The Hole in the Whole

Today’s the day we’ve been waiting for! Today, we begin the discussion of Chapter 1 of Richard Stearns’ book, The Hole in Our Gospel. As always, my co-facilitator, Jason and I welcome you to stick around and join in the discussion whether or not you’ve read the chapter. We love hearing what you have to say! After you’ve read my thoughts here and commented on them, please visit Jason’s site, Connecting to Impact, to see what he has to say. At his place, you’ll find a widget where you can link a post on this topic if you’ve written one or you can visit the other linked posts there to see what the others had to say about this chapter.

And now, Chapter 1—A Hole in the Whole

Of all the scriptures Stearns referred to in Chapter 1, the one that meant the most to me was this one:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

I almost feel guilty when I read that scripture… Jesus came for me to have life—really full, abundant life. But I’m immediately assailed by emotions and memories. I think of that afternoon that I did this one horrible thing or that night that I snuck away with that guy or the years that I simmered in anger and unforgiveness over those other things that happened.

At the very beginning of Chapter 1, Stearns shares a quote from Dallas Willard and part of what that quote says is: “In reality, we vainly struggle against the evils of this world, waiting to die and go to heaven. Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that the essence of faith is entirely a mental and inward thing.”

That doesn’t sound like abundant life to me. But I can completely identify with this feeling. And I think I’ll call it the Hanging on by the Tips of Your Fingers Syndrome. Stearns tells us more about what this looks like:

“Our view of the gospel has been narrowed to a simple transaction, marked by checking a box on a bingo card at some prayer breakfast, registering a decision for Christ, or coming forward during an altar call.”

You begin to get the feeling that salvation is a formula. If I do A plus B, I’ll get C. It becomes a “transaction” or a business deal instead of a relationship with Our Creator and The Lover of Our Soul. And when our own relationship with Christ begins this way, when we share the Gospel with others, we also portray it to them in that same formulaic A+B=C type of way. Whether we realize it or not, if we’re living our Christianity out in religious formulas and rituals and traditions, we’re simply hanging onto a cliff. If we are able to talk others into receiving Christ through our formula, they end up hanging from the cliff next to us, by the tips of their fingers! We all end up hanging from that cliff of religion, waiting for God to rescue us to Heaven.

Stearns’ foundation here in the first chapter is to tell us that there is more to life than hanging onto our salvation by our fingertips! The Hanging on by the Tips of Your Fingers Syndrome is essentially living a gospel with a hole in it. We’re so focused on Heaven that we don’t focus on the mission that God has given us here on earth. Stearns reminds us that “the kingdom of God, which Christ said is ‘within you’ (Luke 17:21 NKJV), was intended to change and challenge everything in our fallen world in the here and now.” (emphasis mine)

Stearns says that “God’s love was intended to be demonstrated, not dictated.” Certainly, the Holy Spirit is the One Who moves in people’s hearts, but we still have a responsibility to let go of the cliff of religion, show up and live our lives as an example to the world of abundant life.

Why do I need to be an example?

Well, here’s the thing… Everybody has faith in something. For some, it’s money. For some, it’s themselves. For some, it’s their spouse. For some, it’s politics or science. If we aren’t there to exhibit Christ as a viable option, how then can we expect them to choose Him? And if they don’t see Christianity working for us, then why should we expect them ever to choose it for themselves? As Stearns says we are called “not just to proclaim the good news but to be the good news, here and now.”

Are you living out God’s abundant life or are you hanging onto the cliff of religion, formulas, rituals, and traditions? If you’re hanging onto the cliff, are you ready to let go? Is your life a clear example to others of God’s abundant life? If it isn’t, how can you change (allow God to change you) so that it is? Are you ready to let God fill in the holes in your Gospel?

About Sarah Salter


  1. Papa Bear (the Preacher) says:

    I appreciate the challenge you and Jason have given some of us by looking at where we are in our world. For those just beginning their Christian walk as well as some of us who have been on this pilgrimage a while, The Hole in Our Gospel is a challenging attempt to make us really look at how we are serving Christ as one of His disciples. Indeed the Kingdom of God is “within,” but it is not yet complete. Our task if we are to really serve Jesus is to complete the work of His Kingdom within us and let it witness outwardly to others. To accomplish this task requires our proclaimation of what Stearnes calls the “whole” gospel.

    This quote is a little lengthy, but it says more to me about what my task as a preacher and pastor requires. “Proclaiming the whole gospel then, means more than evangelism in the hopes that people will hear and respond to the good news of salvation by faith in Christ. It also encompasses tangivle compassion for the sick and the poor, as well as biblical justice, efforts to right the wrongs that are so prevalent in our world. God is concerned about the spiritual, physical, and social dimensions of our being. This whole gospel is truly good news for the poor, and it the foundation for a social revolution that has the power to change the world. And if this was Jesus’ mission, it is also the mission, it is also the mission of all who claim to follow Him. It is my mission, it is your mission, and it is the mission of the Church.”

    This nailed me right between the eyes! I have more to do and I trust going through this book will help me change some of the things that I need to do as a sevant and disciple of Jesus. Thank you both! If not for your pointing to this book, I would have never found out some of what Jesus wants me to know and do.

  2. I read the first chapter in a sleep deprived fog, but was impacted by many of the same things…

    It is time for us to accept the fullness of life which has been offered to us, to stand courageously unashamed of the whole gospel, to put feet to our love, and live the transformation.

    If I am not making sense, see the note about being sleep deprived.

    Thank you for the prayers for my Mother-in-law and family.

  3. “let go of the cliff of religion, show up and live our lives as an example to the world of abundant life.”

    mmm that’s good stuff right there – I know a lot of people stuck there – I’ve been there before too. I wish I knew what “clicked” in my head/spirit that allowed me to switch tracks so that I could share it with other people, but I’m not sure I know.

  4. Sarah Salter says:

    Dad – aka “Papa Bear” – aka “The Preacher” – I have to smile because this is three books that we’ve discussed now that when I first presented you with the book, you questioned why we had chosen that book and were a bit skeptical about it. But you’ve hung in there anyway, letting me run the way that I believe God’s leading me, even when you thought that maybe we were running the wrong direction. And you know what? I think we’ve both learned from the process. I hope this book blesses your socks off! I hope it revolutionizes your ministry. And I pray that in that, God is glorified! I love you, Daddy! 🙂

  5. Sarah Salter says:

    Dusty, I smiled this morning as I read your post. (I promise I’ll go back and comment! It’s been a bit hectic today!) Again, we chose some of the same quotes and scriptures and had some of the same thought processes. And I LOVE the way you’ve put it here in the comments. “Live the transformation.” Yeah, I really like that.

    My brother, hang in there. There are so many prayers going up for you and Julie and your family. Rest in Him. He’ll take care of you.

  6. Sarah Salter says:

    Herb, during all of the years that I was hanging on the cliff, I was still evangelizing. Let me see if I can explain this… Even though I was hanging on by my fingertips, I STILL KNEW deep down that hanging onto a cliff by my fingertips with Jesus was better than standing on my feet without Him. But I’ll tell you what, the freer I get, the more I love Him and the more I love Him, the stronger that burning is inside of me for other people to know Him and His love. Thanks for your comments and participation, Herb! (And tell your wife I said, “Go Monarchs!”)

  7. The sad thing as I read this is that many feel that displaying the full Gospel is up to the “professionals” –the pastors, the clergy, the full-time ministers. It’s for every single one of us. We don’t have to hang on by a thread and that’s not what Jesus died for. His love is “demonstrated, not dictated.” He came to give us life and life more abundantly. That’s enough to stir us up right there. Thanks for helping to stir, Sarah!

  8. Sarah Salter says:

    Jason, I know I’m guilty, too. I forget that because of Christ, I’m part of a royal priesthood. Part of what that means is that whether I have a degree, whether I’ve been ordained, whether I receive a paycheck from a “ministry” or “church” or whether I am a grade-school drop-out that digs ditches for a living, I AM IN FULL TIME MINISTRY. I am called to be my brother’s keeper. I’m called to be a watcher on the wall. And that’s not always going to be fun or convenient. And people aren’t always going to like me or agree with me. But all of that is part of abundant life.

  9. Hi Sarah. I almost wasn’t going to check out the posts because I wasn’t sure it would lead to me eventually cheating and just copying your thoughts and words, but then I said “Meh, what is wrong with that? So I end up just posting ‘What Sarah and Jason said…’ with links. ” 🙂

    I can see from your and Jason’s posts that this is going to be a good book to get into.

    And you need a retweet button on your blog.

  10. Sarah Salter says:

    Helen, can I tell you a secret? 9 times out of 10, Jason & I see each others’ posts before we publish. And yet, we really don’t “cheat” and copy each other. We each bring our unique insights to the table and share, so don’t worry. Enjoy today’s posts! We’ll look forward to hearing from you when you’re ready.

    And I’ll mention the “retweet button” to my team of gurus and see what we can come up with. Actually, I’m getting quite a list of requests from folks that I need to take to my gurus. (I think I’m going to have to bake cookies for them as payment this time!)

  11. Sarah…this is going to be a challenging book for sure. Your statement “we all have faith in something” struck me and got me thinking. Do we really believe we serve a loving God? If we do, then how do we flesh that out everyday? It made me think of this Scripture in a different way…

    “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40

    Thanks for sharing your heart!

  12. Sarah Salter says:

    Jay- that statement “we all have faith in something” is something my old pastor’s wife used to say ALL the time. And yesterday, while I was writing my blog post, I got interupted and drawn into a conversation in which I used that quote. When I turned back to my blog post, I knew that I HAD to say that… that I had to share that with y’all and that the timing was providential. Don’t you love when that happens? And yes, great thoughts here! Thanks for throwing in Matthew 25:40. It’s a perfect fit in today’s conversation. And it makes me think back to Andrea Stasyszen’s comment at Jason’s place a couple of weeks ago where she talked about doing the little things… changing diapers and holding babies… those little things are enormously significant in the Kingdom!

  13. Hi Sarah: I have been reading Jason’s blog for several months now and have seen your comments there. This, however, is my first visit to your blog. Legalism is a killer…I know. I will never forget the Scripture: “The letter kills but the Spirit gives life.” I was (and am) so glad that I was able to let go and be set free. I look forward to joining in the book discussion with you, Jason, Dusty and any others involved.

    BTW: I linked at Jason’s blog but not sure how the widget works.

  14. Sarah Salter says:

    Hi Bill and welcome! I’ve seen you around the neighborhood, too. Thanks for coming by and sharing! And yes, the word “legalism” did come to mind while I was writing this post, but somehow it didn’t make it into the final edit. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the LIFE. And the Spirit gives LIFE. I choose life over legalism, by the power of God. Again, thanks for coming by and sharing! 🙂

  15. Hi! I know I’m not faithful to you and visit your blog. Sorry.

    And I’m off again, looking for some holes.

  16. Sarah Salter says:

    It’s okay, Ani! I’ll enjoy the visits whenever you find a minute to drop by. Good luck on the hole hunt! 🙂

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