Thursday, August 31, 2006

Systematic Theology Blogs

I discovered theology blogs unintentionally while browsing the discussion group on Jurgen Moltmann. Blogging itself is a new idea for me and it is still. After reading some good theology blogs and the discussions that ensue after hot and fresh theological ideas had been posted, I reckon that I am learning a lot, sometimes more than I could chew.

Coming from Asia whose exposure to American and European Theologians is very limited. I really appreciate the deep insights coming from different perspectives of some of the theologian bloggers. It is a learning experience for me. Here are the links for the blogs that do systematic theology. First is Patrik’s God in Shrinking Universe with his Systematic Theology of Decline and also Ben Myers’ Faith and Theology with his Theology for Beginners, this one is still going on.

Another blog that I consider to be presented as systematic theology from universalist perspective is D.W. Congdon's Fire and Rose entitled Why I am a Universalist: A Dogmatic Sketch. This one is also still going on.

I know my friends who read my blog in the Philippines will appreciate these blogs.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Immanent Religions From Christian Perspective

This post is a continuation of Macquarrie’s distinction of religions seen from Christian perspective. This time it is historically coherent to start from the farthest end of the series. In other words, we will start from the outermost and work our way nearest to the center.

The farthest end of this series is fetishism. Fetishism is the term used in anthropology to identify the concept of devotions to object. It applies to a form of belief and religious practice in which supernatural attributes are imputed to material inanimate objects. Here fetishism is considered to be a limiting case just like atheism in transcendence series because the idea of a divine being has vanished to beings. Both atheism and fetishism make man the measure of things. Atheists place his trust in technology while fetishists place his on magic and the manipulation for his own ends of occult power. Hence in either cases trust in divine being or God is completely absent.

The next level closer to Christian perspective in immanence series is animism. Tylor defined animism as the general belief in spiritual beings and considered it “a minimum definition of religion.” He asserted that all religions, from the simplest to the most complex, involve some form of animism. According to Tylor, primitive peoples, defined as those without written traditions, believe that spirits or souls are the cause of life in human beings; they picture souls as phantoms, resembling vapors or shadows, which can transmigrate from person to person, from the dead to the living, and from and into plants, animals, and lifeless objects (Encarta). In animism the divine being is experiences as immanent in the beings, but it is experienced as fragmented and diffused. Here awareness of time is nil and ritual and ceremonies seems violent.

Next in the series is polytheism. Perhaps this develops out of animism. Presently this type of religion is still present in India, Egypt and elsewhere. The divine being is being experienced as immanent and as fragmented but not as diffused as in animism. People see nature such as sky, sun and sea as gods with divine personification. Gods may also take a human form. Polytheism expresses itself in myth just like the ancient Greece. However, it differs greatly with dualism in that it has not sense of history and eschatology.

Moving closer is the idea that divine being is immanent and the same with the multiplicity of individual beings. This is best seen in pantheism of Hinduism and Taoism. And Macquarrie says that here change and multiplicity are only illusion. “The reality is the ‘uncarved block,’ the one simple all-inclusive being. Even the gods are only appearances of the one. The goal of the religious life is communion with or rather union to the primal being and the typical form of the religious experience is mysticism.

Next closest to the center is best represented by Buddhism. Here the primal being is indistinguishable from nothing and so the idea of God is reduced from the One to simply the immanent cosmic order. There is no personal God as symbol of divine being but an impersonal order like dharma or logos that is immanent to the world. Events move in cycles, symbolized by the Buddhist wheel of becoming. Consequently history and temporal world is not important. The emphasis of its ethic is quietism. Its adherents value non-attachment to the world and conformation self-effacement in the order of the world.

Then the center is of course is Christianity which is a religion that makes and effort from its adherents to maintain the balance between the transcendence and immanence of the divine being.

In conclusion Macquarrie defines the value of looking at this analogy is that enables us to see both the unity and diversity of the religions, and affords a frame of reference for dialogue about the relationship between different religions. All religions can be seen as variations on a fundamental theme: the revelation of a divine being on man. It certainly helps Christians to see that our faith is not discontinues with non-Christian faiths and that there is no one exclusive revelation of God.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Transcendence Religions from Christian Pespective

I have been reading John Macquarrie's book Principle of Christian Theology and I believe he has some very good insights about religion in chapter 7 of this book. I found this book while browsing at the library of my friend, a Pastor in a church here in northernmost part of Thailand. He allowed me to borrow it and now the cover and pages are worned out because I read it all the time. You see, if you haven't been seeing theological books for a while you tend to savor every page of it and read it whenever time allows. This is interesting because it gives me insights in dealing with various religions where we are right now.

In this section of the book, Macquarrie argues that Christianity is a religion which tries to maintain a balance between the transecendence and immanence of God. The transcendence of God has been innate in Christianity but the immanence has been emphasized through the doctrine of incarnation. Therefore, Christianity would be considered in the center when it comes to the tension between transcendence and immanence of God. However, we should not forget that within Christianity there are those who tend to emphasize either side of this tension.

Hence, from a Christian perspective we can look at religions from the point of departure between the transcendence and immanence of a divine being. Firstly we will look at those religions who emphasize the transcendence of the divine being. Here we will consider Christianity as the point of departure.

The nearest from the center is a monotheist religon that believe that God created the world and somehow transcends it. This God is also active and reveals himself through history and current world events. Here God is considered to be personal and ethical as well. His most important attribute is righteousness. Worship is simple and God's spokesmen consider being righteous to be more important than the cultic practices. The goal is to fulfill the law through its integration with everyday living. Judaism is a very good example of this type of religion.

Moving one level away from the center is a monotheism which give more emphasis to the transecendence of God from the world and humanity. Here worship is similarly not so elaborate. In fact, the presence of any images or art in worship are considered to be idolatrous. The followers are expected to follow their moral duties that extends even to trivial daily activities. The attitude of the faithful are more on submission than obedience. Complete submissions to God results to blind fatalism. Islam is an example of this type of religion.

The increase stress on the transcendence of God over the world makes God so distant that his power decreases and perhaps in this next level, it is even believed that even God did not create the world. Extending it a little bit, it may even believe that the world was created by a hostile power hostile to God. This religion holds a dualistic world view by which a transcendent God is being opposed by one or more powers of evil or demons. The classic example is Zoroastrianism. This kind of dualism is also found in Gnosticism and Manicheanism. However, some elements of this dualistic worldview I believe is also present in Catholic Christianity in the Philippines.

The extreme end of this level is atheism, where God is not in the picture anymore. God is so distant that those who holds this religion by way of reason think that there is no divine being at all. And I agree with Macquarrie that perhaps one could trace the roots of atheism of the West through the protestant emphasis on divine trasncendence leading to deism and finally to the disappearance of God altogether. Modern atheism complete disregard of a personal god relies more and more to science and technology for the mastering of the world.

Next post I will be dealing with the types of religion emphasizing the immenence of the divine being.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Cross and The Spirit Houses

I saw these spirit houses in a shop for sale. I did not know if the shop owner is a Christian. Perhaps the original owner of the house converted to a shop was Christian because of the cross design on the wall. The picture represents the different religious pattern of the different people groups here in the Greater Mekong Subregion. The first religion is Buddhism which is the dominant religion represented in the design of the spirit house. The spirit house itself represents animism. This is the dominant religion before Buddhism came to Thailand. The first inhabitants of this place are tribal peoples. The cross represents Christianity which is today is the minority religion even smaller compared to Islam.

The spirit houses play a very important role in the worship of the Buddhists. This small highly-decorated structures can be seen in many buildings. No Buddhist house is complete without the spirit house. The spirit house should be kept clean and nice than the main house so that it can attract the spirits. This is the home for guardian spirits for a house, gates, gardens, etc. The family should offer food, flowers, candles and incense. It is necessary to provide a living place for these spirits so that they will live in the main house with the family. This belief is obviously animism that is being integrated with the dominant religion.

However, Buddhist "theologians" teach that these beliefs and practices that are accepted as important part of Buddhism do not fit with the Buddhist principles. Rites and practices like this completely obscure the real Buddhism and its original purpose. They claim that the real Buddhist teaching is about attaining liberation. It is about examining things closely in order to come to know and understand their true nature. Then people have to behave in a way appropriate to that true nature. Buddhism depends on reason and insight not superstitions and magic. It demands that we act with what one's insight reveals. A person should not believe other else's opinioin. He must first listen and examine then verify if it and if it is reasonable he can accept it at least provisionally. When I looked at Buddhism closely it seems to be very philosophical rather than cultic.

The cross of course is the most prominent and the most important symbol of Christianity. If a cross is seen in the building around here, it is assumed that the people who are using are Christians if it is not a church.

It is interesting to study this further. I will devote more time to study its significant from Christian perspective that would be useful for missionary works. This will the subject of my next post.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Family Updates Blog

I created a new blog for our family updates. The blog is about our journey in the mission field that needs help and prayers from our partners. I thought it is sensible to have different blogs for my theological reflections and our family updates. For the meantime the first few posts may be similar until each blog can have a theme of their own. This blog is for our extended families, friends and prayer partners who may want a regular update and news from us. I assume they are missing us a lot back home.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Homeschooling Blues

Don't believe somebody who tells you that homeschooling is easy and will not take much of your time. My wife and I started homeschooling our children this week, and I tell you, teaching your own children will certainly used up all the patient you have been saving all your life. I even threaten to "kill" my son to get him going... but of course I was joking.

We came here in the mission field last January. My wife and I had a fairy tale fantasy of how good it is to homeschool our children. You see, before we came here, our children's experience of education waswith the government school. Unfortunately, my children had been taught by very old retirable teachers. This was the worst nightmare for parents who want to give their children the best education.

The thing is we really could not afford to send our children to International School here although most of them are Christian School because the cost is just too high. This the same with homeschooling. However, by God's grace, my sister and some good friends raised the fund for my kids' homeschooling. At this point, about 70% of the fund is raised and that would take care of the initial expenses and the first batch of the materials my children need.

We have three kids and the money we need for their homeschooling is "huge." I almost gave up that maybe they will not get their educaton here. However, God proves himself to us that he is there to provide. He is there to see us through each step of the way. Some people doubt the existence of God because they want him to fit in to their concept of what a "God" should be. If God does not act according to their expectations they question his existence or at least they stop believing that he is a God who cares. We have been serving the Lord most of our lives, and though there are times that it seems he doesn't care... almost always he proves that he never stops doing so, not so according to our expectations but according to his own way.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Proof of the Universality of Christianity

Paul Tillich argued that the Scripture cannot be used as proof that Christianity is the absolute and/or universal religion. "Proof texts" are acceptable only among Christians and this is not acceptable criteria to the secular minds or to the perspective of other religions. Thus, the absoluteness of Christianity cannot be proven theoritically. Below is an interesting quote from Paul Tillich about the importance of missionary activity in support of a very important theological issue.

There was a discussion, especially in the last period of liberal theology, about the absoluteness of Christianity. Is Christianity the absolute religion? Is Christ the center of history? Is he the bringer of the New Being? Or are the other religions of equal value and does each culture have its own proper religion? Christianity, according to these ideas, belongs to the Western world, and it should not interfere with the religious developments of the Eastern world. This, of course, would deny the claim that Jesus is the Christ, the bringer of the New Being. It would make this statement obsolete, because he who brings the New Being is not a relative figure but an absolute figure of an all-embracing character. The New Being is one, as being itself is one.

This universality of the Christian message, its universal claim, includes what has been called, with a not too happy term, the "absoluteness of Christianity." Let me call it its universality. Now, how can you prove, today, as a Christian, or as a theologian, that the Christian message is universal and valid for all cultures and religions, so that Christ must become what he potentially is, the center of history for historical developments? How can you prove this? The answer obviously is: you cannot prove it at all in terms of a theoretical analysis, for the criteria used in order to prove that Christianity is universal are themselves taken from Christianity. Therefore, they do not prove anything except for those who are in the Christian circle. This means: there is no theoretical argument which can give the proof of the universality of Christianity and the claim that Jesus is the Christ. Only missions can provide that proof.

Missionary work is that work in which the potential universality of Christianity becomes evident day by day, in which the universality is actualized with every new success of the missionary endeavor. The action of missions gives the pragmatic proof of the universality of Christianity. It is a pragmatic proof. It is the proof, as the Bible calls it, of power and Spirit. It is not a theoretical proof, which you can give sitting in your chair and looking at history; but, if you are in the historical situation in which missions are, then you offer a proof, a proof which is never finished. The element of faith is always present, and faith is a risk. But a risk must be justified, and that is what missions does. It shows that Jesus as the Christ and the New Being in him has the power to conquer the world. In conquering the world, missions is the continuous pragmatic test of the universality of the Christ, of the truth of the Christian assertion that Jesus is the Christ.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Present But Hidden Church

Paul Tillich admitted that he was not an expert on issues regarding missions. He was, in his own words, "a systematic theologian who is trying to bring the great reality of missions into the framework of a Christain interpretation of history and a Christian doctrine of church." He strongly argues that Christians should interpret that the goal of history is the Kingdom of God and the church is its agent in the realization of this goal. He argues that the church is present but apparently hidden in world religions. Thus, missions is the activity of the Church in making this "present but hidden" church to emerge.

With this concept, Tillich then criticized the different misinterpretations of the meaning of missions:

Missions should not be misunderstood as an attempt to save from eternal damnation as many individuals as possible from among the nations of the world. Such an interpretation of the meaning of missions presuppose a separation of individual from individual, a separation of individual from the social group to which he belongs,and it presupposes an dea of predestination which actually excludes most human beings from eternal salvation and gives hope for salvation only to the few--comparatively few, even if it is millions--who are actually reached by the message of Jesus as the Christ. Such an idea is unworthy of the glory of the true relationship of God to this world.

He also criticizes the liberal misinterpretation of missions as cross-fertilization of cultures. The domination and eventually transformation of Asiatic cultures to the Christian culture . It is not transformation of primitive culture into higher culture either. Instead missions should be the function of the church to spread all over the world and reveal the meaning of history. Cultures come and go, and the question of the meaning of history transcends any culture. Missions contributes to the understanding of the goal of history.

The "present but hidden" church will be made apparent only if the church realized that through its missions endeavor the hidden church will be known. It is a function which is always present and which has never been missing. Even though missions activity seems lacking in certain period in Christian history, it was not absent. As long as Christians are in contact with non-Christians there is witness to Christianity. Then if there is witness to Christianity there is implicitly missionary activity.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Paul Tillich On Missions

Missions is about regaining the territory where Satan and his evil forces reign. Preaching the gospel to the unreached people groups defeats the power of darkness and reconquers the lost territory that God had temporarily lost to the enemies. Eventually, when the gospel is preached to the ends of the earth, our Lord Jesus Christ will come again with a shout of victory. The earth is now redeemed and the Kingdom of God on earth is established forever. This is how theology of missions is being presented in most of the missions’ seminar and courses I had taken.

Interestingly, Paul Tillich has the same vision of history and missions. However,he called it mythological presentation and his terminology have different existential definitions. He says that “in history there is always a struggle going on between the forces which try to drive toward fulfillment in the Kingdom of God and its unity and the forces which try to disrupt this unity and prevent history from moving toward the Kingdom of God.”

For Tillich the direction and goal of history is indeed the realization of the Kingdom of God. However, the Kingdom of God is not a utopia which is somewhere and nowhere. The Kingdom of God is the symbol of clear-cut situation, a purification of history, where the demonic is conquered. The Kingdom of God is the answer to the puzzles of history.

The church is the historical representative of the Kingdom of God. In itself, it is not the Kingdom but it is an agent, its anticipation, it is part of the Kingdom. And since it represents the Kingdom it can be damaged but not conquered.

Jesus as the Christ is the center of history. History is divided into two main parts from this center—the Christ event. Those who have not accepted Jesus as the Christ are living before the center and those who accepted are living after the center. Even today there are many people who are living before the center. And of course, Christians are living after the center. Nonetheless, there are individuals, nations or groups who are still do not have knowledge of the center. Tillich called this period as the period of the latency of church. Thus, we can say that in other religions like animism, Buddhism and humanism among others, the church is latently present and it prepares for the coming of the center. Eventually Christ as the center of history will be received by all religions and here the church is no longer hidden but will be in its manifest form.

In my previous post, I stated that Christ is indeed present in every religion and the job of missionaries is to discover the hidden Christ and teach about him. Tillich has the same idea. With this statement in mind, he gives his existential definition of missions. “Missions is that activity by the Church by which it works for the transformation of its own hiddenness into its own manifestation all over the world.”

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Eschatology Quiz

I took the eschatology quiz to determine what is my personal eschatology. I am surprised by the result. I scored as Moltmannian Eschatology. Jürgen Moltmann is one of the key eschatological thinkers of the 20th Century. Eschatology is not only about heaven and hell, but God's plan to make all things new. This should spur us on to political and social action in the present.

Although I scored like this, traces of dispensationalism and "left behind" eschatologies are found in my system. :-)

Moltmannian Eschatology












Left Behind


What's your eschatology?
created with

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Exclusivist By Default

I noticed recently that there are considerable and great discussions over universalism in the blogosphere. Patrik referred to D.W. Congdon's indexing of posts about univesalism on the ongoing discussion over this among blogging theologians and thinkers and... I was hooked.

My favorite is Jason's post about Gregory McDonald's book entitled "The Evangelical Universalist" and the engaging discussions that ensued after are not only enlightening but edifying as well. If you are a theology students or Bible teacher I recommend reading the posts in these links.

I have to confess however, that prior to reading these posts, my knowledge about universalism was so limited (it is still) and negative. I am an exclusivist by default although I always think that inclusivism is a good alternative. Now, I am open to change my stand about this. Let me explain this further. I came to know Jesus Christ in a very conservative and fundamentalist church. So the idea that salvation is possible outside faith in Jesus Christ is not an option. Exclusivism is the "only" correct option.

When I came to study at the seminary, I had the feeling that inclusivism, pluralism and especially universalism are great ideas but they are not to be held by any church leaders in my denomination. Even our theology professors at the seminary would not state their position about this matter and I understand them perfectly.

Universalism is identified with liberalism and liberalism is synonymous with heresy. If you give a hint in a group discussion among colleagues that you are a universalist they would look at you with disdain and without your knowing the next day you will be labeled as liberal. This is indeed a "career-ender" for any pastor or theology professor in my denomination.

However, after these interesting discussions in the blogosphere I really need to study deeper about universalism. I may not have the boldness and courage of a Gregoy McDonald (even he wrote the book under a pseudonym). But I do want to have a stand for or against universalism.

I have some questions though that have been going through my head ever since I started to study the Bible and theology. If God so loved the world, why would he just save all people? Is sending people to hell especially those who do not have a chance to hear the gospel (and there are so many of them) really in harmony with God's love, mercy and holiness? I know that others would argue that people made their decisions to accept or reject Christ and therefore suffer the consequent of their decisions. But if God is all-powerful why could he not save people from themselves? Does God's holiness and justice require hell? Does God delight that people who reject him go to hell? If he is not, then why allow this to happen?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Home Again With Hands Full

After one week on the road and being away from my computer, we’re back and enjoying the comfort and coziness of the place we called home. God provides us home in a strange land. It has been raining here in Mae Sai since we arrived, but we were not complaining in stead we found it to be liberation for a week of staying in a sweltering high temperature of Bangkok.

I haven’t been posting my theological reflections but I could not stop thinking about God and His goodness. I couldn’t stop thinking about Him and the complexity of knowing Him. Reading the works of theologians in Theology Blogs made me realized that my understanding and knowledge of theology is so limited.

God has been doing great things in our lives. Although sometimes I have this funny feeling that I can do things without God’s help but deep inside I know I just couldn’t. I have this growing perception that ultimately He is on top of things. Perhaps it is true that we can accomplish few things without Him, but in the end we realized that if God will not do his part on his end of the rope, what we accomplished on our end is actually good for nothing.

As a family in the mission field, we understand how awesome God is and how mightily He can do things for us. Firstly, we now have our non-immigrant visa and after three months this will be extended to one-year with working permit. Of course, this process takes a lot of money. God has provided people—family and friends who helped us and continue helping us.

Secondly, my children’s home schooling has finally being taken care of by the right people. The institution we tapped before for home schooling did it haphazardly and it didn’t work out as we expected. Parents’ biggest angst is their inability to provide good and decent education for our children. I know of a family who opted not to go to missions because of their children’s schooling and I think they made the right decision. We are thankful to God for friends and families who are not only praying but also coordinating and raising substantial amount to see that our children are given the best education. The home schooling will be administered by the School of Tomorrow—Philippines.

Thirdly, the project proposal I have written entitled “Community Health Program for Burmese Migrant Workers in Mae Sai, Thailand” for International Rescue Commission (IRC) have been initially approved. The project will be implemented by my church Grace International Church of Mae Sai. IRC will grant us funds in US dollars. The church will use the fund to minister to the displaced and oppressed people from Myanmar of different ethnic tribes. This is indeed a strategic way to share the God’s love to the people.

God is great indeed!