Posted by: eliseanne | May 29, 2009

The Next Evangelicalism – Pt 1

I recently started reading Soong-Chan Rah’s book, The Next Evangelicalism. He is one of my heroes and mentors-from-afar.  Tony first heard him at NCMSLC (National Christian Multicultural Student Leadership Conference…see why they just call it ncmslc??) while in college, and he brought home the podcast of the talk and we’ve listened to it several times, and taken the challenges to heart and followed in our lives.

I heard him at Reload here this year, a training for urban youth workers, and then we went to Sanctuary Covenant that weekend to learn more from his preaching. And then he led a post-mobilization training at the Mobilization to End Poverty in DC, and we got a chance to chat with him some. I’ll be seeing him next Friday too at Coming Together Twin Cities 09 a multicultural leadership conference. Lots of SCR lately!

The subtitle of the book is Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. I think SCR does a great job of raising issues to white mainstream american christians that are often highly “offensive,” without coming off in a very offending way. Now granted, I have been working on racial and cultural awareness and racial humility for awhile, so maybe it clicks a lot easier for me. But he does such a great job of calling out the excessive prevalence of white western culture in our churches, while also telling white mainstream americans that we do have something to contribute to the body of Christ.  I agree with so many of my white peers that we should not be stuck in white guilt, but I hate that that is used as an excuse to not engage in this dialogue. Processing the guilt of what my racial ancestors have done, the systems they set up, and my role in their continuance, is good. Staying in the guilt phase, however, is not.

Don’t bristle at the title; let’s think it through. What does it mean that the church is captive to western culture?  And, why do we need to be free from western culture? Why do we need a new evangelicalism?

Example 1 – Individualism vs. Individuation (Ch. 1).

You don’t have to know much about the US to know that we love our individualism. Have you ever thought about it in terms of our evangelism, though? How our Four Spiritual Laws tracts address only personal salvation, and nothing more? What about how our sermons, books, etc, apply verses to only individuals…when they were written for communities? CR points out Jer. 29:11).

SCR discusses the difference between individualism and individuation, arguing that the latter is the goal of the Christ-follower. Any word ending in -ism says that the word/concept is authoritative and is a direct guide for a social movement or group. Kind of like a doctrine (wiki’s example is ‘baptism’). SCR argues while having an individual understanding of Christ and his redemption, God and his plan for people, personal growth and maturity, decisions and responsibility, etc, is good and essential. But to make the importance of the individual the guide or director for the rest of your theology or practices is wrong. It is clear in Scripture that God is about building community, Christ is about restoring communities, there is corporate sin and forgiveness, etc.  But very very seldom are they represented in the white mainstream american church. Even being a member of an ethnic minority church for barely 3 years makes that obvious to me.

Check this from p. 33 – “Excessive and hyper individualism contrasts to the healthy process of individuation by enslaving the individual to the tyranny of individualism, leading to personalism and privitism. The danger of the Western, white captivity of the church  is an excessive individualism and personalism that reflects the narcissism of American culture rather than the redemptive power of the gospel message.”

Because… from p. 35, “Jesus comes announcing the Kingdom of God, not merely expressed on an individual level but also on a societal level.”

But we dont get to hear that in the white mainstream american church – or the nonwhite church that is too held captive to our culture. So we dont get to hear about systemic racism and injustice. Corporate sins. We don’t confess the genocide and other evils committed by our race as a group…because we dontthink it is our individual responsibility. We don’t pray for Christ to impact and grow our communities as a group, with us as a part of it.

More later on this book. Lots to think on!
PS
SCR points out all the time that white churches are shrinking.  Minority ethnicity churches are growing, all over the world. But in ‘mainstream’ representations of christianity, their influence isn’t reflected. Cultural captivity?

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