Alright, time to get started. I’m going to include the questions from the study guide. For those who are new, we’re reading through The Hole In Our Gospel by Richard Stearns. Anyone reading with us is invited to comment your answers to share with us as a community. You can answer whenever you have time, one question at a time or whatever. Just male sure you include the question so we know what you’re talking about. Here goes.
1) Rich Stearns says that until he went to Rakai, Uganda, he lived in a bubble, insulated from anything too raw or upsetting. Can you identify with this? If so, what factors do you think contribute to the existence of your bubble?
2) Do you agree that poverty and suffering in the world have been – and are – drowned out by “choruses of praise music in hundreds of thousands of churches across our country”? Why or why not? What is your church doing to help the poor? How can you help it do more? Brainstorm ideas (and create an action list) with other members of your church.
3) What is the “bingo card” gospel, and what’s wrong with it? Do you agree that the gospel requires more of us than just believing the right things?Might there be “holes” in your own interpretation of the gospel? Brainstorm with friends about what those areas might be in your lives or, perhaps, in the life of your church.
4) Thinking of Jim Wallis’s experiment with his Bible, are there passages in the Bible you would prefer to overlook or ignore? What are they and why do you want to ignore them?
5) Rich described his journey through unemployment and the lessons he learned from those times. We’ve all faced hard times. How have such times broken you? How did those times change you?
6) The story of the rich young ruler goes deeper than money alone. What are you blessed with that you might be withholding from God? Your time or talent? Other things? Discuss this question and ways to break through any reluctance to give all to the Lord.
7) Rich writes that “Sometimes, in fact often, God’s blessings often come through our sufferings…”. As Christians, we are often quick to praise God when good things happen, but what about when bad things happen? What scriptures can you find that speak to this?
I am really looking forward to sharing in this with you. Yes, I’ll do my homework as well. Till then, breathe worship.
15 thoughts on “Book Club: The Hole In Our Gospel, Part One”
I haven’t been able to stay with the schedule on this; I’m close to being done with the book. But that’s alright; I won’t forget what I’ve read already.
1) Rich Stearns says that until he went to Rakai, Uganda, he lived in a bubble, insulated from anything too raw or upsetting. Can you identify with this? If so, what factors do you think contribute to the existence of your bubble?
It’s hard to look at suffering, so it’s easy for me to avoid it. Aside from that, the sheer magnitude of the suffering in third world countries is overwhelming. I may be able to do something to help one person in need, but what can I do for millions?
Of course there’s also the fact that I’m busy, and no that’s not an excuse, so I won’t attempt to make it one. I’m busy maintaining the life that I live. I’m busy making sure the house is tidy, the bills are paid, the homework is done, and the important relationships in my life are nurtured and spending time communing with God and His people.
I guess for me it comes down to the pain it causes me to look at such deep pain in others. I don’t like pain. And it seems that’s there’s so little or nothing I can do to alleviate that pain. But I’ve been praying.
I do believe that poverty and suffering in the world are being “drowned out by choruses of praise music in hundreds of thousands of churches across our country” Not because there is anything wrong with the music, but because if the actions of our lives do not line up with the words of our mouths, we are hypocrites.
The Bible is full of admonitions to praise God with singing, dancing, instruments, and speech. It says if we do not exalt Him, the rocks will shame us and cry out in our place. We are told to go into the world to preach the Gospel of Christ. Those are important items.
But those are easy! And they make Us feel good because we were created with a need to praise God and be in communion with Him.
On the flip side, God put us all here on this earth together to live in community. There are enough resources in the world that no one person should ever go hungry or not have the necessities of life (this is food, shelter, clothing, medical needs, and the like – plus feel kindness – not cable tv, video games, a computer, and a corvette). In a fallen world, the wealth is unevenly distributed. I think God allows that (along with a variety of talents and personalities) so that we learn to take care of one another. Jesus indicated this is the greatest commandment of all that we love one another. We have to give of ourselves to do that, not just our money, and not just to those people we like or who fit into our comfort zone.
I think one purpose of tithing is not to make church leaders wealthy or fund more “programs” but to help make provisions for those with need. I will not tithe to a church that is not doing that, and a portion of my tithe goes directly to need-based outreaches, not an organized church. I recently heard a preacher say that people should give their tithe to the church, and then not hold the church leaders accountable for how they distribute those monies since they are accountable to God. I’m an accountant, and I say if any preacher tells you this, Run Away as Fast as you can! If you are investing in a ministry, you had better know what it is doing, otherwise you might be funding things that are ungodly, and there is an accountability on you how you invest.
Last thing. Loving each other is not just giving money and things to people and then hoping for the best. Lots of food has been wasted because it never reached the people it was intended to help. If you just let someone sit on their duff and take hand-outs, but they are capable of helping themselves, you are doing them no real favor. They need to be taught skills to succeed in life, and given opportunities. If there are no opportunities, that is one thing, but if they don’t try, they are like parasites, not people who are struggling to be more than a mere existence. If we want ‘purpose’ to our lives, what makes us think those with needs don’t want that too? That is an elitist, self-righteous “us” “them” attitude. We are family whether we like it or not. One person cannot help the whole world, but I believe there are always “some” people each person can help. When I was in a position with a real need, the person who helped me and loved me, and nurtured me till I was well and back on my feet was someone with very limited financial resources, but we made it and everyone was blessed abundantly, even though there were still limited financial resources in the end. We were rich in something else!
I have been involved with ministries where people get a ‘give me’ attitude but do not do anything to help themselves. They drain your resources of money, time, and energy, and I do not think any real good comes from that kind of ministry. So I’m saying maybe loving one another is more than irresponsibly handing out money to make ourselves feel better and then going to church to sing praises to God, and calling that our worship. Our true worship to God is how we walk out our lives in obedience to Him.
I just got to skim the book because I started grad school the day after I bought it, but I look forward to really reading it soon – or when school is over – but soon. Thanks.
Question # 1: I can relate to the bubble Rich mentioned. I grew up in a small country town in KY, and it wasn’t until I moved to IL and worked with a mission organization named TEAM that I even knew what was going on in the world around me, or for that matter that there was another world outside the U.S. The physical and spiritual poverty I saw through reports of overseas missionaries was startling and heart-breaking. It changed everything for me. When I returned to KY 25 years later, it saddened me to find pastors and leaders of churches who were still insulated, who not only didn’t know what was going on outside their small towns, but who really didn’t care to know. It was like the team of mules that old farmers used to till the land–they couldn’t see past the blinders they wore, and all they ever did was put one step in front of the other with no concern for what was to their right or left.
Although my eyes have been opened to some degree to the suffering in the world, I still insulate myself at times by shutting my eyes to the most desperate need in places I can’t see and by focusing (perhaps with blinders) on real, but less desperate, needs I can meet for people I can see and touch around me. What I’ve realized is that God wants me to do both.
Question # 2: Yes, I definitely agree that “choruses of praise music” have drowned out the reality of poverty and suffering around us. As a worship band member, I’ve observed the music acting as an anesthetic that lulls people into singing high and lofty words with their mouths, but their hearts are void of passion and observation. It’s almost as if they’re hypnotized by the words on the screen as they go through the motions, and then when they sit down they come out from under the hypnosis and believe they have just worshiped. In other churches I’ve seen the other extreme where instead of an anesthetic, the music serves as a stimulant which stirs the people up emotionally but the excitement wears off by the time they leave the building.
What both scenarios seem to be lacking is what scripture refers to as lament in our worship–expressing sorrow for our own sins, acknowledging pain and suffering in our lives, and becoming aware of it in others’. We don’t lament in our churches any more because people prefer a “feel good” experience, and don’t want to be confronted with sin and suffering.
If we really worshiped through our praise music, we would see our own brokenness up against God’s faithfulness, and out of gratitude and love for what He has done for us, we would live out our worship by obeying what Jesus told us to do–love others as ourselves–outside the church walls.
It’s easy to sing, it’s easy to give money, but it’s not easy to love by getting involved in the messiness of other people’s lives. That takes time, patience, self-sacrifice, suffering, and enduring love.
I wonder if our love songs to God make him sick because He knows the motives and apathy of our hearts. I wonder if our profession of love to God on Sunday mornings feels more like the declaration of love made to a rich man from someone who just wants all the perks his money will buy.
I’m ashamed of the lack of concern my church has for the poor, and even more ashamed at how “the poor” are perceived as a category of sub-standard people instead of our brothers, sisters, and neighbors who need help and hope which we could provide. There are a few individuals in my church who are the exception to this, and for them I’m thankful.
Question #1: I feel the same way as Tess about just being busy and I’m in my bubble. Being a parent takes so much out of you, in addition to all of the other stuff that you have to do on a daily basis, but she is right, it’s not an excuse. I think some people take comfort in their day to day routine, it’s secure. I remember when I first became a mom, I really couldn’t remember what all I had done before I had my baby, because literally all of my time now went to taking care of this baby and it is exhausting work. Right now I believe that my mission is with my own children first, but I know one day that my children will not need me as much and I would like to dedicate more of my time to other children.
Question #5: In regards to the hardships, I can truly relate. The past nine years have been financially hard for me because I’m a single parent living on one income. I’ve asked God so many times why couldn’t he send me a husband so that I could at least have another income coming into the household. Well, eventually, God let me know that He hasn’t because He wants me to fully rely on Him for all of my needs. It’s a trust issue with me I guess. It has taken me probably all of the last nine years to accept this trust, because I’ve come to realize that He never fails me, all of my needs are met and so are my children’s needs. These past hardships have changed me so much and I pray that I don’t lose sight of this.
Question # 3: Bingo-card gospel is limiting the gospel to a checklist of our own standards–if I say these words or live this lifestyle or accomplish these things, then I am a Christian, and my job is to roll out as many cookie-cutter Christians as I can. Bingo! It’s settling for “good enough” Christianity of forced obedience rather than living the extravagant love affair with God that produces joyful obedience. It’s investing in life insurance for later, but living as dead people who try to coerce other people to buy it. It’s more about being right than being in relationship–missing the love feast because you’re stuffed with toxic appetizers.
No wonder people aren’t attracted to this kind of gospel. If I didn’t already know and love Jesus, it would be hard to convince me to accept the gospel being presented in many churches. And after half a century or more of being saturated in a dry, sterile theology, my head is full . . . but my heart is starving.
And yes, I believe there is much more than just believing the right thing. True faith and repentance is not a cerebral exercise–it’s an awakening of the heart that provokes action and obedience from a motivation of love, not duty.
Yes, there is definitely a hole in my interpretation of the gospel–most definitely in the way I was taught in the past, but even now as I encounter God’s mercy and reckless love it reveals how much I still have to learn, how much I need to grow, how much I need to learn how to love, and how much my need for His “good news” is just as great as that of the world’s vilest sinner.
2) Poverty and suffering in the world have been drown out by “choruses of praise music in hundreds of thousands of churches across our country”, but they’ve also been drown out by every television show, video game, movie, etc that occupies countless hours of the average Christian American life. I try not to complain about what’s lacking in my church unless I’m willing to be a part of the solution. Rather than focus on what my church does, or doesn’t do, I’d rather look at what’s missing in my own walk, and that’s plenty. Once I get to the place where I’m doing more, then I’m in a much better position to bring others along. Until I’m willing, able, and available to do more myself, I can’t do anything to help my church do better. This discussion makes me think I have too much on my plate right now, but I don’t know how to ease up. I am thinking Agnew…
I’d like to add something else to this. What I always go back to is that we need to be abiding in Him. We need to keep Him at the center and forefront of our lives. It is through this abiding and the infilling of His Spirit that He is able to mould our hearts to conform with His. It’s through this that He leads us. It is through this that we will come to love the things that He loves, and through that love we will act. Otherwise it seems like we’re going through the motions and trying to do the right things, but they may not be the right things He’s calling us to.
I’m going to read the other responses one day soon.
Blessings to all,
Question # 4 The passages in the Bible that used to bother me the most were several of Paul’s references to women regarding submission to their husbands and their subordinate role in the church. I had a love/hate relationship with Paul because his counsel seemed to contradict the freedom and opportunities for ministry Jesus has given women. Perhaps the greater reason these passages bothered me was the way they were often twisted and distorted by abusive men who felt justified to keep their women in line through dominance and violence. However, as I began digging into scripture I found that submission is one of the wonderful aspects of the Trinity–the way they relate to each other mutually in sacrificial love and the way God’s kingdom works in harmony. I read a book called “Suffer Not A Woman” which explained the passages regarding womens’ role in the early church in light of the culture of that day, and found that Paul’s motive was to protect the integrity of the gospel in a day when the message was being distorted by false religions. I found that Paul worked alongside with women in ministry and valued them greatly. I learned to dig deeper when I don’t understand things in scripture, especially to find out what the people of OT or NT times would have understood about what was spoken to them, and to ask God reveal His truth to me instead of naively trusting the insights of fallible pastors and teachers, regardless of how well meaning they may be.
1) I can definitely identify with it, although I don’t want to admit it at times. I think just growing up in America causes us to be very self concerned. It’s something that I’m sure God will continue to break me of for the rest of my life. I know for most of my Christian life (about 8 years) I’ve been so centered on myself that I’ve often forgotten others. I’ve looked only at the Scriptures that focused on me and not on others. This will be the second time I’ve read this book (well, I’m actually listening to it this time) and it’s one of the best and most challenging books I’ve ever come in contact with.
2) I think, at least here in America, that a lot of the screams of poverty and injustice are drowned out by the continual praise music of the Church. After awhile, Worship music can seem to be bland, because at times it almost seems fake.
3) The bingo card gospel is not much of a gospel at all. It’s a simple transaction that says you once prayed for God’s forgiveness and dedicated your life to Christ. I think the Gospel Jesus proclaims is one that requires total surrender, more than just what you believe, but what your doing with it. Like James said, a faith without works is a dead faith. I’m sure there’s holes in my own Gospel, I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know God loves each and everyone of us and he wants us to love one another.
4) Yeah, well surrendering your own desires and pursuing God’s. Sacrificing yourself for the sake of others, loving others as yourself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. These are things I’d like to ignore, but their truth. And the Truth will set you free.
5) I can remember when I broke up with my girlfriend I felt pretty low. I know what your thinking, well you brought that onto yourself, but the reason I broke up with her is because we we’re going down a road that I know God would not approve of. And although I loved her very much, it was kind of like I had to make a choice, My desires or a relationship with God. I’m not trying to compare this to anybody else’s suffering, cause I know others suffer more than I can even begin to realize, but this was one of those times when my heart was truly broken. And if it hadn’t of been for a really great friend, I don’t know what I would have done, my best friend came and met me that night and we talked for about 2 or 3 hours…Thank God for great friends!
6) I’d say time is a big one, I seem to get caught up in what I want to do that I often forget to spend time with God. I pray, but I don’t have those times where I just get still and listen.
7) Well I think one that comes to mind is John 3:16…Jesus had to suffer so that we could have life.
Question # 5: Two situations in my life (20-year abusive marriage and betrayal by a ministry partner) left me financially destitute and a breath away from being homeless. In the first situation I worked three jobs to provide for my son, and in the second situation I experienced what it was like for people who are labeled, disrespected and humiliated for being a recipient of public aid. Even though the abusive marriage left me with many emotional scars, it was the harsh judgment and lack of mercy from “Christians” that broke my heart.
Both situations changed me because I had to depend on God for everything . . . and He has met my every need, and then some! He gave me a heart of compassion to help other women who are suffering abuse. God has been working in my heart to teach me many lessons about myself–one of which is how to love and be loved. Another big change is actively waiting on God to direct my steps instead of running ahead of Him and praying for Him to bless my efforts. Through the pain and suffering has come great joy that can’t be beaten down or stolen, and all the humiliating and destitute situations have given me a greater understanding and concern for others.
3) The “bingo card” gospel seems to refer to focusing on teh recitation of a sinner’s prayer and little else. The term “bingo card” doesn’t work for me, but that’s just me. It’s a way to get a “get out of hell free” card, but the problem with that is that this isn’t what God calls us to. The gospel and the Christian walk means much more than an acknowledgment of what is right and wrong. “Believing” is more than an intellectual understanding of something; it goes a lot further than that:
BELIEF, BELIEVE, BELIEVERS
pisteuo NT:4100, “to believe,” also “to be persuaded of,” and hence, “to place confidence in, to trust,” signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence.
(from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.)
Being a follower of Jesus means to surrender everything to Him. That would and should determine everything we do and say, but we rarely live in that place.
There could certainly be holes in my understanding of the gospel. I need to keep reading it and asking God to reveal His truth.
1) I am a returned prodigal child. When I was in high school I was well versed in the Bible, but I don’t think I fully understood salvation. I had a very works oriented view. In my rebellion I just said that I had “enough,” because “God expected too much from me.” The church that I attended didn’t focus on what I wanted to focus on. They were focused on building bigger buildings, and I felt pressured because I wasn’t bringing enough friends with me to church. I WANTED to focus on the world, and I felt that I couldn’t do it through the church. I broke out of the insulated Christian bubble, went to school for social work, and started my working in the most painful profession I could possibly find-child abuse/neglect, and the abuse/neglect of Special Needs adults. I didn’t think that I could deal with the world’s problems as a Christian. The Christian world was clean and good. It was full of smiling gospel singers, huge buildings, tithing, and tele-evangelists. That was my view for many, many years. I think I find Mr Agnew’s music to be so compelling because he tackles the good, bad and the ugly.
2) The church I am attending is losing their building. Through many sets of unfortunate circumstances, we can no longer afford our mortgage. Ever since we found out, our pastor has been focused on “getting us out from behind our 4 walls.” We are starting small groups for the first time, and we will be doing community services a minimum of quarterly as part of our small group time. Before we lost our building, we were drowning out the pain by choruses of praise music. I think losing the building will be the best thing to ever happen to our church.
3) As a returned prodigal, I will tell you “I get it now.” There is no “get out of hell free” card. And there are so many people who are going to find this out “too late.” I do believe that the Gospel requires more than just believing the right things, and I am learning so much about where I have my own holes in the gospel.
4) I don’t want to ignore the pain in this world. I am called into the world. However, I do find that my problem is that I submerge myself TOO much into this world, and that causes problems. I have many friends through my professional circles that are homosexual, and this is very difficult to deal with, particularly when they are in a professional relationship with you. I wish I could skip the parts of the Bible that make people feel “excluded,” and homosexuality is a biggie for making people feel excluded.
5) I went through a spell when my marriage was breaking up. We pulled it together with the help of a very good Christian counselor. I never thought that any good would come of it. Four years later, I can count a minimum of four couples that we have been able to offer love, support, and HOPE for the future.
6) I am withholding my entire self. My mind gets distracted, I get too busy with my job, which is very important to me, and I am working very hard in relying in Him instead of my understanding of the world as I do these abuse investigations. Without His wisdom, I am just another part of this world’s problems.
7) Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I had a professor who wrote a book about surviving cancer, titled, “All Things Work for Good.” I loved Professor Sinclair, and I clung to this verse when my mother came down with cancer, and through my own trials. Professor Sinclair is home with Jesus now, and I still miss him dearly, even though it’s been more than 10 years.
Question # 6: The thing I often withhold from God is my comfort. It’s hard for me to think of anyone other than myself when I’m in pain, but sometimes God asks me to commit to a situation where I have to depend on Him for physical strength. I’m always amazed at how He provides strength and healing when I’m at my weakest.
Question # 7: Job’s response to his suffering stands out to me as the response God is looking for: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21 ESV) When people say “God is so good” when they receive a blessing, it sounds like God is not good when bad things happen. As Job learned, suffering is a mystery that only God understands. If we really believe God is good, then we must believe that even in our suffering God is working things out for our good (Rom. 8:28). If we cannot see God’s goodness in our suffering, perhaps that reveals the deepest motives of our heart–that we may be using God instead of loving him.
Got the book this afternoon.
Question #1: I can relate to having a bubble. When I was younger I was more zealous about helping others, but then when they would hurt me I learned to let them go. I didn’t know how to continue to help. Now sometimes I cower when I come across someone who is hurting and needs long term help. A little of the reason for this is because I don’t want to take the time to reach out, but a lot of the reason is because I feel I don’t know how to help.
When I think about needs of others I have witnessed, I am often overwhelmed. I try not to be aware of needs, but then I don’t know how to respond. Often I think about how I live like a queen in comparison to many people, especially those in other countries. When I have visited other countries I usually quickly adapt to ways of life that are simplier, but when I am living here, I don’t how I am to respond, other than in thanks. I try to live simply, but it doesn’t compare to how others live in places such as mud huts and without electricity or running water.
There is a different sort of bubble that I find when I return after having been on outreach (I have only been on a few outreaches, but they have left great impact on my mind and heart.) It is like all that I have experienced becomes surreal, and I am stuck back in a rut of living for myself. I have found that I try to do everything myself, and don’t like to ask for help. I know that is prideful, and I think many people in the US have this attitude. We keep up masks and walls and don’t get involved with many others lives, and it is often hard to take off those masks and walls because it is taboo in our culture. If we ask for help, often we feel as though we are burdening others and many don’t seem to want to help, so we keep up the walls and masks. While on outreach there are always things planned to do to help others, and it makes it easy to reach out and care and be involved. Also there is usually instruction on HOW to help. When I come home from outreach I haven’t found a place to plug into where things are planned and when I meet someone in need there aren’t instructions. I also think a part of my lack of helping others is that I am also in need of healing, and when I strike out to help others without instructions and someone I can go to with questions, I come to a place where I feel I am not able to help anymore because I begin to feel I have issues that haven’t been resolved. I often pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help me know how to help others and myself as well, but it is like there is a bubble created from the walls and masks I have learned to don that I have found difficult to break through on my own. I also know that this is something God has been working on in me.
Question #2: Well, I love my Father God and my brother Jesus and my counselor the Holy Spirit, and don’t think there could EVER be enough choruses of praise music sung to God! I do get Richard Stern’s point, though. When I had first started working at the Salvation Army years ago, I had been nieve thinking that if someone was in need of food or a place to stay, etc. and if we had run out of funds or for some reason couldn’t help, that surely a church would help. I had called church after church a few times before I realized if anyone responded, that is IF, it was usually reluctantly. Quickly I began to search for other organizations who would help. As a body of Christ we need to step up more to help our neighbors. The church I’ve been going to most frequently currently (yes, I have had issues with find a church and staying at one, one of the issues God is working on in me) has a number of ministries they do to help others. A friend in my Bible study is involved in a new ministry that helps people, and if I stay in the city I am in much longer I likely will get involved. Yes, I am guilty of not following through in this questions. Right now I think God has been leading me to address my issues, and I have taken steps to address them, so I don’t think now is the time for me to be overly involved. I do think once I’ve worked through some of this that I will be able to use it to help others. Just being real.