Nov 062009

Conflict is something that will always be. It is neither good nor bad, it simply is.” [cf. Sam Chand]

The incident regarding Deadly Viper had set the online world ablaze, and very uncomfortable words of pain festered in the open space [cf. read this summary]. My prayer was that the key leaders at the core of the conflict would resolve it privately, walking through their respective pains together with each other. This direct conversations has since happened offline in private, and an appropriate resolution is in the works. A public statement has been issued. I commend all involved for giving of their time and energy to walk thru this via dolorosa.

There’s already quite a number of thoughtful reflections about this incident posted::

I want to offer a few more ideas in debriefing, with which I’d anticipate some people would disagree with. Conflict in the open was a good thing for 3 reasons [cf. The Necessity of Open Disagreement by Stephen Shields] ::

  • This shows us what conflict resolution can look like. Conflict is not a pretty thing. We’ve all seen how ugly it can get, how destructive it can be, how it can ruin relationships. By being in the open, via social media, we saw how the conflict surfaced and moved towards live offline discussions, apologies, forgiveness, working towards resolution. There is a better way through the conflict. After all, conflict simply is. And I for one am tired of overly-positive spin that’s all too common in evangelical circles; I think the younger generation can smell spin a mile away.
  • We heard new voices open up their heart and soul. While I did not read every single comment in the initial blog posts, a wide range of voices from new names spoke up, both Asian and non-Asian. It is not easy for anyone to share their pains, particularly Asian Americans, for fear of being misunderstood, misrepresented, or shamed. Asians tend to be a little more (or a lot more) sensitive than non-Asians because of its shame-based culture. Social media empowers anyone and everyone to speak out. This helps us to empathize with the offended much more than signing a petition. (Now, not every Asian American finds this publication offensive, granted.)
  • We’ve got a long way to go with racial sensitivities in the church. A loooong way. Conflict that arose up over a relatively minor incident, in the whole scheme of things, shows how little experience we collectively have to just start any discussion about faith and race. And, yeah, these issues are complicated and messy. They don’t sell books nor increase conference attendance nor make churches grow rapidly in size. It doesn’t fit neatly in the systematic theology section.

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Sep 112009

I first met Jim Belcher at the Catalyst West conference in Irvine, California. We had corresponded over Facebook prior to that about mutual interests, so it was great to meet in person to put a face with the name. While I haven’t yet made a visit to the church that he pastors, I am that much more motivated after reading his new book, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional.

The book, Deep Churchdeepchurch, offers a refreshing perspective in contrast to the bickering during the past decade about the “emerging church” — debating what changes did the church have to make in a fast-changing culture in order to be effective with its Gospel ministry. The author, Jim Belcher, does not write as an academician who is analyzing words from printed publications, although he certainly is qualified with academic credentials. Nor does he position himself in an adversarial posture against any church leader. He writes as a peer of the younger leaders typically actively involved in the emerging church conversations.

What I love is how the book is written in a narrative style that retraces Belcher’s own theological development and how to incarnate that into the form of a church. The book plays this out with conversations and stories of changed lives, showing the implications of theology in real life. Much better reading than propositional rhetorics of a typical theology book.

What he masterfully does is to listen carefully to what is written and what is said, and delves behind those assertions to surface the assumptions and presuppositions. In so doing this deconstructioning, it helped me to better understand and not give in to knee-jerk reactions and mischaracterizations. In other words, it”s not what is said (or written) that matters, it’s what is meant by what is said (or written).

This was the first book I’ve read that labels the contemporary mainstream evangelical church as the “traditional church.” That day has come far sooner than I ever anticipated. Traditional church used to refer to the parish church with pews, hymns, and Sunday school. Could this book mark the turning point of what we call the American evangelical church of the late 20th century?

Belcher addresses 7 areas of contention: truth, evangelism, Gospel, worship, preaching, ecclesiology, and culture. He finds value in what the traditional church asserts, and also in what the emerging church asserts. Plus, he draws upon value from the great traditions of the church as well as the church’s role in culture. The author takes all that’s valuable and weaves it together into what C.S. Lewis calls the deep church. “Deep” is not to connote superiority. “Deep church” is a richer and more wholistic picture of what the church can be, both organizational and missional, both traditional and innovative, both relevant and yet set apart.

I won’t be writing a book summary here. You really ought to read the book to get the full thought process of finding this third way of a deep church. For more about the book, see

As Tim Keller is quoted on the cover, “This is an important book.” Jim, thanks for being a great mediator and writing this book.

Mar 262009

pic_qja_mWhile in Austin last week for SXSW 2009, I enjoyed great food and good conversations at Galaxy Cafe. All 4 of us happened to order French Toast, unbeknownst to each other; Gideon Tsang, Paul Wang, Sam Lee, and me. The 3 of them are connected to Vox Veniae, an incarnational missional community in East Austin.

One of the conversations that came up was the health of the American church. Gideon asked if it was healthy or unhealthy, referring to large “big box” churches in the United States. In retrospect, I thought that was an unfair dichotomy, and I emailed back this addendum:

djchuang >> To elaborate on the question re: large churches being healthy or unhealthy– I’d add that size is not a determinent of whether an organized church is healthy or not.

Part of the social dynamics in the real world we live in, is power dynamics, personal and institutional. Given that there is power to be stewarded, would it not be better that followers of Christ steward that power than unfollowers? It can certainly be stewarded differently than how some of the spotlight churches are doing it, and that also be a good thing to explore– how can a large big box church be an advocate and champion for the marginalized, the orphans, the widows, the poor, the hungry.

pic of Gid and SamThen, Gideon Tsang replied back (note: these are just initial reactions, not well-formulated thoughts) :

I agree that size is not a determinant to health. I also agree that when power is given it needs to be stewarded with shrewdness.

However, what I disagree with is American Christianity’s addiction to, longing for and blatant uplifting (through conferences and growth organizations) of power and size. In American Christian culture there’s a trickle down paradigm (similar to right wing financial politics) that’s being sold to church leaders where if we can rise to the top as Christians and influence at places of power, then we’ll impact more people and in the end change the entire culture.

This in itself, is not logically flawed, but problematic for several reasons: (1.) money and power are not neutral. (2.) the paradox of the gospel.

The Kingdom of God is different than the Kingdom of America where we are called to be the last and the least. These should be our goals, not power and influence. Humility and grace, are the paradoxical forces that change human hearts. Centuries after Christ, the American church is still asking to sit at the right hand of the father. Those are the wrong questions and the wrong goals.

If the American church could detox from power and influence (and the toxic christian sub-culture we’ve created) and develop local, indigenous and sustainable communities, gracefully, humbly loving our neighbors and neighborhoods in the name of Christ, the power of the church will be subtly unleashed.

Regarding Big Box Churches (Walmart Churches) I could go on a lengthy discussion about how they’re taking other’s wineskins, thus removing life and character from faith (much like big box stores do to cities) how they require and exponentially more resources that are not sustainable (that’s why all these churches leave the city to build their walmart churches on large plots of land in the suburbs, using more energy, requiring people to drive further) and how they’re bad for local churches …

What would you add to this conversation about power and the American church? What kind of “carbon” footprint is the church leaving behind? Should the church be concerned for how it wields and stewards its power?

[The email thread above is posted with permission.]

Oct 192008

Astonishing to hear Tim Keller say at the begining of video segment 2 of 6, “I disagree completely…” Watch the videos for context of this conversation between Tim Keller, John Piper, and D.A. Carson.

The video is shot in real-time conversation between 3 persons, which is way more visually interesting than the typical interviewer-interviewee dialogue. [the video's shot in black-and-white, no need to adjust your monitor]

I’ve put the 6 video segments together in this playlist for contiguous convenient viewing. [aside: why I like Keller more than Piper]
Continue reading »

Oct 162008

[Q] is an annual conference (aka boutique event) for Christian leaders to hear the latest innovative ideas for making Kingdom impact in the very fabrics of culture. [Q] was partly inspired by “the exclusive TED conference as well as the Clinton Global Initiative” and its 3rd year will be in Austin, Texas, on April 27-29, 2009. Register before October 29th for the earliest discount of $625.

What is really cool, especially in an open-source world, is that Q has now made available videos of past talks for free viewing online! (cf. TED has over 300 talks online for free listening/viewing, courtesy of sponsors; TED costs $6,000 per person and already sold out for 2009; seats open at $3,750 for simulcast via satellite)

Q TALKS are 18-minute presentations given annually at the Q gathering by thought leaders and practitioners on the topics of the future, the church, the culture, and the gospel. One Q Talk is released every two weeks.

Of the talks online to date, mine and the crowd’s unanimous favorite was Andy Crouch‘s talk about Stepping into Culture. Andy further elaborates his profoundly insightful thoughts about culture and Gospel in his book, Culture Making: Rediscovering our Creative Calling. I believe this book is imperative for understanding how to live the Gospel.

Another one of my favorite Q talks is Kevin Kelly’s Christianity in 1000 years — this talk stretches our thinking beyond short-term results. This makes sense to me, for some odd reason. What if my calling and work will have no results in my generation, but would impact and bear fruit in a future generation? That’s appealing to me.

Dec 282007

I’m in the midst of preparing for a workshop titled “Witness To the Present Day Culture” at a conference near Houston next week. Yes, I’ll be flying out on New Year’s Day, which means I probably will not ring in the new year at midnight. I need my routine sleep. The question of culture itself is so huge, as big as humanity. I was initially going to start with the 5 categories from Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture categories. As I considered it further, especially in present day culture, I recalled 2 thought leaders who are skillfully and wisely reconsidering this question. So, I’m going to be adapting my workshop content from Andy Crouch and Tim Keller. I’ll also speak from my work with L2 Foundation. I plan to post my powerpoint slides, links, and possibly audio at the L2 blog next week — if the retreat site has Wifi.

I may even go multimedia, beyond the powerpoint, and possibly show a clip from the Intersect|Culture DVD that Andy Crouch / Christian Vision Project helped put together. This is an excellent DVD that I’ve seen all the way through. The DVD comes with a companion curriculum for small group discussion, with 6 discussion starters on video filled with inspiring stories and teachings from many Christian leaders including Ken Fong, Makoto Fujimura, and Tim Keller, and Lauren Winner.

Render Conference is hosted by the Partnership of Asian American Churches in Texas (PAACT). PAACT is a fellowship of evangelical churches whose vision is to assist the local church in advancing ministries among English-speaking Asians. The conference is held to support and encourage English-speaking Asian-Americans in the pursuit of vocational Christian service and to cast a vision for ministry in the local church.

[update] just found out there’s a conference website:

Apr 212007

I’ve just finished my sermon outline for tomorrow. I’ll be guest-speaking at Great Commission Community Church in Arlington, Virginia, the next county over from Centreville.

The preaching date was scheduled months ago. I was actually on the phone with the church coordinator who invited me while the tragedy was happening, talking about what was happening at the church, while the horrific tragedy was happening at the Virginia Tech campus. Now it feels like a divine appointment. I couldn’t possibly recycle a sermon. I felt compelled to be in this moment to hear from God anew.

I based my talk on the text in John 11. Jesus’ words are the best when I can’t decide between the many good passages in the Scriptures. Unlike some Type A personalities, I do not do well with pressure. This week’s sermon preparation was very different for me, as it’s been more of an emotional preparation of grieving, mourning, and listening.

While I affirm that the Gospel is more than enough, we need more than a generic plain-vanilla Gospel. We need a Gospel that speaks into the Asian American experience specifically and deeply. We need a lot of redemption there. Many (most?) Asian churches, pastors, and lay people avoid addressing that. I’m going to try through my sermon for the first time, even though I’ve been exploring it for years on my blog and in email-based discussion groups and in my work with L2 Foundation.

I won’t reveal more yet. You’ll have to come out to hear it live if you’re in the metro Washington DC area, The talk should be recorded, and I’ll link to that when/if it’s posted. If you’re inclined to pray, please pray that I can speak honestly and emotionally, more than I’ve ever tried.