Even though Sider distances himself from Liberation Theology, he at times gets too close for comfort to the so-called Social Gospel. I am not trying to pick on him but I think he makes a few telling statements that betray his slightly off-kilter priorities.
For example, when he is showing the link between the Incarnation and God’s identification with the poor, Sider says Jesus’ mission included helping the poor and afflicted. He follows this with a parenthetical sentence, wherein he writes, “It was also to preach the gospel, which is equally important …”.
Not to nitpick but I wonder if Mr. Sider really thinks making the physically blind see again is equal to making the spiritually blind be able to see for the first time? I hope not, for one is a temporal condition, the other, eternal.
It seems Mr. Snider has wrapped helping the poor around his soteriology to the point of warping it at points, such as when we writes, “The rich man merely neglected to help. His sin was one of omission. And it sent him to hell.” It is possible that Mr. Snider wrote this sentence in such a way for its shock value alone but I hope he would consider other factors, such as what Scripture says about our sin, God’s holiness and the afterlife.
We must understand no one is sent to hell for not helping the poor even if that may be a symptom of a sinner or a sign that someone has an unregenerate heart. The essence of my criticism of him at this juncture would be that his theology is too anthropocentric, whereas it needs to be more Christcentric.
Another issue I have with the book are its leanings towards a socialistic big government. When I say Sider leans towards a big government, sometimes this even means a big global government. This seems curious, given his distrust of too much power concentrated in the hands of too few, such as multi-national corporations and the United States.
In one place, Sider tells us that “today’s global markets” need “corrective action”. My question would be “by whom”? Sider espouses a similar sentiment when discussing child labor standards. Here he complains that “there is no global enforcement mechanism” and then follows that with this: “That is needed”.
Yet again, while talking about pollution and the subsequent need for international standards, Sider tells us “some things can be done only by strengthened global institutions like the United Nations”. He believes this is a need “to deal with our inextricably interrelated countries on planet Earth”.
To be fair, he tries to balance out this statement a bit by saying centralized power is dangerous and we must do all we can locally. Nonetheless, taken all together, this seems to be a dangerous position to hold.
My next criticism of the book relates tangentially to the last point, which is Sider’s preoccupation with environmental concerns. He also accepts without question the assumption that global warming is human induced.
I do think concern for the creation is important but I honestly think it lies outside the parameter if Sider’s book. He spent a lot of ink on this subject and unfortunately for his case, his writing on the subject of the environment is just not that convincing and sometimes seems way out of context.
The worst idea that he generates from this topic is a new kind of sin tax: “a rigorous revenue-neutral carbon tax is an urgent necessity”. He actually says this would be efficient and market-friendly! Reading these two sentences does not make me think market-friendly in any way: “A serious carbon tax that would truly make a difference must be steep. Many economists suggest that gasoline prices in the U.S. should double”. This whole line of thought is a patently bad idea to its very core.
Sider also seems inconsistent at key places. In one place, he calls China’s forced abortion policy “ghastly” but then in another place he quotes approvingly of the World Bank where the quote says governments should invest in more family planning. Sider himself spends a number of pages detailing the dangers of what he views as overpopulation, although he does opt for a better solution than abortion; his solution focuses on education.
A final problem the author displays in this book is his willingness to way overstate something or ignore context. One egregious example is when he cites Ezekiel 34:18 in relation to destroying the environment. A quick glance at this passage will demonstrate that no such application can be made from this verse as the original intent dealt with the sin of the evil shepherds in Israel and those who followed after them.
Another odd use of Scripture is when Sider applies the indictments found in James 5:1-5 to anyone in a Western nation who buys bananas from Central America and he follows this injunction with, “If God’s Word is true, then all of us who dwell in affluent nations are trapped in sin”. Sider ends this section by saying Western Christians share a near one-to-one parallel to the thieving Zacchaeus.
The worst one is when Sider says the Catholic dictum “outside the church there is no salvation” with approval but re-applying to a sociological context. Any student of church history should be alarmed at this awful dictum being used in this way.