For such a time as this: the salvation of the American church

What is it the “plain gospel?” It’s the kind of question that keeps missiologists, pastors, theologians, seminarians and online pontificators busy. While this question has as many answers as it does inquisitors, I ask it primarily in the matrix of Christian faith and culture.

As a historic fact we acknowledge that a large body of what has come down to us in the Christian tradition was formed in the context of the evangelization of Europe. It took significant work to translate a Middle Eastern desert Messiah into the context of a hill and dale European world. The questions that are answered by the systematic theologians studied around the world are the questions largely of European believers in a European context addressing European realities. This is not to suggest that our systematic theologies are somehow untrue, but simply that they may be inadequate to the task of carrying the “plain gospel” to the ends of the earth.

As the locus of the church shifts significantly from North and West to East and South, believers in other parts of the world are unlikely to remain content regurgitating what they’ve received as gospel truth. Despite the fervor with which we defend our systems, Calvinism, Arminianism, and every other –ism is not the gospel, and frankly are not the only authentic ways of understanding or even conceptualizing the gospel. Whatever view we hold, we ought to hold with a healthy dose of humility. God in his grace has made us joint heirs with Christ, and that is something of which none can boast.

In any event, I believe that ethnic minority Christians have a unique opportunity to do theology in a new way. As people who are both thoroughly Americanized but also distinctly “other” there may be some unique theological purposes that God wants to work out through our communities. How this might take place I do not know. In Europe the revitalization of European Christianity is in the hands of those who are not of European extraction. And if we would be honest, despite all the shifting of deck chairs in Evangelicalism, there are not markedly more people following Jesus – especially among White Americans.

Non-White students now comprise fully 40% of students involved in groups like InterVarsity. It may well be that we, like Esther, have been called for such a time as this; that the salvation of the American church lies with us. This revitalization cannot happen however if we simply continue to unthinkingly parrot the systems, ways of being church, and worship structures that have dominated the American landscape.

Author: elderj

I was born the fourth child and third son of godly parents in Nashville Tennessee. After leaving home for college I got involved with InterVarsity, then graduated with a degree in finance. After that I got a masters in history. Nowadays I spend too much time reading, writing, thinking, and occasionally doing my job.

3 thoughts on “For such a time as this: the salvation of the American church”

  1. Brother J, at the risk of having this comment deleted as was my prior one, I feel that I must leave a word with you. As you correctly point out, brothers of all racial persuasions are making huge impacts for the kingdom, as we see in Sunday Adelaja in Europe – an African pastor leading one of the largest churches. At the same time, I hope that you did not mean to imply that by dint of where or to whom one was born that we possess a unique or superior ability to theologically interpret the truths of our Lord. We can all contribute our ethnic distinctives to worship, discipleship, etc. but in the end, the truth is the truth and theology is the discernment of the truth.

    Though our perspectives, loves, hates, feelings, and actions are shaped by who we are, whatever culture we find ourselves in, and how these frame our thoughts, ultimately we are to be one in Christ. Seeking to further subdivide the body and do things “our” own way rather than to unite and seek a shared experience seems to be contrary to the plain gospel.

    With all love and respect…

  2. Brother Warren, I don’t recall deleting a comment from you. If I did, it was unintentional, so I apologize.

    I agree that we are to be one in Christ. I am equally convinced that such unity does not occur at the expense of our individual or corporate realities and socio-historical experience. Indeed a unity that is not cognizant of those is not true unity.

    In any event, my larger point is that ethnic minority Christians in the US have a unique opportunity to broaden the theological conversation and perhaps be a bridge between the growing Christian worldwide and the west. I’m not sure how this can happen, or even what the result would be, but I do not believe that the task of doing theology was finished when Calvin finished his institutes. Unfortunately, it seems to me that we don’t do enough theology and merely parrot what has been received without adequate reflection or refinement.

    Put another way, if God made me Black and American then what do I have to contribute as a Black American to the theological conversation that would not otherwise be present. This is the question I believe that needs to be wrestled with on a larger scale. Such wrestling will not divide the body so much as enrich the conversation.

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