Sunday, December 30, 2007

Killing My Brain Cells Reasserted

After posting my last entry on my frustration on people, especially faith-fellows, who are not encouraging the expansion and exploration of human’s mental capacity, I have received warm advises and comments from friends.

This post meant to clarify certain issues involve in my previous post.

Perhaps some readers might find that my post is “groundless, irresponsible, prideful, uncharitable” etc. The only reason I can think of the cause of such response is due to their misunderstanding of my intention and frustration.

Some might also think that I am depreciating my friends, parents, and clergymen in my previous post.

But first of all, the post is NOT about the ‘tension’ between my relationships with those who are around me, if there is any. I have deep affection towards my friends, parents, and clergymen, but deep affection does not mean ‘anything goes’.

Secondly, my frustration goes beyond my private sphere. The trend of discouraging intellectual engagement within the Church itself is prevalent and rampaging. If we don’t cultivate intense criticality among faith-fellows, we shouldn’t be surprise with medias like Christopher Hitchens, Dan Brown, and Philip Pullman popping up around the world.

Yes, intellect shouldn’t be the only one priority, but doesn’t it dawn to anyone that it is not a priority at all in most corner of the Christendom?

Mind and heart together? Yes, but doesn’t the ‘mindless heart’ that is being promoted within the churches?

If ‘Yes’ to both questions above, then how should one responds when he/she was asked not to pursue the matter of ‘the mind’?

“That's why I frequent and drink at clubs a lot. Drinking coupled with dancing help to hasten the alcohol to kill brain cells.” :)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Killing My Brain Cells

Last Friday, went out for dinner with my dearest faith-fellows: Eve, Kevin, Mario (known only on that day), Zhen Hao, and Nalika. We had Japanese food at Waraku (or something like that). That was my second time there. My first visit was with my dearest clubbing-fellow Angie Babydoll.

Food was nice. Expected that.

Then we went to Coffeeclub at Clarke Quay to chill and hang ourselves out. In the middle of the conversation, i shared the bit about the Philip Hefner's idea of Human Becoming with them. I'm not going to blog my sharing here because it's good to leave you to read from Hefner himself because it worth grappling with such unconventional yet stimulating perception.

Anyway, after my short sharing, all who were present were shocked by the idea. Zhen Hao said it is bizarre. Well, I cannot agree more. It is bizarre when I was first exposed to it, and it is still as bizarre now. But the idea is sinking in slowly.

After sharing all these really amazing ideas with my faith-fellows, do you know what was the main response?

"Joshua, you have been reading and thinking too much. It's good to read and think but you are doing it too much. You should do something else..."

This is not the first time I was told to toned down, to shut off my mind, to make myself suiting to those who are around. That means I have to read only the newspapers or magazines or, at most, the Daily Bread, which everyone else reading everyday, so that we all have the share the same perception of reality bla bla bla.

My mom is another one that always discourage me from reading, learning, and thinking. Think about it: what kind of mom (in this case, faith-fellows) that discourages her son (in this case, another faith-fellow) who are making much use of his brain? Doesn't this forbidding gesture reminds anyone of the Magisterium in The Golden Compass? Human's mind should be encouraged to be utilized, productive, and performed by the Church! (Think Augustine of Hippo or Athanasius or Rowan Williams!)

And this is not my first time getting this nonsense from faith-fellows. I remembered visiting Wesley Methodist at Butterworth, Penang, where the preacher exhorted the congregation to "leave their rationality" at the door before coming into the church. He went on to said that the number one vice that prevents Christians from edification is "logical thinking". Hey preacher, you are shitting on the pulpit! These are the creatures that help Philip Pullman to sell his books.

Anyway, my point is this. The very next time whenever someone ask me to stop reading, learning, and thinking (or something along this line), I will just reply "That's why I frequent and drink at clubs a lot. Drinking coupled with dancing help to hasten the alcohol to kill brain cells."

Christmas SMS 2007

Since last year, i started sending Christmas SMS to my faith-fellows. This year is without exception. Christmas text for this year:
Christmas demands us to re-appreciate the incarnation and re-appropriate our participation in Christ's project for God's creatures and the entire creation. Blessed Christmas :)
One SMS length, short, original, and uplifting.

Note: I think for faith-fellows to contemplate only on the birth of Jesus is just a slightly more devotional manner than what a non-believers can be. And if Christians are satisfied merely with this consolation, then he/she runs the risk of being a privatized faith-fellow. Therefore Christmas must be an appreciation of not merely the 'birth' but the 'incarnation', not merely the works of Christ, but our participation in His continual work as well.


More Thoughts on Calvinism's Noetic Effect

A few months back I wrote against Calvinism's noetic effect (part 1, part 2). My contention is that this particular theology is philosophically rootless (24 Oct) and inconsistent (30 Oct).

Some of the criticisms that I received are that I "utterly misunderstand" the Reformed's definition of noetic effect, "attacking a strawman", inadequate understanding of "chim" stuff, and etc:
Leon (29 Oct): I do know is that Total Depravity does not mean the faculty of reason is non functional nor that the "depraved" man is non rational. Otherwise they wont be the long tradition of classical apologetics in the likes of Augustine, Aquinas and Sproul that aim to convince a person via the faculty of reason to the point of conversion by the Holy Spirit.

Steven (30 Oct): why are you forcing your IDEA of noetic effect on those who ACTUALLY believe in noetic effect?

Dave (30 Oct): To paraphrase Jeremiah 12 "If you have run with the Calvinists, and completely misunderstood them, then how can you understand with more "chim" stuffs?"

Steven (30 Oct): In the first place, leon has already pointed out the noetic effect he knew (he may not believe it, but he is fair enough to know what IT IS), is not like what you defined and what you criticized.

Steven (30 Oct): you are utterly mistaken about TULIP and noetic effect…attacking strawman is ridiculous and waste of time...don't do that, ppl will not take u seriously.

Jason Loh (1 Nov): The noetic effect of sin does not render objectivity impossible. The mind is not precluded from *understanding* the Word of God. What is lacking is *faith* which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Christian believes that the Bible is the Word of God because the internal witness of the Spirit and the external witness of the Bible. In other words, the noetic effect of sin is not *ontological* but metaphysical, moral and spiritual. Man remains a man after the Fall, only that he now is an unrighteous man who suppresses whatever remnant of divine knowledge in him. So, he knows as in understand, but he does not know as in believing.

After taking in all these criticisms, I started to doubt my critique against Reformed understanding of noetic effect. I consulted books of Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem, Alvin Plantinga, R.C Sproul, Robert Reymond, Stephen Moroney, and James Boice. Their works widen and strengthened more on what I already know on the subject. But these reference are still not precise because they are not distinctively Reformed or claimed to be that.

No doubt all these theologians are from the Reformed persuasion but their works are more of descriptions of their own personal reflection as an individual theologian rather than a definitive and authoritative view on the subject from a Reformed position. For eg. Erickson describes the noetic effect as he understands it, and he does not make any claim or whatsoever that his understanding is or represents THE Reformed understanding on the subject. Neither do Grudem, Plantinga nor Reymond do the same. Their systematic textbooks do not claim to represent the "Reformed" theology, faith, or both. Their books are all personal exposition of Christian theologies resulted from their own studies rather than representing any particular theological system. That means even though they inclined to the Reformed tradition, yet their works do not represent the voice of the wider Reformed community. In other words, they do not view themselves as speaking on behalf of the Reformed circle.

(Some might argue that the right Christian theology is the Reformed theology, but this is just too narrow a definition, and unjustifiably insensitive towards other Christian traditions.)

One main reason why I was very selective to look for a definitive work because I want to avoid any domestication of the Reformed's view on noetic effect. An example of such "domestication" is when a person wants to believe X, which contains inconsistency in its parts, changes (domesticates) the bit in X that is inconsistent in order that he/she can continue to believe X, a domesticated product according to his/her own image.

In order to avoid this unending and hopeless domestication, I want something that defines itself as distinctly Reformed. And I find none of the references mentioned so far represent that magisterial authority.

Nonetheless, providentially, that search led me to a book which quintessentially titled "After Darkness, Light: Distinctives of Reformed Theology". In the "Introduction" chapter, R.C Sproul Jr. stated that the book is "a heartfelt celebration of the doctrines that define the Reformed faith" (p.11, emphasis mine). This is exactly what I need: an authoritative work that represents the Reformed tradition (or claims to be).

This book claims to be distinctively and definitely "Reformed". This reference is different from other reference in that it claims itself to be the representative of the Reformed position. In fact, this book was edited by R.C Sproul Jr., with contributions from Jay E. Adams, Sinclair B. Ferguson, Michael S. Horton, John F. MacArthur and others who are explicitly claimed to be Reformed and thus well known for their Reformed theological orientation and career. All of them are from institutions famous for their strong Reformed stand such as Westminster Theological Seminary, Ligonier Ministries, Knox Theological Seminary, and etc. And therefore, this is exactly where I need to search into for the definitive construal of Reformed's noetic effects. And here is how the book defines 'noetic effect':
'The reasoning processes of human beings set them apart from all other creatures. The Fall did not destroy the intellect or the reasoning processes, but it did cause the intellect to function irrationally. Total depravity does not mean that mans' mental faculties were destroyed by sin. It does mean that they were disabled, defiled, and injured by sin. Before the Fall, Adam could not make a mathematical mistake or engage in any faulty reasoning. After the Fall, he and all of his progeny became faulty in their intellect and reasoning processes…The noetic effect of sin leaves the mind in a state of confusion.' (Distinctives of Reformed Theology: After Darkness, Light, p.18-19, emphasis mine)
The context of the above passage is taken from the chapter on "Total Depravity", sub-chapter "A Corrupt Mind". In this context, the author describes the intellectual faculty of human and its connection with human's will. He ends this sub-chapter by drawing our attention to the various problematic conditions of societies as evident for such corruption. The author presupposes that human's rationality is not separated from human's will. In other words, he is saying that if we cannot rationalize rightly, we cannot will rightly. And this is how our rationality and will are totally depraved.

Although the interconnectedness between rationality and will is not the author's major contention in the article, his idea on the interconnectedness is certainly correct. Just as another author rightly describes this connection: "..the intellect cannot be surgically separated from the will. Since we know that human beings have willfully turned from God, their rebellion has not only moral and spiritual but epistemological consequences." (Stephen K. Moroney, How Sin Affects Scholarship, Christian Scholar's Review XXXVIII, 1999, n.55). Oliver O'Donovan shares the same perception between the human's rationality and the human's will: "All description of reality has moral implication to some kind. And every resolution of the will presupposes some description of reality."

But I am not contending against the idea that our will and intellect are unrelated. Neither am I contending that they are unmarred by sin. I agree that rationality and will is interconnected. And I agree that we are corrupted by sin. But I disagree with the author and the wider Reformed community to which he claims to represent, that such corruption makes our reasoning ability or rationality unreliable. I am contending that the 'Reformed notion that our reasoning faculty IS unreliable' is incoherent and need to be abandoned.

I find that my understanding of the Reformed noetic effect is precisely the same as the description of the authoritative book: "…all human understanding is unreliable as an effect of the Fall." (24 Oct). I never claimed that Reformed noetic effect is the destruction of human reasoning. All I am objecting is the proposition 'human rationality or reasoning ability is unreliable'.

Was I wrong in my understanding of Reformed Noetic effect? I am willing to admit it if there is evident to the contrary. At the same time, this discovery reveals to me that my critics are actually the ones that are defending strawman, their own domesticated belief all this while.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Weekend

At last and alas, I will now have to travel to Upper Payar Lebar to work. Our office moved there last Friday. It was a long and thus I rented 3 DVDs to loosen the shoulders. Watched 2 movies till 2.45am before leaping to bed.

The next day, during doing laundry, the idea of writing something about contextualization came to me. This time it is about contextualizing the Bible into sub-urban vernaculars. And I spent some time looking through Mark’s gospel to see any specific passages where I can derive for contextualization. I came upon Mark 3, and wrote something about it. Here is the product.

Then I did some reading before watching Ocean Thirteen and took a nap till late evening.

Jung Hung and Dawn were in town, so we hang out for dinner and then went searching the city for a cinema that shows Heartbreak Kid. Unfortunately none of the cinema’s timing compliments us, so we end our night sipping latte at Starbucks. My appetite consumed a slice of New York cheesecake and a tall vanilla latte. I forgot when was the last time I had these. It’s been a long while.

After parted with JH and Dawn, I headed to Page One at Vivo City. They are having 20% storewide sales, but I didn’t get anything. Actually there are 2 books on ancient Israel and 1 book on evolution that I want to get. The purpose to possess them is that I realize I need more reference texts for my personal pursuit, but then again, I also realized that there is no end to such references. This is a piece of experience which I can sympathize with book-maniacs: the thought that “this is the last one that I need” is an illusion. There is no such thing as “the last book”!

I window-shopped until Angie, Yen, and Michelle arrived next door, I joined them and met a new friend, Jess. Meeting them for this:


St. James Powerhouse. Since I got to know about this club about a year ago, I always wonder why it is named ‘St. James’. Why did not name it as St. Paul or St. John or St. Peter and others who are more recognized by fellow believers? Could the owner be an Anglican who had the Book of James as a favourite sutra? Anyway, it is interesting for a club to christened St. James. This makes me fantasize that if I have a chain of clubs, restaurants, and entertainment avenues, I’ll designate them with names like Athanasius, Aquinas, Anselm, or nicks like J.Calvin and M.Luther. But to think about it, since the operator of Powerhouse uses ‘St. James’ for the club, does he/she needs to pay copyright commission to those organizations that print Bibles?

Anyway, the night was great. We danced almost non-stop from 1 till 4 with little rest in between. Actually the girls were more energetic than me. They were on the stage strutting their move. Our toxics were champagne, beer, tequila, and gin. Everything was almost perfect if not for 2 incidents. First, I asked for a glass of warm water for my recovering throat from the waiter, but he refused to oblige. Second, we met some hooligans.

We shook hand but one of the hooligans squeezed my hand. And he is not the first guy who did that. That’s a ‘show-off’ to me. If you are strong, you don’t have to squeeze the hand of someone you just met to prove it! At first, I didn’t resist, and pretend to be weak to boast his ludicrous ego. And when he did it for the second time, I showed him that he is not as strong as he thinks he is and I am not as weak as he thought I am. Yes, he has more meat than me, but brainless and tremendously lack of style. We spoke a few words in English before he asked me whether do I understand Mandarin, and I said yes. And he started to telling me that a drunken guy is embarrassing and other nonsense in Mandarin. Look, I don’t have anything against people who speak Mandarin, but this guy is just too pathetic with his machismos and nonsensical character. Does he not know that Christ and his followers have overturned such unfair gender-tension for complementary equality? Or is he just ignorant of all the voices of the feminists in our time? He reminds me of Borat. Then he started to dance with me. One descriptive word: DISGUSTING. Fortunately (!) Yen and Jess pulled me away from him. When he approached Michelle, we pulled her over to us. After that Jess asked me whether is he gay, I expressed my ignorant and conjectured that he probably is a bi-sexual. A pathetic one, that is.

Michelle chatted up the hooligan’s friend and found out that he just came out from prison. Poor fella, I thought; but to think about it further, one wonders why was he convicted in the first place?

We left at about 4.15 with me reaching home, with a bath, and slept at 5. And the next day, went to do congregation with fellow faithfuls. Then, off to library to check up something before going home for a nap. After the nap, went to watch the disgusting Heartbreak Kid with Angie before we went to…


Dragonfly.

After Dragonfly, went to fetch nalika. Slept at 7am the next morning, woke up at 8.30am before heading off to work. That’s weekend. One good lesson learned: Never club if you don’t have enough hours to rejuvenate. With such exhaustion, it is not 'happening' ;)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

ABALV of Mark 3.31-35

Ah Beng-Ah Lian Version (Southeast Asian Sub-Urban Contextualization of certain passages of the Bible):

Mark 3.31-35 (NRSV)
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”


Mark 3.31-35 (ABALV: Ah Beng-Ah Lian Version)
Then his lao bu and blaaders came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your lao bu and your blaaders and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my lao bu and my blaaders?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Lim peh ka li kong, here are my lao bu and my blaaders! Whoever does the will of Ti Pek is my blaaders and sister and lao bu.”

Southeast Asian Sub-Urban Jargons:
Lao bu: Hokkien vernacular for 'Mother.'
Blaader: Hokkien vernacular for 'Brother.'
Lim peh ka li kong: Hokkien slang for 'I speak as an authority to you' (Literally it connotes 'I am your father, you should listen to me').
Ti Pek: Hokkien vernacular for 'God' (Literally means 'Heavenly Father').
Tao Keh: Hokkien vernacular for 'business owner' or someone who is superior.
Selling salty-duck-eggs: Means deceased.
Tai Loh: Cantonese vernacular for 'big boss' (Literally means 'elder brother').
Ah Gong: Equivalent to the term 'Godfather' among Mafia.


This passage reflects Jesus’ reconstruction of traditional perception on kindred-ship. Jesus identifies his family members as those who carry out the businesses and legacy of God, as oppose to the usual conception that family members are only confined to those who are blood-related.

The idea of sharing the same blood is the major factor of one’s close family ties with the other. This is most typical for Asian businesses. When a ‘tao keh’ ventures into the business of ‘selling salty-duck-eggs’, his leftover business will usually inherited by a blood-related member, without much regards to the member’s ability, and not by any excellent loyal employees who are just non-blood related. Perhaps, a sort of blood-cronyism, one might say.

The same principle can be observed when a blood-related member succeeds the throne of authority in a gang rather than other non-blood related ‘tai loh’ when the ‘Ah Gong’ died.

These are examples of how commoners usually think of kindred. Many do not ridicule such practice even though sometimes it might be seen as injustice by, perhaps, the excellent loyal employees or the outstanding tai loh. But generally, inheriting businesses or legacy by blood-related members is seen as appropriate in the eyes of most SEA Asian. Blood governs kindred-ship, and thus also, the businesses and the legacy.

Jesus revolts against such constricted appropriation. He proclaimed that the inheritance of businesses and legacy should be the defining governance for kindred-ship, not the other way around. That means, it is the “kindred spirit” that should identify one as a family members, as oppose to the “kindred blood”. To Jesus, to call someone as ‘blaader’ is not limited to blood relation but also to identify him as someone who carry out God's business; a business that Jesus takes very seriously. It is through this similar vision and mission that binds non-blood-related people together as a family. And it is this that binds us, the believers, to Jesus as blaader, mother, and sister. Such identification carries the implicated responsibilities and sentiments to those to whom we identify as family members.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christopher Hitchens & Debates

I spent last Saturday listening to 3 debates involving Christopher Hitchens. He is the author of a recent militant anti-religion book titled 'God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything'. However, Hitchens is not the reason I listen to these debates, but his debaters. The first debate involves Alister McGrath, the second Dinesh D' Souza, and the third Mark D. Roberts.

Alister McGrath, a historical-systematic theologian, and an ex-practising scientist, is ever a mannered and civil person. His debate rhetoric always filled with courteous and non-confrontational remarks. Due to his background as an academian, he talks precisely like one. He is very elaborative and articulate in his words. But due to this, sometimes, one finds he does not managed to engage all of Hitchens’ points. In this debates, it makes McGrath seems docile and vulnerable to Hitchens’ mountains of rhetorics. I think it is a disappointment that McGrath did not expound his scientific theology to handle Hitchens’ argument for the incompatibility between science and religion. Having knew about McGrath’s work in science and theology, I think he can do much better than that. And it will definitely crush Hitchens' false dichotomy between science/reason and faith, as exemplifies in his book Science of God.

Dinesh D' Souza, a political commentator, on the other hand, is direct and confrontational. That alone makes the debate stimulating and provocative. He is very sharp and engage Hitchens’ and the questioners’ point directly. At many turns, he manages to pin Hitchens to the mat and triumph over his contention. Perhaps this give reasons to why one should read his new book, which is confrontationally titled ‘What Is So Great About God?’ as against Hitchens’ ‘God Is Not Great’.

Mark D Roberts, a NT scholar, engages best with Hitchens’ repudiation of the reliability of the NT account of Jesus. It appears that the authority Hitchens relies on in this field is Bart Erhman. From there he get his idea of textual corruption of the Bible. But textual criticism is nothing new to many informed believers. In fact the late Bruce Metgzer, the recognised authority of NT textual criticism, who is also the teacher of Ehrman, is a well-mannered lifetime believer. So I think Hitchens’ reliance on textual criticism to doubt the reliability of the NT is just too shallow. One only need to read Burridge, Hengel, and recently, Bauckham and Roberts to appreciate the reliability of the NT material.

Through three debates, I noticed Hitchens stresses a lot that we cannot pick and choose which part of religion to acknowledge and which to reject. That means if you acknowledge religion is good because a believer brought back your lost wallet to you, you must also acknowledge the religion of which its believers who explode themselves as good.

I think this is one of Hitchens’ conceptions of coherence. That means the believer must acknowledge the religion of the good believer as one acknowledges those who explode themselves, if one wants to stay coherent that the idea of religion is good or true. But I think this is a false notion of coherence. This is just mere rhetoric to impose one false idea on to others in order to falsify them. In practice, individual believer get to chose to acknowledge what is deem best and rational to one’s own predisposition towards one’s religious canon. Even scientists get to pick and chose their preferred scientific theories. If you are a scientist, that does not mean you have to acknowledge ‘irreducibly complexity’ and evolution, and young-earth science, and whatever one finds out there which comes in the name of science. I am sure Hitchens does not acknowledge young-earth science as science according to his conscience and rationality. If he can chose and pick his own preferred ideas to acknowledge, I do not see any reason he has to forbid believer to do the same according to the believer’s own conscience and rationality. Unless his objection is what I charge it to be: mere rhetoric to falsify others! This is not the only falsification rhetoric he tries to impose on believer. There is another one on morality.

One argument for the existence of God is the ground for morality. That means without God, humans has no ground for morality and ethics. Hitchens challenges theist to name one moral action taken or uttered by a believer that is not taken or uttered by a non-believer. Or name one wicked act that non-believer will take or utter it otherwise.

Roberts came nearest to answering that. At first, he did not name any of these moral action but he engage Hitchens on the premise that the reason why his argument from common morality is appealing is precisely because everyone has been endowed with a pre-fixed idea of morality. Humans are being made in God’s image explains why Hitchens’ argument is so appealing. Then later, Roberts responded that praying for his son is a good moral action, which a non-believer cannot think likewise. Hitchens says that is irrelevant. Of course it is irrelevant to him! That is precisely the point! He is a non-believer! And Roberts just gave a moral action which a believer deem right yet the non-believer think otherwise.

I think there is a more explicit moral action than the one named by Roberts. Roberts’ response is good but lack the obligatory force to be a moral action on the believer. That means a believer who does not take prayers seriously does not has much obligation to consider praying as a moral action. I think there is in fact an utterance to which is a moral act of affirmation of a statement of truth on the part of the believer. Since it is an act concerning true statement, it is also a moral obligation for the believers to affirm such statement as true. If a believer denies this statement as true, then he or she will be immoral and thus cannot be a believer. And that moral utterance is ‘God exists’. This statement is right and true to the believers, and not to the non-believers.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Child-Parents Ad-Hominem

Frank Schaeffer, the son of the late Francis and Edith Schaeffer, has wrote a book about his own childhood and, inevitably, describing his famous Calvinist-Evangelical parents' lives.

I have not read the book but from the review that i read, i can't help but to guess that this book will be a surprise to many who hold Francis Schaeffer as a 'hero'. The book recaptualizes some of the insider's eyewitness testimony of being and growing up in the Schaeffer family:

(I'm here pasting from the review)

- (Edith Schaeffer) relentlessly policed Frank's masturbatory practices while keeping him informed of all the anatomical changes his older sisters were undergoing as they grew up.

- At the height of L'Abri's cachet, full of anger and passions, (Francis Schaeffer) could go in the space of a minute or two from throwing a lamp at Edith or thrashing a child upstairs to giving a sermon on the mercy of Jesus downstairs.

- Frank asserts without qualification that his parents "were happiest when farthest away from their missionary work."

- The very Italian Renaissance paintings and sculptures that Francis denigrated (in comparison to Northern European Reformation works) in Escape From Reason were the ones, according to Frank, that he loved the most and could not stop visiting.

- As the Schaeffers got more famous (and portrayed themselves more and more as an exemplary Christian family), Frank notes, their annual family reunions were beset by strife, with constant fights between the sons-in-law about fine points of doctrine.

So far, i have only come across Francis Schaeffer's intellectual work in the market, not much about his personal life. And here is a description provided by his own son. A not-so-exciting description, it seems. Is this an ad-hominem from a son to his father?

If these accounts are true, it just recalls the obvious: that we humans, no matter how intellectual or how respectable one can be, are always failing in many quaters in life.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Further Thoughts on Calvinism’s Noetic Effect of Sin

Previous post of a fictional dialog between a Subjectivist and a Calvinist meant to reveal the underlying similar incoherence between both structures of thoughts. The former by arguing for the inexistence of absolute truth is itself proposing an absolute truth. While the latter by contending that the notion that all human cognition is marred by sin and thus unreliable is suggesting that that very notion itself is an unmarred and reliable knowledge.

One reason many find affinity with Noetic effect theology due to its explanatory effectiveness to explain human’s limited and often-mistaken capacity to comprehend. But as demonstrated in my previous post, this theology is incoherent and philosophically rootless. If all human understanding is unreliable as an effect of the Fall, then this very notion is itself unreliable.

Having that said, I am aware that another reason the idea of Noetic effect of sin was still prevalent in Christian communities is its function to uphold the supremacy of Special Revelation against Natural Revelation in Christian Theology. That means this particular theology was meant to place the Scripture above human’s reasoning. For instance, if some Galileos or Copernicuses step up to say that the earth is not the center of the universe as some knowledge that contradict the Church’s teaching, the Church authorities could take refuge by invoking the principle of Noetic effect of sin to emphasis and ground knowledge in the Scripture rather than grounding knowledge on observations of those Galileos and Copernicuses. Through such theology, the Church hopes to retain the Scripture as the ground for human cognition.

There are two problems with this theology. First, very often though not always, whenever the Church argues for the supremacy of the Scripture is really an attempt to elevate the Church’s own posture as superior in the marketplace of ideas rather than that of the Scriptural data. And subsequent to this power-driven manipulative motivation, the imperialistic and hegemonic Church might turn out to be exactly what it was not meant to be: hell. We know what had the Church done with Galileo and Copernicus and, personally, I pray that that will not happen again.

And following this first problem, the second problem is that whenever a church postulates a scrupulous interpretation of the Scriptural data is really, very often though not always, an interpretation comes out from the particular tradition of that particular church and thus would not be the right interpretation after all. Hence in the end, if the Noetic effect theology is correct, is not that particular interpretation a marred interpretation as well?

(Upon reading here, you might ask (1) how then should we contend for the right understanding of the Scripture (2) and how do we understand the Scripture? My own attempt to these questions follows Imre Lakatos’ research program for the contention part, and Anthony Thiselton on the understanding part)

After complaining so much about the Noetic effect principle as detrimental to our theology of human cognition and the philosophical coherence for our epistemology, I hope, now, to refocus this conversation with a proposal that I think is more robust.

The function of Noetic effect to explain the limitation and erroneous-able of human understanding can be replaced by the doctrine of creation. This doctrine affirms that there is an infinitely huge ontological difference between the Creator and the creation. Simply said, human as part of the creation is extremely different from God the Creator. God as a being and possess the ability to know all there is to know contrary to humans as limited and finite beings with limited and finite capability to know.

By grounding the theological problem of cognition in the doctrine of creation instead of the doctrine of sin, we are privileged with two advantages: (1) With such inadequacy, it is expected that our knowledge is not perfectly comprehensive and hence we have incomplete knowledge on almost everything. But such incompleteness does not mean error; it just means we lack the ability to understand certain things in this given moment. (2) There are certain things that we cannot know or understand as limited finite being. And thus, there are space for mysteries and wonders in our ever-discovery and learning.

Moreover, these two advantages do not threaten the canonical status of the Scripture. There is no ‘Scripture VS Reason’, but a continuous dialog between Scripture and Reason. In the many cases of Galileos and Copernicuses, although their discoveries do not gives us the right interpretation of the Scripture, nonetheless, these discoveries correct our wrong ones.

By this simple task of refocusing, I hope I had demonstrate the incoherence of Christian epistemology in invoking the Noetic effect theology. And so, convincingly prompts you to abandon this theology and ground our knowledge on this matter in the doctrine of creation instead.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thiselton on Ricoeur on Freud

Anthony Thiselton observes how Paul Ricoeur interprets Sigmund Freud's observation on human's interpretation (on the multifaceted dreams in Freud's case. On multifaceted 'texts' and 'self' in broader scope for Ricoeur).

Hermeneutics may be summed up in the two principles: 'willingness to suspect', which destroys idols, and 'willingness to listen' which retrieves the power of symbols and communicative texts... Ricoeur sees [Freud's] procedure as informing and resourcing a 'hermeneutic of suspicion', as the way for a positive 'retrieval'. (Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self, p.69)

I find that to be true and important. In my present context, naive 'hermeneutic of trust' is being again and again promoted by Christians in the reading of the Scriptures. And the adjective 'naive' plays a distinguished role that signifies only a particular hermeneutic of trust from other similar hermeneutic, like one adhered by Richard Hays.

If not careful, adherents to hermeneutics of trust easily slips into the rhetorical 'innocent until proven guilty' stance on Scripture. Many take refuge in such stance, arguing that if court of law uses such determining presumption in matters of judiciary, then our approach to the Bible should be the same.

But the fact is that this 'innocent until proven guilty' stance is not universal applicable in court of law and, not least, in matters of national security. For eg. in local (Malaysia-Singapore context), a suspect can be detained with circumstantial evidents without any prior sufficient evidents. In other word, a suspected terrorist can be arrested and thrown into detention or prison without proving his guilt. That means it is not clear how extensive the concept of 'hermeneutic of trust' should be practiced in churches, not least in the field of apologetic, given the fact that there are data recorded in the Bible that are not historical (for eg. the Exodus and Joshua's massive military conquest of Canaan). There are layers of 'self-protection, manipulation, evasion, or power' (Interpreting God, p.69) in the Biblical texts that need to be interpreted and acknowledged.

On the other hand, the hermeneutic of suspicion is as dangerous and faulty if applied carelessly. Thus Thiselton points out firmly, following Ricoeur, that suspicion has to be utilized as a way towards a positive retrieval of the meaning of the text. But of course, 'positivity' is not a clear idea too. It needs no less critical evaluation on the assumption of what to be considered 'positive'.

Though many things are not clear, one thing still stands out apparent is that both hermeneutics cannot be isolated from one another nor applied incautiously in interpreting a 'text' or a 'self'.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Calvinism's Noetic Effect = Subjectivism

In a sunny and fateful afternoon at Orchard Road, two fellow thinkers bumped into one another. After spending some time talking to each other, one of them started:

Subjectivist: There is no absolute truth!

Calvinist: Isn't that statement an absolute truth?

Subjectivist: .... OK ... there is only one absolute truth, and that is 'there is no absolute truth'.

Calvinist: How do you know there is no absolute truth except that one absolute truth?

Subjectivist: .... Er... I just think that is none based on my observation of the omnipresent plurality around us.

Calvinist: Hmm... But you do realize base only by observation, you can't really say something as true? For eg. The lady over there might just be a man, who knows, right?

Subjectivist:....hmm...

Calvinist: Now can you see the problem of philosophical subjectivism? It is incoherent; it can't justify its own truthfulness.

Subjectivist: Oh I see. You have a point. Then how would a person know what is true or false?

Calvinist: That is a good question, my friend. One of my ancestor, Dr. Cornelius Van Til, following John Calvin, our grand master of understanding, had highlighted earlier last century that human's mind has been affected by sin. This phenomenon is known as the Noetic effect of sin. That means ever since Adam and Eve sinned against God, whole humanity has been affected by it. Our whole being are deeply marred. We are totally depraved. That includes our faculty of cognition and knowledge being seriously impaired and can not help us to grasp true understanding. Thus if a person gets a true understanding, it is solely by the grace of God. That is God unconditionally elected a limited some who will enjoy the effect of Jesus Christ's saving power. And this grace is irresistible. And through this, God will preserve the limited some to know the truth till eternity.

Subjectivist: Oh I see... But wait a minute, if this Noetic effect is true and that our knowing faculty is damaged and we can't know truth, how then do you know this statement about Noetic effect is really true?

Calvinist: As I have said, I know it is true because it was God's grace that I know it is true.

Subjectivist: Ohh... but how do you know that the notion 'you know it is true because of God's grace' is true since all our knowing is affected by sin?

Calvinist:... er....well, that is because there is only one truth that is not affected by sin, and that is the Noetic effect and God's grace to counter it.

--------------------------------------

TULIP is an
undeterminate theology which has very
limited explanation
and kind of
nonsensical at times.

*Let those who have eyes see.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Further Rant on Periods

In my previous post, i've described the 3 periods in a concise and affirming way. Another reason for such categorization is due to ever-present critique of my negative view on pre-critical and critical methods of doing theology, biblical studies, and philosophy; in 3 easy words: of doing Life.

For eg. whenever i condemn pre-critical method of doing biblical studies, Steven and Dave Chong would unleash their ever-ready swords of the(ir) spirit and say that those pre-critical thinkers are no less critical in their exegesis of texts. I admit that the notion 'pre-critical' does naturally connotes non-criticality, but it does not necessarily mean so, and definitely not in the way I (and many others) use it. Pre-critical IS NOT non-critical. Just as post-critical does not mean the abandonment of criticality.

This is my updated appropriation of these periods:

In the Pre-critical period, heretics are burned, slaughtered, guillotined, drowned, castrated(?) or other bloody punishment.

In the Critical Period, heretics are excommunicated and ecclesiastically-condemned.

In the Post-critical period, heretics are not only not being excommunicated or ecclesiastically-condemned, they are still being invited to Christmas parties, children's birthday celebrations, Sunday services, and do life together.

In view with this definitions, one might ask, "where then is the notion of critically applies?"

To use St. Paul as a bad analogy, pre-criticality is the pre-convert Saul. He is faithful to God and in so doing, he went around villages and towns, dragging heretics to be punished. When Saul met Christ on the road to Damascus,
that was the critical period of his life. That time he realizes that the God that he was serving all this while is actually the God who he was persecuting. Thus he was in that sense 'converted' to the belief that Jesus is the promised Messiah who is now known to be divine and eternal, sharing the very throne of YHWH. After the conversion, St. Paul further interpret and appropriat his theology and mission (thus, his life) in accordance with this revelation. This 'further appropriation' is the post-critical.

To draw that to humanity's progress in epistemology, the pre-critical hominids use Reason and apply criticality on that perceived Reason. The Reformation and later, the Enlightenment, played the part of 'Christophany' where humans are being revealed the more encompassing potential of the role of Reason. And the post-critical period marks the further appropriation of the role of Reason, and thus the recognition of the limits and weaknesses of its potential as well.

In other words, humans have never failed to be critical in these 3 periods. The distinction is that they differ in their appreciation and interpretation of the roles, limits, and boundaries of Reason. Thus, whenever I mentioned 'pre-critical', I do not mean that those hominids are not critical. Just as when I use 'post-critical', that does not mean the desertion of criticality.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pondering On Epistemology

During last super-busy Saturday, I rang up Steven, and to my surprise, he is studying into human cognition and epistemological related topics. Why a 'surprise'? Because I'm doing that too!

Given the fact that we are not identical twin, the undertaken route of our studies are not identical. The difference between us are the different sources that we use and thus different starting point. He digs into A. Thiselton, W. Pannenberg, S. Pinker, M. Gladwell etc on direct studies of cognition, hermeneutics, psychology, and neuroscience; where as I dig A. Thiselton (same author but different source), M. Westphal, J.K Smith, D. Burns, M. Horton etc on shifts between epistemologies within historical periods, in hoping to gain insight from the shifts (at the same time, I'm tampering with 'fire' which some humans call 'trans-modernism').

On other note, the other day, an idiosyncratic yet nuanced categorization between pre-citical, critical, and post-critical period came to mind. I've been trying to find simple way to describe the differences between these 3 periods. The usual manner for this task is to distinguish the distinctive features of each era. And so, these features:

In the Pre-critical period, heretics are burned, slaughtered, guillotined, drowned, castrated(?) or other bloody punishment.

In the Critical Period, heretics are excommunicated and verbally-condemned.

In the Post-critical period, heretics are still being invited to Christmas parties, children's birthday celebrations, and Sunday services.

hahahaha.... if you are smart enough, you might also finds that such categorization do implicitly shows the shift of priorities and thus character-judgment. The otherness of the 'Other' gain more appreciation and acknowledgment in the later period compared to the earlier. In coronary with that, the severity of holding different doctrines are being seen with less intensity. And that implies more freedom to non-conformity with traditional or pre-critical or critical theologization and theologies.

Thus (with a big 'PHEW~') I can unashamedly proclaim to be a postmodern Christian-liberal Presbyterian!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Questions To Ponder

I have been thinking on these same fundamental questions for some time. These questions have been bugging me since the day I realized my own existent. Over the last few years, these questions are being refined. To some, these questions are irrelevant. To others, these are life & death. Yet still, to some others, these are curios pathway to enlightenment.

These are the questions:

1) What is Reality?
2) How do we know Reality?
3) Who are we to know Reality?
4) What is there to know in Reality?
5) When does one know reality?
6) When can one know reality?

To these questions, I shall probe.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Alibaba, Hermeneutics, and Whims

Alibaba became a Christian and since then he had this desire to serve full time in church-based work. As he grew in the faith, there came a point in life that he took the step of faith to study in a theological institution. In his heart, he has prophet Samuel in view as one who had prepared himself for his service since young. Just like Samuel, being nurtured by Eli during his childhood, Alibaba saw theological education as the nurture that he needs.

But then Alibaba has issues which are troubling him. Although his retired parents and sister do not require him to contribute to their expenses, nonetheless, Alibaba felt the requirement. So he was torn in between. Should he go for his education or should he continue to provide for his family? He opened the Bible to look for answers, he sought friends' advise, he spoke to the church's leaders. All of them signal that he need to have faith that God will provides.

His friends and the church's leaders share the same source to support Alibaba in pursuing his passion. They cite Bible passages like Matthew 6.31-34 and Mark 10.29-30 to assure Alibaba that God will provides. And so Alibaba was encouraged.

When he went home, he went on to read the gospel according to Matthew to find out more. Then he came to chapter 15.1-9. The stroy is about the Pharisees' tradition of giving to God what should be given to their parents instead. And Jesus condemned that tradition. Upon reading this, Alibaba realized that he is facing a dilemma. On one hand, his friends and the church's leaders showed him passages that encourage him to go all out to answer God's call. On the other hand, there is that conflicting story. Alibaba does not know what to do.

So he consulted his friends and the church's leaders on this. They unanimously said that Alibaba has to read the gospel in context. In Matt 15.1-9, Jesus was condemning that particular corrupted Pharisees and their corrupted tradition at that time. It is not applicable now. And so Alibaba felt relief.

While on his way home, he suddenly thought of something. 'Wait a minute,' sought Alibaba to himself, 'if Matt 15.1-9 is to be read in its historical context, then shouldn't Matt 6.31-34 and Mark 10.29-30 be read in that manner too?' He realized that if he is to be consistent, those assuring passages are to be understood in that particular context for those particular hearers and disciples at that time. If so, how can such stories be any more assuring to Alibaba than Genghis Khan's speech to his soldiers? And so he does not know what to do again.

After some while of praying and contemplating, Alibaba decided to answer God's call. So he decided to apply for a course in a local theological institution. He chose to interpret Matt 6.31-34 and Mark 10.29-30 as some sort of 'eternal message' while Matt 15.1-9 as some historically constraint story.

He went through all the required procedures of the application. It took him 2 weeks to get everything done; from filling up forms to student pass application to medical check-up. After all the hassle, he submitted all the documents. Happily, he walked away from the registra's office, anticipating the coming new chapter in his life. On that night, with a smile, he slept.

Two months passed. The new in-take semester arrived. Alibaba attended his first lecture. While waiting for the lecturer in the theatre, with the new pen he bought, he gently wrote on his notepad the date of the first lecture. The lecturer came in. She is the foremost scholar on the subject in this region. She introduced herself while Alibaba was recalling all her bibliography and credential that he read about her. As the lecturer about to speak on the subject, there was a knock at the theatre's door. There came the Registra. She whispered to the lecturer softly. Immediately after than, Alibaba just realized that the Registra was looking for him. So Alibaba stood up from his chair and walked out from the theatre together with the Registra. Then Alibaba was being told that his student pass was being rejected by the authorities. And so he does not know what to do.

Feeling a bit tired and exasperate, he pondered whether does God really calls him for such work. As he walked home, his memory brought back those sermons, lectures, and testimonies about 'waiting on the Lord'. He then understands that it is about God's timing. Perhaps it is as Ecclesiastes 3 ,"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven".

With that as assurance, he slept.

The next morning, Alibaba determined to find out whether is he really being called for that particular vocation. He examined his own desires, passions, and ambitions. He talked to his friends and the church's leaders about his reflection. He spent time reading the Bible and books on this particular subject. After a few weeks of thinking and re-thinking, he finally decided that there is really no objective indicator or certainty on whether did God really call him to do this or that. All along it was his own disposition that makes him to be what he wants to think he is. His friends, the church leaders, the books, and the Bible indicates that passions is one good pointer that God wants someone to do something. And so far, that is the best one can believes. No further condition or indicator can make one thinks otherwise. Alibaba thinks that he might be like Samuel who was groomed to serve in the area God has prepared him for. But if that did not turn out well, it is perhaps not what or how God wants Alibaba to serve. It is God's timing. Or is it so?

Why are Alibaba, his friends, and the church's leaders interpret the Bible to cover for God? Does God needs such covering? Or are they, all this while, covering only their own desires and mistaken justifications and rationalizations? At any moment, they are just supplementing their belief so that they can go on believing what they want to believe as true?

Can Alibaba, his friends, and the church leaders be humble enough to acknowledge that they have mistakenly interpret God's calling for Alibaba (assuming there is such calling)? But it is not a case of humility. It's about 'confidence'. They can't be sure.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dogma v.s History

Yes, I'm evolving, but not knowing what am I evolving into. The religious identity on my Facebook account states 'Postmodern Christianity, Liberal Presbyterian'. Reason is simply that i don't find the Christian tradition as i knew and grew into fit my experience with the world, through constant process of self-appropriation. That is appropriating one self in responding to the world at best. Through this process, I've come to apply these labels as meaning:

'Postmodern' is not only because I can't go back to pre-modern, but also the fact that Modernism is impossible to carry out its ideal and thus betrays its impracticality. I attach to postmodernity not due to its subjectivistic nature but more on its better acknowledgement and appreciation of the 'Other'. 'Christianity' is an exclusive-yet-inclusive worldview by which one interprets the world through the affirmation of the mysterious yet diachronically revealed God's dealing with the ever-changing troublesome creatures 'humans'.

'Liberal' is not the usual 'theological-liberalism', which one does not affirm the 'realness' of God's existence. The term used to denote one's freedom to practice and comprehend one's faith, not bound by constructed authoritarianism, orthodoxy, and tradition. 'Presbyterian' suggests one's adherent to the governing rules practiced by the Church of Scotland, though with its prevalent short-comings.

Nothing is perfect, nothing. (God is not a 'thing'!)

Yesterday Nalika saw my previous entry and the comments left by a caring friend who prefer to stays
anonymous. Nalika is concern over my 'evolvement' and want to talk about it. This is the first time she brought up my religious issue after a long forgotten time.

She said that the caring friend has a good point to make when he/she quotes Colossian 1.21-23. The gist is that If Jesus is not a real historical person, then that would have negative implication to our assurance of salvation.

The sooner her utterance was being digested by my brain juice, i started jumping and jumping. I kept jumping for the next half a minute. She was shocked and worried that my mind has blown off. In an anxious tone, she stopped me and asked why am i jumping. In a calm tone, I told her that I wish to have no wrinkles as i grow old. So in order to do that, i have to believe that i am living in a zero-gravity zone. She was puzzled.


Then i explained, "You see, if the reason why one affirms the historicity of Jesus just because the person wants an assurance of his/her personal salvation, then that is like me wanting to believe that I'm in a zero-gravity zone due to my wanting of an assurance that there won't be wrinkles."

Some might thought this is 'intellectual pursuit' and nothing more than just that. But this really is the problem with dogma and history. In our case, one's belief will not change history. That means, the craving for an assurance of salvation does not guarantee a history. So the way to respond to my kind of evolution is not to go around it with dogmas, but to tackle the problem at its root; that is to find out whether did Jesus really exist. And do the finding without dogmatic baggages. I can't say that i affirm the historicity of Jesus because i don't to go to hell, but rather, i want to find out the truth about the existence of Jesus, no matter the conclusion paves a way to hell or heaven.

Paraphrase from Lee Strobel, "If Christianity is true, it can withstands any kind of scrutiny".

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Worldview In Interpreting Our Lives

In the past 3 weeks, I was involved in a rigorous dialog with friends over the interpretation and the historicity of the data recorded in the Bible. Long-story short, in the end, we mainly talked about philosophical methodology.

Yesterday i brought up a similar issue to David Burke, since he has done some reading on this. After the talk, i think i get what Tien Fock is hinting on during the dialog. So, when i was waiting for MRT to arrived, i SMS Steven "God could use myth like d person called Jesus of Nazareth to save humanity from self-destruction. Thus Jesus don necessary nid to exist, neither does moses :)'

What underlies my thought is that the most important thing to one's ever-lasting searching for meaning of one's life in this world is through something called 'worldview'. Worldview is that which presents to us the best explanation of ours, others, and the world's existence. And it is through our worldview that we interpret our surroundings, and thus gaining comprehension.

Now, to relate that to the historicity of the biblical data, it doesn't matter as much if these data are not verifiable based on up-to-date archaeology. We might or might not know for sure whether did something like the Joshua's Conquest of Canaan took place. At best, with up-to-date archaeological findings, there wasn't such massive military conquest in the 15th-13th centuries BC. If that's true, it could be that the Conquest data is a propaganda made during King Josiah's national reform movement. Nonetheless, that does not preclude God working through such propaganda to bring about his message to fellow creatures.

Anyway, the below is a loathsome short-hand of the dialog in Agora Forum.

My contention:
We cannot read the scripture with the assumption that it is historical and give it 'benefit of doubt until proven otherwise'. I think we shouldn't assume the historicity of the data recorded in the Scriptures unless proven to be true. Until then, we can neither say it is historically true or false. I agree with Niels Peter Lemche's statement:

Everything narrated by them [Scriptures authors] may be historical, but biblical text cannot in advance be accepted as historical source...It might be the description of the reign of David contained in the books of Samuel is historically correct, as seen from the perspective of its late author...However, it has to be proved that the narrative in Samuel is historically reliable as far as the tenth century is concerned. It is not something that can be assumed in advance. (The Israelites in History and Tradition, p.29. Emphasis mine)

My reasons:
1) Scriptures is an ancient document, which we can't interrogate its authors to clarify.

2) Scriptures contains data that are inconsistent with 'the modern experience'.

3) There are other similar ancient documents which contain such data which are inconsistent with 'the modern experience'.

The implications when one disagree with my contention:
1) One have difficulty to explain why the preference for the Bible than other similar ancient texts.

2) One either has to accept many other (not all) data which is not similar with 'the modern experience' from other ancient texts, or one be viewed as arbitrary in accepting only those alien data in the Bible and not data from other similar texts. In other words, one does not have intelligible and objective* reason to prefer the Bible than other texts as their canon.

3) It makes those who claim that the Bible is true looks like they are claiming it because it is only true to them. That means their claim for the exclusivity of the Bible over other ancient texts is just because it suits their personal taste (their worldview on the world etc) and nothing else.

*Objectivity does not entail a modernistic notion of a possibility possess pure objective judgment in all things [to discover facts], but, nonetheless, as John Searle argues 'social facts' are not inventions, or free constructions of the human mind. They are to be regarded as realities consisting objective facts. (McGrath, Science of God, p.138) Thus, when i use 'objective reason' here does not mean a pure judgment over all matters, but an objective measurement which is a social construct but nonetheless real.

Objections (some overlap with and derived from others and manifest in different ways):
1) We can trust that Scriptures are historical because ancient documents should be given benefit of doubt unless proven otherwise. If not, then we will have to doubt all histories.Thus one might as well doubt the historicity of Alexander the Great etc.

2) We can trust that Scriptures are historical because 'trusting tradition' is a norm in life. Everyday people exercise 'trust' to testimonies by others and ourselves. It's properly basic to trust testimonies even if it's testimonies from the past.

3) The 'modern experience' is problematic because it is not universal and in no way it is objective.

4) Skepticism is self-refuting because how sure can one be sure of anything? And since we can't get certainty in anything, thus we shouldn't be skeptical. In this case, we shouldn't be so skeptical to the Scriptures.

5) We need to read the Scriptures in the worldview of the Scriptures authors so that we can reach common ground. It does not yield any positive effect if we impose our worldview onto the Scriptures because we wouldn't rule out many points and in the end the Scriptures do not make sense to us.

6) We can't examined all claims, thus we will have to cultivate a trusting attitude towards authorities such as scholars who did the carbon-dating etc. If not we are left with no-knowledge.

7) We shouldn't wear a 'modern' (Enlightenment-anti-supernatura
lism) lens when we approach the Bible.

8) We have to read the OT or any literature according to its genre instead of superimposed on the literature our own presupposition or worldview.

My responses:
1) If it is to be our principle to give every ancient texts the benefit of doubt and regard them as innocent until proven otherwise, then our worldview will be heavily affected. We will be obliged to believed in all of the divinities mentioned in all the ancient texts. Thus, we shouldn't give ancient texts the benefit of doubt. We should approach each document with suspicion until our own discoveries convince us of their veracity.

2) Trusting our everyday experience and trusting ancient documents are two different things. It doesn't help if one confuses both and regard both trusting objects as the same, that is 'tradition'. Both are different. Our everyday testimony has the privilege to be checked most of the time, while the ancient documents does not. Other than the text itself and archaeological discovery, we have nothing much to refer to.

3) The 'modern experience' has already become part of our being. We are living in and with the 'modern experience' whether we are aware or not. There are people who do not yet come to know about the 'modern experience' but when they do, usually this new experience will prevail against other experience. This experience is most productive and effective in explaining the natural world, so no matter one agree with this experience or not, it persists to be a big influence to modern humans.

We can't move back to pre-Enlightenment, nor can we dwell ourselves with nihilistic postmodernism. Most human are born into the 'modern experience'. We use modern technology developed by the 'modern experience' in our daily living. To go pre-Enlightened will only make one naive, while the other end of nihilistic postmodernism make one irrelevant.

4) Being skeptical does not mean one embrace skepticism. The former is a critical way of seeing some particular things while the latter is doubting everything. There are events in life that we have reasons to doubt and there are events that require less or no doubt. With regards to ancient texts, i have listed 3 reasons above why we should be skeptical. Disclaimer: i'm not suggesting that everyone of us have to embrace skepticism, and thus be skeptical on everything.

5) This is tough one on hermeneutics. I think common ground is not establish by taking in the worldview of the 'Other', but rather being aware of it. If one already presupposes the worldview of a system, then one hardly able to criticize it from within. Usually when criticism arises, the critic is exposed to other than one's worldview.

6) I'm in total agreement with that. Here again, i would like to emphasize that i'm not saying we should embrace skepticism. I'm just asking us to be skeptical towards a particular object, that is ancient text which is contrary to the 'modern experience'.

7) If not of the modern lens, we will be believing many folklores and myths.

8) The problem is we hardly know what is the genre of an ancient text even if it is stated as a particular genre. Here, we have to be extra careful because we, given the 'modern experience', know that winners love (re)writing histories. A document can be claimed as 'historical' in genre, and if we believe blindly to this claim, then we risk ourselves as victims to these 'winner's histories'. This happened not only in the past, but also in modern time. The different is that, in modern times, we have technologies (global media, eyewitness, cross-checking etc) to help us 'neutralize' such agenda-laden histories. Regarding ancient documents, we dont have eye-witness to interrogate and neither can we do 'cross-checking' with others. What we have is only the texts. In some cases, we can do cross-checking, but in most, particularly the ancient texts, we have limited external evidents.

End

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Finished: The Bible After Babel

A concise and easy to read introductory book on historical criticism on the Bible. The book discusses the contemporary research for the 'ancient Israelites', Liberationalist Theology, Ideological (feminist etc) criticism, and how Biblical Theology should be conducted in a post-modern world.

The last part first and the last part are especially interesting and insightful. In the former, the author surveys through briefly the development of the studies revolving the OT in general, Pentateuch in particular, with generous supply of bibliographies. For the latter, Collins examines Brevard Childs' canonical approach and Walter Brueggemann's post-modern OT theology.

This book reminds me of C.S Lewis' Mere Christianity, not because they are similar in content but rather both books most inspire me to sprint further in my amateurish studies.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Mark 4: Parable Of The Sower

Recently, Steven has too much time and nothing much to do, so he posted his wonderful thoughts on the parable of the sower and asked me to join him in the discussion. He made good points on the parable:

1) In the historical context, the parable is eschatologically laden. That means it has to do with YHWH judging and restoring Israel.

2) The difficult-est verses in the parable, Mark 4.11-12, paraphasing Isaiah 6 is about 'those on the outside' (probably those who were not in Jesus' circle, sharing his aspirations) are doomed to ignorant of the sower's parable, which is also the 'secret of the kingdom of god'.

3) The parable is about YHWH sowing his words, instead of the usual contemporary reading that the sower represents Christian evangelists.

I dont understand why did Steven say that this parable to Luke 19.11-27.

Anyway, after reading through the parable of the sower and isaiah 6 several time, i commented something. Not sure it makes sense but it does sounds 'fresh':

(Copied and pasted from from Steven's blog. So it has to be read as in the context of our discussion)

...my(Joshua Woo's) comment on your(Steven Sim's) view on the difficult-est passage is that i think you are right. Jesus was refering to 'the inauguration of the kingdom of god' as the 'secret of the kingdom of god'. He is clearly, as you had observed, incarnating Isaiah when he said that. But one difference between Jesus and Isaiah is that Jesus go further than Isaiah in his proclamation of judgement on Israel. He not only judge Israel but bring about the 'eschatological renewal' to Israel from an unthinkable perspective to the Jews (your term: eschatological sowing). Why is that so?

Look at Isa 6.13, the end of god's conversation with Isaiah. Although god proclaimed judgement to and reveal that he will punish Israel, nonetheless, god's word will remain and can still be found in Jerusalem (And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the *holy seed* will be the stump in *the land*.)

Whereas when Jesus revealed the secret of god's kingdom, he was proclaiming judgement and prophecising the punishement on Israel, but only this time, the seed appear to be everywhere (path, rocky places, thorns, good soil). It's not as Isaiah's generation to which salvation and renewal only happen in Jerusalem. This time, it is not 'land' anymore. It's on the various conditions of any places.

That means Jesus wasnt saying, like Isaiah said centuries earlier, that eschatological renewal happen only in Jerusalem. He is saying that, this time, god is sowing seeds at any places! Not that Jerusalem doesn't matter, but god has extend his kingdom beyond any particular place. God's kingdom is not in places but the condition of any places.

And this trans-Isaiah-nic proclaimation is the 'secret' to which many who has eyes to see but cant see, who has ears to hear, but can't hear.

In other words, the parable of sower is not merely on the restoration of Israel (or Jerusalem. I used Israel and Jerusalem interchangbly meaning the geographical nation). It comes together with the revelation that god had scattered his 'seed' differently this time; the restoration being extended beyond Jerusalem.

In that particular socio-religious context, this news was an exploding bomb that would had Jesus killed if it's not being broken in parables!

Not sure if anyone else attempt to read this parable in other ways, if do, pls de-freeze your fingers and start typing :)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Watched: Stranger Than Fiction


Stranger Than Fiction: He’s not crazy. He’s just written that way.

This is a story about the life of a dull tax-audit agent Harold Crick. He lived his life with nothing but numbers. He counts his brushstrokes, the number of steps from his apartment to the bus stop, the time of his lunch and tea break. His constant life came to a halt when he began hearing a voice that narrates about his routine existence. The voice keeps talking about him, telling the action and thought that he made. It describes, with precision, about his life. This is as if Harold’s life is a story written by someone to which he doesn’t have control over. One day he was told by the voice about his imminent death.

The voice shocked and prompted Harold to search for answers for his experience. He came to Prof. Jules Hilbert, a literary theorist, for help. After several sessions, Hilbert suggested to Harold to find out is he in a comedy or tragedy. Hilbert is like the theologian or philosopher who tries to figure out the meaning and implication of human’s experience. He would ask Harold question, which helps to discover what genre of story is Harold in.

What I find most interesting in the movie are the conversations between Harold and Hilbert. Their simple chit-chat sessions often dwells on topics which we take granted but to which determine our identity, for instance:

Hilbert: The only way to find out what story you are in is to determine what stories you’re not in…[after asking some questions, I can] determined conclusively that you are not King Hamlet, Scout Finch, Miss Marple, Frankenstein’s monster, or a Golemn… Aren’t you relieved to know that you’re not a Golemn?

Harold: [feeling odd and a little impatient] Yes, I’m relieved to know that I’m not a Golemn.

Hilbert: Good…

How many of us take granted that we are not Golemn? I did. I have never thought that it’s such a fortune that I’m not a Golemn. Or in other case, aren’t we consider ourselves fortunate that we don’t conspire to cheat, betray, and murder others to get what is precious to us?

On other hand, isn’t the way to find out our story is by determining which stories we are not in? Many people thought that when they arrived at a story or religion, they have found THE story or religion. There are very good reasons why meta-narrative is incredible. On the top, is our confined finitude to comprehend, to read, the interpret reality. We know something is out there, yet we know we are too easily distracted by our context from knowing that something. Perhaps, the only credulous meta-narrative is the story of our arriving to the current suspicious milieu of our ability (inability) to read meta-narrative. So how do we know which stories are we in? How does Harold knows which story is he in?

Hilbert: The last thing to determine conclusively is whether you are in a comedy or a tragedy. To quote Italo Calvino, ‘the ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: The continuity of life, the inevitability of death.’ Tragedy, you die. Comedy, you get hitched. Most comic heroes fall in love with people who are introduced after the story has begun. Usually people who hate the hero initially. Although I can’t imagine anyone hating you, Harold.

Harold: Professor Hilbert, I’m an IRS agent. Everyone hates me.

Hilbert: Right, right. Good. Have you met anyone recently who might loathe the very core of you?

Harold: I just started auditing a woman who told me to get bent.

Hilbert: Well, that sounds like a comedy. Try to develop that.

‘…That sounds like a comedy. Try to develop that’. This phrase pushes hope through our current incredulity-towards-meta-narrative tragedy. Since meta-narrative could turn out to be tragedy, why should we keep ourselves stoned in it?

We can’t know for sure are we in a comedy or tragedy. But we can develop a comedy of our own. Each of us gets hitched. But what if our stories turn out to be a tragedy? What if Harold’s story is not a comedy?

Hilbert: …This narrator might very well kill you…so I humbly suggest that you just forget all this and go live your life.

Harold: Go live my life? I’m living my life. I’d like to continue to live my life.

Hilbert: I know. Of course. I mean all of it. However long you have left. You know, I mean, Howard (Harold), you could use it to have an adventure. You know, invent something, or just finish reading Crime and Punishment. Hell, Harold, you could just eat nothing but pancakes if you wanted.

Harold: What’s wrong with you? Hey, I don’t wanna eat nothing but pancakes. I wanna live. I mean, who in their right mind in a choice between pancakes and living, chooses pancakes?

Hilbert: Harold, if you’d pause to think, I believe you’d realize that that answer’s inextricably contingent upon the type of life being led…and, of course, the quality of the pancakes. You don’t understand what I’m saying?

Harold: Yes, I do. But you have to understand that this isn’t a philosophy or a literary theory or a story to me. It’s my life.

Hilbert: Absolutely. So just go make it the one you’ve always wanted.