Daniel D. Lee
InterVarsity Press, 240 pages | Published November 29, 2022
Between the InterVarsity Press imprint and academic credentials at Fuller, I questioned if Doing Asian American Theology would address the complex and diverse particularities of Asian American expressions of faith in a robust way — particularly as they intersect with sexual orientation and gender identity. And, while this suspicion was generally confirmed, my compassion for Dr. Daniel D. Lee and the needle he was trying to thread grew with every passing chapter.
As an Asian American pastor who has benefited enormously from the trailblazing ministries, activism, scholarship and mentorship of dozens of faithful Asian American leaders, I am able to develop a critical understanding of racial histories and identities in Asian America, while Lee is engaging in intellectual, spiritual and theological battles on multiple fronts.
He asserts that “this is a non-apology for the existence of Asian American theologies,” which I interpret to mean he does not apologize for Asian American theologies’ existence as an area of scholarship. However, what does follow is an apology (or justification) for the legitimacy of Asian American theologies, as he makes the case for why anyone should seek to understand the vast Christian spiritual landscapes of those who comprise four letters – A.A.P.I. But here-in lies his bind: not only does Lee seek to convince White (and non-White, non-Asian) readers of the value of an Asian American hermeneutic and embodied experience of faith, he must persuade Asian Americans themselves that their particular lens matters. Only then can he articulate those lenses.
And so, with admirable academic surgical precision, Lee meticulously constructs a theological framework of complex and varied histories of Asian Americans, as well as the broader ecclesiological, socio-political, economic and geographic backdrops in which these realities are lived. The lens of a second-generation Korean American whose parents emigrated for economic reasons differs dramatically from the child of a Hmong refugee, for example. Overlay these inter-Asian diversities with the U.S. Black-White paradigm and you begin to understand the tensions within which these conversations exist.
That this kind of consciousness should have anything to do with one’s understanding of Jesus might be new to many Asian American Christians. For me, however, these were well-worn paths; it wasn’t until the final two chapters that meaning-making began. Naming the ways in which Asian Americans harm each other and render ourselves invisible when we adopt the values of the dominant culture captured the emotional taxation many Asian American church leaders endure — often without even realizing it. That said, Lee’s conclusions would have been richer and more textured by engaging Asian American scholars beyond the Evangelical academy, in particular with anti-racist Asian American Christians whose work has included robust analyses of White Supremacy — within and outside of the church.
Who is this book for? With its multi-syllabic, seminary-heavy vocabulary, it is best suited for a theology course. However, this would be a good primer for Asian American Christians, or anyone engaged in ministry with Asian Americans — especially those from Reformed or evangelical backgrounds. Doing Asian American Theology is the first of what I hope will be many attempts to articulate faith and practice as it is shaped by the varied experiences of Asian American Christians and the churches which have nurtured their faith.
Presbyterian Outlook supports local bookstores. Join us! Click on the link below to purchase Doing Asian American Theology from BookShop, an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. As an affiliate, Outlook will also earn a commission from your purchase.
Want to join our monthly newsletter for book lovers? Sign up here.