photo by Matt DeTurck. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.
photo by Matt DeTurck. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

For many Asian Americans, our emphasis on education drives us towards worldly success. As one of the most highly educated ethnic minorities, Asian Americans often excel in the classroom. For many of us, we work hard. Our parents push us. Getting a “B” is never good enough.  In some Asian American circles, it’s unheard of or even shameful if someone does not have a college degree.

Much of our emphasis on education comes from the teachings of Confucius. The Confucian ideal of qin-xue dictates that the path to self-improvement comes through pursuing the best education. A person is considered developed and highly respected if they have a good education.

I wonder if a lot of Asian Americans whose traditions are rooted in Confucianism also view spiritual maturity in the same way. At my Chinese church, I was light-heartedly urged to promote a guest speaker’s education rather than his character, to get more attendees at his seminar. Somehow the letters after the man’s name would draw more Chinese churchgoers.

Recently I heard (unconfirmed) that 75% of a seminary’s Master of Divinity program consists of Asians. Many of these would be international students from South Korea. Our Asian churches are much more likely to require an advanced degree than other churches. There’s a high emphasis on education.

After my first semester in seminary I found myself visiting a Chinese church that I am familiar with. I was asked “So do you feel more holy now that you’re in seminary?”  I answered, “no, in fact, I am more aware of my own sinfulness” as I study the Word more and more.

One thing about Chinese parents: in wanting our kids to develop, we send them to experts. We send them to SAT tutors, Math camps, piano teachers.  And we send them to youth pastors. Chinese parents often leave the mentoring to others, in the name of getting the “best” for them.

Aside from abdicating our privilege and biblical responsibility of mentoring our own children, there’s a danger here. Spiritual maturity doesn’t come from more education.

The more I spend time with people I respect and look up to, I realize that their spiritual maturity doesn’t come from schooling. It comes from humility and pursuing a genuine relationship with Christ.

Knowledge often just makes people more self-sufficient, less submissive, less willing to throw themselves at God’s mercy.

Perhaps if the rich young ruler was Asian, Jesus would ask him to give up the letters after his name instead of his riches. Maybe Jesus would say, “How hard is it for an educated man to enter the kingdom of God!”