Privilege and baggage

January 5, 2018

Last Sunday, I concluded nearly eight years of service as an English Ministry pastor at Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church. It was a bittersweet moment. Canaan has blessed me tremendously. But joining InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s ministry to graduate students and faculty was a clear call that I simply could not ignore.

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Thank you Canaan for eight wonderful years!

Instead of taking a break during the week after Christmas, I spent most of that week clearing out my church office. I digitized the 30-year old notes I took as a seminarian and doctoral student. Yes, I confess: I’m a pack rat. I stored these notes in file boxes that have traveled with me from New York City to Denver to Rochester (NY) and, finally, to the Bay Area.

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Notes from a seminar on John Calvin’s _Institutes_ at Union Theological Seminary (1988). It was taught by Christopher Morse.

As I reviewed these notes, I was struck by the tremendous privilege I had to study under such wonderful teachers. I can’t resist bragging some of my favorite teachers and classes (by the way, if theological topics make you dizzy, skip the next paragraph):

  • James Cone (Foundations of Christian Theology)
  • David Fraser (Christian World Mission at Eastern Baptist Seminary)
  • Elouise Renich Fraser (Introduction to Theology at Eastern Baptist Seminary)
  • Robert Handy (History of Christianity Since the Reformation; Major Religious Traditions in America)
  • Kosuke Koyama (Christian Theology in Asia; History of Religions)
  • David Lotz (Medieval-Reformation Christianity; Seminar on Ritschl, Harnack, and Troeltsch; Reformation Historiography; Major Themes in Luther’s Theology)
  • Christopher Morse (Karl Barth – the Early Writings; Seminar on Calvin’s Institutes; Karl Barth – Church Dogmatics)
  • Richard Norris (History of Early Christianity; Introduction to Neoplatonism; Seminar on Christology from Constantine to Chalcedon; Early Tradition of Greek Christianity)
  • Phylis Trible (Old Testament)
  • James Washington (Religion and Politics in American History; History and Theology of Afro-American Christianity; Seminar on Jonathan Edwards; History of Theology in the Americas; Seminar on Christian Faith and Modern Ideology)
  • Cornel West (Contemporary Marxist and Post-Marxist Philosophy; Cultural Criticism and the Organic Intellectual)

The opportunity to complete an “advanced degree” in theology and the history of Christianity was a privilege that God gave me, the son of a Chinese immigrant pastor who toiled among working-class immigrants. My theological education was a privilege because it gave me tools to work for the on-going reformation of the Church. It’s been a privilege to be in ministries that encourage Christians to grow in faithfulness to Jesus and his gospel. It’s been a privilege to have many rich experiences of relationship building between evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, and racially diverse Christians. It has been a privilege to contribute something of value to academia, Asian American Christianity, and the common good. Like most graduate students, I was privileged to be a leaven for Christian faith and I pray that I have been able to leverage that leaven to reveal God’s redeeming love and justice.

But the privileges that graduate students like me receive are also accompanied by baggage that can harm Christian witness. Too many of us are tempted to take pride in our accomplishments and are given to intellectual arrogance. Many are saddled with large student loans and, therefore, struggle to express generosity. Those of us who want to live out our faith in local churches often bring this baggage into these communities. I, for one, have been grateful for Canaan (and all the local churches that I’ve been part of) for gently helping me check my baggage at the door!

It is unfortunate that too few Christian graduate students have learned how to turn their privilege into a leaven for God’s kingdom. Few learn how to check their baggage before entering a church community or mission field. This is why I’m so invested in strengthening IV’s Graduate and Faculty Ministries in my area. Our ministry encourages spiritual formation, community, evangelism and service, and the integration of faith, learning, and practice with graduate students and faculty. We cultivate many emerging, innovative, creative, and impactful Christian leaders for the Church and society. It is truly exciting!

I look forward to leveraging leaven and checking baggage! In the next update, I’ll share some stories of graduate students, faculty, and alumni who have been transformed by God’s love and grace through the ministry of GFM. Please keep praying for me and my work in the Pacific Area!

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