I have only yet read an excerpt of Ron Sider’s new book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), but much of what he says concerning the church in America strikes me as true. This interview in the Dallas Morning News (free subscription required) gives some insights into Sider’s views. Whereas Jim Wallis gets most of the religious progressive press, Ron Sider strikes me as much more thoughtful, much more theologically acute, and much more intellectually nuanced.
In one sense, he has an honest scholarly curiousity and is willing to learn and change his views when appropriate. Sider’s most famous book is Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. In the 20th anniversary edition of the book, Sider makes many changes to his original thesis, and adds some economic sense to his prophetic rebuke. For example, in the revised edition, Sider positively cites the use of micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing nations.
Now whether or not I would agree with where Sider comes out, I think he’s authentically investigating the responsible life of faith. In the interview, Sider states that evangelicals “should have a more sophisticated view of politics. There’s no question God’s on the side of the poor, but that doesn’t tell you whether it’s a good thing to raise the minimum wage. You need to do a whole lot more homework first.”
In any case, Sider is at his strongest when focusing his critique at the church. In the interview, Sider says, “Evangelicals used to be almost twice as high as mainline churches, but they are fairly close today to the mainline denominations. In the richest nation in history, only nine percent of evangelicals tithe (meaning they give away 10 percent of their annual income).” In Scandal, Sider identifies the church in America with the church in Laodicea from Revelation 3:14-22 (NIV):
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”