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Coming Through The Backdoorways

By Aubrey Way

 

In East Asia, there is a phrase frequently used by college students as they anticipate graduation and the job hunt: zou hou men (走后门). Literally, it means “go in through the back door.” It refers to using relational connections (guanxi) to gain some advantage in a situation. For instance, these connections can help one find a job. While in the U.S. we might say, “It’s not what you know; it's who you know,” that phrase is exponentially truer in East Asia.

 

Zou hou men can certainly have negative connotations, but at its root the phrase belies a difference in values between the cultures in the U.S. and East Asia. Americans often prioritize laws at the expense of relationships. Asians often prioritize relationships at the expense of laws. These are broad generalizations to be sure, but they are not completely without merit. The prevalence of zou hou men in East Asia is a prime example of favoring relationship over law (the law of the meritocracy).

 

When we talk about the gospel in the U.S., we almost always talk about it as an issue of law. God gave us the rules, we broke them, Jesus kept them, but he still subjected himself to the penalty on our behalf, so that we could be freed from the penalty. It is no surprise that many of the most influential figures in Western theology, at one point were, or were on their way to becoming lawyers (Tertullian, Luther, Calvin, etc.). For a culture whose dominant paradigm is the law and rights, this seems appropriate. How might this be different for a culture with a different dominant paradigm?

 

As I was reading a familiar passage from the gospel of Matthew, I noticed Jesus saying something that seemed like an East Asian expression of the gospel.

 

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.” Matthew 19:16-17 (emphasis mine)

 

The man asks Jesus about the law, and Jesus' response is characteristically a bit cryptic. He seems to be saying, 'You're asking the wrong question. The question isn't what can you do that is good (legal), but who can you know that is good (relational).' Jesus acknowledges the importance of the law in the verses that follow, but Jesus' response begins with him challenging the question, and it ends with him saying “Follow me.” Jesus seems to be saying, 'If you want to be part of God's kingdom, you have to zou hou men. You need guanxi. You need a relational connection to get you in the door.'

 

The legal and relational aspects of the gospel are not opposed, but work together to give a fuller picture of what God offers us in the gospel. The Bible is replete with examples of both aspects. The gospel truly speaks the language of every culture and is good news for all peoples.

 

So as members of the worldwide body of Christ, we should come together and embrace brothers and sisters with different cultural inheritances. Then we can help each other more deeply appreciate the gospel that our particular vantage points alone would not have afforded us. In short, we will understand Jesus and faithful discipleship better if we take time to listen to and learn from brothers and sisters from cultures vastly different from our own.

 

Take a moment to reflect on this East Asian perspective of life and faith. Are you focused more on what you must do for Jesus or knowing him? 

 

About the Author

Aubrey Way, his wife Laura and young daughter Jubilee are on staff with Cru. They are currently serving Christ on a university campus in East Asia, where they first met and worked together for two years after college. If you'd like to learn more about their ministry and how you can partner with them, contact aubrey.way@gmail.com or laurawardway@gmail.com.

 

A Word From James

This message is very timely for me. Although I love talking with people from various cultures and I think of myself as being relational, I can easily fall into legalism. I have been reading Speaking of Jesus by Carl Medearis. Check out this resource if you want to further explore knowing Jesus and speaking of Jesus with an emphasis on relationship.

 

Is there some way FollowOne can help you, your children and your church use the blessings of God to serve lost and hurting people?  

 

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