Fundamentalism and American Culture by George Marsden challenges existing assumptions and portrays a more robust description of the emergence of fundamentalism.  Marsden offers an analysis of a movement that responded to the social, intellectual, and religious crises of their time.  Fundamentalists did not merely withdraw from these cultural changes, but engaged these changes in direct ways. Marsden depicts fundamentalists as expressing a distinct version of evangelical Christianity uniquely shaped by the circumstances of America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century — a time marked by an openly turning away from God.

Marsden’s description of the critical role of Scottish Common Sense Realism and Baconian scientific method in the fundamentalist worldview provides a contrasting image to the caricature of the backwater, uneducated, anti-intellectual, rural, Southern fundamentalist.  Understanding fundamentalists in proper context requires inquiry into the northern expression in denominational and educational contexts. The fundamentalists’ concern rested not in the use of any intellectual and scientific thought, but in the type of science appropriated by the modernists. Fundamentalists viewed their own epistemology as a rational system in contrast to modern liberalism’s reliance upon unproven hypotheses.

While Marsden’s work impresses in its breadth of coverage, the ambitious attempt to provide an expansive and comprehensive description of fundamentalism falls short in his under-represents of the experience of Southern evangelicals who faced less strident opposition. Because of the minimal discussion on Southern fundamentalism, the presentation of the Scopes Trial feels abrupt and under-analyzed. More explication of the Southern stream of fundamentalism would serve as a welcomed addition, not merely to recapitulate the existing work on Southern evangelicalism but to fulfill Marsden’s attempt to provide a thicker and more comprehensive description of fundamentalism.

I recently read a news report that a heart medication [propranolol] could actually impact racial attitudes. “Volunteers given the beta-blocker, used to treat chest pains and lower heart rates, scored lower on a standard psychological test of ‘implicit’ racist attitudes.”

Many do not seem to get the main point of the research. The goal of the research is not to look for ways to spike everyone’s drinking water with a compound that would reduce racism in our world. If only that were possible. But the goal is to reveal a potential cause for racist attitudes.

As the Telegraph article states explicitly: “Scientists believe the discovery can be explained by the fact that racism is fundamentally founded on fear.” Racists are driven by fear.

Maybe that’s why the Bible so frequently says, “Fear NOT!” Doesn’t seem like a huge revelation, but it does put racism and racist attitudes in its proper context.
Do not fear a black President.
Do not fear the alien and immigrant among you.
Do not fear the decline of white evangelicalism and the rise of non-white evangelicalism.
Do not fear a black/brown world Christianity.
Do not fear non-white thought leaders challenging the evangelical status quo.
Do not fear.

If only it were that simple.

In Southern Cross, Christine Heyrman explores the historical development of evangelicalism in the South. In the 18th century, evangelicalism presented an alternative for subordinate groups. The 19th century witnessed the capitulation of evangelicalism to the dominant values of southern culture. Evangelicalism retreated from promises of liberation and invested in upholding the equality and honor of white men above African-Americans and women. Adaptation to the norms of southern society laid the groundwork for much of evangelicalism’s subsequent success and formation. Drawing upon primary sources, Heyrman provides an engaging and convincing narrative. Two key elements of Heyrman’s argument were particularly well constructed. Heyrman reveals evangelicalism’s shifting position on the slavery issue as an example of capitulation to the prevailing value system. Heyrman also demonstrates that the diminishment of women in the evangelical movement reflects acquiescence to the culture. Heyrman explores how the ability to adapt to cultural expectations could have significant negative consequences. The cultural captivity of southern evangelicalism resulted in the loss of a prophetic voice and in my opinion, the loss of the full gospel message.

Giving up for Lent

Posted: March 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

My kids asked me what I was going to give up for Lent.

I said, “Cigarettes.”

My kids said, “But Dad, you don’t smoke.”

“True and I’m not going to start during Lent.”

So giving something up seems to be the thing to do during Lent.

By most accounts, the forty days of Lent reflect the forty days of fasting Jesus endured. Some accounts attribute the number forty to the number of hours Jesus laid in the tomb. Either way, forty seems like a nice Biblical number.

So for forty days, we give up something that we hold in high value and might hinder a life devoted to Christ. A self-sacrificial act as a small token of what Christ gave up for us.

So initially I decided that I was going to give up chocolate for lent.  I really like chocolate. My favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate. But I realize that I don’t eat chocolate all that frequently. So I would be giving up about five servings of chocolate over the Lenten period. Didn’t seem like that great of a sacrifice. I also felt like kind of a wimp giving up chocolate for Lent when others are giving up meat or swearing. I’ve done Daniel fasts in the past. For forty days before I got married, I gave up meat. But it was worth it because I was going to marry my lovely bride at the end of the forty days. I also lost 10 pounds.

So I settled on giving up coffee.  I drink coffee pretty much every day.  Most days two cups a day. It also looks right. A professor in a tweed blazer with a cup of coffee in one hand, maybe a pipe in the other hand. (But no cigarettes). Coffee definitely fits the criteria.

So that’s my final decision. No coffee, chocolate, and cigarettes during Lent. My hands tremble from caffeine withdraw as I type this final sentence. I need to have some Coke Zero this afternoon.

Douglas Sweeney’s work presents a broad overview of American evangelical history. In the preface, Sweeney explains that the center of gravity for evangelicalism now resides outside of Europe and North America. This key observation shapes the book’s movement towards his statement “that though we have always been diverse . . . evangelicals share a heritage that is both rich and spiritually powerful – a legacy worth passing on to future generations.” (11) Various authors have attempted to define evangelicalism, with the concomitant action of narrowing its parameters. Donald Dayton and Robert Johnston lead the way in defying “neat and tidy categorization.” They suggest “that evangelicals resemble a large, extended family and should be described in only a general manner in terms of their ‘family resemblance’ rather than pigeonholed with excessive, propositional precision.” (21).
The strength of Sweeney’s work rests in his ability to provide a larger picture of evangelical history that encompasses the story of pietists, Pentecostals, African-American Christians, and others, while maintaining coherence. Rather than describing evangelicalism with a doctrinal rigidity, Sweeney describes behavioral aspects such as revivalism, pietism, and missionary zeal. Sweeney’s approach reflects the desire of an insider to “refresh our shared, historical memory, [that it] may help us to regain our spiritual bearings” (185).
For most historians and theologians, the American evangelical story has been the story of white Americans. Because of this dominant narrative, there has been an exclusion of the story of non-white evangelicals. Sweeney’s broadening of the evangelical story to include African-American Christianity provides a significant contribution. With a growing diversity evident in both global Christianity and American evangelicalism, Sweeney strengthens the connection between evangelical history and evangelicalism’s future trajectory. Sweeney’s work provides an example of an attempt to encompass “the great wealth of evangelical diversity” (19).

In April of 2012, Judson Press will release Honoring the Generations: Learning with Asian North American Congregations.  This book is co-edited by Al Tizon, Sydney Park, and the author of this blog. See description below:

In this intentionally grounded and richly theological volume, the editors bring together ethnically and generationally diverse leaders from pulpit and academy alike to explore the opportunities for ministry in the Asian North American Christian community. Each acknowledges that this community is increasingly challenged by a generation gap, not so much between age groups but between first-generation immigrants and the second- and third-generations.

Ministry issues addressed include:

Pastoral formation
Women in ministry
Lay leadership
Public witness
Global mission

Each chapter of Honoring the Generations provides both theological and practical resources for those “in the trenches” of cross-cultural and cross-generational church ministry, regardless of ethnicity.

Editorial Reviews:

“In Honoring the Generations, God’s Spirit has finally provided us with a theologically calibrated and field-tested GPS that will guide us more harmoniously, more inclusively, and maybe even more rapidly to the many different places where God is leading ANA churches…How this book came together is proof of how God’s Spirit can fit together different generations, different genders, and different theological perspectives into the Household of God in Christ Jesus.”—Rev. Dr. Ken Uyeda Fong, Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

“This book challenges us to remember that no matter our ethnic, tribal, or theological background, we all are members of the household of God. Thus, we need to seek reconciliation, unity, and peace with one another.” —from the Afterword by Biak Mang, Pastor, Myanmar Christian Church (ABCUSA), Chicago, Illinois

“The ‘next evangelicalism’ of which coeditor Rah has written to high acclaim is here unveiled as that which includes the contributions of both the elders and the younger generation. The Asian North American voices in this volume have much to teach evangelicals across the spectrum who are ready to escape the western cultural captivity of the church.” —Amos Yong, J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology, Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, VA

“Honoring the Generations challenges its readers to deal with the complexities of calling people to faith and developing churches in the midst of generational change, cultural adaptation, and the struggles of minority identity development. They write from their experiences within their various Asian North American communities, drawing out specific insights for ministering within ANA communities, but also addressing issues that cross ethnic and cultural lines. The book is an indispensable contribution to Asian American ministry and to the growing literature on ministry in the intercultural reality of North America today.” —Juan Francisco Martínez, Associate Provost for Diversity and International Programs, Fuller Theological Seminary

“This engaging conversation among Asian North American (ANA) ministers and professors names numerous challenges—including generational differences, cultural diversity, public engagement, assimilation, and gender inequality. The writers put their on-the-ground experiences on the table, reflect on historical elements, cultural influences, and biblical passages, and clarify what is important for ANA churches. Don’t expect answers, but do expect diverse voices, stories that narrate various experiments, and a call for deeper engagement across differences. This is a crucial conversation among ANA leaders.” —Mark Lau Branson, EdD, Homer Goddard Associate Professor of Ministry of the Laity, Fuller Theological Seminary and coauthor of Churches, Cultures & Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations & Ethnicities

“An old Japanese proverb, ‘The nail that sticks up gets hammered down,’ continues to portray much of the ethos of the Asian North American church today. In Honoring the Generations,however, noted Asian North American theologians and pastors from varying theological traditions and cultural backgrounds honor and draw strength from disparate church experiences. The writers share the fruit of a long and sometimes arduous dialogue in hopes of inspiring a Kingdom revolution in the church that is both generative and generous for first-, second-, and third-generation Asian North American Christians alike. In the process, this book invites readers to envision together the nature and practice of the church as God’s household, with the capacity to forge the future of the Asian North American church.” —S. Steve Kang, Professor of Educational Ministries & Interdisciplinary Studies, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Coauthor of Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful, and A Many-Colored Kingdom

“In an increasingly diverse nation, the biblical, theological, and practical insights and lessons in this must-read book will go a long way in helping congregational leaders confront the cross-cultural and cross-generational challenges of their ministry. This book reflects a unique collaborative effort of scholars and practitioners responding to what I believe is the most critical issue at the dawn of the twenty-first century—ecclesiology. Here you have a relevant and robust practical ecclesiology by a variety of voices that will prove to be a gift to the Christian church at large and not just to Asian North American congregations.” —Rev. Eldin Villafane, PhD, Professor of Christian Social Ethics and Founding Director of the Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Boston, Massachusetts

“To have such a range and depth of Asian North American leaders active today in teaching and ministry is an answer to so many prayers. For them to all have been at one conference together and now to have their thoughts collected and published is probably more than we hoped to pray for. Here in these pages are fresh lessons from Scripture, inspiring ministry stories, and an array of leadership insights to help the ANA church take needed next steps toward a better future.” —Russell Yee, ThM, PhD, adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and author, Worship on the Way: Exploring Asian North American Christian Experience

“Rich in Scripture, overflowing with grace, easy to understand, respectful of complex variables, and humble about methods, this is a book for our time.” —Miriam Adeney, PhD, Associate Professor of Global and Urban Ministry, Seattle Pacific University and author, Kingdom without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity

“This collection by Asian North American theologians and congregational leaders present the most heartening reflections on the daily struggles and triumphs of Asian North Americans in living out their Christian faith. The challenges and conflicts surrounding the issues of generation, gender, leadership, evangelism, and social engagement are not unique to them, but common themes for all evangelicals in the contemporary social and cultural contexts. It is a valuable reading for all those who are struggling about these issues, especially those who are engaged in ministries among Asian North Americans.” —Fenggang Yang, University Faculty Scholar, Professor of Sociology and Director, Center on Religion and Chinese Society, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

“With a scarcity of such resources available, Honoring the Generationsis a long awaited and welcome book. Connecting the significant biblical and Asian North American (ANA) cultural themes such as honor and household, the authors integrate both ANA contexts and biblical principles to foster a thriving ANA ministry. Since the book comes out of a consultation of ANA leaders, the methodology of the book is itself communal.” —Rev. Young Lee Hertig, PhD, Executive Director, Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity (ISAAC)

“Two central underlying themes of the contributions in this edited volume are the questions of (1) how Asian North American second-generation Christians are coming to terms with their cultural and spiritual inheritance from their immigrant parents and (2) what legacy they will leave their children. Through each chapter we are invited into the struggles of generational differences over leadership, women and calling into ministry, apathy and disillusionment. And in each chapter, written by leading ANA theologians and clergy, we are presented with biblically informed and experiential perspectives that will encourage readers who identify with these problems or know someone who does. As the second generation are now raising children of their own, the urgency for examples and role models is all the more pressing; Honoring the Generations is a fresh provision for that very need.” —Jerry Z. Park, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Baylor University

“It might be surprising for most people to learn that most Asian North Americans are Christian. However, it is no surprise that most of Asian North American Christians belong to immigrant and ethnic congregations, as did their predecessors whose ancestors came from other continents. This collection of coauthored chapters by Asian North American theologians and congregational leaders presents heartening reflections on their daily struggles and triumphs in living out their Christian faith. The challenges and conflicts surrounding issues of generation, gender, leadership, evangelism, and social engagement are not unique to them, but common themes for all evangelicals in the contemporary social and cultural contexts. However, the theology of God’s household seems to be distinctly Asian or Asian North American. It is a valuable reading for all those who are struggling with these issues, especially those who are engaged in ministries among Asian North American Christians.” —Fenggang Yang, Professor of Sociology, Director, Center on Religion and Chinese Society, Purdue University

Part II of an interview with Duke Divinity School’s BLOG:

Q: Do you first have to help people realize they’re captive?

That’s an important first step. When you grow up in a particular church context with a particular worldview, you develop assumptions about what faith is. After a while, a culture develops within all churches, and we assume our particular cultural expression of Christianity is what the church is supposed to be.

In any context, whether the American church or globally, we have to offer that knowledge about captivity. But part of that comes when we’re in conversation with each other. When a white suburban church talks to an inner-city black church, or a Western church talks to an African church, then we start seeing which things are more cultural and which are more biblical. We start learning from each other what church is really about.

Q: So how do you free the church?

That’s the tough question. Right now in the U.S., we’re blessed to have an increasingly multicultural society. I’m a Korean and grew up in a Korean church, but I was educated in the context of American Christianity and American culture. So I have a bicultural lens.

The subtitle of my second book is “Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church,” but I always thought the better phrase would be “Cultural Intuition.” “Intelligence” implies just a set of knowledge that you pick up. Intuition is more something that you develop through experiences. A person who has lived in one cultural context all their life doesn’t develop an intuition for culture. They might read books on culture and gain knowledge about it, but they won’t develop intuition.

The more you’re in cross-cultural relationships and settings, the more you encounter people who are different, the more you can develop cultural intuition. And through that, you can start asking, “Well, where is my faith coming from?”

Q: What does a culturally sensitive, culturally intuitive church look like?

We’re just starting to figure that out. Part of the problem is that the U.S. has very few multiethnic churches. Only about 7 or 8 percent of U.S. churches are multiethnic, meaning 80 percent of one group and 20 percent of another. We don’t have churches that have been at this for 20 to 40 years and know what it’s like to live through stages of church life as a multicultural community. We’re starting to see more examples.

I hesitate to suggest principles that everybody should follow, because every context is different. But we have to develop even more intuition, relationships and abilities. We have to be patient. Maybe we first need to have more multiethnic churches and be more intentional about being part of multiethnic communities. Then we can see what principles emerge.

Q: You’ve written about the conditions that are required for people to grow and to change regarding issues of race and culture. Tell us about that.

I was a pastor for 15 years — 10 of those in one church — and that deeply shaped the way I view how people change.

Two variables are helpful, and you have to have both. One is a place of safety, a place where you feel safe enough to ask stupid questions, make mistakes and feel affirmed in your basic identity. That, by the way, is often why people go to single-ethnic churches — because they’re safe. We feel safer with people who are like us and who understand us.

But we also need the flip side of that, which is a place of discomfort. Most of us don’t grow unless there’s a reason to grow, unless discomfort is introduced — and usually that is introduced by people who are different.

That’s why it’s hard to establish multiethnic churches, because you’ve got to have both. You’ve got to have places of safety,  but you also need a place of challenge, where people will say, “Hey, maybe you need to think about that a little more.”

Safety and challenge are things I hope the church could offer. That would be a great church, wouldn’t it? A place where people can say, “I’m affirmed here. God accepts me as I am. But at the same time, the community has challenged me to grow in areas that I would not have thought of unless I’d been part of this community.”

Q: The debate over immigration reform is an area where these issues of safety and discomfort seem relevant. Yet church people have often been some of the harshest voices in the debate. Why?

There’s no easy answer, but it goes back to cultural captivity, where being an American and protecting an American identity, usually associated with a white European identity, became more important than the scriptural values of compassion for the alien and immigrant among us. That reflects a cultural Christianity. Christianity as a whole has fallen captive to this idea of American exceptionalism and triumphalism. That has become more important than being the servant of all.

I get disturbed when people say, “We want America to be a Christian nation.” That usually means triumph, victory and maybe even violent conquest. The best way for America to be a Christian nation would be if we accepted the alien and immigrant among us. That would be more of a testimony of America as a Christian nation than any Islamic jihad we were able to defeat or put down.

Q: How should historically single-ethnic congregations welcome and minster to people of different cultures and languages?

American churches don’t look the way they did 20 or 30 years ago. They are more multicultural and more diverse than they’ve ever been, across all denominations. So the question is not, “Is there diversity?” but, “What do we do about it?”

Is our goal to be hospitable? Well, yes, if we’re talking about the biblical understanding of hospitality, but not if we’re talking about the Western concept of hospitality, which means, “Come to my home for a couple of hours — we’ll feed you, but at the end of the night, you’re going to leave.”

Hospitality in the Western concept is an occasional event. Hospitality in the biblical context means, “No, actually, we’re going to live together. My home really is your home.”

What happens when that kind of hospitality changes not only your living arrangements but your food? If I’m a guest in your house, you might fix kimchi for me, but you can throw it out after I leave. But if I’m living with you, that kimchi’s going to be in your refrigerator for a long time, and your milk is going to start tasting like kimchi, and you might not like it as much as when it was just a random, one-night visit.

What happens when we live together for a long time and the liturgy changes? What happens when our children marry each other? What happens when all the things that make family life messy become what our church life needs to be?

It’s not just a Western host saying, “Hey, come on in. We have room for you.” It’s the church saying, “We are now coming into the fullness of what Christ originally intended.” That is a very different approach to being a multiethnic church.

Usually, you get the dominant church or the dominant culture saying, “Come join us and become like us, and then we’ll have worship together.” This other approach says, “Unless you’re here, the way God made you, my life as a Christian is incomplete. By you being here, bringing your different culture and style of worship and approach to fellowship, my life becomes complete in Christ, because I’m seeing Christ in you the way I can’t see Christ just in my own life.”

Q: What advice do you have for churches that want to do what you describe?

Studies show that neighborhoods generally are six times more diverse than churches. Every neighborhood is different, but the excuse that “our church isn’t multiethnic because the neighborhood isn’t” is probably just that — an excuse. If you look within a mile radius, certainly four or five miles, you’ll see more diversity.

A first step would be to ask, “What’s going on in our neighborhood? Have churches started up that we didn’t know about? How can we partner with churches that are already doing this work?”

Then, also think about evangelism. What does it mean to do outreach and evangelism into communities that are already diverse?

Churches should also think seriously about what it means, what it costs, to become a multiethnic church. What would be lost potentially? It could be a lot.

I’ve been looking at what dying churches do with their buildings — churches that were vibrant for 40 or 50 years but they’re down to 15, 20 people, and they’re just kind of waiting. They have a huge endowment and the building is paid for, but they’re not going to make it. In many cases, those churches shut down and become community centers or libraries or bowling alleys or condos.

But what would it mean for that church to give the building to a Spanish-speaking church or a Korean congregation? That would require thinking about what it means to pass on a legacy to people who are in some sense your children but don’t look anything like you or even speak the same language.

What would it mean to think in such a larger, kingdom mindset that you would say, “Our run has ended, and our time is coming to a close. The next generation is not our biological children. It’s the Hispanic church or Asian-American church down the street that we should pass this legacy on to.”

It’s coming to a point in American church history where we’re passing on our legacy to people who look very different from us.

September 2011 on Duke Divinity School’s Faith and Leadership Blog. I did an interview on The Next Evangelicalism. Originally posted on:

This is part I of that interview.

Our nation’s growing diversity represents more to the church than a pool of potential new members. Even more, it’s an opportunity for the church in America to begin to live out a richer, more biblically authentic form of Christianity, Soong-Chan Rah said.

“Often, Western white culture has been so dominant in the church that we have trouble distinguishing it from biblical Christianity,” Rah said. “As the demographics of America change, how do we understand church not just through a Western lens of Christianity but also other lenses?”

The question for the church in America is not, “Is there diversity?” but, “What do we do about it?” said Rah, the Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago.

If the goal is hospitality, then the church must decide what kind of hospitality it is willing to extend — traditional Western hospitality or a more demanding, biblical form of hospitality.

“It’s not just a Western host saying, ‘Hey, come on in. We have room for you,’” Rah said. “It’s the church saying, ‘We are now coming into the fullness of what Christ originally intended.’”

Rah is the author of “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity” and “Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church.” He was the founding pastor of Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Mass., a multiethnic, urban church committed to racial reconciliation and social justice.

Rah was a faculty member for the 2011 Summer Institute at Duke Divinity School and spoke with Faith & Leadership about diversity, church growth and freeing the church from cultural captivity. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: You’re an associate professor of church growth and evangelism and you write about race, ethnicity and culture. What’s the connection between those? Are race and ethnicity keys to church growth?

When we look at evangelism and church growth and America’s changing demographics, we have to consider issues like multicultural and multiethnic ministry. In my own denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, the two have gone hand in hand. Diversity has been a big factor in our growth.

Twenty years ago, the Evangelical Covenant Church was overwhelmingly white and Swedish, because it was a Swedish immigrant church. But in the last 15 years, it has become 20 to 25 percent nonwhite and has been one of the fastest growing denominations. It’s a place where we see a denomination’s growth parallel its growing diversity.


Q: Tell us about your first book, “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.”

I look first at how Christianity has changed globally and in America. The assumption has been that Christianity in America is on the decline, but because of immigration, we’re actually seeing American Christianity, if not increasing, then certainly leveling off. We can be thankful that immigration and changing demographics are contributing to the church’s growth in the United States.

But given that demographic reality, what elements of American Christianity are still beholden to systems and structures from a previous time when it was dominated by Western white culture? And what do we need to think through in light of the changing demographics?

So where does our Christianity look more cultural than scriptural? Where do we go from here as we become more ethnically diverse? What is our theological and biblical understanding of culture? How do we start looking at multicultural communities? How can we build cross-cultural relationships?

Every expression of Christianity has cultural baggage, both good and bad. All Christianity has cultural relevance to a particular context. Churches need to do that. But at what point does it become captivity rather than relevance?

Often, Western white culture has been so dominant in the church that we have trouble distinguishing it from biblical Christianity. As the demographics of America change, how do we understand church not just through a Western lens of Christianity but also other lenses?


Q: What are the most obvious signs of the church’s captivity to Western culture?

One is the individualism of Western culture. We see this very strongly in evangelicalism, which tends to be highly individualistic. Is that really a biblical approach, or is it acquiescence to American culture? If Western culture is individualistic, then the Western church had to develop patterns of church life that parallel that individualism. But at what point does that become not just relevance but captivity?

Another is how we worship. Does our preaching reflect more the values of individualism than biblical values of community life? Western culture is very much about the individual, but is that what the Bible talks about when it talks about church? Do we need to move out from Western cultural captivity to see other models of community and church? How do African and Asian churches do church life? In what ways might they reflect a more communal spirit rather than the individualism of Western culture?

Captivity doesn’t allow us to see that. Captivity forces us into a particular worldview that says, “This is the way we do church.” But if we’re freed from that, we can see other expressions of church life.

So every Friday, I’m going to offer up a book review. Just to keep fresh on various topics. Will also post good book reviews from students as I receive them. FIRST UP: Harry Stout’s classic work on George Whitefield: The Divine Drmatist.

Harry Stout presents a portrait of George Whitefield as “Anglo-America’s first religious celebrity, the symbol for a dawning modern age” (xvi).  Whitefield’s innovations related to revivals in the Anglo-American context (such as the incorporation of the theatrical in preaching, the para-church nature of his ministry, and the willingness to compete in the marketplace) reveals his ability to adapt to the emerging consumer culture (xvii).  This adaptability reflects a salient characteristic of modern evangelicalism. Evangelicalism has demonstrated the ability to adjust to cultural trends over the course of American history and Whitefield provides the example and prototype of evangelicalism’s intersection with contemporary culture.

Utilizing primary source material, Stout presents a compelling argument. The strength of Stout’s argument lies in its comprehensive nature and his ability to trace a consistent profile throughout the narrative.  One question that I would raise about the work, however, is the seeming ease with which Stout attributes negative motives to Whitefield. On numerous occasions, Stout questions the purity of Whitefield’s motives and seems to focus on his negative motives.[1] Is there more conjecture than is necessary by Stout? While one could argue the merits of dissecting Whitefield’s motives, would it be more helpful to focus on outcomes?  Or would that approach reflect the pragmatism of both 18th century and 21st century American evangelicalism?

[1] For example, Stout is quick to attribute pragmatic motivations for Whitefield. This perspective could easily disintegrate into a second-hand interpretation of a fame hungry demagogue desperately willing to resort to anything to accomplish his own goals. More could be said about the possibility of a purity in his motivation.

Beginning the Lenten Season

Posted: February 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

I grew up in a very non-high church. (I don’t like the phrase “low church” — makes me feel less than). I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church with Pentecostal spirituality (the ultimate in non-high church). I grew up in a church that eschewed robes and anything that hinted towards high church traditions and liturgy.

The church calendar has always been a mystery to me. I’ve toyed with the fact that the church calendar really wouldn’t mean a whole lot for communities that deal with wet season and dry season vs. winter, spring, summer, and fall.  Or I wonder how different colored raiments would work in sub-Sahara Africa. But I must say there is something to be said about seeing the story of Jesus unfolded throughout the year.

So up until a few years ago, I hadn’t really participated in an Ash Wednesday service. It just wasn’t something that was a high priority in my community. But I’m learning and growing. Appreciating the meaning of Ash Wednesday beyond the external. For I truly am dust and to dust I will return.

So there are two moments in my Ash Wednesday experience that deepened my appreciation of the meaning of Ash Wednesday.

The first is a completely non-Spiritual, non-liturgical experience.  I played basketball for the first time in about a year and a half. (You can attribute this to temporary Linsanity). After a handful of times running up and down the court (I originally thought it was going to be a half court game), my mortality became very real to me. For the rest of the day, I walked around like an old man. Reminded that I am no longer 21 years old. My body is decaying faster than I would like.

Later that evening, I attended my church’s Ash Wednesday service. Watching my very diverse church join together in the Ash Wednesday ritual, I realized what a powerful statement of multi-ethnicity Ash Wednesday proved to be. We are all mortal. Despite our cultural differences, we are all dust in the wind. Moving towards the inevitable moment when we will return to dust. It brings a level of equality to the church. We can claim our worth, but our equality is most revealed in our united mortal frailty.