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Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity

Posted on June 29th, 2009

This blog title comes from Soong-Chan Rah’s outstanding book entitled The Next Evangelicalism(IVP, 2009). I have given over thirty years of my life to the task of building racially, ethnically and culturally diverse communities, first as an Inter-Varsity staff worker and the last twenty-one here in Queens at New Life. Doing theology and leadership,within this context, has been a rich privilege. Along these years I have often felt the need to write a book about racism, reconciliation, and the church  There is no need. It has been written by Soong-Chan. I highly, highly recommend it! The following are a few of my highlights from this well-seasoned, thoughtful work on the challenges before us around the world (and not simply the USA) as we seek to build churches that demonstrate the power of the gospel to bridge race and culture.

  • The white, Western cultural captivity of the church is marked by individualism, consumerism and materialism, and racism.
  • Less than 4% of the congregations in the USA are racially mixed.
  • For the sake of church growth and our evangelistic efforts, racial segregation has been justified and overlooked.
  • What is known as the emerging, or emergent, church is a movement of younger, mostly white evangelicals who are challenging the assumptions of a modernity-driven evangelicalism. Rah is offended by the term “emergent” as it is now used, arguing that it is the Latin, African and Asian church that is emerging!
  • There is very little, if any, recognition of the “new evangelicalism” which is multiethnic, not white.
  • Roh argues that the next evangelicalism will require white Christians be willing to submit to the authority and leadership of nonwhite Christians.
  • “Evangelicalism have to a large extent been assimilated into American culture. Despite their strident criticism of American society and how it has strayed from its Christian moorings, they have thoroughly adapted to American popular culture. Instead of creating a Christian America, evangelicals have Americanized Christianity.” (p.200).

I agree with Soong-Chan’s analysis of the enormity of the problem within evangelicalism.  His word is prophetic for our day. I would not trade the suffering and pain it has taken for New Life to become a community with sixty-five countries represented. The glory and riches of our life together today continues to astound me. Getting here was not easy or quick. I am still growing and learning as is the whole of NLF. I cannot imagine embarking on such a journey, however, without a wholehearted commitment to the theological foundations of emotionally healthy spirituality. What do you think about Soong-Chan Rah’s points? about the notion of the church being in captivity?

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