Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Hole in the Gospel

by Richard Stearns

I like reading the introduction chapter because it usually captures the heart and soul of the book. If I like the introduction, chances are, I'll enjoy the rest of the book.

Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, US, wrote in the introduction of this book [page 2]: "The idea behind The Hole in Our Gospel is quite simple. It's basically the belief that being 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. Embracing the gospel, or good news, proclaimed by Jesus is so much more than a private transaction between God and us. The gospel itself was born of God's vision of a changed people, challenging and transforming the prevailing values and practices of our world."

[page 3] "...we are carriers of the gospel - the good news that was meant to change the world. Belief is not enough. Worship is not enough. Personal morality is not enough. And Christian community is not enough. God has always demanded more." Okay, I was sold on this intro!

Stearns writes unapologetically from his Christian worldview on the deficiency of response of US churches to pervasive human sufferings in the world.  He provokes readers - who are well-trained by the media to keep a safe detachment and emotional distance from news of disasters, hunger, AIDS, and people dying - to reconsider their apathy to human suffering. Granted that poverty is not an easy problem to solve, he steers from giving pat solutions to persistant poverty - such as giving money [alms] to the poor to change their lives, providing education to guarantee employment - but effectively paints the psychosocial effects of poverty on men, women and children that keep poor communities poor, and presents the case for the have's in the world to see that it is their responsibility not to turn a blind eye on the sufferings of the have-not's that is fuelling an alarming disparity between the rich and poor in the world.

Just as Stearns is realistic about the form and extent of human sufferings, he is also matter-of-fact in laying out what rich nations think will help the poor and what the poor nations really need. His observation of the poor and needy is treated with the respect due from one human being to another. 

I read this book very slowly and carefully as one who had been guilty of being unfeeling towards AIDS patients (until I did a news report on AIDS as a broadcast course requirement), of one who had only seen hunger and poverty as a political problem, and most importantly, as one who had not known much, seen much, or done much about human sufferings in the world.

If there is one book to take one from ignorance and apathy to involvement and action, this is it.
Where you can get it: S$23.50 SKS Books ISBN: 978-0-8499-4676-9 [published 2009]; also available in Popular bookstores, about S$26.00.
Level of impact: After a Christmas visit to an orphanage in Vietnam, I began to see how easy it was to reach out to the poor and needy and that the Bible reminds us again and again not to neglect them. This book definitely made that connection in my heart, and helped me see the humanity among those suffering in distant lands beyond the socio-political issues involved.
Timing of book: Timely preparation of my heart for the social services course I am taking.