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.