Friday, May 27, 2011

Reply to Benjamin Chew

I'm grateful that Ben Chew engaged with my post. It is only courteous for me to post a reply to him.

He wrote:

"As someone who knows where he is coming from, in a seminarian’s context, it is easy to agree with and applaud him for what he is exhorting. A cursory reading of the Scriptures will not do if one desires to delve deep into what the texts actually mean in its historical and cultural contexts."

I have no idea what is a "seminarian's context" and what it entails. From this paragraph it seems to suggest that "seminarian's context" entail the desire "to delve into what the texts actually mean in its historical and cultural contexts."

Does the concern for historical and cultural meaning of the Bible exist only in theological college and seminary? So cell groups, BSF, Churches or individual's reading of the Bible does not concern to understand what the Bible means in its historical and cultural context?

Besides, I have been interested in what the Bible means in its historical and cultural context way before I decided to study in theological college. So the "seminarian's context" certainly does not reflect my approach to the Bible since whether in or out of a seminary, my approach has remained the same.

Ben himself wrote that there are people who are in not seminary who do not adhere to Camping's approach to the Bible: "I know of numerous Christians, over the years, who were not trained in the biblical languages and who would never step into the hallowed halls of a seminary and yet they would not be deceived by people like Harold Camping."

This shows that whether one is in seminary or not is irrelevance to the desire to "delve into what the texts actually mean in its historical and cultural contexts." Those who are not trained in seminary yet do not follow Camping because they don't think Camping's reading of the text is correct. That assumes that they know what the text means and does not mean in its historical and cultural context. Ben seems to want to confine my approach within a context, while allow others the benefit to be less contextual, as in their reading is more universal hence applicable to many, while mine is strictly contextual hence only confined to those like me who are in "seminarian's context". But as I have shown from Ben's own post, this kind of categorization is simply arbitrary.

"As a SUPERNATURAL book from God to us, Christians have the moral right to believe that they can and will understand the words of Scripture enough to obey its commands and dictates, even without a seminary education!

"What is so literarily obstruse about loving your neighbour, humble yourself, put others before oneself, abstain from sexual immorality, pray always, endure hardships, faith without works is dead, turn the other cheek, etc? There are so many passages in the bible that can be easily understood to be obeyed!"

There is a logical gap between the first and the second paragraph.

Affirming the Bible as supernatural and "Christians have the moral right to believe that they can and will understand the words in Scripture enough to obey its commands and dictates, even without a seminary education" has no logical sequence to the fact whether one really understand the Bible or not.

In other words, saying and believing that "I can and will understand the Bible" does not mean I in fact do understand it. To give an example, imagine someone coming up to you and tell you that he can and will understand the linguistic principles in the Mandarin language. Does that says anything whether he does in fact understand it? No.

"Unless there is an agenda somehow, in the academia, to muddy the simple waters of truth so as to hide under an intellectual facade in their excuse of not being able to obey?

"As someone who is cerebrally orientated and who loves books, I used to think as Sze Zeng does until I realise that it is better to LIVE like Christ than to be able to give astute definitions of what it means to live like Christ. It is better to LOVE like Christ than to to be able to give accurate definitions of biblical love.

"I believe with all my heart that the truly dear ones in the Lord who will enjoy the greatest rewards in heaven would be the poor mother who anguishes every night for the salvation of her sons and the missionary wife who lost her children to disease and death than the highbrow theologians and scholars in seminaries who talk and think too much but never living the lives of genuine faith."

Here is where Ben's response seems to have furthest relevance to the issue discussed in my post. Instead of engaging the point I made, Ben went on to speculate whether are my thoughts reflected in the post an attempt to disobey what the Bible says.

I think for anyone who are interested to live rightly, he or she needs first to find out what is the right thing to obey or disobey. For example, imagine yourself attending a talk by a prosperity preacher who ask all the audience to give up all their bank-saving as tithe to be like "seed sown on good soil" so that all will receive back a hundred times more, based on Mark 4.20. Do you obey?

If you say that you obey, then I have nothing to say.

The point is that before obeying, one has to have the right understanding. Ben seems to be saying that we should "LIVE like Christ" (emphasis his) without first understanding what does living like Christ means. (What I suggested is not asking us to give a formal/grammatically correct definition of what certain passages in the Bible mean, but simply to understand what do they mean. Both are different thing. A person can be charitable without knowing how to articulate a precise definition for his charitable act. This is a given. So I'm not sure what's the relevance of Ben's point.) The prosperity preacher certainly thinks that living like Christ is to give up all of our bank saving and expect to receive one hundred times more. As you can see, this is really lumping up two very different matters together.

And I'm not sure why does Ben imply that I'm someone who is "cerebrally orientated" and hence use "intellectual facade" to disobey. I don't think that he needed me to publicize what I have done (with the poor, drug addicts, community services) and have been doing (with sick/bed-ridden patients, etc) in order to blog about hermeneutical approaches. Or does he?


sp lim said...

Sigh. Some people say the same thing about STM also. Asked one of them why. Becoz certain lecturer believe Isaiah was written by more than one author. Sigh.

Sze Zeng said...

Oh... in that case, it is not a unique phenomenon that is confined in Singapore alone. So how does STM's students and teachers deal with it?

Martin Yee said...

Sze Zeng, I am with you too. I don't see cerebally orientedness and love of books as any hindrance to truly loving and obeying God, and serving fellow man. Reformers like Luther, Melanchthon and Calvin are well read, highly educated, and very academic too.

reasonable said...

Gone over to read Benjamin Chew's contains many misleading statements and errors in reasoning, so much that I dunno where to start to talk about them. Some of the things he mentioned are only half-truths and these can easily mislead readers if readers do not notice the missing truth-parts Benjamin did not mentioned in his post.

SHWong said...

If I don't criticize you, how else am I supposed to show that I'm holier than thou?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Martin,

Yes, I don't see that link too.

Ben has replied to my post, if you are interested:

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable,

That's my first impression. I didn't know where should I start. But after a while, decided to respond based on the paragraphs.

Ben has replied to my post, if you are interested:

Sze Zeng said...

Hi SHWong,

You got that impression too, huh... okay... because I sort of had that impression but didn't want to dwell in it.

sp lim said...

Sorry, should have posted my comment in your earlier post. Anyway, I'm not sure how STM deals with it as I'm just an off campus students and don't have much time interacting with the lecturers and students. I've asked on lecturer though and she said it used to be a problem but not anymore. So I guess it's not a big issue anymore. As for me, so far I've not come across any lecturer whom I'm ready to brand as an 'apostate'. Think they still very far off from that state and by the grace of God will remain so.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi splim,

Ya, think it is more appropriate for the previous post, but it is definitely okay to comment here too :)