April 23, 2007

what i've been reading...

I appreciate people such as Mr. Sider because they have a quality that I do not: patience with the evangelical right. In reading Sider's book, Living Like Jesus, page after page it becomes clear that he has a particular audience he is trying to relate to. That audience seems to be fundamental, right-wing, evangelical Christians. Sider speaks their language. His jargon, theological leanings and tactics all seem that of one attempting to reason with a particular breed of Christian. His goal is quite clear; Sider believes fundamentalist Christians can live and worship in a more holistic, biblical pattern.

In order to convey his message to his readers, Sider breaks up his book into three major categories. The author presents his argument for a truer pattern of living as Jesus did by first addressing "The Individual", second "The Church" and third "The World". In the first segment, Sider attempts to address how an individual person might live more like Jesus. Within this portion of the book he addresses issues such as personal holiness or piety, family life and Spirit-filled living.

On the matter of personal holiness, Sider argues in the first two chapters of the book that Christians by and large do not have a proper perspective of God, sin and salvation. Here he offers that the majority of Christians confess an orthodox faith but do not live, in practice, and orthodox life. Sider pleads with his readers to take their lifestyles into question, to reconsider if how a person lives might bring honor to God.

Sider evidences his position in the third chapter by addressing the case of marriage in the West. Using his own marriage as an example he explores how modern, Western trends have lead towards what amounts to a more and more selfish demeanor resulting in frail marriages. He goes on to discuss forgiveness, an understanding commitment and selflessness as primary components of restoring the establishment of marriage.

From here, Sider takes a stark turn and discusses a charismatic understanding and practice of interaction with the Holy Spirit. Sider summarizes this segment of the book by conveying the importance of the indwelling of the Spirit in the life of a Christ-follower. Without this he seems to believe that our attempts to rectify our personal lives and re-align them with God will reap little results without the filling of the Holy Spirit. He shares several stories of great accomplishment by those that centered their lives on Christian practices and experienced a deep intimacy with the Spirit of God.

Moving from the personal life into the life of the Church, Sider addresses how the Church may also re-align itself with the purposes of God. Sider offers that the Church ought to rediscover it's civic duty within a community, take a more humane approach to it's ministry and learn to get along. This does not come without his own dreams and hopes for what this would like being drawn out for the reader. Sider has a clear idea of how we might go about such things.

The author begins his segment discussing how the Church might exist more like Christ by addressing the divisiveness with the greater Church body. As the saying goes, Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. Using personal experiences and other stories, Sider relates the dire need for the Body of Christ to reconcile differences, offer forgiveness and move on together within a region. He discusses the universal, geographic and immediate, gathered expressions of the Church randomly to convey the need for accountability for and imperative nature of this kind of witness to the world.

Sider goes from here to articulate the need for the Church to address the whole person in how it ministers within a particular community. It becomes quite clear that Sider expects the reader to approach this concern with humility. He understands that a Church prepared to share a Gospel that brings Good News to not only the soul but to the whole person it will require the determination to not overlook but look beyond the shortcomings of many within a community. But Sider is convinced that the results of implementing a more holistic approach to ministry will result in as many salvation stories as any other approach.

In chapter 7, Sider addresses-once again-the issue of reconciliation. But while in chapter 5 his concern is primarily a racial division, here he discusses the division that exists amongst Christians theologically. For Sider, he sees these divides as resulting in hate and distrust manifested throughout the history of the Church. He believes that in order for the Church to be more like Jesus it must resolve itself to look beyond the many differences between denominations and sects and come together as co-followers of our one Savior, Jesus. In the mind of the author it would be possible to see this divisiveness mended in practices that stem from practical to organizational; all testimony to Christ's love within us.

The closing segment of the book addresses "The World". Here, Sider discusses how Christians might function more like Jesus in light of politics, economics and the environment. Recognizing his audience, Sider addresses these concerns biblically and theologically to portray a common ground from which to build his argument upon. He begins by diplomatically and historically exposing how political progress has often been feared by some Christians and embraced-through conviction-by others. He offers biblically sound suggestions on how Christians might approach the political realm no matter what their inclination might be.

The chapter following his discussion of political involvement provides a biblical explanation of God's concern for the poor. Sider adds to his apologetic of the poor a resolution through micro-loans. He shares through stories and numbers how micro-loans have provided an avenue for Christians, of the west primarily, to share their wealth and carry burdens more equally. In the same pattern as previous chapters, Sider shares his vision for how embracing this ideal may reverse the global concern of poverty in large ways.

Continuing on his focus of global concerns that the Church must adjust its perspective on if it chooses to live as Jesus, Sider brings the uncommon environmentalist, evangelical perspective into view. Sider makes it clear that this world is God's and we must have concern and care for it. He conveys his concern for the state of the environment while providing means for which churches can not only care for the earth but also engage non-Christians in the task as well. Overall, his appreciation and reverence for creation comes across clearly

Sider closes his book echoing what was made clear throughout the book: that the virtue of humility is of dire need within the Church and within Christians. The author explains how Jesus primary example to us was one of a servant. He explains to the reader that at the heart of following Christ is becoming a servant as Jesus was. This is written between the lines within each chapter. In order for the audience he seems to be clearly addressing to approach the re-focusing he prescribes, one must do so with humility, a willingness to consider that one might not have always had the right perspective. As well, he sees that love is the driving force behind that person who chooses to serve another and that this must be in place in order for one to truly live like Jesus.

While Sider's synopsis of the Christian life, rightly lived, is sincere it is neither convicting nor convincing. While it can be assumed that he is speaking to a conservative Christian audience he never states clearly that this is in fact who he is speaking to. Therefore, his frequent conjectures on theology, biblical interpretation and orthodoxy are unconvincing. Additionally, he speaks on many issues with little to no documentation of statistics, such as his chapter discussing the ill-state of marriage today. All of this makes it difficult to understand who he is trying to relate to. Is the reader supposed to already know the statics and agree with him theologically? What if they don't?

The author's own conviction of each of the topics he addresses is evident. His heart and concern come through candidly. But even in his attempts to provide a practical entry into his way of approaching Christianity he falls short. Many of his recommendations come through his own very particular dreams and ideas which sway a reader's own creativity and does not recognize the reality of varying contexts. His excitement of his own ideas bring disillusion at times. He ends most chapters with a weak-knee'd platitude of "Boy, if we all did this what a wonderful world it would be!" By the third chapter one can expect this and most anyone could predict his jovial finales.

Structurally, Sider segments the book into three areas that are somewhat detached from his content. Throughout the whole book it is clear that who Sider wants to speak to is the whole Church. Even in his "The Individual" segment it has a very corporate tone. While some elements fall rightly within these portions, others feel as though they are a bit forced.

That said, Sider's book is not without value. As stated before, the tone, use of religious language and conviction could speak very loudly to a particular segment within the Christian community. He also provides helpful building blocks for those within that framework to begin structuring a kingdom ethic. His convictions and concepts are based on strong biblical standards that are far from common in contemporary society. He speaks honestly from his own experience on how to build a practical ethic not unlike that which Jesus proclaimed. In these regards, Sider provides at a minimum a helpful tool for contemplation and discussion for those moving together towards discovering what it might look like to participate in "your kingdom come... on earth as it is in heaven."

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

sweet book review... you just saved me th $19.99 of having to buy it...


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