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Basketball, Ethnicity, and the Gospel

August 25, 2010

There’s been some excitement this past summer over Jeremy Lin’s one-year contract with the Warriors. As a fellow Asian American, I’m looking forward to seeing how he’s going to perform and I hope he does well (unless he’s playing against the Rockets). It’s pretty cool to watch someone play in the NBA with whom you can identify so closely, and I do hope he’ll get to play. However, purely as a basketball fan, I’m a bit more skeptical. I’ve seen the highlights, and its not clear to me how good he’s going to be in the NBA.

So what does that mean for me, an Asian American basketball fan? Well, it means that even though I’m glad to have the 2nd Asian American ever in the NBA, I’m still going to be a fan of the game. It means that if I had to choose, I would still rather watch Lebron dunking on the competition or Kobe taking over a game, than Lin playing his game. It means unless he has an amazing year, I wouldn’t want Lin voted on the All Star team simply because all the Asian Americans rallied to vote him in. As a fan of the game, basketball talent matters more ultimately than where he’s from.

What’s my point in all this? Well, as an Asian American Christian, I find that this sort of thinking applies also. In the past few years, I’ve heard grumblings here and there about the lack of of Asian American representation at conferences, in books being written, etc… Some have asked, why do these venues always seem to have Caucasian preachers up on stage, rather than people of other backgrounds? Now, I understand that here in America, in our diversity, we have a special opportunity to display the power of the Gospel for all peoples. This can be a wonderful testimony to the truth of the Gospel.

But as a Christian living in a world where the Gospel is so often assumed, adjusted, misunderstood, and rejected, I don’t want to take faithfulness to the Gospel for granted. Just because I’m at a “Christian” conference or walking into a “Christian” bookstore, I don’t want to automatically assume that everything I encounter is going to be faithful to God’s Word. What this means is that as a Christian, I’m not going to be excited simply because there’s an Asian American up on stage speaking. Rather, I am much more concerned to have someone (anyone!) who will preach the Gospel faithfully and powerfully, than for someone of a particular ethnic representation. What this also means is that I’m going to be far more excited for faithful Gospel preaching that happens in the tiniest house church, than for Gospel-less teaching in the largest of venues. In the end, as a Christian, what matters to me is the Gospel, faithfully and powerfully held out to a dying world.

When asked about how important his Asian American identity was, Jeremy Lin got it right: “You know, it’s important but not as important as my being a Christian. That’s first and foremost the most important thing to me when it comes to my identity.” And the way we make this clear is by prioritizing the Gospel over everything else.

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