Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book Review - The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah OOOO (4 of 5 bellybuttons)

I do a book review every so often here, but lately have been wanting to revive the olden days. A decade or so ago I would do a book review for all the youth pastors in El Paso. It was called the Phatter than Oprah book club, and books got 1 to 5 bellybuttons based on my preference. Not wanting to be too insensitive, we're just gonna shorten it to Phatter than O, but the bellybuttons are back.

So, at the risk of opening a big can of worms...Soong-Chan Rah's book "The Next Evangelicalism" is worth the price. It's an intentionally provocative book (as shown by the quote from it that I put as my Facebook status a couple of days ago; you might want to stop reading now if you felt that was divisive and unnecessary), and for many people it will feel harsh to read. But I recommend you pick it up.

There are two ways to consider the interplay between gospel and culture. The common assumption is that the gospel is somehow supra-cultural. The other idea is that the gospel doesn't exist in a vacuum, but takes root in a culture and begins to redeem it, becoming something beautiful without losing any truth. The closest metaphor I can think of is an peach tree. The gospel is represented in the seed--all the DNA of the tree is there. But what the tree looks like as it grows is determined also by the climate, the soil, the food, etc. The gospel is pure and true, but it grows within the contexts of the environment (culture) of the people being redeemed. So the problem with the supra-cultural view is that we can become ignorant of how our own culture shapes and interprets the gospel for us, and we begin to equate the way the gospel redeems our culture with the way the gospel always works. This can lead to an elitism that is a hindrance to the community of believers, where we think all peach trees should look exactly the same.

Rah's main point is that the USAmerican church is by and large captive to a western, white culture. I cannot do justice to his defining this here (and I'm sure that just the way Rah says it offends some, for which I apologize, but hope you will push through), but a short definition would be that several centuries of consumerism, materialism, and individualism combined with the less than stellar record we have on treatment of racial minorities have led to a church that at times displays unredeemed or unbiblical values but equates them with redemptive living. His chapter on racism being inherent in the system is particularly challenging.

After discussions of the church growth movement, the emerging church, and other examples of what he terms the "cultural imperialism" of the USAmerican evangelical movement, Rah makes 3 challenges. First, we need to learn from African American and Native American Christian communities. The value of suffering in the scriptures is clear. The suffering of these two communities over the past 400 years has shaped their belief and practice in ways from which white Christians can learn much. Second, Rah challenges us to embrace the alien and stranger among us and learn from the immigrant church. Finally, Ray pushes us to a multicultural understanding of the gospel by learning from the second generation immigrants, who live in two or more cultures--something that from experience I know to open incredible insight into God and the gospel.

The main negative I would suggest about the book is that I wanted a few more practical applications for the lofty principles Rah discusses; for instance what does it look like for a church today to ask forgiveness for racism? What is the best way for churches to embrace a multicultural environment? But if you like to read a book that will challenge your thinking, this is a good one.

1 comment:

pablo said...

Hmm... I like that. I agree with those points, but I've never been able to explain it as well as this book does. Thanks!