Name of the Book: The Next Evangelicalism
Author: Soong-Chan Rah
Publisher: IVP books
Place of publication: Downer Grove, IL
Year of Publication: 2009
Reviewed by: J.N. Manokaran
Soong-Chan Rah reached US when he was just six years old. As he grew up he had to deal with the struggle of living in two cultures – Korean at home and American outside. With his bi-cultural experience, he critiques the American Church. His analysis seems to be apparently good, but fails to address the lapse of ethnic churches.
The author laments about huge buildings of American churches in busy intersections under-used or unused and the contrast of cramped immigration churches in neighbourhoods. His statement is true: “European and North American Christianity continue to decline, while African, Asian and Latin-American Christianity continue to increase dramatically.” (p.13) By 2050 the majority of Americans would be non-white and the great majority of newcomers are Christians. (p.14)
The three dominating cultural attributes of Western White Church are: individualism, consumerism & materialism and Racism. The trinity of Western philosophy is: “Me, Myself and I”. It is dominated by individual focused worldview & theology and is not a community oriented world view & theology. A majority of songs are I rather than great I AM (p.36). Community life could heal many mental health problems. Even small groups becomes a place of support rather than where Scripture challenges toward kingdom living. With sin being treated as personal issue, there is no desire to deal with structural evils. Following puritans, evangelicals focus on abortion and sexual immorality, while downplaying issues of poverty, racism, social injustice.
“Why did we define ‘local’ as church of our choosing rather than a church of nearby location?” (P.47) Going to Church is like buying a product rather than committing to the the body of Christ; even-church shopping is being done. Affluenza is a painful, contagious, socially transmitted disease due to overload, debt, anxiety and continuous pursuit for more. Materialism demands immediate gratification. One Church Planter spent one third of his budget to design logo for marketing of the new church plant. New churches are adopting movie theatre and mall as architecture. “The mall is a new village square, encompassing all the social and economic forces associated with human community.” (p.52) Consumerism and materialism has affected the spirituality of the church. “In more colloquial language, we focus on the ABCs of the church success: Attendance, Buildings, and Cash.” (p.56) It is good to remember: in the temple, Lord overturned the tables of commerce and consumption.
Race is socially created category, rather than a scientifically created one. “Racism is America’s original sin and most deeply rooted sin.” The author states: “The American economy was built upon free land stolen from the Native American community and free labor kidnapped from Africa.” (P.71) The author suggests: If twelve million undocumented aliens, who are largely politically conservative would be given citizenship that would change the abortion debate. It is unfair to consider Western theology as normative, standard and superior than other theologies. “Racism elevates the physical image above the spiritual image of God endorsed to us by the Creator. Racism is ‘idolatry. It is a decisive act of turning away from God to the creative.” (p.81) The author criticizes the Church Growth Movement: “Segregation justified by a desire for church growth allows affluent white churches to remain separate.” Only 4% of white churches are integrated. The homogeneous principle made American churches incapable of dealing with cultural pluralism and ethnic heterogeneity.
The author also observes that there is not a single emergent church among nonwhite people. (p.108) Postmodernism: rejection of metanarrative, deconstructionism, virtual reality and pluralism (112) “The demise of cultural metanarrative has yielded a hunger for community on a personal and local level.” Experience and environment play important role in interpretation for a postmodern. “Postmodern generation has a wide range of entertainment options. The communication of truth is not limited to a thirty-minute monologue, but also happens through three minute YouTube snippets, blogs, instant messaging, Facebook, etc.” (p.115) Instead of scientific discovery, postmodern have virtual reality. The author laments: “Ironically, one of the central tenets of postmodernity is the acknowledgement of reality of pluralism and the celebration of diversity. Unfortunately, the emerging church has inadequately addressed this central characteristic.” (P.116) The emerging church fails to listen to non-white voices. “The physical violence of colonialism has been replaced by the social and psychological violence of Western, whit cultural captivity.” (p.119) Ethnic minorities are asked to put aside their discomfort to come and sit at the white table – the rules of the table have already been set. The young white Americans do not want to surrender their privilege and power so they started a new movement.
“Globalization means that one nation’s cultural values and paradigm now have the capacity to infiltrate and affect the entire global community.” (P.128) In a globalized context, individuals, people groups, and nations can now share their culture, their values and their way of life with others in a proactive, positive way. There is imposition of culture of powerful over the powerless. In culture, business and politics, globalization has yielded to Western white captivity of global culture. Western seminary curriculum is adapted in non-Western seminaries that stunts the expressions of non-western Christianity. “The Western white captivity of the church is not just an American evangelical phenomenon; it has now become a global phenomenon.” The author calls for twenty-first century Jerusalem Council to free Christianity from Western white cultural captivity as freed in the first century from Judaism.
Importance of mobility in Western culture is very obvious. Mobility is to move from present situation to better situation. “Mobility therefore, has dulled the ability to connect with suffering. Contemporary life is characterized by movement, oftentimes at high speeds with the absence of any real connection to the world around us. Mobility and the speed of that mobility, result in the inability and the power to disregard and disconnect from suffering.” (p.148) Immigrant communities continue to struggle with social and economic injustice as a result of forced mobility.” Power to choose mobility is real power in American culture. “We need to understand both celebration and suffering to fully grasp shalom. Our understanding of Jesus requires that we understand the suffering of Jesus (the crucifixion) as well as celebration of Jesus (the resurrection).” (P.151) Doctrine of incarnation is the anti-dote for upward mobility. Instead of seeking comfort through geographical and technological mobility, there is Jesus willingness to suffer and die on the cross. “In order for those of us arising out of the theology of celebration to connect with the theology of suffering we will need to embrace the full implication of the doctrine of incarnation.” (p.152) In fact, Celebration and suffering are found together in the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Native Americans were subject forced mobility that resulted in dismantling their culture. “Incarnation among the suffering rather than a social-climbing mobility becomes a central expression of a church steeped in theology of suffering.” (p.160) A white person cannot be a missionary unless he has one of his mentors as non-white. (p.162)
“Faith and the faith community provide a lifeline for the new immigrants.” (p.166). The author writes this from his own experience as an immigrant. For him the Korean church operates like an extended family. The ethnic church provides better care than Government agencies. The pastor was a spiritual leader as well as a social worker. Immigration is traumatic, and lose status they hold in the home country. (p. 176) The Korean immigrant church becomes a cultural island and sociological haven. (p.178)
“Immigration churches are started and developed on the basis of spiritual, linguistic, cultural and sociological needs.” (p.180) Immigrants develop double consciousness – (P. 181) “Biracial and mutli-racial Americans (especially second generation immigrants have triple consciousness) present another expression of multiple consciousness in a growing population.” (p.184) The author argues that Immigrants provide a practical economic benefit as well as revival for a declining American economy.
There are many aspects in this book that needs more critical analysis. I like to discuss a few; Individualism is misunderstood and community is celebrated. As an Indian Christian, I praise God for individualism as offered in Christian faith that delivers me from the community tyranny of caste system. Extreme forms of both individualism and community are equally dangerous. If American church is bound by Western White captivity, the ethnic churches are bound by Ethnic captivity of Ethnocentrism. In the past (even today), the Western missionaries learnt new language and culture to take the gospel to nations. If the ethnic churches understand the missional calling of their church in America, then they would gladly learn the language and culture, instead of complaining and demanding the Western church to change. There is too much expectation from one side without concessions from the other side. Integration also has one side expectation. For argument sake we can ask, why not the immigrants initiate to integrate. Or immigrant churches initiate to integrate?