Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Moltmann on theology of freedom

Theology in modern times will necessarily be a theology of freedom. The modern world came into being as a results of freedom movements and is further caught up in such movements. Because church and theology clung too long to the traditional 'authoritarian principle', many freedom movements sided with atheism. If Christianity wants to get the better of modern atheism, it must first overcome the impact of atheism and show that the biblical God of the exodus of the people and the resurrection of Christ does not get in the way of human freedom, but is rather the basis for it, preserves and defends it.
Jurgen Moltmann. Theology Today. SCM Press LTD, 1988.

Theology and Worship

We woke up one morning with the noise playing and talking children accompanied by their parents. These families were visiting our neighbors who are worshippers of Allah. We are fully aware that we are living in a Muslim community but I didn’t realize until then that there are so many of them in the city. Our Muslim neighbors opened up their houses and set tables in their living rooms so that their fellow Muslims and their families could visit their house had some time to talk and eat (not much, I think they were finger foods). We watched them as they passed by our house walking playfully in both directions, some were leaving and many were still coming. It was a sight to see; they were dressed with colorful robe, small head gear for men and a beautiful veil for women. It was a joyous day for them… it was the end of Ramadan.

We are enjoying religious freedom here in Thailand. In our few months of staying here, we have won friends both from Muslim and Buddhist religion. However, I find it strange that in a place where Christianity and Islam are both marginalized, our belief in one God and to some extent in Christ have given us special affinity than the dominant religion. Of course we have many Christian friends, but our best friends here are Muslims.

On an even ground, side by side with Christianity, my opinion is that Islam would grow faster in this region because Muslims are showing a strong sense of unity than Christians. It seems they have a more intimate and loving relationship with each other. They worship in one mosque; rich and poor, young and old, from different ethnic origins—Thai, Indians, Burmese, Chinese, Malays among others. Of course women are discriminated but they come and worship anyway. I could not say the same with Christians here. Christians here are so divided in many ways maybe not by denomination but by organizations that fund and support a particular ministry. Burmese and Chinese worship separately; tribal groups have their own church building. Christians don’t know each other. Yes, there is a strong of presence of Christian here but the people don’t notice.

Besides the appearance of strong unity, another reason that Muslims have strong “witness” here is their commitment to their fixed form of worship. For them, it does not matter if they don’t understand what the language of their worship is because they understand that worship is not for their personal benefits. Worship is their act of submission and surrender to the will of Allah. Christians here are the same as Christians all over the world, the worship for their own sake; they worship for their own benefit. I would like to direct you to Dr. Jim’s observation regarding Christian’s motives for in worship. I can relate with his observations. And I find his observations are also true here. Although understanding the language is very important in worship, I think if you don’t have much choice, you have to commit yourself to a church and worship there in spite of language barrier than not to worship at all (as some other field workers are doing). We have been attending a Burmese church since we came here and although we don’t understand most part of it, I believe we genuinely worship God in spirit and truth. Isn’t it the vision of our Lord Jesus Christ that Christians worship together in unity in spite of diversity? Why do Christians are not as committed to their worship compare to other major religions of the world?

I believe it has something to do with our theology of worship. Our worship is human-centered rather than God centered. Yes God is there in our worship but we seek to satisfy our own needs than to seek to praise and worship God. It seems we can only worship the Lord if we feel like it. And if our church is unable to bring us to that stage of emotion, we conclude that we are not worshipping and look for a place that could satisfy our emotional needs.

I would want to quote Alister E. McGrath here with regards to theology and worship and although I’m a Baptist and don’t usually worship liturgically I believe he has something to say about the relationship between worship and theology. Our theology determines our worship and vice versa.
One of the most important elements of the Christian tradition is fixed forms of worship; usually know as “liturgy.” In recent years there has been a rediscovery of the fact that Christian theologians pray and worship, and that his devotional context shapes their theological reflections. This point has been appreciated since the first centuries of the Christian church. The tag lex orandi, lex credendi, which could be translated as roughly as “the way you prays determine what you believe,” express the fact that theology and worship interact with each other. What Christians believe affects the manner in which they pray and worship; the manner in which Christians pray and worship affects what they believe.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

What famous leader are you?

I'm quite busy today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow!! Grrrr, nothing theological's on my mind right now. I took the test, what famous leader are you? I just hope I will not be assasinated soon.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Why I Like Moltmann?

This post is actually a comment I made about Ben Myers' wonderings, he finds it incomprehensible that far more is written about Moltmann than Pannenberg. Although I wholly agree with him that Pannenberg is a "better" theologian and his theology perhaps is more sophisticated. However, more than a good theologian there are reasons that I believe scholars and theologians find Moltmann theology worth engaging for.

Moltmann's theology has the “ability” to dialogue with other theologies than any other contemporary theologians (as far as I am is concerned and I maybe wrong). Some scholars would claim that his Theology of Hope is the forerunner of theologies of liberations. And I agree that after 40 years of publication the book is still relevant in our context. He is able to dialogue with third world theolgy with TH and Crucified God. In fact, the theology of struggle that is developing here have taken a lot from Moltmann's works. His pneumatology is able to dialogue with Pentecostal/Charismatic issues worldwide. Although, it does not resolve the problem, he paved the way for a theological discussions regarding healings, speaking in tounges and other Pentecostal issues that were making a problem in many denominations. Also, his theology is able to dialogue with many issues in practical theology.

His relational trinity in TTKG makes sense to us than any other books because of our cultural values with regards to relationship. This work is something we can understand. His panentheism i believe speaks volume to people with animistic culture. And many more... I guess

As Christians in Asia and the third world continue to outnumber Christians in North America and Europe... I guess Moltmann's theology will become more and more relevant.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Why use the windows when the door is open?

Today, we formally made our move to Ubuntu Linux for almost a decade of using Windows. I actually have some reservations using Linux because I'm not really a techie. I could not seem to install software and configure hardware using the root terminal. I seem to loose the ability to do so when long time ago I used to work in DOS prompt ten years ago. Windows I guess made us so lazy to do that kind of computer stuff anymore.

The truth is my 14-year old son was actually the one who figured out everything for me. He asked 10 CDs of free Ubuntu Software and it was delivered right in our door by the mailman. The mailman gave us 20 copies of free CDs from Ubuntu. If you want to ask for the free CD you can do it here. So now, we're giving away these extra copies to anyone who is interested.

It was not an easy move. My son worked on it for three weeks in fine tuning it. He worked on installing essential programs which are of course are all free. The toughest part was installing our old pixma ip1000 printer which is not listed in Ubuntu. We could not made it print until last night. Well, patience pay off.

The only reason we will be using windows is when we'll be receiving files that could only be opened by Microsoft Programs. But I think sooner, Linux open community will be able to produce programs that could take care of this. Until then, I guess, I could say, goodbye Windows forever... thanks but no thanks.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

What if I were a movie?

It's Saturday morning here... bracing myself for a busy weekend. How about taking the classic movie test before going out? And here's the result.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ben Myers on Mission

Ben Myers' series on Theology for Beginners is now on the topic about the mission of the church and it is definitely a worthwhile reading. Check it out for your self. He is able to present concepts in a very creative way. Because of my interest in missions and theology, I find this post sets forth what missionaries should learn and unlearn. I highlight here what for me are important points and I include some quotes. I have no comments and I have nothing to add.

1. Mission is a community endeavor. It can never be a work of an individual. Mission belongs to the very essence of Christian Community.

2. Mission is a work of the triune God.
...the Father sends the Son into our history; the Son accepts his mission from the Father and follows the path of that mission even to the point of death; and proceeding from the Father through the Son, the Spirit raises the dead Jesus into new life and empowers the Christian community to gather around the risen Jesus in freedom and thanksgiving. God’s own triunity, then, takes place as an unceasing movement of sending-and-being-sent, a movement of mission that breaks into history from the future in order to draw all history forwards into the life of God’s coming kingdom.
3. Mission is neither establishing nor advancing of the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God has already been established and advanced by God himself.
But precisely here, our own task becomes clear: not to establish God’s kingdom, but to announce it; not to bring the kingdom near, but to enact its nearness; not to advance the kingdom by expanding the institutions of Christendom, but to use these institutions to witness to the kingdom; not, then, to identify our own work with the kingdom, but simply to stand before the reality of God’s future and to summon all creation towards that reality.
4.The task of mission is to announce its message: that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, in other words to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord!”

Jesus is Lord – he is the Lord in whom God has acted, and he is the Lord in whom God is coming!” As well as announcing this message, the community must enact the message in visible and suggestive signs and parables. The Lordship of Jesus is enacted in social and political acts of justice and peace, in artistic works of beauty and meaning, in personal acts of grace and forgiveness. As the community enacts the Lordship of Jesus in such ways, the world here and now catches an anticipatory glimpse of God’s coming kingdom. The world here and now glimpses the context of meaning from which everything else – all history, all creation, every human story – receives its meaning.
5. Mission is not identical with evangelization although it is definitely part of it. Here Ben enumerates some activities that we mistakenly thought are the thrusts of mission.

There are no simple rules that can prescribe the way the community must carry out this mission. At times, the mission will involve evangelism – but the mission of the community (that is, the mission of God) is by no means identical with evangelisation. At times, it will involve expanding Christendom in its institutional forms – but the mission itself is never identical with or dependent on such expansion. At times, it will involve establishing new ecclesial forms and structures – but the mission itself is never identical with such strategies. At times, it will involve social and political action in the cause of justice and peace – but the mission itself can never be identified with such action.
6. The role of Christians is to participate in the unceasing event of God’s own mission.
This means that our lives and our Christian institutions must be empowered by the Spirit and directed towards the future of the risen Jesus. It means that in all we do, we hasten towards the destiny of creation – but in this hastening, we also wait. We wait for the power of the Spirit. We wait for the missional movement of God’s own life...We announce and enact the Lordship of Jesus.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Moltmann on Mission of Life

This is a great quote from Moltmann I got from the internet. I don't have Moltmann's books with me so I don't know exactly where this comes from.

We need nothing so much as the mission of life so that we can affirm and love life so much that we protest against death and all the powers that disseminate death. What we need is not a new religion, or new peace between religions. What we need is life - whole, full, and undivided life. Isn’t this the essence of the gospel? God, the eternal, infinite God, is so close to you that He loves you, and in His love accepts you just as you are? People who feel the faintest spark of this love become conscious of their own dignity, get up and walk upright and live with their heads held high. Even when we are loved by another person, our energy for living awakens, and we trust ourselves to do more than we would have ever dared before. How much more is this the case when God looks at us with the “shining eyes” of his love and his pleasure is in our lives! That is why part of this message of life is the comforting of the sad, the healing of the sick—the healing, too, of memories—the welcoming of strangers and the forgiving of sins. That is to say, the message of life means saving threatened and impaired life form the powers of annihilation.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Theology in Culture

Missionary works have always been criticized of colonizing in the guise of bringing the gospel to a non-Christian country. This is rightly so because when one will study history, almost always the coming in of religion often results in radical changes in the culture. This is the reason why many Asian countries are so apprehensive of Christian missionaries especially those who come from the west for they know that almost always their culture will be dominated with Western ideas.

This is where Filipino and other Asian missionaries have advantage over western missionaries. Asian people don’t see us as a threat. However, it does not eliminate the idea that Christianity is a threat to nationalism. Usually, affiliation with the predominant religion is important part to national identity. A person who changed his religion is always seen as a traitor to his own country. Although nowadays, on the surface this seems acceptable, deep inside everybody knows that it is not so. This was true, in the Philippines a decade ago, when one become an evangelical Christian or protestant; the people close to you think that something very wrong had happened to you. To be a Filipino is to be a Catholic. However because of enormous growth and sophistication in evangelical Christianity today it is now largely accepted. This is not true in many South East Asian countries like Thailand, here being a Thai is being a Buddhist.

Filipino missionaries may not be guilty of ethnocentrism and may not be accused of cultural colonization, however, we sometimes are guilty of spiritual pride and religious superiority complex. I feel uncomfortable when fellow missionaries rebuke the spirits upon seeing a Buddhist temple and would condemn every act of worship in native religion as evil or demonic. When we as missionaries perceive that every religious and cultural practices are to be judged according to our presuppositions of what Christianity or spirituality should be then I could not imagine how could we effectively communicate to them the Christ of the gospel. We should learn to hold our judgment and take time to listen and learn.

The present challenge for missionaries is dialogue. It is the art of listening to what other religions are saying. It is to learn that other religions have something good to say and they have some kind of truth. They have something to contribute for the good of humanity. All religions have an equal right to be heard. Only through “dialogue” that we will understand their worldview and we can learn how to present the gospel that is acceptable to their culture. Only when we keep this in mind that we can teach the biblical truth that makes sense to them. Having an open mind and open heart is necessary for missionary work.

I may be biased here but theological knowledge plays a critical role in recognizing this interplay between theology and culture, between Christianity and other religions. It may take a lot of efforts and may receive unjustified criticisms of being “compromiser” from other more conservative Christian missionaries, but missionaries should be theologians in the sense that we need to find ways how to preach Christ that is not foreign to their culture perhaps to the extent that we need to use functional equivalents, parallels in culture, spiritual concepts, rituals, religious ideas and practices. Missionaries should consider these cultural elements as vehicle in expressing Christian beliefs and teachings.

Monday, October 09, 2006

C.S. Song's Third Eye Theology

I'm hoping to teach theology and culture here soon. Teaching younger Christian Pastors and leaders about theology here in the border of Thailand and Myanmar. Teaching in the mission field is not an easy task. I can hardly find the time to study and find the materials I needed to teach. I left my notes and books which are handful anyway because I could not really afford to buy imported books for they cost a fortune in Philippine peso. My theologian (younger) sister helped me out of this predicament by sending me the materials she used in teaching theology and culture class in the Philippines. I think it is a good idea to post some of the interesting ideas in here. This one is from Taiwanese theologian, a distinguished Professor of Theology and Asian Culture from Pacific School of Religon, Dr. Choan-Seng Song.

C.S. Song invites young theologians to do theology by using their third-eye, not the first nor second-eye-or a two-dimensional theology. Third-eye theology is derived from the Zen Buddhism in which there is an unheard-of region shut away from believers because of ignorance. Theology need not be seen only from the eye of the Germans as in what the Reformation represents. Theologians should not only see Jesus through the German eyes, nor American eyes but it should be seen also through the Japanese-eyes, African-eyes, Filipino-eyes, Latin American-eyes, Burmese-eyes and through multi-cultural eyes.

Song says that throughout the centuries, Jesus has been presented from the expression of the artist’s concept under the strong influence of their cultural and religious background. The face of Christ in art can be typological study of the cultural, national, and ethnic influences of the different artists: Donatelo’s Christ is marred with excruciating pain appealing to emotions—loneliness, abandonment, and the anguish of the voluntary sacrifice to atone the world from sins; Guido Reni’s face of Christ reflects physical suffering dominating all other pains, exaggerating the sentiments which is considered to be the evil-effects of Counter-Reformation; Giichro Hayakawa pictures the Christ with outstretched arms and nailed folded feet but in his face was no evidence of physical pain but deep contemplation on concentrating his all for the salvation of humankind.

Artists express their comprehension of Christ from their personal, historical, and cultural perspectives or context. This fact is not surprising because even the disciples viewed Jesus differently. Jesus Christ, for Christians, is the concrete expression of “who God is” and therefore, most Christians start doing the task of theology beginning with him. Who Jesus is and how he is relevant to the people of the culture is a good start.

I believe that this concept is true in proclamation of the gospel in a Buddhist country. With the shifting focus on the narrative aspect of theology, the telling and interpretation of the stories of Jesus is a good starting point in doing theology in Indochina where Christ is virtually unknown.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Philippine Churches Need More Theologically Educated Pastors

I found this article in the internet written by E. G. Homrighausen and I agree with his assessment regarding the problems of the church in the Philippines regardless of denomination. My experience as a Pastor in rural areas tells me that this problem is more prevalent in my denomination. However, there is still hope as more and more pastors now think they need theological education in order to become more effective in their ministries. The churches, the Convention, seminaries and theological institutions should have an on-going dialogue and consultations to address this problem.
To be sure, the church in the Philippines has problems. Contrary to a common opinion, that church needs "missionaries" or fraternal workers in many areas. It needs more pastors. More of the best men and women must be recruited for theological education. The rural pastorate must be given greater dignity and financial support so as to attract able ministers who otherwise gravitate to the great city. Theological education is in need of more books for its libraries, translations of western volumes to be sure, but even more of books written by Filipinos who are provided time and resources to write out of a Philippine cultural context and in the native Tagala. More creative methods could be employed in theological education so as to produce graduates who will be students all their lives. Continuing education may well be expanded to refresh the hard-working pastor. The newer concept of the minister as the pastor-director of the people of God would do much to make theological education conscious of its task to train ministers for the situation in which they will work, and with a view to building the ministering church.

Visiting lecturers from abroad could relieve professors in seminaries of their heavy teaching schedules, and bring about a healthy exchange of theological ideas and church practices. Greater congregational financial support needs to be given to the churches and the seminaries, for a church is never quite independent until it is independent financially. And the church (and the convention) will need to take care lest its energy be spent in organization and administration, and the necessary and promising work of evangelization be neglected.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Priesthoold of All Believers and Theological Competency

My last post had stirred some kind of interest and it was linked on the more popular blogs. For that I am thankful to Dr. Jim West and Richard.

Thanks for the comment-post and the link to my blog. Now I’m pretty sure that there will be people who may visit my blog. I really appreciate it.

I would want to quote Richard's post here:
As I see it there are two issues thrown into the mix here:

1) The dominant strain of anti-intellectualism and its negative impact on the health (although not necessarily popularity) of Christian witness. I agree and I've not really got too much more to say.

2) What concerns me slightly is the tendency of those who recognise the above point to emphasise theology as an academic endeavour that is i fear counter-productive. I would make the following points:

i) A Seminary degree does not in itself solve the problem. I have gone to theological college (seminary equivalent) and can testify that "megachurch, prosperity-gospel preaching church" folks can attend with their views unchanged (they just happen to present a slightly more cogent form of the 'American-dream' gospel.

ii) Education costs money, or more specifically 'education costs disposable income'. This by its nature is something that excludes the poor who should according to Joey's citation of Liberation theology be accorded a preferential option in God's economy. Is a new wave of middle-class, relatively affluent, Church leaders really what the church needs today in their witness for social justice?

iii) The previous point leads into this one. The Baptist vision has historically affirmed a radically egalitarian view of the priesthood of all believer's. To quote Jim's phrase in his comment on the post. The idea of a leader being "one day behind the plow and the next day behind the pulpit" is the very strength of the movement. The man (and it usually was male) is one of us, understands the practical pressures of 'real life' rather than being ensconced in an ivory tower.

iv) The above points are not intended to dispute that theology is not crucial in the life of a Church. It has to be, theology as numerous theologians have attested is properly a function of the Church rather than the academy. My concern is twofold. One, the idea of sending someone of to 'minister training' only reinforces the notion that theology is something that should be done 'out there' aside the tendency to exclude economically disadvantaged individuals from the full range of ministries in the Church. Second, it absolves responsibility of churches, rather than just ministers of needing to be theologically aware. The idea of raising up leaders from within a Church's midst (rather posting a job vacancy) should be the norm for it encourages that baptist ideal of of the priesthood of all believers or perhaps even better 'the laicisation of all clergy!'
I agree with Richard in some of the issues he pointed out. First, I agree that treating theology as a pure academic endeavor is counter productive. The idea that theology can only be learned within the four walls of the classroom is definitely not a good one. I know Pastors who are not able to go to seminary but possess sound theological mind. It is a result of the combination of continuous reading good theological books, open mindedness, willingness to learn and extensive ministry experience. These pastors usually fare better than young newly graduate seminarians.

I also agree that a seminary or theological education is not an assurance that a person can attain theological knowledge or changed his theological views. Like you, I have seen people who have gone to the seminary but never changed their views (sometimes they got worse). However, I see this partially as a failure on the part of the seminary professors and the system of theological education in the Philippines. I might be wrong here but what else it could be? Nevertheless, I can prove to you that there were times that the system was better and the professors were good. And it is not a surprise that some of seminary students became theologians and a few are on the route. And it is primarily because we were fortunate enough to be mentored by capable professors under a better system.

And Richard hit it right on the head when he cites that money is one of the main reasons why church leaders don’t go to the seminary. In a third world country like the Philippines, theological education is not a luxury. Sometimes the pastor is so poor that he has to have other work to support his family, hence seminary education is not an option. I agree that the church does not need an educated, affluent, middle-class church leader to witness for social justice. But are we not committing gross injustice when we consent that poor churches be led by uneducated and incompetent church leaders? And mind you, I have seen a number of them in my country. Here I can deduce that theological education or the absence of it is not really the culprit. It is the attitude of the person. But is it possible that a good theological training might knock some sense to the person and eventually change his attitudes? My point is who will look after the church leaders who do not deserve to be in the position in the first place. I’m afraid, because of our view of the priesthood of all believers, nobody will.

I was actually thinking of this radical view when I wrote the post. I believe that the concept of priesthood of all believers does not give any individual the right to assume position of church leadership in spite of incompetence. Even Luther never understands this view merely in the sense of the Christian’s freedom to stand in direct relationship with God without human intermediary (but of course this is correct). The emphasis is the Christian’s authority to come before God on behalf of the brethren and of the world. We cannot say “I am my own priest.” I am a priest to others as much as he is a priest to me (equal priesthood.) The universal priesthood expresses not individualism but the reality of the Christian as a community. It means we do not have the authority to assume a leadership position just because I happen to believe that I am a priest. Priesthood of all believers has more to do with serving other than with status or position. Nevertheless, I couldn’t agree more that it is ideal to raise leaders from within the church.