DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Fierce Independence

Written by: on June 21, 2018

Now that was different! But, I liked it.

Yang’s Boxers and Saints made me think from two different and new perspectives of the Chinese people in regards to foreign Christian missionaries “invading” their homeland. Little peasant boy Bao and his village felt abused and plundered by Westerners, while odd girl Vibiana is taken in by Christian missionaries and shown love her family neglected, but she was conflicted about who she would show allegiance to, either Christ or her homeland.

I researched the subsequent BOXER REBELLION identified in both stories, and while I don’t fully get the entire scenario, I found myself trying to sincerely understand what the Chinese felt like about the controversy of foreigners and their foreign God being “forced” upon them in uncomfortable and unintelligent ways (thank you Livermore from Leading with Cultural Intelligence).

However, if I may, I now choose to take a side road and discuss further a significant topic from our June 4th Zoom encounter together. We were asked by Dr. Jason about challenges in our own culture as it relates to Christianity. A couple of themes jumped out at me, at least in my mind, including Trish’s comment about the “independent” mentality of those in the Northwest, who perhaps do not see a need for Jesus as they tend to go it alone, with pride. I concurred with Trish, and added the word “fierce” to the independent mentality of those in Montana. Several others in our Cohort also used the term “fierce” and an adjective to describe their own perceived challenges in their specific neck of the woods.

Therefore, I decided to study FIERCE INDEPENDENCE further by reading (or not reading thanks to Adler) a book by Soong-Chan Rah titled, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.  [1]

Interestingly, Rah does not use my term of “fierce independence” but instead identifies a major obstacle for Christianity as being INDIVIDUALISM. [2] Please allow me to add the word RUGGED in front of individualism as perhaps the greatest challenge facing evangelicalism in our world today. And I don’t use the term “rugged” as a positive, like someone has handsome rugged good looks, but rather I choose my own definition of rugged in a negative sense as in “stubborn”, because that is what bred with individualism.

Rugged individualism is creating a crisis, according to Rah, as he starts out with this quote,

“The church in America is in crisis…as the American population begins to grow, the white churches fall farther and farther behind…almost all of the data indicates that the white church is fated to decline in influence every year in the near future.” [3]

Rah later pointedly asserts,

We are looking at a non-white majority, multiethnic American Christianity, where immigrant, ethnic and multiethnic churches are flourishing. Picture an majestic church building with seats near one-thousand with only a handful of worshippers (mostly white), and then picture a back room of some house or business crammed full of worshippers (non-white). American evangelicalism remains enamored with an ecclesiology and a value system that reflect a dated and increasingly irrelevant cultural captivity and are disconnected from both a global and local reality. [4]

I cannot remember who in our Cohort quoted this reality, maybe Mark (so I apologize on neglecting a proper citation), but it reverberated loudly in my memory. There is a obvious shift from a northern and western hemisphere-centered Christianity, to a southern and eastern hemisphere-centered Christianity. The arrogant American in me yells “no”, but reality yells even louder, “yes, and we better grasp this fact”. Africa, Asia, Latin America! Not European or North American, and certainly not white.

“In 1900, Europe and North America comprised 82% of the world’s Christian population. In 2005, it was 39%, with Africa, Asia and Latin America comprising 60% of the world’s Christian population. In 2050, it is estimated the latter will be at 71%.” [5]

How did we get to this point?  Well, Rah (a Korean) says he has grown weary of the cultural captivity of the Western church where white expressions of the Christian faith are lifted up but non-white ones are marginalized. For instance, TIME magazine recently listed the 25 most influential evangelicals based on several factors including book sales and 23 of the 25 were Anglo! But the new face of Christianity is multiracial. [6]

Even at the small college I worked at, the international student population was increasingly multiracial, but the percentage of white faculty was unbelievably 95+% white.

Please return to the problem that Ruh uncovers, there is currently RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM in the Western Church. Our culture has allowed the church to be defined by influences other than the Scriptures. We more accurately reflect the culture around us, rather than the unchanging characteristics of Christ, which will certainly make us different than the world around us.  The “Bride of Christ” should not be a mirror of the culture around us!

Yes, Rah identifies many problems areas we have already discussed this year–consumerism, materialism, racism, sexism, etc. But he hammers home the “unholy trinity of me, myself and I” [7] of our individualistic worship experiences. From the music mentioning us more than mentioning God, to the focus on individual needs rather than the transforming power of God.

The neglect of community and the corporate body is crushing our church in America! We don’t surrender to the larger group, submit to ANY authority, or yield to Scriptural influences. There is a privatization of our theology, especially to a busy and distracted believer. God fits into our agenda and schedule, instead of us fitting into His!

This is individualism and it is excessive, and the more I think about it, the more I think it is true. Yes, God cares about us as individuals and we must exhibit an individual faith (not just the faith of our parents), but hyper-individualism enslaves the believer by privatizing our personal walk with Jesus, instead of publicizing our personal walk for all non-believers to see. Thus, we focus inward, rather that outward and upward.

Like him or not, Rick Warren’s opening line in the Purpose Driven Life was spot on, “It’s not about you!” [8] This is a difficult message to deliver to a culture that is more impressed with “selfies” than being better together, BY GOD, FOR GOD, TO THE GLORY OF GOD.

I just realized this has been my longest post of the year. I humbly apologize. This outside book has made quite an impact on me…

 

[1] Rah, Soong-Chan. The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity. IVP Books, 2009.

[2] Ibid., 26.

[3]  Ibid., 107.

[4] Ibid., 108.

[5] Ibid., 132.

[6] Ibid., 246.

[7] Ibid., 28.

[8] Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2013. 1.

About the Author

mm

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

7 responses to “Fierce Independence”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Jay,
    My mom also says, “that was different” in her Kentucky back-hills drawl. She would agree with your “rugged individualism” discussion and conclusions. Yes, Christianity has shifted to the South and East for sure. We are not “king of the mountain” anymore.
    Rah’s Individualism is Solomon’s “vanity” in Ecclesiastes. I wonder what it was like to be the wisest human being ever? Even he fell to his own vanity, which is one of Satan’s top-10 schemes of destruction.
    Great Post and no deductions for the word count!
    Stand firm, 站立得住
    M. Webb

  2. Shawn Hart says:

    Jay, great post! As I read through your work, I kept thinking about the American attitude regarding the increase of Islamic temples and converts in our country. On the Christian level, we see the religion as an insult to true Christianity; as an American, people tend to connect Islam only with terrorism (an image that can easily be tied to this week’s reading); but as those in opposition to the effects of bad Christianity, I believe Islam has been the escape. The very perception of how we view one, seems to set us all on a course of action; either pro or con.

    So do you see any potential methods that the modern day church could use that may help to tip the scale back in our favor…while still maintaining biblical integrity?

  3. Greg says:

    Love that you were given a book but with fierce individualism 🙂 decided to choose a different book. I love that, especially because I love this author. America and individualism goes hand in hand. It is good for us to learn and understand how this affects our perception of the church and can limit our view of community. Way to go.

  4. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jay,

    Now you’re speaking my language. The ‘whiteness’ of what we promote as Christianity has always bothered me. I think this is also one of the main complaints I have with your dissertation subject in Dave Ramsey too. He is promoting a white-western cultural perspective of finance.

    In your longest post of the year you were able to turn the assigned text and connect it (loosely) to something that got your juices flowing. I love it.

  5. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Jay,
    I really enjoyed your post, I agree we have put to much of ourselves into our worship. I hate when I hear me me me. Our VBS was this week and the majority of kids were multi-ethnic, something our church needs to embrace. When I was in Seminary at Southwestern, 21% of our students where from Korea, another 10% from elsewhere, yet we had one non-white professor. I was bothered by this then and even more so now that I have seen what my seminary has turned into with Paige Patterson and his ilk. That is the main reason I chose Portland Seminary, something different from me.

    Jason

  6. I loved your long post Jay because your passion came out loud and clear and was moved by your highlighting of the damage individualism has done to our country and Christianity. Your statement at the end said it well…”Like him or not, Rick Warren’s opening line in the Purpose Driven Life was spot on, “It’s not about you!” This is a difficult message to deliver to a culture that is more impressed with “selfies” than being better together, BY GOD, FOR GOD, TO THE GLORY OF GOD.” I couldn’t agree more, it is not all about us…it is about God and how He can use us for His glory. Great post as always Jay!

  7. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Jay, I think it’s fascinating that you read another text based on our conversation and it sounds like it was a good one that I want to read too! It would be good for my research as well. Thanks for bringing this new text to light and I think you are right on with your analysis of how it is not about us and we need to pay attention to the other cultures as our world is changing.

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