A Prayer for Difference amidst Unity, and Unity amidst Difference

Gordon's Beyond Colorblind logo
Gordon’s Beyond Colorblind logo

Does race matter? Is ethnicity important? How do cultural backgrounds affect our everyday lives?

This week at Gordon College we have a special emphasis week, BEYOND COLORBLIND:

BEYOND COLORBLIND is a focus week to help start new conversations about race and culture on campus.  We hope the lectures and discussions help us consider how our racial and cultural identities and experiences shape our views of ourselves, others, and God.

You can watch the first large group session of the week (chapel) here. Richard Twiss was the main speaker. It’s well worth your time.

Two weeks ago I shared a prayer for the first day of school. Today I’m sharing the congregational prayer we prayed in unison this morning in chapel. This came after the passing of the peace.

God, lover of all people,
Creator of all nations,
We praise you for all that you have made.

Thank you for the rich mosaic that is the body of Christ.
Thank you for difference amidst unity,
for unity amidst difference.

Give us a spirit of understanding and appreciation of each other.
Help us to see your image clearly in those around us.

Bless us now as we gather,
and may we declare your praises with our whole lives,
through our risen Lord Jesus.
Amen.

Find out more about the week here.

“Worship that Welcomes”

Furthermore, what are we teaching our congregations about worship music? If it is always the same thing over and over again; isn’t this unfair to them? We say things like, “we are multi-generational,” “we are racially diverse,” “we are multi-ethnic.” We say, “we are global Christians” (of course what we probably mean is that we sent a mission team to the Caribbean this summer) and the list goes on and on. Yet, our setlists never change.

David M. Edwards raises some interesting questions (and explores answers) in his post, “Worship that Welcomes.” I don’t agree with everything here, but the issues he brings up are good ones for worship leaders to consider. The full article is here.

Magnificent Monograph Monday: Review of The Post-Racial Church

Kenneth A. Mathews (Old Testament) and M. Sydney Park (New Testament), professors at Beeson Divinity School, attempt in The Post-Racial Church to “better equip the church in answering why Christians claim that the gospel and the Christian church are the first and last best hope for peace in a racially diverse world” (25).

To help readers understand how churches can more faithfully reflect “the wonder of God’s human kaleidoscope,” they work their way through the arc of the Old and New Testaments to reveal God’s plan for reconciliation. Reconciliation, they believe, “can only be fully and finally achieved by a Savior who redeems and transforms the human state” (57). Their call to racial/ethnic unity in the church is an unabashedly Biblical program. They write, “Genuine unity must be predicated upon a commitment to the Lord God, not based on anything or anyone else. Otherwise, the unity is circumstantial, which means that it is superficial and fragile” (72-73). They ground their call for ethnic unity in the Church firmly in Scripture.

Mathews writes the introduction and chapters 1-4 on the Old Testament, addressing God’s design in creation, his covenant with Noah and then with Abram to bless all nations, as well as God’s heart and provision for the immigrant among the people of Israel. Park traces the New Testament development of the theme of the inclusion of all people in God’s covenant. She explores Jesus’ stories concerning reconciliation, as well as how Biblical characters like James, Peter, and Paul came to grips with a deeper understanding of God’s desire for trans-ethnic unity in the Church.  (Park’s interpretation and application of the Prodigal Son parable opened up new understandings of that story that I had never considered—despite having already heard and read it many times.)

The Post-Racial Church is excellent in the thoroughness with which it treats Biblical texts that have to do with multiethnic reconciliation (and reconciliation more generally). In this sense, it greatly succeeds in being what the book’s subtitle claims it will be: A Biblical Framework for Multiethnic Reconciliation. Even though the introductory chapter clarifies what the authors mean by various terms they use, the phrase “post-racial church” as such is not really explored in the book itself. “Kaleidoscopic Church” or “The Post-Racist Church” would have been more fitting titles for the book. (So if you, like me, express skepticism at a Church or any institution being “post-racial,” don’t let that stop you from checking out this book. The authors don’t actually advance that we be “color-blind” or “ignore race” as part of their thesis.)

On the one hand the book at times felt a bit over-dense (especially the first half). But on the other hand, other books I’ve read about multiethnic church-building or racial reconciliation often give what feels like too short a treatment of Biblical texts on the topic. Mathews’ and Park’s detailed exegesis was in the end refreshing in this sense, and makes a unique contribution to the genre of book into which The Post-Racial Church fits. I also appreciated that they drew on the original Hebrew and Greek to further illuminate the texts they expounded. This made their work even more compelling.

Each chapter concludes with “Thought Provoker” questions, a high point of the book. For example, one question (p. 171) asks,

If loving our neighbors is a critical factor in our discipleship, and if loving our neighbors self-sacrificially serves as the litmus test for our discipleship, does the test prove positive for you and your church?

One could easily use this book in a small group discussion to great effect.

The reader who takes the time to work carefully through the authors’ guided exegetical tour through the Scriptures will be greatly rewarded. If indeed, as Park claims, “the proper understanding of racial reconciliation is possible only in light of God’s saving activity throughout human history,” then those who desire to join God in drawing all people to himself will want to avail themselves to the solid Biblical exposition that the authors provide.

(Per FTC guidelines, I note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel in exchange for an unbiased review.)

Book Review: The Next Evangelicalism, by Soong-Chan Rah

Soong-Chan Rah writes, “As many lament the decline of Christianity in the United States in the early stages of the twenty-first century, very few have recognized that American Christianity may actually be growing, but in unexpected and surprising ways.”

In The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, Rah posits that mainstream evangelicalism in the United States has been too monocultural in its worldview–“white” and “Western,” he says. It has been “taken captive” by individualism, consumerism and materialism, and racism. This captivity is pervasive, he writes, as seen in the megachurch movement, the emerging church movement (which Rah rightly argues pays too much attention to just white voices), and through cultural imperialism. Looking at Native American, African American, immigrant, and multicultural communities, Rah offers hopeful alternatives for evangelicalism’s future.

Every evangelical Christian should read this book. Rah has the courage to say hard things the church needs to hear. His excellent treatment of racism, especially, should be preached from the pulpits and studied in small groups.

However, there are at least two key points where I take issue with Rah.

First, a distraction is Rah’s equating “white” with “Western” as he discusses the church’s captivity. But these two are not always synonymous words, and sometimes when the author uses “white” he really means (or should mean) “Western” instead. Rah mentions T.D. Jakes as a megachurch pastor who is emblematic of the church’s captivity to (“white”) numerical pragmatism. But Jakes is “Western” and not “white.”  And there are non-white sectors of the Western church deserving of Rah’s critique (for example, Creflo Dollar and other “health and wealth gospel” African American pastors should be included in Rah’s critique of Western consumerism and materialism). Rah’s arguments would have more force (and been more accurate) if he simply had referred to “Western cultural captivity.”

Second, I struggled to accept some final remarks: “The shift in American evangelicalism is well under way. The white churches are in significant decline.” I will grant the first assertion. But as to the second, Rah does not define further what he means by “decline” and provides barely any evidence of it that I could see. In fact, if he means numerical decline, he is using a standard previously rejected in his book. (Church health ought to be measured not by buildings built or number of attendees alone, he notes, but by taking the spiritual pulse of the congregation.) Is a Church feeding the poor?  Welcoming visitors?  Caring for the sick? (Etc.?) If so, Rah would say, it is a healthy church. By this standard, the predominantly “white” church at which I recently served as youth minister, for example, is very healthy. Members of that church, and of many others I know that are like it, might read lines like this and ask, “What decline?”

Even so, I don’t want to overly fault Rah for those objections. As a reader I do not demand that Rah say everything perfectly before I accept the force and truth of his overarching claims. All in all, The Next Evangelicalism issues a clarion call to the church to end racism, embrace the growing ethnic diversity of the body of Christ, hear voices that have been overlooked and marginalized, and more accurately reflect the church the Bible calls us to be.