Review of Unfinished from Richard Stearns

July 2, 2013

activism / books / theology

Recently, I had the opportunity to read Unfinished: Believing Is Only the Beginning, the new book from Richard Stearns, through Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze program for bloggers.1 Stearns, of course, is the President of World Vision US.

I haven’t managed to get myself back into regular blogging of any kind, but this seemed like a good thing to take advantage of. If you’ve read my site for a while, it seems that one of the last reviews I wrote was of Stearns’ first book. Reading over that one, it’s fascinating how similar my thoughts on the two books are, but they are still quite different works. I’m going to follow the same format though, as that seemed to help me think through his last one.

What the book says

So the point of this one is that God is telling a story and doing things in the world, and that we are intended to play a role in that. Stearns spends some time in the early parts of the book explaining what that story is and what our options are for dealing with it. He does what I think is some great work, especially for more typical evangelicals, examining what the typical American worldview does to a person’s faith and everything else. Having the job that he does, he does this really well.

Living in a Magic Kingdom society [a rich one] profoundly shapes a person’s worldview It affects the way we look at every dimension of our lives; our values, our expectations, our priorities, our money, our politics, and yes, even the way we see our Christian faith.

When we visit Walt Disney World, we understand that we have entered an insulated bubble that does not reflect the reality of the world outside its gates. Those of us who live in Magic Kingdom countries need to understand that we, too, have lived our lives within an insulated bubble that does not reflect the reality of the rest of the world.

He then looks at the scope of suffering in the world, and again, he does this better than most with the stories he can tell, the numbers he knows firsthand, and the involvement his organization has in nearly all of it.

After this part, he goes into what the kingdom of God is, what the mission of God is, and what it means for us to be invited into that. The stuff here is really familiar for anyone who has spent time in circles where folks talk about missional theology, but I could see it being really radical stuff in many other circles. It’s a beautiful introduction to missional thinking, really. Communities built around the Sermon on the Mount and radical love for everyone are just not all that popular. Again, here, he tells great stories about people he’s known that have chosen to accept God’s invitation in various ways.

After this he discusses how people can choose to orient their lives, and what their results will be if they prioritize things like success, comfort, wealth and security, and so on rather than the kingdom and mission of God. Like most missional folks, he doesn’t seem particularly interested in questions of afterlife when he talks about results, but rather life, now. Again, I imagine this could be radical in some circles. He continues by examining what kind of specific calls people can have within the kingdom, how they can find out what they are and act upon them, and the crazy kind of domino effects that these actions can have. Again, there are few people who have the kind of stories he can tell about this kind of stuff.

The book ends by examining what the role of the church is in all this. Stearns talks about how it has failed and how it can address its failures, and tells great stories about people and communities that are doing that.

What the book says to me

So like before, I want to take a bit of time to think about how I see the message of this book, as I don’t think I’m necessarily its typical reader.

I think Richard Stearns is a good bit to my right, theologically. He seems comfortable interpreting the Bible in ways that I just can’t, both as he summarizes the story of God and as he applies it to the things he’s saying. I found myself wincing a few times, thinking about how his assumptions just don’t work outside evangelical circles, and realizing that there are lots of people who just wouldn’t listen to what he has to say because of the language he uses – metaphors, especially. There were times I winced at that stuff, and language he’s willing to use that I just can’t accept. There are also places I wish he’d let his theology go and ask people to go, and he’s apparently not willing to. I wince a little at some of those, too.

But regardless: I can listen to Richard Stearns. He lives a beautiful life in the kingdom of God. He’s shaped his theology around that life and the things he’s been given to do, but still in a way that fits within evangelicalism. Beautiful. He has a necessary message, and there are millions of people who do speak his language and I think their lives could be changed by what he has to say. I’d recommend it to anyone in thousands of churches.

  1. In the interest of disclosure, I received the book for free, and am not required to write positively about it. []