Following Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship: Essays in Honor of Ronald J. Sider edited by Paul Alexander & Al Tizon (Regnum) $39.99 – SALE PRICE $25.00

FFollowing Jesus.jpgollowing Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship: Essays in Honor of Ronald J. Sider  edited  by Paul Alexander & Al Tizon (Regnum) $39.99 SALE PRICE $25.00

Many of us enjoy watching award shows such as the Academy Awards or the Grammys.  Honoring the very best among us is more than interesting, it can be inspiring.  To know that visionary artists and producers did excellent work, often under grueling circumstances, sometimes against all odds, reminds us of what it looks like to see extraordinary dedication, the wonder of getting big things done, the joy of artful accomplishment. As purple cow marketeer Seth Godin remind us, after all our passion and art and soul, the point is to ship. To get it done. Who doesn’t admire somebody who can really get the job done, with grace and integrity?

Some of these shows may be cheap opportunities for self-congratulations but at their best they are full of great speeches offered by people who obviously care deeply about their craft; we get to learn about the diligence and insight of previously unknown stars, and they expose us to the best work done in that given year.

Well, dear readers, a brand new book brought that to mind as it is a collection of some of the very best people in their fields, offering great speeches (well, chapters) to pay tribute to the tenacious, artistic, world-changing accomplishments of one of the most important Christian leaders of the 20th century, who knows how (to God’s glory) get important stuff done.  Like a good awards show, it is long, and you’re going to want to break into applause from time to time.  You will come away inspired, I guarantee it.

, 2013
We are the very first bookstore in North American to have this grand book, a collection compiled by friends, students, colleagues and associates of Dr. Ron Sider.  It is called Following Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship: Essays in Honor of Ronald J. Sider  and was created as a surprise to honor him during his upcoming gala retirement gathering – which will include a roast, hosted by Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, Tom Sine, Shane Claiborne and others,. We will then promote it at a (free) weekend conference – held at Eastern University, July 13 – 14th.  Besides Ron’s retirement bash and book launch, it is the 40th anniversary celebration of Sider’s flagship organization, Evangelicals for Social Action.

Go to to learn about the free Follow.Jesus.2013 conference to see who is speaking — you will be amazed at the roster of leaders, speakers, theologians, activists, musicians.  You should definitely come if you are anywhere in the mid-Atlantic!  It it “the” event of the summer for us and we look forward to selling books there!  In Philly?  Swing by!

The  brand new book Following Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship was printed inFollowing Jesus.jpg England by Regnum and the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, and stands in a bigger series of scholarly books published by the Centre.  We’ve been holding off telling you about it as we didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but I’ve heard that Ron now knows about it.  We are thrilled to have cartons of these important books hidden/stockpiled here and now you will be the first to officially hear about them.  And we have ’em marked down to a simple price of $25.00.

I knew this collection of essays was going to be a good since I am huge fan of Ron’s work – he is a friend and a bit of a mentor – but I was unprepared for just how great it is.

I read a lot in this field of public theology and social ethics and cultural reformation, but I was deeply, deeply moved at some points, very excited at others, grateful and glad, often.  I have not even finished every chapter yet but I can assure you that this is a truly excellent book. Turning each page was a joy, each new chapter a privilege to see and to enjoy.  Each and every chapter is chock-full of new insights or astute summaries of various aspects of the wholistic, evangelical gospel for which Sider and his wife Arbutus have given their lives.
This is, quite simply, one of the best books of the year; it is one of the best books in many a year.
Following Jesus, compiled so well by Sider’s successors Alexander and Tizon, is a great treat for those that appreciate Sider and his many ministries, organizations, and initiatives. For many Booknotes readers it will obviously come as a delight (maybe even a trip down memory lane) so you just have to get it; it is obviously a must for fans and followers of
ESA and other such projects.  Especially younger activists who are engaged with the oodles of hip social initiatives and (re)new(ing) projects with obscure names and spiffy websites, this will give you history and background and foundational insights. 

But I believe it is also great for newbies to the wholistic vision of gospel-driven social
reformation. For those only mildly aware of and only somewhat interested in Mr. Sider’s Christ-centered witness for peace, justice, creation-care, and a consistent ethic of life, it will be an excellent introduction, illuminating just how impressive –and rare — his voice was and is.
And Sider is a rare bird, at times flying against the popular religious wind-currents. In the veryRonSider.jpg early 70s as the Indo-China war drug on and on, he called Jim Wallis to recruit him for a new political effort called “Evangelicals for McGovern” (a United Methodist, seminary-trained, anti-war candidate who was running for the Democratic Presidential nomination.)  Wallis quips that when he asked Ron how many were involved, Ron said that if Jim joined, there would be three of them.  He is against the death penalty but serious about crime. He is a feminist, but outspoken for strong families and the sins of sexual immorality — does that make him a conservative or a liberal?  He is solidly pro-life, but also pro-peace; Beth and I were supportive of Sider’s short-lived effort to form a political PAC called JustLife which raised political funds for anti-war, pro-life candidates — do you know how many of them there are? Not many. (And how neither party wants them? Neither party wants them.) He can rail against the injustices of the capitalist global economy, but understands the dead-end bankruptcy of  Marxism; he loves talking about leading people to a saving relationship with with Christ and yet he insists that following ChristSider b_w.jpg puts us into church, which leads us to concrete deeds of service, racial reconciliation, and serious reconsideration of our political views and policies.  He talks about and models simply living, but isn’t afraid to celebrate, to travel, and to spend time in his beloved outdoors of Northern Canada, fishing.  He is unashamedly evangelical, but has been in regular conversations with leaders of the National Council of Churches; he speaks at mainline seminaries and at evangelical colleges.  He is a historic Anabaptist who for a while shared an office with a strident Calvinist.  And he talks about some of the saddest things on the planet, and yet regularly smiles and laughs and exudes a tangible hopefulness.
sider, wallis, perkins protest.jpg

Several of his essays (originally published in Prism) are among my all time favorites — he wrote about his fears while going on a Witness for Peace trip into the war zones of Nicaragua and how he read Andrew Murray on prayer to grow in faith; he wrote eloquently and profoundly, about the sad but deeply Christian death of his elderly father. (He was kind to Beth and as we grieved similar losses.) 

I love the picture of him in a corny winter hat as he is being arrested, singing hymns, during a nonviolent protest of budget cuts that hurt the poor, held inside the US Capitol; I still regret that I hadn’t been able to join them there. 

And, then, again, he recently has published a book about the need for “generational justice” on issues of debt, Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget (IVP.)  He helped convene with the Center for Public Justice the “Circle of Protection” to stand with essential social services to protect them from budget slashing.  And, over a decade ago — as a few chapters in Following Jesus describes — he worked diligently with those of diverse and contested socio-political views to draft and have passed a balanced, thoughtful, evangelical social document for the National Association of Evangelicals.  The document and the book otowards an evangelical pub policy.jpgf essays about it is stunningly good, co-authored with his friend the late Diane Knippers, Toward an Evangelical Public Policy: Political Strategies for the Health of the Nations (Baker.) Ron Sider is a bridge-builder in many ways, but, evidently, he is often too liberal-sounding for the conservatives and too conservative-sounding for the liberals; too nuanced and considered for the activists and too activistic for the armchair scholars.  It is often a hard and painful place to be –let’s not be glib about how cool it is to be radical and edgy and alternative and third way — but Sider has through God’s grace been tenacious and consistent and more effective than nearly anybody in this line of work.  Following Jesus makes that clear and it is a model for many, how to influence a generation, making a difference over a lifetime, by building bridges, nurturing fellowships, working within networks and institutions, starting and influencing publications and more.

If you are unfamiliar with the background of Sider and his work (which has been so influential for Beth and I) here is an essay by Ron describing the history of ESA, his main vehicle for propagating the Biblical vision of wholistic social change. The story starts in the early 70s and it is thrilling.  Thanks be to God.
So, in this new book to honor Sider there are chapters on these topics and themes — the Biblical basis for wholistic ministry, studies about world missions, good presentations by women and men about complex issues (racism, peace-building, global climate change, sexual justice, etc.) and some very inspiring reminders of the need to live out our faith in concrete actions and fresh thinking.   

For instance, his friend and colleague Heidi Unrue has a remarkable piece near the end on civil discourse that should be required reading these days.  I am fond of Glen Stassen’s piece on Ron’s basic methodology, sort of a primer on Sider’s important Just Politics, that I have often recommended at BookNotes and elsewhere. And Prism magazine editor,  an very gifted writer, Kristyn Komarnicki, has given us a piece worth reading for several reasons; “Popularizing the Call to Sexual Justice” is a nuanced look at gender inequities, sexual violence, trafficking and the like, and it is also an affirmation of Ron’s own role as a scholar/popularizer.  A year or two ago he had a piece in the Christian Scholars Review inviting some to just  this vocation: scholars who have done good research and study but are not exclusively committed to the academy, but can explain scholarly analysis to ordinary church folks, and help mobilize us to faithful, thoughtful action.  Kristyn’s piece which is on a hard, very painful topic reminds us of Ron’s own legacy as a scholar/popularizer.  Right on!
Many of the chapters claim that Ronald J. Sider, the Canadian farm-boy born in 1939, who grew up wanting to do apologetics in a secular university, helped change the face of contemporary evangelical faith at the end of last century and consequently the religious landscape of the 21st.  It is an audacious claim,
but it is true.  I can count on one hand, I think, the religious leaders that have had as much actual impact, whose work has transformed, altered, enhanced, re-shaped the way faith communities think and live.

Just for instance, the phenomenon I document in this column of mine celebrating recent commitments from evangelical publishers to do these kinds of books simply wouldn’t have happened without Sider’s influence on the ethos of early 21st  century Christian publishing.
It was not Sider alone, but he’s fingerprints are all over this trend.

Ron’s work started before his rise to fame and controversy and world-wide renown in therich christians.jpg mid-1970s but it was with the publication of the extraordinary, seminal (and much-debated) work, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity that put his name on the map (and his face on the cover of national magazines.) It has sold over 100,000 copies, is now still in print, in a 5th edition, published by Thomas Nelson.  (The first edition was published bravely by InterVarsity Press; who knows why they let it go out of print?) Christianity Today was just one review source who eventually named it as one of the most significant  books of our time.  Indeed, CT had it listed in the top few of the “Top 100 Books of the 20th Century.”  I have often said it is one of the most important books I ever read, and still maintain that everyone should have a copy. (Word to the wise: if you are a leader who does Bible teaching or public speaking about any of these themes, Rich Christians is a very useful resource, with Bible verses indexed, theological themes, and splendid quotes and pithy research conclusions. I still use it often in preparation for talks, classes or workshops.  Some sections are beautiful to read out loud, even.)

I was predisposed to agree with Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger when I first read the first edition, in our little urban apartment in McKeesport PA and had already done considerable Bible study on themes of justice, resisting materialism, and resisting global economic arrangements that favored the richer nations. Beth and I were almost charter members of the Christian political lobbying group Bread for the World and as a child learned about things like UNICEF; in college we studied Martin Luther King and Clarence Jordon and William Stringfellow and donated to World Vision and the like. I found it hard to believe that some thought it controversial.

Caring about world hunger somehow seeped into our hearts before reading Sider, but his book gave the most systematic teaching about it which I had ever seen and took the need for structural adjustment/systemic change to new levels of insight, pushing us towards authors as diverse as Bob Goudzewaard and Francis Moore Lappe and Wendell Berry. From the vast, vast array of Bible verses (who knew there were so many!) to the treatment of structural injustice, to the significant teachings about the nature of the church and the economic implications of Body life in the New Testament, Rich Christians covered so much ground with such urgency (and hope) that with nearly every page I knew it would be a classic.  I rarely use the phrase “instant classic” but for Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, it is more than proper.

One of the great features of this new Following Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship tribute book is that almost every chapter has tremendous stories about Ron and his work.  Perhaps you have noticed that some books done in honor of a famous author or scholar are just chapters donated by friends or former students, creating a book that is scattered and not cohesive.  This, however, is not only cohesive – every chapter is one which adds to our awareness of the concerns of Evangelicals for Social Action and other like-minded organizations – but it has what can only be called testimony.  People testify of God’s work in their lives by encountering Sider and his wife and their ministries.  This is really, really sweet!

IFollowing Jesus.jpgt is more than endearing, though: it is a Biblically prescribed task, one generation telling the next of the mighty deeds of God.  John Perkins taking early courage from conversations with Ron; Jim Wallis recounting the writing of the famous 1973 Chicago Declaration; Wesleyan Church leader Joanne Lyon telling how she bought so many of that famous document and passed them out to her church leaders (and, soon enough, ended up on the board of ESA); Shane Claiborne recounting his early days of radical discipleship and being guided by Sider; John Dilulio, Roman Catholic public policy scholar, White House staffer, and prestigious U of Penn professor  telling of how Ron would counsel him, pray for him, nurture his sense of hearing God’s voice – when DiLulio says Ron has been the consummate Jesuit for him, it was an exceedingly wonderful moment.   I wonder how many great writers, especially about public theology and social justice, are remembered for their pastoral care, their evangelism, their kindly behind the scenes encouragement of others.  (I know for some of us the name Vernon Grounds comes to mind, as does Fuller’s Bill Pannell; there are others, but this sort of balanced ministry of the prophetic and pastoral is rarer than it should be.)
This theme of Ron really coming alongside emerging leaders and offering supportive guidance comes up often in this book.  For instance, Dr.  David Gushee opens his chapter on being consistently pro-life with this: “There are only a handful of people in a person’s life of whom it can be said that they clearly changed the trajectory of one’s entire journey. Ron Sider is one of those people in my life.  That is where my essay must begin.” (Gushee is a thoughtful, good ethicist and activist, by the way, who started out Roman Catholic, was converted into the Southern Baptist denomination, and studied, then, at the far left, nearly loopy Union Seminary in NYC.  Sider, he says, “taught me how to be an evangelical” and helped him navigate the strengths and weaknesses of various streams and traditions within the broader church.  Again, typical Ron.)

Many of us sometimes wonder how public figures and influential authors do life; how they treat people, how long they work, what they do on vacation, are they hard to work with.  This book is not a biography, but there are enough fascinating anecdotes to give us a good glimpse.  Did you know that there are two pictures of Ron in his office, one of him holding up a big steeleye he caught on his regular, serious fishing trips in Canada and another of him speaking firmly, advising with a group of other Christian leaders, a U.S. President.
Those of us that know Ron know this: besides being an outdoorsman, a devoted husband and father, a multi-issue political activist, a serious follower of Christ in the Brethren tradition, he is a serious, ecumenical organizer. In fact, Harold Dean Trulear (in a must-read, important chapter) quipped “If I had a nickel for every time I heard Ron say ‘We have to mobilize Christian leaders…’ I could retire.”  And Reformed leader Wesley Granberg-Michaelson has a whole chapter (also noting Ron’s role) on the state of the art of ecumenical affairs these days, with a special look at the relationships of evangelical
and mainline Protestants. He was there, Wes notes, when Christian Churches Together had its first planning retreat at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore.  Ron really does get involved, tirelessly, it seems, wherever the Spirit blows him.

So, just like in a great awards show, you get to see some of the behind the scenes curiosities about the person being honored. And you get to hear other people explain why it is important – both the little, personality bits and the larger, philosophical motivations. It all becomes very compelling.  You come away inspired and more clear about what matters most.  And you want to learn more, see more, do more.  This book is like that, and you should buy it.

The LOVE statue on the cover, by the way, will be recognizable to those who have visited Philadelphia, and is not only a shout out to Ron’s city, the home of ESA and Palmer Seminary and their Sider Center for Ministry and Public Policy but is a visual allusion to “concrete love.”  Get it?

One of the key things you must know about Sider, that Following Jesus: Journeys inFollowing Jesus.jpg Radical Discipleship: Essays in Honor of Ronald J. Sider makes clear, is that he understood early on –  maybe from his early days running the urban branch campus of otherwise rural Messiah College in a rough neighborhood of his beloved Philadelphia or his tenacious experience of intentional Christian living in a blighted block of Germantown, or his role in the heated debates at the now famous 1973 Thanksgiving Workshop on Evangelical Social Concern convened by Sider, Carl Henry and others that gave rise to the Chicago Declaration — but Ron knows that to build a just world, we must have just practices of movement-building.  That is, every voice must be heard, especially those from the margins.  This has caused Ron to reach out to the ultra-conservative critics and to those of other faith traditions. As a white male, he has attempted to share leadership with women and those of other racial and ethnic backgrounds.  It has especially motivated him to bring third world – eventually called two-thirds world – scholars into the leadership of ESA and other such wholistic missional ministries.  How wonderful that for so many years he helped edit the extraordinary journal Transformation, published overseas with developing world, wholistic missional scholars.

So it is grandly appropriate that world Christian leaders – names you ought to know such as Vinay Samuel and Samuel Escobar and Melba Maggay — each have chapters here. (And other good, global friends are often cited, in the narrative and the footnotes, leaders like Rene Padilla and Vinoth Ramachandra and Wonsuc Ma.) These voices are here because these are some of Ron’s closest friends and colleagues — he has pals and comrades, mentors and mentees, all over the world!  They have fought the good fight together for decades, and to once again get to hear solid, robust, Biblical teaching from several different continents makes this book so very unique and particularly helpful.  Between the stories and jokes and color, there is such good substance here — Bible, theology, culture, missiology, economics, politics, and more Bible — and it is, frankly, the sort of substance we tend not to see as much as we might in mainstream Christian publishing.  Following Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship is a very good book. Consider this penance for any shallow, cheesy books you’ve shelled out for in the last year.  This one is solid and very well written.

Sider did get around.  His books have impacted people considerably – the editors, and now co-directors of ESA, tell their own stories, that themselves are nearly worth the price of the book.
AAl Tizon.jpgl Tizon was a fairly typical evangelical with great passion for evangelism and getting people to heaven but little concern for the plight of the poor; reading Sider finally led him to work in the slums of his Filipino homeland and was, obviously, life changing.  Paul Alexander was a fiery Pentecostal and gun-toting, materialistic, entrepreneur who idolized Rush Limbaugh; rPaul A.jpgeading Ron led him to research and uncover the teaching of pacifism which was part of the earliest days of the Assembly of God, which lead him to international peacemaking trips, most notably in the hotbed zones of conflicts in Palestine.
These two sharp gentlemen, now of global repute themselves, understand the impact of good books like Sider’s and themselves have written several each, so it was natural that they knew to honor Ron not just with a retirement dinner or gold watch – ha! – but with a collection of essays that can do what Sider’s own work has done – call people to conversion, help others trust Jesus and embrace genuine Christianity, equipping them to effectively serve others as the counter-cultural people of a Holy God.

By the way, one of the nice books which gathers together talks, sermons, speeches and
I am Not a Social Activist.jpg essays that Ron has done over the years is called I am Not a Social Activist: Making Jesus the  Agenda (Herald Press.) We love it for it’s wholistic approach, its multi-faceted concerns, and its central claim that all social reforms should be grounded in our personal faith. We are firstly, followers of our Lord.  Yes, Ron has a reputation for being a progressive activist on issues of poverty, climate change, world hunger; he is a tireless advocate for public justice.  Yes, this is published by the anti-war, Mennonite publishing house; Ron’s pacifist book Christ and Violence remains one of the great, under appreciated studies of our time. But this is his heart of hearts, lifting Jesus up and doing gospel-based Biblically-informed mission. 

The new book which honors him, Following Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship, truly honors him by helping explain this evangelical piety and Christ-centered agenda that so shapes and informs him.

These essays can do for us what other 20-some books of Ron’s have done. They could (please, God!) ignite a new generation of those deeply committed to the authority of Scripture, to the Lordship of Christ, and to the upside down ways of of the Kingdom of God.  Across denominational traditions and the divides of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and political ideology, we can come together, learn from each other, read and learn and grow, so that we might serve, in all aspects of life, for the common good. It is no accident that this book is entitled Following Jesus.  This is what Ron wants.  It is the clearest legacy of his many organizations, networks, ministries and publications: they want to help equip us to follow Jesus, to be radical disciples. To
that end, with this book, a great man has been honored, and, if you read it, you will be challenged, stimulated, and inspired to care about the world God so loves and to draw closer to Christ the Savior, and to proclaim that goodness with greater passion and clarity.  Indeed, it can help us deepen our understanding and commitment to, as one of Ron’s best books put it, reach out with “good news and good works.”

Following Jesus.jpg

Following Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship: Essays in Honor of Ronald J. Sider edited by Paul Alexander and Al Tizon (Regnum) is a book which cost us a lot to import from England, where it was published.  We factored in the exchange rate, and international fees.  It is a big book, loaded with great writing, by interesting and important authors. It is a very special resource, a good thing to have. It is a treasure of great worth, a book of enjoyable and stimulating content, much-needed for our contentious times.  I should sell for about $40.00.  It isn’t cheap, but we have it on sale, marked down considerably to just $25.00.  It really is the bargain of the year.  Spread the word.

Following Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship
Essays in Honor of Ronald J. Sider

(edited by Paul Alexander & Al Tizon)

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