Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Clark Pinnock with Alzheimer's disease...

For those of us who know about or read his works are sad to hear the news. To me personally, Alzheimer's disease is extremely demoralizing and one of the most horrible kind of slow-deaths. A person who has contracted severe Alzheimer's may even forget his or her own name, one's life works and experiences, family members, friends, all the good memories and even God. If the meaning of life is to be understood, then Alzheimer's is the anti-meaning of life. Hence this disease poses the question whether can life still be meaningful regardless of our understanding? And are we still Christians when we don't even remember or know we are?

Christian theology points out that the meaning of life and our identity are not so much pegged on our individual and subjective understanding of life and memory. The meaning of life and our identity are situated in the relationship that God is constantly relating to us, through Christ. This constant relating is known as 'Love' (Romans 8.38-39: "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord"). Hence even if we do not cognitively recognize anything, the meaning of a human life is nonetheless secured by God through Christ. Our memory may fail and we do not remember, yet God is faithful and God remembers.

In a parallel way, for the patient of Alzheimer's, even if he or she does not remember or know his or her own identity, family members, and friends anymore, nonetheless, the family members' and friends' relation to the patient secures the patient's identity. Pinnock may forgets his wife, but she does not forget him. Pinnock may forgets his friends, but they do not forget him. Pinnock may loses all his memories, yet his identity does not lies in his memory alone but lives on in the memories of those around him. And so his persona stays alive through the others. When one's memory fails, the Others' memory make up for it.

When we don't remember ourselves, we haven't lose our identity because the ultimate Other, God, makes up for it by the divine's constant relating to us; loving us. We are secure in the divine love.

In any case, Pinnock is still highly positive over his condition even though he might gradually forget the fact that he has written this letter, not to mention losing the memory of his friends whom the letter is addressed to. Here is the letter (H/T: Thomas Oord):
Dear Tom and John:

I want to inform you that I am now middle stage Alzheimer’s. I will not be able to do my writing etc. I am 73 years now, and I've enjoyed my biblical three score and ten. I am not bitter. I have had a good life. I'll meet you over Jordan if not before.

You are free to make this news known.

With love,

Κύριε ἐλέησον, Χριστὲ ἐλέησον, Κύριε ἐλέησον...

Ibrahim Ali is threatening Malaysian society

(Photo is taken from Malaysia Insider. Ibrahim Ali kisses a kris at the movement's inaugural congress that was opened by Dr Mahathir at the PWTC, Kuala Lumpur, on Saturday, March 27, 2010. — Picture by Jack Ooi)

PERKASA's Ibrahim Ali claims to protect Malays' (majority of Bumiputeras) welfare by waving and kissing his keris during PERKASA's recent launch. But he never questions the UMNO government's missing RM52billion that was allocated for the Bumiputeras. It was Lim Guan Eng, a Malaysian Chinese politician who is also the Chief Minister in Penang, who urged the authorities to set up an independent inquiry into the missing fund, seeking justice for the Malays. Ibrahim Ali is an uncontrolled dog who keeps stirring up racial tension among Malaysians for his own personal political gain.

Malaysia Today commented along with Democratic Action Party that, "Ibrahim Ali, the president of Perkasa who was waving a keris in the company of Mahathir and other “warriors” to signify that the movement is ready to shed blood to defend Malay rights. (It brings back images of Hishammuddin Hussein waving a keris at the Umno general assembly in 2005, for the same reason – to defend Malay rights.)"

"For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." (Col 1.19-20)

Racial reconciliation is what we need and what has been demonstrated by Christ on the cross. Dogs like Ibrahim Ali keeps on segregating people from people.

While Christ spilled his own blood to bring about reconciliation, Ibrahim Ali wants to spill other people's blood with his keris to further divide us from one another. Evil.

"最痛的時候" by 天韵 (Heavenly Melody)

A moving song by Heavenly Melody for this Passion week.

"祢為愛來到世上, 祢為愛走上十架, 祢把愛活在傷口, 祢用愛戰勝死亡"

Translation: "He came to us because of his love, he walked to the cross because of his love, he lived out his love through his wounds, and he defeated death by his love..."

Incarnational theology in a song.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

'Holy Spirit' understood through ancient Judaism

This is my log on Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, Chapter 1: The Background to New Testament Pneumatology; Chapter 2: Jesus and the Spirit in the Synoptic Tradition; and Chapter 3: The Gift of the Spirit in Acts. What I did here is just summarizing Turner's main points.

In Chapter 1
, Turner shows that the Spirit of God as developed in Judaism from the Old Testament can be represented in two brief ways: (1) as the invisible activity of God in power, and (2) as God’s presence in revelation and wisdom. Passages such as Ps. 33.6, 104.29-30, Job 27.3, 33.4, 34.14-15, Gen. 2.7 and Isa 63.10 seem to suggest the former, while passages such as Isa 30.1-2, 40.12-14, Wisdom of Solomon 7-9, Philo’s Creation 135, 144, On Noah’s Work as Planter 18, Allegorical Laws 1.142 seem to propose the latter. Both characteristics were seen “typically related to God’s covenantal activities in and on behalf of Israel, so the locus of the Spirit’s work was restricted almost exclusively to the holy nation.” (p.5, italics original)

Turner highlights the function of the Spirit of God in Israel’s memorial past and her future experience.

In Israel's past, God’s Spirit interacted with some appointed individuals by revealing certain messages to them or by empowering them for certain tasks, or both, to govern Israel from within. These insider individuals like Othniel (Jdg 3.10), Gideon (Jdg 6.34), Jephthah (Jdg 11.29), Samson (Jdg 14.6, 19, 15.14-15), Moses (Num 11.17, 29, Neh 9.20), Joshua (Num 27.18), the seventy elders (Num 11.25-29), the craftsmen who worked on ritual tools (Exod 28.3, 31.3, 35.31), Saul (1 Sam 10.1-11) and David (1 Sam 16.13, Zech 4.6) are instances. There are biblical authors who identify a ‘prophet’ as ‘man of the Spirit’ (Micah 3.8, Hos 9.7, Eze 11.5-25, Isa 48.16, 61.1-3, Zech 7.12). Turner remarks that, “In perhaps the majority of these various Old Testament incidents the Spirit of God acted as the channel of communication between God and a human person. This was ‘the Spirit of prophecy’ as Judaism came to understand it.” (p.6) However, the characteristics of this divine Spirit encompass several activities and not confined only to the giving of prophecies. Therefore the technical term ‘Spirit of prophecy’ is distinctively Judaic and hence can be misleading to outsiders (p.8). Here are the Spirit’s activities (p.8-14):
1) Affords charismatic revelation and guidance to event or knowledge that are otherwise unknown in certain situation (Tosefta Pesa im 2.15, Sirach 48.24, 4 Ezra 14.22, see Turner’s record of various Rabbinical and Targumic examples on page 9-18).

2) Affords charismatic wisdom that assists the person’s cognitive function when he or she carries out certain tasks (p.11-12, see Philo’s Life of Moses 2.265, 4 Ezra 14.22, Sirach 39.6 which is similar with Ephesians 1.17-20, 3.16-21, 5.18-20.)

3) Sometimes affords invasively inspired prophetic speech that prompts the agent to speak. (Num 23-24, Josephus’ Antiquities 4.119)

4) Sometimes but rarely affords invasively inspired charismatic praise or worship. (Tongues in Acts 10.46, 19.6, 1 Sam 10, 19, 1 Enoch 71.11, Mekilta Beshalla 7, Exo 14.31, 15.1, Exodus Rabbah 23.2).

However, there was a misconstrued belief among the ancients that the Spirit were inactive among the people after the time of the last few prophets (Tosefta So ah 13.3-4) until the arrival of the new aeon. There are evidences that the Spirit was thought to,

5) Performs miracles like transporting prophet to places (1 Kgs 18.12, 2 Kgs 2.16, Ezek 2.2, 3.12, 14, 8.1, 11.1, 24), empowering prophet with special ability (targum’s 2 Kgs 2.9-15 identifying Elisha’s dividing the waters as one), participating in creational and renewal activities (2 Baruch 21.4, 23.5, Ezra 6.39-41), and the various examples among the Qumran community (p.17-18).
For Israel’s future, a new aeon will come where the interaction of this Spirit of prophecy would be widely distributed not only to certain appointees, as how it was in the past, but to all Israel (Joel 2.28, Num 11.29, Isa 32.15, 44.3, Ezek 39.29). This Spirit will pervade every individual Israelites and so bringing each one to a new level of encountering and interacting with the ultimate reality, that is God (Jer 31.34). This intense experience of the Spirit of prophecy among the people would in turn generate an unprecedented determination to live deservedly according to the overpowering experience (Jer 31.31-40, Ezek 36.24-29, Ps 51.10-14). Turner alludes to Ezekiel’s vision of mass resurrection found in Ezekiel 37 as a glimpse to this new aeon. (p.6-7) An appointed agent whose life embodies the distinctive of such future will play a key role in this transition (Deut. 18.15, Isa 11.1-9, Isa 61. See page 19-20).

In other words, Turner’s thesis in Chapter 1 was to show that there exists a perception throughout the Jewish tradition that the Spirit of God (that is the Spirit of prophecy) is constantly interacting with and regulating agents from within the creation to administer God’s governance over it (Turner’s terms like “transformative” and “soteriological” on page 20 can be translated as the process of divine interaction and regulation). Such interaction and regulation were relegated only to certain individuals in the past and will be widely distributed among the people in the coming aeon.

In Chapter 2, Turner expounds that the activities of the Spirit of God found in the New Testament gospels are inline with Judaism’s Spirit of prophecy through Israel’s expectation (p.23-24, Lk 1.41-42, 67, 2.26-27, 29-35, 38). He explores several key agents’ encounter and experience with the Spirit and their contemporary’s general perception of the Spirit’s relation to the Messianic ‘Son of God’. Those agents are John the Baptist, the Messianic concept, and Jesus.

Turner argued from Luke’s gospel that John the Baptist is the greatest for his role as the anticipated ‘Elijah’ whose role is to initiate the inauguration of the new aeon (Lk 1.17, 7.26-28, Mal 3.1, 4.5). John’s experience of the Spirit throughout his life, from his conception to his ministry, was unprecedented. His life is one that is ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Lk 1.15, 1.41, 44, 80, p. 24-25). John’s foretelling of the Messiah as one who will come to baptize all Israel with Holy Spirit and fire refers to the judgement and salvation brought about by the Spirit through the Messiah. (p.27-29) Turner also attempt to make the case that the metaphor of ‘wilderness’ in passages like Mark 1.3 is based on an “Isaianic New Exodus theology” (Isa 40.3) that points to Messiah’s role in shepherding Israel “along ‘the way’ through a transformed wilderness to a restored Zion where he would rule.” (p.29, 34-35)

Jesus’ vision and his reception of the Holy Spirit during his baptism can be understood as a “messianic empowering” (p.30-31). Him being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tested, him entirely empowered by the Holy Spirit to confront the tests (Lk 4.1), his return from the test “in the power of the Spirit” (Lk 4.14) and the miracles that he carried out in the power of the Spirit (Lk 13.10-15, Mt 11.2, Lk 9.2, 10.9, 11, Mt 10.7-8) point to the constant relation Jesus has with the Spirit (p.31). Turner ended this chapter with a caution that we should not be “too quickly assuming Luke presents Jesus as a pattern for all other Christians’ experience of the Spirit,” as his unique experience with the Spirit corresponds to his unique mission. (p.36)

In Chapter 3, Turner argues that Luke intends to secure a theological identity for the church in relation to Israel and Judaism in Acts. He sees Luke as building the thesis for the early church by analysing the phenomena of the Spirit through various incidents that took place among the early believers.

First, Turner introduces the consensus and disagreement among Lucan scholars over Luke’s pneumatology (p.38-43).

The consensus: (1) Luke’s idea of the Holy Spirit is situated within the context of the Old Testament as understood among the early Jewish Christians as opposed to some who claim that it is influenced by Greek mysticism or Mantic prophetism (p.38); (2) The phenomena of the Spirit in Luke-Acts functioned to serve the Jewish motif of the restoration of Israel, the Elijianic forerunner, and the empowerment of the Messiah that parallels the empowerment of the church (p.39); (3) The Spirit to all Christians is the gift of the ‘Spirit of prophecy’ promised through Joel (Acts 2.17, 18, 33, 38-39) and has to do with bearing witness to the Messiah as understood by Luke (p.39-40); The Spirit is the one that empowers the disciples’ witness to Christ, the church’s mission, involved in the religious renewal of individuals, and regulates salvation-history (p.40-41); and (5) Luke’s pneumatology went beyond Judaism by construing it through the Christ (p.41-42).

The disagreements are (1) whether is the Spirit in Acts refers exclusively to Joel’s ‘Spirit of prophecy’ or the broader Old Testament context, and so what are the characteristics attributed to this gift; (2) “How did Luke relate the Spirit to conversion-initiation? (3) Was the Spirit for Luke merely a donum superadditum of charismatic empowering, or did the Spirit also have soteriological functions?” (p.42-43).

Second, Turner points out that Luke identifies the phenomena of the Spirit among the early believers as that which corresponds with the ‘Spirit of prophecy’ in the promises of Joel (p.43-45).

Third, Turner discusses the most common feature of the Holy Spirit in relation to conversion experience (p.45-46). “The norm is a conversion-initiation pattern in which conversional repentance/faith is crystallized in baptism, and the Spirit is received in connection with the whole process.” Turner argues that it is not regular to have cases like that of Acts 8.16, therefore “the paradigm of 2.38-39 must be assumed for the numerous occasions (before Acts 8 and beyond it; cf. especially 2.41, 8.36-38, 16.15, 33, 18.8, etc) where people are explicitly said to come to faith, or to be baptized, but where reception of the Spirit is not mentioned (i.e. the reader is to assume such conversional faith and baptism is met with the gift of the Spirit unless (as in 8.16) it is stated otherwise).” (p.46) Here Turner makes it clear that the phenomenon, which is commonly known as 'second baptism' carried out by the Holy Spirit or 'Holy Spirit baptism', is not universal to all believers. The implication is that we should not expect this to be a norm or require such event as the confirmation of the Holy Spirit's presence in the life of the believers or the sign that signifies the believers' reception of the Spirit.

Fourth, Turner considers the studies of the Spirit’s empowerment for mission and the church, and how the Spirit as the charismatic power for Israel’s restoration (p.47-56). “It is certainly much more than an ‘empowering to witness’; the same gifts of the Spirit that fuel the mission (charismatic revelation, wisdom, prophecy, preaching and doxology) also nurture, shape and purify the community, making it a messianic community of ‘peace’ conforming to the hopes for Israel’s restoration… for Luke the charismatic ‘Spirit of prophecy’ is very much the power and life of the church, and so probably of the individual too (hence the close association of the gift of the Spirit to conversion-initiation). It is the means by which the heavenly Lord exercises his cleansing and transforming rule over Israel as much as the means by which he uses her as the Isaianic servant to witness his salvation to the end(s) of the earth (1.8, 13.47).” (p.55)

Finally, the conclusion that “Luke is attempting to explain and so to legitimate the church in the light of her founding moments” seen through the phenomena of the Holy Spirit is drawn (p.56). Luke’s theological point that the Spirit was still at present actively interacting with and regulating the agents within the creation to bring about the eschatological reality as promised through the ancient prophets is shown through the historical account he has dedicatedly recorded down.

Overall, Turner’s thesis is breathtaking. This is the first time I read a robust study on pneumatology that is historically engaging and theologically sophisticated. Turner manages to discern the Jewish motif from the Old Testament through his firm grasp of those references found in the New Testament. Yet his employed hermeneutic does not seem to be forcing the Old Testament passages to say what they were not meant to say, but rather bring to light the broad but definite theme on the Spirit from the Jewish context. Perhaps I am naïve but I am convinced by the case he made.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Book Launch: Bribery & Corruption

Bribery and Corruption: Biblical Reflections and Case Studies for
the Marketplace in Asia

Forum and Book Launch jointly organized by Biblical Graduate School of Theology & Graceworks Pte Ltd

6 April 2010 (Tuesday)

7:30pm to 9.00pm

Fairfield Methodist Church, Fairfield Hall,
1 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088437

Christians in the marketplace in Asia are confronted daily by moral and ethical dilemmas in the course of carrying out our work and living out our lives. Few of us have sufficient inner spiritual strength and pastoral support to deal with the relentless power of sin as manifested in the corporate world.

This forum is one attempt to address the need for a biblical response to the real pressures that Christians encounter in the marketplace. The author, Bishop Hwa Yung, will present a short theological reflection on the topic. Then, together with a panel of speakers, including Ravi Zacharias International Ministry (Asia-Pacific) Director, Mr L T Jeyachandran and Center for Christian Entrepreneurship Director, Mr Yap Poh Kheng, he will field questions from the audience. It is our hope that by grappling with these issues in the light of Scripture we can all gain biblically sound “handles” for dealing with the challenges that face us.

Please contact us at bgst@pacific.net.sg or enquiries@graceworks.com.sg if you have any questions.

4 vs 4: Episcopalian theologians on homosexuality

The Theology Committee of the House of Bishops of the USA Episcopalians has published a new draft on this not so new issue. Four propose traditionalist view while the other four defend the liberal one. Ellen Charry, the editor of the draft, remarks that the article "responds to the call for the Episcopal Church to treat the controversy theologically, and we interpreted that call to invite doctrinal analysis that is first faithful to the Creed, the foundation of the Church’s unity, and that interprets Scripture within that framework." (p.vi, italic added)

The traditionalists:
Dr. John Goldingay, the David Allan Hubbard professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

The Rev. Dr. Grant LeMarquand, academic dean and associate professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

The Rev. Dr. George Sumner, principal and Helliwell professor of world mission, Wycliffe College, Toronto.

The Rev. Dr. Daniel Westberg, research professor of ethics and moral theology, Nashotah House, Nashotah, Wisconsin.

The liberals:
Dr. Eugene Rogers, professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Dr. Willis Jenkins, Margaret A. Farley assistant professor of social ethics, Yale Divinity School.

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Kittredge, Ernest J. Villavaso Jr. chair of New Testament and dean of community life at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin.

Dr. Deirdre Good, professor of New Testament at the General Theological Seminary in New York.

Christian Post has a summary of this 95-page draft.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Amused by a kid

I received this comment from a 14 year-old kid name Joshua. It appears that he attends City Harvest Church and hates the fact that I mentioned his senior pastor's teaching here. His is the most nasty comment I've received in all these years of blogging:
You from trinity(TTC) ? I see how the church build young people like you with a so bright future to flare people from CHC , oh please grow up , TTC is recognize with about 49 country around the globe , do you thing by challenging the word of god , you feel high or what ? I'm a NEUTRAL party , not on any side , but i think Pst.Kong Hee is somehow a recognize leader in the world for what GOOD deeds he have done , you should just stay in your kampong you know , it's like , you come here , given a godly opp , and you should just shut up and clear you shit in TTC and leave , no one wants invaders in singapore , you wasterd , a disgrace to society , how you uphold yourself determines where you from , so from what i see , i see a arrogant poor invader from malaysia , coming here to voice out shit , isn't it ?you should humble when you're here , knowing people can flush you poor rat in the shithole in singapore , and of course , from my tone , indeed i'm angry , and yes , i dare say i judge you in my words , but you judge CHC first , and either you and I have no rights to judge , leave god to judge , if CHC is that bad , God will judge and foresee the church , by saying 'bad' thing about what the pastor , you obviously is trying to bring CHC down , which is somehow barbarians behave , in kampongs . Hope you realize what good deed you have done for us and repent , repent and god will forgive .

Amen .
When I read it, my new friend Terence came to mind. He is also from City Harvest Church. I wonder what would this little Joshua say about Terence. On the other hand, I also wonder if that is what local Singaporean citizens think about non-citizens who disagree with them? From my interaction with various locals, they are friendly and much much more mature and accepting than this little Joshua. So my guess is that this obnoxious kid is in the process of growing up. Hope he does.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Glossolalia in the Acts of the Apostles

In chapter 2 of his Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective, Karkkainen schemed through the Old Testament, the Inter-Testament literature, and the New Testament to list out how do these literatures describe (Holy) “Spirit”.

There is one citation of Moltmann which Karkkainen seems to patronize to centralize the role of tongue in the establishment of the church. He wrote, “Jurgen Moltmann argues that the Christian church was born with the speaking in tongues.” (31).

I think there is a qualification needed here which Karkkainen did not provide. It should be noted that glossolalia as recorded in Acts is NOT identical in its theological outlook, function and social significance with most of today’s Charismatic movement. Most of current practices of glossolalia are directed inwardly for personal edification (based on Rom 8.15 and 1 Cor 14.2) rather than directed outwardly for the establishment of the church. This contrast is well seen in 1 Cor 14.4, “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.”

So Moltmann was not wrong to say that the church is born with the speaking in tongues, but there is a need to qualify the entirely different connotation of that phenomenon happened in Acts from the phenomena among today’s Charismatic movement.

The four lecturers on theology @ Trinity Theological College's English department

From left to right:
Simon Chan, Ph.D from Cambridge University. He is the Earnest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology. Expert in Pentecostal theology, pneumatology, spiritual theology, liturgical theology and systematic theology in general.

Leow Theng Huat, Ph.D from St. Andrews University. He is a lecturer in theology. Expert in theodicy, and the theology of P. T. Forsyth.

Mark Chan, Ph.D from Nottingham University. He is a lecturer in theology. Expert in hermeneutics, christology, theology of the atonement, worldview and cultural analysis, and philosophy of religion.

Roland Chia, Ph.D from University of London. He is the Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine. Expert in the theology of Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar, bio-medical ethics, relation between science and theology, and systematic theology in general.
I am currently studying pneumatology in Charismatic movement from Simon Chan, and general introduction to theology from Roland Chia. Next semester I will be studying hermeneutic from Mark Chan and possibly also philosophy of religion from him.

BGST Book Sale 22 Mar - 1 April

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Roman Catholic church institutionally cover up sexual abuse cases

The Murphy Report (by the Commission of Investigation into the handling by Church and State authorities of allegations and suspicions of child abuse against clerics of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin) released in 2009 reveals that, "The Dublin Archdiocese's pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid-1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets."

CNN highlighted the part of the report that the report has "no doubt that clerical child sexual abuse was covered up" from January 1975 to May 2004."

Pope Benedict XVI's was reported feeling very unhappy over the report. But who would be otherwise? That is obviously the politically right way to respond, attempting to salvage as much as he can for his institution.

The Roman Catholic church in Ireland already being shown that they have been institutionally covering up these cases. If that can happen in Ireland in our current times, then it is less impossible that the Roman Catholic church all around the world share the same tendency to cover up their crimes or immorality institutionally.

It has been chronicled by Jamie Doward at guardian.co.uk in 2005 that the current pope, Ratzinger, was involved in covering up these cases when he was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When the case against the notorious Marcial Maciel was reported to him, he consistently ignored the report from mid 1990s to 2002. In May 2001, Ratzinger sent letters to bishops to, "urged them to investigate such allegations 'in the most secretive way... restrained by a perpetual silence... and everyone... is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office... under the penalty of excommunication'."

At one occassion, Ratzinger said, "One can't put on trial such a close friend of the Pope as Marcial Maciel." That means, to Ratzinger, as long as you are close to the pope, you are immune from investigation.

It also has been revealed that the Roman Catholic church in Ireland had two teenage boys to sign oaths of silence in the 1975 to forbid them from talking about their abuse cases. The cardinal who was present at those meetings admitted the existence of such incidents.

The churches around the world have to be investigated, starting with the Roman Catholic churches since it has been made known of their systematic cover-ups. Who know how far does this sort of institutionalized evil is prevalent among the global Catholics. All victims of sexual abuses be it by Roman Catholic priest, cardinals, bishops, Jesuits, or any office holders across their various orders must come out to testify. The same goes to the Protestant churches too. All cases in the Christian communities must be reported. Since I'm from Malaysia, I wish the same investigation to carry out in my country. Who knows what we might discover in our own local churches.

In fact, the Catholics in Malaysia should initiate this. They should purge their own church. The same goes to non-Catholic churches too.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why paedophilic abuse?

(Took time off to post this while waiting for something)

BBC News covers a report three days ago Vatican forced to defend itself over abuse cases. Then there is another report of an ex-priest Bill Carney who used his video player to lure children to his place. Among Protestant churches, we have reports about pastors committing adultery the most while going through explicit discussion over homosexuality. Seldom there are paedophilic abuses reported among Protestant churches. May be there are many but so far not that many being reported.

Given that the Roman Catholic church is well known for paying large sum of money (USD$436 million in 2008 in United States alone) as compensation to abuse victims, it is possible that real victims and con opportunists to report against the church for monetary reason.

But the question remains, why paedophilic abuse is the most rampant among Roman Catholic priests who are ordained through their Sacrament of Holy Orders?

(The Roman Catholic believes that the ordained priest "by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself..." - Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church #1548)

I can guess that since the priests are not allowed to get married, they have to unleash their sexual drive on the most vulnerable human group, namely children. That is of course I assumed that they are not paedophilic (in the sense that they have the tendency to have sex and derive satisfactory sexual pleasure from children). So they have sex with children not because they have paedophilic tendency but children are their only option (as they can't be seen patronizing prostitutes). These priests know that the chances of them being caught for paedophilic activities are lower than compared to other acts like paying for sex or utilizing pornography. So in this case, they are not dissimilar with male prisoners who have sex with the more vulnerable prison mates. These prisoners are not homosexuals but they use the body of the vulnerable person for sexual satisfaction. Perhaps there is a sub-category of some who are not content with pornography, so they venture into paedophilia.

I can also guess that probably there are social factors that somehow relates paedophiles to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic church. For example, paedophiles conditioned by their tendency (eg. do not feel attracted to adult women) and life-experience, tend to interpret their life-calling to be Roman Catholic celibate priests.

Please share your guesses on this question, 'Why paedophilic abuses, of all other sexual abuses, rampant in the Roman Catholic church?'

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Taking break from blogging and responding to comments

There are a few research essays and one conference presentation need to be prepared. Have to stop posting and replying until end of this month. You all may continue to comment as I'm glad to moderate. :-)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Buddhism and its non-violent public image

Last month, Steven asked me to have a look at an circulating email reporting that "Buddhism wins best religion in the world award." After searching through the web, I found that the report was published by beliefnet.com on 15th July 2009 (in case beliefnet.com took it down, you can still read it here). Subsequently this report is posted on Buddhist's websites like Dhammacitta, Mingkok Buddhistdoor and Dhammaweb. The news was also announced at formal events like the 3rd convocation seminar, held at Penang's Than Hsiang temple, by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor and a Chair Professor in Geotechnical Engineering C. F. Lee in the presence of 250 participants.

Buddhist like dhammaprotector has checked up the news and advised Buddhists from circulating this news without first verifying it. "It may be a hoax and it looks like it at the moment," he wrote.

It is a hoax. The organization International Coalition for the Advancement of Religious and Spirituality (ICARUS) which was reported to award the accolade does not exist. Even the name of the organization sounds wrong. It should be 'International Coalition for the Advancement of Religion and Spirituality' or 'International Coalition for the Advancement of the Religious and Spirituality'. The word 'religious' is an adjective that does not make sense by itself. Either it needs an attached noun (eg. religious community) or a definite article (eg. the religious) to be intelligible.

We don't know who started this unverifiable news. What we do know is that the Buddhist websites, Prof. C. F. Lee, the 250 participants at the 3rd convocation seminar at Than Hsiang, and others who thought this news is true are simply duped. Nonetheless the rumor carries an important characteristic of Buddhism known popularly in the public: its supposedly non-violent history.

The probably fictional Director of Research for ICARUS, Jonna Hult, said "It wasn't a surprise to me that Buddhism won Best Religion in the World, because we could find literally not one single instance of a war fought in the name of Buddhism, in contrast to every other religion that seems to keep a gun in the closet just in case God makes a mistake. We were hard pressed to even find a Buddhist that had ever been in an army. These people practice what they preach to an extent we simply could not document with any other spiritual tradition."

Is it true that confessional Buddhists practice non-violence and there is no violent history related to the religion? Is Buddhism's non-violent public image, which is often used by its followers to vindicate its own stature among other religions, valid? Not true and not valid.

Katinka Hesselink has pointed out that,
"The great military conquests of the Sinhalese kingdoms in Sri Lanka, for instance, have been conducted in the name of the Buddhist tradition and often with the blessings of Buddhist monks. In Thailand the tradition called for those who rule by the sword as kings to first experience the discipline of Buddhist monastic training. They had to be “world renouncers” before they could be “world conquerors,” as the Harvard anthropologist Stanley Tambiah put it.

… Like Islam, the great expansion of Buddhism in various parts of the world has been credited in part to the support given it by victorious kings and military forces who have claimed to be fighting only to defend the faith against infidels and to establish a peaceful moral order." (Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence [USA: University of California Press, 2001], p.114)
A recent book titled Buddhist Warfare (USA: Oxford University Press, 2010) examines this topic in more detail,
"The eight essays in this book focus on a variety of Buddhist traditions, from antiquity to the present, and show that Buddhist organizations have used religious images and rhetoric to support military conquest throughout history.

Buddhist soldiers in sixth century China were given the illustrious status of Bodhisattva after killing their adversaries. In seventeenth century Tibet, the Fifth Dalai Lama endorsed a Mongol ruler's killing of his rivals. And in modern-day Thailand, Buddhist soldiers carry out their duties undercover, as fully ordained monks armed with guns. Buddhist Warfare demonstrates that the discourse on religion and violence, usually applied to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, can no longer exclude Buddhist traditions.

The book examines Buddhist military action in Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, and shows that even the most unlikely and allegedly pacifist religious traditions are susceptible to the violent tendencies of man."
Michael Jerryson, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Eckerd College, who is also one of the editors of Buddhist Warfare, posted an article on this matter with testimony about his encounter with Buddhist monks who carry guns in Thailand. He states that the current prevalent non-violent public image of Buddhism is the result of a "very successful form of propaganda" initiated by Walpola Rahula (this fella reminds me of my Theravadic Buddhist friend & conversation partner 'Rahula'), D. T. Suzuki, and Tenzin Gyatso (current Dalai Lama) since last century. Jerryson also mentioned that his edited book "is not to argue that Buddhists are angry, violent people—but rather that Buddhists are people, and thus share the same human spectrum of emotions, which includes the penchant for violence." This does sound like an Augustinian anthropological enterprise.

There are also other studies such as Brian Victoria's Zen War Stories (UK: Routledge, 2002). "Victoria reveals for the first time, through examination of the wartime writings of the Japanese military itself, that the Zen school's view of life and death was deliberately incorporated into the military's programme of 'spiritual education' in order to develop a fanatical military spirit in both soldiers and civilians. Furthermore, that D. T. Suzuki, the most famous exponent of Zen in the West, is shown to have been a wartime proponent of this Zen-inspired viewpoint which enabled Japanese soldiers to leave for the battlefield already resigned to death." 

This book built on his first book Zen at War (USA: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997; 2nd edition, 2006) that shows the imperial Japanese military's fanatical ideology has its foundation in Zen Buddhism. Perhaps not dissimilar with how Hitler used certain form of Christianity for his cause.

We have examples of violence incited by Buddhists in our current times as well. For example, in May 2006, Buddhist monks led mobs to attack three churches in Sri Lanka.

Hopefully this post may contribute in little ways to help clarify the spreading rumor that Buddhism won the best religion award as well as its public image of non-violent tradition. None of current major religions are stainless, and hence all need to continue to strive to be. So, "What shall we conclude then?," drawing from the question that apostle Paul aptly asked in Romans 3.9. With emphasis and in solemnity, the apostle answered, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." (Romans 3.23)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Cryptic language in glossolalia

In chapter 2 of his Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, Simon Chan argues that glossolalia, as the most significant divinely given symbol, is the 'initial evidence' revealing the realness of God through the life-long sanctifying Spirit-driven lives of the believers. (72)

“Glossolalia mirrors the most important characteristic of the divine life. It is a life of love and self-giving between the Father and the Son, in which the Father initiates and the Son yields in humble obedience by the power of the Spirit” (52) A good point. However, there are many expressions such as prioritise the urgent physical needs of others that mirror such a life of love and self-giving. If the Son’s self-giving is ultimately an extension of grace to the inferior, then meeting an urgent need of the unfortunate mirrors better the divine life as compared to glossolalia.

Simon Chan emphasizes on the cryptic-ness of glossolalia functions as “symbol of a spiritual reality and is not just an arbitrary sign.” (53) He endorses Frank Macchia’s view that, “[T]ongues as a cryptic language revealed the unfathomable depth and ultimate eschatological fulfilment of all prophetic speech, pointing to both the limits and the meaning of the language of faith.” (52)

However, a perspective on revelation hardly provides allowance for the act of glossolalia and the cryptic-ness in that act to have such a central attention in their theological construct. This is especially so when glossolalia is seen under the category of prophetic speech. The very idea of revelation itself, the incarnation of the Son – the ultimate example of all prophetic speech as God’s own speech – suggests that ‘cryptic-ness’ is not the most characteristic of divine speech. Neither the act itself mirrors best the divine life, as shown in the second paragraph. The incarnation as the definitive divine speech is sufficiently intelligible and not cryptic to those who have responded positively to it, though we acknowledge that its full implication is still being grasped by the believing community.

Friday, March 05, 2010

On caring-ness, hermeneutic and offense

A worth learning lesson on public discourse is the inevitability of miscommunication. Often we find our correspondents do not get what we mean and vice versa, but if that is the only way to discourse, then it is not discourse anymore.

From my experience of having dialog with people from different backgrounds, what I find frustrating is that we very often miss each other's point. But that frustration should not be representing the overall sentiment of the discourse since miscommunication is a given in communication. It is a given because there exists interpretation. What matters is the existential extension that sustains the dialog.

Instead of putting the blame of miscommunication on the correspondents or ourselves, we shall relocate the blame on communication itself, which is a givenness. The existential extension comes in forms as simple as our caring-ness to trust the other person to acknowledge his or her stance. Through this extension, correspondence is sustained and communication is effected. In simple words, we care enough to communicate.

Here is a thoughtful remark from A. K. M. Adam, Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Glasgow:
"All the things you might want to enlist in your defense if you offend somebody — your intentions, your history as a good actor, the specific meaning you ascribe to your words (and that you think anyone ought to) — can’t defuse the offense. If you care about communicating with people, you have to allow that they construe your utterances, gestures, behaviour differently from what you wish. And once a particular utterance/gesture/act has given offense, appeals to your defenses are unlikely to resolve the problem. Constructive remediation, and manifest response to the basis of the offense, are likely to be the most productive way forward.

[...] Disavowing responsibility for the offense, assigning the problem to them, only intensifies the misunderstanding and offense [...] The problem in such situations isn’t that the aggrieved party hasn’t done their interpretation “correctly,” it’s that someone doesn’t care enough about what some of their neighbours think to acknowledge and take account of their relation to your behaviour."

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Simon Chan on 'canon'

"The canon is more than just a motley collection of 66 books. To recognize these books as constituting the canon implies an interpretive process involving the dynamic relationship between the texts and the interpretive community which shapes and is shaped by that body of texts. It is within this interactive process that we can speak of a canonical, authoritative and 'biblical' meaning. Conservative Christians have tended to understand interpretation as involving a one-way process centering on the text, as if there is a single, independent meaning in there waiting to be discovered, which once discovered, will decisively settle the issue. What the canonical approach has helped us to see is that meaning arises from the interaction of Scripture and the interpretive community [...] the church as the canonically shaped community recognizes the truth as it embodies or 'indwells' the Scripture, such that the community (the Body of Christ) could be said to be an extension of Scripture."
(Simon Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000], 43-44. Italic original.)

Simon Chan is the Earnest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Theological College. I am currently taking his class on pneumatology in the Pentecostal movement. We noticed that he is a very careful scholar. We see that in his work as much as in his lecture. Each sentences he made is carefully framed and articulated, and he usually managed to engage with student's inquiries. At each lecture, he would stay seated while expounding the subject for the day through slides of powerpoint.

Simon contends that the idea of 'canon', which simply means the 'rule of faith', cannot be reduced to either the scripture nor the believing community. The scripture and the community are mutually affecting one another. Hence the canon as Christ's authority lies not from within the church or outside of the church but from the church's being in the scripture.

I came to a similar theology on scripture last semester in my essay: "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." The only trivial difference is that Simon takes the scripture as that of only 66 books.

RZIM Reasonable Faith Weekend, April 2010

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Not sure if the Letter to the Ephesians was written to the Ephesians...

The readers were Christian[1] “saints” (1.1) from the Gentile group (2.11, 3.1).[2] The latter part of the letter that filled with exhortation for order in social structure – wives/husbands, children/parents, slaves/masters[3] – in the community suggests that the letter was directed to the entire believing community (4.1-6.20).

The letter does not mention individuals or the local problems that were facing the congregation. The only named person is Tychicus, Paul’s messenger to the letter’s readers (6.21-22). We know from the accounts in Acts that it was Paul who founded and work closely with local Jews and Gentiles in the congregation at Ephesians (Acts 18.19-21, 19.1-2, 8, 10, 20.1, 31).

So the ‘impersonal’ tone of the letter gives the impression that it is either a circulated general epistle like 1 Peter, or a letter to the subsequent generation of converts who have not met Paul personally based on 1.15 (Paul said that he has ‘heard’ the reader’s exemplary living-hood). Add to the fact that the “in Ephesus” in 1.1 is probably a later interpolation since the earliest textual evidences that we have such as Papyrus 46, Codex Vaticanus, and Codex Sinaiticus omit this reference. Other ancient authors such as Tertulian and Origen do not contain the reference. Marcion perceived the readers of the letter as “Laodiceans”. All these external evidences suggest that there is no “in Ephesus” in the original text.[4]

[1] See further discussion in Ernest Best, Ephesians (UK: T&T Clark, 1998), 1-6.
[2] Frank S. Thielman, “Ephesians,” in Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, G. K. Beale, D. A. Carson, ed., (USA: Baker Academic, 2007), 813.
[3] Peter O’ Brien, The Letter To The Ephesians, (USA: Eerdmans, 1999), 70.
[4] See fuller discussion in Markus Barth, Ephesians 1-3 (USA: Doubleday, 1974), 10-11, 67; Peter O’ Brien, The Letter To The Ephesians, (USA: Eerdmans, 1999), 47-49, 84-87.

Monday, March 01, 2010

No individual personal salvation in the Letter to the Ephesians

"...it is difficult to understand Ephesians as a book containing information and direction regarding individual salvation and perfection. Both the kerygmatic and the parenetic parts of Ephesians show primary concern for the community. There is no individual personal salvation preached in Ephesians which may or must be followed by the demand for social ethics; instead, one new social order, called "peace" in 2:13-17, is established for the benefit of heaven and earth by Jesus Christ. This order is the content of the Gospel...

According to this epistle, God's dealings are with Israel and the nations, with the church and the powers for the world, in short, with the whole of creation. Instead of going out to save souls, God establishes his rule and kingship over heaven and earth. All is to be submitted to the king he has enthroned at his right hand... In sum, a political, social, public concept of the working of God's grace appears in Ephesians to substitute for an individual, psychological and existentialist concern in the main epistles of Paul. For a long time, Paul was understood to answer the question which in Luther's phrasing is, "How do I get a gracious God?"... But the question treated in Ephesians is: What, if any, salvation is there for this world?... Ministers of the Ephesian gospel of peace will not forget or neglect the cure of souls, but their concern for individuals will be imbedded in the conviction that they are ambassadors of God's kingdom to the whole world. Their task will be fulfilled in the political and social as well as in personal domains. "The manifold wisdom of God is now to be made known through the church to the governments and authorities." (Eph 3:10)"
(Markus Barth, Ephesians 1-3 [The Anchor Bible; vol. 34; Garden City: Doubleday, 1974], 44-46. Emphasis mine.)

Previously I have asked the question what does it mean to run a "ministry" or to be a "pastor"? The answer is already in the Letter to the Ephesians.