In this project, Sider issues a prophetic lament over the behavior of American Christians: “We divorce, though doing so is contrary to his commands. We are the richest people in human history and know that tens of millions of brothers and sisters in Christ live in grinding poverty, and we give only a pittance, and almost all of that goes to our local congregation. Only a tiny fraction of what we do give ever reaches poor Christians in other places. Christ died to create one new multicultural body of believers, yet we display more racism than liberal Christians who doubt his deity.”
The downside of Sider’s prophetic zeal is that the book is characterized by a reactionary tone, and this leads to some conflicting emphases and propositions despite Sider’s desire for consistency. Thus he can say on the one hand, in good evangelical fashion, that nothing matters as much as one’s personal relationship with God, and that “forgiveness of sins is at the center of Jesus’s proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom.” But he can also say that “the gospel and salvation involve far more than forgiveness of sins” and, “an exclusive emphasis on personal, individualistic approaches without a parallel concern for structural causes and solutions is wrong at several points.”
Sider attempts to synthesize these truths by using the complementary images of Christ as both Savior and Lord. He writes, “Many contemporary Christians act as if it is possible to divide Jesus up, accepting him as Savior and neglecting him as Lord. But Jesus is one person. He cannot be torn apart that way. Either we accept the whole person, Lord and Savior, or we do not accept him at all.” Generally speaking, Christ as Savior refers to the personal forgiveness of sins, while Christ as Lord refers to the rule of Christ’s kingdom in social structures.
The challenge for Sider and those following him will be to rightly emphasize both the individual and social aspects of the gospel message without swinging the pendulum too far the opposite way. Indeed, if evangelicals have traditionally emphasized the personal at the cost of the social, progressives have traditionally done the reverse. Sider makes an admirable attempt to mediate between these two extremes, and although he is not completely successful, he does provide us a useful model. Is evangelism something for which resources are really just “left over”? Does Sider’s continuing affiliation with Jim Wallis and Call to Renewal adequately express this mediating position?