Friday, August 31, 2007

Bits and pieces

I find myself unusually tired and busy this week. It’s Friday and I didn’t even notice it. I am teaching three hours a day and maybe I am spending the same hours in preparation. I am aware that my new job as bus driver is taking too much of my time. I am actually spending more or less 20 hours a week and it does not include the time I have been transporting people to the church and the midweek activities. Moreover, it is not that easy to drive a 21-year old van when the air-conditioning is not working without the help of power steering. Now, you may ask the question: why couldn’t I simply delegate the job to someone? The answer is simply because no driver is available. It so happen that in this community I am the only one who can drive. But Narlin and I are enjoying the company of the children who incessantly laughing, talking and singing while we are traveling the road to their homes. This is weekend, I was hoping for some free time and rest, but I know it is impossible. My works are actually doubled during the weekend.

All the same, I managed to finish a book edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends. Here is the blurb:
Everyday theology is the reflective and practical task of living each day as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. In other words, theology is not just for Sundays, and it's not just for professional theologians. Everyday Theology teaches all Christians how to get the theological lay of the land. It enables them to become more conscious of the culture they inhabit every day so that they can understand how it affects them and how they can affect it. If theology is the ministry of the Word to the world, everyday theologians need to know something about that world, and Everyday Theology shows them how to understand their culture make an impact on it. Engaging and full of fresh young voices, this book is the first in the new Cultural Exegesis series.
In this book, Vanhoozer teaches us the methodology on how to read and interpret popular culture in the light of biblical/theological truths. This is a good read for theologians, pastors and missionaries. The method, I believe is applicable to any culture whether traditional or contemporary. This is fast reading and I hope to return to it and post a book review.

I am currently reading Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity edited by Craig Ott and Harold A. Nettland. There are lots of good essays here about contextualization and third world theologies (and other topics I have yet to read) written by theologians, missiologists and anthropologists like Kevin Vanhoozer, Andrew Walls and Paul Hiebert. I will post some interesting insights from time to time.
Description: It is no secret that globalization is one of the most powerful forces in the twenty-first century. In nearly every realm--political, economic, cultural, ethnic, and religious--traditional boundaries are disappearing and people worldwide are more interconnected than ever. Recent decades have also seen the globalization of Christianity and the accompanying shift in the center of gravity of Christianity from the West to the southern hemisphere and Asia. As these realities take deeper root, scholars, students, and church leaders must grapple with the implications for theological reflection and method, not to mention missiological practice.

It is to this set of vital and complex issues that the contributors to Globalizing Theology address themselves in this collection of original and groundbreaking essays. Contributors include M. Daniel Carroll R., Lois McKinney Douglas, Paul G. Hiebert, Eloise Hiebert Meneses, James E. Plueddemann, Robert J. Priest, Vinoth Ramachandra, Steve Strauss, David K. Strong and Cynthia A. Strong, Tite Tiénou, Charles E. Van Engen, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Andrew F. Walls, and Darrell L. Whiteman. A foreword by Wilbert R. Shenk is also included.

This international and internationally recognized group of scholars brings a multidisciplinary approach to the questions involved, including not only theological and missiological perspectives but also insights from history, sociology, ecclesiology, and anthropology. Part one examines the challenges for theology brought about by globalization. Part two focuses on methodological issues. Part three examines the implications of a global theology on various practical issues. Here is a vital text for courses in theology, missions, and cultural studies.

Monday was a happy day once again because another thirty-two books arrived in the mail. I was not home when the books came as I was teaching at the Missions Training Center. I think all the books are now here… but God is full of surprises, there are maybe more to come. The saying: so many books so little time has never been so true in my life until today. I am still overwhelmed by the number of books that the mailman is delivering in our front door. I guess by now the mailman is wondering where on earth those books come from.

Last week, we were surprised to be visited by one of the readers. Yes, a blog reader, a Christian Englishman living in Australia. He came to Mae Sai and got in touch with us and had a nice chat over a cup of coffee. When Narlin asked him how did he come to know us, he nonchalantly replied, I read your blog. I think it's amazing.

On the other note, my family and I are rejoicing in the Lord as we experience God’s provision this month. We are not having the same problem like the previous months when I have to “beg” for our friends and family to send some money to pay for our monthly bills. As the month of September begins, we see that our bank account have enough fund to see us through. We do not know who these people are yet but we want to thank God for them.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Theology for everyday practices

[S]ince Christian beliefs coexist with a host of other beliefs about the world--from claims about the future of the universe to theories about hte kinds of work neurons do in human brains--the question of the relationship of Christian beliefs to all these other beliefs must also posed. Theology must pursue the question of trite and must do so in conjunction with, and not in isolation from, other disciplines. In a word, because Christians beliefs relate to everyday practices as a fitted set of beliefs with a claim to express truth about God and God's relation to the world, theologians must be concerned with more than just how beliefs relate to everyday practices--and must be so concerned precisely for the sake of everyday practices.

Miroslav Volf, Practicing Theology, pp 261-2

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Christian life overflows in thankfulness

More or less this will be my sermon for Sunday. However, I know this is not all of it. God has a lot more to say than what is written here. I am praying that the congregation will hear what the Lord is telling them as they listen to this simple message.
6So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.-- Colossians 2:6-7
This is the first sentence of what is considered to be the main body of the letter—in terms of Paul’s concerns for the Colossians themselves—he begins by picking up the idea expressed in his prayer in chapter 1 verse 9:
9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,
He maintains the idea that those who received Christ Jesus who is the Lord should continue living a life worthy of him. The English translations that render this phrase as “receive Christ Jesus as Lord” are right on the mark. The emphasis here is the recognition of the Colossians on the lordship of Christ Jesus. When they become believers they honored him as Lord. The Colossians Christians were reminded that the Lordship of Christ Jesus should be the most important thing in their life.

Looking closely at verse 9, we see that the Colossians had received Jesus as the Anointed One of God, Christ. They also received him as the historic Savior, Jesus. And most importantly as Sovereign Lord.

In light of these recognitions, the Apostle Paul appeals to them to continue to live in him. He wants them to continue to conform regularly to the teachings that have been taught them from the beginning. In these verses the Apostle Paul is teaching us that we should continue to live in Christ.

By being rooted and built up in him

Being rooted suggests a once-for all experience. We should be permanently rooted in Christ. Like a tree that deeply planted in a rich soil, Christians have been firmly rooted in Christ. That planting happened when we put our faith in Him for our salvation. This picture suggests that Christ becomes the source of our spiritual nourishment, growth and fruit. As we strive to know Jesus, day by day, we are nourished, we grow in our faith and we become mature Christians.

The result of being rooted in him is that we are being built up in him. This indicates the process that goes on with our spiritual life. This means that we become more and more like Christ. Being built up in him connotes continuous action. These truths are also express in similar passages in the New Testament.

18But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:13

Only if we were firmly rooted in Christ and continually growing in him that we as Christians be established in our faith. It should sadden us that many Christians even though they have been believers for a long time has not been established in their faith. It is because they are not exerting effort to continually grow in him. Christians are very few in this region and sad to say that most of the Christians that we know have not really been established in their faith. But I tell you, even though we not so many, I believe if only we will take the challenge to be established in our faith; we will win this region for our Lord.

Overflowing with thankfulness

Christian life should be characterized by thankfulness. There are just so many reasons for us to be thankful for. Some of the reasons are even mentioned in our text. First we should be thankful for our relationship with Christ. In verse 6, the Apostle Paul tells us that we receive Christ Jesus as Lord and this is an indication that all believers have special relationship with Christ. Isn’t being rooted and nourished through because of our relationship with him enough reason for an overflowing thankfulness.

Now, aren’t we wondering why the Apostle Paul in almost all of his letters keeps reminding the believers to be thankful? I believe the answer is that thankfulness goes against our fallen nature. Thankfulness goes against pride and self-importance. Because it acknowledges that we are dependent on God’s provision and the Lordship of Christ. And our own sinful nature is all against this.

This is the reason why reminders to be thankful abound in the Bible. As we have seen, those who do not have faith can not be expected to be thankful. But more so, Christians are reminded also because we easily forget.

A Christian who lacks thankfulness is usually characterized by criticism and negativity. Instead of being thankful for what he received, an ungrateful person would find something to criticize. These persons would not be satisfied from what they are receiving from God. This results from being a shallow follower of our Lord Jesus. Paul may be implying that those who lack a deep sense of thankfulness to God are especially vulnerable to doubt and spiritual delusion.

Somebody has said that thanksgiving means to rejoice in God’s presence and for freely receiving from him. It is a joy in word or deed toward God for his grace. We can only live in Christ if we are always thankful. It means that for believers thanksgiving is to be a continual habitual thing. This is to say, where there is lack of thankfulness, there is a deeper reality, which is a lack of groundedness in experience of God and faith in Jesus Christ. Warren Wiersbe (Pastor, radio personality, teacher) suggests that “a thankful spirit is a mark of Christian maturity. When a believer is abounding in thanksgiving, {they are} really making progress!”


These two verses challenge us to…
• Grow downward by being “ rooted”
• Grow upward by being “built up”
• Grow inward so that we can be “strengthened in the faith”
• Grow outward as we “overflow with thankfulness”

Our living should lead to thanksgiving. Our task is to live surrendered to His supremacy and to abound in the giving of thanks for what God has done for us in Christ.
*I borrowed the conclusion from Pastor Brian Bill
*The picture is Mae Fa Luang Garden not very far from our house. The picture is taken from the internet.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Is WordPress blocked?

A few months ago YouTube had been blocked by the government and it has not been back since. I can live with that because I do not have the inclination to watch video clips posted at my favorite blogs. The connection is just too slow. Sometimes I have to wait 15 minutes or more to watch a two-minute video clip. But blocking WordPress would be a different story. Today, as I was trying to visit my favorite bloggers who are using WordPress, a message in Thai characters appears in the screen. I don’t read Thai very well and I don’t understand it if I did anyway, but I know for sure that it is the same message I saw when YouTube was blocked. Can anybody tell me what is going on?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What I am reading

I actually finished reading Colin E. Gunton’s The Theologian as Preacher while in a 10-hour bus drive going to Chiang Mai City and coming back. This is the reason I prefer to ride a bus than to drive. Anyway, the blurbs at the back say that it “is a collection of sermons by a world-renowned theologian who was also a much loved preacher. Following on from the success of Colin Gunton’s first collection Theology Through Preaching, these sermons from the later years of his life demonstrate Gunton’s preaching in a local-church setting, enabling readers to gain insight into how his academic theology enhanced and influenced his personal preaching. Ranging across such subjects as the problem of evil, Christianity and Islam, materialism and Judgement, they speak not only to academic theologians and students, but also to preachers and Christian readers everywhere.

John Webster comments that “all that one would expect from a master theologian: biblically rooted, pastorally acute, humane and above all alert and responsible to the judgment, consolation and joy of the gospel.”

The introduction was written by Stephen Holmes. Here Holmes reminisces his time together with Colin Gunton as Gunton's former student. Holmes remembered him saying that “you can always tell when a theologian has stopped preaching; their work loses something vital.” Gunton believed passionately that theology is the church’s science—pointless and meaningless if not directed to the maintenance, edification and extension of the body of Christ. This conviction was clearly evident when Gunton was behind the pulpit.

In times when preachers are concerned that their sermons should be seeker-sensitive, Colin’s sermons deliberately neglect the elements that would make them to be categorized as such. Holmes says,
Relevance is not to be strived for, simply because the gospel is necessarily already relevant to all people. One of the great themes of these sermons, surely, is asking what is truly relevant. Much of what passes for ‘relevance’ in our preaching is imply a capitulation to a pagan value system (or at best, a despairing admission that one’s congregation has capitulated). Sport or celebrity or items of passing notice in the news media are endlessly recycled in the pulpit in the (surely mistaken!) belief that this will aid the preacher in being heard.
Worship and life, theology and daily Christian living, Colin always sought to hold these together in his own life and he helped his congregation to do the same. Colin died in Spring of 2003 in what most people described as untimely and unexpectedly.

I personally chosen this book expecting that I will learn and be blessed by Colin’s sermons and at the same time, I want to have a glimpse on how a highly regarded, seasoned and contemporary theologian used his academic achievements in preaching to the non-academic (theologically) members of his congregation. A glimpse makes way for me to see a horizon.

I am also reading John Webster, Karl Barth, Second Edition. (Continuum Books, London, 2004). Reading only during free time, I am just half through the book. This is a good introduction to life and work of Karl Barth. Webster claims that he avails of posthumous and mostly unpublished writings of Barth to come up with this book. Readers can expect updated information about Barth's biography and more lucid presentation of Barth's theology as his earlier works are studied in the light of new materials.

And for those who are not familiar with Barth and his works, this book gives a readable presentation of the great man and theologian. I, myself, although familiar with Barth admittedly do not know enough from his 13 large volumes of Christian Dogmatics, which I have not read a page. Webster attempts to summarize Barth's stand on different topics like God, Trinity, Christology, Justification among others.

Here is the blurb:
Karl Barth has been called the most important Protestant theologian since Schleiermacher. A lifetime of work produced a huge and complex body of writings that emerged from both his theological teaching and from his engagement in church life. The posthumous publication of previously unknown works by Barth has invited fresh and attentive interpretations of his thought.

This book draws together this readings to provide a clear and authoritative introduction to the main themese in Barth's theology. In an accessible way it shows the continuity and coherence of Barth's work and stresses the importance of his biblical and ethical writings alongside his sytematic theology. In conclusion it focuses on Barth's response to modernity, postmodernity and the tasks of theology, presenting him as an outstanding resource for constructive theology of our age.

It’s a happy day… again

Happiness is a good book in the mail. There are plenty of them that arrived last Saturday. This means our happiness is multiplied. I have a lot of readings to do and I love it. My son, Reuven (in the picture) predicted that I can finish all of it in three months. He is too generous in his opinion about how fast I can read. Every one in the family is very happy and thankful about this blessing.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Six World Faiths

Cole, W. Owen ed., Six World Faiths (Continuum Books London, 2004), 352 pages

W. Owen Cole is a founder member and past chairman of the Shap Working Party of World Religions in Education. Shap Working Party encourages study and teaching of world religions at all levels. Its aim is to produce accurate information and resources for those involved with religious education and religious studies. Cole coordinates the writing of this book by asking six experts to contribute a chapter on his or her own religion. Cole himself wrote the chapter on Christianity.

The purpose of the book is to introduce to what is considered to be the most important aspects of the six major world religions. Each religion has a chapter to present this. The writers are believers of their particular religion, thus we are provided an insider’s view for each religion namely Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism. The book is written for British reader of different faiths or even to those who have no “faith.”

The book is a good source of information about these religions. A chapter is dedicated to each religion that includes the information about their origins, its founder or founders or the absence of it, its scriptures, its society and family structures, its practice and ethics, its religious practices and customs, its festivals and celebrations among others. What makes this book perhaps different from other religious study is that it does not present a comparative study to Christianity or any other religions which is understandable because it does not promise anything like it for the readers. Perhaps it is also its strength; each chapter is not written from a Christian perspective except for a chapter on Christianity. As a result, there are no judgmental or condemning remarks which are very common in other books about religions written by a Christian author.

What makes this book interesting, I think is the inclusion of a section on what is the status and relevance of each religion today. They present what is the latest development and what it contributes to the modern society.

Except for Christianity, we will notice that there is no effort for each religion for self-criticism. But that is understandable since perhaps each writer finds it unnecessary to do so. But Cole in his chapter on Christianity issues a challenge for believers to be more open, accepting of other religion. He also believes that for Christianity should take efforts to make itself more relevant in the future. He states what I believe makes our faith unique among other religions. He says, Christianity is not a collection of beliefs, or series or ritual activities, it is a living relationship with God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Cole is hoping that this book will help in the on-going dialogue among the world religions. The process of dialogue begins with believers knowing about their own culture, beliefs, practices and values. This does require neither dogmatism nor spiritual immaturity. Dialogue is possible only if one party is willing to listen to what other religions are saying and what they believe. Christianity is always guilty of being only wanting to teach and has nothing to learn. We are prone to making a value judgment or comparisons. It is uncomfortable for us being criticized for what we hold dear and we should not do it to others as well. In conversation with other religions, we should learn to hold our judgment.

If you want to have a deeper knowledge about the world major religions, I highly recommend this book. This is a good resource for teachers, theologians, missionaries or to those who just want to learn about different religions. It gives us an insiders view and a chance to listen to what they are saying.

As a missionary, it gives me a lot to think about. I learn from reading this book that adherents of other religions are always suspicious of Christians because they feel that we are out there to convert them to Christianity. They know that Christian organizations doing social works or another are out there to convert them. And they are weary of that. For these religions conversion is unthinkable. However, it is good to note that there is place for Jesus Christ in every religion. For example, in Islam Jesus is considered to be one of the prophets. In Buddhism, Jesus is one of those who became the enlightened one. For Hindus, he is one of the avatars. Is it possible for persons of other religions to become believers of Jesus within their religion? This question is subject of debate among missiologists and theologians.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Million of thanks for the books

I was in Chiang Mai yesterday for our visa extension. I spent three hours at the immigration office and the rest of the day was spent in the bus, going and coming. Narlin opened my email and called me up about the exciting news of unexpectedly having a library of more than 50 excellent theological books. I was overjoyed; it felt like I won a lottery. Though of course I know beforehand about the initial list I know there will be more surprises.

When Ben informed me about his plan to post a friendly appeal, I thought it was a great idea. But as he said, we never quite imagined that the response from individuals, book sellers, publishers and distributors would be anything like this. It is indeed overwhelming. Apparently, those who got involved saw a real need to provide theological books for me personally and also for the students. These books will be made available for them as well.

The good people from the book sellers and publishers got in touched with me through Ben. Eventually,James introduced me to the good people from TBN and we are looking for ways how to receive a shipment of books for the training center. We still don’t know if it will work, nonetheless, it is great to know the good people behind this ministry.

Since last week, the whole family has been very excited waiting for the postman bringing us boxes of books. My children like the look and smell of newly printed books but I hope that someday they also be reading these excellent books.

There are moments when you receive so much that it makes you feel that words are not enough to express your gratitude. But there are also times when words are all you have to offer. Ben and I want to say a million thanks to those who blessed me with these treasures. To my fellow blogger-readers and Ben’s (who have thousand more readers than mine) who contributed in this endeavor, thanks a lot.

Of course, thank you Ben for making the appeal in my behalf. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and kindness.

Maraming salamat! (Many thanks!)

Ben posted the list of books over at F&T, but it feels good to post it here too.

F&T donations
  • Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction
  • Jürgen Moltmann, In the End – The Beginning
  • Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World
  • David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission
  • Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society
  • Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission
  • Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace
  • Miroslav Volf and Dorothy C. Bass (eds.), Practicing Theology: Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life
  • Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1
  • Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2
  • Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Vol. 3
  • James D. G. Dunn and Scot McKnight (eds.), The Historical Jesus in Recent Research
  • Ben C. Ollenburger (ed.), Old Testament Theology: Flowering and Future
T&T Clark
  • Iain Taylor, Pannenberg on the Triune God
  • Colin Gunton, The Theologian as Preacher
  • John Webster, Barth (2nd edition)
  • C. F. D. Moule, The Holy Spirit
  • William J. La Due, The Trinity Guide to the Christian Church
  • W. Owen Cole, Six World Faiths

Baker Academic
  • Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland (eds.), Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity
  • Kevin Vanhoozer, Charles Anderson and Michael Sleasman (eds.), Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends
  • John McRay, Paul: His Life and Teaching
  • D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil
  • Tremper Longman III, Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament)

Cascade Books
  • Jürgen Moltmann, The Politics of Discipleship and the Discipleship of Politics
  • Stanley Hauerwas, Disrupting Time
  • John Howard Yoder, Karl Barth and the Problem of War
  • Thomas Langford, Reflections on Grace
  • Joe R. Jones, Being the Church in Tumultuous Times
  • Christian Kettler, The God Who Believes
  • Caryn Riswold, Two Reformers: Martin Luther and Mary Daly as Political Theologians
  • Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms (2nd edition)

IVP Academic
  • Christopher Wright, The Mission of God
  • John Corrie (ed.), Dictionary of Mission Theology (to be sent when it’s released in November)
  • Donald Bloesch, A Theology of Word and Spirit (Christian Foundations 1)
  • Donald Bloesch, Holy Scripture (Christian Foundations 2)
  • Donald Bloesch, God the Almighty (Christian Foundations 3)
  • Donald Bloesch, Jesus Christ (Christian Foundations 4)
  • Donald Bloesch, The Holy Spirit (Christian Foundations 5)
  • Donald Bloesch, The Church (Christian Foundations 6)
  • Donald Bloesch, The Last Things (Christian Foundations 7)

  • Sabine Dramm, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Introduction to His Thought
  • Gordon D. Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study
  • Brad H. Young, Meet the Rabbis: Rabbinic Thought and the Teachings of Jesus
  • Clayton N. Jefford, The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament
  • Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik, Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries
  • Lee M. McDonald, The Biblical Canon
  • T. A. Perry, The Honeymoon Is Over: Jonah’s Argument with God
  • Marty E. Stevens, Temples, Tithes and Taxes
  • Ritva H. Williams, Stewards, Prophets, and Keepers: Leadership in the Early Church
  • Rekha M. Chennattu, Johannine Discipleship as a Covenant Relationship


The book distributor Koorong also donated a selection of books by various publishers:
  • Kenneth Barker and John Kohlenberger III, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament (Zondervan)
  • Kenneth Barker and John Kohlenberger III, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament (Zondervan)
  • John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, ed. Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor (Crossway)
  • Peter Barnes, A Study Commentary on Galatians (Evangelical Press)
  • John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (Eerdmans)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mission according to Owen Cole

I'm reading Owen Cole's Six World Faiths. The reason I'm reading this book is that this is the most useful book for me at the moment. I will post a short review of the book, when when I finish reading it. Meanwhile, I will just post some interesting paragraphs that caught my attention.
Now that the world is dominated by the major religions there is a little prospect of mass conversion taking place as they did in the past. England and Thailand will not become Muslim; Egypt and Pakistan will not become Christian. Missionary work will still continue but at the level of individual conversions, as in the early days of Christian expansion, and the work will increasingly be done by indigenous Christian, Muslim or Buddhist groups. The white European, or American, is too much associated with the days of the empire and colonization for him to establish Christianity in the Sudan, Burma or Pakistan; the citizens of those countries must do it, if anyone can.

In recent years, Christians have also recognized that what they often took from Europe to Africa or elsewhere was not so much Christianity as western culture. They built cathedral in Lahore, or Delhi, like those in Britain. They even encouraged the use of English or Latin as the language of worship and taught European hymns at hymn tunes. The younger churches of Asia and Africa are gradually developing patterns of worship and organization suited to their cultural circumstances, which seem much healthier than the European transplants of the yesteryear. Mission have given way to the rise of what are called indigenous churches. Christian leadership may eventually pass from Europe to these other Christian areas.
Cole makes the right observation here. However, I observe that not only missionaries from Europe and America are taking their cultures in Asia. Even Koreans missionaries are transporting the western culture to the mission field when they themselves are Asian. Old habits are hard to break. Missionaries should have a deeper understanding of the local culture and worldview. The difficulties lie not only in bringing western language, hymns and patterns of worship. The missionaries are also enforcing their worldview and pattern of thinking. It is apparent that the local people think differently from the European and American but it doesn't mean it is wrong. Cross-cultural workers think that they are doing the local people a favor by teaching them to think like them. Because when left on their own they will develop a theology that is radically different than the western theology... and that theology more often than not is considered to be a heresy.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Please take off your shoes

I am teaching Asian Religions at the Mission Training Center. This is the reason why I picked Six World Faiths edited by W. Owen Cole. At this point, I don't have any idea who Cole is, but I will find out soon. I haven't done any book review in this blog, but this time I hope I can find the time to review some of the books coming my way. In any case, for now, I just want to share a quote by Max Warren, a famous Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, which Cole cites in his introduction.
Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion is to take off our shoes, for the place we are standing on is holy, else we may find we are treading on men's dream. More serious still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Happy days!

A long week of rain makes you long for the sun. However, when the sun stays out longer than usual, the humidity causes a lot of discomforts. This makes everyone feels moody and irritable. This was evident when my wife and I went picking up the children for the school and daycare. Most of them were in a bad mood and didn’t want to go. Today the clouds are heavier and I thought it is nice if it rained.

Rain or not… happy days are here. The books from T&T Clark came the other day as a response to Ben’s friendly appeal. Six good books and they look pretty slick as well. The good people from T&T have done a good job. They also give me the opportunity to personally select the books from their website. According to Ben, one box of books is still on its way and it may arrive here sometime next week. The other book sellers made the selection of what they think are the best books for me and the suspense is killing me.

Ben and I are surprised by the response from the different publishers. Because of Ben’s post and James’ help, I have been in touch with Theological Book Network and they are looking for ways to ship the books for the training center.

I want to thank personally all the publishers who generously donate the books. Also, I also thank my blogger friends who contributed money to purchase additional theological books. Ben will post the updated list of books at his blog, because honestly I don’t have any idea yet what are those books.

Maraming salamat po! (Filipino), Kahpkon Khrap! (Thai) and Jesu tin bade! (Burmese), Thanks!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Theology from above, theology from below

Theology from above is the use of Scripture in doing theology. Theologizing starts from the text of the Bible. Theology from below is a manner of doing theology by using specific agenda and looking at the Scriptures for some Bible texts to address the issue.

The use of both theology--from above and from below--is the best option in approaching the present challenge in doing theology. Theology from above focus on God and his purpose, plans and ways of making humanity know his will. The Scripture stands as the basis of studying all the activities of God and is the only source of information about him. It is also the only basis for Christian faith and practice.

Theology from below, on the other hand, is the recognition of human needs. It is making the Scripture relevant and in so doing, we expound the Scriptures in a way that it appropriately meet those special needs. Inevitably, theologians will be selective in their choice of the Biblical passages, they will focus on passages that he think people in particular context and culture will be able to understand.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Theology and Culture

This issue would forever boggle my simple mind. Why do some cross-cultural workers have taken for granted the importance of studying theology? And why would they think that the words from the Bible taken at face value supersede all the traditional practices of the local for hundred of years in a particular culture? I am not talking about formal training and academic pursuits of theology; I am referring to a continuous personal pursuit of knowledge about and of God. Every time I would open the idea of teaching historical theology to our students, my fellow cross-cultural workers would retort that it is not necessary.

In my conversation to them, however, I found out that they know about theology. But their concept is the less you know about theology, the better. What are important are the things you do practically. Theology should be minimal. They just follow the theology of their teachers or of a theologian whom they agree and took his theological ideas as their own. I know because when they are teaching or talking about particular belief they would quote their favorite theologian. For them theology is something finished and fixed to its final form by the professionals. It is something that does not need reformulation and rethinking. This kind of thinking does not recognize the importance of culture as source of theology. Preaching and biblical teaching that makes use of cultural elements are appreciated more by the people.

When theology is deeply rooted in the world-view of the people, it becomes more meaningful. Theology or biblical teaching that uses the language and symbols within the culture are better understood and thus easily affects lives. Theology is a living area of knowledge. It grows and develops. It should invite learners to think. Whatever we are teaching, when we do it with a total disregard of the local culture, we will never be listened to. Thus I believe that in teaching the Bible, it will be a big help if we do it with the working knowledge and an appreciation of the local culture.

*The picture is an water color painting by Major-General Henry Strachan Elton.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

New job!

I had a long day. The humidity was unbearable. After raining almost everyday last week, the sun shone with vengeance today. The sky was still bright although it was already seven o’clock. It was midnight but the heat still lingered in my skin. I wished that the house have air-conditioning. On a positive note, this heaviness in the air made me anticipate that in the morning, I will wake up with freshness of the falling rain.

I have a new job. It is a tiring job; I don’t exactly find it objectionable actually at times I find myself enjoying it. However, I guess the work is out of my specialization. Circumstance tells that it’s my job, every one is looking at me and saying you are the man; I even think that God himself calls me to do this. Servicing the day care, the nursery, the primary school, the church worship, home cell programs, hostel ministries and the timely donation of a Nissan Urvan, makes me the official bus driver. It is a full time job. I have to wake up early and bring the children and teachers to the school and take them home again in the afternoon. On the other hand, I love to be with the children and being around them is fun! Children as always are the most profound theologians.

It brings to my memory a quote from Moltmann in his paper, Child and Childhood as Metaphors of Hope: “In children God is waiting for us to take in God. How often have you encountered God in the life of a child through a gaze or embrace, or through the simple, yet profound words he or she utters?"

Friday, August 03, 2007

Pray for strong heart and unity in love

I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:1-3

It is not certain whether Paul planted the Colossian church. However looking closely from this letter, we found out that the Paul never met the believers there in person. The book of Acts does not mention that Paul ever visited Colossae. It is assumed that Epaphras was the one who planted the church. Epaphras was a native Colossians who was probably converted and discipled by Paul while they were together in Ephesus.

Paul was considered to be the great leader, church planter and pastor during this time. He was well known by the Colossian Christians through Epaphras and perhaps, they want to see and hear from the great apostle himself.

Evidently, Paul never made it. So the Apostle Paul wrote to them and informed them that this letter was equivalent for his visit as he said: For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is (v. 5) So this letter written in prayer was Paul’s expression of his love and concern.

He agonizingly prayed for them…

The word struggle agon (in Greek), where we got the English word agonize, renders as conflict in KJV implies earnest care and concern. The apostle was obviously agonizing for the Christians at Colossae by praying in their behalf. Even for people who Paul may had known only by name or to others he did know at all. Regardless, his concern for those he did not know was equally intense. As the verse says, he never met them personally but he struggles for them.

Indeed prayer is a struggle. It is not easy to pray. I admire Christians who seem to enjoy praying. Christians like them have different experience with the Apostle Paul who experienced prayer as great conflict and struggles.

I agree with a theologian description of prayer— "that prayer is an impossible possibility. Prayer is a miracle; prayer is resurrection from the dead. Prayer is a dangerous activity because when we pray we are changed and change hurts. For some prayer is not a richly rewarding experience. The apostle Paul has the same idea and more or less had the same experience about prayer. Nonetheless, we should pray because prayer is more than necessary and our prayer reflects our concept of God. Ultimately, the question of prayer is the question of God: What kind of God we believe in?"

Some commentaries state that the word purpose here is about the Apostle Paul’s plan of visiting Colossae. But after careful reading of the whole book it does not seem to imply that Paul had any plans of going there at all. It is possible that the word purpose does not refer to the Apostle’s visit but to Paul’s writing and especially in informing them that he was agonizingly praying for them.

Having said that, the Apostle’s purpose in writing and praying for them are:

So that their hearts may be encouraged…

Reading these words, we can safely assume that there had been circumstances that causing discouragement among the believers. So we may ask this question, why were they discouraged?

The Colossians Christians were being overwhelmed by false teachings. This idea is clearly supported in verse 4 when the Apostle Paul talked about teachers who deceive by using fine-sounding arguments. The believers were discouraged because these teachers were saying that Christ is not sufficient, that he is not supreme and is not worthy of all the faith, service, worship and adoration that they are offering to him.

Furthermore, young Christians were captivated by the enticing words of these false teachers. Obviously, this letter was written prayerfully for this purpose—to refute these false teachings. The term encourage here means to strengthen their faith and the result of this is strong heart. We all know that the Holy Spirit is the one who gives us strength in Christian living. But God uses human instruments as well to strengthen our heart.

An important part of Paul’s ministry is encouraging, here it means strengthening other believers. Let us remember this; we should help other to have strong heart and strong faith. Perhaps sometimes we are the one who are feeling weak. Then let us ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to help make us strong.

Strong hearts result in a powerful Christian life. When we are empowered by the indwelling Spirit we could strengthen others and we will have the boldness to proclaim the love of Christ to unbelieving people.

And be united in love

Interestingly though, after the apostle Paul tells us that we should have strong hearts. He then says that we should be united in love. Strong heart should be balanced with fervent love. The apostle Paul knew that strong mind and strong heart without love results in mindless zeal and arrogance.

Here, the word united means knit together, to unite or bring together. The apostle Paul emphasizes that unity is impossible without love. We all know that our church is so divided in many ways. We come from different countries, we speak different languages, different countries, we have different colors; we come from different nations, from different religions and denominations. But I think none of those things will divide us.

What will divide us is the lack of love. When we think that who we are and what we believe is more important than the love of God for each other will hinder us for being united. Let us learn to set aside our differences even if it is a matter of unimportant doctrines and let the love of God reign supremes and we can experience the vision of Christ about unity among believers.

If we want to win people to Christ, then we should take the idea of unity in love seriously. I agree somehow with Francis Schaeffer when he says that the unity of the church is “the final apologetic” (defense) to the watching world. He further says:
In John 13 the point was that, if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. Here [in John 17:21] Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.

The apostle Paul echoes the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ that Christians should be united and displays that unity. Practical unity is possible only through humility and love. Humility is the key that opens the door of love and unity. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect example of humility.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:3-5)
I believe that if we have our Lord’s humility and love then practical unity among us local believers and cross-cultural workers is possible. The Lord required this from us so that people may know that He is the only God.

*The place where Colossae used to be.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Quote of the day

"The Spirit of God is called the Holy Spirit because it makes our life here worth something living, not because it is alien and estranged from life. The Spirit sets this life in the presence of the living God and int he great river of eternal love... the operations of God's life-giving and life-affirming Spirit are universal and can be recognized in everything which ministers to life and resists its destruction."

Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, x-xi

*The boys are our Pastor's twin sons