Friday, June 22, 2012

6 questions for Simon Chan on him and his book 'Pentecostal Ecclesiology: An Essay on the Development of Doctrine'

1) Dr. Chan, you have written a rich small book to recover a robust understanding of church in relation to the third person of God, the Holy Spirit. Although the title of the book is ‘Pentecostal Ecclesiology’, I—a non-Pentecostal Presbyterian—find the content of the book very applicable for the wider Christian community. Your proposal is explicitly ecumenical in character, drawing and engaging across different traditions ranging from Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. If I may summarize the whole book in one sentence, I would say that you are presenting to us an understanding of the church as actualized by an ecumenical pneumatology. In your words: “…the Pentecost event is the coming of the Holy Spirit in his own person to indwell the church, making the church an essential part of the story of the Spirit and hence part of the story of the triune God. This personal indwelling is actualized supremely in the church as the communion of the Spirit.” (p.9, emphasis original)

May I ask how did this project developed through the years in your own study and research?

Since writing Spiritual Theology in 1998, the doctrine of the church has been very much on my mind. Subsequent articles and books have dealt with the subject of the church directly or indirectly. Two previous articles in particular set out my initial thoughts: “Mother Church: Toward a Pentecostal Ecclesiology” (Pneuma) and “The Church and the Development of Doctrine” (Journal of Pentecostal Theology), while Liturgical Theology addresses the ecclesiological deficit among evangelicals.  You are right that the ecclesiology expounded here is quite ecumenical, but I want to show that an ecumenical ecclesiology is essentially a Pentecostal ecclesiology, and vice versa. Pentecostals need not be embarrassed by their distinctive experience because their experience makes good sense when viewed in the light of the larger Christian tradition.

2) This is related to the first question, was there any turning point, particular encounter, event, or concern that has prompted you to deliberate over this issue in an ecumenical manner?

The book is also motivated by a pastoral concern. Over the years I have noticed a tendency among Pentecostal scholars to question their own tradition without, in my view, giving it a fair hearing. They have simply drunk too much from the wells of evangelicalism and mainline Protestantism. Being largely influenced by these traditions, they lack an explicit ecclesiology to ground their experience. In these traditions, church is not a theological reality but merely a sociological reality. But where do we go to learn our ecclesiology? I think Orthodoxy (and to a lesser extent Catholicism) has a doctrine of the church which comports best with Pentecostal experience.  I believe that Orthodox ecclesiology may actually save Pentecostal experience from evangelical and mainline Protestant dilution.

3) You pointed out that, “Creation does not have its own autonomous purpose to which the church is called to serve; rather what God intends for creation can only be understood in terms of what He intends for the church and what the Spirit is doing in the church. […] In sum, instead of subsuming the church under creation, Orthodoxy subsumes creation under the church.” (p.25)

In view of this relationship between the church and the creation, what would be your suggestion for the type of language needed for the church to communicate, be it critique or constructive, with the non-church surrounding? (Let’s say on the dignity of foetus, should the church respond to the non-church by invoking the theological assertion that human life is God’s image-bearer and hence should not be aborted on the basis of the mother’s prerogative?)

Much of “public theology” today is concerned with how the church should learn to speak the language of the world. The trouble is that while theologians are trying to teach the church  to speak the world’s language they have forgotten to speak their own native language: the language of Zion. As a result, you end up, as is the case with mainline Protestantism, letting the world set the agenda for the church as seen in Uppsala. The church is always a few steps behind trying to catch up with what is “latest” goings-on in the world. The recent talk by Prof. Kwok Pui Lan is a good example of this kind of public theology.

I think the church must be acquainted with its own language first; only then can she speak the world’s language. After all, it has a long history of dealing with the world and  it has 2,000 years of spiritual resources to draw from. We must see the world in the light of what God is doing in the church because the church is God’s ultimate intention, not the world. The Orthodox response to the WCC Canberra Assembly typifies this approach. Our approach to the various socio-political issues confronting the church today must stem from a firm conviction that the church provides the ultimate framework for dealing with them.  One does not have to announce to the world that man is God’s image bearer, but unless one is firmly convinced that he is,  no truly Christian public theology could emerge. The history of Protestantism in last two hundred years is proof that a public theology in which the world sets its agenda for the church simply does not work. In its attempts to commend Christianity to its cultured despisers à la Schleiermacher, it has only succeeded in alienating the faithful.

4) Your point to subsume “creation under the church” and that, “The Spirit is primarily the Spirit of the church and through and in the church creation finds its ultimate meaning and fulfilment,” (p.9) may be objected by others as triumphalistic in the sense that such understanding elevates the church over against all other secular and religious realities in the world. How would you respond to this?

It is triumphalistic only if it is not true. But if it is true, why should it be considered triumphalistic? The church is not simply an entity among other entities, but the ultimate expression of that human reality, united to Christ through the Spirit rendering eternal worship to the Father, with angels and archangels and all the heavenly hosts, and with all non-human creation in “a chain of hypostatic existence.” The problem arises only because Protestantism starts with a  faulty view of the church: if the church is merely a sociological entity among several other sociological entities, then it would be presumptuous to speak of the church in this way.

5) It is interesting that you traced the cause of evangelicals’ preference for credo-baptism to individualism. “This failure [to acknowledge the corporate-objective dimension of the faith] explains why evangelicals are mostly credo- rather than paedo-baptists and also generally anti-sacramental. For to recognize the objectivity of the faith implies that there are objective things (the sacraments and core practices) which are the concrete works of the Spirit. […] The way forward for evangelicals (and here we must include Pentecostals) is to recognize that the church in its gathering around word and sacrament is no longer just a collectivity of individuals, but is constituted a corporate entity of the Spirit. It is the body of Christ and temple of the Spirit.” (p.79)

You helpfully alerted us to the realism of the sacraments which is concrete regardless of individual’s subjective response to them. However, wouldn’t the emphasis of corporate realism over the subjectivity of the person also upset the healthy tension of the Spirit's work between the corporate and the individual? In other words, how do we emphasize one over the other since it seems that either way would upset a balanced understanding of the Spirit's activity on and in the church?

Only as the church is conceived as a corporate, sacramental reality made up of distinct persons filled with the Spirit could we then speak of any tension between the corporate and the individual. Without the corporate dimension we end up with a church reduced to a collectivity of self-determining individuals. Evangelicalism does not have to deal with any tension because it has eliminated the corporate. 

6) You said that “we must see the world in the light of what God is doing in the church,” how would you respond if someone asks you, “If the church herself is not perfect and has misconducted herself in the past, why should we place her above the world? Or, your corporate church is really a theological ideal which is not historical?”

The church itself is not perfect, but she is still meant to fulfil a divine purpose which is more ultimate than the purpose for which God created the world. It has to do with their respective purposes in God's eternal plan. No, I am not idealizing the church. To do so and distinguish it from the historical church would be docetism. For all its faults, she will eventually be the Bride of Christ, even if it takes eons to realize.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Neglected mission field: The academia

Atheist blogger, Leah Libresco, at Patheos portal has recently decided to become Christian. Her reason? It seemed to her that Moral Law 'loves' her and hence it couldn't be something abstract but a 'person'.
"I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth."
Libresco is familiar with the works by C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton. She attributed Christian philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre for helping her in understanding morality.

From Libresco's story, I think this is why churches should support Christian academic pursuit. Christian academics like all other disciples of Christ share the evangelical mission. Their specific task is to proclaim the gospel in ways that are sensible to those who are academically-inclined. We need to be aware that the academia is also a mission field.

The sad thing is that on one hand, churches often failed to see the academia as mission field. The prevalent type of missiology among churches in this part of the world is so narrow that they can't see that even intellectuals need to know who's the true sovereign in the world and what he wants us to do with our life.

On the other hand, Christians who are in the academia have lost this vision. Either they have grown up in churches with the narrow missiology mentioned above, or they have been so influenced by some non-Christian manners within the academia that they simply become incompetent to proclaim the gospel via their vocation anymore.

The mission of God in reaching out to the world requires the likes of C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Alasdair MacIntyre as much as the Wesley brothers, Jonathan Edwards, and Hudson Taylor. Churches need to know this. They should not neglect this mission field. We need academic missionaries as much as frontier missionaries.

Sermon illustration for 1 Corinthians 12:14-20

"For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

5 questions for Theng Huat Leow on him and his book 'The Theodicy of Peter Taylor Forsyth'

1) Dr. Leow, you wrote in the book that theodicy proper is 'actual reasons for the existence and even the prevalence of evil, ones which preserve both the goodness and omnipotence of God.' (p.1) Why did you choose to research into theodicy among all other theological subjects? Is there a personal reason for this, for instance you have been troubled by this question since young?

2) An eminent theologian from Edinburgh University, David Fergusson, endorsed you as 'one of the leading interpreters of P. T. Forsyth's works today'. So, I'm curious why did you focus on Forsyth?

I think I can answer the first and second questions together, since they have to do with my choice of research topic for my Ph.D. studies. (My book is a revised version of my Ph.D. thesis.) I am afraid my answers here will not be very inspiring. Back when I was deliberating a topic to research on, I was facing a tight deadline to submit my application to the universities. I had some vague interest in the notion of paradox in theological reasoning. I was drawn in particular to Karl Barth and his dialectical approach to theology.

A key event which then took place was a fruitful conversation I had with Prof. Roland Chia, who taught me Historical Theology and Methodism at Trinity Theological College (TTC), and who was (and is) in many ways a mentor to me. He commented that my research interest sounded quite vague and amorphous, and advised me to zoom in on a concrete topic which would be feasible to set out within the confines of a doctoral thesis. He also pointed to the exploding volume of literature on Karl Barth, and suggested that choosing a less well-expounded theologian to study might make my life a little easier. He then mentioned the name of Peter Taylor Forsyth, who is sometimes known as a “Barthian before Barth”. I must confess that this was the first time I heard that name.

I proceeded to grab the available books on Forsyth from the TTC library to get some idea of who he was and what he wrote. I was at that time also teaching an evening course on Christian theodicy. (Again, I chose this topic for my course more out of desperation—I had to find something to teach—rather than any deep abiding interest.) I realised from my scanning of the literature that Forsyth did write quite substantially on theodicy, so I just put two and two together, and hammered out a statement of research interest stating my intention to compare Forsyth’s approach to the problem of evil with that of Jürgen Moltmann’s.

I am grateful that my supervisor, Prof. Trevor Hart, accepted this hurriedly drafted research proposal. Subsequently, after I started my Ph.D. research, I discovered that there was more than enough to write on Forsyth’s theodicy, and decided to drop Moltmann as his conversation partner (although I still engaged quite substantially with the German thinker in my work).

Looking back, I realised that it was a big risk to have committed myself to do my research on Forsyth without knowing much about the man and his thought. My three years of study could have been a really painful time of grappling with a theologian whose writings do not sit well with my theological inclinations. What actually happened was that I found in Forsyth a reliable and insightful guide into the field of theology, one who has greatly expanded my grasp of this wonderful subject and strengthened my conviction to study, teach, preach and live it out for the rest of my life.

So this is my answer: Everything that happened had a strong hurried and accidental quality to it, and (sadly) I am unable to give any inspiring stories of how my research was the fulfilment of some life-long interest or goal. However, by divine providence (a major theme of my study!), things eventually turned out well.

3) Now, after having done in-depth study on Forsyth, what is the one idea by Forsyth that you are most impressed with?

There are certainly many things I have learnt from Forsyth. If forced to pick one, I would say that I am most impressed with his theocentric approach to theology. Theology, for Forsyth, is first and foremost about God, and then derivatively about human beings. It is primarily about God’s glory, his plans and his interest.

The good news that Christianity brings is that, out of God’s grace, his glory and interest coincides with ours. So, God has determined that he will be glorified together with us, and that his fulfilment will occur together with ours. So, in a somewhat paradoxical statement (I am still deeply interested in paradox!), Forsyth writes that the best way to secure man’s interest is for him to be fully devoted to God’s.

It is also interesting to note that, while Forsyth rejects the traditional Reformed teaching on double predestination, he affirms (at the same time) that it was the “most mighty of all [dogmas] for personal faith”. This was because this teaching had its basic focus right: It was concerned first and foremost with God’s glory and freedom, rather than those of his creatures.

This theocentric perspective has had a huge influence on me. Everything should be about God, and we human beings should just be grateful that God has appointed us to share in his victory and glory. I began to see how many of the teachings and practices in our churches today have the wrong starting point—we start with the human being and his or her interests, and basically put God to the side. We have become obsessed with meeting human wants—which, according to Forsyth, is (paradoxically) the best way to frustrate the true fulfilment of human beings. The evangelical wing of the Church has always accused the liberals of making man the measure of all things. But if we look closely at how many evangelical churches have conducted their life, we are actually (in practice) no less anthropocentric than the liberals (perhaps more so). A radical change in perspective is needed, and Forsyth (amongst others) can help to bring this about.

4) In your book, you have one loaded sentence where you wrote that what happened 'on the Cross is our guarantee that the end will surely justify the means, no matter how terrible they might seem to us.' (p.111)

I can imagine that others, like Gregory Boyd, would respond to you by saying that such understanding of God is the reason why people reject God. 'If God exists, [...] he would be responsible for all the evil in the world. Everything that happens would be the working out of his plan. And since [...] people can't with integrity accept that, they reject God.' (Gregory Boyd, Is God to blame? [USA: InterVarsity Press, 2003], p.15)

I have read your book and know that you have engaged such response in detail. Nevertheless, I'm curious how would you put it through to a lay Christian who comes to you with a remark like the one by Boyd?

5) Your book has certainly helped me to understand more about the relationship between God and the evil in the world. And since you are also teaching a postgraduate course on theodicy, may I ask how convinced are you with Forsyth's theodicy compared to other theodicies that you know, and why?

Again, I hope you don’t mind if I address questions 4 and 5 together, since they seem to be closely related. The “loaded sentence” which you mentioned is actually the theme for my entire book, and it must be understood in the light of everything I have written there (which I obviously cannot reproduce here).

On the issue of the persuasiveness of Forsyth’s theodicy, I must say (perhaps not so objectively) that he does bring the discussion on the subject to a higher level. This happens in two ways.

Firstly, he gives a new perspective on the entire exercise of “theodicy”. It is not merely something which Christians engage in in order to defend the power and goodness of God in the face of evil. It is also something which God himself engages in, primarily through the cross. In fact, our own involvement in theodicy can (and should) be seen as our participation in God’s own justification of himself. (Yes, Forsyth’s theocentricism shines through here as well.)

Secondly, Forsyth’s approach succeeds, in my view, in reconciling what many today consider to be diametrically opposing notions in the field of Christian theodicy. My book gives several instances of this. One example can be seen in how Forsyth integrates the notions of the suffering God and the God who sends suffering. In works which promote the notion of the suffering God and stress its importance for Christian theodicy, we frequently find a strong denial that the same suffering God could send suffering on his human creatures as well. God, in other words, is seen as having a unidirectional relationship to suffering—he is only a victim of suffering. Such a view obviously has implications on the transcendence of God—he is seen as a fellow sufferer who is able to empathise with us (which is important), but not as one who is able to send and use suffering to accomplish his purposes (which might be beyond our limited understanding).

Forsyth, in his theodicy, successfully avoids such a truncated view of God. I could go on and on about Forsyth’s other insights, but I better stop here. I make it clear in my book that I don’t agree with every point Forsyth makes. But I think his theodicy certainly has something important to say to us today.

With regard to the issue of explaining theodicy to lay persons, I am beginning to see that this is a very challenging task. In the first place, Christian theodicy is not a purely logical or philosophical exercise. I think, in fact, that theodicy is best seen not as one of the loci (or subject areas) in the field of Christian theology (like Christology or eschatology). It should rather be viewed as the outflow of a complete theological worldview.

In other words, one only arrives at a theodicy when one has in place a holistic set of Christian beliefs, covering all the major areas of our faith. When all these areas integrate well together to give a sound Christian view of reality, we have an answer (though still not a complete one) to the problem of evil.

This is what I have tried to show in my book. If you read it carefully, you will realise that it is not directly about Forsyth’s theodicy. It rather expounds his understanding of humanity, salvation, Christ, providence, and so on, and then interact them together and draw their implications for his theodicy.

So, in my interaction with lay persons who might not have a strong theological background (there are of course many exceptions), I can, in the course of a short conversation, at most offer one or two ideas which I hope would prove helpful to them (like the notion of a God who empathises with their suffering). To grasp a more complete theodicy, however, would entail years of study, not so much on theodicy per se, but on Christian theology in general. Theodicy, after all, is not an argument, but a worldview, and that takes a long time to cultivate. Perhaps I would respond to the hypothetical lay person you mentioned by inviting him or her to study theology at TTC!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Perfume for Reformed folks

The last time I used perfume was more than 3 years ago. It was Mont Blanc's Individuel. While in theological college and now serving in the pastorate, there isn't much reason to exercise nasal cosmetic.

Until this appeared...
(H/T: Matthew Paul Turner via James McGrath)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

G. R. Evans, her endorsers and the Christian academic publishing business

How do I decide to buy a new book? 

This is the question I asked whenever I come across interesting new publication. That's what I asked when I saw Gillian R. Evans' The Roots of the Reformation: Tradition, Emergence and Rupture.

To decide whether to buy, first, I have to find out who wrote it (if I'm not familiar with the author).

Evans is Professor Emerita of Intellectual History and Medieval Theology in the University of Cambridge, served as the British Academy Research Reader in Theology from 1986 to 1988. She has published widely through well known academic publishers like Cambridge University Press, Continuum, Blackwell and Routledge.

With such credential, the author is more or less credible, and her works reliable. However this alone is not enough because besides being credible and reliable, the standing of the book in the academia is also important. So, I checked up who endorsed the book, as this is one way to find out. 
"Briskly and breezily, but very efficiently, medievalist Gillian Evans here surveys Western Europe's changing and clashing views of Christianity from the fourteenth century through the seventeenth century. This large-scale introduction is certainly the best of its kind currently available."
(J. I. Packer, Regent College)

"This remarkable book interprets the long history of the Christian Church in the light of the Reformation, and the Reformation in the light of Church history. Broad in its learning, scope, and vision, it will undoubtedly stimulate and enthrall those fascinated by the question of how Christianity came to be as it is."
(Euan Cameron, Henry Luce III Professor of Reformation Church History, Union Theological Seminary, New York)

"G. R. Evans is one of our finest scholars, and she has written a superb book placing the story of the Reformation in the wider context of Christian history. Comprehensive, well researched and readable."
(Timothy George, general editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture)

"The Roots of the Reformation is a book which does not just give an account of the Reformation but sets it in the context of earlier church history, showing where there is continuity and where there is radical change. This will be a welcome addition to the textbooks available."
(Anthony N. S. Lane, Professor of Historical Theology, London School of Theology)

"Far too many students have tried for too long to understand the Reformation in isolation from the long history that preceded it. Cambridge medievalist G. R. Evans has attempted to correct that unfortunate shortsightedness by placing the history of the Reformation in the larger context of its place in the unfolding story of early and medieval Christianity. Her informative book illuminates what is traditional and what is genuinely new about early Protestantism and reintroduces Protestant Christians to their own roots. Essential reading for any student of the Reformation."
(David C. Steinmetz, Kearns Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the History of Christianity, Duke University)

"The very title of Gillian Evans's book intimates her perception of the Reformation as paradoxical--severed from the long past and yet still associated with and deeply rooted in it in such a way as to ensure its future, continuous existence in various forms. This book has the distinguishing hallmark of Evans's approach to the history of Christianity, one combining breadth of vision with deep specialist knowledge. Not only that, her writing finesse ensures that this book will enhance accessibility to a critical phase of church history that is in danger of becoming remote for the modern Christian consciousness. Furthermore, the pedagogic value of Evans's book will be appreciated with the appended 'Handlist of Reformation Concerns and Their History', plus 'Links'--an inspired innovation."
(Ian Hazlett, Emeritus Professor of Ecclesiastical History, University of Glasgow)

"As the introduction informs us, 'this book is written as an aid to understanding the way continuities have run through the changes of Christian history.' It is a lively and competent general survey of the chief problems and points of contention running through the history of Christian doctrine. The author, a specialist in late antiquity and the early medieval period, argues that the Reformation ought to be viewed as part of Christianity's age-old attempts to iron out these problems and smooth out the aporias. Accompanied by extensive quotations from primary sources and a handlist of chief Reformation issues in their wider context, this book will prove primarily useful as a manual for general courses in the history of Christianity. It also provides stimulating reading for more advanced scholars."
(Irena Backus, Professeur ordinaire of Reformation History and Ecclesiastical Latin, Institut d'histoire de la Réformation, Université de Genève)

"Erudite yet accessible, The Roots of the Reformation deftly navigates the waves of constancy and disruption in the medieval and early modern eras. G. R. Evans's command of the primary source material is breathtaking in its scope. She is an outstanding teacher and a superb storyteller, taking complex abstract concepts and making them understandable, fascinating and relevant. This is a book well worth reading for its rich exploration of the key themes of the sixteenth-century Reformation."
(Gwenfair Walters Adams, Associate Professor of Church History, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

"What really changed in the Reformation, and what remained the same? To answer this question, Evans places each major controverted issue against its background of development and dispute in the Christian West, from the first to the sixteenth century. The result is a refreshingly new and judicious assessment of the Reformation's true disjunctions and continuities."
(Denis R. Janz, Provost Distinguished Professor of the History of Christianity, Loyola University, New Orleans) 
A long list of endorsers! Some are highly respected scholars! Must be a good work then. So I placed it on my wishlist. Hoping that I could get it when I get my bonus.

Just now, pretty disappointingly, I found out that the publisher of this book, IVP Academic, announced: of the beginning of June, IVP has taken The Roots of the Reformation out of print and will no longer be shipping orders of this edition. Our goal is to publish a carefully revised second edition of the book by the end of August, in time for Fall semester classes. Further, IVP will offer a complimentary copy of the second edition, including free shipping, to everyone who has already purchased the current edition.
Reason is because this book is filled with inaccuracies (not mere typos!), as pointed out by Carl Trueman.

Read the whole story at Christianity Today.

Now I wonder whether did any of these endorsers REALLY read Evans' book? Or, this is a manifestation of the "you scratch my back, I scratch yours" (i.e. I'll endorse your book so that in return you endorse mine) in the Christian academia and publishing business? 

At the end of the day, are Christian scholars just like everyone else who are caught in the rat-race, in this case the secular publishing industry? It's all about getting published and selling books, while truthful reporting is secondary?

So now, how should we decide to buy or not to buy a book? Wait until someone review it?

But not everyone is Trueman...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The value of human and animal

From Matthew Hennessey at First Things:
The public relations staff of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) must think themselves very clever. Earlier this month, in an effort to grab the attention of Americans preparing to celebrate Memorial Day, the animal rights group “barbequed” a topless woman in downtown Houston on a fake grill adorned with the slogan, “Meat Is Murder.”

When I saw photos of the stunt, I thought to myself, “If PETA are this worried about the ‘murder’ of cows and pigs they must really get hot about the murder of innocent human babies.” I supposed I wasn’t the first person to have had the thought, but I was surprised to find an entire entry in the Frequently Asked Questions section of PETA’s website:

PETA does not have a position on the abortion issue, because our focus as an organization is the alleviation of the suffering inflicted on nonhuman animals.
For an organization that promotes the idea that eating animal meat as murder, it "does not have a position on the [human] abortion issue." Any problem here?

When people lose sight of God and turn their worship to nature, suddenly human life becomes more ambiguous compared to that of animal. Without Christianity, it is so easy for anyone to humanize animals and animalize humans. Know of someone who spend thousands of dollars on his/her pet rather than feeding hungry children?

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Simon Chan on the spirituality of the liberals

Here is Simon Chan's concluding paragraph in the upcoming Four Views on Christian Spirituality (the 4 views are Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Evangelicalism, and Liberal Protestantism):
[This book] beyond helping us appreciate the similarities and differences, the strengths and weaknesses, the exchanges between the interlocutors also highlight at least three other important implications. First, they show that our common Trinitarian confession has spiritual ramifications too large to be adequately captured by any one spiritual tradition. If that is the case, then, second, the mutual critique and appreciation should lead to self-correction and transformation from within. Third, the awareness of each other's strengths and weaknesses should serve to motivate all toward a more holistic and ecumenical spirituality. Hopefully, evangelicals will come away with a better grasp of Catholic comprehensiveness, Catholics and Orthodox Christians with a fresh injection of evangelical fervor, and mainline Protestants with both.
(Simon Chan, 'Foreword,' in Four Views on Christian Spirituality, ed. Bruce A. Demarest [USA: Zondervan, 2012], pp.8-9)
The last sentence is an astute critique on the spiritual bankruptcy of the 'Liberal Protestantism'. Chan is here saying that Evangelicalism, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have substantial contribution to offer to all traditions to learn, while the "mainline [Liberal] Protestants" not only has nothing to offer for any of the other three, it has nothing even for itself.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Paraphrasing Calvin's 'idol-factory' quote for a sermon

In regard to the origin of idols, the statement contained in the Book of Wisdom has been received with almost universal consent, viz., that they originated with those who bestowed this honour on the dead, from a superstitious regard to their memory. I admit that this perverse practice is of very high antiquity, and I deny not that it was a kind of torch by which the infatuated proneness of mankind to idolatry was kindled into a greater blaze. I do not, however, admit that it was the first origin of the practice. That idols were in use before the prevalence of that ambitious consecration of the images of the dead, frequently adverted to by profane writers, is evident from the words of Moses, (Gen. 31: 19.) When he relates that Rachel stole her father's images, he speaks of the use of idols as a common vice. Hence we may infer, that the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols.
(Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book One, Chapter 11.8 in John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge [USA: Hendrickson, revised edition, 2008], p.54-55. Emphasis added.)
I wanted to quote the above highlighted portion in a sermon that I'm preparing for a youth congregation. The most common paraphrase that has been floating around is this: "The human heart is a factory of idols."

This sounds good but when it is read on its own without the context it could mean that the human heart is a factory owned by idols. So I have to drop this since I will quote only this sentence alone. I want it to be least ambiguous.

Timothy Keller paraphrased it as: "The human heart is an idol-factory."

This too is good but I find it lacks the forcefulness of the original phrase. Keller's is too casual for the purpose for my sermon.

So after thinking for a while, I have come up with this paraphrase: