Welcome to my book recommendation of The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah.
What’s the book about?
This book discusses the characteristics of American Christianity that reflect the values of American society rather than or more than the values of Scripture. This consideration is placed in context with the reality of increasing immigration and mixing of people around the globe in order to clarify the problem of declining American churches (in contrast to the booming global Christianity); thus, the author challenges American Christians to consider the typically white and Western philosophies and cultural traditions that are hindering a full expression of the gospel. Once freed from the captivity of Western cultural ideologies, the author proposes that American churches can experience vibrancy and depth, rather than passivity and declining numbers. This book is a call for reconciliation and renewal in the American church – repentance for its past in order to redeem its future.
Why I’m recommending this book
It’s a hopeful and challenging message, particularly for evangelicals. It’s hopeful in terms of the spread of the gospel globally, and it’s challenging because it calls us out and asks us to lay down our positions of power and hierarchies for the sake of that gospel.
Further, I recognize that multitudes of people in a majority culture (white, in this case) are not brought to consideration of their power and its consequential effect on God’s global mission. Thus, this book is an opening of an invitation to come and consider more, to lay down defenses, and listen better as the majority culture.
While this book is uncomfortable to take in on some levels, it’s the least – the very least – we can do as believers in order to accommodate a wider and fuller expression of the gospel. We are called to humility and teachability, and the consequences of clinging to cultural ideologies that hinder God’s work are grave.
Here are the main things I’m taking away from this book
Western cultural captivity of the church is evidenced in the following areas:
Primacy of the individual (individualism)
- Lack of community-mindedness
- Misunderstanding on corporate sin vs individual sin as well as corporate vs individual repentance
- Overemphasis on personal evangelism to the exclusion of redeeming communities
- Misinterpretation of Scriptures written to nations and churches and groups, not typically to one individual
Consumerism and materialism
- Church architecture patterned after movie theaters and malls
- Preference of capitalism encourages the condoning of materialism/consumerism
- Negative effects on spiritual life when Christians function as consumers
- Creation of the race as a sociologically created category, rather than a scientifically created one
- Racism (slavery, abuse, oppression) as America’s original sin, which still has corporate effects. Racism is typically dealt with individually not corporately.
- Those in positions of power and leadership (religious experts, church leaders, seminary professors, writers/speakers, and missionaries) are overwhelmingly white.
- Segregation justified for church growth and comfort
As well as other topics such as: cultural imperialism, the church growth movement, the theology of suffering vs celebration (my favorite section), and holistic evangelism
Key quotes from the book
“Fifty years ago, if you were asked to describe a typical Christian in the world, you could confidently assert that person to be an upper middle-class, white male, living in an affluent and comfortable Midwest suburb. If you were to ask the same question today, that answer would more likely be a young Nigerian mother on the outskirts of Lagos, a university student in Seoul, South Korea, or a teenage boy in Mexico City. European and North American Christianity continue to decline, while African, Asian, and Latin-American Christianity continue to increase dramatically.”
“As sociologist R. Stephen Warner points out, ‘What many people have not heard … and need to hear is that the great majority of the newcomers are Christians … this means that the new immigrants represent not the de-Christianization of American society but the de-Europeanization of American Christianity.’ Contrary to popular opinion, the church is not dying in America; it is alive and well, but it is alive and well among the immigrant and ethnic minority communities and not among the majority white churches in the United States.”
“The phrase ‘captivity of the church’ points to the danger of the church being defined by an influence other than the Scriptures. The church remains the church, but we more accurately reflect the culture around us rather than the characteristics of the bride of Christ… to speak of the white captivity of the church is an acknowledgement that white culture has dominated, shaped and captured Christianity in the United States. At times, the white evangelical church has been enmeshed with Western, white American culture to the great detriment of the spread of the gospel. This state of American evangelicalism cannot continue if we are to move toward the future of a next evangelicalism.”
What action does this book compel in us? Why will our lives change because of it?
This book compels us to listen better to those who may not look like us or have similar expressions of faith. It affirms what has often looked like my personal lament over typical Western church, but it should make us hopeful to know that the decline of American Christianity is a matter of point of view, not indicative of the health of gospel-communities around the world. For those of us who have been disillusioned by church and “the American dream,” this book points us back to what church and Christianity could look like; it reinvigorates my love for Jesus and clarifies His ideal for His bride.
This book compels us to assess our own culture and what concepts we bring into the this discussion – both healthy and unhealthy.
This book calls us to gospel concepts of community, shalom, racial reconciliation, corporate repentance, and living out our faith in the upside down kingdom of Jesus.
Who do I think would also be challenged by/enjoy this book?
Evangelical pastors, theologians, moms and dads raising the next generation of believers, lay ministers, missionaries, small group leaders, youth leaders, and American Christians in general would likely be challenged by this book, as I was.
But, the concepts presented here are not to be filed away as another good book; they should propel us on a journey of renewing expressions of the gospel in America.
Prefer to listen in? Here is a great interview with the author on the book’s topics.
Meet the author
Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL and the author of The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (IVP Books, 2009); Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church (Moody, 2010); and co-editor of Honoring the Generations: Learning with Asian North American Congregations (Judson, 2012).
Soong-Chan received his B.A. in Political Science and History/Sociology from Columbia University; his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; his Th.M. from Harvard University; his D.Min. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and is currently in the Th.D. program at Duke University.
He serves on the boards of World Vision, Sojourners, the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), Evangelicals 4 Justice and the Catalyst Leadership Center.
Rah is formerly the founding Senior Pastor of the Cambridge Community Fellowship Church (CCFC), a multi-ethnic, urban ministry-focused church committed to living out the values of racial reconciliation and social justice in the urban context. Soong-Chan has previously been part of a church planting team in the Washington DC area, worked for a number of years with IVCF in Boston (specifically at MIT), and had mobilized CCFC to plant two additional churches.