Friday, April 30, 2010

We need theology

"We need theology not because it is a nice thing to get our ideas sorted out in our heads organized so that we can do the jigsaw of all these wonderful abstract ideas but because without prayerful reflective investigation of who God is, who the people of God are, and what the one hope that belongs to our call is. Without that prayerful wise investigation, the worldview which we call the one church in Jesus Christ will not be able to sustain itself. If you don't believe me, think of churches that have given up on theology and you will see what I mean."
(N. T. Wright, Paul and the People of God: Whence and Whither Pauline Studies and the Life of the Church, The 19th Annual Wheaton Theology Conference, 17th April 2010)

Buddhists torturing Christians?

Christian Post reported this news:
"Buddhist members of an armed rebel group and their sympathizers are holding three tribal Christians captive in a pagoda in southeastern Bangladesh after severely beating them in an attempt to force them to return to Buddhism...

After taking the Christians captive on April 16, the sources said, the next day the armed Buddhist extremists forced other Christians of Maddha Lemuchari Baptist Church to demolish their church building by their own hands. The extremists first seized all blankets, Bibles and song books from the church building...

...Pastor Talukder was bludgeoned nearly to death...

They gave vent to their anger on Christians in a violent outburst by beating the pastor and two others after failing several attempts in the past to stop their evangelical activities... They took them into a pagoda to convert them forcibly to Buddhism.
Buddhism is known as a religion that emphasizes on calmness, nothingness, meditation, compassion, inclusiveness, karma, etc. So I don't know how do Buddhists draw out such teachings from the religion and think that they are consistent with it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

iPad mania

We are not consumerism's consumer. We don't want to be bombarded by product after product and being told that each of these new products are our 'needs'. Whether is it a 'need' or a 'want', you decide.

Here're two opinions on iPad:

"Do I really need an iPad? Generally, I'd say the answer is no. In fact, try as I might, I can't think of too many situations in which anyone would really need one." (Tim Challies)

"iPad is an elegant solution in search of a problem... Everyone I have shown the device to holds it with childlike wonder and eventually mutters, “Wow. I’ve gotta get one of these!” But after working with it for a week, I have to ask, Why?"" (Michael Hyatt)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Scot McKnight's follow-up on his 'historical Jesus' article

He wrote,
"The "Historical Jesus" (of the Historical Jesus enterprise) fashions a Jesus by examining the data (Gospels and ancient texts and archaeology etc), subjecting the data to rigorous historical methods, finding what genuinely survives, and the putting together what is left into a portrait of what the real Jesus was like... there is a difference between historical study of Jesus and the Historical Jesus enterprise. The former seeks to understand Jesus in context; the latter seeks to reconstruct a Jesus that differs from the Gospels and the Creeds." (italics mine)
I see a superficial difference here in how McKnight distinguishes the Historical Jesus enterprise from the historical study of Jesus. If McKnight thinks that Historical Jesus is a historical studies of Jesus, is that not just another way of saying understanding Jesus in his historical context?

Perhaps McKnight was referring to the understanding of Jesus in the literary context in the gospels, and not the historical one. If this is so, then one has to question whether can there be such a sharp difference between the literary nature and the historical nature of the gospels. If the gospels are a soft of ancient (historical + theological) biographies, then one is playing into the sort of Bultmanian form criticism, which its credibility for historicity is very dubious.

So I don't think McKnight's clarification deals with the confusion he has over the different category between two very distinct yet corollary studies: First, the study on the reliability of the gospels, and second the study of Jesus as portrayed by the gospels.

One of McKnight's persisting reasons to lament over the death of the Historical Jesus enterprise is the lacking of publication and interest among scholars over the issue, "interest has waned to a pittance of what it was. Very few scholars are attending Historical Jesus sessions; very few books are now being produced (in contrast to an avalanche of books in the 80s and 90s); one could say the Historical Jesus is at a dead-end."

In such situation one has to ask if such impasse is due to lack of new exciting findings or just due to the fact that everything is pretty settled, as in there is not much further discovery to be found because we have exhausted all that we can find. Think of an archaeologist who has dug all the way through the layers of rock and found all that one can imagine to find. So there is nothing much to dig anymore.

So instead of mourning over the 'death' of the Historical Jesus enterprise like McKnight, one can choose to celebrate the discovery of it. Celebrating over what the enterprise has given us; over what it was established to give in the first place. What is left is the fine-tuning work which happens from time to time, giving us more and more nuanced understanding of what already been dug up.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Richard Phillips' comment on Waltke

Richard Phillips at Reformation21 commented on Enns and Waltke. I'll just focus on the latter. Phillips doesn't think Waltke make his case for evolution. Here are Phillips' charges:
1) Waltke does not present evidence for evolution as "a result of Biblical reflection."

2) Waltke's commitment to the inspiration of the scripture is fake because he said that Christians must adopt a creation account (theistic evolution) that is "alien to that of the Bible" in order to avoid being seen as cultists.

3) Waltke is unable to restrict the "hegemony of science over Scripture to the realm of creation issues." Once this hegemony is allowed, all other claims in the Bible will be questionable and hence incredible.
Here are my responses:

Phillips misses the point to think that Waltke is on a mission to show that evolution is true from the Bible. Waltke's work is to show how can we at present understand the creation account in Genesis. In other words, Waltke is not saying, "Hey guys, I'm going to show you from the Bible that evolution is true." Phillips is charging Waltke for something the latter didn't commit.

Phillips doesn't understand Waltke's notion of inspiration. He read his own idea of inspiration into Waltke and then charges Waltke's commitment as fake. To Phillips, the creation account in Genesis is divinely authored and inspired and therefore provides us the exact word-for-word, straight-forward description of the entire process of how our world came into existence. So if the Bible's creation account records 6 days, that means it is 6 days. Hence the Bible has no error. That is his notion of inspiration.

To Waltke, the Bible's creation account's record of 6 days is a multi-layer description of reality. He uses the illustration between water and gas in his white paper to BioLogos. He described that a half-full glass of water is rightly understood as half-empty as well as full of gas, visible and invisible. In the same way, the 6-days creation account consists of "two levels of literature: the historical story level and the interpretive, creative plot level. On the story level the accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 are historical; on the plot level they are creative representations of the historical reality." In this way, there is no error in the Bible*. Therefore, it is ironic that Phillips is reading an alien theology into Waltke and charges him as a fake. Of course it is fake since it is not Waltke's own idea in the first place.

It is naive to charge Waltke as favoring science over scripture. It is not the case that on one end there is science and on another there is scripture. We know that it is always a certain interpretation of science over against a certain interpretation of scripture (for eg. evolution in relation to the word-for-word, exact description of 6-days creation). Waltke opted for a combination of certain interpretation of science which does not run against a certain interpretation of scripture (evolution in relation to the multi-layer genre of the 6-days creation). Phillips is only "astonished by the naivete" of Waltke because he couldn't restrict the hegemony of his own choice of combination between certain interpretation of science and certain interpretation of scripture to himself but lord it over Waltke. Another irony.

Seems that Phillips has not commented on the real Bruce Waltke, but the one made from his own image.

* Bruce Waltke thinks that there is no historical error in the Bible according to his understanding of the doctrine of inspiration. "A theory that entails notions that holy Scripture contains flat out contradictions, ludicrous harmonization, earlier revelations that are misleading and/or less than truthful, and doctrines that are represented as based on historical fact, but in fact are based on fabricated history, in my judgment, is inconsistent with the doctrine that God inspired every word of holy Scripture." (Bruce Waltke, 'Revisiting Inspiration and Incarnation' in Westminster Theological Journal 71, pub. 2009, p. 94)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reconciliation & non-violent

"If we have a view to future reconciliation with our enemy, we will resist violence and unjust means in our struggle, because we hope to live with our neighbor afterwards. In other words, if the goal is reconciliation, the means will also be reconciliatory, and this has implications for processes and attitudes in mission. The Holy Spirit delimits the strategies of mission since not all methods are compatible with the Spirit of Christ." (Kirsteen Kim, The Holy Spirit in the World: A Global Conversation [USA: Orbis, 2007], p.178. Emphasis added.)

Homosexual tendency & the Roman Catholic abuser-priests

Previously I have asked, "Why paedophilic abuses, of all other sexual abuses, rampant in the Roman Catholic church?"

Recently, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State of His Holiness The Pope, Vatican, has answered the question,
"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true...That is the problem."
He was saying that homosexuality is the cause of all the pedophilia cases in the Roman Catholic church. Later on, the Vatican Radio clarified that the Cardinal is not competent enough to make such remark on his own, but based on the data he was exposed to,
"With regard to their competency in the area of the causes of abuse of minors by priests in recent years, they refer to statistical data quoted by Mgr.Scicluna of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in an interview that addresses this issue.

According to the data, 10% of abuse cases can be classified as pedophilia in the strict sense. 90% of cases are better defined as ephebophilia (ie attraction towards adolescents). Of these, approximately 60% are reported as same-sex attraction and 30% of a heterosexual nature. Obviously this data refers to the problem of abuse by priests and not to statistics regarding the general population."
This means that, according to the data provided by Vatican itself, there is 60% prevalence of homosexual tendency among Roman Catholic priests who are reported to have committed abuse, and not the general public. Father Federico Lombardi was reported to confirmed this further by referring to "the statistics, from a March interview in a Catholic newspaper with Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's abuse prosecutor",
"...Bertone was not talking about pedophilia in society at large, nor making any medical or psychological assertions. Rather, Bertone was "evidently" referring to statistics, recently supplied by the Holy See's own prosecutor handling sex abuse allegations against clergy."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ichthus Seminar: Rethinking Faith & Reason

Title : Rethinking Faith and Reason

Speaker: Dr. Wang-Yen Lee

Date: 19 April 2010, 10 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.

Venue: Singapore Bible College

My purpose in this talk is to clarify the roles of reason and faith in Christian belief and practices. I shall first argue that reason can yield knowledge of or justified belief in core Christian tenets if it can yield scientific knowledge, since inductive reasoning is involved in both. I shall then argue that the faith required in becoming a Christian should be distinguished from belief or justified belief in core Christian tenets.nbsp;

About the Speaker:
Lee Wang Yen is a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Philosophy, National University of Singapore. He is an SBC alumnus and has a PhD in philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge. He has published some journal articles in philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, and epistemology and currently he is working on a monograph on an objective Bayesian account of probabilistic inference. In the long run, he hopes to contribute to the rational defense of traditional Christian belief by doing serious analytic philosophy.

S$10 for general public; S$5 for SBC alumni; S$5 for SBC students (special rate of S$3 per student for those who register through their respective class). All fees are inclusive of GST. Ichthus members please bring along your membership card to enter without charges.

To register, go to the website.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

McKnight and others on the 'historical Jesus'

Scot McKnight recently posted an article about the historical Jesus quest. "The historical Jesus is the Jesus whom scholars have reconstructed on the basis of historical methods over against the canonical portraits of Jesus in the Gospels of our New Testament, and over against the orthodox Jesus of the church."

This is incorrect as the historical Jesus is reconstructed on the basis of historical methods applied on the NT gospels. So there is no category where historical methods itself became a category in contrast the NT gospels. McKnight recognizes this since he further explains that "Historical Jesus scholars reconstruct what Jesus was like by using historical methods to determine what in the Gospels can be trusted." This would simply place on the term 'historical Jesus' nothing other than the historical method in investigating the reliability of the NT gospels rather than the portrayal of Jesus in them.

One is puzzled over McKnight's repetitive phrase that historical Jesus is about drawing up another portrait of Jesus, "The reconstructed Jesus is not identical to the canonical Jesus or the orthodox Jesus. He is the reconstructed Jesus, which means he is a "new" Jesus." If that is the case, then this goes against what he expounded earlier that historical Jesus is really about the reliability of the gospels. It's not too difficult to see that McKnight is confused over the different category between two very distinct yet corollary studies: First, the study on the reliability of the gospels, and second the study of Jesus as portrayed by the gospels.

McKnight went on to complain that historical Jesus scholars are approaching the discipline by persupposing that the NT gospels and the church exaggerated and edited in their portrayal the real Jesus. Hence the work of the scholars are cutting through these exaggerations to get to the historical Jesus. Yet, I dont think this is the case as historical Jesus scholars such as N.T. Wright does not so much bypassing the NT gospels but to grapple with the gospels to provide a more historically situatied account of the Jesus described in these records. A better view is that the scholars are debating over which interpretation best describes Jesus historically through the NT gospels. As Wright himself rightly saw what McKnight missed, "Genuine historical study is necessary—not to construct a "fifth gospel," but rather to understand the four we already have." Darrell Bock brought this up too, " one claims that historical Jesus work gives us or seeks to give us an uninterpreted Jesus."

Craig Keener has also responded. Michael Barber too.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Interfaith dialog

Updated 12 Apr 2010: Initially I have posted that it was an initiative with MUIS, but upon correction, it was with the Reading Group with a few participants who are from MUIS. So it is not an official MUIS initiative.

I just got back from an interfaith initiative with the Reading Group. Met some learned Muslims. One is taking Ph.D at Warwick University, another one who read Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and Karl Rahner.

To think about it, interfaith relation is EXTREMELY important in our current world. It is not about the flourishing of the society anymore, as how we used to think. Flourishing is secondary. At present, such initiative is for the survival of it. Tension caused by hidden but real fear from different religious communities is crippling like the threat of a time-bomb that will ignite unless serious measures are taken NOW. We have observed terrorism carried out by the Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and etc. This fact alone should cause governments around to pay attention to this issue. The Singapore government saw this and since then has been continuously working on it. They have come to realize that segregating differing religious communities is not an option in the society. The only way is to build a real relationship among the various faithfuls.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

What's up?

5 research papers, 10 reviews on 10 Pentecostal theological articles, 2 reflections on 2 NT books, 1 presentation on the life of William Wilberforce, involvement in Christian-Muslim interfaith activity, science & engineering Christian fellowship, movie Christian fellowship, and final exams of this semester in the midst of all that.

So, help me Lord.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Phases in our understanding of the Holy Spirit

In chapter 3 of Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective, Karkkainen provides a brief survey through the development of various different understanding of the Holy Spirit in this chapter. Charismatic experience of the Spirit was at the beginning of the church. Karkkainen draws from the researches of James Dunn and Yves Congar to point out that the experience of the Spirit is a constant occurrence in the Christian communities. Early church leaders like Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Cyprian, Hyppolytus, Ignatius and Irenaeus were involved in the discourse over charismatic movement of their era (p.39-41). Later, we have the Montanist controversy, which had a loose perception of the Holy Spirit, beginning in the second century had attracted further discussion over this topic. Such discourse extended widely even to the eastern churches. Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Cyril of Alexandria, Basil of Caesarea were all dealing with the discussion on Holy Spirit in their own respective works (p.43-46).

Karkkainen highlighted that Augustine in the fifth century has developed a groundbreaking understanding on the Holy Spirit. From his reflection over scriptural passages such as John 4.7-14, 7.37-39, 16.13, Matt 10.20, Rom 5.5, 8.11, 9, Gal 4.6, 1 John 4.7-16, and others, he succeeded to produce a theology of the Holy Spirit which prevalent in the western world until today. He concludes that “since the Spirit is the Spirit and Love of the first two Persons, [the Spirit] must be said to proceed from those Persons.” (p.48) This is the filioque clause which has caused deep disagreement from the eastern churches.

Karkkainen highlights four theologies developed through the mystic tradition during the medieval times. They are Hildegard of Bingen, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, and Catherine of Siena. A consistent vein shared by all four is their individual’s employment of imageries or illustration to describe the person of the Spirit in relation to the Trinity (p.49-55). Then discussion is shifted to the Reformation’s and post-Reformation’s thoughts, before going through Kant, Hegel, Schleiermacher, Barth, Ritschl and Tillich (p.56-65).

If one may compartmentalize the development of the theology of the Holy Spirit in this chapter into phases, there is a sense that from the beginning of the church until the period prior to Augustine, the Christian community was busy reckoning the Spirit’s stature in the economy of the Godhead. That was the initial phase. After the time of Augustine until the time of Kant and Hegel, it seems that theologians had come to affirm the Spirit’s stature and thus have moved on to keep themselves busy with developing analogy and illustration to describe the Spirit’s role in the economy of the Godhead. That was the second phase. Then the third phase of the discussion of the Spirit from Kant to Tillich, was built upon the achievement of the previous two eras. Instead of using analogy and illustration, this later generation of thinkers engaged the discourse with the tendency to insert a sort of realistic immanence into the Spirit’s ontology. In other words, they approached the discourse through realism. We have in this third phase of development a phenomenologically empowered pneumatology.

Friday, April 02, 2010

How real is world economy?

"And the worst thing that has emerged out of the economic and ecological crises of the last few decades is of course our failure to live in the real world. We live in a world of fantasy, a world where there is endless material resource to be exploited. A world in which it is possible to change the destiny of millions of people by financial transactions happening in mid air.

That is not the real world and I do take some offence when some people say “Oh you theologians and people who talk about ideals and values don’t live in the real world.” I see plenty of evidence of others, other decision makers not living in the real world in that sense."
(Rowan Williams, Speech from the closing session of the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos, 31st January 2010)
Can't help but to say 'Amen'.

Living with Colossians in hand

(Photo is taken from Redemption Hill Church website)

Looking at Colossians as a whole and particularly in chapter 1 verses 13-23 led me to wonder how would we make sense of the described ontological condition of the modern world. If God is the primary existence which brought all existences into being, and Christ serving as the initiator, the binding force and as well as the teleological end of all the secondary existences, then the current world that we live in is not as transparent as we tend to recognize, not to mention comprehend.

The World Economic Forum, a prominent network that acts as the ground for international collaboration between politicians, business people, academicians, and other influential people, has this as its tagline, “Committed to improving the state of the world.” On the other hand, we have the United Nations who is “committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights.” Yet in this decade alone, we are hit by the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression (not least the other economic woes throughout the decades), witnessing a surge in organized terrorism stemming from economic to political to religious and cultural motivation, while facing wildly uncontrolled exploitation of natural and human resources, and experience a widening disparity between the rich and the poor. These struggling global affairs seem endless.

The structures that we have raised for ourselves have so far not giving us the ensured improvement. I have no doubt that organizations like the World Economic Forum, United Nations, and many others are labouring strenuously to bring about progress to the current condition. However, the present state of existence as we are living through daily does not seem to be leading to the corrective route, if any route at all. It just seems that history is repeating itself with the powers adamantly contesting among themselves.

With the text of the Colossians at hand, I wonder if our current predicament is due to a series of negligence of the ontology of our world’s structures as described in chapter 1 of Colossians. Let’s just pick one. It seems that there is neglect in pursuing fundamental questions on the ontological status of all these secondary existences. We still have not seen the ontological questions of the world and the structures within it being addressed widely at prominent settings (a recent rare example would be Rowan Williams’ address at the World Economic Forum, Davos, 31st January 2010). For instance, the economic structures such as corporation values, productivity measurement, consumption of the society, and national growth are too readily assumed to be exclusively assessable only through monetary judgement. Foreign Direct Investment into a nation is often being lured through temptations such as cheap labour and low-cost natural resources. Such national marketing technique avails the country’s own citizens and natural endowment to be exploited by foreign investors. On top of that, these investing companies impose prices of their products into the local market without taking the local cost of living into consideration. In simple words, both the country and the company have taken for granted the ontological status of investment to be primarily monetary. The country exposes her capital to exploitation, while the company just follow wherever the lure is.

If “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1.16) then the ontology of investment is not as resilient as to be led either by the market or the government. It should be the other way around, where the market and government approach investment according to its ontological status. Economic structures such as investment derived existence from Christ and owe its teleology to him. Yet most of these structures as we have them today are hostile to Christ in the same way as we have became hostile to him (Col 1.21). Therefore the same reconciliation that we need is the very same reconciliation these existing structures need. Stature of these structures needs to be re-constituted according to their ontology: How they are meant to be through Christ.

"And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." (Col 2.15)

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Easter humour

"Humour, as always, was powerful medicine…. When the Dean preached what struck him as a Laodicean sermon one Easter, either Rowan or Oliver O’Donovan whispered, ‘Christ is risen: he is possibly risen indeed,’ as the two processed out of the cathedral. Each now ascribes the comment to the other."
(Rupert Shortt, Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury, p.137.)
This perhaps does not tickle some of you because it is an insider joke. Anyway, I'm going to explain the joke here, which will inevitably diminish the humour.

There is a technical greeting which is used by the Eastern Orthodox Christians during Easter known as the Paschal Greeting. The practise goes like this. When you meet someone during Easter, you shall say to him or her, "Christ is risen," and he or she will reply accordingly, "Christ is risen indeed." And 'Laodicean' connotes 'indifference in religious matters'.

Here's the translation. After listening to the boring and passionless sermon, one of them turned to the other and greeted, "Christ is risen: Christ is possibly risen indeed," to tease the indifferent sermon. How could Jesus' resurrection, the ultimate climax of divine vindication, the absolute signifier of the transformed creation and the defeat of death, be preached so lifelessly?

Now, one is a prominent clergyman who is first among equal of a worldwide communion of 77 millions, while the other is a prominent Christian ethicist whose works have revived the discourse on political theology among Evangelicals. What interests me is not so much the humour but the remarkable friendship these two fellas share.

In case some of you think that both of them are closet liberals (worse, perceiving me as a liberal for posting this) who do not affirm the resurrection of Christ, you may want to check out their significant works on the issue:

Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel.

Oliver O'Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics.

Solemnity @ Presbyterian Easter Convention

Attended the Presbyterian Easter Convention 2010 yesterday. Mark Chan, Lecturer in Theology at Trinity Theological College, expounds the Passion narrative from Matthew, Luke, and John. The topic for the first session was 'Darkness Illuminated'. One question I took away from the session:
"What will we do when we come face to face with the truth?" (Will we behaved like the intolerant Sanhedrin or, more remarkably, Pilate whose notion of truth is always a question, "What is truth?" [John 18.38]).
After the session, Joycelyn asked me why was I so serious and solemn during the session (usually I am bubbly around her). I told her that I was trying hard to ground myself in focus, letting go all my guts in order to remain open for and bare-naked in front of God. Examining ego and pride in light of Christ's passion.

Later that night, while waiting for my hair to dry, I read about Rowan Williams' comment on prayer which I think parallel with what happened to me at the session:
"The challenge is to find enough time to become quiet enough and still enough. And all the [emphasis on] the need to attend to your body is not about exotic yoga techniques. It is how do you use your body in such a way that you can actually centre it to be where you are. Somebody once said that the deepest problem in prayer is often not the absence of God but the absence of me. I'm not actually there. My mind is everywhere." (Rupert Shortt, Rowan's Rules: The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury (USA: Eerdman, 2009), p.152)
The archbishop summed it much better than I can. "It is how do you use your body in such a way that you can actually centre it to be where you are."