Review: Future of our Faith

Future of Our Faith

Future of Our FaithRonald 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.”


Review: Nonviolent Action

nonviolent actionNonviolent Action by Ron Sider. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015.

Summary: Ron Sider argues from a number of instances over the past seventy-five years that nonviolent action can work and bring about political change.

“I ain’t gonna study war no more”

Ronald J. Sider thinks we have spent far too long and far too much studying war. It is time, particularly for persons of faith, to devote ourselves and our money and our lives to study peace: the use of nonviolent means of protest and resistance in the pursuit of peace and a just order. He argues that both pacifists and just war advocates actually have much in common in advocating the use of nonviolent efforts as much as possible, with the only difference being between war never being a resort and war being a last resort.

Sider builds his case by recounting the numerous instances of nonviolent resistance over the past seventy-five years beginning with Ghandhi’s effort to secure Indian independence from the British empire. The first part of the book recounts Ghandhi’s, and India’s, long road to freedom and Ghandhi’s persistent and principled decision to renounce violence. Following chapters recount Martin Luther King, Jr’s leadership of the civil rights movement and commitment to loving, nonviolent resistance, seen most vividly at the Edmund Pettus Bridge as chronicled in the recent Selma. He tells the story of his own involvement with Witness for Peace’s work in Nicaragua standing between invading Contras backed by the U.S. and the Nicaraguan people. And he tells the story of the peaceful People Power resistance to the Marcos regime in the Phillipines including the instance when a wheelchair was more powerful than a tank:

    Cardinal Sin tells the story of bedridden, eighty-one year-old Mrs. Monzon, owner of Arrelano University. Everywhere she went, she used a wheelchair. But Mrs. Monzon insisted on joining the people in the streets in front of the camps. When the tanks came, she wheeled in front of the advancing war vehicles. Armed with a crucifix, she called out to the soldiers, “Stop. I am an old woman. You can kill me, but you shouldn’t kill your fellow Filipinos.” Overcome, a soldier jumped off the tank, and embraced the bold nonviolent resister. “I cannot kill you,” he told her, “you are just like my mother.” She stayed in the street in her wheelchair.

    The marines finally withdrew without firing a shot.

Part Two of the book focuses on two instances of nonviolent resistance in the defeat of the Soviet empire. First he tells the story of a Polish pope and a ship yard worker, Lech Walesa, who led the Solidarity Movement, which over ten years, brought an end to the Communist leadership in Poland. Then he turns to the Revolution of Candles in East Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall and eventual reunification of Germany.

Recent developments are the focus of Part Three. He begins by describing how Leymah Gbowee led a movement of prayer among Liberian women pursuing peace and justice for the women and children of Liberia during the dictatorship of Charles Taylor. He recounts the nonviolent efforts in the Arab Spring, including the wonderful shalom moment of a ring of Christians forming a protective circle around Muslims at prayer. He ends this section by talking of the work of Peacemaker Teams and similar groups in many parts of the world including in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He concludes the book with the contention that it is time to devote serious attention to nonviolent action. We spend billions on military defense and military academies but virtually nothing for nonviolent resistance and peace academies. He argues that pacifism that engages in nonviolent action is in fact as courageous as armed resistance because it also is willing to die in the pursuit of just and peaceful conflict resolution. He further contends the following:

  1. Nonviolence often accomplishes its aims with far less loss of life.
  2. Nonviolence accomplishes its aims more often than violence.
  3. Nonviolence is more likely to lead to democratic institutions.

One of the sobering implications of all this is the willingness to die without killing. One of the questions Sider left unanswered for me was whether there are circumstances where one should not pursue nonviolent resistance, where force must be met with force. I think particularly of instances when a regime has determined a course of genocide. Here, the evidence seems to be that armed peacekeeping forces have been both necessary and successful in places like Kosovo and South Sudan in stopping genocidal regimes.

Perhaps what this points up is the necessity of what Sider argues. Many nonviolent efforts have been spontaneous and sometimes undisciplined. It is time for rigorous studies and the devotion of resources that inform and make possible disciplined and strategic action. War calls for these things as well as courage. It just makes sense that the pursuit of peace requires no less.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. 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.”

Review: Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget

Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget
Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget by Ronald J. Sider
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The budget deficits and national debt reveal a moral deficit in our country. Most fundamentally, the problem is one of inter-generational injustice. In simpler terms, instead of leaving our children and grand-children better off, we are saddling them with a country increasingly encumbered with debt obligations. Currently that debt amounts to over $55,000 for every man, woman, and child in this country. When China becomes one of our major creditors, we compromise national security. And when we propose deficit reduction programs that cut programs that have a proven track record of lifting people out of poverty and fail to call upon the rich to sacrifice, then we have a moral deficit. So contends Ron Sider.

Ron Sider goes further than simply to decry the problem, or the solutions our polarized political parties have proposed. He actually tackles the hard work of proposing how we might balance the budget without doing so on the backs of the poor. He does propose cutting spending for duplicative social programs and those proven ineffective while preserving programs like food stamps and Pell grants and subsidized education loans while regulating the for-profit schools. He would cut or at least freeze our military spending, which totals what nearly all other nations in the world combined spend. And he would work to control expenditures on seniors, who currently receive $4 for every dollar spent on those under 18. He also argues that tax increases are necessary to make it, and contends that all should sacrifice, and the rich sacrifice more, recognizing the infrastructure that makes that wealth possible. He cites Warren Buffett’s contention that his secretary pays a higher percentage of taxes than he does, mostly because much of the income of the wealthy is in the form of capital gains, taxed at a much lower level. He suggests increasing these taxes, and a tax surcharge for all of us until the debt is paid off.

I can imagine getting comments on this review on what is wrong with Sider’s proposal. My own questions concern whether his proposal gets the job done and the lack of serious attention to the economic implications of what he proposes. I also think until we have safeguards that prevent using taxes levied for debt reduction to increase spending, you will never convince the American people to commit to the sacrifice of greater taxes. Nevertheless, his concerns about the inevitable economic and social consequences of continuing to “kick the can down the road” have to be taken on board, as well as the immorality of deferring this problem to our children and grand-children.

What seems most helpful instead of complaining is to become engaged citizens who really come to terms with both the implications of the debt and the hard decisions that are unavoidable if we are to make real progress in removing this burden. Sider concludes the book with practical steps that can be taken. The question he faces us with is whether we will continue to live in denial of the immoral thing we are doing with leaving these debts to the coming generations, or whether we will make hard decisions and collective sacrifices, which is what good parents have always done so that their children will have the opportunity for a better life.

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