Monday, December 6, 2010


Saturday night I got to hear Francis Chan speak. For those of you who don't know Francis Chan, he wrote a book called "Crazy Love" and is now a popular speaker. He talked about truly accepting God's love and feeling secure in him. While talking about love, he brought up the topic of authority which kind of reminded me of some conversations I had today.

Francis said that one of the reasons he had such a hard time accepting the idea of God's love is because he grew up in a very traditional, authoritarian, Chinese household. His father's word was law, and harsh punishment would follow any infraction. For Francis, he could understand God as a holy, just God whom he needed to obey; he just couldn't wrap his head around the fact that that same holy God could actually love him. A lot of Chinese seem to have a similar experience with authority.

I've recently joined a lifegroup at my church. It's basically a group that meets weekly to talk about God and our lives, and pray for one another. There's only three in my group so far, Josh, Lillian, and I. Although we certainly don't agree on everything, we've been having a lot of fun together. We went out to eat for dinner, and our talk also brought up some interesting insights into authority.

I don't even remember what we were talking about, but Josh made some comment about how a guy would need to talk to a girl's dad before asking her out. I said that I wouldn't want a guy asking my dad first, and they both seemed very shocked. I was actually a bit surprised how shocked they seemed, since asking the girl directly is not exactly a groundbreaking concept.

Josh explained that he believes that the father is the head of the household. As the leader of the family, he has the responsibility to guide his children in their decisions. Josh went on to say that he had asked his father's permission before moving to Hong Kong, and initially his father had said no. Had his father continued to say no, he would have followed his father's wishes.

While I totally respect where he's coming from, I think in a completely different way. The independence stereotype is alive and well in my life. At eighteen, Dad told me that I was now an adult and I needed to start making my own decisions. During major life decisions in my life, I would call up my dad and talk to him about the pros and cons. He would listen and give advice, but he'd always tell me in the end that it was my decision, he couldn't make the decision for me. When I told him about our dinner conversation, his comment was, "What are you, fourteen?"

Basically, my parents tried to instill in me good sense and direction when I was younger; now they trust me to make the right choices. Even if it is a bad choice, it's my choice.

I can see the good and bad in both viewpoints. In the more authority-driven viewpoint, life decisions are made in the context of your family, your community. You have an older and wiser head to rely on, a leader to care for you. Maybe you would get bogged down by emotions or whims whereas a father could look out for your best interest. Francis Chan also pointed out that, unlike his other American friends, he understood the concept of God's authority. He didn't try to argue with God or get angry at God's decisions. He's God after all.

On the other hand, that can lead to a reliance on others. When things don't turn out, it's not your fault, it's your leaders fault. If only he wouldn't have made such a bad decision. It can take away incentive to think things through and figure out what God wants you to do. Also, what do you do about bad advice or bad leadership? Yes, God is the perfect authority that we all bow to, but authority figures on earth will never be perfect. They can make bad decisions. While I definitely condone getting the advice of older, wiser leaders, the ultimate consequences will be on you.

On my independent side of things, I think that we are ultimately responsible to God. Yes, we need to be in community, yes we need to listen to leaders. But God is the ultimate leader to who we should look. When we make our decisions, hopefully we are relying on his wisdom to help us make our decisions. Besides, this is my culture, the way I was raised. I can't just throw all of that away; it's stuck to me now.

Although I am stuck with this independent mindset, I need to remember that I am not a lone-ranger. I do need others and I cannot rely solely on myself. This can breed a narcissistic and self-righteous attitude that is not good for me or others. I need to watch these tendencies and root them out!

I'll conclude with our final dinner agreement. We're different; that's cool.


  1. Though this is your and my culture to learn to think independently, I have learned to despise that way of thinking. Why? It's self focused. You can "un-stick" yourself, because I did (but I'm weird, and always try to break the rules when someone says "it can't be done").

    Independent thinking is selfish. While it helps you take responsibility for yourself, it doesn't consider the other people/factors it is affecting. The ultimate question in independent thinking is, "How does this affect myself?" And that is just a self absorbed question, and creates subjective thinking. "Let's agree to disagree" or "that's my opinion", the 2 worst statements that ever come out of someone's mouth.

    Good community thinking strives for real answers and real unity. How do you reconcile different views? not how do you accept different views? Accepting different views is just plane lazy. Reconciling takes lots of love, tears, energy, and when you come to the end of a discussion or difference with someone to finally see on the same view, it does what Jesus called us to do in John 17 and Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1. Independent thinking creates pluralism, and good community creates learning and change. As you talk with Lillian & Josh, you try to understand how these people think not just to know how they think, but what you can learn from the culture in understanding authority and community that you can apply to your life and share with others. (I guess that's the purpose of this blog)

    It's beautiful in some ways for Josh to ask his father permission to go anywhere, or to ask a father permission to ask to pursue his daughter. That may be a foreign concept because you don't want relationships to start off on a serious foot, but in other cultures or even other US cultures, they want to start their relationships off on a more serious foot. And Asia statistically has a less divorce rate than the US. Most of them marry for life, and I think it's because more of them take it more seriously. There's something about community that makes people more selfless with their life (it's not just their life; it's a part of a community). When I'm exposed to it, I know I was born in the wrong culture. Ultimately for them, marriage isn't about being happy with "the one" you choose, it's about either what God or the family want (even if you don't want it yet). I find that selfless. It probably doesn't work in the States anymore because we are all independent thinkers looking for our own interests and not others.

    Every time I see this culture played out in a conversation, it makes me sad and ashamed. We (Americans) are no longer ruled by God or care about what our families think. We only care about what we think, what we feel, and what we want (then we attach God's name to our thinking). Oh, how far this one way of thinking is so contrary to Biblical thinking. It's sad.

  2. Well, I do agree with you in one area: we can all learn from each other. Other than that....

    One thing you need to remember is that there is a good and bad side to everything. You seem to be taking just the good from communal thinking and just the bad from independent thinking. Yes, independent thinking can lead to selfishness. Yes, people can become self-absorbed. But it is definitely not all bad. Look at how many independent thinkers there were in the Bible who acted differently than their family and those who shared their religion? Think of Joshua, Moses, the prophets, Paul. If they had stuck with the general consensus, they would not have been obeying God.

    I also take issue with your idea that we must reconcile all of our views with each other. Some things are important enough that we do need to take the time to talk it out and agree. But not everything. There are many, many areas where different ideas are just fine, even good. Think about Romans 14, when they talk about which day you find holy. They both have different ideas, and he just tells them to be firm in their own conviction for we live to the Lord. He didn't tell them that they had to come to a consensus, he said to live for the Lord. God didn't call us to become clones in our thinking, he called us to follow him and live in harmony.

    I do agree that it can be beautiful for a couple to involve their family. I think it can be beautiful for a man to ask permission to date a woman just like I think it can be beautiful when a man proposes in front of lots of people. It's beautiful when it's someone else, but it would not be beautiful if it were me. No way, Jose.

    You also seem to have a rather idealized view of Asian marriages. I'm not necessarily trying to rag on Asian marriages, but I do think you should think more realistically about them. Yes, their divorce rate is lower than the US, but it's still fairly high. In China, one in five marriages end in divorce. In Japan, one in four. In South Korea, one in three.

    Another thing that I found interesting (in a bad way) is the way infidelity is treated over here. Sure, they stay married, but it seems that a lot of them don't value faithfulness. I've gotten hit on by numerous married men. When talking about it in several different classes, a lot of them seem to think adultery is ok. I've also had discussions with others who have had the same experience. I was just reading a blog about a woman whose husband was in Japan and refused to go to an area that is known for one-night stands. When he explained to a girl that he was married and not interested in cheating, she told him he was a liar, that all men cheat. He did an informal survey during the rest of his visit, and most thought that 60-70% of men cheated on their wives. When I told one flirty married man that I had a boyfriend in America (yes, I lied), he just laughed and told me I was naive. He said that men will be men so I shouldn't expect them to be faithful. I seem to be running into this thinking more and more.

    Again, I'm not trying to say that all Asian marriages are bad or anything like that. I know that there are plenty of Americans who commit adultery as well. Just don't forget that there's always a good and bad side to everything (well, at least most things).

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  7. Some more interesting things about Asian (Japanese) marriages. I was reading some comments from a lot of different people, and they were saying that most men wouldn't consider visiting a prostitute cheating. Some wives even encourage their husbands to have sex friends as long as they don't find out about it.
    Also, their view of marriage is a bit different. Whereas westerners tend to be too romantic, Japanese seem to be a bit too utilitarian. They put a huge emphasis on their roles, so as long as they are being fulfilled, then it's ok. So a wife might be more likely to divorce a deadbeat husband than a cheating one.

  8. But Joshua, Moses, and Paul weren't independent thinkers. They were servants of God doing whatever He wanted them to do. They didn't brand their ideas later as "this is how God directed me", like so much of the CHristian community does today. There's a difference. They're really under the authority of God, not following their hearts because the text shows when they actually do follow their hearts the Lord calls it "disobedience". Moses didn't want to lead the nation of Israel, Paul didn't necessarily want to be an Apostle. "I'm a slave to Christ." That's not an independent thinker, that's a God slave used to lead other people, not themselves. Independent thinking today is usually about individualism, and leading yourself with your personal mission from God that has nothing to do with other people (which is again wrong).

  9. As for Romans 14, we're hitting a subject I've devoted 7 years of my life to. We can respect differences, we don't make a mountain out of a mole hill on every point and every discussion, but "accepting differences" is pure laziness. I can learn from a conservative, a liberal, a baptist, a presbyterian, a Pentecostal, a catholic, etc. because all of them have a measure of the truth. But all of these groups can take different subjects in extreme forms. You can pray, debate, and hope to see reason in some sort of balance. That's what I'm trying to achieve. That's what I've dedicated my life and education to strive for. I will never accept differences, I will always strive for balance and agreement as Jesus called us to do in John 17 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 1. You can quote another passage like Romans 14, but I would say that passage just says to be tactful about it. It doesn't mean "don't labor for unity". Otherwise there is no consistency in scripture when comparing those other texts.

  10. As for communal thinking vs. independent thinking, the Bible came from a culture driven by communal thinking, and it does not mean to just settle with group consensus or that it does not mean to not think for yourself. It means to weigh more than just yourself when you are making a decision, involve others when you make it, if there's a conflict with someone especially, include that person in the discussion. Come to an agreement. Come to a complete decision that you can never make by yourself. Jesus said, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." There's a reason why Jesus designed community, and this passage is contextually about conflict, relationships, & discipline. We can't make decisions by ourselves. It is impossible. Going out into the wilderness to get a vision from God is just foolish. People who do that come up with crazy crap, like Joseph Smith. Praying and making decisions in a group gives confirmation. If God has laid something on someone's heart, He'll confirm that same leading in the 2 or 3 people why are gathered there with you. You can NEVER do that by yourself.

  11. The Bible calls us to reconciliation, coming to agreement with one another, and something very far from independent thinking. We're infused with this in the States, and it's wrong. While communal thinking may cause people to just accept the status quo, good communal thinking begs for consensus. That's the beauty of places like New Heights Church. They make decisions and go forward not based on a majority vote, but complete consensus. They say that if God is speaking about a direction, everyone will be in agreement. If there is no consensus vote, they don't move forward with an action. And that is the most Biblical model of church that I have ever seen. Agreement, pure agreement. The Holy Spirit speaks through agreement. The 66 books of the Bible were ratified in agreement across 3 continents in complete agreement 1600 years ago. Agreement is where we find the Holy Spirit speaking, and not our self appointed conscience driven by independent thinking.

  12. Well, I don't have the time to respond to all of this, but I'll just say that I guess it depends on how you define independent thinking. I would say independent thinking isn't just you and your own ideas in a little box just listening to yourself. It does listen to other people's advice, but in the end God is the ultimate authority. I would say that by forsaking what their communities thought and becoming God's slave, Moses and Joshua and Paul were the epitome of independent thinkers. Not independent of God, but independent of the whims of others. You can't say that they talked everything through with their communities until they came to an agreement; no, they stood firm on the truth even when others didn't. Think about Paul on the circumcision issue and how he reacted to Peter and the apostles. He didn't talk and talk and try to come to an agreement; he told them that they were wrong.
    I'm still saying that in certain areas, there is no need to come to agreement. Let's take the example of asking a father's permission. Why would we all have to agree on that? If my own family agrees on a certain way, isn't that enough? Everyone is in a different situation, so you can't say that one size fits all. Besides just not wanting to do it, there are other reasons why involving a father doesn't always work. What about someone whose father is far away? What about someone whose father isn't a Christian? What about an abusive father? Or, in my case, we have agreed that we aren't going to do it that way.
    I do have a consensus with my family, so there's no need to have a consensus with Josh and Lillian. In this case, it is fine that we do things differently.


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