Thursday, December 31, 2009

An example of local prosperity teaching

(One of the Daily Devotion from Joseph Prince. The material changes everyday on the site. This copy is referred for personal and non-commercial use. The definition of 'prosperity teaching' is here.)

"Pastor Prince, forget about having dominion over the sea, air or earth. I want dominion over my backache which has robbed me of my time with my children. I want dominion over my financial situation."

My friend, because God's purpose for you is to have dominion on earth (referring to Gen 1.26), He will keep you healthy. After all, it is hard to rule the earth when you are sick and lying on your bed. And God will prosper you because it is hard to want to do things when you are poor.

We need to understand that since God's greater purpose is for man to have dominion on earth, it would include the lesser blessings such as health and prosperity. Then, we will see ourselves as God sees us, walking in dominion, and we will walk in victory over our negative circumstance in the natural realm. (Italics added)

Philosophy cell @ TTC

Next week starts our new semester at Trinity Theological College. I have planned to start a reading group to read philosophy as supplement to our theological studies. Diogenes Allen's Philosophy for Understanding Theology, 1st edition is chosen to be our text. Participants may use the 2nd edition if they want.

We'll meet fortnightly to discuss a chapter of the book.

Participants have to read the chapter before the meeting.

Each participants are obligated to write a short reflection (300 - 500 words) on any philosophy that we have discussed during the meeting. A blog will be set up for these reflections to be posted.

Our first meeting will be somewhere middle of January.

TTC's students are welcomed to join. Please email me to let me know.

If you are not from TTC but interested to participate, please email me joshuawoo@gmail.com.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Passages show that Jesus was rich?

I have written a short article earlier this year to examine the 4 gospels in the New Testament to see if there are evident pointing to Jesus' economic condition. But as I look further, the brief article got longer until I gave up expanding it. So here is the unfinished work:


1) And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. (Luke 2.22-24)
Jesus’ parents offered a sacrifice that was presented by the poor as prescribed in Leviticus 12.8. Some have argued that this ritual is the Nazirite vow recorded in Numbers 6.9-12. But the Nazirite’s ritual was to atone and consecrate the Nazirite who unintentionally defiled himself by touching the dead. Hence the said Law of the Lord to which Jesus’ parents followed was the one for postnatal purification as stated in Leviticus 12.8.


2) Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luke 8.1-3)
The last verse reported that there are people who had provided for Jesus’ ministry. And here, we must not anachronistically read our modern practice of giving tithes to ministry into the passage. The majority of the populations around the itinerary of Jesus were poor peasants; most of them produce their own food and work as herdsmen or farmers (hence Jesus’ using these two activities in many of his parables is illuminating and understandable to them).


3) Is not this the carpenter [Greek: tekton], the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us? (Mark 6.3)
‘Tekton’ has much broader portfolio than just cutting and re-shaping furniture or structures made of wood. “The term tekton could be applied to any worker who plied his trade “with a hard material that retains its hardness throughout the operation, e.g., wood and stone or even horn or ivory.” (Meier, p.281). Hence Jesus’ occupation is not identical with our modern day ‘carpenter’.

Given the local architectures (ordinary houses were made by stone or mud brick) and the socio-economic situation (very uneven distribution of wealth) in Galilee back then, “Jesus…[as a tekton] would have ranked somewhere at the lower end of the vague middle, perhaps equivalent…to a blue-collar worker in lower-middle-class America,” (Meier, p.282).


4) But he answered them, "You give them something to eat." And they said to him, "Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?" And he said to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." And when they had found out, they said, "Five, and two fishes." (Mark 6.37-38)
A plain reading of the passage above might give us the impression that Jesus’ ministry had 200 denarii and that they were planning to use all of it to buy food to feed the 5000. And 200 denarii were equivalent to eight months worth of salary for a peasant. And that amount is supposed by some to be able to sustain a family of 4 for an entire year. If that is the case, could we then conclude that Jesus and his disciples were rich?

No. Even if they really had 200 denarii, the amount is still too small to sustain Jesus and his ministry. We cannot assume that Jesus had only 12 disciples who were following him around. Many passages such as Luke 10.1 reported that there were 72 disciples being commissioned by Jesus; Mark 6.37-38 shows that there are 5000 following Jesus at times. Hence the wages that are able to sustain a nucleus family is pathetic when we consider the number of people who were involved in the Jesus movement.

On the other hand, scholars deem the disciples’ suggestion as some sort of sarcasm. That means they did not really have that amount of denarii. They were merely mocking Jesus when they were told to feed the overwhelming crowd. To think about it, Jesus asked his disciples to feed the 5000 is a mock towards them since it is obvious to him and to them that that is an impossible task. And in response, the disciples return Jesus’ mock with their own.

----------------------
References:

Guelich, Robert A. Mark 1-8.26, Word Biblical Commentary, 1989.

Meier, John. A Marginal Jew, vol. 1. USA: Yale University Press, 1991.

Nolland, John. Luke 1-9.20, Word Biblical Commentary, 1989.

Was Jesus rich?

CNN carries a report over the debate over whether was Jesus rich. Some preachers of prosperity teaching claim that Jesus was rich (edited from CNN's report):

1) Jesus received lucrative gifts -- gold, frankincense and myrrh -- at birth.

2) Mary and Joseph, lived and traveled in style. Mary and Joseph took a Cadillac to get to Bethlehem because the finest transportation of their day was a donkey. Poor people ate their donkey. Only the wealthy used it as transportation.

3) The 12th chapter of the Gospel of John says that Jesus had a treasurer, or a "keeper of the money bag...poor people don't have treasurers to take care their money.

4) Jesus said you will always have the poor, but you will not always have me. Jesus did not affirm himself as being part of the poor class...he was the richest man on the face of the earth because he had God as his source.

5) Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus' clothing while he hung on the cross. They wouldn't gamble for Jesus' clothing unless it was expensive.

6) Jesus never would have had disciples or a large following if he was poor. He would not have been able to command their respect. The poor will follow the rich, the rich will follow the rich, but the rich will never follow the poor.

CNN also interviewed Luke Timothy Johnson and Bruce W. Longenecker, two established experts on the ancient world of the New Testament.

Johnson responded to point 6, "So Martin Luther King must have been a millionaire. Crowds followed Siddhartha Buddha and he was poor. And mobs followed Mahatma Gandhi, and Gandhi wore a diaper, for God's sake."

He inadequately responded to point 5, "Crucifixion was the sort of execution carried out for slaves and for rebels. It wasn't an execution for wealthy people."

Longenecker remarked that about 90 percent of the population at that time lived in poverty. There was no middle class. "In the ancient world, you were relatively poor or filthy rich, there's very little in-between."

Without responding to any of the points raised by the preachers of prosperity teaching, Longenecker dismisses them, "The only way you can make Jesus into a rich man is by advocating torturous interpretations and by being wholly naive historically."

I think both experts are more than adequate to answer all those points but I'm not sure why they did not. Since there are 5 points which are not addressed, I'll try to do that here.

RE 1) Since we do not know the amount of gift received, we can't determine whether are those gifts enough to make the family wealthy. But there are evidents show that the family remained poor.

RE 2) Riding on donkey doesn't indicate in any degree the economic status of Joseph and Mary. The donkey could be borrowed to carry the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem. Borrowing donkey seems not uncommon as Jesus himself borrowed one to ride into Jerusalem to enact Zechariah's prophecy (Mat 21.1-5 / Zech 9.9). Even if having a donkey is an indication of wealth, then the fact that Jesus needed to borrow a donkey shows that he was not wealthy enough to have one as his own.

RE 3) It is wrong to give the deceptive impression that Jesus alone had a treasurer. Jesus was an itinerant preacher who traveled in a big group. There were as many as 72 followers around him at one time (Luk 10.1). It was the entire group that had a treasurer as it was necessary to manage the donated resources to sustain the group (Luk 8.3).

RE 4) Mark 14.7-8: "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial." Jesus' emphasis here was not differentiating economic class between him and the poor but the temporariness of his presence. The story is a lesson for his disciples to cherish the little time left to spend with Jesus. So no dimension of economic class was in view here.

RE 5) Clothing in that era and place was scarce. There was no 'Great Jerusalem Sale' every three months when middle-class citizens hoard clothing at shopping complexes to stuff their already over-blotted wardrobe. Cloth was rare. That was why John the Baptist urged his followers to share tunic (Luke 3.11). So it was common for Roman soldiers gambled to get hold of their captives' clothing for their own use.

RE 6) The logic doesn't correspond to many examples in real life. Sometimes a lot of richer people follow the poor. Johnson gave some examples. Another example is that there are many readers of this blog who are richer than a poor student yet 'follow' this blog. The point is that people follow whatever that interest them and not necessarily for economic purposes. In the case of this blog, I think people follow it for funny and perhaps sometimes insightful information. And I hope it is indeed.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Summary of Lausanne's anti-prosperity-teaching statement

Local communities that preach 'prosperity teaching' (PT) are City Harvest Church and New Creation Church. I personally heard from their church leaders testifying that they believe PT is found in the Bible (see point 5 below). They are mega-churches with more than 20,000 each. But the Lausanne theologians think that their members are deceived by the leaders' wrong preaching. (see point 6 below).

I have summarized the wordy statement briefly as follow:
The statement is the result of several consultations in 2008 and 2009. It is meant to start the conversation over 'prosperity teaching'.

PT defined as "the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the "sowing of seeds" through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings" across various Christian communities.

PT is:
  • False.
  • Gravely distorting the Bible.
  • The practice to promote PG is unethical and unChristlike.
  • Pastorally damaging.
  • Spiritually unhealthy.
  • Offers no lasting hope.
  • Deflect people from the message and means of eternal salvation.

Further reflection is called over this issue.

1. God's power and miraculous workings are available but not subject to human's manipulation in all forms (words, rituals, actions, techniques).

2. Human's health and material welfare are not indications of God's blessings or curses.

3. Human's initiative and hardwork are encouraged to pursue health and wealth welfare. The good results out of hardwork are God-given nonetheless. Health and wealth welfare must not be only to the individual but also the wider community.

4. PT is not the answer or material promise to poverty stricken people. PT's preachers often fail to tackle the root cause of poverty and hence unable to eradicate it.

5. PT's preachers are sincerely wrong with their reading of the Bible and hence preach wrong messages from it.

6. The large number of people believing in the PT does not mean it is true because they are deceived by their preachers.

7. PT may be the result of local believers' misunderstanding of Christianity and hence contextualize it inappropriately.

8. On one side there are people benefited from PT, while on the another side there are people devastated by it.

9. Though many PT's preachers have root in the right Christian teaching initially, yet they moved away from it.

10. Christian leaders must not involved in:
  • Flamboyant and excessive wealth and extravagant lifestyles.
  • Unethical and manipulative techniques.
  • Constant emphasis on money, as if it were a supreme good—which is mammon.
  • Replacing the traditional call to repentance and faith with a call to give money.
  • Covetousness which is idolatry.
  • Living and behaving in ways that are utterly inconsistent with either the example of Jesus or the pattern of discipleship that he taught.
  • Ignoring or contradicting the strong New Testament teaching on the dangers of wealth and the idolatrous sin of greed.
  • Failure to preach the word of God in a way that feeds the flock of Christ.
  • Failure to preach the whole gospel message of sin, repentance, faith and eternal hope.
  • Failure to preach the whole counsel of God, but replacing it with what people want to hear.
  • Replacing time for evangelism with fund raising events and appeals.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Lausanne has spoken out against 'prosperity gospel'

The news from Christian Today is here.

The Lausanne's statement is copied & pasted from ChristianityToday in full:
NOTE: This is a statement, offered as a discussion starter for further reflection (theological, ethical, pastoral and missiological, socio-political and economic) on the phenomenal rise of prosperity teaching around the world at large and Africa in particular. The points below are a digest of many points made in the course of the discussion of three papers at the Oct. 2008 and ten papers at the Sept 2009 consultations.

We define prosperity gospel as the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the "sowing of seeds" through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings. We recognize that prosperity teaching is a phenomenon that cuts across denominational barriers. Prosperity teaching can be found in varying degrees in mainstream Protestant, Pentecostal as well as Charismatic Churches. It is the phenomenon of prosperity teaching that is being addressed here not any particular denomination or tradition.

We further recognize that there are some dimensions of prosperity teaching that have roots in the Bible, and we affirm such elements of truth below. We do not wish to be exclusively negative, and we recognize the appalling social realities within which this teaching flourishes and the measure of hope it holds out to desperate people. However, while acknowledging such positive features, it is our overall view that the teachings of those who most vigorously promote the 'prosperity gospel' are false and gravely distorting of the Bible, that their practice is often unethical and unChristlike, and that the impact on many churches is pastorally damaging, spiritually unhealthy, and not only offers no lasting hope, but may even deflect people from the message and means of eternal salvation. In such dimensions, it can be soberly described as a false gospel.

We call for further reflection on these matters within the Christian Church, and request the Lausanne movement to be willing to make a very clear statement rejecting the excesses of prosperity teaching as incompatible with evangelical biblical Christianity.

1. We affirm the miraculous grace and power of God, and welcome the growth of churches and ministries that demonstrate them and that lead people to exercise expectant faith in the living God and his supernatural power. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit.

However, we reject as unbiblical the notion that God's miraculous power can be treated as automatic, or at the disposal of human techniques, or manipulated by human words, actions or rituals.

2. We affirm that there is a biblical vision of human prospering, and that the Bible includes material welfare (both health and wealth) within its teaching about the blessing of God. This needs further study and explanation across the whole Bible in both Testaments. We must not dichotomize the material and the spiritual in unbiblical dualism.

However, we reject the unbiblical notion that spiritual welfare can be measured in terms of material welfare, or that wealth is always a sign of God's blessing (since it can be obtained by oppression, deceit or corruption), or that poverty or illness or early death, is always a sign of God's curse, or lack of faith, or human curses (since the Bible explicitly denies that it is always so)

3. We affirm the biblical teaching on the importance of hard work, and the positive use of all the resources that God has given us—abilities, gifts, the earth, education, wisdom, skills, wealth, etc. And to the extent that some Prosperity teaching encourages these things, it can have a positive effect on people's lives. We do not believe in an unbiblical ascetism that rejects such things, or an unbiblical fatalism that sees poverty as a fate that cannot be fought against.

However, we reject as dangerously contradictory to the sovereign grace of God, the notion that success in life is entirely due to our own striving, wrestling, negotiation, or cleverness. We reject those elements of Prosperity Teaching that are virtually identical to 'positive thinking' and other kinds of 'self-help' techniques.

We are also grieved to observe that Prosperity Teaching has stressed individual wealth and success, without the need for community accountability, and has thus actually damaged a traditional feature of African society, which was commitment to care within the extended family and wider social community.

4. We recognize that Prosperity Teaching flourishes in contexts of terrible poverty, and that for many people, it presents their only hope, in the face of constant frustration, the failure of politicians and NGOs, etc., for a better future, or even for a more bearable present. We are angry that such poverty persists and we affirm the Bible's view that it also angers God and that it is not his will that people should live in abject poverty. We acknowledge and confess that in many situations the Church has lost its prophetic voice in the public arena.

However, we do not believe that Prosperity Teaching provides a helpful or biblical response to the poverty of the people among whom it flourishes. And we observe that much of this teaching has come from North American sources where people are not materially poor in the same way.

It vastly enriches those who preach it, but leaves multitudes no better off than before, with the added burden of disappointed hopes.

While emphasizing various alleged spiritual or demonic causes of poverty, it gives little or no attention to those causes that are economic and political, including injustice, exploitation, unfair international trade practices, etc.

It thus tends to victimize the poor by making them feel that their poverty is their own fault (which the Bible does not do), while failing to address and denounce those whose greed inflicts poverty on others (which the Bible does repeatedly).

Some prosperity teaching is not really about helping the poor at all, and provides no sustainable answer to the real causes of poverty.

5. We accept that some prosperity teachers sincerely seek to use the Bible in explaining and promoting their teachings.

However, we are distressed that much use of the Bible is seriously distorted, selective, and manipulative. We call for a more careful exegesis of texts, and a more holistic biblical hermeneutic, and we denounce the way that many texts are twisted out of context and used in ways that contradict some very plain Bible teaching.

And especially, we deplore the fact that in many churches where Prosperity Teaching is dominant, the Bible is rarely preached in any careful or explanatory way, and the way of salvation, including repentance from sin and saving faith in Christ for forgiveness of sin, and the hope of eternal life, is misrepresented and substituted with material wellbeing.

6. We rejoice in the phenomenal growth of the numbers of professing Christians in many countries where churches that have adopted prosperity teachings and practice are very popular.

However, numerical growth or mega-statistics may not necessarily demonstrate the truth of the message that accompanies it, or the belief system behind it. Popularity is no proof of truth; and people can be deceived in great numbers.

7. We are pleased to observe that many churches and leaders are critical and in some cases overtly renounce and cut the links with specific aspects of African primal or traditional religion and its practices, where these can be seen to be in conflict with the biblical revelation and worldview.

Yet it seems clear that there are many aspects of Prosperity Teaching that have their roots in that soil. We therefore wonder if much popular Christianity is a syncretised super-structure on an underlying worldview that has not been radically transformed by the biblical gospel. We also wonder whether the popularity and attraction of Prosperity Teaching is an indication of the failure of contextualization of the Gospel in Africa.

8. We observe that many people testify to the way Prosperity Teaching has in fact impacted their lives for the better—encouraging them to have greater faith, to seek to improve their education, or working lives. We rejoice in this. There is great power in such testimony, and we thank God when any of his children enjoy his blessing.

However, we observe equally that many people have been duped by such teaching into false faith and false expectations, and when these are not satisfied, they 'give up on God', or lose their faith altogether and leave the church. This is tragic, and must be very grievous to God.

9. We accept that many prosperity teachers mostly have their roots in evangelical churches and traditions, or were brought up under the influence of evangelical parachurch ministries.

But we deplore the clear evidence that many of them have in practice moved away from key and fundamental tenets of evangelical faith, including the authority and priority of the Bible as the Word of God, and the centrality of the cross of Christ.

10. We know that God sometimes puts leaders in positions of significant public fame and influence.

However, there are aspects of the lifestyle and behaviour of many preachers of Prosperity Teaching that we find deplorable, unethical, and frankly idolatrous (to the god of Mammon), and in some of these respects we may be called upon to identify and reject such things as the marks of false prophets, according to the standards of the Bible. These include:
  • Flamboyant and excessive wealth and extravagant lifestyles.
  • Unethical and manipulative techniques.
  • Constant emphasis on money, as if it were a supreme good—which is mammon.
  • Replacing the traditional call to repentance and faith with a call to give money.
  • Covetousness which is idolatry.
  • Living and behaving in ways that are utterly inconsistent with either the example of Jesus or the pattern of discipleship that he taught.
  • Ignoring or contradicting the strong New Testament teaching on the dangers of wealth and the idolatrous sin of greed.
  • Failure to preach the word of God in a way that feeds the flock of Christ.
  • Failure to preach the whole gospel message of sin, repentance, faith and eternal hope.
  • Failure to preach the whole counsel of God, but replacing it with what people want to hear.
  • Replacing time for evangelism with fund raising events and appeals.

First Draft by Rev. Dr. Chris Wright (Chair, Lausanne Theology Working Group); edited by Rev. Dr. John Azumah (Member, Lausanne Theology Working Group); in collaboration with Rev. Prof. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, Chair of the Akropong consultations. This is a collated digest of points made by many contributors, through the written papers and the discussion that followed them.

New Covenant International University & Theological Seminary


(Page 1 of the institution's application form)


This is a legal religious educational institution in the state of Florida in the USA. The Florida Statutes 1005.6 (f) states that, "A religious college may operate without governmental oversight".

That means you can start up an university to teach black magic in Florida as long as the rules in Statutes 1005.6 is followed. You can give out Ph.D in Voodoo or Ph.D in Bomoh, if you like. Though being legally instituted by the state of Florida, that alone does not guarantee the recognition of the institution's degrees in other states of the USA and other countries. Such recognition comes through 'accreditation'. That means the master's degrees and doctorates provided by institutions which are accredited and those which are not are qualitatively different.

The accreditation body that guarantees the quality of higher education in Florida is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Theological seminaries and Christian universities like Asbury Theological Seminary and Baylor University are accredited by the body. And New Covenant International University & Theological Seminary is not in the accreditation list.

Simply said, those without accreditation is free to grant degrees without ensuring academic competency and so the certificates are not recognized. The implication is that those people who got their degrees and doctorates from unaccredited institutions cannot use the title "Dr." in their referent, or even if they use it, it is a fake "Dr.", like calling a woman without a child under her care as "mother".

Now you may be wondering why am I highlighting the New Covenant International University & Theological Seminary. That is because the institution's president Kevin Dyson was here earlier this year giving a series of talks on relationship at City Harvest Church. And lo and behold, our local charismatic Kong Hee's Master of Divinity (M.Div) and Doctor of Theology (D.Th) are from Dyson's institution. If he really wants a good quality theological education degree, he can get them from local seminaries and theological colleges. There are plenty which are accredited here. Don't have to get from a dubious institution in Florida. But if he prefer overseas degrees, he should opt for places like Asbury or Baylor.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Introverts extroverting?

On Christmas eve, I blogged about the awareness of myself changing to be more introverted. Then on Christmas day, Kar Yong posted about his journey to become an introvert. Now after Christmas, Michael Bird confessed that he is an introvert despite his bubbly and sanguine personality as seen through some video clips and heard through some mp3s.

What's happening? Introvert epidemic?

Bird distinguished interestingly the "capacity for self-projection" with "personality". Myself, Kar Yong, and Bird have no problem elaborating entertainingly to people about stuffs that interest us but we also need plenty of personal space and time to be alone.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Pope Benedict's downfall as an apocalypse



"A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth."
- Revelation 12.1-4

Apocalyptic interpretation:

1) The pregnant woman who is about to give birth represents the coming advent (Christmas eve).

2) The enormous red dragon that swept the stars down to earth represent the red color sweater woman pulling down the pope.

The See of Peter was swept down by a furry red creature during the advent of 'the child'. This apocalypse happened so mundanely in front of our eyes while being narrated in such grandiose by John the Seer. Those with eyes, see.

That is a sign the end is near! Pack your bags with survival kits. And transfer some of your bank's money to my account before you go away. Those money will be used to provide further interpretation of subsequent affairs for apocalyptic signs to keep others aware.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Blogging on Xmas' eve

I just bought a packet of herbal tea and lozenges for my sore throat and cough. Caught the germs during festive season. Perhaps this is the first time I fell sick and stayed at home during Christmas eve. For the past five years, since 2004, Christmas was the busiest time in my work. Can only hang out with friends after work, that was about 12 midnight. Previously was also involved in helping out the logistic matter at certain performance stages at Orchard Road for Celebrate Christmas in Singapore. Once was in front of the Tong building next to Lucky Plaza, once at the front of Tang's plaza, and once at the empty land which now houses the iconic ION. I remember each year was drizzling and there were a few times I had to work under the rain.

This year I'm in my room, accompanying by the cicada's noises outside of the room's window while typing this. Very quite night. So I took time to see what I blogged about during previous Christmas in Singapore.

Earlier during my first Christmas in Singapore, I joined my college's friend and his family when they came here for the year-end holiday. That was in 2003. Can't remember how did I went through Christmas in 2004, but I started this blog about that time. There was only an apologetic post on that year's killer wave that hit this region very badly.

Then in 2005, Steven and Yennie were here. Steven just got back from a mission trip at Africa. I fetched him at the airport late night after my work. Was shocked when saw his long curly biddy hair. Was at Priscilla's Christmas house party.

I started to mass-sms personally worded Christmas greeting in 2006 instead of just a simple 'Merry Christmas' or forward greetings I received from others. I continued to do that in 2007. But forgotten whether did I stop in 2008 because the blog post seem rather long to be a SMS length. I sent those SMS because I wanted to stay in touch with people in my mobile phone's contact list. It was during 2006-2007 I was actively involved in Agora Singapore, a fellowship which I coordinated together with a few friends to pursue the learning on worldviews among Christians. Now the group is defunct and meant to be so.

This year I don't want to send any personally worded SMS greeting. I have lost the inclination to connect with people via that way. I have become more introverted. I do not fancy clubbing as much as I once did. Thinking back, just two years ago, I was a fanatic. Now I have become more stoic. Is this biological or psychological or both? This is a mysterious change in personality.

Just now when I accidentally read through the links I shared through Facebook, I came across what Rowan Williams said this year's easter, "Christianity takes it for granted that whether you succeed or fail, you're valuable. God's view of you doesn't depend on how you do, it's always the same love, always giving you a second chance. And once you let that sink in, you can face failure without fear and rage. You'll still try your best, but you're also free to see that if you can't do or get just what you wanted, you still have your dignity before God and so you still have a future."

I was moved to tears. My own failures and worries flashed through one by one. Over the years, I have failed many people... The guilt is a torn in the flesh. Parents, friends, customers, suppliers, those I had relationship with, and even strangers and some readers of this blog. I have failed. Williams' reflection directed me to hope and re-assert God's love for everyone.

Living in an urban setting like Singapore or Penang, among people who are career-driven and ambitious, it is very easy to lose the sense to value one's self and one's life. Too often we get carried away by others' career and ambition and forgot about ourselves. God's love must be remembered to keep us on track and to bring us back to the glorious hope in God.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Politicians must be held accountable


Too often citizens demand accountability from their politicians only during their administrative period. After the politicians' office is over, the public seldom pursue further. But the right way to do politics is to hold the politicians accountable for what he has done during his time even after he has resigned, retired, or simply dethroned.

Barry Wain recently wrote a book 'Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times' that charges mismanagement of RM100 billion on the former premier. Lim Kit Siang has called upon the current government to investigate into the issue by setting up a royal commission of inquiry.

Romans 13 talks about the role of government as God's servant to maintain order in the society. Two things have to be kept in mind when one reads this chapter.

First, the government that St. Paul was referring in that letter does not exist any longer. That means underlying Romans 13, there is a clear assumption of the tentativeness of all governments. No government lasts forever for various of reasons, not even those in our current times.

Second, usually when people read Romans 13, they thought that the people's only part is to submit to the government. But there is more to it. Romans 13.7 highlights retribution and accountability: Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. When a government is holding office, the people have to keep the government retributed and accounted in the same way the government has to keep the people retributed and accounted (v.4-6). It goes both ways. So far what I have heard from almost all Christians, including some who are in theological institution, emphasize only Romans 13.4-6 and completely dismiss verse 7.

To think further, it is precisely this second part on mutual retribution and accountancy that contributes to the tentativeness of governments. The reign of a government is retributed according to its accountability to the people. When a government failed to be accounted for, it has given up this two-ways relationship and turned either into dictatorship or die a slow democratic death. But no matter which option the government takes, its death is ensured.

So even if the politician of a government has retired, he/she still need to be retributed and accounted for whatever he/she has done during reign. That is politics and Christians have more than one part to play.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Malaysia is going to be different very soon

Yesterday marks an important day not only for the Pakatan Rakyat but for the entire nation. The official presentation of the coalition's manifesto is not only meant only for members of the political parties but for every Malaysians.

Previously the coalition was charged as not being united in their policy and vision for the country, now this charge no longer applicable.

In Anwar's words, "Today our direction is clear, I urge my friends to study the document thoroughly, I was in Umno and BN before, let me tell you that BN cannot come out with something like this."

The policies can be read at Kit Siang's website. Overall the policies tackle virtually all the concerns of the local people. Significant and constructive proposals from policing, economy, education, religion, media to culture have been tabled. Accountability and transparency are warranted. UMNO can "gulung tikar" (Malay's idiom: Roll their carpet to signifies defeat or resignation).

'Just war' is the last and best, among the rest, resort?

Obama's recent Nobel Prize speech is the latest advocacy for 'just war'. He paid tributes to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. for their non-violent engagements. Then he reckoned that he as "a head of state sworn to protect and defend [his] nation, [he] cannot be guided by their examples alone. [He] face[s] the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people."

Then he went on implying Gandhi's and King Jr.'s approach as naive and impractical in this real world,

"For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."

Brain McLaren has humbly and respectfully responded to Obama's speech by turning it on its own head,

"I don’t judge the president; I’m just a citizen with a lot less intelligence (of whatever sort) than he has. But I wonder if someday he will see that he was right in his first assessment of Gandhi and King: they spoke not from naïveté about evil and violence but from “a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”"

John Dear disagrees with Obama that Gandhi and King Jr. were naive and impractical on one hand, while disagrees that war is the last and best resort to solve problems on the other hand,

"I disagree on the second point, too, the point that says war makes for peace. The chief axiom of nonviolence says the very opposite. The ends lie within the means, just as the tree exists within the seed. How can the anguish of war -- destruction, displacement, hunger, terror, torture, martial law, summary executions, civilian casualties, oceans of grief -- how can these ever favor us with peace? The only way to peace is through peaceful and loving means."

Dear continued to assert that, "If Obama is right, then St. Francis and St. Clare were wrong. If Obama is right, then Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King, Dorothy Day, and Mother Teresa were wrong. If Obama is right, then the nonviolent Jesus is wrong."

Bryan Farell responded that the belief that war, though least desirable, was the most effective way to counter the Nazis is mistaken. Using violence during the World War II was falling into the Nazis' trap and playing by their rules. "According to military historian Basil Lidell Hart, who had the unique opportunity to interview German generals imprisoned in Great Britain after the war, "other forms of resistance baffled them" because "they were experts in violence, and had been trained to deal with opponents who used that method.""

Eric Stoner mounted several historical cases and analyses that contradict Obama's war-waging rheoric. He listed some of the successful non-violent approaches in engaging conflict and violence:

"In Bulgaria, important leaders of the Orthodox Church, along with farmers in the northern stretches of the country, threatened to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being deported. This popular pressure emboldened the Bulgarian parliament to resist the Nazis, who eventually rescinded the deportation order, saving almost all of the country's 48,000 Jews.

Even in Norway, where Obama accepted the peace prize, there was significant nonviolent resistance during the Second World War. When the Nazi-appointed Prime Minister Vidkun Quisling ordered teachers to teach fascism, an estimated 10,000 of the country's 12,000 teachers refused. A campaign of intimidation — which included sending over 1,000 male teachers to jails, concentration camps, and forced labor camps north of the Arctic Circle — failed to break the will of the teachers and sparked growing resentment throughout the country. After eight months, Quisling backed down and the teachers came home victorious."

In the same article, Stoner referred to a few revealing reports on the effectiveness of non-violent engagement, to which I've pasted the relevant data below:

A recent report in journal International Security denies that. By studying 323 resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006, the report calculated that "major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns."

"A recent RAND research effort sheds light on this issue by investigating how terrorist groups have ended in the past. By analyzing a comprehensive roster of terrorist groups that existed worldwide between 1968 and 2006, the authors found that most groups ended because of operations carried out by local police or intelligence agencies (40%) or because they negotiated a settlement with their governments (43%). Military force was rarely the primary reason a terrorist group ended, and few groups within this time frame achieved victory." Only 7% out of 268 terrorist groups managed to be ended by the use of military forces. Yet the report also found that "militaries tended to be most effective when used against terrorist groups engaged in insurgencies in which the groups were large, well armed, and well organized. But against most terrorist groups, military force was usually too blunt an instrument."

Robert Pape in his book 'Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism' surveyed every suicide bombings from 1980 - 2004 and discovered that 95% of the archived suicide bombings are driven by the bombers' desire to free their country from foreign military intervention or occupation. In an interview, Pape remarked, "Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism, the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies over there, if you would, is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us."

Johann Hari interviewed 17 ex-Jihadists and found out that in most cases, it was kindness by others that got them to question their suicide bombing aspiration. Violence only provoked them to aspire further.

Here are the data that show Obama and others who think that war is (divinely permissible or statistically approve-able, or both as) the last and best resort to solve problem in the real world is deadly wrong.

Add to that war can never settles dispute as history has shown. Our world is still at war in all forms even after World War II. Obama is not facing a problem inherited by his predecessor but his predecessors (in a long chain of successive provocative foreign policies). What happened on 11th September 2001 is not the product of boredom, as if the terrorists did it out of boredom and for entertainment. It was out of revenge. And USA's war on terror is just another manifestation of that same revengeful will and aspiration. Both sides are onto each others for revenge, not justice in itself. Both sides are seeking "justice" for themselves, while the real justice which is sought in itself is sought on the realism of the cross: When justice is being afflicted on itself - the God-self.

Now, was Jesus naive and being impractical in the real world?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Did Jesus say, "Son of a bitch"?

No, Jesus didn't say that. But he did say something similar if not more unexpected than we thought.

In Matthew 3.7, 12.34, 23.33, and Luke 3.7, Jesus was calling his enemies "brood of vipers". Loren Rosson III pointed out its literal translation as "snake bastards".

The social-linguistic milieu of that time referred vipers as despicable creatures, perhaps equivalent to 'dogs' and 'pigs' in some part of our world. But the despicable-ness of 'viper' actually goes beyond our modern usage of vulgarity like 'bitch.' Craig Keener has argued that 'viper' at that time carries reference to murdering one's own mother, the "worst conceivable crimes" in the ancient world. They thought that "vipers killed their mother during their birth."*

So it seems hard to find a contemporary equivalent term for 'brood of vipers' to bring out its semantic significance since our context does not have the language that expresses the social disgust of such crime. Yet I think there is one phrase in our contemporary language which carries the equivalent weight of moral wrongness with mother-murder and bring out equivalent social disgust. (Hold your breath) The phrase is 'mother-fucker'.

Imagine Jesus said this: (Referring to the Pharisees) Mother-fuckers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?

Do you feel the forcefulness of Jesus' perception of the Pharisees now? Do you get a better picture how much Jesus disliked the Pharisees? If yes, then the language is indeed effective.

Now a practical/pastoral theological question: Can we use 'mother-fuckers' on pulpit? Perhaps some of us have problems with that, but it doesn't seem Jesus has anything against that.

Besides, here is also a question on 'contextual theologies' worth thinking. How far do we want to contextual our theologies and hence also our languages?

-----------------------
*Craig S. Keener, ‘Brood of Vipers’ (Matthew 3.7; 12.34; 23.33), Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Vol. 28, No. 1, 3-11 (2005).

Friday, December 18, 2009

If government wants to exclude religion, then do it consistently.

Malaysia's UMNO-BN government has took out 'Bible Knowledge' subject from SPM's examination's (O' level equivalent) additional subjects. The Malayan Christian School's Council has voiced against this move.

I would agree with the government doing this IF they do it consistently. If they want to exclude the teaching of religion in schools, then they should also exclude Islam-related subjects such as Tasawwur Islam, Pendidikan Al-Quran & As-Sunnah (Al-Quran and As-Sunnah Education), and Pendidikan Syariah Islamiah (Syariah Islamiah Education).

If they don't then they have no reason to exclude other religion-related subjects from schools' curriculum. If they exclude, they are not respecting minorities' rights to have their religion recognized in the country. If that is the case, then the UMNO-BN government is contradicting the Prime Minister Najib's 1Malaysia concept.

This again will show how un-serious Najib's administration on cultivating the defunct 1Malaysia concept.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You prefer Genesis or this Egyptian creation story?

Christians who are familiar with the creation story in the book of Genesis will find the story of an Egyptian god Atum as very foreign, if not outright disgusting:

When I first began to create
When I alone was planning and designing many creatures,
I had not sneezed Shu the wind,
I had not spat Tefnut the rain,
There was not a single living creature.
I planned many living creatures;
All were in my heart, and their children and their grandchildren.

Then I copulated with my own fist.
I masturbated with my own hand.
I ejaculated into my own mouth.

I sneezed to create Shu the wind,
I spat to create Tefnut the rain.
Old Man Nun reared them;
(Hymn to Atum. H/T: Scotteriology)

Now, I wonder if there were enactment of religious ritual performed by the ancient Egyptians that depicts this creation story. It is common for religious people to enact ritual that describe their belief. The Lord's Supper or Holy Communion is an example.

So you prefer and able to appreciate the Genesis story better now?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Roman Catholic church is good at....

In March this year, I have highlighted the news that Vatican has spent USD $436million in 2008 to compensate victims abused by its priests. Last month, a report about the cover up of sexual abuse cases done by the Roman Catholic priests in Ireland has been made public.

Earlier this year, in May, a report published by Ireland's Department of Justice, Equality, and Law Reform reveals that there are more than 12,000 victims of rape and abuse done in Catholic-run schools, workhouses, and orphanages.

The pope released a statement saying that he "does not want this swept under the carpet." But just a few months ago, in September, the pope's office failed to take the statement published by United Nations' Human Rights Council seriously. The statement, which was prepared by the International Humanist and Ethical Union criticizes Vatican's cover ups of clergy-implicated abuse cases. And Vatican's reply missed the point of the criticism by emphasizing that sexual abuses are not a unique phenomenon confined only among the Roman Catholics. The infallible ex cathedra pope repented or paying lip service?

Since 1950 until now, there are already more than USD $2 billion being paid out from the Roman Catholic church as compensation to victims of sexual abuse done by clergies.

The Jesuits, the intellectual arm of the Vatican, are not excluded from taking part in this abuse.

More stories from Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

The Roman Catholic church claims that they are the "true church" because they have the Apostolic Succession. The question is "So what?" What's the big fuck fuss over this "Apostolic Succession" that they have a direct line of succession traces back all the way to apostle Peter? The Apostolic Succession does not guarantee truthfulness nor good theology nor, in this case, good conduct.

On this ground, the Roman Catholic church is no less 'untrue' than non-Roman Catholics. Just like all other Christian-related organization, be it church, para-church, association, or society, Vatican is just another fallen community which is subjected to judgment and redemption. So no point saying this particular church is the "true church" because it bears the four true marks of the church. And by the way, this criteria is defined by Vatican itself. "I'm the true church because I say so."

An indirect lesson to senior pastors, church elders, church planter and missionary: Don't assume you have started or own a 'true' church. (This assumption is nothing new. It's popular among cults. For eg. Joseph Smith and Ahn Sahng Hong thought so in very much the like of Vatican.)

I said this not to scorn those in church-related ministries, but as a reminder to myself as I have the desire to design and organize a church which I think provides a different model of doing church. I dare not claim or even to fantasize that model represents the 'true' church.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Some of the sketches I did more than a decade ago

(A sketch based on Masakazu Katsura's character Shadow Lady. Katsura is one of the most inspiring penciler to me. His artworks are often gothic.)



(Gigi Leung in 1997-1998)



(Takako Uehara in 1997-1998)

It has been more than a decade I last picked up a pencil to sketch. In those days, I spent hours, and sometimes days, to finish a sketch. I have also sketched nude and sexual images (very explicit ones) but threw them all away. Those sketches done by a 16-17 years-old schoolboy in Bukit Mertajam are not "art". They are considered "obscene". It was and still is a taboo.

While people at other parts of the world pay entrance fees into art galleries to see those drawings and paintings. So what is "obscene"? To think back, I should not throw them away. (Suddenly I feel like doing a new nude sketch.)

Now, I spend most of my free time reading rather than doing anything else. Last time I didn't like reading and hence the only thing that kept me occupied was sketching and painting (I threw away all my paintings because I more inclined to sketch!!!). I wonder if I can still sketch like I used to be. How I wish I still can.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What was I doing 13 years ago?


A novice monk at Kek Lok Si temple, Penang in 1996. That is my sister on the left. Recently my alma mater went through a grand transformation. They have just consecrated a new gigantic statue of Kuan Yin with its pavilion.

(Now I'm wondering whether will the dean or acting dean of Trinity Theological College kick me out from the college if they saw this photo!)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

3 difficult questions

I attended a friend's wedding recently and met many old friends. All of them are doing well in their career. One is currently a regional manager and planning to start his own business soon. Another one is a manager in a bank. Still another one is expanding the business inherited from his father into other continent. When each of them asked me what am I doing now, I told them that I'm studying. Then very naturally, they will ask successive question which each followed from the other:

1) What are you studying?
2) What is 'theology'?
3) What are you going to do after that?

My usual replies are:
1) Theology.
2) I have a few versions on this one:
- Basically it is a combination of philosophy and history. (Then people will ask, "What is 'philosophy'?)
- The term 'Theology' is a combination of 'theos' (god) and 'logos' (study/science). So it is a study of 'god'.
- 'Shen Xue' ('theology' in Mandarin language).
3) I don't know. Usually people who study this will end up as pastors or preachers in churches. (But I don't think churches would want to hire someone like myself who has some slanted perception over certain important beliefs held by most, if not all, churches.)

The third question is the hardest as I really have no idea what to do after that. When someone representing a church who approaches me to explore an employment, I will ask about their comfort level with my stands. And this is a REAL turn off to most.

Monday, December 07, 2009

"Evangelical Theology", si mi lai?

Since my conversion to Christianity, I did not really identify myself as an 'evangelical'. Being an evangelical is foremost to identify with 'evangelical theology'. The term does not have any real meaning to me. Yet there was a short phase previously when I think that I was an evangelical not because I have finally grasp its meaning but because most books that I read are written by those who consider themselves evangelicals (hence their evangelical theology). Just like how a child considers himself as a Disney fan because he watched only animations from that one studio, and before he found out there are so many other animations done by other production companies. Now, it simply does not bother me whether am I an evangelical or not.

Stephen Holmes has been a professional theologian and joined the evangelical circle since his conversion. He has just recently come to reflect over the definition of this term. To him an evangelical theology embraces a wide demography because it is not so concern over different doctrines within its bounds but on the emphasis of particular doctrines' importance. He thinks that evangelical theology "within certain fixed limits, determinedly irenic and ecumenical, refusing to allow doctrinal differences to interfere with a shared commitment to mission aimed at personal and social transformation."

He provides an example: "...to regard Calvinism as more important than personal conversion or social renewal is to espouse a non-evangelical theology."

He has made a significant point there, I think. Yet it still stand to ask what are his 'certain fixed limits'? Which doctrines an evangelical cannot not confess, and which cannot?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Should soldiers who are Christians enjoy killing people in war?

Ben Myers highlighted Gene Edward Veith's recent article at WORLDmag.com. I am disgusted after reading it:

Should a Christian soldier take pleasure in killing people?

Luther wrote a booklet titled Whether a Soldier Too Can Be Saved, taking up the issue of whether a Christian, who is supposed to love his enemies, should join the military, where he has the duty of killing them. According to Romans 13, Luther argued, God has appointed earthly rulers to restrain sin and has given them the authority to "bear the sword." The soldier, acting under a lawful chain of command under the authority of the state, therefore has a legitimate calling from God, who Himself acts through human vocations. Luther says the soldier should look at it this way: "It is not I that smite, stab, and slay, but God and my prince, for my hand and my body are now their servants." The Christian soldier, living out his faith in his vocation, loves and serves his neighbors by defending and protecting them. Yes, soldiers can abuse their license to kill. Luther goes so far as to say that soldiers should refuse to fight in wars that are clearly evil. But those who have the Christian vocation of being a soldier may fight "in good conscience." Before God soldiers should be humble and repentant. But before the enemy, they should "smite them with a confident and untroubled spirit." Soldiers, Luther says, should go "forward with joy!" As in other vocations, so in the military, there is nothing wrong with enjoying one's work. (Bold added).

In short, Veith is saying that soldiers who are Christians should enjoy killing people in war. He alluded Luther's understanding of Romans 13. But two problems:

1) Stanley Hauerwas has been pointing out that those who cite Romans 13 to justify killing people in war simply don't read Romans 12 (especially verse 21 the verse before the start of Romans 13):

"...people always ask about Romans 13. ["Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience."] But the answer is in Romans 12, which says to do good to your enemy and to overcome evil with good. In World War II, after all, there were many Catholics and Lutherans in Germany who used Romans 13 to justify fighting for the Nazis."

2) Veith, an influential Evangelical, understands 'neighbor' as someone staying in the same country as you. But Jesus' allusion to 'neighbor' (Matt. 21.39) is not only those staying near you but also includes one's enemies, referring back to Matt. 5.43-47. (See R.T. France, Matthew - Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series, [USA: IVP, 1985, reprint 2008], 323).

Are you as disgusted now? Or you actually agree with it and going to quote other commentaries on Matthew and Romans?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Identity of Christians through a theology of scripture


E. J. Young wrote, “He who is bold enough to assert the presence of actual errors in the original manuscripts is in effect saying that the Word which God has revealed contains errors. It is as though he were to say that God Himself has breathed forth an impure Word.”[39]

That is only one side of the coin. On the other side, we have to also say that he who is bold enough to assert that there are no actual errors in the scripture is in effect saying that he knows how reality is when all factors and right interpretation are achieved. It is as though he were to say that he himself is God, possessing objective and noumenon knowledge of reality in its entirety.

Both sides of the coin are blasphemies. Defining ‘truthfulness’ and ‘errors’ in the Bible is an on-going affair and has to be dealt with on case by case basis, depending on which particular portion of which particular book is in discussion.

The gap caused by historical processes is real and we cannot eliminate it. And what we are left with is this peculiar collection of peculiar books that are handed down to us from those who have lived their lives provided by and from within the context this collection has preserved. To recall again, the Bible as the Word of God is the open context of which God’s operating and engaging authority enshrined through and within which God’s people found themselves, rather than a mere closed text that witness only to the past.

------------------
[39] E. J. Young, Thy Word is Truth (USA: Eerdmans, 1957; Finland: The Banner of Truth, reprint 1997), 136.
------------------

Now, following from that, I applied this theology of scripture as a framework to understand the identity of being a Christian.

So far the typical identification criterion to decide whether someone is a Christian or not is by the person's reciting, as an act of affirming, a certain text like the Apostles' Creed or the 'sinner's prayer'. After doing that, one is considered a Christian. And at the deeper reality, this means that when a person confesses these articles, one's very being is believed to go through a process known as 'conversion'. So before reciting, the person is a sinner. After reciting, the person becomes a saint. From the state of condemnation into the state of salvation. All happened through an act of locution; expressing self-directed meaningful sentences. A theoretical ontology.

When the Bible is the open context of which God’s operating and engaging authority enshrined through and within which God’s people found themselves, rather than a mere closed text that witness only to the past, our perception of Christian's ontology effectively changes.

With this theology in view, Christian's identity is not so much in affirming texts but locating the person's being within a context.

Having the person to locates his/her being is having his/her self assumed into a different world. This event is not so much as to affirm certain texts but to fix the self into a context; moving and establishing one's self in a location. The difference is like Harold Crick, in Stranger Than Fiction, reading about his own life on manuscripts and him actually assuming that life to be him-self. Hence by appropriating the Bible as God's Word, the person's identity is an act of assumption; one's being assuming into the context of God's kingdom* via the portal provided by the scripture. A praxial** ontology.

------------------
*"...the location of the Bible is within God's authority in the world, God’s economy in creation-renewal, and in the event of revealing the God-self to the world. The scripture is here understood as the ever-motioning 'context' for all these." So, what do we mean when we say the Bible is the Word of God.

** Adjective of praxis.
------------------

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

So, what do we mean when we say the Bible is the Word of God?

Previously I have posted the problems with inerrancy, argument from autographs, and our limitation in constructing a doctrine of inspiration of scripture.

If you have read through and agree with these three points that I have raised, then the chances are you might be asking, "So what do we make of the Bible? Is it still authoritative?" These are questions related to the authority of the Bible.

Here's one answer that may address all those concerns:

N. T. Wright expresses well that “the notion of the ‘authority of scripture’ is a shorthand expression for God’s authority, exercised somehow through scripture”[18]. And the scripture attests that Jesus as the delegate of God’s “final and true authority”.[19] Therefore God’s authority is “best understood within the context of God’s kingdom”, in God’s “sovereign power accomplishing [the] renewal of all creation” through the life and career of Jesus, and then through the readers of this context.[20]

Scripture, viewed in this way, with its multi-facets are united together as one grand on-going story. Thence the authority of God’s people is derived from this ‘shorthand expression’ rather than grounded in their own institutionalisation as the Church.[21]

This goes against the Roman Catholics’ understanding that the Church has the authority to the extent of superseding that of the scripture.[22] They are mistaken. If the scripture is best understood within God’s accomplishment in the world and so, as Wolfhart Pannenberg puts it, a “reflex of his activity in history”[23], then the Church is found within the scripture rather than the other way around. Therefore in a derivative sense, the Christian community recognizes the authority of the Bible as God’s authority for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” unto the Church (2 Timothy 3.16).

John Webster phrased this elegantly, “[T]he authority of Scripture is the authority of the church's Lord and his gospel, and so cannot be made an immanent feature of ecclesial existence. Scripture's authority within the church is a function of Scripture's authority over the church. The church's acknowledgement of Scripture's authority is not an act of self-government, but an exposure to judgement, to a source not simply of authorisation but also and supremely of interrogation.”[24]

In short, following Wright, Williams, and Webster, the location of the Bible is within God's authority in the world, God’s economy in creation-renewal, and in the event of revealing the God-self to the world. The scripture is here understood as the ever-motioning 'context' for all these. Hence the Bible as the Word of God is the open context of which God’s operating and engaging authority enshrined through and within which God’s people found themselves, rather than a mere closed text that witness only to the past.

------------------
[18] N. T. Wright, How Can The Bible Be Authoritative?, http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm (accessed 23 November 2009).

[19] N. T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God (UK: SPCK, 2005), 17-18. Mk 1.22, 27, 11.27-33, Mt 7.29, 21.23-27, 28.18, 2 Cor 10.8, Acts 9.14, 26.10, 12.

[20] Ibid, 20-22.

[21] ‘Church’ with a capital ‘C’ is used to refer to the universal followers of Christ, undivided by denomination or churches.

[22] “[T]he authority of scripture was subsumed under the authority of the Church. That is, the authority of scripture was only one aspect of the authority of the Church, which could also appeal to the rule of faith and the tradition it believed to have been handed down by Christ to the apostles and through them to the Church.” David R. Law, Inspiration (UK: Continuum, 2001), 41.

[23] As quoted in Frank Hasel, Scripture in the Theologies of W. Pannenberg and D. G. Bloesch (USA: Peter Lang, 1996), 116-117.

[24] John Webster, Holy Scripture (USA: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 56-57. Italics original.

The Bible is inspired... *Full stop*

(Inspiration, by Lars Justinen)


Another portion of my essay on 'What do we mean when we say the Bible is the Word of God?' , edited for this blog:

The mechanism of how exactly did God inspire the scripture will not be discussed here because it is an impossible discussion in the first place.[8] Yet some clarifications on this matter are appropriate.

Millard J. Erickson has listed some working models available to elucidate the scripture’s inspiration. They are the intuition theory, illumination theory, dynamic theory, verbal theory, and dictation theory.[9] Seeing that none of them are adequate, he introduced his own theory, which is a combination of some of the characteristics of the other theories he has listed. We find elements from each of the theories juxtaposed together in his own theory.

For instance, his recognition of the combination of the divine and human elements in scripture’s inspiration is a characteristic of the dynamic theory. Another one is his quasi-dictation characteristic which is derived from the dictation theory.[10] There are others like A. T. B. McGowan who argues in a similar way like Millard J. Erickson.[11]

All these theories (including that of Erickson and McGowan) on scripture’s inspiration assume a certain understanding of the ways the infinite and eternal God acts and relates in our finite and temporal world on an abstract and analogical level. No doubt there are others who argue for a more concrete way to explain inspiration by drawing analogy from the incarnation of Jesus,[12] yet since the understanding of the interaction and relation between these two different categories can never be achieved even with slightest notion due to our inability to acquire any analogy on the side of the infinite and eternal, then it is an over-blown and unchecked ambition to construct an analogy based on it.

At best, we may follow the Ecumenical Council’s dogmatic declaration of its hypostatic union (the divine and human natures of Jesus is united in his one person), which is far from having any positive cognitive value on the matter. (This sort of discussion parallels the philosophical discussion in neurosciences and metaphysics on ‘determinism versus freewill’). In the end, we are left only with the liberty to recognize and draw the boundaries of such discourse on one end (a feat which we undertook in this essay), while, following John Webster, to affirm a dogmatic sketch of how the Bible is divinely sanctified. He argues that sanctification is the process of being “elected, shaped and preserved to undertake a role in the economy of salvation.”[13] A process which Rowan Williams similarly saw as producing a “movement” that communicates God to and for God’s people.[14]

-----------------
[8] A fact recognized in the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article VII”, in Stephen Nichols and Eric Brandt, Ancient Word, Changing Worlds (USA: Crossway, 2009), 163. "We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us." (Italic added).

[9] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd Edition (USA: Baker Books, 2004), 231-233.

[10] Ibid, 243-244. You may do a comparison study of his own theory with those he listed on page 231-233. You may notice that Erickson is trying hard to preserve God’s determining sovereignty on one side and human’s freewill on the other, without letting each coincides or overrules the other. As I shall noted slightly further down, such attempt is impossible.

[11] A. T. B. McGowan, The Divine Authenticity of Scripture (USA: IVP Academic, 2008). Instead of ‘inspiration’, he argues for the ‘spiration’ of scripture. Add to that he thinks that ‘inerrancy’ is irrelevant and unbiblical (p.209). A stark contrast from Erickson.

[12] See Peter E. Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, (USA: Baker Academic, 2005), Charles C. Ryrie, What You Should Know about Inerrancy (USA: Moody Press, 1981), Gordon Lewis, “The Human Authorship of Inspired Scripture” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman Geisler (USA: Zondervan, 1979).

[13] John Webster, Holy Scripture (USA: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 26.

[14] “The Spirit’s work as ‘breathing’ God’s wisdom into the text of Scripture is not a magical process that removes biblical writing from the realm of actual human writing; it is the work of creating one ‘movement’ out of the diverse historical narratives and textual deposits that represent Israel’s and the Church’s efforts to find words to communicate God’s communication of summons and invitation. The Spirit through the events of God’s initiative stirs up those words and makes sense of them for the reader/hearer in the Spirit-sustained community.” Rowan Williams, The Bible Today: Reading & Hearing, http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/1718 (accessed 24 November 2009).

What local churches are missing

I think that local churches are missing out the whole chunk of socio-political setting within the canon as well as Christian history, especially the Reformation. To think the Reformation was essentially a religious reform is a historical mistake.

Take Martin Luther as an example. At that time he was the professor of theology in University of Wittenberg, which owned by Frederick the Wise who was one of the princes that governed Saxony (a state in east central Germany). The church under the pope has taken many of Saxony's finances through the church's sale of indulgences. And Frederick who owned many holy relics was losing his business to the indulgences.* When Luther attacked the church's sales of indulgences, naturally Frederick saw Luther as a harbinger of incoming fortunes. If Luther's denunciation of the indulgences is widely accepted by the public, then people will turn to devote on Frederick's collection of relics for penance**. This contributes to the reasons, along his political ambition to establish more independence for his territory, why Frederick helped and protected Luther from the pope. What we see here is the intertwined relationship between theology with economy and socio-politic, where certain theology is preferred due to its economic and political benefits. (Since devotion to relics is also bad theology. But that did not matter to Frederick, as right religiosity was not his primary concern then).

(Now a question worth asking concerning Luther's 95 theses is this: Since Frederick was Luther's employer, could he had any influence over the latter's 95 theses? If yes, was it dictated or suggested or 'inspired' by Frederick?)

Besides, in ancient cosmology, 'salvation' is always intertwined with socio-politics. Not to mention 'theology'.

Douglas Harink wrote in Apocalypsis and Polis: Pauline Reflections on the Theological Politics of Yoder, Hauerwas, and Milbank:

"Paul's mission... must be understood as an announcement among the nations of God's new empire, established in the crucifixion and resurrection of God's Son, Jesus Christ, an empire which infiltrates and undermines Roman imperial order, including its cultic, political, social and economic manifestations."

James R. Harrison wrote in ‘The Ultimate Sinner’: Paul & the Antichrist in Political Context:

"[Paul] is a highly adaptable political thinker who engages the ‘powers that be’ in the differing pastoral and social contexts of his house churches and who critiques the alternate imperial gospel in light of the gospel of the risen and reigning Lord."

Richard Beck wrote:

"We generally think the Old Testament writers were monotheists. It is true that there are Old Testament passages that seem to support a strict monotheistic cosmology, where one God and only this one God exists in the heavenly realm. But there are many more Old Testament passages that suggest that the Hebrews held a polytheistic cosmology. In this cosmology Yahweh was the patron god of Israel while other nations had their own patron deities. Consequently, wars between nations were also viewed as cosmic conflicts, as a fight between the two nation gods. And the war on "earth" was determined by the outcome of this war in "heaven," won by the nation with the stronger god. Take, as an example, the Exodus. Pharaoh wasn't just a king. Pharaoh, according to Egyptian cosmology, was a god. Thus, the conflict in the book of Exodus isn't between Moses and Pharaoh. The conflict is between Yahweh and Pharaoh, between two nation gods. This is why we have the ten plagues. The plagues show Yahweh to be the greater god."

That's why I'm so eager to read 'A Political History of Early Christianity' by Allen Brent. But no credit card to get it from Amazon.com, so have to wait TTC library to ship the book in, IF & only IF they do ship it in.

----------------
*Geoffrey Rudolph Elton, Reformation Europe, 1517-1559 (UK: Blackwell, 2nd ed., 1999), p.4.

** It was recorded that Frederick possessed a total of 19,013 relics. 'Frederick III of Saxony', in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, vol. 2, Hans J. Hillerbrand, ed., (UK: Oxford University Press, 1996), 139.