SpiritFarmer


Quick Take Review: The Next Evangelicalism
June 8, 2009, 8:13 pm
Filed under: books, Christendom, culture, dissertation, emerging church, missiology, Seattle, theology

Last week I got a chance to sit down with a book that’s been getting a bit of buzz in the circles I run in.  It’s called The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity, by Soong-Chan Rah.  I believe it’s a very important book, and one that I hope will find its way onto many seminary course readings lists – and not just in specialty classes like “Multi-cultural Worship.”  Rah has some good words to share, but they will be put to best use in a broad marketplace.

The book is an uncomfortable read, especially for a white midle class USAmerican dude.  I have attempted to sensitize myself and the people I have influence with to issues of race, power, and control, but I know I’ve fallen well short of ideal.  There’s still a lot more to be done in my own heart, as well as in the church at large.

I strongly recommend this book.  The way it approaches the issues of racism in the church in USAmerica are helpful and prophetic.  The chapter on race is a good primer, and the chapter on how the emerging church is perpetuating most of evangelicalisms same old problems is a stinging rebuke to a bunch of people who have been a bit smug about having rescued the Western church from all of its ills.

With that said, I do have a few points of critique.  First, I’m not sure the book delivers on the title – I get that Rah is riffing on Philip Jenkins’ genius work in The Next Christendom, but unlike Jenkins, Rah doesn’t spend his primary content on describing the new form that’s coming to replace the old.  I got a very helpful picture of yet another broken aspect of the previous, broken evangelicalism, but less of a vision of what the new way forward looks like.  There are some good examples, including one here in Seattle that I can personally vouch for, but I wanted more.

Second, I don’t know how excited I can really get about the dawning of a new “ism.”  Frankly, I’m not looking for the next evangelicalism – which may have more to do with my continuing flashbacks from the last one, but another ism sounds like another opportunitiy to institutionalize forms of thought that might work right now, but will be rendered obsolete by future generations.

Third, and I admit that this is entirely selfish, but this book came out about 9 months too late.  As I was writing and editing my doctoral dissertation, I knew full well that the day would come that I had just put my biggest, hardest writing project to bed, and I’d wake up one morning to find a new book/article that would have taken my work to the next level and made it really shine.  This is that book.  No hard feelings, though, Dr. Rah.  I’ll get over it.  I’ll take the opportunity to borrow your ideas the next time around.  Congratulations, though – this is a reall solid piece of work, and one that I hope will be influential in the near future.

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Dissertate this! pt. 3
April 1, 2009, 12:27 pm
Filed under: Christendom, culture, dissertation, Global South, globalization, missiology

O.k., so I’ve mentioned the fact that there are major movements of growth in Christianity around the world – well, except for the Western world, where Christianity is in a bit of decline lately.  I’ve mentioned that these movements are taking place at a time in which globalization is changing everything.  One interesting thing to note as a backdrop to these discussions is the fact that globalization and Christianity have gone hand in hand for hundreds of years by now.

Back in pre-Reformation Christianity, when the Church of Christendom ruled the day, explorers set sail to find new trade routes and new lands in which to trade.  They typically went with the blessing (and/or military backing) of their homeland.  When they encountered new people groups, they developed “trade partnerships” with swords and spears in hand.  They colonized these places and subdued them through physical force and intimidation.  Another of the tools of empire used to subdue people was the Christian religion.  Conversions took place at high levels, and the religious systems of Christianity were brought in.

So, as these trade routes and colonies got the ball of globalization rolling at a new level, Christianity spread.  The way I’ve described things here paints a fairly negative, cynical picture of things, but this spread of Christianity certainly wasn’t all bad.  While many conversions took place at the wrong end of a weapon, many genuine conversions took place as well.  Further, most of the missionaries that came to the new lands, did so with good motives – to help people, to serve them, to bring spiritual awakening.  True, they also brought their own culturally-bound notions of “civilization” and “development” and “orthodoxy,” but they can’t easily be broadbrushed solely as tools of empire.  I believe that God used globalization and many sacrificial servants to spread the story and mission of Jesus throughout the world.  Christianity has brought many many benefits to the places it has been carried.  It hasn’t been done perfectly, for certain . . . but we’ve gotten a whole bunch of things wrong in the “homelands” of Christianity as well.

Missionary movements have blessed the Church – and not just the Church in the missionary destinations, either.  They blessed the Church “back home” as well, through telling stories, through calling people to humility, generosity, and openness.  They’ve told the story of Jesus being received more fully and gratefully by the “foreign pagans” than by the innoculated pew-sitters in the home of Christianity.  They’ve noticed things about “our” culture that fall short of full gospel embodiment – things they had to step out of our culture for a while in order to notice for themselves.  Two such giants that come to mind are Lesslie Newbigin and Roland Allen.  These guys have written prophetically and need to be more widely read.

Next time, maybe I’ll talk a little bit about some of their observations and begin moving toward a scriptural backdrop that I developed.



Dissertate This! pt. 2

Here’s my second post taking a trip through the dissertation that kept me busy over the past few years.  In my previous post, I talked about the rapid spread of Christianity in the global South and East, even at the same time as there has been a noted downturn in Christian practice here in the Western world.  While asking questions about what “we” in the West can learn from our sisters and brothers in other contexts, I thought it was also important to address one of the essential realities of our time – globalization.  <PAUSE: I just got THE biggest guilty pleasure inserting that link for globalization – the link is to Wikipedia.  Citing Wikipedia as a source in academia is a major no-no, so I had to do it here for kicks>

Thomas Friedman brought the topic of globalization to the masses in his book The World is Flat, talking about how technology and commerce have brought everyone in the world closer together than they ever have been before.  An obvious example of this is the call centers in India that process many of our customer service phone calls in the U.S., but it goes much farther than that.  Friedman does a good job at helping people connect the dollars they spend with the people who produced the products being purchased.

Friedman is a pretty big proponent of globalization and the benefits it brings.  The rise of a middle class in China and India are often cited as the up-side to all of this.   However, there’s another side of the story.  Globalization also brings about some pretty dark things that we don’t often hear about.  The global economy is operated on the strength of a large number of transnational corporations – note that I didn’t say “international” or even “multi-national.”  Transnational corporations are multi-national, but they are frequently able to avoid being overly-identified with any single nation of origin, for the purpose of not complicating trade treaties.  Some are so big and economically powerful that they are “bigger” than many countries in the developing world.  This means that if a small, struggling nation has some natural resources that one of these corporations wants, the company has a major advantage when it comes to negotiations.  The country desperately needs the money and jobs the company will provide, so they give in to extremely low pay, poor worker conditions, environmental devastation, etc., all with very little retribution if the corporation violates any of its terms of agreement.

Tons of books are written on the complexities of globalization, so trust me, there’s no way I’m going to do justice to it here.  But there are some dynamics to living in a globalized world that are positive and some are negative.  Being concerned with Christian movements, my concern is to accept the reality of our situation – globalization isn’t going to go away, and the Church is in a position to utilize the positive aspects of it, and speak and act boldly to blunt the negative impacts wherever we are able.

I’m not sure what I’ll get into next time, but I’ll probably start by framing things up from a church-historical point of view.  One quick note for those who commented on my previous dissertation postings – I am will to make a .pdf of my dissertation available by request, but I have some last minute minor edits to clean up this week before it goes off for printing and binding.  Once I’ve got that final version locked down, I’ll put it out.



This looks like a winner . . .
March 22, 2009, 9:51 pm
Filed under: friends, leadership, missiology

Todd Hunter is doing something new again.  Check it. (HT: Jason Clark)



The Church You Didn’t Know About
March 18, 2009, 5:37 pm
Filed under: blogging, Christendom, dissertation, Global South, missiology, school, theology

I’m not sure exactly how to go about this, but this post represents my first attempt at blogging about my dissertation.  I can’t say how many posts I’ll use to write about this, or how frequently I will do so.  I’ll start with some general framing words, though.

When I began the process of research and writing, I was intrigued by the possible implications of some of the writings done by a Penn State University professor, Philip Jenkins.  I had recently read his book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity.  In it, he gives a lot of data that proves a surprising fact: there are currently more Christians in the non-Western world than there are in the West, which has always been considered as the home of Christianity.  The past few decades have witnessed an explosion in the number of Christians in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.  All of this has taken place at the same time as we have seen a steady decline in church as we know it in the West.

I seriously doubt that I was alone in being surprised at the shift taking place in global Christianity – most USAmerican Christians would never guess that to be the case.  Once I took that reality in, I had some immediate questions about power.  We in the West are very accustomed to being in control – we have the money, we have the political influence, we have the biggest guns, we have the white skin, we have the theology, we have the authority.  But if we’re not even a majority of the world’s Christian population, should this really be the case?  How is Western power being used when it comes to theology, social justice, missionary practice, etc.?  I was particularly interested in listening to the theological reflections of Christian brothers and sisters from the global South – is it possible that rather than being forced to blindly accept theology developed in Rome, Geneva, London, New York, Nashville, Dallas, Springfield, or Southern California, perhaps they should be practicing theologies that they’ve developed in their own cultural contexts?  Further, is it possible that “they” should actually be teaching “us” about some things they’ve learned?

So those were some of the questions I began this research journey with.  Many of the answers I found were quite exciting to me.  But I haven’t finished setting the stage quite yet.  The next time I post on this, I’ll talk briefly about the context that brings “us” and “them” together.



A milestone passed
March 17, 2009, 6:20 am
Filed under: blogging, globalization, missiology, school

Yesterday morning I was able to successfully defend my doctoral dissertation, and I have now officially completed the Doctor of Ministry degree through George Fox Seminary.  It’s a bittersweet kind of day for me – I’m certainly glad to have this thing done, and have the opportunity to breathe a little and bring a bit of harmony back into my schedule and life, but it also marks the close of a process that I’ve definitely enjoyed.

In part because of my busy-ness with school reading and writing, the frequency of my blog posting has dropped over the past couple of years.  I’ve also not posted very heavily on the areas of my dissertation research.  Maybe it’s just that I’ve been writing so much in academic forms about the research that I haven’t been highly motivated to do more of it here.  At any rate, I am now prepared to reveal the title of my  dissertation to you.  Ready?  How’s this sound?:

GLOBAL CHRISTIAN SHIFTS AND MISSIONAL CHURCH MOVEMENTS:
LINKING THE POSTCOLONIAL GLOBAL SOUTH WITH THE POSTMODERN WEST

I’ve defnitely learned a lot, and am planning now to begin sharing some of that here.  Globalization is changing our world, and has brought some exciting changes to the Church.  There are some rough and uncertain days ahead, but also some things that I am very hopeful about.  I’ll share some of that as well.

For today, though, I just want to say thanks to my family and friends for all the encouragement and love that I have received.  It’s not been easy, but the support I’ve felt from others has carried me along.



Global Missional Leadership

I had the pleasure of enjoying a couple of hours at the SeaTac airport this morning with Jason Clark, who had a layover between his flights from Portland to LAX (I know, the route doesn’t make sense, but since those flights made our little meetup possible, I’m not complaining).  Jason is a pastor from London, and a point-person in the Emergent UK conversation.  He’s also a graduate of the George Fox Seminary program that I’m set to finish up (tomorrow morning!!!).

We met to conspire about a brand new program that Jason is developing with George Fox – a Doctor of Ministry in Global Missional Leadership.  It is geared toward reflective theological practice within a global context.  There are a number of things that excite me about this new program.  First, it isn’t “global” in name only – in addition to the course content and readings, there are three face-to-face learning experiences, which will take place in locations in Africa, Europe, and Asia.  These will be held in partnerships with seminaries in these locations.  That is great, because we need increasing global interaction with theologians and practitioners in order to learn from each other.  Second, it is both theologically and practically oriented – often practitioners get so caught up in the day-to-day behaviors of ministry that they aren’t theologically focused; and often theologians get so caught up in the academics that they fail to express their work in practical ways.  Third, it is integrative and open source – an online learning community is already being developed, which can be utilized by GML students, and non-students alike (go check it out, and jump on board!).  Seminary education is in need of change, and this represents a significant step toward accessibility and cultural contextualization.

It looks like I’m going to have an opportunity to work with this program, which is a big deal to me.  The topic of my dissertation (which I’ll begin blogging very soon)  is a very good fit, and it represents a good “next step” for me, now that I’m done with my own school program.  I’m defnitely looking forward to seeing how things develop.