Read Prophetic Lament: A Challenge to the Western Church by Soong-Chan Rah Online


When Soong-Chan Rah planted an urban church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, his first full sermon series was a six-week exposition of the book of Lamentations. Preaching on an obscure, depressing Old Testament book was probably not the most seeker-sensitive way to launch a church. But it shaped their community with a radically countercultural perspective. The American churchWhen Soong-Chan Rah planted an urban church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, his first full sermon series was a six-week exposition of the book of Lamentations. Preaching on an obscure, depressing Old Testament book was probably not the most seeker-sensitive way to launch a church. But it shaped their community with a radically countercultural perspective. The American church avoids lament. But lament is a missing, essential component of Christian faith. Lament recognizes struggles and suffering, that the world is not as it ought to be. Lament challenges the status quo and cries out for justice against existing injustices. Soong-Chan Rah's prophetic exposition of the book of Lamentations provides a biblical and theological lens for examining the church's relationship with a suffering world. It critiques our success-centered triumphalism and calls us to repent of our hubris. And it opens up new ways to encounter the other. Hear the prophet's lament as the necessary corrective for Christianity's future. The Resonate series recovers the ancient wisdom of Scripture and helps us understand how it resonates with our complex world. The stories and insights of a book of the Bible are brought into conversation with contemporary voices of hope and lament--the cultural messages we interact with on a daily basis. The Scriptures become a meeting ground where God speaks to the pressing concerns of our day, and we are confronted in turn with a fresh experience of God's truth....

Title : Prophetic Lament: A Challenge to the Western Church
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ISBN : 9780830836949
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Number of Pages : 224 Pages
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Prophetic Lament: A Challenge to the Western Church Reviews

  • James
    2019-06-25 05:24

    One of my dialogue partners in Advent has been Soong-Chan Rah's Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times. Rah teaches at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, is a sought after speaker and the author of The Next Evangelicalism (IVP, 2009). In this earlier book, Rah explored the current 'white captivity' of Evangelicalism and the shift of its locus to East and to the global south. Prophetic Lament offers a similar critique. Delving into the book of Lamentations, Rah illustrates how it "provides a necessary corrective to the triumphalism and exceptionalism of the American evangelical church arising from the ignorance of its tainted history" (198).With astute biblical and theological insight Rah walks readers through the genres of lament in the book of Lamentations. There is the funeral dirge (Lam.1),  the city lament (Lam 2), the intensified acrostic and personal lament (Lam 3),  the persisting lament and continuing dirge (Lam. 4), and the communal lament, when the people begin to pray for themselves (Lam. 5).In walking through the forms and settings of each lament, Rah is building on the insights of biblical scholarship. But with eyes trained on the margins he showcases the various voices in the text and how the prophet identifies personally with the suffering, the oppressed and the broken.  This has implications for our reading of the book today. For example Rah notes:The voices of suffering women in the book of Lamentations offer an important counternarrative to the triumphalistic tendencies of God's people in the United States. We are likely to tune out the stories of suffering and struggle that undermine our success narratives, in contrast to the women's voices in Lamentations 1 that rise up to speak truth when experiencing painful reality. Instead, our ears are tuned to hear what we want to hear, similar to the exiles who listen to the false prophets in Jeremiah 29. (60).Lamentations call to identify with the suffering is an antidote to self-centered celebration. Through out this book, Rah identifies the links between the suffering in Lamentations with minority communities in the United States. He also showcases how the (largely white) evangelical church in America have been complicit in systems of oppression, helping us move from our "defensive of posture of 'I am not a racist' to 'I am responsible and culpable in the corporate sin of racism'" (126). Through lament,  content white evangelicals (like me) are able to see where our celebrations are inappropriate in the face of Latino, Asian, African American suffering and beyond.Rah is not the first to identify the need for American evangelicals to make space for lament. It was all the rage when I was in seminary. Other evangelical scholars make similar claims. Leslie Allen's A Liturgy of Grief (Baker Academic, 2011) also looks at Lamentations and makes the case for the church's lament; however the way that Rah trains his eye on the margins makes vivid for me the socio-political implications of lament. It gives voice to the voiceless--the suffering, the victims, the failures and the broken. Rah closes his book with an epilogue about Ferguson (and other tragedies) and how it gave rise to the cries and anger of the African-American community. He adapts Lamentations 5 as a post-Ferguson prayer of the people:Remember Lord, what happened to Michael Brown and Eric Garner;look, and see the disgraceful way  they treated their bodies.Our inheritance of the image of God in every human being has been co-opted and denied by others.The children of Eric Garner have become faterless, widowed mothers grieve their dead children.We must scrap for basic human rights; our freedom and our liberty has great price.Corrupt officers and officals pursue us and are at our heels; we are weary and find no rest.We submitted to uncaring government agencies and to big business to get enough bread.Our ancestors sinned the great sin of instituting slavery; they are no more--but we bear their shame.The system of slavery and institutionalized racism ruled over us, and there is no one free from their hands.We got our bread at the risk of our lives because of the guns on the streets.Michael Brown's skin is hot as an oven as his body lay out in the blazing sun.Women have been violated throughout our nation's history; black women raped by while slave owners on the plantations.Noble black men have been hung, lynched and gunned down; elders and spokesmen are shown no respect.Young men can't find work because of unjustly applied laws; boys stagger under the expectation that their lives are destined for jail.The elder statesman and civil rights leaders are gone from the city gate; young people who speak out in protest through music are silenced.Trust in our ultimate triumph has diminished; our triumphant dance has turned to a funeral dirge.Our sense of exceptionalism has been exposed. Woe to us, for we have sinned!Because of this our hearts are faint, because of these things our eyes grow dimfor our cities lie desolate with predatory lenders nad real estate speculators prowling over them.You, Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.We do you always forgets us? Why do you forsake us so long?Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of oldunless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.As a white evangelical, I have responded with fear and denial and defensiveness when the system I benefit from has called into question. Learning to lament and to read the Bible with those on the margins allows us to move beyond our own false narratives to the truth and justice of God. I highly recommend this book. Five stars: ★★★★★Notice of material connection: I received this book from IVP in exchange for my honest review.

  • Bob
    2019-05-31 02:51

    Summary: A commentary and exposition of the book of Lamentations that advocates for the restoration of the practice of lament as part of the worship of American churches, particularly majority culture evangelical churches.Have you every experienced terrible suffering, or terrible loss, or have witnessed horrible events such as have dominated our news of late and been deeply moved to turmoil and grief that cries out to God, or even the four walls around you, "how long?" Now, when was the last time that you did this as part of a service of worship in your church, if you regularly attend one?Soong-Chan Rah contends that this was an important part of the worship life of ancient Israel that has been lost in many of our churches in North America. We focus on triumph and victory and success. We see problems and we go around the world to solve them. And we begin to believe we are the answers to the world's problems--whether they be the problems of the inner city or the problems of the countries in the majority world.Rah contends that our celebration and praise must be balanced with lament. He writes:"What do we lose as a result of this imbalance? American Christians that flourish under the existing system seek to maintain the existing dynamics of inequality and remain in the theology of celebration over and against the theology of suffering. Promoting one perspective over the other, however, diminishes our theological discourse. To only have a theology of celebration at the cost of a theology of suffering is incomplete. The intersection of the two threads provides the opportunity to engage in the fullness of the gospel message. Lament and praise must go hand in hand."Rah seeks to redress this imbalance by an exposition (part of InterVarsity Press's Resonate series) of the book of Lamentations, a book attributed to the prophet Jeremiah. Rah contends that in addition to Jeremiah, the book incorporates the voices of the sufferers left behind in Jerusalem after the Babylonians destroyed the city walls and took into exile the best and the brightest and the wealthiest of the city. What were left were women, children, the elderly and other marginalized people to mourn over the death of their city and the loss of loved ones as they struggle to survive.The book is organized according to the five chapters, or "laments" of the book, with several chapters devoted to each lament. Chapter 1 mourns the death of the city. Chapter 2 struggles with what it means that all of this has come about by the providence of God. Chapter 3 which is three times as long as the other chapters forms a climax to the lament and calls us into deep identification with the suffering. Chapter 4 reminds us of the hollowness of all human achievements in the eyes of God. Chapter 5 concludes with a corporate lament that looks to God for answers even when their don't seem to be any answers.Along the way Rah provides textual and historical insight into the book, discussing the "dirge-like" character of these laments, appropriate at the funeral for a city, the death of a vision of national greatness. He helps us understand the acrostic structure of the first four chapters, including the threefold intensification of this pattern in the climatic chapter 3. Perhaps of greatest value is that Rah helps us identify some of the voices of the marginalized, particularly the women who have lost husbands, perhaps children--who often are the voices of suffering.Perhaps the greatest challenge of the book is Rah's pointed applications of the book to the American church, particularly dominant culture, white evangelicalism. We have failed to listen to the voices of lament around us, from the native peoples robbed and subjugated and exterminated and marginalized, from African Americans forcibly enslaved, raped, lynched, and then "freed" to live in a racialized society, and other poor and marginalized in our society. Instead of taking their laments to heart and understanding our own complicity and our own paradoxical enslavement to hate and privilege, we deny the problem, or plant our own urban churches or give "handups" which assumes a certain superiority. What we do here, we do around the world, instead of acknowledging the riches of every culture and our partnership with other believers. We make enterprises out of even our justice ministries while failing to face either our cultural or political captivities.Lament is the place we come to, according to Rah, when we realize that none of that is really working, when even our well-intended efforts contribute to the inequities of the world and that we are deeply impoverished in the midst of our affluence. It is a place of both repentance and the grace of God.This is an uncomfortable book, and like Rah's The Next Evangelicalism (reviewed here), an incisive critique of American evangelicalism. Don't read this if you are looking for a "feel good" book! But if your heart aches because of the predominance of violence and hatred despite so much "progress," if the glitzy celebrations of your church life don't seem in touch with the ragged realities of our land, and if your stomach turns with the pronouncements and alliances of some of our religious "leaders," then a book on lamenting and making the prayers of Lamentations our own might be timely. It was for me.

  • RA
    2019-06-13 00:23

    Powerful and challenging. This book felt very different from a lot of the rhetoric that's out there now in Christian circles, and I'm really thankful that a friend sent a copy to me out of the blue. --- Our aim with this distinctive genre [series of commentary and insight] is to have one finger in the ancient Scriptures, another in the daily newspaper and another touching the heart, all the while pointing to Jesus Christ. (15; Paul Louis Metzger, book series executive editor)Shalom, therefore, does not eschew or diminish the role of the other or the reality of a suffering world. Instead, it embraces the suffering other as an instrumental aspect of well-being. Shalom requires lament. (21)Old Testament scholar Claus Westermann situates the Hebrew poetic material into two broad categories: praise and lament. Westermann asserts that "as the two poles, they determine the nature of all speaking to God." ... Lament in the Bible is a liturgical response to the reality of sufering and engages God in the context of pain and trouble. The hope of lament is that God would respond to human suffering that is wholeheartedly communicated through lament. (21, quoting Westermann's Praise and Lament in the Psalms, 1981)To only have a theology of celebration at the cost of the theology of suffering is incomplete. The intersection of the two threads provides the opportunity to engage in the fullness of the gospel message. Lament and praise must go hand in hand. (23)The first three verses of Lamentations remind the community why lament is necessary: a national tragedy has occurred. (32)Life continues even as a community struggles with its place and identity. Escape from the reality of a fallen world is not an option. (34)"With their embrace of dispensationalism, evangelicals shifted their focus radically from social amelioration to individual regeneration. Having diverted their attention from the construction of the millennial realm, evangelicals concentrated on the salvation of souls, and in doing so, neglected reform efforts." (37, quoting Bruggemann's The Psalms and the Life of Faith, 1995)American churches are not supposed to struggle, and they are not supposed to decline, so we believe American ingenuity and know-how will solve these problems. (43)Withdrawal from the world or accepting simplistic answers reveals human effort or human problem solving, while lament acknowledges who is ultimately in control. In the midst of a crisis, Lamentations points toward God and acknowledges his sovereignty regardless of the circumstances. (43)... the proper response to a broken world: lament. (43)Lament is an act of protest as the lamenter is allowed to express indignation and even outrage about the experience of the suffering. The lamenter talks back to God and ultimately petitions him for help, in the midst of pain. The one who laments can call out to God for help, and in that outcry there is the hope and even the manifestation of praise. (44)Jeremiah 29 addresses the exiles in Babylon, while Lamentations is written to the remnant in Jerusalem. The exiles in Babylon are susceptible to false prophets who promise them what they want to hear: the hope that they will soon return to Jerusalem. To them, the devastation of Jerusalem is a physically distant reality. However, those remaining in Jerusalem are confronted with the painful and visible reality at hand. Lamentations is written to this remnant who witness this devastation. A funeral dirge is necessary because the dead body of the city lies before them. (45)Even if God's people wanted to close their eyes and shut out the suffering around them, Lamentations won't allow it. (46)Lament is honesty before God and each other. (47)Our nation's tainted racial history reflects a serious inability to deal with reality. Something has died and we refuse to participate in the funeral. We refuse to acknowledge the lamenters who sing the songs of suffering in our midst. (47)Lamentations 1 provides a truthful telling of the dead body in the room. (50; drawing connection to the US and racism)A contemporary funeral dirge for the twenty-first-century American church would require the effort to more fully understand and learn another's history. (51-52; examples include watching films about the slave trade, visiting museums about the history of racism)Lament is deeply felt. It is not simply a conscious, cognitive exercise. (56)[Andrew] Park defines sin as "the wrongdoing of people toward God and their neighbors. Han is the pain experienced by the victimized neighbors. Sin is the unjust act of the oppressors; han the passive experience of their victims." (57, quoting Park's "Theology of Pain (the Abyss of Pain)," in Quarterly Review, Spring 1989.)The guilt of individual sin leads to individual confession, but the shame of han should lead to social transformation. (57)Lament calls for an authentic encounter with the truth and challenges privilege, because privilege would hide the truth that creates discomfort. (58)Expressing a theology of celebration in the context of victory and success would lend itself to a voice of triumph reflecting a culturally masculine voice. A theology of suffering in the context of pain would call for a culturally feminine voice. ... Lamentations may prove to be the most important book of the Bible with a dominant feminine voice. (59)We have a deficient theology that trumpets the triumphalist successes of evangelicalism while failing to hear from the stories of suffering that often tell us more about who we are as a community. (63)We are forcing a theological famine upon ourselves by ignoring the voices of women. (64)Lament leads to petition which leads to praise for God's response to the petition. (65)The inability to offer comfort should compel us to acknowledge our total inability and turn to God for the answers. (67-68)Lament calls us to examine the work of reconciliation between those who live under suffering with those who live in celebration. Lamentations challenges our celebratory assumptions with the reality of suffering. (69)Lamentations 2 offers a possibility of the expansion of the American evangelical theological imagination in order to encompass suffering and lament, which a privileged perspective may not allow. Lamentations calls us to embrace a narrative of suffering in order to understand the fullness of God's message for his people. (72)Hunger, homelessness, and racism are very real injustices, but they can be misunderstood when taken in an abstracted form. One of the most effective means of disengaging the church from the work of justice is making injustice a philosophical concept. (89)What we surround ourselves with, in our everyday and communal Christian life, should reflect a commitment to hear the multitude of voices. The normative Christian faith should arise from a life lived with hearing from a range of voices, experiences and stories. (103-104)The church has the power to bring healing in a racially fragmented society. That power is not found in an emphasis on strength but in suffering and weakness. (106)The suffering narrative that informs the Lord's Table is essential for the unity found in the body of Christ. The necessary condition for the celebration of the Lord's Supper, therefore, is lament. (106)While the breadth of evangelicalism can encompass the range of worship expressions, worship preferences in the local church tend to reflect whether the congregation arises from the context of celebration versus suffering. (107-108)Our warped sense of what it means to be blessed by God and how we perceive human wealth and power as a earned favor from God results in a dysfunctional view of our worth in God's economy. (166)One of the problems of dealing with corporate sin is the inability to connect individual responsibility for sin with the reality of corporate sin. For example, the easiest way to distance and absolve oneself from the issue of racism is to claim an individual innocence from personal prejudice. For example, the now classic retort "I am not a racist, I have never personally committed a racist act. I have never owned a slave. I have never personally taken land away from a Native American" reduces racism to an abstraction. By reducing racism to a purely individual level, corporate sin is depersonalized and has a higher level of deniability. (168)Lament not only operates as the place of grieving over suffering, it is also the place of protest. (176)We will pray for bigger churches, larger budgets, slimmer waistlines, more purpose in our lives, but we do not pray in recognition of the deepest suffering in our own lives or in the lives of others. Or prayers border on idolatry when we expect vending-machine type of results. (182)A few years ago, I was speaking at a mission conference comprising mainly white suburbanite participants. I was listening to the speaker before me, when he dropped this little gem: "It's not about a handout, but a hand up." Actually, it's not about either. A handout means you think you're better than me and you're handing me something (something I probably don't deserve). A hand up means you think you're better than me and you're trying to lift me up from a bad place to your wonderful place. Actually, if it's a choice between the two, I'd rather have the handout. If you're going to be condescending, I might as well get a direct benefit out of it instead of being told that I need to become like you. Forget the handout or the hand up. Just reach a hand across. Let's be equals and partners. I don't need you to rescue me, just like you don't think you need rescuing by me. (196)Remembering has been a painful experience so far, but this call to remembrance is not a furthering of a pity party. It is instead a call for God to remember to take heart, consider, look, see and ultimately act on their behalf. Even as God's people lament and draw attention to their suffering, this act reflects the realization that God is the only hope. But hope will only arise if God remembers. (197)Listening to the previously silenced voices is an essential first step in the practice of lament. But a passive lament that fails to confront injustice fails to consider the power of prophetic advocacy in lament. (208)

  • Luke Hillier
    2019-06-26 01:49

    I've been looking forward to this for a while -both because I loved The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity and because of a deep interest in the subject at hand- and while I did enjoy it, it wasn't necessarily what I had hoped. I think my expectations had been a more general exploration of the practice of lament and the theology behind it, as well as the implications that it has and the role it serves within prophetic/justice work. While that is certainly present, it felt in some way peripheral to the exegetical work happening here, as if the core was the commentary and analysis of Lamentations. I did appreciate the way that that element provided some thoughtful framing for his ideas, but at times it also seemed to force redundancy and restrict Rah from going in a more intuitive or meaningful direction. My other hangup with this text was how thoroughly rooted it is within Reformed theology. This likely won't bother many Christians, but as someone recently exploring Process theology (and finding fresh air from that!) I found myself continuing tripping over his assertions and getting tangled up, distractingly so, in the implications. Rah does a better job than most at presenting a theodicy justifying the claim within Lamentations that it is God who causes the destruction that catalyzes their lament by connecting it to the Covenant. While this is a cohesive framework and he reiterates a few times that it reveals the trustworthy fidelity of God, I couldn't help but cringe at the notion of people begging for help from the very One who caused such devastating destruction. I read this directly after Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search For What Saves Us and imagined a misbehaving child begging her father for help after being abused by him, and while Rah goes to lengths to differentiate God from a capricious and fickle human it doesn't manage to totally do away with those vibes. For me, this theodicy ultimately breaks down when Rah presents Ferguson as a modern-day parallel to Jerusalem of Lamentations. I was thrilled to see him addressing what has transpired there, but the implication (which Rah does not name, but exists) is that, within a covenantal framework, the Black people suffering in Ferguson have failed to uphold their end and are being punished by God for that. His articulation works excellently, if somewhat coldly, when addressing the people of Jerusalem who had committed sins of hubris, injustice, idolatry, and the like and thus found themselves punished in retribution by a just God. But when it is the historically and contemporarily oppressed Black community of Ferguson on the receiving end of such devastation, how can they find comfort in a God who is sovereign over their suffering? How can Rah escape the implication that those who find themselves immersed in unjust suffering (those liberation theologians consider uniquely favored by God) are not covenantal failures being punished by an unflinchingly just God? Even in spite of that tangential critique, I still consider this book immensely valuable - perhaps not always the most engaging or enjoyable to read, but an incredible resource and a necessary corrective to today's status quo within the American (white suburban) Church. I particularly appreciated his scathing critique of the insidious triumphalism that runs rampant in white/suburban theology and practice, as well as the considerable variety of more specific manifestations of that that Rah names with truth-telling boldness.

  • Andrew Hall
    2019-06-04 01:30

    I want to make this simple. This book is brilliant. It changed my life.Read it. And be changed also.

  • Sooho Lee
    2019-06-25 23:40

    In a triumphalistic saturated church culture, where victory-language is all that we consume and spew, the act and discipline of lament are 'swept under the rug.' But this should not be so! Walking through the Book of Lamentations, Dr. Soong-chan Rah revitalizes a desperately needed exercise of deep-seated faith in God. Perhaps, American churches have far too quickly and exclusively clung to the triumphant talk and walk of the Resurrection without mulling over the horrors of the Crucifixion and Holy Saturday. This imbalanced fixation both reflects our insecurities of vulnerable expressions and produces contactless lifestyles. Lament hears 'the blood crying out from the ground' in history and from the wounded, experiences relentless grief, revisits grief, and cries out for God to remember his beloved ones. Lament is not proposed to solve problems but to audience with the one who sees and hears and embraces. cf.

  • Erin
    2019-06-15 05:49

    This isn't one of those spiritual books that you read and say, "Wow. That was great. I feel so empowered to conquer the world now." No. This book is a study of the book Lamentations, about mourning and living in loss, about yelling loudly about the injustice of it all, about repentance. It is about uncertainty. Will God redeem and restore Jerusalem and the people? Is it even possible? There isn't really anything left. Soong-Chan Rah adds an application to the evangelical church in America, the church that likes to believe people can just "fix" things by their own power, or that encourages broken people to just choose happiness. Sometimes, he says, we need to allow people to mourn, complain, verbalize the losses. Sometimes there are no easy fixes, and we live in the uncertainty for generations. He asserts we must listen to the voices of those who have experienced injustice if we want to be a part of God's work to restore. Honestly, at the end of the book, I am so very glad I read it, but I'm wondering: What's my take away? 1. Greater awareness.2. Deeper willingness to let people tell their stories of pain.3. Commitment to read spiritual perspectives of people of color. Yes. Nearly every spiritual book I have read, and I have read a lot, is written by a white male. That is not to say they aren't good and worthwhile books, but I do wonder what perspectives I'm missing, what cultural nuances have been excluded. We all see through lenses of our own backgrounds. Beyond that, I will trust God to speak to me. Warning: Rah also engages in analysis of the poetry of lament, an ancient genre. I think he does this purposefully, but then again, I study rhetoric. If you read this book, you may hate that part. Skim it and keep going.

  • Troy
    2019-06-23 22:32

    I heard the author speak at a Christian Conference in April 2016 on part of the theme of this book. I was struck by the idea that we "Americans" are not good at lament, and he successfully made me agree with him that we need to learn to lament - and make time to lament - before we can truly move on and make peace with our past. I think I heard him say (or maybe I just drew this conclusion in the midst of his talk) that oftentimes one of the reasons we get caught up in addictions is because we are afraid of lament and would rather self-medicate than deal with the pain and grief we find ourselves in. I was hoping to hear more about that, but I was disappointed.As a starting place, Rah uses the book of Lamentations and does a decent job of writing a commentary on it - though I felt it was overly repetitive as when the same type of lament shows up later in the book, he seems to want to define it again and again. He works hard to try to make what was happening in the time of Lamentations relevant to what is happening today, primarily in regards to race relations, but at times, these connections (though important) seem forced. It was like he had an agenda and tried to make it fit with Lamentations instead of starting with the book itself.On one level, it was an important book to me in making me consider more deeply the need to lament, and it helped me to see racial tensions from another perspective that was helpful. But, again, much of it seemed forced, which really disappointed me.

  • Ruth
    2019-06-05 01:33

    A guided exposition of the book of Lamentations, this work strikes at the heart of American Christianity's poverty of biblical lament and points out both the causes for this poverty (cultural tendencies toward triumphalism and exceptionalism) and its effect (covering injustices and silencing lament over resultant pain because they do not fit the preferred narrative). It is Providential that I'm finishing up this book today. It should be required reading for American Christians. If you have the means to get your hands on a copy, please do. Then make time for a thoughtful reading. The style's skewed a bit more toward the academy, but if you put forth the effort, you will find your efforts rewarded.

  • Liz
    2019-05-31 23:30

    "Lamentations provides a necessary corrective to the triumphalism and exceptionalism of the American evangelical church arising from an ignorance of a tainted history. This creates theological dysfunction exacerbated by the absence of lament. The counternarrative to a culturally captive narrative has been silenced with the absence of lament."Dr. Rah exegetes Lamentations in Prophetic Lament, and the above statement is essentially his thesis. I appreciated his reflections on modern Evangelical church culture's lack of lament and how it is a great loss to the church to neglect the spiritual discipline of lament.

  • Michael Joseph
    2019-06-24 03:36

    One of the most timely works of theology I’ve read. Speaks directly to the racism Western Christianity has denied and been co-opted by in crystal clear fashion. Not a prosaic theologian like Bruggemann, but an essential one that I hope only keeps growing and gaining popularity.Some chisme though - I hear he’s not very nice to people working alongside him. Perhaps his character personally could help promote his internal power. I feel like this is common among us wrecked but it was still heartbreaking/heartwarming to hear. Isn’t it endearing to know the weakness of the brilliant?

  • Jim
    2019-06-27 04:38

    The Western church has become focused on celebration and our own stories of exceptionalism. In our need to see victory, we preach a gospel that is out of balance and we miss the power of lament and sorrow. In his look at Lamentations, Soong-Chan Rah shows us the necessity of lament and the importance of allowing our stories of pain and suffering and humiliation, from all cultures and walks of life, to be told and heard.

  • Aimee
    2019-06-05 03:41

    I read this book alongside reading the book of Lamentations. I can't recommend it enough and have told many people to read it. I got to see Dr. Rah speak, talk with him and he is so anointed, humble and wise in person just as he comes off in his writing. His words are powerful and full of truth and he illuminates scripture, allowing me to see Lamentation's passionate call for justice and giving greater fullness to my theological framework. In times like these, this is a must read.

  • Madeline Grace
    2019-06-22 00:45

    An important perspective on the place of suffering in christian life, and the need for lament to heal relationships within communities and with God. Soong-Chan Rah writes a book that is at once a detailed examination of Lamentations, a much-needed critique of the American church, and a call for God's justice among His people.

  • April Yamasaki
    2019-06-18 00:28

    I highly recommend Soong-Chan Rah’s excellent book. It has significantly shaped my understanding of lament, the book of Lamentations which is the focus of his reflection, and how all of this challenges the church today. See also 6 Reasons Why We Need Lament.

  • Jeremy
    2019-06-22 03:39

    This is an essential book for white American Christians. Not only have we lost the practice of lament, but we have lost the practice of seeing the lament of our brothers and sisters. Rah has the prophetic voice we need to hear right now.

  • Michele Morin
    2019-06-09 06:47

    "Come Into the Dark and Lament"Robert Frost’s thrush is not singing a solo in his invitation to lament, but is adding to the words of the prophet Jeremiah, and has now been joined by Soong-Chan Rah in Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times.In Frost’s poem, the invitation is declined, and perhaps he had good reason, as he was “out for stars” and would not come in. According to Rah, this is also the position of the North American church, which is unfortunate, for in losing lament, we are also losing our collective memory of how to live in the midst of suffering. Soong-Chan Rah explains:“We forget the necessity of lamenting over suffering and pain. We forget the reality of suffering and pain.”Just as poetry is divided into broad categories of praise and lament, believers around the world can be divided into the “have-nots,” who “develop a theology of suffering and survival,” and the “haves,” who “develop a theology of celebration.” This impacts on the church in that “worship that arises out of suffering cries out for deliverance,” while those who live in celebration are largely consumed with maintaining their happy status quo.Dr. Rah’s thesis in his analysis of the book of Lamentations is that “to only have a theology of celebration at the cost of the theology of suffering is incomplete. The intersection of the two threads provides the opportunity to engage in the fullness of the gospel message. Lament and praise must go hand in hand.” A cry for justice is foundational to biblical lament, for the heart that suffers or that allows itself to be drawn into the suffering of others will seek answers from God and pray for change.Prophetic Lament opens wide a neglected book of the Bible and teases out several riveting and perspective-altering points for 21st century Christians to consider:1.It is over-simplification to tie the sufferings of others to their sin, and it is our tendency, as a church, to “engage in relativism when it comes to God’s judgment.” It is God’s sovereign prerogative to mete out punishment, and our human standards of justice are woefully inadequate to evaluate equity or even our own culpability.2.Jeremiah utilizes both communal and individual lament in his writing, but in the West, we have largely lost the sense of corporate sin. “Hyperindividualism” is a cultural condition that prevents us from seeing the power of sin to impact “not only the individual but also the community.”3.“Justice” is a popular battle cry in the church today, but we must beware of our attachments to power and success, and the resulting delusion that we are God’s chosen “fixers,” and that this is the path to favor with God. Lamentations 4 chronicles the downfall of all Jerusalem’s cherished symbols of success. God may choose to work along paths that have nothing to do with human achievement.4.Dr. Rah makes the startling observation that God’s voice is strangely absent from the book of Lamentations. This should rivet the reader’s attention to the need for leaving space for the voice of suffering to be heard in our day. There is a place and time for sitting with the cries of distress, allowing them to resonate before “moving to the psalms of praise.”5.The realities that surround us on this planet call for both celebration and lament. A theology that does not integrate the two is insufficient just as a Christology that emphasizes triumphal resurrection at the expense or Christ’s suffering and alienation from God would be incomplete.Without a knowledge of Hebrew, the beauty of Lamentations’ structure is lost on me, but Dr. Rah has provided diagrams that demonstrate the fascinating and excruciatingly strict and disciplined format Jeremiah imposed upon the text as he wrote the five acrostic poems that comprise Lamentations. Notice that Chapters 1, 2, 4, and 5 have twenty-two verses. Chapters 1 and 2 devote three lines to each of the twenty-two Hebrew letters. Chapter 3 demonstrates an intensification of this structure in order to provide a climax in its message of torment and grief. The harsh images of broken teeth and gravel in the mouth veering sharply into the renewal of God’s mercy every morning are communicated in sixty-six verses because each of the twenty-two Hebrew letters is given three alliterative lines. Then, as if his intensity is spent after the effort of Lamentations 3, Chapters 4 and 5 exhibit a declining intensity in form with only 2 lines per letter in Lamentations 4 and a “weak acrostic” in Lamentations 5 with the twenty-two verses not in alphabetical order.A church that enters into the suffering of others will put aside materialistic goals in order to shift resources toward the needy. This alignment with God’s priorities reduces wealth to its proper position: a tool for the propagation of biblical shalom, for the elimination of injustice, for the practical working out of Jesus’ vision and prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”This book was provided by Intervarsity Press in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

  • Meghan Armstrong
    2019-06-10 05:40

    5 for content, 2 for style...more in-depth review coming soon.

  • Reeve Currie
    2019-06-22 01:38

    A bit repetitive, but the theme of what it would look like if the American church lamented injustice was powerful and timely.

  • Emmanuel
    2019-06-16 06:45

    Written as commentary for Lamentations with contemporary applications for racial justice in America.

  • William
    2019-06-22 02:51

    Soong-Chah 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. Originally posted by myself at the following link: https://thebiblicalreview.wordpress.c...

  • Craig Bell
    2019-06-07 01:23

    I greatly appreciated Rah's voice on the subject of lament. This break breaks free from the typical tones of Christian rhetoric. There needs to be room within the church to lament about issues where things are not as God intended without being labeled a pessimist or cynic. Rah explores the book of lamentations in a way that allows one to see the need and perhaps even create a desire to have our times of worship be intertwined with periods of lament.

  • Andrew
    2019-06-20 05:41

    Throughout my life I have attended worship services in a variety of traditions, but they tended to have one thing in common--they began with praise to God and then moved to confession. This is an appropriate model to follow with much merit. When we see how holy and good God is, we see more clearly by contrast that we are not, and so we confess.In all my years of churchgoing, however, I don't think I have ever been to a service that began with lament, with a cry to God about a terrible situation. The only possible exceptions have been funerals and requiems. This should be surprising for several reasons. First, in the Bible's songbook, the Psalms, there are more laments than of any other kind--more than psalms of praise or of thanksgiving. Over sixty psalms of personal and corporate lament give voice to acute anguish and suffering.Second, neither our lives nor the world lack for reasons to grieve and cry out in distress. Cancer, job loss, loss of faith, natural disasters, wars, persecution of believers, multigenerational poverty, ethnic persecution, institutional greed and more.An unfortunate and unbiblical idea is widespread that Christians aren't supposed to be sad or negative in any way. This is not new. A hundred and thirty years ago Ralph E. Hudson added a refrain to an Isaac Watts hymn that expressed this wrongheaded notion that lives on in the minds of many.At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,And the burden of my heart rolled away.It was there by faith I received my sight,And now I am happy all the day!Well, Jesus for one was not happy at the cross. The Son of God had no hesitancy expressing deep anguish as he died. Quoting Psalm 22 he cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me."In Prophetic Lament Soong-Chan Rah offers a powerful meditation on the book of Lamentations which reveals the consequences of ignoring this vital dimension of the Christian life. Withdrawing from the world (ignoring the pain around us) or accepting simplistic answers (naive quick and easy solutions so we can get on to being happy) shows a dependence on "human effort or human problem solving, while lament acknowledges who is ultimately in control. In the midst of a crisis, Lamentations points toward God and acknowledges his sovereignty regardless of circumstances. . . . The lamenter talks back to God and ultimately petitions him for help, in the midst of pain. The one who laments can call out to God for help, and in that outcry there is the hope and even the manifestation of praise" (pp. 43-44).As the psalms of lament are both personal and corporate, Prophetic Lament does not shy away from the more difficult corporate problems of our day that are worthy of lament such as ethnic divisions, entrenched power groups, individualism, materialism, and reliance on methods and know-how instead of God. Not every worship service nor every moment of personal prayer needs to be one of lament, just as not every one needs to be focused on praise. But lament in our personal and corporate worship can balance our view of the world, of ourselves and of our God.

  • Jimmy Reagan
    2019-06-26 23:27

    Here is the latest volume in the Resonate series of unique commentaries published by IVP. Song-Chang Rah brings different perspective to the Book of Lamentations than you would get in other volumes. He highlights the Biblical genre of lament that is clearly a dynamic part of Lamentations. He attempts modern application as well as the subtitle “A Call for Justice in Troubled Times” suggests.The volume succeeds when he discusses lament in the Bible. He reminds us that lament is much more prevalent in the Bible than in our theological understanding today. His chapter on the historical context of Lamentations is well done. He explains how the funeral dirge is classic lament. When he exegetes the text, he does well. His writing skills are engaging and good enough to make commentary reading pleasant. The volumes stumbles in some of his modern application and even a few historical theological conclusions. His comparison of a theology of suffering versus a theology of celebration will really make you think. His modern example of slavery in the earlier days of our country as he made you feel their plight and heartfelt lament was superb. But when he credited (?) dispensational theology for giving us “an individualistic soul-saving soteriology”, which was actually akin to revival, and discusses it as a bad thing–that is hard to swallow.His focus on race problems in our country today as an application of his theme is marred by his unquestioned acceptance of the most liberal recounting of events. Had he been more balanced there, he would have been easier to follow. He seems so obsessed on race that I wondered as I read if he had been the victim of some particularly ugly racism in his own life. I found no value in his epilogue on Ferguson.If you look past racial politics and focus on his commentary, you will find value here. For me, it is not a first-line resource, but a fine secondary resource to gain additional, helpful insights.I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

  • Kevin Hu
    2019-06-10 03:36

    Professor Rah does a wonderful job contextualizing the practice of lament in such a time as this, in the wake of the litany of black lives taken by the cyclical misfortunes brought by a social structure rampant of injustice. The practice of lament has long been extinct within the Western, specifically American, church. Prof. Rah calls for a resurrection of this practice by weighing the practice of celebration on the balance with the practice of lament. A correlational relationship is evident in the movement of lament and praise in the scriptures. If the same movement cannot be found in our worship today, it may be cause to wonder whether our worship has leaned into dysfunction, incompleteness, maybe even heresy. Amongst many themes, Prof. Rah exhorts us to rid ourselves of the narrative of triumphalism and exceptionalism of America in exchange for the narrative of God's grace, faithfulness, and sovereignty. The book of Lamentations provokes us to respond with courage in expressing our deepest pains in the realistic exploitation, abuse, and hurt that has taken place.

  • Drick
    2019-05-30 06:37

    Soong-Chan Rah has written a scholarly yet easy to understand exposition of the Hebrew Testament book of Lamentations. He reflects on the words of Lamentations in light of his work as an urban pastor and a scholar in the evangelical tradition. He makes application of the text to the current status of the evangelical wing of the church critiquing worship that focuses on celebration without confession and lament, the late embrace of justice, the celebrity status of white evangelicals who feel "called" to the city, and megachurch leaders who are regarded as holy ones. While I found his discussion of Lamentations and the themes therein to be powerful, I felt distracted by his singular focus on evangelicals. Like so many evangelical writers he seems to assume implicitly that they are the only "true Christians." However, his grasp of how Lamentations speaks to Americans' "ignorance of our tainted history", our sense of exceptionalism and our blindness to the ways in which our institutions and our nation as a whole has caused incredible suffering at home and around the world was well articulated. I read this book during a time of both personal struggle and national crisis following the shootings in San Bernadino. His text caused me to reflect on a much deeper level and to see my complicity and connection to the very issues and concerns that I seek to correct.

  • Dave McNeely
    2019-06-09 02:49

    This first entry in Intervarsity's Resonate series has me excited about the potential of the series, which is designed to "provide spiritual nourishment that is biblically sound, theologically orthodox, and culturally significant" by having a scholar/practitioner combine biblical exegesis of one book with culturally relevant application. Rah has been poking the USEvangelical bear for quite some time with great insight and his insight into the book of Lamentations and our culture is equally encouraging (it applies!) and disturbing (we have much to lament!). While this is an excellent and challenging read, I encountered one stumbling block throughout. Rah appropriately criticizes the lack of genuine lament and solidarity among white evangelicals in the US, but he seems to fall into the trap of creating a white evangelical bogeyman who is only capable of missteps without offering enough concrete examples or even suggestions for how we (I am a white evangelical) might practice our faith differently and more appropriately. As one who attempts to be conscious of my many possible missteps, I found more reason in Rah's treatment to be guilty, but very few opportunities to practically choose a more faithful course of action.

  • Adam Shields
    2019-06-04 22:21

    Short Review: a commentary focused on using Lamentations to see current events. The main argument of the book is that we need an understanding of lamentation to be fully human. So a church that is unnaturally happy and joyful in the face of tragedy is not a holier church but a church that has lost access to the full range of human emotion that is illustrated in scripture. Soong-Chan Rah gets pretty particular in his description of modern sin and tragedy and politics. And a number of people will try to argue with those choices. But lamentation has to be particular. Vague lamentation is not lamentation but whining or nostalgia. Lamentation is particular. I do wish the text of Lamentations was in the book instead of needing to have a separate copy of the bible. But if you are reading this, you probably have a bible lying around. My full review is on my blog at

  • Joel Wentz
    2019-06-06 06:51

    Emotional, beautifully-written, and profoundly relevant. As someone who has chafed under the injustice of everything happening in my (American) culture and setting lately, this book wrecked me in exactly the way I needed to be wrecked. Rah simply follows the text of Lamentations, and through it levels a powerful challenge to the overwhelming narrative of the Western church, which I needed to be reminded of. He does not leave the reader without hope, but does not follow the temptation to "gloss over" the evil that needs to be lamented of.In the epilogue, his adaptation of a prayer from Lamentations for our own need for racial reconciliation almost brought me to tears. Cannot recommend this one highly enough, and I will be putting it directly in the hands of many people I know.

  • John
    2019-06-17 02:36

    In the scope of American Exceptionalism, Soong-Chan Rah sets out to exegetically understand the importance of lament for the church. With Lamentations as his guide, he does a wonderful job explicating the text and then entering into an essential function of the Christian heart, suffering. I have been changed by this book. It has helped me understand the role of suffering as an empathetic entering rather than simply a triumphal restoring. I cannot recommend this book enough. Though it is very academic and those that did not study exegesis may find some difficulty in reading, the heart of the book will carry them through.