Saturday, April 12, 2014

Asian Americans and the Emergent Church

I want to step away from theology for a moment to talk about an issue that's been on my mind for the past few years.  Just a few days ago, I stumbled upon a blog specifically devoted to the Christian faith from an Asian American perspective.  The content and focus was largely reminiscent to my experience 1) growing up in an ethnic Chinese-American church, and 2) observing the social dynamics of young Asian American Christians through college.

For many Asian Americans, the intersection of ethnic identity and faith is a normative reality in their spiritual lives.  I've witnessed two ingredients essential to spiritual livelihood within the Asian-American church: 1) common and regular fellowship with fellow Asian Americans, and 2) spiritual ethnocentrism, or the idea that God purposed (or empowered) Asian Americans with their given ethnic identities for evangelistic outreach.

I have always approached the subject of ethnicity and religion with great sensitivity.  This is even more the case with a generational strata like the Asian American second-generation.  I sometimes refer to this generation as one trapped in limbo, because it neither fully identifies with its ancestral roots, nor does it fully identify with western attachments.

In some ways, this tension of identity has been problematic for the church because it has produced a generation far too proud of its ethno-cultural status and far too unwilling to approach corporatism outside the Asian American church.  In other words, young Asian Americans who have grown up in the church have clung tightly to one another under the pretense that God-ordained ministry cannot transcend the boundaries of Asian American Christendom.

Many Asian Americans would likely find little comfort in regular fellowship outside of a communion with a high level of socio-ethnic homogeneity.  My fear is that many have adopted a faith that is so ethnocentric, that if disrupted, it could negatively harm their spiritual growth.  I can attest to this firsthand-- moving from a Chinese-American church to a multi-ethnic congregation has produced, in some sense, a culture shock.

Theologically, I've also witnessed a confusing pattern of doctrinal proclivities among my fellow Asian American peers.  While the popularity of many younger New Calvinist preachers (i.e., Chan, Platt, Chandler, etc.) remain high, there also seems to be a tendency to gravitate toward the spectacles of the Emergent Church, particularly when it comes to ideas like cultural relevancy.

In some sense, this trend has deconstructed orthodox ecclesiology and the historicity and theological richness of the Christian faith.  Applicability and Christian living are far more common discussion topics than key doctrines like justification, sanctification, Christology, trinitarianism, eschatology, and the million other 'ologies' that exist within Christian theology (esoteric to be sure, but necessary).

I think many of the pseudo-postmodern emergent trends in the Church today can be rightly attributed to a backlash against orthodox fundamentalism.  This has made for a suitable ally for Asian Americanism, attaching itself to the emergent movement as a reaction to the overwhelmingly white hegemony of historical Christian orthodoxy.

All the while, I'm wary of being overtly critical of the Asian American church because 1) of my inherent bias, and 2) my close associations with fellow believers whom I love.  Nonetheless, I think it's important that such things are carefully evaluated in light of our ecumenical duty as Christians.  Again, there is a delicate balance to be struck here, given the generational tension that Asian Americans must confront.  But I hope it is an issue that continues to be discussed, and one I'm sure to broach in the future.  

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