How to learn from your mistakes
I've made so many of the them but I'd like to think I learn from them :-) Most of the time I do, at times I lapse.
Kingdom of God article from Scot McKnight (pdf)
Thanks Scot for writing the posts and Bob for compiling it and making it available! REALLY good stuff. Ifind myself deepening in understanding "the Kingdom of God" and connecting with its reality and implications!
The Durham Tradition and its Exegetes-- an Encomium
I meet a Malaysia NT scholar who did his PhD in Durham .. I found him very insightful .. I'd had some interesting conversations with a Hong Kong NT scholar also from Durham .... also good interaction. Maybe it's just their character, but then again maybe Durham contributed a little too huh?
How to be Good (at Preaching)
good reading before preaching tomorrow!
strategic planning is stupid
I'll need some time to digest marko's thoughts here and perhaps interact. If I say this our loud in some denominational meeting the next coupld of weeks, or ven the upcoming denomination convention, or just in front of some fellow pastors... it would raise more than a few eye brows!
This reminder of Cosby's statement ... “That in all his years of service he has never (and he emphasized 'never') seen a group go from community to mission. Rather, he said one should organize around mission and community will follow. " is still haunting me.
Post-Calvinism: Trinity Student Days
I don't think I was ever a Calvinist .. so no post-calvinism for me. But, re-looking at Luther has been helpful for me, and Early German Pietism and Bonhoeffer. anyway, I liked the autobiographical approach in this post and look forward to finish the series. *note: it's good to start here Post-Calvinism: College reading*
On the Drawing Board: Definition of Pastoring
"Pastoring offers and shapes an alternative reality in Jesus the Christ so that others reconnect with God as his new people for the sake of all creation."
I'm enjoying John Frye's blog as much as his book Jesus the Pastor I read years ago
Dear Jesus: A Heart-felt Letter of a Friend
This is one letter those who are not pastors who think they've been burnt by the church must read. I'm a pastor and I can also relate to a lot of what this letter says (I still recall the so many times I reconsidered this role and calling) ... I didn't walk out the door (and I don't judge those who choose to make a change in vocation, I seek to wallk with them anyway).. so together Fr'nklin with I'm following Christ afresh! That to me is more important.
How do we measure?
This is so timely after hearing people choose to measure me based on numbers! for me the Mission field is where we are already situated as well as the traditional idea of overseas.
good ideas to out legs on our values!
It's been quite a while since I've posted any random thoughts.
I just found out in Japanese my surname is "Kaku" (originally it's Kit or "Guo" in Mandarin) and "Kaku" actually means "stiff" in Malay .. so you guess :-) Mr. "stiff"? Kasu san ...
Nice to know that a church once hearing my name as a possible candidate to replace a pastor that resigned didn't pursue it further .. apparently (now this is hearsay) one of their leaders felt that the church I'm pastoring now ... hasn't grown fast enough in numbers ... hmmm ... :-) I'm secure ...
So this whole "I'm not a pastor of a fast growing church" made me think what do people REALLY consider as success - how do people perceive what's the issues that matter in their local church? what do we want? or more precisely, what does God really want? What does it mean to be faithful to the Gospel? Basic questions lah!
Getting back to some prayer journaling was good this afternoon. My physical body also hasn't been able to be fully on tip top energy the last few days but somehow I pull through ...
Facilitating Lectio Divina was good tonight for the groups that came for the "Beyond leading a small group" training I did for 2 nights. My friend Wolfgang did well to share some background and theological insights from Bonhoeffer's classic Life Together.
Today I heard from the Bishop's mouth ... who are the nominees for the upcoming convention for the various positions. Hmmm ... we'll see what happens.
wow! we had quite a feast just a while ago ... went back to the "Kung Fu" man's Fried Noodle stall ...
Some younger person told me today that some of the links I posted were too deep... then I got comments that they love it ... well, I just post what I post naturally ... everyone is at a different place .. and it's ok. ... there are times we Pause, other times we move ... sometimes, we need to dig deeper .. other times we just need to relax ... it's not a pick and choose .. it's about acknowledging the different seasons we are in.
Nice to see Elysia begin to roll over the side!
Missional DNA (mDNA)
I'll be checking this out perhaps on Monday ... to listen to stories and insights from Australia (not too far away)
The Personal M.Div
wow! 114. Book list ...
The Needle's Eye: Reflections from the Church Fathers on Wealth and Possessions
What can early exegetes teach us about our relationship with our money? ...the church fathers always intrigues me :-)
Choosing Christ over Culture
what would this mean for us here?
Servant Leaders, Servant Structure
I spoke to a person high up the ecclesiatical ladder the other day, ironically, he's not to happy about the word "leader". This made me take note of this book again. I have so many unfinished books :-P Okay, I can take comfort I finished reading a paper two nights again ... and a 31page reply (which was awesome!)
Music - http://inewage.com/
well ... the sleep was short. Perhaps, this is a good time for prayer
The Presence of God
I can hear the wind from the fan spinning ... just one car zoomed by.
Hardly any noise ... it's pretty silent .. I turn off the music - getting distracting. Breath slower ... "the Jesus Prayer" ... "Lord, Jesus, son of God ... have mercy on me"
A drink of warm water ... pause ... less frustrated ... treasure this space ... less burdened ... at ease.
Matthew 13:44-46 (the message)
"Not just a single act of renunciation ... priority all through our life, every decision we make"
"I'm right now an accumulation of the many decisions (big as well as small) I've made ... some were dramatic, nowadays less so but no less significant ... at times more visible ... mostly unnoticed ... sometimes I'm unsure where one decision will take me ... looking back whether through joy or pain ... it's part of the journey ... I embrace the consequences ... I learn again ... I think there's improvement or better discernment ... one thing is clearer ... my sinfulness, my humanity ... your grace and your kingdom..."
some old burdens are still on when the sun rises ... hope to relieve them, and move on ... there are other priorities .. more precious stuff awaits .. Amen!
Miroslav Volf Spans Conflicting Worlds
This following statement caught my attention, "He is a Pentecostal among evangelicals, a mainline Christian among evangelicals, and an evangelical in the mainline. Growing up, he was a Christian among communists."
A Reflection on the Spirituality of David Bosch
Seeing the relevance from a Korean-Canadian view in Philipines. Wow!
Salvation Theology in a Taoist Context: Examining and Traversing the Theological Bridge That Is “The Way”
Couldn't resist the title ...
"Culture, Contextualization, and Conversion": Missiological Reflections from the Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue (1990-1997)
These 3 Cs have been cropping up in my consciousness a lot.
Global Christianity is changing. How do these changes influence conflict and peace?
"As a translation movement Christianity is a religion made to travel." ... now with that in the abstract I'll be reading this later.
Music is on from Cryosleep
Prayer from Today with the help of Sacred Gateway
Taking note of "the Presence of God" - the surrounding cars are a little noisy - busy people rushing from one place to another - in a house alone - had a cup of water ... my thirst is quenched.
Moving to some level of "Freedom" ... the noise level is coming down. I'm more a ware and yet less bothered. I'm entering a state of being where I'm more ready to listen.
Now it's just in a mode of "Consciousness" where I can feel calmer - less burdened somehow ... perhaps the nap (which I didn't plan) allowed physical stress to just be released. My head is lighter ... feel less entangled within ... more space?
the "Word" is before me ... I slow down a little more. Mathew 20:20-28.
"What do you want?"
"You do not know what you are asking ..."
I sit before my Lord ... and we enter "Conversation"
"I seem to have some ideas what do I want? but do I know what am I asking for? In the midst of wanting, I expose my desires and motivations, some noble others unsure, perhaps there are some self-centred, sinful ... You show me the cup we are to drink .... I re-examine what I want ... and what is REALLY before me..."
I step into a transition under the title "Conclusion". A conclusion for now this moment where I pause, ponder and pray ... entering a moment of contemplation is a moment of grace ... and yet, life here and now steps back into the dusty roads I'll be driving on in a little while ... and the grace is not left behind ... the presence has not evaporated ...
Thanks to JR WOODWARD for bringing up this timely reminder from Oscar Romero to start the "second" day of the week:
"christ became a man of his people and of his time:
he lived as a jew,
he worked as a laborer of nazareth,
and since then he continues to become incarnate in everyone.
if many have distanced themselves from the church, it is precisely because the church has somewhat estranged herself from humanity.
but a church that can feel as its own all that is human
and wants to incarnate
the affliction of all who suffer
and feel joy
such a church will be christ loved and awaited,
and that depends on us."
Review Written by Paul Harrison
The last two reviews in this amazon page really brings a further twist to this story ... (via Dashhouse)
"What I can say about McLaren and what he taught of the past few days is that he believes in the authrotiy of Scriptures and that they are true. Our interpretations, however, may not always be. A woman asked, "How is someone saved or born again?" McLaren answered, "Through grace, by faith, plus nothing." He gave a clear presentation of the trinity, a clear presentation of the deity and lordship of Jesus and the importance of being His disciple as opposed to being just a "convert."
He spoke cleary against relativism and defended the concept of truth being known, and I can honestly say I didn't get one red flag from anything he taught in those six hours. His position on homosexuality was that it is not accepted as a biblically valid lifestyle, but that we are still to love and embrace them in community with us. His position on "belonging before believing" was clearly that we are inviting people to follow Christ and know Him by doing what he says. There is a distinct difference between those who are saved and those who are not yet, but the seekers are invited to walk in the way of Christ with us to see that He is Truth. They can then receive Him and make Him Lord. He by no means taught that people are saved by following Jesus as a guru, but must make a confession to receive Him. "
Reviews Written by B. Mclaren
A statement like this, "
I didn't want Dr. Carson to be misrepresented by the other review on this page." has made me wonder whether others have offered Brian the same grace ... "straw men" are easier to get upset with ... "real men" now that's a different matter. "Straw men" don't post reviews on other people's reviews. Fascinating development :-)
D.A. Carson and the Australians
I found it helpful to see how the "dialogue" in the comments progressed (my contributions were minimal)... there's REALLY a lot of dynamism in this conversation.
The Emerging Church, Part One
The Emerging Church, Part Two
Although this is more "focused" on the USA context, it's a good and useful intro to the subject matter, what are the issues raised, the concerns that have emerged, the criticisms, and the hints of the way forward ... The interview transcripts are really the gems in these two pieces.
I hope to "enter into conversation" with some of the content the next few days ... I'm not much into offering "critique" (though there's a place for that), I found that I enjoy engaging in "conversation" what energizes me more :-)
Responses to Recent Criticisms
the link starts with saying, "Dr. D. A. Carson has written a critical review of emergent, and of my work in particular. Dr. Al Mohler and others have praised and quoted Carson's book in reviews and articles of their own. Unfortunately, in a number of ways their reviews misrepresent and misjudge my writings, thinking, and beliefs - and those of my friends." How do we respond when another person considers themselves being misrepresented and misjudged? This does not mean there can be no disagreement but how can we better "represent another" even if we disagree? In more than 40 email exchanges with a friend on a number of important issues of faith, theology and ministry in the Malaysian context ... I'm learning how this is ACTUALLY possible ...
Rick's plan to study the "emerging church"
wow! there's someone actually having a Sabbathical to do this? Richard Laribee has a blog that describes his thoughts as he visits "emerging churches" (I was really delighted to stumble on to his blog and thoughts).The following comments struck me ... if I replace the words "postmodern world" with "the context we live in today" or "21st century Malaysia" it's still applicable. This is basic "missionary" thinking.
" I think the question at hand is not about "postmodern Christianity." Christianity should not be considered ancient, medieval, modern, or postmodern. God became human and spoke with a Galilean accent, ate Galilean cooking, sang Galilean songs, danced Galilean dances, and laughed at Galilean jokes. The incarnation was within a particular historical and cultural context. But never have I thought that to "become like Christ" was to become Galilean. So I think it is with the Church and culture. The medieval Church would live and serve within a medieval world, clothed in medieval clothing and speaking with a medieval accent. Particularization requires contextualization. But to lose its medievalness when it modernized was not intrinsically a loss of anything eternal or essential. Always we wrestle with what is essential and what is coincidental. Always we will live and move within a culture, but it is in God that we live and move and have our being. It is not readily apparent which is which. So the question is not about how Christianity will become postmodern or resist postmodernism, but rather about how Christianity will best flourish and minister within the postmodern world."
The Kingdom of God 1
Just in time to refine my message thoughts on the Kingdom of God tomorrow. Looking forward to follow this new series by Scot.
Ten Myths About Church Leavers (via Prodigal Kiwi(s) Blog)
I'm looking forward to read the research of a small sample from Malaysia soon :-) nothing massive but the fact that this final year student is trying needs applause! For now, this piece is useful for reflection.
Learning to Enter Sabbath: A Preacher’s Saturday
I admit ... I fail so often on this one.
DIE BEGRENZTE GEMEINSCHAFT (“THE BOUNDARIED PEOPLE”) AND THE CHARACTER OF EVANGELICAL THEOLOGY
I'll be reading this article by the late Stanley Grenz after tomorrow. I do miss his voice ...
I was reading an article to be published on "the emerging church" and was so encouraged by the author being truly "conversant" with what's REALLY happening (I'm happy to see the appreciation & acknowledgement of the global dimension in the conversation especially)... the gentle words of "caution" or at least "concerns" are also worth time to ponder. At least, how the conversation resonates with where the journey I've been on, and am currently moving, and also exploring how to move forward. More when the article is published.
I've been meeting so many "New Kinds of Christians" from the USA face to face in the span of about a month that "suddenly" breaths so much more hope for me for the future of the American church in general (actually to me they take the Gospel so seriously that I find myself challenged again and again). Interestingly, the name Brian McLaren comes up in our conversation :-) at times predictably so because of our contacts, but in the latest contact it's been more surprising. The other thing and what I think is more important is that - they are more willing to listen and learn - and that's so good for conversations and mutual partnerships for the kingdom. One more thing is the phrase "missional" that crops up in our conversation and what that means for us locally and globally ... I think that's good news.
It's tough when the children are sick ... and Gareth has been havng a hard time lately. He's on longer term medication for Asthma and he's recovering from some infection. Thanks for all those who have been praying for him.
Elysia was made me proud today ... before her jab (injection) we were just goofing around in front of the doctor ... she was giggling away ... and then, the doctor did a quick jab - and she hardly noticed it - just a pause for perhaps 5 seconds, i.e. from giggles to silence, and then life resumes ... we move on :-)
God is so gracious to us ... during our time of need ... a "door" is open for a "better place" to be ... more on this later when things materialize.
great to hook up a friend with some new friends today ... it allows for a lot of "generative" engagement and "opening u horizons and understanding." It brings me much joy to be a catalyst in this regard.
There's a lot of things lined up to do ... this week, speaking engagements which includes my own church on Sunday as well as one Friday evening gathering at a nearby Baptist church. Then, there's Bishop's report I need to translate, a DVD I need to help edit, a LiFe Group meeting where I'm looking forward to hear what comes up from our reading from the book of judges, a last minute opening to meet with unchurched people, ... not forgetting family responsibilities too ... Lord have mercy, and Lord, Help! Thanks ...
I've been waiting for Chris Erdman to kind of finish his posts then print it all out to read before I post anything up ... but since I'm still trying to figure out how I lost my bookmarks and awaiting a miracle. I thought linking all the following will do me some good :-P
Preaching on the Run: Toward Simpler Way to Prepare
The way I learnt how to preach in seminary was indeed complicated. The last 5 years of experimentation and refreshed reading/learning have brought some fruit though :-)
A Different Kind of Preparation
Just because I don't land up writing an exegesis paper doesn't mean I'm sloppy right?
On Choosing Texts to Preach: Why We Use the Lectionary
though I don't do it legalistically ... but using the lectionary has been most liberating for me ... as I grow in this area I find myself understanding the underlying "hermeneutic" found in the lectionary too and am aware of its limitations.
The Christian Year, The Lectionary, and Forming Missional Congregations
The Christian Year has become a non-negotiable part of my own spiritual formation since breaking out of the box of my so called "spontanous-see-what-happens-next" spirituality. Surprisingly, the rhythm of the Christian year has brought me deeper and more open to the Spirit's work.
Exegesis for Preachers on the Run: Mondays
So often, I don't want to do anything on Mondays ...:-) but then ...
On Tuesdays I Chase Words
Gareth just learnt how to say "Tuesday" last week ... oh! my! It's already Wednesday tomorrow!
LET THE STORIES CRAWL OUT ALL BY THEMSELVES
Chris says,"When you preach you must never tame the text. There’s been too much of that. These sacred texts that bear the Word of God are anything but tame." What a gem!
“How?” is not the question that gets preachers up in the morning
That's so true ...and I'm growing to understand it's the "whys" that move me ...
Wednesday Exegesis—Reading the Agenda(s) of the Text
So often we're already crowded with our own agenda(s) ...
Thursdays Are for Writing: Exegesis for Preachers on the Run (cont)
I still struggle with writing .... I find myself drawn more to Mind-mapping ... I do agree with Chris ... on the importance of "seeing" the words on paper ... I love the quote by Fred Buechner—that masterful writer— “After forty years of writing books, I find I need to put things into words before I can believe they are entirely real.” For me ... I need to at least put it into a mind map.
On Friday, Preacher, Stop and Listen
These words from Chris are so crucial ... "As the week draws toward its end, it’s time for the preacher to shift from the active, rational work of thinking and writing to a much more intentionally receptive and prayerful posture before the Word. Having focused on the text Monday through Thursday, the preacher sits before its Author on Friday and Saturday." I'll try to in some way practice he suggests and see what happens ... but this Friday bit is one thing I don't want to miss out ...
Something strange happened again ... is there a bug in Firefox .. how come I lost my book marks again? can anyone help?
Therefore, I'm only in a mood just for these links :-(
Reason to be cheerful (via Maggi Dawn)
Malaysian Tom Wright fans would be cheerful after reading this! I found Maggi's response here - words that say what they mean? landing us back on earth just in case we're off to the skies too much :-)
How to Have a Cellphone and still remain a Christian
every one of us who owns a cellphone/mobilephone/handphone needs to slowly read this ... and meditate on it. Nice to see another scholar blogging ... any Malaysian scholars up for the challenge?
Well that's the ideal and some times it doesn't work ... but most of the time we manage :-) Very often Sunday nights is family time too ... God is gracious.
I'm looking forward for tonight ... I'm really excited for Gareth and May Chin ... because tonight will be a "common" experience for three of us first, and then later when we pick up Elysia ... more on this later :-)
Top 50 Most Influential Churches (via Stephen Shields)
Interesting list (I noticed Brian D. McLaren is not mentioned here *grin*) ... and I think a lot of names would be familiar to Malaysian Christian leaders. I wonder ... who would be the top most influential churches in Malaysia or even growing in influence? How about the following .... in no particular order ... any Malaysians want to contribute to the list? (*Note: I do not list them as ideals but only as a sampling of the churches that might be in church leaders minds*)
Damansara Utama Methodist Church
Full Gospel Assembly
Ten Tips for New Trainers/Teachers (via Bob Carlton)
This reminds me of the elective under the subject Andragogy I took during seminary that first opened my mind for experimentation in this area of learning.
A Holy Ghost Enema… (via Organic church)
I don't mean to offend any one here especially my friends who would consider themselves Charismatic/Pentecostal. But watching this really reminds me of some of the meetings I was part of, and why I tend to use the term "Post-Charismatic" to describe where I am right now in my spiritual pilgrimage. I've grown to "trust" in the work of the Holy Spirit in wider categories these days - or in more liberating ways - surprisingly more than when I was a "full- blown- non-questiong"-charismatic - whatever that means :-)
Weeds among the wheat
Reading the Gospels these days totally rock me and comfort me at the same time. And immersing myself in parables of Jesus again is really wonderful - and this unique one in the Matthew's Gospel is a treasure indeed. It's also encouraging to "hear" from someone who's "heard" and "taken to heart" the message from last Sunday.
As I'm finalizing my message preparations for tommorrow's message by reading these notes on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. This struck me ....
"I had an old seminary professor who began and ended his apologetics lecture with one sentence: "You defend God like you defend a lion -- you get out of his way." God, it seems, has never had much trouble with his enemies -- it's his friends who give him fits. . . . The theologian Karl Rahner put it this way: "The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim God with their mouths and deny Him with their lifestyles is what an unbelieving world finds simply unbelievable." Perhaps the best defense of God would be to just keep our mouths shut and live like He told us to. The gospel would then have such power and attraction that we wouldn't have to worry about defending it."~ from an editorial by Bill McNabb in The Door
now this is more than just an attention grabber!
Are You sinning against your employer?
It used to be "Are you sinning against your master/creator?" both questions are needed.
Thanks to Rich Meilheim for these "wake up!" quotes ... I'll pick a few ... before I lay my head down to sleep.
"Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility."- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
"If you’re going to practice what you preach, you may have to put in some overtime."
"The people who really want to do something find a way. All others find an excuse"
"Faith that does nothing, costs nothing, suffers nothing - is worth nothing."
Thanks Kitty for the reminder ... I need to finalize my menu for this Sunday tomorrow ... and I hope my "snacks" helped some who desired to "contribute" better to their small groups tonight ...
"A Church goer wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. "I've gone for 30 years now," he wrote, "and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons.But for the life of me, I can't remember a single one of them. So I think I'm wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons."~ Author unknown
This started a real controversy in the "Letters to the Editor" column,much to the delight of the editor.It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:"I've been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this: They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!" When you are DOWN to nothing.... God is UP to something! Faith sees the invisible,believes the incredible and receives the impossible! Thank God for our physical AND our spiritual nourishment!"
I managed to take this picture while sitting on the bus to cross the causeway from Singapore to Malaysia. It's interesting for me at least to note how different Singapore and Malaysia is even though we are so close as neighbouring countries.
It's interesting to read the post pomo youth ministry conference responses from the blogs and to see what people from either Singapore or Malaysia got from Tony & Dan's sessions.
I'll just pick some quotes (avoiding any comments)
and now 2 posts from Singapore ... I think both are pastors ...
- Postmodern Youth Ministry Conference
"The correct answer is correct, and an incorrect answer is incorrect, whether we believe it or not. The actual truth is true, even if not one person anywhere believes it is true. If an objective reality stands behind life, that reality defines the way the world functions. Attempt to bypass this reality should carry the surgeon general's warning: "Ignoring truth is hazardous to your life and sanity." I do not want to drive across a bridge designed by an engineer who believed the numbers in the structural stress models are relative truths. Things follow rules, or an authority structure. Chemical element do not change the way they interact without good reason. It works because we can trust in the absolute authority of laws governing reality. Absolute truth empowers us. Once we learn what the truth is as well as its structure of authority, we can move out confidently, trusting in the authority structure that governs life. Functioning in a world without absolute truth and the authority behind it would be hideous experience. We could then trust nothing. We must understand that truth matters and that ultimate truth makes all the difference in a person's life."
- Postmodern Youth Ministry
" ... To sum up on Tony, I felt he is, indeed, a very well-read and passionate person who is deeply convicted in his postmodern theology of youth ministry. I actually wished he had more time to speak more on the issues at greater length. I think in its brevity, he may have rushed past the important thought-process of grappling with postmodernism and jumped too quicly to the conclusion and "answer" of the matter, i.e. that we are to rejoice that our Christian God is greater than any modern theories or prepositional truths about HIM. To be fair, the spectrum in PM (Postmodernism) is pretty wide and i had actually secretly wanted him to speak more on the French philosphers and the other Big names (Nietzche, Sartre, or even Kierkegaard, whom many believed to be the father of postmodernism, a brillant and progressive Danish theologian and philosopher) who had influenced this "fad" today.
... i really like Dan's sessions very much, just like almost everyone did at the conference, for he provided us what we wanted to hear all along, the how of postmodern youth ministry. But what impressed me most about Dan was not his hair nor his experiences in emerging churches, it was his humility which caught my attention the most. Maybe it's his shyness but I think beneath that shyness hid a true humility of a simple and faithful Christian servant. I remembered him in his first session, without any presumption of our culture, repeatedly reminding us that his culture is different from ours, and we should contextualise them to our needs accordingly."
and some posts from my friend Chris from Malaysia
Impressions from YS Post Modern Conf. - Singapore
"I think the discussion on post modernity does not end here. Each of us must have a firm grip of our culture, be deeply immerse in the Scripture and workout what all these means and how they interrelate in our present time."
"It would not be accurate to say that post modernity does not affect the east. In recent years, phenomenon such as globalisation, the influence of media, the growing use of internet has made the East share the many struggles that exist in the West. For Malaysian, you only have to take a look at a local video called ‘Sepet’ to understand this behaviour.
I believe, the group that is mostly affected by a new world where there is the merging of various ideas, cultures and traditions are the youths. I have noticed certain new ‘mind-set’ developing in the lives of our youths. The difference between the youth in the east and those in the west: the content of their behaviour. The youths in the west are reacting, responding to their culture, where else in the east youths are being influenced and imitating the belief & practices of the west."
I've already scribbled some thoughts on ...
- my first impressions on the conference
- how the word "Glocalization" caught my attention
- the importance of asking basic questions on "the kind of atmosphere" (cultural climate) we are living in
- a needed corrective on how we worship corporately
- it's not just about information but moments for transformation
- so how do we embrace the messiness of our world and move beyond a mere yes/no & black/white response
Personally, I felt it was good finally to have a chance for our friends from USA to interact with us here ... in South East Asia ... a bonus for me also is how we in Malaysia and our friends in Singapore will be working out our answers in the midst of the messiness and massive changes in our world.
The name Scott McKnight turned up on my conversation with a Malaysian NT scholar today ... in matters regarding New testament studies and also the Emergent conversation while extended time reflecting on our own Malaysian context together. (I really find times like this so stimulating and motivating)
I thought it will be nice to continue following Scott's recent "POST" posts :-) which actually resonates with a lot of what I've been thinking about the past 5 years ... but he articulates it so well ... I just try to "sing in harmony" after his insights and echo some of my own impulses.
"Post" as in Post-Evangelical
"I believe this to be the case for many within the Emerging movement, some use "post" Evangelical for those who are transcending the foundations upon which, or the intellectual ground upon which, the distinction between "liberal" and "fundamentalist/evangelical" was founded. In other words, they see the possibility of a Christian faith that is neither liberal nor fundamentalist/evangelical, but which takes from both expression, and moves on. In this sense, it adheres to an articulation of the faith that takes as its primary conversation partner the Bible as Word of God but which knows that in this day the expression of the faith will no longer be what it was in the days when liberalism and fundamentalism/evangelicalism held sway."
I've been interacting with some not just through books but in person and find this expression of faith refreshing. The first time I actually heard of the term "post-evangelical" was actually through Rober Brow in his article Evangelical or Post-Evangelical and David Tomlinson.
"what the Emergent Christian denies is not that there is truth but that our articulation of that truth is always limited. Truth is personal and therefore our knowledge of God as Person in Jesus Christ through the Spirit and the Church limits our grasp until the Eschaton. And, to compound the whole discussion, genuine truth is the story of God make known to us through Christ and the Spirit in the community where that story is performed in such a manner that humans can grasp the true story of the true gospel."
Accepting one's limitation to me is a strength rather than weakness ... and isn't that just being plain honest!? (this is definately not about fake humility... just to sound subdued or humble...)
The Post-Evangelical "Crisis"
"If we wish to be advocates for our faith, we have a much better chance of being such if we find ourselves in a story that emerges from a community where the gospel is performed and lived out in such a way that questions are asked and welcomed and responded to with integrity and humility."
So, the immediate response to "crisis" is not necessarily packaged answers but actually being connected to a "community" where the questions that arose from the "crisis" can be worked out ... amongst fellow pilgrims along the journey of faith.
"the Christian faith or following Jesus, whichever linguistic turn you prefer, is a meta-narrative. But it is not a modernist meta-narrative that is the result of scientific research, objectivist analysis, and indubitable certainties. Nor is it a postmodernist construction, but a "proper confidence" in the work of God in and through Jesus Christ who invites each of us to walk into the story of God and become a character in God's story in this world."
Now this is getting more sophisticated than some would like it to be ... but then again just because it is doesn't mean it's not significant ... I'm happy to be walk into the story of God ... I find myself growing in confidence these days :-)
Living the Gospel
The Chinese has a saying, "Talking about soldiers (or strategies) on paper." (this is a very amateur translation by me) and this post reminds me that in Reality, i.e. the everyday outworking of the Gospel in our lives, there's more to just being "taught" and "believing".
What is progressive evangelicalism?
Fascinating 4 points ... I like especially the part where Steve highlights .. "pologetics as invitation not argumentation."
The Little Prince and Faith
perhaps I need to get the Little Prince book and read it to Gareth and Elysia ...
Weaving Missional Questions into our Interaction with Scripture
great questions to nnot just improve Bible study but improve the way we live!
Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis
I've heard clips from the presentation of this paper by NT Wright ... nice to have it in full! I remember this following comment somehow made a deep impression for me on how we word or frame our causes or advance what we're trying to do, here's the quote "I do worry a bit about the word ‘equality’ and the language of ‘egalitarian’ and so on. I recognise what is being said of course, and if I didn’t endorse that point I probably wouldn’t be speaking here now; but those words carry so much freight in ouor various cultures that I do wonder whether it’s wise, whether it actually helps the cause you want to set forward, to highlight those terms in the way you do."
Paul in Different Perspectives
Meeting an NT scholar tomorrow for lunch I wonder what he has to say about this. How about a "Solo Spiritu" together with the other Reformation "Solas!"
Soft Difference: Theological Reflections on the Relation Between Church and Culture in 1 Peter
I'm going to read this article again after a HT by Steve Bush
The difference between postliberals and progressive evangelicals
Steve Bush posts up some awesome stuff for our digestion ... I'm following this series with great interest. More coming i think.
100 Things I've learned about church
this is a good list that to check on what I have learnt about church myself.
(Just for those who think I'm still in Singapore ... I'm not. I came back last Saturday evening. All these thoughts are slightly delayed *smile* ... there's so much in my "being" ... now.)
Back to this post ... Yes folks Tony Jones actually did speak from the Bible .. the Gospel of Luke specifically chapter 20 verses 20-26.
After helping us re-enter the narrative with the historical context highlighing the differences between the pharisees and herodians during Jesus tiime, and then helping us see question they posed to Jesus about taxes was kind of "a sneaky question" to trap Jesus. I loved the way Tony helped me see how Jesus answer breaks the "bi-polarity" of the situation given to him. So on one hand, Jesus is not trapped .. on the other hand Jesus points beyond the image of the coin which displays Caesar to the Creator who actually owns all things. Good stuff ..
Here are some phrases I scribbled down ... in the context of the message and how all this relates to our world today .. these are not word for word from Tony but what I caught and perhaps paraphrased .. (Tony if you are reading this please make the necessary amendments!)
There are no easy answers (that's the bad news) ... even in the Bible
The good news is for those who are living in community with Jesus and as they immerse themselves in the Gospel trusting in the Spirit .. there will be better answers.
The Scripture is the perfect response to the life of ambiguity & ambivalence in our world. The Scripture does so not as a systematic theology but with a variety of genres such as poetry, narrative, epistles, Gospels even the weird apocalytic book at the end.
The Bible is so full of richness just awaiting for us to mine its depths.
We must be cautious with the word "Just .." using it after the Gospel ... as if the Gospel is just this or that ... often reducing it to formulas .. the Gospel is way more than that ..
Truth is a person ... Jesus!
this rings very close to my weekend... after a fun and stimulating time in Singapore. I was shocked to come home finding out that Gareth was admitted to hospital for an Asthma attack (I wasn't able to be contacted because I didn't have a roaming line). I felt terrible as a Father who wasn't there for my son, wife and family during this emergency. thankfully, he's better now and discharged by the time I cam back on saturday. There is also in the midst of the backdrop of the bombing in London where many of us are also shocked again by such acts of destruction.. so, life is full of ambiguity & ambivalence ...
and there are no easy answers .. we are often tempted to look at life very simplistically ... we are often afraid of the greys .. and prefer clear cut black and white solutions ... but life is messy. Acknowedging the reality of no EASY answers doesn't mean there is NO answers .. it's an honest call for us to discover BETTER ones ... for that to happen we would need to allow fresh questions to surface and be in community with Jesus and conversation with others in humility trusting in the Spirt to DISCOVER the answers. And even without neat and tidy answers we live on ... refining them along the way!
In conferences it's easy to be in a state where it's a lot of input whether in theology (teaching) or methodology (training) - it's a breath of fresh air when Dan asked us to write down names of people whom we know who are not yet followers of Christ on these post-it notes and then one by one stick them on the stage area. For many of us coming out more than 3 names (especially as paid-staff in churches) is a challenge ... then we need to ask what are we actually doing. This act was so so necessary to keep all we're discussing in perspective and priority.
I really liked the idea of using the clay and forming our own mini-sculpture based on one of the beatitudes (Matthew 5) - during the session while listening to the talk. At the end, one by one we brought our "expressions" to the stage. Lots of creativity ... not just creativity .. but creativity connecting with a truth expressed in the texts.
I liked Marko's games with 5000 points even for each victory :-) and his energizers are really workable after lunch to wake us up! He teached me some "fist" greeting thing ... which is actually pretty alien to me but it was fun! I'm growing to accept (even in the midst of my cheekiness) I'm actually VERY serious!
One thing that struck me is when Tony said how they are increasingly growing uncomfortable as being seen as the ones with the answers & authority (especially as the ones holding the mic) - this Q & A session was meant to model "conversation" and "interaction" - in short mutuality in learning along this journey in our respective contexts and together. It was nice to see how each of them responded to the questions - seeing how they embody and express what they are wrestling with ...
In my limited experience I've learnt to "engage" those who present talks or ideas at two levels ... the more formal presentation level and my prefered personal conversational level - I thoroughly enjoyed both with these guys and of course, I found the "conversations" at a personal level tremendously stimulating (even more than the formal sessions). Understanding the personal narratives of each person behind the words and ideas presented allows me to "understand" better and re-look at what's "generating" those words and thoughts from my newly connected friends ...
Though this was a primarily meant for Singapore conference ... we Malaysians took the chance to come and see what's going on ... and I guess, some of us are surprised as well as not so suprised who turned up. I also was delighted to meet a Malaysian teaching in Singapore and will be doing more research work on South East Asian cultural & thought forms historical development - sounds great hope to see more Malaysians rising up to help us understand our socio-political-cultural-religous climate ... as for the rest of us mere mortals trying to serve Jesus with our own gifts ... I hope we Malaysians will seriously work constructively - beyond individually but also together. One of Tony's insights stuck with me ... and it's about immersing ourselves in the Gospel in community to discover the answers for each concerns that we face.
Scott McKnight has been really energized in putting up loads of "POST" posts ... which are helpful. Somehow, I find these posts affirming and beams me up ... beyond mere polarities or misunderstandings set by others or even myself.
A Post on "post-" in the Emerging conversation
yes ... it's not about being "anti" and his comment on "family" is spot on (at least for me) I found Scott's use of the "baton" imagery an interesting "complement" to our discussion on 2nd Gen Christians ...
The Foundation of being "Post"
Scott says, "The "post" in the "post"modern and the Emerging movement among Christians all over the world is a "post" that says they want to get beyond a kind of evangelicalism that is rooted and shaped by and characterized by "truth claims" to a kind of Christianity that moves beyond "truth claims" to "truth proclaims." A kind of Christian faith that is centrally a kind of Christian life, a kind of Christian gospel that is proclaimed by performance. A kind of Christian faith that sees its focus in the mission to incarnate and embody and perform the gospel in the local community because the call of Jesus, found eloquently in the Sermon on the Mount, is to "be" a people." I say yes to all that and the part about church!
The Goal of the "post"
Check out stuff like - "teleological" thinking - a discovery in newness of an old category - perichoretic love - Doing church means a community absorbed with kingdom vision
one thing I like about Dan Kimball is that he's not here to give us a bag of tricks in his sessions so we can go back and say "Wah! Lah! kazoom ... let there be creative worship!". If that's what we got from him sessions (i.e. just tricks and techniques) then I think we have missed the whole learning that was intended.
I also think there's also a sense of insecurity we can leave behind when we begin to introduce richer variety of expressions beyond spoken words and songs sung (that is the trademark of almost all of today's worship in churches even here in Malaysia). It's beyond words and song, not no more words and no more music ... it's not just about feelings and experiences and tastes and all that.
it's about how we can worship corporately with all the gifts of communication/expression given us .. and bringing not just a balance but actually also a corrective in especially affirming the non-verbal as aspects of "doing theology" or "reflective learning" - if it's just a gimmick sure we miss the point .. but if it's a gateway to encounter God and be in touch with truths that transform us ... now that's a totally different matter.
I found it amusing how as a "Lutheran" observing Dan who's from a more Bible church evangelical background appreciate the liturgy, asking the whys behind the order of worship, and also embracing ancient practices that we mainliners often chuck away. It's like I felt "Hey! to him he sees treasures for worship ... why did we see it as trash to throw away? Sorry Lord! sorry those who've gone before us. Some repentence of pride is appropriate here"
But then, it's not just blindly picking and choosing ... it's first going back to the practice, then the history and deeper into the meaning (i.e. theology) then coming back to the surface into our ongoing story today and practices here and now. Fascinating.
One thing for sure ... there's more to Dan then just practical tips.
Read this article From Methodology to Theology: Become Worshiping Communities of Missional Theologians we may not be professional theologians in the university or seminary ... but we are missional theologians in our local churches and ministries! I'm happy to see one in practice in the person of Dan and hope to see more ...
In many ways I suspect that most of the participants would find Dan Kimball's session on "Postmodernism: how it impacts youth ministry and youth leaders" easier to follow. :-) perhaps it's the way we are educated most of us find dealing with more "abstract concepts" harder to digest, we tend to prefer the concrete and the visual. And Dan played his part well in doing this.
One thing I appreciated is that being very well aware of such a "different" context he's coming from (i.e. USA) he communicates his oresentation with an inherently dialogical approach - not so much we did a Q & A (which in this session perhaps was too early) but more in his way of speaking and trying to facilitate our thoughts in the process.
I found his little line under the question "What is Postmodernism?" quite cheeky and yet thoughtful ... i.e. a word that is misunderstood, misused, feared, embraced, talked about, ignored, cool to use and uncool to use.
I think he accurately paints the scene on how ordinary folk in the church or even leaders use the term. I've heard of "postmodernism" seen as the big bad enemy we should resist and I've also heard of "postmodernism" as the latest "trend" in youth and young adult ministry. Both I think are unhelpful.
What for me I get is this ... that at least at the more"popular" and "grass-root" level in ministry especially in local churches we talk about culture again .. not just culture as in our Chinese and/or Indian culture, but also a more "dynamic view" of culture/s in Malaysia that are at work. another way of putting it is "How do we view the world we live in?"
So often, Christians in Malaysia are tempted to jump to easily on the latest bandwagon (from the latest church growth technique to even the latest philosophy) without first considering the "climate" in which gave birth to the specific solution offered by the above. And then second step of seriously considering our climate and in Dan's word I picked up our "Atmosphere".
I like the question Dan posed to us ... adapted from the questions he asked in his context of Santa Cruz USA.
What kind of Atmosphere do we have in Singapore-Malaysia?
What values and spiritual beliefs are shaping how youth think
and view the world?
How is Christianity seen?"
And this can be done at a more micro level even in my own small group. as well as the local congregation and wider Malaysian church scene.
Considering what are the dominant religious faiths? how do we learn values and beliefs? what are our morals and ethics? most of us think these are questions for scholars when it's actually questions that need to be grappled with ourselves too at all levels perhaps with different vocabulary!
I read a news paper report (trying to find a link) and even though we may pride our so called "asian values" according to the survey most kids are more interested in money, the latest gadgets and trends and their jobs more than relationships, personal learning and social justice. The report did talk about their desire for world peace though.
I was talking with a youth yesterday and he said he wanted to leave his country because people are just working to death here. And he wants to go to a place like New Zealand. I found our conversation very enlightening.
So, on one hand .. I need to read up .. on the other, I need to just ask questions and listen. And somehow in that process come to an understanding of where people are at and the kind of atmosphere we are living in.
I found Tony's starting point to invite us to think about our current 21st century context helpful during the Youth Ministry in a Globalized world talk. Globalization is a big word but with some unpacking and what he terms as a more sophisticated (for me more indepth) view of it we also see the flip side of "Glocalization" a kind of reverse effect of what is commonly perceived as "western cultural imperialism" (e.g. Mcdonaldization) to the creation of the possibility of the "local" being more "global" (e.g. even Mcdonalds has local dishes).
And this excited me because now ... in many ways, people like us here in Malaysia for example has "space" or a "chance" to allow our voice to be heard, our food to be tasted by others, our concerns to be presented. And from a theological and ministry perspective not only become aware or even influenced by "western developments" but actually now also rise up to "contribute" and play a more significant role in the "Global" development of thinking, doing and living of the Christian faith ...
when Tony walked through a simple timeline for western philosophy I was thinking about eastern philosophy and how confucianism, taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam. etc played their role in the shaping of our mindsets here and even how colonialism and modernism/secularism has affected us. I've read some stuff still need to work on my "work in progress" interpretive framework.
And putting these two side by side is a fascinating exercise and allows for some fertile ground for interaction. And indeed the gospel is unique in how the gospel incarnates into different cultures, adopts and adapts, or even transform or rejects a variety of aspects and yet has a constant about it - in Christ, the movement and leading of the Spirit and the mystery of the creator!
It's interesting to see how "postive" aspects of the discussion on "postmodernism" actually opens up one to reconsider how often our thinking is less Biblical and relational than we perceive it to be ... and can actually bring one to appreciate the gospel better and in my view more faithful to we are called to interact with the person of Jesus here and now especially in community.
most of us have a simplistic view of "postmodernism" and I found Tony opening up my mind further on a more "sophisticated" view of "postmodernism". of course, with qualifiers through out that we need to think through how all this applies to Asia etc. But, painting it as a big monster we need to battle to me is not very helpful. perhaps it depends how this issue is discussed ... my introduction to the word five years ago was more positive than negative thus I have less "jitters" when I'm in the discussion today. I do recognize the more radical (or even destructive) aspects of it (e.g. nihilism,absolute relativism *who actually REALLY believes this?*, etc) ... but then that seems to be always the case in any philosophy or religion or any pursuit of knowledge. I recall hearing critiques on Enlightenment and Modernism during seminary days that highlighted the dangers of rationalism but that didn't make me not appreciate the role of reason. So, I think we can at least become less alarmist and have confidence in our ability especially in personal humility and community to work through our thinking, doing and living ... again together!
technically this was not a "Emergent Conference" , it was promoted as "Postmodern Youth Ministry Conference" organized by the Board of Youth Ministry, Chinese Annual Conference. We met gathered at the Bukit Panjang Methodist Church which had an interesting neighbor the Salvation Army .. cool building next door that looks like a ship!
It was not a "big" conference ... a substantial group turned up. I was delightfully surprised to see a small group of us Malaysians that were present. I overheard quite a variety of churches represented. And it was good to connect with some people whom I've heard from a distance ... strange place to meet but I'm grateful we did connect.
Rev. Poh is the risk taker, forward looking, humble man who initiated this event and made it possible ... I REALLY appreciate his efforts that many of us could be blessed by a "space" and "time" and "environement" where we could wrestle with questions perhaps sparked by our involvement with youth and young adults but actually has wider concerns of theology, philosophy and culture that needs the hard work of asking "questions" (something we here in Malaysia or perhaps even Singapore are less prone to do because of busyness or bombardment by quick-fix-knee-jerk-reactionary answers)
From a Youth Ministry Conference point of view this is one of the best (and definately meaty and sensitive) ones I've ever been to ... Thanks for the good work "the Rev." (we affectionaly call him*grin*!)
This is the first time I'm meeting Marko and he's also very instrumental in bringing the next two guys whom I'm surprised that we could meet so soon. he's indeed as how the Sharps (whom visited Malaysia recently) described him to me - a very engaging person. I loved the question game he played after lunch which was not only fun but also helped us to know him and the speakers better.
So, perhaps it wasn't an "Emergent Conference" technically, but for me it was relationally :-) because finally I could meet my conversation partner who's the named recently as the EmergentUSA coordinator Tony Jones (sitting on the left) whom I read his blog and I think some articles before I read any books written by him (Fresh with an interview with Next Wave Ezine).
This is the more than 5th time I'm meeting someone I've just known from a distance from blogs and some emails. And it's again amazing how we just "connected" immediately and just engaged in conversation so easily. He's indeed smart and intelligient as many have said he is. There's loads of energy and deeply thought through insights flowing out from him. One very memorable impression I found was his closing "benediction"-filled prayer at the end of today's session demonstrated a very pastoral side of him not so frequently mentioned so far. Tony, if you managed to read this before you leave Singapore. You are right I managed to "blog" about today tonight!
The other person commonly associated with the conversation Dan Kimball (standing on the right) one whom I read his book before I read his blog - who's really got not just stylish hair but what really matters is he's got this gentleness about him that invites the people to "journey" and "process" his thoughts and reflections with him.
Both of them are so different ... but it was nice to see how individually and together they created a "space" for us to "think through" our own context and have a fresh appreciation of the Gospel. I really appreciated the genuine desire for dialogue, conversations, mutual learning demonstrated in the main sessions and personal interactions. For people like me who've eavesdropped for all these years and also participated in some way in the "emergent" & "emerging church" conversation. It was great to do this "Live" with the guys!
As for Marko and Poh - I feel we need to appreciate people like them who often work behind the scenes to make the connections and make events like these possible. If this is how partnership can look like ... there's great hope for the future .. together ...
*Note: sorry for the delayed report and reflection*
In the last Emergent Malaysia "Open" Meeting we decided to use the issue of "2nd Generation Christians" as a starting point for discussion. This matter was raised in one of our threads in the Yahoogroup.
So, I pulled out some ideas from this paragraph I found to describe an upcoming plenary session on "Building 2nd Generation Christian Youths" from an upcoming Youth consultation that I'll go as a participant. It says,
"The first generation of Christian youth of the yesteryears has become parents with teenage children today. This is an emerging generation that has passed through our Sunday Schools into our Youth Fellowships. But, are we passing the baton of Christian faith to them effectively? And, is the emerging generation of young people taking up this baton of faith personally? Is this the responsibility of the family or the church?"
one thing I noticed during the meeting, even though talking about "2nd Generation" Christians was the starting point ... many questions, issues and/or even reframing how we ask the questions arose - and they arose around the lens of "Church" (so not just about the youth specifically), the nature of "Mission" (it's not just about fancy methods), even Theology (passing down the faith or recontextualizing the faith), etc.
I thought I'll just try to capture some of the concerns I heard in the form of "Questions" in random and no particular order
- How are we "bringing up" these kids to develop some indepence in thinking (e.g. critical thinking)? or are we expecting them to swallow everything from the past generation? should we at all expect that?
- have the parents "consciously" examined their own faith journey and how they work out their own faith? (this is not so much of a complaint but a genuine question) Are there aspects of the "parents' faith" that maybe more tied in to a certian (for example Chinese) cultures more than Christian concerns/values?
- how about the whole idea of "keeping face" in Malaysia where one is prone to "pretend" to be ok or perfect in order to fit in and lack the space to "be real" and allow heartfelt struggles to surface or even doubts?
- What is the relationship between friendship, leadership and personal authenticity in the relationship between those who are older as well as younger?
- Is there a place for "We don't have all the answers to all the questions"? is that ok? Is yes or no, then how?
- How can we facilitate a genuine listening to the question "Where is God in this situation"? or "What is God doing in this generation"?
- what is one's relationship to the world we live in? how do we wrestle with a "anti-world" mentality and what about "certian forms of Christian subcultures" already in our midst?
- What does it mean for those who come from Christian families to take ownership of their faith? How can we facilitate that? Is it not so much about passing on the form but actually passing on the hunger?
- how do parents and others in the church support each other in the upbringing of youth? How do we avoid a "police-state" mentality and yet not slip into "anarchy"?
- how about social justice? Is this faith just spiritual and has no relation with social realities that are before our eyes? Where is the church in all this? how do our words and deeds match?
- What kind of "baton" are we passing on?
- what about bringing people to the church verses bringing the church to the people? How does this affect those who grow up in Christian environments?
- How to we wrestle with the more organic dimensions of community life as well as organizational aspects? are we too program-driven that we miss internal community and external society needs?
- what are we doing about the increasingly "consumeristic" attitude not only in the world but also very "alive" in the church (adults included!)?
- what about temptation of the "success" mentality driving many churches that cause us to slip into a quick fix strategy? and thus, we look to "successful churches" adopt similar programs and expect to boost success? what does this communicate to the next generation or this generation of youth?
- What is the "gospel" this generation is hearing? What about the Kingdom of God? what about the understanding of mission for today?
- What are the models available for 2nd generation Christians? whether individual examples of how one grows into faith? how about models of "Christianity" or churches that are unseen or not popular but seriously engaging in nurturing faith in the long run?
Some questions to crunch for now ... we'll see whether we can chew on some meat later in another post ... please feel free to comment and put your thoughts down .. especially if you are a 2nd or 3rd or more ... generation Christian.
at times you hope everything is clear and smooth ... then "splat" ... it happens right in front of you ...
a memorable line popped out of my German friend last Sunday when we were facilitating a pretty serious worship and liturgy conversation. I think this was what I heard ...
"During confession of sin, we bring our S*** and lay it at the foot of the cross ..."
wow! that's quite a bit to digest ...
During some conversations I often hear people say many see life in black and white and very little greys in between. And I'll smile and say but hey ... life is full of colour and it not only includes the black and white... as well as greys but the full range of different colours. That is kind of my attempt hopefully encourage my conversation partner to see with me the complexity as well as the beauty of living here on earth.
But I do recall my "artist" dad telling me how he finds something special about black and white photos that colour photos can't capture. And I took the challenge and took quite a number of them and found that to be true ... when the pictures are in black and white there's a kind of clarity and focus.
having said that, it's still more than black and white ... there are differents shades of grey as well and a variety of tones in terms of light and shadow so with some appreciation I find there is also a different kind of complexity and beauty found in "seeing" the photos in this way ... one thing I found is I'm less distrated by the over exposure to colours.
I'm not sure where I'm going with this ... but I'm just trying to appreciate black and white again and ... also realize that it's more than just black & white too... and as I look at our two kids - Gareth putting on a tie for the first time :-) and Elysia having gulps of laughter ... captured in "more than just black & white" photos .. it makes me relook at my life once again. I become a child again.
I sat down today listening to some people genuinely "burnt" by "charismania" and raising important questions. It's very tempting to be drawn backward and become anti-emotional or closed to the best that the Charismaric renewal has given us. It's also very tempting to become bitter because of the hurts and even "over critical" that get's us entangled in a way that we can't free ourselves to move forward.
I felt today ... I was tempted in both ways as I listened to some who are going through some "struggles" I had before. I had to keep myself "very consciously" in check and learn how to "listen" to their stories and concerns as well as "discern" possible scenarios we could envision or baby steps we could take first to help the ones who are "struggling" to be at ease and begin moving forward. And secondly, see how we can relate to those whom are "sold out" on specific forms of "Charismatic" expressions and subcultures that perhaps have now become harmful rather than helpful. We walk this path cautiously and carefully.
I'm looking forward to meet Tony Jones next week ... :-) I thought I'll just catch up with some reading - and check out all his posts on "What is Practical theology?" (for the links ... he put in you have to go to his posts .. I'm trying to multitask here) The following will be bedtime reading for me ... or to some make them sleep ... (just kidding) I have a gut feeling that lots of stuff will resonate with our concerns to see the words "practical" & "theology" not divided or divorced in our Asian context.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
What Is Practical Theology? Part I
I do get asked on occasion, "What is practical theology?" Lots of people are pretty sure they know what systematic, dogmatic, and biblical theology are, but less are sure exactly what practical theology is.
At Princeton Theological Seminary, Dr. Richard Osmer has developed a model of doing practical theology that is extremely helpful in this regard, so I'll describe it over the course of a few posts. His is what a philosopher would call a "wide, reflective equilibrium model" -- that is, he's not trying to reinvent the wheel but to describe the field of practical theology as it currently stands.
But before that, a little history: the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher "invented" practical theology in the 18th century. At the time, the German research university model was being born -- that's what all of our higher education now is reflecting, for better and worse -- and the work of theology was being broken up into what is called the "theological encyclopedia." The volumes in that encyclopedia were 1) biblical studies, 2) systematic theology, and 3) church history. Schleiermacher proposed that a fourth discipline be added, called "practical theology," that would develop "rules of art" for Christian life and ministry.
Over the course of three hundred years, however, practical theology devolved into, basically, application of the findings of the other three disciplines. That is, you'd take all your weighty courses in seminary from the other three, then you'd get a class on preaching or Christian education or pastoral counseling that was basically a "nuts and bolts" class.
Since the middle of the 20th century, there has been a renaissance in practical theology, spurred on by the University of Chicago Divinity School, Princeton, Emory, and several European universities. During this time, practical theologians have staked their claim as doing constructive theology, not merely applying the findings of other fields of study. What sets practical theology apart from the other three disciplines in theological education (and what I find most compelling) is that it's grounded theological reflection. In other words, practical theologians attempt to deal with issues that are a part of life in the world, not to solve abstract theoretical problems.
So here's a working definition: practical theology is theological reflection that is grounded in the life of the church, society, and the individual and that both critically recovers the theology of the past and constructively develops theology for the future.
posted by tony at 5:36 AM
Friday, February 25, 2005
What Is Practical Theology? Part II
Practical theology (PT), as a discipline, takes a great deal of interest in empirical information. In fact, there is an entire school of thinking within PT -- found mainly in the Netherlands and Germany -- that's called "Empirical Theology." Practical theologians, because of the importance of the groundedness of the discipline, are often well-versed in a social science, the way James Fowler was in developmental psychology when he developed his Stages of Faith Development.
(An aside: to all of you pissy commentors, I never said that practical theology was the only type of theology that is grounded, just that it is the most committed to being grounded. Contextual theologies like liberation, feminist, and black theologies surely blur the line between systematics, PT, and biblical studies.)
Other practical theologians take other disciplines as their dialogue partners, often social psychology, social theory, and sociology. All of these are important to the practical theologian who is trying to determine what's going on in God's world. Thus, we turn to social scientists who specialize in figuring out the "what's going on?" question. And more and more, practical theologians are taking up the instruments of empirical research and gathering data themselves.
This does lead to two interrelated questions: 1) What is the practical theologian's mode of interdisciplinarity? It's intellectually dishonest to raid other disciplines for their fruits, especially when they're saying what you hope they'll say. So one must enter humbly and respectfully into dialogue with a field that is not one's primary are of expertise. And 2) Who sets the agenda for theology? It seems odd to let psychologists or sociologists dictate what we should theologize about. On the other hand, when a dramatic social change happens (e.g., globalization), or something happens in the natural sciences (e.g., discovery of the "gay gene"), it does seem incumbent upon theology to respond. Again, these are not decisions to be entered into lightly.
Ultimately, this is what it means for PT to be "grounded." It means that there's a descriptive moment to PT that does, indeed, set it apart from other types of theologizing.
posted by tony at 9:03 PM
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
What Is Practical Theology? Part III
Practical Theology is a self-consciously hermeneutical enterprise. Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I think that all of life is, essentially, a hermeneutical endeavor. Each of us is an interpreter, of our surroundings, our traditions, our conversations, the media we engage, etc. In the words of one philosopher, “Interpretation goes all the way down and all the way back up.”
PT engages hermeneutical theory constantly, especially in an effort to mediate between the empirical-descriptive moment (as described below), and the normative theological moment (to be described in the next post). Thus, with a hermeneutical understanding, practical theologians will work with an interdisciplinary “dialogue partner,” like a particular school of thought in psychology, sociology, social theory, political science, etc.
For example, for my dissertation, I am performing an in-depth field study on eight “emerging church” congregations. Using a method of phenomenological research, I’m using focus groups, one-on-one interviews, participant-observation in the worship setting, and a congregation-wide census survey to uncover the core practices in each congregation.
However, all of this data will do me no good without an adequate interpretation – it’ll be nothing but a group of numbers and hours of transcriptions without my analysis. And the way I will analyze the data is to put it in the context of recent work in the sociology of American religion. Using tools like the National Congregations Survey (1998) and analysis by sociologists like Chris Smith and Robert Wuthnow, I hope to show how these congregations are similar to and different than other congregations on the American landscape. In other words: Where do these emerging congregations fit in the ecology of American congregations?
So that’s the essence of the interpretive moment of PT, and it also shows again how important it is for the practical theologian to have a sophisticated theory of interdisciplinarity.
posted by tony at 9:06 PM
Saturday, March 05, 2005
What Is Practical Theology? Wow!
OK, I was all brewing up a great intermezzo post with a provisional definition of PT, then I got this anonymous comment that blew me away:
Practical theology is that theological discipline which is concerned with the Church’s self-actualization here and now – both that which is and that which ought to be. That it does by means of theological illumination of the particular situation in which the Church must release itself in all its dimensions.
This practical theology is a unique, independent science, a fundamental one in essence in spite of its reciprocal relationship with other theological disciplines, since its business of scientifically critical and systematic reflection is a unique quantity and its nature is not deducible. For it is reflection oriented towards committal.
The task of practical theology as an original science demands a theological analysis of the particular present situation in which the Church is to carry out the especial self-realization appropriate to it at any given moment.
Practical theology challenges the other theological studies to recognize the task which inheres immanently in them, oriented to the practice of the Church; the second demand it makes is that they should apply themselves to this task.
Anonymous practical theologian, reveal thyself.
posted by tony at 3:39 PM
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
What Is Practical Theology? An Interdisciplinary Intermezzo
For some important background, first read
If you take the time to read these, or at least the third, you'll see that a lot of water has already passed under the bridge. And over some Chinese food last night, Steve tried to rehabilitate my understanding of Barth, with some success. (I have no trouble acknowledging the extreme importance of Barth, but I think we need to go beyond him, hence my affinity with Moltmann.)
There's a lot at stake in this conversation; these are not simply the musings of a couple of doctoral students. Currently, there are only a few options available to Christians in a globalized/pluralistic/postmodern society: liberal accomodationism, conservative retreatism, Hauerwasian sectarianism, and the newcomer: Milbankian (Radical Orthodoxy) withdrawal into the liturgy.
I know, that's a lot of "-isms," but none of these options offers a Christian the ability to maintain a "robust doctrine of God" (Steve's words) and a robust understanding of pluralism. In other words, is there a way to negotiate a healthy, dialectical relationship with culture and maintain an orthodox doctrine of God? Steve and I both think there must be, there has to be.
Among practical theologians, there have been a couple major avenues for navigating these waters. Among the University of Chicago theologians (Tillich, Tracy, Browning), there has been an evolving "correlational" model in which theology and culture stand in a dialectical relationship. Tillich said that culture asks the questions and theology provides the answers; Tracy and Browning amended this by saying that each asks questions and each provides answers -- i.e., theology and culture stand in a mutually critical relationship.
Among the Barthians (Frei, D. Hunsinger, Loder), the response has been more of what Steve alludes to in his posts: theology has a unique ability to articulate issues of ultimacy, like God's revelation, which comes from outside of the created order. Thus theology trumps all other disciplines when it comes to issues on which theology is uniquely articulate.
While I appreciate the former's ability to take culture seriously, it tends to reduce theological reflection to the terms of culture (and can be a mask for natural theology, as Steve points out). The latter maintains theology's integrity, but stands in a position of interdisciplinary domination, which I find unacceptable in a pluralistic environment (it's tough to convince someone to have a conversation of mutual regard if you start out by stating that you will inevitably win the argument!).
That's why I'm attracted to the model of transversal rationality. I'll flesh that out in the next post...
posted by tony at 5:34 AM
Saturday, March 19, 2005
What Is Practical Theology? An Interdisciplinary Intermezzo, Part II
OK, I'll start with a concrete situation in order to illustrate the promise of "tranversal rationality."
[UPDATE: This is a hypothetical situation; the "boy" is meant to represent a concrete situation or problem. Another analogy could be, for instance, all the people who together had to decide what to build on the site of the World Trade Center.]
You're a youth pastor, and you get a call from the guidance counselor at the local public high school; she wants you to come to a consultation. There's a boy in your youth group who is really struggling in school -- and in life -- and the school is calling together a group of people to brainstorm about what can be done to help him.
A week later, you show up for the meeting; in the conference room at the high school are gathered the boy's mother and father (divorced), guardian ad litem, court-appointed social worker, psychologist, pediatrician, guidance counselor, school nurse, and homeroom teacher.
As the conversation gets underway, you realize that each of these "experts" knows the boy in a very different way, yourself included. In fact, each of you is an "expert" on the boy, but your expertises are quite different. The pediatrician speaks from her expertise as someone who has worked with many adolescents, she uses medical-scientific language, and she wonders if she should adjust his Ritalin prescription. The (Jungian) psychologist talks about the therapy sessions he's had with the boy, with the progress they're making, and about the boy's deep, internal conflict over his parents' divorce and his own learning disability. The guidance counselor wonders if he should be moved into special ed. classes, the homeroom teacher says he needs to find better friends, the mom says he's depressed at home and he listens to music that scares her, the dad wonders if the two of them should take a vacation to watch some spring training games, etc., etc., etc.
And you, the youth pastor, what do you say? What do you think the boy needs? Is part of his problem a spiritual problem? Is it entirely spiritual? Is he afflicted by demons? Has he been the object of spiritual abuse? Is your youth group a place where he feels welcomed and loved?
Tranversal rationality takes into account one of the premises of a pluralistic, postmodern, globalized world: there are many different "rationalities" at work in society. And as professionalization and specialization increase, the rationality in one field of knowledge or discipline is that much harder for non-specialists in that discipline.
Would you tell the pediatrician that she is wrong in bringing medical/scientific/pharmacological reasoning to bear on the boy's problems? Probably not. Nor would you question the guidance counselor's understanding of when to place a student in special education classes. Nor would you question the mother's claim to be an expert on the subject of her own son.
And you too, the youth pastor, you are the theological/biblical expert in the room. You bring a distinctively Christian rationality to bear on the situation of this boy's problems. Happily, in a truly postmodern setting, you can respectfully and sensitively articulate that rationality, and you will be shedding light ("truth") on the situation that no one else can or has.
So transversal rationality acknowledges the many rationalities at play in a pluralistic environment. As a method, it proposes that we look for intersections between rationalities -- "transversal" means "to lie across" -- and enter into dialogue at those concrete, situated moments (like around the case of our hypothetical boy). We must do so, however, with "epistemic humility;" that is, we need to be open to theoretical correction. And our results will be judged in moments of "praxial critique," in which the practical wisdom that comes out of the situation is tested in future, real-life situations.
Writing about the promise of this method, J. Wentzel van Huyssteen writes, "the fact that rationality lies across and links diverse reasoning strategies will also mean that we can step forth into cross-contextual discussion with personal convictions that we find rationally compelling, and at the same time be rationally compelled to open our strong convictions up to critical evaluation in interdisciplinary conversation."
(For more on transversal rationality, read this and this.)
posted by tony at 6:05 PM
Sunday, April 03, 2005
What Is Practical Theology? An Interdisciplinary Intermezzo, Part III
OK, this is the final part of what was meant to be a brief tangent. But Jimmy brings up an important caveat in his comment below. My not-so-hypothetical situation of a troubled teen in the school counselor's office was sanitized of the real-life complications of power. Being a trained social worker, and a special ed. teacher, Jimmy knows the power dynamics at work in a situation like this. It should come as no surprise that the pediatrician will come out on top in this hierarchy; not only does she have the most schooling, but physicians -- and the scientific reasoning they employ -- are highly regarded in our society. In contrast, social workers, psychologists, and youth pastors are often seen as dealing in data that is "soft," over against the "hard" scientific data of a physician.
However, the postmodern, hermeneutic turn has done a great service, for it has leveled the playing field. Even the "hardest" scientific data is rife with agendas and money from pharmaceutical companies. In other words, no one is capable of delivering a straight, objective account of what's going on with this boy.
There's been lots of good work done by postmodern theoreticians about power dynamics. The most famous theorist of power is Michel Foucault; I think that Pierre Bourdieu also deserves serious consideration. Both attempt to deal honestly with power dynamics at play whenever human beings are attempting to negotiate a situation, and both are downright pessimistic about the possibilities of getting through power to the other side. Of course, they're both lacking the Christian hope that God might have a hand in this negotiation...
posted by tony at 3:42 PM
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
What Is Practical Theology? Part IV
After an all-to-lengthy excursion into interdisciplinary method, it’s time to get back into the four core tasks of practical theology. Having been through the descriptive and empirical moments, the third moment of PT is the normative moment.
It is now, after gathering data and using the best of several disciplines to interpret that data, that the practical theologian makes normative claims for the life of the church. Often, practical theology is in conversation with the other volumes of the “theological encyclopedia” at this time, consorting with the likes of biblical studies, systematic theology, and church history.
But remember that the practical theologian is grounded in real-life, empirical data from church, society, and/or individual. In other words, the practical theologian does not think, “I’d like to spend my career studying the doctrine of sanctification” or “I’d like to write my dissertation on the Nestorian controversy” or “The world needs another book on the aorist tense.” (OK, simmer down. This is not meant to disparage those who do perform those important tasks. Without them, we’d never have to pay $75 for a book again!) The practical theologian, instead, is confronted with a problem. It might be a theological response to young women who cut themselves, or how to preach funeral sermons in the African American tradition, or how the emerging church is negotiating its relationship with culture (hey, there’s a great idea for a dissertation!).
So let it not be said that the practical theologian is not in the business of normative theology – she is, indeed, and it is normative theology that responds to crises in the life of church and world.
posted by tony at 8:04 PM
Even though the following quote is written with the American political context in mind .. . it's worth a little "pause" to think about ... I'll be talking with my political analyst friend & PhD candidate soon and see how all this works out in Malaysia.
"The Christian citizen of every nation has a moral obligation to engage at some level in that nation's political life. We do not recommend withdrawal from the political arena. We admire especially those whose calling falls in this area—mayors, councilmen, senators, representatives, presidents. Theirs is as noble a calling as that of a plumber or pastor.
But Christians who enter that calling, and those who pray for and work with them, must not forget one thing: where hope for this nation, and the world, really lies, and where that hope is most manifest Sunday by Sunday." ~ Worship as higher politics (via Mike Todd)
I wonder whether here in Malaysia we'll be more caught up with the concert rather than the cause ...
Make Poverty History
"Every single day, 30,000 children are dying as a result of extreme poverty. This year, 2005, we finally have the resources, knowledge and opportunity to end this shameful situation." That's how the website begins ... we're prone to the blame game ... but it's efforts like this that gets us to "begin" doing something aboout it.
Global Call to Action against Poverty
As usual Malaysia is quiet about this .. :-( However, I do want to take a little time here to say to those who are doing something about it ... Keep up the good work! You are making a difference ... even though few people know it ...
It's a Long Walk to Justice indeed ... the first step for me is Compassion...
This is global issue ... I can start locally ...
Together we could do so much ... it's got to start somewhere ... starting with myself is a good place to begin.
Walk is more important than talk ... but without the talk I may not have started the walk ...
These seem big steps for humankind in our generation .. almost overwhelming .. . but baby steps are possible ... hope is necessary!