By John Robbins
In 1974 Creation House, a publishing firm located in the heartland of American neo-evangelicalism, released The Chicago Declaration, edited by Ronald J. Sider. The book recounted the proceedings and conclusions of the Thanksgiving Workshop on Evangelicals and Social Concern held during Thanksgiving 1973 “while the rest of American Protestantism was enjoying the annual festival of orgy and guilt.” The Workshop resulted in the issuing of “The Chicago Declaration” denouncing unspecified “social abuses,” “an unjust American society,” “racism,” “exploitation,” “social and political injustice of our nation,” “materialism,” “the misdistribution of the nation’s wealth and services,” “a national pathology of war and violence,” and supporting the “social and economic rights of the poor and the oppressed,” and a “more just acquisition and distribution of the world’s resources.” In short, there was little about the “Declaration” that distinguished it from any other socialist or Marxist diatribe against that devil America and all her works and manifestations.
What did distinguish the “Declaration,” and what prompts this writer to mention it here, is the list of people who signed it. Perhaps for the first time some leading churchmen took an action that, had it been taken fifty years earlier, would have led to the swift recognition that here were men who had discarded the gospel to pursue their socialist goals. No such reaction greeted the “Declaration.” Among the signers were John F. Alexander, Frank Gaebelein, Vernon Grounds, Nancy Hardesty, Carl F. H. Henry, C. T. Mclntire, Bernard Ramm, Elton Trueblood, Foy Valentine, Leighton Ford, Tom Skinner, Mark Hatfield, John Howard Yoder, and, of course, Sider himself.
Out of this 1973 Workshop grew Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA), and later the International Consultation on Simple Lifestyle, which included such people as John R. W. Stott, a British socialist, and Harvie Conn of Westminster Theological Seminary.
With supporters from the neo-evangelical mainstream like that, Sider was able to move to a major neo-evangelical publisher, Inter-Varsity Press, which in 1977 released the manifesto of the movement, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, in cooperation with the Roman Catholic Paulist Press. This was followed by Christ and Violence (Herald Press, 1979), Living More Simply (Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), and Cry Justice! (Inter-Varsity and Paulist Press, 1980). It is obvious that Sider’s ideas have had a great impact on some professing Christians, particularly the young who are, most likely to be influenced by groups such as Inter-Varsity, Campus Crusade, and Young Life. Because of this influence, it is desirable to analyze the movement for which Sider is the leading spokesman to see whether it be Christian.
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