Future of Our Faith, Ronald J. Sider and Ben Lowe. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016.
Summary: Two activist evangelical leaders forty years apart pose critical questions for each other about issues facing the church, with responses from the other.
It often seems, as I follow social media, that there are at least two simultaneous conversations going on within generations of the evangelical community. There are those of my age in the boomer generation who are critically concerned about the future of the church–will it carry on in doctrinal, missional, and lifestyle integrity in the face of winds of culture. Likewise, younger Christians of my son’s generation are asking questions about the legacy of my generation in terms of environmental degradation, seemingly unloving treatment of LGBT people, a different kind of political engagement where the church is not captive to political parties, and more.
It seems rare that we have this conversation across generations, more often just within generational cohorts. And the danger is that we become more divided from “them” rather than learning from, collaborating with, and blessing each other. And so we add to the fault lines of social class, gender, ethnicity, and doctrinal differences that divide the church the fault line of generation.
Ronald J. Sider and Ben Lowe are separated by forty years in age, but share common commitments to social action arising from a deeply rooted evangelical faith. And they set out in this book to have conversations with each other around the issues that often seem to separate generations in the church. After an introduction discussing the importance of the conversation, each writer contributed four chapters raising questions for the other, followed by the other’s response. Woven into the chapters were “sidebar” contributions from other evangelical leaders. The contents of the discussion are as follows:
1. Why This Conversation
Part 1: Ron Sider’s Chapters (with Ben Lowe’s Responses)
2. Will You Remember Evangelism?
3. Will You Reaffirm Truth as You Learn from Postmodernism?
4. Will You Keep Your Marriage Vows Better Than My Generation?
5. Will You Lead the Church to a Better Stance on Homosexuality?
Part 2: Ben Lowe’s Chapters (with Ron Sider’s Responses)
6. Will We Live More Like Jesus?
7. Will We Renew Our Political Witness?
8. Will We Reconcile Our Divisions Better?
9. Will We Recover Our Responsibility for God’s Creation?
Conclusion: Jesus at the Center
What worked about this is that the questions of each do represent some of the issues each generation is concerned with. For example, while concerns for justice and social issues reflect ways millenials are “walking the talk” Sider raises a concern about whether “the talk” is being muted. Lowe raises issues about political witness, acknowledging both the political captivity he sees in elder generations, and the disengagement of his own generation, at times. There is a humility about the questions each asks, acknowledging the failures or struggles of each generation, rather than how one is better than another.
What also works is that these two are both leaders in thoughtful, socially progressive evangelicalism. Ben’s organization, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action arose out of Sider’s Evangelicals for Social Action, and their environmental wing, the Evangelical Environmental Network. It was clear that both of them deeply respected the other. And that led to a conversation with a high level of agreement between the two, while articulating some generational perspectives.
Some may have wished for more sparks between the two. The willingness, particularly of Sider, to acknowledge generational failures and the sincere hope that Ben’s generation get it better tended to defuse whatever sparks there might be. And this may offer a model for similar conversations of the kind of humility that leads to shared understanding and mutual support across generations. At the same time, I found myself wishing for at least one chapter from each where they just didn’t see eye to eye and modeled working that through. That would have been valuable.
The questions at the end of each chapter are quite helpful for inter-generational discussions, which I hope this book would provoke. I would say that the sidebars just seemed a distraction and really did not add to what these two leaders, both men of deep spiritual character coupled with strong track records of deeds done in the church and in social advocacy, had to offer. These are conversations every inter-generational church needs to have and these two have given us a great starting place.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”