we are not alone

August 20, 2009

I know, I know. From the title, you were expecting aliens. Finally, you thought, we are going to hear John’s views on Roswell, Area 51, and all things big headed and bug eyed.


This post is about something more important, I think.

In the last few years, one of my most important learnings has been that Christianity as a world religion is not marked or defined by my experience as a white male growing up in an Evangelical North American background. I don’t intend to disparage my own background, but it has been helpful to recognize that there are many voices that have been, and still are, shaping the Christian faith from many backgrounds. Beginning to hear from voices outside my own background has helped lead to a more vibrant understanding of Christianity for my own journey.

And it’s something that will be help for others to hear as well, especially those of you who share my background as white North Americans. While Christianity may be declining in North America, it continues to grow rapidly in the global south. While no one can agree with every unique expression of Christianity in North America, or elsewhere, it is valuable for us to learn from other expressions as they challenge some of the beliefs and practices we might hold dear.

I had the opportunity to review two recent books from IVP. They are very different books, but both are related to the reality that there are many vibrant expressions of Christianity beyond the experience of most Evangelicals in North America.

The Next Evangelicalism, by Soong-Chan Rah
The subtitle says a great deal about the content of this book: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. While reading this text, there were times I wanted to pump my fists in the air in agreement, while others where I was discouraged. Rah doesn’t hold back in identifying some of the challenges he sees in the Western culture’s form of Evangelical Christianity. Much of what he has to say is important, and I grateful he was willing to speak up, while at other times, I felt like his generalizations were unfair, and didn’t apply to me or my experience. But that is always a challenge when dealing with difference — generalizations are helpful in addressing difference, but must be accepted to some degree to learn from the dialogue. I hope you can read this book with an attitude of learning from the perspective of another with the humilty to be challenged by what you disagree with but the conviction to reaffirm some of your views that are worth holding on to.

The New Shape of World Christianity, by Mark Noll
While addressing some of the same issues, Noll’s book take a very different approach. Noll is a historian, and writes about how North American Christianity has been a shaping influence in recent world history. He addresses how North American Christianity has spread to other parts of the world, but also how that Chrsitianity is taking on forms and expressions of its own as it interacts with local cultures. This was also a helpful book from an information standpoint, though I found that nature of the book to be less challenging to my soul or my views.

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