The Revival will not be Televised

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

It might be live streamed…

Everyone wants revival.  Christianity in American needs revival. But just what kind of revival?

After the crazy year we’ve had, I’m even more convinced we need the kind of revival that leads to renewal not restoration.  Renewal is the good kind of revival, restoration … not so much. Why? Consider this..

Just before Jesus’ ascension, his disciples asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus kind of side-stepped the question and instead talked about spiritual renewal: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:6, 8)

According to William G. McLoughlin, one of the most prominent historians of American revivalism, the Great Awakenings were periods “when the cultural system had to be revitalized in order to overcome jarring disjunctions between norms and experience, old beliefs and new realities, dying patterns and emerging patterns of behavior.” [Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform (1978), page 10] They led to “fundamental ideological transformations necessary to the dynamic growth of the nation in adapting to basic social, ecological, psychological, and economic changes…It constitutes the awakening of a people caught in an outmoded, dysfunctional world view to the necessity of converting their mindset, their behavior, and their institutions to more relevant or more functionally useful ways of understanding and coping with the changes in the world they live in.” [page 8]

Though the awakenings “were confusing and tumultuous,”  McLoughlin stresses “the positive, unifying results… The Puritan Awakening led to the beginnings of constitutional monarchy in England; America’s First Great Awakening led to the creation of the American republic; our Second Great Awakening led to the solidification of the Union and the rise of Jacksonian participatory democracy; our Third Awakening led to the rejection of unregulated capitalistic exploitation and the beginning of the welfare state; and our Fourth Awakening appears to be headed toward a rejection of unregulated exploitation of humankind and of nature and towards a series of regional and international consortiums for the conservation and optimal use of the world’s resources.” [page 11]

On the other hand, some revivals were not so good. Of Dwight Moody’s urban revivals, McLoughlin says, “He was brought to the cities in times of unemployment by middle-class churchgoers and businessmen precisely to tell the workers that the American dream was true, that the system was fundamentally sound… To Evangelical believers in the Protestant ethic, the poor were poor because they had some flaw of character that conversion would quickly remove.” [p 144]

“In the end, however, Moody had to admit that his revivals did not reach the poor in the cities. His audiences were essentially middle-class, rural-born native Americans who had come to the city to make their fortunes; they believed that he spoke God’s truth in extolling hard work and free enterprise. But he was not a spokesman for those who were becoming discouraged or disillusioned with the success myth; not did he reach the foreign-born or Catholic poor who made up so large a proportion of the labor class. “ [p 144-145]

McLoughlin concludes that “professional revivalism of this sort was an effective stress-relief mechanism for the majority in these years. Until the 1890s evangelists (and their audiences) continued to believe complacently that this was the best of all possible worlds: God was in his heaven, and all was right with America.” [p 145]

Good revival renews people and society. Revivals that are not so good restores or maintains the status quo.

One might fault McLoughlin for relying so heavily on anthropologist Anthony F. C. Wallace‘s theory of revitalization movements. But in my observation of evangelicalism and religion in America over the past fifty years, I believe Wallace’s theory and McLoughlin’s adaptation of it to the history of revivals helps makes sense of what is happening today.

Some background: In 1956, Wallace published a paper called “Revitalization Movements” [American Anthropologist 58: 264-281.] to describe how cultures change. Based on his study of religious movements among Native Americans, Wallace argued that a revitalization movement is a “deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture” (p. 265). Wallace believed that religious movements (such as revivals) are the agents of the revitalization of a society that is stuck or in crisis. McLoughlin believes that this process helped revitalize the United States during five Great Awakenings.

I think we are at the cusp of a new awakening. The question is will Christians be viewed as purveyors of the good or bad kind of revival. Let’s deep dive.

The Five Stages of Revitalization in U.S. Awakenings

According to McLoughlin, revival movements begin with a crisis of legitimacy. Earlier adaptation to the social and natural environment is no longer satisfactory. [Revivals, 12]  This leads to a period of individual stress where changes in society frustrate efforts of many people to obtain normal satisfactions of their needs. In the last twenty years, we’ve witnessed more young people abandoning traditional religious communities and practices and joining the ranks of religious “nones.” A recent study, “Democracy in Dark Times,” points to America’s legitimation crisis and its impact of race, religion, and politics. Is it possible that this trend reflects a feeling of cultural disorientation (or Emile Durkheim’s anomie)? Has Christianity has lost its legitimacy in a changing American society? If so, this would not have been the first time in American history.

During the second stage, a period of cultural distortion, we witness a divided populace. “The people cannot agree on proper measures for coping with dangers; instead of joining together to meet it, they quarrel and divide, often blaming those in authority. They refuse to unite on any scheme.” [13] At this point, “there almost always arises a nativist or traditionalist movement within the culture, that is, an attempt by those with rigid personalities or with much at stake in the older order to argue that the danger comes from the failure of the populace to adhere more strictly to the old beliefs, values, and behavior patterns.” [14] This is a double-edged solution because it creates more crisis of legitimacy. But this is also when a religious revival or a great awakening begins. New leaders and practices emerge. “People must be found who can help to formulate a new consensus, create new maze ways. These new maze ways must be understood to be in harmony not only with daily experiences but also with the way in which the experience is understood to reflect the realities of the mysterious power that controls the universe.” [15]

Stage three is a period of restructuring of old institutions. It is a time to build new world views or maze ways.  Rigid reactionaries are unable to make the transition and become the minority, the dissidents. A new consensus, new religious organizations, new social norms begins to take shape. New prophets shed  “new light.” [17]  “Orthodoxy in America has been progressive or syncretic, offering new definitions for old truths,” notes McLoughlin. “God is, of course, always and everywhere the same, but his spirit manifests itself in new ways to meet new needs. It is the old lights in each of our awakenings (variously called ‘Old Sides,’ ‘Old School,’ ‘Old dignity,’ or ‘Fundamentalists’) who have clung to the letter and ignored the spirit of God’s will. Their reliance on dead formalism and shibboleths that have lost their meaning has enabled the new lights to capture the imagination of a confused people and lead them out of the old churches and into new ones, constantly revitalizing the mazeways.” [18] 

In the fourth stage this “new light” movement grows, attracting more flexible (usually younger) members of society. It also leads to experimentation. Some of these movements are destructive. Eventually, all revitalized or new organizations that flourish require experiences of conversion, transformation or regeneration. McLoughlin claims that in each awakening “the successful new-light prophets have achieved this important organizational transition. When the Puritan movement died, the evangelistic spirit within it was reborn in Congregationalism and Presbyterianism and was later revitalized by the Baptists, Methodists, Campbellites, Disciples of Christ, and by Progressive, Liberal Protestants.” [22]

Finally, in the fifth stage, the new consensus succeeds. It anchor changes in the culture as most people are won over – even those who do not experience conversion. “But old light never quite dies,” says McLoughlin, “and the process is never finished.” As new lights become dominant, “there is considerable revision of the institutional structure, often through political action. Familial patterns change, sex roles alter, schools reform their curriculums and teaching methods, courts revise their interpretations, governments enact new laws and reorganize their recruitment of civil servants.” [22]

Writing in the 1970s, McLoughlin optimistically concluded  that “It was through following the new guidelines of our revitalization movements that Americans abandoned allegiance to the king, abolished human slavery, regulated business enterprise, empowered labor unions, and is now trying to equalize the rights of women, blacks, Indians, and other minorities.” [22-23] 

He didn’t live to see the rise of the Christian Right, which he would most certainly consider “old lights.” He probably would have been surprised at the dominance of  “old lights” among white Christians today. But I think his insight is correct. What the media calls white evangelicals are today’s “old lights” because they want to restore a mythic past rather than join the diverse cloud of witnesses that will be the future of Christianity and America.

Will The Revival be Live-Streamed?

Of course, it is the Holy Spirit who will guide us into revival, but we have a choice. In the coming revival, will we focus on renewal or restoration? I vote for renewal. Live-streaming > televising.

  • We must not restore the old ways that assume that white, male experiences, perspectives, and leaders are the norm for all people, let along American Christianity.
  • We must not restore the old ways that expect knee-jerk reactions against the Movement for Black Lives, Critical Race Theory, or biblical social justice.
  • We must not restore the old ways that require Christians to distrust facts-based science, to be loyal to one political party, or demonize members of a different political party.
  • We must not restore the old ways that equate Christianity with Western civilization and American nationalism.

Instead, in the new year, I’m praying for a revival that is rooted in the Incarnation of Christ, by which God’s promise to make all things is being fulfilled. Exactly 400 years ago, John Robinson declared “The Lord has more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy word.”

I don’t know what 2021 will look like, but I hope to be part of a new revival – one that follows the “new light” of renewal.

Have a Joyous Christmas and Renewed 2021!

Pandemic Podcasts: What I listened to in 2020

Photo by Juja Han on Unsplash

December 7, 2020

If not for the pandemic, I probably would not have listened to very many podcasts. But our dog needed to be walked and I needed something to do while walking her. Good podcasts offer short and simpler ways to introduce myself to topics and issues that would take more time to research on my own. I don’t really use my blog to journal or share about stuff I do, so this is an unusual entry. Anyway, here are my favorite pandemic podcasts of 2020:

The Christian-oriented podcasts

The Bible Project has already developed quite a following because of their smartly packaged animated videos that offer academically solid interpretations of biblical texts and themes. But the podcast drills deep into the socio-historical contexts surrounding Scripture while making Jesus the center of their unifying interpretation of the Bible. Consciousness of the socio-historical contexts surrounding the Bible and its reader not only offers richer explorations of Scripture, but also helps us avoid bringing our cultural baggage unconsciously into our reading and interpretation of the Bible. Over 220 episodes have already been produced! I think the current series on the Family of God will be especially relevant today’s conversations about social justice and human responsibility.

The Inverse Podcast unpacks how Christian leaders and scholars read and are empowered by Scripture even though they acknowledge that the Bible has been used to justify hatred and oppression. The podcast’s mission is to rescue the “good” news from an abusive use of the Bible and retrieve God’s good and just vision in it. Hosts Jarrod McKenna and Drew Hart provide delightful interviews, though the conversations sometimes wander. But if you have time for 90 minutes per episode, it will feel like sitting in conversations with some of the most interesting and exciting voices in the Christian church today.

I’ve also enjoyed Karen Marsh’s Vintage Sinners and Saints podcast based on her book by the same title. In it, she discusses how historical figures in Christian history can model discipleship for us today. These “saints” include well-established personas such as Augustine, Ignatius of Loyola, Julian of Norwich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as those not yet included in the saintly pantheon such as Juana Ines De La Cruz, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, Howard Thurman, and Mary Paik Lee. Guest commentators join her to reflect further on the significance of these imperfect saints. While it is true that every disciple of Jesus abides by the light of Scripture, no one can understand the Bible by herself. We can all benefit from the guidance of our fore-bearers, as flawed as they might have been, for there is a rich store of wisdom in that great cloud of witnesses. By the way, Karen Marsh leads Theological Horizons a community that supports Christians and seekers in academia to engage faith, thought and life. TH is based in Charlotteville, Virginia.

Church Politics Podcast of the (&) campaign. 2020 was a year that many Christians were deeply divided and confused about their place in American society and role in politics. Led by Justin Giboney, the (&) campaign seeks to speak truth with compassion (&) conviction. Tying together social justice and values-based issues, their largely African-American thought leaders are trying to raise a new generation of urban Christians who will address today’s dilemmas with courage, kindness and an unshakeable faith – for the common good. They haven’t produced that many episodes yet, but I’ve appreciated their efforts to embrace and critique both progressive (social justice) and  conservative (values) agendas. 

Asian American Christian Podcasts

There are several other Facebook groups and YouTube channels that provide platforms for scholars of Asian American Christianity to share their research, but the following two podcasts are helpful for lay leaders and Church leaders (practitioners).

Centering: The Asian American Christian Podcast of the Asian American Center at Fuller Theological Seminary. This podcast provides devotionals, conversations about the Christian life, church and theology, and other topics that focus on Asian American Christians.

Asian American Christian Collaborative Reclaim Podcast focuses on Asian American Christian perspectives on social justice. AACC started as a Christian response to Anti-Asian discrimination in the wake of COVID-19 and has grown into a resource for social engagement and public witness.

The NPR Podcasts

As a historian, I know that perfect objectivity is impossible to achieve. But truth is not completely subjective or partisan despite what we’ve witnessed recently in the political arena. Because of their commitment to high standards of journalistic objectivity and integrity, I choose to get most of my news and information from NPR. Their podcasts are very engaging! I’ve enjoyed “Hidden Brain,” “Car Talk” and “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! But in 2020, “Throughline” and “Code Switch” grabbed most of my attention. Here are some of my favorite episodes:

The Invention of Race” (Througline, Nov. 20, 2020). A fascinating conversation with Charles King, author of Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century (which I’m currently reading). It tells the story of Frank Boaz (the focus of the podcast) and three of his women protege who upended American notions about race and gender in the 1920s and 1930s. Boaz’s research helped undermine the false scientific views about race at the time. As a result, eugenics was eventually de-legitimized and cultural relativism was introduced to academia. Boaz also impacted theology, Christian public policy engagement, and Asian and Asian American Christians – something I plan on writing about.

The Most Sacred Right” (Throughline, October 29, 2020). In the face of slavery, the Civil War and the violence of Jim Crow, Frederick Douglass fought his entire life for what he believed was a sacred, natural right that should be available to all people – the right to vote. This podcast covers Douglass’ life journey.

America’s Caste System” (Throughline: August 6, 2020). “Race” is often used as a fundamental way to understand American history. But what if “caste” is the more appropriate lens? It certainly broadens our concept of systemic injustice and structural sin. This podcast examines how “caste” has shaped our country through a conversation with Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, author of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.

The Long, Bloody Strike For Ethnic Studies” (Codeswitch: August 5, 2020). Ethnic studies might not even exist if it weren’t for some students at San Francisco State University. Fifty years ago, they went on strike – and while their bloody, bitter standoff has been largely forgotten, it forever changed higher education in the United States. It also launched the Asian American Studies movement.

Claim Us If You’re Famous” (Codeswitch: November 10, 2020). I always wondered why so little attention was given to Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris’ South Asian identity. This episode opens up that conversation. “We get into a lot of messy territory, like what her political prominence might help illuminate (or obscure) about South Asian political identity, how multiracial people are perceived, and how Blackness intersects with all of those things.”

A Treaty Right For Cherokee Representation” (Codeswitch: October 7, 2020). In elementary school, one of my classmates called me an “Indian giver” because I changed my mind after giving him a fancy pencil. He made me angry (I don’t remember why), so I wanted it back. Well, this episode explains where that term originated. Back in 1835, during the Andrew Jackson administration, the Treaty of New Echota granted the Cherokee Nation a delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives. But it’s also the same treaty that led directly to the Trail of Tears, and the death of an estimated 4,000 Cherokee.

Podcasts about Evangelicalism and Conservative Politics

The Evangelical Vote” (Throughline rebroadcast: September 24, 2020). How and when did white evangelicals become so intertwined with today’s political issues, especially abortion? What does it mean to be a white evangelical today and how has that changed over time?

The White Elephants In The Room” (Codeswitch: November 18, 2020). While their numbers have dwindled from 21 to 15% of the U.S. population, white evangelicals are a force to be reckoned with in politics, says Robert P. Jones, the author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity and the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. They make up a little over a third of Republicans, Jones says, and have an outsized impact on elections, making up about a quarter of voters. That’s right—15% of Americans account for around 25% of those who turn out to vote. A conversation with Jones about the power of this voting bloc, and what that means for the national discussion around race in this country.

Honorable mentions:

Mobituaries

Finally, there is this non-NPR podcast, Mobituaries, that shares some intriguing stories of people who’ve died. Mo Rocca loves obituaries so he wrote a book and created this podcast, “an irreverent but deeply researched appreciation of the people (and things) of the past who have long intrigued him.“ Here are some episodes worth listening to: 

What have you been listening to? I’d love to hear from you!

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

Russell M. Jeung, Ministry Partner

May 11, 2020
Russell JeungOne of my ministry partners, Dr. Russell Jeung, has been very busy lately. As the media covers reports of increased anti-Asian attacks in the wake of the corona virus, Russell has become one of the most interviewed and quoted experts. He is the Chair of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State and since March, his team has been tracking reports of these incidences.
     It’s no secret that Russell is also a committed Christian who devotes as much time to his church community as he does to his scholarship and social activism. In fact, he is a living example of a Jesus follower who brings every square inch of his life under the Kingdom of Christ.
     Two years ago, Russell led a workshop at InterVarsity’s NorCal Faculty/Staff Conference. This year, he donated to the same conference a bunch of granola bars made by Beautiful Day (beautifuldayri.org), a refugee agency based in Rhode Island. When the conference was cancelled because of the COVID-19, he diverted them to City of Oakland’s Turning Point Community, a response to homelessness.
     Russell is one of the leading sociologists of Asian American religion in the United States. His most recent work is Family Sacrifices: The Worldviews and Ethics of Chinese Americans (2019) which he co-authored with Seanan Fong and Helen Jin Kim.
Family SacrificesA large part of our friendship have been as colleagues in academia. In the late 1990s, Russell was a part of a cohort of doctoral students who started the Asian American religious studies network. Unlike the previous generation of Asian American theologians who are based in mainline Protestant seminaries (see Jonathan Tan’s Introducing Asian American Theologies (2008), this network was based in university religious studies departments. Russell’s dissertation was published as Faithful Generations: Race and the New Asian American Churches (2005). Because Russell and I both lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was easy to connect and talk about our mutual scholarly interests, such as the intersection between Asian American studies and religion (and Christian faith, in particular). When I no longer had an academic platform, I’ll always be grateful for his willingness to remain connected. Our mutual concern for Asian American churches and ministry made it easier to stay in touch.faithful-generations-cover
     Indeed, Russell’s involvement with the ministry of community organizing was how I first met him. In the mid-1990s, while I was on faculty at Denver Seminary, I helped start Christians Supporting Community Organizing (CSCO), a group that encouraged Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Holiness churches to join faith-based community organizing groups (though CSCO no longer exists, its website of resources is still available at http://www.cscoweb.org). At the time, Russell was part of At Home in Exile Coverteam that organized impoverished Southeast Asian refugees in East Oakland. Russell’s commitment to biblical social justice and empowerment of the poor has always inspired me. He turned down an offer to a stable faculty position on the East Coast in order to remain with his community in East Oakland (this was before he went to San Francisco State). Fortunately, Russell has shared his story in At Home in Exile: Finding Jesus Among My Ancestors and Refugee Neighbors (2016). I encourage you read it!
     I’m grateful for his support for my ministry with InterVarsity, but even more thankful for over twenty-five years of friendship and collaboration. I look forward to many more years of Russell’s leadership in academia, social justice activism, and Christian ministry!

2019 NCFSC 22 Russell Jeung

Russell Jeung leads “Navigating As a Person of Faith in a Secular, Anti-Colonialist Academic Settings” workshop.

Angel Island: Congregational Ministry and Advocacy (1910-1940)

AngelIsland-Mission works

Thank you, Ben Lee for the digital version of this important document about Christian communities that served and advocated for the detainees of Angel Island. The book was organized by Deborah Lee and Craig Wong in 2010. Ben is a docent at Angel Island and Oakland Museum – and a member of San Lorenzo Japanese Christian Church. Ben’s website contains additional information.

Christianity and the 2016 Election. A Pre-election interview

about-photoMy good friend, Dr. Tony Wang, a fellow historian and progressive Christian Asian American, hosts a really good podcast/radio show called “I’ll Look Into It.” I was privileged to have been interviewed by him TWICE! Last November, before the elections, the two of us (Tony is an economic historian, I am a historian of religion) chatted up our thoughts about Christian (particularly evangelical) engagement in and discourse about the 2016 election. Have a listen and let me know if you think we were on target or way off the mark! Here is the link to the interview: Christianity and the 2016 Election – my interview with Dr. Tony Wang


Also highly recommended

ASIAN AMERICA: THE KEN FONG PODCAST, a weekly show that explores the cultural, artistic, historical and spiritual aspects of the Asian American community. View at this link.

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