Thursday, November 30, 2006

It makes sense to me!

One morning as we were getting ready for our morning worship service, I looked out of the window and felt the mild wind of the morning air, made sweet and cool by a strong pouring rain. Our Burmese Pastor walked in and stood by my side and said, “this year seems to be unusual, the rain came early and rains are the heaviest I've seen so far since we moved here in Mae Sai.”

I think his assessment was accurate and many people affirmed his observation because there was much flooding in the area and our neighbors said that they could not remember the last time that flooding of this magnitude happened. There were news of more flooding in other areas of Thailand on TV. People were caught unaware.

Our Burmese Pastor continued... “however, today, this rain will be the last rain for this year.” I looked at the calendar that hanged beside the window and asked him with a hint of unbelief in my voice, “is that so? We are just on the second week of October.” And he answered, “I'm pretty sure that this will the last rain. Then after a week, the Buddhists both Burmese and Thais will go to the river to float their little boats with candles, joss sticks, flowers, money and sometimes food to offer thanksgiving to the goddess of river for providing the rain for an assurance of good harvest this year. In that boat, they will also cast the bad lucks they had and the wrongs they did for this year and feel good looking forward to the coming year.” He looked at me as if saying, you have to believe me and I give him a very slight nod.

And he was right, after a week many people came to the river in attitude of worship and prayer. Giving their offerings to goddess of river and hope that rain would come again next year. People believe that this practice is part of their national religion, but it is not. This practice is animism that predates Buddhism. Nonetheless, the practice made sense to them... and it makes sense to me!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Christ and the Buddha

Christians living in a predominant Buddhist country struggle on how they can speak about their faith that makes sense to their neighbors. On the surface, it seems that Buddhism and Christianity have very little in common. We have no choice but to begin on a common pointm, start from the subject you know they are famiilar with. Although sometimes, it will surprise you that they know little about the philosophy or theory of their religion. It is because their religion is not much of a matter of sophisticated theology that drives them to their religious practices. Even Buddhist thinkers would reject the rituals and some bizarre practices of a folk Buddhists but the folks do it anyway because they think that is what their religion demands from them and it makes them feel better.

My point here is it is good to teach them about their own belief and start a conversation. It is important to understand religious experiences express in the practices and learn as much as possible the theory behind the practice. This is the same with Christianity. There are underlying theories in our every religious experience and practice. It is sad enough that many Christians really do not understand the theory or the theology behind our practices such as worship, communion, baptism among others. Nonetheless, I appreciate evangelical Christianity emphasis on teaching and learning as part of being a church member. At least, through this we understand our doctrines that somehow explain some of our practice.

Dialogue between Christianity and Buddhist is possible only if at least one of the dialogue partners have knowledge of both faiths. And I believe the burden of learning other religion is on our shoulders to make our faith understandable. I admit, this is not easy but only through such interweaving of theory and practice, experience and reflection, will be able to put the dialogue between Buddhists and Christians about the message of the Buddha and the message of Christ. Hopefully, there are more similarities than differences.

Hans Kung names some of the similarities of the two religions. I have to depend on secondary sources by Hermann Haring on his book about Hans Kung because I don't have a copy of Kung's Christianity and the World Religions (I hope I can buy a copy in the future). Nevertheless, here Kung points out the similarity between the Christ and the Buddha. Both Christ and Buddha appear as teachers, proclaim good news, want to liberate human beings from their desires and their self-centeredness and point out a middle way, of selflessness, of concern for fellow men and women. That makes the difference all the more significant. Jesus was not solitary, but a master in an alternate community; no break can be established in hi life. The differences can be clarified most plainly by means of the distinction between a prophetic and mystical spirit.

The Buddha Gautama is a harmoniously self-contained peaceful, enlightened guide, inspired by the mystical spirit. Sent by no one, he demands renunciation of the will to life for the sake of redemption from suffering in nirvana. He calls for turning inwards, away from the world inward, for methodical meditation through the stage of absorption, and so finally to enlightenment. Thus he shows calm fellow feeling, with no personal involvement, for every sentient creature, man or animal; a universal sympathy and peaceful benevolence.

Jesus Christ, however, is a passionately involved emissary and guide, inspired by the prophetic spirit and, for many, even his own lifetime, the Anointed One (“Messiah”,”Christ”). He calls men and women to conversion for the sake of redemption from guilt and all evil in the kingdom of God. Instead of demanding a renunciation of the will, he appeals directly to the human will, which he bids orientate itself on God's will, itself aimed entirely at the comprehensive welfare, the salvation, of humankind. Thus he proclaims a personally concerned love, which includes all the suffering, the oppressed, the sick, the guilty and even opponents and enemies: a universal love and active charity.

These are some of the similarities. Other such commonalities and differences as well will be dealt with in the future posts.

About the image: The image is taken from MattStone Blog
created by Ruth Jones.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Moltmann on Academic Theology

I started reading Jurgen Moltmann's Experiences in Theology. I agree with Frank it is fun and enjoyable to read and judging from the few pages I had read so far, the book's language is clear and simple but not simplistic. A characteristic very hard to find in a theology book. It is readable compare to Moltmann's early "contributions" to theology. For people like me whose first language is not English this is excellent.

I may response to this book while I go along by either posting quotes or making comments positively or otherwise. Meanwhile, here's an interesting quote:
Academic theology is nothing other than the scholarly penetration and illumination by mind and spirit of what Christian in the congregations think when they believe in God and live in the fellowship of Christ. By scholarly I mean that the theology is methodologically verifiable and comprehensible. Good scholarly theology is therefore basically simple, because it is clear. Only cloudy theology is complicated and difficult. Whether it be Athanasius or Augustine, Aquinas ot Calvin, Schleiermacher or Barth--the fundamental ideas of every good theological system can be presented in a single page. p. 13

Nietzsche on Christian freedom

They would have to sing better songs to make me believe in their Redeemer; his disciples would have to look more redeemed!.. Truly their Redeemers themselves did not come from freedom and the seventh heaven of freedom.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Should Christians observe Loi Krathong?

guest post by Samantha

This is a reflection of a Thai Christian in dialogue with a missionary about a Christian's dilemma in observing the traditional festival.

Loi Krathong or Yi Peng is a tradition that has been observed in Chiang Mai (and also in other cities) for almost 700 years now. Stories said that it was started by a royal princess who the first krathong shpated like a lotus as a present for the king during the ceremony of the festival. Since then the krathong became a recent addition and obviously so are firecrackers.

The festival is popularly known as Yi Peng from the word Yi (two) and Peng (full moon) festival (incidentally two full moon in a month is also called "Blue Moon" in other culture). People make krathongs from banana leaves where food, flowers, money, and other offerings are placed on together with lighted candles which they floated on the Ping River in the evening. They also release hot air balloons and lanterns made of saa paper or colored cellophance glued on a rectangular or cylindrical bamboo frame into air. The people believe that khratongs will drive away evil spirits and the prayers offered to the goddess of the river will give them abundant catch.

Yi Peng is celebrated also in the provinces. It is a well-awaited festival which draws not only the residents but also the visitors. The entire city, houses, shops, streets, canals, moats and the river is bedecked with lights and lanterns. The balloons that were released containing small-lighted candles gives a breath-taking scene as these float off into the dark sky. A spectacular sight nobody wanted to miss. Everybody seems to be on the street.

As Christians were taught not to participate in anything that is considered as pagan, we learned from the Old Testament people who always fall short of this law. We believe that "greater is He who is in us that the one who is the world" (1 John 4:4), and that no evil spirit can harm us, for "none can separate us from the love of God. The krathongs then can't do as it promised because of the truthfulness of the Word of God.

Meanwhile what we can do as Christians when it seems that the entire world around us is out there in the streets and celebrating? It was so ordered by our reverend king in the past. Do we want to be an outcast? Our people already branded us as people who embraced the religion of the western people who are actually subtly bringing in their culture, helping us to feel indifferent about our own culture, feeling it inferior against the other? A battle begins in our hearts then, because we believe that these traditions are part of our being, it's part of our culture that shaped our life, and to take these away is almost like renouncing our beginning. As Christians, we may ask then, how did Jesus react in the culture of his time? He surely has the same dilemma. Is He above the culture of His time, or He is beyond the culture?

I can't and I don't want to answer these questions. But let us heed instead on what was considered to be the first missionary has to say, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phi. 2:12-13).

We all have traditions that we followed, some may look ridiculous but our ancestors surely did it with a purpose. Let us take a closer look of our culture and examine it. We may not necessarily have to reject them instead let us find some truths in it and in the light of the word of God, let us act accordingly. The Bible is the source of all truth, it will surely help us.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Karl Barth on archaelogical research

I do not like books that try to prove the rightness of the Bible by archaeological research, but the results of this research are an important help in understanding the biblical witness to Christ. However, no historical research can help us prove God's revelation as reality. Historical research will never be an approach to the Word of God. --Karl Barth

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hans Kung on the church as the servant of the world

I was meaning to post my response to the current book I am reading this week but I have been very busy and besides my brain is not really working properly as of late (it never does anyway). I hope to make up for this next week.

I am citing here Kung’s insights about the church. Kung admits that his early theology is a result of his dialogue with Karl Barth and following him, Kung emphasizes the universality of redemption through Jesus Christ. He says that “”Jesus Christ, in his pre-existence, does not stand alone in the Father’s sight. According to the words of the Sacred Scripture, he stands before the Father together with the church and, indeed, together with humankind. In God’s eternity we human beings, too, were chosen with and in Jesus Christ.”

The same is also true of God’s will to offer his salvation to all humankind. He says that this eternal decree has to do with all men and women, indeed with the whole world (“heaven and earth”). God accomplishes it, however… in the church. Therefore, the church is in the service of the salvation of the world not the church as the master (mistress) of the world because it is usually understood that the world becomes dependent on the church for salvation. Because of this salvation being proclaimed, the church has come into being and that it is thought that God’s kingdom is now beginning.

But the church is not the kingdom of God. The church is neither the bringer nor the bearer of the reign of God which is to come and is at the same time already present. Rather the church is its voice, its announcer, its herald. God alone can bring his reign; the church is devoted entirely to its service. In other words, the church is the servant of God’s kingdom. Kung reminds us that the church’s proclamation about Jesus should always include Jesus’ message about the church.

Kung gives the five ecclesiastical imperatives that arise out of Jesus’ preaching for the church:

  1. The church must not become an end in itself in the present;
  2. It must not build its own achievements;
  3. It must not understand itself as religious-political theocracy, but rather as a spiritual diakonia;
  4. The church is not there for the pious and just but for the godless and sinners;
  5. The church has to do God’s will;

“It must not shut itself off from the world in a spirit of asceticism, but live in the everyday world, inspired by the radical obedience of love towards God’s will; it must not try to escape from the world, but work in the world.”

Hermann Haring, Hans Kung: Breaking Through, p. 60-62

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What a joyful day!

This is a joyful day for me. The books from a good friend have arrived at this very moment and I could not hold back my self from posting about it. Now I feel like a child who has been given a lot of toys and Iam so excited that I don’t know which toy I would start playing with. I'm expecting 4 books but I receive 5. I'm doing my best not to divulge the giver of the gifts because you might harass and compel him to give you books as well (just kidding). Friends are gift from God, I feel so blessed today…Million of thanks!

J. Moltmann, Experiences in Theology (Hardbound)
J. Moltmann, Science and Wisdom
G. Muller-Fahrenholz, The Kingdom and the Power: The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann
R. Bauckham, God Will Be All in All: The Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann
G. Guttierez, The Making of Modern Theology.

The church and sexuality

Over at That Strange Feeling, George has a very interesting post about church and sexuality taken from the books he recently read. Incidentally, George is my younger brother. He is running a very interesting blog that is sometimes philosophical, sometimes theological, sometimes fictional and humorous and sometimes personal and emotional. Anyway,
this is what he has to stay:

Rummaging through piles of used books, I chanced upon two troubling (that is, for me) books about church and sexuality. The first is Mary Daly’s “The Church and the Second Sex” and the other is “Living in Sin?” by Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong.

The Church and the Second Sex is a troubling book because of its graphic indictments against Religion specifically Christianity and her churches for its treatment of women.
A portion of Daly’s 1985 foreword of her book is enough to exhibit her attitude towards Christianity and religion in general…

“…For there is a truly Tremendous Event that is “still on its way, still wondering—it has not reached the ears of man (from Nietzsche).” And women have done it ourselves. This event is the self realizing of women who have broken free from the stranglehold of patriarchal religion, with its deadly symbols, its ill logic, its gynocidal laws and other poisonous paraphernalia.
The bringing about of this event, exorcism of the poisonous patriarchal god and his attendant pathologies, has required and continues to require Courage--…

The courage to leave such an institution as the catholic church and, beyond that, Christianity in general and all patriarchal religion in all its form—both sacral and secular—is often born out of desperation. If the motivating force that propels one to leave is realization of one’s own spiritual and elemental powers, this leaving involves leap after leap of living faith. It is my observation that Living faith propels women out of patriarchal religion…

This still comes down to the problem of literalizing the Bible with regards to its archaic teachings about women, which is really ungodly. Daly talked about transcendence and she’s right, but the realization of that transcendence for her is in leaving the church and in dismissing what she calls “patriarchal religion” and not on transcending biblical literalism and “going in to Christ.” Or she might have already done that, and I’m sure she did, and she still found it unacceptable because Christ is a man.

It must still be about Christ and Christ’s attitude towards women that must be the basis for the church’s relation with the other sex and not biblical literalism.

“Harvey Cox expressed the Christian condition accurately when he said that Jesus Christ comes to his people not primarily through ecclesiastical traditions, but through social change, that he goes before first as a pillar of fire. There is no need then to be obsessed with justification of the past. In fact, while it is necessary to watch the rear view mirror, this does not tell us where we are going, but only where we have been.”

Change is forthcoming and the church will survive. It survived the Copernican revolution that removed humanity as the center of the universe. Why won’t it survive another revolution that will make men truly equal with women?

“Living in Sin?” is an interesting book for its position on homosexuality. The books discuss many issues on sexuality from “betrothal” i.e. trial marriages sanctioned by the church but not by the state, to “divorce ceremonies”. But what caught my attention was the book’s exegetical study on homosexuality.

1. Biblical references to homosexuality are small.
2. There is not one reference to homosexuality in any of the four gospels.
3. The Lord (Jesus) appears to either have ignored it completely or to have said so little on the subject that no part of what he said was remembered or recorded.
4. If one reads the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative with an open mind one will discover that the real sin of Sodom was the unwillingness on the part of the men of the city to observe the laws of hospitality. (It is impossible that all the men in Sodom are homosexual, why offer ones daughter to be ravaged and gang raped?)
5. Why was it that biblical condemnation of homosexuality was limited to male homosexuality?
6. How about Paul’s condemnation of the effeminate? (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Paul never married. He seemed incapable of relating to women in general except to derogate them. He talked about a thorn in the flesh. Was that connected with Paul’s understanding of himself, of his own sexuality?
….many more

Even if one is a biblical literalist, the biblical references do not build an ironclad case for condemnation. If one is not a biblical literalist there is no case at all, nothing but the ever present prejudice born out of a pervasive ignorance that attacks people whose only crime is to be born with an unchangeable sexual predisposition toward their own sex. (The author cited scientific studies that affirm homosexuality as a genetic occurrence as opposed to the Freudian theory of homosexuality as a psychological deviation or the churchs teaching that homosexuality is an abomination.)

If new knowledge about the cause and meaning of homosexuality confronts us, then we must be willing to relinquish our prejudice of Holy Scripture and turn our attention to loving our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, supporting them, and relating to them as part of God’s good creation. That will inevitably include accepting, affirming, and blessing those gay and lesbian relationships that, like all holy relationships produce the fruits of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, and self-sacrifice—and to do so in the confidence that though this may not be in accordance with the literal letter of the biblical texts, it is in touch with the life giving spirit that always breaks the bondage of literalism.

Looking back, most of the Old Testament bible is in reality a survival book for the Jews. Most of its laws are meant to preserve the integrity of the Jewish race and of their religion. The same with the New Testament, it is mostly a survival book too--a call for exclusivity against the onslaught of the other religions. But since the threat is not there anymore, there is really a need to redefine the bible especially in the age we are in now. One must be ready to “transcend” the letters and go beyond to the Word. An open but discerning mind is the best policy here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pacquiao Nation

I’m not sure if a Shalomite approved of boxing but then maybe not because boxing is considered to be a violent sport, in fact, too violent that some sectors want it be abolished.

I’m also not sure if boxing is a good alternative in settling theological debates. I definitely would opt for it rather than a duel because here you might be knocked out but you may not be killed or maimed unless of course you crack your brain or whatever. And if you were not satisfied with the result you can asked for a rematch and hope to do better the next time around. You may lose the fight but perhaps feel better if you managed to land some good punches.

Well, please allow me the indulgence of posting something about boxing. I just can’t restrain myself from doing it. This post is about Pacquiao knocking out Morales in third round knock out in their third meeting. Morales beat Pacquiao on their first meeting and Pacquiao knocked-out Morales in their second fight. However, Morales have many excuses about his lost. But now the whole world knows who the better fighter is.

But this is not just a fight for the PacMan, this is a fight he dedicated to his nation. Some even call our country as the Pacquiao Nation. Here are some of the highlights:

It only took Manny Pacquiao three rounds to prove himself the stronger, faster fighter. In a surprise ending to the two fighter's legendary trilogy, Manny Pacquaio completely dismantled Erik Morales from the very beginning and scored a third round KO victory over Morales.

Manny Pacquiao is more than just a national hero in the Philippines. In a country where turmoil sometimes seems a never ending story, Pacquiao is the only person among 87 million Filipinos with the power to unite the nation. At 5'-6 1/2 , that's a tall order. When Pacquiao fought Erik Morales for the second time last January (and the same happened last November 18 when he beat Morales again), this is what happened in the Philippines:

Police reported a crime rate of nearly zero in major Filipino cities during the hours leading up to the fight and after.

Normally congested streets in every city in the country were deserted.

Politicians who rarely agree on anything, sat side-by-side with adversaries in movie theatres across the country to watch the fight broadcast.

On free TV, the Filipino network which aired the bout broke all existing national records, with virtually 100 per cent of the country's TVs tuned in.

Pacquiao is many things, but he is not a miracle worker. Even a troubled nation returns to "normal" when the glow of a Pacquiao victory wears off. A simple minded senator even said this "it is unfortunate that Manny cannot fight every day."

It may seems ludicrous but Pacquiao have accomplished what the politicians and the church failed to do (at least about crime and the sense of unity).

Monday, November 20, 2006

Work permit finally granted

In the light of the new visa rules, a work permit is essential for our extended stay here in the kingdom. Today, I got my one-year work permit, this gives us the assurance that we can stay and work here for the whole year. We want to thank our family and friends who prayed for us and also helped us financially. We are looking forward to a more fruitful harvest this coming year.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Theological Contextualization

Before leaving home for missions I attended a one-week world mission course thinking that I had everything to gain and it could help me prepare for the gargantuan tasks that lay ahead. I was not disappointed; it was a good learning experience. We learn about Biblical basis for missions, the history and expansion of Christian movement through missions, mission strategy, the remaining task, strategies, and cross cultural considerations.

However, looking closely at the curriculum and materials presented, theological basis or at least any discussions about the importance of theology in doing missions was definitely lacking. The discussion was dominated by anthropological ideas about cross-cultural considerations. The course culminated with a very elaborate “contextualize worship.” This was when we had a Christian worship service done in Islamic way. We dressed like Muslims and adopted their gestures in prayers and worship but with God through Christ as the object of worship. I didn’t dispute this, I thought that was great. However, I got the impression that contextualization done in this manner is not really contextualization in the true sense of the world. But when this mission course was being done all over the country, this conveys to the churches and (would-be) missionaries that this is what contextualization is all about.

This is the reason that the idea of contextualization have been under fire recently. Its critics would say that contextualization advocates the integration of religious practices into the culture of the believer. For example, a Muslim who became a Christian can continue to go to the mosque and pray five times a day facing Mecca or moderately Christian Muslims can have a mosque like atmosphere, write their own music or use the Koran besides the Bible when they worship. This concept presumes that religion is part of cultural identity and should not be abandoned when one becomes a Christian. If contextualization is being dealt with on the level of anthropology or culture this perspective would really create a big problem for missionary endeavors. If contextualization is limited to culture it is indeed unhelpful and irresponsible concept, and as mentioned above likely to create more problems than solution.

This is the reason that I believe that contextualization should start from theology. Presumably contextualization leads to indigenization. There have been many attempts in many Asian countries to create an indigenous Christian churches. But most of the attempts are concern more with the form rather than the content of the gospel. For example the use of indigenous musical instruments and melodies for religious hymns, or using local drama and dress in presenting the Christmas story, or using the traditional church building as opposes to western style church building. According to a Burmese theologian, these are just attempts to put the same wine in different bottle. In order for the Gospel to be contextualized and acceptable in particular culture, a considerable theological reflections and articulations is essential even though many would consider this activity as pointless and redundant. This is in the light of the prevailing concepts that and theological skill and articulation are unnecessary in the missions field.

Stephen Bevans, a theologian, missionary and teacher provides a valuable assistance for those who struggle with the issue of theological contextualization. He describes models only four are cited here) for understanding contextual theology. These models are used to aid in the understanding of truth but the truth they tried to illuminate is finally larger than any model used to approach it.
First is the translation model. “Translation” suggests the movement from one language system to another, with the primary intent of maintaining the meaning of the words that are used. A translation model of contextual theology rests on the twin assumptions that the gospel may be reduced to a core of meaning, and that all cultures shares a similar structure of meaning and communication. The core of meaning emphasized by those who employ a translation model for theology is heavily quantitative and propositional. What is at stake is the introduction of the facts and concepts of the gospel to a context where the gospel was previously unknown.

Second is the anthropological model. Anthropological model strives for the preservation of the uniqueness of any culture where the gospel takes root and grows toward maturity. Since God is the creator of the world, and humanity, there must be something of God in every culture. This model begins with the affirmation of potential goodness of humanity and the cultures they establish. A theologian who employs this method recognizes that the foundational work of proclaiming the gospel is leaning much about a culture that she or he can become as full a participant as possible in the culture. Related to the foundational work of learning the culture is the explicit theological task of discerning the presence of God within the culture.

Third is the praxis model. This method includes expecting and accepting that authentic theological pursuits are constantly moving between informed and committed responses to human needs and reflections upon how the responses clarify and reshape confessions of faith. Culture, then, is the context within which the praxis model operates. However, culture is neither a target to be hit nor a goal to be achieved. Here culture is a dynamic reality that is going to change with or without theological influence and, therefore, becoming involved with culture is a theological mandate.

Fourth is the synthetic model. The theologian working with this model is first of all interested in dialogue between and among the features of the gospel and culture. Here the uniqueness of the gospel rooted in scripture and traditions, and the uniqueness of the culture as a composite of centuries of growth and change. Holding both the uniqueness of gospel and culture in tension, this model strives for the theological maturity that can emerge out of honest conversation about the ways the gospel and culture mutually pursue freedom and wholeness. Theologian who works with this model is not creating something artificial from synthesizing two realities (gospel and culture) rather creates a third thesis incorporating the best of each reality. The goal is not to rank the contributions of the gospel and culture, but rather to incorporate the values of the gospel and culture when they are most appropriate.(Rick Wilson, Contemporary Gospel Accents, 7-9)

This post attempts to inform missionaries and missionary sending bodies of the importance of theological skill in doing mission. If our goal is to realize a genuine indigenous Christian churches existing in 10/40 window we have understand that a minimal theological insights is indispensable to the task.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hans Kung on hope of unity

I couldn't resist reading the book and although I'm still trying to finish a borrowed book entitled Faith and Modernity I decided to return it today and read the book Richard gave me. If you are a fan of Hans Kung or somewhat interested in his theology or would want to know about him, this book is great with almost 400 pages of very readable theological biography and summary of Hans Kung theological works, this is a treat!

This is the introductory Kung quote in the first chapter.
Spero unitatem ecclesiarum: I hope for the unity of the churches.
Spero pacem relgiounum: I hope for peace among religions.
Spero communitatem nationum: I hope for community among the nations.

Where does the strength of my hope come from? For me personally, as for millions of religious people throughout the world, the basis of my hope is that utterly trust which is called faith: 'In Te, Domine, speravi; non confundar in aeternum. 'In you, Lord, I have hoped, I shall never be confounded' (Theology for the Third Millennium, 173).
Herman Harring, Hans Kung Breaking Through, p 3

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I am Sam

Since we came here, our children wanted to have pet so badly. I know they prefer to have a dog. We had a wonderful pet back home named Duke he was good and smart dog. But two months ago we received news that he has died. So, we were always on the look out for a puppy. Here they don't give out their puppies. In the Philippines you just ask for them and they will give it to you right away here even if you are somebody important, they will refuse. Here, puppies cost 500-5,000 baht of course, it defends on the breed. So every time we would saw puppies for sale, we would look the other way, pretending not to see anything. Today, at the Grace Home Kindergarten Center, a puppy was waiting for us. The kids are happy and excited... they finally have a pet. We named him Sam. (After our favorite character in TLOR- Sam Wise, the brave).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The book has arrived!

Three hours ago, the postman dropped something at our front door. Jared shouted excitedly, Tatay! (Father) your book has arrived. It is indeed a very beautiful book. It's Hermann Haring, Hans Kung Break Through: The Work and the Legacy. I haven't own a book for some time. Thanks a lot to Richard of Sub Ratione Dei. A glimpse at the table of contents shows me some articles about Buddhism. This is perfect! I'll be expecting more books in the future from a friend. What a joyful day it must be!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Jared's Birthday

Just want to share this to all. This is posted from our family blog.

Jared celebrate his 14th birthday in a very simple breakfast candle-blowing celebration. All of us celebrated our birthdays here this year. We miss home a lot.

My children are not living a life that normal children should be. They don't have permanent friends because we have moved five times with in their lifetime. We moved from Cainta to Pangasinan to Baguio, back to Cainta again in six short months and finally moved here in Thailand.

They never experienced the joy of childhood both Narlin and I had. We never left our respective homes until we were married. We have permanent friends and best friends who grew up with us. And although distance keeps us apart, communication was never lacking. We grew up in our respective home church with people who love us and treated us as part of their family. (These people are the ones who are supporting us here in the mission field). We matured with them both physically and spiritually. My children never enjoyed this kind of relationships.

Jared is in the second year of his teenage life. He never had a bestfriend who grows up with him. (My bestfriend lived in the next house and we were together until I responded to the call). Jared hates school. He always thought that teachers do not teach but talk to the (black)board. The only teacher he was fond of was his grade 4 teacher who took him under her care. And as a parent, I was greatly grateful to that teacher who perhaps changed Jared's perspective about education. Jared hates home schooling as well. And if I were him, I will feel the same. Home schooling materials are the most boring educational material I've ever read. But we are thankful for home schooling and for the people who made this possible for us because it is the only way he and his siblings can have their education. He likes computer. I think he learned to use the computer first before he learned to talk. He can create his own website, he knows how to mess with html code,he maintained and designed this blog (and the other blog), he knows how to install and configure Linux from the root terminal which I didn't learn and perhaps will never have a chance to learn.

In his 14th birthday, he is holding on to his childhood for as long as he can. He doesn't want it to go. And I understand it... I want him to enjoy it as long as it last because his childhood will be gone sooner than we thought. We thank the Lord that we are here in the mission field together. We share everything, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the joy and the sorrow, the love and the hate, the excitement and the boredom. I'm not afraid that my children will be lost from our side... because we are together in responding to God's call. Happy birthday Jared!!!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Karl Barth on fundamentalism as heresy

It's a tiring Sunday for us. I feel sick. The works in the field and the sudden change of weather from hot during the day and very cold at night is getting on us. All the family members got the common cold virus. I'll be sleeping early tonight. But I think it's good to post something before going to bed.

This one is from Karl Barth on heresy. Barth was asked this question in one of his discussions with English-speaking students in Basel about the chief heresies in his mind when he wrote the CD in 1932. He answered:
If I had to rewrite this volume, I might not be so polemical, although the heresies would be the same. I might have a more irenic spirit. I could look out on the present situation and ask: what should the Christian proclamation be in view of all these denominations in Ecumenical movement, etc? But maybe the way I said it is clearer. Liberalism is coming back today, especially in Europe. Look at Rudolf Bultmann; he stems from Father Schleiermacher! And look at the situation in Switzerland! And the old snake in Rome is still there! I might have mentioned a third heresy: Fundamentalism, Orthodoxy. In 1932 I did not know the Fundamentalists so well. The Fundamentalists says he knows the Bible, but he must have become master over the Bible, which means master over revelation... I consider it just another kind of natural theology: a view of the modern man who wants to control revelation.

John D. Godsey, Karl Barth's Table Talk, 40-41.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Christian problem of God in its encounter with Buddhism

Our internet service provider had been down for a while. So I missed reading my favorite blogs for days. Anyways, it's getting colder here everyday. But I enjoyed the coolness of the night, sipping coffee while having a theological conversation with my Burmese Pastor. We talked a lot about the problem of the different tribal churches here and the difficulties of communicating the gospel to the Buddhists both in Thailand and Myanmar. It dawned on me that my knowledge about a Buddhist's perception of the world and of the deity is so little. I still have to learn a lot. If I want to make the gospel clear to them I have to know how their minds works. My Pastor is trying to help by presenting me theological papers written by his professor in the seminary. As he knows I am running blog, he ask me if I can post it here. And I gladly oblige.

The following thoughts are from his good professor a Burmese theologian named Professor U Khin Maun Din. This section deals with the problem of Burmese Christians Theology with its encounter with Theravada Buddhism. This part deals with the conflicts on the concept of God between Christianity and Buddhism. The next post will deal with the problem of Christology.

Buddhism is considered to be an atheistic religion or at best a non-theistic faith by many Christian theologians and religious philosophers. It is because Buddhism denies the existence of God as personal being or a creator. This personalistic idea of God is rejected by the Buddha because it could not explain the vexing problem of evil. But the Buddha does not deny the existence of what can be philosophically described as “the Transcendence” or “the Ultimate Reality.” If affirmation of the existence of a Transcendental Reality is what we meant by theism, then Buddhism is profoundly theistic. This raises a big problem for traditional Christian theology that insists that God is to be understood as Personal Being. However, process theologians’ understanding of God as becoming rather than being. Here process theologians give way to a more living, dynamic and changing conception of God rather than the traditional view of God as complete, perfect and static. Some of them agree with Paul Tillich in describing God as “the Ground of our Being.” This impersonal representation of God is considered by its critics as closer to Buddhism than Christianity. However, this paved the way to the possibility that the Christian idea of God can be made understandable for Buddhism and other Asian transcendental religions.

However, in the view of the Theravada Buddhists these understanding of the deity are still relative ways of understanding the Transcendence. For Buddhists the best way to describe the Ultimate Reality is not to describe it all because the Absolute can never be described by relative human terms. This theology is not peculiar to Buddhism alone. The Taoists of ancient China also held a similar view of Reality. They say that “the Tao is the name of the nameless one.”

The point here is: can we as Christians insist to speak about God as a person or a personal being in an absolute sense. Is it not closer to the truth to speak of God as a person as well as not-a-person; that God is a Being as well as a Becoming, that God exists and also does not exist?

This way of understanding the theos has been referred as the “the Yin-Yang way of Thinking.” It is the Both/And method of doing theology and being advocated by Asian theologians to be more progressive as opposed to Either/Or method used by classical Christian theology in formulating theology. The Either/Or way of thinking in the West not only promoted but shaped the absolute dogma of God. The God of dogma is not God at all. The God who is absolutized by human words is less than God of Christianity.

From such perspective the “silence” of the Buddha becomes pregnant with meaning. To the Buddha the relatively best way of describing the true nature of the Transcendence is not to describe it at all. This methodology can be discern as common in major oriental philosophies like Taoism of ancient China, the Jains of India among others. The oriental refusal to predicate the Transcendence with the western philosophical categories should be interpreted as the denial of the “existence” of “God” as a “Personal Being or “a Creator” is not a total rejection of the indescribable, transcendental theos.

What can we learn from this Oriental Methodology should Christian theology continue to keep on referring to God as a person in an absolute sense? Is it against the Bible to speak of God is a Person, as well as-not-a Person, that God is a Father as well as not-a-Father, that God is a Creator as well as not a Creator, that God is a Thou as well as not a Thou?

How must we interpret God’s answer to Moses: “I am that I am?” Is the word “I” to be understood as referring to a Self, a Soul, an Ego, an Atman, a Spirit or even a Geist as used by Hegel? If that scripture text means: “I will be to you what I will be to you,” as it is not interpreted today, then is it not the case that the answer is to be understood functionally and not ontologically? If that is the case, then metaphysically speaking, such an oriental way of understanding the Theos can be more comprehensive and sometimes even more faithful to the Gospel than most dogmas attached to the traditional Christian doctrine of God.

I can understand the difficulty of Christians in Burma to conceive God in non-personal terms. We are being so metaphysically conditioned by the traditional theology that the very idea of a non-personal God becomes totally incomprehensible to us. But this means that we must also be sympathetic to the Buddhists for whom the very idea of God as Personal Being is incomprehensible. If Christian theology in Burma and in Thailand still persists in speaking of God only and absolutely as a Person then the Christian God will be reduced to the level of a Nat or a Brahma.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Cross-cultural Theology

Over at Faith and Theology our good friend Ben Myers cites a perfect example of theological contextualization of the Nicene Creed in Africa. This reflects the kind of theology that Christians commonly do as part of their daily lives in the Third World. This shows how theology is being done by Christians who respond faithfully to the challenges their lives present to them. It is admirable for both the local people and the missionaries who evidently brought the gospel to them to develop a “creed” that is so concrete and so real compare to the Western theology that tends to be abstract and critical. Theirs is a theology that is closer to the real-life situations of people whose lives are touched by God that is so different from our experiences of God.

Because we live in a world that is radically different from them, we tend to ignore and even despise their theological reflections and easily dismiss them as unsophisticated and syncretistic if not heretical. We fail to appreciate that theological framework is a result of their experiences with God and the Scripture.

When my family I responded to call to mission, a colleague who knows me as someone who has some theological training told me that it is good that I come because I can teach the local people good theology. My fellow missionary thought that the theology of this people is wrong and I can help them correct it. His thinking is that “correct” theology has already been formulated and I have to reinforce this theology to the locals. Of course he is referring to the Baptist theology that is a result of centuries of articulation from Europe and North America, adopted and apparently worked in the Philippines thus can be adopted here easily. As I always hear some people would say we need not to reinvent the wheels in doing cross-cultural theology.

Now the question that need to be addressed here is, what is the role of the missionaries or theologians in doing theology cross culturally? For me, the most important thing that we can do first is to be a good listener, be a learner. Then we will become a dialogue partner in developing their theology descriptively and interpretatively then and only then can we lead them to critical reflections that supposedly should result to a discipline thought and good actions. William Dyrness states this clearly.

Here is where the sympathetic listening of outsiders becomes important. I believe that encouraging people to articulate and defend what they believe—by simply allowing them to tell their stories—is a first step, not only in Christian growth, but in more self-conscious and critical theological reflection. Giving them a voice is a necessary prerequisite to allowing them to be dialogue partners either with us or with the major voices of Christian tradition. From these experiences I have become convinced that we have typically put things in reverse order in our theological education. In our zeal to get people to reflect theologically we pull out the largest artillery, insisting that they read Calvin and Barth before they have any notion what theology is, or how they really feel about God. Instead we ought to take the time to help people understand what their own assumptions about faith and salvation are, and only then them in conversation with what others in their traditions (or other traditions) have said about these things.
Willaim Dyrness. Invitation to Cross-cultural Theology. p. 36

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Karl Barth on motive for missions

The motive for missions is the concern for telling others that God has shown the grace to all. Take the example of St. Paul. He had to witness for he saw a world of people who had not heard the "good news." The church knows that God does not fail to show His grace. The church must proclaim... A true missionary can never believe that those who refuse the Gospel can really refuse. He does not know on what ground the seed falls. Only then can a missionary be really free. He is only an ambassador, not the king.

John D. Godsey,
Karl Barth's Table Talk, p. 40.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

An African Theologian Advise to Western Missionaries

After finishing my academic year I opted to get out from the seminary and responded to go to mission work here in Thailand. I really didn't have a choice. I wanted to finish my dissertation badly but I could no longer do it inside the campus for some reasons. One was that my bill was filing up, my scholarship grant was good only for my academic tuition fees and no more. So the longer I stayed in the campus the more I will be buried in debt. Some people could live with that and hope that someday somebody would pay their seminary debts, I could not live with that. Although I still owe the seminary some money, it is something manageable and if one day I got enough money I will pay it in cash.

Anyway, we are now in the mission field. And before I left with my family for mission works my Professor (visiting) gave me a book entitled, Contemporary Gospel Accents: Doing Theology in Africa, Asia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. This book were edited by our good professor and Daniel Carro. The book is about contextualizing theology and I found it very useful in mission works. I go back to it from time to time.

Here I would like to cite Hary G. Olan'g recommendations to western missionaries regarding theological education in Africa. Theological education in Africa could help those preaching the gospel to be more contextual and relevant in three ways.
First, our theological education programs should include in their curricula courses that affirm the dignity of and worth of every African. The "bulldozer mentality" of western missionaries, which seeks to uproot everything African in order to make clean room for reconstructions by using western design and materials, should be rejected.

Secondly, new missionaries from the West coming to Africa need to attend orientation programs conducted in a local seminary setting to give them the opportunity to reshape their mission perceptions and to be able to contextualize the gospel. Such programs should be conducted by Africans.

Thirdly, theological training programs in Africa need to prepare Africans for missions both inside and outside of Africa. This will help to neutralize cultural infiltration caused by one culture dominating mission enterprise, by providing qualified nationals who can preach the gospel in a more contextual way with less risk of acculturation.
These are indeed good recommendations and these are applicable also to missionary enterprise in other regions like here in Southeast Asia. We thought that these criticisms of the Western missionaries are things of the past, evidently these are still prevailing. In my own observation, unless we as missionaries are willing to learn theology in local seminaries we will never be effective in our work. However, I never heard of any Western missionaries who are willing to be theologically taught by the locals in mentor-student setting.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

20 books that have inluenced me

Following the example of Ben Myers over at Faith and Theology I will post the list of 20 books that have influenced me theologically. I read most of them while I was at the seminary and since I don't have copies of most of them I really could not get back to them and recall how a particular book had its impact on me. These books affect me either positively or the other way around.

1.Jurgen Moltmann. The Crucified God
2.Deitrich Boenhoffer. The Cost of Discipleship
3.Karl Barth. Evangelical Theology
4.Augustine. Confessions
5.Allister McGrath. Trinity
6.Stanley Grenz. Theology for the Community of God
7.David Bosch. Transforming Missions
8.Paul Tillich. The Eternal Now
9.Fisher Humphreys. The Death of Christ
10.Hans Kung. Does God Exist?
11.William Placher. History of Christian Theology
12.Richard Neihbur. Christ and Culture
13.John Macquarrie. Principles of Christian Theology
14.Eberhard Jungel. The Doctrine of the Trinity
15.Gordon Kaufman. Theological Imagination
16.Miroslav Volf, et. al. The Future of Theology
17.Helmut Thelicke. A Little Exercise for Young Theologians
18.C.S. Song. Third Eye Theology
19.Francis Schaeffer. The God Who is There
20.Kosuke Koyama. Water Buffalo Theology

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Karl Barth on Mission

Yesterday, as I was watching my wife teaching English in the church, our Burmese Pastor showed me a small book. “You might like this book, I have been reading this and plan to translate this to Burmese in the future” he said. I looked at the little book, it was evidently very old and much dog eared and abused book, the cover was falling apart and pages were yellowish, the font used was from old printing press. However, when I looked at the title I was delighted. It was John D. Godsey's Karl Barth's Table Talk. I never had any of Barth's books although I like to have one badly. I could not afford to buy even a volume of Christian Dogmatics even in paperback edition (if there is such a thing) and I really can't find any Barth's books in bookstores in the Philippines.

Anyway, the little book is about a series of discussions held by Karl Barth for English-speaking students between 1953 to 1956 every other Tuesday in Barth's home in Basel, Switzerland. However, in few years the number of students increased that the venue was eventually moved to a bigger place. The book provides an insightful introduction to his theology and as the book says, an introduction to the great man.

So from time to time, I will post some interesting quote from this little delightful borrowed book. I will start on Barth on mission. When Barth was asked about his understanding of the “Body of Christ” as ontological or metaphorical. The Professor gave a very interesting answer that he relates this to mission works.

It is certainly a metaphor, but a very expansive one. We cannot express this truth without metaphorical language: Christ, the Head; we the Church, His Body. Not everyone is in the Body of Christ. That is clear in the New Testament. The Body is made up of called, hearing, accepting believers. But everyone is a virtual member of the Body. No one is excluded. That is a question of mission. Missionaries must tell people the truth about themselves. Missionaries must believe that Christ died for them: Indians, Chinese, Africans and so on. The missionary approaches not an ontologically different kind of human being, but beings who are, not in the Body, but in the realm of Christ, in the power of His sovereignty. The missionary announces: “Christ is your Lord!” “Mine?” “Yes, yours!” The term “virtually” here is opposed to “actually”. It is not wise to describe actual existence of virtual brothers in Christ. You cannot say any more than that “they are sinners.” However, we should not approach them as sinners, but as virtual brothers. Remember the degree to which we are all only virtual brothers! If we understand our own situation, then we will understand those extra muros.”
To some extent I agree with him. I believe that no human is outside the realm of Christ. Barth believes that all human are not outside the realm of our Lord Jesus Christ although they have different culture and religion. We have to declare that Christ is also their Lord. Treating them as sinners make us appear judgmental and self-righteous. However, treating them as virtual brothers that needs to learn that Christ is also their Lord is more appropriate approach in sharing to them the gospel. Here Barth is oftenly accused of universalism and although it may appear like it, in my understanding it is not so.