One of the things I love about my job is the opportunity to read new books. I help mobilize numerous churches on short-term mission, and I get to read books on missiology, the Church, the changing landscape of missions, how we can do things better, and how we can keep (or shift to) the right posture.
Recently, I was impacted greatly by The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah. Soong-Chan writes clearly and movingly about the shift in evangelicalism in the West and the future of the Church. The title comes from what he describes as the next wave of evangelicalism in the West. Historically and even to this present day, the dominant voices and influences in the Western church have been white (male) voices. Soong-Chan notes a trend in that that Anglo churches are on the decline in the U.S., while ethnic and immigrant churches are flourishing and growing. There’s a fear of the church “dying” in America in many evangelical circles, but instead of dying, what may be happening is the de-Europeanization of Christianity. With this shift comes a pulling-away from cultural nuances that have worked their way into the church. Among these are individualism, consumerism, and an over-emphasis on personal salvation at the cost of justice and mercy. The way forward? Empowering multiethnic leaders, not just in token conversations about race, but the whole spectrum. He also suggests weaving together personal salvation and social justice in our neighborhoods and communities. We can learn from other prophetic voices like the African American Church and the Native American Church.
Here are two things I’m sitting with after reading this book:
Recognizing and repenting of cultural sin covered in a veneer of spirituality.
Asking the Holy Spirit to reveal (and asking our brothers and sisters to point out) areas that we’ve made biblical truth but which are, in reality, cultural preference or areas we’d rather not give up because of personal benefits or comfort.
For example, individualism. If I focus on someone’s personal salvation over all else, I don’t have as much discomfort when I see systemic oppression because that’s secondary to what I see as “the main issue”… and, in reality, I am actually benefiting from these systems based on the family I was born into, where I grew up, etc.
Laying down power and submitting to new voices.
A lot of the voices we see as leaders and influencers in the Christian faith are people that look like us. Those of us with power or who have grown up with privilege need to recognize that, even if it makes us uncomfortable, we have power. Now is the time to recognize that the Spirit is on the move, and we have an opportunity to learn much from our brothers and sisters. We can choose to listen – not in a way with an intent to defend or self-protect, but asking the Holy Spirit to give us eyes to see and ears to hear. And we can tangibly give power, leadership and responsibility to the next evangelicalism. What prophetic voices can we learn from? Who are we inviting to the table of decision-making and leadership in the Church?
A quick clarification: this review reflects personal thoughts and observations. It’s not necessarily an organizational statement or reflections on the Bible, but it is a reflective response to what God seems to be doing, and expresses a desire to partner with Him in that. If you’re interested in reading this book too, you’re welcome to check it out here. We’d love to hear your thoughts and what you’re learning in this journey too.
Britt Cooper serves as the Trips and Communications Coordinator for Envision, facilitating short-term trips to our Envision sites and handling website, social media, and marketing. Britt is originally from Iowa, and enjoys hiking 14ers, baking pies, and gathering around the table with friends.