5 May 2010

Christopher J Wiles

pastor | writer | speaker

Richard Stearns has been the President of World Vision since June of 1998. The book is both autobiographical, detailing the journey that took him from the corporate world to assisting the third world. Replete with stories and statistics, the book is a challenge to the American church and a call to involvement in the problems of worldwide poverty.

The copy I received was provided to me at no charge, courtesy of Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of a review program. The following is my review:

ABOUT THE PAPERBACK EDITION:

The paperback edition contains new material:

(1)16-page color photo insert
(2)interview with richard’s wife, renee
(3)Practical advice on how to get started
(4)Q&A on the subject: “Can Poverty Be Defeated?”
(5)Improved indexes

THE BOOK’S STRENGTHS

Apart from the autobiographical content and the many, many stories, the book’s greatest strength is in painting a picture of reality using a wealth of statistics and data, including the following:

Children:

26,500+ children die each day from extreme poverty – the equivalent of “100 crashing jetliners”
1 out of every 5 children worldwide are malnourished
Every 5 seconds, a child dies of hunger

Global Poverty:

~40% of the earth’s population (2.6 billion people) live on less than $2.00/day.
If you’re income is $25,000 per year, you are wealthier than 90% of the world’s population. If you make $50,000 per year, you are wealthier than 99% of the world.
~25,000 die each day due to hunger

Disease:

In Sub-Saharan Africa, ~12 million children have become orphans due to AIDS
In Africa alone, 15,000 die each day from preventable disease

What I also appreciated was Stearns’ inclusion of the positive things that are happening through Christian charity (including a decrease in poverty and an increase in worldwide literacy, cf. p. 163), helping readers avoid the “compassion fatigue” that often accompanies such figures.

THE GOSPEL?

It has (once again) become increasingly popular to connect “the gospel” with acts of compassion and social justice. Stearns makes clear that Christs gospel “means much more than the personal salvation of individuals. It means a social revolution.” (p. 20)

The problem is that the Bible – specifically in the writings of Paul – consistently defines the gospel in terms of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-3). While this may seem a minor issue, to associate social justice with the content of the gospel is incorrect and may inadvertently result in the same kinds of errors seen in the “social justice” (i.e., “mainline”) denominations of yesteryear (denominations which have been successful neither in social justice nor evangelism).

Stearns does an admirable job of outlining the Christian call to address the world’s problems, and his compassion is something that we must affirm. I simply ask that the gospel be a bit better defined.

The Great Commission to share the gospel is distinct, though inseparable from the command to love our neighbor. Practicing one without the other is always less than Christian, but the practice of one does not guarantee the practice of the other.

BOTTOM LINE:

While the bonus material is helpful, I don’t know that the paperback edition is worth purchasing if you have previously read the hardcover original.

The book is recommended to anyone with a concern for the state of the world today. Filled with illustrative material, the book is a good resource for communicators and leaders. Barring the theological fuzziness (mentioned above), the book is a challenging and recommended read.

To that end it is also a difficult read: I could not set the book down without admitting my own ignorance of the world’s problems, nor could I claim to be a part of the solution. I trust that other readers will feel much the same, and I suspect that in that regard, Stearns’ arrow has reached its target.

5 May 2010

Christopher J Wiles

pastor | writer | speaker

Chris is a writer and speaker. He currently serves as teaching pastor at Tri-State Fellowship and as a research writer for Docent Research Group.

“We rightly equate silence with isolation. Both are enemies of God’s grand design.”

Human beings, as we’ve just noted, bear God’s image.  We “take after” God, so to speak—much as we might say that a child “takes after” his earthly father.  It means that we share with God some aspect of his character, his nature, even his gifts.  In the immediate context of Genesis, this means two things.  Because man bears the image of a Creator, we share in his capacity for creativity.  And because we bear the image of God’s divine community (Father, Son, and Spirit), we share in his capacity for relationship.

Or perhaps “capacity” is too clinical a term for such elemental gifts.  For these qualities are indeed divine gifts, just as human language likewise has its origin in God himself.  In his recent work on the clarity of Scripture, Mark Thompson notes that “God is himself the source of human language.  He is the first speaker and invests language with a deep significance for generation and nourishing personal relationships.”

If language is a divine gift, writing becomes a liturgical practice.  It is through language that the human needs for creativity and relationship are brought together. Surely writing is not the only means of human communication, but there is a uniqueness to the craft that cannot be so easily snuffed out by a so-called “post-literate” world.  When we write, we write to engage the world—or at least our small corner of it.  We write in order to hone our God-given skills of creativity and make a meaningful contribution to humanity’s collective imagination.  We write because it’s in our blood, in our hands, in our soul.

“If language is a divine gift, writing becomes a liturgical practice.”

Christianity says that God’s Word shaped God’s original creation, but God’s Word likewise takes prominence in God’s new creation.  “In the beginning was the Word,” John tells us—cribbing lines from the opening pages of Genesis.  The Word of God, once confined to the page now takes on human flesh in the person of Jesus.  Christianity calls this the incarnation, meaning that in Jesus God literally became a human being to walk among us, to share life with us, and to give his life that we might live.

Writing is part of the way we engage and share the gospel narrative.  Writing is therefore an incarnational practice, a means by which the story of God is translated into the various languages of human culture.

Living the gospel narrative means not only “take and read” but also “write and give.”  Every voice is different.  Every voice matters.

“Living the gospel narrative means not only ‘take and read’ but also ‘write and give.'”

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