Q: Why did you decide to write your first book, The Hole in Our Gospel?
A: I wrote this book because I believe there’s something fundamentally missing from the way Americans understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, there’s a hole in our gospel. I came to this conclusion over a lifetime, but especially over the last 10 years as God has given me an opportunity to travel to some of the most difficult and poor countries in the world. I’ve met so many wonderful people. I’ve seen what’s happening across our planet. I’ve seen the suffering of the people that we serve. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the American church and American Christians have missed something about the gospel.
We tend to think of the gospel as a private transaction between us and God. It’s about being forgiven for our sins and being saved, which is good news. But often we leave it there, as a private transaction between us and God. I don’t think the gospel was ever meant to be private. I think it was meant to be public as well; and just like we have a private relationship with the Lord, we have to have a public and transforming relationship with the world. As followers of Jesus Christ we’re meant to take this good news across the globe, but not just the good news of salvation-also the good news of God’s love for the poor, His concern for the sick and the downtrodden and the broken-hearted. We’re to minister in His name. We’re to stand up for justice in our world and fight for the underdog. That’s why the gospel was good news for the poor, and I think we in America have missed that. Yes, our churches do a lot of good things in our country, in our communities and around the world, but we’re not doing nearly enough. We’re the wealthiest community of Christians in the history of Christendom in 2,000 years. We have tremendous resources, we have tremendous opportunities, and we need to rise to this challenge to truly be the gospel, to be the good news to the world.
Q: Was it hard to write honestly about the American church?
A: One of the most difficult things for me, as I wrote this book, was to be critical. I love the church, I love my brothers and sisters in Christ in America. And yet I felt I had to be critical of us as a group, as a whole, because I think we have missed the opportunity to do those things that God has called us to do. I think we have not done enough in loving the world the way Jesus loves the world. You know, the most quoted verse in Scripture is John 3:16. Well, the first part of that verse, God so loved the world, shows that God did something. He acted, He got involved, He died for our sins. Do we love the world that much? Do we love it as much as Christ did? That’s my prayer for the church in America: that we would love the world so much that we would minister to it, that we would act, that we would get out of our pews and make a difference, be the salt and light, be the light in the darkness that Christ calls us to be.
Q: Are you concerned about the legacy of the American church?
A: I’ve been thinking a lot about what history will say about those of us at the beginning of the 21st century. When historians look back in 50 or 100 years and they write about our time, our generation, what will they say about the church? What will they say about the wealthiest community of Christians in the 2,000-year history of the Christian faith in the middle of a world torn by strife, racked by pandemic diseases like AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis? There’s tremendous hunger in our world, a lack of clean water and sanitation, economic poverty. There’s a tremendous amount of suffering in our world today, and here we sit at the verge of the 21st century, this wealthy community of Christians in the United States. How will history judge us? Will we miss an opportunity to stand up and make a difference?
What will people say about our generation when they look back at our social landscape? Will they recall that the church of the 21st century stared down the AIDS pandemic and rushed to the front lines of compassion to help the widows and orphans in their distress? Will they remember how we wouldn’t tolerate hunger in the 21st century any rose up to make sure no child went to bed hungry every night? What will be the legacy of the church of Jesus Christ when historians look back 100 years from now?
I believe that this could be the church’s finest hour. This could be the moment in history when we declare, “This is what the Christ we worship is all about. He’s about caring for the poor, lifting up the downtrodden, giving sacrificially, making a difference to the least of these. This is what He stood for, and this is what we stand for.”
Q: What dream do you have for Christians in America?
A: When I think of the church in the United States I always think of the question, What if? What if the 340,000 individual churches, and the more than 200,000,000 Christians, in the United States started to do the gospel? What if we started to love the world the way God loves the world? What if we started using our resources, not only financial but also our education and our knowledge, our access to different countries around the world, the techniques that we know for bringing clean water, for good? What if we used our resources to end hunger, for improve agricultural yields, to stimulate economic growth in communities? We have all of these tools. What if we used them? What if we stepped up and carried our weight based on the way God has blessed us? I believe we could truly change the world.
Q: Your passion for the poor drove you to write this book. How did your childhood influence this passion?
A: My life started out in a pretty rocky place. I had parents who were divorced when I was 10. We were evicted from our home because the bank foreclosed as my father declared bankruptcy. So I know a little bit about what it’s like to wonder how we’re going to pay the bills this month and where the food is going to come from next week, because that was my childhood. But I had a wonderful opportunity growing up in the United States because I was able to get one of the best educations imaginable. I was able to enter an economy that was thriving in a country that had a great deal of prosperity and rewarded my efforts. I was able to climb the corporate ladder in ways never imagined by my parents or grandparents. That’s what makes seeing the people I see, when I travel around the world, so heart wrenching. I look at them and I say, “Had I not been born in America, had I not been born where there were opportunities, I would be just like them.” I would not know where my next meal is coming from. And my heart breaks for them, partly because I understand a little bit of what that feels like, but also because I feel a responsibility to make a difference.
Q: Can individuals make a difference for the world’s poor?
A: One of the things I want to declare in this book is that you, the reader, can make a difference. We tend to think that other people need to make a difference. Bono will take care of the poor in the world, he’ll be the spokesperson for the poor. The president is the one that needs to appropriate the money to deal with the AIDS pandemic. My congressman or my senator, my pastor, should do this. But if I can get one message across to the reader it is that this is your job. You and I, both of us, can make a difference as individuals.
Jesus said that if we have faith, even as small as a mustard seed, we can actually command a mountain to be thrown into the sea. I’ve often thought of it as an exaggeration. I can’t really command a mountain to be thrown in the sea, even with great faith! But I’ve come to understand what Jesus was saying about faith the size of a mustard seed in a different way. Imagine if 100,000,000 people picked up a shovel and said, “We’re going to throw this mountain into the sea.” We could do it! Hundreds of millions of Christians, who each have faith the size of a mustard seed, can make a difference. They can throw that mountain in the sea.
We have the power to do this. This is what Christ meant when He talked about the coming of the kingdom of God. This is what it means in “The Lord’s Prayer” when it says Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus expects us to do it now, to do it in His name. That’s the kingdom of God, His will being done on earth, as it is in heaven.
The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World by Richard Stearns is now available from Thomas Nelson. For more information visit http://www.theholeinourgospel.com/.
At his request, all royalties due to the author will benefit World Vision’s work with children in need.