I'm Not a Social Activist
Ron Sider is retiring from teaching at Eastern University and Palmer Theological Seminary! In his honor, we'll be running some of the "best of" by and about Ron here on ESA.
By Ron Sider
I'm not a social activist.
I'm a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Lord of the universe.
In the inner-city congregation where my family worshiped for more than a decade, the choir often sang a song I still love:
Jesus, you're the center of my joy;
All that's good and perfect comes from you.
You're the heart of my contentment, hope for all I do.
Jesus, you're the center of my joy.
I've been blessed in so many ways in life: wonderful Christian parents who loved each other dearly and their Lord even more; a lovely gifted woman who has grown with me over multiple decades of joyful marriage; three wonderful children; a great education; ministry opportunities that vastly exceeded even the wildest dreams of this farm boy.
At the center of all that goodness and joy stands Jesus my Lord.
My parents taught me by their words and actions what the little motto they hung in my bedroom constantly announced:
Only one life 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Jesus will last.
In college, when classical intellectual doubt led me to question whether an honest thinker in the modern world could still believe in historic Christian faith, a brilliant professor helped me see that the historical evidence for Jesus' resurrection was very strong.
When the typical problems that invade every marriage threatened to destroy the joy and happiness that Arbutus and I had experienced for so many years, the commands and power of Christ kept us faithful to each other and enabled us to work through tough challenges and discover a better, stronger, deeply satisfying marriage.
When new opportunities as an evangelical social activist opened up, leading me to modify my earlier sense of call to be an apologist for historic Christianity in the secular university world, I resolved to keep Jesus—the full biblical Christ—at the center of my heart, theology and work, grounding my social activism in historic Christian faith and maintaining a strong passion for evangelism.
Jesus, you're the center of my joy.
It is you I love, you I adore and worship,
And you I have sought to follow and obey.
Whenever I think carefully about Jesus, I am utterly astounded. About two thousand years ago in a little corner of the Roman Empire, an obscure Jewish carpenter claimed to be the long-expected Messiah who, his people expected, would drive out the conquering Romans and begin the new age of peace, justice and resurrection. But the authorities crucified him—using the most shameful and powerful death possible—to prove he was a fraud. But then just three days later, his astonished disciples reported, he rose from the dead.
And within a very short time these strict Jewish monotheists, whose most basic belief was that there is only one God, started telling the world that the Carpenter from Nazareth was God in the flesh, Lord of the universe, reigning King although Caesar mistakenly thought he was in charge of the world.
What an utterly amazing thing for a handful of oppressed Jewish colonials living at the edge of the powerful pagan Roman empire to believe and preach. What an amazing thing for us to believe and preach today. Not as social activists, but as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Ron Sider is the Founder and President Emeritus of Evangelicals for Social Action. This article is adapted from a talk he gave on the 30th anniversary of ESA.