on cultural respect & critique

To: Multiple recipients of list cac
From: Russell & Lisa Yee
Subject: Reply to TST
Date: Fri, 27 Dec 1996 23:43:06 +0000

Responding to Tim Tseng’s missive of 12/18/96:

Bravo on your passionate and articulate description of cultures
and their need to be both honored and redeemed. But what to do
insofar as Chinese/AsAm culture is *not* (yet) a known, expressed
entity? Not expressed let alone redeemed? We can hardly expect
others to recognize our cultural uniqueness and identity when we
haven’t even figured it out for ourselves.

I think my reference to refraining from “beating up” on _CT_ and
instead devoting our own blood sweat and tears was misunderstood.
“Beating up” referred not to anything AsAm’s might do to _CT_ itself
(“I’m canceling my subscription bec. there were not enough AsAms in
your recent issue”) but to the exercise of beating it up in our
conversations with each other. “Blood, sweat and tears” referred
not to the (indeed great) efforts of AsAms at church & kingdom
building, but to the much more limited realm of effort at Xn journalism.

What I find curious is that we call for much-needed, far-too-
neglected critique of “white, evangelical culture” and then turn
right around and covet exposure in a parade product of that culture,
namely _CT_. As if _CT_ and the way it publishes lists of Up And
Coming Evangelicals is not a culturally bound exercise.

In general it seems to me that there is too much a posture of
grievance and not enough a posture of gratitude towards the efforts
of others from which we all benefit. (Isn’t gratitude more befitting
of Xns?) If mostly-white mostly-male evangelicals had not cranked
out _CT_ lo these past 40 years, it simply wouldn’t be there,
imperfections and all. Can I hear some gratitude for _CT_ to go
along with well-taken critique?

Let’s try it this way. Three generations ago most of my ancestors
were living grimly in southern China, illiterate, and without
hearing a word about the good news of Jesus. Now all my family
are Xns, and here I am with the luxury of sitting at my computer,
with too many diplomas hanging behind me, pondering the meaning of
life with all of you. What do I lose in exchange? My primary
langague is not my ancestral language (but I could have worked a
lot harder at learning Chinese in college than I did). I live with
the tension of being bicultural, of looking different than most folks
on TV, of being cuturally misunderstood now & then (a caucasian
member of our church recently felt I was dissing him bec. I did
not look him straight in the eye when saying certain things). All
in all, it’s a deal I’m happy to strike.

My wife & I recently adopted a newborn daugther from 1st gen.
Chinese birthparents. Perhaps someday I will be hurt if/when Julia
gets old enough for her birthparents to loom larger and larger in her
Serach for Identity–these people who bore her but did not change her
diapers and put her through college and write her into their will.
I will want her to honor them but not at the expense of being able
to receive the life we are able to give her, which they could/would
not.

In many ways, America and American Evangelicalism is an adoptive
home for us. It has given most of us a better life than we would have
had if our families had never come here. It is flawed and fallen,
but remarkably open to critique, even equipping us with the tools
we use to critique it. And it is open to the possibility of a
multi-cultural future in a way that few other places are (ask Turks
in Germany, Kurds in Iraq, anybody but Japanese in Japan). Here
we have the freedom to worry about who we are and what being
bicultural means. To express and let God redeem something called
AsAm culture. To have a shot at enjoying the Best of Both Cultures.
For that I am grateful.

———————————————–

Now for some limited but HARD DATA on % of Chinese Xns: James Chuck
reports 21,435 total attendees in 158 Protestant Chinese churches in
five Bay Area counties (Alameda, SF, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Santa
Clara) as of mid-1996. My perusal of the 1990 census figures
(www.census.gov) yields 321,498 Chinese in those five counties.
Do the math and (drumroll please) we have 6.7% of self-identified
Chinese in those counties going to a Protestant church often enough to
be reported as “members.” SO, the oft-reported “5%” figure wasn’t so
bad. (Ooops, I just noticed that James already did the looking up and
got 6.8%–his census figures are fractionally different for some reason.)
(BTW, no slight intended of those Chinese RC’s and maybe any Orthodox
out there, but you’ll have to come up with your own data.) Let’s all
keep praying for leaders and churches and people and AsAm expressions
of the gospel to reach the 93.3% in the Bay Area and whatever the %age
is elsewhere!

Russell Yee
Oakland, CA

— End —

To: Multiple recipients of list cac
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 1996 16:12:03 +0800 (EAT)
From: mooch
Subject: A question

What is “culture”?

Mooch

——————————————————————————
Muchun (Mooch) Yin |
Tunghai University |
Box 373 |
Taichung, Taiwan |
E-mail: mooch@s867.thu.edu.tw |
——————————————————————————

— End —

To: Multiple recipients of list cac
Date: Thu, 19 Dec 1996 21:57:53 -0800
From: Ken Fong
Subject: Re: Asian American Congregational Conflict Management

Ahh, Timothy, I for one appreciate your extra-clarified thoughts! It’s
nice to hear again that you caught one of the essences of my summer
session in Seattle. I’m glad to have you in the classroom (well,
virtual classroom, at this point!).

Merry Christmas to all!
Ken Fong

— End —

To: Multiple recipients of list cac
Date: Thu, 19 Dec 1996 15:40:47 -0500
From: TSTseng@aol.com
Subject: Re: Asian American Congregational Conflict Management

Hi DJ:

Thanks for your response and bringing up H.R. Niebuhr (who along with his
brother Reinhold is one of my favorite neo-orthodox theologians). And please
dispense with the titles – “Tim” is fine.

Perhaps my later posting is more explicit about where I am on the Niebuhrian
continuum. I am definitely not in the “Christ above culture” or “Christ of
culture” boats. Nor am I in the “Christ and culture in contradiction” or
“Christ against culture” camps. In other words, I agree with you and Niebuhr
that Christ is a transformer of culture (which is why I spoke of redeeming
culture). There is much that is sinful and flawed in every culture and – for
me – the hope of the Gospel is in its ability to bring Good News to a broken
world of diverse cultures.

What I am agitating about are two things: 1) the notion that because Western
cultures has had a longer encounter with the Church, it is therefore more
“Christian” and 2) somehow, the church (or gospel) has been untainted by
history and culture. I think most would agree that point 1 is problematic,
given the history of Western imperialism, colonialism, racism, etc. and the
church’s complicity (I say this fully aware that there have been many in the
church who have stood firmly against these atrocities – but that legacy has
been forgotten by many evangelicals today).

But allow me to respond to Dr. Curtis’ editorial to better explain my second
“bone of contention”:

He writes:

<>

No quibble here. But does this mean that we have to sing Wesleyan hymns,
preach strictly expository sermons, or have stained glass windows? What does
it mean to have a sense of “our” heritage? Who is “our”? Does Christian
History include the stories of the African and Asian churches from a
non-missionary perspective?

<>

Aha! What is the contemporary cultural seduction? Is it to encourage people
to hear the many voices (both Christian and non-Christian) that have been
silenced in the past? Or is this too “politically correct”? If I want to
write a history of Chinese American Christians, would this be considered a
part of the contemporary seduction? In any case, for anyone who has gone to
seminary (it doesn’t matter whether the seminary is conservative or liberal),
has any seminary offered courses about Asian or African Christian history?
Somehow, blanket statements about the “contemporary” needs to be more
clearly explained, for the real “unthinking assenters” may be those who want
to repristinate an Euro-American-centric church history. That is why Ken
Fong’s seminar at the Asian American Baptist minister’s conference this past
summer was SO important – we need to understand history, but our
interpretation of history must be post-modern (as opposed to pre-modern or
modern) otherwise non-Euro-American voices will be ignored (the color-blind
argument) or suppressed (the West is Best argument).

Also, the statement about “the unfolding of God’s purposes” transcending “any
single generation, century, denomination, geography, or ideology” sounds like
the Christ above culture paradigm which Niebuhr rejected. If God’s purpose
transcends any earthly reality, then how do we understand it? The Bible, you
say. Yes, but how do we interpret the Bible in such a manner so that our
subjective experiences don’t get in the way of God’s transcendent purposes in
the text? Furthermore, if the original Hebrew and Greek are mere human
languages, how can they capture God’s transcendent purpose (unless one argues
that the original Greek and Hebrew are somehow more sacred than other
languages)?

Don’t misunderstand me. I believe that Scripture infallibly (and even
inerrantly) reveals God’s will, but we are deceiving ourselves if we think we
can appropriate or articulate what that will is without taking into
consideration the historic/cultural embeddedness of our experiences when we
approach the Word.

All this is to say that there is no such thing as a pure gospel, untouched by
culture and history, on this side of eternity. As long as we humans are
flawed, we can never transmit a pure gospel to others. By faith, I believe
that God’s purposes transcends human limitations, but I cannot therefore say
exactly what that purpose is without tainting it merely by talking about it.
I can attempt to approximate it by my understanding of Scripture and by
taking into account my cultural background and ideological assumptions. And
by faith, I will present my understanding of the Good News to those outside
the Christian community with the “hope-filled certainty” that through it, God
transforms lives and cultures. The problem I have with Curtis and many
evangelicals is the inability to see how their expressions of Christian faith
is also influenced by their own culture(s) and ideologies. And then some of
them have the audacity to teach “pure” theology to non-Euro-Americans,
claiming that they have captured the essence of the Truth in their
unadulterated version of the Gospel. Forgive me, I stereotype (but only to
be provocative, mind you – I hope to hear others).

So while I agree with you that culture cannot “plainly and simply receive the
Gospel in whole” (which is not what I meant when I used the term
“incarnated”), neither can the Gospel – so long as it is entrusted to
fallible people like us – be untouched by culture.

Thanks for getting me to think more [clearly]. Have a wonderful Christmas!

Tim Tseng

— End —

To: Multiple recipients of list cac
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 1996 15:05:55 -0500
From: TSTseng@aol.com
Subject: Re: Critiquing Cultures

Russell [Yee]:

In a message dated 12/12/96 8:45:43 PM, you wrote:

<>

Don’t know if I can supply anything provocative – but, based on my interviews
with Chinese Christians this past summer, 2d-4th generation evangelicals
rarely said anything critical about mainstream evangelicalism and rarely said
anything complimentary about immigrant generation Chinese. There was a
tendency to deny the significance of their racial or ethnic identities; yet
there was near unanimous agreement that one’s Christian identity is most
central – though little thought was given to how one’s Christian identity is
expressed in a multicultural reality. Hence, many (not all) Chinese ABC
evangelicals tend to uncritically adopt the cultural forms of mainstream
white evangelicalism in their worship services, discipleship curricula,
sermons, etc, etc. Personally, I’d like to know whether conscious efforts wil
l be made to borrow from African American traditions or even from Asian
sources.

In sum, based on my interviews, ABC evangelicals tend to relativize “culture”
while holding sacred a “culture-neutral or color-blind biblical culture.”
But the problem is that there is no such thing as a “culture-neutral or
color-blind biblical culture” in historical, sociological, or even biblical
reality (I grant that Paul’s attempt to envision the “new humanity” in Christ
where Jews/Gentiles, Men/Women, Slave/Free can come togetherunfettered by
their particularities may represent this culture-neutral hope; but I don’t
think it can ever be attained on our side of eternity). Since Paul’s days,
the church has been both attempting to root itself into new cultural contexts
by adapting or borrowing from these cultures AND/OR moving forward towards
the eschatological hope of a transformed existence where the limitations of
cultures will be transcended before the glory of Christ’s Kingdom. I believe
Andrew Walls’ book, _The Missionary Movement in Christian History_ makes the
“homing” and “pilgrimage” metaphors central to his understanding of the
transmission of Christian faith across cultures through history.

Therefore, my hope is that ABC evangelicals will more seriously recognize the
socio-historical contexts in which they find themselves and not “buy into”
the idea that Christianity can be lived out free of culture or race or gender
or class. It’s okay to critique our Chinese-ness, but we need to be just as
vigilent at critiquing the Euro-American-ness of mainstream evangelicalism.
2 Cor. 4:5-7 comes to mind when I think about this issue:

“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and
ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let
light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light
of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we
have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this
extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (NRSV)

Our treasure, as believers, is the hope and expectation that our Lord Jesus
Christ will bring us into his light, which in one sense, can mean a heavenly
kingdom where our particularities will no longer divide us. Yet, on this
side of eternity, we are still “clay jars.” Thus, it is imperative for white
and Chinese Christians to recognize that much of the “cultural” expressions
of their faith are nothing more than “clay jars.” Otherwise, the wrong
message gets communicated (namely, that “this extraordinary power” does not
belong to God, but comes from us). The problem is that while it is easy for
us to recognize the limitations of our Chinese “clay jar,” it is difficult to
see that “white evangelicalism” is also a “clay jar.” This leads to your
second point….

<>

Interesting how you interpreted my statements as a “mood to beat up on
something.” I find it difficult to imagine how minor bit-players like us
Asian Americans can actually “beat up” CT. But more disturbing in your
comments is the assumption that we’ve not added out “blood, sweat, and tears
to the effort.” By in large, we have worked very hard to build Chinese
evangelical churches – just speak to some of our battle-worn veterans (Hoover
Wong, Sam Ling, Jeanette Yep, Peter Yuen, Wayland Wong, etc, etc.). If we
identify ourselves as evangelicals and CT purports to be a evangelical voice,
then why are we not mentioned for our efforts? Did the efforts of these
Chinese leaders not count?

Imagine what it would have been like if the same arguments were used to
recognize Gentile believers as members of the New Testament Christian
community – actually, no imagination is needed. The records show that the
Judaizers refused to receive the Gentiles unless their “blood, sweat, and
tears” were acknowledged by the Jewish believers (i.e., circumcision). Is it
not true that in Paul’s idea community of believers, no stumbling blocks were
to be placed before another believer? So why should we have to prove our
worth to CT? Are we not worthy simply because we are advancing the kingdom
also? I didn’t realize that there was supposed to be a pecking order in the
Christian church in which one’s recognition is based on one’s performance (or
how much one brings to the table).

<>

Well, if one plays simply by the numbers, this would then imply that coverage
of Asian American evangelicals in CT should limited to their numbers within
American Evangelical leadership in the future. Sounds like a quota system to
me 🙂 More seriously, unless CT makes a serious effort to give us exposure,
how many of us Asian Americans will really be recognized as leaders in
mainstream evangelicalism? We can certainly attempt to make a splash (or
shed our blood, sweat, and tears), but it remains to be seen how far our own
efforts to break into mainstream evangelicalism will get us (though in
mainline denominations, Asian Americans have made significant progress out of
proportion to their numbers – this is in part due to the fact that mainline
denominations have historically had to face the question of accountability to
be a truly “Christian” body where the marginalized are invited to sit [not
buy a place] at the welcome table. This does not mean that mainline
Christians are really that much better than evangelicals in race-relations.)

<>

I agree that American evangelicalism is predominantly white. But I think
you’ve presented a set of false options. IMHO, it’s not a choice between
“fitting in” vs. “separating out.” I’d rather frame the question in this
way: “how do we encourage all our brothers and sisters to break free of their
conscious or unconscious cultural captivity and move towards a fuller vision
of the kingdom (which will redeem the best of our cultures)?” This means
that we should try to “partner” with white Christians, but only insofar as 1.
“white culture” is not viewed as normative; and 2. we are not forced to
emulate whites (i.e., we are allowed to be who God has made us insofar as we
are led by Word and Spirit). But this can also mean that we may be called to
challenge entrenched white Christians [or other ‘entrenched’ Christians] to
change. How can the prophetic word be spoken? How do we speak the truth in
love?

This is where maintaining a visible ethnic/racial church becomes a witness to
the brokenness of Christ’s body, the Church. Strengthening Chinese or
pan-Asian congregations, developing liturgies/worship services and songs that
reflect our Asian American experiences, and thinking theologically about the
Bible and Christian tradition in a manner that does not erase our worthiness
are needed in order to hold accountable that part of the Church which seeks
to present itself as the touchstone of Christian faith. It is not merely a
pragmatic call to evangelize the 95% non-Christian Chinese (an oft-repeated
and largely un-substantiated figure, BTW). Until we all recognize the
brokenness of the church today (especially Christians from dominant cultures
or contexts – and this also means overseas born Chinese Christians who are
insensitive to ABCs) I don’t think it wise to talk too brashly about or walk
too quickly towards “reconciliation.” Repentance, restitution, and
reparation need to be worked out even as the broken Church bears witness to
the restored and resurrected Christ and awaits His return. (That enough R’s
for you?)

Ugh! I’ve written too much! But you have that effect on me, Russell.
Thanks! – Tim

— End —

To: Multiple recipients of list cac
From: “Dr Samuel Ling”
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 1996 17:55:05 CST6CDT
Subject: articles to share with you

Hi, everyone, Merry Christmas!

5 articles I wrote recently to share with anyone who cares to read.
The Lord’s blessings to you this season.

Samuel Ling
Sam

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To: Multiple recipients of list cac
From: “DJ Chuang”
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 1996 15:08:00 +0000
Subject: Christianity and Culture

[not only do Asian Americans wrestle with the question of culture and faith,
normative evangelical Americans also]

Christianity and Culture
Jerry Solomon

At the close of the twentieth century American evangelicals find themselves in
a diverse, pluralistic culture. Many ideas vie for attention and allegiance.
These ideas, philosophies, or world views are the products of philosophical
and cultural changes. Such changes have come to define our culture. For
example, pluralism can mean that all world views are correct and that it is
intolerable to state otherwise; secularism reigns; absolutes have ceased to
exist; facts can only be stated in the realm of science, not religion;
evangelical Christianity has become nothing more than a troublesome oddity
amidst diversity. It is clear, therefore, that western culture is suffering;
it is ill. Lesslie Newbigin, a scholar and former missionary to India, has
emphasized this by asking a provocative question: “Can the West be
converted?”(1)

Such a question leads us to another: How is a Christian supposed to respond to
such conditions? Or, how should we deal with the culture that surrounds us?

Since the term culture is central in this discussion, it deserves particular
attention and definition. Even though the concept behind the word is ancient,
and it is used frequently in many different contexts, its actual meaning is
elusive and often confusing. Culture does not refer to a particular level of
life. This level, sometimes referred to as “high culture,” is certainly an
integral part of the definition, but it is not the central focus. For example,
“the arts” are frequently identified with culture in the minds of many. More
often than not there is a qualitative difference between what is a part of
“high culture” and other segments of culture, but these distinctions are not
our concern at this time.

T. S. Eliot has written that culture “may . . . be described simply as that
which makes life worth living.”(2) Emil Brunner, a theologian, has stated
“that culture is materialisation of meaning.”(3) Donald Bloesch, another
theologian, says that culture “is the task appointed to humans to realize
their destiny in the world in service to the glory of God.”(4) An
anthropologist, E. Adamson Hoebel, believes that culture “is the integrated
system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of the members of
a society and which are not the result of biological inheritance.”(5) All of
these definitions can be combined to include the world views, actions, and
products of a given community of people.

Christians are to observe and analyze culture and make decisions regarding our
proper actions and reactions within it. A struggle is in progress and the
stakes are high. Harry Blamires writes: “No thoughtful Christian can
contemplate and analyze the tensions all about us in both public and private
life without sensing the eternal momentousness of the current struggle for the
human mind between Christian teaching and materialistic secularism.”(6)

Believers are called to join the struggle. But in order to struggle
meaningfully and with some hope of influencing our culture, we must be
informed and thoughtful Christians. There is no room for sloth or apathy. Rev.
3:15-16 states, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would
that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor
cold, I spit you out of My mouth.”

God forbid that these words of condemnation should apply to us.

Transforming Culture

Church history demonstrates that one of the constant struggles of
Christianity, both individually and corporately, is with culture. Where should
we stand? Inside the culture? Outside? Ignore it? Isolate ourselves from it?
Should we try to transform it?

The theologian Richard Niebuhr provided a classic study concerning these
questions in his book Christ and Culture. Even though his theology is not
always evangelical, his paradigm is helpful. It includes five views.

First, he describes the “Christ Against Culture” view, which encourages
opposition, total separation, and hostility toward culture. Tertullian,
Tolstoy, Menno Simons, and, in our day, Jacques Ellul are exponents of this
position.

Second, the “Christ of Culture” perspective is exactly the opposite of “Christ
Against Culture” because it attempts to bring culture and Christianity
together, regardless of their differences. Liberation, process, and feminist
theologies are current examples.

Third, the “Christ Above Culture” position attempts “to correlate the
fundamental questions of the culture with the answer of Christian
revelation.”(7) Thomas Aquinas is the most prominent teacher of this view.

Fourth, “Christ and Culture in Paradox” describes the “dualists” who stress
that the Christian belongs “to two realms (the spiritual and temporal) and
must live in the tension of fulfilling responsibilities to both.”(8) Luther
adopted this view.

Fifth, “Christ the Transformer of Culture” includes the “conversionists” who
attempt “to convert the values and goals of secular culture into the service
of the kingdom of God.”(9) Augustine, Calvin, John Wesley, and Jonathan
Edwards are the chief proponents of this last view.

With the understanding that we are utilizing a tool and not a perfected
system, I believe that the “Christ the Transformer of Culture” view aligns
most closely with Scripture. We are to be actively involved in the
transformation of culture without giving that culture undue prominence. As the
social critic Herbert Schlossberg says, “The ‘salt’ of people changed by the
gospel must change the world.”(10) Admittedly, such a perspective calls for an
alertness and sensitivity to subtle dangers. But the effort is needed to
follow the biblical pattern.

If we are to be transformers, we must also be “discerners,” a very important
word for contemporary Christians. We are to apply “the faculty of discerning;
discrimination; acuteness of judgment and understanding.”(11) Matthew 16:3
includes a penetrating question from Jesus to the Pharisees and Sadducees who
were testing Him by asking for a sign from heaven: “Do you know how to discern
the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?” It is
obvious that Jesus was disheartened by their lack of discernment. If they were
alert, they could see that the Lord was demonstrating and would demonstrate
(in v. 4 He refers to impending resurrection) His claims. Jesus’ question is
still relevant. We too must be alert and able to discern our times.

In order to transform the culture, we must continually recognize what is in
need of transformation and what is not. This is a difficult assignment. We
cannot afford to approach the responsibility without the guidance of God’s
Spirit, Word, wisdom, and power. As the theologian John Baille has said, “In
proportion as a society relaxes its hold upon the eternal, it ensures the
corruption of the temporal.”(12) May we live in our temporal setting with a
firm grasp of God’s eternal claims while we transform the culture he has
entrusted to us!

Stewardship and Creativity

An important aspect of our discussion of Christians and culture is centered in
the early passages of the Bible.

The first two chapters of Genesis provide a foundation for God’s view of
culture and man’s responsibility in it. These chapters contain what is
generally called the “cultural mandate,” God’s instructions concerning the
care of His creation. Included in this are the concepts of “stewardship” and
“creativity.”

The mandate of stewardship is specifically found within 1:27-28 and 2:15, even
though these two chapters as a whole also demonstrate it. Verse 28 of chapter
1 reads, “And God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and
multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the
earth.”

This verse contains the word subdue, an expression that is helpful in
determining the mandate of stewardship. First, it should be observed that man
is created “in the image of God.” Volumes have been written about the meaning
of this phrase. Obviously, it is a very positive statement. If man is created
in God’s image, that image must contain God’s benevolent goodness, and not
maliciousness. Second, it is obvious that God’s created order includes
industriousness, work–a striving on the part of man. Thus we are to exercise
our minds and bodies in service to God by “subduing,” observing, touching, and
molding the “stuff” of creation. We are to form a culture.

Tragically, because of sin, man abused his stewardship. We are now in a
struggle that was not originally intended. But the redeemed person, the person
in Christ, is refashioned. He can now approach culture with a clearer
understanding of God’s mandate. He can now begin again to exercise proper
stewardship.

The mandate concerning creativity is broadly implied within the first two
chapters of Genesis. It is not an emphatic pronouncement, as is the mandate
concerning stewardship. In reality, the term is a misnomer, for we cannot
create anything. We can only redesign, rearrange, or refashion what God has
created. But in this discussion we will continue to use the word with this
understanding in mind.

A return to the opening chapter of Genesis leads us to an intriguing question.
Of what does the “image of God” consist? It is interesting to note, as did the
British writer Dorothy Sayers, that if one stops with the first chapter and
asks that question, the apparent answer is that God is creator.(13) Thus, some
element of that creativity is instilled in man. God created the cosmos. He
declared that what He had done was “very good.” He then put man within
creation. Man responded creatively. He was able to see things with aesthetic
judgment (2:9). His cultivation of the garden involved creativity, not
monotonous servitude (2:15). He creatively assigned names to the animals
(2:19-20). And he was able to respond with poetic expression upon seeing Eve,
his help-mate (2:23). Kenneth Myers writes: “Man was fit for the cultural
mandate. As the bearer of his Creator-God’s image, he could not be satisfied
apart from cultural activity. Here is the origin of human culture in untainted
glory and possibility. It is no wonder that those who see God’s redemption as
a transformation of human culture speak of it in terms of re-creation.”(14)

As we seek to transform culture we must understand this mandate and apply it.

Pluralism

Pluralism and secularism are two prominent words that describe contemporary
American culture. The Christian must live within a culture that emphasizes
these terms. What do they mean and how do we respond? We will look at
pluralism first.

The first sentence of professor Allan Bloom’s provocative and controversial
book, The Closing of the American Mind, reads: “There is one thing a professor
can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university
believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”(15)

This statement is indicative of Bloom’s concern for the fact that many college
students do not believe in absolutes, but the concern goes beyond students to
the broader population. Relativism, openness, syncretism, and tolerance are
some of the more descriptive words for the ways people are increasingly
thinking in contemporary culture. These words are part of what I mean by
pluralism. Many ideas are proclaimed, as has always been the case, but the
type of pluralism to which I refer asserts that all these ideas are of equal
value, and that it is intolerant to think otherwise. Absurdity is the result.
This is especially apparent in the realm of religious thought.

In order for evangelicals to be transformers of culture they must understand
that their beliefs will be viewed by a significant portion of the culture as
intolerant, antiquated, uncompassionate, and destructive of the status quo. As
a result, they will often be persecuted through ridicule, prejudice, social
ostracism, academic intolerance, media bias, or a number of other attitudes.
Just as with Bloom’s statement, the evangelical’s emphasis on absolutes is
enough to draw a negative response. For example, Jesus said, “I am the way,
and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John
14:6). Such an exclusive, absolute claim does not fit current pluralism.
Therefore, the pluralist would contend that Jesus must have meant something
other than what is implied in such an egocentric statement.

It is unfortunate that Christians often have been absorbed by pluralism. As
Harry Blamires puts it, “We have stopped thinking christianly outside the
scope of personal morals and personal spirituality.”(16) We hold our beliefs
privately, which is perfectly legitimate within pluralism. But we have not
been the transformers we are to be. We have supported pluralism, because it
tolerates a form of Christianity that doesn’t make demands on the culture or
call it into question.

Christianity is not just personal opinion; it is objective truth. This must be
asserted, regardless of the responses to the contrary, in order to transform
culture. Christians must affirm this. We must enter our culture boldly with
the understanding that what we believe and practice privately is also
applicable to all of public life. Lesslie Newbigin writes: “We come here to
what is perhaps the most distinctive and crucial feature of the modern
worldview, namely the division of human affairs into two realms– the private
and the public, a private realm of values where pluralism reigns and a public
world of what our culture calls `facts.'”(17)

We must be cautious of incorrect distinctions between the public and private.
We must also influence culture with the “facts” of Christianity. This is our
responsibility.

Secularism

Secularism permeates virtually every facet of life and thought. What does it
mean? We need to understand that the word secular is not the same as
secularism. All of us, whether Christian or non-Christian, live, work, and
play within the secular sphere. There is no threat here for the evangelical.
As Blamires says, “Engaging in secular activities . . . does not make anyone a
`secularist’, an exponent or adherent of `secularism’.”(18) Secularism as a
philosophy, a world view, is a different matter. Blamires continues: “While
`secular’ is a purely neutral term, `secularism’ represents a view of life
which challenges Christianity head on, for it excludes all considerations
drawn from a belief in God or in a future state.”(19)

Secularism elevates things that are not to be elevated to such a high status,
such as the autonomy of man. Donald Bloesch states that “a culture closed to
the transcendent will find the locus of the sacred in its own creations.”(20)
This should be a sobering thought for the evangelical.

We must understand that secularism is influential and can be found throughout
the culture. In addition, we must realize that the secularist’s belief in
independence makes Christianity appear useless and the Christian seem woefully
ignorant. As far as the secularist is concerned, Christianity is no longer
vital. As Emil Brunner says, “The roots of culture that lie in the
transcendent sphere are cut off; culture and civilisation must have their law
and meaning in themselves.”(21) As liberating as this may sound to a
secularist, it stimulates grave concern in the mind of an alert evangelical
whose view of culture is founded upon God’s precepts. There is a clear
dividing line.

How is this reflected in our culture? Wolfhart Pannenberg presents what he
believes are three aspects of the long-term effects of secularism. “First of
these is the loss of legitimation in the institutional ordering of
society.”(22) That is, without a belief in the divine origin of the world
there is no foundation for order. Political rule becomes “merely the
exercising of power, and citizens would then inevitably feel that they were
delivered over to the whim of those who had power.”(23)

“The collapse of the universal validity of traditional morality and
consciousness of law is the second aspect of the long-term effects of
secularization.”(24) Much of this can be attributed to the influence of
Immanuel Kant, the eighteenth-century German philosopher, who taught that
moral norms were binding even without religion.(25)

Third, “the individual in his or her struggle towards orientation and identity
is hardest hit by the loss of a meaningful focus of commitment.”(26) This
leads to a sense of “homelessness and alienation” and “neurotic deviations.”
The loss of the “sacred and ultimate” has left its mark. As Pannenberg writes:
“The increasingly evident long-term effects of the loss of a meaningful focus
of commitment have led to a state of fragile equilibrium in the system of
secular society.”(27)

Since evangelicals are a part of that society, we should realize this “fragile
equilibrium” is not just a problem reserved for the unbelieving secularist; it
is also our problem.

Whether the challenge is secularism, pluralism, or a myriad of other issues,
the Christian is called to practice discernment while actively transforming
culture.

Notes

1. Lesslie Newbigin, “Can the West be Converted?” Evangelical Review of
Theology 11 (October 1987).

2. T. S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World,
1949), 100.

3. Emil Brunner, Christianity and Civilization (London: Nisbet, 1948), 62.

4. Donald G. Bloesch, Freedom for Obedience (San Francisco: Harper & Row,
1987), 54.

5. E. Adamson Hoebel, Anthropology: The Study of Man, 3d ed. (New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1966), 5.

6. Harry Blamires, Recovering the Christian Mind (Downers Grove, Ill.:
InterVarsity, 1988), 10.

7. Bloesch, Freedom, 227.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas
Nelson, 1983), 324.

11. The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “discernment.”

12. John Baille, What is Christian Civilization? (London: Oxford, 1945), 59.

13. Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (San Francisco: Harper & Row,
1941), 22.

14. Kenneth A. Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes (Westchester,
Ill.: Crossway, 1989), 38.

15. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, (New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1987), 25.

16. Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant, 1963),
37-38.

17. Newbigin, “West,” 359.

18. Blamires, Christian Mind, 58.

19. Ibid.

20. Bloesch, Freedom, 228.

21. Brunner, Christianity, 2.

22. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Christianity in a Secularized World (New York:
Crossroad, 1989), 33.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid., 35.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid., 37.

27. Ibid., 38.

Copyright 1992 Jerry Solomon

About the Author

Jerry Solomon is the field ministries manager and “Mind Games” College Prep
coordinator of Probe Ministries. He received the B.A. summa cum laude in Bible
and the M.A. cum laude in history and theology from Criswell College. He has
also attended the University of North Texas, Canal Zone College, and Lebanon
Valley College, Pennsylvania.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit corporation whose mission is to reclaim the
primacy of Christian thought and values in Western culture through media,
education, and literature. In seeking to accomplish this mission, Probe
provides perspective on the integration of the academic disciplines and
historic Christianity.

In addition, Probe acts as a clearing house, communicating the results of its
research to the church and society at large.

Further information about Probe’s materials and ministry may be obtained by
writing to:
Probe Ministries
1900 Firman Drive, Suite 100
Richardson, TX 75081
(214) 480-0240
FAX(214) 644-9664
74152.214@compuserve.com

— End —

To: Multiple recipients of list cac
From: “DJ Chuang”
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 1996 15:03:40 +0000
Subject: Re: Asian American Congregational Conflict Management

On 11 Dec 96 at 11:58, TSTseng@aol.com wrote:

> I do not subscribe the idea of a culture-neutral biblical culture,
> especially since such an idea is “gnostic” in outlook and anti-Incarnational
> in theology. Worst of all, it allows Euro-American cultural expressions of
> Christianity to be unconsciously defined as the “norm” for every Christian.

Dr. Tseng,
Thank you for being honest in your approach to culture and faith. Where I am
at today, I wrestle more with the relationship between culture and faith, and
do not see culture as being able to plainly and simply receive the Gospel in
whole, or you say, incarnate it into the culture. Using Niebuhr’s models of
“Christ and culture”, there are a number of relationships that are possible,
including Christ above culture, Christ in culture, Christ transforms culture,
Christ separate from culture, and one other that I can’t think of off the top
of my head.

What you seem to say is “Christ in culture”, where as I believe there are
elements of all 5 models in understanding the complexities of this
relationship, and with my personal critique/concern about Asian culture being
the aspect of “CHRIST TRANSFORMS CULTURE”.

Also, given the diversity between western and eastern civilization, one has
to rightly be discerning of not imposing western concepts upon eastern
culture, but yet know when Christian values are to be applied to all
cultures.

The following excerpt from the Christian History Institute also suggests that
western civilization has been more deeply affected by Christianity than other
cultures.

A Word From Our President — Dr. Ken Curtis

Our contemporary society has forgotten where it came from and the
indispensible role of the church in laying the foundations for Western
civilization and establishing the institutions that have enriched our life and
culture.

It is no surprise that the secularist mentality conveniently ignores or
maligns our Christian past. But what is beyond comprehension is how many
Christian people have almost no sense of our heritage.

We are too easily captive to the contemporary and become unthinking assenters
to our culture’s seduction by the now, the latest, the present moment.
Understanding Christian history will help us in many ways. We will uncover
precedents in the past of how God has worked, We will gain perspective that
will help us to see our current situation in a new light. We will develop a
sense of continuity and see how the unfolding of God’s purposes transcends any
single generation, century, denomination, geography, or ideology.

We hope our web site will help you discover some of the riches of our
Christian heritage. We expect to be adding new features on a regular basis.
However, as we begin this service we are happy to present the complete set of
84 back issues of our church bulletin insert called Glimpses . Also, you will
find links to the first three selections published in our Pocket Classics
series. These are original documents from Christian history and the first
three are all from the Early Church period.

-eom-

* * on the relentless pursuit of truth *

— End —

To: Multiple recipients of list cac
Date: Tue, 17 Dec 1996 12:53:05 -0500
From: TSTseng@aol.com
Subject: No Subject

Well, at least some Chinese Americans are taking some initiatives! – Tim
======================================
Date: Sun, 15 Dec 1996 01:00:27 -0600
From: “H-Net Exec Director: Richard Jensen”
Subject: $25m for Asian-American Studies in New York

Charles B. Wang Endows $25 Million For Asian American Center At State
University Of New York At Stony Brook

Gift By Computer Associates CEO And Founder Is Largest Endowment In SUNY’s
History

STONY BROOK, N.Y.–(PRESS RELEASE)–Dec. 9, 1996–In the largest private
gift in the history of the State University of New York (SUNY) Computer
Associates International, Inc. (CA) Chairman and CEO Charles B. Wang is
funding a high-technology Asian American Center on the campus of SUNY Stony
Brook.
The $25 million gift will be used to construct the Charles B. Wang Asian
American Center, a far-reaching complex dedicated to the advancement of
education, cultural exchanges, business and technology. It will be the first
building, funded by a private donor, to be constructed on a SUNY campus.
“By any measure, Mr. Wang’s endowment ranks among the most generous in the
history of this nation,” said Stony Brook President Dr. Shirley Strum Kenny.
“This gift represents a major step forward for multi-cultural education at
the University. The generosity of Mr. Wang means that Stony Brook will be
alone among major universities in having a dedicated center specifically
built to meet the unique technological requirements of advanced
cross-cultural programs.”
The Charles B. Wang Asian American Center will become the core of an
emerging global “virtual university.” It will utilize the latest fiber-optic
networking technologies to enable the transmission of real-time video, voice
and data at extraordinary speeds, in excess of 45 mbs.
The Center will empower distance learning – a “university without walls.”
Professors and students at Stony Brook and in Asia will conveniently interact
and freely exchange ideas in real-time, regardless of their physical location.

“The Asian American Center will be a model of how technology should be
applied in the service of education,” said Mr. Wang. “It will expand
opportunities by eliminating the boundaries of geography and time.”
The Center will allow Stony Brook to expand the scope of its extensive
cultural programs and services. It will also make possible the exchange of
ideas about East/West approaches to medicine, science, technology, business,
engineering and many other fields in an international arena.
The first phase of the project, scheduled for groundbreaking in spring,
1997, will involve the construction of a facility located on a four-acre site
contiguous to the Staller Center for the Performing Arts.
In addition to state-of-the-art computer facilities, the 25,000 square-foot
building will include an auditorium/conference center, an art gallery,
meeting rooms, and a multi-cuisine food court. Subsequent phases will allow
the addition of supplementary annexes to accommodate the growing numbers of
students, faculty, visiting scholars and researchers expected to utilize the
complex.
Mr. Wang’s gift provides not only for construction of a world-class
facility, but also an endowment for the ongoing building maintenance and
upkeep costs.
Mr. Wang, who was eight years old when his family left Shanghai, China in
1952 to settle in New York City, has a keen interest in supporting programs
designed to help people gain greater understanding of Asian and
Asian-American issues.
“The Asian-American center will be the catalyst for numerous academic,
technical, cultural, and business initiatives,” Mr. Wang said. “When
participants have a greater understanding of each other’s history and
culture, such programs will always have a better chance of success.”
A graduate of Queens College in New York, Mr. Wang founded CA in 1976 and
has built the company into the world’s leading provider of business software.
The University at Stony Brook is the State University of New York’s leading
research institution. It is also nationally renowned for its Asian-American
studies programs. Approximately one quarter of its students are of Asian
heritage.

CONTACT: State University of New York at Stony Brook
Vicky Penner Katz, 516/632-6311 or 516/282-8586 (pager)
[the university is in a suburb on Long Island, east of Manhattan]

— End —

To: Multiple recipients of list cac
Date: Tue, 17 Dec 1996 11:00:17 -0100
From: janei@violet.berkeley.edu (Jane Naomi Iwamura)
Subject: PANAAWTM – Annual Conference & Doctoral Seminar (Fwd)

PANAAWTM
Pacific Asian North American Asian Women in Theology & Ministry

ANNUAL MEETING

Date: March 14-16, 1997 (Friday-Sunday)
Place: Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

Participants can apply for scholarship travel and room and board.

Contact Person:
Millie Kim
3128-G Briarcliff Road
Atlanta, GA 30329
(404) 636-3725
e-mail: mkim@unix.cc.emory.edu

DOCTORAL SEMINAR
for Asian & Asian American Women Students in US & Canada

Date: March 13-14, 1997 (Thursday-Friday)
Place: Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
Contact Persons:

Kwok Pui-lan
Episcopal Divinity School
99 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
(617) 868-3450

Greer Anne Wenh-In Ng
Emmanuel College
75 Queens Park Crescent
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1K7
Canada
(416) 585-4549

_____

PANAAWTM ‘s History
In 1984, a group of Asian women graduate theological students in
the Northeastern U.S. saw the need, and had the desire to form a group
which would provide a forum in which they could share and discuss their
interests, concerns, and ideas. The group at that time was called Asian
Women Theologians (AWT). Shortly thereafter, Asian American women in
theology felt that such a group would benefit them as well, and became
members of the group. Asian Women Theologians became Asian & Asian
American Women Theologians (AAAWT), and members resided throughout the U.S.
>From the beginning, the group was comprised of not just women in theology,
but also ministry. The name of the group was subsequently changed to Asian
American Women in Theology and Ministry (AAAWTM). For the past two
conferences, participants have come from Asian, the United States, as well
as Canada. The increased interest and support have been most encouraging
to all involved. In order to show that the homes of our members can be in
Asia, the United States, Canada, and the Pacific Islands, AAAWTM became
PANAAWTM.

— End —

To: Multiple recipients of list cac
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 1996 09:48:19 -0800 (PST)
From: Donna Maeda
Subject: CFP: Mapping Race — Yale Grad. Student Conf. (fwd)

Greetings

FYI

Happy Holidays, too!

> YALE UNIVERSITY ANNOUNCES A GRADUATE STUDENT CONFERENCE
>MAY 10, 1996
>
>MAPPING RACE:
>BODIES OF KNOWLEDGE, BOUNDARIES OF DIFFERENCE
>
>This conference will explore the ways in which racial identity has been
>created, represented, and experienced on global, local, and individual
>terrain. The metaphor of mapping invites a variety of approaches to the
>question of how landscapes, communities, bodies, and nations are charted
>as racial territories.
>
>The conference is organized around broad themes concerning the
>construction and deployment of “race” in the negotiation of power;
>participants are encouraged to consider such questions as:
>
>% How do we know what race is?
>% What are the politics of racial marking?
>% How is “place” racially delineated and encoded?
>% How is power and authority mapped along racial lines?
>% How does race operate as an organizing principle of human
> knowledge? In the academy? In the household? On
the street? On the stage? In imperial conquest?
Colonial rule? Subordination and >slavery?
>% How do race and geography intersect in strategies of resistance?
>% How do they meet in strategies of domination and oppression?
>% How is race mapped along lines of class and sexuality?
>% How does race affect or determine those boundaries of difference?
>
>The conference will take place Saturday, May 10, 1997, at Yale University.
>It will be followed on Sunday, May 11 by a roundtable discussion, open to
>all. We invite graduate students across the disciplines to submit
>individual papers or propose panels.
>
>Abstracts of 1-2 pages (for papers of 8-10 pages) should be sent to Emily
>Epstein at the address below by February 15, 1997 :
>
>Emily Epstein
>307 Humphrey Street
>New Haven, CT 06511
>eepstein@pantheon.cis.yale.edu
>(203) 789-8640
>
>Please include with your submission your academic affiliation, telephone
>number, email address, and street address.

–Donna Maeda
Assistant Professor, Religious Studies
Occidental College
213-259-2856 tel.
213-341-4919 fax.

— End —

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