June 6, 2013

'Unfinished' | Richard Stearns [Book Review]


It seems as if there has been a new wave of books recently calling Christians away from the comfortable sidelines and into faithful action for the sake of advancing God’s kingdom. Unfinished by Richard Stearns fits nicely into this genre of books, but with a bit more meat to chew on — a definite plus for this reader. Drawing from Scripture and from his experiences as former-CEO of a large corporation and as current president of World Vision USA, Stearns offered a unique perspective on this subject, which I appreciated. His writing is easy to follow, and I especially enjoyed the vivid analogies he used throughout the book. Here are my top five favorites:

Magic Kingdom, Tragic Kingdom, and the Kingdom of God

In chapter 4, Stearns asks the question, “What would people be like if they had been born and raised inside the Magic Kingdom park and had never seen the outside world?” (p. 46). This, he says, is exactly how we could describe much of the church living with “first-world” problems, very distant from and largely unaware of the day-to-day struggles impacting the lives of those living in what Stearns calls the “Tragic Kingdom” across the rest of the world. But, Stearns reminds us, God does not call us to live as comfortable citizens of our world, but to finish God’s work of building his own kingdom in this world.

Deciders vs. Disciples

The goal of much of evangelism is to get people to “make a decision for Christ” — the more the better. But, Stearns reminds us that Christ did not commission the church to make “deciders” but to make “disciples.” The difference? Deciders admit their sins and accept forgiveness. They learn Scripture so they know what to believe, and they ask Jesus to bless the plans they have made. Disciples see the grace and forgiveness they receive from God as a call to action. They learn Scripture so that they can become more like Christ, and they seek to build their plans and their lives according to Christ’s priorities and teaching. One cannot be a disciple without first being a decider, but in order to finish the work of growing God’s Kingdom, we must be willing to be more than just a decider, we must become disciples.

Spiritual GPS

But how? How do we give up our status as Magic Kingdom deciders to become Christ-like disciples building the Kingdom of God? One of the strengths of Unfinished is that it does not simply give us a nice little pep talk to make us feel motivated to step out of our comfort zones. Stearns recognizes that going from emotion to action is costly, and if we attempt to do it on our own, quite impossible. Instead, he points back to the first disciples who were hiding away in fear one day and boldly preaching in the streets the next. What made the difference for them? “Without the Holy Spirit they were a bunch of mere men with no power to change much of anything; with the Holy Spirit they became the most influential force in world history” (p. 118). 

Comparing the Holy Spirit to a GPS system, Stearns points out that this member of the Trinity came after Jesus’ ascension to provide power, wisdom, comfort, and more to the disciples, and that this same Holy Spirit is still available to Christ-followers in the twenty-first century. Like a GPS, the Holy Spirit knows our location in relation to the bigger picture. While we can only see in part, the Spirit can see the whole. Because of this, the Holy Spirit knows the best route for us to take, giving us one step at a time and able to adjust even when we fail to follow the directions we are given. Stearns points us back to the command to “be filled with the Holy Spirit” and reminds us that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can obey our call to go to action building God’s kingdom here on Earth.

Spiritual Dominoes

One of my absolute favorite analogies that Stearns uses is that of falling dominoes. Describing some of the most impressive displays of falling-domino creations, Stearns points out that each domino in the set-up is a vital piece; if one fails to function the way it is intended, it’s failure causes the failure of the whole. While Stearns points out that the failure of one person will never derail God’s plan, pointing to the story of Esther, Stearns reminds us that our failure to accomplish the tasks God has prepared for us does have consequences. However, when we choose to act in obedience, we cannot know the far-reaching impact that our faithfulness can have in God’s design.

The Church as Kingdom Outposts

Throughout the book, Stearns continually refers to the work of God as a revolution (yet another illustration that permeates all of the others), and within this analogy, he writes that the purpose of the church is to serve as outposts where Christians (a.k.a. “revolutionaries”) gather, plan, train, and prepare before going out to accomplish their mission. Rather than succumbing to the consumer-driven mentality of our culture, our churches should exist to send out soldiers and kingdom-builders into the world with the right knowledge and resources that will help them along the way. As disciple-makers, we should be equipping every believer with “the gentle weapons of the kingdom” which “[pierce] the heart of the enemy and [send] him into retreat” (p. 198).

This only begins to skim the surface of all this book has to offer. Throughout each chapter, Stearns carefully weaves together Scripture and the work he sees God doing through his experiences with World Vision to show that the same God that sent out and empowered the first disciples is the God that we serve today. His discussion of what truth is and why it matters in chapter one and his “big picture” paraphrase of the whole gospel, from creation to present day, in chapter two would be reasons enough to read this book. One of the dangers of having so much information in one book is that it can sometimes begin to feel disjointed or disconnected, but that is a small complaint when compared to the strengths that this book offers. Overall, I found that this book was easy to read and yet challenging in its call to continue Christ’s mission to build His kingdom in this world.

Find more content like this in Engage Mission Center.

Photo compiled from Flickr.  

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