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?