DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Egalitarianism

Written by: on May 6, 2015

 

My Uncle lives in Nanning, China. He moved there a number of years ago because he was unsatisfied with the American way of life. Just a year after living in China we weren’t too surprised to learn he had gotten married. His wife is a school principal and it appears he will spend the remaining of his life in China. I kept thinking of Uncle Mike as I read Simon Chan’s Grassroots Asian Theology.

I appreciated Chan’s look at Asian theology and the voice he gives to the grassroots movement, “Much of what the West knows as Asian theology consists largely of elitist accounts of what Asian theologians are saying, and elitist theologians seldom take grassroots Christianity seriously. Yet it is at the grassroots level that we encounter a vibrant, albeit implicit, theology. It is this theology that I wish to highlight.[1]” There is no doubt a vibrant Asian theology and much for me to learn. Yet, while the point in reading a book like Chan’s is to broaden my perspective and deepen my thinking, I struggled to connect with some of Chan’s comments on egalitarianism.

Chan states, “The problem for egalitarians is that they begin by assuming the truth of egalitarianism and then proceed to read the Bible in the light of this overarching idea.[2]” Chan goes on to share how the Asian priority given to the family should play a part in shaping Asian theology. For example, the ordered relationships in the Asian family reflect ordered relationships in the Triune family. And Chan states “the monarchy of the Father means the Father is the sole source of the Trinity.[3]” This line of thinking doesn’t fall in line with my understanding of the life my Uncle lives and the values he and his wife share about the community they are involved in. Yet, I know my perspective is limited and this is an important conversation to have. I appreciated reading Richard Mouw’s statements about Chan when he says, “Of course, to the degree that we egalitarians can simply be seen as imposing “Western” biases on other cultures, we should pursue this conversation. But it’s also necessary to look at the diversity within Asia itself. Through the difficult years of China’s Cultural Revolution, for example, many rural churches survived under the gifted preaching and teaching of “Bible ladies.” That pattern of strong women’s leadership in church and family persists as an important reality in grassroots Chinese Christianity[4].” This is a good conversation to have and I know I still have a lot to learn.

All in all I enjoyed reading Grassroots Asian Theology. Chan shows us that the Lord is doing some wonderful things in local communities in Asia. And reading his book challenged me to keep looking for ways to faithfully serve the cause of the gospel in my own cultural context.

 


[1] Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), under “45” Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid., Loc. 1139

[3] Ibid., Loc. 1155

[4] Richard J. Mouw, “How Theologians Have Failed Asian Christians—and How They Can Do Better,” August 25, 2014, accessed May 6, 2015, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/august-web-only/how-theologians-have-failed-asian-christians-and-how-they-c.html.

 

About the Author

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Nick Martineau

Nick is a pastor at Hope Community Church in Andover, KS, founder of ILoveOrphans.com, and part of the LGP5 cohort.

10 responses to “Egalitarianism”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Nick, As I was reading this book, I was thinking about how real the impact of one’s functional hermeneutic can be on the reading of scripture. I think it’s impossible to eliminate biases… If I approach the scripture from the perspective of (for example) an urban liberation motif, I will see the reparation of injustice as primary and will find it in every book! The same holds true for a western egalitarian view I think. Because we have approach the scripture with the assumption that all are the same (forget for a minute that we could support that view with the scripture itself… ha!) in the eyes of God, we of course will interpret the text with that bias.

    I think the fun part of a book like this is that exposes me to a different set of biases without demanding that I surrender my own…

    J

    • mm Nick Martineau says:

      Jon…thanks for your last thought there, “I think the fun part of a book like this is that exposes me to a different set of biases without demanding that I surrender my own.” I don’t have the surrender my biases or “win” this debate. Too often that’s the battle Christians get into instead of just recognize I have something to learn in the midst of all of this.

  2. mm Dave Young says:

    Hey Nick,
    What a difficult topic. Western egalitarianism vs Eastern hierarchy, both of which of course are generalizations and there are plenty of exceptions as your post indicates. I guess my understanding of Chan’s point it that based on our point of culturally reference we’ll see things or ignore things in scripture (and tradition), and therefore create theology that is culturally driven. So my guess is that unless we share the same Asian point of reference we’d naturally struggle to connect to his point. ugh.. some times I feel like Pilot “What is truth?”

    • mm Nick Martineau says:

      Isn’t it scary to think of “based on our point of culturally reference we’ll see things or ignore things in scripture (and tradition).” I sure know I have many blindspots….Thanks for your thoughts Dave.

      • Jon Spellman says:

        Kind of like you don’t know what you don’t know until you know that you don’t know it. But once you’ve seen something, you can’t unsee it.

  3. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Nick, I like your counterpoint you made through Mouw’s words . . . “But it’s also necessary to look at the diversity within Asia itself.” An Asian theology covers a pretty broad scope. As strong as the grassroots angle was, I am sure it was not all-encompasing:). I am looking forward to Hong Kong more as I have recently heard some cool things about it.

  4. Mary says:

    I see the struggle you encountered in reading Chan’s book. Your writing demonstrates the desire to receive his words, while also holding them up to your own experience. In many way, you reflect the work of what Chan explains – how are we able to distinguish that which has been given to us (sometimes through elitists) from what we hold culturally? Then simultaneously, as we look at other cultures, how do we do this all all in light of wanting to live into God’s truth?
    I love the stretch the required readings create in us. For instance, I actually really appreciate the egalitarian approach we Westerners seems to use, and don’t want to lose it. At the same time, I hope I learn to appreciate the value of honoring a hierarchy, not based on power but based on identity in love.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Mary, I’m curious, do you think your appreciation of western egalitarianism is a function your being a woman called to lead? Does your appreciation stem largely from your core calling?

      I ask because my wife is a called pastor in a society (Deep South America) that is patently NOT egalitarian and I watch her struggles. Gods callings supersede culture but we have to work them out within culture…

  5. Dawnel Volzke says:

    Nick,
    You raise valid points. Chan writes from his own lens through which he has experienced Asian culture. Just as American theologians write from unique perspectives that don’t necessarily represent the reality of the whole culture. This being said, our approach toward ministry in various cultures is often based on research and trends across segment labels, like Asian, American, Eastern or Western. Yet, we must become more agile and understand that connection needs to happen on the individual and community level vs. a broader scope. In our efforts to avoid pitfalls, such as stereotyping, we use an approach that often causes that which we want to avoid. As your story reminds us, we must take books like Chan’s with a certain skepticism and understanding that they only represent one point of view. We can learn from these authors and broaden our own worldview, but at the end of the day we must set them aside and connect with people in their own, individual and unique contexts. I certainly wouldn’t want someone to minister to me based on an assumption that my community and my life is that of a “typical American”. God created us to be unique individuals, and we must approach theology with this in mind.

  6. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Nick,
    It is easy for us to have a sort of “religous imperialism” and we have to be careful not to think its right. I have been guilty of this and reading these books helps me not to be so biased to the way our culture taught us to believe the bible. Its good to be opened up more to how others received Christ and how they got their roots!

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