“Prophetic Lament” by Soong-Chan Rah

LamentSoong-Chan Rah. Prophetic Lament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 224 pp., 2015, $13.60 (paperback).

Dr. Soong-Chah Rah (DMin and MDiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; ThM, Harvard University, ) is a Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary. As made evident by his faculty position, his focus is not on textual or historical criticism; rather, Dr. Rah focuses on issues relevant to evangelism and and church growth as it relates to the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. His positions and ideological thrusts may, therefore, drive folks away from Prophetic Lament. But it should not. Prophetic Lament is, for the most part, academically sound and socially relevant, as he wrestles with issues transcending the Church.

His work is a homiletic treatment of Lamentations. Each chapter of Lamentations is introduced with a real life story to introduce key themes. The following two or three chapters after the introduction to each chapter of Lamentations briefly analyze the certain aspects of the text and proceed by demonstrating how it relates to North American Christianity. For example, Chapter 3 discusses the necessity to address the shame of racial and gender injustice, especially as it relates to the reconciliation of male and female, and celebratory praise and shameful laments. This is rooted in the voices of Lamentations 1, namely the role of Jerusalem’s personification as woman and the shame which she expresses, shame representative of Israelites present during the destruction of Jerusalem. All the chapters are, more or less, akin to the previous example, each drawing out different elements from to text to be applied to his interpretation and call for a change in North American Christianity.

With regard to the context, I appreciated his content from both practical and interpretive aspects. The foundation to his work, he calls for lament in “White Suburb, North American Christianity”. “Lament”, he claims, “is often missing from the narrative of the American Church” (21). As he consistently demonstrates through the book, it is often due to the triumphalist approaches to ministry by many “White Suburb Ministies”. Unfortunately, this paralyzes the Churches ability to do what it feels called to do and in fact creates a more hostile environment. In response to this issue, Dr. Rah constantly points to tangible issues that prove why lament is necessary in the Church, primarily as they relate to racial injustice. Racial injustice, although not always overt, is systematized in American culture and must be faced and lamented by American Christianity. Most excellently, he even include a portion about Ferguson, calling for lament about what happened. Overall, his practical call for a return to lament as means to repairing systematized injustice is a huge strength, even for people who may not hold the same belief as him.

His scholarship is sound for the most part, scholarship by which he calls for change. There was only one major instance in which he should have delved deeper into the text before attempting to apply them in support of his call for action. In his analysis of Jeremiah 29:8-9, Dr. Rah argues that “the exiles wanted to embrace the false prophets’ offer of a quick resolution to their suffering, but these claims were made using the idolatrous practices of the times: divination and magic” (39). From this point, he argues that people should not look at God like a vending machine. While I surely agree with him on this point, there are two major issues with his use of Jeremiah. First, Jeremiah 29:8-9 does not claim that prophets used divination. The phrase “your prophets who are in your midst” (אַל־יַשִּׁ֧יאוּ לָכֶ֛ם נְבִֽיאֵיכֶ֥ם אֲשֶׁר־בְּקִרְבְּכֶ֖ם, Jeremiah 29:8) and “your diviners” are in distinct categories. In fact, both parties, diviners and prophets, are called “Israel’s”. This should be taken into account. Additionally, his interpretation of Jeremiah 29:8-9 assumes a neat division between divination and prophecy, which directly opposes a historical approach proposing “that Israel’s prophets were practiced “diviners””(The Oxford Encyclopedia of Bible and Theology, 2:203).

This previous is the most significant error, though. As a whole Dr. Rah expertly explore the issue of lament in Lamentations and how it relates to North American Christianity. His calls for action and shift in approach to the action are much needed in an atmosphere of systematized racism and marginalized humans. Although this book is of no great benefit to moving forward scholarship, it is extremely valuable to folks simply living life and working a day time job. It provides heartfelt desire and intense passion for the Church to re-orient itself as a community that truly fights social injustice.

*I’d like to express my gratitude towards InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

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