Theology is a saturated academic field, yet there is a dire need for constructive Asian American theology. Double Particularity is a commendable attempt to fill a part of that enormous need. And, no, this is not “Asian theology,” though it very much appreciates and stands on the shoulders of Asian theologies. Demarking the difference between Asian and Asian American is crucial here, and one often missed both under popular and academic eyes.
Double Particularity does two main things: appropriates Karl Barth’s massive theology and constructs a dynamic hermeneutical lens for the varied Asian American experiences — the Asian American Quadrilateral (AAQ). The four components of AAQ are (1) Asian heritage, (2) migration, (3) American culture, and (4) racialization. All four operate in Asian Americans lives with astounding variation: 3rd generation Chinese Americans navigate San Francisco differently than, say, the Vietnamese refugee in Los Angeles. Daniel D. Lee encourages Asian Americans to be aware of themselves and their environment through the AAQ. Instead of frozen descriptions of themselves (“All Asian Americans are like ___”), which leads to essentialism, the AAQ allows both fluidity and concreteness — one can ground emotions and experiences in one or more of these four categories. But the final word does not come from them; it comes from outside ourselves and to us through the “humanity of God” in Jesus. Barth’s mature christological ground says that God reconciles with us through Jesus: we are justified, sanctified, and called to vocation in Spirit. These three give us “dialectical grammar for cultural engagement.” For example, parts of our AAQ must be justified: God says his No and Yes to them. God’s No is refusing any one part or parts of AAQ to have the final word over us, but God’s Yes is embracing those parts, which leads to his work of sanctification and calling to vocation in us. The final product of Barth’s triplex gratia (justification, sanctification, and vocation) and AAQ is a nimble framework to be aware of our Asian American experiences, interpret them with and against the scriptures and tradition, and allow God’s gracious Yes to speak over us. But I wonder, how much does one need to be aware of his/her own concreteness to be considered Asian American theology? How much of the form or content of one’s theology must adjust — does it even to be?
Daniel D. Lee, director of the Asian American Center at Fuller Theological Seminary has done us (Asian, Asian Americans, and others) a tremendous work of breaking the theological-bamboo ceiling.