Chat Interview with DJ Chuang – Emerging Church

DJ Chuang is a maven of Asian American church issues and his website, www.djchuang.com, is a wonderful resource. He has always been a wonderful conversation partner and encourager of this blog. Today, we got a chance to talk openly about a few issues including: emerging church, reaction from Asian American churches, and a little bit about the parachurch. Listen in…

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David Park: At what point did you begin to ask the question of whether or not you were "emergent" or not? At what point did the pat answers of your church/denomination not seem good enough?

DJ Chuang:
Pat answers didn't sit well with me as I got into my 3rd or 4th year of pastoral ministry and I gravitated towards reading more broadly, and innovate ministry things

David Park:
Do you ever feel as if that broadening and innovation was disrespectful to the body of the church?

DJ Chuang:
"Disrespect" is perceived differently by certain people, particularly those who are "conservative" or "traditional", who have a higher sensitivity to "respect" or "disrespect" even, to the degree that any lack of conformity to tradition can be perceived as 'disrespect'. So, if you're speaking English in a Korean (or Chinese) context, that can be perceived as disrespect

David Park: that's a good example. and sometimes speaking English [in those contexts] does make me feel disrespectful. But did you ever feel like in some ways, you were abandoning certain aspects of the church that even brought you to your faith?

DJ Chuang: re: my faith journey, I don't feel I was abandoning, my feeling is more along the lines of growing and maturing

David Park: does it ever bother you that people may not see it as growth?

DJ Chuang: it does bother me, but knowing how traditionalists think, they're mostly not open to the concepts of expansive growth.

David Park: I see. Do you believe that there is a distinction to be made between postmodernism and the postmodern Christian faith?

DJ Chuang: there is a distinction, indeed, but it's not an easy thing to draw the lines of distinction, because postmodernism as a culture is so broad and hard-to-define and there are several different ways of living out a Christian faith in a postmodern context.

David Park: yes, i see what you mean.

DJ Chuang: I’ll still say that a watershed book is "Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives" from a few years ago.

DJ Chuang: for some reason, that book isn't gaining as much buzz as I think it deserved

David Park: often the people that I’ve spoken to who have a lot of apprehension as to what the postmodern church is, have such a strong reaction to the word, postmodern, that they kind of refuse to process it or re-define it any further

David Park: i see. Do you feel that you lose credibility or traction with AA pastors when you come to the topic of emerging church?

DJ Chuang: i have a broader network of both (traditional) evangelical and emerging churches, and have good relationships on both sides of it, if you want to call it sides. so i don't find that i "lose credibility" or "traction" by being a participant in many arenas

DJ Chuang: there are AA pastors that are in mutually exclusive circles, e.g. fundamentalists, etc. and those who are exclusivistic don't freely talk to others outside their tight circles anyway, be it a particular denomination, or a particular theology.

David Park: good point. do you feel that the number of AAs open to emerging church are growing? or is it still a largely "white" conversation that doesn't have as much place in AA circles? or perhaps vice versa? it is growing because it has a viable place in AA circles?

DJ Chuang: i don't find AAs open to emerging church conversation growing. it is largely a "white" conversation.

David Park: do you attribute that to perhaps the notion that postmodern tools of deconstruction and reconstruction could be threatening to cultural, generational, and familial ties? things that are pillars in the AA community?

DJ Chuang: we've had a very hard time finding AAs interested in emerging church;

David Park: why do you think that AAs are not as interested in emerging church? do they find it threatening? or are they not as exposed to it as "whites"?

DJ Chuang: AAs are stereotypical not exposed to anything outside of their insider circle.

David Park: do you think it' can be attributed to the fact that most AA pastors are trained at traditional evangelical seminaries?

DJ Chuang: yes, that's a double-whammy, being traditional conservative evangelical, and being Asian.

David Park: so, culturally and ideologically, there is some insulation there

DJ Chuang: very much, they reinforce each other

DJ Chuang: although, historically, there is a lot of equity (donor dollars and endowment) in more liberal Asian American theological circles

DJ Chuang: cf. Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in the Bay area, [and] McCormick Seminary winning a $1.9M grant for their Asian American program.

David Park: yes, that was big news

David Park: do you ever wonder if we're calling too much attention to AA issues in the church? or is it possible that they could be resolved in the next generation as a natural consequence? that is to say, i could see how some pastors may think that the dialogues that are brought up about emerging church, diversity, and the shortcomings of the AA church are distractions and obstacles to the actual ministry to AAs, if that makes any sense

DJ Chuang: I think there is not enough attention to AA issues and AA churches. There’s so little when you Google and do online research, and yet AAs are supposed to be the highest %age of Internet users of any racial grouping and i see more dialogue and more attention is needed, if the next generation is to have any chance of developing a natural consequence.

DJ Chuang: case in point: we've had about 5 generations of Chinese Americans, and yet the development of churches and English ministries has not progressed all that far in that many generations. Therefore, with internet technology and more open dialogue, that can only accelerate the development of it.

David Park: yes, i agree with you, especially in light of the fact that an increasing number of Asians are being admitted to seminary. we should be well-represented in terms of intelligent discussion of AA church and faith

DJ Chuang: but, i know given the heritage of Asian culture, i can see how many Asians do not appreciate the value of open dialogue, and might perceive it as "airing dirty laundry"

David Park: yes, it's very uncomfortable to bring this up, and it can be seen as shameful and embarassing

DJ Chuang: this is alluded to in the GHAAC book, how AAs deal with conflict resolution
David Park: yes, i truly appreciated that chapter.

DJ Chuang: now, granted, there is wisdom to deal with conflict privately if individual to individual,

David Park: i hope that more AA churches invest in this book

DJ Chuang: but generally speaking, in the AA context, we don't deal with differences well at all, much less work towards a creative collaborative solution, or agreeing to disagree.

David Park: yes that’s huge. i've seen churches find it easier to part ways rather than work through differences

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And then I had to go back to work. Great chat though, it probably could've continued for hours.

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Comments

  1. reforming says:

    Thank you David and DJ for insights into your thinking. I wanted to get your reaction to the following quote from Tim Challies 0f (challies.com) after hearing Brian McLaren: “The faith of the emergents, the postmodern faith, is a faith that is devoid of boldness before God. It is timid, angry, tentative, questioning. It is not a faith of assurance and boldness. It emphasizes the unknowability of God more than what God has revealed to us about Himself. The faith McLaren commends is a faith that always questions, always doubts. It seems that the only faith McLaren hates is the faith of a person who knows what he believes and is convicted by Scripture and by plain reason that what God has revealed is truth–true truth. As others have observed, the real enemy of the Emerging Church is conservative, biblical Protestantism. McLaren will commend anything or anybody, it seems, except those who have a faith built upon the truths revealed in the New Testament epistles.” (whole article at http://www.challies.com/archives/001778.php).

    I would like to dialogue with you about the Emerging movement and its impact on the AA Christian community. I see this movement as a legitimate critique but not a legitimate theology.

    Billy Park
    reforming.wordpress.com

  2. Peter says:

    I appreciate the words of Billy Park and the slippage that seems to be apparent in the emerging church that is both invigorating but also remains a cautionary position on issues of theology. It is not the golden goose but rather a diagnosis that seem to give symptomatic cures but not the authentice boldness “commissioning.” I am reminded of a revisiting of Genesis 3, where fallenness pervade our lense but somehow, I believe that the Asian American church revolves on a unique perspective on this issue of culturally and contextual emergence that needs to intersect with the missional practice…this is what I feel has often been neglected in the engagement of this dialogue…I think it is worthwhile to seek the legacies that are not so much “outdated” or “modern” but rather, offer an unveiling of a solid foundation of discipleship and yearning to wrestle with these issues.

  3. dpark says:

    Great point of conversation that you bring up Billy. After reading the article you provided, I can see where some of the frustration is coming from, albeit does seem to appear that Mr. Challies has a little bit of an axe to grind. As the chat with DJ indicates, postmodern expressions of Christianity can range a bit and certainly McLaren, as a key spokesperson of the emerging church, is out to make statements by not making a definitive statement and encouraging discussion. He would instantly nailed as a hypocrite if he were to speak authoritatively on what postmodern faith is now, wouldn’t he? Suffice it to say that McLaren’s tendency toward ambiguity isn’t something that all postmoderns gravitate towards, except in the sense that they want to leave for the question, the possibility.

    That being said, I think what is great about the postmodern approach, which encourages dialogue and “conversation” being a big emphasis, is that it is a little bit more open and accepting than traditional methods of bible banging and scriptural and apologetics weightlifting contests. It is not to say that postmoderns throw liiturgical traditions and reformed theology out the door, it is to say that they are trying to put them in a context that they can understand. In doing so, sure, it may look a little different, but they don’t claim to be theologians necessarily, just practitioners learning on the job. I understand this can be very dangerous to the traditional methods of worship and practice of Christianity, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. As you said yourself, it can often bring a worthwhile critique. In a postmodern culture that we live in though, people in the emergent church can be helpful allies in winning the great majoriy of Asians who are not yet believers.

  4. BReyes-Chow says:

    Good stuff . .
    :: Yes the Five Perspective Book should have received more playu.
    :: The McCormick AADVENT program is solid. I have particapted in the program as an “Old Person” :: at 36 yikes :: and many of my friends are part of the program. I think there may be some suspiciaon of the postmodern/emergent conversation, but contextually, they are having some of the same conversations. i am going to forward this post on to the VP in charge of that program, Mary Paik.

  5. Billy Park says:

    Emerging “Neo-orthodoxy”

    I understand that the Emerging Movement (or Conversation) is diverse, and that diversity is celebrated. That’s is my concern with it. Celebrating a diversity of theological perspectives is not normally a good thing. As a graduate of Princeton Seminary (’89) and Wesleyan Univ. (’86), I was exposed to much diversity of mostly liberal theologies and perspectives. I studied liberation theology, feminist theology, Barth’s neo-orthodoxy, and even Asian American theology. The Emerging theology seems to embrace either Christian existentialism on the one hand and Barthian neo-orthodoxy on the other. Neo-orthodoxy was an attempt in liberal circles to rescue some sense of historic biblical Christianity. They affirmed the authority of the Bible without believing the text of Scripture was really the Word of God. It was in the “dialectic” between the reader and the actual written words that God’s Word came to be. The Bible “became” the Word of God. Is this not in some sense what many in the Emerging Church is embracing? God speaks in the “conversation” or interaction, not “God has spoken in His Word.” McLaren writes books that echo neo-orthodoxy – “A New Kind of Christian” , “A Generous Orthodoxy”. I understand that McLaren says that “my primary audience is the “spiritual but not religious” people who are interested in what Jesus was about, but are generally turned off by the Religious Right, institutional religion, etc.” Wanting to reach a diverse group of people with the Gospel is commendable and right, yet the Gospel cannot be changed. Ravi Zacharias and others have said, “There are many angles at which you can fall, but there is only one at which you can stand straight.” Brothers, instead of testing every angle, let’s find out the straight and narrow path of the Bible, of Christ, and of the Gospel.

  6. Billy Park says:

    In response to my last sentence, I know what some would say, “who’s to say what is the straight and narrow path?” At Princeton Seminary, I remember a conversation that a liberal friend had with a seeming naive conservative friend. Conservative: “I believe in biblical theology.” Liberal: “What is biblical theology?” The liberal viewpoint is that there are many biblical theologies but not one comprehensive theology of the Bible. Well, I must say that I have come to believe in ONE biblical theology because I believe in the unity of the plan of God and the unity of the Bible. What is this one theology? I believe it is best expressed, though not perfectly, in reformed covenant theology – understanding the centrality of Christ as the focal point of Scriptureand understanding the centrality of covenant as the frame work of Scripture.

  7. Billy Park says:

    By the way, have a great Good Friday and Resurrection Day. He is risen indeed!

  8. peter says:

    that is enough “eology” for one day…or for one week for that matter

    🙂

  9. dpark says:

    THIS IS AWESOME. I love this type of honest and open dialogue.

    I don’t disagree with your “biblical theology” and the need to structure our lives according to the word of God. The word of God has authority and power, and what many postmoderns are trying to do, as I hastily generalize, are trying to see HOW that authority and power actually gets lived out today. and I don’t think that all postmodern Christians would disagree with you on that the desire to live in unity with walking with God through is plan for us. Reformed covenant theology is wonderful at a macro-level, I believe that it has done wonders to the body of Christ over the centuries and still remains powerful in guiding orthodoxy. But I believe that at the micro-level, it becomes ambiguous in and of itself, if you say that I should live according to reformed covenant theology.

    I mean, by “micro-level”, the everyday, mundane, the job choice, the spouse choice, the hobby choice, the choice of church, friends, community, investments, movies, skiing lodge, cell phone…suddenly there are a lot of holes that aren’t not addressed by any theology. The teachings of neither Paul nor Jesus dictate to us exactly how to deal with the lesbian couple that want to adopt a child, who claim to know the Lord, mind you. Do we cut them off from the body? Do we bear their burdens? Do we chastise them? Where do you think they should go? Or what about the teenage girl who was raped and sexually abused by her father, an elder in the church, who routinely recited the Lord’s prayer while forcing himself upon her? Those people that would even consider listening to the traditional language of church is becoming a smaller circle in this country, and it is incumbent upon all believers to be “missional” (as Peter Ong mentioned earlier) and “incarnational”. Doing so, I think doesn’t necessarily mess with your macro-theology. It may mess with your micro-theology, your everyday, how do I speak to others, how do they hear me, where do I hang out, where do they hang out, this kind of thinking.

    When I view postmodern ways of approaching the culture, it’s very grassroots and is almost “open-source” in the way they digest knowledge and information. This does not however, mean that they discard “centrality of Christ”, but in a certain sense, they are looking to bring Christ out to the margins as well. And here again, I think that the “conversation” is not on the macro-level, but on the micro, precisely because the conservative church has not spoken to this as they could have. Remember most churches are operating from a survival mentality, not an equipping and apostolic sense. Therefore, the church has more often asked people to come in, but not go out. A large degree of what I see coming from postmodern dissatisfaction is not necessarily with the theology, but rather with the church itself.

  10. Billy Park says:

    Since Peter said “that is enough” for one week, I’ll get back to you in a few days after Easter. David, I appreciate your thoughtfulness and thanks for adding the link to my new website – reformingconversation.wordpress.com. Talk to you next week.

  11. BReyes-Chow says:

    You know, it sounds like there may be enough “diversity” for us to get together and hold our own Asian American version of, “Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives.” We could meet up at some emergent event or some other time/place . . . hmmmmm . . . anyone interested?

  12. djchuang says:

    Wow, I really missed out for not blogging more during Holy Week. 🙂 Good to see the surge of conversation here, and I hope to see it continue. I’ll do my part, amidst single parenting this week.

    Billy, thanks for the gracious invitation to dialogue further about these matters. Having been one of the more active Asian American participants in the emergent church conversation, one of the very few, in fact, I think I can speak about what I see as a “friend of emergent.” I agree with you that it is a conversation, a network, and a smattering of critique against established theologies, and that it is not a “legitimate theology”. I think that is fair, from what I can tell, emergent is not plotting its course to develop nor to prescribe a new theology.

    My main reaction to Tim Challie’s observation about his first live experience with McLaren is that it seemed to be more descriptive of his strong personal opinion, than a fair representation of what McLaren asserts. I don’t think McLaren could read that description and nod his head saying that Tim’s description really resonates. A telltale sign for me is the word “hate” — that is so uncharacteristic of McLaren.

    Dr. Craig Carter was at the same event as Tim, and at
    http://politicsofthecross.blogspot.com/2006/03/secret-message-of-jesus-by-brian.html
    offers a considerably more fair assessment (tho’ based on his latest book): “This book has to be read as a tract for inquirers, not as a carefully nuanced work in dogmatics for other scholars, pastors and people with some training in theology.” … “Brian is a great story-teller. This is a great advantage if you are trying to preach or talk to postmodern people. And I’m convinced that Brian’s main gift is evangelism.” … “Brian does a good job of showing that there is no opposition between Jesus and Paul and that Paul is just as concerned about the kingdom of God as Jesus is. This is crucial because the unity of the NT hangs on this point.”

  13. djchuang says:

    Bruce, good to hear you’ve been part of AADVENT. I got to meet Laura Mariko Cheifetz, the coordinator for AADVENT, last November, and we didn’t get to chat at length about the program. I’m glad to hear it’s a solid deal! Would love to see and hear more of what’s happening with it..

    As for having a face-to-face conversation at a conference somewhere, I’m game — that’d be a fun deal for me, for sure. We can just call a date/time and hang out for a weekend, or find a conference of mutual interest and double-up on the venue.

Trackbacks

  1. djchuang.com says:

    Growing Healthy Asian American Churches, 7

    This blog-based book discussion of Growing Healthy Asian American Churches will continue with Chapter 6, Hospitable Households: Evangelism, a pivotal chapter about how churches can grow through relationships rather than programs.
    Evangelism has become …

  2. […] This conversation certainly deserves more attention than being a series of comments to this post. While it started as an impromptu interview with DJ Chuang about how he came to be more open to the notion of Emerging Church, subsequent comments have really been exploring polemically how emerging church is poor man's theology or whether it is a valid reaction to traditional church. […]

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