Friday, June 12, 2009

Christians' hobby: Ridiculing theologian?

I attended Prof. Thio Li-Ann public talk on her new book yesterday. She was a good speaker and perhaps very good at her job.

During the talk, she explicitly told us that she stop commenting on an issue which she is not familiar with. To paraphrase her, "I'll stop here for I can't go further".

All was well until at one point she commented (to paraphrase), "There are theologians who expound the Scripture to back their case. But I'm just a lawyer." And the crowd chuckled as she continued expounding her reading of the Scripture.

It was as if she was saying that theologians, who supposedly are the experts in reading Scripture, failed to understand the Scripture as compared to a lawyer.

This is not the first time I heard Christians ridiculing the vocation 'theologian'. At numerous pulpits, I've listened to preachers making fun of not specific theologians or biblical scholars, but the vocations in general.

Each time they do that, they never mention names. They just write off the vocations unreasonably and disrespectfully. To think about it, of course they can't mention names. Why? I suspect most of the time, they don't know who to mention.

That means these actions are mere jeers made at others in order to elevate their own stature as better readers of Scripture. Some sort of self-promotion tactic. And I find this (to put it politely) puzzling and frustrating.


Israel Lee said...

This happens when we do not know history. I always believe that our faith owes so much to a first century Jewish theologian, Paul!

Chinese has a saying, "we must know the source of the water we are drinking from." A saying, that sadly, our generation chooses to ignore.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Israel,

You know what? During yesterday's talk, before Prof. Thio went into the content of her presentation, she preliminarily mentioned that she is a lawyer. And then she added, "Same as Paul, a pharisee a.k.a a 'lawyer'."! :)

pearlie said...

Too narrow a window to conclude much but maybe she did it because of a sense of inferiority complex? But then again, aren't we all theologians in our very own way?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Pearlie,

Perhaps, I'm too sensitive over such jeers made towards the vocation. Inferior complex?... That doesn't give them reasons to ridicule others.

But yes, I can see why this has to do with their intention. :)

Israel Lee said...

Hi Josh

I think she made two errors, IMHO. First, she assumed that Pharisees are legalist in a 'Reformation kind of way', and second, by equating a legalist with a lawyer. ;-)

Tony Siew said...

Hi Joshua, you should have told me you were going to the talk. Hopefully one day I will meet her and change her mind about scholars and theologians. I still think she is a wonderful Christian. All of us have our blind spots/prejudices.

Kar Yong said...

I am so used to this kind of "jeering" already because I have been ridiculed all the time. I have had many telling how wrong is my reading of the scripture.

I like what Pearlie says, that we are all "theologians" in our own way - haha...I think that's the reason I would say I am not a professional theologian ala Ng Kam Weng, but just a biblical scholar :-)

Robin Teo said...

Isn't it ironic when someone wrote a book on a "theological" subject and yet claimed to be only a lawyer? All of us are theologians or some sorts. We might not have a specific degree in theology, but we are all theologians like it or not as Christians. I guess she might mean that she's not as expert as a common understanding of a theologian, but its ambiguous. She's a scholar (Professor title?). she should have known better? :) Whether one is a theologian by academic degree or not, what matters is the honesty, and integrity to present biblical truths consistently. If one is willing to invest a lot of time in producing a book about a theological subject, surely it is a fair expectation that he or she should have studied and research in depth about the subject. That naturally involve theological and scholarly studies.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Israel, thank you for putting the issue into nuance. That's helpful to discern.

Hi Tony, it was a last minute decision. I was expecting to see you. If there is any future events which I know she'll be there, I'll inform you. Yes, she is a wonderful Christian. Though I dislike her jeering on these two vocations, I really enjoy her repeatably assert that engaging the public is an obedient to Christ. And hope that you'll manage to change her mind!

Hi Kar Yong, it must have been rather difficult for you with those numerous jeerings. But I believe that that wont stop you from continuously pursuing to be a better reader of Scripture. You remind me of Alfred's remark to Bruce Wayne,"Why do we fall, sir? So that we can better pick ourselves up again."

Hi Robin, you have a good point there. Yes, she is a scholar and has her blind spot as well (as Tony said it). Perhaps if I meet her at other time, I'll talk to her about that. She is right to encourage her audience to exercise our mind as Christians (which she reiterate many many times through the talk), but shouldn't make fun at the profession that does that.