Review: The Next Evangelicalism
Author: Soong-Chan Rah
Guest Review by Dan MacIntosh
When it comes to politics and Christianity, there is little middle ground. If you believe the news, it would appear as though most evangelical Christians are politically conservative. Then, of course, there is also that sprinkling of Sojourners readers. The rest are—for convenience sake, rather than fairness—categorized as liberals that are, quite honestly, not seen as ‘some of us.’ Soong-Chan Rah is most assuredly an evangelical and unquestionably ‘one of us.’ (And by that I mean he is excited about reaching the world for Christ, rather than preaching some sort of watered down social gospel).
Yet, when he critiques white American Christianity’s more racially insensitive behaviors in his insightful new book, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, he never comes off as some knee-jerk liberal. Instead, he is ‘one of us,’ and diagnosing what is wrong with white-dominated evangelicalism. And this approach is both refreshing and convicting.
The most significant point Rah makes with his book is that the American church is not just a bunch of white people anymore — some of the biggest church growth can be witnessed in non-white congregations. In fact, he spends a full chapter discussing megachurches, and questions if some of these huge worship centers have all their priorities straight. The foyer of one such church he visited, for instance, looked more like a shopping mall to Rah. Unfortunately, that shopper-friendly design should not come as any surprise, as white American Christians are seemingly obsessed with consumerism–just like non-Christians. According to Rah, this cultural laziness results in blurring the line between consumerism and Christianity, to the point where they are nearly synonymous. Rah believes American churches, particularly wealthy churches, ought to be concerned with feeding the poor, not prettying up their sanctuaries. The church should be a sanctuary for those that need God’s love, not some fancy showroom for Christianity.
Rah’s perspective is made all the more believable because he is a Korean American and has experienced both the Korean American church atmosphere and the typical white congregation. Therefore, he has closely observed each of these widely varying approaches to practicing the Christian faith. He explains how, for those that emigrate to the U.S. from Korea, the church is much more than just a place to practice one’s faith on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. For ones who are new to this land, the church also provides a graceful initiation into the American way of life. However, because it’s now possible for believers to distantly watch church on television, rather than give and receive human touch, it’s easy to see how far the white church has strayed from its responsibility to parishioners.
In his introduction, Rah quotes a Wall Street Journal article that suggested nearly a third of all evangelicals are Asian, African, Latin American or Pacific Islander. By quoting this statistic, he is not asking for some kind of evangelical affirmative action. Rather, he’s trying, as nicely as possible, to get the church to look in the mirror at itself, in order for it to see what it really is. He says more than once in his book that it troubles him whenever he’s the only Asian American on an evangelical conference panel. If the church is so diverse, why isn’t such diversity reflected when Christians gather at conferences to discuss vital church issues?
Rah realizes the “tone of this book will at times seem angry and confrontational. There may be aspects of this book that will cause discomfort.” But as the saying goes, ‘no pain, no gain.’ “Confrontation can lead to discomfort, but confrontation and discomfort can lead to transformation,” he continues. In short, he summarizes: “The true intention of the book is to bring reconciliation and renewal to the church in America – confronted with its past, concerned about its present and confused about its future.” Amen!
With this inspired book, Rah has shed light on the true complexion of the church and brought clarity to racial issues that some may prefer to sweep under the rug. But whether we’re ready for it or not, the church is destined to look a lot like the multicultural country America is quickly becoming. The future is exciting, if we’re ready and willing to embrace change.
The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity
By Soong-Chan Rah
$15.00, 228 pages, pb