Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Some Unfinished Business in Richard Stearns's "Unfinished"

Green Lake, Wisconsin
I really like Richard Stearns's new book Unfinished. And I wept and listened and learned when I read his The Hole in Our Gospel.

As excellent as Unfinished is, it's not finished enough for me. Here's why.

Stearns writes:

"So then, as ambassadors for God’s kingdom sent into all the world, what should our approach be? How must we put what we know to be true into practice? We are called above all to love people in the name of Christ. And if we love them, we will demonstrate that love through . . .
• proclamation: explaining to them the good news that their sins can be forgiven and the kingdom of God is now open to them through Jesus’ death on the cross;
• compassion: caring about their physical, emotional, and relational needs;
• justice: taking a stand against persecution and every form of exploitation; and
• restoration: making disciples by teaching people how to live differently by entering the kingdom of God." (Unfinished, pp. 80-81)

OK. Good, even. But there's more.

In discussing compassion Stearns writes:

When John the Baptist sent his disciples from prison to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matt. 11: 3– 5). (77)

And he quotes Matthew 9:35-36 - Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Richard writes:  "love always requires tangible expression. It needs hands and feet."


But look at how Jesus demonstrated the love of God's kingdom that he was proclaiming:

  • healing blind people
  • healing lame people
  • healing lepers
  • healing deaf people
  • raising the dead
  • "healing every disease and sickness"
In Jesus the power of the kingdom was demonstrated through these very practical, exceedingly helpful and loving deeds. If we love people like Jesus loved them, then we will demonstrate our love through the kind of things Jesus did for them. Yes, he fed the five thousand. And yes, he also healed people and raised the dead and cast out demons. In fact, these kind of acts - healings and deliverances - are rampant throughout the four gospels. So much so that any talk of doing what Jesus did, in love, towards others without mentioning them is a glaring omission. I mean, if God can do these things through Jesus and, following John 14-16, through all who are "in him" and "abide in him," who wouldn't want to join Jesus in loving others like this?

As wonderful and challenging as Richard's book is, if the power-ministry isn't included in the strategy then his book will be hugely unfinished. I say "hugely," because the method of Jesus was proclamation + demonstration; loving words of the kingdom and loving power-demonstrations of the rule and reign of God. That's the biblical text, right? Can we please have the entire thing? (To his credit, Stearns does have a chapter on Satan, evil, and the dark kingdom.)