I've spent the last few days reading The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience by Ronald J. Sider, founder of the organisation Evangelicals for Social Action, and a member of the faculty of Palmer Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. While not the sort of book I'd normally choose for light holiday reading, I wanted to explore the issue of hypocrisy in the church, but from the point of view of a concerned Christian thinker who understands this issue and how to address it.
Some atheists point to this hypocrisy as part of their argument that the Christian faith has no credibility. If, as Sider is to be believed, Western Christianity is in a crisis of credibility, it is taking things too far to say that the Christian faith as a whole has been rendered useless. Empirical research shows that amongst those who consider themselves to be Christians, neglect of the poor, consumerism, sexual promiscuity, sexual abuse in marriage, racism, divorce, and so on are rife. Indeed, their lives have become almost indistinguishable church has become almost indistinguishable from the community at large. This represents a disobedience of the clear Biblical moral demands on people who describe themselves as Christians.
For Sider, rediscovering these demands and a Biblical worldview is the solution. In response to the holiness of God, the early Christians understood that they were called to costly obedience and radical discipleship. They lived profoundly transformed lives; the astonishing quality of which attracted people to Christ, as Scripture shows. Furthermore, we have a deficient understanding of the Gospel and its implications. It doesn't stop at believing in Christ, and salvation is more than receiving forgiveness for one's sins. It means living a transformed life that impacts social and economic relationships that stand in stark contrast to the rampant individualism and consumerism afflicting Western culture. Christians need to reminded that they are part of a community of believers, not isolated individuals separated from each other. They are accountable to a Holy God as well as each other.
This is essential reading for any Christian troubled by the poor witness hypocrisy in the church is to those outside the church, or for that matter, any open minded atheist or agnostic who thinks that Christian hypocrisy undermines the credibility of Christianity. Sider took no pleasure in writing this book, and is at pains to point out that his purpose is not to condemn, but to lovingly confront and offer a corrective for this problem.