What is an Asian American Christian?

The face of American Christianity is not only black (African-American) and white (Anglo), even though that’s what we tend to see through both Christian and mainstream media. With the sudden popularity of professional basketball player Jeremy Lin, who is unapologetically Christian and Asian American, we now have a face for Asian American Christianity in mainstream culture. (Yes, I’ve caught Linsanity like the millions of others.)

Astutely noted in this New York Times article by Michael Luo, many are wondering (perhaps not out loud), “An Asian-American Christian? What’s that?” —

Many in this country have probably never even heard of this subcategory on the religious spectrum. But if you are a relatively recent graduate of the Ivy League or another top-tier college, you will probably recognize the species. … Like Lin, many Asian-American Christians have deep personal faith, but they are also, notably, almost never culture warriors. That is simply not what is emphasized in their churches and college Christian fellowships, including the one that played such a formative role in Lin’s life at Harvard.

There are few faces to represent Asian American Christians. Yes, there are a few popular Christian pastors & ministry leaders who are Asian Americans: Francis Chan, Ravi Zacharias, Sam Chand, Bruce Fong, Dave Gibbons, Ken Fong, Paul Tokunaga, Peter Cha, Jeanette Yep, Soong-Chan Rah, Eugene Cho, Charles Lee; and yet not all of them would be necessarily fit in the subcategory of Asian American Christianity.

The sad reality for many people is that perception is reality, so for those people, if they don’t see it, it don’t exist. Now that we see someone like Jeremy Lin doing what he’s doing, whole new worlds are opening up for so many, both Asians and non-Asians. Most of us need role models and mentors, and @jlin7 has an anointed crossover appeal.

For this subcategory of English-speaking Asian Americans who’ve had faith experiences in the estimated 7,000 Asian American churches and/or the 100s of college campus ministries, there’s something distinctly unique about how Jeremy Lin resonates for them. I’ll mention 3 things:

  1. a Christian doesn’t have to be a pastor or missionary to be on fire for Jesus;
  2. an Asian American doesn’t have to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer;
  3. it takes more than merely hard work and perseverance; it’s also the embracing of one’s God-given talents & gifts, and a grateful faith in the sovereignty of God that He can orchestrate circumstances to put someone at the right time and right place

Hear it straight from Jeremy Lin – watch video of his testimony from June 2011 (duration 21:51)

It’s past my bed time so I’ll stop here for now. Many other great conversations happening at NextGenerAsianChurch.com, of which I’m a part, and, of course, all over the interwebs.

[update 2/21] also see CNN’s Jeremy Lin emerges as emblem of burgeoning Asian-American Christianity (By Steve Almasy)


20 responses to “What is an Asian American Christian?”

  1. In terms of your three points, I think that perhaps they could even just be generalized to one point: Jeremy represents someone who has not simply taken the “low-risk, high-reward” route, and my personal experience in the Asian-American church and in Chinese/Taiwanese culture in general has shown me that our cultural values seem to push us towards what is safe, both in terms of faith and work.

    Being on fire for Jesus period (regardless of occupation) seems to be more rare than I would hope for. You even hear PKs who want to go into ministry explaining that their parents don’t want them to go through the hardships they have.

    For me, what is exciting is that Jeremy has pursued a non-traditional route and becoming fully who God has made him to be (I’m thinking Eric Liddell here). And seeing the supportiveness of his parents and that they love Jesus too is amazing.

  2. Frank Tan Avatar

    I’m surprised that you’re treating “Asian American Christian” in the media as a novelty. Twenty-three years ago, Michael Chang started the same journey that Jeremy Lin is on, albeit without the benefit of social media.

    The three points (not in a religious occupation, not a doctor, lawyer or engineer, and takes more than hard work & perseverance, but also faith in God) about Asian American Christians does fit for Michael Chang perfectly as well.

  3. @Mark, @Frank: thanks for taking the time to comment! There are so many more reasons that Jeremy Lin is significant as an Asian American Christian in the 21st century, and you named a few more. (I rushed this blog post, and instead of giving in to perfectionism, I thought it more apt to click Publish already) My thought today about #Linsanity is how his story transcends the all-American story of “rags-to-riches” and there’s so many connection points for the everyday person, that’s why it’s been so #Linsane.


    A former Fed official says in the Wall Street Journal that the Federal Reserve is covertly bailing out Europe. Insight with Gerald O’Driscoll, Cato Institute senior fellow, who says the Fed operated a “temporary U.S. dollar liquidity swap arrangement.”


  5. know matter what they say or believe you must be washed by the blood of Jesus Christ to go to heaven for that is the only way

related posts