Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys by Richard Twiss presents a broad, far-reaching analysis of the contact and sometimes conflict between Christianity and Native cultures.
Conflict is a major theme of the book, as Twiss traces the history of interactions between Western Christians and Native peoples. This history involves much wrongdoing, from wanton destruction of Native peoples through disease (which was at some points compared to the plagues on Egypt attacking the Native peoples), to continued missiology that refuses to adapt to new insights from anthropology.
A central question asked time and again through the book is why, in order to be Christian, people must give up all their cultural background and embrace a Eurocentric version of religious practice. The example often used is that of drums in worship. Many argue that this is an example of potentially dangerous syncretism–the incorporation of anti-Christian ideology into allegedly Christian worship. They allege that because drums have been used in spiritual fashions that are non-Christian, they must be tied to non-Christian beliefs. Twiss argues that, instead, it is an example of critical contextualization–integrating the Christian faith by means of cultural expressions. He notes that this is allowed in all kinds of ideas and expressions in Western cultures. He mentions the integration of Platonic and Aristotelian thought into Creedal expressions as one example. Another example could be the general allowance for Christmas trees–themselves once expressions of pagan practices.
Thus, a major aspect of Twiss’ project is to demonstrate that Native peoples must be allowed to develop their own understanding of how to follow the Jesus way. Just as in Western churches, incense, organs, Christmas trees, specific candle lightings, and the like are allowed and even endorsed; so too should Native expressions and critical incorporation of their own practices be allowed in worship. Only then, argues Twiss, can the Gospel be truly integrated into Native life and communities.
Twiss also outlines various ways missions have been done to Native peoples and notes that these have largely changed and adapted in response to new insights from anthropology, but these adaptations have been adapted abroad, not in Native mission fields. This means a continued colonializing is taking place as Native peoples are expected to change everything, without being allowed to keep their own religious expressions. He summons much data to support these claims.
A major chapter in the book features his amalgamation of stories into a fictional sweat lodge ceremony in which nine different Native men are talking about their struggles with following Christ in a Native culture. These provide great insights into the ways in which Native people have worked to integrate their culture and faith together and met enormous resistance.
By the time I finished the book, I realized that I’d had to be fairly introspective and consider my own faults along with all that I had learned. I had, at least in my head, thought of various practices like integrating Native dancing into worship as being some kind of syncretism. I hadn’t thought about how plenty of the things I do (Christmas trees, for example) had sprung from a cultural milieu and come to be accepted in Western Christianity. I had been convicted by Twiss, but also enlightened.
The few critiques I have to offer of the book pale in comparison to its insight, but I’ll note them here. First, there are a couple times in which it seems to repeat the same point more than once–sometimes even with the same quote or citation. I’m sure this is due to it having been finished posthumously, and so the editors drew together works from Twiss’ other materials, but it remains disconcerting at points. Another issue is that there are several points at which Twiss lists a whole slew of relevant scholars and a major work or two from each. It’s the kind of thing that could have been more easily relegated to endnotes in order to clean up the text a bit, but this is a minor nitpick.
The appendices are quite useful, including a list of various words or phrases used to refer to Native American peoples, as well as when they were first used and how they’ve come to be used now.
I recommend Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys as highly as possible. It is filled with excellent information, convicting insights, and hope. Pick it up and read it.
+Touches on a number of important topics
+Deep insights with convicting but guiding words
+Excellent use of stories to illustrate important points
+Provides hope and applicable insights
-Large lists of scholars at points with little context
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. They did not require any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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Richard Twiss, Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).
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