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.