readings on race and history

I’ve finished quite a few more books since last I posted. I’ve left a few hanging mid book as well. I want to tell you about Soong Chan Rah’s new book The Next Evangelicalism. Soong came and spoke at our church last month and I was quite taken with his message of race reconciliation, White privelege, and our culture’s fixation with travel and moving fast. I borrowed his book from a friend who’d just finished it and I took the time to read it slow. Professor Rah has experience with church planting, pastoring and teaching and was a student of Harvey Cox. He brings a much needed prophetic vision to Evangelicalism without really defining who Evangelicals are, aside from the majority who are white and priveleged. He lays down that, demographically speaking, whites are fast becoming the minority in American Christianity. Immigrant churches are growing rapidly and older white churches are in decline. His book picks up where Philip Jenkin’s book, The Next Christendom, leaves off. By in large I’d have to say the book is not fun reading. It is, in three words, a very educated rant. And you know what I think? He’s right! I hope his message gets through. The downside as I see it is that Evangelicals are really good at lip service and evasion. The majority of Evangelical churches are Southern Baptist and, yes, southern. They are White, Male led, and died in the wool conservative flag waving, homogeneous, blue blooded Americans. They love their homes, their property values, their good jobs, and their nice cars a little too much to want to hear that their history and way of life are secured by racism.

But it’s not just the conservative Southern Baptists. Rah points out that Emergents, for all their talk of being different, are just as stuck in old racial norms as the folks they claim to be an alternative for. I really enjoyed the chapter on the Emergent church. But the book left me feeling oddly. How does one get excited about and promote a book that tells a painful truth very few want to hear? And I think of my own church and social surroundings. While ours is a mixed church racially it is not mixed to the degree the book describes, without one racial group being larger than any other. We are, by-in-large, a white church with a handful of other races. But having grown up in a more mixed community I know that most people move here because there are other whites like them. People tend to look for a church that does not push them out of the social culture with which they are comfortable. This book is all about breaking that norm. Though it might feel like a long overdue trip to the dentist that changes your whole life, you should read it.

I’ve also been listening to Augustine’s City of God and Eusebius’ History of the Christian Church. I got halfway through each of these and had about all I could stomach for a time. You think Evangelical apologists today are pushy? They’re nothing compared to these church fathers. Were Eusebius here today I’d ask him how many decades of persecution were necessary to absolve the Jews for killing Jesus. He sets a precedent that’s downright sinful, right in the middle of the earliest account of our faith’s history! And Augustine, discussing virgins getting raped, come on! Show a little sensitivity. While there is much that is truly edifying in these books, and I will continue with them, they’ve also given me a healthy dose of why church tradition deserves nowhere near the authority of the canon of Scripture. Their writings often illustrate the failure of the Church to correct its own Fathers.

Finally, I’ve listened to Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and now I’m on Native Son by Richard Wright. All I’ve heard about these books is true. They are some of the best literature of the twentieth century. I’ll try to say more about them once I’ve finished Native Son.

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Filed under blogs, Book Reviews, books, Evangelicals, race

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