming forward during an altar call” the phrase “simple transaction” bothers me. We are talking about what Christ accomplished on the cross, which–while indeed a transaction–was anything but simple. I fear that while we try to make the Gospel about more than the cross, we make it about less than the cross.
We need to be very clear that acts of charity, selflessness, and generosity are not the means of grace, but its outward demonstration.
Having said that, I would encourage all Western believers to read this book. I hope it will challenge you as it did me.