Linsanity and Asian American Christianity

By now, especially after his game-winning shot vs. Toronto on Tuesday night, many of us have seen or read about Jeremy Lin, the came-out-of-nowhere starting point guard of the New York Knicks. Some of the stories and blogs are about Lin the Asian American, and some are about Lin the Christian. Some, like my friend Michael Luo’s very personal piece in The New York Times, are about both. In his article, Luo talks about a “species” of Christianity, Asian American Christianity, and wonders why he, a Christian and an Asian American, connects differently to Lin than he does to Tim Tebow. He asks, and starts to answer, What is Asian American Christianity?

Before I, a Christian and an Asian American, dive in, let me first respond to two possible objections to the question. First, aren’t we all Christian? Why do we have to talk about Asian American Christianity? Yes, it’s true that there is one faith, one Lord, one baptism. It’s also true that we are not disembodied children of God but ones who think in particular languages. We are perceived in particular ways based on our faces and last names, and have learned particular sensibilities and ways of relating to other people that the gospel both challenges and affirms. And this applies to all of us; we shouldn’t imagine that white American Christians have a culturally neutral perspective, while Asian Americans have a culturally specific one. Second, isn’t any description of the particularities of a group, much less a diverse and pan-ethnic one like Asian American Christians, going to be oversimplified? Again, yes; with that caveat in mind, though, it seems helpful to identify some general characteristics of Asian American Christianity.

First, in some pockets of the country, such as Harvard and the New York that Luo knows, we’re majority—not minority—Christianity. In much of the country, Asian American Christians may be relatively unknown: they don’t top best-seller lists, they don’t pastor largely white megachurches, and they are not a large presence in smaller cities. But, as Luo writes, if you are a part of an historically orthodox church in New York or San Francisco, or if you’re a student involved in a parachurch at Harvard or Stanford, chances are that you know plenty of them. Christianity’s non-white face in these places reminds us what Christianity increasingly looks like at a global level.

Asian American evangelicals also have a different history than white evangelicals. We have, by and large, never been a part of the Religious Right. We never marched after Roe v. Wade, and we didn’t know who Pat Robertson was. We knew James Dobson from Focus on the Family tapes, but we did not know his politics.

We weren’t a part of the fundamentalist-liberal divide from the early 20th century. So we, as gospel-pondering Christians, might attend a debate about whether or not social justice is an essential part of the church’s mission, but we’re sort of perplexed by the question. In our history, immigrant churches preached the gospel and took care of the everyday needs of the immigrant community—explaining the water and electric bills, providing loans to one another, helping each other’s children get into college—without any bifurcation or angst.

Our Presbyterians spoke in tongues, our mainline pastors preached the exclusivity of Jesus. We wondered how any Christian could have qualms about something called “liberation theology,” until we read Cone and Guttiérez, and we were shocked to learn that some “Christian” seminaries do not confess the Nicene Creed. Our piety and worship tend to feel trans-denominational. Today, Asian American evangelicals in New York who don’t join a predominantly Asian American church are happy to be a (large) part of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, but we are also happy to be with Times Square Church. Both churches’ spiritualities feel familiar.

We aren’t quite Emergents or New Calvinists, because we’re not emerging from a white 80s-and-90s megachurchish spirituality that those groups take to task. We can identify with some aspects of those groups—we are urban and charismatic-friendly, and we were the Other long before it was cool to be—but much of the rhetoric does not connect. We have had more than our share of problems, but a mechanistic or programmatic model of church has not been one of them, and our parents’ churches sang plenty of hymns.

In our overseas mission involvement, our churches are sensitive to potential paternalism. But this is not because we studied missiology; it’s because our countries of origin experienced the colonial missions of churches within empires. We are passionate for his glory, not because we rediscovered Edwards, but because our culture was not as pervaded by individualistic humanism. We tend to be culturally sensitive, not because we studied sociology, but because we ourselves have been constantly misunderstood—in school, at work, in our parents’ homes, in our countries of origin, and in the larger American church.

We don’t bemoan large-scale erosion in the American church; we’re rejoicing over vibrant congregations, even revival, in America. Soong-Chan Rah, who led a predominantly Asian American congregation in Boston, recounts in a recent book how he came to realize that when people talked about the spiritual desolateness of Boston, they were really talking about white Boston; minority churches, Asian American ones included, have been booming in that area.

We didn’t experience the white version of the “what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem” question, as few of us—even the most devout—attended Christian schools and colleges. Our parents never seriously considered them; we went to secular universities and joined campus ministries, sometimes Asian American ones. We wrestled with what seemed to be conflicting goals of material success and Christian faithfulness when we got there, but few of us decided that the answer was to set up Christian schools and universities.

We have other big issues: How does confessing sin work in a shame-based culture? How do you preach the gospel effectively in a high-context language culture? How does the gospel help us consider traditional American images of masculinity alongside Asian ones like the samurai and the sage, archetypes who valued listening over speaking, deference to others over self-assertion?

This is not to say that Asian Americans cannot care about or discuss the aforementioned issues. It’s just that we come into those conversations as outsiders, to some degree, and often keep feeling that way once in them. In other words, our experience in the American church can mirror our experience in American culture more broadly.

Linsanity, for Asian Americans, is only partly about basketball. More significantly, it’s about that outside experience being recognized by others and, even further, evolving into inclusion. Can what happened to Lin in the NBA happen to him and other Asian American Christians in the broader American church? Can it encourage Asian American Christians to give more of their gifts and leadership to the community—and Community—at large? It sounds grandiose, insane. But, as we’ve seen the last two weeks, insanity happens.

  • Wendy Alsup

    Lovely, helpful article. We have attended for 4 years a thoughtful presbyterian church with many Asian Americans. I noted to my husband as we got to know these friends more deeply the distinct difference in my white American Christianity experience and their Asian American one. This was helpful to me and I look forward to talking with them about it.

  • Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

    Good article.

    When I was in seminary, about half the guys there were either Korean or Chinese.

  • Soong-Chan Rah

    Thanks for the reference to my book. But at least cite the title: The Next Evangelicalism. :)

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “Why do we have to talk about Asian American Christianity?”

    Because some people are asking?

    Hard to speak in helpful generalities, given the differences between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generations and assimilation into American culture.

    Also, there are not insignificant cultural differences between Chinese churches with English, Mandarin, and Cantonese services; Japanese churches with English and Japanese services; and Korean churches with English and Korean services. Not to mention Asian-Americans who’s first language is English and who worship in predominantly Caucasian churches.

    But this article is definitely helpful.

    FWIW, an unsubstantiated observation/opinion: Chinese and Korean churches tend to be more theologically conservative while Japanese churches tend to be more theologically liberal.

  • Big Ben

    Just thought I’ll offer a somewhat different but related perspective. I’m not Asian American. I’m Asian. For most of us, the issues are quite different. We struggle with being accused of embracing a white man’s, foreign devil’s religion when we choose to follow Christ. Some are called babanas- Yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Worse yet, we are also accused of being unfilial. Being christian automatically implied cutting oneself off from community and refusal to perform last rites (for the sons).

    The issues are about walking the fine line between hanging on to one’s cultural identity and being christian at the same time. What to throw out, what to keep, how to be authentically christian and true to one’s own culture at the same time,how to find that fit between a western, very rational, very systematic theology and a completely different worldview.

    To our pleasant surprise, God and God’s Word invariably embodies all that is best and ideal in our culture. And then how to reach out to our parents, relatives and peers who have been so deeply entrenched within a certain culture and perceiving christianity to be so antithetical to who they are.

    These are what we struggle with. It was never about politics. Perhaps its because in Asia politics belong to a different realm altogether, they simply don’t belong with spirits, rituals and thoughts of the after-life.

  • John

    Very good article and appraisal. However, I think there have been some weaknesses missed: Asian churches are the only ones that I know of that will explicitly identify themselves as such by name. If a white church called itself, First White People’s Baptist Church, it would get immediately accused to being racists. Asians do this all the time and seem to think it’s fine. It’s not.

    Maybe the reason it never occurs to Asians in America to send their children to Christian schools is because they value academic esteem and the potential earning power of a degree too highly. I heard an Asian-American Christian complain of their room-mate at UC Berkeley having sex with their partner while they were in the room. It never occurred to the Asian-American Christians to question whether their children should be in that environment.

    Finally, there appears to be no serious thought given as to whether there should be distinct Asian churches at all. While I think Asians have a lot of positives (as you described) to contribute to the church in America, the church should be centered on Christ. If the center of a church is an ethnicity, then will that eventually lead to the demise of those churches?

    • MrKane

      The center of the African American church is an ethnicity…did that lead to the demise of that church? I’m not saying that church is perfect either, but maybe the African American church actually thrived because it gave African Americans a place where they could interact with each other, have a safe place in America, and be in a place where they and their experiences are affirmed. And the gospel is preached in those churches too.

      It’s not that different with Asian American churches/fellowships. We (and I say we) go to those churches at least in part because we can go where people can understand us, “feel us”, affirm us, and encourage us to be leaders. People in the fellowship would understand it, maybe experienced it, if I complained that my parents were always comparing me to my cousin who got into Harvard Law school. And they’d understand what it’s like to be told to “go back to China” when I (at the time) had never even been there.

      Even more practically, they would not be grossed out if I told them I liked chicken feet at dim sum. And they might not think all Asians eat cats and dogs.

      Until we have no ethnic or racial discrimination or stereotyping in America, we’ll probably always have ethnic / racial churches in America. Places where people of color can be affirmed and be healed of the stress and difficulties that come from being a minority in America.

      Is the white American church centered on Christ, by the way? Just saying…

    • Matt

      Even though there may never be a church that calls itself white or black or any other ethnicity, you walk into many of them and you know immediately that you don’t belong because of your skin color. While it’s not ideal, it’s the sad reality in America. It’s not just Asian churches.
      and plus, putting a nationality in the name of a church helps with immigrant populations, not necessarily to exclude other races, but to help especially with language and cultural assimilation.
      you look at churches that were started by second generation Asians, they usually don’t have their church name with nationality attached to it.

    • Lois Kwon

      John, in many cases I think it’s unfortunately true that academia is an idol for the Asian-American (Christian or not). But I ask you to not make the assumption that most of us having chosen to not attend a Christian school means that we failed to ask the question in the first place about where we should go.

      On the other hand, your comment about labeling churches with a nationality and your question on whether distinct cultural churches should exist at all are valid observations, one that I often reflect on. At my Korean-American church I see a value of having our nationality specifically identified; it is mainly for the immigrants. Those who come to America are not necessarily Christian, but they feel the need to find a place to connect with others like them: what better place than a church where the members can hope and pray that they will find Christ?

      But as a member of the English-speaking congregation of that church, it is my hope that we, being the bridge between a Korean-speaking congregation and the American city that we live in, can exemplify what it means to be a body of Christ that is not hindered by cultural barriers.

      There are both benefits and downsides to being brought up in a culturally-specific church – we see Christ in a particular light. And as a pastor once said, Jesus is multifaceted like a jewel, and we come to know more of who He is through the eyes and experiences of those different than us. We are able to bring that insight to those who are not Asian-American. But the danger is that if we fail to see and be involved in the body of Christ beyond our own walls, we only see Him in that one light, and we ourselves fail to see more of Jesus, while also taking away the possibility of blessing others through what we know.

      You are right, that all churches must be centered on Christ. Every church faces this issue: we just happen to know what the biggest opposition to that is in our situation.

    • Job


      First of all, the vast majority of fundamentalist and evangelical white children spurn Christian schools for secular ones because of prestige, earning potential, socialization (including parties) and in the south FOOTBALL. So, you are trying to take the mote out of the Asian Christian eye without taking the log out of your own. After all, it is white Christians that are forsaking a tradition of many centuries of Christian education, not only college but K-12. Not so long ago in most western countries, practically ALL educational institutions were either religious or religious-affiliated, and secular education did not exist. It was white Christians who cast that tradition aside. Asian Christians never had that tradition to forsake it in the first place, so when they arrived in America they merely emulated the habits and values of the white mainstream in our “Christian” nation (yes, I do say the white mainstream, because only a tiny minority of Asians emulate black or Hispanic Americans, and those that do are almost always low income Asians who live in urban areas).

      Second, the main reason why Asian churches exist are the language barriers. I wish that Asians would join us in our white – and black – churches too, but the language issue is a big one. White churches have only recently started providing support for multiple languages, and even then they are only able to support one or two other languages.

      Third, I should point out that white churches – and white Christians – created distinct churches (and distinct everything else) because of SEGREGATION. The churches weren’t NAMED First White People’s Baptist Church, but that is exactly what they were. And churches were the LAST mainstream American institution to be desegregated, not the first (country clubs are hardly mainstream), which many churches refusing to accept nonwhite members well into the 1980s. Why should nonwhites be responsible for solving a problem that whites created and maintained for centuries? I will give you the answer: the gospel of Jesus Christ. But white Christians are just as responsible for living out the gospel of Jesus Christ in their daily lives as Asian Christians are. The blame cannot be one-sided in blaming the failure of Asian Christians to integrate. White Christians can certainly attend Asian-American churches. White Christians can also invite Asian Americans to their own churches. Is there a bit of evidence that there has been any organized, large scale attempt to do so? No such evidence exists in my area. Maybe it points to a failure of outreach among the Asian Christians community, but the point is that white Christians cannot point to this failure among others if they have the same failure among themselves. The idea that Asian Christians are supposed to make all the effort to integrate with white Christians, with white Christians not making an equal effort of their own smacks of superiority/supremacist thinking. It is bad enough that Asians have to encounter this in the secular context when seeking housing, education and employment opportunities. (Yes, Asians are discriminated against broadly in those areas … how else can you explain the very high Asian achievement not being reflected in leadership positions? Asians merely do not have the equivalent of an NAACP or LULAC to articulate their experiencing discrimination to the mainstream.) PLEASE do not place the burden on the Asian church.

      P.S. I am not Asian. I have just encountered these arguments before, and they are absurd.

    • eve

      Thanks to all those who responded to John’s remarks. It’s weird to me when someone looks at the dominant culture and says to minorities, “we don’t specify our ethnicity, so why do you?” The reason, of course, is because YOU’RE PART OF THE DOMINANT CULTURE, the culture that is all around us! There’s no NEED for the dominant culture to take even more than their majority of the pie and call itself the “White Christian Church.” I’m amazed at how often such questions come up when we all learned from history that the disenfranchisement of minority groups (in churches as well) and the desire to be understood in a foreign land led to their own churches and institutions being established. That’s what happens when there is a dominant culture. There is a root issue at work here … people don’t just randomly gather together apart from a historical and sociological backdrop.

    • Jen

      Well Asian churches identify themselves as Asian Church because in US the white race is the “default” race. White churches don’t need to identify themselves as White church because they live in the place where White people are the majority people. If you go to Japan for example, no Japanese church will call themselves Japanese church in their church name because they are already in Japan.

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  • Solomon Tingsam Li

    Carl, thank you for your blog. If you have not, you may also want to read something written by Jonathan Tran a couple of years ago on how Asian American Christians define themselves and are searching for identity. Jonathan Tran is an Assistant Prof. of Religion at Baylor. At least, I think he still is…

    This blog was a good read. There are many facets of the Asian American experience we could go on and on about. The questions of identity and life for the Christian are most pertinently answered by Paul in the way he prioritized his Kingdom citizenship. I guess the questions we as Asian Americans always ask falls in the category of, “What does that look like?”

  • andy kim

    I really appreciate this article. It puts to words a lot of the experiences I’ve had as an Asian American Christian pursuing a theological education in the United States. Whether I’m navigating the fundamentalist-liberal divide, the social justice/evangelism debate, the black/white issue of race in the church, the “worship wars” — I heartily participate and see the value in those conversations, but I have often felt “off.”

    Reading this article helps me to articulate that “off” feeling as being an outsider to the conversation, where people are reacting and responding to experiences that are so distant from my own; where I’m asked to feel angst about a theological issue I don’t necessarily feel angsty about.

    The last questions you ask is resonating with me — how can Asian Americans contribute their gifts to the “Community” or perhaps the American church?

    I think articles like this represents the start — we need to be more adept at articulating our experiences and engaging in theological reflection as a community. Putting words to the feeling of being theological outsiders. Not just forcing ourselves to assimilate into a White American theological paradigm. We need pastors, theologians and writers (like you, Soong-Chan Rah and others) who can communicate how the Gospel is good news to Asian Americans but also how it challenges our cultural assumptions and idolatry. If Christ crucified is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, what is He to Asian Americans? I think those “big issues” you pose represent a start.

    I’m excited because as we Asian Americans pursue this in our churches and seminaries, alongside our brothers and sisters from other races and ethnicities, we are testifying that the Gospel really is the power of God for the salvation of EVERYONE who believes– and that “everyone” is not a generic, indistinguishable blob of humanity, but every tribe, nation and tongue.

  • Frederick Repollo

    This is a well thought of essay. Thanks for the input on Lin phenomena.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Andy Kim: “I’m excited because as we Asian Americans pursue this in our churches and seminaries, alongside our brothers and sisters from other races and ethnicities, we are testifying that the Gospel really is the power of God for the salvation of EVERYONE who believes– and that “everyone” is not a generic, indistinguishable blob of humanity, but every tribe, nation and tongue.”

    No matter what church I visit, I hope and expect to hear the same Gospel message about the work of Christ on the Cross. The Gospel transcends ethnicity.

    The Gospel should be (roughly) the same whether it’s a predominantly Caucasion church, a multi-ethnic church, a Chinese church, a Japanese church, a Korean church, a black church, a Latino church, a Philipino church, etc….

    If it isn’t, if it’s primarily a “Social Justice” church, or a Word-Faith Prosperity Gospel church, or whatever non-Gospel church, then it’s not such a good church to worship at, no matter what ethnicity it purports to serve and outreach to.

    • andy kim

      t.u.a.d. — I agree with what you are saying, especially the part where you say “(roughly).”

      There is only one Gospel and that’s clear (1 Cor 15:1-4), but the way its communicated and the way that we as individuals and communities interact with the Gospel is nuanced. Think of all the Gospel proclamations in the book of Acts… all the same Gospel, but different issues addressed, different challenges, different responses in Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, with Cornelius, with the Ethiopian Eunuch, etc.

      Paul says that Jews demand signs and Greeks demand wisdom (1 Cor 1:22) — the same Gospel is preached, the same Christ crucified, but is received and communicated differently. I think the same is true with different ethnicities, different communities, life situations — same Gospel, but received and communicated differently. The Gospel speaks to all people in all situations. I think that’s what the blog entry and my comment was trying talk about.

      What do you think?

      • Truth Unites… and Divides

        Smart man, you caught my qualifier of “(roughly)” which I was careful to put in. ;-)

        There is a potential danger of over-contextualization such that the Gospel gets marred.

        Apostle Paul, Caucasian missionaries in foreign lands, cross-cultural ministry in general certainly have challenges and tensions that have to be discerned and navigated with care and biblical wisdom.

        • andy kim

          why thank you t.u.a.d! looks like truth does in fact unite us. =)

          I totally agree that over-contextualization can be a slippery slope and distort the Gospel message. At the same time I think that slippery slope is on ANOTHER slippery slope that can lead to robbing the Gospel of its nuance and universal appeal to all peoples and all situations.

          So as we can see below, in over-reacting to a contextualized Gospel, we run the risk of a disembodied, disconnected Gospel messages that approaches Gnosticism more than Biblical truth. I think what the original blog post helps me realize that for me as an Asian American, any time I want to assert some of the cultural nuances I’ve had to navigate in embracing the Gospel, I run the risk of being criticized like some of the comments have been, most recently put an “abomination.” That hurts.

          While I definitely think we should all watch our lives and doctrine, I wonder what kind of chilling effect views like those might have on parts of the body that is trying to express its Gospel commitment in their own unique way. I don’t think this is always intended, but when a white American Christian pastor, blogger or seminary professor critiques the theology of a particular minority group, the unintended message is, “your experiences are not welcome here” and “you need to become more like us in theology and culture.”

          I recognize that could be overly sensitive on my part, but from the history of our Church, there have often been times where that message of cultural and theological assimilation and colonialization was very much intended. I’m not saying that there is no place for critique — there should be! — but there are also dynamics of power and privilege that must be acknowledged in the theological conversation. The water I swim in in my theological education is White American/European theology — and in many ways I am very grateful but in other ways, I feel stifled and confused.

          In other words, both extremes — a disembodied, a-cultural Gospel and a culturally relativistic Gospel — are both not what the Scriptures teach. Its the grace of God, the power of the Holy Spirit and also through the great conversations like these in the blogosphere and the localchurchosphere through which the American Church can grow.

          I’m loving this conversation btw.

  • John

    I am an Asian-American pastoring a predominantly caucasian church in a predominantly caucasian upper-middle class suburb. There have been a few moments when I’ve felt the tension described by Carl when he writes, “It’s just that we come into those conversations as outsiders, to some degree, and often keep feeling that way once in them.”

    I’ve found that the Gospel is the solution to this tension of seeing myself as a minority within a majority culture. The Gospel tells me that my greatest identity is found in Jesus Christ – not in my ethnicity, my education, my pedigree, my seminary degree, not my pastorate or ministry success. This truth keeps me from placing an undue emphasis on my ethnicity and gives me the freedom and boldness to lead our congregation irrespective of our color.

    Furthermore, the Gospel fuels my love for my congregation, regardless of their ethnicity or mine. Love, fueled by the love of Christ, does not blur racial distinctions, but overcomes them for the sake of Christ’s glory.

    I’m grateful that what draws people to our church is not the ethnic makeup of our congregation or the ethnicity of the lead pastor, but a deep hunger for the Word and the glory of Christ. The Holy Spirit and the Word of God transcends all boundaries!

    It seems to me that both Gal. 3:28 and Rev. 5:9 provide the perfect harmony between our ethnicity and our identity in Christ.

  • Lois Kwon

    I posted above in a reply to another comment, but I wanted to add another thought.

    As a Korean-American Christian, I identified a lot with what was written in this article in regard to how we approach and grow in the knowledge of God. However, I wish that there had been more written about the difficulties and the dangers we face in culturally-specific church; sometimes Asian-American churches fail to see where they may fall due to their specific congregation.

    One of the biggest concerns I have is that because the mindsets of the entire congregation is very tied in with their unified cultural values, there is a huge possibility (and it has happened) that these values supersede God’s wills and desires. These values, although not unbiblical, become more important than God’s standards, and the church is unable to even see it. It is my prayer that the people in my church would have a heart that understands the full gospel: that as John mentioned above, our greatest identity is not in our culture, but in Jesus Christ.

    • Victoria

      100% AGREE with this statement. Asian American churches have much to offer to the wider christian community, but they should not exclude themselves from ultimately seeing their highest identity is in Christ.

      Also to mention.. There is a growing Indian American (not Native American) Churches in the United States. They should not be ignored in this conversation and are very much Asian Americans too. There christian community are very different from East Asian American christian community and the White American Christian Community. But ultimately we are all brother and sisters in Christ.

  • Rachael

    Thanks Carl for bringing out the view about Asian American Christianity. Basically,A christian is a christian irrespective of the race , gender and color. We all worship the same god and so we should try and eliminate the “Asian American Christians” terminology. To learn more about Christianity, check out this Bibilical Perspective

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  • E.C. Hock

    Good article. For reasons alluded to above, most American evangelicals frankly do not think enough about the influential presence and influence of Asian-American Christians within the American Church scene. They are only beginning to recognize the presence of Middle-eastern evangelicals in America. Simplistically we magnify black vs. white, or now, latino vs. white churches as voting blocks or cultural change agents. Like it or not, this refects how we tend to follow and interact inordinately with the headlines and storylines presented through our national media, who do not highlight the Asian-American impact. It’s an unseen sub-culture moving about in our midst, but so close to us in every respect. This indifference is probably because they tend to be more conservative in values and less active in politics. Our media continually place before us, in selective ways, political reality as the most important view of reality, i.e., ‘everything is politics.’ Whereas, we in the white church need to resist that emphasis and reply, ‘but politics is not everything.’

  • Paul

    Thanks Carl for the article. I appreciate the main thrust, particularly your point on inclusion and serving the wider community. But it seems your comments on the background of Asian-American Christians (AAC) I’m not sure are entirely true. They are general statements, where AAC’s are not the Religious Right (which is probably because the Religious Right has a white ethnic identity), but I think AAC’s are politically conservative in the immigrant generation and liberal in the next, but the AAC issue here is not political left or right, it seems to be indifference. And the question of social justice, I think generally is asked in the AAC churches, it is not asked in the immigrant churches due to visible needs of the congregants that cannot be ignored, but there definitely is a dearth of theology in the immigrant churches concerning social justice, particularly if you observe their theology of evangelism. Also, AAC churches are definitely programmatic and mechanical, maybe not in the Caucasian sense and probably not in the seeker-sensitive sense, but if you observe the Presbyterian governing structure (deacons, elders, deaconnesses, etc) of AAC churches it is evident that there is an entirely corporate feel.

    I don’t mean to be so negative or critical as I appreciate your post, but the generalizations of the AAC (and I know each ethnic church looks different within the Asian community) cause me to be wary of potential misleading. I am wary of second (and further) generation AA churches forgetting and rejecting the history, whether good or bad, of where they come from, in the name of inclusion and multi-ethnicity. The acceptance of JLin on a global scale is great (almost beautiful), but sometimes I wonder, and maybe we should ask this first. Why want to be included in the first place? What is its value?

    And I think your last question is indeed to an extent the answer (and the problem for AAC), that is, to serve the ‘Community – at large’ without mind for inclusion.

  • Scott Brown

    This article is both interesting and enlightening. Thanks!

    With regard to: “Asian American Christians may be relatively unknown: they don’t top best-seller lists, they don’t pastor largely white megachurches”… a name immediately came to mind. Francis Chan.

  • Alex Guggenheim

    Race Based – Special Interest Theology is an abomonation in any form. Your anthropological properties has no place being used even descriptively when identifying your spiritual person. This is wholly offensive to our being a new spiritual spwecies with our DNA exclusively in Christ.

    • Truth Unites… and Divides

      “Race Based – Special Interest Theology is an abomonation in any form.”

      An unhelpful claim. The Book of Acts notes the socio-cultural differences between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.

      • Alex Guggenheim

        It notes them precisely because they were being observed wrongly. That is, the division of the Hellenistic and Hebraic Jews were socio-cultural-post Judiasm -religious, hence it cited them to point out such distinctions were what the problems was in the first place. The Hebraic Christians wrongly saw themselves as SPECIAL.

        So I re-iterate, “Race Based – Special Interest Theology is an abomination in any form.” The Bible rejects it, God rejects it and the only people that support it are those who are ignorant of why such references occur in these places in Scripture.

        But I invite you to read my 5 part series on the matter at my blog, An Examination of Protestant/Evangelical Race Based-Special Interest Theology.

        • Truth Unites… and Divides

          Hi Alex,

          Thanks for the invitation. I’ll be on vacation so I won’t have a chance to read your 5 part series with the care it deserves. I did glance at it, and it looks meaty.

          When I get a chance I’ll engage you on your blog.


  • eve

    “It’s also true that we are not disembodied children of God but ones who think in particular languages. We are perceived in particular ways based on our faces and last names, and have learned particular sensibilities and ways of relating to other people that the gospel both challenges and affirms. And this applies to all of us; we shouldn’t imagine that white American Christians have a culturally neutral perspective, while Asian Americans have a culturally specific one.”

    Great quote for those who act as if Christians, unlike the rest of humanity, exist outside a cultural context. We all have culture, and even though our society is White-dominant, we would be foolish to assume “White” means “neutral.” The dominant culture is a culture as well. Why should it be the default and everything else be considered “other”??

    • Alex Guggenheim

      The culture of Christians acting as Christians is CHRIST. You are a sojourner. The longer your cultural identity pollutes your Spiritual identity the longer you will have these tensions. Yes, you have anthropological properties and values and rightly so, but they are not valid properties to be tied to your spiritual identity or expression. End game.

      • John

        Wow Alex… I hope this isn’t a game to be won. Let’s allow grace to reign in our hearts and words here… Amen?

        If there is NO significance to our ethnic identity, then how do you explain Rev. 5:9? Why the recognition of worshipers from “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation?” It seems that in heaven, even our ethnic distinctions are preserved for the furthering of Christ’s glory – to display the magnificence of His mercies to all sinners in the broadest manner possible.

        The root problem is when our ethnic distinctions become the basis for our own glory, not God’s. I agree with you in this regard. Our identity is fundamentally rooted in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:28). But this does not remove our ethnic distinctions. These then, become the means for the world to see that the love of Christ super-abounds any and all ethnic barriers we’ve created in our fallenness.

        This is what Paul exemplified. When he was with Jews, he became a Jew for the sake of the Gospel (i.e. Acts 16:3). When he was with Gentiles, he became a Gentile for the sake of the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:19-23). His ethnic distinction did not create an unnecessary barrier for the Gospel. When Paul was around Jews, he used his own Jewish ethnicity as an advantage in reaching Jews. This is simply what Asian-American churches are seeking to do. When he was around Gentiles, he overlooked his own cultural preferences in love, for the sake of the Gospel, which is what more churches ought to be doing.

        I appreciate the interaction… blessings to all!

        • Alex Guggenheim

          No, it is not a game at all, unfortunately for many this clinging to anthropology to define our spiritual identity and formulate our theology is a game for some and it needs to end.

          But let me be clear, I did not simply say there is “no significance to our ethnic identity” I said that our anthropology has no significance regarding spiritual identity. Our anthropological properties have an appropriate value but in the appropriate context and it is not as that which, even in part, defines our spiritual identification or its doctrine.

          What about the Revelation passage? You tell me, it appears you believe it assumes something, I do not know for sure other than maybe you believe it implies our anthropology is significant in defining our spiritual person. I certainly find no hermeneutic which would allow for such an interpretation. This passage simply is referring to the broadness of the gospel’s salvation, that not just the Jews but everyone, everywhere. It is descriptive, not prescriptive.

          And Paul, in becoming all things to all men did not mean, however, that the body of Christ itself changed, rather that in the context of others he accommodated their culture to gain a hearing. Nevertheless, once saved Paul introduced them to a very new and “outside their own culture” way of life; the spiritual way of life of the Christian where Christ is now their DNA and in the body of Christ we related in, through and upon Christ and his Words.

          It is true one will find culture and many human properties in the body of Christ but they are anecdotal, not definitive of the Christian and his or her identity and doctrine, even in part.

          • Truth Unites… and Divides

            “It is true one will find culture and many human properties in the body of Christ but they are anecdotal, not definitive of the Christian and his or her identity and doctrine, even in part.”

            As I’m beginning to ponder your arguments Alex, I played a thought experiment: What if we switched prisms? Instead of a ethnic-based prism, what if we instead used the male/female prism?

            Is male Christianity different from female Christianity? Is the Gospel for males different from the Gospel for females? Conversely, do men process the Gospel message differently from women? Contextually, should Great Commission outreach and disciple-making differ between males and females? And so on and so forth.

            Related question: At what point does over-contextualization become a tool of the Enemy?

            FWIW, I don’t have an answer for these questions. (Except that I believe the Gospel is the same for both males and females). But I’m happy to raise them! ;-)

            • Alex Guggenheim

              Allow me to answer the question with a “no”, Christianity is not different between the genders as it is not different between any other anthropological classes.

              However, each person themselves is different so they will not have identical spiritual chronologies along with the accompanying experiences such differences may bring.

              As you know, when one is born again they have the same Holy Spirit, and the same doctrine (God’s Word). Their portfolio of spiritual assets are equal. This includes the enlightenment of God through his Holy Spirit’s ministry to us as we are exposed to the Truth.

              What we are to do is apply those truths to our unique experiences and contexts. Frankly, everyone is different and will experience different contexts and demands and this is why the truth of God’s Word is to be applied.

              This is why we learn those truths and then apply them personally as opposed to having tailored doctrines and then apply them generally which is exactly what is being prescribed with Special Interest Theology. It is backwards and spiritually quite injurious.

              I do believe over-contextualization is a definite tool of the Enemy. It seizes the Gospel and reduces doctrine to anthropological service and not spiritual predominance and service.

            • Truth Unites… and Divides

              Alex, et al,

              Here’s a recent TGC article that seems to have bearing on this discussion: Gospel Clarity for Missional Calling.

              What do you think of it?

            • Alex Guggenheim

              I read the Missional article with great edification. I believe it represents a very careful consideration of the issues particularly treating the necessary distinctions with theological proximity.

      • Kevin C

        Alex Guggenheim: 那我們用中文來溝通好了。文化跟語言是不可能分開的。耶穌不是一位用英語的猶太人。我們如果沒有文化差別的話,那我們用中文來聊吧!我是一位用中文來敬拜神的基督徒!

        Exactly. End Game。

        • Alex Guggenheim


          The fact is language and culture are quite separable. However, this is not the issue, the issue is using anthropological properties to define or influence our spiritual identification, both in person and doctrine.

          Using a language is not employing it as a spiritual identification mechanism. That is, it is not being prescribed as special or unique, rather as providential. However, culture arises from human values and when culture, an anthropological property (or better yet a collective produce of human properties making it s by-property so to speak) defines our spiritual identification, we then invade and pollute the exclusivity of our spiritual DNA and the body of Christ’s sole cause for identification and expression.

          Language itself has no proprietary value, culture does and that is where the two distinctions must be separated and whatever human culture in which you find yourself, it must be subordinate to the service and expression of our spiritual identification and its unique culture which is Christ and Christ alone.

          Cultural elements do exist but they should never define ourselves spiritually, in any manner, either in person, practically as the body of Christ functions or theologically.

          • Paul

            I didn’t read all your comments, but… given “it must be subordinate to the service and expression of our spiritual identification” and “they should never define ourselves spiritually”, are you saying subordinate identification is never spiritual? And further, is there no place for culture in ‘your’ heaven?

            By the way, I think we throw all these words around. What does it even mean, to “define ourselves spiritually”? Or “spiritual identification”?

            • Alex Guggenheim


              I have a 4 part series which is much more definitive on Race Based-Special Interest Theology at my blog and if these answers do not provide what you are looking for you certainly are free to read the series which may provide many of the fill-ins that comments here prohibit.

              To the questions. Who you are anthropologically has nothing to do with who you are spiritually. That is, no human anthropological property contributes to the definition of your spiritual person.

              When you were born again you were made alive, spiritually. This was done by God via the ministry of the Holy Spirit by way of faith in the gospel of Christ. You are now a “new creature”. “Old things have passed away”.

              What Paul means by that is this new person, this new spiritual ethnicity, has nothing to do with your anthropological identity. He isn’t saying you no longer have those properties but unlike before where you anthropological properties mattered because God’s people were in part defined anthropologically (being a Jew vs Gentile) these are irrelevant and not part of your spiritual identity or the identity of God’s people, though, again, they remain proper parts and applicable parts of your anthropological identity.

            • Lois Kwon


              I am starting to see the point of what you are saying. Initially I wanted to object, but I see that even in these comments God yearns to have me open my eyes that I may see more of God’s truth through other people.

              I believe what you are saying is that there is a significant difference between cultural leanings/values that bring us to Christ in the first place, and tailoring doctrine to fit within those cultural values. Correct me if I am wrong, I may not have expressed that clearly.

              “This is why we learn those truths and then apply them personally as opposed to having tailored doctrines and then apply them generally which is exactly what is being prescribed with Special Interest Theology. It is backwards and spiritually quite injurious.”

              I look forward to reading your Race Based-Special Interest Theology series.

              I’d like to make one other comment on something you said earlier:

              “Language itself has no proprietary value, culture does and that is where the two distinctions must be separated and whatever human culture in which you find yourself, it must be subordinate to the service and expression of our spiritual identification and its unique culture which is Christ and Christ alone.”

              I agree with the main point, which is that the culture we identified with must be subordinate to our spiritual identity, but I am of the opinion that language and culture are tied together, not distinct. Maybe not the characters themselves that make up the written language, but the formation and the use of the language expresses the values and thoughts of that culture in an unspoken manner. As a bilingual person myself, I sometimes find difficulty in expressing a thought in one language that is easily done through the other because of the way the language is setup in the first place, with its underlying connotations/implications and meanings.

            • Paul


              There’s no reply button after your comment so here I post. So I take it you’ve answered my question “is a subordinate identification never spiritual?” with a “no, it’s never spiritual”? But you still never answered my second question: “is there no place for culture in ‘your’ heaven?”

            • Alex Guggenheim

              Lois and Paul,

              (I will tackle both here) Thanks and yes Lois, you do understand the view of how we apply Scripture vs culture and the development of our theology and its application as I intended. One might say that (for both Lois and Paul) “You do not adjust your theology and practice to accommodate culture, rather you adjust your culture to accommodate proper theology and practice”. This still leaves a great deal of room for anthropological culture to serve the greater divine culture of the Christian way of life and the divine culture of the body of Christ. But it also still keeps in view that the culture in the body of Christ is to be a divine one which revolves around Christ, though the elements naturally present in our human cultures can serve these ends, hence familiar anthropological culture may, can and will be present in that way.

              As to language and culture, I agree they are tied together, particularly as you cite in language’s development. And yes, Lois, you precisely make the distinction I intended, that simply the use of foreign characters to communicate (foreign meaning any language someone may not know) is not a value expression, though even in the choice of words a value expression can be present.

          • Joey

            Someone who says language and culture are separable doesn’t know anything about language, linguistics or any foreign language most probably… and even culture. (Italian-British-French schooled-studying Japanese-marrying a Filipino-Genevan speaking).
            To say that our cultures do not reflect in any way our spiritual selves is separating the person into things that it doesn’t separate them into in the Bible. You forget that God created diversity forcefully in Genesis 11, and brings them back together in Acts and Revelation. Every culture, of course, reflects the horror of the fall, but also the beauty of the image of God in different ways… I almost feel I shouldn’t respond because it’s foolishness… I just don’t understand why so many people use this amazing website to post their unwavering opinions and get more hits on their blogs… It just makes me so sad.

            • Lois Kwon

              Joey- I encourage you to read more carefully the previous comments/conversation to which you are alluding. It does not say that culture is thrown out altogether. But the person is more than just a spiritual being; we have a physical/material self, and a spiritual self. These two distinctions ARE shown in the Bible. Our culture/language/nationality is of our physical selves that reflects the beauty of God in our diversity, but when to comes to our spiritual identity, that is only defined by Christ. It is only in this perspective that Paul can say, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

              Also, I think your comments, at least the way they were presented, are uncalled for. I can understand that you might have differing opinions, which are always welcome, but we are here to debate the IDEAS that are brought out by this dialogue, not the people who present them.

              Rather, it seems that you are attacking the character of people you don’t know, making assumptions about their knowledge and motivations purely based on the comments you have read.

              “doesn’t know anything about language, linguistics or any foreign language most probably… so many people use this amazing website to post their unwavering opinions and get more hits on their blogs.”

              Please be careful with your words.

            • Joey

              You’re right Lois. It was foolish of me, and I felt it. I should’ve listened to the Holy Spirit… Internet forums really bring out the worst in people, don’t they?
              I requested the deletion of my comment. God bless you.

        • Joey

          Kevin C: Xie xie ni! :D

  • Allen Yeh

    Well written article, Carl! Nicely articulated.

  • Jim

    Thank you, Carl, for an insightful and very well-written article. You surface a number of relevant points for further discussion. I am an ethnically Anglo but 3rd-culture…raised in South Asia through the end of high school. So although I can’t relate ethnically to some of the things you raise in your article, I resonate with some points through cultural affinity. I think and feel partly Anglo, partly Asian; partly American, partly international. Through years of personal exploration, I have come to accept and thank God for this cultural gift, although it comes with some angst in certain situations. Like John who wrote of his experience as an Asian in an Anglo church context, I also deeply resonate with Revelation 5:9 as we pursue intercultural ministry under the banner of Christ. I look forward to more dialogue. God bless.

  • paul

    great article man. very sightful

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  • Jon

    “We have had more than our share of problems, but a mechanistic or programmatic model of church has not been one of them”

    To the author of this post, or anybody, I’d like to know how this is the case, if it really is? What is a mechanistic model of church, or a programmatic model of church?

  • Andrew Jun

    Great blog entry Carl- nice to see you write in here and to be a voice in GC on the topic.

  • Michael Carl

    Great article man. very sightful. Well written article. You should’ve posted it at his official fan club

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  • John

    This is a direct quote from the New York Times Piece: “Like Lin, many Asian-American Christians have deep personal faith, but they are also, notably, almost never culture warriors. That is simply not what is emphasized in their churches and college Christian fellowships, including the one that played such a formative role in Lin’s life at Harvard.” If this is true then what kind of faith does he have that does not AFFECT the culture? Probably nothing other than navel gazing, sadly!

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