Thursday, September 30, 2010

Article on Moltmann

Writing dissertation is difficult at times. At times, your ideas won't come out of your head and flow through your fingers. You have your fingers on your keyboard but they won't press any keys at all. In times like this, I just look around the internet and google some words that are related to what I want to write. Of course, most of the times you find nothing. But there are times I find something I want to keep. I think a blog is a good place to keep the articles that prove to be helpful. I found this article about Moltmann and decided to keep it here.
One of the most influential theologians of his time, Moltmann was Professor of Systematic Theology at Tubingen University (in what was then Western Germany) for more than 25 years. During that time he was strongly influenced by both Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and, in the 1960s and 70s, was involved in the general Christian dialogue of the day with Marxists.

His distinct orientation of theology towards politics moved him later to focus on the European "Peace" and "Green" movements. He also became increasingly open to dialogue with exponents of Roman Catholic, Orthodox and liberation theology.

His theology can be generally classed as dialectical, in that he was concerned with tensions between aspects of Christian doctrine - the Cross and the Resurrection, death and life, an absent God and a present God and so on. All these he related to negative aspects of the world like sin, suffering and death as well as to positive aspects such as what he perceived as God's ongoing act of creation which was to issue in a new order.

Moltmann's extensive theology is, however, blighted by a methodological failing. In his earlier works such as Theology of Hope (1964) he derives his conclusions from the Bible. If in doing so he doesn't give enough credence to what were then well-substantiated  doubts about what biblical material is historical and what kerygmatic, his work is nevertheless relatively sound.

His later works display an increasing lack of awareness of the distinction between what Jesus may have thought, taught and lived out and the early Church's interpretation of what they knew about Jesus. Recent work has shown conclusively that the Jesus of history is a relatively shadowy figure. It also indicates strongly that early interpretations of Jesus were strongly influenced by reference to Old Testament theology (Isaiah for instance). He also appears to have little or no understanding of the analogical nature of theology - that is, the degree to which God-talk (theology) consists of image and metaphor.

As a result, Moltmann's theological castles appear today as elaborations built upon suspect foundations. Critics perceive them as somewhat ill-disciplined speculation tied too loosely to sound historical and critical biblical work. In a sense, Moltmann became unconsciously mythological.

Moltmann thought of God as centrally a "community of divine persons" (the Trinity) who interact in and with the world. Because this interaction is ongoing, theology (and therefore teaching) can never be completed. It is essentially "relational" - any standpoint is relative to others in a developing, organic relationship. But he appears to have had little difficulty with the central idea of revelation in relation to the whole body of human knowledge and understanding.
If God interacts with the world then change is natural. Moltmann's orientation was therefore strongly practical. Theology as a discourse aims to change the world (the opposite of stagnation) in order the better to orientate creation towards the coming kingdom of God.

This eschatological strand is common to all Moltmann's work. It's not an "end of all things in clouds of glory" sort of eschatology. Rather, he thought of it as changing the present in the direction of the "future" towards God's kingdom. The Resurrection of Jesus (however one understands it) is the first step. It sets in motion the new order and spells out the eventual end of evil, suffering and death.

Moltmann's practical streak emerges in his approach to the problem of pain and suffering. Why, if God "loves" us does he allow us to suffer so terribly? Moltmann doesn't offer a theoretical solution. Instead, he points to the way in which Jesus identifies with all sufferers through his death on the cross.

If the world of suffering doesn't correspond to our image of God now, we can recognise that there's a promise of a social reality which does. One can't help wondering how much Moltmann was influenced by post-war optimism in his conclusions. Instead of a personal development theory (people as individuals will develop towards perfection) he offers social improvement ending in a "kingdom of God".

Moltmann thinks that the bridge between the present and this wonderful social future is the Church. Because God loves the world, God affects it and is affected by it. (Moltmann rejects the teaching that God can't suffer or change.)

Therefore the Church can't claim to be absolute. It doesn't have access to final truth, nor can it teach that "salvation" is mediated only by Jesus. He goes further: the Church must be open to radical reform and renewal.

In the same way a practical eschatology reinforces and brings about radical changes in society. Humans don't rule nature, but relate to it as part of a whole community of living beings. Moltmann asserts that monotheism tends to legitimate monarchical domination and subjection. In contrast, the loving inter-relationship of the members of the Trinity demand human relationships of freedom and equality, and a recognition of human rights.

The source of the life-giving process in which we are all so deeply involved is, thinks Moltmann, what is usually called the "Spirit": "… the eternal Spirit is the divine wellspring of life - the source of life created, life preserved and life daily renewed, and finally the source of eternal life of all created being" (The Spirit of Life). This emphasis marked Moltmann's break with Barth, who thought of the Spirit as primarily the source of the revelation of God's truth.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pentecostalization of the traditional churches

I'm writing my dissertation. I think it is good to post portion of it here. This will be posted here as a series.

Church growth specialists claim that it is the works of the Holy Spirit that produce phenomenal church growth all over the world in the past decades. This remarkable growth of Christianity especially in the third world is can be attributed to the Pentecostal missionary movement. Pentecostal churches constitute the largest family of churches in Christendom after Roman Catholicism. Pentecostalism and its adherents within other denominations are now approaching 250 million. This rapid growth and the pentecostalization of the traditional evangelical churches alarmed the western conservative scholars and published literatures that oppose and attack the Pentecostal and charismatic movements to the extent that their practices especially speaking in tongues are attributed to the work of the devil. This however just proves that it draws undue attention not only from its adherents but also to those who are strongly against it. This extraordinary attention to the theology the Holy Spirit began at the close of the nineteenth century and continues until today.

Donald Bloesch rightly observes that during the first part of the twentieth century, the Holy Spirit seemed to be the missing person of the Trinity. However, within the past several decades, abundance of books on the Holy Spirit has been published and numerous conferences on the Holy Spirit and spirituality had taken place. Citing Joachim of Flora, Bloesch agrees with the statement that “it seems that we are passing from the Age of the Son to the Age of the Spirit.”  However, Pentecostal movement is not the only reason for this seemingly excessive fascination with the Holy Spirit. Evidently a more important reason is the undeniable fact that many believers from different denominations claim that they have experienced the reality of the Holy Spirit in their lives in a tangible way.

Erickson sums up the reasons why the study of pneumatology is important for the contemporary church. First, he agrees that the Holy Spirit is the way by which the triune God becomes personal to the individual Christians. Second, churches of today elevate the role of the Holy Spirit more prominently than the other members of the Trinity. Lastly, the current culture emphasizes the experiential and it is through the Holy Spirit’s work that Christians feel God’s presence. Apparently these personal experiences of the works and presence of the Holy Spirit have transformed the structure, programs, ministries and worship practices of several Filipino Southern Baptist churches.

Even though Pentecostal denomination and Charismatic movements have been in existence in the Philippines for decades, it is through the Third Wave Movement of the 80s, embraced and introduced by the younger church leaders into the Southern Baptist congregations that churches begin having Pentecostal-like worship services and activities. “Third Wave” is the term used by Peter Wagner to describe the works of the Holy Spirit in the present century that is preceded by the first and second waves of the Holy Spirit which represent the Pentecostal and the charismatic movements respectively.

Third Wavers are those who strongly believe in the ministry of miraculous healings, deliverance bay casting out demons, and to some extent speaking in tongues. However, their doctrinal position on the baptism of the Holy Spirit as once for all experience paves the way for this movement to be easily accepted in the Southern Baptist circles.  Hence when the Third Wave practices are adopted in the ministries, discipleship, and worship services of the traditional Southern Baptist churches, it creates tension among the members, churches, associations, and up to the Convention level.

Friday, September 24, 2010

It's tough to be away

So much things has been happening to us these last couple of months.  And we are thankful for you for helping us through your prayers and support. As I’m writing this, I am sitting down in front of a study table trying very hard to finish writing the dissertation ahead of schedule so that I can go back to Mae Sai sooner and continue on with the ministry there. Narlin is having a tough time working alone.

We need your prayers. Narlin has been struggling financially back home. Our visa expenses and our two trips back to the Philippines have taken its toll with our ministry funds. Yes, people helped us with the airfares and we are immensely grateful for that. However, travel expenses are not only about airplane tickets and bus fares. Narlin emailed me that she suddenly found herself unable to pay the monthly bills and provisions for 15 people in our house. There are only a couple of thousand pesos in our bank.

We completely trust the Lord’s provision for this. We have been in the same situation before and God never failed to provide.  Your prayers give us assurance and comfort that we are not alone in this.

Once again, please accept our heartfelt gratitude for your love and prayers.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I am writing the big D

I am now in Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary campus somewhere in the Asia-Pacific region writing dissertation. After four years of working in the mission field, finding it difficult to think much more to write anything, I was asked to go home and finish it once and for all.  I was blessed to have been granted stipend for my travel and for my house and lodging. 

I thank the people who believed in me that I could do it, even when I stopped believing in myself that I have what it takes to write something as big as this long time ago. Having said that, I am broke and my family who I left somewhere in the Mekong region for three months. We suddenly found ourselves financially limited. I want to finish this so that I can go back home and resume the mission work as soon as possible. Thanks for your prayers.

I hope to resume theology blogging after this.