Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Is church for flocking?

Many megachurches today are market driven. The process and planning in starting a megachurch is like starting a business with growth is projected if it will cater to the needs of the focus people mostly young moneyed married professionals. This is reasonable because these people can extend financial support to the church and could provide the needed expertise that the church will need in the future. Strategic plans about the growth of the church looks more like a business strategy than ministry. Its leaders talk about marketing and outreach plans. Its visions and mission statements sound like it belongs to a secular successful business establishment. The leaders themselves act more like executive rather than lowly servants of God.

I had seen churches like these. I had the opportunity to attend a mega church while I was in Manila. The church is identified to be the church of the rich and the famous. In fact some famous celebrities are attending the church. And I was not surprise at all to find out thousands of people were indeed attending the church but except for younger children, all the people were of the same age. I could not see older people around. The people all look the same to me (they are all good looking), they were all young adults, they wearing the same clothes, driving the same car, and talking the same language. This is not bad at all and although I felt uncomfortable around these people who are so economically different, they are Christians and they are wonderful. As I was leaving the church I can’t help but smile and thought of my own small church in the province, I can’t help but be glad as faces of wiser older people whom I come to love so much flashed before my mind and I could not wait to go home, see and be with them again.
In relation between the generations, the function of the Christian congregation is to build up mutual trust between the old and the young. But the necessary premise is that we also see our fellowship as a fellowship extending over the different stages of life, and so learn to understand others in what they were and as people as they can be, the possibilities they have lived with and the possibilities that are going to offer themselves in the future.

In modern society interest in past or coming generations is appallingly slight. We are experiencing breaches with tradition on the one hand… Awarenes of the present is losing a sense of the present’s origins and its future. That is already becoming plain from the fact that people prefer to meet with people belonging to the same age group. The Christian congregation must swim against the tide here, for it is in a position to do so. Of course it is valuable to have groups for children, youth groups, women’s and men’s groups, and groups for older people; but when the birds of a feather flock together, that is not yet a fellowship in the Spirit of God, which spans time. Fellowship in Christ begins first with the acceptance of other people, and interested participation in life that is different from our own.

Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life, 98.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What is a fundamentalist?

What is a fundamentalist? Dr. Jim West’s working definition of a fundamentalist is helpful indeed even though one might not agree totally with it. This is enough to give you a hint who they are.
A fundamentalist is a person who believes that the Bible is inerrant or infallible.

That’s it. It’s that simple. If a person believes that the bible is inerrant or infallible- that person is a fundamentalist and is, further, guilty of bibliolatry (in spite of any protestations to the contrary). This is so because equating anything in heaven or on earth or under the earth with God, who alone is without error and not subject to fallibility, is idolatry. Soli Deo Gloria. Anything less than that is fundamentalistic.

Just in case you are reading a theology book and wondering if the author is a fundamentalist or not, this working definition will become handy indeed. This stir my interest to look at the other’s description of a fundamentalist and come up with the following:
Christian fundamentalists interpret the Bible as the inerrant, factual, and literal word of God. Though each of these terms can be argued as to what exactly the terms mean, it is in any case clear that fundamentalism rejects any modernist critical interpretation of the Bible. They reject most modern scientific findings in biology and geology, or at least greatly reinterpret them to "fit" their view of the Bible. Most believe, for example, that the world was created in seven 24 hour days simply because that is what the Genesis account says. Most fundamentalist also believe that the earth (and the universe) is no more than a few (less than ten) thousand years old based on the genealogies in the Bible.

Any findings by science that seem to refute this argument are simply discarded and seen to be "obviously wrong" since it disagrees with the Bible. In other words, "if it disagrees with the Bible (the fundamentalist view of the Bible), then it is wrong and probably straight from Satan." It must be stated for the record that there are differing levels or versions of fundamentalist belief. Some fundamentalists, for example, believe that the Genesis account allows for so the called "day - age" interpretation, in which the days of creation are actually unknown periods of time. Even such "liberal" fundamentalists, however, believe that everything written about in the Bible is an accurate reporting of actual historical events.

This "literal" interpretation of the Bible is very dear to fundamentalist to the extent that most believe that anyone who does not accept this "literal" interpretation are not true Christians. Many "hard core" fundamentalist even believe that anyone who does not use the King James (1611) version of the Bible is destined for Hell.
And from different perspective, this is an atheist’s top ten list of signs to know if you are a fundamentalist Christian.
10 - You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.

9 - You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.

8 - You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.

7 - Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!

6 - You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.

5 - You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.

4 - You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs -- though excluding those in all rival sects - will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."

3 - While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.

2 - You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.

1 - You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history - but still call yourself a Christian.
Perhaps, unlike Dr. Jim I can tolerate a conversation however one sided it is (they all do the talking) with a fundamentalist it is their propensity to look down on me because I am studying theology that I couldn't stand.

I hope Rethinking Schools Online wouldn't mind my using of the picture.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Blog Notes

I am trying my best to write few sentences a day for my dissertation. Writing full time in my situation is out of the question. Although I can have a break to write, there are duties on the mission field I could not abandon. With the kind of pace I am taking, I may have at least something to show with my supervisor.

Looking for resources for Filipino theology, I found some excellent journals online, Journal of Asian Missions and East Asian Pastoral Review. I am adding these on the side bar.

Incidentally, I also found Filipino Librarian, a very informative blog about about the Philippines, Filipiniana, Philippine libraries and Filipino librarians.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Golden Compass fuss

Over at F&T, Kim Fabricius posts another very interesting article about the movie The Golden Compass. I have been receiving a lot of emails asking me to stop my children from watching the movie. The truth is I did not have any idea about the movies until I received those emails. I may have no plan of seeing it before but now my curiosity has been stirred. It is an excellent post. I am reposting it here in its entirety.

While Richard Dawkins and his crack troops are busy shooting fundamentalist fish in a barrel, the Catholic League in the US, up in arms over the celluloid version of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass (the first instalment of the trilogy, His Dark Materials), is now taking steady aim at its own foot by calling for a mass boycott on this “atheism for kids.”

Hey, objects this kid, where are the Presbyterians and the Anglicans? In the novel the head of the wicked Magisterium is Pope John Calvin, while Pullman has called St Lewis’ The Narnia Chronicles “one of the most ugly and poisonous things I have ever read.” Let’s at least be ecumenical in our vilification of the film. I should be careful: the ultra-evangelical Christian Voice in the UK, infamous for its attacks on Jerry Springer: The Opera, doesn’t do irony.

Of course Pullman does have the church in his sights. Indeed he is on record as saying that “My books are about killing God.” I just hope that The Golden Compass faithfully executes the deicide that the author so imaginatively conceived and elegantly crafted in the novel.

For the death of this God would actually do the church a great service. He is the god Pullman’s mentor and fellow iconoclast William Blake, whose 250th birthday we celebrated last Wednesday, called Old Nobodaddy, who bears as little relation to the God Jesus called Abba as the straw deity that the New Atheists so tediously torch. This god, who is finally defeated in the third book of the trilogy, is a bearded old fart “of terrifying decrepitude, of a face sunken in wrinkles, of trembling hands and a mumbling mouth and rheumy eyes.” He is the object more of ridicule than indignation (one thinks of the satire on idolatry in Isaiah 44).

The real target of Pullman’s animus is not this impotent wretch but his grand inquisitors who deploy religion in the (dis)service of control and repression, the ecclesiastical authority so savagely pilloried by Blake in “The Garden of Love”:

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys & desires.

As Rowan Williams, a great fan of Pullman, has written: “What the story makes you see is that if you believe in a mortal God, who can win and lose his power, your religion will be saturated with anxiety – and so with violence. In a sense, you could say that a mortal God needs to be killed.”

But the narrative does more than smash empty idols, expose institutional hypocrisy, and condemn vice – “cruelty, intolerance, zealotry, fanaticism … well, who could quarrel with that?” asks Pullman – it inculcates what are decidedly Christian values. Pullman’s coming-of-age story is articulated in terms of growth in wisdom. Here is the winsome heroine, Lyra, reflecting at the very end of the trilogy on selflessness and truthfulness, the virtues it takes to create anything good, beautiful, and enduring: “We have to be all those difficult things like cheerful and kind and curious and brave and patient, and we’ve got to study and think, and work hard, all of us, in our different worlds, and then we’ll build.” If such values are indicative of a “pernicious atheist agenda,” bring on the AOB.

Okay, Pullman’s onslaught is unrelenting, his didacticism can get the better of his art, and for a writer so knowledgeable about a literary tradition steeped in Christian faith – not only Blake and, of course, Milton (“his dark materials” comes from Paradise Lost), but also, among others, Edmund Spenser, George Herbert, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Emily Dickinson – he can be theologically quite obtuse, if not without flashes of insight.

But that’s not the point. The point, for the church, is the embarrassing mini Magisterium of Christian Pharisees and Philistines who prove the point Pullman is making. And the ultimate irony: there is nothing like a good boycott to market a product. Popcorn, anyone?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Biblicism: A danger to Protestant theology

The centrality of the Scriptures as guide for life marked an important advance over the view that all matters of faith and life are to be ruled, sometimes rather arbitrarily, by popes and councils. At the same time it opened the way for a “paper pope” replacing the pope in Rome—hardly an advance over the Middle Ages. Sometimes the Bible was hypostatized and almost regarded as though it was working on its own. It is important, in this regard, to keep in mind that the Reformers did not yet teach biblical inerrancy; they were interested, rather, in the cause which the Scripture promotes. Luther could say, “God and the Bible are two different things, just as the Creator is different from creature. Lutheran and Reformed orthodoxy, and not the Reformers themselves, propagated the idea of “doctrinal unity” of Scripture, according to which we can deduce one doctrinal system from all biblical sayings. This led to the dogma of verbal inspiration of the Bible, which is found in many branches of Protestantism. Indeed, in Hans Kung words:

biblicism remained a permanent danger to Protestant theology. The real foundation of faith is then no longer Christian message, nor the proclaimed Christ himself, but the infallible biblical word. Just as many Catholics believe less in God than in “their” church and “their” pope, many Protestants believe in “their” Bible. The apotheosis of the church corresponds to the apotheosis of the Bible!
David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sluggish blogging

My blogging has been sluggish lately. In fact, my posts were mostly quotes and part of the newsletter that I sent to my family and friends back home. It seems I could not think of anything else to write these days. I apologize to my readers.

The truth is I feel tired. Thinking about many things is so tiring. I am trying to finish my lessons in Christian Ethics which I will resume teaching after two weeks. The time of the day is just not enough to do this. I am also trying to write a proposal to a foundation for a possible grant for our daycare ministry. Our local partner has given Narlin the full responsibility and authority in running the daycare. She has been very successful in doing it that the community starting to notice how well we take care of the children and how excellent is the center’s capability in teaching. A committed Christian lady from the USA volunteers to work with us. The presence of a foreigner teaching in our center gives it a prestige that the more affluent Thais and Chinese want for their children. As of now we are only ministering to the poor migrant workers, nonetheless, we are not closing the door to them. This is the reason why we need the grant. We are growing and we need new facilities. We need big money to start.

My time for writing the dissertation is expiring. I do not know exactly when but I know I don’t have much time left. I am doing a lot of reading but I haven’t written even a sentence. This is hard because I am not really a good writer. I don’t have my own computer, I don’t have an office and I just don’t have uninterrupted time to do a lot of thinking. I have to be determined to write regardless of the present state of affairs.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Witnessing the Loi Krathong

Loi Krathong is being celebrated here in Thailand. The 12th full moon for this falls on the 24th day of November. We were not aware that many people were gathered at the waterways. The waterways are actually open canals that are being used for irrigation. That is I thought those waterways are for. But tonight seeing so many people by the open canals, it made me think that perhaps those water ways are really intended for the celebration of Loi Krathong.

But prior to this, within the week several parades were held in the streets of the mooban (villages). I don’t know exactly how the town was divided, but the most logical explanation is that each zone is being divided by the location of the Wats (Buddhist temples). Many people participated in the parade along with their pick-up trucks, each carrying a beautiful money tree. Yes, a tree which leaves are made of real money. The money collected from the parade will be given to the temple.

The parade was fun-filled and those who participated were evidently enjoying themselves. I have never seen so much drunk people in a parade in my whole life, both men and women. This community event concluded in the Loy Krathong festival which happened on the weekend this year.

Although not an official public holiday, Loi Kratong is one of the most popular and romantic of Thailand's traditional festivals. Loi literally translates to "float", while Krathong is the Thai word for a sort of tray made out of banana leaves. Loy Kratong is celebrated by floating elaborate krathongs decorated with flowers, candles and incense on just about any waterway in the kingdom. Fireworks and releasing of light lanterns that rise up to the sky were included in the festival. As the rivers glistens with floating candles, lights could also be seen on the evening’s dark horizon. What a magnificent sight to behold!

The romance is provided by a legend about the origins of the festival in 13th century Sukhothai. According to the story, Nang Nopamas, a royal consort of King Ramkhamhaeng (the founder of Sukhothai), made the first krathong as an offering to Mae Nam. She set it afloat on one of the canals of the palace so that it would drift past her lover the king. The king was delighted with the creation, and thus was the origins of the saying that if two lovers set a krathong adrift and it stays afloat until out of sight, their love will last forever.

The celebration however is full ambiguity. Is this a festival for the goddess of rivers, ancestor veneration or homage to Buddha? My guess is that this is originally an animist practice that eventually became part of Buddhism. Nonetheless, the Thais believe that apart from venerating the Buddha with light (the candle on the raft), the act of floating away the candle raft is symbolic of letting go of all one's grudges, anger and defilements, so that one can start life afresh on a better foot. People will also cut their fingernails and hair and add them to the raft as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of oneself (from Wikipedia).

No, we neither floated a krathong nor released a floating light lantern. We did not join the celebration. We witnessed the festival as we were driving home from a birthday celebration of one of our children from the Grace Home.

We witnessed how devoted the Thais to the customs and practices of their ancestors but they do not exactly know what is its significance in their lives. We can almost feel their longing for forgiveness and restored relationships. They sincerely seek for a relationship with their creator God by which their religion does not .

Although we are at present ministering with the poor Myanmar migrants, we have a great burden to share the gospel to the more affluent Thais. With all our heart, we believe that God has placed us, so strategically, so we can reach all peoples who live this region.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Bosch on Epistemological priority of the Scripture

Contrary to natural sciences, theology relates not only the present and the future, but also to the past, to tradition, to God’s primary witness to humans. Theology must undoubtedly always relevant and contextual, but this may never be pursued at the expense of God’s revelation in and through the history of Israel and, supremely, the event of Jesus Christ. Christians take seriously the epistemological priority of their classical text, the Scripture.

I realize that in, stating the above, I have hardly solved any problems. Scripture comes to us in the shape of human words, which are already “contextual” (in the sense of being written for every specific historical contexts) and are, moreover, open to different interpretations. In making the affirmation above I am, however, suggesting a “point of orientation” all Christians (should) share and on the basis of which dialogue between them becomes possible. No individual or group has a monopoly here. So, the Christian church should function as an “international hermeneutical community” in which Christians (and theologians) from different contexts challenge one another’s cultural, social and ideological biases. This presupposes, however, that we see fellow-Christians not as rivals or opponents but as partners even if we may be passionately convinced that their views are in need of major corrections.

David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, 187.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Church unity is mission

Darkness comes early this time of year. I turned on the headlight of the van. I feel tired after bringing almost thirty children to their homes. As I was making a right turn, the Pastor of the Kachin church waved to us. I waved back and did a wai (prayer like posture Thai greeting) while driving the van and drove fast him. But then he came running after us and when I saw him. I pulled over and I looked back and asked what it was he wanted. He gave us an invitation for the Kachin’s church thanksgiving day on Saturday.

A very small congregation of Kachin tribe from Myanmar was worshiping few kilometers from our house. Few blocks from this church, you can also find a Shan church. A Lahu congregation is also located near our vicinity. May family neither attend nor visit these churches although they are practically our neighbors. We belong to a church that is composed of mixed tribal groups from Myanmar and Thailand up on the hill.

I can’t understand why Christians from different tribal groups could not worship together although they speak a common language. In fact they are almost indifferent to each other. Apparently, these churches are planted and sponsored by missionaries by whom that particular tribe is the people group they chose to work with. The missionaries’ strict focus on their chosen people group in total disregard to other resulted in a further fragmentation of the body of Christ. Sometimes thoughtless observance of what seems to be effective strategy in mission has its downside. Missions should be concerned with the unity in the body of Christ. Believers from different ethnic backgrounds worshiping together have more missionary impact than hundred of small congregations who are indifferent to each other.

And I agree with David Bosch in Transforming Mission when he says:
The unity of the church—no, the church itself—is called in question when groups of Christians segregate themselves on the basis of such dubious distinctive as race, ethnicity, sex, or social status. God in Christ has accepted us unconditionally; we have to do likewise with regard to one another. On the basis of Paul’s thinking, it is inconceivable that, in a given locality, converts could comprise two congregations—one of Torah observant Jewish Christians, and another of non-observant Gentile Christians (Sanders 1983:188). In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ a new age has dawned, in which Jew and Gentile are joined together without distinction in the one people of God. “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13). That is inconceivable! Segregation in the church destroys its internal life and denies its grounding in the substitutionary death of Christ. Only Christ, not Paul or anybody else (cf 1 Cor. 1:13), was crucified so as to reconcile people with God). “One has died for all” (2 Cor. 5:14). And Christ’s work of reconciliation does not just bring two parties into the same room that they may settle their differences; it leads to a new kind of body in which human relations are being transformed. In a very real sense mission, in Paul’s understanding, is saying to people from all backgrounds, “Welcome to the new community, in which all are members of one family and bound together by love”.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Jacques Ellul find

Even though we could not understand most of the words, Narlin and I regularly attend the evening Burmese worship. This is our church and we commit ourselves with these people. We are trying our best to participate in every activity and help in many ways that we are allowed or requested to do. We are willing to help even though it entails us to do menial work. In return, the Burmese congregation would just express their appreciations for what we are doing. This is a rewarding experience for us.

What they do not know is that when I attend the Burmese worship, I'll always bring a book with me to read while the service is going on. I try to appear as if I am listening intently. But because I don't really understand the sermon, I actually read the time away.

But last Sunday, I panicked because I forgot to bring a book with me. Afraid of spending the hour forcing myself to listen to a long preaching that I could understand, I dashed to the church’s library and looked for an English book that I can grab in no time at all. Ten seconds later, I was sitting comfortably on a monoblock chair and trying my best to look like I was listening intently, I slowly opened the old, yellowish dog-eared book and whoa… it was a book entitled The Judgment of Jonah written by Jacques Ellul.

I didn’t have any idea who is Jacques Ellul but the book is so good that when I came home I googled his name and found out he is indeed an excellent philosopher and theologian. Here is what I found:

One of the most thoughtful philosophers to approach technology from a deterministic, and some have even argued fatalistic , position is Jacques Ellul. Professor at the University of Bordeaux, Ellul authored some 40 books and hundreds of articles over his lifetime, the dominant theme of which has been, according to Fasching (1981), "the threat to human freedom and Christian faith created by modern technology”. Ellul's constant theme has been one of technological tyranny over humanity. As a philosopher and theologian, Ellul explored the religiosity of the technological society.

Ellul became a Marxist at age 19 and a Christian at 22. His religious faith evolved out of the Death of God movement and the response of the neo-orthodox theologians Bultmann, Barth, Niebuhr and Tillich. According to Fasching, the Barthian dialectic, in which the gospel both judges and renews the world, helped to shape Ellul's theological perspective. For Ellul, "that which desacralizes a given reality, itself in turn becomes the new sacred reality.”

The church library is newly constructed. The construction was sponsored by a friend from Singapore and was named after his father. The library is very small. Shelves are lacking and could not hold all the books. Most of them are still in boxes and would remain there for some time. My pastor has an uncanny ability to discriminate good theological books.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Home again!

Three days in Phuket Orchid Resort and four days on the road either in the bus or waiting for it at the terminal was not an ideal holiday. The bus ride was so tiresome and we came home on the weekend meaning we had to extend ourselves for the church. The resort was fantastic and it was by no means cheap. But Narlin and I thought that it's all worth it.

We want to do this for our children. They had never been in a hotel before. While Narlin spent her youth working in what was considered to be the best five-star hotel in her hometown in Dagupan and I myself had stayed in a five-star hotel in Chiang Mai when I was invited to work with Asian Baptist Congress 2007 last May, as a family we never had the chance to enjoy staying in a hotel much more a resort hotel beside the beach. And the way life has been going four us right now, it seems highly unlikely that we can do it again in the near future. We neither have the financial resources and time. Time flies so fast and before we know it my children will have their own lives.

Again I want to thank Christian Hospitality Network for their well, hospitality. We met some wonderful people that hopefully will stay with us as friends. In the Bible, hospitality is one of the most important virtues that Christians should posses. Sadly, this is not true today. I never even had seen a church that has a true hospitality ministry. So for us, this is indeed a refreshing “cup of cold water in His name.” We want to thank the founder of CHN Paul Cowell and the volunteer staff who personally gave us words of encouragement. You all had been a blessing to us. We also want to thank personal friends who gave us money we used for our bus fare. We were worried because the money we had was not enough for the trip coming back. But God did provide through a good friend who was aware of our situation.

Somehow, after being away for over a week, we all feel glad to be backed home. We were surprised to find out that cold season had came to Mae Sai while we were gone. It feels good to be home.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blog getaway

Teaching takes a lot of my time and almost always blogging here is always the one to give way. Under normal circumstances, I should have enough time to do things while teaching. But my situation is far from normal so to speak. I am the school bus driver, a janitor in my own house, a computer technician, a father of three and sometimes I am the one who is doing the laundry among others. At this point, I’m just one lesson ahead from my students and this is not good. What makes lesson preparation so time consuming is that I have to read the textbook, write my lessons and carefully choose words which are translatable to Burmese language. I have a good interpreter and it is a blessing, but in any case, I have to do my best to make my lesson understandable in the local language. Meanings can be lost in translation.

We are also preparing to leave for CHN Phuket GetAway 2007. After almost two years, in the field we are finally having a break. This would be a new experience for us as a family. This is the first time that my children will experience staying in a five star hotel. They are looking forward to very exciting times at Phuket's beautiful beaches. And because we could not afford the airfare, we have to leave two days earlier for the actual schedule. We will take the cheapest bus from Mae Sai to Bangkok and Bangkok to Phuket. Almost 24 hours bus travel. We are not complaining and besides we are used to it. This will be a great experience for us especially for my children. Please pray for our safe travel.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bosch: Christians true identity is found in mission

Christians find their true identity when they are involved in mission, in communicating to others a new way of life, a new interpretation of reality and of God and in committing themselves to the liberation of others. A missionary community is one that understands itself as being both different from and committed to its environment; it exists within its context in a way which is both winsome and challenging.

David J. Bosch. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. New York: Orbis Books, 1991. p.8

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mission as faith in action

Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapid, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. 1995. 192 pp

Chapter 4

Newbigin claims that we can look at the contemporary issues in mission from the Trinitarian faith. Thus in chapter four of this book, he declares that mission is proclaiming the kingdom of the Father. The Son did the proclamation, initially all throughout his three-year ministry. And since the gospel clearly states that the revelation of truth is the work of God alone—it is the work of the Holy Spirit. We have to note, however, that Jesus did not inaugurate the Kingdom. He inaugurated the proclamation of the Kingdom. There is not a time when God does not reign.

Christianity differs from other religions in that “it claims to show us the shape, the structure, the origin, and the goal not merely of human history, but of cosmic history” (31). God, the Father is not only the God of Israel and Christians but he is the God of the universe, the universal God who has been reigning even before the world began. The reign of God is his reign over all things.

This is the reason that in the gospel of John, Jesus is introduced as the one who was with God, and was God from the beginning, the Word through whom all things were made. A missionary who answers the question “who is Jesus?” asked by people who do not know him, can answer this question with this claim in the gospel of John.

God created the whole humanity and as we learn from the Genesis 3 the whole humanity fell because of sin. God therefore started the process of election to bring redemption to this fallen humanity. Those who are chosen are bearers of the blessing. God has chosen particular personality or community from each generation to become the bearer of God’s promise of being a blessing to all the nations like Noah, Abraham, Jacob, the nation Israel, the tribe of Judah and eventually the faithful remnant.

The mistaken notion of that election is a privilege rather than responsibility caused Israel to become unfaithful to their calling and they were punished for it. Thus the faithful remnant became smaller and smaller until the moment when the focus is narrowed down to one person—the one who bears the ultimate blessing for all nations. He is the one who saved the world and hailed as the son of God. This is the beginning of the gospel. Jesus Christ did not inaugurate the reign of God because the Father has been reigning since the beginning.

Jesus Christ proclaimed the reign of God. Jesus Christ announced that the reign of God is not something far up in heavens. It is an impending reality that everybody needs to make a decision about it. In announcing God’s reign Jesus used parables. Why did Jesus use parables? His intention then was so that his proclamation could not be understood by those who rejected it and at the same understood by those who believe. Those who accepted it were given comprehension. Parable is a mystery. It is both hidden and revealed. It means it is revealed for those whose eyes are opened and hidden for those who hardened their hearts. The ability to understand the hidden message is solely the work of God.

The supreme parable according to Newbigin is Jesus Christ. The reign of God is both revealed and hidden in the words and works of Jesus and supremely in his cross and resurrection. It has to be proclaimed to all the nations by those to whom its secret has been entrusted—the church. Here the mystery of being open and hidden is also at work. Some people understand the meaning of the cross and resurrection of Jesus while other people do not. Perhaps it is because the reign of God is made known under the form of weakness and foolishness to those whom God has chosen to make it known. Clearly what happened to Jesus or what he allowed to happen to him is a form of weakness and foolishness from the world’s perspective.

Since the church is chosen to make know the reign of God, Jesus reminded the believers that they have to suffer. This truth is clearly expressed by in the little apocalypse discourse in Mark 13. If I understood Newbigin’s argument here, the church will share the tribulations with Christ because of its role as the one who proclaims the kingdom of God. The suffering are the occasion of the Spirit’s witness, and his witness must be given to all nations. Suffering is an essential part of the proclamation. It is when the church is suffering that the proclamation of the gospel is on its best.

God’s reign is indeed at hand. God is indeed active in history. But his action is hidden within what seems to be its opposite—suffering and tribulation for his people. The secret has been entrusted to those whom God chose. They are to be witnesses of it to all nations. In fact, it will be the Spirit himself who bears this witness in and through the messianic tribulations to which they are called. Their task is to remain faithful to the end. By faith they know that the reign of God has conquered the powers of evil. Their calling is to proclaim it, but even more powerful will be the proclamation of the Spirit, who takes their faithful enduring rejection as the occasion of his witness. Mission, seen from this angle, is faith in action. It is the acting out by proclamation and by endurance, through all the events of history, of the faith that the kingdom of God has drawn near (39).

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A terrible failure

I read Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission by David J. Bosch two years ago as part of our reading assignment in a mission course seminar. But I was pre-occupied with other class assignments that time that I did not pay close attention to what I was reading. And besides, I thought that going to the mission field in that time was impossible for us. Now, I have a copy of the book in my hands and read it with new eyes, my understanding is deeper. It seems the words become alive and I can relate to what Bosch is talking about. I think it is a great idea to make this a required reading to all the Filipino missionaries who will go out and minister cross-culturally.

…toward the end of his life Max Warren, for many years General Secretary, referred to what he termed “a terrible failure of nerve about the missionary enterprise". In some circles this has led to an almost complete paralysis and total withdrawal from any activity traditionally associated with mission, in whatever form. Others are plunging them¬selves into projects which might just as well—and more efficiently—be undertaken by secular agencies.

Again, in some Christian circles there is no sign of such a failure or nerve. Quite the contrary. It is "business as usual" as regards the continuation of one ¬way missionary traffic from the West to the Third World and the proclamation of a gospel which appears to have little interest in the conditions in which people find themselves, since the preachers' only concern seems to be the saving of souls from eternal damnation. Here the right of Christians to proclaim their religion is beyond dispute since the Bible clearly commands world mission. To even suggest that there is a fundamental crisis in mission would be tantamount to making concessions to "liberal" theology and to doubting the abiding validity of the faith once handed down to us.

Whilst the zeal for mission and the self-sacrificing dedication evidenced in these circles must be applauded, one cannot help wondering whether they are really rendering a valid and long-term solution. Our spiritual forebears may perhaps be pardoned for not having been aware of the fact that they were facing a crisis. Present generations, however, can hardly be excused for their lack of awareness.

David J. Bosch. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Mary Knoll, NY, Orbis Books, pp 6-7.

Never forget who you are

Scripture text: Colossians 3:1-4
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
We usually say that forgetfulness is a sign of old age. We are ready to forgive somebody who is old when they forget but we could not do the same when younger person failed to remember.

Last May when I attended the Asian Baptist Congress in Chiang Mai, the director of a Mission organization was scheduled to present their mission programs and activities. But when the time came for the meeting, the director was absent. Hours later after the meeting, she appeared and told us that she forgot everything about the meeting because her mind was focused on something else. And I know, a lot of times we had the same experience.

Here in our passage, Paul knows that we forget easily. If we forget even the most important appointment we made, he believes, that there is no reason why we could not forget some important truth about our faith. We tend to forget these important truths because our attention is focused on other things.

In our text today, the Apostle Paul is reminding us of who we are in Christ and how important it is as a Christian to see everything from different perspective—from heavenly perspective. It is impossible to live a Christian life if we keep forgetting who and what we are in Christ. Here the Scripture reminds us of important truths about our life as followers of Jesus Christ.

We are reminded of our new identity in Christ (v. 1)

It’s sad that many Christians do not know exactly who they are in Christ. We have this idea that we are not different from most people around us who obviously have different faith. Not knowing the difference, makes us think that we can live like them.

Our understanding of who we are in Christ comes from the Bible. It is the main source of our knowledge about our identity in Christ and if we have not been reading it or much more studying it, we are left with a poor knowledge of ourselves.

His word is a formative factor, not our feelings, not what somebody is telling about us. The starting point of understanding our new identity is the word of God. It tells the truth about us.

Here in verse 1, the Bible tells us we have been raised with Christ. This statement implies that two important things have happened to us—we have died and we have been raised up from the dead. For how can we rise up if we have not died?

But what does it mean exactly? How did we die and how are we raised?

According to the Scripture, when Christ died for our sin on the cross, we also died with him there spiritually. He died in our place. This means that when he died, we died with him. We died to sin. We have been set free from the penalty of sin and the power of sin.

And when Christ rose again, we also rose with him and here I will emphasize in spiritual sense. Because of his resurrection, we now have new life in the Spirit. The Bible says we have been born from above by the power of the Spirit to live a new life, abundant life in a new spiritual dimension.

According to the text, we dwell spiritually in Christ in heavenly realm. It means we are identified with him and he with us. I hope that when people look at us they will see Christ because here it says that our life is hidden with Christ in God. He is our life. We are one with him. We dwell with him. We are not earthly dwellers. We are heaven dwellers.

Now it is easier said than done or seen in our lives. Nonetheless, we should see and start acting about this truth. Although our understanding about spiritual reality is limited at this point, we should see this new reality. This is made doubly difficult because of the sufferings, difficulties and limitations that we have been experiencing here on earth in general and here in Mae Sai in particular as strangers and perhaps as oppressed people.

Nonetheless, if we believe and live the truth that we are dwelling in Christ, that we are united in Christ in all our ways it will make a big difference on how we live. It will make a big difference how we live everyday. It makes a difference in how we see ourselves and our self worth. This is the reason that the Apostle Paul reminds us that we have new identity in Christ and we should never see ourselves apart from it.

We are reminded to focus on things above (v. 2)

The natural consequence of a new identity is having a new focus. We must concentrate our focus on eternal realities.

Just look at the things that the people around us identify us. People tend to identify us with the material things we possessed. They know us by where we live and what kind of house we live in. We are even identified by what kind of car or motorcycle we are driving. We are identified on what work we do. Are we a doctor, an English teacher, a construction worker, a factory worker, a market vendor or a bus driver? Now these may be what we do, but definitely would not define who we are. But somehow sometimes, we allow these things to define who we are, but we should not.

We cannot avoid this. We are living in a material world and more often than not we are identified by the things we possessed or the things that possessed us. And it should not be. This is the reason that the Apostle Paul reminds us that we should have a new focus based on our new identity. We must discover who we really are in Christ.

Our text says that our life is hidden with Christ in God. Something happened in our life that we should be constantly be aware of. In this sense, even at present while we are still here on earth, we are already dwelling in heavenly places. We are citizen of heaven but we are living in a while here on earth. And because of this fact, we do everything from heavenly perspective. We should always see ourselves as joined in Christ. Never, even a moment to see ourselves apart from Jesus. He is our life.

Because of this we are exhorted to set our hearts on things above, set your minds on things above. In other words, focus our attention to what is essential in our life, the heavenly realities. The problem with many Christians is that we are focused on what is happening around us. We are so focused on earthly things that we began to think like we are no leaving this world.

So what are these things above we are ask to seek? Foremost I believe here is the joy and blessings we have from daily intimate fellowship with Christ. People do not actually see this but they know its effect. By spending time with Jesus everyday in prayer and meditation upon his word you develop a strong sense of communion with him and this result in a strong communion with people believers and non-believers alike.

And because Jesus is gracious, we become gracious. Because Jesus is merciful we become merciful and people around us could use that mercy. Focusing on Jesus’ love and humility makes us more loving and humble. This means that setting our hearts and minds on things above results in a positive influence in a world full of negative things. Christians can turn the mourning into dancing. We can turn sorrows to the joy of the Lord. We can heal the broken hearted and we can set the captives free.

We should let these things above define us. Let our union with Christ identifies us. Christ has so identified with us that when comes again, we will appear in him in glory. He includes is in his life, he also include us in his ultimate victory.

Friday, October 05, 2007

What's going on?

We live just outside the Myanmar border but just like the rest of the world, news from inside Myanmar are getting lesser and lesser each passing day. Not only that the news also become vague and foggy. Rumors have been that the government has suspended all the sources of news and information in Myanmar this includes the internet. The news that government has been murdering a lot people seems plausible. Here is some information coming from the inside of one of its cities.

This city is under a curfew. Residents can only go out of their homes from six in until nine in the morning. Yes, that is right they are allowed to see the world three hours each day.

There is no internet. People are lining up and waiting for hours in internet cafes to send emails but no one is able to send or receive emails.

People are not allowed to group together in fours or fives. Order is out to shoot at people who are out in the streets in group.

Earlier this week, the city held a demonstration simultaneous with the demonstration in Yangon and now nobody can tell for sure how many people have died in the city as a result of crackdown on protesters because of the three hours limit given to the civilians. Anyone who ventures out on the street would be risking death.

Gunshots and explosions can be heard everywhere. These can be heard from nearby and from distant places.

Churches are not allowed to hold worship services. It is too dangerous to gather in one place.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mission of the Triune God

Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapid, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. 1995. 192 pp

Chapter 3

“In the name of Jesus” is the first natural answer a Christian usually utters when the question of authority arises. However this answer is not understood if you are in place where Jesus is virtually unknown that is if he is known at all their knowledge of Jesus is radically different from the Christian’s understanding of Jesus. For example, Newbigin cites that for the Hindu, Jesus is just one of the jeevanmuktas. He is one of the few who attained full realization of the divine in this life. For the Muslims Jesus is one of the messengers of Allah. For the man of Western society, he is one of the world’s religious leaders to whom we will find reference (along with Buddha, Muhammad, Moses and Guru Nanak). These show that it is impossible to answer the questions “who is Jesus?’ with out using a language that is shaped by the pre-Christian experience of the one who is asking the question. The risk of identifying Jesus with local deities is always present with them. Nonetheless, those who become believers will know that in some aspect he is like them, but more so uniquely more than them.

In light of this, Newbigin insists that it is impossible to know Christ Jesus at all as a natural happening. If our knowledge of him is based in our cultural and religious presupposition, it will always result in a distorted knowledge of him. Our understanding of who Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit. Nobody knows Christ based on one’s intellectual capacity. When Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God Jesus quickly commented that it is not his own achievement but a gift from above. Peter’s incredible insight about Jesus is the work of the Spirit of God himself (1 Corinthians 12:1-3, 1 John 4:1-3). It is the action of God by which he chooses and anoints the messengers of his reign. It is the work of the sovereign Spirit to enable men and women in new situations and in new cultural forms in the language of their own culture. The mission of the church is its obedient participation in that action of the Spirit by which the confession that Jesus is Lord becomes the authentic confession of every new people, each in its own tongue (20).

Newbigin quotes the first chapter of Mark’s gospel to answer the question. He thinks that the scripture passage can best answer the question. In the passage, Jesus was introduced as the one who announces the coming of the reign of God and is anointed by the Spirit of God. This is how Jesus was proclaimed by the first believers in a pluralist society that knew not Jesus at all. This Trinitarian language was how the first Christians articulated the proclamation about the identity of Jesus. “This understanding is not the result of speculative thought. It has been given by revelation in the actual historical life and work of the Son” (26).

Thus the question of the authority of the words “in the name of Jesus” can only be answered in terms that embody the Trinitarian faith. Even though this model cannot be verified by reference to the axioms of our culture, this is offered on the authority of revelation and with the claim that it does provide the possibility of practical wisdom to grasp and deal with human life as it really is (28). Therefore, Christian mission can be understood only if it will be seen through a Trinitarian lens —as proclaiming the kingdom of the Father, as sharing the life of the Son and as bearing the witness of the Spirit (29).

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hope for Myanmar

I can not seem to blog about anything when my mind is being bothered in what is happening in Yangoon. We live very close to Burma and our closest friends here are all Myanmar nationals. I know their stories, their sufferings and their hopes that someday Myanmar will become a free country. My heart breaks when soldiers and police started firing at protesters and killed people in the process. The monks who mobilized the masses to join the protests are all forcibly locked up in their respective monasteries. According to the news the protests falter after the crackdown. “The streets of Myanmar's two biggest cities were eerily quiet on Saturday after a brutal crackdown on demonstrators seeking to end 45 years of military rule. Soldiers quickly snuffed out one small demonstration in Yangon, dragging several men to waiting trucks.”

This development is really sad as I ponder upon the sacrifices that the monks and the people made for almost a month. I do not want the protests to end. I do not want it to end this way. I want it to end the way it should be, attaining its goal—freedom for Myanmar people. But there is still hope. My hope has been kept alive by people who have been protesting in their own countries where the Myanmar embassies are located. Hope has been kept alive by Christians who are not only praying for a peaceful change in Myanmar but for Christians who follows the biblical mandate to speak against injustices and be in solidarity with the suffering people of Burma.

This is accidentally posted here.

The picture is from Yahoo! News

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Protests in Burma

I wrote in our church bulletin last Sunday about the situation in Burma. We need to pray for Burma as the Buddhist monks initiated protests in Rangoon and other cities. The number of protesters is growing each day. And because most of my co-workers are from Burma, I’m hearing a lot of humors. The Burmese security forces started firing directly on the protesting monks and demonstrators. My friend told me that the government means business and that they are ready to kill to stop any revolution. I don’t that the revolution that happened in the Philippines in 1986 will also happen here. The Philippine revolution against the Marcos regime was successful because the military turned their back against the government and joined the people’s movement. Here I don’t see that happening, at least not yet.

The Bush administration issued statements about the situation in Burma. According to Irrawaddy, Burma’s leading authoritative news paper, Bush announced “three major measures against the military regime. First, he said, the US will tighten economic sanctions on the leaders of the regime and their financial backers. Secondly the US will impose an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members. Thirdly, the US will facilitate the efforts of humanitarian groups working to alleviate suffering in Burma.” But one wonders, is that what America can do for a country who have been suffering from an oppressive military regime for more than twenty years? The international community has been enraged with what happened to Burma as it has been suffering under the military regime who rules the country with tyranny and violence. People suffer from hunger and disease, illiteracy and ignorance, poverty and despair.

I received an email imploring me to join the protests. The email expresses something that is so true and I have been witnessing everyday as I worked with Myanmar people from different ethnic groups. Here is the content of the email.

Burma is ruled by one of the most brutal military dictatorships in the world. For decades the Burmese regime has fought off pressure--imprisoning elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy activists, wiping out thousands of villages in the provinces, bringing miseries from forced labour to refugee camps.

But last Tuesday Buddhist monks and nuns, revered in Burma, began marching and chanting prayers. The protests spread—now they're growing by tens of thousands every day, as ordinary people, even celebrities and comedians join in.

Peaceful protesters numbered 20,000 on Saturday, 30,000 on Sunday, 100,000 today. This week, they could win a new life for their country. In the past, Burma's military rulers have massacred the demonstrators and crushed democracy. This time it can be different—but only if the world stands with the Burmese.

Global leaders are gathering now in New York for the annual United Nations summit. In speeches and press interviews, we need them to show Burma's military junta how grave the consequences will be if they crush the protesters with violence this time. Click below urgently to sign the emergency petition supporting the peaceful protests in Burma, it’ll be delivered to UN Security Council members and the UN press corps all week.

If you want to join the peaceful protests and be counted in please click here.

At this point, I still do not know how Myanmar Christians are being involved in the protests. But we are one in our desire and aspirations for a peaceful change in Burma.

The picture is from with Burmese Protesters

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Too many motorcycles

This morning our young Burmese co-worker broke to us a bad news. “The young man in our neighbor died of a motorcycle accident last night” he said awkwardly smiling showing his black-stained teeth because of his incessant betel nut chewing .

I was trying to recall who was that reckless young man who died unnecessarily but I could not remember him at all. You see, I don’t spend much time in the Day Care Center where my wife and some Burmese fellow workers are taking care of the children while their parents are working very hard. In the center, my wife teaches free English and leads Bible study to the parents of the children and neighbors who want to learn. I just come to the center to pick-up the child and drive them home or vice-versa or do some cleaning up or repair works.

Anyways, back to the accident. Deaths from motorcycle accident are very common here in Thailand. This is not unusual because everybody rides it from a child of ten to a grandmother of seventy. We have been here almost two years and I already heard stories of more than ten accidents related to motorcycle. A friend even saw a motorcycle with two passengers plunge about ten meters up to the air after a pick-up in full speed crash unto it. Also, my wife saw young men and his motorbike rolled ten times when its driver tried to make a u-turn in full speed. And my wife was not exaggerating. Well I hope so.

I started driving the van here two months ago. And the ever present of speeding motorcycles from different directions are making me confused and sick. I mean, I may die of hypertension or heart attack or worst I might find a motorcycle under the van.

I tried to ride a motorcycle taxi in Chiang Mai and I made a promise to myself, I will never ever do it again. I am afraid I might not make it back in one piece to my wife and children. It is a fast way of transportation but very dangerous. Here, you may not die of accident. But if you have a weak heart, you may die anyway. And I’m not exaggerating either.

Thaiwebsites. Com says that:

Way too many young people still die unnecessarily in Thailand due to car and (mostly) motorcycle accidents. The actual number of deaths on the road is reportedly around 30,000. Many more of course get maimed for live, or require expensive medical care (if they can afford it). Reasons are discussed forever.

Motorcycle deaths of course are mostly among young males. Still to common (especially in the side streets) one sees youngsters driving around without helmet protection. Motorcycle taxis seem to be allowed to carry passengers without requiring them to wear a helmet.
Especially in view of the rapidly declining birth rates in Thailand, the thousands of people killed yearly in motorcycle accidents will be surely missed in the future.
The picture is from with a very sound advise saying motorcycle taxis are fast but not safeway of transport...we recommend you walk at all times.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

By what authority?

Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapid, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. 1995. 192 pp

Chapter 2

Fifty years ago, the West and its missionaries thought that the entire world will become Christian. However, this somewhat prideful forecast about the conversion of the entire world to Christianity is not happening. In fact, as Newbigin himself claims, the West is now largely secularized and become itself is becoming a missionary field as well.

The Western Christians believe that because of their “better culture,” progressive civilization and wealth have become the authority to make the world a better place. And missionaries brought this idea with them. They think that because they are ministering to primitive, backward and poor countries, they could use those qualities as the source of their authority in spreading Christianity. Apparently, according to Newbigin this is not in anyway true.

After fifty years, nations that are predominantly Islam, Buddhist and High-Caste Hindu consistently refuse to accept Christianity and its missionaries. They asked the question: “What right do Christians have to preach to them?” If mission is understood to involve merely calling people of other faith to conversion then other religions would questions its validity. In fact, if this is the only reason in doing mission, even from within Christianity itself, its validity will always be questioned.

As missionaries do the task in which they are called to do, the question “by what authority you do this?” will always be asked. To answer simplistically by quoting the Scripture would not work. This question could not be answered with the usual “in Jesus’ name” for it entails another question, “who is Jesus?” who obviously is not known outside Western Christendom.

Newbigin proposes several answers to this question. First, he answers it with a confession. “I believe. It is a personal commitment to faith that cannot be demonstrated on grounds establish from the point of view of another commitment. A Christian commitment is distinguished that it is a commitment to a belief about meaning of the whole experience in its entirety—namely the belief that this meaning is to be found in the person of Jesus Christ.” (15)

Second, this confession is that Jesus is the supreme authority—that Jesus is Lord. This implies public, universal claim that was bound eventually to clash with the cultus publicus of the empire. The confession “Jesus is Lord” implies a commitment to make good that confession in relation to the whole life of the world—its culture, and its politics no less than the personal lives of its people.” (17) The Christian mission is thus to act out the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all.

Third, Newbigin believes that God chooses whom he will and calls them to his service. The authority to preach the gospel actually lies on the doctrine of election. (A chapter of this book is dedicated to explain this view). It is God who chooses, calls and sends. If he was asked about his authority to preach, Newbigin would answer that he is only a simple servant of one whom God has chosen and for the sake of all—Jesus Christ.

So what is our authority to preach the gospel? The answer—the authority is the announcement of the gospel itself. I couldn't agree more. The gospel in itself is powerful and authoritative. We can not make it more or less authoritative. I feel terrible when somebody (usually a missionary) would belittle a proclamation of the gospel for not being done according to their learned effective method. As if their own way of presenting the gospel is what makes it authoritative. The gospel is God's Word, the gospel is Christ, proclaim through the power of the Holy Spirit. Then tell me, what is more authoritative than that? It is authoritative whether one recognized it or not.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Stanley Hauerwas Prayer before "debate" with Paige Patterson

Contentious Lord, God know you must love a good argument. How else are we to explain the people of your promise, the Jews? Moreover, you have told us that our salvation come from those argumentative people, a people threatened by the world, yet refusing to be distracted from their arguments with you and one another concerning the faithful living of your law. Teach us, the grateful people, to love your Word, that we, like the Jews, may argue our way into loving you and one another. Argument, it seems, is your salvation--an alternative to the violence of the world.

But, we we contend together, save us from pride and the vanity pride nourishes. Remind us that it is not a matter of winning, but rather of the up-building of your church, the body of Christ. Too long divided, help us glimpse as we contend with one another the unity of your church. Indeed, make us your witness so that the world, observing how we argue, will say, "See how they love one another; they would rather argue than kill."

Stanley Hauerwas, Disrupting Time: Sermons, Prayers and Sundries. Eugene OR: Cascade Books, 2007. p 81

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lesslie Newbigin: Missionary-Theologian par exellence

There are times when we could have read a certain book few years earlier, we think that perhaps our outlook might have changed and our life might have taken a different course. Lately, I had picked up Lesslie Newbigin’s book, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. I became familiar with Newbigin's excellent ideas because when reading books about theology and mission, his name usually would appear as an authoritative source.

In this book, I learn that Newbigin was an internationally esteemed British missionary, pastor, apologist, theologian and ecumenical statesman. He also served in India as missionary evangelizing in the villages. He was a minister in the United Reformed Church in United Kingdom and a bishop of the Church of South India. He served as the general secretary of the International Missionary Council and associate general secretary of the World Council of Churches. Upon learning that he was both a missionary and an illustrious theologian compels me to read his books.

Thus I would like to share some thoughts as an outcome of this reading (I intend to do it on all the books I will read). This will be done in series of short summary and I will try to include my personal comments based on my experience in the mission field and student of theology. I expect that this would be good learning experience.

In chapter 1, Newbigin laments the fact that missions had no place in the central teaching of theology. Mission, for a long time, in any seminary is studied as branch of practical theology. And this is true even in the Asian seminary that I had attended. Today, mission is very important to the life of the church because the radical secularization of the Western culture, its churches are no longer missionary. There is a renewed debate about missionary task in the older churches. More Christians in the “old churches recognize that a church that is not ‘the church in mission’ is not a church at all.” Newbigin states that the book hopes to place the debate about the church’s missionary tasks will be placed in a broad biblical perspective and in the hope that to do so will release new energies for the contemporary mission of the church, not only its global dimensions but also in its application to the tough new paganism of the contemporary Western world.” (2)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Out for the weekend

I usually blog on weekends, Fridays and Saturdays, because these are the only days whem I have the chance to sit in front of the computer. That is when I am not expecting any important emails during the weekdays. The whole family will be out of town for a visit to the immigration office. This means a 10-hour drive for me. No reading while traveling. But I hope to make it a very relaxing long drive. I will be posting next week and it will take another weekend perhaps for another post to appear here. Pray for traveling mercy.

Hope for new world

One consequence of the powerful grip of pagan religiosity on the mind of the Western culture that has had the Bible in its hand for so long is the fact that the resurrection of Jesus is constantly spoken of as if it had reference only to the individual human person. It has been treated as the ground of our hope for a personal future. It is this, but it is much more than this: it is the ground of our hope for a new world.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, p. 106

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sponged Spong

Our good friend, Ben Myers over at F&T did a fine job of critiquing Spong's book Jesus for the Non-Religious. His post started a good discussion about the good Bishop and his theology. A few months ago, my friend and I had a good conversation about Spong. My friend is convinced that Spong is one of good things that is happening in contemporary biblical scholarship. This is my responds to the discussion which was a result of my reading of McGrath's A Passion for the Truth.

I appreciate Bishop Spong’s effort to free Christianity from the shackles of the Fundamentalism and its tenets. However, as I read his attacks on fundamentalism, I understand that he seems to start with the premise that the people within the fold of fundamentalism are all simple-minded and ignorant. That they have been imprisoned by the churches or its leaders imposed authority over them. But we know that this is not necessarily true. Many people who consider them themselves fundamentalist know how to think critically for themselves. Most of them believe that fundamentalism is a better option than modern liberalism which Spong is trying to propagate. All of us know the problem of fundamentalism. The weakness of this movement is well known and we don’t need a Bishop Spong to tell us about it.

I try reading Spong’s books but somehow I lost the motivation to continue. His tirades against fundamentalism and his praises of liberal scholarship made me weary to read more any of his books. Perhaps if fundamentalism did not exist the good Bishop will have nothing to write about. I just wish that he would stop attacking it and write something proactive rather than reactive. Here I would like to follow the criticism of Allister McGrath in his book, The Passion for Truth. I will quote extensively from this book because I know I can never tell this better than he does.

McGrath says that if we will reject fundamentalism, what are we to replace it with? There is a real need to rescue the Bible from fundamentalism; but those who claim to rescue it often shackle it to their own ends. And this is where Bishop Spong, whose somewhat modern theological competence is vastly exceeded by his ability to obtain media attention, comes in. In his Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism—a work which have been dismissed as utterly inconsequential were its writer is not a bishop—Spong offers to liberate the Bible from a fundamentalist stranglehold. But it soon becomes clear that the Bible is to be “liberated” only to be enslaved to the latest cultural norms prevailing among the Greater New England liberal elite. This work is as aggressive in its modernity and intolerant and dismissive of the views of others.

For example, at one point, Spong tentatively advances the idea that Paul might have been a homosexual. A few pages later, it seems to have become an established result of New Testament scholarship, leading Spong to the conclusion that one of the church’s greatest teachers was a ‘rigidly controlled gay male.’ The hard historical evidence for this dramatic assertion? Nil. One cannot help wondering if the New Testament is being less than subtly massaged here, to fit the sensitivities of a retrospective liberal conscience.

Bishop Spong recognizes that his views are unpopular, and believes that this is because they are thoroughly up to date and intellectually respectable. Sadly, they are just unpopular. Spong constructs a fantasy world in which his own vision of a politically correct culture leads him to impose political and social stereotypes upon the New Testament with a fierce and uncritical dogmatism assumed were only associated with the likes of Jerry Falwell (and Al Mohler, I should add). The pseudo-scholarly character of Spong’s approach has been pointed out by N.T. Wright. Commenting on Spong’s attempts to cast himself as a persecuted hero, standing on the truth in the midst of a fundamentalism ocean, Wright remarks:
Spong rushes on, constructing imaginary historical worlds and inviting us to base our faith and life upon them. If we refuse this invitation he will, no doubt, hurl his favorite abuse-word at us again. But if everyone who disagrees with Spong’s book turns out to be fundamentalist, then I suppose that all fundamentalist churches in the world would not be able to contain the new members who would suddenly arrive on their doorsteps.

McGrath emphasizes that it is not enough to argue for the need to wrest the Scripture free from those who imprison it with the severe limitations of a fundamentalist approach. But too often, the professed liberators of Scripture proceed immediately to imprison it within their own worldview. And we all know this is no liberation; this is merely a change in dictators.

I’m not a fundamentalist but given a choice I would prefer to side with fundamentalism as Spong’s modern liberal worldview seems to undermine the authority of the Word of God. I may add that the authority of the scripture is not bestowed by humanity nor the church, its authority is inherent in the words of the Scripture. This authority is merely recognized by those who read and believe in it.

Just one evangelical scholar would say… “If I am asked why I receive Scripture as the Word of God… [I answer] … Because the Bible is the only record of the redeeming love of God, because in the Bible alone I find God drawing near to us in Jesus Christ, and declaring to us in him his will for our salvation. And this record I know to be true witness of his Spirit in my heart, whereby I am assured that none other than God himself is able to speak such words to my soul.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Social Action-Gospel Dichotomy in Mission

This question still lingers in my mind, why do NGOs that specializes in social actions could not work side by side with a local church? Yes, they have a relationship but the relationship seems to be concerned on the business side and is so fragile. I have high hopes that an NGO here could develop a partnership with a church for the sake of the gospel, but I know I was just dreaming. In reality, the NGO is more concern on the physical needs of the people. I admire their desire to provide for the spiritual needs of the people but how can they do it without the help of worshiping community. And how could a community extend its social ministry when it could not even sustain itself. Lesslie Newbigin rightly observes that:

The concern of those who see mission primarily in terms of action for God’s justice is embodied mainly in programs carried on at a supracongregational level by boards and committees, whether national or ecumenical. The concern of those who see mission primarily in terms of personal conversion is expressed mainly at the level of congregational life. The effect of this is that each is robbed of its character by its separation from the other. Christian programs for justice and compassion are severed from their proper roots in the liturgical and sacramental life of the congregation, and so lose their character as signs of the presence of Christ and risk becoming mere crusades fueled by a moralism that can become self-righteous. And the life of the worshipping congregation, severed from its proper expression in compassionate service to the secular community around it, becoming a self-centered existence serving only the needs of its members. Thus both sides of the dichotomy find good reasons for caricaturing each other, and mutual distrust deepens.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introductin to the Theology of Mission, p 10