Jesus & Chinese Food

Many years ago, my dad and I were driving cross country, and while we were in the state New Mexico, being tired and famished for food, we stumbled into a Chinese restaurant. How wrong a decision that was! Foolishly we ordered dishes like “Chop Suey” and “Egg Foo Young” and they tasted nothing like Chinese food that we knew — the food was just barely bearable for us.

It was quite a culture shock for me when I first came to USA and saw the Americanized Chinese food — all battered up and fried, with an emphasis on “sweet and sour”, etc. And no American Chinese meal would be complete without fortune cookies at the end. However, it’s not only the food itself that felt foreign and funny to me, but also the way the food was served. Growing up, I used to think buffet was for Western food only, but here in USA I saw Chinese buffets everywhere. And when I was little, I never saw people buying takeout Chinese food because Chinese food was supposed to be eaten hot and fresh. I was even more appalled later to see that Americanized Chinese food was enfranchised into chains like P. F. Chang’s.

I had these thoughts because I’ve been reading the book “Jesus Made In America”. I thought, would we sometimes attempt to fit Jesus into our own world like we americanize Chinese food? Dickson said that evangelicals sometimes make Jesus look so lovey-dovey, like a “teddy bear” or “Barney” the dinosaur. Would the evangelical emphasis on “having a personal relationship with Jesus” degenerate into “having a relationship with your personal Jesus“?

Book: Jesus Made In America
Book: Your God Is Too Small
Bumper Sticker: The Real Jesus Don’t Like Your Jesus


2 thoughts on “Jesus & Chinese Food

  1. Great insight on comparing cross-cultural Christianity with Chinese food!

    Well, first of all, I agree with your point. It’s worth re-evaluating how much we have inculturated Jesus in N.America. However, isn’t it true that outside of Palestine, Christianity is always inculturated? No matter how hard we try to learn, to understand, or to recover the Jewish Jesus, we are still miles away from the real Jesus.

    I’m sure Augustine’s Jesus, Martin Luther’s Jesus, St. Patrick’s Jesus, Jonathan Edward’s Jesus, and Robert Morrison’s Jesus…. are all still far off from the 1st century Jesus. I believe each of them have particular aspects of their understanding of Jesus that is not accurate and have become a blind spot to them, in which they could not be aware of.

    If that is the case, what does it mean to be faithful to Jesus when we have an inevitably inculturated Christianity? To what extent does Jesus mind about the accuracy of our interpretations of Him when we are entrapped in our contexts?

    Back to your analogy, if somehow those restaurants managed to serve really authentic Chinese food yet it is so foreign that no American wants to try it, then what is the purpose? Moreover, what does it mean by authentic? Do Hong Kong interpretations of Szechuan food considered authentic? Or do we need Szechuan chefs born and raised in Szechuan, cooking food that real Szechuan people eat? Szechuan people nowadays are eating McDonalds already. So what is Szechuan food anymore? Is it simply a tradition? A cultural memory? A social agreement of its definition?

    This is a really interesting topic.

  2. After I wrote it, I realized it’s a much more complicated topic than I made it out to be. Ever since Niebuhr wrote his “Christ & Culture”, it’s been an ever debated subject.

    True, even the so-called “Chinese food” I ate when I was growing up in Hong Kong might not be considered be “authentic” for a Chinese in Northern China. It might also not be considered authentic for someone who lived in China centuries ago.

    I do get an unsettling feeling when terms like “Chinese food” or “football” are prefixed by the adjective “American” and they become something they’re not originally. I would rather they call them differently, for example, “fusion food”. But then I’m conflicted too, because I also like that they respect the origin of the food enough to include the word “Chinese” somewhere. I also agree with your question: “… if somehow those restaurants managed to serve really authentic Chinese food yet it is so foreign that no American wants to try it, then what is the purpose?”

    But there’s a point to which this gets unacceptable. For instance, if somehow I’m a famous person, and then I die, would it be okay if someone paints a picture of me as a Caucasian Tim or an African Tim? I feel weird when I see pictures of a white American Jesus or an African tribal Jesus, for similar reasons.

    So my last point in the entry was: you would definitely at least cross the line when you try to make Jesus as your personal Jesus without regard for who He truly is.

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