Out of the Echo Chamber …

jumpcut movie:Ecumenical Tea Time jumpcut movie:Dinner with 30somethings

The first video on the left is Brian McLaren hanging out with both young looking 🙂 Jesuit Father Jojo Fung and the Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore Philip Lok at a “Kopi Tiam” at Amcorp Mall, PJ. The title for the video is “Ecumenical Tea”. How often do you get the guy who is one of the top 25 evangelicals according to Time Magazine having a relaxed moment with a Roman Catholic priest and Lutheran Bishop in Malaysia?

The second video is Brian having dinner with the original core (who are younger) of what has evolved, stumbled and fumbled into what is currently known as emergentMalaysia.Yes, It was from the 4 of us - Alwyn, Yew Khuen and later Kia Meng joined in after returning from UK and me who are now stuck in this for now :-). May Chin (my beloved wife!) and Jo-ann (Yew Khuen’s lovely wife!) joined us too for the dinner that evening with Brian.

Brian came and was a wonderful catalyst and conversation partner for the Friends in Conversation event 2007. So it was nice to get an Emergent/C email from Emergent Village today where Brian shares from his travels and points to some thoughts from my good friend young theologian Sherman Kuek. Read on and enjoy (The videos above were a very “human” bonus!). Thanks Brian for listening and encouraging us along the way.

Out of the Echo Chamber

From Brian McLaren

As many of you will know from my website (brianmclaren.net), my recent contribution to An Emergent Manifesto of Hope , and my speaking, I’ve been traveling like crazy over the last couple of years, especially this last year during which nearly all the pages in my passport were filled with stamps of a couple dozen countries.

I have not been motivated to travel like this by a love for airline cuisine or economy-class seating or jet-lag. What’s driven (or enticed) me has been the opportunity to meet and learn from leaders in the church that is emerging around the world in these crazy post-al times – postmodern, postcolonial, postchristian, postnational, postcommunist, and so on.

I have become convinced of two things in this travel. First, we Christians in the West or North (and especially in the United States) live in an echo chamber; it’s so hard for us to hear “the voice of the other” over the clamor of our own incessant and redundant broadcasting. Second, we desperately need to hear these voices, for our own good and for the potential of increased partnership in the future. I hope to introduce as many of these voices to as many people as I can in the months and years ahead.

For example, in a recent trip to Malaysia (arranged by the hospitable and charming master-networker Sivin Kit and friends), I met a young Malaysian theologian named Sherman Kuek. Sherman sent me a piece he wrote recently on contextualization and tradition, from the perspective of someone involved in the emergent conversation in Asia. It’s an example of the kind of thoughtful voice that more and more of us need to attend to – because “the church that is emerging” is global and diverse, yet shares a common set of questions and challenges and resources, as Sherman’s article makes clear. I hope you enjoy it –


From Sherman YL Kuek, OSL
Sherman is an itinerant minister and an Adjunct Lecturer in Christian Theology at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia (STM). He spends much of his time journeying with his friends in reflecting on faith, life, and culture in a profoundly theological and yet simple way. Sherman blogs on

In speaking of contextualisation, there are (rather simplistically) two trends of thought:

1) The gospel consists of a “static universal core”, a series of articulations which is time insensitive and perennially unchanging. The contextualisation project is simply about enfleshing this core with a cultural facade for the facilitation of communication and understanding. The core, essentially, does not change.

2) The gospel consists of a “dynamic universal core”, a series of articulations which is time sensitive and perennially changing with the development of our theological understanding. The contextualisation project, whilst being about the cultural expression of this “dynamic universal core”, is also about allowing the enfleshment process to provoke us to re-examine the legitimacy and relevance of the universal core. This means that the universal core, by its sheer dynamic nature, is vulnerable to being modified, changed, eradicated, retained, or reaffirmed in accordance with that deemed necessary.

I suspect that the “emerging” people are those who are more ready to embrace the second of the two approaches, and not anyone is willing to sit well with this methodological vulnerability.

But anyone who is seriously going to engage his/her context authentically would almost immediately see that the second of the two is probably the only way by which one can be authentically contextual in his/her theological methodology.

This section dwells on some further sustained thoughts pertaining to the “dynamic universal core”. If we posit that the dynamic universal core is “time sensitive and perennially changing with the development of our theological understanding”, what reasonable sources possess legitimate ascendancy over the dynamism of the core?

It is open knowledge that the emerging people are serious about engaging with the dominant culture confronting the Christian gospel (in the West the postmodern culture, and in Asia perhaps the postcolonial ethos). First and foremost, this engagement is about the vulnerability of allowing the dominant culture to challenge the Christian gospel with serious questions regarding the adequacy, accuracy, and even the absolute rightness of the latter.

But it is probably a misunderstanding beyond proportions that these people engaging with culture are actually permitting the culture to redefine the core. It is most likely that culture raises questions which shed doubt on the perennial universality of the core, but not necessarily that culture redefines the core.

In my observation, it seems to me that whilst culture is permitted the role of the “interrogator”, the contextual thinkers are going back into the Great Christian Tradition to seek solutions for these problems raised by culture. They do not claim that culture itself provides the answers. They seem to have an implicit understanding that the Great Christian Tradition itself possesses more than a sufficient wealth of wisdom to provide plausible solutions for challenges posed by culture. The Great Christian Tradition causes one to expand and deepen the core such that one realises that his definition and demarcation of the core may have been overly limited and unnecessarily fossilised.

Thus, it is not uncommon for contextual thinkers to move beyond the boundaries of their own limited traditions (i.e. their denominational / traditional boundaries and familiar scope of theological positions) towards other even older traditions in search of responses to the problems posed by culture. This explains the openness of the emerging people towards the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions and their willingness to listen to other ecclesial voices beyond that with which they are familiar. Again, this is not something deemed acceptable to every Christian thinker of every tradition. Some traditions are, by their sheer nature, implicitly closed to conversations which challenge the rudiments of their all-familiar categories.

The Christian faith is more than 500 years old. In fact, the memory of the Christian Church goes back beyond 2,000 years. The contextual thinker holds on to this wealth of ecclesial life and therefore understands that there is no need for theological insecurity, for he has a long, long history – a Great Story of which he is a part – consisting of multiple voices of wisdom who have come before him and who would be able to infuse wisdom and impart solutions in his endeavour to be a relevant voice within the present scheme of life. This is the reservoir of ecclesial jurors for the contextual thinker which many others fail to observe or choose to ignore all together.

For him, the challenges posed by cultural confrontations do not cause him to pander into a state of intimidation and self-preserving defensiveness, for he looks beyond himself and his restrained traditional familiarity; and behold, a world of endless possibilities is open before him as he gleans from the voices of his many Fathers who once treaded the path on which he now finds himself. Someone aptly comments (and the contextual thinker certainly mirrors it well): “It’s not about the old ways, it’s about the much older ways”.

About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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