Not Stupid: Playing the C.S. Lewis Card

kinnon —  October 27, 2009 — 8 Comments

An iMonk tweet, pointed to Andrew Marin's post, I Don't Trust Christianity Today. (Andrew is referring to CT, the magazine.)

One of the things Marin responded to was the treatment of Professor Soong-Chan Rah's thoughts and ideas from Rah's book, "The Next Evangelicalism" – that treatment by CT's Managing Editor Mark Galli in this article. Galli quotes from Rah's book, cites it as coming from "(a) leading Asian Evangelical", but doesn't name the book nor properly attribute the quote. Professor Rah's name is not mentioned.

Galli finds himself being called on this, in his post's comment section, as Rah points out in his own post. Galli's defence in his comment response (at 10:48am on Oct 6/09) is to suggest that "careful reader(s) will see how I did this at various points in the article with other prominent people in our movement" – ahh, Grasshopper, the problem is in the eye of the careless beholder. And then Galli plays the C.S. Lewis card. "This is a style of disagreement I've learned from C.S. Lewis …and I think it charitable way to express disagreement..."

That's the ticket. Play the C.S. Lewis card.

Stay tuned here folks. The next time I say something asinine and get called out for it – I'll appeal to that greater authority, C.S. Lewis. But rather than looking to Lewis' Abolition of Man ('cuz I'm not that smart), I'll probably cite Voyage of the Dawn Treader to back my position up. But still, it'll be C.S. Lewis to the defence of my stupidity. I'm good to go.

A Bit More Background
My anger / hackles / ire was (were) raised by these two paragraphs from Galli,

But while acknowledging how firmly enslaved we are, the author repeatedly says things like, "Lessons from the black church or lessons arising out of the theology of suffering can lead to freedom from the Western, white captivity of the church." And in an interview to publicize the book, he says, "In fact, the more diverse we become, Christianity will flourish."

As if the flourishing of church depends on our ability to make it diverse. As if liberation from the thick chains of cultural captivity is had by learning lessons from others. As if blacks, Asians, and Native Americans are not themselves captive to entrenched cultural ideologies. Missing here and in many such worthy efforts is an emphasis on God's power, not human example, to free us from the principalities and powers, and on the good news that it is not we who must build the shalom community but the ones who receive it as gift and promise.

I agree with Rah (as quoted above, I have yet to read his book), rather than Galli. I do this from the perspective of a white male who was ordained in a predominantly African-American church in Pittsburgh – and has had to deal with the sin of my own misguided sense of cultural superiority. I have also spent significant time teaching month long courses in Africa to Africans – where my pale pigmentation makes me numerically part of a minority – but functionally, still part of an elite – primarily because of that pigmentation. My family and I have needed to be intentionally cross-cultural in those situations to break down the historical barriers created by our being part of the paler nation.

It is both the norm and much too easy for the dominant culture to gather together for "church." Of course, all are welcome. Really. Just as long as you stay captive to "our" culture. I am shocked that a white American leader can so blithely state, "As if liberation from the thick chains of cultural captivity is had by learning lessons from others." Apparently not in your case, Mr. Galli. (Perhaps the magazine you edit should be known as Christianity Yesterday. The spirit of C.S. Lewis' writing made me say that. Or maybe it was G.K. Chesterton. Or Evelyn Waugh? Certainly not W.E. Kinnon.)

In St. John's Revelation (5:9), the elders and four living creatures sing a new song that includes, "…with your blood you purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." May I suggest that that is what the Christian church should look like.

And. From my family's experience. There is something mystical that takes place (I would suggest it is a movement of the Holy Spirit as we are obedient to the Holy Scriptures) when we are intentional in worshipping and living together as people from every tribe, every tongue, every nation, every age group – as we believe and model the belief that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Gal. 3:28]

Left to our own devices, we will continue the tradition of the Sunday morning church service being the most segregated time of the week.

kinnon

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

8 responses to Not Stupid: Playing the C.S. Lewis Card

  1. Good for you, bro’! Galli’s response bothered me too. Though he’s right to point out God’s power frees us “from the principalities and powers”, his off the cuff dismissal of our need to be intentional about building Shalom, is off-putting. Why the either/or thinking? It’s both/and: God’s power working through our obedience.

  2. Not to mention that usually segregated = boring.

  3. “As if blacks, Asians, and Native Americans are not themselves captive to entrenched cultural ideologies. Missing here and in many such worthy efforts is an emphasis on God’s power, not human example, to free us from the principalities and powers,”

    Translation: It’s not my problem that other people have different cultures. If you try to change the dominant white church culture it’s because you lack faith in God’s power.

  4. Much of this is over my head, but I can’t help noticing that it’s portrayed as a one-way process. We have good things to give as westerners too, although I’d agree many have been buried under a lot of western religiosity. We can bring freedom to others and they bring freedom to us. Sounds a good process to me.

    Probably I’m missing something: like I said, I’m a bit out of my depth in theological discussions like this.

  5. Galli’s response here baffles me. Clearly (to me) Scripture is constantly referring to the necessity of diversity to the unity of the Body of Christ. Further, our evangelical impulse is meant to cause us to become like those we are seeking to reach, which inherently suggests a need to humble ourselves and learn from the other in the process. After all, isn’t that a core lesson from the incarnation?

    Perhaps Galli is responding to what I responded to in Rah’s book- a sense that white, western culture is somehow inherently worse than others. I don’t believe that Rah meant this, but neither am I surprised this bias would be present. However, to focus on that to the exclusion (or denial) of his message about the necessity of diversity in the church is ridiculous.

    Good post, W.E.

    Peace,
    Jamie

  6. On the (smaller) issue of quoting another author but not naming him . . .

    I don’t really see the point of doing that, especially if the one quoting has as large an audience as CT does. If an unnamed author is quoted at length in a publication of that readership, the name is as good as named (even if his home continent is undisclosed!). So don’t quote and then be obscure about the one quoted. If, though, the author doesn’t quote but summarizes ideas he or she has heard from various authors, no need to name names.

    On the larger issue, the editor of CT should know that “the power of God” is not mutually exclusive with “learning from others.” The power of God tends to be embodied by someone in the Christian tradition, often someone on the wrong side of some line who shouldn’t know anything, like a Nazarene or a murderer, or the uneducated, etc.

    And, yeah, Jamie, I think you’re right about what Galli was responding to, however inartfully.

  7. “And, yeah, Jamie, I think you’re right about what Galli was responding to.”

    Good point guys.

  8. Thanks for this post! A hearty “amen” from me! :)

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