For the first major chapter in my life, I served churches in California and Texas as a minister. I still serve as a “guest preacher” occasionally, and I present books at the Urban Engagment Book Club for Central Dallas Ministries. So, each month, I read and present a minimum of two book synopses – one a business book for the First FRiday Book Synopsis, the other a social justice/poverty/nonprofit book.
The selections for the Urban Engagement Book Club are genuinely diverse. I have presented Forces for Good, kind of a Good to Great for nonprofits. I have presented books about poverty, such as The Working Poor by Pulitzer Prize winning author David Shipler. (I am repeating that presentation later this month). I have presented the provocative Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.
And this week, I presented the book The Hole In Our Gospel: The Answer That Changed My Life And Might Just Change The World, by Richard Stearns (President, World Vision, U. S.). This book recently received the 2010 Christian Book of the Year award from The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.
Though Central Dallas Ministries is a faith-based organization, we usually do not choose books that are “overtly Christian.” (The books are selected in discussion with leaders of CDM, with major input from their CEO, Larry James). We choose books that would be helpful to anyone concerned with issues of poverty and social justice, regardless of their personal faith or philosophy. We simply try to get people to think more often and more deeply about the needs others, and then we strive to point to needed actions and solutions.
This book by Stearns, a former business executive and now President of World Vision, a remarkable Christian relief organization, has some gripping passages, like this one:
I don’t think I have ever been to a place as spiritually dark as Gulu, in northern Uganda. Gulu is the epicenter of more than twenty years of violent atrocities committed by the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army, and its leader, Joseph Kony, a monster who has declared himself to be the son of God. If Satan is alive and manifesting himself in our world, he is surely present in this cultish and brutal group whose trademark is the kidnapping of children who are subsequently forced at gunpoint to commit murder, rape, and even acts of cannibalism… He has kidnapped more than thirty-eight thousand children… it was in this unlikely backdrop that I witnessed the awesome power of the gospel that has become so tame to us in America.
It is also filled with challenging quotes, such as this one:
It’s not what you believe that counts; it’s what you believe enough to do.
In my presentation, I tried to speak to the universal truths and challenges from this book. Because this is what I believe: yes, it is a Christian obligation to serve those in need, but, in fact, it is deeper than that – it is a universal human obligation. Here is what I put on the handout:
What could someone who does not believe in Christ make of this book? I think this: the principles are “transferable” into any approach to human life, to human ethics:
• any understanding of the call to human virtue would demand the same things as this book argues re. Christ’s demands:
• an unwavering commitment to serving people, meeting their needs, lifting them out of poverty
• an unwavering commitment to a more selfless life in that pursuit
• perpetual, expanding vision (i.e., actually seeing) regarding real human need
For all Christians, I highly recommend this book. It pulls no punches in pointing out that the church has a “hole in its gospel” whenever it focuses solely on “spiritual needs,” and does not seek to meet the simple (and, in many parts of the world, including all around us, the overwhelming) human needs.
And to others, this book is still worth reading to raise your awareness of the “hole” in our approach to life. That hole is two-fold – people battle with the holes in life caused by poverty, disease, the inhumanity of others… And, any approach to life that does not see such holes, and seek to serve and solve, is a life that is not whole.