Posted in Book Reviews, Contextualization, That Theology Thing

Lee Exhorts Christians Not To Be Conformed To This World

Snip20160710_5From a Liminal Place: An Asian American Theology – Sang H. Lee

Lee uses liminality to define the positive consequence of being caught between two worlds or two cultures. Liminality is a “transitional time in which persons are freed from social-structure hierarchy” and is associated with being on the margins of society. Asian Americans are neither accepted by Asians or White America as belonging. In the case of White America, Asian Americans are marginalized because of their physical appearance and because of the systemic social and institutional racism of the dominant culture that excludes those that are different (Lee, Kindle Location 99).

Those in a liminal space are characterized by their openness to the new, their desire to form community (communitas), and their prophetic insight that empowers action (Lee, Kindle Location 122). Lee exhorts Asian Americans to choose to remain in this in-between space. The alternative is to align with dominant American culture in the misguided pursuit of the American dream, or to hide away in culture bound enclaves and remain invisible. Choosing a liminal position is to reflect Jesus. Jesus became incarnate as a liminal, marginal Galilean. “If God in Jesus Christ assumed a liminal situation in time and history… we must posit liminality in God” (Lee, Kindle Location 115). For Leebeing Christian means identifying with the margins and pulling away from the center. “To follow this Jesus, one must distance oneself from the center of the world and live in liminality, in the periphery… Paul makes the point very clearly: ‘Do not be conformed to this world [or this age], but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect’” (Lee, Kindle Location 2531). Not only should all Christians move to the periphery they should use this posture to prophetically challenge the status quo and action themselves to change society (Lee, Kindle Location 1425).

Lee seeks to articulate a universal recognition that a “people of God” culture is in fact a culture on the margins that rejects the center. He describes the center as proud, oppressive, racist, and not strategically chosen to represent Christ’ mission. Lee’s portrait is polarized. He does not help me understand what I can do as member of the dominant culture to actually reach the people within my context. While he states that God loves all humans the same, his tone implies a hierarchy of Godliness measured by degrees of marginalization, meaning those on the margins are more loved and worthy of God’s grace.

Lee does have solid position when he exhorts Christians not to be conformed to this world, but he loses me somewhat when he draws very rigid boundaries. With respect to his characterization of Asian American as marginalized he fails to account for various local contexts in the North America where his portrait might not be true. Some locales are highly diverse and no clear majority seems dominant. The new America has a global shape where ethnic identity becomes very complex. Following Christ by definition means allowing Him to transform my identity and to shape my Christian community as “people of God” counterculture. But there is no culture without context. Lee is exhorting me to abandon my context. The mission of the Gospel is that Christ takes me as I am and transforms me in context to reach those around me.

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