Posted on

Terms of Salvation — Cultural or Not At All? Sign Here

Remember the Danny Yang guy I mentioned? Here’s a mirror of his latest post from his Xanga site that is generating some great conversation.

i can’t quite abandon the idea that a set of core beliefs determines everything else (i.e. foundationalism), and looking back, my understanding of the gospel was the big problem. i knew Jesus Christ through a gospel that was communicated in a series of statements. if i agreed to certain things about God, Christ and myself, i would be saved.

but as i read more and worked in church, i think the gospel itself cannot be tamed in this way. the gospel at its simplest is simply that Jesus saves us. but exploring this salvation can take multiple paths. and the gospel we received was the product of refinement that stretches back to martin luther. it is good news and salvation for a colonizing, european, predominantly white culture.

yet most asian-americans have aligned to this version of christianity, that holds no distinct word for our experience. (and i base this assumption on the popularity of john piper among AAs; we were hugely overrepresented at a recent piper conference.) that picture above was taken at a taiwanese church; apparently Jesus can’t be Jesus unless he has blond hair… but he can have other asian features.

i guess i’m wondering whether the gospel must begin with culture. knowing who we are first, then we let Jesus Christ impact our lives, leaving a crater in our experience (hat tip to karl barth for the crater imagery). perhaps we look at who we are as asian-americans, ask where we seek salvation and peace, repent, and confess Christ as our source of salvation. [emphasis mine]

And this other guy, flightpath, shares an absolutely brilliant statement [emphasis mine]:

i think what we’re seeing with AA’s is an unquestioning willingness to baptize wholesale white ownership of the Gospel even if it comes as an expense to their own identity and calling to lead. i don’t want merely a customized Gospel either, but i want a Gospel that encompasses the asian, black, latino, etc. experience without doing violence to it. the Gospel breaks down barriers but doesn’t negate identity. that’s why african-american theology is so vital for the black church — Christianity for African-Americans is inextricably linked with their sojourn as a people (contra individualism) and comes to bear upon their understanding of past (in exile, captivity), present (God as deliverer), and future (the eschaton). African-Americans cannot understand their identity in Christ in isolation from their corporate experience. and that’s why blacks don’t jibe well with white congregations that don’t want to relinquish leadership, interrogate issues of white privilege and power dynamics, acknowledge the unique experiences of other people groups, or change for anybody else. more often than not, African-Americans are implicitly expected to check their “blackness” at the door for the sake of a superficial “colorblind,” culture-neutral (but really white) Gospel. this is also what happens when whites try to undertake racial reconciliation on their own terms (diversity without sincerity or repentance) anyways, i see much fruitfulness for a distinctive AA theology. AA’s need to take ownership of their own sins against other minority groups as well.

Amen brother! While some could say that an AA church causes further divisiveness in the body of Christ, I think it actually creates the necessary space to address reconciliation from Korean to Japanese, from Chinese to Japanese, from Japanese to American, from Korean to African-American, and so on and so forth. These are specific avenues of forgiveness that we can walk out only as specialties, not as generalizations. These are collective sins and cannot be dismissed by an individual.

Sorry to just keep calling the play-by-play here, but then gametime10 jumps in with an angle that we’ve been wrestling with here recently as well.

I think I understand what you’re saying, but I can’t think of a clear example of what you mean. Can you give an example of a “white understanding” of the Gospel (presumably the one w/ a Reformed tinge) vs. the True Gospel?

I think this statement: “African-Americans cannot understand their identity in Christ in isolation from their corporate experience” might be a true generalization, but who is arguing for such a Gospel? And why is anyone considering that “white” understanding of the Gospel as true? Now, that might very well be what many white, European, Enlightenment-oriented people believe, but when we put such a teaching up against what Paul teaches, then we understand that they are not getting the whole picture. Even white people should be rejecting such a Gospel, because it is no true Gospel at all.

But going back to Danny’s original question, which I think is profound one is: Do we “look at who we are as asian-americans, ask where we seek salvation and peace, repent, and confess Christ as our source of salvation”? Is self-identity a necessary step to salvation? Do we need to understand what we’ve been and are being saved from in order to understand salvation?

While many theologians question who Jesus is and whether his identity makes him worthy of worship, this line of questioning is far more interesting because it asks the other side of the question, who are we? Does who we are constitute the need for this savior named Jesus? If he is I AM, then who am I?

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

7 responses to “Terms of Salvation — Cultural or Not At All? Sign Here

  1. Micky ⋅

    About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

    Peace Be With You

  2. I have no idea what this has to do with the post, but it certainly doesn’t seem like spam.

    Thanks for sharing Micky. Glad to read your story (?). God bless…

  3. Sam S

    David, thanks for your work on your blog. It’s always interesting and food for thought. Here are my two cents (please take them for what they’re worth):

    I appreciate my Asianness probably more than ever before. I grew up in an area in the country where I was the only Asian kid and called every “oriental” ethnic slur out there that’s in the bigotry dictionary. And all that time, I wanted to be white. I hated my ethnicity and this was a pre-understanding of the Gospel.

    Now, I can say that I understand my Asianness and my appreciation for it more than at any other time in my life. And I believe this is a direct result of the Gospel’s influence in my life. I don’t need to “look at who we are as Asian-Americans, ask where we seek salvation and peace, repent, and confess Christ as our source of salvation.” Instead, I needed to see that I am a child of God (John 1:12) and that has allowed me to be more free of others’ opinions of me than ever before. And yes, that means I am thankful for how God has made me to be, as an Asian-American who offers a certain perspective to a biblical understanding of the Gospel.

    I am confused by this statement, however: “We’re seeing with AA’s is an unquestioning willingness to baptize wholesale white ownership of the Gospel even if it comes as an expense to their own identity and calling to lead.” Why is this a “white ownership of the Gospel”? May I ask, is this referring to a classic reformational view of the Gospel? I’m assuming so in light of the context. If I am wrong, please forgive me. Is it white because those espousing it are white? Or is it possible that we need more people of color to preach the biblical Gospel and let that infuse our Asian-American culture? Voddie Bauckham, who is a gifted African American preacher, who has a Gospel-centric approach is often called an Uncle Tom by fellow African Americans. And the sole reason is because he regularly interacts with both white and black audiences in regards to historic Christianity. It’s almost as if Asians who are interested in Piper or Keller are also Asian Uncle Toms selling out their culture. Shouldn’t we let Scripture dictate our view of our Asianness and our understanding of the Gospel, rather than the other way around?

    If the Gospel is preached faithfully, biblically, and wholly, isn’t ethnicity transcended, but concurrently upheld as God’s very creation according to Galatians 3:23-29? And doesn’t Rev 4-5’s view of our eternal worship to Christ and the fulfillment of the Gospel show both the integration, celebration, and transcendence of the worship of every tribe, tongue and nation? Sitting on the throne is the slain Lamb, slain for all who have placed their trust in Him. This seems to be the white Gospel, but also the black, red, brown, and yellow Gospel as well according to the Bible.

  4. Pingback: Gospel Prism » Blog Archive » Cultural Salvation

  5. Sam, thanks for your comment.

    I totally understand where you’re coming from and a lot of people are at odds with this notion that ethnicity trumps the Gospel in the formation of the individual identity. However, I don’t think that’s the point of taking ownership of the Gospel for ourselves.

    I think of it using the metaphor of theoretical physics vs. applied. So while I think the “theoretical” Gospel holds true and as you say is open to all of us and there is no such thing as “uncle toms”, the “applied” Gospel hasn’t always been acted out as faithfully and to the end of freedom that is promised to us. There’s a great deal more friction to the applied Gospel than the “theoretical” would imply.

    Obviously, guys like Piper and Keller are both wonderful contributors to the body of Christ, but I think the point that was being made was that AA’s by and large idolize white privilege in so many aspects, that even in how we understand and approach the Gospel, they become the default standard without the work of excavating and exploring how we have come to desire God. And yet, we should ask the question, how is it that the very people who could preach the Gospel could not stop the ships selling opium to the Chinese or refuse to “live with” the people that they say on Sundays that they love.

    As we look at the preaching of the Gospel, we are now actively aware that preaching and living are different. So the question that I think is really fascinating, is, if it’s really true, Gospel truth, than perhaps we can find it in our circles as well. That’s wonderful that the Reformers found what they found, but what is it that we can find in our generation? where is our voice? It’s the same reason why somehow we as AAs were excited to see Ichiro play brilliantly in the MLB or Yao Ming in the NBA. There’s just something visceral about seeing someone who can embody who we are and whom we can identify with that somehow can walk the walk that we’re on. It’s not because we’re challenging the Gospel, but because, to extend the baseball analogy, maybe we didn’t have the complete experience of our fathers teaching us how to pitch or taking us to a game.

    Just my initial thoughts. Please feel free to help me articulate…

  6. Sam S


    You know, I think we’re on the same page here. There is something visceral about seeing one of the same ethnicity trailblazing. But sometimes, I wonder if that feeling is also this sense of pride based solely on ethnic success. Isn’t that what has led to both bigotry and condescension (when things are well) and shame (when things are bad like the Va Tech shootings) in the first place?

    It’s a tightrope to walk but perhaps one worth walking. I definitely see the points being made and would love to see more AAs in the forefront of a Gospel-centric church that is not merely acting out a “theoretical” Gospel. But fall on one side and you have dead orthodoxy and fall on the other side and you have a social, relativistic Gospel that ends up being no Gospel at all.

    Hmmm…can we strive for Gospel beginning points and application of the Gospel in our communities and ethnic groups?

  7. Whew, glad we’re on the same page here, Sam.
    I think the word you used, “tightrope”, is very accurate. I don’t feel that we need to have equal representation of Asians in the pantheon of Christian celebrities, but I would very much like there to be a distinct exploration of an Asian American response, our understanding and our awe of God. I thank God for Western church history, but I don’t feel that they address the Gospel in its entirety, especially when our experience is so unique. I think there is so much there that can be restorative and constructive to the body of Christ. We run the risk of being narcissistic, but I believe that there is a far greater risk to many AA churches now where we face identity amnesia in simply trying to create facsimiles of the white-centric American church, whether it is in our worship or our theology.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s