I get a little nervous when I begin to hear about Christians and social justice. No, it’s not because of Glenn Beck. I also get nervous when non-believing pundits try to tell Christians what to do. I get nervous because there is a very real effort to redefine the gospel to mean only social justice. This is a problem because it ultimately leads to a “Christianity” that is void of Christ and indistinguishable from just a system of ethics. So, when Thomas Nelson gave me a free copy of this book written by the CEO of World Vision, I was nervous.

Richard Stearns believes that Christians have a gaping hole in the Gospel. He advocates an embracing of the “whole gospel” which he defines as proclaiming the good news of salvation, a compassion for the sick and the sorrowful, and a commitment to justice. Stearns uses his own personal story as well as several statistics about poverty and American churches to call Christians to action.

Overall, this is a decent book. Yes, poverty is real and yes, too many Christians (particularly in the United States) are ignoring it. Stearns obviously has a real passion to fight poverty and has lead World Vision to do just that. The Hole in Our Gospel certainly conveys the problem and effectively calls the reader to action.

I am not without my concerns. First, I disagree that compassion and justice are components of the gospel. I believe that they are products of the gospel. I believe that when a person embraces the good news of Jesus Christ, they will become compassionate and will stand for justice. This may seem like a very subtle difference but I think it points to the core of the issue.

I cannot help but wonder if Stearns would be satisfied with any effort so long as poverty was addressed. Throughout the book, talk of evangelism and salvation seems tacked on as though he knows it’s required for inclusion in a Christian book. I recommend that readers of Stearns’ book also read K. P. Yohannan’s Revolution in World Missions (especially chapter 12: A Bowl of Rice is No Substitute for the Gospel) and J. Mack Stiles’ The Marks of the Messenger (especially chapter 5). I recommend The Hole in Our Gospel with the caution that the gospel is not the “whole gospel” unless it contains the good news of Jesus Christ.

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