Archives For World Vision

D. A. Carson has written an excellent editorial, “The Hole in the Gospel,” addressing the gospel which he then applies to Richard Stearns’ book, The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? This piece is very good. Furthermore, it is also instructive about what is missing in so many of these sorts of books, as helpful as they may be.

Carson begins by pointing out the essential connection between correctly identifying the problem and its accompanying solution: “in the Bible,” he writes, “how are the ‘problem’ of sin and the ‘solution’ of the gospel rightly related to each other?” The Bible’s answer, he states, is that “the heart of the issue is that by our fallen nature, by our choice, and by God’s judicial decree, we are alienated from God Almighty. For the Bible to be coherent, then, it follows that the gospel must resolve the problem of sin.”

An emphasis on the gospel has become commonplace the past few years. Many are talking about the gospel and its necessity. Numerous books have been written about the gospel and the language has become ubiquitous among Evangelicals. This is a good thing. But it also can become commonplace in a negative way, i.e., it becomes so common it is assumed.

So how is the gospel defined?

The gospel is the great news of what God has graciously done in Jesus Christ, especially in his atoning death and vindicating resurrection, his ascension, session, and high priestly ministry, to reconcile sinful human beings to himself, justifying them by the penal substitute of his Son, and regenerating and sanctifying them by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, who is given to them as the down payment of their ultimate inheritance. God will save them if they repent and trust in Jesus.

In this definition, Carson focuses on three key aspects, which I quote in full:

  1. The gospel is, first and foremost, news—great news, momentous news. That is why it must be announced, proclaimed—that’s what one does with news. Silent proclamation of the gospel is an oxymoron. Godly and generous behavior may bear a kind of witness to the transformed life, but if those who observe such a life hear nothing of the substance of the gospel, it may evoke admiration but cannot call forth faith because in the Bible faith demands faith’s true object, which remains unknown where there is no proclamation of the news.
  2. The gospel is, first and foremost, news about what God has done in Christ. It is not law, an ethical system, or a list of human obligations; it is not a code of conduct telling us what we must do: it is news about what God has done in Christ.
  3. On the other hand, the gospel has both purposes and entailments in human conduct. The entailments must be preached. But if you preach the entailments as if they were the gospel itself, pretty soon you lose sight of the reality of the gospel—that it is the good news of what God has done, not a description of what we ought to do in consequence. Pretty soon the gospel descends to mere moralism. One cannot too forcefully insist on the distinction between the gospel and its entailments. 

Based on the biblical gospel, Carson then applies it to the book by Stearns. There is much to commend in the book. However, there are three concerns that left much to be desired, especially when measured by the biblical gospel. As with the definition of the gospel, I include in full Carson’s comments.

First, “what God expects of us” (his subtitle) is, by definition, not the gospel. This is not the great news of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Had Mr Stearns cast his treatment of poverty as one of the things to be addressed by the second greatest commandment, or as one of several entailments of the gospel, I could have recommended his book with much greater confidence. As it is, the book will contribute to declining clarity as to what the gospel is.

Second, even while acknowledging—indeed, insisting on the importance of highlighting—the genuine needs that Mr Stearns depicts in his book, it is disturbing not to hear similar anguish over human alienation from God. The focus of his book is so narrowly poverty that the sweep of what the gospel addresses is lost to view. Men and women stand under God’s judgment, and this God of love mandates that by the means of heralding the gospel they will be saved not only in this life but in the life to come. Where is the anguish that contemplates a Christ-less eternity, that cries, “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses. . . . Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone” (Ezek 18:30–32). The analysis of the problem is too small, and the gospel is correspondingly reduced.

Third, some studies have shown that Christians spend about five times more mission dollars on issues related to poverty than they do on evangelism and church planting. At one time, “holistic ministry” was an expression intended to move Christians beyond proclamation to include deeds of mercy. Increasingly, however, “holistic ministry” refers to deeds of mercy without any proclamation of the gospel—and that is not holistic. It is not even halfistic, since the deeds of mercy are not the gospel: they are entailments of the gospel. Although I know many Christians who happily combine fidelity to the gospel, evangelism, church planting, and energetic service to the needy, and although I know some who call themselves Christians who formally espouse the gospel but who live out few of its entailments, I also know Christians who, in the name of a “holistic” gospel, focus all their energy on presence, wells in the Sahel, fighting disease, and distributing food to the poor, but who never, or only very rarely, articulate the gospel, preach the gospel, announce the gospel, to anyone. Judging by the distribution of American mission dollars, the biggest hole in our gospel is the gospel itself.

In light of what has transpired with World Vision in the past week, all of this took on greater significance. It led me to ask the following questions, which I also ask of you: After reading Stearns’ book and reading Carson’s concern with it, and now in light of the decision and retraction of World Vision regarding their employee policy on same-sex ‘marriage’ . . .

  • What surprised you?
  • What did not surprise you?
  • What lessons ought we to learn from this situation?
  • Why is it critical to insist that the gospel consists of news and that it has entailments, and what happens if we consider they are one and the same?
  • What are the pressure points to the gospel at present?
  • How do we retain our commitment to the gospel, and what does that mean?
  • How might we lose it?

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you– unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-5

World Vision and Evangelical Identity

Greg Strand – April 1, 2014 4 Comments

World Vision is generally considered Evangelical and an Evangelical ministry (though it must be acknowledged that I am using Evangelical in a bit broader sense that for example in the EFCA). This is why their decision to broaden their policy for employees shocked most Evangelicals (theologically defined). They would not have been, and have not been surprised when liberal institutions and ministries have moved in this direction. It is part of how liberal is defined and understood.

Generally Evangelicalism is known for its soteriology, or its commitment to evangelism and salvation (narrowly understood as conversion or being born again), and lesser known for its ecclesiology. Though not a denomination, Evangelicalism is generally known for its plurality of voices on some issues, unlike some who have a singular voice of one, with more of a singular voice on the essentials.

Andrew Walker provided an interesting perspective to the World Vision situation. In light of the many weaknesses associated with Evangelicalism, Walker briefly noted that what we recently experienced with World Vision was a good indicator that Evangelicalism has boundaries, “In Praise of Evangelical Identity: World Vision and Biblical Witness” As he looks on the other side of what transpired, he concludes that this says something about Evangelical identity.

But once in awhile, we get our movement and ourselves right. Leaving aside the (valid) criticisms of para-church ministry structure and its lack of ecclesiological grounding, World Vision’s decision to reverse course from a patently unbiblical and patently unhistorical position, demonstrates that evangelicalism has boundary markers. We have core beliefs about authority. We may not always agree on what the precise boundaries are, but the World Vision event this week helps us identify the approximate boundaries, and when it has been crossed. Evangelicalism did triage this week, and did it well. We saw through the malaise of theological indifferentism and insisted that while evangelicalism remains a big tent, at some point, the canopy ends.

Walker affirms what this says about Evangelicalism.

In a day where American views of sexuality are fracturing, the World Vision episode reveals that the gravitational center of evangelicalism remains decidedly biblical. The challenge before us today is to keep it that way. . . . there were no Papal Bulls. There were no Councils. There were no Synods. There was only evangelicalism with Bibles open, recognizing that a line had been crossed. . . . And good for evangelicalism to have the identity it does to know what its identity is and isn’t.

Though I think Walker overstates this a bit, and though I think it is too optimistic about Evangelicals speaking with a univocal voice rooted in their identity, I do appreciate his perspective. This is our family and there are strengths to our family. Often we focus on the negative aspects and the things that are wrong rather than the things that, by God’s grace, are right.

In contrast to the Evangelicals who stated this policy change was too far biblically, that marriage is not an adiaphora, i.e., a matter of indifference, Walker also commented on the positive response of some so-called Evangelical millennials to World Vision’s announcement of their change. They applauded it, and then bemoaned and cursed (often literally) the reversal of the decision. Walker states,

In American evangelicalism, you can’t believe in anything you want and call yourself an evangelical. That [sic] what Mainline Protestantism is for. That’s the route that “professional dissidents” like Rachel Held Evans want evangelicalism to become, but that only leads to eternal pottage.

To be fair, World Vision serves a broader constituency than Evangelicals and Evangelicalism, some Mainline Protestant churches identify as Evangelical, and there are Evangelicals in Mainline Protestant churches. But those Mainline churches and Christians in those churches who identify as Evangelicals do so with the same voice and for many of the same reasons most Evangelicals responded as they did to World Vision. They are committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and biblical truth. The real difference is between an Evangelical and a theological liberal.

Regardless of how one self-identifies, Evangelical is determined by the gospel and one’s understanding of and response to it. So for those who identify as Evangelical and approve of same-sex “marriage,” they are not Evangelical. As one example, Walker refers to Rachel Held Evans. She has self-identified as an Evangelical and continues to do so, though in this post she states she may be moving away from Evangelicals as she has grown tired of defending them. In her words, “I, for one, am tried of arguing. I’m tired of trying to defend evangelicalism when its leaders behave indefensibly. I’m going AWOL on evangelicalism’s culture wars so I can get back to following Jesus.” But in reality she is a theological liberal, not an Evangelical. You can read her response to the World Vision decision and how Evangelicals responded: “How evangelicals won a culture war and lost a generation

There are far too many issues to address in Evans’ post. However, I will say this: what we hear – again – from Evans is that the reason the church is losing millennials is because of insensitivity to cultural issues and outdated doctrinal views. My sense is that this is a tired and untrue claim. This claim, as the claim made by the now passé Emergents, bemoans what Evangelicalism has not been and will not become. Though desiring to retain some connection to Evangelicals and Evangelicalism, the views embraced and espoused by people like Evans are with an attempt to make Evangelicalism more progressive on these matters. At the end of the day, this is a sine qua non of theological liberalism. It simply won’t do. A theological liberal by any other name . . .

As you have now read, World Vision has changed their short-lived policy of allowing couples in same-sex “marriage” to be employees of their ministry. They affirm the biblical teaching of marriage to be between a man and a woman. Furthermore, they continue to affirm the biblical truth that sex outside of biblically permitted marriage is not allowed for employees. This is a great decision. We rejoice with this recommitment to the authority of the Word of God.

I thought it might be helpful to see some of the comments that were shared during the day on this blog after the initial change to broaden the moral requirement was announced, a policy that went contrary to the biblical truth.

Since there was good interaction and since many do not read the interaction in the comments, I thought it would be helpful to include them below. I have not asked permission from those who commented, but since they have commented publicly on the blog, I am simply bringing it to the forefront in the actual blog because it is instructive, and I believe it will also be helpful to others.

Let me say this again – though World Vision’s policy has been changed, I share this with the hope that it will be instructive about how to think through and respond to these sorts of things that will (when, not if) happen in the future. I will follow this post with “Thoughts After World Vision’s Reversal of Decision”


Moore’s comment, “We’re entering an era where we will see who the evangelicals really are, and by that I mean those who believe in the gospel itself, in all of its truth and all of its grace. And many will shrink back. There are no riots if the gospel you’re preaching doesn’t threaten the silversmiths of the Temple of Artemis. And there are no clucking tongues if the gospel you’re preaching isn’t offered to tax collectors and temple prostitutes.” is absolutely powerful…because it is true.

The church in Congo is struggling with “Do we turn our heads to this and continue to receive wages based on a U.S. standard and water and schools and health care?”, or “Do we choose to give it up because of what we believe?” It’s been a bridge on the horizon they haven’t wanted to cross.


Thank you for your comment, Jim. It is true that the church in Congo will need to wrestle through this, not, I trust, questioning the truth of the gospel, but how to proceed faithfully as they move away from the ministry of World Vision. And just as the church in the Congo will struggle with this, so will many Evangelicals, including my family personally, who are supporting a child through World Vision.

This is another example of a ministry who has, tragically, moved in the direction of the social gospel at the expense of the true gospel. Unity trumps truth. As Evangelicals, we must remain tethered to the text and grounded in the gospel. This means that the gospel is foundational to doctrine and practice. The truth of the gospel is the ground of unity. Apart from it, it is not true gospel and it is not real unity. Furthermore, we must be wise and discerning that we do not allow the pendulum swing to move us to the gospel divorced from its entailments, as the Fundamentalists did a century ago.


Stearns forced bad options on many supporters. I guess I hope folks with fulfill their commitment to the child they are sponsoring, while letting World Vision know when that is fulfilled, they are gone.

Is this a good time to tell of another option for supporting children?


GlobalFingerprints is the child sponsorship ministry of ReachGlobal. We partner with national churches around the world to send children to school and help care for their physical, spiritual and emotional needs.

Change a child’s life for $35/month in Congo, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Liberia or Zambia.


Thank you for your reply, Kerry. Stearns and the board of World Vision have made a poor policy decision based on cultural expediency, not biblical truth. It will force many to rethink and reconsider supporting children through World Vision. Sadly, it is the children who suffer most directly. I appreciate the link to the ReachGlobal ministry of GlobalFingerprints.

Matthew Lee Anderson has also written of some options for how to respond to this change.


Well, there’s always Compassion International and Global Fingerprints …


Thank you for your response, Dave. As you see below, GlobalFingerprints was suggested.

One asked a question on FB about this as well. He made the point that this decision will affect children, and we need to take that into consideration. Here was my response.

Because many Christians will no longer support children through World Vision does not mean they will not be supporting children. There are many other organizations that will continue to support children and they will do so solidly grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. One very good alternative for those in the EFCA is RachBlobal’s Global Fingerprints.

Here is a response from Matthew Lee Anderson providing some suggestions of how to respond to this World Vision’s policy change in light of remembering the children (cf. above since I included the link in an earlier comment).

The first thing to do is, of course, inform World Vision USA of your conclusion and the difficulty they have subsequently thrown you into. Angry, belligerent emails and phone calls are not a Christian mode of response. But level-headed, patient, and clear reasoning can be. It would be prudent to ask for World Vision to set up pathways for people who have decided they can no longer give to continue corresponding and supporting their child directly, as a sign of their willingness to help those who disagree with their new vision carry on those modes of communication that first and foremost make World Vision a Christian organization, even if it costs the organization a great deal of money and time to ensure that it can happen. Opening up such pathways would convey not World Vision’s commitment to unity of the right sort, namely that which respects and seeks to maintain lines of communication within and across real and substantive disagreements that it recognizes must be maintained.

Second, it seems to me that continuing to give in a situation where there has been a substantive relationship established with a child would be appropriate, at least for a season. Given that education and formation happens at the local level, and that the other branches of World Vision are not beholden to World Vision USA’s decision, there is nothing substantive lost by maintaining support temporarily. The boundaries of a “substantive relationship” are, of course, somewhat fuzzy. In the abstract, what sort of relationship qualifies is impossible to discern. But some sort of differences are obvious, as I noted above, and those differences introduce genuine and substantive reasons for acting that must be accounted for in this case.

But I would add a qualification to this, if support continues: I would notify World Vision USA that the continuing of support is for the purposes of the child alone, and that when the financial-support relationship comes to an end (as it does automatically at age 21, and at other ages for a variety of reasons) it will not be renewed or transferred to another child, but will be taken to another organization. There would be two ways to look at this sort of communication: either it could be seen as ‘holding World Vision hostage’ by threatening to remove financial contributions, or it could be a form of ‘informing World Vision USA of a decision so they can make alternate arrangements’. Which description belongs may depend entirely on how the communication is given: non-profits need to know how to project their finances, and giving them some advance warning that support would be withdrawn at least allows them to seek alternative means of funding in the interim.

But the effects of these sorts of organizational decisions are often slower moving than internet responses or commentary. The logic of the traditional marriage case depends upon a commitment to something like a “moral ecology,” but that means that the effects of certain decisions are not often known until several generations later. Analogically, this sort of symbolic move will have a substantive effect on the moral ethos of World Vision USA, but the fruit in its own organizational life and in its relationship to the broader World Vision organization (the structure of which is not entirely clear to me) may not grow for a while. For those who are committed to supporting particular children, that delay is a benefit, as it allows support to continue while still expressing a fundamental disagreement and communicating to World Vision USA the reasons for such a disagreement and the end-point of any future support or help. It’s a slow withdrawal, to be sure, but we are to be patient in doing good, even when doing good demands changing the recipients of our support.

Third, I would begin any new contributions with another organization and encourage those who ask to do the same. Food for the Hungry, Compassion International, and others do similarly good work to World Vision. Best of all may be your own denominational support structures, which presumably are accountable to the body where you worship.

Though the ministries mentioned by Anderson do not work the same way as World Vision, I include this post as a possibility of options, simply acknowledging them as options. Though Anderson’s response is certainly not definitive, referring to him is simply an example of how one is thinking this through with possible alternatives to a ministry of mercy to children apart from World Vision.


Greg, thanks for your comments on World Vision. I am assuming the next time you do the class this at church this decision will come up.


Thank you for your comments to the post. I will address this matter on Sunday. I have two concerns on this matter as people process this decision.

First, I have a concern with the younger Evangelicals who are attracted to the social implications of the gospel, issues like compassion and justice, but do so assuming the biblical gospel. It is important to understand these issues and how they relate to one another. I refer to this as the doctrinal centrality of the gospel, i.e. the biblical gospel, and the functional centrality of the gospel, i.e. its entailments in life and ministry.

Second, I also have concerns for other Evangelicals who will feel the weight and concern of the older slide into the social gospel, those churches that moved into theological liberalism, so that they will end up only focusing on the biblical gospel without acknowledging and exhorting one to ponder seriously the entailments of the gospel.

World Vision Reverses Its Decision

Greg Strand – March 27, 2014 Leave a comment

World Vision (U.S.) reversed its decision regarding employment. This is great news, for which I thank and praise the Lord!

Here is a copy of the complete letter.

Dear Friends,

Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our employment conduct policy. The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

We are writing to you our trusted partners and Christian leaders who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew 18 to express your concern in love and conviction. You share our desire to come together in the Body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.

In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.

We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board’s intent. We are asking for your continued support. We commit to you that we will continue to listen to the wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead.

While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.

Please know that World Vision continues to serve all people in our ministry around the world. We pray that you will continue to join with us in our mission to be “an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Sincerely in Christ,

Richard Stearns, President

Jim Beré, Chairman of the World Vision U.S. Board

World Vision has changed their policy for employees:  “Christian” couples in same-sex “marriages” are now allowed to be employees. Though sexual abstinence outside of marriage is still policy, marriage is no longer defined as between a man and a woman.

Richard Stearns, United States president of World Vision, “asserts that the ‘very narrow policy change’ should be viewed by others as ‘symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.’ He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.”

It is amazing that Stearns refers to this change as “very narrow.” Either he does not grasp the magnitude of this moral issue, or he is downplaying its importance. Though it addresses one change, this change is major and strikes at the heart of the Bible and its authority.

With this “very narrow” change, World Vision claims that they will be able to live above the fray of this moral issue that is “tearing churches apart.” They are taking their cue from legal decisions made in many states and liberal churches, both of which are attempting to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. Though the stated reason may be unity, it comes at the expense of truth, and it will not bring true unity. In a sense, one gets the sense in which one claims “unity, unity, but there is no unity” (a take on Jeremiah’s words of denunciation to prophets and priests who dealt falsely and healed the wound of God’s people lightly claiming “peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14; 8:11)). 

In short, World Vision hopes to dodge the division currently “tearing churches apart” over same-sex relationships by solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor.

Given that more churches and states are now permitting same-sex marriages (including World Vision’s home state of Washington), the issue will join divorce/remarriage, baptism, and female pastors among the theological issues that the massive relief and development organization sits out on the sidelines.

Stearns attempts to downplay this decision.

‘It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there,’ he said. ‘This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.’

‘We’re not caving to some kind of pressure. We’re not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us,’ said Stearns. ‘This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We’re an operational arm of the global church, we’re not a theological arm of the church.’

Though Stearns is right to distinguish between the church and denominations and the parachurch (though denominations are also a parachurch, though related more directly to the church), it is naïve at best and disingenuous at worst to claim that they are merely an “operational arm” of the church and not a “theological arm” of the church.

There are two major problems. First, parachurches are birthed by the church to serve the church. That means that though they may serve as an operational arm of the church, they are grounded in the theological foundation of the church. Second, by changing this policy and claiming that they do not endorse same-sex “marriage” and that they “affirm and support ‘traditional marriage’” simply will not work. This is a theological issue and they have made their beliefs and commitments clear, regardless of the spin that is put on this decision.

Stearns claims the new policy is rooted in the fact that World Vision is a parachurch and is multi-denominational.

‘Denominations disagree on many, many things: on divorce and remarriage, modes of baptism, women in leadership roles in the church, beliefs on evolution, etc.,’ he said. ‘So our practice has always been to defer to the authority and autonomy of local churches and denominational bodies on matters of doctrine that go beyond the Apostles’ Creed and our statement of faith. We unite around our [Trinitarian beliefs], and we have always deferred to the local church on these other matters.’

The reason the prohibition existed in the first place? ‘It’s kind of a historical issue,’ said Stearns. ‘Same-sex marriage has only been a huge issue in the church in the last decade or so. There used to be much more unity among churches on this issue, and that’s changed.’

As you read, Stearns places same-sex “marriage” in the same category as other issues over which Christians have agreed to disagree. This reflects his inability to discern between essential and non-essential matters, and how one goes about discerning what doctrinal matters are in the different categories.

Furthermore, to place this only in the category of being a historical issue, misses some profound issues. Certainly these issues are pressing on us now. And though there is a huge cultural shift of the general populace toward the acceptance of same-sex “marriage,” Evangelicals have not merely affirmed doctrinal matters because they are historical or culturally expedient. They have done so because they are biblical. Once again it is unity that drives this, unity that sought based on present-day historical and cultural consensus. Truth has never been determined that way.

This move truly does reveal that World Vision has a hole in the gospel, which is ironic in that this was the title of Stearn’s book: The Hole in Our Gospel. We now see the answer to his follow up book as well, Filling the Hole in Our Gospel.

Sadly, Stearns and World Vision have moved away from the gospel. Furthermore, they have distanced themselves from the Evangelicals, because the gospel, the evangel, is foundational to Evangelicals.

When I heard this, not only was I deeply disturbed about what this move stated about the gospel, I was grieved for what this move means for the children who are supported by many Evangelicals. Trevin Wax voices the same concern.

Russell Moore has also commented on World Vision’s tragic move away from the gospel.