Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fearful faith

Many Christians believe that their priority as believers is to defend doctrine and teachings of God not only to the people of other faiths but more so from fellow believers inside the church. I believe though the number one priority for every Christian is to share gospel of reconciliation. Our powerful God through his Holy Spirit is able to defend himself against false teachings.

Moltmann says that if we assume a rigid defensive stance regarding our doctrine, it is actually cowardly.

The decay of faith and its identity, through the a decline into unbelief and a different identity, forms an exact parallel to their decay through a decline into a fearful defensive faith. Faith is fearful and defensive when it begins to die inwardly, struggling to maintain itself and reaching out for security and guarantees. In so doing, it removes itself from the hand of the one who has promised to maintain it, and its own manipulations bring it to ruin. This pusillanimous faith usually occurs in the form of orthodoxy which feels threatened and is therefore more rigid than ever. It occurs wherever, in the face of the immorality of the present age, the gospel of creative love for the abandoned is replaced by the law of what supposed to be Christian morality, and by penal law.

He who is of little faith looks for support and protection for his faith because it is preyed upon by fear. Such faith tries to protect its 'most sacred things', God, Christ, doctrine and morality, because it clearly no longer believes that these are sufficiently powerful to maintain themselves. When the 'religion of fear' finds its way into the Christian church, those who regard themselves as the most vigilant guardians of faith do violence to faith and smother it.

Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, pp. 11-12.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Absolute point of view

Reading an academic theology book gives you a feeling that very little of the content of the book would be applicable for the ministry or at least to your present situation. You have this inkling that the author would address issues that are relevant only among professional theologians. They are those who write articles, essays and books that the ordinary minister find useless in their own teaching and preaching. For me, it is always a delight to dig up some treasures deeply buried in theological books. Or perhaps it is just me, too slow to find the connection.

It is a joy to find some passages that speak directly to me and somewhat connect to what I am experiencing personally. Moltmann's book The Crucified God (or many of his books for that matter) always does that to me. Although, I believe Moltmann himself have no idea that the words he has written would speak to somebody in Asia doing missionary works.

I am bothered endlessly by the reality that Christians who believe that salvation is by grace through faith alone, that Jesus Christ is the only way to have a loving relationship with God could not have a authentic loving relationship with each other. Sad to say that the hairline crack that ends up in breaking apart is almost always caused by differences in theological preferences, minor doctrinal differences and certain way of interpreting the word of God. This happen when people start believing that their views alone are right and the all the others are wrong. Theirs are the only absolute truth.

Moltmann says ‘that theology must include reflections upon its own point of view... an attempt to adopt an absolute point of view would be equivalent to having no point of view at all. To make one's own point of view absolute would be stupidity. This does not amount to relativism. Anyone who understand the relativity, will see himself as relative to others; but this does not mean giving up one's own position. To see one's own point of view as relative to that of others means to live in concrete relationships and to think out one's own ideas in relationship to the thought of others. To have no relationship would be death.’ (The Crucified God, 10-11).

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Who's Who In Christian Theology: Athanasius

athanasius.jpgATHANASIUS (c. 295-373) Bishop of Alexandria (Egypt)

Athanasius did more than anyone else to bring about the triumph of the orthodox Nicene faith over Arianism, a struggle to which he devoted forty-five years and for which he was exiled five times.

Athanasius was born in Alexandria and was trained there as a theologian. He moved up rapidly as reader, deacon, and theological adviser for Bishop Alexander, accompanying him in 325 to the Council of Nicaea (near Constantinople, now Istanbul in modern Turkey). Athanasius succeeded Alexander as bishop upon Alexander’s death in 328.

The conflicts which necessitated the Council of Nicaea began in Alexandria. They existed when Alexander was bishop and continued throughout the life of Athanasius. The first came from a challenge by Melitius of Lycopolis to the authority which the bishop of Alexandria exercised over the whole church of Egypt. Melitius formed a schismatic church in reaction to the lenient treatment Alexander’s predecessor gave to those who had denied the faith during the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Diocletian. A greater conflict soon to engulf the whole church began when Arius, an Alexandrian presbyter, advocated the view that Christ was not eternal but was created by the Father Arius was condemned by Alexander in 319 at a synod in his city; but Arian views spread rapidly in the East, where prominent bishops held similar views. The Council of Nicaea was called in 325 by the Roman emperor Constantine to settle the Melitian and Arian issues and to bring unity to the church and civic peace to the area.

Condemnation of Arius by the council and even the adoption of the Nicene Creed did not bring the peace and unity which Constantine desired. There was ambiguity in the way the bishops understood the creed they had signed. As a result, Arius eventually signed the creed himself (with a few private additions). The emperor then ordered Athanasius, now bishop of Alexandria, to restore Arius. When the order arrived, Athanasius refused to readmit Arius — whereupon false charges were brought against Athanasius at the synod of Tyre (335), and Constantine exiled him.

The sanction of Arian views by the emperor threatened to turn Christianity into a philosophy mixed with pagan thought. Arians believed in a single supreme God who made contact with the world through lower creatures such as the Son and the Spirit. The Son was a suffering divine hero who was to be worshiped, very much like the hero gods of the Greeks. Since that view was so similar to paganism, Arianism made the monotheism of Christianity acceptable to many who were adopting the religion of the emperor. Athanasius recognized the danger and frequently called the Arians heathens.

As Arianism’s greatest opponent, Athanasius emphasized redemption and the necessity of the Incarnation of the Word (Christ) for man’s salvation (Oration on the Incarnation of the Word). He taught that it was necessary for the Word to be as eternal as God if he was to form the divine image in man. This was also the emphasis of his primary theological work, The Three Orations against the Arians (335 or later). In Three Orations Athanasius taught that since the Scripture describes the Son as “begotten” of the Father, he must be of the same nature as the Father, not a creature of the Father. Christ was generated spiritually, not created. In the second oration Athanasius rejected the Arians’ baptism because they did not baptize in the name of the Trinity as understood in Scripture.

Athanasius’s periods of exile spanned the rule of four emperors: Constantine, Constantius, Julian (a pagan who tried to restore the old gods), and Valens (who exiled Athanasius for only four months). His first exile lasted until Constantine’s death in 337. He returned to Alexandria only to be deposed the same year by a synod of Antioch. From 346, there was relative peace until he was again deposed in 355. The years 361 and 362 saw him back in his bishopric, but emperor Julian exiled him in the fall of the second year. He went back to Alexandria in 363, was deposed in 365, and recalled in 366. Through these trying times Athanasius struggled for the faith without yielding. He made it difficult for emperors to deal with him. At times he would delay appearing before their court, or would escape to appear before the emperor at another time and place — to the surprise of everyone. Throughout the struggles the majority of Christians in Alexandria remained devoted to him. One major benefit resulted from his two exiles in the West: the Latin church came under his influence.

There were, however, many bishops in the East who were not Arians and had no sympathy with the Arian bishops who controlled the Eastern church during the rule of Constantius. At the same time, they did not completely agree with the wording of the Nicene Creed: “the Son of God . . . of one substance with the Father.” The majority of those bishops held that the essence of the Son is “like” that of the Father. For them the creedal phrase did not make a clear distinction between Father and Son. In 359 Athanasius made a great step toward reconciliation with that majority in his Letter Concerning the Synods. He apologized to Basil of Ancyra and said that those who accepted the Nicene Creed but questioned the term “of one substance” should be treated as brothers. Athanasius went further toward reconciliation by calling a synod in Alexandria (362) during his brief return while Julian was emperor. The final step in the triumph of orthodoxy came after the death of Athanasius under the emperor Theodosius at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

In addition to contributing to the defeat of Arianism, Athanasius helped shape the Christian ideal of monasticism. He brought monasticism out of isolation in Egypt with his book, The Life of Antony. Athanasius knew the desert hermit monk personally and through his writing made the pattern of Antony’s life the ideal in the East. The Life of Antony also had an impact on many in the West.--J. Newton

J. D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort,
EditorsDonald Mitchell, Associate Editor
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Hoping for a fruitful year

Hope I could write: "The year 2008 was the busiest year we had here in the mission field. The year 2009 is the beginning of our fourth year here in Thailand. Ministries are starting to take off and the day care is growing. Teaching at the Bible school is taking much of my time. The actual teaching takes two hours but the preparation and making the lessons easy to translate takes a lot of hard work. I prepare the lesson using Powepoint because I find it very helpful if you are teaching with an interpreter. It makes the translation a lot easier.

This year, I have to divide my time in teaching, preaching, writing, working around the house, gardening and driving the school bus plus the fact that I am a husband and a father of three home schooled children.

This year I need to move forward with the paper so I will be reading and write a few sentences each day as I had been doing before the tragedy happened.

I will read The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann for a start this year and I am hoping to accomplish something this year. Sigh

Meanwhile here is an interesting quote from Moltmann from CG, page 8.

Fundamentalism fossilizes the Bible into an unquestionable authority. Dogmatism freezes living Christian tradition solid. The habitual conservatism of religion makes the liturgy inflexible, and Christian morality--often against its better knowledge and conscience--becomes a deadening legalism.