Book Review: Ronald Sider. The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the World. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, Mich.; 2005.

Ron Sider’s work was introduced to me as a graduate student, and in that first work on Christian ethics I knew I had found a soulmate (I mean someone with whose work I could regularly and faithfully interact). As I have worked my way through his work I have truly found someone who sees Christianity in a way that I find compelling and more than a little bit exciting. Sider’s work flows with an outright joy at seeing God’s Kingdom brought (if only for a little bit and a little while at a time) to earth. All the reviews told me that his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the World, would be another page turner.

Yet, I had found myself picking it up and setting it back down a few times before recently plowing on through it. What were the reasons for my hesitancy, I oft wondered. Not that I disagreed with the premise that modern Christians are living lives similar to their neighbors. Nor that I disagreed that at times the Christians seemed to be living lives worst than their neighbors. The same studies and reviews have been read by each of us; and perhaps even we have attended many of the same churches. Not even a disagreement over Sider’s economic policies should have marred the book. Although they had driven a previous reader to distraction (my copy had been purchased gently used).[1]

No for me the general tone and message of the book was a little off-putting. It seems that works of this such are now so commonplace[2] to have become a little wearying. Take for instance his discussion of wife abuse. Now I do not dispute that such abuse occurs;[3] but still found some fault in his logic about how much this occurs and whether it happened more of less in the church. He seemed to have no numbers to confirm his theory; just some careful (or not so careful) geometric proof about hierarchical marriages and abuse rates.[4] It all seemed somewhat quickly researched, and poorly documented: like he was so sure of his rightness on the matter he had accepted its occurrence as a given and had not taken the time to prove its rightness. I felt similarly cheated on his take on racism in America. How can I feel outrage on the wrongness of these supposedly existing crimes, if the author has not felt the need to study, research, and build his case for their actions?[5] I must also say that like the reader before me, I had hoped that Sider might put some concrete description (and / or plan) to his case and not leave us, the reader dangling.[6]

The Chicken Little type of book has been quickly loosing its appeal to me, and I have longed for someone to not just complain that the sky is falling, but attempt to explain the why’s and wherefore’s of such a scenario. I would also love to see more authors taking on the big scary topics of what to do if the sky has fallen. To his credit I think Sider has done something like this, but better with his The Scandal of Evangelical Politics. Perhaps this book is simply a scrabbled-together group of edits from that book, it would explain the scatter-shot and haphazard affair of this editing job.

That is not to say that Sider’s message needs be lost. If any of the statistics he does quote are correct the American church could be in a world of hurt, and it behooves American Evangelicals to get their collective heads out of the sand.[7]  In this way even his scattered recollect could and should serve as a wake-up call. Evangelicals have been asleep at the wheel for far too long; and if they hope to avoid the ditch on either side of the political and social road, they must get it in gear.

[1] His (or her, I guess) side notes about Sider’s “leftish” captivity and the fact that only an escape from such enslavement made good reading as well as the book.

[2] On the left and right.

[3] And probably occurs at rates higher than anyone of us would imagine or desire.

[4] Not that I am a complementarian (I am not). Or that I would not like some case numbers and statistics for use in explaining what I am sure is a valid complaint about abuse.

[5] Perhaps he assumes that he has definitively argued and won his case in another book (or someone else has), and he does not want to waste space rehashing it (but at least do as some do and footnote a response such as “I (or someone else named here) have argued conclusively that this the case in the essay / article / book / dissertation, etc.” This lets me know that I can do further work in convincing myself.

[6] My copy had tons of aggravated side notes asking for specifics and I have to say at first I was annoyed but then felt something akin to sympathy for my beleaguered fellow book owner.

[7] Or perhaps just step slowly away from their TVs broadcasting FOX News long enough to realize that the problem with America is not gays, Mexicans, Democrats, or Muslims; but Christians who fail to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ.


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