Friday, July 31, 2009

My essay topic for theology class

Freshies, like myself, are required to write a 4000 words essay for Theology I class. Our lecturer gave a list of topics as suggestion, but we are also free to choose our own topic.

This afternoon I've decided to pick one of the suggested list. It comes in the form of a question, "What do we mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?"

I've spent the entire afternoon reading two related articles on this subject. Both are published in Themelios vol.34, issue 1:

The Embattled Bible: Four More Books
by Robert W. Yarbrough

How Far Beyond Chicago? Assessing Recent Attempts to Reframe the Inerrancy Debate
by Jason S. Sexton

I find the second article especially helpful with its wide-ranging of cited resources. There is one interesting article cited which is a PhD thesis submitted to St. Andrews University by Jeffrey Oldfield.

In my essay, I have no ambition to solve or even to stir a deep discussion on the inerrancy issue. I will just be sketching the tip of the ice-berg by highlighting the important questions (if possible, also some tentative and brief notes on possible guidelines) surrounding our conception of the nature of the Bible.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Post-Christendom fight for orthodoxy

There are numerous denominations of the Christian faith. Each denomination have their own teachings and treasured beliefs. And many are skeptical whether can there still be an ecumenical body to uphold orthodoxy in such situation. I think 'No'.

I don't think it is possible now to have such a body. It was possible back in the 4th century because the Church was given political power by the State. And with such power, the Church was enabled to enforce orthodoxy by condemning dissenting teachings and teachers.

We are in a post-Christendom world. Even Vatican's power to condemn dissenting teachings and excommunicate dissenters are not being taken seriously by post-Christendom Christians, or even Catholics themselves.

So are there ways to move forward? Yes, by going back to pre-Christendom's practice. In those times, Christians had to used ink and papers to exert orthodoxy. One example is Justin the Martyr. Gnosticism and Arianism were not condemned by councils' decree but by local committed bishops.

Hence in a post-Christendom's fight for orthodoxy and fight against heresy, pluralism has to be a given. The freedom for a marketplace of ideas must be uphold by the Christians themselves. And each Christian communities have their right to their own teachings.

And through these, high ranking church leaders have to be apt for the task. They must be able to articulate their teachings and treasured beliefs not only to their own congregation but also to those outside. To play into the mechanism of natural filter is the only way forward for orthodoxy in the churches. And such mechanism will eliminates modern unorthodoxy such as the health-wealth gospel. We might still have a few Gnostics and Arians here and there, but again that (pluralism) must be a given and Christian communities should not be discouraged to participate in the mechanism. The mechanism allows acceptance and also critique.

Ecumenism will always stay as an ideal. Yet the works towards reconciliation and ecumenism must not ceased, as such works keep each believing communities conscious of the desire of Christ for the body to be one, to share in one communion.

Struggle with St. Paul's "rapture" imagery

The Thessalonians were questioning over the fate of the dead Christians. They wondered what will happen to deceased saints when Christ returns. This betrays the underlying question that was troubling them was what would happened to them if they died before Christ returns (Paul Achtemeier, et al, Introducing the New Testament, p.434).

And St. Paul replied:

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words
. (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18)

And it's here rapture theology is derived.

The New Testament class today touched on this subject. Our lecturer was astute when it comes to eschatology. His ph.D dissertation was on the Book of Revelation, and he had spent 20 years studying the Bible's perspectives on the last things. Yet it is on this subject that I respectfully disagree with him, just as he respectfully disagrees with his faith heroes. And I'm glad that he is open to disagreements and other views.

My take is that the idea of Rapture is dubious.

First, the imagery of an archangel blowing the trumpet and meeting with Christ in the air is an echo of the conventional custom of emperor's visitation. When the emperor visits a city, the city's citizens will go out to greet the emperor and escort him back into the city. (N.T. Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God, p.569)

Second, the language of 'heaven', 'air', and 'cloud' are loaded terms which have particular meanings to the ancient people. The people at that time thought that heaven is cosmologically somewhere up there in the sky. But we now know that there is nothing up there except outer space astronomical objects. Though we know very little about heaven as a different dimensional existence, yet we can be certain that the ancients' language to describe heaven or the ethereal is highly deficient.

Paul Achtemeier et al has something to say about the language of 'air' and 'cloud':

Being caught up in clouds and meeting Jesus "in the air" communicated far more to the original readers than we are likely to see there. Clouds were regular accompaniment of the divine presence in both OT and Christian tradition (eg. Exod 19.9; Mark 9.7). So their presence here guarantees God's presence at this event. In the Greco-Roman worldview the "air" was the region between the earth and the moon that was inhabited by evil spirits, who fomented evil and harm on earth and sought to hinder the souls of the dead from ascending to the moon, where their evil deed could be purged by the winds so the souls could return eventually to the eighth heaven. Thus, the point here is not that in some rapturous event, gravity will be overcome and Christians will fly among the clouds. Rather, Paul reports a tradition that speaks of God's presence with the newly resurrected to protect them from the harmful spirits inhabiting the region of the air, so that nothing can then separate them from the divine presense
. (p.435)

Third, the fact that St. Paul himself did not have a clear understanding of Christ's return and the ethereal world. He thought Christ will return in his life-time, as hinted at 1 Thes 4.17. He wrote with anticipation, "After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." But Christ did not return in his life-time. St. Paul was deluded.

In 2 Corinthians 12.1-4, St. Paul wrote about his experience being "caught up to paradise". And here he was very cautious and reserved in his language. He emphasized his ignorant over the out-of-the-world experience by asserting twice "I do not know" (v.2, 3). Here, he did not elaborate the ethereal as readily as in 1 Thessalonians.

The using of the phrase "harpazo" (caught) in both 1 Thes 4.17 and 2 Cor 12.4 points to St Paul's identifying both events in some similar ways. But why was St. Paul so readily and casually talk about the ethereal when he was addressing the Thessalonians? And when it comes to narrating his own past experience of the real ethereal to the Corinthians, why was he so cautious and reserved?

Knowing the date of both the letters help in our conjecture. Let's take a conservative dating for both letters. D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo dated 1 Thessalonians to 50 A.D.; while 2 Corinthians to 56 or 57 A.D. (An Introduction to the New Testament, p.448, 543).

Retrograding from the composition date of 2 Corinthians, we know that St. Paul was being "caught up" to paradise in the year 42 or 43 A.D (v.2). So St. Paul would have had the experience by the time 1 Thessalonians was written. And comparing the soberness of 2 Corinthians to 1 Thessalonians, there is a sense that his account in the latter was rather unfasten. And why such unfasteness?

Given all three observations above, it is likely that the eschatological passage in 1 Thessalonians was St. Paul's envisioned mental image of the eschaton. The fundamental structures underneath the image were his earlier "caught up" experiences and his theology on Christ's resurrection (1 Cor 15). The emperor reception custom and the Graeco-Roman cultural perception on the spiritual realm were interweaved to serve as an illustration of the image.

Some think that the image was not St. Paul's own mental image but his reception of Christ's depiction of the eschaton by alluding to 1 Thes 4.15, "According to the Lord's own word." For theological reason, I think the Lord's word refers to the equality between the deceased and the alive, and stops there. What followed was St. Paul's own fallible illustration of the eschaton. If not then the Lord would have lied to St. Paul by telling the latter of the former's return in the latter's life-time.

Disagreement welcome.

Breviarium Hipponense

This is the name of the collection of canon laws which was read and approved in the Third Council at Carthage in 397. The Breviarium Hipponense was previously drafted about 3 years earlier in 393 at the council at Hippo. (Constant van de Wiel, History of Canon Law, p.45)

And it is this document my Church History lecturer said that settled the canonical question of New Testament books. Actually he just told us that the canonical process was settled at the synod at Hippo. Period. And I follow his leads and found the Breviarium Hipponense.

Apparently Trinity Theological College's library has a printed copy of the document. I had to look for it at the 'Reference' section and made a photocopy of the canon list. But the problem is that the book is written in Latin, an unknown language to me. Yet nonetheless, we can still interpret it.
Sunt autem canonicae scripturae: genesis. exodus. leuiticus. numeri. deuteronomium. iesu naue. iudicum. ruth. regnorum libri iiii. paralipomenon libri ii. iob. psalterium. salomonis libri v. liber xii prophetarum minorum. item isaias. hieremias. ezechiel. danihel. tobias. iudith. esther. esdrae libri ii. machabeorum libri ii.

Noui autum testamenti: euangelia libri iiii. actus apostolorum liber i. pauli apostoli epistolae xiiii. petri ii. iohannis iii. iude i. iacobi i. apocalipsis iohannis.

(C. Munier, Concilia Africae: A.345 - A.525, p.43)
A rough translation:
Canonical writings: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, [iesu naue], [iudicum], Ruth, 4 books of Kings, [2 books of paralipomenon], Job, Psalms, 5 books of Solomon, 12 books of minor prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Tobias, Judith, Ester, 2 books of Esdras, and 2 books of Maccabees.

New testament: 4 books of Gospel, 1 book of the Acts of the Apostle, 14 letters of apostle Paul (includes Hebrews), 2 books of Peter, 3 books of John, 1 book of Jude, 1 book of James, and John's Apocalypse (Revelation).
One thing our lecturer didn't tell us is that this same list which he said settled the New Testament canon list also includes the deuterocanonical books as scripture. So now the hanging question: Can we pick and choose from the list as we like?

Bearing in mind that the Church at that time thought that this canonical list is authoritative in both its affirmation of the non-NT and the NT books. If we say yes, we can pick and choose, then there is no use to invoke the Breviarium Hipponense as the authority that finalized the canon list. If not, then we have to acknowledge the deuterocanonical books as scripture if we are to be consistent of the authority of this 4th century list. Two choices which many Protestant Christians find hard to decide because each involved a distinct defeat.

For me, I can accept the deuterocanonical books as Scripture for this given historical reason. For someone like Norman Geisler, he would argue that the Breviarium Hipponense was a local document and hence not authoritative to all Christians (Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology I, p.519). But are there any documents besides the scriptures which are authoritative to all Christians? Geisler's stand leaves the church with a huge historical vacuum.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New insights on the canon and its criteria

I thoroughly enjoyed Church History class this morning as we touched on the issue about the canonization of the New Testament books.

Our lecturer showed the 2 sets of criteria which are commonly used to determine whether a book should be considered into the canon list. The first set is from Norman Geisler:

  • Authority - was the book written by a prophet of God?

  • Prophecy - was the writer confirmed by the acts of God?

  • Authenticity - does the message tell the truth about God?

  • Power - did it come with the power of God?

  • Reception - was it accepted by the people of God?

Then the second set:

  • Apostolicity - written by the apostles or their associates.

  • Antiquity - closer to the event when the book was written.

  • Historicity - reliability of the historical events.

  • Catholicity - reception of the book among early Christian communities.

  • Orthodoxy - the teaching in the book must be similar with the already existing beliefs.
I’ll add another criteria: Homileticity. That’s criteria where a book was already used in Christian’s homiletic activities such as in their preaching, liturgy, and citation as scripture in their apologetic and other writings. (For more info, see L. M. McDonald, The Biblical Canon, chapter 14. 'Homileticity' is different from McDonald's 'Use' category.)

I dismissed Geisler's set as some of his criteria are not historical (For eg. the 'prophecy' and 'power' criteria). My interest is on the second set, which are more verifiable. Yet we should not imagine the earliest Christians systematically catalog the NT books with thorough investigation according to each of the criteria. A point which rightly highlighted by our lecturer, Andrew Peh.

Given that, then the hanging question is how then do we know these were the exact criteria used by the earliest Christians?

Easy answer is that some of their writtings show this. For eg. Eusebius' criteria is a "three-layer sieve": (1) Orthodoxy, (2) Apostolicity, and (3) Catholicity (see David Dungan, Constantine's Bible, p.78-83).

Though the general criteria was mentioned, yet we have to understand that it is also the least perfected one. Back to the example of Eusebius. Though with such criteria, his list of canon still lacks the affirmative on books like James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation. And this irony leaves us hollow in our understanding of the canonization process.

Yet such hollow hints on the mechanism at play behind all the historical contingencies surrounding the canon process. And the new insight that came to me during the lecture has to do with this mechanism.

Previously we know only that there are some criteria used, but that alone doesn't solve the canon question. And the seldom mentioned mechanism that hugely contributed to the canonical process were the social and religious predicaments facing the earliest Christians.

You see, each of the criteria was not given similar emphasis throughout the three hundred years by individual Christians. For eg. In the 2nd century, when Justin Martyr was writing voluminous apologetic works, he quoted from the NT books, assuming their authority (an instance of Homileticity. See Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, p.143-148). In the time of Eusebius, he emphasized on the Orthodoxy, Apostolicity, and Catholicity. And by the time of Augustine, his emphasis was on Catholicity (his wrote, "...he must follow the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches," in On Christian Doctrine, 2:8).

And by emphasis, that implies the overlapping among the criteria at each period and context. Yet each period and context possessed one criterion that was exceptionally weightier than others. And the canon process went through these shiftings of emphasis among criteria through different time and places.

The many different canon lists were drawn up according to the shiftings. The elimination and addition of certain books happened as the result of these different shiftings. And at certain points in history such as 393 at Hippo, 397 at Carthage, and 419 at Carthage again, the canonical lists converged into a final form. And that's the form to which we inherit.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Anthony Thiselton's new book coming soon

Mark Chan is a lecturer in hermeneutics and 'philosophical theology' (whatever it means) at Trinity Theological College. He is also a protege of the great Anthony Thiselton at Nottingham University. Those who don't know about Thiselton... well he produced groundbreaking works in the philosophy of interpretation in the 1970s-1990s.

I've read a couple of Thiselton's works: Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self, and The Hermeneutics of Doctrines. And managed to read piecemeally his essays and other tomes like the Two Horizons, the New Horizons, and his essays in Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation, and The Promise of Hermeneutics.

I am not a Robert Knowles, so I'm not an expert on Thiselton. Yet from the bits that I'm exposed to, I agree with Scot McKnight that Thiselton's works are of 'brilliant synthensis'.

About 3 years ago, I gathered from Mark that Thiselton was working on a textbook on hermeneutics. And minutes ago, I saw the news that the book is done. They are proof-texting it. The publisher is trying to get it published in a couple of months' time.

Now, my seniors are using Introduction to Biblical Interpretation as textbook for hermeneutics class. And I thought by my time to take the subject, Mark would change to the recently published Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics. But since by then Thiselton's book is out, then my guess is that most probably we'll be using his. And I'm so looking forward.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wedding procession

One of the common invitations received in adulthood is wedding. In just these two years, there are many people around me who got married. If they are Christians, their wedding will go through the normal church procession.

And the typical procession followed exactly what the local have picked up from the West. The flower-girls, the flowers, the ring bearer, the rings, the bridesmaids, the groom-men, the wedding songs, the father of the bride ushering his daughter down the aisle, etc. All have their significance, yet all are imported almost entirely from the colonizers.

As the West keep on being innovative and developing new significance, the general sentiment among local church-goers still find it hard to realize such creativity.

This video is of a recent wedding procession:

After watching it, I wonder if the local mainline denominations are fine with such procession? Perhaps when the same style of procession is being suggested, some local congregants may condemn it as sacrilegious, defiling the sacredness of a wedding procession. May be the wedding couple themselves would decry such suggestion.

But personally I think it's a great, fresh, and inspiring way to celebrate. A wedding's sacredness is not in the procession, but in its institution. Just like the Holy Communion. It doesn't matter if you are using leavened or unleavened bread.

What am I thinking now...

Dark night...

I woke up on Monday morning and found myself shivering. So I bought some strong panadol from the 7-11 at Rail Mall during the class' break. That day onwards, I started to lost my appetite though I was hungry. My saliva tasted bitter. Nonetheless I didn't skip any meal.

When Wednesday came, and my condition hadn't improved, I went to the clinic. I told the doctor that I didn't have appetite to eat but I felt hungry. And whenever I ate, I felt like throwing out. I also told him that I suspect it's the strong panadol that I took that cause this.

The doctor thought that I might had some kind of viral infection. So he prescribed normal panadol, some pills that stop the nausea, and some for the allergy. He told me to go back if my condition don't get better in the following 48 hours.

That night, my stomach felt worse than previous nights. I woke up a few times through the night. I didn't know why the pain. I was repetatively asking God to take away the anguish but that didn't happen. And I was drenched with sweat.

The next day, Thursday, I feel cold and hot abruptedly the whole day. I thought that the medicine has not be effective yet.

After having a cup-noodle and a small bowl of oat for dinner, I went to rest. About two in the morning, the pain hit again. And this time was not like the previous times. The pain is much worst than previous nights. The whole night, I was begging God for help. Begged like a dying dog. Begged in the darkness. But all I heard was my own groaning. All I felt was the misery. And naturally the famous question came to mind, "If there is a good God, why the pain, and why the silent?"

I couldn't sleep. Many thoughts been going through my mind. I was sweating, groaning, cussing, doubting, and praying. And in the middle of that, I remembered the 'dark night of the soul'.

The dark night is, or should be, an aspect of all Christian spirituality: the learning of the difficult truth that if God is God, then God is not there for our consolation; a truth learnt primarily by means of the failure of consolation, a "ruthess purging of self-indulgent and consolatory emotion."

There are times, and there should be times, when all we can do is cling on to God with 'obstinate blind faithfulness', even though we feel no consolation, even though our prayers seem to disappear into nowhere, even though our words seem empty - even though we can no longer sense the glory of God addressing us in the goodness, truth, and beauty of the world.

(Mike Higton, Difficult Gospel: The Theology of Rowan Williams, p.103)

The pain didn't stop even after the sun is risen. As my frailty couldn't bear it any longer, I visited the clinic the second time. This time, I told the doctor that I suspect that I have been having gastric cramp. He checked me and prescribed some medicines. And last night I had a good sleep. I am relief that the cramp is gone, though the sorethroat is still there, and I still feeling dizzy and weak.

It is common for us to doubt God during testing times. And I can understand why many atheists continuously using the famous question, "Why are there so much evil, if there is a good God?" to discredit God's existent. I've asked this myself. Yet through this experience, another question need to be asked, "Why is there so much good around?"

In the past few days, I have received many well-wishes and prayers from friends. My friends at ORTV have been praying for me everyday since the day they know that I fell sick. They offered to fetch me to the clinic or anything that I need them to help. My ex-boss and colleagues have been SMS-ing to check on my well-being almost everyday. Classmates have been praying for me. Friends at TTC helped me with my cluster duty for this week. They told me that they are standing by should I need anything from them. Pui Yee called to check on me everyday. My NT lecturer offered to cook porridge for me.

I was supposed to meet up with Kar Yong this week. Instead of meeting up, we ended up with just SMS-ing each other. And he has been asking about my condition every time. And just now, a friend who is staying about 3 bus-stop from TTC cooked some pork porridge and made a ham sandwiches for me. I was moved.

Why are there so much good, if there is no God?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

God knows...

God knows when someone was cold-sweating in the night.
God knows when someone was shivering through the night.
God knows when someone's stomach makes him feel like throwing out.
God knows that someone was praying in pain through the wee hours in the night. God knows.

Many must have tried to find out what St. Paul was thinking when he said, "...for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor 12.10) Perhaps many of us aspire to be like him. Perhaps St. Paul wasn't thinking too much about his sufferings when he wrote that. He was not thinking about himself. He was too preoccupied by his Lord.

If anything St. Paul's responses to ordeals is unusual. His trust towards his Lord is unusual. Despite all the hardships he went through, his continual throwing of himself to his Lord sustain him in his mission.

Lord, help me to be like St. Paul. To possess that kind of unusual trust towards you.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Religiosity shows its ugly head at St. Anne

"Denying the right to profess one's religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development..."

May the Virgin Mary — proclaimed Mater Ecclesiae by Paul VI and honoured by Christians as Speculum Iustitiae and Regina Pacis — protect us and obtain for us, through her heavenly intercession, the strength, hope and joy necessary to continue to dedicate ourselves with generosity to the task of bringing about the “development of the whole man and of all men
.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas In Veritate)

Despite Pope Benedict XVI's recent encyclical which speaks on Catholic's social teaching, there is this local parish priest who seems to have lost touch with the pontiff.

An Indian congregant at Bukit Mertajam's St. Anne's Church is campaigning against a certain type of cheap alcoholic drinks which are widely consumed among local poor Indians. The drink costs only about RM 3 per bottle. Apparently these drinks have major health implication to the consumers. It causes blindness, kidney deterioration, and worst, death. A social issue among local Indian community.

So my friend, together with this Indian congregant, went to meet up with the parish priest Father Stephen Liew to ask if they can set up a booth within the parish's compound over this weekend's Annual Novena Feast to create awareness among the public over such abuse. Since there will be many people coming for the feast, the awareness can be shared with more efficiency.

Their conversation went something like this:

My friend (MF): Father, we hope to get permission to set up a booth in St. Anne's compound to create awareness over the abuse of this type of alcoholic drinks over the weekend.

Father Stephen Liew (SL): Bring your fight somewhere else. This place is for people to pray.

MF: We really hope you can help us...

SL: Don't think you belong to a certain political party, you can do anything as you like.

MF: This has nothing to do with the political party. I informed myself as from the party as a courtesy of introduction. I think religious time is good to fight vice.

SL: (Raised his voice) Are you preaching to me!? If you want, you need to write a letter 3 months before the date. You cannot come in and ask in this way!

MF: Yes, we respect you as the church's authority. That's why we came to ask, but if you can't help, that's okay.

Overall, my friend told me that the priest was rude to them over the whole conversation.

Putting the priest's rudeness aside, his reason that the place is for "people to pray" was surprising. Being a Catholic priest, he should had know better the role of the Church in social matters. Praying is more important than the lives of others?

If a priest does not preach love for other people through words and works, I'm not sure what is he preaching every Sunday. Perhaps he only prays and doesn't preach. Hence the place is just for prayer and not for the demonstration of God's love for the people.

Fr. Stephen Liew is also the current Vicar General of the Diocese of Penang. I can't help but to wonder that if the Vicar General is someone like this, then how should we make of the rest of the Catholic priests in Penang?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Youth wing of the Council of Churches of Malaysia spoke out


Kuala Lumpur - July 21, 2009

CCM Youth refers to the articles, commentaries, joint statements and various public responses recounting the shocking death of an MACC witness, Teoh Beng Hock, under dubious circumstances. CCM Youth is not only horrified and outraged, but deeply ashamed and bewildered.

This tragedy yet again adds another nauseating leaf to our country’s sheer lack of a credible and transparent value system of integrity against a painful track record of mistreatment of suspects and dubious deaths under detention. What makes this more disturbing is that this is the first case of a witness dying under questioning. The primary concern is the clear lack of oversight, which is a shameful symptom of the nation’s ingrained and persistent lack of political will to revamp clear violations of basic human rights by enforcers of the law and those in authority.

The critical issue is not one of “Who’s next?” but “Who’s before?” Teoh Beng Hock is but the latest of a growing list of deaths under detention or custody or police action –

A Kugan, Samiyati Indrayani Zulkarnain Putra, Francis Udayappan, Dr Tai Eng Teck (the police officer was eventually convicted), V Vikines, Tharma Rajan, M Ragupathy, Syed Fadzil Syed Ibrahim, Hasrizal Hamzah, Prakash Moses, Kannan Kanthan, Ahmad Salleh, Ulaganathan Muniandy, Vivashanu Pilai, Ho Kwai See, Ravichandran Ramayah, Veerasamy Gopal, L. Yoges Rao

– just to name a few of the more celebrated deaths out of the untold numbers who died under police action, or inaction. Do we still remember these names? Or have they been neatly filed and forgotten?

This only the tip of the iceberg - what of the deaths of undocumented migrants or detainees in rural police stations that we don’t hear about in the media? According to our previous Deputy Home Minister Wan Fairuz Wan Salleh, he reported in Parliament that a staggering 1,531 died in custody in 4 years from 2003 to 2007. According to Suhakam, 1,300 foreign migrants died in detention centres in the past 6 years. These statistics are damaging, and damning. How many more talented youth do we have to sacrifice before we finally pull the plug on the potential for blatant abuse by enforcers of the law?

We need to move beyond a call for yet another Royal Commission of Inquiry. We are jaded by the setting up of panels and commissions that are unable to bring about meaningful countermeasures. We are saddened that nothing concrete has been done despite countless recommendations by generations of “toothless tigers”.

We need a working public system to track such deaths. Witnesses and detainees should have the right to immediate legal representation. Standard operating procedures for the protection of witnesses should be made available to the public – remove the veil of secrecy. Violations by enforcers of the law, who are to protect, not harm, should be swiftly dealt with. So what if we have CCTVs? The tapes can be easily erased or tampered with unless a system of checks are in place to protect the integrity of evidence. Evidence collection and forensics intervention must be immediate and timely. We must remove any conflict of interest in investigations of public interest.

We are a grieving nation today. We are in pain. The government has failed repeatedly to enact meaningful and honest reform to the enforcement community, that is, the police, RELA and prison system - and the prospects are depressing to say the least.

We thank the public, NGOs and media for keeping such issues alive and urge politicians not to milk Teoh Beng Hock’s death for their own agenda.

We call upon Tan Sri Musa Hassan to ensure that he leaves no stone unturned in these investigations and to honestly reveal the findings, without conspiring to hide the truth from the Rakyat, to whom the Police are accountable.

We call upon our new Home Minister, Dato’ Seri Hishammudin Hussein to take leadership and act swiftly and courageously on this. The government urgently needs to bring the detention system up to basic standards of decency and fairness. We need to lift the veil on interrogation centres, migrant detention centres, police jails, and hold all heads of departments to full accountability for all misdemeanours by their officers. And that includes MACC. We demand automatic inquiries upon death whether by police action, or inaction. We need to implement and re-design an enforceable and just system with the highest standards of accountability and transparency. The Home Minister’s planned review of 33 Acts would not be meaningful to the Rakyat if there is no justice or if we are unable to trust the very authorities who are supposed to enforce them.

We believe that Teoh Beng Hock and the countless others who died before him, did not die in vain. We look to our Home Minister to restore the Rakyat’s faith in the authorities whose duties are to protect them.

In his efforts to bring about unity in his 1Malaysia concept, we call upon our Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak to make this a reality by leading the nation to repentance before the Almighty God for the deaths of our young Malaysians in custody, poor treatment of migrants, lack of honesty in the government system, and the lack of love and care for the vulnerable.

Our Prime Minister must honour God first, and since he is God’s chosen leader for this nation, he should call for a National Day of Prayer. We trust that our Prime Minister’srecent pilgrimage will give him new found strength to raise a God fearing nation that honours the Almighty, and a people not only of knowledge, but of wisdom, integrity and honesty. The first tenet of the Rukunegara – “Belief in God, or Kepercayaan kepada Tuhan” – bears no meaning if we do not come before God in national mourning and repentance. Failure to answer for wrongdoings puts us into condemnation from the Almighty God. The Rakyat is counting on our Prime Minister to ensure that justice will prevail in this nation for all communities. It is our hope and prayer that justice will prevail in this matter; that those who are responsible be identified, convicted and punished.

Our Prime Minister must be seen to exercise an even hand in his fight against corruption – if MACC is so short handed, then priority must be placed on catching the big sharks like political leaders with assets beyond their means or leaders who have misappropriated public funds in the name of welfare for their personal use or entertainment. To try to distract the Rakyat with investigations involving small amounts of a couple of thousand ringgit is insulting the Rakyat’s intelligence.

May our God Almighty deal justly and severely with those who do not fear Him, and on those who are intent on suppressing the truth.

Daniel Chai

Youth Secretary
CCM Youth
Mobile: +6012 237 6102

Media Release Published July 21, 2009

OT texts are theological history?

Today in OT class, we are being shown Longman and Dillard's definition of stories found in the OT:

"[history] refers to events that have taken place in the past...biblical history is not objective history-that is, uninterpreted history-but rather, history narrated with a divine purpose. For this reason, commentators have referred to biblical history as "theological history"..." (Longman & Dillard, p.19)

Our lecturer dated the compilation of Genesis stories in the Exile period, 586BC-538BC. The reason for that was to remind exiled Israelites of their origin and to strengthened the ethnicity of the diasporic.

On one hand, if the dating of the compilation is correct, then the primary function of the text was for ethnography purposes rather than writing history per se. On the other, we do not have certainty that such stories are historical accurate for the transmission involved more than a thousand years.

So with these two aspects, I don't agree the definition of those stories in Genesis is theological history. Longman & Dillard's confident to define it as some sort of history is suspect. At best, what we have in Genesis are ethnocentric myth for that is its primary function.

I brought this up to our lecturer during the break time. She has no problem with my thoughts. She told me that we Christians believe that these stories are inspired, hence they are historical. But my disagreement is that by using Longman and Dillard's definition in the class is painting a wrong picture of the text to the students. Now I think my classmates think that those stories found in Genesis are some sort of history. A conclusion which overturns what we were told in the introductory class: to be critical with the texts.

What is 'study'?

I came to TTC to study. But there are so many unnecessary activities that make me doubtful over this.
A. There are 3 chapel services and 4 vesper services in a week.

B. Then there is cluster group vesper every Wednesday.

C. Then there is Family Group meeting every Thursday.

D. Then there are those Field Education trips that required us to visit different denomination every Sunday in the first semester.

E. And there is this vocal audition session which all first year student need to attend.
And here are my thoughts:
>A. I have tried such religiosity last time and it doesn't work for me anymore. And I am not those who think that the more services you attend, the more 'Christ-like' you are, or you can become.

>B. Same as A1.

>C. The Family Group is a program where a group of students will be attached to a lecturer over the semester. Reason probably is to keep the lecturers in touch with the students and vice versa.

>D. I have lost count the different churches that I have visited in the past 5 years! I've been to Catholic churches, Anglican churches, Brethren churches, Eastern Orthodox church, Methodist churches, Baptist churches, Free churches, independent churches, Bible-Presbyterian churches, Lutheran churches, and I'm from a Presbyterian church. I have also been to churches which are not included in our Field Education visitation list like the New Creation Church. I have also been to non-Christian worship places like the Mormon church, Taoist temples, Buddhist temples, and Hindu temples. If I can step into a mosque, I would have done that as well. So if the reason for the weekly Field Education trip is to expose students to different religious institutions, then I see no point for me to involved in that. But this is a requirement. I will not get my degree if I don't complete this. So what can I say?

>E. I know that I can't sing. The fact is that I am tone-deaf. So that's my gift and I hope theological colleges able to recognize the distinctive gifts among the students instead of forcing someone to embarrass him/herself.
I'm grumbling so much perhaps because of the fever.

Mr. & Mrs. Kevin Lee / Mr. & Mrs. Evelyn Kang

(The groom's men and the newly wed)

"Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline."
(G. K. Chesterton, Manalive)

Nor woman of splendor should rush into.

(To clarify, the new hubby didn't decline nor the wife rush into it. This quote is just my thought after that of Chesterton)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Genesis was not written to answer questions on abiogenesis

The ancient Israelites, [John] Walton says, would have understood Genesis I to be literally true. But it was not the story of the beginning of the cosmos or the beginning of life. It was the story of how all of this came to be ordered by God, functioning in God's kingdom. It was their divinely inspired answer to the question that everyone around them was asking. Although in our materially focused culture we want to know how and when the stuff of the universe originated, this was of no interest to the ancient people; it is likely they never even thought to ask it.

Although many people in today's society insist we take Genesis I literally, Walton says that in the true, literal reading, the story is not about cosmological or biological origins at all. The Bible, he says, is actually silent about this. He tells us that true respect for the authority of Scripture means that we don't demand that it answer questions it was not addressing. (Italic added)

Read the whole article here.

Cluster mates at supper...

The Presbyterians were trying to convert the Arminians to Calvinism. By numbers, the Presbys are more than the Arminians. I offered to do a book with 'Why Am I Not An Arminian?' with one of the Arminians. hahaha..

Trinity Theological College's Retreat Teaser

Enjoy this teaser! This was shown to us two weeks ago at the chapel.

Hope this is convincing enough that theological college is not as inhumane and boring as you think! :)

I was being suspected plagiarizing...

This morning during Mission & Evangelism class, our lecturer Andrew Peh went through with us the chapters that examine the views on 'mission' from Old Testament books. The sessions was designed to lay a biblical foundation starting from the OT to the NT. Our articles were taken from Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.

I didn't managed to finished reading today's required articles because my time was too limited last week. And limited time not because entertainment or leisure activities.

During the question and answer time, I shared my struggles on the 'biblical foundation' provided by John Stott, Walter Kaiser, and Stanley Ellisen in their respective articles.

But before jumping to write my critiques, to be fair, those articles are except taken out from their monographs. So some of my critiques might have been taken into consideration in their books. So my views are based only on those articles.

Basically these 3 articles attempt to provide a 'biblical foundation' for mission from the OT. And their presentation goes somewhat this way (p.3-20):

1) The good creation screwed up (the Fall).

2) Mission started from God's covenant with Adam and Eve after the Fall, and later on with Abram. Then through the calling of Israel to be the blessing and light to the world, to bring the world back to its intended order.

3) But that very corrective agent Israel screwd up too.

4) So Christ was sent to right the situation, as promised in the post-fall covenants.

Sounds biblical, right? And not only that, it's a neat framework to articulate the theology of mission and evangelism. So what's my perspective on these perspectives?

My only question and critique is simply this: Where is Christ in the framework?

At most, that framework points to Christ. But the fact that this framework points to Christ presupposed the absence of Christ in it.

The implication of this is important:

1. The point 4 above makes Christ an after-thought. It's only after the world screwed up, that Christ has a place in the picture.

2. Christ became a contigent solution rather than how Colossians 1.16-20 puts it, that Christ is the very blueprint of the creation.

3. God's sovereignty is doubtful for he was to play into the contingency of the creation (this point is clearest in Ellisen's essay, that 'Lucifer' rebelled and caused God to react).

4. And if point 4 is an after-thought in this framework, then what is so distinctly Christian about it? A Jew would have no problem with this framework through Judaism.

Hearing my critiques and seeing that I read from a note, Andrew asked if these are my perspective or reading from somewhere else. I lifted the piece of paper which these points were scribbled on during the lecture. Then he, being also our acting dean of student, was relief that I was not plagiarizing.

So in response to my critique, he suggested that the authors of these articles were uncovering a theology of mission from the OT, hence their focus was on the OT's perspective. And all the authors are commited Christians, so they are not being less Christian or negate the NT in their articles.

But my critique was not on their personal belief, but on their OT theology on mission. Is their biblical foundation on mission from the OT in anyway distinctively Christian?

If it is, certainly I've missed it.

The election of Abram is for Christ's sake, not the other way around. Christ was not sent because of the covenantal obligation to Abram. Abram was sent because of Christ.

"For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him." (Col 1.16)

And that is the Christian biblical foundation on mission. Not necessarily from OT's perspective, but it highlights why the creation, why Adam and Eve, why Abram, why Israel, why Exile, etc.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Theology, pulpit, and socio-polity

I am very disturbed by Teoh Beng Hock's death.

He died while under the custody of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). Was he tortured and murdered by MACC's officers?

Has UMNO got tired with race politics and so playing blood politics now?

This morning, my family group at Trinity Theological College was discussing over Christian's engagement on socio-political issues. Our mentor Roland Chia, the Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine, facilitated the discussion.

He asked this question, "Can the church's pulpit be used to preach on socio-political issues?"

I think the pulpit can and should be the avenue to preach on socio-political issues.

Pulpits that have nothing to do with socio-political issues is denying Christ as the authority above all powers and principalities. And an apathetic pulpit is Christ-less. It has failed to be the prerogative which the embodied grace of God through Christ is supposedly apparent before the world.

I said this despite the fact that some politicians and church leaders said otherwise.

I am also saying this with the awareness of the risk of the misuse of pulpit and religious languages.

I am not suggesting a revolt. Neither was Roland. Both of us agree that Christians have to continuously embody the redemptive power of Christ over individual and social ills. We have to exhaust all the channels in order to do this. And when there is no channels available, other peaceful alternative need to be sought after.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chapel services, vesper, and religiosity

In a week, TTC holds 3 chapel services and 4 vesper services (evening prayer service) for its community. At most I attend only 2 chapel services and may be one vesper per week. Usually I don't attend vesper.

Some brothers and sisters are gifted to have the anticipation to be refreshed and strengthened through rituals. On one hand, that's the time when they are reminded of the divine presence in them and for them. On the other hand, that's also the time when they are able to quiet down themselves to be made aware of and marvel at their creator and sustainer.

I'm encouraged and sometimes envy those who attend all the services. Yet I cannot join them. Two reasons. And two of them have to do with my daemon.

You see, my daemon is tiny and weak. It's a squirrel called Max.

First, Max is tiny and cannot eat much. And since daemon are fed by spiritual food which often comes through sacred rituals like chapel services, Max's size do not allow it to enjoy that abundance.

Second, Max is weak. Too much religiosity will result in religious overdosed. And like any other overdosed, this trait is as much harmful. Max's body cannot take in that much amount of religiosity. 3 chapel services are enough to guarantee white foam coming out from Max's mouth.

Each of us are given different kind of daemon to be grateful of.

For someone like Brother Lawrence, whose daemon was a Tyrannosaurus Rex, was blessed with enormous appetite for the ever-presence of religiosity. Or, say someone like Teresa of Avila. Her daemon was a Blue Whale. Hence her religiosity was as deep as the whale's venture in the darkest and deepest seabed.

And I have to be grateful for my Max. Each are given differently. As St. Paul said it,
"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." (Romans 12.3)
And here is Max. I took the picture while it was concentrating on this morning's church history lecture.

You want to excel in theological studies?

Fort Minor tells you how:

"This is 10% luck, 20% skill, 15% concentrated power of will, 5% pleasure, 50% pain; And 100% reason to remember the name!"

(Especially names like Augustine, Athanasius, Aquinas, John Calvin, Karl Barth, von Balthasar, Wang Ming Dao...!)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Someone left, and why am I still not?

My next door hostel neighbor left today. He is going back to India. He came last week and found that this place is not suitable for him. He is 24, if I'm not wrong.

He felt that he cannot blend into the community and culture here. The food, the people, and perhaps, his hostel room or the hostel's community are not as pleasant as he thought. (There are theologians who walk along the hostel corridor half-naked. And there are Calvinists and Arminians who enjoy laughing at each other after a long day in class!)

His departure prompted me to spend some time thinking over the expectation and the readiness of being a theological student. My neighbor canceled his student pass. While my application for the same kind of pass was being rejected two years ago. And so I have to postponed my study until now.

When I moved into the hostel last week, I had a hard time. My emotions were jumbled up. I was frustrated with the packing and unpacking. There are not enough shelf space for my stuffs. I just left the job that I have been doing for the past 5 years. I have to use a common shower room. And I can't sleep at night.

And worst of all is not these physical difficulties but a teleological one. What am I doing in a theological college? Am I in the right place or should I be doing something else?

In a sense I'm banging my head on the wall, hoping to go through the other side. I don't know how will my future be like, I might die tomorrow, but I want to persist to do at least once what I really want to do.

So I have to put up with half-naked theologians, and the Calvinist-Arminians' laughter at the corridor. And thankfully, now I found myself walking around half-naked sometimes.

First class on OT introduction

We had the class this morning with Maggie Low as our lecturer. The class started with each students' self-introduction. Then we are handed the course description and outline.

One of our assignment is to write a research paper on one of these four topics:

- Genesis: Primeval History. 6 Days of Creation: Literal or Figurative?

- Genesis: Primeval History, Pentateuchal Themes. The Flood: Plagiarism or Polemic?

- Joshua. The Origins of Israel: Invasion, Infiltration, or Insurrection?

- Judges. The Ethical Problem of the Holy War.

I wish I can write on all and submit all. But we are required only to write one. And I chose the third one. I've done some reading a while ago, surveyed across the different voices on this issue. Of course, given that my interest is in science and religion, naturally I should be doing the one on 6 days of creation. But too many students registered that already. And Maggie wants the class to spread evenly through the 4 topics.

May be I'll just write one paper on that and ask Maggie for critique.

And guess what? I already had disagreement with my lecturer in the first class. It's on the Hebrew canon. To her, the Hebrew canon was "more or less fixed by 2nd century BCE".

I think it's not, though most books are considered as sacred, but to say that there was already a canon list by 2nd century BCE is affirming too much.

First, the Jews around the period between 2nd century BCE to late 1st century CE were fragmented into different religious communities (eg. Essenes, Sadducees, etc) that have different list of sacred books.

Second, there are evidents that some Rabbis who were quoting from sources which are not in the modern Hebrew canon list as scripture (eg. b. Hagigah 13a, y. Hagigah 77c, b. Yebamot 63b, etc allude to the book of Sirach as sacred).

A thorough treatment on this subject can be found in L.M.McDonald, The Biblical Canon, chapter 5, p.114-149.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Reaching the Marginalised

Wednesday, 15th July 2009

6.30pm - 8pm

1, Orchard Road, Singapore 238824

10 scholarships to Calvin Symposium on Worship 2009

The Presbyterian Church in Singapore has received ten scholarships from Calvin College which encourages believers from various countries to learn the practices of reformed worship. For those interested in attending this symposium on 28-30 January 2010 in USA, please contact the Synod Office, Ms June Phoon, 6338 5862 . The closing date for applications is on 27 July 2009.

Click on this Invitation Letter to find out more about the FULL scholarship.

Download the application form here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Reclaiming / transforming nation for God?

There are slogans everywhere from churches' bulletin to pulpit sermons to reclaim and transform the nation for Christ. While at first sight, that seems reasonable with all the 'cultural mandate' and 'great commission' being taught to us. But often our approaches to bring heaven on earth are seldom being critically contemplated.

We, Christians, are all too fired up to win the nation for Christ. But what does that really mean?

We need to think about that question before jumping too soon onto any lobbying effort or action masqueraded as attempts made "for the glory of God".

Here is a quotation by one of the leader of a great nation:
The national government will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality.

Today Christians stand at the head of our country. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theatre, and in the press - in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during recent years.

Now imagine that you've heard those words from your nation's leader. You might have felt that God has raised him up for the job to restore the country back to God. You might have thought that you are at the dawn of a new glorious epoch.

And now, please guess who gave that speech?

Not by an American president, nor a theologian, nor a biblical scholar, nor famous Christian leaders/preachers who travel around the world to teach people how to transform or win nations for God. Those are the words of Adolf Hitler. ("My New Order, The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, 1922-1939", Vol. 1, pp. 871-872, Oxford University Press, London, 1942). HT: James McGrath

Nothing wrong with wanting to reclaim or transform nations for Christ, but do so only after you have critically thought over it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Holy Spirit's role in canonization versus the stone's role in selection

"...[a] professor told a story of going with a Native American spiritual leader to gather stones for a ceremony; asked how he would know which stones to gather, the spiritual leader responded, "The stones will tell me.""
(Jack David Eller, Introducing Anthropology of Religion, p.10)

How do you know which Bible, among the Roman Catholic, some Eastern Orthodoxes, and the Protestants, is the right one?

Push all three groups to the wall, via all the unsolvable historical problems, they will say something like this:

"The Holy Spirit guided our antecedent Christians through the church councils and events like the Reformation to secure for us the right canonical Scripture. To put it another way, the entire process of canonization is governed by the Divine Spirit."

Which church council we should acknowledge depends on which group we are already in.

Which interpretation of certain event we should identify with depends on which group we are already in.

And which Bible we accept depend on which both councils and interpreted event we already picked. And how do we know we have picked the right one? Through the Holy Spirit's guidance.

You might be agreeing with me that at least the stones are a bit more tangible and direct.

Is it so hard to accept the fact that we are creature? If yes, then the answer could be something like this, "I am not sure which version is the right one, but across all groups, we do share major similarity in our own respective canon list. And we all got the important ones right, like those in the New Testament."

Why am I in a theological college?

It seems that everyone have been asking me this question. My Christian and non-Christian friends alike are curious why am I spending three years studying theology.

Actually I myself not too sure about that. I'll usually tell my Christian friends that I have passion in the subject, major especially to understand the relation between sciences and theology.

And when I told that to our theology professor Roland Chia, who is also my Family Group mentor (Family Group is some "spiritual formation" exercise), he asked for clarification, "So you are here to learn apologetic?"

I said, "Yes", although I know that I am not.

And when I started to do a bit of reading just to get myself ready for this Sunday's field education, the book helped me to understand better why am I at a theological college. (Field education is an exercise which required theological students to visit various different churches, and submit a paper reflecting on each churches along the semester.)

Here's how the book helps,
"As humans, we marvel at and ponder our existence, our behavior, and the world around us."
(Jack David Eller, Introducing Anthropology of Religion, p.1)
I am at a theological college to ponder over my existence, behavior, and the world around me. I don't deny that I hope that through these pondering, somehow I will be granted opportunity to share them to others. But jumping from that hope to a vocation, say apologist, is quite a huge quantum leap.

Vocation has to be flexible and ever-changing given the changing needs of each different situation and context. Jurgen Moltmann mentioned this in one of his lecture. And I'm still sticking with it.

And by the way, field education does not required reading Eller's book. I got the book about two years ago but did not had the urge to read it. I'm reading it now because I believe it will help me to understand liturgy anthropologically.

I ponder.

Penis had bone?

The word 'baculum' means penis bone. Humans don't have it (perhaps we do long time ago). Claude Mariottini blogged about the interpretation of "rib" in Genesis 2.21-22.
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
There is plausibility that the "rib" refers to man's penis bone.

The same account is published in The Uncensored Bible: The Bawdy and Naughty Bits of the Good Book.

So, if that is true, and if the man and woman become one flesh when they get married, then does that means the woman's place is back to where she meant to be?

Try telling your wife, "You are my penis bone."

Thursday, July 09, 2009

What does it mean to be opened to the Other culture?

In the orientation to chapel worship briefing, Jeffrey Truscott, the chaplain of TTC's chapel, told us that various forms of worship and liturgy are performed in the chapel's services.

Some time ago, the chapel has used incenses during the service, like the Eastern Orthodox churches. At other times, the services are being carried out through different denomination and cultural expression of the faith. So there are Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, and other forms of worship style being used.

Amazingly inclusive. Seems like a big step to union, if not ecumenism.

Truscott also asked the participants of the chapel services to be open to the other cultures' embodiment of praising God. He assured us that we do not need to be shocked or reserved over the differences found in each different denomination.

Truscott gave an example. When the Holy Communion is administered by a Methodist minister, grape juice is used to represent the Lord's blood. And when other denominations' ministers use red wine instead of grape juice, the Methodist and congregants who cannot and do not want to partake the wine are asked to freely abstained from taking it. Truscott assured these congregants that it is fine to take only the bread in the Holy Communion.

A commendable and daring openess to the alien world of the Other. An apparent recognition and embrace of all the different human's creativity found within each community's own cultural giveness and giftedness.

All was well until Truscott announced that the participants at the chapel's services cannot wear shorts. He explained that it is inapropriate.

I was stunned.

Wait a minute.

Did he mean that we were flexible to adjust and alter the very sacramental gift institutionalized by our Lord Christ according to our convenient, and yet when it concerned our dressings, which are neither sacred nor institutional, we cannot be as flexible?

So, flexible only on the sacred stuffs... (Dare we? Apparently, Truscott dares.)

But non-flexible on mundane stuffs like shorts... (If we can be flexible on the sacred stuffs, why not on the non-sacred?)

So the question boils down to what is 'sacredness' as practiced through TTC's liturgy? I get the impression that there is no 'sacredness' in the liturgy, for it is according to our whims.

On the other hand, where have all those 'inclusive' languages which graced the briefing just minutes ago went? Or is the whole idea of being open to the Other culture is a joke?

It could be that Truscott does not think and acknowledge shorts as an artifact which reflects a certain cultural expression. If he thinks so, then he had hit hard with Andy Crouch, the winner of Christianity Today’s 2009 Book Award for Christianity and Culture,

"...culture is the accumulation of very tangible things - stuffs people make of the world... While it is certainly true that culture can have effects on us that we're not aware of, culture itself is anything but invisible. We hear it, we smell it, we taste it, we touch it, and we see it. Culture presents itself to our five sense - or it is not culture at all." (Culture Making, p.67)

A pair of shorts embody its own story and context. It is a cultural artifact.

And hence, I do not know what to make out of Truscott's instructive words in the final part of the briefing, "Do be opened to new experiences and come experience the new."

Perhaps that is more of a reminder to himself?

What is 'Spiritual Formation'?

Today I was bombarded by this term 'spiritual formation' since 8am in the morning until 5.30pm just now. And I expect this bombarding to continue for the next few years.

During this morning's briefing on the academic requirement and expectation, Simon Chan said that theological students must learn how to see their academic studies as part of their spiritual formation. For eg. being punctual at classes and in submitting our assignments contribute to our spiritual formation.

And later on at the chapel, Andrew Peh gave a more thorough treatment on what 'spiritual formation' means. He referred from TTC's Spiritual Formation and Community Living Handbook,

"The goal of spiritual formation is the glory of God the Father. The content and shape of spiritual formation is Christlikeness. The author of spiritual formation is the Holy Spirit. The basis for spiritual formation is the Word of God. The context of spiritual formation is Community living at TTC, in the church and the world. The means of spiritual formation are spiritual disciplines and redemptive relationships. The subject of spiritual formation is the total person." (Bold removed, p.2)

As vague as some 17th century creeds.

Anyway some clear tangible examples were given. These activities contribute to spiritual formation:

  • No plagiarism.

  • Be punctual at events.

  • Be engaging in classes.

  • Participate in family group.

  • Submit assignments on time.

  • The field education (internship and visitation to other organization).

  • Participate in College Retreat.

  • Regular quiet time.

  • Join study/discussion group.

  • Journaling (my language: blogging).

  • Submitting Medical Certificate or Leave of Absence to the Registrar and Dean of Studies respectively if unable to attend any classes.

In summary, Andrew listed 4 major words that include all that contribute to spiritual formation:

  • Presence. (Given examples are all TTC's activities)

  • Participation. (Given examples are all TTC's activities)

  • Punctuality. (Given examples are all TTC's activities)

  • Practice. (Given examples are all TTC's activities)

So from the whole presentation, I perceive that spiritual formation is just doing everything according to an institution, as long as we think that it is for the glory of God, etc, etc.

Now I realize that corporate organizations across all the various industries out there, including public schools, have great spiritual formation programs for their staffs and clients. Seems like I'm in good hand. And seems like my spirit will have a wonderful time being formed.

On a more serious note. In ridding off the distinction between 'spiritual' and 'non-spiritual', what are left are only two conclusions:

  • Everything is spiritual, or

  • Everything is non-spiritual.

Think about it. Both consequences flatten everything, and hence making distinction and recognition impossible. In the case that everything is spiritual, then even my staring blankly at the mobile phone next to my laptop is an exercise contributing to my spiritual formation. And squashing the tiny bug that is resting on one of the book is also an spiritual exercise.

Is 'spiritual formation' merely a sort of merged disciplined living with many other meaningless deeds baptized in religious rhetorics?

On the other hand, does that also means if I am not punctual to attend classes or don't want to attend some of TTC's events, my spirit is deforming? That's what the rhetorics hint at.

Stephen Tong and the quest for the historical Jesus

Cross-post from Critical Stephen Tong:

Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong has held a 4-days seminar on the historical Jesus. He named the seminar as "The Eternal Christ & Historical Jesus". Due to work, I was not able to attend the seminar. And since then I had been looking forward to get hold of the recording of the seminar.

The seminar was held on 24th-27th April 2008. Contacts have been repeatedly made with Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong's production team on the availability of the recording. Almost every month I called them to inquire about it. And after waited for 9 months I finally got hold of the MP3 CD on the 2nd of April 2009. It was selling at SGD $45 then.

With great anticipation, I listened to the series of lectures for the next few days. Some of them I listened twice or more.

I have to say that after finishing the series, I was rather disappointed. It seemed to me that Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong did not know about the historical Jesus.

On one hand, I am sure that Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong knows that the historical Jesus is not merely referring to an influential person who existed in 1st century Palestine.

The term 'historical Jesus' is a technical term describing the enterprise for the critical studies being done by New Testament scholars on the Jesus Christ in the past two hundred years. Therefore this enterprise is also famously known as the quest for the historical Jesus (since the publication of the English edition of Albert Schweitzer's famous work 'The Quest of the Historical Jesus')

How can I be so certain that Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong knows about this? It was through his naming of his seminar as "The Eternal Christ & Historical Jesus". The title bear an 'either/or' contrast. And such contrast is a well-known one in the theological community. Sometimes it is known as the "theological Christ and the historical Jesus", sometimes the "kerymatic Christ and the historical Jesus". A recent example is Dale Allison's newly published book that twisted the contrast at its title 'The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus'.

That is on the one hand. On the other hand, Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong, despite knowing the enterprise of the historical Jesus, he surprisingly and most disappointingly did not show any familiarity with it. As he titled the seminar to be centered on the enterprise, I was anticipating him dealing with the issues raised from the historical Jesus' studies. But he did not.

Throughout the reconrding, the names and 'ism' that was heard were Adolf von Harnack, Tubingen school, Christian Ferdinand Baur, Immanuel Kant, atheism, communism, existentialism, theory of evolution, Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis, Continental philosophical rationalism, British philosophical empiricism, Rene Descartes, Benedict Spinoza, French Revolution, Voltaire, Rosseau, Logical Positivism, Ludwig Witgenstein, Michaelangelo, Erasmus, Martin Luther, Stoicism, Heraclitus, Seneca, Epitatus, Marcus Aurelius, and others.

Please do not take my word. Do not believe me. Spend SGD $45, get a copy to listen for yourself. He was more like lecturing on the history of philosophy rather than the quest. Not to mention how does the historical quest relates, influences, and affects the conception of the eternal Christ, as the seminar's title misleadingly described.

Perhaps among the list of names he uttered, the one that really had contributed to the historical Jesus' study was F.C. Baur. And yet Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong got Baur's name in the wrong arrangement. It should be 'Ferdinand Christian Baur', instead of C.F. Baur.

Through the serminar, I found that the only way Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong engaged the historical question raised by the quest was by quoting and doing theological exposition on John's gospel, particularly chapter 1. But that was missing the whole point of the quest. He seemed to not had a clue on what was he lecturing.

I am not an expert on the quest, but I do know that Wikipedia provides a concise summary of the main happenings and people within the historical Jesus' enterprise (Accessed on 9th July 2009). For an extremely brief summary of the quest since the 19th century up until 1993, N.T. Wright's small booklet 'Who Was Jesus?' is fit enough. Then one can moves on to Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz introductory text. And finally to all the fat books on historical Jesus, like the celebrated 4-volumes by John Meier, and the 3-volumes by N.T. Wright.