Jonathan David Faulkner
One of the books I have been recommending to people is Soong-Chan Rah’s book “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Captivity.” The book is important and though confrontational in the way it comes across (Rah has obviously been hurt) it is one that many of us need to read if only to wake us up to the fact that the demographics in the Church are changing and have changed even more since the book was written. For Rah, the next evangelicalism is not defined by the current American Power Structure. It is not defined by “whiteness” as in, it is not defined by the Western thoughts and ideologies and normates that have longed defined American Evangelicals and which other groups have been forced to conform too. It is a global, biblical evangelicalism that looks beyond the limits of the current discussions on race, gender and ethnic issues in the secular society.
It probably looks more like my wife’s upbringing, a Christian School, that was not perfect, but where kids from all over the world came to attend High School. Where she was surrounded by and worshiped with Christians from Korea, China, Africa, the Eastern Rim, Austrailia and many, many other places. Where differences were embraced by a majority and where racism as we understand it did not come into play. Again, the school was not perfect, but it was a multi-ethnic, international community that embraced diversity and was united by the Gospel. Because of that my wife learned to respect and see the Imago Dei in people regardless of ethnic background and learn from, worship with and be in community together as a multi-ethnic community united by Christ.
Of course, this vision of a community presents some of us with a problem. Since here in America we still socialize our children with even a subtle racism even if we intend to or not. We use language like “they” and “them” to describe the issues in our society. Implying that there is a “Them” or a “they” allows us the privilege to separate ourselves from the issues in the communities we have designated “theirs” when the reality is this is an “us” “Our” situation. The problems that affect the “Them” also affect us and so we are all dealing with the same problems and suffering in the same ways and are in need of each other to heal. I said in my last article that: “There is no individual sin, every sin affects the corporate body” and I meant that, viewing it as a “us vs them” gives us a perceived excuse to ignore the pain of the other in favor of our own individual pain. We do this with race and we do this among ourselves. So socialized to believe that the individual is the most important and does not need the corporate that we are divided among ourselves. We are all divided by pain and by viewpoint and by self. We are all hurting and we are all crying out for mercy, yet, hurt people, who have not grown to maturity, hurt people. Instead of being the wounded healer and healing together through listening, weeping and working to change the systems that have hurt all of us we want to be left alone in our pain and in doing so continue to perpetuate the hurt done to us.
Issues of identity, human dignity, ethnicity, unity, care, these are community, corporate conerns that we do ourselves an extreme disservice by trying to deal with on our own. Our theology is so fundamentally flawed, informed by the American Dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, instead of scripture. It is no wonder we are the most depressed nation in the world. That despite our overtones and overtures about personal happiness we are the least happy nation in the world and we are taking our depression out on each other. Divorcing ourselves from the corporate mindset that is pervasive in scripture has completely destroyed our ability to even live together. Like C.S Lewis’s vision of Hell in The Great Divorce, continuing to get further and further about. By the way, before we pat ourselves on the back and say: “Yeah, you may be right, but this is secular society, not the church.” I am talking here, strictly about the Church. I cannot speak to secular society since they do not want to hear, I can only speak to Christians, especially those wrapped up in the mold placed by “White Evangelicalism” or “White Americanized Christendom”
The next evangelicalism is here, it is multi-ethnic, global and corporate and has many, many voices that need to be heard and have much to say and the White American Church is like the dwarves in Aslan’s country who insist they are still sitting in a cold, dank shack full of hay. It is scary, but maybe we need to make the effort to step out of our homogenous comfort zones and recognize the fact that what Rah describes in his book is already the state of the world outside of the White Church. If the “What Church” is going to have a seat at the new table it needs to step back from its own. The new table is very diverse and seats many nations, peoples and tongues. It has many languages and interpretations and styles of worship and we have the incredible opportunity to see Christ in ways we have refused to see in the American Church. We cannot continue to separate ourselves because someone looks different in the church or a woman is preaching. We have to lay down our philosophies that do not even use scriptural language and embrace the fact that relationships in the church, that The Church looks a whole lot different outside our echo chambers than we think it does and when we do step outside the walls not try to dictate to the greater church how they should conform to our viewpoints.
Now, my goal here is not to heap shame on us, we do not need that, but an honest assessment of our current state and the state beyond our walls is necessary, if we are ever going to take our place at the table of true, biblical evangelicalism, we need to see that we have not been. Nor do I want to come across as saying that the church in America is totally lost, there are many people in the “White Church” that have embraced the New Evangelicalism. This movement is global, it is ecumenical, it is multi-ethnic and it requires us to sit at the feet of those who we would not normally sit at the feet of. This is scary for some and a deep struggle for others, especially given how a lot of us were socialized.
Like Lecrae, we should all divorce ourselves from White Evangelicalism, for the sake of the Church and its witness, for the sake of God and His glory. If we are going to build a righteous community it has to be a community built on a mutual, gospel understanding of who we are as individuals and as a corporate body. Seeing one another as equals, brothers and sisters, whose relationships transcend our human definitions and boxes. This starts with recognizing that we all bear the Imago Dei and that image is not bound up in human understanding and not able to be defined by human inventions or philosophies. Accept that it is a divine mystery and accept that it is intrinsic in all human beings and treat everyone according, with dignity and care. View life through a lens that allows for someone other than self or our hemogenic groupings.
The New Evangelicalism is radically different than anything we have ever experienced and if we are going to be a part of it we need to be willing to accept our past mistakes, apologize, ask forgiveness and seek to heal the wounds we have caused in the name of Christianity. When the world sees this happening, when the project of reconciliation begins and the fruit is seen it will so greatly stun the world and many will come to know Christ.
Brothers and Sister, this is not an easy road, this is a hard and difficult road. It requires a complete paradigm shift for many of us and there is not currently a solution but a journey and that journey may take a good while. However, I am willing to walk it, and I hope you are too.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church.