Friday, February 27, 2009

Who owns the name?

Malaysia as it is ascribed by it's leaders; a democratic country which ravels in unity. As a heading in a news paper I read today it says "Malaysia not perfect, but example of unity". Although not claiming to be a perfect reflection of unity one leader says "but we do have something to show for our unity and tolerance for each other, as an example of diversity does not mean disunity".

While there are some truth in the designation ascribed to Malaysia, internally there are some shaky issues that is threatening "unity in diversity". But just so I am 'fair' in my views at hand I must applaud the stability in terms of living in such a peaceful country, I simply can't imagine being born elsewhere.

In the news today, a headline reads "Malaysia Catholic paper wins right to use 'Allah' ". The government were initially trying to ban Christians from using 'Allah' for God. Apparently it is said that "The government had earlier decreed that non-Muslims could not even use the word as it would inflame the sensibilities of Muslim Malays, who make up 60 percent of the 27 million population. Indians and Chinese make up the rest. The ban had been aimed at a Catholic newspaper that circulates in Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo Island, where most tribal people converted to Christianity more than a century ago."

The fear is that Muslims might get confused and think that Christians are talking about the same God as them. Although the ban seems to have been lifted, it is just a softening on the initial ban as publications carry a disclaimer saying that the material is not meant for Muslims.

Sure I agree that Malaysia is diverse in terms of having many kinds of ethnic groups, diverse in the manner that people are free to practice their own religion. I can't say that I have ever experienced riots in the state that I am living in Malaysia. There is truth in saying that the notion of peace, tolerance and unity is evident in Malaysia. But the bad fruit come in when
religious issues come to the fore. Such is the religious climate in a pluralistic country here.

For another helpful link on this go here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I will be reading...

I has been worth the wait; the arrival of Wright's new book "Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision" in the mail today prompted me to get Piper's "The Future of Justification: A response to N. T. Wright". Two books that are making headlines, especially Wright's book which has 'the most debated about blurb in the blogsphere', plunging into the great Justification debate. I'm not really sure whether I will be blogging on the two books but lets see how it goes.

But one book that I will blog about is this one...

...a book written by a local pastor detailing the revival that changed a small, animistic tribal group in the jungles of Borneo called the Kelabits. Actually I am a full blooded Kelabit, so this would be exiting to share about. The book is called "The Bario Revival" and is written by Rev. Solomon Bulan and his sister Lillian Bulan-Dorai. Here is a link with a short description of the book.

Eating For the Glory of God

The picture you are seeing above is a local delicacy among Malaysians (at least in Borneo); chicken feet. Me and my dad were cooking dinner and one of the main dishes was chicken feet, prepared by deep frying and after that thrown into the pressure cooker for a couple of minutes so that it's nice and soft. I usually frequent other blogs that display food that were bought and rarely food that were cooked. Have you ever tasted chicken feet?

Anyway while eating I remembered the time when I was in bible school and at the end of each semester we were posted to different places in the state, mostly rural areas. There was this one time, during my first year, I was sent to minister in a oil palm plantation area. I stayed with the pastor who was ministering among the people there for three weeks. I got a few shots at preaching in Bahasa Malaysia (our national language) although people there preferred another local dialect (Iban).

The highlight of the three weeks of ministry was where I had to 'eat for the glory of God'. Although being Malaysian, I can't say that I eat everything a native Malaysian eats. I got a chance of trying out a monitor lizard dish. And like I always hear in TV about how stuff taste like, the lizard tasted like chicken. (the picture below was not the actual picture of the lizard).

OK, I had no problem eating the lizard but the challenge came when some Indonesian workers prepared a special dish for me. Prepared with spices, cooked to look like a Malaysian dish called rendang (see the picture below to see how rendang looks like; usually people cook rendang using beef or chicken but for )...

...So the Indonesian brothers in Christ made it clear to me what they were going to prepare; an Indonesian dish prepared that had the 'rendang' look only differing in substance used. Instead of beef or chicken they used dog meat! According to them a dog with infected skin disease is the perfect candidate for the pan but thankfully the one they prepared had none of that, I think (I never saw how exactly they prepared it or the dog). What they did was beat the dog to death after putting 'man's best friend' in a sack. Cruel.

As far as I can say, the taste of the dish was like any rendang that I tasted (spicy) but I can't seem to get the thought of eating dog meat. Well for the sake of these wonderful Christian brethren who went to great lengths to prepare this for me I simply couldn't turn them down. Echoing the heading of the post, there are times where we simply have to eat for the glory of God!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Possibility of Faithful Exegesis without Historical/ Linguistic Knowledge?

I have been struggling with this issue at hand for a couple of years now. I think I started thinking of this when I was in the middle of my studies in bible school.

Is there a possibility/ any possibility that one can do proper exegesis/ interpretation of the biblical text if one does not have any or has limited knowledge of the historical background and the original language of the biblical text?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Blog Worth?

It says here that this is how much my blog is worth. I probably have to work harder at it to make it worth more. Haha.

My blog is worth $2,822.70.
How much is your blog worth?

How Do we stretch ourselves to get more of God this year?

I heard this being said today, "How Do we stretch ourselves to get more of God this year?"

1. We stretch ourselves by adding time to our prayer life.
2. We stretch ourselves by making ourselves available doing church ministry.
3. We stretch ourselves by getting ourselves involved in a particular ministry.

Getting more of God is seen here as doing more, going the second mile. Sure there is some truth here but if you look at the points being presented, are they not confined in the vicinity of what Christians do in a context familiar to them?

Take prayer for example. Prayer is an integral and important part of the Christian life. There is no question about this. But is simply getting more of God done by stretching our prayer time?

Take doing or getting ourselves involved in church ministry for example. Ministry is integral, important even for the community context of practicing our faith. But should we confine doing ministry only in the vicinity of the Sunday service space or during a Christian program/function?

This is how some churches/leaders/pastors/teachers here understand how we stretch ourselves to get more of God. It is irritating to hear and this sort of teaching is constantly being repeated to people. It is simply a narrow understanding of a person being 'intoxicated' by God.

With this, how does someone then stretch himself/herself to get more of God in ones life? I think this question would be better answered in this manner:

To really stretch ourselves to get more of God in life this particular year, what we have to do is be more God conscious. Lets get something straight, since God is everywhere and we also believe that God in Jesus is the ruler of this world and not just our lives, it gives an implication that whatever we do matters to God. This simply beats having just a fixed prayer time where we understand that we are making time for God. Lets make our prayer life spill from the small confinement of solitude to a more wider field; life itself. Lets make our small time of being God conscious effect our walk outside.

As for ministry, lets not confine ministry to the four walls of the church building, to a certain day called Sunday, to certain christian function. Lets give ministry a more wider field. All of life for example. Are you not doing a certain/ specific ministry in the world outside where you work or study? To be honest christian ministry is not something that is confined, otherwise we might come out thinking that there is only one side to ministry and it is done in church, on Sunday, and also other Christian functions. This simply confines the possibility of influencing the world as a whole.

So lets widen our perspective. To get more of God we simply have to let God himself invade our lives. Let him have every corner, be it our inward walk, our secular walk, and our church community walk.

To get more of God we simply have to be God conscious.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Blurb ruckus- Labeling that has created a Blogexplosion

I don't think I have ever seen, in the history of blurbing (mind the exaggeration), a blurb getting so much attention. So much so that it is riding the waves of N. T. Wright's new book called "Justification: God's Plan, Paul's Vision". But on the other hand I hope all the talk generated by the label that Scot McKnight called NeoReformed would spur people to read Wright's book whether you agree with him or not. Heck I'm even going to buy Piper's book (I have my reservations on him but that does not mean he has nothing to offer me theologically) just for the sake of being generous and fair. Though I'm a Wright fan it does not put me in a position of being on the right side (although at time I do feel that way, mind the bias).

Anyway back to the labeling stuff. I don't have any specific discussion stuff in my head on this because there are literally numerous discussions about it in the blogspere and I don't think I have the capacity to plunge into the discussion. There are many more informed people who can do that and I'm enjoying their comments.

One of the things that I notice though is, people seem to want McKnight to name names of who he is labeling NeoReformed. Apparently some are saying that McKnight should come clean and name some names. I got this from a comment in the blogspere

"Scot McKnight is erecting and then burning strawmen. Not naming names of who he labels as "neo-reformed" is moral cowardice."

Whether it would appease their curiosity or judgement if names are revealed, I have a feeling that fingers are going to be pointed right into McKnight's face that he is simply being uncharitable with his labeling. I hope McKnight, or I believe he will not bring up the names. I like and agree with his definition of those whom he calls the NeoReformed. Much of what McKnight is saying is true in my opinion that is. And to put it further quoting from a book written by Tim Stafford on the qualities of Jesus when he warned people was that "...he (Jesus) never singled out individuals". That implies that Jesus also used labels. I think Jesus would make much more blog discussions with his labeling compared to McKnight :). Which brings us also to the implication that McKnight follows on the same stream as well.

But much more credit also in him mentioning Horton. Horton's explanation of evangelicism is spot on to me

One of my favorite Reformed theologians is Michael Horton. We don't agree on theology but I like this guy and I like to read his stuff. Michael recently wrote a piece that uses a different image than the big tent image above. He says evangelicalism is like the village green of early American communities. It was where folks, all folks, gathered to chat and share commonalities. He says evangelicalism is the village green but evangelicalism is not the church. Churches have confessions, and his confession is Reformed. He says we need to worship in our churches and that the village green is not enough; it is where we join with Christians most like us. The key point I make here is the distinction between being evangelical and being Reformed. Michael Horton, I am assuming, thinks the best form of evangelicalism is Reformed; and he probably thinks Arminians and Anabaptists are wrong at some important points. Fine. (I think the same of Reformed, and I think they are sometimes wrong at central points.) But Michael Horton knows that a local church (or denomination) is not the village green. I agree with him 100%.

Echoing McKnight on this, I too agree with him 100%.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A plea for Theologizing...a Malaysian Context

One of my pastime stuff to do is probably typing down titles of books on the search engine to search for reviews, either on blogs or online publications, I just dig doing this. My girlfriend thinks I'm weird for my unorthodox ways for relaxing and having fun (but she love me though warts and all).

I came across this sort of review about this new IVP dictionary entitled "Global Dictionary of Theology". Released in 2008, the title captured my attention, especially the word 'Global' which denotes theology that transcends the realm of the western world. I love western theology and it's literature, mainly because my theological education requires me to learn them. The other part is because tend to understand books using English language rather then Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysia's national language). I hope Malaysians will forgive me for this.

While I was in bible school I remember my lecturer saying something like this, "...this book (forgot the name of the book) is helpful but some of the things said can't really be applied fully here. This author is mainly writing from a western perspective...". That caught my attention and made me think of the possibilities of having a Malaysian/ Asian perspective view on theology.

Back to the review...I was reading through and this quote caught my attention (follow this link to the post)

"I once heard of a Karl Barth conference that was held in Germany several years ago. The conference organisers had invited a Japanese theologian to participate, but they were somewhat dismayed to find that their Japanese scholar had no interest in theologising his own national context – he was entirely preoccupied with the questions and problems of modern German thought! Presumably the conference organisers had expected their guest to provide a more exotic “oriental” perspective."

I think, this is reminder for me. I view theology to be very important for a christian, because we are in actual fact always and constantly theologizing whether we realize this or not. One of my passions is of course to study theology and make it understandable. This has always been something that I see myself doing. I don't want to sound corny in stating this though.

But one problem I find is, not many Malaysians see theology as something a christian does. Many think theology is meant only for pastors or students in bible school. Many Malaysians don't seem to mind that preachers can just preach mediocre exposition of the bible as long as it is simple and done with a preachers charisma to entertain. Many Malaysians don't seem to mind what a preacher teaches as long as they are known as pastors. And many Malaysians don't seem to see the importance of education, especially in the field of theology because the only thing that counts is practical ministry. I would further convey that many pastors in Malaysia doesn't even care to read any theological books because it takes too much of their time.
Don't get me wrong though. I love Malaysia, its my country and I was born in Malaysia, a full blooded Malaysian. The Malaysian layered criticism is one that I am in contact with and not a thorough assessment of Malaysia as a whole.

I wish Malaysians would see that they do have a voice in theology. That they will do well in charting some of their own conversations. Because only Malaysians themselves know their context and understand their cultural background. And because of that Malaysians need to think and create their own voice in understanding the bible and theology to fit to their own context. I wish that there would be more Malaysian contextualized books by Malaysians. I wish also that someday Malaysians can broaden the theological perspective in the global scene being a voice that widens the theological conversation. At the moment though, this is still a distant reality but nonetheless a worthy undertaking to plow in, one that I am willing to work at.

Are there any agreements if you are a Malaysian/ disagreements with what I said? Are there things that I missed out? I need your thoughts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Michael Wittmer on Contemporary Theology

Michael Wittmer is another important voice in theology and he predicts that the pendulum shift in the direction of theology is on the awfulness of the fall after stating that before that, the challenge was on addressing and affirming the goodness of creation. I have not read his books yet but I have a hunch his latest book "Don't Stop Believing: Why Living like Jesus is not Enough" address the issue of 'awefulness of the fall' and his other book "Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything you do Matters to God" addresses the goodness of creation. And I have to thank Mason for directing me to this theologian!

Any thoughts on this video?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Explaining Emergent Churches - Inner Compass (Peter Rollins)

Peter Rollins is a guy that I would call as someone who thinks outside of the box. He never seems to be out of analogies, parables and explanations that keeps you gawking while you pick up your thoughts. Be forewarned though, his explanations would be deemed unorthodox (even heresy) by some. Others (like me), take them as brilliant. Nevertheless, lets not put labels on before we open our ears to listen, widen the horizons of our beliefs and discernment and undertake the task of critique only after all that. Enjoy...

Explaining Emergent Churches - Inner Compass from Calvin College on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Own Prison,Death by Paper Cuts and Philemon

A court is in session, a verdict is in
No appeal on the docket today
Just my own sin
The walls are cold and pale
The cage made of steel
Screams fill the room
Alone I drop and kneel
Silence now the sound
My breath the only motion around
Demons cluttering around
My face showing no emotion
Shackled by my sentence
Expecting no return
Here there is no penance
My skin begins to burn
So I held my head up high
Hiding hate that burns inside
Which only fuels their selfish pride
We're all held captive
Out from the sun
A sun that shines on only some
We the meek are all in one
I hear a thunder in the distance
See a vision of a cross
I feel the pain that was given
On that sad day of loss
A lion roars in the darkness
Only he holds the key
A light to free me from my burden
And grant me life eternally
Should have been dead
On a Sunday morning
Banging my head
No time for mourning
Ain't got no time
I cry out to God
Seeking only his decision
Gabriel stands and confirms
I've created my own prison

Creed's debut album "My Own Prison" made headlines somewhere in 1997 as a promising band and statistics aside they were one of the greatest bands around. There were alot of spiritual overtones generated from their lyrics which I could really relate with. Even at this time now, after the break up of the band I continue to listen to them (though I can't help thanking their break up for the birth of my fave band Alter Bridge). One song that's resonating now is "My Own Prison".

The lyrics of the song (if I still remember correctly) was written about their friend who had committed suicide.To me it talks about the realization that there is a point of escape but only on realizing the accusations are ours alone. The depiction of the person in the song is one that doesn't want to get up and take responsibility of their life and move on. A person that mirrors the past defining the future and never pulling him/herself through the ruckus. In a nutshell, to me, the song talks about taking responsibility.

I would like to convey what I'm going through literally but that would be revealing too much (I have taken much heat of writing too literally on my opinions and feelings in the past). I can only say that today marks the day when "my own prison" that was killing me by "paper cuts" is being challenged to the new possibility of "the reconciling love of God in Christ
" (Philemon 1 and this post).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Death by Paper Cuts

This article by Skye Jethani raises my level of respect for Rob Bell. I remember a few months ago I introduced my brother with this hip Pastor named Rob Bell. When I said introduced, it was in the form of introducing him to his material (wish it was in person though), two DVDs which I purchased ("Everything is Spiritual" & "The Gods aren't Angry"). I was glad my brother liked the guy and saw him looking him up in the internet. My brother was surprised why people are so critical of him. I explained some issues which people seem to poke him on but I must say some are quite harsh. I am not defending Bell here but I found the article above really explains the depth to this pastor. In the article you will find pastors can get hurt by criticism, Rob is no exception. You will also find how Rob deals with this.

Any thoughts about the article?

Friday, February 13, 2009

How important is the Virgin Birth? (2)

This is a reflection of N. T. Wright's explanation of the Virgin Birth in the book he co-authored with Marcus J. Borg entitled "The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions", found in chapter 11 (pg 171-178).

Far too much attention is given towards Jesus' birth than "it's role in the New Testament warrants". A song noted by Wright simply says "Man will live forevermore because of Christmas Day", a song popularized by Bony M (if I am not mistaken), further enhances Wright's argument. According to the NT however it is the explanation of "Calvary, Easter and Pentecost" which looms as the highlight of New Testament theology. It is not possible to construct a meaningful NT theology minus the death and resurrection.

In the NT, the virgin birth account can only be found in Matthew and Luke but nowhere in Mark and John. The rest of the NT writers did not bother to mention it to support the understanding that Jesus is divine or is the Messiah who is to come. As Wright notes, "One can be justified by faith with no knowledge of it."

According to Wright "it has become a test case in various controversies" noting arguments such as accepting miracles, biblical truth, views of sexuality and incarnation being cases made for the authoritative case for the virgin birth. Wright being ever so right, nails these test cases of their freedom to fly by stating, "None of these arguments bears much relation to what either Matthew or Luke actually say."

It seems like these test cases are just vain reflections of authoritative fallacy. Which brings us to the question of 'what does Matthew and Luke actually say?'. The next post will deal on this issue.

Seminary...not just for Pastors.

When I was in bible school there were conversations budding around a common thought pattern that theological training/seminary/bible school will always and definitely lead to full time ministry. Deviating from this would be heresy and some even assume that a person will be cursed by God. Strong sentiments but none are true, biblical or even Christian! I don't know where/how these sort of explanations were formed but I think because not many here would want to pursue being a pastor as an ideal 'job'. Because of that those who do enter bible school forced to embrace this, no questions asked.

I liked the conversation that was generated by that post I did entitled "Should Theological Training always lead to ministry". I found the comments helpful and I believe that some of my friends in bible school benefiting from it. Anyway there is an article on Christianity Today talking about the same issue but on a slightly different angle. I found it helpful in my plight to open the eyes of those who seem ignorant to understanding our dilemma here. May we be able to take off the eyes of tradition/familiarity to see a bigger picture ahead.

Mind not Needed

This is a story that might have theological leanings and a dab of sarcasm.

A farmer, who also happens to be a recent, faithful church goer was musing as he was taking a break from working on his farm. Sitting under a tree, thoughts surfaced like popping clouds, i guess you could say that he had a comic character experience. Thoughts like 'what is a christian?' or 'what are the marks of a christian?' or ' the things that defines a christian person?'. Being a farmer as he was (not all farmers are illiterate but in this fictional story this one is) he couldn't care less about theological issues and stuff like that. In fact because he was new to the faith he didn't know much about the bible. So because of that he wanted to find answers to his questions.

It just so happens that one of the elders of the church he was attending came by to make a visit. The farmer told the elder that he was happy that the Lord had led them to meet because he believed that just at the point as he was in deep thought and questionings, the Lord was good enough to send his servant to answer his questions.

As he cleared his throat, processing the right words to use because obviously he didn't want to sound stupid, he asked the elder, "Having been a christian and being an Elder in church, I would like to know from your vast experience in Christendom, What do you think are the marks of a christian?" Obviously the farmer had heard the word 'Christendom' being used somewhere and thought it would somehow impress his elder with the intention not to look silly in asking a silly question.

The elder, pleased to be asked to give his opinion based on his 'vast experience in Christendom' answered, "This is a good question, and one that people have benefited from my answer. Well, the marks of a Christian are, a person who faithfully attends church and it's numerous meetings, tithes and gives his/her offerings faithfully, doesn't curse, doesn't drink, doesn't go to the pub, doesn't smoke, doesn't listen to 'secular music' but only christian songs, dresses his best on Sunday, reads the bible, faithfully prays, active in church no matter how occupied you are with your work because it is in church where you really serve God and well that's all that there is to it i think. I think that sums up the marks of a Christian. I hope that answers your question."

The farmer thinking the elder as an anointed man of God believed his definitive answer to what a christian should look like. Although he, at points he did not fully agree with the elder nevertheless he reasoned that since this man is an elder, his experience and status coupled with being an 'anointed leader' were enough to be authoritative basis for these explanations.


Christians often leave their reasoning minds when it come to faith. I find that we normally leave our minds at the point of entry into the church building. We leave our reasoning at the door, when we talk to an 'anointed' pastor, preacher or elder/deacon. We let them define everything for us while we pose with our bibles, merely being a fashion statement for christian church goers. And most of all we assume everything that we learn are true because we learn them in 'church' without further examining the scriptures. I respect church leaders and stuff taught in our churches, what I am asking is that we too have to be responsible Christians to study and differentiate between tradition/unbiblical positions and what is biblically faithful.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Our Clothes reflect our heart's condition

This is a conversation that took place between a pastor and a young man. The context of this story is mine of course. The conversation is about dress codes, which is a sign of your spiritual condition according to many spiritual leaders here.

Pastor: The thing you talked about, that dress codes are not important is misleading.

Young man: What I meant was dress codes are not to be an issue of...

Pastor: You try to do your own church with people wearing torn jeans and stuff like that. Dress codes are important. For example, When a minister comes over or we go over to see that VIP, we wouldn't want to go and meet him in shabby looking clothes do we? No. We have to dress our best. Because of that we also have to dress our best when we go to church. We are coming to meet the king of kings. So that equals showing God respect.

Young Man: If our dress codes show that we respect God, how would we approach God at home? What about when we sing praise in the shower, or get up form sleep and pray? Do we still need to dress up because God is omnipresent!

Pastor: ..........(long pause)......(longer pause)......

The conversation continues on...but I will skip to the the conversation below

Pastor: You see what you wear shows your heart. It is the reflection of who you are inside good and bad.
Young Man: I don't agree with you on this. For me a person's heart is shown by his lifestyle not the clothes he wears.

How important is the Virgin Birth?

In Mark Driscoll's book 'Vintage Jesus' he has a chapter on the virgin birth entitled "Why Jesus' Mom Needs to be a Virgin". Here is a quote that I'd like us to look at:

"...can a true Christian deny the virgin birth? Dr.Al Mohler has said: "The answer to that question must be a decisive No....Christians must face the fact that a denial of the virgin birth is a denial of Jesus as the Christ. The Savior who died for our sins was none other than the baby who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin. The virgin birth does not stand alone as a biblical doctrine [;] it is an irreducible part of the biblical revelation about the person and work of Jesus Christ. With it the Gospel stands or falls." (97)

Slightly taking this doctrine on different end is Rob Bell which Driscoll takes a quote form his book "Velvet Elvis" :

"...Rob Bell speculates that if "Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry's tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that that virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time," we would essentially not loose any significant part of our faith because it is more about how we live. To be fair, Bell does not deny that virgin conception of Jesus, but rather he does deny that it is of any notable theological importance." (97)

Based on the quotes above two ideas are being projected:
1) The Virgin Birth is important; with it the Gospel stands or falls.
2) The Virgin birth is not so much an essential in the sense that the Gospel stands and falls.

What do you think about the quotes? And with that how important is the virgin conception to our faith? I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

I will post N. T. Wright's take on this tomorrow because I'm too tired to think at the moment. I need sleep.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I was on the internet, surfing around and found out that a post of mine being on a post-christian site (you can see it here). Here is a little excerpt about the site

" exists to document the secularization of America from the perspective of former Christians. We believe this cultural shift to be natural and positive and see the recent shedding of our religious beliefs as an opportunity to form and unify our transitional generation."

There are some interesting stuff on the site. It is mainly a critique done by those who were apart of the christian scene on Christianity hence post-christian (for those who don't know about post-Christianity). I'm not promoting the site (so that you don't misinterpret me). But for those who want a feel of what former Christians are critiquing Christianity it's a place to discover their arguments.

Anyway I was just wondering how on earth one of my post out of the millions got picked. And for starters I'm not an American for them to reflect on my views (I'm not complaining though :) ). The oddities! Well, I will be on the site to generate some comments.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Old Testament and its Interpretation in the New Teatament 2

As promised I want to discuss about Chapter 4 of Peter Enns controversial/brilliant (it lands on at both extremes, but from my opinion the book is great and refreshing!) book "Inspiration and Incarnation". I think I might blog about the whole book in its entirety after finishing this series. Why I start with chapter 4, that I cannot give you a specific reason except that it is this chapter that really struck a cord in me.

For a long time now, I have had difficulties in understanding how the NT authors interpret the OT. We study that a proper interpretation deals with the original language(I have no training in this area yet) and also the historical context, taking into consideration an authors intent towards who he was writing to. But counter to this interpretive method, NT authors always seem to break the rules. Enns states here,

"To observe how the New Testament authors handle the Old Testament is to conclude that their notions of what constitutes a proper handling of the Old Testament do not always square with our own instincts-in fact, quite often, the differences are striking." (114)

Enns gives an example of this from this passage; Luke 20:27-40 (Matt 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27). We find here Jesus debating with the Sadducee concerning the reality of resurrection from the dead. Jesus' main text that he uses to enforce his argument is Exodus 3:6

“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:6; Luke 20:37)

If we were to take the Exodus passage in it's context Enns says "No one reading Exodus and coming across 3:6 would think that the resurrection was suddenly the topic of the conversation." (114) But as unappealing this method is to us it served it's purpose well for the people during that particular time period as Enns tells us, "That they found Jesus' use of the Old Testament to be persuasive is an indication to us that our first order of business is to understand the hermeneutical (i.e., interpretive) conventions of their time before we pass judgment." (115)

Enns points us then to three ways in which evangelical scholarship have used try to explain how NT authors used the OT.

1. They respected the context of the OT text despite the oddities in their methods. Careful examination will reveal this as no NT writer would handle the OT text responsively.
2. The NT authors did not interpret the text but rather only apply it.
3. Since the apostles were given authority then their authority explains their hermeneutical method in that they could "do as they pleased" (115). There was also some variants of 2 mixed in here.

Have you come across these explanations of how NT writers used the OT? 1 & 2 are somewhat helpful but I would have to pass on 3 because the logic to this is simply unacceptable. According to Enns though these three ways of understanding NT use of OT falls short in giving a solid way of understanding this issue in the way that "these three evangelical not engage the New Testament in the context of the hermeneutical world in which the New Testament writers lived." (116)

Here are Enns views up front on NT use of OT: (i)It was not the intention of the NT writers to engage the OT "in an effort to remain consistent with the original context and intention of the Old Testament author", (ii) they were as Enns explains "commenting on what the text meant" and (iii) the "hermeneutical attitude they embodied should be embraced and followed by the church today". In brief "the New Testament authors were explaining what the Old Testament means in light of the Christ's coming." (116) I hear echoes of Christopher and N. T. Wright here.

Enns' proposal to this issue is

"...we must begin our understanding of apostolic heremeneutics by first understanding, as best we can, the interpretive world in which the New Testament was written. Such an investigation will not tell the whole story, but it is an absolute vital component." (116)

To me Enns' proposal on understanding how the NT authors used the OT is a fresh undertaking on explaining the difficulties. As much as I agree with Enns there are questions forming in my mind as I reflect on this. One that I would like to put to the front is, if we do take into consideration this particular explanation (the one Enns proposes):

1. How have you understood the NT use of OT?
2. Based on a first impression of Enns' proposal, is looking at the hermeneutical/interpretive context of the NT writers convincing enough to explain the NT writers use of OT?
3. Does Enns gives us a balanced description of how evangelical scholarship have addressed this?
4. How would it affect how we use the OT, since the possibilities of "explaining what the Old Testament means in light of the Christ's coming" is actually boundless?
5. Any thoughts?

The next post will be on the hermeneutical context that the NT authors were part of; the Second Temple Period.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I Smoke

I smoke. Well I used to. And while I was at it (I mean when I was smoking) I liked it. The taste of burning tobacco running through my lungs. Mild curiosity purged me to the path of cigarettes. Of course my parents told me not to smoke, teachers tell you not to smoke, even the cigarette pack gave me warnings on the danger of smoking (sheesh). But you know what teenagers do; rebel.
Well it didn't look like an outburst of obvious rebellion but it was gradual. A process really.

I remember the first time I lit a cigarette in my mouth was when a friend asked me to try it out. Well, I thought, no harm in me trying it. So I did. I lit it and puffed away. I was good at it or so it seemed until my friend told me, "You're not doing it right. You're puffing the smoke." Well I always thought that this was the normal way of doing it. At least I can say that my observation of the whole thing was false. "So how do you really do it," I said with a dab of innocent curiosity. "You inhale the smoke, then you puff it away," he said. So I tried the 'Smoking 101' advise and made a fool of myself. His method sucked (or so I thought). It made me cough. He laughed, and that was my last time trying the stuff. I vowed never to touch another cigarette again, or so I thought. Like new year resolutions, we never can attain our idealistic hopes and make them reality.

I can't vividly remember specifically when but I know the year, it was 1999, that spawned this new habit. I didn't think as that time that it was some sort of habit. For me, smoking was a new identity I had embraced. I reasoned that smoking will be a part of my life. It will be the new me. Good philosophy don't you think?

Like any relationship endeavor, I had to find the perfect cigarette, one that complimented my personality. There were constant dates that I had with a certain brand but I finally made up my mind and decided a monogamous relationship with Dunhill, which stands for Style, Quality, Excellence. And like any relationship, there were up and down moments. I needed Dunhill every morning (in my case waking up in the morning stood for waking up in the afternoon). But at time Dunhill choked me, spending my money, making me have this nasty cough and smelly breath. I love Dunhill but there were issues.

But my break up with cigarettes happened in 2000, specifically on February 14 (no kidding). I was sitting on the hood of my dad's car, puffing away on the last remaining 5 stick that was left. I only managed to smoke two and finally decided that I was through with Dunhill and smoking and cigarettes. There we no emotional ties when it happened, I did not shed any tears. After the break up I said yes to Jesus.

OK, OK. I know you might be thinking that I am proposing that Jesus liberates and smoking is of the devil. But that's not my point, well in a way it is but read on.

Sometimes our explanation of being free or being liberated by Jesus denotes a sharp distinction as saying smoking is bad, or some folks tell us it is of the devil. But i fell this explanation of saying, before I was a smoker and my life sucked and now I am a believer I have peace. I am not a fan of this testimony explanation.

You see it is true that being in Jesus sorts of liberates us, gives us freedom. But it is not an automatic change. Like a relationship with someone or in this case a pattern of lifestyle, it is done overtime. We build on them. So this pattern lives on us, becomes part of us. It becomes sort of like our lifestyle. When change comes there is some sort of uneasiness. Change proposes a new way to live, a new kind of lifestyle.

Following Jesus is this kind of change. Changing the pattern of life we used to live. The promise that we are given is freedom and liberation; hope. But to realize this hope we have to embrace this change, this new pattern of life opposed to the old one.

My parents watch a heavy dose of 'the health channel'. Normally people who lived a pattern of life that embraced a faulty way of eating habits always find it hard to in the process of changing. Their fitness instructors tell them to ditch their former pattern of eating and embrace another pattern. It's as much a physical change as it is a mental change. The fitness/health instructors tell them that following this pattern of eating and exercise will free them of a flabby body and health issues among other things, and prolong their life. In the process this is not always realized. but as the process of embracing change prolongs the notion of the promise and hope explained by the fitness/health instructors becomes reality. It becomes something real after all.

And in life, embracing Jesus is that process of changing your old pattern of life and embracing a new pattern of living. Freedom/liberation will be fully understood in the process of continual living. Yes, Jesus is the one that liberates us from the corrupt life. Only it is a process in which we grow in being convinced by it.

Paul for Everyone

I got this from the N.T. Wright Page. It's a talk he did entitled "Paul for Everyone". Just follow this link to hear it.He covers the letter to Philemon, some parts of Galatians and 1 Corinthians. Let me just say that anything by this scholar will always captivate our imagination on Christian faith and scripture. Below are some quotes that I think I got right. I only managed to get the ones which he covered on the letter to Philemon because it aroused my interest to the short letter. Warning, you will have a sudden knack to read Philemon after hearing Wright (even Galatians and 1 Corinthians!).

"…If the only document we had from early Christianity was this letter…we could deduce a very great deal about what Christianity was from this letter alone…"

This is a bold statement made by Wright. According to him, here is Paul at his best, dealing with a theological issue in a pastoral/practical manner. Some thought this letter had not theological contribution but they would have to think again based on what we can learn from Paul. This clearly makes a case that theology is important, not just for the mind but how theology will eventually shape our actions. Quoting from another source on this by Wright "But no parts of the New Testament more clearly demonstrates integrated Christian thinking and living. It offers a blend, utterly characteristic of Paul, of love, wisdom, humour, gentleness, tact and above all Christian and human maturity." (p.170. Wright, N. T. TNTC; Colossians and Philemon. Inter-Varsity 1986, 1999, 2000, 2004)

"…Paul wanted to make positions clear to people; theological positions, moral positions. But he wanted to do them in such a way that it became embedded in their character and not something super imposed from outside… If you give someone a straight command you get them to do what you want in this particular incident but if you teach a man to think christianly you will enable them to grow as human beings and to figure out for themselves on what God wants them to do…"

I think this is something that pastors should struggle to emulate and do. The quest for christian maturity.

"…He(Paul) has modeled the message which he has preached, the message of the reconciling love of God in Christ, with arms outstretched on the cross to Jew and gentile, black and white, male and female, slave and free…"

This is powerful! Proclaiming a message is only part of the story. The completion of the story, that of Jesus is how the message of Jesus restructures our Christian living. When we proclaim that Jesus loved the sinner but yet have hate towards a certain brother or sister then the message that we are proclaiming is simply nothing. Reconciliation is a powerful message as well as a powerful practice.

(v17-18) "…here is Paul daring in this pastoral situation to be in the middle in the way that Jesus was in the middle..."

Here is Paul emulating Jesus (Philemon 1:17-18 "...If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.") It is sort of like the picture of Jesus taking our place and dies for our sins.

(I did some editing the verse above was originally posted as Philippians 1:17-18 but it was supposed to be Philemon 1::17-18, as you can see I changed it already. Sorry for the mistake.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Times tell us to Rethink

The times are telling us to rethink about a lot of things. At this point of juncture the global recession issue is a good place to start. Is the recession telling us where exactly are we supposed to pour out our finances? At this point many churches here are thinking about getting their own building or premises. Obviously this is good and its an ideal thing for us to work towards it. Who can beat getting our own place/building and having the freedom to use the place for our own programs and stuff.

But more and more, the church has substituted their understanding of being church (the community of God's people) with the understanding that church only happens on one day (Sunday) and it can only happen in their own building, only with a 'worship' band and then followed by preaching of the word, some prayer and a short time of get together chit chatting around a table filled with food and drinks.

If all the above explains what church is, we have to do some sort of rethinking. People are sort of struggling with finances. There is no security in terms of having a secure job. There are a lot of other things but these are just some general stuff that I'm bringing to the front.

On a local perspective, coupled with the global recession issue we have been experiencing two pretty bad land slides. On of which caused two lives. Both landslides have deprived people of their security (homes have been destroyed for example). At this point anything connected with hill sides are to be abandoned with the rain pouring down almost everyday. No one could have expected this sort of thing in Miri. No amount of rain has done this type of damage before.

And at this point, I am hearing about a local church built on top of a hill having to stop their worship services in it for safety's sake. The members had to look for an alternative place for their worship service.

In all this it make me think, the old way of thinking church has to stop somewhere along the line. We have to ask ourselves, do we really need a massive place for 'church'? Should we horde all our finances for the sake of expanding our buildings, furnishing them with the state of the art technology and expanding the comfort level of our worship service? Should this be the way we understand how the 'church' is being an impact to society let alone to understand that this is the way we are expanding God's kingdom?

In the end our massive structure which we substitute as 'the church' become just landmarks and nothing more. We cannot control the things that happen in the world like natural disasters and stuff like that. But the things we can control right now is how we think about being church, being the people of God, being salt and light in the world, how we are supposed to use our finances, expanding the kingdom of God.

Let's rethink or be gagged by the flood of changes that is happening all around.

Hopeful Theo

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I'm a student of Theology (currently and will always be one). I'm a student of culture and a student of music as well. I guess you could say life is a never ending journey of learning. Because of that we never stop being students. Just a little something about this blog: Deconstructing The Monkey is all about being a safe space for emerging conversations