Saturday, May 23, 2009

The God I Don't Understand- Chapter 1

Let's begin Chapter 1: The Mystery of Evil of Christopher Wright's book with some thoughts and reflection.

If you're into comics and superheroes, maybe some would agree with me that the first series of Batman movies (those that stared Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney) has to be said as a bad adaptation of a superhero character to the big screen. But come 'Batman Begins', I was totally blown away by the storyline. I especially like how Bruce Wayne evolved into the mysterious Batman. It was one of the ultimate origins story of a superhero adapted to the big screen and with that minimizes the mysterious character that superheroes have.

But as for evil as explained by C.H.Wright in his book, it's origin is somewhat difficult to pin point. I've heard people use texts like Isaiah 14:4-21 and Ezekiel 28:1-17 as reference points to how evil or rather Lucifer's fall from grace came about. On these two texts C.H.Wright says that "they were written originally to describe the defeat and death of historical human kings, and so it is a dubious exercise to build detailed doctrinal statements about the devil or the "underworld" upon them." (40) But although that may be the recurring fact about the two bible passages "they have a spiritual counterpart that is recognizably satanic." (40) For a more clearer description of Satan and his demons read Jude 6, 2 Peter 2:4 and Revelation 12:7-9.

So, what are we to make of trying to understand evil and let alone it's origin to get a better understanding on things? For C.H.Wright, "evil does not make sense. "Sense" is a part of our rationality that in itself is part of God's creation and God's image in us. So evil can have no sense, since sense itself is a good thing." (42) Evil is not something that has any part of anything God created so therefore evil is "an intruder, an alien presence that has made itself almost (but not finally) inextricably "at home"." (42) Because Evil is foreign it makes no sense and should stay at the point of making no sense.

I must admit that I am frustrated with not being able to understand evil and it's origin and especially when C.H.Wright tell us to park at the space where we simply embrace the fact that evil should not be understood and that it simply makes no sense. But I do see the wisdom in taking this slant to making amends to our brains that always seeks understanding.

C.H.Wright goes on to say that "...God...has chosen not to explain the orgin of evil, but rather wants to concentrate my attention on what he has done to defeat and destroy it." (43) But this does not negate our desperate emotions to ask deep and frustrating questions on the mystery of evil. We are all the more encouraged to do so.

Evil will always have the capacity to pry our emotions out in the open but we are to take comfort that we are not meant to understand it but to work with God in trusting what he did and what he is doing to defeat it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


English is a sometimes common language here in Malaysia. I say sometimes because although many Malaysians understand a substantial amount of the language, it has mutated as well. Some have called it 'Manglish'. That is a generalization in the sense of terms I might add because there are various categories of this so called 'Manglish'. It is safe to say that we have borrowed the English language and made it our own. As in what the American Idol judges always applaud those contestants that make the song their own, we Malaysian have done so with language, making English our own, although I'm not sure anyone would rave about it. Anyways here is one version of the 'Manglish' I was talking about.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The God I Don't Understand-Introduction

I should state that I was drawn by the book because stuff happening in my personal life that makes me echo the title of the book "The God I Don't Understand". But i have to say that I have always been drawn to books that revolve around this type of subject matter, books like "Disappointment with God" come to mind by Yancey. These types of books explore these mysteries and questions that our heart longs in seeking answers to them. We all seek reasonable answers i might add. In bible school, i tried my take on the question but I was way off target, come to think of it. But this question keeps on nagging every time the belief in God is put up front. The question about evil and how God, if he is all good would allow suffering.

I thought I'd try something different with this particular book. After I've read a chapter, I'd blog about it. So some sort of experimentation going on here. I'd probably post something that really gripped me rather than do a blow by blow exposition on a chapter.

Christopher Wright who wrote the book wrote at the end of the introduction part of the book about what he biblical precedent he hopes to archive for this book, and he uses Psalms 73 to explain this. The psalm starts on a positive manner affirming Israel's faith in God (v.1) but moves on to the author's struggle with God's ways of handling things (v.2-14).

In the middle part of the psalm Wright explains that the author does two things. First, he explains that the psalmists although raises perplexing questions he does not go overboard for fear of "betraying God's people" (22). The second, as Wright explains again, the author of the psalm "goes to worship in the house of God with God's people. There, in the context of worship, his perspective is changed and he sees things in the light of God's ultimate will and moral government." Wright further states again that the psalmist "lets us hear both his struggling lack of understanding and his restored, worshiping faith." (23)

The part that caught my attention was when Wright mentions in the middle part of the psalm, namely the first half that is verse 15. This part raises wisdom in how we are supposed to carry out our hard fought questions especially on a public platform; books, blogs, sermons, teaching. Write states that

"There is a proper pastoral limit to the voicing of protest- as God reminded Jeremiah on one occasion (Jer 15:19) and as Isaiah warned his listeners (Isa 45:9-13). I have prayed constantly in working on this book that i may not transgress that limit. I want to explore questions that the bible itself wrestles with, but i want to build up God's people, not betray their faith." (22) (emphasis mine)

I think this does serve as a reminder for us especially in the blogspehere when we are relaying views, not necessarily on evil, suffering and God but on any other subject matter for that sake. But at points though, when i think of the psalms, there are some that push the limit, like the one where the psalmist wants God to dash the heads babies of the Babylonians. But it does make me ask what is a pastoral limit to voicing protest? Protest in a sense that asks God some deep questions on why he is not acting up to who we believe and learn that he is.

Reading through the times

I went out and bought myself Christopher Wright's new book "The God I Don't Understand" and after reading the introduction and the first chapter of the book, i can safely say that it will be a pleasant read indeed. So I'll be planning a review of the book as soon as I'm done with it. I'm also reading Carl McColman's book entitled "Spirituality: A Postmodern and Interfaith Approach to Cultivating a Relationship with God" and will also come up with a review of the book thanks courtesy of TheOoze Viral Bloggers. Based on what i read, it's a good book as well. I'm still waiting for another book to come.

Trying as much to read as well as reflect on what I'm reading but it's hard when you have other things happening that kind of push you to the edge sometimes. So I hope that would not effect good thoughts and reflections as well as reviews of books that I'm reading. I'm sure i don't wan' to mess those up.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chunk of (Senti-)Metal (value)

My girlfriend asked me some few years back, "Is that your briefcase?" To which I replied, "No, that's my laptop!"

I remember my days in bible college and you know when, as a student, we all in some ways struggle with the issue of money. I was in my second year and in need of a computer, and i was desperate. I asked some people in the church whether they could help me to purchase a computer but somehow my plea came unheard. I don't blame them though. But low and behold my bible school principle met up with some former students from the college who were looking to unload their old computers, two laptops to be precise were on the 'for sale' label. I was clearly exited to hear about the news because it was something that I have been praying and waiting for. It was a godsend actually. So I went and got to see the laptops that were being displayed and after a quick look, and check through I decided that this was the laptop for me.

It cost me RM600.00 bucks from money me and my girlfriend collected together. It served me well for 2 and a half years (I think) and finally died out with all my documents and papers that I wrote (typed in this case) lost forever in the now prehistoric hard drive. So here are some cool pictures of the chunk of metal that helped me through college.
I have no idea what model this thing was but it sure ain't a briefcase. Both of us had a good laugh after that.

S. F. R. J. (Thoughts & Reflections) Chp 1: Joining Mary at the Feet of Jesus

Just so you know, the initials S.F.R.J stands for 'Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus'. So the time you see these initials you will know that these particular posts are ongoing discussions, reflections and thoughts on that particular book.

This chapter sets the frame on two Jewish understandings on the use of these sentences ‘sitting at his feet’ as well as ‘anointing’ (in this case Mary anointing Jesus). Using these two examples, the authors are communicating to us the importance of studying Jesus in his Jewish context. It is interesting for them to use Mary to open up the pathway of following this rabbi named Jesus and subsequently framing the depiction of discipleship to Jesus the Messiah in the two sentences I mentioned above.

Take ‘sitting at his feet’ for example:

“If we were first-century visitors, we would have recognized the significance of something else in that story. It was customary for rabbis to sit on low pillows or chairs while they were teaching. Their disciples would sit on the ground or on mats around them. That’s how the phrase “sit at his feet” became and idiom of for learning from a rabbi…So when Mary was described as “sitting at Jesus’ feet”, she was being described as a disciple.” (14)

Without the Jewish understanding of this particular sentence 'sit at his feet' we miss something profound and essential. A simple understanding would just depict Mary as an avid listener or willing to hear Jesus teach. These understandings might be right but coupled with Jewish eyes, the words that were once simplistic and had some sort of mundane imagery turns into a rather enlightened portrayal; discipleship. well as ‘anointing’:
“By anointing him (Jesus) with expensive fragrances, Mary may well have been making a statement about who she believed Jesus was, proclaiming him as Messiah.” (16)

Anointing was clearly framed to Jews on occasions where kings and priest were put into office. It is interesting to observe that the authors link Jesus’ riding the donkey and his anointing in parallel with Solomon’s episode in 1 Kings 1:38-40. It is explained that the fragrance of Jesus being anointed by Mary would have lasted for days and that his fragrance was surely evident wherever he went. Jesus smelled like royalty. (18)

These depictions are fascinating because without cultural background of first-century Judaism, these insights would never have popped up to the imagination. Something that the authors were able to convince us at the beginning of the chapter is that there is a growing need of reading and understanding scripture in the light of its first-century background. Thinking through this chapter arouses my curiosity back again to the gospels and the deconstruction of what we have always thought certain passages meant.

There is a list of the online conversation discussing the book. Click here to see the other blogs that are discussing about the book!

Friday, May 15, 2009

World Class Apologists

Kevin Vanhoozer Interview

From the title I think you must have wondered that I interviewed Kevin Vanhoozer. But truth be told, I got this from another blog. Click here to follow the link. Vanhoozer is one of my favorite theologians although i'm still working out on understanding some of the things he is saying. So a tad of appreciation and frustration all jumbled up into one here. If you know some of his writings could you please guide me through some of his books. I started reading "Is there a meaning in this text" a few months back but it's definitely a hard read. I probably need some foundational knowledge to get thorough it for this time being, so if you can help me do tell me something about the book to add enthusiasm to my reading. And according to the interview that particular book, Zondervan will release a 10th anniversary addition with a new introduction by Craig Bloomberg and a 3500-word preface by Professor Vanhoozer! So if you haven't bought the book yet wait for that one to be released. Coming next year as well, two new books by Vanhoozer will be released! Details again from the interview. So a lot to look forward to!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Wright on his 'justification' book

Gotta love this.

Denominational Red Tapes

I have a habit of staying awake and depriving myself of sleep. It is clearly something bad but you have to blame modernity for creating things such as light bulbs that extend the role of the sun, mimicking daylight. I blame it also on reading. Sometimes i read too much. Well enough about that. As i was browsing the net and checking on blog updates, I wasn't disappointed in my findings. It got me thinking about denominations and procedures that denominations create in the matter of ordaining ministers.

Read this blog post by Adam Walker on the frustrations of his ordination process. According to the denomination that Adam is applying for his M.Div. from Princeton is not enough and he needs to do a whole years worth of courses to meet the standard requirement for him to get ordained. But to get a clearer picture of the situation, I encourage you to read the post and get a feel of what is happening.

Tony Jones, someone who is known for controversy (Emergent), has issued a petition of ordination for Adam on his blog regarding the whole fiasco. Tony is obviously pissed on what is happening as he states here, "Few things piss me off as much as the sinful bureaucratic systems of denominational Christianity. When rules and regulations trump common sense, then the shark has officially been jumped."

Reading these two blog posts, it does make me wonder whether denominations are actually hindering gifted and called people with the intention to serve the body of Christ their rightful place to minister. Sometimes it does seem like procedures can be a hindrance if there are too many red tapes to follow through to actually ordain someone. But with that on the side, I do understand that there is wisdom to have some sort of guideline or procedure to see if someone is fit for ordination.

I've had my fair share of 'denominational red tape' awhile back and I do have some '2 cent' (trying my best to sound 'humble') experience on this issue at hand. So what do you think, are there pro and cons of denominational procedures such as that is stated in the two blog posts that i linked above?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Dogs, Simplicity and feeling extraordinary

"A dog has no use for fancy cars, or big homes or designer clothes. A water logged stick would do just fine. A dog didn't care if you're rich or poor or clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and it will give you his...

...How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special. How many people can make you feel extraordinary?"

The quote above is taken from the movie "Marley and Me". I hope i got it word for word though. Anyway, the quote above comes at the end of the movie which has a lot of meaning to it. Sometimes we think the best things in life that are worth all of our pursuits are success, riches and a having leverage because we have this great status. There are many other things as well but unlike a dog, it just values simplicity. It values love and attention and some crazy fun with its master of course. So the saying is true, "Give him your heart and it will give you his... ".

What grips me about the quote is when it comes to the last set of sentences. How many people would be capable to give their heart (selfless friendship)? How many are at least willing? How many would be so reckless to do so? "How many people can make you feel extraordinary?"

Out of context

Hilarious as it may seem there is a lessen to it. The video shows that we can cut anything out and make them conform to our questions or pet theories. This will happen if we take verses without any regards of their context.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus (Thoughts & Reflections) Introduction

Let me begin by thanking Lois Tverberg (co-author of "Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus") for being gracious enough to send me a copy of the book (especially when I'm in Malaysia, that is a considerable great distance from the States!) and giving me the opportunity to blog about it! A special shout out to Kurt as well over at Groans From Within who was thoughtful enough to recommend my blog as a possible reviewer of the book. Do follow his discussion of the book over at his blog:

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus Intro; Can we find a more Jewish Jesus?
Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus 1; Do You have the 'anointin'?

Today I will start to do a blow by blow reflection as well as some thoughts on each chapter of the book. So if you have the time, join in the conversation. Your comments will be greeted with open arms. If you haven't been following, I have already done a review of the book here on my blog which you can see here.

Thoughts and Reflection

One of the things that has bothered me whenever I read the gospels before was the puzzling effect that it had on my mind. This has been a lifelong (well maybe not lifelong, i just tend to exaggerate sometimes) struggle for me from time to time. I had a hard time reading the Sermon on the Mount because it seemed to run counter with Paul's gospel. At some points Jesus seemed a far more striker Lord then some might want him to be; 'meek and mild'.

At points I simply get frustrated with Jesus' parables and sayings, simply foreign. Foreign might be an understatement but, foreign might be a better description for labeling Jesus' words. Why foreign? Because Jesus lived in a time when our values did not exist. He lived in a cultural background that had different thought patterns than what we might have now. Another factor to the foreignness of Jesus is, his nationality; he was a Jew.

In the introduction page, the authors says that,“The goal of this book is not so much to help you understand Judaism as to help you hear Christ’s life-changing words with greater clarity and force.” (8) With this, one could come to the conclusion that studying Jesus' Jewishness brings together clarity and force to words that would have been lifeless or sounded clueless to our ears. But some people might cringe to this proposal. Take these quotes from Piper in his book "The Future of Justification" on sources bearing in mind Jesus' cultural context,

"...the interpreter may misunderstand the first-century idea." (34)

"...while it may accurately reflect certain first-century documents, nevertheless it may reflect only one among many first-century views." (35)

"...while the New Testament writer may embrace the external idea in general, a scholar might misapply it to the biblical text." (36)

The overall view is that it is simply impossible to reach a consensus on what is true of Jesus' first-century context and therefore the probability of distorting the text is considered high. Though I am aware of the difficulty of this should navigating our way to clearly understand God's words in the context of his chosen people deter us from taking the plunge? Lois and Ann continue on to say that,

We have also been careful to place Jesus within his first century Jewish context rather than that of later ages. We hope the end result will be of help to pastors, students, and lay people 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 shaped it.” (8)

For me, based on Lois and Ann's findings which they have projected in the book, their take on Jesus' first-century background is refreshing breath of fresh air. Although those who might be curious to find out where they got their sources could look up the page on the books that they researched through. I would not go as far as saying that they have covered all the bases on first century issues because i'm not an expert in this field yet (hopefully someday) but there is a degree of humility resonating all throughout the book.

To conclude this post, Jesus' Jewish context might be a new field of study, but non the less a minefield you might want to look at seriously simply for the fact that clarity abides there. This calls for a restructuring in how we used to view Jesus. For me personally, understanding Jesus in his Jewishness makes things more clearer.

A verse for everything?

There have been times when people have asked pastors, "Where can I find a verse for when I'm facing an exam?" or "Is there a specific verse for me getting retrenched from my work?" or "Is there a verse for me to find a wife/husband?" and with those questions some go and look for these verses and give these people answers to their question.

Some bibles even come with verse support system for time like when we are worried, in fear, sad, lonely and that's just to name a few. Sometimes it feels like the bible is a book where we get answers to specific issues in life. I wonder what verse would be fitted to questions pertaining the Internet.

While the intent might be a genuine thought of wanting to apply the bible to life, this is somewhat a faulty way for us to read the bible. We take verses out of context and that will eventually lead to a degree of distortion. So if the bible is not supposed to be read in this manner, do you have any perspective on how we are to read the bible?

Simple, Concise and a Robust Gospel

A few weeks back I did a post on whether we could tweet the gospel. CT actually posed the question to Rob Bell. A while after that there have been numerous blog posts talking about the possibility of tweeting the gospel. Some criticized Bell for his take on it (well his take on the gospel based on his book "Jesus Wants to Save Christians") which you could read here. And on the same site also, a few days after critiquing Bell, there was a post on "How would you present this gospel on Twitter?" and it was a contest on who could put up the best way to convey the gospel via tweets. Just a note here, i'm not posting this to say that I disapprove of them for making it into a contest, in fact i'm up for any contest that gives me a chance to win books.

Reading the post again a few days after it was posted, there were a lot of responses from people on their take on tweeting the gospel. But I was somewhat disappointed with the answers that were put up. It makes me wonder whether it is even a good idea to even think of tweeting the gospel. Because of the concise nature, a lot of things get lost, and it really makes the Christian message look kind of dour and sour. See for yourselves here.

I'm not an enemy of simplicity and concise presentations but somethings are not worth working out in simplistic forms. Why? Because we might miss some important detail. Details that might have been vital in our presentation. So what should we do, if we wanted to present a simple yet concise as well as robust gospel?

I like McKnight's take on this

"The gospel is the story of the work of the triune God (Father, Son, and Spirit) to completely restore broken image-bearers () in the context of the community of faith (Israel, Kingdom, and Church) through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Pentecostal Spirit, to union with God and communion with others for the good of the world." Read the rest of the article here.

To me this would be a better way at conveying simplicity, conciseness and a wider grasp of the gospel as a whole.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Are you kidding me????

I've heard my fair share of bad exegesis of the text being expounded in a sermon but I simply can't tolerate this type of teaching. This is simply way off the mark. And to make it worse, why are people clapping?

Books that deconstructed the monkey

I figure it would be a good idea to write a post listing some books that began the evolution of this blog as well as my thoughts and renaming it "Deconstructing the Monkey". When i started the blog the title i put up was "My Creed" (ala Jesus Creed; I'm a McKnight fan apparently) but it felt unoriginal. I think when we start something that happens. So, here is a list of books that effected my head and the ideas projected on this blog in no particular order:

There are other books, and to list them all down would take up a lot of space. So, i guess i should stop here for the moment.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

iBible- the bible for the 'future'

The next time you wish you could trade you paper bible for an electronic version....

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Best Christian Blogs all in one place!

My Christian Blogs is a website that links some of the best Christian blogs on the Internet, and in the words on the 'About' the website page it sates that it is "a new way to track all the best blogs for Christians in one place." A good idea indeed. So check it out. And you can also apply for your blog to be linked on the site as well!

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