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On Being Non-White and Reformed

Today I read Trillia Newbell’s United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity and will have a review up soon at Grace For Sinners and subsequently here on my blog. The book has elements of a memoir, and though I can’t relate to many of the horrific experiences of my African American brothers and sisters, there is still solidarity and shared difficulties by virtue of being non-white.

Several times Newbell mentions that being female, African American, and Reformed makes her a rare breed. As a female Asian American who is Reformed, I can relate. Reformed circles are predominantly white, more drastically so than the American Church in general. During graduate school I attended a Reformed church for the first time, and I was one of only three members that was not white. In addition to the lack of ethnic diversity, up until recent years it seemed like the race conversation just was not happening in Reformed circles. In the church at large InterVarsity staffworkers and InterVarsity Press have been influential in championing the conversation for decades, with much material to facilitate ethnic identity development, ethnic diversity and harmony, and ethnic reconciliation. The Reformed world seemed either oblivious to these issues, or perhaps shunned them as the concern of the “liberal-leaning” wing.

I am profoundly grateful that the trend has been changing in my camp in recent years. Newbell frequently quotes from John Piper’s book Bloodlines, and I do think that this book had a significant part to play in bringing the race conversation into the forefront of the Reformed world. I was so encouraged by the birth The Front Porch and Reformed African American Network, where important gospel-centered conversations through the lens of Reformed theology are happening about issues of ethnicity in general and African American issues specifically. I was surprised and ecstatic at the diversity I saw at the inaugural Cross Conference (a Reformed student missions conference) last December. Trillia’s book is another encouraging event – you don’t see many books in the Reformed world on issues of ethnicity.

I am encouraged by the conversation that is going on, and the changes that are starting to happen in pockets here and there. But there are definitely times when I think, “What about my people?” I love what’s happening on The Front Porch; but what about The Rice Aisle?* For my fellow Asian American Calvinists, where are our Anthony Carters, Thabiti Anyabwiles, Trillia Newbells? I long to see some focused conversation and official banding together for Reformed Asian Americans. I would love to eventually see Asian Americans represented in the books and conferences and networks. And I don’t even know if it’s “okay” to have these desires, and I don’t know if there are even other Asian Americans who feel the same way. What I do know is that diversity in the Church benefits its members inwardly, provides a compelling witness outwardly, and pleases God vertically. I’m glad the conversation is happening in the Reformed world; I would just love to see more diversity at the table of the conversation on diversity.

I welcome comments from anyone with thoughts on any of these issues.


*I’m not serious about that name, it’s supposed to be funny. I long to see similar initiatives for the Asian American Reformed community.

**See here for a bit about my journey in regards to coming to terms with my ethnicity.

*** See here for some follow-up thoughts I wrote the day after this post.

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  1. Juan Septiembre

     /  May 11, 2014

    Yeah, I can definitely relate. I was born in Texas but from Mexican descent and I am reformed. Most of my friends/family/Mexican people fall into one of two categories 1) Catholics or 2) Pentecostals. I am a reformed Baptist and most people see me like I am embarrassed of my roots because I attend a church that is predominantly if not overwhelmingly white. I have yet to see if there are any or many reformed Mexicans, I will look into to it but I doubt there is many if any at all. I like reading books by African American brothers & sisters on the topic of reformed theology because although I’m not one of them there is many parallels that Mexicans, Asians, etc… can relate to.


    • Juan, thanks for commenting! It’s unfortunate that most people think you’re embarrassed about your roots because you attend a predominantly white church. While we long for diversity, I think when it comes to being a part a church doctrine is definitely more important. I also enjoy reading books from African American Reformed brothers and sisters! You’re right, there are parallels…and there’s a shared experience from being a minority. I hope to see some books soon from Hispanics/Asian Americans on Reformed theology 🙂


  2. Good thoughts shared in this post.
    I think when you go to Reformed Seminaries you do see Asians. From what I understand, for Evangelicals as a whole, the reason why seminaries student admission have not decline as a whole is due to the influx of Asians and women. Matter of fact I think in Asian churches you do find more overly educated pastors.
    I think with time we will see more Asian pastors who will be recognized in “mainstream” Reformed circles.


    • Good point about Reformed seminaries! A WTS alum messaged me after this post and said that there were a lot of Asian Americans there. Re your last sentence, maybe you, Jim? 🙂 Any aspirations to write a book?


      • You are far too kind Jennifer. I would love to write a book on Presuppositional apologetics one day. We’ll see, pastoral ministry has taken most of my time =)


        • I think that as a pastor, pastoral ministry should rightly take priority over writing. I would definitely be very excited though, to see a book from you one day 🙂 DV!


      • I graduated from WTS back in the 1980’s and there were noticeable numbers of Asians: Koreans, Chinese, Japanese. But one thing I would point out is most of the students there – at least at that time – were from overseas. They had their hands full trying to read and write in English that they did not have an impact or a “voice” in English-language seminaries to be noticed. So, even though many were there, they did not have an impact. They tended to be seen as those who needed help and who would return to Asia. They might return to Asia and be a part of “Reformed and Asian” groups, but not while they’re in the US. (In fact, I think some research will show there are quite a few such Reformed and Asian groups in Asia.) As for those who are ABCs (American-born Chinese) and ABKs (American-born Koreans) who are perfectly fluent in reading and writing English, they tend to be younger – in their 20’s – and therefore perhaps lack the “gravitas” as of now to have a distinctive voice or enough experience to speak with authority in their white-majority seminaries in the US. Time will improve things as the population of ABCs, ABKs and “ABEs” (American-born Ethnics) increases and ages. Perhaps another factor to consider is that without Reformed Asian denominations, it’s harder for such voices to stand out. There might be many Reformed Asians working in non-specifically confessional Reformed churches in the US or overseas (as is true in my case) simply because the need within the broader Asian evangelical churches are so great and there is not yet sufficient base to support the establishment of Reformed Asian churches in the US. A little bit of my background to help in understanding where I speak from: I am a Chinese-American, born in Taiwan, who came over to the US when I was very young, and have been in the US for over 40 years. I have served in Chinese evangelical churches in the US for 30 years. My current church, which I have been serving in for 25 yrs., is evangelical but many in the leadership are Reformed.


  3. rgbrao

     /  July 5, 2014

    I believe that a bunch of Indian seminaries – prominent ones – have gone Calvinistic to a good degree. Ok. Not a bunch but a good few… that are well known out there.

    And… I have known a lot of Indians like myself to be Calvinists but we are not card-carrying ones.

    While I am reformed, I have tended to avoid churches/denoms with reformed culture. Too many debates going on there. Too much of the “more reformed than thou” stuff going on. I can learn from anyone.

    Ok … Adios,
    ~ Raj


  1. On Being Non-White And Reformed – Part 2 |
  2. Book Review – United: Captured By God’s Vision for Diversity |

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