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:
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.
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.