Monday, January 31, 2011

What does a 'Book Awards' list tell us?

Christianity Today's 2011 Book Awards:
Apologetics / Evangelism:
The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind
Alister Mcgrath (Intervarsity)

Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ
Eugene H. Peterson (Eerdmans)

Theology / Ethics:
After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters
N. T. Wright (Harperone)

Biblical Studies:
The Good and Evil Serpent: How a Universal Symbol Became Christianized
James H. Charlesworth (Yale University Press),


The Historical Jesus: Five Views
Editors: James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy; Contributors: Robert Price, John Dominic Crossan, Luke Timothy Johnson, James Dunn, and Darrell Bock (Intervarsity Academic)

Christian Living:
What was Lost: A Christian Journey Through Miscarriage
Elise Erikson Barrett (Westminster John Knox)

Christianity and Culture:
Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You've Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths from the Secular and Christian Media
Bradley R. E. Wright (Bethany House)

Missions / Global Affairs:
Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China
Lian Xi (Yale University Press)

The Church / Pastoral Leadership:
Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church
Kenda Creasy Dean (Oxford University Press)

Of Love and Evil The Songs of the Seraphim, Book Two
Anne Rice (Knopf)

History / Biography:
Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch
Eric Miller (Eerdmans)
Reading through the list year after year, I'm convinced that the award name should be changed to 'American Christianity Today Book Award'.

Looking through the list, we should ask ourselves these questions:

What 'historical Jesus'? A technical term referring to the industry of studying Jesus as a historical person as contrast to the Church's official belief and teaching about him. The industry started in Europe and gained prominence two decades ago in America through the works of American institutions like the Westar Institute. The rest is a twenty years of academic responses produced to engage the industry.

What lies and myths, and from which secular and Christian media? American lies and myths, and from American secular and American Christian media.

Why popular Christianity in modern China and not India, Africa, eastern Europe, South Korea, or Southeast Asia? That is because China is the best contender as the world's most powerful nation in terms of economic influence, international political relations, product consumption, and military-affair against America.

"What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church." Needless to say more.

And, finally, who is Christopher Lasch? A prominent American academic critic who is famous for his works on American culture and its affairs in the late 20th century.

Is American Christianity the representation of Christianity today? Americanization is not limited only to economics, culture, education, and politics. When these areas are Americanized, there is no way for religion not to be affected. Americanization of Christianity occurs as subtle as an annual Book Awards list by a magazine fancifully titled 'Christianity Today'.

I think American Christians need to start realizing two things. First, they are not the embodiment of Christianity today. Second, the world is incomprehensibly larger than America. On the other hand, non-American Christians need to stop seeing themselves as part of American Christianity. I'm writing this without any intention to offend anyone, particularly Americans. This is just my observation and thoughts.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Book Review: 'Christian Movements In Southeast Asia: A Theological Exploration', edited by Michael Nai-Chiu Poon

This book is the result of a recent project from The Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia (CSCA) at Trinity Theological College. It belongs to the Centre's CSCA Christianity in Southeast Asia Series. This is the second book in the series.

There are altogether seven chapters, including the 'Introduction'. The project involved six scholars from across various geographical background: Michael Poon (Singapore), Simon Chan (Singapore), W. John Roxborogh (Malaysia-New Zealand), Charles Farhadian (USA), Roger Hedlund (India), and Andrew Walls (UK). Here is the Content:

Introduction: The Theological Locus of Christian Movements in Southeast Asia — Michael Poon

Chapter One: Folk Christianity and Primal Spirituality: Prospects for Theological Development
— Simon Chan

Chapter Two: Situating Southeast Asian Christian Movements in the History of World Christianity
— W. John Roxborogh

Chapter Three: Present-day Independent Christian Movements: A South Asian Perspective
— Roger E. Hedlund

Chapter Four: Understanding Southeast Asian Christianity — Roger E. Hedlund

Chapter Five: A Missiological Reflection on Present-day Christian Movements in Southeast Asia — Charles E. Farhadian

Chapter Six: Documentation and Ecclesial Deficit: A Personal Plea to Churches — Andrew F. Walls

The gist of the book is this question: What is Southeast Asia Christianity?

The book is not to provide a definite statement to spell out the Christian phenomenon in this part of the world. Instead, it describes certain characteristics of this phenomenon and suggest that the possible attempt to answer that question is by building on these characteristics.

The main characteristic that this project learned in its investigation is to see the Christian phenomenon as a "movement" (p. x-xviii), a term the book unhesitatingly criticizes (p. xi-xii) yet assumes liberally (with a bit of discussion on Roman Catholic's and Protestant's missiology) without clarifying how it is used throughout the book. This project mainly revolves around the activities of accounting for the emergence of local movements of the Christian faith.

To account is to talk history. That's why there are four chapters (including the substantial discussion in Poon's introductory chapter) dedicated to provide a historical sketch of Christianity in the local scenes. Roxborogh's chapter and Hedlund's two chapters can be read as three parts of a historical narrative. They provide us a survey of what have happened so far among the Christian communities located in Southeast Asia, in particular Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Farhadian's chapter is mainly a broad sociological description of Southeast Asians' present contexts, hence also their concerns. He considers globalisation, migration, religious activities, and socio-political predicament as the "questions that currently seem important for the region" (p. 118). These areas serve as missionary possibilities as well as situations, if taken to task, would forge a distinct expression of Southeast Asian Christianity.

Chan's article explores the spirituality landscape of Southeast Asia and propose that Pentecostal theology/spirituality as the ground to appreciate and engage "folk Christianity." By "folk Christianity", Chan was referring to "the contextualisation of the gospel in primal religious contexts" (p. 1). He suggests that such approach may lead us to "discover something that does not quite fit into any of the known [theological] categories" (p. 16).

Chan has a commendable section discussing the distinction between "contextualisation" and "syncretism." He discreetly remarks that "Unless the questions of contextualization and syncretism are addressed responsibly, it would be difficult to see how any credible theology would arise from the study of folk Christianity" (p. 5-9).

Wall's concluding chapter is an apt appeal for Southeast Asians to practice constant documentation. It is through collected data that works on accounting Christian movements can be sustained and carried forward. Yet, this raises a question: Wouldn't the adoption of such method by the locals to account for (that is to give ontology via written/printed words) their expression of the faith already influenced the expression itself and so shaped the Southeast Asian Christianity into something else?

For instance, in the chapter 'Understanding Southeast Asian Christianity', Hedlund gives the impression, through C. K. Tong's data, that "intellectual conversion [to Christianity] is prevalent, and involves gradual exposure and a process of evaluation. Converts repeatedly have indicated that they found Christianity 'a rational religion'" (p. 68. Emphasis added). But is such impression the case?

To be fair to Tong, he did mentioned that his impression is not definite:

"I am aware that there are methodological issues relating to the reliability and validity of informants' account of their religious conversion. [...] conversion accounts are forms of social construction and therefore not necessarily neutral or objective: 'actors' accounts of their religious conversion as situated in social contexts which lend them meaning. [...] While not claiming that the conversion accounts reported by the informants are "objective" [...] Snow and Machalek (1984) suggest that conversion narratives are processes of biographical reconstructions, and such personal biographies are constantly reinterpreted in the face of new information and experiences. [...] While I do agree that the accounting of conversion must be viewed as narratives, whether they are actual occurrences, I argue, is a moot point."
(Chee Kiong Tong, Rationalizing Religion: Religious conversion, Revivalism and Competition in Singapore Society [Netherlands: Brill, 2007], p. 108-109).

The point I'm driving at is that Hedlund's approving statement in his chapter has endowed a different ontology to Tong's otherwise rather uncertain impression. The impression Hedlund gives is one that is not supported by the source (Tong's data) he consulted. Hence, such method of reference has created a reality that may not be the case.

So, in our adoption of a particular method of documentation and documenting only that which we consider interesting or worthy, we are exposing ourselves to the risk of distorting the account of the real Southeast Asian Christianity. In the end, the accounts that we have are only those which are skewed towards certain institutions or power that be. Yes, documentation is essential, yet how can we control, reduce, and eliminate such risk?

Overall, the book has tiled the ground to cater for much potential works in the future. There are many areas that we can develop from and local histories we can investigate further. On a personal basis, I have attempted a brief account of the theological scene in Singapore in the first half of twentieth century. Nonetheless I want to highlight two major topics which the project should have included. Perhaps in the future, CSCA might.

First, the project should discuss the ministry of the influential Indonesian evangelist Stephen Tong. His influence extends across Southeast Asia, in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

Although Stephen Tong's ministry is not a manifestation of 'folk Christianity' (since he is heavily influenced by and embodied certain manifestation of Dutch Reformed theology), yet given his massive missionary activities in the region, one can hardly deny the role he plays in shaping Southeast Asian Christianity over the past two decades.

Second, the project has not taken into account the contemporary role played by Northwestern Christianity through their theological institutions and missionary activities. If most of the Trinity Theological College's lecturers, CSCA fellows, and local church leaders are educated at the Northwestern part of the world, or from within the adopted educational structures from that hemisphere (through the prevalent usage of books/textbooks, journals, curriculum, websites, e-resources, and audio-visual products at local seminaries and churches) then such phenomena need to be taken into account as well.

In addition, I think that an analysis of the books that are popularly read among the locals (data may be collected from local Christian and secular bookshops/publishers) may shed important insights to the identity of Southeast Asian Christianity.

These few overlooks make me wonder if this theological exploration was too heavily dominated by certain Western biases that take particular interest in the 'native', 'folk' or 'primal' rather than the variant urban and middle-class manifestations of Southeast Asian Christianity that emerged from the present global interconnectedness? I think this project can be more exact if it includes this latter aspect.

If part of the project is to answer the question "Who are we?" and "What the Southeast Asian experience means for world Christianity?" (p. 21), then I don't see any reason not to include also the localized expression of the various indigenized types of Northwestern Christianity that have managed to take their roots among Southeast Asian communities.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

J. Gresham Machen's thesis revisited

Westminster Seminary California (not to be confused with Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia) recently organized a conference revisiting J. Gresham Machen's 1923 influential book 'Christianity and Liberalism'.

Daniel Chew, a student at the seminary, has helpfully highlighted the links to the audio recordings as well as his own reflection over the conference:
"Christianity and Liberalism Today" –Michael S. Horton
"The Perennial Machen" –D.G. Hart
"Machen and the Bible" –Joel. E. Kim
"Machen and the Gospel" –J.V. Fesko
"Machen and Ethics" –David VanDrunen
"Machen, Christianity, and the Church" –W. Robert Godfrey
Questions & Answers

Friday, January 28, 2011

Chronology of Church History

Despite what is being taught by seminaries, universities, Channel News Asia, Lianhe Wanbao, and theological colleges, this is the real genealogy of the Church for the past 2000 years. The true chronology of Church History.

(This parody is inspired by Jason A. Goroncy)

Other Christians who smoke

Previously, I posted a photo of popular Christian authors who enjoyed smoking. Here is an article that highlights more of such personalities (H/T: Sivin):

[Dietrich] Bonhoeffer often re­inforces his gratitude with superlatives and exclamation points. "Maria's and Mother's cigarettes were magnificent," he writes. "I thank Anna very much for the cigarettes." And: "I thank you very much for everything, also for the cigars and cigarettes from your trip!" He praises a Wolf cigar for its "magical fragrance" and on another occasion declares, "I've lit the big cigar and am enjoying it immensely—thanks very much!" When his dear friend Eber­hard Bethge delivers a cigar sent by Karl Barth, Bon­hoeffer finds it so fine that he staggers at its "truly im­probable reality."

Bonhoeffer's nicotine en­comia brought to mind other theological figures who smoked. C. S. Lewis incessantly smoked cigarettes and a pipe. J. R. R. Tolkien appeared almost elf­ish in the author photo for The Hobbit, grinning and grip­ping a pipe. Barth, too, liked a pipe but sometimes smoked cigars. Other confirmed smokers in­clude Paul Tillich, Rein­hold Niebuhr, James Gustaf­son and Richard John Neu­haus. [...]

Enthusiastic smokers can also be found in the ranks of conservative evangelicals. The British Baptist C. H. Spur­geon believed cigar drafts prepared his throat for preaching. Chal­lenged on this practice, Spur­geon replied that he would continue unashamedly to "smoke to the glory of God."

During his student days at Princeton, J. Gresham Machen remarked that cigar smoking was "my idea of delight" and wrote to his mother, "When I think what a wonderful aid tobacco is to friendship and Christian patience I have sometimes regretted that I never began to smoke." [...]

[Eminent Christian ethicist at Princeton University] Paul Ramsey appeared on the cover of the Methodist magazine the Christian Advo­cate [...] with a pipe in hand [...].

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Website responding to Bart Ehrman

Bart Ehrman in the past few years has been writing popular-level books that seem to discredit Christianity. From claiming to suspect the historical reliability of the New Testament to questioning the existent of God based on the problem of evil, Ehrman has his latest book coming out in two months time. The title is as unsurprising as it can be: Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.

Ehrman's project has been challenged and criticized by various colleagues of his in the New Testament guild. Yet these criticisms are scattered all over the cyberspace.

Now, here is a website that contains responses from various scholars, from philosopher to New Testament scholars, to engage Ehrman's theses. The website is aptly titled Ehrman Project (H/T: A Chorus of Echoes).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ecumenical Service at Church of Divine Mercy, 24 January 2011

There were Christian leaders from various denominations from Roman Catholics to Syrian Orthodox, from Methodist, Anglican, to independent Pentecostal-Charismatic churches attending the ecumenical service. There were no Presbyterian leaders.

The theme for this year: "They devoted themselves to the Apostles' Teaching, Fellowship, Breaking of Bread and Prayer." (Acts 2: 43 - 47)

The service started with Taize-styled worship before each of the church leaders preached on each of the four constituting elements of the universal church:

Dr Roy Joseph (MarThoma Syrian Church) on 'One in the Apostles' Teaching'.

Rev Dr Edward Keith Pousson (Victory Family Centre) on 'One in Fellowship'.

Rev Dr Lorna Khoo (Aldersgate Methodist Church) on 'One in the Breaking of Bread'.

Rev Joseph God (Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd) on 'One in Prayer'.

Rev Monsignor Eugene Vaz (Vicar General of Singapore's Catholic Archdiocese Curia) as the moderator.

The service ended with the singing of Francis of Asisi's hymn 'Make me a channel of your peace'.

The service was not done in a way that blurred the distinctive among the different communities, but to seek unity among diversity. Each of the speakers spoke from within their tradition and I do sensed the different hermeneutics being used in their messages. Pousson talked about the formation of family at the feet of the cross, drawing from Jesus' constituting his disciple as the son of Mary and Mary as the mother as the disciple, while hanging on the cross. Khoo emphasized that the differences in the understanding of Christ's presence during the Eucharist/Holy Communion should not cloud the fact that Christ is really present during the breaking of bread.

After we reached home, I asked Andreas when will we see the churches really come together as the one visible body of Christ. He replied that the churches will come as one in Christ's second coming.

It then got me thinking, if that is the case, then we should be praying for Christ's second coming instead of praying for unity among churches. Praying for unity would be putting the equation the other way around. Anyway, we prayed.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What would Jacques Derrida say about wedding?

When Steven asked me to MC for him, he wanted me to squeeze in some snippet statements from radical philosophers. Of course I reject his suggestion, as I, as a Presbyterian, naturally approach the wedding proceeding with solemnity and not radicality. However, after yesterday’s night rehearsal, he again bugged me to indulge him before we left. After giving his persistence some thoughts, and since this is his big day, so I guess I cannot not oblige. So I wrote it the night before his wedding. However after talking with the presiding pastor-in-charge, it would not be appropriate to give such a speech during the wedding procession. So in the end, the speech is not delivered. Nonetheless here is that snippet to the beloved newly wed:

The great French philosopher Jacques Derrida is most well known for his idea of deconstruction. People thought that his idea was like an ideological grenade thrown into the world of philosophy to destroy all philosophies. So, naturally people reacted with anger, rejecting his idea as destructive and nonsensical. However, in the year when Steven was born, Derrida gave a lecture that mentioned something peculiar about his destructive idea. He said that ‘deconstruction’ actually always accompanied by love. Surprising! How does something that is so destructive and nonsensical such as deconstruction has a place for love?

Later during an interview done in 17 March 1997 with Nikhil Padgaonkar, Derrida clarified what he meant by deconstruction as always accompanied by love. And what I will do here is to paraphrase and contextualize Derrida’s clarification for Steven and Joreen:

“Your love to each other means an affirmative desire towards the Other person - to respect the Other person, to pay attention to the Other person, not to destroy the otherness of the Other person - and this is the preliminary affirmation, even if afterwards, because of this love, you ask questions, criticize, and sometimes oppose one another. In the final instance, deconstruction is not negative although negativity is no doubt at work. Now, in order to criticise, to negate, to deny, you have first to say "yes". When each one of you addresses the Other person in your married life, even if it is to oppose the Other person, you are making a sort of promise - that is, to address the Other person as truly someone different from you, not to reduce the otherness of the Other, and to take into account the singularity of the Other person. That's an irreducible affirmation.”

In Derrida’s own words, “This is the reaffirmation of the affirmation.” To complement with G. K. Chesterton, “Love means to love that which is unlovable; or it is no virtue at all.”

Have a great marriage life together, Steven & Joreen! :-)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Present condition of church, religion, and socio-economics

I have heard numerous pastors, theologians, and laities critique and lament over the gap between the academy and the church. These people really believe in their vision and so attempt to rectify the situation by narrowing the gap.

Have you come across such idea?

The most recent one told to me was the President of one of the Asean's graduate schools of theology apologized in the public for failing to bridge that gap. He acknowledged that the local church leaders have been irrelevant to the church-goers who are out there in the marketplace.

I have summarized this line of thought in this diagram:

I follow this line of thought until recently. I think this critique is not that accurate and give a distorted view of reality and so have spawned many invalid expectations from everyone located in every hierarchical groups within the Christian community.

In this view, 'religion' is identified mostly on the level of the people of God, the church. And most of those in this group are laities. It is now the laities who get to dictate what is orthodoxy. Hence we have cases where academicians been castigated either as 'liberals' or 'fundamentalists' or 'extremists' by the church.

We have also cases where the academicians' approach to religion is completely unrecognizable by the church. Some academicians approach the marketplace in ways not necessarily endorsed by the church.

Hence we have monastery, a community that separates itself from the rest of the people of God because the former sees the latter as too tainted by unrecognizable influences.

And we have laities who think that the academicians have lost touch with reality. And since the money that fund seminaries and theological colleges come from the laities, therefore often the academicians have to give in to the dictation of the masses.

So some academicians have to pretend to have most of the answers, if not all, because they are expected by the laities to be so. Besides that, the academicians are also expected to soothe and affirm the belief of the laities.

So here is my proposal. A better description of the condition that we are in:

Instead of 'marketplace' as another mission field, all the religious activities is governed by the socio-economic forces of supply and demand. And the paradigm shift is to see further into the church. It is not one gap but two that exist. And these gaps cannot be bridged. If it does, the socio-economy is threatened: the congregation leave and so no funding.

In this diagram, each level has different conception of what constitute orthodoxy or 'religion'. And all these conceptions are intertwined with the socio-economy of the day. So if we want to bridge the gap, we will disrupt the stability or order.

The academy's idea of reality cannot be transfered to the pulpit. When that happens, the pulpit will be seen as failing the expectation of the congregation. And when that happens, congregation leaves and so no funding.

All the political tensions in the church (like some of the invalid expectations from various hierarchical groups that are listed above) are best comprehended with this diagram. Correct me if I'm wrong.

So what is left to be done?

In order to maintain order, each group should remain in their own place and do what have been done all this while. Status quo. We should throw away my proposed diagram and adopt back the first diagram. Continue to see that there is only one gap. That gap is located between the academy and the church. Since the church also includes some academicians, hence that produces a mirage that the gap can be bridged without disrupting the socio-economy (which is not really an overarching governing system, but just the 'marketplace'--another mission field). Perhaps this is what the President of the graduate school of theology did?

While Buddhism teaches that the world is a grand illusion, there is a faction of the people of God that is embodying it and yet still claiming that it is a real world. As long as the monthly paychecks are banked in on time, anything can be argued to be real. Holiness and spirituality dressed in capitalism.

"Our bodies are temple of God..."

Someone recently asked at a group I am affiliated with:

"What do I do with this guy who told me (in no uncertain terms) to stop smoking my (Cuban) cigars, quoting the Corinthians passage about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit..."

Here is my answer:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Second year, second semester

It's now my second year second semester in a theological college. If the biggest question in philosophy is the question on 'being' (according to Jacques Derrida), then I think I cannot evade from reflecting on what does being in theological studies mean so far.

I am not sure about other seminary and theological colleges, from my experience so far, I find that theological studies is an undecidable affair: it is both depressing and uplifting; both disappointing and hopeful. The experience resonates very intimately with the naked life, with all ambiguity, stupidity, excitement and madness.

I really hate to say this, but I have to say it: theological studies, at least at where I am, is another manifestation of present form of capitalism. The aim of the college is driven towards 'GDP' (Gross Domestic Pastors). The curriculum is to effectively produce function-able pastors to work in local churches.

You might ask what's wrong with that?

Well, theology simply becomes a decoration rather than the substance of the learning experience. What I mean is that we are actually learning business management and consultancy grossed in the language of theology rather than theology itself.

Can you imagine teacher who has no training in philosophy or epistemology asking students to do theological reflection? In such sterile context, who should be surprised that theology is about whether to install wooden pews or plastic chairs in new church building?

By the way, I did not make up the scenario where theology is invoked in the decision between wooden or plastic chairs. Some classmates and I rolled our eyes when we heard it.

Though I can be very wrong but my hunch is that some subjects in the present curriculum are so patronized by contemporary social and economic milieu that they have lost their theological seriousness, if not credibility.

These subjects are what I consider as pseudo-theology, if not pseudo-academic. They are crafted to demand criticality which themselves cannot bear to engage in. There are courses that require students to engage with them critically. But when that happened, the curriculum cannot withstand the engagement and simply collapsed.

Therefore, I have tried not to engage with these subjects critically because I know that they will collapse. I chose to refrain myself, just as other classmates did.

And due to that my overall grade is affected. I got comments that my assignment had no theological reflection, empirical support, etc. Now I can't even apply for postgraduate studies as my grade doesn't meet the minimal requirement (which I was told is B+). That is fine.

To find out whether my point that some curriculum cannot withstand the criticality they demand, I have decided to take those pseudo-theological subjects to task.

In the mere first three weeks, I have critiqued them critically to the extend that they became irrelevant. And some classmates agreed with the problems I have highlighted. One even emailed me to further engage on the questions that I have raised.

And I plan to do that consistently from this semester onwards. Not to make anyone's life difficult, but to apply the requirement of the curriculum onto itself, to see for myself if it stands or fall. So far, it doesn't look good.

These are the downsides.

The upsides are of course the great teachers who have been very approachable and helpful. This semester, I met other teachers whom I have not learn from: Daniel Koh, Jeffrey Truscott, and Peter Chan. Great people. Good teachers. Well-informed in their field.

There are subjects which you are not keen on, but because of the teachers, you find yourself looking forward to their classes. There are subjects which you like but because of the teachers, you find it a drag to attend the classes.

I can identify with the latter because I have given some really bad experience to my audience last month at a youth camp. I posted my failure here as a reminder to myself that I shall not stop learning and improving.

Being in the new semester means also that I will miss those classes by good teachers like Roland Chia, Mark Chan, and Andrew Peh.

What is my greatest fear in this semester? None.

Then, what is my greatest hope? I can finish all the assignments months before the deadlines.

What is theology, again? Learning which still enables us to joke and laugh within a nihilistic existence.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Expectation in divinity education

"I simply assumed that the divinity school was where you went to investigate whether the stuff Christians say they believe is true. [...] It may seem quite inconceivable, but I had not figured out what it meant to go to a divinity school. It had not come home to me that divinity schools were where people go to study for the ministry. Indeed I was quite surprised to learn that many of my fellow students were there to become ministers. I even discovered that I was expected to work in a church."
(Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah's Child: A Theologian Memoir [UK: SCM, 2010], 48. Emphasis added.)

The above passages were strangely affirming when I read them. There is the so-called 'Field Education' that I, as a divinity student, have to go through. I have no problem with such program since it exposes students to the 'field'. However, what I noticed is that the program is crafted in a way that meant only to produce 'ministers' or church-workers.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Position, identity, and the tendency to put these two into boxes

I am always at a lost when it comes to finding words to describe my faith, my studies, or who I am. Once, someone asked me if I am a follower of religion or science. I asked him what's the difference? He said that religion is based on faith while science is based on facts. I asked him which one he belongs to. He replied that he is someone based on science. To think about it, I am neither.

There is an expectation to see a person in a box. The other day, I asked Andreas why people keep arguing with each other in all areas. He referred me to John Zizioulas. People argue because they are afraid of the Other.

In view of that, we opt to see people in a box as our attempt to reduce the threat from the Other. But by doing so, we are just making the Other more alienated and thus more threatening even though we think otherwise.

Derrida is clear when it comes to seeing ourselves in a box. If we can't do that to others, how much confidence do we have that we can do that to ourselves?

"Nevertheless, although I confirm that it is right to say that I am an atheist, I can't say, myself, "I am an atheist." It's not a position. I cannot say, "I know what I am: I am this and nothing else." I wouldn't say, "I am an atheist" and I wouldn't say, "I am a believer" either. I find the statement absolutely ridiculous. Who can say, "I am a believer?" Who knows that? Who can affirm and confirm that he or she is a believer? And who can say, "I am an atheist?""
(Yvonne Sherwood and Kevin Hart, ed., Derrida and Religion: Other Testaments [USA: Routledge, 2005], 47)

Friday, January 14, 2011

How would you interpret 'faggot'?

"On October 27, 1553, Michael Servetus was burned at the stake in Geneva as "a warning to all who blaspheme God". He was accused of "terrible blasphemies against the Trinity and against the Son of God". The executioner was inexpert and the onlookers, appalled by the long drawn-out shrieks of the victim, out of pity tried to help the fire to burn more quickly by throwing faggots in to him to hurry up the process of death."
(Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin, Geneva, and the Reformation [USA: Baker Book, 1988], p.73. Italic added.)

When I read that, I didn't know how to make sense of the text. What the heck? How does throwing homosexuals into the fire help to burn more quickly?

After checking the dictionary, I found out that 'faggots' also mean bundle of sticks used to fuel fire. Phew... Meaning of words is so important in understanding a text.

Learning its meaning is helpful. Next time when I go camping, I will not be shocked if I hear other campers say something like, "Let's burn some faggots tonight."

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The liberal atheists....

After saying that there is no God, some atheists recently are talking about humans' spiritual needs and satisfaction. Across the theists' spectrum, we have the liberal on one side and the conservative on the other. It seems that the liberals of the atheists' spectrum are those who are accused by other 'conservative' atheist for being pro-religion.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Scot McKnight's view on bi-vocation; Gerald Hiestand's view on pastor-theologian

While Vinoth is confused over the laity-clergy divide, Scot McKnight's blog recently raised very good thoughts regarding the idea of bi-vocation as the superior Christian lifestyle:

The rhythms of life for a tentmaker are amazingly different between one who is single, married, married with young children, and married with children post-elementary school. A basic question for many tentmakers is whether or not we can survive the demands of two (potentially full-time) jobs, a spouse (who might also work part or full time), and children. [...]

... who is the real tentmaker: is it an individual, or is it actually the family as a whole? Should the question shift from considering one’s own ambitions and desire to build the Church to the desires and skillset of one’s family as a whole?

These are provocative thoughts to those with family and who aspire to be like apostle Paul. With the wife and children in the picture, how do we then think about ministry?

Gerald Hiestand, at First Things website, posted a thoughtful article lamenting the deep problem between academic theology and local congregation (H/T: Sivin Kit):

The drain of our wider theologians from the pastorate to the academy has resulted in a two-fold problem. First, the theological water-level of our local parishes has dropped considerably. Inasmuch as the pastoral vocation is no longer seen as a theological vocation, pastors no longer bring a strong theological presence to their local parishes. The net effect (particularly in the evangelical tradition in which I reside) is a truncated understanding of theology and its import among the laity. Theology has largely left the local church.

The second part of this problem is perhaps more even troubling. Not only has theology left the church, but the church has left theology. To be sure, many academic theologians view themselves as self-consciously serving the theological needs of the church. But on the whole, academic discourse has lost its way, becoming preoccupied with questions—especially questions regarding its right to exist—that minimize its ecclesial relevance.

These are real concerns in the west as much as in the east. That's why Gospel@Areopagus is set up. The mission is to keep the link between the academia and the churches as close as possible.

During class this week, our lecturer on ethics, Daniel Koh, made an insightful comment over the place of theology in the life of the church. While affirming the importance of mission and evangelism in the first two centuries in church history, Daniel highlighted that it was theological works produced by people like Justin Martyr, Tertulian, Clement of Alexandria, Ignatius, and others that provided the strong ground that empowered the activities of the churches.

Daniel's remark subverts many ideology underlying local congregations that theology is basically irrelevant to the church's life. I have heard many people who dismiss theology. Only recently, someone told me that it is okay for mission-training institutions not to require their students to undergo theological education like those provided at Trinity Theological College.

I wonder if the concern over what kind of churches are being planted matters to those who think like that?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"A good disciple is not necessarily a good human"

That's what the class is recently told by a lecturer. We are still puzzled over the statement. What does the statement really mean?

While trying to understand, I asked a few other students during lunch what do they understand by the statement. Can a person be a good disciple of Jesus Christ and not a good human?

All of them are as puzzled as I was even after I told them about the context how this phrase came about.

A Christian who actively serves as a leader in Bible Study Fellowship. Yet this person cannot relate well with her mother-in-law. She didn't want the mother-in-law to stay with her even though her place has more space to accommodate her than other kins.

It was from this scenario where the phrase came about.

One of my fellow students said that a good disciple of Christ is by definition a good human being.

What do you think? A good disciple of Christ is not necessarily a good human being?

I think most of us can readily acknowledge 'A good human being is not necessarily a good disciple of Christ'. However, 'A good disciple of Christ who is not necessarily a good human being' is really begging the understanding of 'good' and 'disciple of Christ'.

Isn't 'disciple of Christ' suppose to be a good human being? If the sentence has an additional emphasis on the goodness of the disciple by referring the person as a 'good disciple', shouldn't this reference doubly suggest that the person is a good human being?

Do you think there is such thing as a 'good disciple of Christ' that is not a good human person? I still don't know. You can tell me.