Soong-Chan Rah. Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times. Downers Grove, IVP Books, 2015. See here to purchase the book.
Soong-Chan Rah helped plant a church in inner-city Cambridge,
Massachusetts, and his first sermon series was about the biblical Book
of Lamentations. As Rah jokes, “Church growth books would not advocate
for six weeks of lamenting as a way to spark interest in a new church”
(page 20). But Rah believes that the Book of Lamentations and the
concept of lamenting are relevant to today, especially in the time of
Ferguson and the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of
law-enforcement officers. Rah stresses the importance of lamenting with
the victims of societal injustice.
Rah’s application of the Book of Lamentations to modern justice
issues is artful and faithful to the text, particularly in terms of
Lamentations’ themes about God not respecting the “important” of
society, the futility of materialism, giving voice to the suffering, the
sovereignty of God, and how sin is not always individual but can be
collective. From the standpoint of biblical scholarship, I appreciated
Rah’s comparison and contrast of the Book of Lamentations with ancient
Mesopotamian hymns of lament about fallen cities. In terms of Rah’s
larger agenda in the book, Rah does well to challenge attitudes that are
pervasive within Western white evangelicalism: attitudes that celebrate
fame and prosperity rather than faithfulness in the midst of suffering,
that are patronizing towards victims of injustice, and that expect
applause for reaching out to the poor. Rah’s discussion was convicting
to me, as a white liberal.
On first sight, the book does not appear to talk much about practical
solutions. This may be disappointing to privileged people who feel
morally obligated to do something about the problems that Rah discusses,
yet may not know how to do so, and may even get the impression from
Rah’s book that what they are doing is inadequate, even
counterproductive. There is one part of the book in which Rah mentions
an inner-city church that served as a mediator between the police and
the community, but, as far as I could see, the book did not have too
many other positive stories. Perhaps, however, Rah believes that having
a proper attitude is a significant part of the solution: lamenting with
people in their pain rather than ignoring it, downplaying it, trying to
make oneself feel better about it, or condescendingly trying to solve
it. I particularly appreciated Rah’s story about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a
privileged German who was abstract about his theology, yet had a
life-changing transition through his experience in the African-American
I had the privilege of visiting Pastor Rah’s church a couple of times when I lived in Massachusetts. I consider this book, Prophetic Lament, to be powerful, well-written from a stylistic viewpoint, and important for people to read.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Intervarsity Press in exchange for an honest review.