Thursday, March 29, 2007

Martin Luther on revelation

This quote comes from McGrath's book A Passion for Truth. He attributes this to Martin Luther. McGrath drawn the distinction between the notion of revelation from God and a revelation of God. This distinction is best illustrated by how Christian and Islam regard their holy book. In Qur'an, the passage is understood to be a revelation from God, dictated by archangel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad. The basic Islamic understanding is that the book is an authoritative revelation in the form of a book, not a person. The difference between this and the Christian view is brought out clearly by Martin Luther. For Luther, Islam has the Qu'ran and Judaism the Torah. Luther's statement expresses how radically different Christian's perspective about God's revelation.
God does not want to be known except through Christ; nor can he be known in any other way. Christ is the offspring promised to Abraham; on him God has grounded all his promises. Therefore Christ alone is the means, the life, and the mirror through which we see God and know his will. Through Christ declares his favour and mercy to us. In Christ we see that God is not an angry master and judge but a gracious and kind father, who blesses us, that is, who delivers us from the law, sin, death, and every evil, and gives us righteousness and eternal life through Christ. This is a certain and true knowledge of God and divine persuasion, which does not fail, but depicts God himself in specific form, part from which there is no God.
For Christians, McGrath adds, Jesus is the embodiment and self-revelation of God. At the heart of the Christian faith stands a living person, not a book.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Who are the evangelicals?

Long ago I used to think that there are only two kinds of Christianity, these are Evangelical and Catholic (both with capital letters). If a particular group or denomination does not belong to either of these kind, then they are considered as cult. This categorization is rather reasonable because I was converted to an evangelical Christianity in a country where the default religion is Catholicism.

However, I learned later that a Catholic can be evangelical and a church claiming to be "evangelical" may not have a minuscule feature of what they claim they should be. It is true that there has been ongoing debate about the true identity of the evangelicals. The reason for this is that evangelicalism has complex historical origins and continues to evolve. Changes of alliances and emphases have been too many too mention. Furthermore, the different personalities that emerge as big influences and not too often become the unofficial spokesmen in every generation added to the complications of establishing who must be considered evangelicals or not.

McGrath says that most evangelicals and well-informed observers of the movement would suggest that evangelicalism is essentially colligatory, in that it finds its identity in relation to a series of central interacting themes and concerns, including the following:
  • A focus, both devotional and theological, on the person of Jesus Christ, especially his death on the cross;
  • The identification of Scripture as the ultimate authority in matters of spirituality, doctrine and ethics;
  • An emphasis upon conversion or a 'new birth' as life-changing religious experience;
  • A concern for sharing the faith, especially through evangelism.
McGrath emphasizes that evangelicalism are willing to accept diversity as long as this does not concern the central tenets of the Christian faith. These are the affirmation of Scripture in Christian living and thinking, however, there is freedom in the manner in which this authority was articulated and conceptualized.

Allister McGrath, A Passion for Truth: The Intellectual Coherence of Evangelicalism, 22-23.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Email from blog reader

Lately, I have been receiving emails from people who read my blog and most of them found this blog through Google referral. It is really a delight to hear from people who are total strangers but willing to become virtual friends. One email is from the webmaster of SiamPinoy.Com who have been living in the kingdom for ten years. As Filipino living in Thailand, I it is essential that I should connect with my countrymen here in the "land of the smile". Here is an excerpt from the email:

I saw your blog while searching for Filipinos in Thailand. We are building an online directory of Kababayans all over Thailand and I thought you might be interested to visit and connect to our site.

We are also building our list of Filipino profiles. One of our goals is to give our visitors ideas of what is going on with Filipinos all over Thailand. So if you are interested please let me know so I can send appropriate questions for the feature. This will be a good avenue also to promote your missions and to connect with other Filipinos in Thailand.
If you are a Filipino expat living in Thailand please visit the site, register and let us connect.

Friday, March 23, 2007

7th Asian Baptist Congress 2007

I want to attend this year 7th Asian Baptist Congress for two reasons. First, I was able to attend the last Congress five years ago which was held in the Philippines. Even, then I couldn't afford the fees, I found an ingenuous way to attend. I volunteered as staff of the security committee. Although I missed the seminars and workshops offered, I was able to attend the plenary sessions and I was blessed with the worship and testimonies of fellow baptists all over Asia.

Second, after five years the Congress will be held in Chiang Mai. Fortunately I'm now living in Thailand just five hours away bus ride from Chiang Mai. But then again, I still can't afford the registration fee and the hotel accommodation so I thought I may not make it this time. However, I received an email telling me that I am now assured of free registration and accommodation, but this time I was recruited to be part of the Communication Committee. I consider it a promotion from being a security guard to being a news reporter.

If any of you, my readers, are attending the 7th Asian Baptist Congress, drop me a note and let us have a little chat over a cup of coffee.

Here are tidbits of the information about the Asian Baptist Congress.

The first Baptist work in the Asia region was started in 1793 by William Carey and friends of the Baptist Mission Society, when they came to India. This was followed by many other Baptist missionaries from North America and Europe and even from our own region - from Australia and New Zealand. Today most countries in Asia have Baptist believers and churches.

The Asian Baptist Federation was formed in 1973 in Hong Kong. The ABF comprises Baptist conventions both in Asia proper as well as the Oceania – Pacific region. Today the ABF is composed of 55 Baptist conventions from 20 countries, worshipping in over 25,000 local churches from as far as Sri Lanka to South Korea, Nepal to New Zealand, India to Fiji. ABF member conventions/unions come from diverse economic and political backgrounds.

The ABF provides an important platform for Baptists of the Asia – Pacific region to relate to one another and work together in partnership in some key areas of ministry viz. missions, leadership development, pastoral training, theological education, aid and development etc. ABF also has auxiliary departments such as Women, Youth and Men.

One of the important events in the life of the ABF is the holding of the Asian Baptist Congress every five years.

  • 1st Asian Baptist Congress : 1979 January 8 -14. Hyderabad, India
  • 2nd Asian Baptist Congress : 1983 January 7 - 12. Hong Kong
  • 3rd Asian Baptist Congress : 1988 January 9 -17. Sydney, Australia
  • 4th Asian Baptist Congress : 1992 July 17 - 22. Singapore
  • 5th Asian Baptist Congress : 1997 July 15 - 20. Taipei, Taiwan (ROC)
  • 6th Asian Baptist Congress : 2002 April 19 - 23. Manila, Philippines

The Congress provides an opportunity for Baptists from our region to come together:

  • To celebrate and affirm what God is doing in our region.
  • To hear and be encouraged by testimonies from one another
  • To learn from one another in formal workshops as well as informal settings.
  • To enable and encourage networks and partnerships to be established amongst Baptists as they meet, fellowship and pray together.
The Congress is open to all bonafide Baptists and believers. Delegates from other Christian denominations have also attended in the past.

If you want to attend and register you can visit the website of the Asian Baptist Congress.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Praise God for the rain!

After living in haze for almost a month, I long badly for the rain to fall. I heard thunders just before I went to bed last night, hoping that it would rain the whole night while I was sleeping… and it did.

I woke up this morning listening to the soft trickle of rain that sounds like music in my ear. The rhythm of the falling rain was joined by the singing of the birds. I thought I never heard so many styles of bird songs coming from so many kinds of bird. The birds knew and are happy that the rain would make the air clean again.

I look up the sky but I couldn't tell if its clear because of the thick clouds. I'll know later when the sun shines through. Perhaps the rain was not enough, but it's good enough for me.

My wife and I went to work this morning on a motorcycle, I enjoyed the feel of cool clean air in my hair and skin as we speed along. I took a deep breath and tasted the sweet air inside my lungs. I was feeling better again. Clean air is a precious gift from God that I have taken for granted. Never again. I thank the Lord for the rain and the fresh air this morning.

The rain has stopped but I can still hear the birds singing...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Theology according to Gustavo Gutierrez

Our understanding of Latin American brand of liberation theology will be elucidated more if we will know Gutierrez concept of theology. The excerpts below can be found in his work entitled Liberation Theology: A Documentary History. Here Gutierrez develops the main ideas for his theological vision in the years to come. This is the seed of his later theological development. Gutierrez believes that theological reflection is always the result of decisive action—the bestowal of the social justice among the poor. Here is the passage:

Let us examine what we mean by theology. Etymologically speaking, theology is the treatise or discourse about God—which really does not sell all very much. The classic meaning of theology is an intellectual understanding of the faith—that is, the effort of human intelligence to comprehend revelation and the vision of faith. But faith means not only truths to be affirmed, but also an existential stance, an attitude, a commitment to God and to human beings. Thus faith understands the whole of life theologically as faith, hope and charity.

If, then, we say that faith is a commitment to God and human beings, we affirm that theology is the intellectual understanding of this commitment. It is an understanding of this existential stance, which includes the affirmation of truths, but within a broader perspective.

Faith is not limited to affirming the existence of God. No, faith tells us that God loves us and demands a loving response. This response is given through love for human beings, and that is what we mean by a commitment to God and to our neighbor.

Consequently, when we speak about theology, we are not talking an abstract and timeless truth, but rather about an existential stance, which tries to understand and to see this commitment in the light of revelation.

But precisely because faith is above all existential stance, it admits a differentiation according to circumstances and the different approach to the commitment to God and human beings. To say that faith is a commitment is true for all ages, but the commitment is something much more precise. I commit myself here and now. The commitment to God and to human beings is not what it was three centuries ago. Today I commit myself in a distinctive manner.

When we speak of theology, we mean a theology that takes into account the variation according to time and circumstances. From this we can deduce three characteristics.

  1. Theology is a progressive and continuous understanding which is variable to a certain extent. If it were merely the understanding of abstract truth, this would not be true. If theology is the understanding of an existential stance, it is progressive; it is the understanding of a commitment in history concerning the Christian’s location in the development of humanity and the living of our faith.
  2. Theology is a reflection—that is, it is a second act, a turning back, a reflecting, that comes after action. Theology is not first, the commitment is first. Theology is an understanding of the commitment, and the commitment is action. The central element is charity, which involves commitment, which theology arrives later on.The pastoral consequences of this are immense. It is not the role of theology to tell us what to do or to provide solutions for pastoral action. Rather, theology follows in a distinctive manner the pastoral action of the church and is a reflection upon it.
  1. It is the intellectual understanding of a commitment; theology is an endeavor that must continuously accompany that commitment. The pastoral action of the church will be a commitment to God and the neighbor, while theology will accompany that activity to provide continual orientation and animate it. Every action of ours must be accompanied to orient it, to order, to make it coherent, so that it does not lapse into a sterile and superficial activism.

Theology, therefore, will accompany the pastoral activity of the church—that is, the present of the church in the world. It will accompany that activity continuously, to help it to be faithful to the Word of God, which is the light for theology.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Living in haze

One dark night while my wife and I were riding our motorcycle in the highway, my wife saw blazing fires in the mountains of Tachilek, a Myanmar town just across the border. She kept telling me to look at the sight, but I could not risk taking a glance and take away my eyes off the road, we might end up in a ditch.

The fire started a few days before, and it has been going on for more than two weeks. Apparently, the traditional slash-and-burn farmers set fire on the grass and the corn bushes. The fire got out of control. Perhaps this also started the forest fires in different areas in the mountains of Tachilek. Now the northern provinces of Thailand are shrouded with heavy haze.

The forest fires have been causing some serious health risks. The smoke and the dust particles technically called particulate matter (PM-10). It is very small about one-seventh the size of the human hair. This very tiny particle could easily get into the lungs and lodge there causing serious respiratory problems.

The Bangkok Post says:

[In order] to reduce their exposure to the harmful dust, the Public Health Ministry has distributed 130,000 masks to people in eight northern provinces - Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Lampang, Lamphun, Phrae, Nan and Phayao.
"The ministry has also given out leaflets telling people how to take care of their health in the face of thick smoke from burning activities," said permanent secretary for public health Prat Boonyawongvirote.

Yesterday, the level of PM-10 dust in Chiang Mai and Lampang was found to be beyond an acceptable standard. It was measured at 250.9 microgrammes per cubic metre in Chiang Mai and 154.8 in Lampang, against a health standard of 120 ug/cu m, according to the Pollution Control Department.

Because of poor visibility all flights going to Northern Thailand are cancelled. The government tried to start artificial rain to reduce humidity and control the fire and consequently the haze, but could not do so because of poor visibility.

We woke up this morning hoping that the sky would be clear, but the thick shroud of haze still hangs in the sky. We are all coughing, as our body try to dislodge the dust particles from our lungs. Our eyes are teary and painful. Nevertheless, we know that rain is coming soon and once again the sky will be clear and the air will be clean.

The picture in the header above is the picture I took with my digicam one clear afternoon.This time, you could not see anything in the sky but dark haze. I could not take pictures because my digicam broke a month ago. The pictures in this post are the best I can get from the internet.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Gustavo Gutierrez and hope

I wonder why I haven’t read any of Gustavo Gutierrez writings before. As far as I can remember, we were never given any reading assignments from his works when I was still at the seminary. He rightly deserves to be named as the “father of liberation” theology. Other liberation theologians owe their thoughts from him. As a theology student from the third world, I couldn’t understand why most Asian theologians and theology students have overlooked the importance and implications of his ideas to the situation of a continuing struggle of the poor in many Asian countries which parallel the context from which Gutierrez’s theology springs. His theology about God's preference for the poor, I believe should be extensively studied by the theologians whose nation have been struggling against oppression and their people are living in extreme poverty. His theology gives hope to the believing poor and somehow would inspire them to put their faith in practice. Gutierrez understands that Christian community should understand and practice the message of Christ and their relationship with their God. James Nickoloff writes of him:

The potency of Gutierrez’s theological vision surely derives from the Pauline triad on which he takes his stand: faith, whose biblical opposite is fear; hope, which gives to all false “realism”; and love, which alone can overcome sin and allow God to reign “on earth as in heaven.” Genuine faith is nothing more (or less) than a courageous trust in “thing unseen”: Christian faith means placing one’s life in the care of the unseen God of Jesus Christ. Hope, which Gutierrez carefully distinguishes from optimism, is rooted not in human powers but in God’s promise and fidelity to that promise. Finally, deeds of love—and not words alone—give flesh to faith and hope. It should not surprise anyone at the close of the twentieth century that such faith, hope and love meet resistance in many quarters.

Those who know the life and thought of Gustavo Gutierrez best recognize the courage he shares with people he has chosen to stand alongside, namely the despised and unimportant of the world who struggle to recover the life given them unconditionally by the creator but stolen from them by others. Courage shapes Gutierrez’s practice and his theory; indeed, courage is required to link the two dialectically, as Gutierrez suggest they must be. While fear silences tongues and paralyzes hands, faith and hope, cultivated with courage, loosen tongues to protest the outrages of history and animate hands to reshape that history.
I’m reading in between (busy) times the book edited by James Nickoloff entitle Gustavo Gutierrez Essential Writings. The book is a compilation of important passages from Gutierrez’s books and Nickoloff enriches the books with his scholarly insights. I’ll be posting quotes and comments here as I make progress reading the book.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Ben for his generosity in giving and sending me the book through the post here, in the farthest end of Thailand where theology books like this are virtually non-existent. You have been a blessing, bro!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Lost Tomb of Jesus

I don't know how Filipinos would react to James Cameron's TV film entitled The Lost Tomb of Jesus. I hope they would dismiss it as just another money-making scheme by some greedy business people. I want to quote here what Professor Amos Kloner an Israeli Archaeologist said about the TV film.
It makes a great story for a TV film. But it's completely impossible. It's nonsense. There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle class family from the 1st century CE.

In another interview Professor Kloner appropriately said:

"They just want to get money for it."
And that's exactly what they will do.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Deitrich Boenhoffer and cheap grace

I first read The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer when I was a young new Christian. The book in paperback edition looked like a novel and that was perhaps attracted my attention and picked it up lying around our church’s library. But I admit, I never understood the book then and I’m trying to recall what this great theologian wrote in that book. I really didn’t have a chance to get back to Bonhoeffer. But here and then, I’ll find Boenhoffer’s life and thinking to be a real challenge to theology students like me. This is a man who not just thought out his theology but live it out and actually died for it.

Richard G with other theology bloggers has a blog dedicated to the work of this great theologian. I started reading it, I was hoping I could also contribute but my knowledge about this great theologian is awfully lacking. Right now, I’m content just to read and learn.

Bonhoeffer’s attacked cheap grace being marketed by evangelical churches which I think is prevailing in modern or postmodern Christianity. Under the cover of the reformation’s principle of justification by faith alone, he charged that Christians have been relieved of the obligations of discipleship.

Cheap grace means grace as doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception” of God… The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.

Boenhoffer contrast cheap grace with “costly grace”. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives man the only true life.

I always hear this idiomatic expression from the English speaking people and I don't know exactly what it means. "Put your money where your mouth is." But I guess, Bonhoeffer surely did that.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Mission Partners

My friend Steve Hayes over at his blog Notes From the Underground writes a very insightful post about mission partnership and I think this is true. I know that Western missionaries are doing their best not to force their culture to the host country where they are serving. But I am witnessing it happening all the time.

But what is really mission partnership? A more verbose expression but nonetheless clearer phrase: Mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ. Steve quotes his friend John Davies clearly give us a good description of what it is all about.
Missionary work is essentially two-way; Christ said, `Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them' (Matthew 7:12). If we took this seriously, we should probably have to pack in half the missionary work of the Church that we are used to, if it meant that blacks would start teaching whites , and doing good to them, and expecting them to be grateful. Our mission is not, in a one-way traffic, to extol the greatness of our religion: it is to hear and know the living God - and just as between God and man, so also between Christian and non-Christian, all real living is meeting. If this is not our way, we misrepresent the God who has sent us out, whose very nature as trinity is one of reciprocal relations.