Richard Twiss. Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way. Ed. Ray Martell and Sue Martell. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2015. See here to buy the book.
Richard Twiss, who passed on in 2013, was a Native American, an evangelical Christian, and an academic. In Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys,
Twiss argues for contextualization: Native American Christians
worshiping Jesus through their own cultural expressions, such as drums,
pow-wows, and sweat lodges. According to Twiss, such an approach has
been controversial within evangelicalism, as many white evangelicals and
even some Native American evangelicals fear that it promotes paganism
or can open people up to evil spirits. Twiss believes, however, that
Native American evangelicals should feel free to be who they are rather
than leaving behind their heritage. At times in the book, Twiss offers a
biblical rationale for his position: Jesus came to a particular
cultural setting (Palestine), the early Christians drew from Greek and
Roman concepts (i.e., the logos, Stoicism) in appealing to Gentiles, and
Paul in Romans 1 says that Gentiles are aware of a creator.
The book has a lot of strengths. Although there are parts of the
book that are rather abstract and academic, there are also parts in
which Twiss is passionate about his beliefs. Twiss details the negative
effects of colonialism on Native Americans, and he also has some good
one-liners. For example, Twiss responds to the neo-Calvinist line of
“If you have a problem with what I’ve said, take your issue to God
because I am just telling you what the Word of God says” by saying “that
is, pure God=pure reductionist baloney”. Twiss jokes that many act as
if II Corinthians 5:17 means that old things have passed away, and all
things have become white.
The stories that Twiss includes in his book, about his own background
and the experiences of other Native American evangelicals, added to the
book a human dimension that fleshed out to me what his concerns were.
Twiss also has a chapter about the work that has been done in
contextualization, and, while that read to me as an infomercial, it is
important because it highlights what progress has been made, and what
remains to be done. I also appreciated Twiss’ discussion about future
scholarly projects that he was thinking of pursuing. He raised the
possibility, for example, that there may be more Native American
Christians than scholars have thought, and he said that he was thinking
of investigating the criterion for “Christian” that scholars have used.
In terms of the book’s negatives, I did not care for the book’s
organization, for I would have preferred for the book to have an early
chapter about how God can speak in different cultures and religions, and
how Christianity relates to that. A chapter or a section that clearly
lays out the differences between white and Native American assumptions
about spirituality also would have been helpful; while Twiss
occasionally mentions differences in his book, clearly laying them out
and explaining them in a chapter would have helped me, as a reader.
Something else that would have been helpful is a chapter or section
explaining the significance of Native American rituals within the Native
American context, followed by an explanation of how exactly Native
American Christians are appropriating them, and the extent to which
their appropriation is faithful to the rituals’ original meaning. Twiss
says that Native American evangelicals can use their traditional
rituals but should take care not to fall into paganism, but he should
have fleshed out how he envisioned that taking place.
I cannot fault Twiss for the book’s organization, for my
understanding is that this book was put together from some of his
writings after his death. I do not even fault his editors, for they
were working with what they had. I will say, though, that readers
interested in this topic may want to supplement their reading of this
book with other works. The book has a bibliography in the back, and
Twiss wrote a previous book, One Church, Many Tribes, that may have more of what I was looking for.
Intervarsity Press sent me a complimentary review copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.