The Scandal of The Evangelical Conscience

The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience
By Dr. Ronald J. Sider

I’ve talked about this book several times in other posts and thought I’d cover it in a little more detail. I skimmed this book a few months back, but just bought a copy for myself and devoured it in about 2 days. I haven’t marked up a book like this in quite awhile, maybe since I read one of Dr. Sider’s previous works, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.” Here are a few of the notes I took while reading. I hope you’ll spend the $10 to buy this book and read it. Dr. Sider describes the state of the church in American in great detail. Though it would be easy to stop with a cynical endictment of the church, he presses into the reason for hope and makes some helpful suggestions for where to begin, should one wish to swim against the grain.

The book starts off relating the results of current academic and private study about the lives of Christians in America. Here are a few of the findings:

- The divorce rate inside evangelical America is higher than outside it by 4%, (p.18)

- Materialism and consumerism is the norm and defines most Christians more pervasively than does their faith. In 2002 only 6% of born again adults tithed, (p.6).

- Statistics show we care very little about the poor. The average Christian household in America brings in 42k per year while 1.2 billion people in the world live on less than a dollar a day, (p.22). [btw if the rest of those Christians would tithe it would net 143 Billion dollars a year which could end poverty in most of the world in less than a decade]

- 88% of the young Christians who signed the “true love waits” pledge had sex before marriage – this was almost identical to kids outside of the true love waits campaign, (p.23).

- The church is among the most racist demographics in America. According to a survey asking which groups were the least likely to object to having black neighbors – 16% of mainline protestants objected…20% of Southern Baptists objected – they were the highest, (p.25). The findings of a study called “Divided by Faith” by Emerson & Smith show that “White evangelicalism likely does more to perpetuate the racialized society than to reduce it,” (p.26). These are the results of the current system.

Those just begin to paint the picture he does in detail. What’s the problem in his estimation? He details the problem as Cheap Grace v. the Whole Gospel. The whole gospel is what he [and many others - it's not a new concept] calls the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. In its most basic form it means justification and sanctification are linked indisoluably. What Jesus came to do wasn’t solely to get us into heaven when we die, but concomitantly to make life in his presence and power available to each of us right here and now. He doesn’t make this claim until he lays out the scriptural basis from all of the new testament about what the Gospel of the Kingdom of God entails. Sider always does this in his books. He’s first and foremost a seminary guy so he lays out the texts really carefully. He goes through the KOG passages in all of the Synoptics, John, Acts, Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colassians, the Pastoral Letters & Hebrews, James, Peter, 1st John, I mean he covers the NT. It might be one of the most concise, thorough elucidations of the scriptural basis for the Gospel of the Kingdom that I’ve ever read.

Dr. Sider’s powerful prescription for the church is obvious and unoriginal, which is precisely why it seems right on to me. This is really nothing new. The only thing radical here is his description of the church. He makes five claims about what the church is called to be:

1. Jesus is the source/center of the church
2. The church is to be holy
3. It is a community, not a collection of individuals
4. It is countercultural
5. Mutual accountability and responsibility are essential
6. Only the power of the Holy Spirit makes this all possible

Dr. Sider makes some really good observations about the American church. He writes:

“We have become such a nation of self-lovers. Nothing is too sacred to leave – if we feel like it. We leave school if it gets boring or difficult; we leave home and parents if we’re displeased; we leave our jobs, our marriages, and our churches.” P. 90

“Individualism has conquered evangelical traditions of accountability in the church.” P.91

“If we grasp the New Testament understanding of the church, then we realize that the modern, evangelical reduction of Christianity to some personal, privatized affair that only affects my personal relationship with God and perhaps my personal family life is blatant heresy. The church is a new, visible social order. It is a radical new community visibly living a challenge to the sexual insanity, the racial and social prejudice, and the economic injustice that pervade the rest of society. The church…is a new way of living together in community. It is community – Jesus’s new messianic community.” P.102-3

Sider’s Way forward – 2 things:

1.
Find ways for real and lasting accountability. Churches must be accountable to other churches [this cuts to my heart as a pastor of a church w/no real ties to other churches - this section was challenging to me and has me thinking new thoughts about the value of affiliation with the church at large in tangible and significant ways]. He also emphasizes the idea that Church members must be accountable to other church members.

2.
Dethrone Mammon: until we beat down the power of consumerism there will be two Gods in the lives of most of our people. He says most Christians in the West worship the god of materialism. “How else can we explain the fact that Christians living in the richest nation in human history give less and less to the church even though their annual incomes have increased substantially over the last three decades?” P. 117 Our problem is that we want Jesus and mammon and Jesus forbids it. So what we’ve got is mammon with this feel good gospel that makes us feel like we can live any way we wish and go to heaven when we die.

Dr. Sider contends, practically speaking, we need to repent, turn from our ways and believe that new birth can actually happen. We must pray for a revival as though we believe it could happen. But first we must be ready to obey in our own lives and families and churches. Any prayer for revival must be set upon lives which reflect the reality of the possibility of that prayer. We must act ourselves.

Once again, I read a Sider book and then look at the way I live my life and feel so much dissonance. This book is really humbling. I hope I can begin to process it w/you guys. I know there are cheap copies of the book online at used outlets. It is a really quick read, less than 150 pages.

About Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. He is the author of several books: Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), and An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade Books, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals. Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. He has planted three successful churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • http://www.xanga.com/FraggleHawk/ Casey Thornburgh

    i am going to amazon it tomorrow. thanks for sharing. i really felt a tug about the aspect of believers serving as living examples of these prayers for revival in the communities we are in. i also think the aspect of accountability among church leaders is HUGE. especially in a community as small as lawrence, it’s important for the Church (with a big C) to encourage and challenge one another, for the glory of the Kingdom of God. it’s not a competition and we don’t need to be island churches…the mission is too great.

    all this to say, i look forward to reading more Sider.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Thx Casey. It’s nice to have some feminine postings on this testosterone-ridden blog – I mean besides Ryno.

    Yeah, the Island church stuff really got to me. His point is that the disconnected church doesn’t reflect the intimate connections of the KOG. It is part and parcel of his polemic against radical individualism. He does one of the better jobs I’ve seen of connecting the consumeristic culture to its source, individualism. A major reason we should be connected to other churches is so that we model the connectedness that believers should have to each other.

    I can’t remember where I read it recently (Miroslav Volf I believe) but the idea that we are independant persons is far from the biblical model of personhood. Much of what defines us as persons is precisely our connectedness to other people – our collective conscience inhabited by the Spirit of Christ makes possible our individuality, not the reverse. It’s an interesting perspective on personhood. Volf says there is no meaningful reaction to God’s self revelation that is not corporate in at least some sense, if for no other reason than that it usually comes through language which is socially conditioned.

    Anyway, it really got me going. I’m sure I’ll be posting more about it as I try to process what all it implies.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17770848680979316821 The Reluctant Pontificator

    Ordered!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17770848680979316821 The Reluctant Pontificator

    Ok, the book is ordered, but I’m impatient. What does Sider mean by accountability? Is he talking about churches, individuals in a community or both?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17770848680979316821 The Reluctant Pontificator

    Ok, I’m getting really impatient. B/c I can’t find anything original to say, I’m going to mooch. Below, your favorite pastor, John Piper, has written an editorial from World Magazine (this is not a rag of the Christian Ghetto, it is good stuff). I think Piper is dead one. I think Barna’s refined definition is very telling.

    “God gives good press to doctrine. But surveys of evangelicals usually do not—until recently. In God’s book, knowing His Son and believing true things about Him is transforming liberty. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). God’s self-revelation in the Bible is not a wax nose. It’s firm. It’s a standard. You measure truth by it (Romans 6:17). Our everlasting salvation is determined by whether we believe it: “Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9). Depart from the doctrine, and you depart from Christ. Or, better, keep watch over your doctrine and “you will save . . . yourself” (1 Timothy 4:16).

    That’s high praise for good doctrine. You would think evangelicals would agree. But we are more likely to hear things like, “Christ unites; doctrine divides,” or, “Ask, Whom do you trust?, not, What do you believe?” The minimization of biblical doctrine is common. But if we are not willing to get a high estimation of doctrine from God, perhaps we can get it from George Barna.

    He has been surveying American evangelicals to see if we practice what we preach. He is finding that we don’t preach doctrine from the Bible, and therefore don’t practice differently from the world. For example, he says that evangelicals divorce at about the same rate as the nation at large. Only 9 percent of evangelicals tithe. Of 12,000 teenagers who took the pledge to wait for marriage, 80 percent had sex outside marriage in the next seven years. Twenty-six percent of traditional evangelicals do not think premarital sex is wrong. White evangelicals are more likely than Catholics and mainline Protestants to object to having black neighbors.

    According to Mr. Barna’s definition, an “evangelical” is willing to say, “I have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in my life today.” In addition, evangelicals agree with several other things like: Jesus lived a sinless life; eternal salvation is only through grace, not works; Christians have a personal responsibility to evangelize non-Christians; Satan exists. Mr. Barna says that 7 percent to 8 percent of the U.S. population is in this group. And they do not live very differently than the world.

    But Mr. Barna has now developed a new set of criteria to define those within evangelicalism that have a “biblical worldview.” This means they say that “the Bible is the moral standard” and “absolute moral truths exist and are conveyed through the Bible.” In addition they believe that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator who still rules the universe, that salvation cannot be earned by their deeds, and that the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches. This group is significantly smaller than the broad evangelical group.

    For those who belittle doctrine as troublesome, it may come as a surprise that these worldview evangelicals live differently from the world. Ronald Sider, in his new book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, describes the difference:

    “They are 9 times more likely than all the others to avoid ‘adult-only’ material on the Internet. They are 4 times more likely than other Christians to boycott objectionable companies and products and twice as likely to choose not to watch a movie specifically because of its bad content. They are 3 times more likely than other adults not to use tobacco products and twice as likely to volunteer time to help needy people. Forty-nine percent of all born-again Christians with a biblical worldview have volunteered more than an hour in the previous week to an organization serving the poor, whereas only 29 percent of born-again Christians without a biblical worldview and only 22 percent of non-born-again Christians had done so.”

    The conclusion is that doctrine matters. Mr. Sider puts it like this: “Barna’s findings on the different behavior of Christians with a biblical worldview underline the importance of theology. Biblical orthodoxy does matter. One important way to end the scandal of contemporary Christian behavior is to work and pray fervently for the growth of orthodox theological belief in our churches.”

    Who would have thought that the very survey system that lures so many to put their finger in the wind of opinion would tell them, take your finger down and teach the people what the Bible says?”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Nice Post, reluctant. You are right, world magazine is a good read and this article by Piper is good. I really agree strongly with the affirmation that doctrine is important. It is so vital to have what my prof. calls “the grammar of our faith.” Many people are cynical about doctrine and its ability to spur people on toward lives of full devotion – I’m not. I really think doctrine can help. However, I understand why some are really cynical about it. I think the key to using it correctly is to let it be fluid, let it be elastic. We don’t build our house on doctrine, it is not the power of our salvation. We do not hope in doctrine but in Christ through the presence of the Spirit now available to us through Christ. We do not trust in systems of theology and then give litmus tests of orthodoxy to decide who is Christian and who is not. Christ really made it simple, you want to figure out who is in me and who is not, look at the fruit.

    I think this is where the aversion to doctrine comes from for many. Too often protectors of doctrine [which I think Piper often sets himself up to be and truthfully he is] use it as a tool to create “haves & have nots.” Here’s an example from today:

    I read from the Book of Common Prayer daily lectionary each day. Today it linked several verses and the irony was just too much for me. It took the 2nd half of Romans 8 and linked it with the second half of Mt. 23. When you dig into it Romans 8:28-30 contains the verses which talk about foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, glorification, right? So I’m journaling about this and wondering, what do I believe about the doctrine of predestination? I actually wrote in my journal “How does that paragraph fit into the larger discussion of chapter 8, how does it fit with the gospels?” Ok, so I chart chapter 8 paragraph by paragraph and it’s talking all about the weakness of the flesh but how Jesus redeems the flesh and all of creation so we have nothing to fear. The discussion of predestination is framed in this larger discussion of “what are we going to do about our bodies?” The whole predestination thing in that chapter really serves to point out that God has held us in God’s hand from the beginning and continues to and always will. So what should we fear, right?

    Ok then I’m really confused. I’m thinking so what do I do with predestination in view of its context here? Do I believe in it, what is Paul saying, how do I wrestle with this doctrine, right? So I decide screw it, I’m going to Matthew and I’ll just finish up.

    Boom! The reading started with this: “23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

    I’m thinking, maybe this is an indication of how to view Romans 8. If we mine Paul to find ways to create a division between the haves and the have nots of the Kingdom of God, don’t we run the risk of becoming Pharisees? Too much of our doctrinal discourse becomes about creating and maintaining boundary markers and this, I think, is part of why people are so cynical about them. They become one more tool of power and control.

    If I were going to say where I would differ with Piper, it would be this. [you just knew I was going to differ w/Piper!] Piper lives in this world where knowledge is power and where the litmus test for orthodoxy is our believing certain truth claims (often the ones of his choosing over and against those of other devout sincere believers who disagree). He makes salvation predicated on believing. He will quote verses like “you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” and thinks that the “truth” is a set of doctrines. I think this is not what John is saying. I think John was saying truth is not a concept or a system of doctrines, truth is a person – Jesus. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” John 14:6. Maybe more than any of the other gospel writers John was sold out to this. Jesus was much more concerned with fruit like justice, mercy and faith than he was with sound doctrine. Christ’s litmus test for orthodoxy was orthopraxy. In his eyes you could have all the doctrine in the world filed under the right heading and give mental assent to all of it, and if you miss justice, mercy, and faith you are missing the Kingdom of God.

    So doctrine has its place. I believe that place is not to control the keys to the kingdom and create haves and have nots, but to encourage right living within that kingdom. Doctrine is not about deciding who is in and especially not about deciding who is out [that is so not our call, btw], it is about calling people to clean the inside of the cup.

    Folks like Piper often trumpet the call to sound doctrine like they are protectors of the church or protectors of the truth. I think Sider calls people to doctrine so they will practice justice, mercy and faith. Piper says think rightly first, believe this, receive it, then live your life a certain way that is consistent with it. That’s fine, it just seems like the wrong starting point. I mean, think about it…out of that whole book by Ronal Sider, what did Piper jump all over? Doctrine! Why did he do this? I think it is because this is where he is considered an expert and where he has power and control. He gets to decide what is in and out on doctrine for a whole lot of people and I think he believes part of his job is to protect the truth. How will we protect the trut? Isn’t it hubris to think we can somehow protect the truth? Truth is like soap, it’s self-cleaning or self-protecting. God will protect his truth much better than we could. Our job is to become alive through faith, to live without fear, without scarcity and to practice justice, mercy and faith. Then our lives will witness to the truth about God, not just our mouths.

    In the end, though, I think Piper brings out a really good point that Sider was making. Practically speaking orthodoxy does matter. It matters not because of it’s truth claims, but because it produces fruit which is much more akin to what I think Jesus was after. It is rather interesting to read the last chapter of Scandal and see where those who stick to sound teaching will end up living lives of devotion. It’s almost like he undoes a little of what he was doing in the early chapters. He really ends up saying, those who are really following after Jesus are a lot more “on it” than we often give them credit for. I think Piper is right that this has everything to do with doctrine. I just hope that doctrine does not become a tool for coercion and control but for liberation and freedom to follow after God.

    Thanks for bringing Piper into the discussion!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Hey reluctant:

    Addressing your question – Sider’s stuff on accountability is framed in the larger discussion of what the church should be: 1. Jesus is the source/center of the church // 2. The church is to be holy // 3. It is a community, not a collection of individuals // 4. It is countercultural // 5. Mutual accountability and responsibility are essential // 6. Only the power of the Holy Spirit makes this all possible

    He discusses it while laying out practical steps for number 5, mutual accountability. He is saying that for the church to recover what it means to be a community of faith the way Christ envisioned it, we must have real accountability in all of our associations and we must dethrone mammon.

    He writes:

    “That means stronger accountability structures for congregations, parachurch organizations, small groups for all church members, and a renewed practice of church discipline.”

    “The notion – and practice – of an independent congregation with no structures of accountability to the larger body of Christ is simply heretical. How can an independent “Bible Church” claim to be biblical when its very refusal to submit to a larger church structure of accountability defies the essence of a biblical understanding of being a church?”

    Ouch! I think what he is doing is saying that yes we need interpersonal accountability within biblical communities, but if our communities are not connected to each other, then they are not biblical.

  • http://www.xanga.com/FraggleHawk/ Casey Thornburgh

    Tim. Thank you for this blog. I am loving this discourse. And it feels nice, as one who just read and didn’t jive with a Piper book after hearing how amazing he is, that I am not alone. He does have some amazing things to chew on, but he is human and his opinions and mine are not the be all end all. It is vital in my life to remember that Truth is a person, in Jesus Christ, and to be a big giant head with loads of knowledge yet not a Spirt saturated heart is a dangerous (and for me, lonely) place to be.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17770848680979316821 The Reluctant Pontificator

    Got the book. I got through the introduction and Chapter 1 before I dozed off (not because of the content). A couple of thoughts.

    1. I noticed Sider references Michael Horton several times. Does Horton’s quotes still make you think he is defending the status quo or do the quotes alter your thoughts about him? Perhaps I’m taking your prior comments out of context.

    2. While reading the Chapter 1 it reminded me of a thought/question I’ve been having a lot lately – can the Church thrive in a culture without suffering and/or persecution? All of Sider’s statistics reference the consequences of a decaying, hypocritical religion. Didn’t the seeds for this decay begin several generations ago? The US was settled by two categories of people 1) those being persecuted for their religion and 2) opportunists hoping for a better life on a material level. The principles of those of the first category greatly benefited the second. The prosperity of the second category benefited the first. The two cohabitated wonderfully in the foundations of Weber’s Protestant Ethic. Over time that materialism perverted and tempered the ideals and faith of the descendents of those who came because of persecution. The end result being the woes described by Sider. While this cycle for Christianity has been repeated in history, is it right to think that the first steps of decline begin with the end of suffering and persecution? Can the Church thrive without some type of negative agitator?

    3. On a personal level, one of Sider’s most convicting comments was about TV. The fact that I undoubtedly spend more time watching TV than reading, praying and worshipping hits me in-between the eyes. I’m not a TV junkie. I’ve given up TV for lent and it wasn’t hard. For the next month I’m going to log how much time I watch TV and movies and see if I can worship, pray and read an equal amount of time. I think this will be more challenging than giving it up for a period of time and I’m curious to see what I will find out. It is frustrating to think about how I struggle to squeeze in 30 minutes for a QT, but always manage to catch at least an hour of TV before going to bed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    You asked: “Does Horton’s quotes still make you think he is defending the status quo or do the quotes alter your thoughts about him?”

    I guess that we were dealing with Horton in the context of the EC discussion, I think it’s dangerous when people begin to discard others out of hand just because they don’t agree with them. So, I would never dismiss Horton out of hand and ignore what he says, but I have not heard him articulate a way forward (which I’m sure he could do much better than I). I guess it’s hard to say. Sider really only employs the Horton stuff here in the beginning as he is describing what is wrong. Horton is surely a smart guy and I’m sure I have a lot to learn from him. I don’t know why anyone who is serious about a way forward for the church would just reject the EC out of hand as it seems he does.

    You said: “Over time that materialism perverted and tempered the ideals and faith of the descendents of those who came because of persecution. The end result being the woes described by Sider. While this cycle for Christianity has been repeated in history, is it right to think that the first steps of decline begin with the end of suffering and persecution? Can the Church thrive without some type of negative agitator?”

    I think this is a really insightful comment and question. Is it right to think that the first steps of decline begin with the end of suffering and persecution? I would say surely not. (I’m sure I’m stealing other people’s ideas here, I just don’t know from whom I’m stealing but it’s a good bet it’s from Sider.) I think God is a God who answers the cry of the human heart. Think the Jews in Egypt, the Psalms, and Jesus’ whole ministr…he was answering people who called on him to heal them or talk with them. God hears the urgent cries of people who need him.

    I do not think the church needs religious persecution to be empowered. I do not think the church needs to protect orthodoxy in order to be empowered (Horton et al). I think they church will be empowered when they cry out to God from a humble posture and when they stand with those who are crying out.

    I think ending suffering and persecution is essential to what the Gospel of Jesus is about – it’s not the whole gospel but it is an essential component of it. Ending injustice in any society or in the church will not necessarily produce the first steps of decline, complacency will. If people who formerly called out to God in despair grow comfortable in the new found peace God provides, they will decline. The key is to understand who is crying out to God and position yourselves with them. The key is to never become so self-sufficient and self-reliant that we do not need to cry out to God. At least that’s what I think.

    Good luck with the TV logging! I monk friend of mine often recommends to his retreatants that they stop by Walmart on their way home and buy a shot-gun and some shells, then go home and take their TV out back and shoot it. Then he says to take the gun to the Police station and turn it in to be destroyed and they will have done two good deeds that day!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17770848680979316821 The Reluctant Pontificator

    Thanks for the response. You brought up some good points. I think I need to refine my question. My question was focused on the church at-large thriving. Not just individuals and pockets of Christians thriving. The early church, the Reformation, those who were persecuted and fled to America, these are all moments where the church thrived. Persecution was present in all of these times where the church had an incredible impact. Some think the Church is in the midst of the same process in China.

    I think there is a difference between thriving and empowering. The Quakers were definitely empowered when they were opposing slavery. They weren’t persecuted for being believers or espousing an anti-slavery political position. This would exclude those who directly helped the slaves escape. (I think it would be interesting to find out if they even faced significant social stigma for their political position). 100 years later their presence had decayed and no significant portion of the church was vocal during the civil rights struggle.

    After thinking about your comments here is my second attempt at my question — The Church has thrived the most after facing a period of suffering and persecution, but can this cycle be broken with the Church having significant growth and impact without hostile conditions? The heart of my question gets to whether or not the Church in America can rebound without the political and social climate being significantly different. I won’t deny that we all have an individual responsibility to work to end suffering for those around us and to act in compassion (and if we are fortunate, we can be a part of a community doing the same), but it seems like all we are doing is helping to get a few more people onto the lifeboats while the ship is sinking.

    BTW – The blog is a ton o’ fun. Thanks for doing this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Yeah, man – I’m not sure if I think it is a direct correlation. At least I would say I think you are surely right that God is always with the church when she is persecuted and in general, she thrives in those times if she calls out to God. However, she doesn’t always call out to God (see Christians living under the 3rd Reich, or many OT stories about Israel). The church thrived under Constantine as well, maybe more so than at any other time which was a time of very little persecution. I still think the only direct correlation is that God is with the disenfranchised in a significant, particular way. So he is always with the church when they are persecuted, but the church doesn’t always call out to God.

    It’s funny that you would bring up the Quakers. I’ve had a little bit of contact with a few different strains of Anabaptists over the years as we’ve toured. These might be just a few of the Christians who actually do get persecuted here in America. However, I think some of their theology is flawed; at least the way in which they choose to live it out seems a little off to me. But even so, I’m glad they are out there doing it the way they are. In some ways they act as a conscience for the rest of us.

    I would say that I think (this is just my opinion and I’m not sure I’m right) the church doesn’t always thrive when persecuted, they thrive when their response to persecution is to cry out to God. The church would thrive when they are not persecuted if they still cry out to God. Either way it is the radical trust in God which determines the success of the church toward her mission. I think the church is not defined by its times in the way a president or political leader or folk singer or movie star is. The church’s success is dependant upon her willingness to turn fully toward the Kingdom of God. The response to that will often be persecution – though that’s not the only reason the church is persecuted.

    There are a couple of options that I can see. Maybe we don’t need persecution so that we can get on track, but if we’re on track we’ll experience more persecution? Perhaps that is it. Or maybe it’s just that persecution brings about the sort of radical trust that is required to live a life in the kingdom of God. Or maybe it is that persecution is just evidence of the brokenness of humanity and God is redeeming even that part of creation so that there will be a day where we can live in radical trust within the Kingdom of God and experience only harmony with our fellow humans.

    Your last question about lifeboats and sinking seems to me a totally different subject which I’d really like to get into – that of social justice and equality. I’m with you on that. But I’ve got to get some work done.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17770848680979316821 The Reluctant Pontificator

    Tim

    I finally finished the book. It was great, thank you for recommending it. There hasn’t been much down time due to the move. Nothing can dominate your schedule like moving to a new house. So now that I’ve burdened myself with a bigger mortgage, let’s talk about dethroning mammon.

    Comments:

    1. I get giddy when thinking about the following “what if the first thought that came to secular people’s minds when they heard the word “evangelical” was, “Oh, yes, they are the people who are dramatically reducing poverty around the world.’” If only the Christian community could be this, it would rock to belong to a church that had this reputation in its local community.
    2. Wouldn’t it be mind blowing if a bunch of people committed themselves to graduated tithing?
    3. The idea of being slaves to each other in the body (pg 108) from Galatians 5:13 – stuff like this can’t be said often enough
    4. Listening to Kevin this past Sunday makes me think somebody needs to get on the bandwagon for being loyal to the church. “We have become such a nation of self-lovers. Nothing is too sacred to leave – if we feel like it. We leave school if it gets boring or difficult; we leave home and parents if we’re displeased; we leave our jobs, our marriages, and our churches.” Even though statements like these are self-serving, pastors need to say them more often. If the pastor won’t say it, they need to give volunteers the opportunity to do it for them.

    Questions:

    1. What is your thought on “We almost certainly would strengthen the church today if we made it harder to join . . . strong growing churches have clear demanding membership requirements. Weak declining churches do not.” Pg. 116. I’m torn by his statement. While the church should be open, I think there should be an environment to keep people on the same page of orthodoxy as to essentials and a positive pressure for growth.

    2. In some of your other postings it seems like you are pushing back against guys like Piper et al for pushing orthodoxy, but Sider seems to line up with them (pg 130). Do you disagree with Sider’s position that orthodoxy and orthopraxis is a deep need? Or do you think it is apples and oranges when comparing your prior comments to Sider’s position.

    3. Sider is very vocal about social sin and social justice, especially in the context of race. In prior posts it seems like you think Dobson, the FRC and other guys are making a big mistake for being vocal about political issues. Do you think Sider is saying something different than what Dobson and others are saying about the definition of marriage, abortion or school vouchers. Where would you agree with Sider on this point and if so, where do you think the other guys are getting it wrong?

    4. If you agree with his comments about church discipline/mutual accountability, how do you see a church like K10 implementing this? Wouldn’t be awesome if we had small groups that share their tax returns with one another to see if everyone is tithing? You first. At a minimum you’ve got to love his concept that this is how dedicated the members of a church ought to be (i.e. willing to submit to church discipline).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Reluctant:

    Nice post. I love your comments. Our reputation should be that we are the most compassionate people on the planet. Anything less is not worthy of the name of Christ. I love your thoughts about being loyal to the church. I think you should talk it up. I’m on the bandwagon for sure, but I’m not sure how much I count.

    Questions:
    1. Harder to join: I’m torn by this statement as well. One of the factors that I think is important here is the way Christ went about doing ministry. When someone confessed his identity as Messiah, Son of David, Son of God, (usually an evil spirit/demon, sometimes with different meanings for each) he generally commanded them to keep silent. When he taught he did so in parables. I think we must understand that part of Jesus’ motivation was that to perceive the meaning of his life, to perceive the meaning of his teaching requires not just mental effort but also spiritual and moral readiness to accept a radically new view of God and the world. This is significant when understanding the reason Christ spoke in parables demonstrating the sort of effort which is still required by readers who wish to grasp the significance of Jesus. It requires a moral willingness.

    Many commentators have noted this, it’s not my idea. You have to want the kingdom, you have to be looking for it, looking for Him or you will miss it even though you are a very religious “confessing” Christian. “He who has ears let them hear.” Churches should reflect that somehow.

    On the other hand making it harder to join means you have to come up with criteria for keeping people in/out. That starts to make me nervous because of the ways this has been done historically. The place people always run to for that is orthodoxy. But then you get into the question of whose orthodoxy? More on that in question #2.

    You have some great thoughts. I’m just not sure where I land on this one but I’m thinking about it some. At h.k10, I’m just so thankful for the great number of people who are “fully in,” people who are giving their lives to the church believing it’s the same as giving their lives for God, which I believe the NT tells us is true. I put faith in the church to navigate these things slowly and with love and compassion.

    2. Yep, I do agree with Sider on this. However I don’t think you can reduce Christianity to a set of belief statements that people must give mental assent to. You are right to push my thinking a little in this area because I don’t think I’m fully formed here. I love the creeds, Nicea especially because it is a little more explicit, the Apostle’s especially because it is the oldest, perhaps the oldest surviving liturgy from the 1st century church other than the scriptures. I think orthodoxy and orthopraxis must be held together if we are to view them rightly. I do think these are a deep need for the church universal. I’m just not ready to submit myself to John Piper as the arbiter of orthodoxy.

    Piper is smart and learned (way more than I), and passionate, but he has a narrow view of orthodoxy from what I can discern. I think that any orthodoxy we hold to must fully recognize the church universal. Any single Christian church belongs to the church universal, which means that we belong to each other and to God. Any orthodoxy we hold to needs to be one which will allow Presbyterians, Catholics, Methodist, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, Willow Creek, Emergent, Baptist and Charismatics, et all to have a seat in the circle, does that makes sense? It’s fine to define things more narrowly for ecclesial reasons, but I think we should hold those more loosely always considering the other groups as sisters and brothers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that Piper is out there, we have folks in our church who love reading him and I think that’s a good thing as well.

    The key on orthodoxy is to never break continuity with historic Christianity. (see Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses or Docetism, Ebionism, Marcion or any of the heresies of the 1st three centuries). I know that is messy and that there will always be disputes at the borders but Jesus prayed that we would be one and I think we need to take that seriously. When we have defined orthodoxy in the past it has generally been in order to burn somebody at the stake, literally or figuratively. I’m not sure that is near to the heart of God.

    One of the NT themes which you have to account for here is that one of Jesus’ roles as Messiah was to reconstitute the people of God. No longer was Israel to be God’s people to the world, but the church universal was to now be God’s people to the world – his body…his presence. God’s presence left the Temple and rested on Jesus. When he breathed life into the early church, his presence entered the church. Jesus set the Spirit loose and it is now running wild in the world through the people of God. We are God’s presence to the world, so what are we doing? He generally defined inside and outside not by what they believed but by what they did. For Jesus and any Hebrew of his day, belief and action were not things which could be divorced in any way.

    Jesus was dying for our sins on the cross, but he was not merely dying for our sins on the cross, he was also telling us how we must live – lives of utter self-sacrifice, taking up our cross daily, etc. Any orthodoxy we take on needs to reflect our function of being the people of God for the world which includes postures of hospitality and embrace for all who worship Jesus in the many forms that might take and for all who resist him up to the very end.

    We always think Jesus was against people like the Pharisees because they were about rules and he was about heart. But he was against them (at least in large part) because their agenda was to bring about the Kingdom of God through power and coercion. They wanted a revolution which was different than what God had in mind. God’s revolution tactics are laid out in the Sermon on the Mount. If we are using that for our orthodoxy statement, I think I’m in and I think Sider would be in. I’m not sure that’s what Piper is pushing or am I wrong on that one? It seems like orthodoxy is a good thing, but maybe it should be defined a little more openly and it should never be held as only a mental thing, it should always be connected to the way we live our lives.

    3. This discussion of sin is a very nuanced subject. When we think of sin we often think of individual transgressions. For Sider, and I think he’s consistent with the scriptures here, sin is always moving out into the corporate. Of course we have individual sin but individual sin always has corporate consequences – it is always moving outward into society. Sin can become embedded in human systems and organizations. The love of God is the same, it always moves out away from God toward his gracious creation. The love of God can become imbedded in our socio-political systems as well. Inasmuch as Dobson is helping the latter become a reality, I’m all for it as long as the tactics never resort to wielding power and coercive actions akin to political warring (see the discussion on the KOG requiring moral willingness). It just seems a little off to me?

    I’m not sure I can speak very intelligently on what Sider would say here, I only know what I’ve read in two of his books and some of his articles. I think that Ronald Sider and James Dobson have two very different ideas about what the church should be about. I think that were we all to follow Sider’s lead, we would have a better chance of becoming a blessing to the world – not that the world will love us, but we could be a blessing to the world. I think that if we all followed Dobson’s lead, we would certainly be a blessing to the world in many ways, but overall I think we would cause great conflict and separation and the world would have pretty much the same reaction to us as they do to Dobson. I think Sider’s way has a better chance of helping the KOG come to earth as it is in heaven.

    It’s not that I think Dobson’s stand on issues such as you mentioned are wrong. It’s just that I think according to the teachings of Jesus, those might be less central issues than he wants to make them and sometimes his tactics are a little more prone toward wielding power than serving. It’s a question of posture. I just don’t see Jesus going on the radio to espouse a political action committee, does that seem off to you? The gospel is good news to the poor. The gospel is good news to the sinner. The Christian is to be good news to the poor and the sinner as well. I’m just not convinced that Dobson is really that concerned about being good news to either of these groups. I could be wrong so please don’t burn me at the stake.

    4. I don’t know about this one. This seems like a tier 2 or 3 issue after churches solve some of the other more glaring issues of oneness and mission and embracing the poor, etc. I don’t think I like the tax return idea, especially if it were compulsory. I do think we should all be accountable to other Christians in our finances but I generally opt for more organic models. I just think it’s never going to work for any of us to ask each other to submit to church discipline until we are all submitted to church mission.


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