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