Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Is Theology Relevant in the Philippines?

My interest in theology started when I was college. It all started when my father unexpectedly became a Pastor of a Baptist Church we were attending that time. The congregation believed that he was fit to be the pastor and the senior pastor and an American missionary supported the idea. I mentioned this because these pastor and missionary started giving their theology books to my father. The books were written by conservative theologians but the works were huge. The books were heavy both physically and intellectually. I read without understanding, and perhaps if it seemed I understood, I probably misinterpreted the meaning. I didn’t pursue theology because; you see, I live in a country where theology is considered irrelevant.

To prove my point, I became a Christian in a denomination where a total looser can become a pastor. Don’t get me wrong. I was not saying that all of them are looser. The truth is admired some of the pastors who have been successful in the ministry even without theological training even when they are self-taught. The process in becoming a pastor in my denomination goes like this: a total looser will become a Christian. He will show a minimal knowledge of the Bible. He will start leading a Bible study then he will be assigned to teach a Sunday School class. Until finally, the senior pastor decides that it is the right time for him to preach at the Sunday worship service. Then he will be appointed as a leader in mission point and eventually he will become the pastor of that congregation. Voila! He is now a pastor who has his own congregation.

I believe this kind of structure contributes to the many problems of division and immorality in the churches in Southern Baptist denomination in the Philippines. Churches and its members should consider at least minimal knowledge of systematic theology if a bible school or a seminary degree is not possible. The question is: how will they know? Who will teach them? It is apparent that the church leaders are not doing this. As long as theological knowledge is considered irrelevant in church setting the problem will remain.

To prove my point further, I have a friend who is a pastor recently resigned in his church to become one of the staff of parachurch discipleship organization for the youth. In their discipleship seminars he would tell the youth that studying theology is not important in Christian growth. He would say that the only book that a true Christian should read is the Bible. The only book one should use in preaching is the Bible. A Christian needs not to study theology but should study the Bible alone. For people like him, the cause of the problems in the church and many Christian circles is too much theology. And mind you, he is not the only one who holds this view; this is in fact the view of the entire organization. They are training hundred of young people in the Philippines every year. Unless something is done, theological education will continue to decline in the grassroots Christianity in the Philippines most especially its leaders.

Furthermore, a megachurch, prosperity-gospel preaching church that boasts thousand of attendance every Sunday would proclaim to the whole denomination that the reason that they are better than the other churches is because (not in spite of) none of their pastors are trained in the seminary. None of their leaders have a seminary degree. The only one who has seminary degree is their senior pastor and he wants to denounce it if he could. For them, theology is not necessary as long as you experience the leading of the Holy Spirit you are okay. God can use you mightily in his ministry. They actually perceive theological education as a limitation on what God can accomplish through a person. Who can refute their stand? If God seems to approve of their ministry who can say that they are wrong?

This is the reality. These are the examples of the situations where theological education seems to become more irrelevant each day in Philippine context. I hope the theological professionals, educators and seminaries can reverse the situation. The church and the seminary should be helping each other. I could only look at other countries that have a rich theological heritage; of course, this does not make them better countries but theologians have somehow had a loud voice if not influence against oppression, injustice, immorality, poverty and perhaps in some extreme cases in politics. This is true in Latin America where the theologians (mostly Catholics) with their liberation theology have put pressure on the government to have some kinf of reform to deal with the problem on oppression and injustice. They have a voice and they are being heard.

Meanwhile, Filipino Christians think that theology is irrelevant. They think that theologians are fighting a losing battle. Theology belongs to other sphere of existence; it is not even good for the church and its pastors. Filipino theologians have no voice and have no influence because they are not making themselves relevant.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Coup: Everybody saw it coming

I assume that by now everybody knows that a coup had happened in Bangkok and because we are living far away from the capital we really didn’t feel the tension or the joy of it. As I watched the TV and observed the community there was no fear at all. The atmosphere was relax and jovial, as if the people were actually celebrating. My knowledge of Thai politics is very limited.

Here in the north, it is very well known that the deposed Prime Minister had helped many poor people and he has some kind of following here. But the people decided to stay quiet. However, I believe the Thai people expected the coup. They actually anticipate its coming. Perhaps the question they ask is: why it took this long?

I found a comment in a blog that I want to quote in here in relation to the Philippine situation. The commentator have a good insight about the situation:

Apparently there are more twists and turns, plots and subplots in this Thai episode than one could imagine. The Nation story portrays Sonthi as the apparent hero in this evolving saga. Reading the story I’m amazed at what kind of fly (or flies)-on-the-wall om both sides of the globe the paper must have to piece together this fascinating blow-by-blow insider account of what really happened in the last few days. I’m also a bit surprised at the certainty of the poll results just two days after the coup. I don’t know, maybe this story is just too “convenient” as “torn” says and maybe too flattering to the general as well.

I’m more inclined to look at this upheaval as a good, old-fashioned power play. On the surface everyone roots for democracy, but the reality is more like advancing one’s interests and reinterpreting democracy to suit one’s interests and beliefs. Isn’t that what the real practice of democracy anyway?

Shawn Crispin posted this report yesterday in Asia Times which drags King Bhumibol more into this mess. I find it understandable for his majesty to be concerned at Thai Rak Thai’s influence over the rural poor, an influence that the party is gradually trying to make less dependent on support for the monarchy. Since Thaksin’s considerable political power doesn’t emanate from the Bangkok elite and educated class, but from the rural peasantry (that accounts for 80% of the votes), he pushed more for an economy-led government and grassroots mobilization and at least paid a lot of lip-service to championing the poor especially against Bangkok’s middle class. These clashed with the status quo and may have been perceived to udermine the monarchy’s sway over the poor-if the poor becomes more well-off then the king’s influence might fade.

The parallels with the Philippines of course are thick. In the Philippines there is no monarchy, but there is the Church, which just like the Thai king exerts moral authority and powerful influence over the poor.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Making Merit

Every Monday night my friends (a Burmese Pastor and a Filipino NGO Christian volunteer) and I made it a point to visit people in our area. Last week we visited a new believer and after we came in and sit down on the floor (houses here usually don’t have chairs) the new believer brought out a basket full of rice and an envelope and gave them to the Pastor. We looked at each other puzzled and with it came the realization that she was doing to us what she usually do to the monks. Buddhists usually give gifts to the monks to make merit. Merit is given to a person for doing good things whether they are mental, verbal or involve the body in expressing these. They believe that it cleanse and purifies the mind of the doer. Merit opens door and provide opportunities. We explain that Christians don’t give to their clergy to earn merits but an expression of appreciation.

The Buddhist idea of making merit is the same with the Catholic concept of indulgences. The Buddhists however believe that the benefit of good works can be experienced here and now and also in the future rebirth. The Catholic Christians usually believe that the benefit of making merit will be experienced in the afterlife. Giving to the church or charity is believed to be one way to earn merit. That is good work that will eventually clear the way for a person to have an easy trip to heaven. And although there had been some reforms in the Catholic Church about this, evidently it is still practice in some Catholic country like the Philippines.

However, I found out that even before the Reformation the idea of indulgences are originally rested upon the idea of the gratitude of the sinner for the forgiveness of sins. When the sinner was assured of forgiveness by the church acting on behalf of Christ, the natural response is to express that gratitude by giving money directly to the church funds. During that time, it was not seen the sinner was purchasing the forgiveness of his sin. The gift of money was the result of and not a condition for forgiveness. However, during Luther’s time giving to the church was misinterpreted as an easy way to earn merit or purchase forgiveness. The idea of forgiveness by grace had become corrupted into that of the purchase of God’s favor.

Evidently, Luther’s protest was actually a protest to return to the original understanding of the meaning of giving to the church. That forgiveness was a matter of changed relationship with God; it was not about making merit or an “easy” way to buy forgiveness. Perhaps during Luther’s time forgiveness became tedious and difficult that people find it easier to buy it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Nerd Quiz

I found this nerd quiz over Dr. Jim West blog and why not? Took the quiz and here's the result.

I am nerdier than 17% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Dr. Melba Maggay's Blogspot

A while ago, I stumbled over Dr. Melba Maggay's blogspot. Dr. Maggay is considered to be one of the best theologians in the Philippines today. She is a writer and a social anthropologists. She had written numerous books that deals with theology and Asian cultures. She holds a doctorate in Philippine studies, a masteral degree in English literature, and a first degree in Mass Communication. She did research at Tyndale HOuse, Cambridge University, England with special application on theological formulation and biblical studies. She is the founder and director of ISACC (Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture). Reading her post is indeed a learning experience for me. However, I notice that the blog has not been updated for a year. I hope Dr. Maggay would resume her blogging activity.

Theology for Beginners

Ben Myers in his Faith and Theology Blog posted the partial summary that links all his posts on Theology for Beginners. It is an excellent work (so is the blog). I am looking forward to its completion.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Centrality of Resurrection in Mission

A Christian faith that is not resurrection faith can therefore be called neither Christian nor faith. It is the knowledge of the risen Lord and the confessions to him who raised him that form the basis on which the memory of the life, work, sufferings and death of Jesus is kept alive and presented in the gospels. It is the recognition of the risen Christ that gives rise to the Church’s recognition of its own commission in the missions to the nations. It is the remembrance of his resurrection that the ground of the inclusive hope in the universal future of the Christ. The central statements of the primitive missionary proclamation are therefore: (1) God has raised the crucified Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:24, 3:15; 5:31; 1 Cor. 15:4; and frequently elsewhere. (2) “Of this we are witnesses.” (3) In him is grounded the future of righteousness for sinners and the future of life for those subject to death.

Jurgen Moltmann. Theology of Hope. From Religion-Online

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Resurrection and the Mission of the Church

I am now reading "Theology of Hope" by Moltmann. I don't pretend I understand all his arguments regarding the the eschatological future of the church and of the whole creation. But I do appreciate some of his statements that are relevant to what we are doing now. His thoughts provide deep understanding of mission endeavors. I believe that every missionary activity that is happening right now is a continuation of the missionary zeal that the early believers initiated. They believe that the resurrection of the Christ is an earnest of a wonderful future that God has been preparing for those who believe in him.

The important question for theology is... if it were solely the risen "destiny" of Jesus that constituted the forestalling of the end of all history and the anticipation of the "destiny" still awaiting all men, then the risen Jesus himself would have no further future. Nor it would it be for Jesus himself that those who know him would wait, but only for the repitition of his destiny in themselves. The church would be waiting for that which has already happened to that Easter appearance...

It is not merely said that Jesus is the first to arise and that believers will attain like him to resurrection, but it is proclaimed that he is himself the resurrection and the life and that consequently believers find their future in him not merely like him. Hence they wait for their future by waiting for his future...the place of apocalyptic preservation to ens is taken by the mission of the church.

The missions can be understood when the risen Christ himself has still a future, a universal future for the nations. Only then does the Church's approach to the nations in the apostolate have any historic meaning. The apocalyptic outlook which interprets the whole of reality in terms of universal history is second compared with this world-transofrming outlook in terms of promise and missionary history.

Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope. Available at Religion Online

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

House Rent, Bills and One-year Visa

Everybody can say that after seven months of staying in a new place, you can consider yourself no longer a stranger. The sights and scenes become familiar. You wake up everyday and the moment you put your head out of your door, your neighbors smile at you and mutter words of greetings that you still understand but know what those words mean. The one place we consider our refuge is our home in familiar place, with familiar neighbors who become our friends.

We continue to experience God's faithfulness after a seemingly long seven months. We are thankful to the people who are actually supporting us and those who are willing to support us financially. However, we are in the situation right now when our money in the bank is not enough to pay for our house rent for this month (and our house rent is cheap). God in his graciousness provides us a "big" house, a 3 storey row house where we welcome short term missionaries and accomodate Filipino Christians almost every month. They come here to renew their visa. This is one of our ministries here--a place where people can stay for free. This is our home but most of all a home for all God's people.

In addition, we need to pay for our visa extension before the end of the month. We are going to the Thai Immigration office again to extend our visa to one year. The cost for the visa is 1,900 baht for each one of us (total for five person is 9,500)and 3,500 for the working permit (all in all approximately U$360). This is the last time we will do it at this time because after this we only need to renew our visa once a year.

God is always on time. We just got our non-immigrant visa last month just before the Thai government changed its policy about 30-day tourist visa. I will quote what the immigration officers said regarding this:

'Under the current rules, people from those countries can stay in Thailand as long as they want. Some even stay here for one year,' another bureau official said.

The bureau had learned that a growing number of foreigners from the 41 countries worked illegally in Thailand, Suwat said, adding many were employed in bars and restaurants in the popular seaside resort of Pattaya, east of Bangkok.

'Tourists are taking advantage of the visa exemption law. Instead of sightseeing, they are doing business here,' Suwat said.

From October, tourists from the designated countries can still enter Thailand without visas and stay for up to 30 days, but their entry stamps will be renewable twice at most for a maximum stay of 90 days.

Tourists who stayed for 90 days must leave the kingdom for at least 90 days before being permitted to re-enter Thailand, Suwat said.

God is indeed faithful!

And although there is no clear indication that the any money is coming. We are NOT a bit worried because we are confident that God will provide and that many people are supporting us through their prayers and actually have the desire to support us financially. However, the longer we are laboring in the field, the more we realize that we need mission mobilizers. We need people who will pray, work and find ways on the other end so that God’s workers will be sustained in this end. If only our friends would set aside 5 or 10 pesos a day and send them to us on a regular basis then our house rent and other bills will be taken care of. All we need are people who will remind them to do this from time to time through announcement in the church every Sunday.

We can not count in our fingers (all our fingers combined ) the people who promise to support us and will bring the matter to their church or their association. We are happy about this. Promises give encouragement to us. Promises are good for the soul and help us look forward to the future with confidence. We are thankful for that… but more than that we need people, individuals who remember us always in their prayers and consider missions mobilization as their part in Jesus’ call in obeying the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Dissertation Blues: Redisovering Theology of Hope

I am a struggling post grad theology student and for me to get that elusive degree I have to finish my dissertation which until now all I can manage to write is a few pages of the first chapter. The subject of my dissertation is Jurgen Moltmann’s thought on the Holy Spirit. Moltmann himself calls his theological contribution on the Holy Spirit holistic pneumatology. I observed that Moltmann in his later works become more and more fascinated with the theological dialogue on the work and activities of the Holy Spirit not only in the church but also to the world and especially in God’s creation.

His developing thoughts about the activities of the Holy Spirit inspire me to explore his pneumatological thoughts and link them with the predominantly animistic worldview of the Asian people. Although this is not apparent, many Asian scholars and theologians believe that people in Asia are still and inherently animistic. That is even though they are now Christians, Buddhists and Muslims which superficially reject animistic beliefs in their systems.

So I believe, in order for me to really understand Moltmann’s thought I have to read his seminal work, The Theology of Hope. I tried to read this book when I was still at the seminary. I borrowed the only copy of the book from the library and kept renewing week after week but I failed to really read it seriously. The reason? I find it to be a hard reading. Especially in the portions where Moltmann interacts with theologians and philosophers whose works I was not familiar with. So after reading few pages, my mind would start to wander until I decided that there was no point really in keeping the book at all in my table.

Now that I am here in the mission field, I am able to muster up enough determination to at least type few words in the first chapter of my paper. Since I don’t have a copy of Moltmann’s Theology of Hope with me I downloaded the book from Religion-Online and print it out in my Canon iP1000 printer so that can read it when I am not able to use my computer which I am sharing with my three children.

Reading Moltmann from the mission field, however, makes me look at it in a fresh perspective. Although the book is still a hard reading for me, I discovered that Moltmann have many good things to say about mission—mission of Christ, Christian mission and missionary activities among others. I still skipped pages that I find way above my head, but I devoured pages that touch my interest in missions and theology that are relevant to our everyday experience in the missions field.