how churches get embedded with values
I’ve just finished reading the new book by Soong-Chan Rah titled, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. Rah reviews the biases in American history that have now been institutionalized not just in mainstream culture, but also unknowingly embedded in evangelical churches and evangelical theologies. (cf. here’s a video of me reading the book’s acknowledgements and introduction)
I consider Rah’s effort to be a great companion to a couple of other books I’ve recently read, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church (by Shane Hipps, cf. the newer title Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith has very similar content, I’ve heard) and The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity (by Skye Jethani).
The above 3 books make a valiant effort at cultural deconstruction and show just how greatly our mainstream American culture has been influenced by theology, technology, and consumerism. And not only that, the typical American evangelical church has been embedded with values that do not represent the Gospel well. To quote Tim Keller, “Every culture is dominated by idols that is not dominated by the glory of Christ.”
Sadly, in too many contexts, it is not safe to ask questions of our church culture and its embedded values. And even if those questions were to be asked, and discussed, to actually create change and transform an institution like the church is seemingly impossible.
So these (almost) prophetic truths are great to surface, expose, and discuss. Yet, could it be that we in the American church has been too enamoured with pragmatic results in church growth and evangelistic zeal? Could it be that by upholding values of excellence, efficiency, and effectiveness, we have lost sight of the more obviously Bibical values of justice, dignity, and diversity — God’s love of the whole world?
Rah’s The Next Evangelicalism has much more to say, and as others join the online conversation of the blogosphere, I’ll add more of my reactions to the book. [update 5/8 great discussion about Rah’s book over at julieclawson.com, including comments from the author; cf. Greg Boyd’s review “Only WHITE American Christianity Is Dying“; book review at Theological Grafitti; Soong-Chan Rah’s blog is scrah.xanga.com]
I’ll end this post with one lingering question: the power dynamics of “white cultural captivity” is way more difficult to tackle than a prophetic suggestion to lay down power. There’s no easy way to just lay down power– could you imagine a senior pastor or seminary president resigning and naming his successor as someone who is non-white? In most if not all organizations, the pastor or president wouldn’t have the power to do that anyways. And, wouldn’t the organization go into a tailspin without a duly diligent process to make that transition of power?
(my tentative thought at this moment is that it’d take a non-white leader who has the gifts and capacity to lead both white and non-white people to effect long-term institutional change)