Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Does morality need God?

There is a post by Scot McKnight entitled "Do you need God to be Moral?" which i found interesting given the nature of the post. He asks this question "How do traditional Christians explain places where there is very little religious belief but there is a clear presence of good, respectable morals and civility?"

I presume many have this idea where a place/ context/ society will become morally bankrupt if they don't have God in the picture. There is some truth to this. It is true that religion does play a big part in the belief systems of people. But i would say now that to be moral one does not need a belief in God.

To me, being moral, having a sense of right and wrong is inherent in all human beings regardless of what one believes. So regardless if one is religious, atheist, agnostic or whatever, being moral is an inherent nature in human beings. Somehow we have this sense of right and wrong.

So how would i give some sort of answer to the question posted by McKnight? Well, the possibility of a place having little religious but having a clear presence of good, respectable morals and civility is possible because we are humans that have a deep sense of right and wrong-morals. So to me it is a belief system in us that conjures up an image of society. Even the people who say that they live by no rules also ascribe to a system of beliefs that talks about how one should live and that too entails a right and wrong way to live, to put it bluntly.

What about religion. Is it bad then? Do we need it? Yes, we still do. Is being religious bad for humanity? Yes and no. I do believe that some religious beliefs suppress how we live. I would not state which though. Let me point to my tribe for example, the Kelabits. As one of the peoples group living in the jungles of Borneo, like any tribal people were animist, beliefs in spirits. Their way of life centered around this belief system. It was an oppressive belief system and gave damaging effects to the conditions of living for them. But when missionaries came they taught these people a new way of life. Teaching them proper hygiene for example. They also taught them about Christianity. In turn as life progressed, my people were living much better after they disassociated themselves from their old belief system.

What i wanted to convey was, it is the belief systems that determine the way of life we all are part of. Being religious ascribes us to a certain center, as well as the atheist system. But inherently we all function under a bigger system that is we all have an inherent moral center. Because of that we are able to live good, happy and peaceful lives.

But although I say this, I do believe that there is a bigger center that guides what we have inherently as human beings. And it is determined by following the center of human and universal existence.

Well, these are just some thoughts that I have. I don't think I have a strong argument here but it's just something worth posting i guess.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Level headed advice on discipline

"Many Christians today have rejected biblical discipline and adopted a sweet, spineless love that cannot correct," Grady said. "Our grace is greasy. No matter what an offending brother does, we stroke him and pet him and nurse his wounds while we ignore the people he wounded. No matter how heinous his sin, we offer comforting platitudes because, after all, who are we to judge?"

"To be sure, God's Word commands Christians to forgive, because God has forgiven them (Col. 3:13). But this forgiveness does not trump judgment as properly exercised in church discipline. And it cannot erase the temporal consequences of sin. Character, not gifting, is a leader's most important asset. This is the means God has ordained to accomplish his ends."

Read the full article here.


Perplexing questions about self and the constant desire to be someone else

There is this constant perplexity to be someone else. Something that I struggle with and I do assume that people do struggle with this. A covetous desire to take on the status and respectability of someone we admire or people we think has got it all is sort of a hard battle the soul goes through in life. The world's system has quite the influence.

There was this MTV reality series on something about people having plastic surgeries to alter their appearance to be like their favorite celebrities. People can go through this process of thinking that if they alter their appearance to be like someone famous, the inevitably change their status from being unknown rejects to people with stature and potential. It is a sad commentary to life.

But that aside, it is also sad if we have this constant perplexity to be someone because we see they are successful, they have everything and most of all they are way above who you see you are. This sort of comparison is venomous if let unchecked.

It is sort of like an icky feeling that pervades the soul and fill it with false expectations of how a person should be. Soon we are controlled by this constant bombarding urge to be insecure about everything. "Does it matter what people think about me? It really does I think,"is the constant thought that creeps to the mind. My mind wanders again to this poem written by Bonhoeffer. See it here.

Let me just end by quoting the few last lines of the poem:


Who am I? they mock me, these lonely questions of mine,
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!


Bible and Alcohol

This is quite an interesting post by Scot McKnight. Something that I have been thinking about myself but didn't have the courage to pursue my thoughts on the blog. Lets just say that I take the position of this professor. So if you haven't read it already, here I am directing your attention to it.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Faith-Sacrifice-Testing-Faith

I have been really slacking on two post series that i started (one on Peter Enns book and the other one on Virgin Birth). Sometimes you do something and the emotional pull of things that happen around you hits like a wave. At these times I'm pretty glad that i could still gather some thoughts here and there. If I'm lucky, i can think straight and come up with some worthy thinking on a post, well at least worthy to me that is.

Stuck in a rut at the moment and it really is draining my energy. Sometimes i wonder how Abraham does it. His walk of faith is remarkable not to mention the strain of years. I'm reading through Eugene Peterson's "The Jesus Way" and the chapter on Abraham is pretty amazing (although i had trouble reading the chapter on Moses. Really messed with my head. Anyone read the book? I could use your insights here.).

Let me quote some profound stuff that I read on Abraham chapter

"Untested faith does not yet qualify for faith." (57)

"The test is the catalyst in which our response to god, the raw material of faith, is formed into a life of faith. Or not. If the test dissolves whatever we were calling faith into romanticized sludge or pietistic ooze, we are blessedly rid of what will dissipate our life in self-deception."(57)

In other words, faith to be faith must be tested to examine the quality. Testings purify or more likely, sheds the unnecessary ounces that we gather to be faith. I really like what is said here. But it is another thing if we are to embody this sort of thinking. I would add another thing though. Maturity in faith is spelled 'Trust'. After all the sacrifices and testing going on and purging faith, or what you though faith was, the refines fire works through and yields a life of trust. Sometimes there is a slight wish that mature faith or trust to yield its fruit in an instant. I would like it that way. Wouldn't all of us?

The road from infant faith to maturity in faith is laden with sacrifices and testings, the things that happen in the in between of life. But yet, after we have arrived to maturity in faith, we stary another journey again. The only difference is we dont really have to struggle between the goads too much.

At the end of the chapeter Peterson brings up this line

Lk 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

My initial response now would be, "Lord increase my faith." But I know he would just say, "It's not about me increasing your faith, it's about you discovering it." I'd like to think that's what he would say.



Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Theology of church Extinction

When I read this it got me really thinking,

"...I sometimes ask audiences how many people have ever read a book on the growth or establishment of a church, and many people raise their hands. Then I ask how many people have ever read a book on the death or extinction of a church, and virtually nobody does. But in history, church death is a very common phenomenon..."

That really blew my mind! If the small excerpt caught your attention you should read the article here.



The View from the Mastaba

This article by Gary M. Burge on how the cultural context of the gospels colors our reading of the NT, in this case the Gospels, is a good reminder to us on the how we labor through find the meaning of the text with regards to what we are to consider as solid historical/cultural facts. As daunting as the task, it is nonetheless rewarding. Burge mentions a splendid book; "Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes:Cultural Studies in the Gospels" by Kenneth E. Bailey, which is on my bookshelf. I haven't gone through it yet though. Hope you will benefit from the article.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lenses

I'm beginning to see that we read the bible with many types of lenses. I say this because Piper just can't see eye to eye on Wright's way of reading the bible. Both of them have valid points, its just that I've out grown the reformed lens of reading and understanding the Bible.

I also think that as we journey in our lives our reading of the bible also takes on a journey together with us. It make me wonder, what if I had never grown tired of reading using reformed lenses, would I still come to the same conclusions now in the way I read the bible? There is a big chance I would just stay 'reformed'.

With this comes other questions again. What made me tired of reading the bible in Piper's dimension? Was it the curiosity element? I mean there are some people who like to learn new stuff and posture their minds in that direction. But then I'm not saying that we are swept away easily by various trends. In a big way, we reason through and wrestle this new wave. Thinking, "I wonder how will this work out?"

But with this new lens in motion, brooding it's growth in me, it's pretty difficult to present this new way of reading the bible to people. My recent attempts in lending N. T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope" has been met by some disapproval, but thankfully not the heresy kind of vibe. Is reading the bible taking Wright's lens in taking the Jewish context seriously new? Maybe, to some degree.

But right now people are still happy, reading Piper (to some degree), Rich Warren (at an elevated level) and people who write about their heaven infused visitation (these books sell like hot cakes!).



Saturday, March 14, 2009

Red alert...it's not biblical...or so it seems.

I once heard someone in church say something like this:

"There is nowhere in the bible that talks about us having a joint account."

Obviously this person thinks that we should treat the bible as a law on what we can do and what we cannot do. In this case we are guilty of acquiring microphones for our speakers because we don't find Jesus and his apostles adjusting their mics before they spoke. I'm just weary that people can stoop so low in their handling of the bible, and this is from a leader.

Let us just be clear of something here. The bible does not talk about everything in life. Notice that it was originally written in a certain context, addressing a certain group of people on issues pertaining to their day. But with that on the side the bible is the source book on our faith. Our reflections on scripture are interpretations of the ancient text on what they meant and after that seeking application of this pathway.

With that on the side, it is simply off the mark to tell someone not to watch television because Jesus never talked about TV. Or, we are not to travel by air on an airplane because it is not biblical and the bible only talks about traveling on foot and by ships. Or, it is not biblical that we have a worship band or worship leaders because we don't find this in the NT.

Remember that not everything that the bible does not mention is a reason for us to say "it is not biblical and therefore we cannot do this". It simply might be context wise or the world we are living in now.

So get your interpretation right. Please.


On Writing

I started late taking interest in books. I only started reading seriously at 20. By serious I mean, that's when I started to read books that had no pictures in them. Books were a bore, compared to music, which was my main thing.

When I said music being my main thing, it means that I treated music like religion. I play guitar so the natural instinct of playing musical instruments is to form a band. So, i used to practice my guitar playing by rewinding my cassettes until I was able to nail a song. Well, not necessarily note for note but i would say I got like 80% right. I meant to put 90% but that would be bragging. I'm an OK guitar player so saying like I got something right on a 80% scale would be a humble description. There was one that I skipped sleep for two days in a row playing guitar.

It was during this time too that I was really into song writing. I always respected band that plays their own music and writes their own songs. True artist I would call them. I liked how songs talk about something. That's when I ventured into song writing. I wrote songs in the vein of
KORN, complete with the "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" kind of vibe to it. The lyrics were dark. My dream was to form a band and write our own songs and who knows, to be famous.

But the band thing did not materialize. Soon songwriting evolved to different perspective when I turned my life to Jesus. Sort of like songs venturing in the worship music vibe kind of song writing. But somewhere along the line I sort of 'gave up' taking song writing seriously. I guess that when my attention came to books and again back to writing. I plan to be some sort of writer someday...hopefully. Part of the writing bug has evolved into this blog. I think it is a good platform to keep my mind in focus on writing. Anyway the narrative aside here are two posts on writing that I found interesting by Donald Miller (See here and here).




4 or 5 point pamphlets or the whole biblical narrative

An excerpt from Donald Miller's "Searching for God Knows What";

"Earlier the same year I had a conversation with my friend Omar, who is a student in a local college. For his humanities class, Omar was assigned to read the majority of the Bible. He asked to meet me for coffee, and when we sat down he put a bible on the table as well as a pamphlet containing the same five or six ideas Greg had mentioned. He opened the pamphlet, read the ideas, and asked if these concepts were important to the central message of Christianity. I told Omar they were critical; that, basically, this was the gospel of Jesus, the back bone of Christian faith. Omar then opened the bible and asked, "If these ideas are so important, why aren't they in this book?"
"But the scripture references are right here,"I said curiously, showing to Omar that the verses were printed next to each idea.
"I see that," he said. "But in the bible they aren't concise like they are in this pamphlet. They are spread out all over the book."
"But this pamphlet are the summations of the ideas," I clarified.
"Right," Omar continued, "but it seems like, if these if these ideas are that critical, God would have taken the time to make bullet points out of them. Instead he put some of them here and some of them there. And half the time, when Jesus is talking, he is speaking entirely in parables. It is hard to believe that whatever it is He is talking about can be summed up this simply." "
(p 152)



Friday, March 13, 2009

You can go to seminary too...for free


Calling all christian leaders, church members, youths and anyone interested (or those curious). If I were to make this call specifically, to all Mirians to be precise! I have been going through this website, "Biblical Training", and it is simply a breath of relief. Why so?

One of the problems we have in churches all around Miri is the lack of biblical literacy and knowledge, and this is never ever a good thing. I'm not saying that we need to be scholars. What we do need is to be at least informed. It is a pity in this day and age with all the biblical knowledge at the mercy of our finger tips (and some are even free!) Christians simply shrug off being knowledgeable of their faith. I have heard of people saying, "Theology are for pastors, not the people in the pew. All we need are straight to the point sermons with application. We want something relevant to real life." To me, hearing statements like this makes me sad.

Another problem that I see is on Christian teaching. There are many teachers of the bible but not all are biblical in their presentations and teachings. If people sitting in the pews simply gulping all the teaching that they hear because they simply trust that whosoever is standing at the pulpit is teaching 100% accurate word of God without discernment or 'some proper biblical knowledge', I can say that 90% of the time people are going to subscribe any form of biblical teaching.

My plea here is not to say that if we have some form of biblical study we will get things right all of the time but a plea that we become people who know enough to help us grow as well as discern what is good. Take this verse for example

Acts 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians,
for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

One of the things we cal see here is that these Bereans, although taking Paul's teachings with great delight they were weighing Paul the Apostle's teaching whether it was in line with scripture! If people during the days when the apostles were still alive did this, should this responsibility not be on us as well?

Anyway rants on the side, visit Biblical Training and sign in for free, as well as learn from seasoned scholars for free as well (such as Craig Blomberg, Bill Mounce, John Piper, Thomas Schreiner, Robert Stein and many more).



Thursday, March 12, 2009

Taking Jewish context into consideration

I'm going through John Piper's "The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright" at the moment and just arrived at chapter 3. Obviously I'm taking my time to read and think through the book. One thing that I found notable to note at the moment upon the few pages that I have just skimped through is that Piper 'disregards' reading the NT taking into consideration of it's Jewish context. Although he criticizes Wright's heavy usage of first-century thought in understanding Paul and also the NT and gives some needed warnings on leaning too much on it in our reading and understanding I'm not convinced with his argument. Reading the first chapter kind of gave way to the framing of his ideas and understanding the doctrine of justification which seems obvious taking the cover of his book into consideration.

One of the things that has attracted me to Wright's writings and thought of Jesus and the NT is namely the framework that he uses to frame the understanding. I like the stance of understanding Jesus in his Jewish context. I would say it illumines the NT to the point of understanding it better. Why so?

Let me frame this in one of the struggles I had with the bible and my christian faith. Being a new christian, one of the things that bothered me was Paul's constant use of "first for the Jew, then for the Gentile". Although I was happy being a follower of Jesus, it bothered me that reading the NT there was a lot of Jewish stuff having notable mention (I secretly wished that I was a Jew to be honest because Gentiles seemed second class citizens!). The framework of Jews working for their salvation (self righteousness) and the notion of Jesus coming to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law because we could not fulfill it was something I found incomplete. Even the gospel message that explained Genesis 1-3 where we in the beginning were supposed to have relationship with God and sin came in the was by route of the Fall. God's remedy was to send Jesus to die for our sins and we to believe in this wonderful sacrifice.

In all this framework shaping our christian faith, it seemed that there was no room for the OT, particularly in God's election of a nation, Israel, as God's plan of redemption. The gospel presentation that I was taught cut out this vital element of God's plan by simply throwing Jesus in the picture without any reference to his Jewish upbringing and thought life as a Jew. The OT and NT seemed very different reflections on God and by far miles apart.

My first encounter with taking Jesus' Jewishness seriously was Philip Yancey's "The Jesus I Never Knew". I'm sorry to say that I thought that this understanding was revolutionary, something new even. I think it shows how far we have wandered off in taking Jesus' Jewish context seriously, at least that is how I would state it. My journey in taking Jesus' Jewishness seriously was further aroused reading an article from Christianity Today (February 8, 1999 edition) with a special section entitled "The New Theologians". The article focused on 5 theologians of note; Richard Hays, Kevin
Vanhoozer, Miroslav Volf, Ellen T. Charry and N. T. Wright. I like the article so much that I vowed to own and read books by these authors of whom I put as my new heroes. I can say that this was the day that I stared to think that being a scholar was cool or in the eyes of some the day I was converted to dweeb land. I can safely say that I own a substantial amount of their works in my library (I have 3 of Hays', 4 of Vanhoozer's, 1 of Volf's and Charry's and the bulk of Wright's work!). Of all the authors mentioned here it was my reading of Wright that propelled and compelled me further in really taking Jesus' Jewishness seriously.

Reading the bible after reading it '
Wrightly' has made the bible more readable in the sense that the context and framework that Wright proposes for us to gives understanding of God's big picture; His grand story of redemption (Genesis- Abraham and Israel- Jesus and the Church).



Monday, March 9, 2009

Making some sense of forgiving & blessing the Enemy and responsibility

Locked in inner turmoil in understanding the mandate to bless our enemies and do good to them seems to really bother me a lot. One of the things that bothered me was, if I bless this person of who has cause me much pain and inner turmoil will God simply let him go? Will God exhaust his anger and simply overlook to just turn his face upon what this person has done to me? Will this enemy of mine just take in the forgiveness that I give him and simply have no remorse about what he did? Not even lint sized remorse? Will he just take the forgiveness for granted and look at it as judgment upon me and that he deserved me to bow low to his authority without the faintest doubt that he did anything wrong?

These are things that go through my mind. These are the things that I struggle with. This is the reason I find that forgiving the enemy (a so called Christian fellow) whom has wronged me, with me obvious of my innocence. Some further questions come to mind again to propel making sense to Jesus' mandate. Let's point it specifically to a church community.


What is our call? What is the responsibility of the believer of who has been wronged?

(Most of the reflections is from the epistle of James) His responsibility is to endure through the turmoil. Keep on living a life in response to the faith... But most importantly committing oneself to God and that means much more towards leaving judgment to him. The responsibility of the believer who was wronged is to forgive the brother who has wronged him, if so his enemy and still treat him with respect (this comes as a problem if the person holds a position of status and he is actually in the wrong) in the order of blessing and doing good to our enemy.

Some thoughts come to mind…how do we actually pray for our enemies? How do we bless those who persecute us? This is a big question mark to me but I am still struggling through it. This is simply a different code of ethic. At this point I think the common knowledge here is simply; we are mere humans and judgment of determining right and wrong belongs to God. If we trust in a God who is impartial, who helps the poor and those in the position of injustice we can take the forgiveness route because we trust one that will bring no partiality in how judgment is supposed to be executed.

I think the key element here is trusting a God that is just. The struggle is waiting for judgment to happen or to be executed. Trusting God is living in this tension.

I think most of the explanation here leans on the part where the person wronged and he can do nothing about it already.


What is the responsibility of the leadership of the church of knowing the issue at hand?

Given the responsibility of shepherding the church and keeping the unity of the community, the church cannot simply sweep matters arising under the rug and make hasty decisions out of anger and without much digging in the facts. The church leadership cannot also just listen to one side of the story and simply believe without question the situation at hand.

Here is what I believe the church leadership's responsibility lays. They are to be the neutral ground in keeping the peace of the community. Possible horrible mistakes that they can either lean to is making decisions without bringing both opposing parties to hear out their views, to judge by status, to simply pursue 'reconciliation' of both opposing parties without even settling out the issue because they want to arrive to making peace and keeping the community in tack with a simple exhortation that says both have to accept God's mandate of forgiving one another.

To me all the above really does not solve the issue because the body where justice should be 'executed' because the church leadership simply does not want to struggle with the issue. Matters are not solved, justice is not served and a false sense of reconciliation although goes on a peaceful stride for some time, will eventually break and go back to the same lane.

I believe the church leadership cannot simply seek instant measures of reconciliation; they have to struggle through the things at hand and do all possible to seek a worthy decision. Taking a route that calls for instant magic is simply a adulteration of their responsibility.


Where is God in all the decisions; justice?

Sometimes I wonder why God doesn't act swiftly at what he sees. Sometimes I wonder why he doesn't simply pry open the eyes of church leaders who seem blind to the things happening around them. The big question is why does God relent to act? I found the quote below challenging as well as helpful:

If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence - that God would not be worthy of worship … The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that violence is legitimate only when it comes from God … My thesis that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many … in the West … (But) it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human non-violence (results from the belief in) God's refusal to judge. In a sun-scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die … (with) other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.- Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace

This has been a long post over a period of a short hiatus from blogging. These things are still fresh in my head as well as my heart. Do let me know what you think.


The heavens are mute and in shock!

I think Jesus did more then what the picture above is depicting. It says here "Jn 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." Jesus identified and also rubbed dirt with us.

I had this thought in my head a few days back. A man walks up to someone on the streets and talks to him about the love of God. The basic track content of explaining how someone is reconciled back to God and avoids heaven (the four spiritual laws for example).

After some time going through the tract the man soon ask the guy on the street, lets say this guy is some poor homeless guy, asks him whether he wants to accept Jesus into his life because if he does he will experience God's blessing on his life. So the homeless guy does what he is told to do from this man and prays the sinners prayer.

After that the man lights up after leading someone to Christ, thinking to himself the ecstatic cheers and applause happening in heaven over a soul that is saved. Having done his job, he leaves the 'gospel' tract with the homeless guy and a bible. The man tells him just to follow the steps found on the back of the tract where it says "Now that you are a Christian...", and then leaves smiling while the homeless guy is still in his same condition; homeless, hungry and poor. Well, at least he is saved right?

Do you think the angels and God will approve of this?

I doubt it though.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reading, Studying, Reflecting, Meditating...and now Listening to James

These few days have been a constant 'dark night of the soul' kind of experience. I think I will be taking a break from blogging until the storm has resided. My thoughts are fluctuating like waves and it is sort of hard to maneuver concrete and meaningful ideas. I'm going through the epistle of James these few days. Blame Scot McKnight's blog for my fascination in this epistle. James has not had a fair hearing amongst people (namely because of the being justified by work issues). Well I used to be one of those people, struggling with this epistle. Here is James being read using the NET bible version Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Or simply go to this site.


Hopeful Theo

My photo
OIL TOWN, SWK, Malaysia
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