Book Review: Multicultural Ministry, by David A. Anderson
Painting, music, and dance are important to most cultures. In his book Multicultural Ministry, David Anderson does it all as he seeks to “paint a picture and give practical insights on how to bring the sections of God’s orchestra together so that the world can hear” the sound of multiculturalism and observe the dance of racial reconciliation (14). The picture Anderson hopes to paint is a church which already exhibits the multiculturalism that Christians look forward to in the new creation (Rev. 5:9, 10). This picture will emerge when Christians, churches, and ministries learn the dance of multiculturalism here on earth as it will be danced in heaven (chapter 1).
Regardless of how one feels about issues of ethnicity, Anderson says that rapidly changing demographics are forcing Christians, churches, and ministries to respond. Either they will “move” (relocate) in order to continue ministering to the culture with which they are most comfortable, or they will “groove” to the sounds God is creating in his multicultural assembly (chapter 2). Anderson invites us to groove with the other churches already on the dance floor, no matter how difficult it may be (chapter 3).
If we decide to join the dance, first we must be sure our dance floor is safe (chapter 4). That means we must be willing to listen carefully to one another, limit the use of words that have loaded meanings, and be willing to embrace all who are created in God’s image. Admittedly, joining the dance requires taking a risk, and being willing to overcome whatever frustrations may arise in the process (chapter 5). Yet, as Anderson rightly notes, “reconciliation in any form, no matter the style of dance, requires a spiritually transformed mind with transformed members of one’s body. To relate at high levels of acceptance and grace with people who are different than you takes a heart fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit” (75).
Even with transformed minds and hearts, however, reconciliation is still hard. Thus Anderson provides help with a “racial reconciliation matrix” based on Colossians 3, which leads one to ground their view of self and others in light of the gospel (chapter 6). Further, he provides a six-session small-group curriculum (appendix two) based on that matrix and recounts how it impacted the small groups he has facilitated (chapter 7). In order to help one assess one’s personal views toward race, Anderson also provides a racial reconciliation continuum by which one may diagnose whether one is a racist or a reconciler (chapter 8). On a more corporate level, Anderson provides some suggestions for facilitating racial reconciliation in the gathered assembly (chapter 9). Such “groove strategies” allow one to practice what Anderson calls “gracism” (chapter 10). If racism is “speaking, acting or thinking negatively about someone based solely on his or her race” (113), and if grace is “the unmerited favor of God” (113), then “gracism” is “the positive extension of favor toward others based on race” (113).
Anderson does not argue for multiculturalism simply for the sake of diversity; he grounds his entire proposal on the trajectory of redemptive history (chapter 11). He rightly rejects the wrong interpretations of the mark of Cain and the curse of Ham as bigoted interpretations that were used to advance and defend slavery (128-129) and sees the work of Christ redeeming a multicultural humanity. “Because of Christ’s work on the cross,” says Anderson, “and because of the power of the Holy Spirit in believers, you and I can experience God-honoring worship and work, and oneness with God and other believers” (133). When one understands and embraces this multicultural redemptive work of Christ, it will lead to multicultural evangelism (chapter 12) and to congregations that practice gracism and express love and unity toward one another, what Anderson calls “lunity” (chapter 14). Such “lunity” happens when Christians willingly yield to one another in the dance of racial reconciliation.
I pastor a multicultural congregation, and reading Multicultural Ministry reminded me just what a privilege I have. It also challenged my complacency and forced me to think of ways to be even more deliberate in leading my church to pursue ethnic diversity to the glory of God. Though more could have been said regarding the testimony of redemptive history (chapter 11), Anderson rightly points to the storyline of Scripture as the basis for multicultural ministry. Such a biblical understanding of ethnicity will have tremendous implications for how we do ministry (chapters 12-14).
A biblical understanding of ethnicity not only gives us a clearer view of ministry, but it also permits us to have a clearer view of self. Perhaps the strongest feature of the book is the racial reconciliation matrix in chapter six in which Anderson reminds us of our identity in Christ. If our identity is in Christ and we remember that all who are Christ’s share that identity with us, then we will be more willing to yield to one another and think more highly of others than of ourselves. “We are reminded by this passage (Colossians 3),” says Anderson, “that we are first and foremost children of God. Race, class, culture, social status, denomination, and so on, are all secondary to this one truth” (82).
Armed with an understanding of the biblical storyline and our identity in Christ, the question remains, “what now?” After all, right theology should lead to right practice. Anderson does not leave us in the realm of theory; he leads us to consider how we should practice multicultural ministry on the basis of the gospel (chapters 12-14). First, we must examine ourselves. The racial reconciliation survey provided in appendix one is a helpful place to begin. We must be willing to come to terms with racism in our own lives and repent if necessary. Second, we must be willing to ask honest questions of one another, and his suggestion for a small group setting is most appropriate. Third, we must be sure to address issues at a corporate level, i.e., leadership, preaching, etc.
ONE WEAKNESS & TWO CONCERNS
Though the author correctly bases his proposal on the biblical storyline and the truth of the gospel, his biblical theology of ethnicity was incomplete. The biblical storyline reminds us that God’s redemptive plan always included the nations and not just Israel, as the author seems to imply (138). Israel was simply the chosen vehicle through which the nations would be blessed (Gen. 12). As J. Daniel Hays notes in From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, “the inclusion of all peoples of all ethnic groups into the people of God was part of God’s overarching plan from the beginning” (203). Thus, the New Testament’s multicultural emphasis is, well, not new. The multicultural ministry of Jesus and Paul fulfilled old covenant promises and were a sign that the new covenant era had arrived, an era that would one day culminate in the innumerable multi-ethnic congregation from every nation, tribe, peoples and languages (Rev. 7:9).
Though clearly not the author’s intention, I am concerned over the temptation to make multiculturalism an idol. For example, I am uncomfortable by Anderson’s definition of “gracism” and how he has worked it out in particular situations. Anderson suggests that, “a gracist will go to any length and work as diligently as possible to insure that such beauty (of diversity) is seen and celebrated. Gracists refuse to settle for unicultural segregation without doing all he or she can to include diversity at all levels of the church” (114). Such a statement leaves the impression that diversity trumps calling and giftedness. Should we change the worship team because it has too many African-Americans or too few? Should we deny someone gifted in a particular area from serving because she is white and we need someone who isn’t? Though we should be intentional in seeking to reflect the diversity of our ministry context and even seek diverse leadership, we must reject the temptation to compromise biblical instruction for the sake of diversity.
Finally, I am concerned over the temptation to think that if we simply do certain things, then our congregation will be diverse. In our attempt to create a safe dance floor, we will be tempted to shape our ministries in such a way that exalts multiculturalism as the ultimate goal. If we truly believe that multiculturalism is a result of God’s redeeming work in Christ, then it will emerge from a proclamation of the gospel of reconciliation, not a merging of “black” and “white” preaching or music styles (106-108). True love and unity, true multicultural ministry can happen only when the truth of God’s reconciling work in Christ is embraced and we begin to deal with one another on the basis of who we are in Christ because of that reconciling work on the cross.
I appreciate David Anderson’s candid admission of how difficult racial reconciliation is and his willingness to push toward open, honest dialogue. Ethnic harmony and reconciliation are hard because of our own sinfulness. Anderson has done us all a favor by not only reminding us that the basis of multicultural ministry is God’s reconciling work, but also by providing a map by which we may begin to chart a course toward multicultural ministry. As a result of reading Multicultural Ministry, I will pray more, read more Scripture, and consider ways in which I can be a more deliberate reconciler. I hope that we will all be willing to do the same.