Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bible as Word of God essay

I am currently working on an essay titled "What do we mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?"

The central issue that I think needs to be dealt with in the essay has very much to do with our conception of the nature of the Bible. Unless we know what this strange book is, we have not really started doing business with it.

There are many recent sophisticated theologies over the nature of the Bible which I wish to have the luxury to engage each of them further and deeper:

2005:
Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation.

2006:
Mark D. Thompson, A Clear and Present Word.
Justin S. Holcomb, ed., Christian Theologies of Scripture.
N.T. Wright, The Last Word.
Clark Pinnock and Barry L. Callen, The Scripture Principle.

2007:
Craig D. Allert, A High View of Scripture?
William P. Brown, ed., Engaging Biblical Authority.

2008:
Ken Sparks, God's Word in Human Words.
Ben Witherington III , The Living Word of God.
G.K. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism.
A. T. B. McGowan, The Divine Authenticity of Scripture (a.k.a The Divine Spiration of Scripture).
Richard B. Gaffin, God's Word in Servant Form.
Markus Bockmuehl and Alan J. Torrance, Scripture's Doctrine and Theology's Bible.
Jeffrey S. Oldfield, The word became text and dwells among us? (Ph.D Thesis at St. Andrews University).

2009:
Stephen J. Nichols and Eric T. Brandt, Ancient Word, Changing Worlds.
Timothy Ward, Words of Life.

This wide resurgent of interest on this question is signaling to us of its urgency and prominence in our contemporary religious experience. Over the broad landscape, I have chose to focus on two particular persons whose thoughts over this issue that I deem to possess much needed resources for consecutive development in the discourse on the Bible's nature: (1) Rowan Williams, (2) Wolfhart Pannenberg.

However, it is difficult to engage them because neither wrote substantially on this topic. Yet it is not too difficult to learn about Pannenberg's view as Frank Hasel's Scripture in the Theologies of W. Pannenberg and D.G. Bloesch provides tremendous help. As for Williams, there is only John Webster's article in Scripture's Doctrine and Theology's Bible. So I have to go through Williams' other writings to pick up relevant parts to form a more complete understanding of his thought; like picking up jigsaw puzzle pieces from different places in order to piece them back together:

On Christian Theology. 2000.

‘Historical Criticism and Sacred Text’, in Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom, ed., David F. Ford and Graham Stanton, UK: SCM, 2003).

Tokens of Trust. 2007.

'The Bible Today: Reading & Hearing'. (The Larkin-Stuart Lecture). 2007.

Why these two persons? Their thoughts on this issue is oriented in the public dimension of Bible's nature without assuming the unsustainable top-down divine inspiration, and so the scripture's inspiration can be examined by hitting on one or two verses here and there in the Bible, but by the overall, in Williams' word, "movement" and "directedness" of the Scripture that navigate the Christian community. Hence both are similarly a "from below" approach (Pannenberg) and do not need to entertain inerrancy in the Bible from cover to cover.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Christianity is "a way of life"? Give me a break

During my teens, when I was a Buddhist, I was already told that Buddhism is not a religion but a way of life. Later on when I became a Christian, I was told that Christianity is not a religion but a way of life. And from my engagement with Muslims, I was told also that Islam is not a religion but a way of life.

The last time I heard this was coming out from Rev. Dr. Edmund Chan's mouth during my visit to their new church at Woodlands. He repeated the mantra "Christianity is not a religion but a way of life."

But what's wrong with the word "religion"? Is the term so embarrassing that we need to masked it up as "way of life" or other similar terms?

This is another evolved shape:



These Fengshui masters know the way. The way to what? To life? To health and wealth? Spare the rhetoric. To those like myself, this sort of obfuscation simply doesn't work.

Many spouses: Issues facing Christians


Some Pharisees came and tested Jesus by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

"What did Moses command you?" he replied.

They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."

"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
(Mark 10.2-9)

This article at Christianity Today is intriguing. The dilemma is simply this: What should a person who has many spouses do after he/she converted into Christianity?

Should he/she divorce the rest of the spouses and uphold monogamy?

Some might argue that polygamist marriage is NOT marriage in the first place, but polygamy societies affirm it valid since it is in their tradition all this while. If marriage covenant includes the taking care of the spouse, then polygamist who became Christians cannot neglect this aspect so readily.

That's the dilemma.

If you are a missionary to this community, how would you respond to the issue? Do you ask the new convert to divorce his/her other spouses, and so make them neglect the material and emotional care on one hand, social identity on the other, for them? If divorce, how should you help the children from these 'marriages'?

If you don't ask them to divorce their other spouses, then where is the place of monogamy in your community?

Or do you accept the many spouses of the polygamist convert but sanction that there should not be anymore taking of spouses after that? While at the same time you teach that monogamy is the practice of the bachelors and should be the norm. But this would create class distinction within your community and will raised many questions or objections among the bachelors.

Or do you ask he/she to divorce the other spouses yet continue to provide material care for them? But in this case, what about their emotional care and social identity of not only the spouses but also the children?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sola Scripture's grandson, 'Bible-Onlyism'

Bible-Onlyism is a disease going around Protestant Christian circles nowadays. I will be presenting a brief study done on interpreting the creation account in Genesis 1-2 in the class. Each of the members of the group will be presenting different views:

1) Literal-Direct
2) Gap/Reconstructive
3) Age-Day
4) Framework

I will present the fourth view. After our proposal, there will be time for objection by the other person in the group, and then a time for defense. So it will goes this way: Propose; Object; Defense.

Not only through this study, but also in other area of inquiry, I have heard people said that as long as a statement is not found in the Bible, or contrast by a surface reading of it, that statement cannot be true. And the view that I will be proposing is that even a statement (our universe is 13.7 billions years-old) is not in the Bible, and contrast by a surface reading of Gen 1-2, that statement can still be true.

"...John Calvin belongs to that part of the Christian tradition which affirms philosophical achievements... It has been said that Reformed theology consists of "the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible." Of course, Calvin affirms the centrality of the Scripture, but, by his example, he suggests that one who knows only the Bible does not even know the Bible."
(Charles Partee, Calvin and Classical Philosophy, p.146. Bold added.)

Here's the irony. I'll be defending the Framework Hypothesis but I disagree with it in my essay. It has its own blindspot.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Appendix 1: Joseph Prince, Sins, and 10 Commandments

I keep hearing people accusing Joseph Prince (JP) for advocating lifestyle that does not concern about sin to his congregation. Worst of such accusation is that he teaches that Christians can sin all they want.

But that is a strawman. JP does not teach that. Here is what he wrote in his book:

"I, Joseph Prince, am vehemently, completely, aggressively and irrevocably AGAINST SIN! Sin is evil. I do not condone sin. A lifestyle of sin leads only to defeat and destruction." (Capitalized original, p.30)

It is clear that he is against sins though he does not specify what kinds of sin. The failure to recognize the grace of the new covenant is a more urgent concern in his theology. He does not condone nor condemn sins explicitly. Rather he sees the priority of preaching about God's forgiving grace as more important than condemning sins.

JP's theology emphasizes primarily that our sins which are being pointed out by the 10 Commandments have been forgiven by God's grace through Jesus Christ (p.42-43). He considers the admonishment to keep the 10 Commandments is "good to the flesh" and not what God says (p.102). The 10 Commandments "have been made obsolete" when God revealed the new covenant of grace (p.122).

"How should we preachers help believers to exhibit more Christian character? When asked for the solution, most people would say, "Discipline! We need to focus more on the Ten Commandments and develop discipline, and then self-control, godliness and brotherly kindness will come." While all that sounds very good (to the flesh), that is not what the Word of God says, and I for one, want to go by what it says (he then quotes 2 Peter 1.5-9)". (Bold original, p.102)

"... with the advent of the new covenant of grace, the Ten Commandments have been made obsolete. We are no longer under the ministry of death, but under the ministry of Jesus which brings life!" (Bold original, p. 122)


Click here to go to the Contents page of this review series.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why theologians are poor?

Andreas referred me to this interesting story by Jurgen Moltmann:

"I should like to end this preface to these contributions to an understanding of modernity by telling a little ironical story, which I have from Hans Mayer.

When the modern world was born, three good fairies came along, bringing their good wishes. The first of them wished the child individual liberty, the second wished it social justice, and the third prosperity. But then, on the evening of the same day, the wicked fairy turned up and pronounced: "Only two of these three wishes can be fulfilled." So the modern world of the West chose individual liberty and prosperity. The modern world of the East chose social justice and prosperity. But the philosophers and theologians - and this is my own addition to the story - chose for their ideal world individual liberty and social justice, and consequently never arrived at prosperity." (God for a Secular Society: The Public Relevance of Theology)

Roger R. Hedlund CSCA Lecture 1

Present-day Independent Christian Movements in Southeast Asia

23, 24, 25 September 2009, 8:00 pm,
Multi-purpose Hall,
Trinity Theological College.

Organized by the CSCA Asian Christianity Cluster
Lecturer: Professor Roger E. Hedlund
Main Respondent: Professor Simon Chan



Live-posting from facebook:

Prof. Roger E. Hedlund quoted Andrew Walls, "Christendom is dead, and Christianity is alive and well without it.

He made a few interesting remarks, "It doesn't mean that indigenous identity must have indigenous origin... A thing that began from an alien input but may have gone deeply in the soil and became indigenized."

"We need foreigners from Hispanic, Indian, South Eastern cultures to analyze the Western world."

I think the lecture was pretty brief. Basically sharing a few examples of recent and past century's religious movement that have adapted local cultures. One of the instances that he gave was that Mormonism as an indigenous movement which is very much American but have penetrated to most part of the world.

During Q&A session, Prof. Simon Chan asked Prof. Roger Hedlund, "You made a distinction between "followers of Christ but not Christians" and "Christians". What’s your criterion/criteria for distinguishing?"

Prof. Roger Hedlund asnwered Prof. Simon Chan, "For example, many of the Hindu do not bother about the dogma like trinity, not quite like evangelicals that some of here might like...we need to be a little patient with some of the dogma...The early followers of Jesus, they were not recognized as ‘Christians’. There was a sociological sampling that there were as many non-Christians in the city Madras as Christian in denominational churches. We are not sure how far they are following Jesus but these are the “churchless Christians”."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Christ's socio-political significance diluted by 8th century

Part of my reflection paper on Chinese Christian Sutras, ancient records dating 8th century AD, found in China, probably written by Syrian Christian monks:

The Sutra of Jesus Christ is a remarkable work of which enables us to witness how contextualization of Christianity worked in the 6th-7th century AD. The Christian belief was seen meticulously translated in a different language for a different culture. There is an obvious adaptation to the ancient Chinese’s filial piety in emphasizing the virtue of honouring one’s parents as the third most important (chapter 4.3)...

Although the missionaries’ translation of the Christian’s story into vernacular language is commendable, yet such attempt has swayed the transmitted belief from its previous cultural expression. The using of pregnant terms like ‘karma’ was unconventionally casual and to some extend redefine its socio-linguistic meaning... For example the idea of ‘original sin’ is being parallel with ‘karma of previous lives’ (chapter 2.25). The concept of the former is hereditary while the latter is re-incarnational...

Besides being too casual with the translation, the lacking of recorded historical context behind the life of Jesus in the sutras has utterly diluted some of the significant events in his ministry, for example the deep socio-political meaning of the crucifixion within the Greco-Roman empire, not to mention its profound theological meaning. All that is left is about escaping from King Yama (chapter 3.19)...The obvious one is the diminution of the strong political overtone in Jesus’ message. The status of the Chinese emperor is being bloated out of the proportion than that of the New Testament (chapter 3.25-34). ‘Honor the Emperor’ is even listed as the second most important aspect of Christianity (chapter 4.2), an aspect that is not in the Old, nor the New Testament. The authority of emperor or any rulers is not to be so elevated. Such aspect has no place in the 10 Commandments or Jesus’ teachings. The consistent depiction of the dynamics of political authority on earth is grounded in how one treats his/her neighbours, and not how one pleases the emperor.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Responses to Daniel Dennette's question

During Darwin Festival which took place at Cambridge in July this year, Daniel Dennette went head on with theologians and scientists in one of the session on theology and science:

“I’m Dan Dennett, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and we are forever being told that we should do our homework and consult with the best theologians. I’ve heard two of you talk now, and you keep saying this is an interdisciplinary effort—evolutionary theology—but I am still waiting to be told what theology has to contribute to the effort. You’ve clearly adjusted your theology considerably in the wake of Darwin, which I applaud, but what traffic, if any, goes in the other direction? Is there something I’m missing? What questions does theology ask or answer that aren’t already being dealt with by science or secular philosophy? What can you clarify for this interdisciplinary project?” (Words to that effect)

He then remarked that none of the speakers were able to provide a satisfactory answer.

Since then Science & Religion Today has published and highlighted some responses to Dennette:

Response by J. Wentzel van Huysteen, Princeton Theological Seminary’s Profesor of Theology and Science.

Response by John Hedley Brooke, University of Oxford's former Professor of Science and Religion.

Response one and two by Philip Clayton, Claremont Graduate University's Professor of Religion and Philosophy.

Response by Denis Alexander, University of Cambridge's Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion.

Divine image is in imitating the divine


...the image of God is not found in humans, but is the human; and for this reason imago dei can be read only as imatatio dei; to be created in the image of God means we should act like God , and so attain holiness by caring for others and for the world...
(J. Wentzel van Huysteen, Alone in the World?: Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology, p.320. Italic added.)


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Completed a short essay on the significance of creation account in Genesis 1-2 in light of contemporary scientific cosmogony

Finally I've managed to finished the essay. It's a short one, only 1500 words (including footnotes), but a tough one as the issue is too wide-ranging to be confined with that amount of words. We have to summarize and examine four different approaches before offering our own (if any).

Here is a brief evaluation of the Young Earth Creationist's reading of Gen 1-2:

[This] approach had almost nothing right. Though interpreting the textual meaning literally is right, yet to insist the text as an exact description of cosmogony has wrongly assume plainness and simplicity into the passages without considering the complexity of the situated-ness of its socio-linguistic nature on one hand,[8] while ignoring contemporary empirical studies on cosmology on the other.[9]


Footnotes:
[8] This literalism inherited from Protestantism during the Reformation period. See Peter Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science, (UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 107-120. On the passages’ literary nature, see Frank H. Polak, ‘Poetic Style and Parallelism in the Creation Account (Genesis 1.1-2.3)’, in Creation in Jewish and Christian Tradition, ed. Henning Graf Reventlow and Yair Hoffman, (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 2-31, and John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, (England: Apollos, 2007), 179-199. For a brief on the issue, see Ernest Lucas, Interpreting Genesis in the 21st Century, http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/resources/Faraday%20Papers/Faraday%20Paper%2011%20Lucas_EN.pdf (accessed 15 September 2009).

[9] According to the latest data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), a joint-project between NASA and Princeton University. See WMAP, http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/ and National Aeronautics and Space Administration, How Old Is The Universe?, http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/uni_age.html (accessed 15 September 2009).

Faith and the World of Business Seminar

Graceworks is organizing this upcoming seminar:


Speaker: Rev. Dr. Gordon T. Smith

Date: 26 September 2009 (Saturday)

Time: 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Venue: High Street Centre, 1 North Bridge Road, #30-01, Singapore 179094


Can we speak of a business as a calling? Can we speak of a specifically Christian vision for excellence in the marketplace? And then, of course, what about the calling to entrepreneurship and innovation? How can the Christian faith foster a capacity for change and a vision for an effective response to crisis and opportunity in our economic circumstances? And how can the Church more effectively support, encourage and equip those whom God has called into this area?

Whether you are a Christian businessman who has been in the marketplace for years, or a believer considering venturing into this area, you will find this interactive seminar insightful, challenging and inspiring. This seminar will consist of four back-to-back sessions:

I. Business as a Calling: A Christian Perspective.
II. The Soul of the Entrepreneur
III. Forum: Good Conversation about the Calling to Business
IV. The Church and Marketplace: Equipping Women and Men for the World of Business

Registration is at SGD$50 per person and the closing date for registration is 11 September 2009. But sign up before 31 July and enjoy an early-bird special price of SGD$40!

To sign up, please follow these steps:

1. Register as a new member; or if you're an existing member, log in.

2. To make payment:
By VISA:
Visit our e-store and click on the item "Faith and the World of Business". Check out the item and key in VISA details.

By cheque:
Scroll to the last page of our "Events List". Register for the event.

Sign a cheque, made payable to "Graceworks Pte Ltd" and mail it to 7 Eng Kong Terrace, S(598979)

3. Wait for confirmation email from us.

Alternatively, you may mail us a cheque with the following details:

1. Name

2. Age

3. Gender

4. Email Address

5. No. of people attending

Theory of evolution as story of our culture

…the theory of evolution is also an explanatory model, and is itself a story that creates coherence and provides connections between different detached perceptions. As a story it fits our present-day culture better, because this culture is one in which perception forms the highest epistemological category, and we regard the controlled perception or experiment as the most controllable form of truth. In keeping with this culture we find that the model of evolution offers a better explanation of the beginning and the formation of the world from the beginning. We even find it so good that we no longer notice its narrative character and regard it as reality. But even this form of explaining, thinking and believing is characterized by a certain transitoriness. Moreover it is an illusion to think that someone can step out of this transitoriness and ssay, ‘Right, this is the account of the beginning or the truth.’"
(Ellen Van Wolde, Stories of the Beginning, p.183. Italic original.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dependancy on money and economic sustainability

My recent trip back to Penang has convinced me that the fastest way to social and material infrastructure development is by cultivating consumerism in the society. No doubt it is horrible and should be objected yet such observation does not negate the fact that the mechanism provided by prevalent consumerism does hasten the current of monetary flow and so boosting the economic scene.

People are being and will continued to be indoctrinated to consume and spend more. Appetite for material consumption will be the primary motivating force to earn more. Hence life will neither be lived to work nor for doxology. The purpose of life will be taught to consume, and the dependency on money will be increased dramatically. Social classification is oriented to consumption (for eg. a 'middle-class' is determined by how much he/she consumes. In a consumerism-driven society, this is a better indication than how much one earns).

The second trip was to Tanjong Balai, a fishermen's village in Indonesia. The families that I met and the homes that I've visited probably have much lower income in living-hood comparison to a middle-income family in Penang and Singapore. Yet each family is economically more sustainable.

There is this middle-aged couple, which the husband works as a fisherman, is able to parent nine children. A younger couple, whose husband is also a fisherman, has four children. The size of their house is about the size of a 2-rooms flat in Singapore. Yet most couples in Singapore and Penang hardly want more than three children. They share the same reason for not wanting more children: Economically impractical.

From these observations, I postulate that the survival of a family has much to do with the socio-economic factors, particularly the job of the breadwinner. Tanjong Balai is a fishermen's village. Given that the breadwinner's job is to provide food for the family, and if his job is creating food (eg. fisherman, farmer, etc), then the family sustainability is less dependent on money and so also less affected by monetary inflation. That means when an inflation hits the market, the family can just maintain a fish-diet without the need to earn more money to keep the sustainability of the family. (Though it can be argued that in cosmopolitans like Singapore and Penang affected families can also react to inflation by changing to cheaper diet which is equivalent to those in Tanjung Balai, yet this misses the point that I am trying to make: the higher degree of dependence on money, the more economically difficult one becomes. Add to that, we rarely see a cosmopolitan millionaire wants nine children. Why?).

Philip Goodchild points out the elevated dependency of money well:
"...in a capitalist economy, accumulation occurs through the use of money: in the equitable relation of voluntary trade, the moral and political relations from which wealth derives are no longer directly evident. The equitable relation of trade appears to embody justice. To oppose money as the fundamental principle of the social order is therefore deeply immoral and unjust from the perspective of that order. It destroys just standards of measure as well as hindering opportunities for accumulation. To question the pursuit of wealth is to set oneself against all common sense, all agreement, all political power and all practicality. Moreover, since wealth gives access to power, to question the pursuit of wealth is to abandon all power, so dooming oneself to a futile quest."
(Philip Goodchild, The Theology of Money, p.4)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Respond to C.R.E.D.O 500's "Scripture and Tradition"


Overall the essay attempts to answer this question: How should the Reformed views the relation between scripture and tradition? Basically the author argues that (1) the Reformed must realizes the impossibility of being tradition-less in interpreting Scripture, and (2) the supreme authority of Scripture.

The essay rightly points out that no one can read the Scripture without tradition. Yet it falls short to recognize the entire arrangement of the proposal itself misses the point. If traditioned-ness is a given as the essay thoroughly affirms (p.6, 11, 16), then to peg the given vis-a-vis scripture is creating an unnecessary category mistake and not asking the right question. The question is not over the relation between scripture and tradition as the essay puts it. Rather it should be over the compatibility of a particular tradition with a particular interpretation of scripture. The essay entirely muddles over the universality and particularity relationship between scripture and tradition. The Reformers did not have problem with tradition as a universal concept (p.1-3) but only over some particular traditions which they deem had astray from orthodoxy. In short, the essay universalizes that which supposed to be treated in its particularity.

The essay highlighted correctly the supreme authority of the scripture, but such elevated categorization undermines scripture's own purpose. The scripture is presented as the "sole infallible and supreme authority over all matters of faith and life" (p.1, 7-8, 16), yet such statement is ambiguous at best. What are the criteria to consider which matters are of "faith and life"? Cardiology, as the study of the heart and its functions in health and disease, surely is a matter of 'life', so does the scripture has the supreme authority over this study? If yes, in what way it contributes to the enterprise?*

Secondly if canonical scripture cannot exist or understood except through tradition (for eg. the apostolic tradition and the regula fidei, p.1-3), then the essay fails to distinguish the former from the latter. A way to do that is to recognize the scripture as the 'written and canonized tradition' while all other channels of religious knowledge as 'post-written-and-canonized-tradition', in a broad sense. The matter of fallibility and infallibility of these two classifications is always provisional as constrained by the givenness of the progression of our collective learning.


Notes:
*Though not so sure about 'faith', but it is meaningless to say that there is faith when we have no 'life'.

What is the context of Jesus' divine authorization?

This question can also be asked in this way, "What is the 'Christness' of Jesus?" For 'Christness' embraces annointment, appointment, commission, or authorization.

Here is another except from my essay on the question "Compare and contrast the presentation of Jesus as Teacher in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark" (the gist is in the endnote!):

Both gospels attribute the highest authority to Jesus by testifying about the divine recognition and favour endowed to Jesus through “a voice from heaven” prior to his ministry (Mk 1.11/Mt 3.17), and again, in a much more dramatic fashion through the appearance of Moses and Elijah, during his transfiguration before his arrest (Mk 9.2-8/Mt 17.1-8).[7] His authority was further shown through the disciples’ immediate affiliation to him when they were called (Mk 1.17-20/Mt 4.18-22), and also through the subversive symbolic acts he performed against the governing elite, particularly through his exorcisms and healing of the sick.[8] He was being portrayed as constantly engaging those who were in the powerful religious, social, and political positions of his day, not to mention the corrupted religious authorities. The clashes between the authority of Jesus and other influential personas are found throughout the two gospels, with its climatic scene being the cleansing of the temple (Mk 11.15-18/Mt 21.12-14).

Notes:

[7] The sounding of “a voice from heaven” during Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration echoes the epiphanies of YHWH speaking to the forefathers of the Jews through his appointed agents. These invocations point specifically to Moses and Elijah given their prominent appearances at the transfiguration (Deut 4.12-14, 5.22-27/1 Ki 19.13-18). The gospels’ authors experienced Jesus as the one divinely authorized in the like of these two ancient great men. Add to that, there was already a general perception among the Jews in the New Testament period that Moses was their foremost teacher/intellectual leader, who also functioned as a socio-political magistrate (Mk 12.19, Mt 23.2); while Elijah was their most anticipated prophet who would bring about socio-political renewal (Mal 4, Mt 17.10-11, Mk 9.11-12). Approximately in that same period, Philo of Alexandria also considered Moses as parallel with influential Greek philosophers, such as Plato, who were deem socio-politically significant in the empire (Alan J. Hauser and Duane Frederick Watson, eds., A History of Biblical Interpretation: The Ancient Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 16-17). These seems to cast John Yieh Yueh-Han’s paralleling the “divine commission” between Matthew’s Jesus and that of Qumran’s Teacher of Righteousness as being a bit stretching however supplementary it can be to the position of this essay. (John Yueh-Han Yieh, One teacher: Jesus' Teaching Role in Matthew's Gospel Report (Germany: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co., 2004), 127-129).

[8] Santiago Guijarro, “The Politics of Exorcism,” in The Social Settings of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Wolfgang Stegemann, Bruce J. Malina, and Gerd Theissen, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 159-174.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong knows about this blog?

Cross-posting from Critical Stephen Tong:

Today while corresponding with a friend who has attended Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong's weekly preaching, I was told that this blog might has already been known to him.

Not sure if Rev. Dr. Tong was referring to this blog when he said that (paraphrase), "Someone has been monitoring my speeches and pick faults from them... I’m not perfect and I make mistakes… why don’t people quote the hundreds of factual claims I made which that are correct but focus on 1-2 that were errant?"

Firstly, if he was referring to this blog, then this blog has served well. Secondly, this shows that Rev. Dr. Tong is a humble man who is also in the process of learning, like everyone of us. A commendable and exemplary virtue. Thirdly, nonetheless Rev. Dr. Tong's humility vindicates the veracity of the information provided in this blog.

Hopefully Rev. Dr. Tong would start to be careful when quoting sources or making references from others. Perhaps he does not know how many of his listeners have been transmitting his uninformed remarks around. Within my own tiny social, spatial, and location constraints, I have come across a few.

Humbly, this site serves to alert not only Rev. Dr. Tong but also to others who fabricate or manipulate truth with half-truth to evangelize.

No one should think that the truth it out there and far away. Not even theologically and philosophically trained evangelist. The truth is nearer to us than we think.

However that someone who has been monitoring Rev. Dr. Tong's speeches is also someone who has deep respect and high admiration for the Rev.'s work and his honorable life.

090909 good date for marriage?

366 couples get married on 09/09/09 in Singapore alone, not to mention those in other countries. They interpret this sequence as "jiu jiu jiu" (longevity). Not sure how did they made the logical leap but it seems that many young people enjoy such fanciful whims, if not jokes.

"jiu" is nine in Mandarin. It is pronounced like the word "longevity".

But 090909 is not "jiu jiu jiu". It's "ling jiu, ling jiu, ling jiu" because "ling" is zero. And given "zero" is equivalent to non-existent or nothingness, then 090909 should be translated as "no longevity, no longevity, no longevity."

Are these young couples simply ignoring the "ling" to buttress their own vanity? They see it as 'novelty'. But it seems otherwise. This 'naivety' in effect further vaporizes the already foggy concept of 'wedding' as practiced here and now.

Casual and whimsical hermeneutics are not only found in Bible interpretation, but permeates every layers of the society. This observation reflects the reality of the society that we, the so-called civilized 'moderns', are living in. Civility is not measured by iPhone or a Mazda RX8, but by understanding of which can only be approximated through hermeneutic proper.

The 090909 mass weddings indicates how far back have we arrived.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Being theologically patriotic

Here is an edited note that I wrote to a friend last month when we talked about politics:

First, I see a difference between a Christian being patriotic and one who embraces nationalism. A Christian is being patriotic by receiving his place of birth and citizenship as a gift from God of which he/she able to release his/her gifts for God's agenda. In other words, a Christian ought to be patriotic to a country for God's sake. That means the Christian commits to God's agenda (justice, love, etc) by seeing that these virtues are not to be neglected in his/her given country.

An imperfect yet illuminating ancient example would be St. Paul who uses his Roman citizenship to carry out God's agenda in Rome (Acts 22.28, 23.11, 25.10-11).

'Nationalism', though often being equated with being patriotic, is always a tension for Christians who pledges him/herself to God's kingdom, especially when reciting the Lord's prayer. Nationalism connotes a person's (either Christian/non-Christian) pledged allegiance to a country's national party/government. But the Lord's prayer is already a pledge, and it is not to any local or country's government.

So I see that a Christian can be patriotic without embracing 'nationalism' (for lack of better term).

Sunday, September 06, 2009

How to find out what kind of 'Teacher' was Jesus?

Here is an except from my essay on the question "Compare and contrast the presentation of Jesus as Teacher in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark."

As preliminary, first, we have to recognize the fact that Jesus was juxtaposed with other ancient Jewish teaching authorities like the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees to draw out the distinctive of Jesus’ ministry in both gospels.[2] Secondly, we should avoid anachronism that reads the term ‘teachers’ as equivalent to the educationists of our modern era whose job is to teach certain academic subjects in schools. The function of these ancient teachers was often extended far beyond the school’s wall into the socio-economic and religio-political dimension of the Jewish community. Rather they are likened to influential “intellectual leaders”[3] and, to some extent, equivalent to the Greco-Roman philosophers whose teachings implicated the socio-political current of that time.[4] Thirdly, we have to keep in mind the sole mission that Jesus has taken upon himself; a mission that eventually cost him his life. Both gospels clarify with precision and urgency of this mission right at the beginning of his ministry by recording him announcing, “Time's up! God's kingdom is here. Change your life and believe this message.”[5]

Notes:

[2] Anthony J. Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees in Palestinian Society (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), 144-173. The gospels’ data must be examined within the larger socio-political context in first century Palestine.

[3] Ibid., 268. For an appreciation of these intellectual leaders’ roles within the social conflict caused by Roman imperialism over the Jewish communities, see Richard A. Horsley, Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee: The Social Context of Jesus and the Rabbis, (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1996).

[4] N.T. Wright, New Testament and the People of God (London: SPCK, 1992), 185-203.

[5] An edited version from The Message Bible (Mk 1.15/Mt 4.17). All other citations of the Scripture are taken from the English Standard Version Bible unless otherwise stated.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

TTC's Day of Prayer 2009


Today is Trinity Theological College's Day of Prayer. No classes are going on. Every students and lecturers are encouraged to set this day for prayer.

Now it's the time for personal reflection in our own chosen place. I've come back to my room to blog as I reflect, and in the hope it may help some of you who are reading to take some time to reflect as well.

The reflection questions:

1) The 'milestone' is a metaphor or concept used to name those life events and episodes that give a fresh understanding of the message of Christ salvation as good news for us personally.

Take time to play back in your mind and recall life events and episodes that may be spiritual milestones in your journey with Christ. List as many milestones as you can think of, but select just three or two major ones for further reflection.
What happened during these milestones and why are they major to your personal context? How did these milestones help you to understand Christ salvation message as good news?

2) Think about your home context, church context, and nation context. What are some of the boundaries that divide and isolate different people economically, ethnically, religiously or in any other unique ways in your context?

In what ways may the message of Christ salvation mean good news and peace to some of the different groups of people?
What is the road the feet of the messenger or the Christian community could take to be a bearer of the good news of peace in some of these contexts?

My reflections (brief ones because I have only about 30 minutes to write):

RE 1) List of spiritual milestones in my journey with Christ:

- Those times when I was contemplating and discussing about religion while I was a Buddhist.
- Conversion to Christianity when I was 16/17.
- When I worked at Star Cruises.
- Met many other brothers & sisters at the Agora.
- During the 5 years working at ORTV.
- Got to know a few friends who influences and often challenges my thoughts.
- Entered into a relationship, which so far the longest one.
- The times when I fell again and again in relating to my family, friends, church, and colleagues.

1 milestone for further reflection:

- Met people who had shape the way I see things and live life. Steven Sim is always around, the friends at Agora, pastors and theologians bloggers I met and read online, a friend who doesn't want to be named here, Pui Yee, and clubbing friends. Each one of them has taken a portion of me and painted it before installing back. Some have taken bigger portion, some smaller, but all has colored Sze Zeng's life, all has helped me to see beyond myself. And in effect, my relating to Christ evolved.

RE 2) 8 March 2008 was important not only to me but also to Malaysia as a whole. That was the first time I voted. I took leave and traveled back just for the election. It turns out that that was also the first time the corrupted ruling party lost 2/3 majority in the parliament. I remember shouting Tony Campolo's "Today is Friday, but Sunday's coming!"

Besides economic, ethnic, and religion, there is also one boundary that isolates certain communities in the country: sexuality. Besides women, there are transsexuals who have to end up working as sex workers because the society does not accept them. Last time I've joined a NGO that has distributed condoms to sex workers. It was during that participation that I met many transsexuals who are socially marginalized and scorned.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Dead Sea "Scroll" or Dead Sea "fragments" exhibition??

Tony Siew went to the 'Dead Sea Scrolls and the Ancient World Exhibition' recently. Previously we were excited to hear about it. Now we know that there are only 4 tiny fragments of the scrolls being exhibited! 4 tiny fragments! No 'scrolls'.

About a month ago, I've heard from a friend, whose seminary's principal had preview the exhibition, that there is nothing much to see. After reading Tony's post (with pictures), I'm convinced.

Goodness... 4 tiny fragments!