The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, A Review

May 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sider, Ronald J.  The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?  Baker Books. 2005. 144 pp. $12.00

I. Summary

Ronald J. Sider’s article, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience” is one that every evangelical Christian needs to read. This is not only a good read; it is filled with horrifying truths concerning the message we Christians are sending to the masses of our populace through the way we live. Sider begins by identifying a people who have gotten very far away from the normative realities of their religion and have become indiscernible from those who claim no religious affiliation at all—i.e. they have become enmeshed in the greater society. The hard truth: we are those people! Evangelical Christians have shamefully become ‘average Joes’ who blend with mainstream culture. The Bible is no longer the normative rule in our lives and our cultural norms have taken center stage. Sider cites a wealth of statistical data in relaying the is various points at which evangelicals are falling short of living a live that are truly and totally surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Beginning with a broad overview and a general description of the scandal, Sider soon moves on to what he labels “The Depth of the Scandal”. In this section he looks intricately at the issues of divorce, materialism, sexual promiscuity, racism, physical abuse in marriage, and the wholesale rejection of the biblical worldview on the part of both born-again Christians and evangelicals. Citing statistic after statistic, Sider shows how Christians pole near equal and in many—if not most—of the aforementioned categories they represent a people even farther from the truth than that of the general North American populace! Divorce rates are found to be higher among evangelicals; the amount of giving is found to be less than 0.25 tithe on average among Christians; sexual intercourse outside of marriage is viewed by many confessing Christians to be ‘morally okay’; evangelicals, and especially Baptists, are found to be the most discriminatory toward persons of other races! How are we then different from the world? Sider points out that we have—in most cases—sold out and become just like the world in the way we live. What great implications this has for how others view the Church, Christianity, and ultimately, their very analysis of Christ himself! The flagrant implications are devastating! In conclusion Sider recognizes that in recent years there has been some change in many of these areas that show a genuine lifestyle among Christians that reflects change and that better mirrors the life of Christ. In addition, Sider urges the evangelical community to earnestly repent and weep over her sins and the state of disobedience in which we now find ourselves. He calls for persistent prayer and envisions the revival and amazing sanctification that would ensue, should we turn to Christ totally and completely and distinguish Him alone as the Lord of our lives! In short, Sider reemphasizes what God himself commands of us: “Be holy, as I am holy (Leviticus 11:44).” We are to work out—to live out—our faith; this is the call and command we must understand and accept as our responsibility as children of God.

II. Critique

Sider’s argument is very strong and founded in much statistical study conducted in recent years. He is careful to support each case made. And, in so doing, he gains a hearing among his audience: those persons—namely Christians—who are living either wholly or partially contrary lives to that of the biblical worldview. He strongly asserts that evangelicals are much to blame for the negative shadow that has been cast on Christianity. A main strength Sider possesses is his accusation of even himself, as he is one who stands accused—along with the greater evangelical and Christian community—for slander of the name of Christ. Both Sider’s argument in accusation of hypocritical Christianity and his charge for Christians to prayer, repentance, revival and a biblical worldview are firmly grounded; and so, in concluding, he is not afraid to cite the positive changes that are already taking place among evangelicals. His presentation is well organized in this way, to ruffle the feathers and elicit gasps from his readers throughout the main body of his work, evoking in the reader a strong desire to personally strive toward a holy life and a biblical worldview; following the former is then his presentation of the active role some evangelicals are already taking to see this come to fruition.

III. Theological Reflection

This article is just the catalyst that many if not all evangelicals—including myself—need to hear as to light a fire within and open their eyes to the sin in which the Christian community has resolved to bathe. This article has served me personally in revealing the disparate state in which we as Christians truly find ourselves. Startling as the statistics mentioned by Sider may be, they are data of which we need to be aware so that we become more proactive and intentional about changing the face of Christianity, and ultimately in our quest to change the view that many in our own nation and around the globe have of Christ, due to our unfortunate handling of the name, Christian. We bear the single most important name from eternity past; may we do so to His glory!

Crisis in Latin America: An Evangelical Perspective, A Review

May 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Nunez, Emilio A. and William D. Taylor. Crisis in Latin America: An Evangelical Perspective. Moody Press. 439 pp. $21.38

In the introduction to their book, Crisis In Latin America: An Evangelical Perspective Nunez and Taylor are very charismatic in painting a vivid picture of Latin America. They leave the palate of the reader with but a taste that yearns to know more. I found the following words insightful:

“The Word of God has never assured the church that peace, prosperity, power, and privilege are necessary to her growth. To the contrary, Christ promised that his church would be built in spite of the conflictive forces of hades. Latin American Christians have lived this reality, and from a context of poverty and powerlessness God has blessed (Nunez, 12).”

These words say so much about the history of missions and the church in the various countries of Latin America. Although liberation theology has crept into the churches of many a country in Latin America, it does not take long to realize that this is not the point and premise of the gospel of Christ. And, in Guatemala, a poverty stricken country, it is not only unbiblical, but simply unwise to teach and preach such nonsense; people will continue in poverty and more often than not, this will not change based on their religious affiliation of spiritual orientation. As this quote bears witness, Latin Americans live conflicted and difficult lives, but these are precisely the lives that Christ chooses to touch with His powerful gospel. He brings joy out of suffering and strength through hardship; He does not alleviate all burdens but lightens them and gives a future hope. These are central truths that help set the stage for the work of Nunez and Taylor.

Incidentally, the authors share their desire for placing ‘one more book’ on the shelf beside the many extant copies on this topic. In short, the shelves are lacking a modern work that looks at all aspects of Latin America through the lens of and evangelical Christian. The preferred outcome then is to stimulate readers to restructure their attitudes and lens through which they see those to and among whom they are serving. The reader is challenged to take the evidence and information provided and to ruminate on the ministerial and missiological implications therein. What is good about what we are already doing? What needs to change? How do we adopt new information, adapt it to our purposes and target groups and effect change with the gospel of Christ? This is the pivotal question our authors evoke.

The authors look at the apprehension that North American missionaries have when considering the autonomy of the national church in foreign lands of Latin America. Contextualization, a fundamental missiological principle, is presented and detailed. This was a very helpful portion of this work for me to read; these issues of self-governing, self-propagating, self-supporting, and finally self-theologizing. These are all issues I’ve faced on the field and have mulled over at times. It is difficult to get to a point where you as the missionary trust God and those who’ve recently accepted Christ to ‘self-theologize’. But is that not what we are striving for…a self-sufficient entity that is dependent on Christ alone? My previous supervisor always says, “You, know, people in most professions would never understand that in our profession we are essentially working to work ourselves out of a job.” He is right on: we desire for all the people among whom we minister to come to know Christ and to then make Him known to the remainder of their people. In order to work ourselves out of our jobs, as missionaries should, we have to trust God and the national brethren to cover all of the “selves” mentioned above.

Another helpful element of Nunez and Taylor’s work is their in-depth discussion of the Catholic Church. With respect to Guatemala, this is imperative. There is a tremendous following of la renovacion, otherwise known as the Charismatic Catholic Movement. This movement is one that I have oftentimes been confused about. In some cases it has brought individuals into the evangelical church inadvertently. I can think of at least 3 personal testimonies that I’ve heard of persons who were devout Catholics and somehow ended up attending a ‘charismatic catholic’ service in which they heard scripture proclaimed and praised the Lord in song unlike their past experiences in Catholic Mass, much of which they did not understand. And for these people, this movement wet their palate with something that they wanted more of: the Word of God. Where did they go to find this something more?….an evangelical church. So, for some, it has served as a bridge between devout Catholicism (most often syncretistic) and Evangelicalism. Sometimes that leap is just too much to chance all at once. Other times I am sure satan utilizes this movement in causing people to believe they are fine just where they are, giving them just a taste of the truth while they remain trapped in chains of sin and deception without ever experiencing true freedom. In short, the sections on Catholicism provided helpful insights.

The authors’ ending emphasis on a loving understanding of both history and the various facets of culture is of prime significance to the work in Guatemala. There are so many different types of people and they have been affected both nationally and individually. There are many different languages, accompanied by cultural aspects and historical realities that differ. This makes Guatemala a difficult place to minister; it also means that this last emphasis is pivotal. Missionaries going in and ministering among a certain Mayan people group need to understand general Mayan history and pre-Columbian thought and culture while also striving to know the more recent history of their particular group. How were their people affected by the 30+ year civil war and what implication does that have for sharing the gospel and the way they receive outsiders/insiders? There is so much to know and understand and we must go as learners to the ones we wish to teach! May we humble ourselves in stepping up to this task!

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