Thursday, April 30, 2009
I somewhat vaguely remember the time when I was able to merge the words ‘Jesus’ and ‘Jewish’ together. Jesus was always depicted as a white guy with straight blond hair, blue eyes, neatly trimmed beard and a flowing white robe. But thanks to Philip Yancey’s “The Jesus I Never Knew”, it suddenly made sense that Jesus was indeed a Jew and being a Jew, lived in a Jewish setting and a Jewish way of thinking. That was my introduction into Jesus and his Jewish context. Given the amount of understanding I had then, I had a hard time stranding the thoughts of the book together. Not that Yancey was an awful writer, but I did not have enough introductionary knowledge to jump into the conversation.
But fast forward now, authors like N. T. Wright and Scot McKnight have been authors that had helped me immensely in sojourning the field of the first-century context of Jesus. But only after reading some short introductionary articles on the web by these authors and countless others was I able to understand some of the terms and views that were presented.
To be able to dive into a certain field of study it is important for any student to start with a book detailing introductions on that certain subject. I’m happy to state now that this book, “Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus” by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg is a godsend because it is a helpful book in the veins of an introduction to the Jewish background of Jesus.
The book is divided into 14 chapters and with helpful Appendices pages, notes and indexes. At 272 pages, I would say the book is about the right size for an introductionary book, not too thin and it’s not too thick either (although personally I prefer another 50 or more pages.)
The authors state that they have been “careful to place Jesus within his first-century context rather than of the later ages” and hope that the book would be of help to “pastors, students and laypeople who find their reading of the bible all the more fascinating and life transforming as they come to appreciate and understand the Jewish context that shape it”. I think the authors do exceptionally well in doing what they described without getting the reader entangled with details of dates as well as myriads of views on cultural background. Their approach is concise as well as accessible. For example in chapter one on the word anointing, particularly in the passage where Mary anoints Jesus with expensive perfume, the authors state that there is another side to understanding this than just the description that Mary was only doing it, un-be-knowingly, to prepare for Jesus’ burial (Matt 26:12). Anointing carries the meaning that Jesus was the anointed one, taking the context of how anointing in Jewish eyes and senses captured the moment. Passages in the OT also are brought into attention to build on the meaning. I don’t think readers will find it difficult to strand together as well as explain. They are simply concise and informative.
That is just one of the countless examples though. Moving on, an initial observation again toward the book is its presentation of the values and customs of the Jewish people which do more than just appease the appetite of the mind. The Jews valued community more base on what I read. In a chapter on haverim, which simply means a student having a study partner for male student and haverah for female student, we get the picture that Jews look at the process of studying differently. They preferred to study in community, together with a group and debates were part of their study nature. Such a different study culture compare to my Malaysian context, especially with debate taking primal role in studying.
I find myself appreciating Jewish liturgy and their formal prayer which some are read from scripture or passed down from tradition which was refreshing. I have also gained some understanding about how Jews viewed the law as we often call it not as a set of rules but a book that God gave out of his grace to show them how to live. I think there are some things in the book that might just shake the sock off our thinking and I hope would ultimately revise of deconstruct previous held positions and reconstruct better grounded views of scriptural understanding and faith. Another thing that made the book accessible was that it had these short concise frames on the sides to explain Jewish words and terms if readers were unfamiliar with them. This sure beats the constant flipping to the back of the book which explains the terms. This book has both the side bar meanings which are concise as well as an appendix page for meaning of the words in a more detailed manner.
Overall, I was not disappointed by the book at all. I was at first skeptical when I first became aware of the book, of whether it would be able to attain to a standard that I had for a book on the subject of dating Jesus in his first-century Jewish context. I think that is the danger if we just stick to a selected group of writes in whom we trust regarding their scholarship. But I have to say that the information in this book has been very helpful, and that is to say the least. I would easily recommend the book to anyone having no background on the subject. But I would not just say this book is just for beginners, it’s for anyone curious enough to dive into the study of Jesus’ Jewish context. You will be richly bless by Ann and Lois’ insights. The book might renew also your desire in “sitting at the feet of rabbi Jesus”.
The same Review is also on amazon. See here.
And starting next week, I will be blogging my reflections and thoughts on each chapter of the book.
I watch a healthy dose of American Idol simply because it's fun. And with 5 contestants left on American Idol 2009, the odds were obvious to some on who were supposed to be safe. Simon was always reliable in his predictions but this week became the ‘unpredictable week’ when, out of all the contestants Adam was in the bottom three. Everyone was shocked.
What amused me was when Ryan Seacrest was parting the contestants to stand on the left and right, after placing Matt and Kris on the right and Allison and Danny on the left, Ryan asked Adam which group he belonged to. I think Adam was confident so he said based on last night’s performance, he chose the ranks of Danny and Allison. But boy was he in for a surprise when Ryan ushered him in the bottom three with Matt and Kris.
So much for confidence and being constantly praised by the judges as the runaway winner, which makes me think of climbing the theological ladder of getting the idea that we are the in thing in theological discussions as well as knowing the right perspective. Like Adam, we might be the one who knows the tricks of the trade meaning that we are wide in our knowledge and we might just be talking about the right stuff but let’s not let it get too much in our heads. Lets learn to say that we are always learning and stay humble despite the stuff we know and the position we hold.
Fame and pride, they corrode our sincerity and vision. When they seep in too much in us, and in our heads we forget what our passions were about and make it all about us; all about me. That's just wrong. Read Luke 14:8-11 for reference.
The BioLogos Foundation
This is a website fostering discussions on faith and science and founded by Dr Francis Collins who wrote "The Language of God". The website is seeking to "promotes the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms, and seeks to harmonize these different perspectives", which I find commendable because rarely do we see the engagement of faith and science converging together. One of the things that caught my attention (which is the first place i click on a website) is the resource page. There you can find links to online journals and essays, websites on science and faith, lectures and presentations, resources for those who want to teach on the subject as well as a list of relevant books on this field of study. All in all a great website.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Galli asked "How would you present this gospel on Twitter?" (the context here is Rob Bell's presentation of the gospel in light of the book). But let's just reframe the question again; , would it be possible for you to present the gospel on twitter (in 140 characters)?
It's a good question to ask but thinking about it reminds me too much of gospel tracts. Which makes me ask another question, can the gospel be explained exaustively in a simple and concise way?
What this article shows is that Asians and Americans have different outlooks on how they view themselves. I think this has to do with context as well as values that each culture inhibits. Americans, or to put it in a general term, westerners have this guilt based complexity. What this means is westerners has this "I am good" concept wired in them. Although this is way too general to state with precision, but westerners are far more confident in their opinions, having a strong self belief in their capabilities, and a general motivation of self improvement.
Asians on the other hand struggle in these things. There is a complexity that looks at themselves as second rate or worse compared to a certain group or people in authority. In this manner Asians tend to shy away from voicing out their opinions or views by fear of rejection and criticism. They have a culture of high respect for authorities, so much so that one is obligated to accept anything or everything a high ranking official or authority figure says. This is what the author of the article calls people in a shame based complex. Again an oversimplification of descriptive projection, but the general understand of the projection is true to my experience of things.
I'm not trying to put up a summary on the article as a whole but just to show how cultural context as well as values also play in how we are to present a faithful projection of biblical teaching on certain doctrines. I am not at all saying that theology is governed only by context and culture but these two things are worth considering when we are in the business of communicating. The scripture has the capacity of being vast enough to capture the imagination of each cultural context. So with the doctrine of atonement for this matter, what we need is a more robust outlook to its meaning, i mean there are four theories that are always mentioned upon which penal substitution always gets the spotlight. To me, every theory 'works'. One does not capture the whole although some would disagree. Like for this article, some cultures might not grasp the message fully following one view. So, since the atonement can't be pinned down, it's theory, why get into all the fuss in just having one view and not use the wide biblical array of expression to capture the minds of a specific culture?
I was motivated to think through atonement because these fellow bloggers have been blogging about it the last few weeks. Check them out.
Discussing the atonement when it is no longer cool
Atonement and the warfare worldview
Penal Substitutionary Atonement
Sunday, April 26, 2009
This book by Kevin Roose sound interesting. The book is entitled, "THE UNLIKELY DISCIPLE: A Sinner’s Semester at America's Holiest University", which i should add does has the capacity to catch our attention. I enjoyed the video and if there was a possibility I'd get my hands on the book for sure. I'm just curious. You can check his website.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
One of the great things about getting involved in the blogging is having such privileges of posting reviews, reflections, thoughts on books, moreover, if you get the chance to get copies for free. So starting next week I will be posting a review and some reflections on this book entitled "Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus" by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg. It's a smashing book to say the least, and the main attraction about the book is it deals on issues of viewing Jesus in his Jewish context. I'll refrain from explaining more at this point though and will keep them for the coming week.
For more information about the book and also the authors go to their website at Our Rabbi Jesus. Or simply go to the Zondervan page.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Being relevant is what we want and need to chart forward but often we plow in the wrong direction way too often, more often than we want sometimes. When i say this I'm mostly reframing these thoughts on being church. I agree with the fact that we have to be relevant, we need to. With the escalating changes in the society, it's simply dumb not to be relevant, to think new things.
But all to often the church at times has charted a misleading demeanor of how to be relevant. We put our efforts of carrying the yardstick of relevance, too much I think, in the our church building's architecture, the order of service, the music we sing and how it is played, the programs we have, the order of service and some things that I could think of. We care too much in the image of being relevant so much so that it disfigures the potent witness the church could have had towards society. Being relevant has become an idol in itself and unless we are ready to admit to this that is.
So, where should we chart a progressive and 'balanced' take on being relevant? One thing is for sure though is we need to be relevant. We need fresh expressions of faith coupled with how we merge them with the progressive phase of technology for example. We need at some points facilities, if we have the means, for social engagement and connecting with people around us. In a way, being relevant tells us we are serious about our faith by adapting an ancient faith in a changing world.
We progress by our embrace of relevance but we must not let the relevant bug take total control in charting our faith and influence as a church and community. Another take on relevant is also how we see shifting priorities in people. In the western world, there is a sense of disease with modernity. Thus comes a brooding postmodern generation that are not impressed with modern meanderings. More people are seeing community, justice, environmental care, spirituality, the arts as important. The church should see these groans as a 'relevant' passage to enter in. In fact, the groans displayed are stuff the christian faith is actually relevant in how it deals with them. Stuff that christian faith is closer at home with.
So we do need to rephrase how we understand being relevant, in a church community context.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
And while I'm on this, i might direct your attention to this book entitled "The Next Evangelicalism" by Soong-Chan Rah. What caught my attention was this piece of information about the book, "In this book professor and pastor Soong-Chan Rah calls the North American church to escape its captivity to Western cultural trappings and to embrace a new evangelicalism that is diverse and multiethnic." Scot Mcknight blurbed about the book as well (although i don't think that it would cause any commotion like the one he did for Wright). So, anything that McKnight endorses is worth reading. For more information go here.
Monday, April 20, 2009
But after finishing a book, fiction or non fiction, how does the ideas or proposals effect us enough to implement some sort of change in how we live? I stress much on how it effects how we live because our changed thinking leads to that ultimately as well. I mean, do you ever pick up a book and think "I wonder how this book will change how I will live".
Take motivational books for example, they share with us a whole hosts of steps to get things working, to get things moving, to make us into a success only if we follow the step by step procedures. In actual fact these writers are telling us that if you embody these ideas or steps your life will change. Some might say that fictional books are just stories but I think fictional writers have a framework of thought behind the stories they are presenting. Sometimes it makes me wonder, fictional writers grips us, our minds, in a more subtler manned. Sort of like how songs effect us. Take the "The Da Vinci Code" for that matter, a fictional tale with an intent.
Books are thought as for for the mind but they do have a capacity to change how we think and how we live, ultimately I should say. So, "How much embodying do you do after reading?"
Saturday, April 18, 2009
I've just finished reading this fictional tale of a pastor getting himself acquainted with the rummaging of postmodernity and the question of how to live his faith in that brooding environment. It has a classic emergent/emerging storyline which appeals to the conversation. The book is entitled "Chasing Francis" and is written by Ian Morgan Cron. I think this book sort of echoes Brian Mclaren's book "A New Kind of Christian", although I'm just guessing this at the moment. But one thing about Cron's book is it's fascination with Francis of Assisi, whose life plays a guiding role in bringing life to the book.
The story starts with the introduction of the main character, Chase Falson, who is depicted as a successful mega church pastor. Falson soon becomes disillusioned with faith as it is played along the lines of certainty and the neat portrayal of Christianity. The death of one of his church member's child had deeply affected him and soon shatters the pretention of meaning on which he broke down in the middle of his 'certainty' and neat theological stance that he had always understood Christianity to be. This soon fueled the church board to give him time off because he was seen as abandoning faith altogether.
His laying off by the church board leads him to a journey or rather a pilgrimage to Italy where he found how it was a Christian lived. With the help of some monks they introduce Falson to the life of Francis of Assisi, someone who was "…a Catholic, an evangelical street preacher, a radical social activist, a contemplative who devoted hours to prayer, a mystic who had direct encounters with God, and someone who worshiped with all the enthusiasm and spontaneity of a Pentecostal. He was a wonderful integration of all the theological streams we have today…"(55). This brings to mind another of Mclaren's work "A Gracious Orthodoxy".
With the quote above in mind, I think I have done enough (I hope) to explain the main thrust of the book. The fictional story plays around these themes and presents a need for us to embrace a more holistic outlook of our Christian faith and engagement as followers of Jesus. It also falls along the lines of a critique of the modern church in its, all too often, narrow description of being a Christian and the church. But with that, this quote would redeem the negative critique of Christendom in a more fashionable way,
"Francis, you changed the church (in fact, you reevangelized it)-not through being critical but through forming a community that confounded it. For the last few years, I've been a self righteous critic of the church and all of Christendom, and I need to give that up. Sister Irene told me the other day that "no one else is your problem but you." Maybe I should try to live the "gospel without gloss" and keep my mouth shut?" (155)
But I would add that keeping our mouths totally shut would not also contribute to changing the status quo. I think what it means here is we have a responsibility more in living out what we believe as opposed to just a mere criticism of the present condition of church.
All in all, I enjoyed the book immensely because the story does in some ways reflect a journey I am all too familiar with. I would gladly recommend it to anyone who has time to read and reflect with an open heart and mind. You might find yourself also, like Falson, chasing Francis.
Friday, April 17, 2009
I've not enjoyed these bouts, i mean who would enjoy them? But it's during times like this that I found that songs helped immensely. There was this this time when i was walking, trying to out stress myself, I was listening to this song that goes "...when will I see your face again..." playing on my handphone and it suddenly warmed my heart somehow. Weird? I'm starting to think that songs have these kind of depth in them, when the lyrics and melody combine and they actually reach out in our souls. Please, let me just state here that i'm not at all talking about christian songs. All types of songs and genre have this sort of capacity.
I was actually feeling thankful that there are people who devote their time in perfecting their craft in writing quality song. Well regardless if most of them are just thinking about money! But I just wanted to say that songs play a vital part in life. They sort of journey along with us at an emotional level.
I'm usually a heavy rock kind of dude but I'm enjoying music by anyone that falls in the mold of singer/musician/songwriter genre. Gavin Degraw fall into this category. I'm not sure how 'religious' this post is but i see songs have a capacity to help when we are down and out. I was just wondering though if you share some similar experiences with me on this. Just curious i guess.
(Just did some minor editing!)
"Would you take time to listen and read books by authors who has disagreed (at some level or another) with the author you really like?"
I ask this because i do have a tendency of disliking those who are slaying my hero. And because of that it does have some sort of effect in my mind every time their names come up or I have this preconceived notion already of their positions in what they write about. But thinking again, it would not be helpful if we do want to broaden our perspectives on ideas, theological issues and many other stuff.
People often talk about being charitable and things like that, but at times I'm not sure what view of being charitable is accounted for the meaning of the word. But let me just add that we don't normally follow this rule of conduct. I would just say that we are charitable on a certain degree (most of the time a very small degree) but the bulk of our assessment would always be on a disagreement basis. I think the only realistic solution to this is being able to take whatever criticism that is projected, respect the persons position relentlessly and present your own views. When there is a need to alter your positions, do so. The important thing is i should say, not to make it personal.
I think in things like disagreements between theologians on various issues, our duty as learners is not to take sides relentlessly. Of course we do have theologians which we resonate more to, but we do need to hear out critics as well. It simply broadens our perspectives on things. It also helps us be humble. Ideas and the revolutionary paths they can chart sometimes can cause us to think that we are in the elite. But at some points criticism brings us down to earth.
So my hope is that for me personally, if my heroes get slain with disagreements, regardless of how uncharitable their positions might be, i will have to conjure enough strength not to read their criticism in all their writings. In this world we need encouragements, affirmation form others and people who think like us for support. But on the other hand we need some sharpening along the way, in where criticism 'helps'. In the case of disagreements, I would like to be charitable to those who slay my heroes. I can learn from them too. Although my ears are red listening to their positions, I'll try as much to change the colours in time.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The excerpt above is taken from this interview which I found beneficial and to some degree a measure of hope to some extent for those who don't see themselves going to seminary but wanting to get involved in ministry. I have been thinking a lot on these lines lately. Especially in the area of qualification. Not necessarily on the lines of being a pastor but in general. Sometimes the pressure to attain a standard of qualification can be daunting. I have this desire to be a writer but sometimes the 'qualification' bug never seems to lay of it's biting. So I have been surfing the Internet for some guidance of sorts. Some helpful articles scattered here and there but nothing concrete I might add.
What does it take to be a writer, a pastor, a scholar, a something anyway? Reading the article, it did mention that seminary helps in the discipline of thinking in a certain way. I agree with that. Seminaries do help in that manner. My stint in bible college helped me immensely I should say. The methods and constructive way of thinking are like unseen tools that form a structure of thought especially in theological issues and the bible. I'm grateful for the training. I would say that seminary or any sort of training structures us in the formation of discipline of a certain field of knowledge or skill. It would not be the determining element that ensures 'success', but a needed element if you have it.
So then, what if one does not have the needed qualification in a certain field? One has to have desire to pursue. The excerpt that I quoted above states that the successful pastors who have no theological training never stopped reading. They kept that discipline. The continued their quest to learn. the desire to pursue guided by the constant urge to learn are essential. Another thing I liked about the quote above was the mentioning that these pastors having mentors. I would say this is an important element in progress. We need guided wisdom from experienced people helping us to chart our energy of pursuit and progressive desire of learning. I think having a mentor helps us mature, shedding of unnecessary enthusiasm, and in the process seeping in a realistic vision.
So in the end, having the necessary qualification helps (considerably at times) but it is not a determining factor of pursuing what we want to do or are called to do.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Let me start with a question, "How has your journey through the blogging world been?" I ask the question because, although i have enjoyed many meaningful interaction reading the comments and putting my opinions up front, there have been major turning points that have sort of plumed me down in my journey. I'm still recovering from the process though, but it has been a rough tumble nonetheless.
I've only started blogging last year. It started as something that I wanted to try out as an outlet to project my thoughts and opinion on issues regarding the christian faith. After getting the hang of it, blogging turned out to be fun whenever I read comments from people. I have to say that it is something i look forward to whenever I have just published a post. I really value the interactions. Putting up opinions is not something we do as something normal in the context of place I am in so, it was good that I had some sort of outlet to share some of my own opinions on stuff.
But as this got underway, there were complications that I faced, mainly from my 'employers' as they were somewhat disgusted with some of the post that I had put up on the blog, so much so as there we threats of taking legal action against me. I had a meeting with them and was soon relieved from my responsibilities where I worked. They even gave me an option of stepping down early from the agreed 1 year term that I served with a full payment of my salary according to the amount of month left before the contract expired, but I opted to stay on until I fulfilled my time working there. But those months were torrid as I was deprived of anymore responsibilities.
Blogging does has it's good spots where we are able to share our opinions on stuff but it can also lead to unimaginable anguish if people take these opinions on a different stance other that what they were supposed to be, just personal opinions which people can agree or disagree with. But on a side not, i have no hard feelings on the things that has happened now. It has been one of the dark chapters in my life, one that I don't think i would want to relive again. But things happen and the only way through is forward. It has been a long and winding battle to forgive, to move on and look ahead, but then that's life. I'm discerning more challenges up ahead, and the constant thought of "will they ever cease?" I doubt they will.
So here's to my experience in blogging. Bitter sweet memories. I wouldn't trade them but then again I wouldn't relive them (hurtful ones that is)! So back to the question:
"How has your journey through the blogging world been?"
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
But at the juncture of the times, modernity has hit the shores of Borneo, and there is an increasing form of development that is happening. Because of this sweeping shift, it is difficult for pastors to adapt with the progress that is happening around. I'm not sure if there are others who share my views on this but I do see this as a concern, especially for fulltime pastors who have no other educational background.
With all the shifting, a lot of pastors are finding it hard to cope ministering in the urban areas because you do need other skills which the rural minded training cannot provide. Pastors are feeling the effects of being intimidated by their educated 'board' of leaders, which in turn tend to influence the direction of the church (at points in an unhealthy manner to some degree). Another factor I might add to is the financial struggle that pastors face. And being trained in the capacity of a rural setting, it is at times impossible to combat this problem.
This is why I see it is extremely important that future pastors get themselves trained as much as possible in other fields of education as well as their theological training. This would help immensely in their connectedness with their congregation in some level of interaction and respect. I don't mean in a sense that we need another form of degree to get proper respect, but what i am simply arguing here is 'the times they are a changing'. It would also help future generation pastors to acquire some needed financial aid having other skills to adapt to the urban setting.
I wish something would be done about this, but many don't really see this as a needed shift to adapt to. I guess many still love the old wineskins and don't see the need for change. It is considered a sin if a pastor does choose to work in another field, or after he has been trained in a theological setting he chooses to study something else other than theology is considered in, still a large circle of folks as apostasy or a sign that someone is acting like Jonah. Well, i do hope in a few more year these social stigmas would fade and be no more.
So as I type this post, I do intend to pursue another course of educational knowledge simply for the fact that change is needed. I'm not sure how this is in the west but as far as I can tell, i don't think this is so much a western issue as it is in my context.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Towards a Theology of Smoking
Tying Up Some Loose Ends On Smoking
Responding to R.A. Torrey On Smoking
Is Smoking Sinful?
Although the opinions take neutral ground on smoking and that it can be done for the glory of God (please bear in mind, I'm just quoting this one) the only price to pay when smoking seems to be it's effect on our health. See here.
But with that, most Christians do have their biased attitude to smoking. I know, because in my context smoking is perceived to be sinful and the quote would always be "our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit" kind of argument. But I found what Tim Challies (in the link 'Is Smoking Sinful') said to be more enlightening in him mentioning that there are many other health risk things out there other then smoking which we don't hit on for example fast food. I don't think there had been any sermon incorporating abstinence towards fast foods.
I also have a post on smoking as well which I posted here. Anyway if you have any opinions or thoughts on this I would be glad to hear them out (or rather listen to them).
Instead of being impersonal, lets get personal with people. Lets care about people. The fact that every person is a reflection of God's image carries much weight to this so called argument. Creating friendships are more meaningful to people rather then just talking to them about Jesus and asking them to make a decision. How will they know Jesus when we can't even reflect him? Witness comes with both words and deeds both combined to make a powerful combination that has a strong effect on people. At some points, it is this kind of connection that counts. People do smell the lack of sincerity in our actions as well as our words and this is not good.
I'm not at all saying telling people is not the way. Not at all. I'm just saying that we have to be sincere with people. We have to care enough that they are human beings and not numbered tokens that we add up for points on who wins the best converter award.
Monday, April 6, 2009
- 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