Many evangelical Christians trace their personal awareness of the importance of social justice to something they read: perhaps the straightforward history of Timothy Smith’s Revivalism and Social Reform or the portrayal of global inequalities in Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger or the exegetical surprises of John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus. Those sources and many others helped to turn evangelicals from asking “Should we engage in social transformation?” to “How shall we work for justice?” The pen can be a mighty adjunct to the rice bowl.

CT senior writer Tim Stafford says no book gave him a social justice aha! Such concern was always part of his faith. Not having been shaped by the prophets of social justice, Tim came to this issue’s cover story with his journalistic objectivity intact.

When Rich Christians was published in 1977, it created a stir. In CT that year, Sider argued for the connection between evangelism and social ministry; a few months later, CT published a temperate but thorough critique of Sider’s book. Other critics were less kind.

But Sider turned the stinging criticism to good, revising Rich Christians and taking many suggestions into account.

“Many readers think of Ron as an ideologue,” says Tim, “but that is the last thing he is. He painstakingly tries to understand what different people are saying.” Tim saw that openness in action as he observed Sider on the weekend when all America was transfixed by Clarence Thomas’s and Anita Hill’s conflicting stories. “Ron really wanted to believe them both,” reports Tim. “His response was a model of a fair-minded spirit.”

Two articles in this issue recount the saga of how evangelicals became committed to social change and the man who got some ...

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