An Inclusive Vision of the Church

I am a product of American evangelicalism. Much of what I believe, know, and try to live out arises out of my involvement and development in the North American evangelical subculture. I grew up and found a personal faith in the context of a Korean immigrant church that tried to balance the best of the Korean homeland with the best of the “American” version of the Christian faith.

Yet I am confronted with the reality of feeling marginalized in the context of my own faith tradition—that as immersed as I am in evangelicalism, I am often still seen as an outsider. In my journey as a neophyte believer, a youth pastor, a campus ministry participant, an emerging leader, a church planter, a local church pastor, and a seminary professor, I have increased in my sense of frustration with the cultural captivity of the church. I grow weary of seeing Western, white expressions of the Christian faith being lifted up while failing to see nonwhite expressions of faith represented in meaningful ways in Ameri­can evangelicalism.

Fifty years ago, if you were asked to describe a typical Christian in the world, you could confidently assert that person to be an upper-middle-class white male living in an affluent and comfortable Mid­west suburb. If you were to ask the same question today, that answer would more likely be a young Nigerian mother on the outskirts of Lagos, a university student in Seoul, South Korea, or a teenage boy in Mexico City. European and North American Christianity continue to decline, while African, Asian, and Latin-American Christianity continue to increase dramatically. By 2050, African, Asian, and Latin-American Christians will constitute 71 percent of the world’s Christian population.

Breaking through the white captivity of the church will be a difficult task, but with the dawning of the next evangelicalism, change must come. That change may find its inspiration from nonwhite expressions of Christianity in the U.S.: The African-American church of the civil rights movement and the contextualized theology emerging out of the Native American Christian community provide a model of a prophetic church confronting racism and breaking the barriers of power and privilege; the holistic expression of evangelicalism as reflected in the immigrant church in contrast to the materialism of the church growth movement; and the bicultural expression of multicultural community developing among the second-generation progeny of immigrants. These examples will provide a template and model of best practices for the next evangelicalism.

Adapted from The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, by Soong-Chan Rah. Copyright 2009. InterVarsity Press.

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