Soundings from the Asian Diaspora: a book review

My own theology and faith has been shaped by Asian-Americans. I half-grew up in Hawaii, so feel at home in an Asian culture, but I can also point to key Asian-American mentors who invested in my spiritual formation. They taught me the Bible, mentored me,  prayed for me and helped me confront my own blind spots and white privilege. I was also blessed to have a number of Asian friends at seminary which challenged me to see theology from the margins, when the curriculum was largely a Western story. [My graduate school prided itself on being an international Christian graduate school and had a number of Asian students. But I can remember sitting at a table with a group of Asian American students who pointed to a large painting  which only depicted Europe and North American. There is still more work to be done on including our Asian sisters and brothers!].

Amos Young is perhaps the preeminent Pentecostal theologian in America and is a Chinese-American (by way of Malaysia). He has taught theology at Regent University and currently professor of theology and the dircetor of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary. Yong begins The Futrue of Evangelical Theology: Soundings from the Asian American Diaspora  by examining the effects of globalization and the shift of Christianity’s center to the South and East. He then looks at Asian theology  and Asian-American theology (chapter two before honing in on the contribution of Asian American evangelicals (chapter three) and Pentecostals (chapter four). Chapter five and six explore Asian American Pentecostal/Evangelical contributions to im/migration and in the final chapter, Yong lays out some ‘next steps for Asian-Americans, Evangelicals and Christian theologians.

As the subtitle of this book indicates, this book records ‘soundings’ from the Asian-American diaspora and is not an exhaustive treatment on Asian theology (as if such a work were even possible). Yong is good at naming distinctives and trends in theology.  As an Asian-American, Yong speaks of his own experience of immigration, generational tension, and navigating the tensions between East and West. Asian-Americans who read this book will be encouraged and inspired to reflect theologically on their experience (especially in his introduction and epilogue). He proposes ‘local theologies’ from an Asian American perspective.

But this book was not just written for Asian Americans. It was written for the Church (specifically the church in America, but this will be pertinent to Canadian friends as well). Yong focuses on the Asian-American experience because he knows that their theological reflection enriches the whole of Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. Specifically, Asian American theology helps the church reflect and converse well in the realm of culture, economics and inter-religious dialogue.  Asian American theologians can inform our public theology and we are impoverished if we ignore their contributions.  Yong writes:

Asian Americans who live betwixt-and-between Asia and the United States can bring more existential and interrelational resources to bear on the transnational and globaliing dynamics of the present time. (118).

While my own reading of Asian American theologies is limited (I’ve read some Yong and a couple of others that he cites), I  think Yong illustrates well their contribution to the wider Evangelical discourse.  Specifically, Asian American voices are ignored to our peril if we fail to wrestle with their perspectives on immigration and Jubilee.  I highly recommend this book for anyone who cares about theology and race (and if you care about neither you ought to read it anyway). Asian American friends will appreciate Yong’s thoughtful survey and encouragement to let their cultural perspective inform their work. I give this book an enthusiastic five stars: ★★★★★

Thank you to InterVarsity Academic for providing me a copy of this book for the purposes of review.

Diversity as Missio Dei: a book review

Leroy Barber is my friend and mentor. I trust his voice when it comes to urban ministry and community. So when I saw that his new book was out, Red Brown Yellow Black White Who’s more Precious in God’s Sight?: A call for diversity in Christian missions and ministryI was eager to read it. I knew it would be a game changer.

 But it was much more than that. Red Brown Yellow Black White (RBYBW) is a summons for those of us who ‘say’ we care about reconciliation and justice to quit playing a it; it calls us to get on with working for real change in how we minister across the racial divide. In these pages, Barber opens up about his sometimes painful journey in the urban ministry world, how discrimination from fellow leaders and boards, locked him and fellow minorities out of key leadership positions. Because Barber is such a great relational leader, he sets his story alongside friends and co-conspirators.

In RBYRW, Barber grounds missions in the Missio Dei–the mission of God (God’s larger purpose for his people and his world and the end He is leading us toward).  But the history of missions, at different points, bears little resemblance to the Missio Dei.  Often white Europeans blended their efforts to spread the gospel with imperialism, colonialism and paternalism. Missionaries came to new cultures to minister, but seldom included indigenous leadership in their mission. Fast forward to the modern era and you find that missions organizations and missionary boards are still predominantly white.

Barber is an African American leader called to urban mission who launched his own non-profit and has led national and international missions organizations (he is currently the global executive director of Word Made Flesh). His heart burns for more diversity in mission and he has led ministries (like Mission Year) and counseled others to be more thoughtful about how to promote diversity in their organizations. Barber doesn’t  tells stories of not-for-profit organizations which have labored to change the culture and are working to promote diversity. While reconciliation is a difficult journey, real diversity is possible. And when it happens, we reveal the Kingdom of God to the watching world.

For us white Evangelicals, this means we share power! Barber observes how even justice-minded, white evangelicals fail to include African Americans in decision making,  and fundraising. He also relays several stories from the field, where leaders of color were deemed unqualified by short-term, white teams even though they had years of experience and understanding that these teams lacked.  Unfortunately these racial attitudes can still poison the well of real diversity in mission. Leaders of color bring different histories and gifts to the realm of mission and leadership. We are impoverished in our missional attempts when we fail to make space at the table and include people of color. For when we do, they can help shape our mission to the wider community in beautiful ways.

RBYBW is challenging for me. I love and respect Leroy and am grateful for the ways he has invested in my growth (and countless others). I am captivated by his vision of diversity in mission. And yet this book highlights how much work is still to be done. I have recently become pastor at a mostly white church that does care about racial justice and reconciliation. We are making an impact on our city but I still have a lot to learn about doing mission well. Barber highlights the racial  and socio-economic dimensions of urban mission for me and helps me pay attention to the dynamics. This book is a goldmine!

I highly recommend this book. Anyone interested in the mission of God (which should include Christians everywhere) will gain insight on how to engage in mission in ways that are sensitive to race and culture.  For white evangelicals (like me), we can be ‘color blind’ in a way that demeans the challenges that people of color face. We can also fail to value the gifts that people of color bring to our organizations and leadership.  I give this book five stars and think that this book should be required reading for pastors, non-profit directors and missionaries. ★★★★★

The Grape Jelly of Wrath (an examination of the sin of Anger)

Jar of WrathAmong other things that I have at my house, I have a two-year-old living under my roof. She is precious to me but she is at a willful stage and therefore angry a lot. She’ll scream if you carry her because she wants to walk. If you let her walk she screams because you won’t let her walk where she wants to walk. If you put food in front of her, she’ll scream because she doesn’t want it. If you eat the food from her plate that she doesn’t want, you will feel the full brunt of her wrath. When she gets ready for bed, she is angry if she doesn’t get to wear her first choice of P.J.s. She is angry if you make her wear a diaper instead of underwear. Parents of two-year-olds know, at certain stages, your life is organized around angry outbursts.

Most of the time, my wife and I can take these outbursts in stride because lets face it, a strong-willed two-year old demanding her way about absolutely everything is terribly funny. Quite adorable actually. It is hard not to laugh at a two-year old who picks up her dinner plate full of food and carries it to the kitchen and asks for cheese and crackers instead (this doesn’t work, if you are wondering). Our older daughter was just as bad at this age, so we know it’s just a developmental life-stage we have to get through before peace again reigns in our house (of course then number 3 is going Rage Against the Machine).

What isn’t particularly adorable is when grown men and women act as though they have the emotional intelligence of my two-year-old. They don’t act rationally but fly off the handle when the littlest thing raises their ire: waiting in line at the supermarket behind the coupon queen, when a spouse asks something they were going to do anyway, when they are forced to go around that idiot who is only going 5 miles above the speed limit in the left lane. When we see people lash out at the world because it has failed to accommodate their every whim, we don’t find it funny, but sad. How could anyone be so self-centered and demanding? It’s particularly embarrassing when the angry two-year-old of an adult is me.

Lets face it, all of us let our anger run wild and demand our way. When we are tired and stressed this can happen a lot (which is par for the course at our house). But then there are other times where our anger seems wholly justified and we are sure we are in the right. Jesus himself chased out the money lenders from the temple and his anger burned against the religious leaders’ hypocrisy for how they unnecessarily burdened the people. Martin Luther got the whole Protestant ball rolling because he was pretty peeved. And he had good reason, the Roman See was thoroughly corrupt and the selling of indulgences preyed on the poor. Luther also praised the focusing energy that anger brought to his life and ministry:

I have no better remedy than anger. If I want to write, pray, preach well, then I must be angry. Then my entire blood supply refreshes itself, my mind is made keen, and all temptations depart.(What Luther Says: An Anthology, Vol. 1, 74, 27).

Today we similarly see many things that make us angry. African warlords who rape women and kidnap children, systemic racism which still locks minorities in poverty, colonial paternalism which acts with good intentions but demeans the nations and peoples we perpetually victimize, the abuse of women and their objectification in pornography, magazines and super bowl ads. If these things do not make you angry then either you haven’t really looked at these issues or you have no heart Tin-Man.

So if Anger is the right response to these things, why is it a deadly sin? Like the other vices, Anger is a habit of mind which can poison us from the inside out. Sometimes anger is the appropriate response but it is sinful when it is excessive or misdirected. There are things that should make us angry and things that should not. If we like my two-year-old, are Angry every time we don’t get our own way then our Anger is subservient to our own selfishness. If our Anger over real injustice (large or small) causes bitterness and hatred to take root in our heart then our souls are in mortal danger. Anger at injustice, easily may give way to bitterness at particular people for perpetuating it. When injustice has a face it is hard not to hate and we can easily cross over to the dark side.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung points us to the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. which illuminates a different way:

Martin Luther King Jr., for example was undoubtedly passionate in his pursuit of racial justice, but he was not a person dominated by anger or one who hated his racial oppressors. His passion for injustice was deeply rooted in his desire that all people learn to love one another and see them as God sees them, and his manner of pursuing justice showed that he knew that the matter was not solely in his hands. The righteous angry person can still pray, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Moreover King engaged in his project among a community of believers. He did not attempt to discern God’s will all by himself or mete out God’s judgement as an individual. The checks and balances of shared power and wisdom are good ways to prevent wrathful rationalizations about the way our agendas and God’s do or do not coincide (Glittering Vices, 132-3).

Anyone who has read King’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail has marveled at King’s ability to extend shalom towards his oppressors (jailers and white clergy).

Anger Management is all the Rage

So what are the practices which help us to reign in our anger and keep it in check? Principally, I see three:

    1. Life in community and systems of accountability, like King’s example above guard us from pursuing our own rights and agenda and help us discern God’s heart in the matter. Clearly friends can also re-enforce our Anger, so intentionality is important!
    2. Establishing ongoing systems of self-reflection. This could be as keeping a journal about your anger. Or you can pray the Examen and pay attention to your soul feels consolation and desolation. Learning to take inventory of inner thoughts is necessary if we are to grow in the virtuous life.
    3. Learn from Jesus. Yes, Jesus got angry, irritated and crazy mad. If you read the gospels you see instances where his ire was raised, but you still could not describe Jesus as an angry man. instead he was characterized by his compassion and gentleness. Part of conquering our inner beast, involves learning from Jesus a new way of navigating injustice in our world. His ultimate response to injustice was not an angry outburst where he smote the wicked. His response was the cross.


As we continue walking with Jesus the way of the cross, may he transform us from Angry hate mongers to his gentle and compassionate servants.

What if the Evangelical Obsession With Sex Keeps us From Admitting Our Sins?

In an election year, like every year, you will here a lot of Evangelicals talking about sex. Recently prominent Evangelicals threw their support behind Rick Santorum. This is probably because of Santorum’s strong opposition to gay marriage, abortion and his integrity in sexual relationships (unlike Newt Gingrich who is on his third marriage). But of course Evangelical obsession with sex goes far beyond the realm of politics. Practically everything Mark Driscoll says about sex goes on the internet and goes viral and books, software and conferences directed at helping Christians have sexual integrity is a huge industry. I bet you are reading this because I’m talking about sex. We like sex, we love to talk about it, we want to have more satisfying sex and we want to be free from sexual sin. And yes, some of this is quite appropriate, though not all.

The Temptation of St. Hilarion
But what if our obsession with sex keeps us from examining other areas of our heart and life where sin has been crouching at the door?

My thoughts on this come to me as I am preparing a Bible Study on Galatians for my church small group. I have been reading through No Other Gospel: 31 Reasons From Galatians Why Justification By Faith Alone is the Only Gospel by Josh Moody. Josh Moody is the pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Whenever I prep something I check more technical commentaries (for Galatians I always look at Richard Longnecker’s Word Commentary and
Jimmy Dunn’s Black’s New Testament Commentary) but I also want to know how it preaches. This is what Josh Moody provides. For the most part he has solid exegesis (with a Reformed Evangelical bias) which attends to the text, but as a preacher he proclaims and draws out the implications for life. In his exposition of Galatians 1:11-12 (verses that are not about sex) he says this:

The gospel of sexual liberation is a gospel of man that hasn’t worked. Why are our inner cities facing great difficulties? Why do our men cave in to the addiction of lust? Why is there rising risk of abuse? The gospel of sexual liberation is running its course. We are told that the Victorians were too strict and prim with their sexual repression, but now we have the fire of sexuality let out of the fireplace and running rampant through the house and setting ablaze and burning out and destroying people in our society.

This is a fairly typical conservative Evangelical interpretation of where society has run amiss. Sexual freedom leads to the breakdown of marriage which in turn causes all hell to break loose. But really? Sexual liberation is why the inner city faces such difficulties?
Or is it that we as a church have failed to take care of the most vulnerable members of our society?

    Could it be that we talk about sex so that we don’t have to take an honest look at where we as individuals and as a church have been complicit in injustice?

    Have we done our part to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27)?

    Have we cared for the resident aliens (Exodus 22:21) in our land or have we ghettoized them?

    Are we guilty of racism? Are there those in our suburban congregations (like, lets say in Wheaton, Illinois) who engaged in ‘white flight’ leaving the inner-city when minorities moved in? Did we as a church combat housing policies which discriminated against African-Americans and other minorities (essentially creating the ghettos we have today)?

    Are we doing all we can to combat injustice in our neighborhoods and society or are we turning a blind eye?

Does society’s libertine attitudes towards sex contribute to problems in society? Yes. But my problem with naming this as the sole cause of problems in the inner-city is that it doesn’t name our sin. It talks about the sins of those sex-crazed poor folk and not about the sins of an educated, mostly white evangelicalism which has failed to care for the poor.If our obsession with sex causes us to look in judgement on others, maybe we need to also look inward at the ways where our actions (and inaction) have contributed to societies ills.

I am absolutely in favor of sexual purity and fidelity to one’s spouse. Let’s just not end our discussion of sin there.