Review: Inalienable

What would happen to our ministry to immigrants if we opened ourselves to learning from and with them as well? In their book, Inalienable: How Marginalized Kingdom Voices Can Help Save the American Church, authors Eric Costanzo, Daniel Yang, and Matthew Soerens consider how people who look and live very differently than we do may be the key to revitalizing the American Church.

The word inalienable means “essential and undeniable” (p. 6), and this so-titled book seeks to recover essential, undeniable aspects of God’s character and work in the world which have powerful implications for our nation and time. The authors suggest that the best way forward for the American Church to recapture her first love and active faith is to learn from the historical church and also from brothers and sisters in the global Church, many of whom have taken up residence in the communities where we ourselves live.

Chapter one introduces the question that the rest of the book seeks to answer, namely, “Where do we go from here?” in order to “revive [the] public witness” (p. 3) of American churches during a time when it has been severely compromised and many youth people are leaving the faith. Chapter two ponders “a kingdom-centered worldview” (p. 28) as a God-honoring alternative to the current polarized political climate in the United States, calling Christians to reevaluate “the relationship between our faith and the power structures of our culture” (p. 28-29).

Chapter three explores the implications of the fact that the center of gravity of Christianity has shifted away from Europe and the North America and toward the Global South, and that because of this, we should desire “to be captivated by a picture of the church that is ancient and global, rather than by one that is Western and American” (p. 42). While congregations made up primarily of American-born people are shrinking, immigrant churches are growing in the United States: at a denominational level, this means that “over the last thirty years, global Christianity has already been helping to save some streams of American Christianity [such as the Assemblies of God and the SBC] from an all-out free fall and decline” (p. 45). This chapter also makes the oft-overlooked point that though it is true that God has brought the nations to America in order that many immigrants might hear the gospel, it is also true that many immigrants arrive already cherishing the gospel and with a desire to share it with Americans!

Chapter four discusses the centrality of the imago Dei for understanding how to be a neighbor to others, including a chillingly helpful description of a descent from innocently scrolling upon a meme denigrating migrants to liking a similar post to being algorithmically served up increasingly virulent content to eventually losing a sense of the imago Dei nature of migrants. Chapter five asserts that “when White Christians are willing to ‘unmute’ voices of color in our lives and churches, we unlock fresh and innovative ways to interpret and apply the Scriptures in an endless variety of contexts” (p. 119), while chapter six explores the fact that “gospel centered life and ministry are incomplete unless all, including those who are on the margins, are integrated fully into and enabled to contribute to the mission” (p. 142). Chapter seven advocates for a middle way of meek advocacy which refuses both ditches of partisanship and apoliticality, thus living “focused not on gaining or maintaining political power, but on the multifaceted mission that God has given us” (p. 167).

Chapter eight focuses on the “inalienable responsibility” (p. 178) of the Great Commission, but also examines the tendency of American Christians to value their citizenship above their faith in terms of their identity, and the tragically ethnocentric implications of this when they seek to make disciples cross-culturally. Instead, the authors suggest “seeing the Great Commission as a Great Collaboration” (p. 185) characterized by “equitable partnerships both locally and globally” (p. 186). In conclusion, the authors share some hopeful signs within the American Church and cast vision for what we can pray for: “true revival, centered not on seizing political power or refurbishing a tarnished brand, but on recommitting ourselves to the inalienable truths of the Christian faith—namely, the kingdom of God, the image of God, the Word of God, and the mission of God” (p. 198).

The authors make the salient point that “the increasing number of Americans who are leaving the church are not in fact rejecting biblical Christianity, but rather than American-centric version, while giving little consideration to the global movement of Christianity around the world” (p. 47). What would happen if voices of non-American Christians were amplified and learned from? Perhaps what has been twisted and marred in churches by the idols of American culture could be restored and the beauty of the gospel could be seen with more clarity that comes from fresh perspectives.

This is one of the best books of 2022, in my opinion. Pastoral, wise, compelling, and compassionate, these authors know of what they speak and exude love for their readers and the church even as they are writing hard truths. They have chosen—with much angst and lament at times—to stay within the evangelical “system” that is being critiqued in this cultural moment, and their life experiences have informed what they write with conviction and hard-won insight that speaks truth in love to their brothers and sisters in Christ. They urge those who are also tempted to disillusionment to hold on to Jesus and engage in soul-searching prayer, choosing the way of humility and learning from the historical and global church in order to live faithfully as a remnant in the American Church of our day.

Click here to buy Inalienable!

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