Saturday, October 30, 2010

Julian Baggini, an atheist philosopher, preaching at Westminster Abbey

Andreas directed me to this news where Julian Baggini was asked by the Westminster School's chaplain to a group of students, explaining why he is an atheist. The invitation was "strange" and even "shocking" to the atheist philosopher himself.

"The problem is that while the word atheist itself means nothing more than "not-theist", it seems that for many, "a" stands for anti.

If being an atheist meant being anti-theist, then I would not be one. I am an anti-dogmatist, an anti-fundamentalist, yes. But I have no hostility to theism as such, and have no desire to strip all theists of their faith. Of course I think theists are mistaken, but no one should be automatically hostile to everyone they disagree with. Hostility should be reserved for the pernicious, the wicked and the harmful.

One of the points brought up by Julian is the divisive category of believers and non-believers:

"Dividing the world up into believers and non-believers, while accurate in many ways, doesn't draw the distinction between friends and foes. I see my allies as being the community of the reasonable, and my enemies as the community of blind faith and dogmatism. Any religion that is not unreasonable and not dogmatic should likewise recognise that it has a kinship with atheists who hold those same values. And it should realise that it has more to fear from other people of faith who deny those values than it does from reasonable atheists like myself."

This is a good point though it is not being pursued far enough. I, like Julian, am more inclined to talk to a non-Christian who are reasonable than a Christian who doesn't talk reason, yet must not allow this inclination to divide in the sense of alienating those who are different from us. Whether we agree or disagree, there should not be alienation.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The thorn in the flesh of Trinity Theological College: "It is a liberal college"

Last Saturday, I got to know the Dean of Biblical Studies of another local Christian education institution. He was a scientist all his life before taking up his current position. I told him that I have one of his books and really glad that he wrote it. We chatted a bit before I had to excuse myself to resume my work.

In our conversation, he brought up to me that Trinity Theological College (TTC) is a liberal institution. He recalled a time when he was told that the education philosophies of the Principal of TTC are these: (1) To expose or bombard the students to all kind of teachings; (2) Leave the students to learn for themselves what is to be believed, what are the orthodox doctrines.

He then continued to say that the faculty at TTC does not guide the students which doctrines to believe.

(To him, those are the criteria suits for the label "liberal." To me, I think it is difficult to define what constitutes "liberal".)

I asked him which Principal was he referring to. He said that it is the current one, Dr. Ngoei Foong Nghian. I was surprised.

Then I told him that I am a student at TTC and I have been studying there for more than a year and being taught by various members of the faculty. And I do not find any of the lecturers in any way resembles the hearsay he heard.

Concerning the hearsay that we are exposed to all kinds of teachings: To me personally, I do not find our lecturers expose us to all kinds of teachings. We are taught only what are relevant to our course. A good way to see what kind of teachings we are getting is through the textbooks that we use.

In Old Testament course, we used An Introduction to the Old Testament by Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard. In Theology class, Millard Erickson's Christian Theology, a standard Evangelical textbook. For our hermeneutic course, we use Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Craig Blomberg, William Klein, and Robert Hubbard.

For Mission and Evangelism course, we use David Bocsh's Transforming Mission and Perspectives edited by Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne. For Church History, History of World Christian Movement written by Dale Martin and Scott Sunquist. As for New Testament, the lecturer, Tony, is currently using The New Testament in Antiquity by Gary Burge, Lynn Cohick, and Gene Green.

All these are written by Evangelical scholars who are often marked as critical, conservative and evangelical (in the sense that they give emphasis on missionary work). And I know of non-conservative works for each of these subjects--I read them in my free time--so when I say these are conservative I really mean it. Don't believe me, read these works for yourself to find out.

Concerning the hearsay that TTC's faculty is not guiding the students whenever we face with problem in our studies over doctrinal issues: Well anyone who thinks so should just register into any one of TTC's courses.

In every class, the lecturers provide guidance from topics to topics. Just this afternoon we were taught about Classical Dispensationalism in our class on Eschatology. Our lecturer, Dr. Roland Chia, expounded the origin and characteristics of this school of thought in the first session before he moved on to give a critique on it during the second session.

In one of the class on 'Mission in an Age of Globalization', I raised the possibility of transhumanism in the future and Christian's openness to embrace the culture. Dr. Andrew Peh disagreed with me by alluding to Christ's incarnation as the justification that the attempt to technologize human being will only depreciate the human body. And he always avail his own space for us to hang out and chill whenever we are stressed.

Rev. Malcolm Tan who taught us 'Asian Religions' conscientiously and meticulously guided the class through the various religions by emphasizing the differences between Christianity and the rest. Many times, he shared with us his reasons why he is still a Christian despite there are so many religions in the world.

In Dr. Mark Chan's class on biblical interpretation, he told us that he belongs to the Gadamerian school of hermeneutics and emphasizes on the canonical status and character of the Bible. At the end of each session, we are given time to discuss and clarify with him over any question that we have. And he has never failed to respond to us by guiding us back to the importance of cultivating a self-critical approach that we need to study the Scripture critically and with reverence. Recently, he has published an article on Christianity Today website on the issue of relativism. The article concludes with this statement: "To believe in absolute truth is to run counter to the spirit of the age. We can expect to be ridiculed, ostracized, and opposed. We need to be reminded that the one who was Truth Incarnate, the one John describes as "full of grace and truth," became Truth Crucified at the hands of those bent on snuffing out the light of truth. Darkness did not have the last word. Light pierced the tomb of Jesus, and in the resurrection of Christ, we have Truth Vindicated." Is this liberal?

Dr. Yu Chin Cheak, who taught us 'Pastoral Care and Counseling', conducted a one-on-one session with everyone of us to help us on how to carry out our assignment in areas of our choosing. She always emphasized on our own spiritual well being, teaching us how to take care of ourselves when we are out there giving pastoral care.

These are just a few examples. All other courses that I have attended are managed by similarly responsible lecturers who are convicted Christians themselves. As far as I know, all the lecturers at TTC affirm the incarnation and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I hope such hearsay may be disposed accordingly. I think it is rather uncharitable to propagate falsehood such as those told to the Dean that I've met. I guess such slanders must have given a lot of hard time to TTC's faculty, not to mention the Principal.

Such rumors prevent and disrupt the unity among the different parts of Christ's body. It destroys any possibility of solidarity as well as demonizing our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. No wonder apostle Paul lumped such practice among the other vices that Christian people should avoid.
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
(Romans 1.28-31)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Post-secular Christendom in South East Asia

The other day, Andreas, Peter and I were chatting over dinner. Andreas mentioned about his exploration of Christendom. Then he asked what do I think about Christendom.

I told him that I think every countries that adopts (1) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and (2) the Augustinian saeculum concept of separation between church and state are already in some degree a sort of Christendom.

These two concepts are not originated from other religions or civilizations but from a particular part of Western civilization which was influenced by Christian theology. Therefore the orientalists, like Talal Assad, are correct to say that secular state is a product of Christianity. Only some ignorant secularists do not know this and think that secular polity came from secular ideology.

Craig Carter, whose blog I discovered recently, talked about the idea of Christendom. He phrased it better than I can:

"As a Christian, I am a relentless pessimist with regard to the City of Man and an incurable optimist with regard to the City of God. I am implacably opposed to all political philosophies which are either too optimistic with regard to the City of Man (eg. Progressivism, Marxism) or too dismissive of the City of God (eg. Secularism). Thoughtful and pious Christians are the people who can be trusted to govern best in this world because they are well aware of the failings of human nature due to original sin, which minimizes their tendency toward embracing Utopianism, and because they have a sense of being accountable to God on the Day of Judgment, which gives them a healthy fear of killing the innocent no matter how good the cause. Of course, Christians often fail to live up to their best insights and when they do fail it negates their advantage. I’d rather be governed by a modest, moral, Aristotelian pagan than by a sophisticated, post-Christian, crypto-Marxist. In the long run it is better to be ruled by a person who knows right from wrong, even if he still does the wrong thing sometimes (think Churchill for example), than by a person who thinks right and wrong are concepts that belong in fairy tales for children (think Stalin, for example).

I believe that Western civilization has been influenced by Christianity to an extent not seen in any other civilization in the world. I believe that this influence is responsible for important, universal and permanently valid principles such as: limited government, the rule of law, individual freedom, the division of powers, free speech, freedom of religion, free enterprise, and natural law as the basis of positive law. These principles are steadily being eroded in Western Europe and the UK, but are still powerfully influential in America, which is where the West will eventually make its last stand if present trends continue."

What is clear in Carter's description of Christendom is not one that is identical with the one adopted by the Medieval church. The one described is a distinctive post-secular Christendom.

Andreas asked if South East Asian countries, where the societies are not really secular (I call it pseudo-secular), how then can such post-secular Christendom be relevant?

I shared that in ASEAN's context, the form of Christendom that is feasible must be one that is different in name but similar in content with post-secular Christendom. The central characteristic of such Christendom has to be self-critical and honest. The polity has to be unreservably and embarrassedly enter into public discourse by uncovering the theological basis of the secular state while at the same time adhere to a global ethic (ala Hans Kung).

Therefore the main difference between this form of Christendom and those ignorant secularists' conception of the secular state is this: The former able to provide a historical account and ontological assertion to ground the secular state, while the latter can do neither by adhering to secular ideology alone.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Duke Divinity School's interview with N. T. Wright

Duke Divinity School's Faith & Leadership website features an interview with N. T. Wright (H/T: James K. Smith). I am encouraged by two of his sharings. First was his decision to leave his post as the Bishop of Durham to take up a teaching post at St. Andrews University:

Q: Could you tell us about the discernment process that led you to step down as bishop and return to the university?

This time last year I was on sabbatical in Princeton at the Center of Theological Inquiry. I had a wonderful time writing about St. Paul and working toward volume four in my series. I had a sense of things that were stirring that I needed to do business with and grapple with again. One or two friends said things to me like, “You’re sounding like your old self,” which rather rocked me back, because I actually thought that being a bishop was quite a good self to be.

When we got back to England in early January, it quickly became clear that my job being Bishop of Durham was going to close over my head like waves of the ocean over a drowning man. I loved that job. There was hardly any of it that I didn’t really enjoy, but there was more and more of it.

I was faced with the choice, which I grappled with until about Easter: That stuff I was doing on Paul in Princeton, was that just fun? Was that just a bit of play on the side, or was that actually something very serious that I’m supposed to be reconnecting with? And if that’s so, is it possible to combine it with the job that I’m doing?

By mid-March, to my surprise and my wife’s great surprise, I had come to the conclusion that the answer was that we had to look at the academic option. Around then St Andrews said, “Well, we are looking for a New Testament professor.” You don’t expect in your early 60s to be making that kind of major career move, but it’s hugely exciting. I feel it is a sort of new lease on life, even though there is a great sense of loss of what I’m no longer doing. But I guess life is about making choices like that.

Discovering our vocation is a life-long event. It happens even when you are in your sixties. At every phases of our life, we have to discern and decide what is God calling us to do and be.

The other encouragement is from Wright's sharing of sightings of people whose simple stuff they do in their lives reflect the glory of God:

Q: Irenaeus wrote that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” I wonder when you’ve seen a man or woman leading in a way that leaves a trail of glory behind.

Very recently I went to see an old friend who had been a schoolteacher, a young master at the school where I was a teenager. I visited him in the hospice, and it was clear that he only had a few days to live. His wife was there, now his widow. Her humanity was an extraordinary mixture of joy and grief. You could see it on her face, and I came out of the hospice happy. He died about three days after that, but my abiding memory was, “I have just seen a human being fully alive,” and it was this good lady -- and she will never hit the headlines.

From that to -- many, many times I have seen Rowan Williams preside over the Eucharist or preaching or quietly praying with somebody at a conference. Somebody has asked him something, and Rowan will just pause and pray with them completely unselfconsciously. You have a sense of, “Here is somebody who God has called, equipped in an extraordinary way, brought to a place where his rich spirituality and humility can be fully operative -- and thank God for that.”

Thank God for Wright. I am one of those whose perception on life is enlarged by reading Wright's works.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Police Force: Its business and relation to power and justice

"I think a police force is the best institutionalization of what just war should be about. But then the arresting agent is not the same as the judging agent. In war, those two are the same. I am extraordinarily sympathetic with the police in this country, because we take them from a social class usually just above criminal class, put them in the most complex social situations, and then we blame them for becoming hardened. Give me a break. What we need to do is to ask ourselves, "What kind of social cooperation do we need that can make it possible for people to be called to the police function of the state in a manner that they will have some confidence that they will never have to kill anyone?""
(Sojourners' Interview with Stanley Hauerwas. Emphasis added)

Hauerwas was referring to his home country, America. What kind of social coorperation for Malaysia? I don't know. But this I can share with you.

In some cases, under the directive of politically motivated rulers, police officers are commanded to arrest citizens whose peaceful demonstration threatens the rulers' position. Are these officers doing the right thing? Are they doing the good thing?

These officers are paid to carry out orders. But if this is the only principle that guides the police force, then the officers are not that different from thugs or mercenaries. Both groups are guided by the same principle.

The vocation of police officer, like every other jobs, is not merely to earn a living. Some think that the duty of the police force is to keep the society in order. But that is missing the point. An orderly society without justice is an authoritarian state. And an orderly society is not necessarily peaceful and harmonious.

The primal allegiance of the police force is therefore not to keep order but to reduce and prevent injustice by taking the country's law as a guide.

However the law by itself is not an arbiter for the good. What is legal could be non-good while what is illegal could be good. It falls on the police officer to see through each matter by themselves, guided by their moral commitment. If their moral commitment is only to their own stomach, then the higher an officer's rank, the more bloated the officer's stomach.

In other words, the police is in the moral business. That means every police officers need to grapple with their cases through the ethical and moral categories.

The subtle encounter between the thug in the police force with the police officer in the mob portrays the struggle between legality and morality in the movie Infernal Affairs.

Therefore the office of the law enforcer must not be perceived as one which anyone with a SPM certificate ('O' Level) can apply to be a Constable. Such trivial procedural recruitment of police officer, accompanied with the access to firearm, poses tremendous danger to the society. The murder case committed by police officers though C4 explosives is telling.

Rulers need subordinates who are easily manipulated, who lack moral capacity, to run errands for them. At times, arresting dissenting peaceful voices. At times, murder. All the time, silencing any possible threat to their throne. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the application to be a police officer is not that difficult. Rulers need such manpower.

The moral capacity of the police officers has something to tell us about the moral capacity of the rulers, their superiors. It's all moral business.

By the way, have you watch Children of Men?

Theodore: Julian? I haven't seen you in twenty years. You look good. The picture the police have of you doesn't do you justice.

Julian: What do the police know about justice?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Besa: The Promise

"Besa: The Promise is the incredible story of Albanian Muslims saving nearly 2,000 Jews during the Holocaust."

Another video from Norman Gershman:

More information can be found here: Islam Online: BESA...When Muslims Saved Jews.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Charles Taylor on the nature of ideological negotiation of the modern secular state

‎"The state can be neither Christian nor Muslim nor Jewish; but by the same token it should also be neither Marxist, nor Kantian, nor Utilitarian. [...] This is not easy to do; the lines are hard to draw; and they must always be drawn anew. But such is the nature of the enterprise which is the modern secular state."
(Charles Taylor, Secularism and critique)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Alister McGrath is working on a biography on C. S. Lewis, while Gary Habermas is on a massive book project on the resurrection of Jesus Christ

Alister McGrath started a blog dedicated to his latest writing project: a biography of C. S. Lewis. The book will be published in 2013 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis' death. McGrath mentioned that this biography "will focus on [Lewis'] role as an apologist, especially in the postmodern context." Previously McGrath has written monograph for each of these famous theologians: Martin Luther, J. I. Packer, John Calvin and T. F. Torrance.

No wonder he told me that his three volumes of Scientific Dogmatics will not come out so soon, not least for the next decade or so.

Gary Habermas, on the other side of the Atlantic, reveals in an interview that he is now working on a trilogy book project detailing the resurrection of Jesus (his pet topic), which is one thousand pages long for each volume. He said that 70% of what he will be including in the trilogy are materials which have not yet been published by anyone as far as he knew.

Habermas himself has published several books on the topic (The Resurrection of Jesus: An Apologetic [Baker, 1980], Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus: Historical Records of his Death and Resurrection [Thomas Nelson, 1984], The Risen Jesus & Future Hope [Rowman & Littlefield, 2003], The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus [co-authored with Michael Licona, Kregel, 2004]). And in 2005, Habermas has published an article in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 3.2, detailing all the researches done from 1975 until 2005 concerning Jesus' resurrection.

N. T. Wright has published a seven hundreds pages book on the topic in 2003. Dale Allison published one in 2005. Michael Bird and James Crossley came out with one together last year. And just recently, Habermas' protege, Michael Licona, has his own seven hundreds pages book on this very topic rolled out fresh from the printer. So I am a bit skeptical when Habermas said that he possesses 70% materials that have not seen the daylight. But in anyway, we shall wait and see.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Paul and Hannah Tillich: Their relationship, sexual affair, and personality

Hannah Tillich, the wife of eminent systematic theologian Paul Tillich, had published a book titled From Time to Time' (Stein & Day, 1973) that has upset some of Paul's colleagues. I don't have the book, but here is a glimpse of what one can find inside:
"[Paul Tillich] had had a philandering side that others preferred not to talk about. In [From Time to Time], interspersed between allegorical dialogues and poetry, his widow speaks of her intense feelings and the many joys in her life, but also of her jealousies and humiliations, some of them at the hands of Dr. Tillich. [...]

The book recounts some of his many affairs, but also her own sexual encounters, with both men and women, in plain talk about the sexual experimentation in her past. Nonetheless, the couple remained together and, with advancing age, moved toward each other."
(Wolfgang Saxon, "Hannah Tillich, 92, Christian Theologian's Widow," in The New York Times, 30 October 1988, (accessed 20 October 2010).
And here is an extract quoted on (The Sexes: Paul Tillich, Lover Monday, 8 October 1973 [accessed 20 October 2010]):

"He had left me often, flirting with other women, leaving each one of them in turn for another at the succeeding dinner party. I had to take care of the spurned one, who came to me shamelessly complaining about Paulus' faithlessness, which amused me ... [Paulus] had a studio away from our ground-floor apartment, on the third floor under the roof. One evening he called the maid, a very attractive brunette, to bring some wine. Later, I found them standing before my bedroom in the middle of the night, talking in dark tones, she in a kimono of mine that I had given her."
On 24th April 1998, the Tillichs' son Rene, a psychotherapist in Hawaii, delivered the Paul Tillich Lecture at Harvard University. The lecture titled 'Paul Tillich, My Father', and was subsequently published as an essay in 'Spurensuche: Lebens- und Denkwege Paul Tillichs' (LIT Verlag, 2001).

Here are some of the interesting stories concerning both Paul and Hannah:
On the relationship between Paul and Hannah:
"I loved Paul and he loved me. Paul loved Hannah, Hannah loved Paul in the beginning, I believe, [...] I am not sure Hannah loved Paul toward the end of her life. But she continued to be obsessed with him and announced imperiously that she did not want to go to heaven if he were there." (p.10)

"I remember sitting through a discussion of divorce between Hannah and Paul--I was about 13. I remember the coldness with which Hannah made the arrangement. "We will wait until Rene is at Exeter...," she said. I remember Paul's silence. [...] They agreed not to divorce. [...] Why didn't Hannah and Paul divorce? I think there were many reasons. I believe Hannah was a profoundly disturbed woman in a new country with no work skills. [...] I understand from my sister that people say he did not divorce her out of fear of what it would do to his career. The man who opposed Hitler would cave in to a few bigots in this country? I hope not. Anyway, he had alienated anyone who would care through his theological thinking. I believed he stayed in the marriage because he loved Hannah and because he was a practitioner of the European art of Realpolitic, a skill he thought the American lacked." (p.12)

"I believe Paul made the best and most humane decision for all of us involved, including Hannah, when he resisted getting a divorce. Also, I believed he loved her. On our European trip he told me he loved Hannah for her mystical side and described her having an ecstatic experience when they were on top of a mountain they climbed together in Europe. This was very meaningful for him." (p13)

"The third volume of his Systematic is dedicated to "Hannah, the Companion of my Life." Hannah once told me that Paul said marriage was an act of will." (p.13)

"As [Paul] got older, [...] he would then sit at home and listen to music and be happy to have Hannah pop in on him to check that he was there, or he would pop in on her and, to some degree, the two of them seemed to have a fairly pleasant old age." (p.21)

On Paul's death:
"...on the morning of the day [Paul] died he woke up and said, "Today is dying day." (p.13)

"...[Hannah] felt betrayed by him and claimed that even he was dying his women friends came and sneaked in to see him." (p.21)

On the sexual affair and different personality between Paul and Hannah:
"Paul's sexuality was far more forced on me by Hannah than in any way experienced with Paul. But Hannah saw almost everything through the lens of sex. The first sexual fact to note about my parents is that they had separate bedrooms. They probably hugged us more than they did each other. Paul hugged warm and good as though he was there. Hannah hugged stiff and cold as though she feared her body might break." (p.13)

"Paul never behaved inappropriately with me. [...] the picture of Paul's sexual life was basically described to me by Hannah, who began talking to me about sex from the time I was five years old." (p.13)

"I believed Hannah was what is called an AMAC, an adult molested as a child--physically, emotionally and sexually abused. I asked her once if she had been sexually molested by her father, an alcoholic, and she said she had. All through her life she showed symptoms of such abuse, as well as borderline personality disorder and paranoia. These symptoms were an underlying distrust which impaired her capacity to love, a pathological jealousy, a tendency to sexualize her experience, and distort reality, particularly in the sexual realm--seeing sex where it wasn't--and a tendency to "split," a technical word from psychoanalytic language meaning to overvalue and undervalue, which is what she did regularly with my father." (p.14)

""[Paul] is not the real genius in the family, I Hannah Tillich, am." These kinds of extreme statements came out of her mouth." (p.14)

"I am not saying that what she describes in her book is completely untrue nor am I saying Paul did not have his sexual episodes. What I am saying is that to understand Paul, one must not rely on her. She distorts too much. And I am saying that at the beginning they agreed sexual involvement with others was permitted and that this arrangement got out of hand. He wouldn't stop and she didn't like it anymore, perhaps after the trauma of emigration and adjusting to a new world and a new child." (p.14)

"[Hannah] sent me pornographic books like The Story of O, and talked about how prostitutes were wonderful because they kept themselves clean and smelled good. But she had a negative attitude toward feminism, which she rejected with contempt." (p.14)

" adolescence, I asked Paul directly how he could reconcile his position as a minister and his adultery. He said he had never spoken against adultery and that ended the discussion." (p.14)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Russell R. Reno's top ten places for postgraduate theological studies

The Professor of Theological Ethics at Creighton University's Department of Theology came out with this list at First Things website:

1: Duke Divinity School or Notre Dame University
2: Notre Dame University or Duke Divinity School
3: Princeton Theological Seminary and Princeton University
4: Wycliffe College, Toronto School of Theology
5: Catholic University of America
6: Marquette University
7: Boston College
8: Yale University
9: Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
10: Wheaton College

Reno reveals the dictation of his choices:
"I hope my prejudices are clear. The people under whom and with whom we study do far more to shape our theological vocations than systems such as Barthianism or Thomism and certainly more than the grand reputations of places such as Harvard, Yale, or Berkeley. Good theological formation requires peers and professors who encourage our trust in the essential truth of the Christian tradition. A big library, generous graduate-student stipends, the name recognition of a school—all are empty without this spirit of confidence and commitment."
One cannot miss the fact that Reno's list is influenced by good scholarship, as seen in his highlights of each theologian's celebrated status (for eg.: "Duke features some of the bright lights of Protestant theology: Stanley Hauerwas, Geoffrey Wainwright, Jeremy Begbie, Amy Laura Hall, and J. Cameron Carter," and "John Cavadini, the longtime chair, is one of the best contemporary interpreters of St. Augustine and another professor who cares about students," and "John Betz, a fine young scholar of modern theology, joins the faculty this year, along with Francesca Murphy, one of the most creative and forceful theological writers of her generation," and "George Hunsinger and Bruce McCormick are world-renowned interpreters of Karl Barth.") working in their institution. Yet his advise to potential postgraduates on how to evaluate postgraduate programs does not hinge merely on that:
"So, when looking for a graduate program in theology, don’t get starry-eyed over big-name schools or celebrity professors. A unified, committed group of professors at any university is far, far superior to famous professors who are rarely around. Graduate programs flourish when professors give more time and attention to graduate students than to their own careers.

In other words, assess the moral character of any graduate program you consider. An uneven academic climate can be overcome by the special chemistry that often develops between a few superb professors and their graduate students. A culture of selfishness or conflict among faculty almost always leads to the neglect or mistreatment of graduate students." (Italic original)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Imagine teaching a course on how to use Facebook for a semester

Imagine the syllable of the course goes something like this:
A semester has about 14 weeks, with assigned reading materials of more than 1000 pages.

1 class in a week. Each session is 2 and a half hour. And at each session, individual students are assigned to present on the material they read on how to use Facebook.

First week:
Introducing the history and definition of 'Facebook' as differ from Friendster, MySpace, Bebo, Flickr, and other social software.

Second week:
The importance of caring for our own psychological and emotional well being in the face of possible provocation by our contacts' published status on Facebook.

Third week:
Continue to talk about the importance of caring our own well being in the world of online social networking like how a gardener care for his/her garden. Then introduce the GRAMMAR of using Facebook:
G - Get into receptive posture while logging onto Facebook.
R - Receive whatever the other person post on their Facebook status or on our wall.
A - Acknowledge the other person's feeling seen in their post.
M - Make boundaried space by privatizing stuffs/info/details on Facebook.
M - Match the other person's status, link, and wall post with appropriate comments.
A - Accept the other person as what he or she posted.
R - Respond to our contacts.

Fourth week:
Introduce different approach, psychological, sociological, philosophical and cultural consideration of using Facebook; some use it as games, others as business platform, etc. Introduce the definition of 'social networking'. Reiterate the importance of caring for our own well being while on Facebook.

Fifth week:
Introduce the rules and etiquette of using Facebook, for eg. cannot spam people's wall. If you are a Christian, must look for a Biblical legitimization that support the use of Facebook. Build a theological template to ground one's approach to Facebook, if you are a Christian.

Sixth week:
Learn how to be welcoming to people who added you on Facebook.

Seventh week:
Caring and consulting at many stage in life while using Facebook.

Eighth week:
Poast-Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by reading contacts' status, links, video, or notes on Facebook.

Ninth week:
The rhythm of using Facebook: Death and Resurrection, when one decided not to use Facebook and getting back to use it again.

Tenth week:
Ministering to those who give up using Facebook.

Eleventh week:
Handling depression, fatigue, and burnout cases on using Facebook. Teach how to avoid compassion fatigue when you have 1000 contacts on Facebook and you can't sympathize with every posted status.

Twelfth week:
Global healing in a broken social-network.

Thirteenth week:
Provide guiding principle how to facilitate changes done by the administrating programmer of Facebook, for eg. the change of security functions.

Fourteenth week:
Facilitate the wholeness of how to integrate Facebook in one's social life.
After going through the reading of all those pages with all the power-point presentation, the participants are now prepared and expected to perform well on Facebook.

Another way is simply go to, register as a user and start figuring your way through, which usually requires less than two weeks of practice to be familiar with the software.

Which one work for you?

(This post is fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)

Joel Marks, an atheist who is also a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of New Haven, admits that "atheism implies amorality"

Joel Marks wrote recently on Philosophy Now (H/T: Uncommon Descent):
"...let me assure you that I do not intend this as a joke. [...] I became convinced that atheism implies amorality; and since I am an atheist, I must therefore embrace amorality. [...] I experienced my shocking epiphany that the religious fundamentalists are correct: without God, there is no morality. But they are incorrect, I still believe, about there being a God. Hence, I believe, there is no morality."
Eastern Orthodox theologian David B. Hart commented on Marks' conversion:
"For myself, I am not entirely sure how to react to it. The more uncharitable side of my nature wants simply to remark that a conversion to the blindingly obvious does not really constitute one of the more momentous events in intellectual history (even if it does constitute an important psychological episode in the life of Joel Marks).

Of course
if there is no God, then there can be neither moral right nor moral wrong in any objectively real sense. The “Good as such”—the source and end of moral truth, the highest object of the rational will, which has the power to unite the longing for truth with the imperative to act in this way or that—is found nowhere within nature. Not even those who believe in “natural law” imagine that it is. [...]

The real question of the moral life, at least as far as philosophical “warrant” is at issue, is not whether one personally needs God in order to be good, but whether one needs God in order for the good to be good. [...]

[I]t seems to me hardly debatable that no purely naturalistic approach to ethics has ever succeeded in producing anything resembling a compelling or attractive moral imperative.

Choose whichever you like—standard utilitarianism, Rawls’s theory of justice, attempts to ground moral thinking in evolutionary biology or neurophysiology—you will always find, if you subject your preferred ethical naturalism to sufficiently unflinching scrutiny, that at some primal and irreducible point it must simply presume a movement of good will, an initial moral impulse that, with a kind of ghostly Gödelian elusiveness, can never be contained within the moral system it sustains. All the polyphony of nature falls mute when asked to produce one substantial imperative, unless one believes (explicitly or tacitly) that the voice of nature has its origin and consummation in the voice of God.

I am not convinced, I should add, that Marks has really succeeded in becoming quite the consistent amoralist that he thinks is. Call it what he will, I still cannot regard his devotion to personal probity or his “preference” for compassion or his desire to persuade others as anything other than a morality. There are preferences and there are preferences, desires and desires, and they differ from one another in quality according to their objects and their intensity. Certainly a desire to convince someone not to be cruel to animals is not a desire simply to communicate an aesthetic inclination.

This past year, I became quite attached to the string quartets of Vagn Holmboe, and I’m quite eager to share that enthusiasm with other music lovers; but I know that that is not at all comparable to my desire that others should agree with me regarding the evil of child-molestation. And I do not think Marks’s desire to persuade others to hate vivisection (his example) has the quality—the simple existential quality—of mere personal desire." (Italics original, bold added)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Expanded Max L. Stackhouse's profile at Wikipedia

The previous Wikipedia page for Max Stackhouse appeared like this (click on the image):

I have expanded the page by 99% by elaborating his education and work, creating a section on quotes, adding links to more online articles, lectures and speech. It now provides more information about this significant public theologian. His groundbreaking works such as the 4-volumes God and Globalization series have yet to reach the wider public. Hope that the expansion of the Wikipedia page would increase the exposure to his works:

You can go to the page Max Lynn Stackhouse to check it out.

Now, I hope that nobody will erase all the things I have included there, as the page is accessible and editable by anyone.

Max L. Stackhouse's Presidential Address 'Framing the Global Ethos' at The American Theological Society

Clint Schnekloth posted the entire speech. Here's the repost:
The American Theological Society – Presidential Address – April 3, 2009
Framing the Global Ethos
Max L. Stackhouse
Rimmer and Ruth de Vries Professor of Reformed Theology and Public Life Emeritus
Princeton Theological Seminary

I have been concerned with the religious, theological and ethical meanings of globalization for several years. My concerns have led me to two convictions about theology and social life that have, in turn, led me to a third conviction about the mission of theology. These three points are what I want to share with you today. The first conviction is that the cybernetic theory of religion and theology is a necessary corrective to the prevailing socio-psychological theory of them. The cybernetic theory holds that a rich and valid symbol set, rationally ordered and representing a comprehensive worldview, can and does shape cultural and social systems in decisive ways. If we see this theory as valid, every serious theology will also take its relation to society seriously. This theory corrects, however, a view that came into prominence with exegetical methods that treated textual or conceptual meanings as by-products of their Sitz-im-leben. Interpretations of religious ideas were seen as rationalizations of the lust for political power, economic advantage, sexual satisfaction, national solidarity, or ethnic dominance. We have learned from this legacy and must acknowledge the partial validity of the hermeneutics of suspicion to which it led. But its reductionist tendencies may well have caused us to underestimate the real effects of beliefs and theological doctrines on cultural and social life and to undercut a hermeneutics of trust.

The domination of theology by such socio-psychological presumptions reached its apex in Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, and was echoed in the work of Foucault and a host of advocates of the secularization thesis. They thought they were disposing of myth, moralism, and dogma by explaining what they were really about. This accent not only shaped Schleiermacher’s and Barth’s divergent reactions to modernity, it is today widely accepted by no small number of Liberation and Communitarian theologians. Ironically, they both see all historically decisive meanings deriving from contextual factors, one embracing them to set the real world against the reactionary church, the other rejecting them to set the real church against the recalcitrant world.

Early versions of these options were challenged by Max Weber in his series of books on the sociology of the world religions, partly allied with Georg Jellinek and his study of the religious basis of human rights, and by Ernst Troeltsch in his monumental treatment of social-ethical teachings, partly allied with Abraham Kuyper and his view of Catholic and Reformed cooperation for social renewal. For all their faults, Weber and Troeltsch agreed that psycho-social and socio-historical developments influence the ways religious people rationalized their faiths, but they also insisted that religious convictions, sustained by being rationally ordered into theological systems, shaped the cultural and social ethos in ways that predisposed contexts to form or reform in one way rather than another. We find more recent examples of the efforts to correct the social-scientific reductionism in the Niebuhrs and in the Catholic Social Encyclicals. Compare, for example, H. Richard’s Social Sources of Denominationalism to his Kingdom of God in America, or Reinhold’s Moral Man and Immoral Society to his Nature and Destiny and, if I read them rightly, Leo’s Rerum Novarum to John Paul’s Centesimus Annus.

The cybernetic theory has been applied to civilizational life in recent suggestive studies of globalization by Roland Robertson, Lawrence Harrison, David Landes, Peter Berger, Barbara Crossette, Orlando Patterson, and many others. They all take the religiously formed ethos as a central factor in culture and thus as the most important single factor in the shaping of souls and societies. Or, rather, they argue that it is so if it is inherently coherent, emotionally compelling, and intimately connected to the key systems of civil society with adequate feedback loops to find out both what is going on in these systems and where corrections are needed in the symbol set or in the social systems to make them viable. In short, religious worldviews can frame the ethos and guide institutions to which it is connected. This is a way of arguing in post-enlightenment terms that theology can and should defend its role as the queen of both the descriptive and normative sciences if the contexts of life are to be understood and shaped. They take power analysis to a new level. Or, to put it another way for the emerging global ethos, it is a post-Postmodern way of speaking of how a master narrative can and should be connected to universal history. We will return to this theme later.

This leads me to my second conviction: there is no greater issue before us today than the fact that a new transactional public ethos is emerging in the complex dynamics of globalization. Religiously laden and legitimated by an indirect but distinct and discernable theological symbol set, this new ethos is essentially ethical in nature, and is taking shape in an international cluster of civil society institutions that have outstripped political developments. If this is so, as I believe it is, major implications follow for the possible emergence of a worldwide civilization and for our task as theologians in regard to it. I am arguing that this new ethos has been generated, and is being framed, and guided by religious convictions, particularly those of Judaism and Christianity, in ways that we theologians and clergy have not adequately acknowledged. Is it possible that we have been so deeply influenced by our recent contextual reductionisms that we have failed to see how the grand theological traditions have been sown into, and thus are giving rise to, our global context? It is true that Christendom, national creeds, and enforced confessions have largely been cast into the dustbin of history, and that national sovereignty is rapidly eroding; but that does not mean that theology has lost its power. We may well have an emergent, pervasive, and powerful ethos, made of partial incarnations of Judeo-Christian motifs, that is reshaping our world and needs both theologically-guided critique and cultivation.

Of course, this does not guarantee that the cybernetic symbol set that is now being embedded in the globalizing ethos is a good or effective theology. But it does suggest that theology leaves more profound foot prints in social history than theologians sometimes recognize or acknowledge as their responsibility. It also suggests that, in principle, bad effects are amenable to the principle of semper reformanda, or, as other traditions have it, to the “development of doctrine.” After all, there are many complex issues before us which are forcing us to modulate our understandings of some religious symbol sets – I think of ecological peril, nuclear threats, militant conflicts, racist and sexist domination, continued poverty, rampaging epidemics, irresponsible management, and failed economic ideologies. Many religious bodies and courageous theologians seek to address these by prophetic critique of national policies. But my main point here is this: these disturbing particular problems are all taking place within the comprehending dynamics of globalization. That demands a theology that can illuminate, address, and frame the emerging global ethos where it needs re-grounding on a universalistic basis. Our situation requires a constructive catholic, an ecumenical theology with an evangelical, reforming, apologetic edge, and perhaps more than a touch of Pentecostal zeal.

Many, to be sure, believe that globalization is driven, essentially, by economic interests, as I suggested earlier. That economic interests are powerful social forces I have no doubt, and many ideologies offer a version of the golden rule that comes from “the gospel of Mammon”: Whoever has the gold rules! But that view has been around for centuries, and neither it nor the simple critique of it has been able to generate an enduring or just civilization or to account for the fact that we cannot understand any civilization without recognizing the power of religion at its core. Besides, contemporary globalization is new. My inquiry into why it is taking its present shape and reorganizing economic forces the way it does convinces me that attributing globalization to economic causes alone is too limited. It only confuses effects with causes.

Globalization, I have come to believe, is a massive ethos-shift that fosters the growth of new worldwide technological, communication, and regulative developments. These reflect an emerging moral infrastructure and bear the possibility of a new transactional civil society. This civil society increasingly comprehends and surpasses all previous national, ethnic, political, economic and cultural contexts in a new mix of complexity. This development portends a cosmopolitan possibility that modernity promised but could not deliver. Its spiritual core was too weak. But the spread of constitutional democracy and human rights, of artistic styles and scientific education, of rule by international law and new regencies such as the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, the World Health Organization and the policies of humanitarian NGOs now intervening in all parts of the globe are manifestations of the new ethos – all without a world government. These developments are beyond the control of any single nation-state, as the cooperative, multinational attempts to address the current economic crisis also show.

At this point I offer a brief excursus on the concept of civil society, for that is one of the empirical markers of the global ethos that led to my second conviction. The novel patterns of a radically extended civil society make certain economic changes possible and others necessary, and make national policies less effective. They also leave systems in transition open to corruption and exploitation, even as they make the growth of the world’s middle classes more likely, extending to many peoples who were long desperately poor an exodus from enslaving fatalism, subsistence, and powerlessness. Some, famously in India and China, and increasingly in Indonesia and Brazil, for instance, are succeeding and competing with the comparatively inflated status of the western middle classes. These changes enable wider global participation without homogenization. I think it works like this: in the emerging ethos, deeply stamped by Christian influences, new participants usually adopt the ethical patterns of life that formed or legitimated the desired results, and then selectively adapt the religious patterns that generated the ethos to their needs and pre-understandings of what is sacred – which makes for hybrid cultures and a richer menu of theological options. This amplifies the spiritual core of the ethos, which is refined by theological critique and reflection over time.

Because of the significance of religious, ethical, and cultural transformations such as these, any substantive critique or embrace of these global developments will demand attention to a theology able to elucidate, form, or reform the inner moral fabric of the globalization process so that its ethos can be adopted in various cultures and be adapted by multiple societies. Some of this I, with others, have tried to address in the series on God and Globalization. The evidence and interpretive models that we developed in that series strongly suggest that a major part of the impetus for the globalizing developments derive from the ways in which Christian thought has shaped a transactional ethos that has transformed previous cultural and social institutions and is now transforming patterns of life everywhere. Adherents to other traditions often see this as the effects of a western secularization which destroys what they see as holy. But secularization by itself cannot be praised or blamed for how this works. If our vision is wide and deep enough, we can see that the secularization of some dimensions of social life is the result of theological development. Not all that is called holy or sacred is so, and it is an old story that some ideas of the divine get demoted if they face defensible claims about what is, in all likelihood, truly holy.

The question, thus, is no longer whether religions have shaped the formation of societies and civilizations in concert with other forces. That is beyond serious doubt. Instead the key question is whether religion, or better which religious possibilities have the power to shape complex civilizations and thus should guide our thinking and action with regard to the dynamics of globalization? And the central theological issue behind these questions is whether the God pointed to by the Bible, the One whom Christians know through Jesus Christ, the One who is active within and among us as the Holy Spirit, is in any way, prompting, inviting, chastening, allowing, or otherwise involved in these globalizing realities. I am inclined to defend an answer in the affirmative, even if others have doubts. But those who hold that God has something to do with creation, providence, and salvation should find it blushingly difficult to argue the case in the negative.

This significance of Christianity in regard to globalization forces us to reflect on our relative assessments of the other great missionizing religions, Buddhism and Islam, and reminds us of the great societies stamped by Confucian and Hindu ethical and spiritual philosophies – all of which are growing, some at exponential rates, and each of which has a different sense of the “divine destiny” that is to be pursued socially worldwide. The alternatives offered by these convictions and topics continue to haunt me and I keep trying to refine and improve what we did in the God and Globalization series in the face of new experience and studies. Thus, I take up a few issues in this area as an invitation for others to speak to these issues in ways that may correct, amplify, refine, or surpass what we have tried to suggest.

Let me extend my excursus a bit historically. I believe that the globalizing developments we face signal a change as significant as the shifts from animistic hunting and gathering societies to the old polytheistic martial empires, then to henotheistic agricultural-feudal systems with royal governments, and to the multiple Erastian civil religions of urban-centered industrial nation-states, now being replaced by what Philip Bobbitt calls a “global society of market states.” The primary purpose of these states is to stabilize, support and regulate those corporations which house the educational, medical, financial, productive, trade, research, and ecological systems of civil society for the sake of providing opportunities for all people to flourish. This purpose, he suggests, now equals or surpasses the central purposes of the nation-state: internal law and order and national defense that allows a sovereign state and its culture maximum freedom. Each shift was prompted by religious and ethical transformations in interaction with contextual factors and was marked by crises, conflict, and anomie as things changed, but nevertheless rendered a new level of civilizational inclusion.

If he is mostly right, we can add what he implies but does not accent, that both the reigning theological worldview and the practical material results predisposed the shift to be approved and refined or resisted. Some religions seem to have had, while others lacked, the theological resources to address the perplexities of existence, to induce and morally guide these changes, and to correct, modulate, or restrain pathological aspects of them. The most successful are able to borrow from other cultures and to generate new doctrines or reinterpret old ones that inhibited threatening possibilities in material, socio-political, and cultural life and gave legitimation to the more promising developments. This is what is needed to form the moral infrastructure of what could become a new, worldwide, federated civil society that would be decidedly dynamic, incredibly complex, and inevitably contentious as it develops. This requires not only a way to map the newly forming context, but also a theology of history large enough to give it direction.

Notably, this partially formed global civil society is developing without being under the control of any state, as I mentioned. To be sure, more developed lands, especially the USA, Great Britain, the EU, Japan, and increasingly China, India, plus Indonesia, Brazil, and possibly Russia and South Africa, are rapidly trying to adapt to the changes demanded, taking advantage of the opportunities which they, most importantly, view as spiritually and ethically valid, and are becoming regional superpowers and global players. In the process they are both reinforcing the global developments and demanding greater regulation of corporate behavior through the international legal arrangements to which they commit themselves.

China, where I have spent a number of summers in conferences on comparative religious ethics and development, and visiting numerous religious, economic, and village centers, is a particularly important example in this area. As anticipated by South Korea and to a degree by Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, a massive “new cultural revolution” is taking place, in spite of the economic downturn. The people and their leaders are adopting international standards in many areas of thought and life – including the fruits of Christian ethics and theologies, and seeing the phenomenal growth of the church as the mother of an independent civil society. These they are “stamping with Chinese characteristics” drawn from Taoist, Confucian, Buddhist, and Maoist philosophies, just as western Christian ethics and theologies historically adopted and adapted elements from Greek, Roman, German, Slavic, French and British thought. The new ethos that is being formed is pulling millions out of poverty while the young see hope in the new developments – even if very large numbers of people are still caught in economic and cultural stagnation, and the fuller realization of human rights and democracy stands only in the future.

India, too, where I have been a visiting professor fairly regularly in sabbaticals and leaves since 1973, is globalizing at an amazing rate. It is viewed by many as the next great cultural, political and regional superpower that may eventually surpass China because of its more democratic traditions, the indirect Christianizing influence of the British Raj, the disproportionate influence of indigenous Christian populations, especially in education, and the growing willingness among the burgeoning middle classes to adapt Christian-shaped cultural influences into their civil society. These are present in spite of persistent patterns of caste discrimination, the rise of a militant Hinduva nationalism, conflicts with Islam, and a huge, if declining, underclass of “Dalit” populations which seek access to globalizing possibilities.

Further, other countries of Asia, Latin America, and increasingly Africa are also adopting the worldviews and values indispensable for the web of societal development, especially where Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Charismatic forms of essentially Catholic movements are bringing them to people long marginalized. In these places, new forms of theological development are becoming socially embodied in globalizing life styles that they are fusing with traditional cultures in ways that contribute to the ethos under construction.

In short, the current cultural and social hegemony of the West is no longer identical with political imperialism or economic neocolonialism, nor is it identical with globalization. The temptations of imperialism and colonialism can more accurately be seen as the results of those forms of debased Christian worldviews that have become separated from, or even contemptuous of, its deeper roots and wider ethical contours. What were formerly religiously-based worldviews thereby lose their ability to accurately recognize and actively revitalize the symbol sets that could correct these short-visioned, but high energy systems – especially political and economic. Thus, these systems become autonomous and self-serving. The hegemony that appears to be Americanism or capitalism gone wild is in fact a theologically decapitated set of vacuous cybernetic meanings. The formative and regulative theological symbol sets are also cut off from the systems of cultural and social existence, and become gnostic-like speculations. This allows normlessness to guide key parts of the operating systems. On this point we could cite recent attempts to legitimate violations of human rights by politically engineered legal rationalizations, or the dissociative behavior of Detroit and AIG executives, who failed to recognize the effects of their directives and then to claim undue rewards for their incompetence. The emerging recognition by the top business schools of their failure, as reported in the press, is telling. They sent 40% of their graduates into the world of finance over the last generation, and used to brag about the fact that all the leading companies were run by their former students (cf., e.g., NYTimes Business section, 3/15/09, p.1). Insofar as the cultures of these social institutions no longer consider any normative theological perspective as worthy of consideration, they have lost their sense of vocation and its ethic of trusteeship and stewardship, and the systems they direct have fallen into drift.

The fault is not entirely theirs. While there is no shortage of theologians who are contemptuous of modern business, what theologians can we name who have attempted to constructively engage these professionals and their vocations as they work under our new global conditions? I have sought them out and they are few. If no renewal is possible, the global civil society that now hosts these institutions is likely to lose its potential, as critics already claim is the case, but do not know how to alter. If this course is not altered, sooner or later they will join the rubble of dead civilizations and lost faiths, and great will be their fall.

What then should members of the American Theological Society do? And what about our colleagues in the theological schools and departments of religion, or the clergy and the people to whom they minister? What is the vocation of theology in a globalizing era? My primary answer is that we must analyze the competing metaphysical-moral visions at work in the global infrastructure and be bold enough to suggest which are or are not theologically and morally laudable, and which can and cannot frame the ethos for a global civilization in which we are called to show the possibility of redemption under conditions of sin.

There are some historical precedents for this sort of theologizing. Some of it appeared in the age of Constantine, some with the Gregorian Reforms, some with the Reformation, and today some is present in the promising movements toward a “theology of religions.” Further, the historic missionizing religions – Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, plus some movements in periods of Hinduism and Confucianism – what the Japanese call the “going religions” in contrast to the “staying religions” of tribal and territorial faiths – all had a universal message, not merely a message for a people or a regime or a region. In the days of the old Silk Road, scholars developed critical and apologetic evaluations of various views as they encountered other religions and empires while following the caravan treks formed to foster spiritual quests and material interests. For centuries, theologies and pieties accompanied goods and greed, poetry and weaponry, musical artistry and technical craft, and challenged the sufficiency of material interests and political power. The goods, weapons, and handicrafts eventually decayed, the empires fell, but civilizations were enriched. These could be considered among the first signs of a wider and deeper globalization to come.

Centuries later, new technologies were fostered by the faith-driven views that nature was fallen and in need of repair, that a novum and thus progress in history is possible, and that social transformations could more nearly approximate the promised New Jerusalem. Taking advantage of clipper ships and then steam ships, missionaries accelerated the exploration of the continents, stimulated the study of anthropology and comparative religions and cultures, and spread the hopes of Christianity, the rule of law, mass education, and new technologies.

It must be said that it also enabled the expansion of slavery into the new world, which was already widely practiced in the old; but more importantly it also invited cross-cultural contact in unprecedented ways. Priests and preachers, educators and doctors, soldiers and administrators brought faith-shaped perspectives on God and humanity, new interpretations of the universe and the earth, new means of nurturing the young and curing the sick, and new modes of organizing the common life. The colonizers and the missionaries cooperated in much and brought much with them from their home culture. At times it obscured their intended message and almost overwhelmed indigenous societies. But the receiving peoples adopted only portions of what was offered, and only selectively modulated their pre-existing beliefs, practices, and social patterns. They brought their older faiths with them into their new religious and cultural fields of vision and this made wider visions of society and humanity more common. The theological-ethical elements prompted their struggles against slavery, imperial domination, and colonial exploitation. But they adopted the faith and the church and from these bases new institutions were created, much like the early church – clinics, orphanages, schools for girls, centers of refuge for the beset and the poor. New synthetic world-views were created, and it became more possible to speak of worldwide aspirations for human rights, government under law, and new hopes for economic development and for ultimate salvation – most often in indigenous but Christianized cultural terms.

Today’s globalization is another such wave of development, a Joachite epochal change marked by the formation of new religious and cultural syntheses, but also by the technological artifacts from jumbo jets and the internet to new modes of geo-, genetic-, and social engineering. The increased ability to control the biophysical world is matched by newly-created channels of interaction and opinion that is different from what is approved or expected in our communities of origin. Such developments disorient established views of what is natural, of how we think of time and space, and what the normative guidelines for life are and should be. Thus, they force all those who do not see us caught up in a nihilistic break-down to ask what values, principles and purposes should drive our responses to globalization’s promise and peril. What can revivify the residual ethic of love and justice that is buried in its promise but disconnected from its normative symbol set?

Answers are proposed to this question by the dramatic resurgence of old world religions and new prophecies, with many wanting to determine the destiny of globalization, while others wish to stop it by apocalyptic violence and still others seek privileged enclaves of sanctity from which, they say, they can see the hellish self-destruction of globalization innocently – the communitarian form of “rapture.” Such developments suggest that a widespread quest for a guiding, ethical and spiritual worldview is afoot, one to which they can give their loyalty and one that can render a comprehensive vision of morals and meaning for souls and society.

This matter of loyalties, of a quest for a normative worldview in which to place our confidence, leads us back to the question of faith and theology. If it is true that globalization has been formed substantially by the mix of religion with social developments in many spheres of life, we can hardly deny that the result forces the question of their relationship again. What is universal enough to guide our thoughts, prayers and ethical actions about globalization if it is not the result of the naked play of impersonal, amoral, nonreligious or purely material interests. If globalization bears the imprint, and owes its fundamental character to a Christian cybernetic, what then is, has been, can be, and should be the relation of this faith to this global formation of a new worldwide civil society? An adequate answer, I am arguing, must be theological.

As I have tried to articulate more fully elsewhere, it is precisely in the midst of cultural, social, political, economic, and technological life, that religious themes were worked out over centuries and have been woven into the very fabric of the common life. Key among these are:

>The idea that God comprehends and supercedes all other authorities, but providentially calls, commissions, and blesses the spheres of life through which the global ethos is being formed.

>This ethos demands a this-worldly work ethic that calls all of us to professional responsibility and to a rationalization of production, distribution, and consumption able to serve all people.

>It requires an open polity, which we call democracy, as worked out in the councils and covenants of church life, in ways that led to the legitimation of the constitutional rule of law.

>It demands human rights, based in the belief that each is made in the image of God, that all are endowed by the Creator with both these rights and abilities that each must be free to actuate.

>It permits free incorporated communities, distinct from tribe or regime, race or class, working under just laws and for the common good, that can be trustees of the material necessities of life.

>It views nature as created by God, thus good but not holy, thus incomplete or distorted and subject to stewardly dominion, making technological development possible and necessary.

>It holds to the promise of the Triune God, that humanity’s ultimate destiny is to be a New Jerusalem, a complex civilization into which all the peoples of the earth can bring their gifts.

>It takes such marks of grace as elements in a theology of history able to frame a global ethos.

All these notions and more are among the decisive symbol sets, indeed the basic public theological beliefs that derive from biblical and Christian doctrinal resources and the study of how they have substantively shaped our history. Such faith-based ideas may not have been held by all branches of the Christian tradition in the same measure, but these are the ones that became regnant in the ethos that fostered the promising aspects of modernization and now globalization. The problem is that these ideas are now seldom recognized by today’s political, economic, scientific, technological, educational, or legal leaders; and where they are tacitly accepted their roots are seldom noted. Indeed, they are sometimes pilloried by clergy who are thus unable to develop and reform them where they are residually present.

Clearly these ideas did not come from Taoist or Confucian, Hindu or Buddhist, Islamic or tribal religions, although some parallels exist and are being exhumed from various traditions and celebrated by those in cultures which seek to adopt or adapt to the globalizing patterns of life and its ethos. And as Christianity has spread around the world, new religious developments are appearing – some rather wan and fragile; others quite robust and promising, often forming new syntheses with the cultural and social presuppositions partly shaped by non-Christian religions. In short, the really existing dynamics of globalization cannot be grasped or guided without theologically studying the relationship of faiths to cultures, cultures to societies, and societies to the formation of a new public – a worldwide civil society from which political, economic, and theological developments cannot be isolated!

Let me expand on this a bit more. The recent interdisciplinary focus on civil society is anticipated by a long history of debate about its nature and character, which has implications for our understanding of theology and its ability to address contemporary life. Here is a definition which I glean from a recent set of essays, edited by Rosenblum and Post:

Civil society is that set of voluntary associational communities which both perform distinct functions in a civilization and actualize its ethos. It delegates, through parties, advocacy and interest groups, and moral movements, both legitimacy and authority to states, and it retains the right to withdraw that legitimacy and to dismiss its government. Thus, it is the body made up of many distinct organs within which ultimate political power resides. In this sense, “civil society” refers to most organized spheres of human communal action except government itself: churches, businesses, schools, clubs, unions, media, charities, libraries, artistic groups, professional bodies, and other non-governmental organizations by which people relate to each other and form a moral consensus, usually legitimated by the dominant religious symbol set. Civil society is in this sense a cluster concept with many spheres held together by a faith-based ethic at its center.

Such a contemporary definition derives from a tradition that includes Althusius, Locke, de Toqueville, von Gierke and their heirs who are impressed by the indirect influences that religious groups, especially theology and the church, have had on the body politic and on the moral character of the citizenry. This view differs from an older view, present still in many places, where the idea of societas civilis refers to the polis of ancient Greece, the imperium of Rome, and the nation-state of the Enlightenment as treated variously by Rousseau, Ferguson, and Hegel. This older definition views civil society as the politically organized state which, by virtue of its monopoly on the use of violent means of enforcement, legitimates, authorizes, comprehends, and guides all other institutions. These views clash when we ask whether society makes politics or politics makes society, or whether a public theology makes society or political theology makes religion.

The older view, reasserted now in some Islamist, Hindu, and Buddhist versions as well as in some Christian Fundamentalist views (since its other recent secular epigones – Fascism and Communism – have died) lauded a politically comprehending, sacred regime that has a duty to rule over all other groups and institutions, with the patriarchal family being the “natural” microcosm of the larger political form. This implies a political theory of society. The contemporary view, by contrast, presumes a social theory of politics rather than a political theory of society. However, under changing conditions there may be times when some sector of the civil society fails and is in need of repair. It then becomes the duty of the political order to lead the healthier spheres of the civil society to intervene in the failed sphere and set it right so that it can operate with integrity. That is why, with regard to the economic crisis of the moment, for example, the civil societies that play the largest global role stand between democratic capitalist and social democratic policies, with debates between a little more of this and a little less of that.

It may be useful to ask whence this social theory derived, for that is little studied by theologians. It does not seem to be the natural logic of history. Instead, historically, the founding and formation of the church nurtured a new and decisive kind of institution beyond regime, kinship, and class. From Paul on, the mission of the church was the reorganization of responsible freedom and the re-centering of associational loyalty as well as the creation of social organizations little known in the pagan world. It was the formation of a covenanted ecclesia of worship and service, defined by a religious worldview based in faith in Jesus Christ and in the sovereignty of the Triune God. This is the mother of civil society, until recently seldom acknowledged by social theorists or political scientists, but today accented in new studies of the relationship of the world religions to democracy.

This social novum established a new sense of identity and gradually created new social spaces to form and reform other human associations that, over time, became not only the congregation and the monastery but also the university, the hospital, the council, the corporation, and the professional associations that nurtured accountable vocations dedicated to incarnating a divinely-given ethic in these organs of the common ethos, as has been traced by historians of law. From these roots came the clusters of organizations and practices that are the indicators of a vibrant pre-political civil society. In cultures where the church is absent or weak, civil society is fragile, and people continue to live under regime-based or kin-based systems. In cultures where the civil society has forgotten or forsaken its transcendent foundations, the fragmentation of cybernetic connections renders all institutions merely vehicles for achieving individualist or special group interests. If that is so, and if it is also true that no great civilization has ever endured without a religious vision at its core, as I believe to be the case, it is our task as theologians to help develop a theology capable of giving renewed moral and spiritual guidance to the emerging global civil society.

For these reasons, I have come to the conviction that contemporary theology desperately needs a new theology of missions, one based in a renewed vision of the mission of theology. We are commanded to go unto all the world. Our forebears did so, and they framed a transformative ethos in many places. As a result, the whole world is increasingly present to us in new ways, and the basis for framing this new ethos cannot be neglected by us and left to the cultured despisers of the theological traditions.

What post-nationalistic, post-Postmodern message do we have for the ethos of the now global civil society with its multiplicity of cultures, societies, institutions, and dynamics? My view is this: that God’s grace as it is given to us in Creation, Providence, and Salvation offers the most theologically trustworthy way to be oriented to the New Jerusalem. God alone can sustain nature, render history meaningful, provide salvation and point us toward the Heavenly City and bring it to us, but it is the task of faithful theology to understand the importance of this grace in our global circumstances. I urge the view, discovered by many a missionary, that globalization with all its ambiguities is a promising manifestation of that grace.*

* My thanks to Professors Gabriel Fackre, Steven Healey, and Hal Breitenberg, and to Pastors Andy Armstrong and Ray Roberts and for their comments on an earlier version of this paper.

Selected References and Resources:

Bobbitt, Philip, The Shield of Achilles (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002).

Brook, Timothy, et al., eds., Civil Society in China (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharp, Inc., 1997).

Diamond, Larry, et al., World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).

Elazar, Daniel, Covenant and Civil Society: The Constitutional Matrix of Modern Democracy, vol.4 of The Covenant Tradition in Politics (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press, 1998).

Hashmi, Sohail, Islamic Political Ethics: Civil Society, Pluralism and Conflict (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002)

Harrison, Lawrence, et al., Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress (New York: Basic Books, 2000).

Husayn, Sayyid Matlub, Evolution of Social Institutions in Islam (Karachi & Delhi: Renaissance Publishing House, 1990).

Jenkins, Phillip, The Lost History of Christianity... (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

Mattam, J., et al., Hindutva: An Indian Christian Response (Bangalore: Dharmaram Press, 2002).

Millbank, John, “Geopolitical Theology,” in The Impact of 9/11 on Religion and Philosophy, ed. Mathew J. Morgan (New York: Greenwood/Praeger, forthcoming).

Rashke, Carl, Globochrist (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Books, 2008).

Rosenblum, Nancy L. & Robert C. Post, eds. Civil Society and Government (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002).

Stackhouse, Max L., Globalization and Grace, vol. 4 of God and Globalization (New York: Continuum International Press, 2007).

Thangaraj, Thomas, Sze-Kar Wan, Lamin Sanneh, and Scott Thomas essays, in Stackhouse, M. L., & Diane Obenchain, eds., Christ and the Dominions of Civilization, vol. 3 of God and Globalization (New York: Continuum International Press, 2004).

Wright, Robert, “One World Under God: Why God Loves Globalization,” The Atlantic (April, 2008). Pp. 38ff.