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ONE-SIDED CHRISTIANITY?
(Uniting the Church to Heal a Lost and Broken World)
by Ronald J. Sider (Zondervan, 1993. 256 pages.)

     If you had read "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger" (1977) you would certainly love this one too.
     "Why can't there be thousands and thousands of churches all across our world that meet the needs of the whole person in the name of the Lord whom we worship and follow?"  This question comes from Ronald Sider's personal "pilgrimage," the first chapter in his book, "One-Sided Christianity?" 
     In "Rich Christians …," Sider challenged evangelicals to examine their responsibility toward the world's poor.  In "One-Sided Christianity?" he calls out for balance and unity in the Christian community which has long been one-sided about biblical issues.  Sider asks Christians to look at the whole picture and quit focusing on singular elements of the faith.  Throughout each of the five sections in which the book is divided, Sider discusses perspectives from various schools of thoughts when struggling with inevitable theological questions, questions such as: What is the Gospel?  What is the connection between our work now for justice and freedom and the perfection of the coming kingdom that comes only at Christ's return?  Who or what is the object of evangelism?  How is society changed?  What is the ultimate source and authority for answering such tough questions?
     The author even charts the prospective answers by four models: (1) individualistic evangelical, (2) radical anabaptist, (3) dominant ecumenical, and (4) secular Christian (Chapter 2).  His review of each lays a foundation for further dialogue and confirms his argument that Christendom has been one-sided in these central concerns.  Sider believes that "there is much to learn from each of these models but all are inadequate. I make that judgment on the basis of what I believe to be the biblical understanding of the gospel, salvation, conversion, and social concern" (p. 45).  He then focuses the next six chapters on exploring "what the Bible says about those themes" and points to a fifth model, what he calls "Incarnational Kingdom Christianity."
     Chapters 3 and 4 analyze the "Gospel of the Kingdom."  Since "kingdom" means different things to different theologians, Sider begins by briefly distinguishing among them.  Regardless of perspectives, Sider contends that "if anything is clear in Jesus, it is that the announcement and demonstration of the kingdom are at the very core of his message and life" (p. 52).  As a result, he provides specific scriptures for the kingdom's expectations, fulfillment of the prophetic hope, present and future, and how to enter it.
     These aspects direct Sider into a "disturbing kingdom community."  In traditional Sider form, evil is unapologetically condemned here because that is what Christ did.  "He regularly denounced hypocrisy and blasted the religious leadership.  But He also challenged the economic establishment, overturned social values and customs about women, and defied the political leadership.  Precisely because Jesus knew how good the Creator intends culture and civilization to be, He challenged surrounding society wherever sin had introduced brokenness."  With scriptural examples and theological quotes, Sider identifies this disturbing ministry of Jesus in that He battled the kingdom of darkness, challenged the evils of the religious, economic and cultural status quo, and ultimately communicated the gospel of the kingdom to all who would hear, especially to the poor and marginated.  "Jesus lead an incredibly diverse community of prostitutes who had repented, tax collectors who had renounced oppression, disabled who had been healed, women who were no longer ostracized, poor who were no longer hungry, and revolutionaries who had forsaken violence.  This new community of redeemed riffraff was a living demonstration that the messianic kingdom of justice and shalom was dawning" (p. 73).  From this observation of Jesus' following, Sider comes to the conclusion that "God wants the church to be a little miniature now of the coming kingdom.  For that reason, it should, like Jesus' first community, be a disturbing challenge to every kind of evil rather than a comfortable club of conformity to the world" (p. 77).
     Such "disturbing" faith occurs, though, only as Christians "embrace the fullness of God's salvation."  In chapter 5, Sider suggests that salvation is much more than a spiritual matter.  True, it encompasses the aspect of eternal life, but it also "includes the sweeping transformation that the Holy Spirit works both within persons and between persons."  In short, salvation in biblical history and in contemporary times is personal and social, individual and corporate.
That is why conversion also requires repentance, a radical change and a complete turn-around.  "Accepting Christ includes accepting His kingdom approach to everything," Sider writes.  "It means letting Jesus be Lord of our politics and economics just as much as our church attendance" (pp. 102-103).  Consequently, such conversion naturally leads to social responsibility, to loving our neighbors in all circumstances, to essentially an outward demonstration of an inward change.  The actual cause/effect relationship, Sider says, is obvious: "If we understand and practice genuinely biblical repentance, then we establish an important, inseparable link between conversion and Christian social responsibility.  Biblical repentance includes turning from all sin including social sins.  That means abandoning racist attitudes and neglect of the poor, indeed all that distorts human community." (pp. 104-105).
     At the heart of "One-Sided Christianity?" are the vertical and horizontal relationships innate in Christianity.  "Costly obedience is inseparable from saving faith.  Right relationship with neighbor must flow from a proper relationship with the Creator of human community" (p. 107).  This marriage becomes both the foundation and the mandate for evangelism (chapter 7) and social action (chapter 8).  Christians want other people to know God because of the amazing grace they themselves have received.  Likewise, Christians want to "do social action" in a variety of arenas because that is what Jesus modeled to them and for them.
     But the discussion doesn't end there.  Sider continues his dialogue about the distinctions between evangelism from social action (chapter 9) by asking still more questions.  "Can you have Christian social responsibility without first having Christians?… Is anything Or indeed everything) in this world as important as a living relationship with God that leads to eternal life?… Are not different Christians gifted with different callings and do they not therefore properly allocate their time (and resources) very differently?…Does not the immediate circumstance (e.g., a devastating flood) influence what in particular situations one does first? ... How do we allocate scarce resources of time, personnel, and money?" (p. 167-168). Without hesitation, Sider determines that evangelism is the primary call for all Christians.  Yet, he contends, people still need physical care.  In response to this paradox, again, Sider turns to the life of Jesus: "Neither His words nor His example ever hint at the suggestion that therefore the task of inviting people into the kingdom should receive most of our resources and that attending to people's material needs is a secondary task to be done with spare time and money.  Jesus clearly devoted large amounts of time and energy to both" (p. 171).
     Though evangelism and social action are not identical, they are two sides of the same coin; an "inseparable partnership" (p. 183) as Sider calls it in chapter 10.  To be sure, it is here that the pivotal point of the book is conveyed: the common life of the church shapes society when it focuses on the mutuality of social action and evangelism for Christian witness.  "Think of what would have happened in 1980 if all Christians in South Africa or Northern Ireland or, for that matter, Greater Philadelphia, had truly begun to care for each other and share their time, their money, and their lives with each other across racial and economic lines in a way that the early church did….  Nothing would be more revolutionary than simply living out day by day the full biblical teaching that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, black nor white, because we are one in Christ" (p. 180).
     Lest this remain an idealistic point of mere inspiration, Sider outlines a practical approach for churches to change, no longer relying on, or condemning, government programmes to do what the church could do all along.  In short, he calls for structural, political, and community change to begin first at home.  How, he implies, can we ask government leaders to legislate policies or examine important values when we ourselves have not begun to do the same in our own families and communities?  Real power and integrity to promote change emerges first when the church models these expectations.  Usually, those models involve social action, which fosters evangelism: incarnational Christianity.
     Sider concludes with a hopeful analysis of the time in which we live, citing changes, statistics, and examples of the growing concern for, and impact of, incarnational Christian witness.  He provides an extensive bibliography, endnotes, and appendix for further dialogue on all of the themes he confronts, clearly hoping that "every Christian congregation should be equipping its people for the work of evangelism, praying constantly for the salvation of sinners…immersed in service to the hurting and broken in their own community and around the world.  That kind of church would end the scandal of one-sided Christianity" (p. 198).

(Note: This book is available at BGST Library.  Ref.: LC 269 SID)

(Reviewed by Dr John Lim)
     At Chapel on 13th November, Dr. Satterthwaite spoke on 'The Wise Use of the Tongue', basing what he said on texts from Proverbs.
     The NT writers saw the proper use of the tongue, that is, what one says and how one says it, as a key area of Christian discipleship (James 3:2, 4:1-2; Gal. 5:14-15). Speaking appropriate words was a problem for Christians then, and it remains so today.
     Proverbs, in contrast to contemporary preaching, has much to say about the use of the tongue. As elsewhere Proverbs sets before us two ways: the tongue can be used either wisely or foolishly (15:2; 14:3; 18:20-21). We can speak with honesty (24:26), discretion (13:3; 17:28) and gentleness (15:4); we can offer good counsel (12:25) and speak what is right (16:13). Or we can quarrel (17:14), gossip and backbite (25:23; 26:20); we can speak rashly, (12:18; 18:13), deceive and flatter (12:19-20; 26:28), and speak in such a way as to conceal hostile feelings (26:23-24).
     All these points are in a sense fairly obvious, and most Christians know in general what count as good and bad uses of the tongue, however unsuccessful we may be at living out what we know. When one attempts to apply Proverbs' teaching on the tongue in detail, however, difficulties emerge.
     For a start, some of the individual sayings may seem to conflict with each other: a Christian may attempt to confront a brother or sister honestly, but may seem to that other Christian to be merely provoking a quarrel; one Christian's 'item for prayer' may seem to another Christian a piece of slanderous gossip; and so on. Then there are those two juxtaposed sayings in Prov. 26:4-5, which, taken together, tell us that on some occasions we must not 'answer a fool according to his folly', but that on other occasions we must do so: the trick is knowing when. Sometimes it is wise to speak out, sometimes not, and only further reflection and growing experience will indicate the right approach in a given situation. Those two verses highlight what is in fact a much wider problem. 'A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver' (25:11): ah yes, but how to match word and situation? Here as elsewhere, Proverbs does not give us a series of intellectual 'quick fixes', ready-made responses which we can apply without further thought. Rather, it presents us with a problem and a series of observations about that problem, and in effect tells us to go away and reflect further.
     That is more or less where the talk concluded. Speaking rightly remains a problem for us Christians today, and one with serious implications for the credibility of the gospel we proclaim. It is a problem that calls for our serious reflection. Like the quest for wisdom in general, learning how to use the tongue wisely is a lifelong task.
     This week's (20 Nov) Chapel speaker will be Rev John Ting, Dean of Discipleship Training Centre (DTC), sharing with us on the topic of depression. Next week (27 Nov), Dr Eileen Poh, Dr Satterthwaite's wife, who also teaches at DTC, will be our Chapel Speaker.
  1. CALLING THOSE WHO INTEND TO GRADUATE IN JANUARY 2003. Please obtain an application form from the Admin Office and submit the completed form to Dr Philip Satterthwaite by end November.

God's Richest Blessings to our Birthday Stars!

Mr Donald Ng Boon Huat  19/11
Ms Chua Chiew Lian  22/11
Ms Amy Fong Foong Leng  23/11
Ms Nellie Har  23/11
Ms Joyce Tay Ai Yeng  23/11
Ms Carol Cheang Li Mei  24/11

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