David 's Reviews > The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity

The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah
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Oct 15, 09

bookshelves: christianity-and-culture, theology
Read in October, 2009

Reading this book was an experience of many emotions: at times nodding my head in agreement, at other times humbly being convicted, and at other times even anger. That range is what makes it a must-read for evangelical Christian leaders today.

Rah uses the term "white" captivity of the church as a synonym for "Western" captivity of the church throughout the book. He explains this use on page 22, saying he does so to remind us that Western culture has been dominated by white people through its history as well as to emphasize the role of racism in Western culture and American Christianity. Before we criticize his use of this phrase then, we must understand why he uses it. Reading about this captivity, as a white person, was often uncomfortable, as it should be. Rah successfully diagnoses negative aspects of this captivity: individualism, consumerism and materialism and racism. He shows this captivity in both the church growth and emerging church movements.

Affirming the truth of what Rah has written, I want to point out some shortcomings apparent in the text. First, while the church has sold out to white, Western culture, this is an oversimplification. Which "white" culture does he mean? Italian, French, English, Dutch? Rah would certainly not want us to group diverse Asian cultures together (he explicitly takes issue with this when it happens), so is it fair to group all "white" cultures together? Maybe the rhetoric of his book demands this, and thus it can be forgiven, but this rhetoric may cause many to ignore his good points. Further, all the various culture groups that make up "white" do possess white privilege, so the designation fits. My fear is that those who need to be confronted most will be turned off by this.

Second, Rah writes as if it is only white, Western culture which negatively affects the gospel of Christ. But to push back, do not all cultures in some way negatively affect the message, leading to a captivity? He writes as if other cultures present a "pure" gospel and only Western culture has harmed this pure gospel. Again, perhaps his rhetoric demands it as most of his audience (evangelical America) is captivated by white, Western culture. But his lack of admission that there is no "pure" gospel and that all cultures hold it captive in some way may strike the perceptive reader.

Third, what about the positive contributions Christianity made in Western culture. Perhaps Rah should dialogue with David Bently Hart, for Hart's book Atheist Delusions focuses on this point. Christianity transformed Western Culture in such a deep and positive way that many of the positives of western culture today are so deeply ingrained that it is forgotten they originally came from Christianity. Again, the perceptive reader may demand a more balanced treatment.

While there is much good in Western culture, there is much that falls far short of what Scripture demands. I suspect the same is true for any culture. Only in dialogue together, as equals, can we strengthen each other and move forward. This is clearly what Rah wants. The reason those three points can be forgiven is because he is speaking to those who have held power so long and to such people (of which I certainly am included) harsh, strong words are needed.

That being said, this book is important. A new evangelicalism is coming and the strength of this new Christianity is the Global south and immigrants from there in America. Rah's prophetic call and challenge is for us to recognize where the Spirit is moving. He asks whether white evangelical leaders, so used to power in the church, will be willing to learn from and submit to leaders of immigrant churches (Hispanic, Asian, etc.). This is one of the major questions as we move forward into the next evangelicalism. And it is why this book is a must-read for evangelical leaders today.
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