Soong-Chan Rah is assistant professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. He has been a church planter and a consistent voice for recognizing the cultural captivity of the evangelical movement and recognizing the contributions of an ethnically and culturally diverse present-future evangelicalism.
I was interested in this book for two reasons. First, it intersects with some of what I have written in â€œThe Coming Evangelical Collapse.â€ Secondly, it was cited by Leith Anderson in his criticisms of that article.
The great virtue of this book is the authorâ€™s plainspoken, even blunt, prophetic voice. Rah may be an academic, but his writing voice is the voice of someone like John Perkins. Without harping, carping or guilt tripping, Rah tells the white evangelical majority what they have produced and what is coming, whether they like it or not. if we listen to voices like Soong-Chan Rah, the future may be quite different from what I see among mainstream American evangelicals.
What is coming is an evangelicalism where white cultural dominance will come face to face with growing and vibrant numbers of Asian, Hispanic and African Christians and their way of being church. Global Christianity is already a movement where white westerners are a minority. Spiritual renewal and a new generation of evangelicals are already profoundly shaping the evangelicalism of the next 20 years. (Ask the Archbishop of Canterbury about this if you doubt it.)
Rah looks at the dominant sins of western, white evangelicalism: individualism, consumerism, materialism and racism. How will the evolution of evangelicalism to a majority non-white, non-western movement be affected in these areas? Will we see what our brothers and sisters see? Will we take the exit now, or continue on the road to collapse?
Of course, non-western, non-white Christians are not free from these or other sins and patterns of culture prevailing over Christ. My African and Asian students are deeply influenced by the prosperity Gospel and see Joel Osteen as a legitimate spiritual leader, even though Osteen is a motivational speaker not a Gospel preacher or teacher. I often detect that my Asian students would find Jesus words to choose God over family to be very difficult, because they have brought an exaggerated cultural value of absolute obedience to family into the faith. I would like for Rah to explore some of these influences in immigrant/third world evangelicalism.
Rah also looks at the way white, western evangelical culture has shaped the church, particularly in the church growth movement and, surprisingly, in the emerging church movement. Rahâ€™s analysis of the emerging church is extremely accurate, but wonâ€™t make most emerging leaders happy, because he raises the issue of white cultural captivity with a group that is genuinely opposed to it, at least in principle. (Rah will be on a panel I am moderating at Cornerstone â€™09. The topic is the future of evangelicalism, and the emerging church is generously represented. Should be interesting. )
Finally, Rah says that the evangelical movement can be enriched with the experiences and wisdom of ethnic communities, especially in regard to redemptive suffering, holistic evangelism (a topic Rah handles especially well with examples from the Korean church) and a multi-cultural worldview.
The book is brief, to the point and spirited. Rah is frequently the burr in the saddle of those who want a nodding and approving Asian voice. Instead, with this book and his other work, Soong-Chan Rah sets the tone of the discussion exactly where it ought to be. We, as white mainstream evangelicals, have a lot to repent of, a lot to learn and much to gain in the changing environment of evangelicalismâ€™s future.
I stand by my prediction of a Great Evangelical Collapse, but that collapse will be among that segment of evangelicalism that continues to assume its cultural dominance is God-given and the new environment of diversity and new immigrant/third world church influence is not significant.
The time has come for us to sit at the table as brothers and sisters, but some of us who have been doing all the talking, giving all the answers and explaining the movement as if it were our own may need to move to a different seat and adopt the posture of a listener, learner and penitent.