Archive for the ‘multi-ethnicity’ Category

In God’s Continent, Philip Jenkins examines the developments and changes occurring in the religious landscape of the European continent. The author has emerged as a key voice in the study of the growth of the church in non-Western settings. It could be argued that Jenkins has done more than any other American academic to bring into the mainstream of American thought, the reality of a changing global Christianity. Jenkins’ award-winning and highly-acclaimed work The Next Christendom serves as the most recognizable and broadly-received statement to the church of the reality of the changing face of Christianity.  Philip Jenkins currently serves as the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of the Humanities at Penn State University and works in both the History and Religious Studies departments. Jenkins has dozens of books to his credit, many on the topic of global Christianity.

In God’s Continent Jenkins directs his attention towards the current state of religion in Europe. While the story of European Christianity has been well documented in church history books, God’s Continent explores the more recent developments in European religion.  Jenkins offers an alternative narrative to the dominant assumption that Islam is ascending in the context of an overly secularized, post-Christian Europe. The assertion that “Europe is acquiring much greater ethnic and cultural diversity is certain, but [for Jenkins] the religious implications are less clear” (14). “The core issue, then, is less the ethnic character of a future Europe than is religious tone, and that question remains very open” (19).

Jenkins explores three different threads to develop his examination of European religion. First, Jenkins examines the changes in European Christianity and challenges the assumption that the European continent has lost its Christian presence and has slipped into a deep and entrenched anti-religious secularism. Second, Jenkins focuses on the development of Islam in Europe and reveals a more complex picture of the presence of Muslims in Europe. Finally, Jenkins projects the future of religion in Europe and provides a more nuanced trajectory for European religion.

Similar to Jenkins’ previous works on global Christianity, God’s Continent contains statistical analysis (usually showing the numerical trends of decline and ascension in different areas of the world) and a future projection of potential conflict between emerging faiths (typically between Christianity and Islam). God’s Continent follows that pattern by tracing the changing demographics and statistics of European religion. Jenkins points to the decline of Christianity as evidenced by the declining number of baptisms and the plunging number of seminarians, while simultaneously emphasizing the rise of Islam.

Contrary to his previous works, Jenkins presents a more nuanced argument regarding the complex nature of European religion. While acknowledging the numerical decline of Christianity in Europe, Jenkins asserts that this decline is not a simplistic phenomenon. “In western Europe too, some incidents suggest that Christianity is less moribund than the formal statistics might suggest” (58). The sustaining of religion in Europe may surprise some because it runs against a simplistic application of secularization theory. “Contrary to widespread assumptions, then, rising Islam will not be expanding into an ideological or religious vacuum” (54).

Christianity in Europe has been subject to simplistic analysis and depicted as succumbing to a triumphant wave of secularism.  While there has been a notable decline of church participation, Jenkins notes that “falling levels of observance and church attendance cannot simply be equated with pure secularism, suggesting instead that people are ‘believing without belonging’” (64). Furthermore, the decline of Christianity in Europe could spur on new expressions of Christianity that may contain greater vibrancy. “In a minority setting, Christianity can restructure itself to serve the needs of a new society, demanding more commitment and involvement in some areas of life while acknowledging greater flexibility in others” (56).  Jenkins sees life in European Christianity by pointing towards the resurgence and revivalism among established Christians like the Anglicans, the growing strength of the Evangelical Alliance, and the growth of immigrant churches among Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans.

The strength of this contribution rests on Jenkins’ more nuanced argument regarding European Christianity. Jenkins presents a more layered perspective by presenting the resilience of Christianity in Europe. Jenkins believes not only in the survival of Christianity in Europe, but the potential resurgence of Christianity. Jenkins’ analysis, therefore, does not rely upon the heightening of conflict between Christianity and Islam. The weakness of this contribution hinges on Jenkins’ reversion to the confrontational language employed in his previous works. While acknowledging a more nuanced reality, Jenkins still employs potentially inflammatory language. His use of terms like “conflict” (when addressing the relationship between Christianity and Islam), “clashing values,” and “tension” does not offer a conciliatory posture.

As one of the more recognizable voices in the burgeoning story of world Christianity, Jenkins’ work on European Christianity should serve to sharpen our dialogue on the changing religious landscape of Europe. The hope is that this dialogue would not deteriorate into confrontational language. An ongoing key contribution of Jenkins could be the presentation of a religious reality that gestures towards a potential reconciliation between the different strains of religion that are emerging in Europe and throughout the rest of the world.

Part II of an interview with Duke Divinity School’s BLOG:

Q: Do you first have to help people realize they’re captive?

That’s an important first step. When you grow up in a particular church context with a particular worldview, you develop assumptions about what faith is. After a while, a culture develops within all churches, and we assume our particular cultural expression of Christianity is what the church is supposed to be.

In any context, whether the American church or globally, we have to offer that knowledge about captivity. But part of that comes when we’re in conversation with each other. When a white suburban church talks to an inner-city black church, or a Western church talks to an African church, then we start seeing which things are more cultural and which are more biblical. We start learning from each other what church is really about.

Q: So how do you free the church?

That’s the tough question. Right now in the U.S., we’re blessed to have an increasingly multicultural society. I’m a Korean and grew up in a Korean church, but I was educated in the context of American Christianity and American culture. So I have a bicultural lens.

The subtitle of my second book is “Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church,” but I always thought the better phrase would be “Cultural Intuition.” “Intelligence” implies just a set of knowledge that you pick up. Intuition is more something that you develop through experiences. A person who has lived in one cultural context all their life doesn’t develop an intuition for culture. They might read books on culture and gain knowledge about it, but they won’t develop intuition.

The more you’re in cross-cultural relationships and settings, the more you encounter people who are different, the more you can develop cultural intuition. And through that, you can start asking, “Well, where is my faith coming from?”

Q: What does a culturally sensitive, culturally intuitive church look like?

We’re just starting to figure that out. Part of the problem is that the U.S. has very few multiethnic churches. Only about 7 or 8 percent of U.S. churches are multiethnic, meaning 80 percent of one group and 20 percent of another. We don’t have churches that have been at this for 20 to 40 years and know what it’s like to live through stages of church life as a multicultural community. We’re starting to see more examples.

I hesitate to suggest principles that everybody should follow, because every context is different. But we have to develop even more intuition, relationships and abilities. We have to be patient. Maybe we first need to have more multiethnic churches and be more intentional about being part of multiethnic communities. Then we can see what principles emerge.

Q: You’ve written about the conditions that are required for people to grow and to change regarding issues of race and culture. Tell us about that.

I was a pastor for 15 years — 10 of those in one church — and that deeply shaped the way I view how people change.

Two variables are helpful, and you have to have both. One is a place of safety, a place where you feel safe enough to ask stupid questions, make mistakes and feel affirmed in your basic identity. That, by the way, is often why people go to single-ethnic churches — because they’re safe. We feel safer with people who are like us and who understand us.

But we also need the flip side of that, which is a place of discomfort. Most of us don’t grow unless there’s a reason to grow, unless discomfort is introduced — and usually that is introduced by people who are different.

That’s why it’s hard to establish multiethnic churches, because you’ve got to have both. You’ve got to have places of safety,  but you also need a place of challenge, where people will say, “Hey, maybe you need to think about that a little more.”

Safety and challenge are things I hope the church could offer. That would be a great church, wouldn’t it? A place where people can say, “I’m affirmed here. God accepts me as I am. But at the same time, the community has challenged me to grow in areas that I would not have thought of unless I’d been part of this community.”

Q: The debate over immigration reform is an area where these issues of safety and discomfort seem relevant. Yet church people have often been some of the harshest voices in the debate. Why?

There’s no easy answer, but it goes back to cultural captivity, where being an American and protecting an American identity, usually associated with a white European identity, became more important than the scriptural values of compassion for the alien and immigrant among us. That reflects a cultural Christianity. Christianity as a whole has fallen captive to this idea of American exceptionalism and triumphalism. That has become more important than being the servant of all.

I get disturbed when people say, “We want America to be a Christian nation.” That usually means triumph, victory and maybe even violent conquest. The best way for America to be a Christian nation would be if we accepted the alien and immigrant among us. That would be more of a testimony of America as a Christian nation than any Islamic jihad we were able to defeat or put down.

Q: How should historically single-ethnic congregations welcome and minster to people of different cultures and languages?

American churches don’t look the way they did 20 or 30 years ago. They are more multicultural and more diverse than they’ve ever been, across all denominations. So the question is not, “Is there diversity?” but, “What do we do about it?”

Is our goal to be hospitable? Well, yes, if we’re talking about the biblical understanding of hospitality, but not if we’re talking about the Western concept of hospitality, which means, “Come to my home for a couple of hours — we’ll feed you, but at the end of the night, you’re going to leave.”

Hospitality in the Western concept is an occasional event. Hospitality in the biblical context means, “No, actually, we’re going to live together. My home really is your home.”

What happens when that kind of hospitality changes not only your living arrangements but your food? If I’m a guest in your house, you might fix kimchi for me, but you can throw it out after I leave. But if I’m living with you, that kimchi’s going to be in your refrigerator for a long time, and your milk is going to start tasting like kimchi, and you might not like it as much as when it was just a random, one-night visit.

What happens when we live together for a long time and the liturgy changes? What happens when our children marry each other? What happens when all the things that make family life messy become what our church life needs to be?

It’s not just a Western host saying, “Hey, come on in. We have room for you.” It’s the church saying, “We are now coming into the fullness of what Christ originally intended.” That is a very different approach to being a multiethnic church.

Usually, you get the dominant church or the dominant culture saying, “Come join us and become like us, and then we’ll have worship together.” This other approach says, “Unless you’re here, the way God made you, my life as a Christian is incomplete. By you being here, bringing your different culture and style of worship and approach to fellowship, my life becomes complete in Christ, because I’m seeing Christ in you the way I can’t see Christ just in my own life.”

Q: What advice do you have for churches that want to do what you describe?

Studies show that neighborhoods generally are six times more diverse than churches. Every neighborhood is different, but the excuse that “our church isn’t multiethnic because the neighborhood isn’t” is probably just that — an excuse. If you look within a mile radius, certainly four or five miles, you’ll see more diversity.

A first step would be to ask, “What’s going on in our neighborhood? Have churches started up that we didn’t know about? How can we partner with churches that are already doing this work?”

Then, also think about evangelism. What does it mean to do outreach and evangelism into communities that are already diverse?

Churches should also think seriously about what it means, what it costs, to become a multiethnic church. What would be lost potentially? It could be a lot.

I’ve been looking at what dying churches do with their buildings — churches that were vibrant for 40 or 50 years but they’re down to 15, 20 people, and they’re just kind of waiting. They have a huge endowment and the building is paid for, but they’re not going to make it. In many cases, those churches shut down and become community centers or libraries or bowling alleys or condos.

But what would it mean for that church to give the building to a Spanish-speaking church or a Korean congregation? That would require thinking about what it means to pass on a legacy to people who are in some sense your children but don’t look anything like you or even speak the same language.

What would it mean to think in such a larger, kingdom mindset that you would say, “Our run has ended, and our time is coming to a close. The next generation is not our biological children. It’s the Hispanic church or Asian-American church down the street that we should pass this legacy on to.”

It’s coming to a point in American church history where we’re passing on our legacy to people who look very different from us.

September 2011 on Duke Divinity School’s Faith and Leadership Blog. I did an interview on The Next Evangelicalism. Originally posted on: http://www.faithandleadership.com/qa/soong-chan-rah-freeing-the-captive-church.

This is part I of that interview.

Our nation’s growing diversity represents more to the church than a pool of potential new members. Even more, it’s an opportunity for the church in America to begin to live out a richer, more biblically authentic form of Christianity, Soong-Chan Rah said.

“Often, Western white culture has been so dominant in the church that we have trouble distinguishing it from biblical Christianity,” Rah said. “As the demographics of America change, how do we understand church not just through a Western lens of Christianity but also other lenses?”

The question for the church in America is not, “Is there diversity?” but, “What do we do about it?” said Rah, the Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago.

If the goal is hospitality, then the church must decide what kind of hospitality it is willing to extend — traditional Western hospitality or a more demanding, biblical form of hospitality.

“It’s not just a Western host saying, ‘Hey, come on in. We have room for you,’” Rah said. “It’s the church saying, ‘We are now coming into the fullness of what Christ originally intended.’”

Rah is the author of “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity” and “Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church.” He was the founding pastor of Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Mass., a multiethnic, urban church committed to racial reconciliation and social justice.

Rah was a faculty member for the 2011 Summer Institute at Duke Divinity School and spoke with Faith & Leadership about diversity, church growth and freeing the church from cultural captivity. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: You’re an associate professor of church growth and evangelism and you write about race, ethnicity and culture. What’s the connection between those? Are race and ethnicity keys to church growth?

When we look at evangelism and church growth and America’s changing demographics, we have to consider issues like multicultural and multiethnic ministry. In my own denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, the two have gone hand in hand. Diversity has been a big factor in our growth.

Twenty years ago, the Evangelical Covenant Church was overwhelmingly white and Swedish, because it was a Swedish immigrant church. But in the last 15 years, it has become 20 to 25 percent nonwhite and has been one of the fastest growing denominations. It’s a place where we see a denomination’s growth parallel its growing diversity.

 

Q: Tell us about your first book, “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.”

I look first at how Christianity has changed globally and in America. The assumption has been that Christianity in America is on the decline, but because of immigration, we’re actually seeing American Christianity, if not increasing, then certainly leveling off. We can be thankful that immigration and changing demographics are contributing to the church’s growth in the United States.

But given that demographic reality, what elements of American Christianity are still beholden to systems and structures from a previous time when it was dominated by Western white culture? And what do we need to think through in light of the changing demographics?

So where does our Christianity look more cultural than scriptural? Where do we go from here as we become more ethnically diverse? What is our theological and biblical understanding of culture? How do we start looking at multicultural communities? How can we build cross-cultural relationships?

Every expression of Christianity has cultural baggage, both good and bad. All Christianity has cultural relevance to a particular context. Churches need to do that. But at what point does it become captivity rather than relevance?

Often, Western white culture has been so dominant in the church that we have trouble distinguishing it from biblical Christianity. As the demographics of America change, how do we understand church not just through a Western lens of Christianity but also other lenses?

 

Q: What are the most obvious signs of the church’s captivity to Western culture?

One is the individualism of Western culture. We see this very strongly in evangelicalism, which tends to be highly individualistic. Is that really a biblical approach, or is it acquiescence to American culture? If Western culture is individualistic, then the Western church had to develop patterns of church life that parallel that individualism. But at what point does that become not just relevance but captivity?

Another is how we worship. Does our preaching reflect more the values of individualism than biblical values of community life? Western culture is very much about the individual, but is that what the Bible talks about when it talks about church? Do we need to move out from Western cultural captivity to see other models of community and church? How do African and Asian churches do church life? In what ways might they reflect a more communal spirit rather than the individualism of Western culture?

Captivity doesn’t allow us to see that. Captivity forces us into a particular worldview that says, “This is the way we do church.” But if we’re freed from that, we can see other expressions of church life.

North Park Theological Seminary Announces Urban Ministry Certificate

Certificate in Urban Ministry

Applications for first cohort accepted through March 31

CHICAGO (February 10, 2012) – North Park Theological Seminary is accepting applications for a new, two-year graduate educational program leading to a Certificate in Urban Ministry. The 15-credit certificate program is intended for Christian ministers and lay leaders who want to learn more about engaging in effective ministry in urban settings.

The Seminary is part of North Park University, a higher education institution with a Christian, multicultural, and urban identity. Those core values, combined with the cultural and Christian diversity represented in Chicago, position the Seminary to offer a rich educational experience to students, said Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, program director. Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism for the Seminary, and a former urban pastor himself.

“Chicago is part of the classroom we’re offering,” he said in an interview. “Being in Chicago is a tremendous advantage. It is a center for community development, community organizing, for ethnic diversity, and with diverse neighborhoods.”

Offering a certificate program in urban ministry is part of a larger trend of urbanization and the growing influences of urban culture, Rah said. Both the University and Seminary are affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), which is planting new congregations in urban areas, Rah said. Urban pastors and urban lay workers could benefit greatly from the certificate program, Rah said. “We hope it will strengthen and undergird their urban ministry,” he said. The program can also introduce people to urban ministry who want to learn more.

The urban environment is complex, constantly changing, and always challenging, Rah said. The certificate program will emphasize deeper theological and spiritual engagement, as well as practical ideas for enhancing urban ministry. “We do this ministry as followers of Jesus. Anytime we can deepen the theology, it is a good thing. Also important are spiritual formation and discipleship. All of these serve to strengthen our work in the city,” he said.

Students who complete the program will earn 15 credit hours in just over two years. Plans call for the first cohort to meet Aug. 13–17 in Chicago, followed by online coursework beginning in October. The cohort will meet in Chicago for another week in August 2013, followed by online coursework. A final week-long gathering in Chicago is planned for August 2014. Rah said an ideal size for the urban ministry cohort is about 15 to 20 people.

“There is great enthusiasm in this Seminary and in this denomination for this certificate program,” said Rah. “It represents a wonderful convergence of what North Park University is all about, and what the Evangelical Covenant Church is excited about.”

Applications and supporting materials must be submitted to North Park Theological Seminary by March 31, said E. Kirsten Burdick, director of Seminary admissions. All applications will be considered at the same time in April, she said.

Once in a while, legislation is introduced that makes the moral choice so crystal clear that it is nearly impossible not to do the right thing. The DREAM Act is one such bill. Every year, more than 65,000 students graduate from high school and discover they have no hope for the future. Without citizenship or legal status, they cannot apply for a driver’s license, struggle to find a college to accept them, and cannot legally work in the United States. Their crime? Being carried into our country as children without the proper documentation, often without any say in the matter or understanding of how it would affect the rest of their lives.

Are we a nation that will continue to punish children for the actions of their parents? The DREAM Act says no! Ask the Senate to pass this important bill. The DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship for immigrant students who have grown up in the U.S., if they attend college or serve in the U.S. military. It has strict criteria and caps on who is eligible, and would provide almost a million young people a chance to come out of the shadows and live a full life in the only nation they call home. The Senate plans to vote on the DREAM Act next week, as an amendment to a larger, previously scheduled defense bill. The media is already creating a story of conflict — saying the bill provides “amnesty” and shouldn’t be attached to a military bill. What are our priorities as a nation? We can spend billions on going to war and on our military, but will we come together to give almost a million young people a chance at a brighter and more promising future?

Tell the Senate to set politics aside and pass the DREAM Act next week! As people of faith, we believe that there is a clear biblical responsibility to show compassion for the strangers among us and to treat our neighbors as we would like to be treated. Sojourners’ Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform campaign has been a passionate voice for comprehensive reform to our immigration system. Passing the DREAM act is a step in the right direction on the journey for justice.

In solidarity and hope,

Allison, Andrew, Elizabeth, Hannah, Rev. Jen, and Duane at Sojourners

A few updates:

Wednesday, September 8 at 5PM:  A Reception for my new book:

Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church by Soong-Chan Rah

Sponsored by North Park University

Following a short overview of the book by Dr. Rah, a dialogue with church leaders who engage in multicultural competency in their ministries will take place, exploring various approaches.  The discussion will cover tips for success and well as lessons they have learned along the way.

Professor Rah will be available following the dialogue for a book signing.

WHERE:   Gleacher Center       Room 600

The Gleacher Center is located on the north side of the Chicago River 1 block east of the Sheraton Hotel (site of the CCDA Conference), the second building west of Michigan Avenue. Enter on the east side of the building. Room 600 is on the 6th floor.

Fresh fruit will be served.

Due to limited space, you must RSVP for this event.  If you are interested, contact me to get your name on the guest list.

Thursday, September 9, 2010  (1pm at Gordon-Conwell)

Speaking at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s National Preaching Conference (along with Haddon Robinson, Tony Evans, and Alistair Begg).  They really need to have a woman preacher at the next one.

See LINK at the Gordon-Conwell web page.

RIGHT NOW:

Available online.  I guest edited the Common Ground Journal.  This issues’ topic: Multicultural education at theological schools.

Interesting articles by Mark Harden (Bethel Seminary), Lisa Anderson Umana, Soong-Chan Rah (North Park Theological Seminary), David Leong (Seattle Pacific University) and Liz VerHage (North Park University).

Richard Twiss leads off our 4days4justice with a chapel service at North Park Theological Seminary on Wednesday, April 14th.

Here’s a video clip of Richard Twiss speaking at Anderson University:

Here’s an interview that I did with Richard at the Cornerstone Festival last summer: LINK

Richard Twiss will also be part of the fishbowl discussions on Thursday and Friday (April 15 and 16) on developing an Evangelical Social Ethic for the 21st Century.

TO REGISTER for 4days4justice, link HERE.

This blog post will be first in a series of posts from different academics that I’ve asked to reflect on the Deadly Vipers / Zondervan controversy. They are scholars from different fields that will be drawing from their research to speak to the church on issues of culture, race, gender, justice, etc. I hope that the blog posts will provide a resource to discuss these very important issues from a biblical/theological framework. Many have asked important and legitimate questions regarding the DVZ issue and I hope this series of posts will provide some context and content for our ongoing discussion.

Our first post is from my good friend, Randy Woodley (see his previous post on Native American Christianity). Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian teacher, lecturer, poet, activist, pastor and historian. Randy is an adjunct professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary and is the co-founder of Eagle’s Wings Ministries.  He is the author of three books and the blog post is taken from his book published by IVP, Living in Color.

Randy WoodleyRandy teaching

(Excerpted from Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity by Randy Woodley, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2004) Posted by Randy Woodley

Diversity from the Beginning

The tool of ethnic and cultural homogenization has been used throughout the centuries to protect what is valued in one’s own culture. Usually this ethnocentrism stems from fear that differences will pollute the old way of life and the familiar standards of the culture.

On the one hand, the philosophy of homogenization makes perfect sense. Human beings naturally desire stability in life. Standards give us something to hold onto; they link us with the past. But God Himself wants to be the standard by which we measure everything in society. The difference seems indistinguishable unless we have a sound biblical and theological foundation that reflects God’s true heart on any given matter.

To get a glimpse of the heart of God concerning diversity, let’s consider the first example of diversified cultures presented in Scripture and see where God was heading at a time when everyone on earth had a common language and culture.

They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.  Genesis 11:4–9

Although the Bible provides no physical descriptions telling us how one group of people differed from another, we can suppose that the seed for all the races were in Adam and Eve, and that people were, at least in some ways, different from each other. There seems to have been no inherent evil in having a culture of common language; rather, the people used this powerful communication tool in an evil way.

What was evil about this situation? The people’s disobedience to God’s commands. The people at Babel had one overriding motivation: to make a name for themselves. Their corporate self-admiration stood in direct contrast to the natural revelation of Himself that God had planted in their hearts, and it violated what would later be known as the first commandment. Think of what a tremendous ego boost it would be if everyone else were just like us! But trying to remake society in our own image would mean that society could not reflect God’s image, for His image is reflected in the unity of our being like Him while at the same time being unique in ourselves.

The people’s disobedience also stemmed from their resolve to remain in one geographical area. God’s injunction from the beginning had been that people be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. But the earth could not be filled when the people of the earth refused to leave its only city. God’s command had never been withdrawn—it still has not, to my knowledge—and the people of Babel were in direct violation of it.

But let’s think about God’s strategy. Why would the Creator want them to occupy the ends of the earth, anyway? Didn’t He realize that once they became separated by various geographical barriers, communication would be disrupted? Over time all languages naturally change. And people would eventually develop different physical characteristics according to the laws of genetics. Did God know what He was doing?

He did, indeed—and that is why acting in disobedience to His plan is just plain stupidity. God has planned since the beginning of time to cultivate diversity among human beings. When people tried to circumvent His plan, God intervened by creating many languages. Distinctions would have developed naturally over time, and changes would undoubtedly have taken place anyway if the people had spread out and obeyed God. His intervention merely sped up the process of developing the various ethnic groups that brought about His intended diversity.

The Scriptures do not say that the people of Babel looked much different from each other, but the laws of human genetics show that after many generations, distinct physical genetic traits begin to repeat themselves in the same families. Nor would it have been beyond God’s capability or design to have given certain families with genetic similarities the same languages when He separated them (for example, Oriental genetics and languages in contrast to Caucasian).

The Scripture notes that after God intervened, the people were scattered across the face of the earth and the city was never completed. This was a decided disciplinary action taken by the Creator to fulfill His original plan, but I would not call it a curse, as some have. It was a self-inflicted curse brought on by their stopping to build the tower, but out of God’s discipline a great blessing was to be found in their inhabiting the whole earth.

God’s plan of ethnic diversity is at least as old as the earth’s first habitation. But regardless of human diversity, God always expects a unity of belief and obedience to Himself. Can you imagine why the Creator intended such a wide diversity in people’s cultures from the very beginning? Or why God’s heart is turned toward our living in a multicultural world?

As I ponder these questions, I cannot help but realize that He is a God of innovation and extravagance, diversity and lavishness. God is the artist who formed the planet Saturn and its beautiful surrounding rings. He is the humorist who formed the giraffe and the narwhale, the armadillo and the platypus. God is the designer who set the constellations in place, who causes roses to bloom and who enables bees to make honey. We are not threatened by the stars that tower overhead or by a blooming rose or by the taste of honey in our tea. Should we be so surprised to find that God also created such diversity in human beings—all distinct and all equal—or that He insists that every culture be unique in its own right?

On Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 4th, several folks gathered on a phone call to talk about the various postings related to the Deadly Viper’s book.  The people in the conversation were Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite (Authors),  Chris Heuertz (Director, Word Made Flesh), Soong-Chan Rah (Prof., North Park), Kathy Khang (InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Ministries Director), and Eugene Cho (Pastor, Quest Church).  The conversation was facilitated by Nikki Toyama-Szeto (Urbana 09 Program Director).

Various people in the conversation share their reflections on that conversation below:

Kathy Khang writes:  The conversation didn’t begin until our moderator, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, introduced the individuals at our virtual table and then lead us in prayer. The very act of praying and acknowledging our common need for and desire to seek after God, and hearing Nikki’s voice invite us to the conversation and into God’s presence, reminded me that leadership does not always look, sound or feel the way or come from the places we expect it to. Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite did not expect our voices, our concerns or our leadership when this started with a Facebook status and blog post, but now here we were on a conference call. What I heard were the voices of leaders all committing to begin a conversation that took energy, passion and a common agenda of seeking to start the process of reconciliation. For me, Eugene Cho and Soong-Chan Rah, the conversation is not a new one. But before I could even begin to answer questions about next steps and reconciliation and share even more about our concerns I knew I needed to hear something from both Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite. I needed to hear an apology with no if, ands or buts. I heard what I believe many of us wanted and hoped to hear: “We’re sorry. We didn’t know. We want to learn. How do we do that?” And then Mike and Jud listened. We start right there, and we hope to continue.

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We, Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, started a positive conversation with members of the Christian Asian-American community today who have been part of the blog discussion about Deadly Viper and Asian culture. We’ve waited to comment on the situation until now not because we weren’t listening, but because we hoped for a better understanding and for a conversation. Much can be misconstrued in a blog post. We are learning a lot. For one, we deeply offended some members of the Asian-American community who feel like we hijacked their culture for our purposes. We sincerely apologize for this and want to take steps to listen and respond to concerns. We will be removing a video and some content immediately and we’ll talk with our Asian friends to make sure our community embraces all peoples. We are on a learning journey here. Please have grace with us. This was never done intentionally or with any malicious forethought. We each have many Asian friends, some of whom have been part of the Deadly Viper community. We’ve also made some new friends who have shown us kindness. We desire to honor Asian culture and those friendships. We prefer to have these conversations in ways that have more potential to generate light than heat. In that regard, we’ll continue to have conversations about this topic offline, continue to learn and continue to grow.

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Soong-Chan Rah writes:

This afternoon I was part of a conversation with the authors of Deadly Viper (and Chris Huertz) and a number of Asian-American leaders.  I am thankful that we were able to engage in a direct conversation over what has become a highly charged issue.

I am thankful for the authors’ genuine remorse for the ways that many in the Body of Christ were wounded.  The telephone conversation should pave the way for further dialogue and ways to remedy what has been a source of great pain to many, but specifically to the Asian-American community.

I know that the authors have already taken steps by removing offensive material.  This action was taken with great sincerity and with a desire to move the process forward.  I believe we have taken a very significant step in dealing with a serious issue and believe in the sincerity of the authors to move further along the process of understanding and reconciliation.  I ask that they continue along that journey, as difficult as that path might be.

On a very central level, we are brothers and sisters in Christ seeking to understand each other.  There are many potential places of misunderstanding in the Body of Christ, but we are united by one Savior and we are part of one Church.  Thanks to our brothers who were willing to hear the pain borne by others.  Thanks for your commitment to continue on this journey.

Why can’t Christian publishers get a clue?

Recently, I received my copy of the Zondervan catalog. In one of the circulars, there was an advertisement for a book called Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership.

So the “Kung Fu” part got my attention, as well as the dragon on the cover and the Chinese characters. I guess I was hoping against hope that it was the story of an Asian-American Christian rather than another example of Asian culture being pimped out to sell products.

More to be said, but here are some choice samplings of their work:

At Catalyst 2007, where their session opens with “Kung Fu fighting” music: HERE

A facebook advertisement video: HERE

Some images they use on their website and facebook:

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I’m trying to engage in dialogue with the authors. Not a good response so far, but if given the chance what would you say to them?