(Disclaimer: this is kind of a book review. Plenty of other people have written nice summaries and critiques. My thoughts here are probably more accurately labeled a book response.)
When I first heard Rah speak on the predominately white Christian college campus where I teach, a black friend leaned over and whispered, “He’s not actually saying that out loud, is he? I mean, we all know what he’s saying is the truth, but is he really allowed to say it – here?”
Her sentiments were confirmed when many of the students began squirming in their seats, uncomfortable at the sentiments regarding the colonialist role of White people in missions that Rah was expressing.I felt a bit mixed – relief at finally hearing this perspective expressed articulately and boldly in a public forum where the people who need to hear are present (not just preaching to the choir), and fear for how majority people would respond when faced with such difficult truths about themselves and their history.
I’ve been mucking through this race business for awhile now, and it’s just not easy stuff. Because of the lack of diversity where we live, my husband and I deal with race struggles on a daily basis – sometimes boldly, sometimes blindly. Because of this, I’m deeply indebted to Soong-Chan Rah for offering some leadership and bold thoughts for the blind moments we encounter as we work through our own cross-cultural relationship.
Perhaps the most challenging thing for me in The Next Evangelicalism is Rah’s premise that white people must submit themselves to the leadership of minorities if they are to be truly effective ministers of the gospel. While I am completely on board with this perspective, I found it challenging in some very practical ways as our family spent the time in Sri Lanka this summer. This trip, I particularly noticed the heat/humidity in Sri Lanka and found myself desperately longing for air conditioning. As my husband and I continued to toss around thoughts about how we might one day relocate to Sri Lanka, I found myself dreading this hot reality. “Couldn’t we just have one room of air conditioning?” I pleaded with my husband. “I don’t think I could really do this without air conditioning.”
Now, my husband is no beast (he’s actually quite a teddy J), but his response was simple: “No. It’s way too expensive. Only the wealthiest of the wealthy run air conditioning.” In my sulking, Rah’s words came back to me, “Submit yourself to them.They know what’s best here – not you,” I heard behind his words. Just because you’re white doesn’t mean it’s ok to live exorbitantly in the developing world – even if it doesn’t seem exorbitant to you.
This still feels a bit harsh to me, and yet also a bit true (uncomfortably so). What does that mean for the rest of how I might live? I mean – what about comfy shoes, quality make-up, a car? It’s a bit much for me to go there, and yet Rah is the first leader I’ve encountered in the evangelical world to poke at (or, perhaps more accurately rip the façade right off) this inflexible side of myself. So even though I’m still sulking/sweating a little, I also feel deeply indebted to him for his honesty with me. Like broccoli, I’m not sure I like it yet, but I suspect it’s good for me.
All of this being said, I LOVED this book and strongly recommend it to the entire church. I’ll be passing my copy to along to as many as possible. Well written, supported, and organized, Rah presents a strong base for his premise that global Christianity should not be defined by the White Western church, and that the White Western church also has a great deal to learn from our brothers and sisters who don’t carry the imperialistic baggage that we can’t even see. Rah writes boldly about the difficult reality that many are hoping we’ll be able to ignore, and for this reason, I look forward to hearing more from him.
(My one beef: Great subtitle/bad title.This whole “The Next name-your-ism” thing is going a bit too far…)