Tag Archives: Rick Warren

Anti-Asian Racism And The Church: A Few Thoughts

The Purpose Driven Life book cover

The Prejudiced Driven Life

Five years ago for a conference, I engaged Rick Warren‘s The Purpose Driven Life; here was my conclusion to the section on PDL:

“Warren’s silence on the issues of racial and economic justice is indicative of the silence of many European-American churches that choose to remain quiet while instances such as the hanging of nooses in public spaces continues to occur; thus, churches with predominantly minority members are left to shoulder the burden alone in confronting domestic terrorism.”

For the rest, see my paper at Academia.Edu: A Vision From The Almighty

Little did I know that this one little insight into the weakness of Warren’s theology (what I viewed at that time as a Reformed, trimmed down version of the prosperity gospel) would reveal itself over the past five years, and really, the past 6 six weeks.  In September, Rick Warren posted a “humorous” picture on Facebook suggesting that his ministry team worked really hard, just like members from the Chinese Revolutionary Army from almost three decades ago.  Of course, this is only funny for people who’s mothers’ weren’t raped and tortured or villages oppressed.  Warren was called out by a Christian minister Sam Tsang, and Pastor Warren responded in kind by taking down the offending photo as well as offering a non-apology apology. Tuesday, Rick Warren hosted a church-planting conference where anti-Asian racist skits were performed to the sounds of “ORIENTAL” music.

The shame of all of this is that whenever anti-Asian/Pacific racism happens, the only way evangelicals “adjust” their behavior is when they are called out after multiple blog-posts. This is exactly what happened a few years ago with Dr. Soong Rah Chan and the Deadly Viper saga. It’s the cycle of linguistic violence, Sinophobia, and anti-Asian/Pacific racism that leads to curriculum like Rickshaw Rally which reinforce negative Chinese and Asian-Pacific stereotypes.  We are able to detect White Supremacist mythologies by their double standard; if a Hong Kong based pastor had made a joke about 9-11-2001, USian Evangelical Christians would be up in arms. This is a double standard because what humors us is predetermined by the belief that some people’s lives are more valuable than others.

Racism as I have expanded upon on many occasions, is prejudice + power, and we should do well not to forget this. Yes this power is quite fluid, but in this instance, it’s obvious who the victims are (usually it’s as plain as day if you know basic history, but I digress). The purpose of my anti-racist writing, laying out the challenge that white supremacy poses to Christian theology, is for the purpose of worship. That is justice leading to reconciliation. If it is unjust for Asian Americans to be the targets of jokes and Christian curriculum endorsing White Supremacist mythology, then these issues must be addressed so that trust, faithfulness, and proper worship can take place.

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The Spirit of Athanasius: Elizabeth A. Johnson & John Piper

Yesterday, I received a very disconcerting call from my friend T.C.; he said he was concerned for the state of evangelical Christianity, once more because of this interview of Rick Warren, by John Piper. I did not bother to watch the video, because it only proved to me what I already knew. It was just not any interview, as the link shows, but Piper goes through all of the doctrines of Grace, and now that Warren has been approved by the Pope of Protestantism, Piper’s followers are free to listen to Warren’s sermons and buy his books. Joel has already commented on this as well. Any one with a seminary trained eye can read The Purpose Driven Life and see that it is Calvinism, only making God nicer and more relevant and practical, without all of the theological jargon and intellectualism.

Certainly, not everything in PDL was traditional calvinist orthodoxy; the practical implications of some of the chapters, the odes to a form of evangelical Christian justice have both Arminian (John Wesley) and Calvinist (the martyr John Brown) rings to them. Why would Warren not defend himself, or at least take the courage to differentiate himself from that big group of people (The Gospel Coalition) that has condemned his books and ministry?

I submit that perhaps pastors like Warren, who receive scrutiny, take a cue from Elizabeth A. Johnson. Thanks to the update from Megan of Women In Theology, we have an update on the Elizabeth Johnson and her “dialogue”with the U.S. Council of Bishops on her work, The Quest for the Living God.  The letter is brilliant, and the most impressive parts are not any of Johnson’s arguments, but her humility, admitting that she has learned from peoples who have been traditionally marginalized.


Some of my favorite quotes:

I further observe that at times theology develops ideas that not only sustain the inquiring minds and committed praxis of the people of the church but also influence official church teaching itself. […] he best example in our day is the liberation theology of Latin America. As one of its esteemed originators, Gustavo Gutiérrez, has noted, seldom has an insight moved so quickly from the faith of the people to theology to church teaching as has the idea of God’s preferential option for the poor, now present in magisterial documents as a
challenge to the church’s own practice.

Or how about this one on how she came to accept “a suffering God” in 1987:

Toward the end of the first week I delivered a lecture on the cross, including contemporary views pro and con the idea of the “crucified God.” In the lively discussion that followed, I asked for a show of hands as to which position made more sense to them, Schillebeeckx’s or Moltmann’s. Every hand but one went up for Moltmann. I was dumbfounded. I had gone to South Africa assuming that the tradition of impassibility was unquestionably right. The judgment of bishops and priests who suffered for the gospel in ways I could hardly imagine made me stop and ask what was going on here in these people of faith. For them, as for the imprisoned Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “only a suffering God can help” (Letters and Papers from Prison, July 16, 1944). This result was repeated in subsequent weeks, with passionate affirmations. I returned from this beloved country with a new question, born of the suffering and spiritual experience of these good men.

And lastly, sounding more like Clement of Alexandria than Athanasius:

Here is where the church in Asia, thanks to its experience as a little flock amid majority religions, is leading the theological conversation, giving the rest of the church a glimpse of what I call the generous God of the religions. Quest cites episcopal conferences of India, Korea, and the Philippines regarding the sense of the Sacred found in Asian traditions; it presents insights these conferences gain as they explore the mystery of God’s self-revelation, known in Jesus Christ, at work in the different ways of the religions. The book recounts my own startling encounter with the power of Hindu symbols used in an approved Eucharistic rite during a conference in India on Christ and the savior figures of other faiths sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (173). That liturgy, and the whole experience of the church in India which I discovered during that conference, rearranged the furniture of my mind, casting more sharply the question of how to reconcile the centrality of Jesus Christ with God’s work in other religions. On one level, the issue is fascinating in an intellectual sense. As an avowed westerner who thinks in a linear line of logic, I stretch to understand the Asian way of inclusive thinking that holds: Rather than saying ‘A is true so B must be false,’ the Asian tends to say ‘A is true and B is also true in some sense.’ For the westerner, that would imply that truth is relative

After these, I think she was right to put this dialogue into perspective, referencing both Scripture (implicitly) and tradition:

I write these observations in the spirit of the Egyptian bishop Athanasius. I’ve always appreciated his words, written during the conflict that ensued after the Council of Nicea when three groups contended vociferously over the right way to express Jesus Christ’s divine identity. Athanasius, who upheld the homoousios (one in being) teaching of the Council, noted that his party and the homoiousios party (similar in being), originally perceived as opponents, were actually on the same side as compared with the subordinationist Arian position. In the effort to forge unity, he wrote: those, however, who accept everything else that was defined at Nicea, and doubt only about the homoousios, must not be treated as enemies; nor do we here attack them as Ario-maniacs, nor as opponents of the Fathers; but we discuss the matter with them as brothers with brothers, who mean what we mean, and dispute only about the words. (De Synodis 41)

See that? Just because there are disputes about the meanings of words does not mean that our fellow believers are our enemies; they remain are siblings all the same.

You can read the rest of Elizabeth Johnson’s letter HERE

Lessons learned today:

1. It is possible to stand up for what you believe in a bold and civil manner since it is important to distinguish one’s self for one’s detractors.

2. Elizabeth Johnson is very intelligent and very humble. I really need to read The Quest now.

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Rick Warren on Social Justice

The Purpose Driven Life book cover

Image via Wikipedia


A few years ago, I was doing research on the prosperity gospel, and did a contrast of Joel Olsteen’s Positive Thought Materialism and Rick Warren‘s approach. Although I noted a difference between the two, after reading The Purpose Driven Life, my critique was that Warren’s view of relationships was quite individualistic, to the detriment of those who wish to reproaching social sin. Then, yesterday, he tweeted the reason he refused to give interviews was because he did not want to get involved in politics. This quote affirmed what I argued at
the Wesleyan Theological Society three years ago in 2008 at Duke University.

I direct you to my section on Warren in its entirety:

The prosperity gospel is not limited to the doctrines of positive thought materialism.  The prosperity gospel is an accomodationist approach to majority culture’s mores, especially in dealing with economic and racial justice issues.  In the name of “cultural relevancy,” conformity becomes a way of life for Christian congregations as opposed to faithfulness to the Gospel.  The Reverend Rick Warren’s ministry is a case in point.  Warren condemns the message of Olsteen’s positive thought materialism in his popular work, The Purpose Driven Life: ‘What On Earth Am I Here For?: “Possessions only provide temporary happiness. […] The most common myth about money is that having more will make me more secure.  It won’t.  Wealth can be lost through a variety of uncontrollable factors.  Real security can only be found in that which can never be taken from you—your relationship with God” (Warren, 29).  He continues, “In God’s eyes, the greatest heroes of the faith are not those who achieve prosperity, success, and power in this life, but those who treat this life as a temporary assignment and serve faithfully expecting their promised reward in eternity (Warren, 51).

At first glance, Warren and Olsteen share a common view of the Creator: God, for them, is highly relational and desires to have fellowship with individuals who trust in Jesus.  Rick Warren, unlike Olsteen, describes a definition of the mission of the Christian community, local congregation, after emphasizing God’s plan for our personal lives.  Warren is a proponent of the Baptist ecclesiology, which gives primacy to local congregations: “Your local fellowship is the place God designed for you to discover, develop, and use your gifts.  You may also a wider ministry, but that is in addition to your service in a local body.  Jesus has not promised to build your ministry; he has promised to build his church” (Warren, 135).  Warren’s ecclesiology, just like his creation theology, is highly relational; the purpose of the local church is to enjoy real fellowship in authenticity, mutuality, sympathy, and mercy (Warren, 139-143).

Paradoxically, Warren’s ecclesiology, in terms of  Christian vocation and spirituality, is highly individualistic because his approach to reaching out to the North American culture appeals to good old fashioned American rugged individualism.  He recognizes that human relationships are in need of restoration.  However, he privatizes these relationships so that restorative justice is reduced to primarily personal levels.  In his chapter entitled “Restoring Broken Fellowship,” social and institutional sins of the church such as racial segregation, economic oppression, as well as the silencing of women are overlooked as iniquities to be repented from.  Addressing this matter, James Cone offers a reason for why Warren may have overlooked these social ills (especially in regards to racism).

Whites do not talk about racism because they do not have to talk about it.  They have the most of the power of the power in the world—economic, political, social, cultural intellectual and religious.  There is little that Blacks and other people of color can do to change the power relations in the churches, seminaries and society.  Powerful people do not talk, except on their own terms and almost never at the behest of others.  All the powerless can do is to disrupt—make life more uncomfortable for ruling elites.  That is why Martin King called the urban riots and Black Power the ‘the language of the unheard’ (Cone, 144).

In light of this reality, Warren is only capable of talking about such social relationships and the nature of social injustice as sin in terms of the abstract.  The concrete reality of unjust relationships does not become part of his discussion because his theological language is not apt to describing relationships in terms of power.  Warren’s silence on the issues of racial and economic justice is indicative of the silence of many European-American churches that choose to remain quiet while instances such as the hanging of nooses in public spaces continues to occur; thus, churches with predominantly minority members are left to shoulder the burden alone in confronting domestic terrorism.

To read the paper in its glorious entirety, go to this link via ACADEMIA.EDU.

I believe that the paper is a foreshadowing of my current research interests: economics and theology.

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