[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]
Ron Sider. b. 1939
Since Ron Sider published Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger in 1977, he has provided direction and support for evangelicals focusing on poverty, social justice, pacifism, and the environment. Sider, both personally and through the small and lightly funded organizations he founded, has represented the northstar of the small group of evangelical liberals that from time to time prod the right-leaning community with a necessary nudge to include the last, least, and lost in the outreach of the church. One thing Sider has never done is deviate from both the core doctrines and the central cultural issues of the movement; he demonstrated this by signing the Manhattan Declaration in 2009. This was consistent with his lifelong pro-life stance. In fact, Sider’s Completely Pro-Life, published in the mid-1980s, calls on Christians to take a consistent stand opposing abortion, capital punishment, nuclear weapons, hunger, and other conditions that Sider sees as anti-life.
Ron Sider doesn’t seem the type to upset people. A short, balding seminary professor with a quick smile and thick glasses, he talks in a relaxed, low-voltage way. Professionally he is a hybrid, a historian who teaches theology and talks and writes about politics and economics. His academic credentials are exemplary: a Ph.D. in Reformation history Yale; articles published in prestigious journals. Theologically he is a heartland evangelical, deeply committed to an inspired Bible, to a passionate communication of the gospel and to a transforming personal faith. Politically he is mainstream Democratic party except for conservative stances on homosexuality and abortion. In short, Sider is no flaming radical. Yet it would be hard to think of another evangelical who has been more ardently criticized for being “radical.” In reality, Sider takes flak from both the Left and the Right, particularly when he upholds evangelical positions at ecumenical meetings. “I’ve been picketed twice,” he says, “by theonomists [who believe in applying Old Testament law today] in Australia, and in Minnesota by gay-rights [advocates].”
Sider has published over 22 books and has written over 100 articles in both religious and secular magazines on a variety of topics including the importance of caring for creation as part of biblical discipleship. Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger was published In 1977. Hailed by Christianity Today as one of the one hundred most influential books in religion in the twentieth century, it went on to sell 350,000 copies. He is often identified by others with the Christian left, though he personally disclaims any political inclination. He is the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, a think-tank which seeks to develop biblical solutions to social and economic problems.. He is also the Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry and Public Policy at Palmer Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.