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Thursday, March 31, 2016

"The Future of Our Faith" (Ronald J. Sider and Ben Lowe)

TITLE: The Future of Our Faith: An Intergenerational Conversation on Critical Issues Facing the Church
AUTHOR: Ronald J. Sider and Ben Lowe
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2016, (240 pages).

We have all heard of the generation gap. Between the old and the young, there are differences in opinion, perspectives, and ideas. Put them altogether under one roof and we are in for some inter-generational challenges on many different issues. Whether it is about old, hanging on to traditional and proven ideas, or about the young, eager to try new methods and innovative projects, in order to help all get along, there need to be a wider sphere of understanding of each other. Every generation will have their own set of challenges. Each generation will have lessons to be shared with the others. Two of the best things that two generations can do for each other are to educate each other graciously and to engage each other constructively. In this book, we see nine different scenarios of of engagement and honest sharing of opinions from a Baby-Boomer generation and a Millennial. Billed as an inter-generational dialogue on eight critical issues, authors Ronald Sider and Ben Lowe share the same common faith and passion for the Church. The issues may be important but it is the learning of how each generation approach the same issue that is even more important. With greater understanding comes lesser tensions. With greater willingness to learn from each other means sharing resources so as to lay the groundwork for blessing the generations of the future.

The starting point for this book is that tensions exist in intergenerational relationships. Plus, this tension is growing. Recognizing that every generation has its own strengths and weaknesses, the authors have come together to look at ways to work together toward greater unity in the Church and a greater acceptance of the diversity that the future demands. Ron Sider contributes four essays, with Ben Lowe giving a response to each. In turn, Lowe writes four other essays to which Sider responds.
  1. Evangelism
  2. Relativism: Truth in the light of Postmodernism
  3. Marriage
  4. Toward an acceptable approach to the Homosexuality Impasse
  5. Living More Like Jesus
  6. Christians and Political Involvement
  7. Reconciliation
  8. Creation and the Environment

The chapters are very illuminating. We see how there are at least two perspectives to every issue. In Evangelism, even as Sider laments about evangelism increasingly becoming lost amid the concern over social justice, he makes a call for all people in all generations to be actively involved in sharing the gospel. He is concerned about the younger generation being more socially concerned more than actually proclaiming the gospel. Lowe responds by saying that while his generation is also concerned about both gospel proclamation and social action, he wants to see both as one and the same thing. Giving five ways applicable to all generation, the hope is integration of all things. Integrate the talk and the walk; the commission and the compassion; the doing and the being.

The chapter on postmodernism is about the place of subjectivity and relativism over objective truth. Can one become so tolerant that truth is compromised? Is it always wrong to judge? Are those who proclaim the truth also guilty of being arrogant? Readers will learn about the need to affirm the truth and to do so with humility; seek the truth as well as understanding our contexts; debate but also distinguish the essentials from the non-essentials; agree as well as disagree graciously; and to live out the truth as much as we proclaim the truth.

On marriage, we learn from history that Christian marriages do fail. Statistics do not vary from the non-Christian marriages as far as divorces are concerned. Sider emphasizes covenant, cross, and community. Lowe admits that people of his generation need to set a better example in an era that has become even more sexualized than before. He shares five thoughts about marriage, and singlehood.

On homosexuality, Sider presents his understanding of the biblical perspective and offers seven compelling arguments about his stance toward homosexuality. He admits that there has been missteps taken by well-meaning people in the past but makes a distinction between upholding biblical truth versus supporting various behaviours. Lowe responds by sharing the story of Samuel who struggles with same-sex attraction. The key question is how do we love such people while maintaining our biblical witness. What does it mean to hate the sin and to love the sinner?

On living more like Jesus, Lowe asserts that many people are brought up with a cultural worldview more than a biblical one. The question he poses is how Christians can live with biblical witness in the midst of strong cultural influences. Sider struggles with this issue a lot, especially with his desire to see what he teaches in academia to be applied in churches. He brings out key points with regard to salvation, sin, and wealth. On political witness, Lowe questions the use of fear that politicians use to sway support. There are lots of difficult issues in the political arena and what is needed is more thinking believers willing to contribute positively to the political scene rather than to be separate. Sider agrees that there is widespread cynicism in politics nowadays. He holds up the Church as a place to lead the way on how people who vote differently can still live, serve, and support the nation.

On reconciling differences, Lowe notes how the Church is often known more for their divisions rather than unity. From traditions to denominational differences; interest groups to worship styles; racial and socio-economic distinctions, the Church is not as united as she should be. Even churches that have similar cultures are divided by their sub-cultures. Sider highlights some examples of churches split by doctrinal and theological positions, and points out to the lack of listening to the Spirit and the Word. His prayer is that the younger generation will not repeat the stubborn mistakes of his own generation.

On caring for creation, Lowe lists some unsightly statistics about pollution, disease, poor hygiene, climate changes, and bemoans the lack of environmental care despite the many technological advancements of man. We are called to steward, to love, and to be agents of reconciliation of all things creation. Yet, ignorance and apathy remain strong in churches. Sider concurs with several biblical texts. Of all the chapters, this is the one which both authors have agreed most.

Both authors share the writing responsibility for this book. Each issue is ably presented and the responses thoughtfully written out. Every chapter ends with a set of discussion questions for readers and groups to carry on the conversations. In sharing from their generational perspectives, readers will be enriched by the range of responses and outlook. More importantly, the way both authors have interacted have shown us the way forward for Church unity and open discussion. Let me offer three thoughts about this book.

First, it is wise to bring together two leaders from different generations. Both Sider and Lowe are leaders in their own right. While it may be too much to expect each of them to represent their whole generation, at least we get to hear some input from a member of their generation. This style should make this book more appealing across the various age groups. I suspect that the way the authors have interacted is in essence about the "future of our faith." This is most encouraging because it is a display of hope, that the way forward is greater interaction, deeper discussion, respectful engagement, and candid exchange of opinions. The young like that. The older ones can be encouraged to join in.

Second, I applaud the authors for selecting the eight critical issues. In fact, the ones on marriage, postmodernism, homosexuality, political involvement, and Church unity, are most relevant for this age. For the same reason, I am not sure if they appeal equally to Sider's generation. Looking at Sider's selections and Lowe's choices of their topics, one can sense that they are only scratching the surface of core issues. Some other possible topics include Christian apologetics, youth work, social media, technology use, career choices, and the future of one's faith. The title of the book can be a bit misleading. Judging from the content alone, a more apt title would be something like "Intergenerational Perspectives: Eight Critical Issues."

Third, it is important to remember that the book is a "dialogue" rather than a "debate." This is something that the older generation will need to learn. Younger people prefer to chat and to discuss without pre-judging anyone. Perhaps, postmodernism is the cultural norm for the young. Dialogue, openness, tolerance, non-judgmental arguments, are the accepted ways. As I think about this, this book is written with a slight tilt toward the Millennials. The signs are all there. It is not simply talking about the topic but talking about topics in a manner that appeals to the younger generation. The conclusion is a little too brief for my liking.

In summary, this is a good idea that deserves wider readership.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Brazos, Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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