Finishing the job — Part 1
When Rich Stearns finished writing The Hole in Our Gospel, he thought he was done writing books.
“We were all surprised by how well the book did, and several years later, I was still getting invitations to speak at events,” he says.
As he prepared for these speaking engagements, several ideas surfaced.
“One that really stuck with me was the question, ‘Why did Jesus leave after the resurrection?’” he says. “Having accomplished what he came to Earth to do, why didn’t Jesus finish all of history right then and there? Well, he gave the church a mission; it is now the church’s job to do the work of building the kingdom of God.”
This inspired him to write Unfinished, which builds on the themes of his first book, emphasizing the role Christians play in building God’s kingdom.
Do you consider Unfinished a sequel to The Hole in Our Gospel?
The Hole in Our Gospel is about my own story of coming to World Vision, and it’s a primer on global poverty. But the tag line for the book is “What does God expect of us?” God expects us to follow him, according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35-36: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
So underlying the whole message of The Hole in Our Gospel is this idea of being obedient. As Christians, we have signed up; we have enlisted in Jesus’ mission, but have we gone to the front lines to finish the job Jesus has called us to? That’s really what I explore in Unfinished. It is a book about discipleship, about what God expects of us after we have declared our belief in him.
For me, being obedient to God’s call meant coming to World Vision. And for all Christians, it means demonstrating the gospel in tangible ways, feeding the hungry and caring for the sick. But the message of Unfinished goes beyond that. Whatever we do in our lives, whatever our occupation, our family, our hobbies — whatever we do should be in service to Jesus’ mission to build the kingdom of God.
In Unfinished, you lament that modern-day Christians have lost the “revolutionary” fervor of the early church. In a nutshell, how have we lost our way, and how can we get back on track?
We’ve lost sight of the forest for the trees. We forget about the bigger story of what God has called us to. Our focus gets stuck on the details of our Christian lives. We do our Bible studies and read Christian books, go to church, pray for ourselves and our friends and families. We listen to Christian music and sermons. But the big idea, that God is calling us to change the world, gets forgotten.
To return the church to Jesus’ revolutionary agenda, we need to understand God’s big story. We are redeemed through Christ in order to demonstrate to the world a new way to live. This is the revolution of the kingdom of God — and each of us is called to personally be a part of it. The first Christians overturned the Roman Empire and expanded across the globe. Today, we need to return to that original mission.
There is a lot of theology in the book. Why is it important to bring up these fundamental theological ideas?
I start the book with a chapter called, “The Meaning of Life and Other Important Things.” It is a very short work of apologetics. Now, there are people far smarter than me who say far more profound things than I do about the meaning of life. Perhaps that’s why my publisher and my agent both suggested I not include that chapter!
But I believe that we have to start at the beginning. I’m kind of a logical thinker. If we believe life is a big accident of carbon chemistry, then it doesn’t matter how we live. But if we think God created us for a purpose, well that changes everything. How we live our lives comes from how we think about these big questions.
Is it necessary to believe the right things in order to do the right things?
What we believe matters a great deal. If we believe there is no meaning or purpose in life, then we might as well do whatever makes us happy. But if we believe we have been created for a purpose, we have to discover what that purpose is, and we have to start living it out.
Now, a person who believes life is meaningless will still balance her checkbook just like a Christian does. There are a lot of other things that we will do just as anyone else will. You don’t have to be a Christian to help an old woman across the street.
However, what we believe about God will make a difference in the trajectory of our lives. It should make a difference in how and why we do things. As I said before, we are called to demonstrate a new way to live under God’s rule.
Read part 2 of this interview tomorrow. Unfinished: Believing Is Only the Beginning (Thomas Nelson) is available todayin bookstores and online retailers. This fall, look for two more books from Rich and Thomas Nelson this fall: He Walks Among Us, a devotional co-written his wife, Reneé, and a children’s storybook, God’s Love for You, which connects familiar Bible tales to stories from today’s children in World Vision communities.