I would first like to give a word of thanks to the generosity of Professor Soong-Chan Rah as well as Moody Publishers.
I anticipated and had hope that Dr Rah would do a follow-up to his which I also did a review for. TNE, I would say was more of a prophetic critique of 21st centuryWestern Christianity, and there were many quotes I could use in the future that I believe ring so true, particularly Rah’s analysis of the emerging church. In comparison, Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church was filled less so with observation and much more so with scholar/pastoral instruction.
The text is divided into three sections, and since I do not want to give any spoilers, since I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in doing multi-cultural & cross-cultural ministry, I will go through a few sections I found interesting.
In part 1, Rah goes over traditional Christian approaches to culture, even mentioning Niebuhr‘s classic Christ & Culture (page 21). He then sets forth to argue the importance of remembering all of history, and not just the triumphant good stories that we like to hear, but also the narratives of sadness and oppression. In chapter 3, Rah articulates a theological vision of culture, where God’s mission in the world is taken seriously and redeems even the “pagan” traditions of Christmas. Rah argues that one cannot appropriately appreciate culture as something that is just a human construct; we need to see both the sociological and theological merits of each culture, which in his view starts with the doctrine of the Imago Dei. This I believe is a necessary statement to differentiate Rah’s approach to culture and an anthropologist’s or a sociologist’s. Without the notion of God gifting all of humanity to be creators of culture, equally and beautifully, we will fall into the trap of sayings like West is Best, East is least (as the video I linked implies. Racism, Orientalism, and ethnocentrism begin with an anthropomorphic & androcentric view of culture, to the exclusion of the creator. What makes MLK Jr. a culture creator is that he firmly believed in the divine image in everyone, even his enemies.
In part 2, Rah discusses what a multicultural worldview looks like, as well as what it means to examine power relations between cultural majorities and minorities. Chapter 5 gives insight into the possible paradigms that churches fall into. Churches have their own culture, and it is up to the congregation to discern what type of culture it has.
Lastly, in part 3, Rah gives some practical advice about ow to achieve a church sensitive to the biblical vision of multi-cultural cooperation and racial reconciliation.
In terms of approach, I see no reason for critique, but maybe a few points of clarification. First, its never clear what is meant by cross-cultural ministry and why it is different from multiculturalism.
Second, and I think there is potential problem with Rah’s suggestion that Christians come together for telling our stories while being open and letting out our emotions. There is nothing wrong with crying. Real men DO cry. Jesus wept, and so did the Hebrew prophets. However, part of my critique of Howard Thurman’s last chapter in Jesus and the Disinherited, where he describes a proto-Beloved Community, is that he suggest thee is should be a complete erasure of space between the oppressed and their former oppressors. Spatiality is part of the problem, in Thurman’s view. However, I object because people as individuals and communities do need their own space; what needs to happen is that persons should create a negative space within themselves to invite others into their lives. I fear that Rah falls into the same error as Thurman, in that the story telling becomes TMI, or too much information. Persons should reveal themselves by their own choice, but at the same time, persons should remain a mystery without complete disclosure; the more a person remains a mystery, the less likely others will be able to claim possession over you.
Lastly, I do hope that Professor Rah expands upon his third chapter into a book on its own. Christianity desperately needs a new theology of culture, whereby the Missio Dei and the Imago Dei are interconnected, and I believe Rah is on the right track.