September 25, 2020

Recommendations and Review: The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah

The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah

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 “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.” Secondly, it was cited by Leith Anderson in his criticisms of that article.

The great virtue of this book is the author’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. Rah’s analysis of the emerging church is extremely accurate, but won’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 ’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 evangelicalism’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.

Comments

  1. 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.

    Thi is not what we read in January’s posts that brought all the notoriety. Assumption of “cultural dominance” that is God-given is extremely vague.

    You mentioned the SBC and emerging churches, mainline Protestant world, and others as the ones who were sinking.

    It appears the seven day forecast has changed.

  2. I made it clear that I was not predicting a total collapse of evangelicalism. I’ve repeated that dozens of times in posts and interviews. I never said specifically whom would collapse. I said there would be good evangelical churches now and in the future. I never said, for example, the SBC would collapse. I said that the collapse would be among the kind of evangelicalism that had been dominant in the post WWII era. among some of those using the megachurch model and among those who fail to pass on the faith to the next generation.

    I haven’t changed anything. But I appreciate your correction.

  3. Thank you for your recommendations. I will be going out of town for a few weeks soon, and two of the books I’ll be taking with me will be ones you have suggested.
    Not sure if that will keep me out of trouble or prepare me to get into more, but either way it’s good.

  4. There certianly does seem to be the assumption among white evangelicals that that is the way, perhaps the only way, to see things. If Pat Buchanan were an evangelical, he’d be livid at Dr. Rah’s analysis and comments, as he seems to me to be the Catholic counterpart to this kind of thinking, if we can call it thinking.

  5. Got hear Soong-Chan Rah a couple of years ago on this subject; I had hoped he had developed more of an irenic spirit but your review doesn’t sound like it. I was quite put off – not because I believe in a white hegemony of Christianity and that other groups should sit down and listen to me, but because it seemed to me that he didn’t care if my white neighbors had a witness or if they ever came to Christ. A hegemony of non-white Christians isn’t automatically better, either. Is his book blunt, or just rude and angry?

  6. Thanks for the review. I appreciate that you were able to discern that while I am critical, ultimately, my goal is to see a stronger and healthier church. I would hope that folks would understand that we don’t move out of our comfort zones unless we encounter voices from outside of the mainstream or the usual voices that we hear in American evangelicalism –hence the emphasis on the stories of the black church and immigrant churches (communities that are often left out of the discussion about American Christianity). The goal is to not demonize one segment of Christianity while canonizing another. But to show that American Christianity is changing rapidly and that we need to hear from these disparate voices.

    Sue’s comments above are quite disturbing in that it projects a hostility that does not exist on my part. I’m really curious where she gets any inkling that I do not care if her white neighbor has a witness or comes to Christ. Is there any specific statement in the book that even hints at this? Her statements are inflammatory and not at all what I am writing about.

  7. Are we going to fight the culture war or are we going to do what Christ has called us, as the Church to do?

    Yes, the walls of our comfort zones are crumbling, but if we have the long view in sight it is a good thing. Remember what happened to the Church after Stephen was stoned to death? Their comfort zone was utterly shattered. But check out the way that they prayed in Acts. They didn’t ask God to make life comfortable, but to give them boldness to do what needed to be done.

    The Church grew and spread cross-culturally. Is that not what we want?

    Keep up the good work. Thank you for writing this book.

  8. The changes in American Christianity are reflective of the larger changes in Global Christianity. These are actually very exciting times for the church. While we in the West lament the loss of the cultural dominance we once held, the work of God continues on.

  9. My hope is that the church in the west will stop talking and start listening.

    I look forward to meeting you on the panel at C-Stone in July.

    I’ll be the fat white guy in the baseball cap 🙂

  10. The white western church has already collapsed, we just cannot admit it in our arrogance & faith in our money & social(church) institutions. Monk, I don’t think you & Soong-Chan Rah are predictors of the coming collapse as much as you’ve aknowledged it’s already happened. A polluted gospel driven by Invictus has filled churches with unregenerate people who have brought the world with them because a watered down gospel doesn’t want to offend sinners.
    This book is an honest look at the wreckage that exists today, thank you.
    But when do we simply preach the gospel & stop worrying about the result. We need to follow Jesus & encourage others to do the same. The gospel turned the world upside down. When we again spread the gospel the same will happen today.