“Lubaale underscored his worry about Trump; he had seen many times in Africa how authoritarian leaders manipulated people’s fears and came to power. The church had to be alert to those dangers, even in America, he warned.”
Liberating Christian Faith
How do we de-Americanize the gospel?
The election of Donald Trump has made it essential for Christian faith in the United States to recover a witness that is not captivated by the polarizing political dynamics of the country and that has the power to convey and model a message that is truly prophetic, biblically rooted, and capable of promoting social transformation.
Faith comes first, not America.
“We find that the American church is in captivity to the values and lifestyle of our culture. Institutional Christianity in America has allowed itself to become a conservative defender of the status quo, a church largely co-opted and conformed to the American system in direct disobedience to Biblical teaching (Romans 12:2). The American captivity of the church has resulted in the disastrous equation of the American way of life with the Christian way of life. This cultural captivity has caused the church to lose its prophetic voice by preaching and exporting a pro-American gospel and a materialistic faith which supports and sanctifies the values of American society, rather than calling them into question. By its implication in the American status quo, by participating in the anti-Christian mindset of our society (racism, materialism, nationalism), the church has lost its ethical authority and has become the chaplain of the American nation, preaching a harmless folk religion of comfort, convenience, and presidential prayer breakfasts.” – Jim Wallis, “Post-American Christianity,” The Post-American, Fall 1971, http://tinyurl.com/y933ptxa.
Those first pleas from nearly fifty years ago to de-Americanize the gospel remain timely and have a fresh resonance today.
Three steps can serve the Christian community in the United States well in this process, which will lead to an enduring and credible future witness.
First, we must learn how to listen to those voices speaking to us from the global Christian community and privilege them in our conversations.
Second, our priority must be placed on spiritual formation, developing the practices, tools, and communities that nurture faith with roots deep enough to resist the temptations of nationalistic idolatry.
Third, our commitment should be to engage society with a compelling public witness, exemplified by actions of solidarity with the most vulnerable, rather than to retreat from society in communities of pious and self-righteous isolation.
Deepening Faith Formation
The second strategy for de-Americanizing the gospel is to nurture spiritual practices and build communities that shape and form a deeply rooted, biblically informed faith.
Bonhoeffer understood that the task was to build a fellowship nurtured by a spirituality deep enough to stand the test of that time.
Gordon Cosby, as founder of Church of the Saviour, was also impacted by the events of World War II. As a chaplain in Europe, Gordon came to realize that so many of the men he accompanied lacked a religious faith that was deep and formative enough to prepare them either for how to live or how to die. His vision for Church of the Saviour was for a community grounded in practices of spiritual formation to equip its members for the missional call on their lives.
The public witness of so many who follow Christ lacks the spiritual depth and clarity to proclaim the true meaning of Christian faith for the life of society in this time. Discipleship falters without the strength to follow Jesus into the world. Courage is dissipated, bereft of spiritual power and biblical discernment.
Once again, we are in grave need of basic, enduring spiritual formation to acquire both the clarity and strength that equips us to follow Jesus and answer the question posed by Bonhoeffer: “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” The habits of thinking, practices of living, disciplines of praying, celebrations of worship, and clarity of calling can only happen with one another. It takes a community of committed believers to de-Americanize the gospel. The lesson to be learned is that Christian communities committed to prophetic witness in society endure when they learn to nurture the spiritual depth of practices that equip them for the long run. Resistance alone does not sustain a community. It requires a shared life that is rooted in a depth of spirituality that forms and shapes who we discover ourselves to be and what we are called to do before God.
- The author expresses some strong political perspectives in this chapter. What is your initial reaction to what is said?
- How or why has the focus on social action in the church sometimes run into opposition? How has this struggle spilled over into American politics? Do you agree or disagree with the author’s perspective on this? Why?
- When the author says that “the white religious bubble in America is about to burst,” to what circumstances does he point? Do you agree or disagree with this perspective? Why? How might or could this bursting bubble impact your community of faith?
- What steps does the author suggest be taken in order to de-Americanize the gospel? Which of these steps might you say is most important? Why?
- In this chapter, the line separating faith and politics is crossed and erased, challenged and pushed. What do you think about this? What key learning do you take away from this chapter?
- What more do you want to learn or do based on reading this chapter of the book?
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