Summary: What it means to be a Christian cannot be culturally constrained.
I have been meaning to reading Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys pretty much since it came out. I briefly met Richard Twiss at a conference sometime in the late 90s. That was enough for me to know I wanted to read the book, but it was not until two recent things that I actually started reading the book (although I bought it several years ago).
The first thing was the discussions about John Chau’s death as he attempted to reach an isolated group of people on an island off the coast of India that reportedly has had almost no outside contact for hundreds of years. As part of that discussion, a Facebook friend of mine suggested Rescuing the Gospel From the Cowboys as an essential book to thinking about how we approach unreached people groups. The second reason I actually picked up the book was that I realized when looking at my reading over the past two years that I had not read a single book by a Native American author.
Richard Twiss’ focus in Rescuing The Gospel from the Cowboys is helping to understand how he can be Christian and remain culturally Lakota. The early parts of the book trace both his own story and the story of Native Americans in the US more generally. Both of those stories are similar, Christianity is continually presented as a White man’s religion, not just historically, but as culture. To be Christian means that Native Americans have historically (and today) been told that their culture is pagan, and therefore they must become White culturally to become Christian.
I roughly understood the history. But reading direct reports are important to hear. More important is the theological and cultural work that is being constructively done here. I can understand why some will disagree with some of his conclusions and approaches. However, what is important here is that those within the Native American culture are working out what it means to be Christian and Native American.
The complaints that do not means much to me here, are those that are made by those that are not culturally Native Americans. Certainly, there are examples from other cross cultural approaches to Christianity that can be drawn on for insight. But ultimately it is the work of the Holy Spirit and the theological work of Native American theologians that should matter to how Christianity looks culturally for Native Americans.
In the end, Christianity is not a culturally constrained religious experience. Both Acts and many places in the Pauline letters detail the conflict between those that wanted Gentiles to become Jewish before they become Christian. This is a conflict that has happened repeatedly throughout Christian history. But still we are surprised when evidence of the Holy Spirit is reported within groups that are ‘other’.
Missiology is vitally important for pluralistic societies like ours. If we never have conflict with people that are different culturally than we are, then missiology is probably less important. But we do not have a world that is culturally homogenous. As Christians in the US, we need to be thinking clearly about missiology and about culture. Reading missiology by non-White authors matters because even in what looks culturally homogenous is less homogenous than what it appears.
This was an important book for me. It prepped me to start reading, Can White People be Saved: Triangulating Race, Theology and Mission. The second chapter of Can White People be Saved was about Native American missiology and messed with my blind spots big time. But I would not have been prepared to read it if I had not read Rescuing the Gospel from The Cowboys first.
I have 20 public highlights on my Goodreads page from Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys. Unfortunately, Richard Twiss passed away too young. The manuscript was largely complete, but finished by a group of friends. I would love to see where he would have continued to lead over the past decade.