I picked up Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience
Carol wanted to buy a book but it didn’t cost enough to qualify for Amazon’s free shipping. Soooo, I got add a couple of books to the order to put us over the top. I’ve been talking and thinking a lot about Ronald Sider’s conclusions in his book “the scandal of the evangelical conscience.” I also picked up “The Great Giveaway” by David Fitch.
While I’ve been waiting for Carol to “pop” I read Sider’s book. It isn’t long and it is takes one down a predictable path. He nails us with a diagnosis that should make any evangelical leader wince. I’ve blogged about it before so I’d rather not go in to detail. In summarizing the data from several surveys Sider concludes that evangelicals live just like the rest of the world. In chapter two he makes it clear that the authors of the New Testament believed very strongly in a divine life transformation.
Sider’s passion for the church and strong disdain for status quo evangelicalism comes through. Unlike Barna who has essentially given up on standard evangelical congregational churches, Sider offers a whole host of course corrections.
Sider believes a “one-sided, unbiblical, reductionistic understanding of the gospel and salvation” is the heart of our problem. We have written sanctification out of our theology dropping the expectation that Christians should become more like Christ over time. He doesn’t stop there. In addressing the church he says:
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.
He offers many ideas to solve the crisis in evangelicalism. This is where I think the whole conversation about the church can get derailed. It is easier to agree on the problem than the solution. More often than not I’ve seen leaders fall back to old assumptions to fix persistent problems.
Some of Siders ideas are
- Become a counter culture community
- Move away from the isolation and individualism of private faith
- Local churches must be interconnected through networks
- Practice church discipline
- Dethrone the idols of wealth and materialism
There are some in the list I like more than others but they all have merit. I can see how joe Christian can excited about some of these changes and try to implement them. They have some momentum for a little while and are lost. Some of my questions in response would be
- How do you facilitate a deeper community of faith when your main meeting has you isolated from each other?
- Regardless of whether churches are networked true accountability eludes us because church leaders can’t be honest because they are in competition with each other.
- How you discipline people you don’t really know?
- What kind of small groups actually facilitate community? The church currently has lots of them but without the desired result.
- How can you tell when someone is truly transformed?
- How would you know when you’ve become a church full of people that aren’t like the rest of the world?
After reading the book I’d say the diagnoses is the best part. The bulk of which is freely available in articles online. I really appreciated his deconstruction of the evangelical gospel message and its deficiencies. I’ve heard Christian leaders decry those who want revisit the question of the gospel. Perhaps because they’ve grown tired of what appears to be futile theological navel gazing. My question is, if the message we share transforms so very few do we really want to find better ways to deliver it?
In short I think this book is really valuable because it forces us to face our failure a church. It does noting more than hold up a mirror. What we see there should deeply concern us. I’ve been wrestling with the ramifications of Sider’s conclusions for a while. I think more people should.