Ron Sider’s Open Letter to Young Christians

From Relevant Magazine, March 14-16, 2011

1. Are you in danger of neglecting evangelism in your passion for social justice?

2. Are you in danger of abandoning an affirmation of moral and intellectual truth?

3. Will you honor your marriage vows?

4. As you seek to respect the dignity of gay/lesbian people, have you wrestled carefully with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality?

Many would consider Dr. Ron Sider the father of the modern Christian social justice movement. He released his seminal book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, in 1977 after observing racism and poverty in inner-city Philadelphia. Since then, Sider has written nearly two dozen books and more than 100 articles on social injustice and biblical discipleship, including Completely Pro-Life, which ushered in a new “holistic” thinking on what it means to affirm life in areas beyond abortion opposition, such as capital punishment, nuclear weapons and severe poverty. Here, Sider considers his legacy and the legacy of his peers as he challenges a new generation of “young, radical evangelists” in how they approach justice, relativism, marriage and homosexuality. He offers four questions, the answers to which he believes will inform Christianity in the 21st century.

For a long time, people called me a “young evangelical.” Actually, the adjectives were sometimes less gracious: “radical,” or “leftist” or “Marxist.” (My response to the “Marxist” label was simple: “I’m a Mennonite farm boy, for Pete’s sake. Have you ever met a Mennonite farmer who wants the government to own his land?”)

So I used to be a “radical, young evangelical.” But I was born in 1939, so, however reluctantly, I have long since had to abandon the label “young.” Hence this open letter to a younger generation, many of whom are 40 years younger than I am.

I have no desire to lecture you or “set you straight.” I have enormous appreciation for this generation. Forty years ago, when some of my friends and I started talking about social justice, racial justice, God’s special concern for the poor, and holistic mission that combined evangelism and social action, we were considered radical.

Much is different today. Not all older Christians “get it,” but you younger ones certainly do. A special concern for the poor and oppressed is part of your DNA. Caring for creation and transcending racial prejudice is simply who you are. You cannot imagine an evangelism that only cares about people’s “souls.” You just assume, without any need for argument, that biblical Christians should love the whole person the way Jesus did, offering both spiritual and material transformation. You want to engage the whole culture—art, music, literature, politics—rather than withdraw into some isolated ghetto. For all of this and much more, I shout, “Hallelujah!”

But there are four areas where I would love to have a dialogue. I have four questions I would like to ask you to ponder. Do you care as much about inviting non-Christians to embrace Christ as Savior and Lord as you do about social justice? As you understand, thanks in part to postmodernism, that every person’s thinking is limited by his/her specific location in space and time, are you in danger of abandoning an affirmation of moral and intellectual truth? Will you do a better job than my generation of keeping your marriage vows? As you rightly seek to respect the dignity and rights of gay/lesbian people, have you considered carefully the Church’s millennia-long teaching on homosexuality?

I won’t lecture you on these topics. Every generation of Christians must seek again to discern what biblical revelation means for their own time and place. All I ask is that you do that in dialogue with the whole Church—the Church of the earlier centuries, the worldwide Church today and, yes, those of us who are now “older evangelicals.” We will pray fervently for you as you do that and be most grateful when you seek us out for dialogue.

Let me explain my four questions…..

To read the full letter, go HERE (it is posted there in 3 parts)

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