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  • Writer's pictureTuezong Xiong

Whose Voice? A Review Article of Eric Costanzo, Daniel Yang, and Matthew Soerens’s "Inalienable"

Updated: May 2

Reform Theology


Reformed theology has fallen on hard times. For many, Reformed theology has become synonymous with “dead white guys” and “white supremacy.”[1] This unfortunate association stems from voices who argue that Reformed theology was crafted by white men aiming to control the hegemonic powers, with little to no regard for women and people of color. They point to slavery, racism, and sexism practiced by white Reformed Christians in Europe and America as the evidence.


Therefore, some have proposed that it’s time for Christians to leave the “white” table and build their own tables. This view has crept its way into the Hmong Christian context. Daniel Yang is Hmong American and the director of the Church Multiplication Institute (formerly known as the Send Institute). For the past several years, on his podcast and blogs, Yang has been criticizing Reformed theology and suggesting that Hmong-Americans ought to develop their own theology outside of the “white Reformers” because Christianity has been co-opted in the service of ethno-national power and separation.[2]


Within this intellectual current, the book Inalienable: How Marginalized Kingdom Voices Can Help Save the American Church emerges. Daniel Yang, Eric Costanzo, and Matthew Soerens explore how the American church can be saved by listening to the marginal communities from the global church.[3]


Is their case compelling? I don’t think so. To demonstrate that, I proceed in three steps: (1) Summarize the argument. What is the gist of their book? (2) Provide context. Where does their book fit on the spectrum of views on race and politics? (3) Evaluate the book. Is their book fair and sound?[4]


1. Summary: What Is the Gist of The Book?


The book’s thesis contains both an indicative and an imperative. Here is my attempt to summarize their thesis: American Christianity is co-opted by nationalism, sexism, and racism; therefore, we must learn to listen to and accept the insights from oppressed or marginalized voices, especially from the global and historical church, in order to save the American church (1, 6, 42). The book centers on four themes: kingdom, image, word, and mission (7).


Chapter 1 (“Why the American Church Needs Saving”) sets the stage by presenting the problem and the fundamental questions that the entire book seeks to answer. The problem: “Many evangelical Christians in the United States have silently tolerated or openly embraced nationalism, sexism, and racism, ‘compromising [Christian] values for power’” (1). As a result, many people are leaving the faith. Consequently, the key questions that arise are, “Where do we go from here? Can and should the American church be saved? Can American evangelicals revive our public witness, and how?” (3).


Chapter 2 (“Kingdom Centered”) presents an alternative to the current polarized political climate in America, calling it “a kingdom-centered worldview” (28). If we allow the Bible to be our authority and “the countercultural kingdom of God” to “shape our character, join us together with the global church in the Spirit and in the mission, and pull us forward in following Jesus” then Christianity in America can be saved (22–23). Only then can we reevaluate “the relationship between our faith and the power structures of our culture” (28–29).


Chapter 3 (“Decentering the (White) American Church”) argues that the center of gravity of Christianity has shifted away from Europe and America towards the Global South (42). Therefore, we must decenter “Western Christianity” from the American church, which means that “North America and Europe should no longer define the norms of what it means to be a Christian” (42). They argue that white churches are shrinking due to their “failure to integrate immigrant groups into their theology and traditions” (44) and racism (46). Immigrant churches, on the other hand, are growing in America which means that “over the last thirty years, global Christianity has already been helping to save some streams of American Christianity from an all-out free fall and decline” (45). Although it is true that God brought the nations to America so that many immigrants would hear the gospel, the authors argue that now God is bringing immigrants to America to share the gospel and save the American church (42–43).


Chapter 4 (“American Christian Idols”) identifies “common forms of American Christian idolatry” and calls us “to lay down our own idols in repentance so that we might prayerfully see new life and reinvigorated kingdom ministry in our churches again” (67). The “common American cultural ideas, attitudes, and behaviors that create fertile ground for idol production—both inside and outside the church” are individualism (69–72), materialism and consumerism (72–74), celebritism (74–76), Christian nationalism (76–79), and tribalism and partisanship (79–82). The only way forward, then, is “repentance” (83) and “affirming the true image of God in every human life and relearn to see every person as our neighbor” (85).


Chapter 5 (“Imago Dei and Neighbor”) discusses the significance of the imago Dei (the image of God) in guiding our interactions with others (95). The authors reveal how people can gradually descend from innocently browsing a meme that disparages migrants to endorsing similar content and ultimately losing sight of the inherent worth of migrants (99–100). If we’re careless and fail to recognize the image of God in others, we dehumanize one another, which can eventually lead to something like the Holocaust (87–89).


Chapter 6 (“The Bible with Eyes to See and Ears to Hear”) asserts that “when White Christians are willing to ‘unmute’ voices of color in our lives and churches, we are welcoming fresh and innovative ways to interpret and apply the Scriptures in an endless variety of contexts” (119).


Chapter 7 (“God’s Inclination Toward the Poor, Oppressed, and Vulnerable”) shows that when we humble ourselves and “acknowledge the reality that many of the comforts and privileges we enjoy come at the expense of others” (142) then we will hear God’s concern for the poor, for those on the margins, and for the refugees whose number include Ruth the Moabite (137) and the Holy Family—Joseph, Mary, and Jesus (138–41). They argue that “gospel-centered life and ministry are incomplete unless all, including all who are on the margins, are integrated fully into and enabled to contribute to the mission” (142).


Chapter 8 (“Advocacy and Discipleship Freed from Partisanship”) argues that “partisan politics, in particular, are among the most prevalent American Christian idols that divert our primary allegiance away from Christ and the inalienable priorities of his kingdom” (154). Therefore, they advocate for a middle way of meek advocacy—one that rejects both extreme partisanship and complete apoliticality—and invite us to proclaim our hope in Christ, in both reconciliation with God and engaging “dysfunctional structures” (157). This approach emphasizes a focus “not on gaining or maintaining political power, but on the multifaceted mission that God has given us” (167).


Chapter 9 (“American Religion or the Great Commissions?”) focuses on the “inalienable responsibility” of the Great Commission (178). Moreover, they scrutinize the inclination of American Christians to value their national identity over their faith when engaging in cross-cultural discipleship, highlighting the lamentable ethnocentric implications of this tendency (172). Instead, the authors encourage us to see “the Great Commission as a Great Collaboration” (185) and let our mission be characterized by “equitable partnerships both locally and globally” (186).


In conclusion, the authors share their hope that American Christianity can be saved and end with a closing prayer for “a 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” (198).


2. Context: Where Does This Book Fit on the of Spectrum Race and Politics


Before I evaluate this book, it would be helpful to locate where their book fits on the spectrum of views on race and politics. One way to understand the different “teams” at present is through Kevin DeYoung’s taxonomy. (See Tables 1 and 2.)


  1. Contrite: “Look at the church’s complicity in past and present evils. We have been blind to injustice, prejudice, racism, sexism, and abuse. What the world needs is to see a church owning its sins and working, in brokenness, to make up for them and overcome them.”

  2. Compassionate: “Look at the many people hurting and grieving in our midst and in the world. Now is the time to listen and learn. Now is the time to weep with those who weep. What the world needs is a church that demonstrates the love of Christ.”

  3. Careful: “Look at the moral confusion and intellectual carelessness that marks our time. Let’s pay attention to our language and our definitions. What the world needs is a church that will draw upon the best of its theological tradition and lead the way in understanding the challenges of our day.”

  4. Courageous: “Look at the church’s compromise with (if not outright capitulation to) the spirit of the age. Now is the time for a trumpet blast, not for backing down. What the world needs is a church that will admonish the wayward, warn against danger, and stand as a bulwark for truth, no matter how unpopular.”[5]

Table 1: Race

Table 2: Politics

Here are five clarifying thoughts on Tables 1 and 2:


  1. Thabiti Anyabwile, Jemar Tisby, and Russell Moore would represent 1s. Matt Chandler, David Platt, Julius Kim, and Tim Keller would represent 2s. Kevin DeYoung, Andy Naselli, Denny Burk, and Al Mohler would represent 3s. John MacArthur, Doug Wilson, and Voddie Baucham would represent 4s.

  2. What distinguishes 2s from 1s is that 2s are more focused on personal examples of complicity without necessarily calling for people and the government to overthrow the whole system.

  3. In general, 1s and 4s are the loudest.

  4. The 2s and 3s tend to emphasize unity or at least ask for a better understanding of all sides, which might be perceived as too accommodating for those at either end of the spectrum.

  5. Each “team” has different instincts on what it means to be winsome.[6] For 1s, winsome is more than Christian kindness; it is a cultural strategy that aims to find maximum common ground with those on the left, being patient with their concerns and often showing their bona fides by blasting the right. In other words, “punch right and coddle left.” For 2s, winsome is an emphasis on personal gentleness and kindness as opposed to culture warring, specializing in building bridges. For 3s, winsome involves a strategy to be attractive to both the left and the right by being thoughtful and kind, especially in personal relationships, while also recognizing that it’s impossible to be nice enough to appease their most animated critics. For 4s, winsomeness is what squishes advocate because they belong to castrated evangelical elites; if your feeling gets hurt, they’re sorrowful but not sorry.[7]


So where does their book fit on the spectrum of views on race and politics? By equating white evangelicalism with “nationalism, sexism, and racism,” this puts the authors squarely as 1s or the “Contrite” camp. In other words, they see the church as responsible for many of the issues plaguing our culture. They believe that most white evangelicals are blind to their whiteness, and they need to wake up to the injustice in society, especially racism. The gospel’s credibility is being damaged by evangelicalism’s ignorance and complicity toward racial injustice and sexism.


3. Evaluation: Is This Book Fair and Sound?


Now we’re ready to evaluate their book. I agree with the authors in many areas. Since the number seven represents completeness in the Bible, here are seven examples with which I agree with the authors: (1) American evangelicals can learn from the global church’s experiences in evangelism, prayer, pastoral care, spiritual warfare, and identifying our cultural blind spots (179). (2) We need “to return to the inalienable truths revealed to us in Scripture” (6). (3) “There’s a wealth of wisdom to be gained from the careful thinking of Christians of centuries past” (9). (4) We should be honest about America’s sordid racial history (46). (5) “Our citizenship in God’s kingdom always comes first and outranks every other membership and commitment” (38). (6) “Ethnocentrism is incompatible with the one who has been crucified with Christ and whose life is not their own” (59). (7) We should avoid the two extremes of blind partisanship and apoliticality (154).


Yet, their overall approach is problematic for three main reasons: (1) They undermine the clarity of Scripture. (2) They fail to remove the log from their own eyes. (3) They misunderstand the time we’re in.


3.1. A Subtle Attack on the Clarity of Scripture


The authors claim to have a “high view” of Scripture. They write,

We three authors all come from evangelical backgrounds where, for our entire lives, the Bible’s authority as God’s special revelation has been proclaimed to the utmost degree. . . . To be clear, we each have a “high view” of the inalienable authority of Scripture and believe the Bible’s original words are the very words of God. (110)

Even though they claim to have a high view of Scripture, their high view is compromised by their appeal to standpoint epistemology, which includes not only the idea that social location conditions and determines knowledge, but also that an oppressed social location is objectively better for recognizing truth.[8] They argue that Christians need to accept a “person’s ethnic perspective as normative” (58) because “their readings of the Bible . . . come from different social locations than those of most American Christians” (8). They propose valuing all non-Western perspectives equally (117).


However, a glaring question remains: By what standard? What is the objective basis for receiving or rejecting someone’s reading of Scripture? This is the book’s biggest weakness. It seems to suggest that “marginalized kingdom voices” are valid simply by virtue of being from the minority, but it doesn’t sufficiently qualify that such perspectives must be tested by Scripture.[9]


There’s no question that Christians can benefit from diverse theological perspectives. Our cultural context can produce blind spots in our theology which can be revealed by reading outside of our own tradition. There is no culture that is without sin, and we should always be on guard against confusing our cultural preferences with God’s commands. However, I am concerned that the call to embrace the interpretation of Scripture from minority-culture believers and outright reject “white, Western” viewpoints may be based on a set of questionable assumptions that need careful examination.


We need to contemplate whether theological truth shares similarities with mathematical or scientific truth. When I tell my son that “2+2=4” or “the Earth is a sphere,” should he question these claims because they are considered “white” interpretations and wonder if I may have internalized oppression? Do we believe that theological claims are either true or false regardless of the racial, ethnic, or cultural background of the person making the claim? If so, we should approach theological claims in the same manner as other truth claims: by subjecting them to scrutiny based on available evidence, which, for Christians, entails testing them against the Bible.


If our approach to theological truth revolves around the group identity of the person making the claim, we might unconsciously end up at the postmodern table which sees “truth” as a subjective, social construct rather than as correspondence to objective reality. In other words, if people take standpoint epistemology to its logical conclusion, they’ll begin to say things like, “You read the Bible according to your heritage. There’s neither a right way nor a wrong way. It all depends on your community of interpretation.”


Here’s an example of what it looks like to be on the standpoint epistemology trajectory towards postmodernism: Der Lor, a contributor at Yang’s Yexus Communitas, argues that the Bible doesn’t speak plainly for itself, and that the social and cultural location of the reader is “the most important variable in the interpretation of texts,” and therefore, Hmong Christians need to embrace “a hermeneutic that is conscious of the readerly community’s historical, social, and cultural location” which “not only affirms our unique story as an ethnic group within God’s creation, but it also reminds us that God desires to incarnate himself among us for who we are—Hmong Americans and not as ‘honorary white’ Christians.”[10]


Yes, it’s important to consider our social and cultural location so that we recognize aspects of the “preunderstanding” we bring to the text. We could say that culture informs our interpretation. However, to say that our interpretation absolutely depends on our social location faces several problems.


First, this type of hermeneutic reduces everything to culture. As Kevin Vanhoozer warns,

If modern theology sought a universal “view from nowhere,” the first principle of postmodern theology is “location, location, location.” The situatedness of the theologian trumps his or her supposedly neutral methodology. What was previously thought of as a candidate for metanarrative status is now seen as merely one more community narrative expressing a particular group’s interpretative interest. From this vantage point, the whole history of Western theology is only a series of “local theologies.”[11]

In other words, postmodernism’s influence on hermeneutics makes one’s social location the hermeneutical key for exegeting Scripture. If this were true, then it would be impossible to know which interpretation of the data is correct. This is, perhaps, one of my greatest fears. Once white people endorse the view that they—as white, heterosexual males—are blinded by their own white supremacy, unable to properly understand relevant biblical principles due to their social location, and in need of the “lived experience” of oppressed minorities to guide them, how long will it be before they apply the same reasoning to their beliefs about gender or sexuality? The #exvangelical and #deconstruction movements provide evidence that this is already happening.[12]


Second, this approach might overemphasize the significance of our cultural background compared to other factors. While social context can influence our ability to interpret the Scriptures, other factors like rigorous study, awareness of and access to biblical scholarship, and knowledge of the original languages are often more critical. While certain social contexts may provide advantages in interpretation, one’s race or nationality cannot replace years of training in biblical interpretation and a humble desire to genuinely obey God and understand Scripture. Moreover, to say that I am so situated in my social location, and my presuppositions are clouding my judgment, and that unless I consult the Africa Bible Commentary and call up my Taiwanese friend in Canada, I cannot see what is in the text, is utter nonsense. We have the ability to see what’s in the text, notwithstanding our own presuppositions, because we’re made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–27; Rom. 1:19) and because of the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:10–13).[13]


If Inalienable is merely a call to stay connected to the church around the world and to read broadly, then yes and amen! We should get to know Christians in other parts of the world, and we should, as Augustine wisely said, plunder the Egyptians to build the house of God.[14] However, the book calls for more. It calls for us to accept “innovative interpretations” of “marginalized kingdom voices” simply because they’re from an oppressed or marginalized group (119–20). It makes me wonder, then: Will the authors accept this author’s “marginalized kingdom voice”? Or what if someone from outside of the Western, white American church rejects their thesis? Will they be accepting of his voice?


Similar to scientific or mathematical truth claims, we must not accept or reject a theological truth claim solely based on the race, ethnicity, or nationality of the person making it. While truth claims are all made within a particular social and historical context, truth itself transcends history and culture. Moreover, to say that our social location will effectively prevent us from knowing theological truth is a subtle attack on the clarity of Scripture—the doctrine that God has spoken in his Word with sufficient clarity so as to be understood, believed, and obeyed by all people regardless of their demographics.[15]


Rather than anchoring our beliefs to a specific cultural framework, we should anchor our beliefs to the unchanging God who can be known by anyone from any culture during any historical period through his revelation in the Bible (Heb. 1:1–2; 13:8). Rather than trying to determine which theological beliefs are tainted by whiteness, we should be committed to determining which beliefs are objectively true because they are taught by Scripture.


I am convinced that to be Reformed is to adhere to the purist teachings of the Bible—to affirm the doctrine taught by Jesus and the apostles. When I read my Bible, I see a God who is meticulously sovereign, who has set his love on his people even in the depths of their total depravity, who draws them by irresistible grace, and who then holds them fast forever.


Standpoint epistemology is a significant problem because it undermines the clarity of Scripture and the function of Scripture as the final, ultimate, supreme authority (Psalm 119:130, 160; Matt. 19:4; 2 Tim. 3:16–17; 2 Pet. 1:20–21; 1 Cor. 2:12–14; Heb. 8:10–12).[16] It suggests that if someone from an oppressor group appeals to Scripture, their concerns may be dismissed as an attempt to protect their privilege.


3.2. The Christian Nationalism Log in the Eye


Throughout the book, the authors vehemently oppose Christian nationalism (1, 3, 13, 76–79, 97–98, 175–76) which they define as “a fusion of Christian and American identities, often promoted through political effort” (76) and “rooted in the idea that God has a unique love and preference for the United States over other nations, similar to (or even replacing) his covenant relationship with the people of Israel” (77–78). Consequently, “Christian nationalism inherently blurs the lines between God and country, such that we fail to distinguish between our primary allegiance to Christ—and his transnational and transcultural kingdom—and what should be incomparably lesser allegiance to our earthly nation” (78).


I agree with them insofar as:


  1. Christians, not Americans, are God’s covenant people (Gen. 1:28; 3:15; 6:8; 12:1–3; 15:1–21; Exod. 3:6; 13–17; 6:2–9; 2 Sam. 7; Jer. 31:31–34; Isa. 42:1, 6–7; Heb. 8:8–12; 10:15–17; 12:22–24; Luke 4:23–38; 22:20; Rom. 8:14–17; 9:4; Gal. 3:29; 4:1–7).

  2. The Bible, not the Constitution, is our final, ultimate, supreme authority (John 10:35; Matt. 5:17–20; 2 Tim. 3:16–17).

  3. Our foundational identity is in Christ (John 1:12; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20; Rom. 5–6).


In other words, I agree that being Christian and being an American is not the same thing. Moreover, to state the obvious, being a Democrat or Republican does not make one a Christian. Driving through town with a big Trump flag on one side of your pickup truck and an American flag wrapped around your Bible isn’t helping, nor is proudly displaying a rainbow flag or a BLM banner outside your church.


However, it makes me wonder, then: Are the authors exempt from being Christian nationalists? They claim that one of Christian nationalism’s defining features is the desire to impose “Christian” values on society “through political effort” (76). But what exactly does that mean? If a woman firmly believes in the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” and wants to support laws against abortion, does that make her a Christian nationalist?


The authors, looking at church history, agree that “external factors like secularism and religious pluralism have played a major role in Europe’s Christian decline” (25). I do too. Secularism has proven to be a disastrous experiment.[17] The difference between the authors and me, however, is that the authors pretend that their foundational assumptions are religiously neutral. They say that they’re not saddened at the fact that “American Christianity is declining in numbers or public influence” (5–6). Yet, their entire premise is to advocate for Christians to embrace a “kingdom-centered worldview” (28) and exert their influence in order to save American Christianity, such as creation care (51) and immigration (14, 143–45, 155), all while claiming to be neutral—a “meek” middle way (162–64). They say that American evangelicals rightly oppose abortion and need to support expected mothers (93–94, 143, 158). Are they not imposing their Christian values on society?


Let’s examine one of their hypothetical scenarios:

What changes might our communities experience if modern-day disciples—rather than participating in such behavior—were the first to take a listening posture toward those who represent different points of views? What if those same disciples displayed a Christlike empathy and helped foster greater levels of respect and understanding? What if rather than pushing back on discussions related to racism, privilege, and justice, American Christians became the first to dive into such topics using a biblical framework in light of God’s kingdom? (27)

Yes, what if. What if these disciples lived in one area? What if we had a lot of these disciples throughout a nation? How will they organize themselves? Almost all Christians meet at least one criterion for “Christian nationalism”—we all advocate for laws we believe to be good and just based on our Christian worldview. Every law legislates morality, and naturally, Christians are going to vote and advocate for laws that they believe are biblical and godly.[18]


In other words, there is no such thing as neutrality. It’s not “whether” but “which.”[19] Moreover, to separate the first table of the law (Exod. 20:3–11) from the second table of the law (Exod. 20:12–17) is inconsistent and untenable. (See Table 3.) The second table hangs on the first. Human society, marriage, property, and a righteous legal system require a true and transcendent grounding in the worship of God. The second table cannot be kept without the first.[20] The authors fail to see that it’s Christ or chaos, and they fail to take the log of Christian nationalism from their eyes.


Table 3: The Tables of the Law

If Christian nationalism is indeed a particular “narrative” that casts America as God’s chosen nation and without sin and Americans as God’s covenant people, then we need to counter it. However, if Christian nationalism means advocating for Christian values such as the dignity of human life, protection against rape and murder, and the abandonment of secularism, then we should not shy away from it and pretend to be religiously neutral.


3.3. The Negative Time We’re In


The authors misunderstand the time we’re in—our cultural moment. For example, they point to Bill Clinton’s sexual scandal and Donald Trump’s tenure as the 45th president of the United States, even though he had “credible allegations and recorded admissions of sexual assault” (2, 28–29) as evidence that the American church has “replaced the worship of God with idolatrous pursuits of wealth and power, at the cost of our integrity” (3).


I agree with the authors on two things. First, modern culture no longer endorses the moral and natural law of God. Secondly, there isn’t a particular political party that is a perfect fit for a Christian. If I did, it would probably be subverting my Christianity. However, I do not believe that the two major parties are morally equivalent. The difference between the authors and me lies in our strategies.


Their strategy, I believe, is to “punch right and coddle left.” When Joe Biden was elected as the 46th president, did they consider it as evidence that the American church has “replaced the worship of God with idolatrous pursuits”? Their silence is worth noting; they make no mention of Joe Biden in their book. Is the sin of Trump’s arrogance worse than permitting the high-handed sin of abortion and the LGBTQ agenda?


It also makes me wonder: When Mitt Romney—the head of the party’s ticket, decent, honorable, capable—ran against Barack Obama, who had a track record of defending abortion and celebrating gay marriage (both of which are straight-line political issues) in 2012, and Obama won, would they consider this as evidence of Christians capitulating to the spirit of the age or as movements in the right step towards being “kingdom-centered”?


Aaron Renn provides a helpful framework to help us make sense of the world we’re in and traces how American society’s perception and relation to the church have drastically changed. He categorizes them as positive, neutral, and negative worlds.


  • Positive World (Pre-1994): Society at large retains a mostly positive view of Christianity. To be known as a good, churchgoing man remains part of being an upstanding citizen. Publicly being a Christian is a status-enhancer. Christian moral norms are the basic moral norms of society and violating them can bring negative consequences.

  • Neutral World (1994–2014): Society takes a neutral stance toward Christianity. Christianity no longer has privileged status but is not disfavored. Being publicly known as a Christian has neither a positive nor a negative impact on one’s social status. Christianity is a valid option within a pluralistic public square. Christian moral norms retain some residual effect.

  • Negative World (2014–Present): Society has come to have a negative view of Christianity. Being known as a Christian is a social negative, particularly in the elite domains of society. Christian morality is expressly repudiated and seen as a threat to the public good and the new public moral order. Subscribing to Christian moral views or violating the secular moral order brings negative consequences.[21]


I think that the authors still believe that we’re living in a neutral world, but I think it’s more accurate to say that we’re living in a negative world. The sins of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump illustrate this. In a positive world, a candidate with a sex scandal would never be able to run for the presidency. In a neutral world, Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky caused a massive scandal, and he was badly damaged by it. Yet, the Democrats rallied around him, and he survived. In a negative world, Trump managed to win the election despite facing numerous allegations of sexual misconduct involving women.


So, in this negative world, sex scandals basically hold no significance. I think there’s sort of an irony in the sense that the very people who dismantled and rejected the Christian moral system are the ones who make it possible for someone like Donald Trump to ascend to the presidency.


If we want to find a solution to this mess, then I believe, as the authors of Inalienable do, that it is for us to “return to the inalienable truths revealed to us in Scripture” (6) and “revere Jesus Christ as Lord” (5). However, unlike the authors, I don’t believe the strategy is to “punch right and coddle left” and let the broader culture set the terms for our engagement and what love should look like. Nor do I believe that the public square is or ought to be neutral.


The church’s mission is to make disciples of all nations, and individual Christians should significantly influence the government. Moreover, the government should know that they are accountable to God for how they rule (Dan. 4:26) and should pursue justice by promoting the natural law (which the Ten Commandments summarize) as much as prudently possible. The government should (along with the church and society) help create cultural conditions conducive for conversion and for the common good.[22] Why? Because Jesus’s lordship applies to everything—politics, culture, entertainment, and media.


The church’s weapon is not the sword but rather the Word, water, bread, and wine (1 Cor. 11:17–24; Matt. 28:18–20).[23] We categorically reject the use of violence for social and political change. We choose our battles wisely. We focus on winning at the moral level. We preach and teach boldly. We make disciples, plant churches, and build thick communities.


4. Conclusion


Here’s a summary of what I’ve argued:


  1. Summary: The gist of the book is that American Christianity has been co-opted by nationalism, sexism, and racism. To save the American church, we must learn to listen to and accept insights from oppressed or marginalized voices, particularly those from the global and historical church.

  2. Context: Regarding their stance on race and politics, their position aligns with 1s or the “Contrite” camp.

  3. Evaluation: Their book is problematic because it undermines the clarity of Scripture, fails to remove the log of Christian nationalism from their eye, and misunderstands our current cultural moment.


It should go without saying that we are debating ideas here—not people. It’s important to remember that we are going to give an account to God for how we shepherd, so we’ve got to be able to talk about these issues without interpreting a disagreement as an attack on a person. Our task is to take every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:5)—for God’s glory and for the joy of his people (1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 1:24; John 15:11).

 

***footnotes***

[1] Jemar Tisby, “Is Reformed Theology for Black People?,” Religion News Service, 31 October 2017, https://religionnews.com/2017/10/31/is-reformed-theology-for-black-people/; Cf. John Piper, “Should We Stop Reading Dead White Guys?,” Desiring God, 28 October 2019, https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/should-we-stop-reading-dead-white-guys. [2] Daniel Yang, Maila Kue, and George Xiong, “Reimagining the Hmong-American Narrative Through Jesus,” Yexus Communitas, 27 November 2017, http://www.yexuscommunitas.com/2017/11/27/episode-3-reimagining-the-hmong-american-narrative-through-jesus/; Daniel Yang, Maila Kue, and George Xiong, “Why Is Hmong-American Identity and Theology Important?,” Yexus Communitas, 20 November 2017, http://www.yexuscommunitas.com/2017/11/20/episode-2-why-is-hmong-american-identity-and-theology-important/; Daniel Yang, Maila Kue, and George Xiong, “Hmong, Reformed Theology, Neo-Calvinists?,” Yexus Communitas, 14 January 2019, http://www.yexuscommunitas.com/2019/01/14/hmong-reformed-theology-neo-calvinists/. [3] Eric Costanzo, Daniel Yang, and Matthew Soerens, Inalienable: How Marginalized Kingdom Voices Can Help Save the American Church(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022). [4] I’m adapting this three-step book review outline from Andy Naselli’s review on Aimee Byrd’s Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which I find extremely clear and helpful. Andrew David Naselli, “Does Anyone Need to Recover from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood? A Review Article of Aimee Byrd’s Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” Eikon J. Biblic. Anthropol. 2.1 (2020): 109–51. [5] In DeYoung’s article, he’s trying to make sense of the splintering that conservative, Reformed evangelicalism has experienced since around 2016. His goal is to present each view in a positive light, one that would garner agreement from its respective adherents. Kevin DeYoung, “Why Reformed Evangelicalism Has Splintered: Four Approaches to Race, Politics, and Gender,” The Gospel Coalition, 9 March 2021, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/why-reformed-evangelicalism-has-splintered-four-approaches-to-race-politics-and-gender/. Michael Graham also provides a framework to understand our cultural moment. Instead of DeYoung’s “1. Contrite” to “4. Courageous,” Graham’s article has “1. Neo-Fundamentalist Evangelical” to “6. Dechurched and Deconverted.” The “1. Neo-Fundamentalist” in Graham’s article corresponds to DeYoung’s “4. Courageous.” See “The Six Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism,” Mere Orthodoxy, 7 June 2021, https://mereorthodoxy.com/six-way-fracturing-evangelicalism/. Personally, I find DeYoung’s taxonomy more helpful than Graham’s. [6] Andy Naselli, “Winsomeness Can Be a Virtue or a Vice,” American Reformer, 24 August 2023, https://americanreformer.org/2023/08/winsomeness-can-be-a-virtue-or-a-vice/; Andrew David Naselli, “Ten Resources That Have Helped Me Make Sense of Our Current Culture and How Christians Are Responding to It,” Eikon J. Biblic. Anthropol. 4.1 (2022): 116–41. [7] Winsomeness, like empathy, can be sinful if it’s untethered from truth. See Joe Rigney, “Killing Them Softly: Compassion That Warms Satan’s Heart,” Desiring God, 24 May 2019, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/killing-them-softly; Joe Rigney, “The Enticing Sin of Empathy: How Satan Corrupts Through Compassion,” Desiring God, 31 May 2019, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-enticing-sin-of-empathy; Joe Rigney, “Dangerous Compassion: How to Make Any Love a Demon,” Desiring God, 18 January 2020, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/dangerous-compassion; Joe Rigney, “Do You Feel My Pain? Empathy, Sympathy, and Dangerous Virtues,” Desiring God, 2 May 2020, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/do-you-feel-my-pain. [8] Standpoint epistemology is synonymous with what Voddie Baucham calls “ethnic Gnosticism.” Ethnic Gnosticism relates to the belief that one’s ethnicity grants them an intuitive understanding of racism without needing evidence. It stems from the idea that privileged individuals cannot comprehend what they don’t know, contrasting with minorities who claim to inherently grasp oppression. This concept, rooted in Cultural Marxism’s focus on race, class, and sex, is problematic. See Voddie Baucham, “Ethnic Gnosticism,” in By What Standard? God’s World ... God’s Rules, ed. Jared Longshore (Cape Coral: Founders, 2020), 105–6. [9] I agree with Elliot Clark’s critique of the book. See Elliot Clark, “How to Save the American Church: Review: ‘Inalienable’ by Eric Costanzo, Daniel Yang, and Matthew Soerens,” The Gospel Coalition, 31 May 2022, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/inalienable/. [10] Der Lor, “A Hmong American Hermeneutic,” Yexus Communitas, 24 March 2018, http://www.yexuscommunitas.com/2018/03/24/a-hmong-american-hermeneutic/.

[11] Italics added for emphasis. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Systematic Theology,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer et al. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 775. [12] See Neil Shenvi, “Sociology as Theology: The Deconstruction of Power in (Post)Evangelical Scholarship,” Eikon J. Biblic. Anthropol.(2021): 46–51; Alisa Childers, “Why We Should Not Redeem ‘Deconstruction,’” The Gospel Coalition, 18 February 2022, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/redeem-reconstruction/; Denny Burk, “Crucial Questions with Kristin Kobes Du Mez,” Denny Burk, 29 November 2021, https://www.dennyburk.com/crucial-questions-with-kristin-kobes-du-mez/. [13] For more on how to combat this postmodern writ, see Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998); N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992). [14] Augustine draws from Exodus 3:22 and 12:36 and uses the metaphor of “plundering the Egyptians” to describe the act of adopting whatever is useful in classical education and writings for Christian purposes. Similarly, Christians should study Great Books in the light of the Greatest Book for the sake of the Great Commission. This task is not easy; it demands wisdom, skill, and, most importantly, loyalty to Christ. Without these, we may find ourselves dumpster diving in Egypt rather than acquiring gold. See Saint Augustine, The Confessions, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., Vintage Spiritual Classics (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), 134; Saint Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, trans. J. F. Shaw (Mineola: Dover, 2009), 75. [15] To be clear, not everything in the Bible is equally clear because we are finite and sinful. However, as Naselli writes, “The Bible’s central message about God’s saving work throughout history is unmistakably clear and easily understood. Its basic storyline—creation, fall, redemption, and consummation—is so simple that a young child can easily grasp it. God’s communication in the Bible as a whole is accessible. . . . We can’t know anything absolutely (exhaustively or omnisciently) like God, but we can know some things truly (substantially or for real).” See Andy Naselli, “Scripture: How the Bible Is a Book Like No Other,” in Don’t Call It a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day, ed. Kevin DeYoung (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 59–69. [16] Neil Shenvi, “Should We ‘De-Colonize Our Theology’?,” Neil Shenvi—Apologetics, 23 February 2019, https://shenviapologetics.com/should-we-de-colonize-our-theology/. [17] Wilson helpfully defines secularism as “the idea that it is possible for a society to function as a coherent unit without reference to God. It is the idea that a culture can operate on the basis of a metaphysical and religious agnosticism. It is the idea that we can understand what human rights are without knowing what a human being actually is.” Douglas Wilson, Mere Christendom (Moscow: Canon, 2023), 3. [18] For more on why must Christians agree to disagree over jagged-line political issues and how must Christians agree to disagree, see Andrew David Naselli and Jonathan Leeman, “Politics, Conscience, and the Church: Why Christians Passionately Disagree with One Another over Politics, Why They Must Agree to Disagree over Jagged-Line Political Issues, and How,” Themelios 45.1 (2020): 13–31. [19] Wilson, Mere Christendom, 70. [20] “Many modern Christians want to say that we should enforce the second table of the law (the last six of the Ten Commandments, those having to do with our fellow man), but that we should not even think about enforcing the first table (those duties that we have towards God). This is the uneasy truce they have made with secularism.” Wilson, Mere Christendom, 155. [21] Aaron Renn, “The Three Worlds of Evangelicalism,” First Things, 1 February 2022, https://www.firstthings.com/article/2022/02/the-three-worlds-of-evangelicalism. [22] To be clear, the family, visible church, civil society, and state cannot themselves accomplish eternal life for individuals because that is the work of grace. However, they can cultivate cultural conditions conducive to conversion by regulating and ordering their behavior toward eternal and heavenly good. See Joe Rigney, “Identity or Influence? A Protestant Response to Jonathan Leeman,” 9Marks, 11 November 2022, https://www.9marks.org/article/identity-or-influence-a-protestant-response-to-jonathan-leeman/; W. Bradford Littlejohn, The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed, Davenant Guides (Lincoln: Davenant, 2017). [23] Wilson, Mere Christendom, 160.

 

Tuezong Xiong (Mdiv, Bethlehem Baptist College & Seminary) received his Bachelors of Science in Pastoral Leadership at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul and his Masters of Divinity from Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, MN. In addition, he is a general editor at Desiring God. Tuezong is the husband of Pa Kou and a father to Piper. He also blogs at www.tuezongxiong.wordpress.com.




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