Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity
The American Church is dying. Christianity in the West is dead. Our major cities are quickly becoming more and more secular. We hear statements like these all the time. Whether it's on the covers of major news magazines or from the pulpits of suburban churches, we hear the prophets of doom and gloom lamenting the death of Christianity.
Soong-Chan Rah begs to differ. In fact, Rah asserts, American Christianity "may actually be growing, but in unexpected and surprising ways." His new book, "The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity," is full of surprises. It is well-documented, thought-provoking and eye-opening. And it is deliberately designed to provoke.
Christianity is, in fact, growing... Cities are teeming with new churches and spiritual vitality. But not everyone notices, because it is in the immigrant, multi-ethnic and minority churches that this growth is occurring. The USA is rapidly becoming a multi-ethnic country. In fact, many experts believe that by 2050, the majority of US citizens will be non-white. The Church is simply reflecting this reality. So why, then, is the "face" of Christianity in the US still white? Why are the majority of Evangelical "leaders" white? Why are the "experts" white? Why - if white evangelicalism is in decline - are we still looking to the white guys for leadership? Is there something inherently unjust and racist in this? Could it be that we NEED the voices and leadership of non-white, non-Western Christ-followers to lead us into this next season of American Evangelicalism?
These are the types of questions that form the foundation for Rah's book. He divides it up into three sections: the western, white captivity of the church; the pervasiveness of that captivity; and how the Church can begin to free herself from this captivity.
I think the most compelling and convicting section of the book for me was the middle section. Chapter five in particular drew my attention to the way in which the so-called Emergent Church is bound to Western, white culture. It's true: Almost every "Emergent" leader is white. Why is this? Rah offers some disturbing thoughts... and goes so far as to say that he is offended by the name "emerging" itself! He says that it is an arrogant name... Perhaps the real "emerging" church is not in America at all... Latin-American, African, Asian Christians... These are the emerging Christ-followers of 2009.
The final third of the book challenges the American Church to listen to and learn from Native Americans, African Americans, the Immigrant Church and Second Generation folks. There is great value in these voices and perspectives.
This book is an important addition to the conversation on the Church in America. It raised many thoughts and questions in me that I had not encountered before, and it has challenged me to listen more carefully and learn from people who are not like me.