When What It Looks Like Isn't What It Looks Like…

My wife, having been Hindu for much of her life before she became Christian, has helped me a great deal in sharing her fresh insight as she looks at Christians and the ways in which we live and espouse our faith. For instance, not long after becoming Christian, she asked me, “Why does the church building have walls? Shouldn’t everyone hear and see them worship?”

I had never heard that question before and I had no answer other than to say, “I think it’s because people don’t want to see what’s going on inside.” But in the years that have passed, I have often wondered if the people inside have not truly wanted those outside to come in.

I know that it can often be hard to listen to questions and challenges to the status quo of the church, but I think it is always a good time to listen. We may find that what we have been trying to communicate all this time has not been what we had intended. And that even by the observations of “new believers” (as though you could even earn seniority) can be extraordinarily helpful. Walter Brueggemann has characterized it as such: that we undergo a process of orientation, disorientation, and then finally a re-orientation in our spiritual formation.

Perhaps it is good then that we have a time of disorientation, not because we feel that deconstruction is to become normative, but that through it, we have the ability to seek answers to our own questions, and more importantly, question the answers of others.

I admire this young man for speaking so boldly. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I do think he might be closer to re-orientation than most Asian Americans. Many Asian Americans choose not to even broach the questions.

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Comments

  1. Josh says:

    ooh, that’s pretty heavy. I agree with the video dude on when a person specifically categorizes his friends into Christian and non.

  2. elderj says:

    Hmm… I don’t agree with anything this guy is saying, although it is interesting to hear and provides a window into the way people view Christianity. The divide between Christian and non-Christian is perhaps the most significant (though not most obvious) distinction between people.

  3. John says:

    Actually most mission trips that I know of involve Christians building shelters, schools, digging wells, etc. I agree with him that going to a foreign environment and trying to preach is usually not fruitful. He’s right that those who go shouldn’t return complaining about the facilities. They should go looking to do good to the indigenous church.

    What would be bold and useful would be to question whether intentionally ethnic-specific churches are just foolish and counter-productive or profoundly sinful, rending the Body of Christ around ethnic lines.

    I’d assume — based on his lack of understanding the Christian world-view — that this young man was raised in an “Asian” church, one where they’re more concerned about uniting around their culture than worshiping the Lord and hearing and heeding His Word. Sadly, I think he needs evangelism — and so he’ll first need to examine himself to see whether he is in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). When you develop cultural churches, you encourage cultural Christianity which is in reality no Christianity at all.

  4. John says:

    I should clarify, going on a “mission trip” to preach, is usually not fruitful. Long-term missions, in which people seek to delve into the culture, can be fruitful.

    A group of people categorized as “Christians” in contrast to non-Christians is called “the Church.” What he is complaining about is that there is a self-conscious church.

  5. David Park says:

    John, thanks for the comments. I think you bring up some interesting points and certain questions that we’ve wrestled with on this blog before.

    I’d like to add a few nuances to your critique, but feel free to disagree with them.

    If the entry point to a church is ethnicity, then I don’t think the critique that such a church is “foolish” or “sinful” is valid. However, if there is no valid exit point, or sending out point, what you and I understand as the apostolic aspect, the commissioning aspect, the “out of Ur”, “ends of the Earth”, etc. etc. then yes, that church would be profoundly counter-Gospel.

    From the global perspective, I can assure you that “Asian” churches can be and are very active vehicles and that missions coming out of Asia is far outpacing those from the West. Thus, I believe ethnic churches in America are not stalling from ethnocentricism only, rather they are consciously or unconsciously reacting to the dominant majority and their culture, that is to say white Westernization and particularly American consumerism/materialism. There is a great deal of identity formation that takes place in these churches where you might be very accurate in saying that are very concerned about that, but the problem is that in ethnic churches, we don’t want to be “white” or “American” Christians either.

    It is clear that people who are doubly marginalized, in my case, not accepted as Asian in Asia, nor accepted as “American” in America, the notion of church is a very difficult one to navigate. In many cases, my entry point could very have been my ethnicity, but what this young man and I have both seen is that that alone is an insufficient premise to attend church.

    While I have a whole bag of criticism with “Korean-American church” written all over it, I think that it has a great deal of untapped potential to offer the greater body of Christ. Your comment that a “cultural Christianity” is no Christianity at all, and I see your point, but as my relationship with Christ grows, as my identity grows in Him, made in His likeness, I begin to see myself, my ethnicity, and culture in a much more redemptive and radiant light. I see how God has set “eternity in their hearts” and there are wonderful things that God has honed within the Asian culture that have been ignored or sleighted in American culture. I believe that the if we put the proper horse before the proper cart, that “cultural Christianity”, where Christ is magnified even moreso through culture and language, and those cultural aspects are points that allow a stronger entry point to the Gospel than some sort of abstract, culturally neutral Christianity.

    It is the same reason that tax collectors look at Matthew, not Paul and come to Christ, Romans will look for the centurion, and the handicapped will look for the blind and the lame to declare Christ is King is the same reason why I look up to Watchman Nee, Sadhu Sundar Singh, SeungMan Rhee and others who call Christ Savior and it is through them that I can say, I’m not Christian because it was convenient or White or profitable, but because Jesus rose again to save me and my people. We need to work harder to redeem our cultures, I agree with you there, but to say that cultural Christianity is no Christianity at all? I think the only type of church that we can foster is a cultural one, so we need every church out there. As my friend, Joshua, and I were talking about tonight…we need to learn to be ethnic AND inclusive, but to not acknowledge our own ethnicity and our own context is a fallacy.

  6. L T says:

    thanks for sharing your insight and this young man’s pov. i wish we can sit down with him and even those like him within our very own church walls. i’m sure they’re there. i think you’ve touched on something that we’re all experiencing in our cultural context, a disorientation. I’ve been referring to it as a disillusioning. We should be disillusioned as Christians, not that we become jaded but become free and able to see through the distractions to our faith.

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  1. […] | Mar 30th 2007 It’s been a while since I’ve posted but after reading one of David Park’s posts and getting majorly distracted from a Luke exegetical paper, I decided I needed to get back on the […]

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