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RON SIDER

Needed: A Few More Scholars/ Popularizers/ Activists Church and society are often misled by people offering simplistic, one-sided answers to the big issues of their time. They pretend to know what they are talking about, even though they lack the necessary expertise. Evangelicalism, especially, with its strong anti-intellectual strain, has often—whether one thinks of eschatology, science, family life, or politics—been badly served by popularizers and activists with simplistic ideas and superficial solutions. Nor will that change unless more people with good scholarly training become effective popularizers and successful activists. I did not consciously set out to combine scholarship, popularizing, and activism, but that’s where my journey has led. I spent several years of my life in intense academic study preparing to be a Renaissance/ Reformation historian and then taught only one course in that area in my entire life. When people come up and thank me for “my book,” I assume they mean the nontechnical, easy-to-read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, not my scholarly dissertation on a 16th-century theologian. A few years ago I wrote an article for Christian Scholar’s Review reflecting on my personal journey trying to be a scholar, popularizer, and activist. In it I said that such a road is not for everyone. While there are a few exceptions, like Martin Marty, most people cannot attempt the level of popularizing and activism I have sought and also become a widely recognized scholar. Both church and society need more people who can success-

fully combine all three activities. Good popularizing requires special skills: an ability to develop a broad synoptic vision; an instinct for quickly discerning the most crucial issues; a personality and mind that enjoy moving quickly from one issue to another; and the ability to write clearly and powerfully. Plato said that if the wise disdain the task of politics, then they must suffer being governed by fools. Somebody will write popularizing books. If those with scholarly training will not do it, they should not complain when those with little expertise do it badly, embarrass the church, and mislead laypeople with one-sided, simplistic nonsense. (That is not to say that scholarly training guarantees wisdom or that lack of scholarly training entails lack of wisdom.) I hope and pray that at least a handful in the next generation of Christian scholars will prayerfully recognize in themselves the gifts, develop the skills, and pay the price of becoming far better popularizers and more effective activists than I have managed to be. I’m excited that Palmer Seminary at Eastern University (where I teach) and the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy/Evangelicals for Social Action (which I direct) are partnering to offer two new programs designed to nurture precisely such a generation of scholars/ popularizers/activists. A new joint appointment (see the ad on page 3), to begin in the fall of 2008, is now being announced: a tenuretrack appointment for a professor of public policy and Christian ethics at Palmer Seminary and coordinator of public policy programs for ESA.This person will teach three or four courses a year at the seminary and coordinate ESA’s numerous activities in public policy. This person will be encouraged to combine good teaching and scholarship with popular writing and organizing Christians to shape public life. We already have one such joint

appointment (Al Tizon, who is assistant professor of evangelism and holistic ministry at Palmer and also director of ESA’s Word & Deed Network), and now we will have a second. If interested in applying for this position, write to me (rsider@eastern.edu) or Palmer’s academic dean, Dr. Elouise Renich Fraser (efraser@eastern.edu). The second new program involves an exciting new scholarship program at Palmer Seminary (see the ad on the back cover). Palmer is offering 10 Sider Scholarships and 10 Wallis (as in Jim Wallis) Scholarships for 20082009. Each scholarship (for full-time students) covers half of tuition and is worth over $6,000 per year. Each scholar will work 10 hours a week (September through May) in a variety of ESA-related programs in public policy, holistic ministry, and popular writing (working on PRISM and the ePistle). Four of these scholars are also eligible for an Ayres or Wilberforce Scholarship worth an additional $4,000 a year (these scholars work 15 hours a week). These scholarships are renewable for two to three years. Many of these students, I hope, will go on to do doctoral studies in ethics, politics, economics, sociology, theology, etc., and then become leaders in church and society as scholars/popularizers/activists. These scholars can enroll in the MDiv or MTS program at Palmer. The MTS program includes a concentration in Christian faith and public policy. (Interested persons can contact Dr. Steve Hutchison, director of admissions at semadmis@eastern.edu.) I am excited about both of these programs and intend to be an active mentor for the Sider and Wallis Scholars, and I look forward to encouraging and nurturing the new joint appointment in public policy. In both cases, I pray, God will be at work raising up younger scholars/activists/popularizers who will faithfully lead the church in the coming decades. ■

PRISM 2008

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Needed: A Few More Scholars/Popularizers/Activists