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Church news, Tim Tseng update

The Responsible Radical

Weekend Planner
– The Young Adults Fellowship will not meet this Thursday (Sept 9) in preparation for the English Ministry Retreat.
– Friday,  Sept 10: Everglow Youth Fellowship (7:30 PM Youth Room 160).
– Friday-Sunday (Sept 10-12): English Ministry Retreat at Redwood Glen! Check the Retreat tab for information. We still have room for you if you want to register, but please register immediately!
– Sunday, Sept 12: No English Worship; Youth Sunday School meets at 10 AM; Agape Family Group will not meet.

September 7, 2010

Dear Canaan EM brothers and sisters,

I’m looking forward to spending this weekend with many of us at the retreat. It will be a time to rest, be refreshed, and really get to know each other better. I’ll bring my baseball glove and bat, a couple of softballs, and my guitar. Chris Su will MC Saturday evening’s camp fire, but he is counting on you to prepare a game, skit, story, or other forms of entertainment. Our guest speaker Grace Hsiao will walk us through the story of Jacob and provide tools for sustaining our joy in the midst of life’s changes. It’s gonna’ be fun!

Since Florida pastor Terry Jones announced his plan to burn copies of the Quran in commemoration of Sept. 11 and to send a message to radical Islamists, I’ve been thinking about the meaning of “radical.” For most people, radical is associated with irrational, fanatical, and violent terrorists. But when pastor Jones burns the Muslim Holy Book this Saturday, how will his act be perceived? In my opinion, burning the Quran will provoke greater animosity and anger. It is not a responsible, wise, or redemptive act. Take a look at Eugene Cho’s blog and an article about efforts by my friend Michael Ly to build bridges between evangelicals and Muslims in Seattle. It is also helpful to consider the perspective of Feisal Abdul Fauf, whose efforts to build Cordoba House, the Islamic Community Center near the site of the World Trade Center, triggered the current massive anti-Islamic reaction.

There’s a lot of talk these days in evangelical circles about being radical. For these folk, “radical” means “going to the root,” not provoking our neighbors. Thus, to be a radical Christian means going back to Jesus himself. Our Sunday sermon series, “Reboot With Luke,” is radical because it focuses on Jesus’ core message. But there are different responses to Jesus’ teachings among evangelicals today.

  • The video clip that I shared last Sunday of Francis Chan mocking the “Middle Way” is an example of one way. Chan says that the “straight and narrow” way cannot be compromised. What Jesus teaches is simple and clear. But is that really true?
  • Shane Claiborne is part of the Simple Way, a “radical faith community” in a destitute Philadelphia neighborhood. Single and married young believers live among the homeless. They call themselves ‘ordinary radicals’ because “they attempt to live like Christ and the earliest converts to Christianity, ignoring social status and unencumbered by material comforts.” HIs 2006 book, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical describes his experience and faith journey. But is this type of faith journey for every Christian?
  • David Platt’s book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (2010), also promotes a vision of a radical Christianity that rejects the American pursuit of individualism, financial well being, and social success. Here is a video sample of his sermon entitled “The Gospel Demands Radical Sacrifice.” Platt, a Southern Baptist mega-church pastor suggests a one year radical experiment where radical Christians make five commitments:
  1. Pray for the entire world
  2. Read through the entire Word
  3. Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose
  4. Spend you time in another context
  5. Commit your life to a multiplying community

But are these commitments radical enough to counter the American Dream culture?

Chan, Platt, and Claiborne call evangelicals to be followers, not just believers. They point to Jesus’ life and teachings as our model. The path towards “radical” discipleship is about serving persecuted believers and the poor around the world.

Since college, I’ve identified deeply with the call for “radical” discipleship. I’m convinced that anyone who follows Jesus ought to be willing to abandon everything in this life “as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8, NRSV). Our passionate embrace of Jesus’ teachings, as we have seen in Luke, is the key to rebooting our faith and ministry at Canaan. So like many of today’s emergent radical evangelists, I want to see a passion for Jesus and his radical way re-ignited. But I don’t think many of the these proposals are “radical” enough.

For example, there is nothing radical about preaching social justice while doing mere charity work (e.g., merely giving money or possessions away). Instead of empowering the poor or disenfranchised, these activities often create dependency. This is not social justice! There is nothing radical about preaching racial justice while promoting racial assimilation. This is especially true in multi-ethnic churches where distinct ethnic cultures and histories are swept under a rug of a lifestyle homogeneity. There is nothing radical about short term missionaries who gain more long-term benefit than the communities they serve. In the end, these Christians may end up feeling good about themselves but have done little to change the situation.

This is why we need to take seriously our “radical” faith’s real impact on the world. It is important to be “responsible” radicals for Christ, not merely “radicals.” The “responsible” radical takes his or her cue from James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Counter-cultural radicals focus on the second part of the verse – “keeping oneself unstained by the world.” Responsible radicals include the first part – “to care for orphans and widows.” Caring for “orphans and widows” is about providing a family environment for those who have no family. It is a life long commitment of nurturing those who are not part of one’s family. This commitment can also extend into impacting the socio-economic conditions that create “orphans and widows.” For many English ministries in Asian immigrant churches, the responsibility of nurturing the children and youth of other members is a microcosm of caring for “orphans and widows.” This is just one example of what missional families do as radical disciples!

When we begin our equipping and enrichment activities later this fall, we’ll explore how to be “responsible radicals” for Christ. As we learn together, I hope we can address these types of questions:

1. How can I be a mission-minded and social justice Christian while raising kids and sustaining a healthy family life?
2. What’s right and wrong about being a middle-class Asian American Christian?
3. How can I give up everything for Christ without becoming a missionary or a pastor?
4. How can I be a “responsible radical” for Christ in the marketplace?
5. How can I avoid burn out and sustain joy in my service for Christ at Canaan?

You probably have many more burning questions. The starting points are to engage the Bible and our faith with thoughtful passion, passionate thinking, and a transforming vision. I look forward to listening, talking, and walking with you in the days ahead!

Peace,
Tim Tseng
Interim English Pastor

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About Tim Tseng

I'm Pastor of English Ministry at Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church (San Jose, CA), independent scholar and theological educator.

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