Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators is the best example of biblical debate that I have ever read. It combines biblical exegesis, economic analysis, careful logic, and devastating rhetoric.
The target of the book was history professor Ronald J. Sider, a proponent of what had long been known as the social gospel. Sider had enjoyed several years of notoriety as a supposedly theologically conservative Protestant theologian who had adopted the welfare state economics of theological liberalism.
David Chilton (1951-1997) was a self-taught economist of the highest order. He was also a self-taught theologian of the highest order. He was the most gifted author I ever worked with. His books required no editing. They could be typeset and sent to the printer.
I hired him in late 1980 to write the book, which was a response to Sider’s bestseller, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: A Biblical Study (1977), co-published by the Protestant neo-evangelical InterVarsity Press and the Roman Catholic Paulist Press. Chilton’s book became the bestselling book in the history of the Institute for Christian Economics (1976-2001).
Chilton had to write that book in three months. I was scheduled to debate Sider at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts in the spring. That was one of those odd occurrences in my life. A student had telephoned me to invite me to come to speak. I replied, “Only if it’s to debate Ron Sider.” He immediately replied, “We want you to debate Ron Sider.”
I needed the book to sell for $1 at the debate. Boxes of them arrived at the inviting student’s apartment on the day before the debate. At the debate, I had a copy on the desk in front of us. Sider was sitting next to me. I could see that the book caught his eye. It had a cover of a man who was hanging himself: right hand holding the rope, which was suspending him in mid-air; left hand with a Bible. He asked: “How long has this been in print?” I replied: “One day.”
Four years later, we had another rush printing job for a later edition of the book. The Institute for Christian Economics had a book table at a conference where Sider was scheduled to speak. A crate of the third edition arrived on the day before the conference began. Sider strolled through the book sale room on the day the conference opened. He stopped at ICE’s book table. There was the new edition with the new cover. “How long has this been out?” Like a shot, the student at the book table, who knew the original story, said: “One day.”
Sider never responded openly to Chilton’s book in his three subsequent editions. Each time Sider revised his book, Chilton revised his. He could not respond to the 20th anniversary edition, published in 1997. He died that year.
In that fourth edition, Sider backed away from his pro-socialist first edition. He even incorporated several of Chilton’s recommended economic reforms. I wrote about the revised book in 1997: “Ron Sider Has Moved in the Right Direction.” I re-published it as an appendix in my book, Inheritance and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Deuteronomy (1999): “The Economic Re-Education of Ronald J. Sider.”
You can download Chilton’s book for free here. (This will take a couple of minutes. It is a large PDF file.)