Soong-Chan Rah, Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism, North Park Theological Seminary
Why do you love teaching and researching about Christian theology?
I appreciate the intellectual curiosity and the hunger to learn that is evident in my students. They want to grow in their knowledge and wisdom about their faith and how they apply their faith into the real world and to their ministry context. I appreciate the diverse context and social reality of our student body. Over the last three years, some of my best students have been students at Stateville Correctional Center, a max security prison outside of Chicago. Their passion for learning has revitalized my passion for teaching. Teaching a class called, “Mobilizing for Justice” has provided a significant challenge, as the title of the class can be problematic to incarcerated students. Learning and doing theology together in a prison classroom has reminded me of the possibility of Christian theology to do good work.
What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?
The personal passion I bring to my scholarship is the desire to see good Christian theology lived and embodied in the world. I want the church and God’s people to do better. I want my students to lead and serve Christian communities to do better as compelled and shaped by good Biblical theology. Towards that end, I explore the role of the church in a broken world and seek the fullness of God in our broken narratives, such as racial injustice and social injustice.
Who is one of your academic heroes and why do you admire them?
My academic mentor (and dissertation committee chair) at Duke was Willie Jennings. I owe so much of my theological formation to Dr. Jennings. I appreciate his heart for the church and his heart for lived truth. Dr. Jennings is the type of theologian that combines brilliant scholarship with spiritual depth, which can be a rare combination. I’ll also add that he’s a really nice and fun person to be around.
What books were formative for you when you were a student? Why were they so important and shaping?
During my M.Div. program I was assigned an awful book that was so bad I don’t even want to reveal the title. An unabashedly Euro-centric, white America glorifying book that was actually considered an important text on church and culture at that time. Reading that book compelled me to seek out my own reading on the subject of Christianity and culture and that led me to discover, Bill Pannell’s The Coming Race Wars, which revealed that there were some interesting works outside of the Euro-American centric worldview. In my D.Min. program, I appreciated the practical application of theology that Doug and Judy Hall offers in The Cat and the Toaster, a Christian application of systems thinking. And in my Th.D. program, Willie Jennings’ The Christian Imagination became essential reading for a theology of racial justice.
Read Rah’s Work
My first book, The Next Evangelicalism was written during my angry asian man phase (I may still be in that phase). It was my attempt to call the church to repentance and to practically move towards a new epoch of Christianity. (Someone please let me know as soon as that happens). I really enjoy teaching and preaching from Prophetic Lament, which is a commentary on the book of Lamentations (a sure-fire best seller), that I hope offers a way to discuss the difficult topic of race through a lost Biblical spiritual discipline.
Follow Rah Online
Facebook and Twitter: Look for @profrah or Soong-Chan Rah. I wish I had the time and energy to blog regularly. I will sometimes do blog-like entries on Facebook. I reserve my most sarcastic and snarky persona for Twitter.
If you ran into me at a conference and didn’t want to talk theology, what would you want to talk about?
Are you a baseball fan? Not sure I would want to talk about it, but it is something I enjoy following. I’m a life-long Baltimore Orioles’ fan so its not so fun to talk about. I do enjoy movies. My teenage son has introduced me to some interesting art house films, Werckmeister Harmonies, Come and See, Parasite, Stalker, Children of Men, Cache, etc.
What is a research/writing project you are working on right now that you are excited about?
Historical/theological look at African-American Evangelicalism that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. A qualitative research project on reaching Millennials and Zoomers with the gospel. A biblical/theological examination of the tools needed for deeper engagement with racial injustice.