There is no better time to learn about race, culture, and politics than today. But there is one problem. Big problem:
The church doesn’t want to talk about race, culture or politics.
In the past 12 months, I read several books that address these issues. And I am happy to share with you what I learned.
1. Rescuing the Gospel from Cowboys by Richard Twiss
A friend gave me Rescuing the Gospel from Cowboys as a graduation gift. Probably the best gift I ever received. Using an array of unbelievable and often heartbreaking anecdotes, Richard Twiss paints a shocking picture of how Western Christianity interacts with Native American culture.
The accounts in the book are reminiscent of how white missionaries viewed African culture. However, when people are oppressed and victimized because of their culture they often respond in two ways: (1) hate everything about their oppressor or (2) hate everything about themselves. Richard Twiss shows the third way; LOVE your oppressor as yourself.
2. The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity by Soong-Chan Rah
In The Next Evangecalism; Soong-Chah Rah observes, “The cultural captivity of the church has meant that the church is more likely to reflect the individualism of western philosophy than the value of community found in Scripture.” Hence, sermons, liturgies, small groups are shaped to feed the gods of individualism, materialism, and consumerism.
The church in Africa is not immune to Western cultural captivity. Most churches in Africa loathe African traditional music instruments. They associate them with demonic activity, yet they adopt western equipment. Confession, humility, and submission can help a church to become free from the chains of cultural captivity.
3. Black and Reformed: Seeing God’s Sovereignty in the African-American Christian Experience, 2nd Edition by Anthony J. Carter
The sinfulness of the colonialist, slave masters and traders led them to become agents of the devil. However, Christ’s sufficiency justified, sanctified and glorified black people, even in great suffering. For that reason, Sunday Bobai Agang noted, “We know where we will be when we die but our oppressors have no hope.”
Before reading Carter’s Black and Reformed, I had never heard of such a liberating view of slavery, colonialism, and racism. Hats off to Carter for such a beautiful look at history and Christian experience. Being Black and Reformed doesn’t mean one is ignorant of their history and the Christian experience of their forefathers; rather it compels you to see the sufficiency of Christ, amidst great suffering.
3. Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development by Anthony B. Bradley
For many years, Anthony B. Bradley worked hard to awaken the Church regarding racial apathy. Black and Tired is a prophetic call beseeching the Church to consider James 1:27. After all, Christ came to be with the weak, the marginalized and the oppressed. Is it asking too much to ask the church to be like Christ?
As a black person, I noticed people are quick to celebrate me when I talk about anything else besides race and culture. “We want grace. Not race,” they say. But how can you claim you love me if you do not know me? I recommend you read other books by Anthony B. Bradley on race, in addition to Black and Tired
4. The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Kenneth J. Wytsma
One of the dumbest statements I ever read was by Thomas Sowell, “Blacks were not enslaved because they were black but because they were available.” Africans were victims of colonization and slavery because they lacked military might.
As an African, it is my everyday reality that everything I do is judged using the white standard – how I talk, walk, dress or write. Editors and publishers are not interested in me, forget about the nvitation to serve on leadership boards, speaking at a conference or even guest blog. In Myth of Equality, Kenneth J. Wytsma offers 4 suggestions for white Christians:
- Listen and learn
- Lay down your privilege
5. Race and Place: How Urban Geography Shapes the Journey to Reconciliation by David P. Leong
Theology is best done in a community but communities often comprise of people from different races and cultures. However, our differences are supposed to be a reason for celebration rather than segregation. The world is divided today not because of religion but culture and politics. African Christians hate each other because of differences in ethnicities. Sad.
In Race and Place David P. Leong observed, “Jesus had to go through Samaria because that’s where the path of discipleship leads: right into the places where historic, systemic racial conflicts have led to division and strife.” Hence, successful discipleship can only occur where race and place are acknowledged. Thus, color blindness does the church a great disservice since it encourages ignoring the economics of race and place.
6. Is Justice Possible? The Elusive Pursuit of What Is Right by J. Paul Nyquist
From Jim Crow laws to George Zimmerman to Steven Avery, J. Paul Nyquist graciously unpacks the deafening call for justice throughout the modern American history. Privilege often blinkers us from the injustice around us.
The Gospel melts the blinkers and invites us to fellowship with the ‘least of these.’ Because ‘justice is the application of God’s righteous moral standards to the conduct of man. It starts with God, not man.’ However, the disengagement of the church and ignorance of many has seen the church becoming more of the perpetrator of social injustice than the agent of peace as called upon on the Sermon on the Mount.
7. Power of Proximity: Moving Beyond Awareness to Action by Michelle Ferrigno Warren
In Power of Proximity, Michelle Ferrigno Warren invites young Christians passionate about social justice to consider incarnational mission. “Being proximate is necessary to engage brokenness because it transforms our lens.” In this semi-autobiographical work, Michelle Ferrigno Warren convincingly shows how proximate living with the poor helped her theology.
Power of proximity offers insight that can be helpful to Africans who plant churches in rural areas. Most of urban areas in Africa are saturated with the Gospel but the same cannot be said about African villages. Christian professionals such as teachers, nurses and police officers have an opportunity to be agents of the gospel when posted to villages by the government.
8. Created and Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture by William Edgar
What is culture? William Edgar defines culture as ‘the lens through which a vision of life and social order is expressed, experienced, and explored; it is a lived worldview.’ However, as believers, Christ is our vision of life. Thus, we should seek to express, experience and explore sound theology.
Created and Creating is an eye-opening scholarly work on how believers are not only called to engage cultures, but also create a counterculture. Furthermore, William Edgar shows the importance of obedience to Christ in cultural engagement. Because ‘Christ’s redeeming grace moves culture in the right direction, ennobles it, and allows it to extend the realm of God’s shalom, his goodness, his justice, his love.’
9. Jesus among secular gods: The countercultural claims of Christ by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale
The Great Commission is an invitation to confront the secular worldviews around us. But it’s important that you understand that such worldviews are nothing but glorified idolatry. You view the world through the scales of the god you worship.
In this scholarly work written in a popular language, Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale confront 6 popular worldviews with the message of the Gospel. For example, the claim there’s no God is countered by eternity, morality, accountability and charity. And an obsessive belief in deity of science is confronted by a simple story of the beginning. Thus, believers only need to believe the simplicity of the Gospel to confront secular worldviews.
10. Counter Culture: Following Christ in an Anti-Christian Age by David Platt
Kevin Vanhoozer once said the call to faithful discipleship requires us to daily answer the question, “What does it mean to follow Christ in the 21st century?” However, I have discovered that there’s one key similarity between the first century and today: hatred of Christ and his church.
After all, ‘the gospel actually creates confrontation with the culture around—and within—us.’ In Counter Culture, David Platt encourages us to be increasingly aware of their environment and continue to deepen their faith in Christ. This entails, standing up for the Gospel not only regarding social injustice, but also divisive issues such as homosexuality, abortion and racism even though we’re uncomfortable.
11. A Time for Confidence: Trusting God in a Post-Christian Society by Stephen J. Nichols
Contrasting Jerome and Augustine’s reaction to the fall of Rome, A Time for Confidence extols us to the dangers of too much seeing but without a vision. Jerome saw but Augustine had a vision. Stephen J. Nichols skillfully brought Scriptures and church history, particularly the Reformation, into a conversation about postmodernism.
What do you see in the present shifting tides of time? Besides the continued misinformed maligning of social and natural sciences as agents of Bible dissent, A Time for Confidence is an excellent response to postmodernism. I believe this is important because postmodernism tends to promote color blindness by trivializing concrete differences.
12. The Altars Where We Worship: The Religious Significance of Popular Culture Juan M. Floyd-Thomas, Stacey M. Floyd -Thomas and Mark G. Toulouse
When the Zambian national soccer has a match on a Sunday, churches are empty. Africa is also flocking to the Mecca of Western idols indicted in The Altars Where We Worship. “The objects of our attention have become our God, and fulfilling our desires has become our religion.” Sad. This book is well-researched, it’s convicting but sometimes it became too scholarly for the average reader.
13. Understanding the Culture by Summit Ministries
Grounded in Scripture and backing up arguments with research, Understanding the Culture helps the reader to develop a biblical worldview. Furthermore, the authors argue Christians need to engage the culture to redeem the culture. However, some people will find this book as promoting the social gospel; all social work and no spiritual work makes the community unsaved.