Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Many years ago when I was pastoring a church in Cambridge, I was praying for a young Asian-American college student who came up to me after the Sunday worship service.  He said that he was struggling with the concept of sin.  He didn’t feel particularly sinful and was wondering what it meant for a person to be a sinner. This individual considered himself to be a pretty good person. In fact, his family, his friends, and the society around him had declared him to be a good person.  He was a model student, a model son, and a model minority.  He didn’t understand how he could be a sinner.

Many years later, I was sitting with an African-American pastor friend.  He had been a significant mentor to me in helping our church walk through issues related to urban youth ministry.  He challenged my understanding of how to do altar calls.  He contrasted the evangelical Christian (as well as my own) need and tendency to elicit a sense of sinfulness from the individual seeking conversion. He asserted that many African-American youth have already been told by society how wretched they are. They don’t need the church to tell them that they are sinful and that there’s something spiritually not right about them – they’ve been told that all their life. Your Asian-American Harvard undergrad is the one who really needs to hear that they might actually fall short of the glory of God.

Unchained Voices is a collection of writings from black authors from the 18th century, edited by Vincent Carretta. It’s interesting to observe the repeated note of self-awareness about one’s sinfulness and “wretchedness” in the narratives offered by Carretta. For example, David George writes: “there was no possibility of relief, and that I must go to hell.  I saw myself a mass of sin. I could not read, and had no scriptures. I did not think of Adam and Eve’s sin, but I was sin. I felt my own plague” (334-335).  Equiano also reflects this perspective: “I felt that I was altogether unholy . . . I was still in nature’s darkness” (260).

Conversion requires a sense of one’s own guilt, sinfulness, and wretchedness.  I don’t have a problem with that doctrine, but it is interesting how circumstances, history, and context often determine how that doctrine is received, appropriated and applied.

And herein is the reminder: “Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”  But why is it that some of us are made to feel more like a wretch than others?

Fundamentalism and American Culture by George Marsden challenges existing assumptions and portrays a more robust description of the emergence of fundamentalism.  Marsden offers an analysis of a movement that responded to the social, intellectual, and religious crises of their time.  Fundamentalists did not merely withdraw from these cultural changes, but engaged these changes in direct ways. Marsden depicts fundamentalists as expressing a distinct version of evangelical Christianity uniquely shaped by the circumstances of America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century — a time marked by an openly turning away from God.

Marsden’s description of the critical role of Scottish Common Sense Realism and Baconian scientific method in the fundamentalist worldview provides a contrasting image to the caricature of the backwater, uneducated, anti-intellectual, rural, Southern fundamentalist.  Understanding fundamentalists in proper context requires inquiry into the northern expression in denominational and educational contexts. The fundamentalists’ concern rested not in the use of any intellectual and scientific thought, but in the type of science appropriated by the modernists. Fundamentalists viewed their own epistemology as a rational system in contrast to modern liberalism’s reliance upon unproven hypotheses.

While Marsden’s work impresses in its breadth of coverage, the ambitious attempt to provide an expansive and comprehensive description of fundamentalism falls short in his under-represents of the experience of Southern evangelicals who faced less strident opposition. Because of the minimal discussion on Southern fundamentalism, the presentation of the Scopes Trial feels abrupt and under-analyzed. More explication of the Southern stream of fundamentalism would serve as a welcomed addition, not merely to recapitulate the existing work on Southern evangelicalism but to fulfill Marsden’s attempt to provide a thicker and more comprehensive description of fundamentalism.

I recently read a news report that a heart medication [propranolol] could actually impact racial attitudes. “Volunteers given the beta-blocker, used to treat chest pains and lower heart rates, scored lower on a standard psychological test of ‘implicit’ racist attitudes.”

Many do not seem to get the main point of the research. The goal of the research is not to look for ways to spike everyone’s drinking water with a compound that would reduce racism in our world. If only that were possible. But the goal is to reveal a potential cause for racist attitudes.

As the Telegraph article states explicitly: “Scientists believe the discovery can be explained by the fact that racism is fundamentally founded on fear.” Racists are driven by fear.

Maybe that’s why the Bible so frequently says, “Fear NOT!” Doesn’t seem like a huge revelation, but it does put racism and racist attitudes in its proper context.
Do not fear a black President.
Do not fear the alien and immigrant among you.
Do not fear the decline of white evangelicalism and the rise of non-white evangelicalism.
Do not fear a black/brown world Christianity.
Do not fear non-white thought leaders challenging the evangelical status quo.
Do not fear.

If only it were that simple.

In Southern Cross, Christine Heyrman explores the historical development of evangelicalism in the South. In the 18th century, evangelicalism presented an alternative for subordinate groups. The 19th century witnessed the capitulation of evangelicalism to the dominant values of southern culture. Evangelicalism retreated from promises of liberation and invested in upholding the equality and honor of white men above African-Americans and women. Adaptation to the norms of southern society laid the groundwork for much of evangelicalism’s subsequent success and formation. Drawing upon primary sources, Heyrman provides an engaging and convincing narrative. Two key elements of Heyrman’s argument were particularly well constructed. Heyrman reveals evangelicalism’s shifting position on the slavery issue as an example of capitulation to the prevailing value system. Heyrman also demonstrates that the diminishment of women in the evangelical movement reflects acquiescence to the culture. Heyrman explores how the ability to adapt to cultural expectations could have significant negative consequences. The cultural captivity of southern evangelicalism resulted in the loss of a prophetic voice and in my opinion, the loss of the full gospel message.

Giving up for Lent

Posted: March 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

My kids asked me what I was going to give up for Lent.

I said, “Cigarettes.”

My kids said, “But Dad, you don’t smoke.”

“True and I’m not going to start during Lent.”

So giving something up seems to be the thing to do during Lent.

By most accounts, the forty days of Lent reflect the forty days of fasting Jesus endured. Some accounts attribute the number forty to the number of hours Jesus laid in the tomb. Either way, forty seems like a nice Biblical number.

So for forty days, we give up something that we hold in high value and might hinder a life devoted to Christ. A self-sacrificial act as a small token of what Christ gave up for us.

So initially I decided that I was going to give up chocolate for lent.  I really like chocolate. My favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate. But I realize that I don’t eat chocolate all that frequently. So I would be giving up about five servings of chocolate over the Lenten period. Didn’t seem like that great of a sacrifice. I also felt like kind of a wimp giving up chocolate for Lent when others are giving up meat or swearing. I’ve done Daniel fasts in the past. For forty days before I got married, I gave up meat. But it was worth it because I was going to marry my lovely bride at the end of the forty days. I also lost 10 pounds.

So I settled on giving up coffee.  I drink coffee pretty much every day.  Most days two cups a day. It also looks right. A professor in a tweed blazer with a cup of coffee in one hand, maybe a pipe in the other hand. (But no cigarettes). Coffee definitely fits the criteria.

So that’s my final decision. No coffee, chocolate, and cigarettes during Lent. My hands tremble from caffeine withdraw as I type this final sentence. I need to have some Coke Zero this afternoon.

In April of 2012, Judson Press will release Honoring the Generations: Learning with Asian North American Congregations.  This book is co-edited by Al Tizon, Sydney Park, and the author of this blog. See description below:

In this intentionally grounded and richly theological volume, the editors bring together ethnically and generationally diverse leaders from pulpit and academy alike to explore the opportunities for ministry in the Asian North American Christian community. Each acknowledges that this community is increasingly challenged by a generation gap, not so much between age groups but between first-generation immigrants and the second- and third-generations.

Ministry issues addressed include:

Pastoral formation
Women in ministry
Lay leadership
Public witness
Global mission

Each chapter of Honoring the Generations provides both theological and practical resources for those “in the trenches” of cross-cultural and cross-generational church ministry, regardless of ethnicity.

Editorial Reviews:

“In Honoring the Generations, God’s Spirit has finally provided us with a theologically calibrated and field-tested GPS that will guide us more harmoniously, more inclusively, and maybe even more rapidly to the many different places where God is leading ANA churches…How this book came together is proof of how God’s Spirit can fit together different generations, different genders, and different theological perspectives into the Household of God in Christ Jesus.”—Rev. Dr. Ken Uyeda Fong, Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

“This book challenges us to remember that no matter our ethnic, tribal, or theological background, we all are members of the household of God. Thus, we need to seek reconciliation, unity, and peace with one another.” —from the Afterword by Biak Mang, Pastor, Myanmar Christian Church (ABCUSA), Chicago, Illinois

“The ‘next evangelicalism’ of which coeditor Rah has written to high acclaim is here unveiled as that which includes the contributions of both the elders and the younger generation. The Asian North American voices in this volume have much to teach evangelicals across the spectrum who are ready to escape the western cultural captivity of the church.” —Amos Yong, J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology, Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, VA

“Honoring the Generations challenges its readers to deal with the complexities of calling people to faith and developing churches in the midst of generational change, cultural adaptation, and the struggles of minority identity development. They write from their experiences within their various Asian North American communities, drawing out specific insights for ministering within ANA communities, but also addressing issues that cross ethnic and cultural lines. The book is an indispensable contribution to Asian American ministry and to the growing literature on ministry in the intercultural reality of North America today.” —Juan Francisco Martínez, Associate Provost for Diversity and International Programs, Fuller Theological Seminary

“This engaging conversation among Asian North American (ANA) ministers and professors names numerous challenges—including generational differences, cultural diversity, public engagement, assimilation, and gender inequality. The writers put their on-the-ground experiences on the table, reflect on historical elements, cultural influences, and biblical passages, and clarify what is important for ANA churches. Don’t expect answers, but do expect diverse voices, stories that narrate various experiments, and a call for deeper engagement across differences. This is a crucial conversation among ANA leaders.” —Mark Lau Branson, EdD, Homer Goddard Associate Professor of Ministry of the Laity, Fuller Theological Seminary and coauthor of Churches, Cultures & Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations & Ethnicities

“An old Japanese proverb, ‘The nail that sticks up gets hammered down,’ continues to portray much of the ethos of the Asian North American church today. In Honoring the Generations,however, noted Asian North American theologians and pastors from varying theological traditions and cultural backgrounds honor and draw strength from disparate church experiences. The writers share the fruit of a long and sometimes arduous dialogue in hopes of inspiring a Kingdom revolution in the church that is both generative and generous for first-, second-, and third-generation Asian North American Christians alike. In the process, this book invites readers to envision together the nature and practice of the church as God’s household, with the capacity to forge the future of the Asian North American church.” —S. Steve Kang, Professor of Educational Ministries & Interdisciplinary Studies, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Coauthor of Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful, and A Many-Colored Kingdom

“In an increasingly diverse nation, the biblical, theological, and practical insights and lessons in this must-read book will go a long way in helping congregational leaders confront the cross-cultural and cross-generational challenges of their ministry. This book reflects a unique collaborative effort of scholars and practitioners responding to what I believe is the most critical issue at the dawn of the twenty-first century—ecclesiology. Here you have a relevant and robust practical ecclesiology by a variety of voices that will prove to be a gift to the Christian church at large and not just to Asian North American congregations.” —Rev. Eldin Villafane, PhD, Professor of Christian Social Ethics and Founding Director of the Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Boston, Massachusetts

“To have such a range and depth of Asian North American leaders active today in teaching and ministry is an answer to so many prayers. For them to all have been at one conference together and now to have their thoughts collected and published is probably more than we hoped to pray for. Here in these pages are fresh lessons from Scripture, inspiring ministry stories, and an array of leadership insights to help the ANA church take needed next steps toward a better future.” —Russell Yee, ThM, PhD, adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and author, Worship on the Way: Exploring Asian North American Christian Experience

“Rich in Scripture, overflowing with grace, easy to understand, respectful of complex variables, and humble about methods, this is a book for our time.” —Miriam Adeney, PhD, Associate Professor of Global and Urban Ministry, Seattle Pacific University and author, Kingdom without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity

“This collection by Asian North American theologians and congregational leaders present the most heartening reflections on the daily struggles and triumphs of Asian North Americans in living out their Christian faith. The challenges and conflicts surrounding the issues of generation, gender, leadership, evangelism, and social engagement are not unique to them, but common themes for all evangelicals in the contemporary social and cultural contexts. It is a valuable reading for all those who are struggling about these issues, especially those who are engaged in ministries among Asian North Americans.” —Fenggang Yang, University Faculty Scholar, Professor of Sociology and Director, Center on Religion and Chinese Society, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

“With a scarcity of such resources available, Honoring the Generationsis a long awaited and welcome book. Connecting the significant biblical and Asian North American (ANA) cultural themes such as honor and household, the authors integrate both ANA contexts and biblical principles to foster a thriving ANA ministry. Since the book comes out of a consultation of ANA leaders, the methodology of the book is itself communal.” —Rev. Young Lee Hertig, PhD, Executive Director, Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity (ISAAC)

“Two central underlying themes of the contributions in this edited volume are the questions of (1) how Asian North American second-generation Christians are coming to terms with their cultural and spiritual inheritance from their immigrant parents and (2) what legacy they will leave their children. Through each chapter we are invited into the struggles of generational differences over leadership, women and calling into ministry, apathy and disillusionment. And in each chapter, written by leading ANA theologians and clergy, we are presented with biblically informed and experiential perspectives that will encourage readers who identify with these problems or know someone who does. As the second generation are now raising children of their own, the urgency for examples and role models is all the more pressing; Honoring the Generations is a fresh provision for that very need.” —Jerry Z. Park, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Baylor University

“It might be surprising for most people to learn that most Asian North Americans are Christian. However, it is no surprise that most of Asian North American Christians belong to immigrant and ethnic congregations, as did their predecessors whose ancestors came from other continents. This collection of coauthored chapters by Asian North American theologians and congregational leaders presents heartening reflections on their daily struggles and triumphs in living out their Christian faith. The challenges and conflicts surrounding issues of generation, gender, leadership, evangelism, and social engagement are not unique to them, but common themes for all evangelicals in the contemporary social and cultural contexts. However, the theology of God’s household seems to be distinctly Asian or Asian North American. It is a valuable reading for all those who are struggling with these issues, especially those who are engaged in ministries among Asian North American Christians.” —Fenggang Yang, Professor of Sociology, Director, Center on Religion and Chinese Society, Purdue University

So every Friday, I’m going to offer up a book review. Just to keep fresh on various topics. Will also post good book reviews from students as I receive them. FIRST UP: Harry Stout’s classic work on George Whitefield: The Divine Drmatist.

Harry Stout presents a portrait of George Whitefield as “Anglo-America’s first religious celebrity, the symbol for a dawning modern age” (xvi).  Whitefield’s innovations related to revivals in the Anglo-American context (such as the incorporation of the theatrical in preaching, the para-church nature of his ministry, and the willingness to compete in the marketplace) reveals his ability to adapt to the emerging consumer culture (xvii).  This adaptability reflects a salient characteristic of modern evangelicalism. Evangelicalism has demonstrated the ability to adjust to cultural trends over the course of American history and Whitefield provides the example and prototype of evangelicalism’s intersection with contemporary culture.

Utilizing primary source material, Stout presents a compelling argument. The strength of Stout’s argument lies in its comprehensive nature and his ability to trace a consistent profile throughout the narrative.  One question that I would raise about the work, however, is the seeming ease with which Stout attributes negative motives to Whitefield. On numerous occasions, Stout questions the purity of Whitefield’s motives and seems to focus on his negative motives.[1] Is there more conjecture than is necessary by Stout? While one could argue the merits of dissecting Whitefield’s motives, would it be more helpful to focus on outcomes?  Or would that approach reflect the pragmatism of both 18th century and 21st century American evangelicalism?


[1] For example, Stout is quick to attribute pragmatic motivations for Whitefield. This perspective could easily disintegrate into a second-hand interpretation of a fame hungry demagogue desperately willing to resort to anything to accomplish his own goals. More could be said about the possibility of a purity in his motivation.