24 June 2005

The Scandal of the Evangelical Fringe

The powers that be over at The Shepherds' Fellowship have graciously granted permission to post this article here.

Christianity Astray
Perhaps you page through each month's issue of Christianity Today as I do—baffled and disconcerted to see that venerable magazine being used as a platform for so many of the dubious fads and disturbing theological trends that constantly flourish at the fringes of the evangelical movement.

Until now, all I could think to do was wince and chuck the magazine in the circular file.

But from now on, I'm going to express my frustration by writing about it.



Pulpit magazine—the online periodical of The Shepherds' Fellowship—has allotted me a column ("Christianity Astray") to write about the latest aberrations seeking acceptance from the evangelical mainstream—in the pages of CT and elsewhere. This is from the May/June 2005 issue of that column.
Phil JohnsonPhil Johnson
http://www.spurgeon.org

The Scandal of the Evangelical Fringe

Ron SiderFor some thirty years, Ron Sider has been one of the most outspoken political liberals in the evangelical menagerie. He doesn't like that label, liberal. (And, to be fair, he is no knee-jerk leftist. Sider opposes abortion and doesn't support the gay-rights lobby.) But Sider's friend and fellow evangelical liberal Tony Campolo (who doesn't mind the label and who has voiced sympathy for much of the gay-rights agenda) says Sider is definitely a man of the left. According to Campolo, "If you want to know Ron Sider's view on capital punishment, you don't even have to ask. If you want to know his view on El Salvador, you don't have to ask. If you want to know what he thinks about disarmament and the military, you don't even have to ask. If it looks liberal, and it smells liberal, and it tastes liberal, it's liberal."

As a matter of fact, the first edition of Sider's 1977 book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, was so fiercely radical that some early critics denounced it as socialism in sheep's clothing. Sider blamed all poverty on systematic injustice perpetrated by governments, corporations, and economic systems. "Evil" was something embodied in institutions. Almost every solution he proposed involved a scheme for restricting capitalism and transforming government into an instrument for the redistribution of wealth. Out-and-out Marxists could—and did—advocate many of the same policies Sider championed.

In 1981, David Chilton wrote a scathing book-length rebuttal, published by the Institute for Christian Economics (ICE) and titled Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators. Chilton argued (quite convincingly) that Ron Sider's views on economics were wrongheaded, naive, unbiblical, and full of potential mischief. The release of Chilton's book coincided roughly with the end of Jimmy Carter's administration, the onset of the Reagan years, and the rise of the religious right. Sider's book (which had already sold more than a quarter million copies) suddenly all but disappeared from the evangelical radar.

Although he still prefers left-wing politics, Sider's views have softened considerably over the years. What persuaded him to tone down his radicalism is not entirely clear. It might have been Chilton's book, the collapse of Communism, the changing political climate in America (especially with the militant secularization of the radical American left), or all of the above. Whatever the reasons, Sider has issued two major revisions of Rich Christians (a second edition in 1984, and a twentieth-anniversary third edition in 1997). Each new edition was significantly less radical than the preceding one.

In fact, none other than Gary North, ICE founder (and publisher of David Chilton's book), declared Sider's third edition "harmless." In a review ("Ron Sider Has Moved in the Right Direction"), North wrote, "For a man who rejects economic reasoning and biblical blueprints, what he proposes is not all that bad—uninspiring, but not that bad."

"It is also not very good," North was quick to add.

On a personal level, however, it is easy to feel a sympathetic fondness for Ron Sider. He grew up in rural Ontario in a denomination with strong Anabaptist roots. His radicalism, his pacifism, and his insistence on an abstemious lifestyle are all deeply engrained convictions that Sider has drawn from his spiritual heritage. By all accounts he is a gentle soul who practices what he preaches. He lives a simple life in a modest home in a non-exclusive urban neighborhood.

Self-styled "evangelical liberals" sometimes enjoy stirring controversy by questioning core evangelical doctrines like the authority of Scripture, the doctrine of hell, or the exclusivity of Christ. (Evangelical post-modernist guru Brian McLaren, for example, who has strong sympathies with the political left, sneers at the historic evangelical stance on all three of those doctrines.) Sider hasn't done that. He frankly doesn't have a lot to say about abstract theology. But what he does say about salvation, Christ, the authority of Scripture, and other vital Bible doctrines seems more genuinely evangelical than most of the self-styled evangelicals who are camped out at the left end of the political spectrum these days.

Don't mistake that remark as a wholesale endorsement of Sider's theology. Far from it. Although Sider has backed away from some of his 1970s radicalism, it's hard to imagine that he could have emerged totally unscathed from a phase that might well be interpreted as a dalliance with Liberation Theology. But for the record, Sider's organization, Evangelicals for Social Action, uses the Lausanne Covenant as a doctrinal statement. It may not be the most thorough and doctrinally precise doctrinal statement ever written, but Lausanne does explicitly affirm the authority and inerrancy of Scripture as well as the exclusivity of Christ. I am very glad that Ron Sider affirms those truths. Many of his political allies on the evangelical left do not.

The Scandal of the Evangelical ConscienceAnyway, Mr. Sider is back in the limelight again with a new book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? (Online excerpt courtesy of Books & Culture.) While it's not a book I would recommend overall, it is a much better book than Rich Christians, and Sider makes some points that I would gladly add a hearty amen to. For example, he decries contemporary tendency to turn the gospel into a message about self-fulfillment—the polar opposite of Jesus' message about self-denial. He deplores the materialism and worldly superficiality of the modern megachurch movement. He is rightly concerned about Western Christians' infatuation with entertainment. He points out that our giving isn't really as generous as we like to think. On those and other points, his message cannot be gainsaid. When he is right, he is right.

The April 2005 issue of Christianity Today features an interview with Ron Sider about his new book. Of course, it caught my attention.

I won't dissect the interview, because that would take more time than I can afford and more space than I've been allotted. But I do want to respond to Mr. Sider's central argument, perfectly summarized in the subtitle CT gave their article: "Ron Sider says the [evangelical] movement is riddled with hypocrisy, and that it's time for serious change."

Of course, it's perfectly obvious that the evangelical movement is long past due for "a serious change." We've been saying the same thing on almost every page of Pulpit for the past two years. So I agree with that part of the assertion. What I disagree with is Mr. Sider's diagnosis of the underlying malady. He thinks the problem is merely hypocrisy—that people just aren't living up to what they believe. Therefore he simply repeats the same mantra he has been chanting for thirty years: what evangelicals need most is a lifestyle change.

It seems to me that the trouble with today's evangelical movement runs much deeper than that. The real problem is that many self-styled "evangelicals" don't truly believe basic evangelical doctrine anymore. Large numbers of them couldn't even explain the gospel in the simplest terms. Many flatly deny the relevance of God's Word and its authority over their lives. Leaders like McLaren and Campolo have fostered these problems and now are openly challenging our right to believe anything with any kind of certainty or conviction. What kind of behavior would you expect to be the fruit of such thinking?

Let me be more explicit: I fear that many (perhaps most) of the religious people whom Christianity Today and Ron Sider want to sweep into the evangelical movement aren't even true Christians.

CT's interview with Ron Sider begins precisely where Sider's book begins: citing data from a controversial 1999 survey conducted by evangelical pollster George Barna. Barna's figures supposedly demonstrate that the divorce rate among evangelicals is no better than the divorce rate among the total population of America. The problem with Barna's survey is his watered-down concept of what constitutes "evangelicalism." (See the lead section of "The Good the Bad, and the Ugly" in this issue of Pulpit for more on this same subject.)

Pollsters like Barna, aided and abetted by Christianity Today, have systematically been moving the boundaries of the evangelical movement outward for years. It's pretty hard to imagine any theological opinion so deviant that one could not hold it and credibly claim to be an "evangelical," given the paradigm for evangelicalism used by people like Barna, Sider, and CT's editors. The evangelical fringe has become so large and all-inclusive that old-style mainstream evangelicalism frankly seems like an oddity when you look at the whole of the visible movement. Historic evangelicalism is now under fierce attack on several sides from within the "evangelical" camp. As a result, the group Barna and company label "evangelical" is filled with people who don't even understand the most basic truths of the gospel—justification by faith, the authority of Scripture, the lordship of Christ, and all that. Their real problem is not that they don't live up to their beliefs, but that they don't really even have a biblical belief system.

Ron Sider himself is part of the problem. He denies that orthodoxy takes precedence over orthopraxy. He would claim, of course, that sound doctrine and good works are equally paramount. That's essentially the argument he attempted to make in his 1993 book One-sided Christianity (republished in 1999 as Good News and Good Works), where he claimed that evangelism without social action is "lopsided Christianity." Throughout the book, he treats sound doctrine and good works as disparate virtues to be balanced.

He is wrong on at least four counts.

First, in practice, Sider himself does not place nearly as much stress on sound doctrine as he does on humanitarian works. Virtually all his books tend to neglect the issue of faith (or take it for granted) while emphasizing the importance of good deeds. Far from attaining "balance," he has reversed the proper priority between faith and praxis.

Second, Mr. Sider is obsessed with a peculiar kind of "good works." For some thirty years he has talked incessantly about social activism, political justice, environmental protection, government-based anti-poverty programs, and similar liberal public policy issues—as if these were the epitome of all truly "good works." He actually seems to regard political support for a liberal social agenda as the true barometer of authentic Christian piety.

Third, it is a serious mistake to think either truly sound doctrine or genuinely good works can stand alone. The two are not distinct features to be set in balance by weighing them against one another.

Which is to say, fourth, that authentic good works flow from sound doctrine; not the other way around. Orthodoxy is what gives rise to orthopraxy. It never works in reverse. This, after all, is the basic message of Christianity: good works are a fruit of genuine faith. Faith, not any kind of work, is the sole instrument by which we lay hold of justification (Romans 4:4-5). And the practical righteousness of sanctification follows that (Hebrews 11:6; Galatians 5:6). Genuinely good works do not—and cannot—precede faith (Romans 8:7-8).

In other words, orthodoxy does take precedence over orthopraxy. That is an essential ramification of true biblical and evangelical doctrine. Orthodox doctrine really is more important than social action.

That is not to suggest that good works, human compassion, or godly virtues are optional. Far from it. (That certainly ought to be clear; for more than 35 years, our ministry has opposed the kind of antinomianism that portrays good works as irrelevant to authentic faith.) But good works are secondary to faith and sound doctrine, because they flow from it. They are caused by it. They are never the cause of it. Social action and political causes (whether on the right wing or the left) are simply not as important as the truth of the gospel message, and every Christian's personal priorities ought to reflect that principle.

Furthermore, whenever good works are absent in someone's life, you can be certain that person's doctrine is not really sound. It is an utter fallacy to imagine (as George Barna seems to want us to believe) that right belief can fail to produce righteous behavior.

To give Ron Sider credit, he does touch on this truth, albeit briefly. In the middle of his analysis of Barna's statistics, he writes, "Biblical orthodoxy does matter. One important way to end the scandal of contemporary Christian behavior is to work and pray fervently for the growth of orthodox theological belief in our churches."

What makes Sider's book so utterly disappointing is that he never develops that point. He gets sidetracked, as usual, by the political agenda. Unfortunately, Ron Sider himself has a seriously faulty worldview, and it begins with the fact that he invariably defines "good works" in political, rather than biblical, terms.

Sound doctrine is not just "one important way to end the scandal of contemporary Christian behavior." It is the answer to the whole problem. "Orthodox theological belief" is the key to a proper Christian worldview. And a truly biblical worldview is the only possible foundation for right praxis. That is what we must stress if the evangelical movement is ever to be salvaged from its current scandalous state.

At the end of the day, the real scandal is not merely that people who call themselves "evangelicals" behave badly. What is truly scandalous is that so many men at the forefront of evangelical leadership don't seem to understand this basic truth: The kind of teaching that encourages people who live worse than infidels to think of themselves as "Christians" isn't really Christianity at all—even if CT persists in labeling it "evangelicalism."

See also:



Copyright © 2005, Pulpit-Shepherds' Fellowship. All Rights Reserved.


36 comments:

burttd said...

Two points -

1) If Sider has softed his stance, I doubt Childer had much to do with it - I think Sider would have worn the criticisms of reconstructionists as a badge of honor. ;-}

2) I wish orthodoxy always resorted in orthopraxy, but it "ain't necessarily so". I've seen too many examples to pretend otherwise. Until American evangelicals are living more in line with the priorities of the New Testament re: their wealth, there will always be a place for the Siders to critique us - even if we don't buy their politics.

Phil Johnson said...

Doug:

If you are speaking of orthodoxy in the literal sense of "sound teaching," I agree: orthodoxy doesn't always result in orthopraxy.

But if you're speaking of "right belief," then I would differ with you. Sinful behavior is always a fruit of wrong beliefs. You can be certain that if your behavior is bad, you have a belief somewhere that needs correcting.

For example, even if you can recite the catechism perfectly on the divine attributes, if you persist in deliberate sin, you do not fear God the way you should, and that is a belief (or lack thereof) that needs to be corrected with more orthodox thinking.

To put it another way, sound teaching (orthodoxy) is ultimately a necessary remedy for all evil praxis.

By the way, that's why Jesus spoke of the Word as the instrument of sanctification. And that's why orthodoxy itself should never be derided just because some who seem to be superficially "orthodox" might behave badly.

It's also why sanctification doesn't automatically occur by purely sacramental means.

Sean MacNair said...

"He actually seems to regard political support for a liberal social agenda as the true barometer of authentic Christian piety."

And Christian conservatives regard political support for a conservative social agenda as the true barometer of authentic Christian piety. Neither are right (pardon the pun). Whether something is "liberal" or "conservative" isn't the point; whether something is right or wrong, true or false, is.

burttd said...

Phil,

Any person can say (either on paper, by voice, or whatever media) that they believe in orthodox theology. And are not all Christians sinners to one degree or another? If I can already recite the catechism by heart, and still sin, will *more* catechetical teaching fix my problem? I've been down that road, Phil, and that dog don't hunt...

Yes, sound teaching is always necessary, and orthodoxy is not to blame for our sins. But confessional orthodoxy alone is no guarantee of faithfulness.

Nowadays, there are no perfectly inspired and sinless prophets to guide us. Is Sider a political "liberal"? Maybe. But is he *nevertheless* right about American Christians' hypocrisy about our wealth? I don't see how that can be denied on the basis of the evidence (NT teachings on wealth vs. evangelicals' tithing record etc). If nothing else, Sider deserves credit for rubbing our noses in that...

Dave said...

Excellent article! A good companion to the Machen post from earlier.

Doug McHone said...

OK, that does it. I'm subscribing to the RSS feed.

Excellent post!

Habitans in Sicco said...

Burttd, did you read the same post I did? Seems to me Phil did enumerate several points on which he thinks Sider is right--including the one you said Sider ought to be given credit for.

burttd said...

But the points we agree with Sider on undercut the contention that orthodoxy always leads to orthopraxy - which was what my comments are meant to show.

Habitans in Sicco said...

Burttd:

I'm having a little trouble following your argument, perhaps because you didn't respond to the distinction Phil made between sound teaching and sound belief, but went right back to talking about "orthodoxy" anyway, as if one aspect of orthodoxy were just the same as the other.

Are you suggesting that when someone shows a pattern of disobedience to God, something other than a deficient faith might lie at the root of their problem?

If so, what is the remedy? A bath? A sacrament? Hypnotism? Flagellation? Beer and skittles?

"I've been down that road, Phil, and that dog don't hunt..."? You appear to be saying you have given up on the sufficiency of Scripture because it didn't work for you.

ct said...

What Phil said, and...

What habitans in sicco said.

ct said...

We can both learn things from these comments burttd, my Boar's Head Tavern nemesis individual. (Don't burn your tongue with that pipe.)

Brian said...

I haven't read the book so my comment won't be too applicable to this guys stuff in particular but...in general, the problem with these types of books is they love to lump all Christians into one big group and all Christians become guilty by association.

The problem being....what is it...80-90% of americans claim to be Christians and only like 5-10% of those believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God?

I think the real problem is a definition problem. People need to get the definition of a Christian straight. :)

burttd said...

One parting attempt to say what I meant to say...

Orthodoxy (right beliefs) and faith (trust in the One described in those beliefs) are linked but separable. Admitting that attempting to make orthodoxy and faith the same thing (and that the attempt failed to achieve the desired results) is not to deny orthodoxy, or the source of orthodoxy (Scripture), but merely to point out that it is possible to believe in truths and not have faith. Belief is insufficient without faith, and faith does not require 100% orthodoxy.

If what I've said above is true,
*and* if Sider is right about our actions not living up to our calling (here we agree),
*and* if these problems are to be seen in theologically "orthodox" churches and not just theologically "bankrupt" ones (deny this if you wish, but I've *seen* it), then a simple revival of orthodox teaching is not in itself sufficient. What is needed for is not just more orthodoxy, but revival and repentance. And revival is the work of God, not (unfortunately) guaranteed even by sound preaching.

ct said...

If your standard for right behaviour is the unanchored goal posts of accusing, shaming, moralising liberal weenies ("Nope, you're not there yet, Christians, I mean, so-called Christians.") then you always have a point, my Boar's Head foam lapper; but if your standard is the world then American Christians are rather conspicuously not smeared in rooster blood or giving their martyrdom to a moon god and his 'holy' book... Yes, you'll find alot of Americans are engaged in such and similar things, but they aren't generally self-identifying as Christians, let alone spending time learning and valuing what the Word of God says...

Brad Meyer said...

Me again... couple of points if I may...just because I'm a glutten for this, but I would like to do my part to try to heal the theological divide...

For people to treat activism by the political left as morally equivalent to activism by the right in America today is dangerously, deliberately simplistic. Like the mass media referring to the "Cycle of Violence" in the Middle East so as to make both sides seems equally to blame for one side homicide bombing, and the other side responding. More and more clearly each day, is it evident that as a Christian matures, his views must tend toward conservatism (in today's labels). The leftist's view today is in complete opposition to God and freedom, and Christian leaders have long since remained silent on this point- could it be because they've forfeited their speech for tax exempt contributions, i.e. 501c3 status. Socialism is government-endorsed theft no two ways about it. Christian leaders should publicly, regularly acknowledge the co-equal importance of politicians and soldiers who protect their freedom to preach, while politicians and soldiers honor men of the cloth.

Second, "the truth of the gospel" should not be limited to the conversion of a soul. It must, to be consistent and complete, encompass the lifestyle change that will bring political change- if no political change toward God's Law in a people introduced to the message of scripture, then no authentic faith has taken root.

Third, the fundamental ingredient missing from Christianity today is the Holy Spirit- actually getting beyond the confines of our own prideful intellectualism into the eternal, infinite wisdom and power of the God of the Universe. While we "smart people" try to talk like we know everything there is to know about God, many with lower IQ's are simply having a personal loving relationship with Jesus. This is what divides the Church today.

ct said...

brad meyer, everything you write in this comment is on-the-mark. Those who disagree will say "why is it 'on-the-mark', because you say so?" and, on it goes. If you know you know. If you're there you're there.

Your last point is so true. I myself never talk about that aspect of my faith because I get immediate mocking from even the 'smart' Christians (by that I mean Christians who are able to understand things like the doctrines of grace, for instance). The mainstream church plays the role of white blood cells when it comes to Christians who have been led by the Spirit into what can best be described as practical level practice of the faith. (And if I said what that is the same code words would start getting shot at me and the usual mocking and pack-knavery that always occurs.

So I just assume it's not for everybody. It's available to anybody, but not for everybody.

Let me just say: the Holy Spirit leads some Christians into a deeper understanding of the faith. Practical level doing and understanding. This involves language and knowledge and practices. It exists. What the mainstream, in its vain ignorance, only sees is all the usual, easy-to-identify suspects, the new age fools or snake handlers and similar things and the mainstream thinks it's just used some kind of unique, high-level discernment to 'see' these obvious fools; and so since everybody to the mainstream is these obvious fools they miss what is available that is real.

But it requires the Holy Spirit to lead you and to enable you to see anyway...

Dave said...

Brad:

(1) You really need to get off the hobby horse of the 501c3 status--it is a convenient, but invalid mechanism to impugn the motives of those who disagree with you. It is entirely possible that, for example, a dispensationalist would not agree with your stance for reasons completely disconnected from tax status questions. Now, you may disagree with dispensationalism, but I haven't heard anyone accuse it of being driven by tax benefits.

(2) If I grant, for sake of discussion, your second point, it does not follow that a change toward God's Law in an individual's life will necessarily lead toward political activism. It may simply mean that the individual will live in obedience to God's law. What you need to prove from the Scripture is that this necessarily translates into the pursuit of social justice in formal ways (campaigning, passing laws, etc.). It would be great to see a NT example of this, say the Apostle Paul making the case for the abolition of slavery or some command in a NT epistle to change the government.

(3) (And I will include Xenophon with this one) I would urge you to rethink the way you state your third point simply because it smacks of spiritual arrogance. To be clear, Xenophon's comments don't smack of it; they are it. But, Brad, your words were too easy for him to coopt for this purpose. It has historically been a dangerous thing for one group to claim some special relationship with the Holy Spirit as the key to their right position. That kind of argument leads away from the clarity and authority of Scripture. Please think about this.

ct said...

dave, thanks for providing clear evidence of what I said. Well done.

I'll just leave you with this: entertain at the least the possibility that you don't yet have a clue of what you talk of. Just entertain the possibility.

And when you mock another Christian's experience with the Holy Spirit you set yourself up as a fool, don't you? Because you can't know, can you? And here is a Christian - me - who as stated is not a snake handler or new age type. So, what are you left with? Now you have to say I'm lying and that I'm really a new age or snake handler, don't you? Now you are deep into inane territory, aren't you dave? You are a policer without a clue.

You see, I actually focus on what Jesus teaches (and not as the liberal moralists affect to). When Jesus said be awake and love your enemies I focus on that. I see a great teaching in that. And my effort to understand that is enabled and guided by the Holy Spirit (which embarasses Christians like you). Yes, dave, the Holy Spirit. Cringe, dave. The Holy Spirit. When Jesus says love God and love your neighbor as yourself I see a vast teaching in that, and the Holy Spirit has enabled me to see it and practice it. It's not about left-wing politically-correct inane moralising, for the other accuser out there that want to kneejerk "but you're mean!"

The Holy Spirit, dave...the Holy Spirit...

Dave said...

Xeno,

I wasn't mocking you. It is called rebuke. The Holy Spirit does not lead people to boast arrogantly about their special insights into God's Word that others (the less spiritual ones) simply can't get and don't even realize that they can't get. Don't blame your arrogance and contentiousness on God's Spirit.

I now apologize to Brad for tying him to you at all. It is not fair or right to give any impression that he is in a category with you. You seem to own that one all by yourself.

MTG said...

May we suggest to the liberal left Bonhoeffers 'Cost of Discipleship"?

Brad Meyer said...

Dave, my man:
1) Sorry, won't get off 501c3 status argument. My bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil- dispensationalist's or other. If you can think of a better reason than money that pastor/preachers have relinquished their responsibility to do their part to uphold God's Law in their nation, clue me in to it...
2) Let me first ask you a question: What is the meaning of this verse? Luk 22:36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take [it], and likewise [his] scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
3) It is a much more dangerous thing for a group to not have "some special relationship with the Holy Spirit as the key to their right position." Of course it sounds like arrogance! Calling yourself a child of the King always will!

Sorry folks, it brings me no joy, but much of what passes for intellectualism on this site is analagous to me trying to convince you in impressive verbage of my wife's eternal love for me because of a letter she wrote me a long time ago.
"Well Brad... has she been intimate with you?"
"No. There's no need for that- she wrote me a letter- that's as intimate as we want to get. I just read the letter she wrote me and what other really smart people that love her have written about her. Actually, I think it's arrogant for people to talk about love and intimacy in their marriage like they have something others don't."

Jeremy Pierce said...

Sider says he thinks the first edition of his first book was biblically ignorant. In the second edition he says he knows the Bible much better now and has revised it accordingly, probably not enough but enough to remove the most glaringly bad arguments. I don't think social changes had a lot to do with it except as they made clear to him that the Bible didn't support some of the things he was saying.

Brad, do you honestly believe that Paul meant that love of money is the motive behind every evil action? Satan's fall was about money? Adam and Eve's fall was about money? Someone who selfishly wants to look good by acting altruistic for reputation's sake is doing it for money? That's clearly not what Paul was getting at.

I went and checked four commentaries just to make sure there wasn't some issue I wasn't aware of, but all four recognized this as a proverbial saying in Paul's time much like the proverbs in the biblical book that we call Proverbs. They all translated it as something like "for a root of all kinds of evils is the love of money." It's a proverbial statement about how the love of money is frequently involved in evil actions, not a statement about the basis of all evil. It's presumptuous and arrogant to claim that you know someone's motives. I remember Jesus saying something about logs and specks along those lines.

Those who accept the libertarian idea that socialism is government-endorsed theft need to rethink its assumptions. Socialism, in its pure form, is cooperative ownership, so you're in effect stealing from yourself if it's really stealing. It's hard to deny the repeated claims in the Bible that a government has at least some responsibility to care for the poor and so on. It's all through the prophets. How do you think the government got its money? By doing what libertarians call stealing and what everyone else calls taxes, i.e. your moral duty to society to be godly and help contribute toward the society whose benefits one experiences daily.

I'm no socialist. I think it's completely unworkable. I'm not even a liberal. But the reasons socialism is unworkable are not reasons to say that it's in principle wrong on the grounds that it's stealing. Such an argument requires denying clear statements in scripture (e.g. Jesus' statement that things that have Caesar's picture on them belong to Caesar, not to you; Paul's statement that everything you think you have belongs really to God and not to you). It's true that all kinds of evil stem from the love of money, and one of those evil things is the desire to hold on to one's money and not pay it as taxes to fund programs that will care for the poor, while using as an excuse the claim that taxation and socialism are stealing.

Dave said...

Brad,

(1) Okay, hold on to your hobby horse. Apparently it works for you, but it doesn’t really do anything in terms of proving your point. It is an argument ad hominem that deflects from the real question at hand. Happy trails!

(2) Luke 22:36 means that following the Lord’s departure the disciples will face a new, more hostile context than before (mentioned in v. 35). In light of this, they should no longer forgo reasonable and responsible actions like fiscal management and personal protection. I have no problem with that at all. I would not understand this text to be saying anything about the advancement of social justice through political means. Maybe I am missing something.

(3) Perhaps I wasn’t clear in my point about claiming as special relationship to the Holy Spirit as the proof of rightness. The basis for such a claim should be grounded in the words of Scripture. Appeals to special, unique insights claimed as being given by the Holy Spirit have almost invariably led to schisms and false doctrine—this seems to be one of the problems that Paul confronted at Corinth (cf. 14:37-38). The authority of God’s Word is at stake.

Your marriage analogy is flawed in at least two ways. First, it might work if you and I were married to the same woman and you tried to claim some special relationship with her that superseded her words to both of us. If she has said the exact same thing to both of us, then the meaning is the same for both of us. For one person to claim some superior ability to know the deeper meaning of those words is simply vain. Since the assumption here is that we are both in a relationship with God, it is wrong for you to claim that you are right because you are supposedly closer to him than I am—how do you know that? And isn’t it proud of you to make such a boast?

Second, you assume (as is common with your view) that anyone who doesn’t understand things the way you do ipso facto doesn’t have your special relationship with God. Further, you assume that those of us who are committed to the authority of Scripture over subjective interpretations aren’t interested in close fellowship with God. And that assumption is grounded in the mistaken notion that close fellowship with God comes from something beyond the Word, i.e., it is the Spirit and the Word (whereas I believe it is the Spirit through the Word).

A close walk with God leads to genuine humility. May God grant us all that kind of walk!

Brad Meyer said...

Jeremy Pierce,
Do you think that preachers traded their free speech for some noble purpose? Would God not provide for them if they did not subjugate themselves to the federal government?

Dave,
1-3) ...Your heals are dug in...

best wishes

Dave said...

Brad,

I don't believe in healing.:)

Brad Meyer said...

Absolutely amazed that the original post that we're all responding to has the "arrogance" to talk about correcting the Christian community via online magazine, but if you suggest that someone may have a deeper relationship with God than someone else, you're "arrogant."

Done a search of this blog and almost without exception, the only reference to the "Holy Spirit" comes from Xeno or someone who believes in special revelation. Almost never is HE even mentioned by name...nothing further need be said..

Dave said...

Brad,

Just to be clear, the problem isn't someone saying someone else has a deeper relationship with God--it is someone claiming to have a deeper relationship with God than other people, particularly when that is done to defend a particular interpretation of Scripture.

Your comment about mentions of the Holy Spirit strikes me a little like someone criticizing a NT epistle that was written to address a specific occasion not mentioning some other biblical truth. The simple reason why the Spirit has not been mentioned very often is because His ministry has not been the subject of discussion (yet). There is probably a very long list of things that haven't been mentioned yet.

In any event, it seems that we have drifted far from topic and well past profitable exchange with each other. Back to whether Sider's proposals represent a good thing or if Phil has pegged it correctly. I have been convinced by the Spirit through the Word, after much humble study, that Phil is right.:)

Dan Edelen said...

Phil, et al.

My first post here and already the gloves are coming off.

Folks like Sider and those behind the EC like McLaren have a lot of foolish and doctrinally ignorant things to say. However, they exist for a reason and that reason is that modern Evangelicalism (of the purest sort, not the Mugwumps out there)has gone astray. There would be no Siders and no McLarens if Evangelicalism were on the right path. Yet it simply is not.

When you lose your job and your church doesn't lift one finger to help, then something is wrong. If you are new to town and don't have a support system at all and your church doesn't care to provide you one, then something is wrong. When Evangelicals with perfect orthodoxy can't recall the names of any of their neighbors or have never been to a neighbor's house of had neighbors inside theirs, then something is wrong. When a family gets hits with stunning medical bills or an long unemployment and their church refuses to help them out financially so that they must declare bankruptcy, then something is wrong.

Those aren't just stories. I didn't make any of those preceding examples up. They pretty exemplify the state of many Evangelical churches in this country. In this Sider has it right: too often we dwell in our orthodoxy and spurn orthopraxy. If he places too much emphasis on orthopraxy, it is solely because today's Evangelical churches give it such short shrift. That can't continue or else our churches are going to resemble a goat herd rather than a flock of sheep.

Brad Meyer said...

Dave,
So the Third Person of the Trinity just really hasn't come up yet on this Christian blog....we haven't swerved into Him yet...we're too busy setting the Christian community straight with Sider (whoever this yap is) to deal with God Himself...

Your Honor, the Defense rests.

Dave said...

Brad,

I noticed this subtitle from your "Out on a Limb" blog:

"Just my thoughts that no one wants to hear- maybe they'll read"

I think I have figured out why they don't want to hear your thoughts. Maybe you should refect on it some more before you keep writing.

Brad Meyer said...

ad hominem...

Julana said...

I grew up in the home of a Mennonite minister, and I lean in the direction of Ron Sider. Mennonites live more of the theology they profess than the other denominations I've come across.
(For some reason, the parable of the vineyard owner with two sons came to mind when I read this. Matthew 21:28-32. Doing is more important than words.)
If people without orthopraxy aren't truly orthodox, Ron Sider is more orthodox than many of his detractors.
Why are there so many reformed people with so much time to blog??? The anabaptists are out there "washing feet."
BTW, I also agree with Cerulean Sanctum.

Phil Johnson said...

Julana,

It's certainly true that "doing is more important than words." No one here has argued otherwise.

However (and this is the point I have labored to make), "orthodoxy" is not about words. It's about truth, real belief, and the word of God. If it doesn't result in "doing," it isn't true orthodoxy; it's dead faith. That's James's point in chapter 2.

On the other hand, genuine goodness is not the fruit of pietistic doing. It's the fruit of faith--and genuine faith is rooted in orthodox beliefs, not unorthodox ones.

Julana said...

I appreciate what you say, and I do not disagree with you. However, I honestly don't think your point has been well-made in most of the churches I have experienced. People honestly think assenting to correct doctrine is enough. It makes them look self-righteous. If they were "working out their salvation," they'd look humbler and more attractive.

(And this comes out especially at election time. But that's a whole 'nother topic. :-)

Your response to Sider was well-thought out. He is a person whose views should be brought to the table. Thank you for giving him a chair.

ajlin said...

Since apparently there's not going to be any more blogrolling-
for anyone who might be interested, I've quoted from Trogdor's article and comments fairly extensively in a post on my blog: http://alindsey4.blogspot.com/

Dr Andrew Corbett said...

Great thoughts about Sider and his theology. With an increased polarisation in the Evangelical movement between lifeless traditionalism and consumer-oriented seeker services, Biblical doctrine is deemed increasingly less of a priority compared with, on the one hand, the teachings of past theologians (traditionalism) or, the "how to..." sound-bite messages of seeker/consumer churches.
Andrew Corbett
findingtruthmatters.org