I’ve given three lectures so far in Malaysia. The first was on ministry uses of social media for Alpha Omega College in Kuala Lumpur. It was a great crowd. After my presentation, there was a time for questions. The first question was:
We have been told that Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg work for the CIA. Is this true?
I almost made a “Culinary Institute of America” joke, but figured that would fall flat. I assured the nice woman that, no, I highly doubt that Facebook is a front for the CIA. The questions went on from there. Interesting.
Then, yesterday, I gave two lectures at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia — known here at STM — one on the emerging church movement and one on emerging spiritualities. It was great fun and involved some excellent repartee with students and professors. I’m especially grateful to my host, Dr. Joseph Komar. STM started as an Anglican school, but it’s now also populated with students and profs who are Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and free church. It very much reminded me of my alma mater and part-time employer, Fuller Theological Seminary.
It continues to amaze me as I travel abroad about how much people know about the American church in general and the emerging church specifically. DA Carson, for instance, is a regular visitor here, brought by the small yet fervent group of Reformed pastors. Students at STM were well-versed in the work of Tim Keller and the split between Mark Driscoll and Emergent Village.
One of the first things I’ve done in each of my talks is ask forgiveness for the imperialistic ways that the American church has previously carried out missionary work. I’ve asked them to teach me about how the characteristics of emergence might play out — or not work — in a Malaysian context.
But it remains somewhat awkward. There is a general Asian deference that is cultural — my hosts all insist on calling me “Doctor” or “Dr. Tony,” even when I ask them not to. And I’m more interested in discussing ideas and theological perspectives than I am at parsing the differences in American celebrity Christians.
But these things go as they will. Here there are two major similarities the the American church, albeit modified in the Malaysian context. One is that the mainline churches are on the decline and struggling to retain younger people. Our term for that is the “nones,” and Malaysia is seeing a similar trend. Many young people just aren’t interested in practicing religion of any kind, but neither do they want to declare themselves atheists.
And secondly, the influence of Willow Creek and the seeker sensitive movement was very influential here. Today I’ll be speaking at a conference at Eagle Pointe Church, a seeker named church if ever there was one. (Remember this classic article by Sally Morganthaler: “Soon, sandwich signs littered the newly poured sidewalks with names befitting North American Generic: Mountainview Community Church, SouthHills, Ridgecrest, Deercreek, Frontrange, Stonybrook.”)
When I put the genesis of the emerging church in that context, I can see the connections forming between us. I hope that more of that happens today…