Living More Simply:
Biblical Principles and Practical Models

by Ron Sider, ed., InterVarsity Press, 1980.
Reviewed by Jack Heppner.

This is one of those books I purchased more than two decades ago but never got to read thoroughly until now. There are more books like that on my shelf. However, I found its reading very helpful in developing a sermon I will soon be preaching on “Simplicity as A Christian Discipline.” In spite of the fact that the book is somewhat dated, the arguments presented remain contemporary in principle and fully applicable in the 21st century. If anything, the passing of time has made the message of this book more compelling.

It is fair to say that the book had its birth in the Lausanne Conference in Switzerland in 1974 where evangelicals from around the world met to discuss and strategize for world mission in the future. Paragraph nine of the Lausanne Covenant, that resulted from this meeting, reads as follows:

All of us are shocked by the poverty of millions and disturbed by the injustices which cause it. Those of us who live in affluent circumstances accept our duty to develop a simple lifestyle in order to contribute generously to both relief and evangelism.(13)

In preparation for a follow-up conference to be held in 1980 in London, about a hundred evangelicals met in Ventnor, New Jersey in 1979 for a five-day consultation to explore the implications of the Lausanne Covenant’s call for a simple lifestyle. This book is a compilation of papers and stories presented at this consultation.

The dual focus on formal papers focusing on theology and the world context, and the telling of stories of how people and institutions are wrestling with this issue, make for a well-balanced read. An introductory lecture proclaims, for example, that if the peoples of the earth do not discern our solidarity with them we can no longer preach Christ with integrity. (25) And that it is time to consider broadening our understanding of the total mission of Christ in the world. The lectures on Old and New Testament foundations for simple living, reveal – contrary to popular opinion – that the issue of living simply in line with God’s vision for the whole world permeates our sacred text.

For me, the most powerful impact of the book came, however, from the stories told by persons attempting to buck the trend of the prevailing values and lifestyles of our culture. One soon becomes aware how complex and challenging an enterprise of living more simply can be, especially in overcoming our entrenched attitudes towards wealth and privilege. It is difficult, from within a wealthy environment, to see how much power wealth has on our faith and our definition of faithfulness. John Wesley lamented this blindness. It is said that John Wesley preached the gospel to grubby have-nots in England, saw them become joyful Christians, sober up, prosper, then fall away. (73)

I am profoundly moved by this book and challenged to take steps, even if they may be small ones, to simplify my life for the sake of the Kingdom. Those who move in this direction will, however, have to be careful not to make a new legalism out of certain models of simplicity. But that should not stop us from making some needed changes in our lifestyles. Don’t read this book if you want to remain in your comfort zone.