Sunday, February 27, 2011

Busy-ness and Spiritual Restlesness

Our mundane busy-ness can be a symptom of a spiritual restlessness -
a symptom of our own disbelief and disobedience which would prevent us
from entering God's rest. When we become consumed with "our work"
- whatever that might be, and even if it is noble, holy, and just -

we unwittingly fall back into the autonomous dreams of our own making.

When we spurn rest, we spurn grace and reject God's gift.

James Smith

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Keith Ward Doesn't Believe in Demons

This is an excerpt from Keith Ward's book The Word of God?: The Bible After Modern Scholarship:
... I do not believe [Jesus] exorcized demons. That is because I do not believe in demons, and I think that these are exaggerated accounts of healings of mental illness, put in terms of what were then widely accepted, but false, beliefs about the causes of mental illness. [19]
Ward doesn't explain what he really means when he says that he doesn't believe in demons. I guess what he really means is that he doesn't believe that demons do exist. Since the demons do not exist, it follows that there is no such thing as demon possession. So, when the authors of the Gospel recorded any incidents of exorcism, they, according to Ward, must have exaggerated what actually was a healing of a mental illness.

It's unfortunate that Ward doesn't explain why he doesn't believe in the existence of demons. So, I can just make a guess. I suppose, coming from a Western context where people don't seem to have many encounters with spirits, it's very hard for Ward to relate with biblical passages which talk about demon possessions. However, this is not the case with most Asians like me. It's quite easy for us to relate to these passages. I had a few encounters with spirits before. And I've heard similar stories from people around me. Ward might ask: How do you know that it's really an encounter with spirits? How can you prove that it's true? Well, I can't prove it. Just like I (and also, I believe, Ward) can't prove the existence of God. I just can say that it is plausible that the evidences (read: experiences) point to something which is more than mental illness. And it seems to be the case.

This reminds me of the limitation of our theology. One of the things which shapes our theology is our experience. Our experiences differ and are limited by time and space. It's always wise to acknowledge this limitation. So, at least we'll be open to the possibility that we may get things wrong, or at best we don't get the full picture of what reality really is.

PS: I thank God for people who write books like this.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Trap of Politicolatry

This is an excerpt from James Davison Hunter's book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World that I'm currently reading:
A final irony has to do with the idea of political responsibility. Christians are urged to vote and become involved in politics as an expression of their civic duty and public responsibility. This is a credible argument and good advice up to a point. Yet in our day, given the size of the state and the expectations that people place on it to solve so many problems, politics can also be a way of saying, in effect, that the problems should be solved by others beside myself and by institutions other than the church. It is, after all, much easier to vote for a politician who champions child welfare than to adopt a baby born in poverty, to vote for a referendum that would expand health care benefits for seniors than to care for an elderly and infirmed parent, and to rally for racial harmony than to get to know someone of a different race than yours. True responsibility invariably costs. Political participation, then, can and often does amount to an avoidance of responsibility. [172-173, emphasis added]
Something to think about. Do we overly put too much hope in politics? Have we adventitiously trapped ourselves in politicolatry?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

An Advice for Future Church Leaders: Bible, Prayer, Love

N. T. Wright gives an advice for future Church leaders: Bible, Prayer, Love. Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the Church through Wright!

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Seminar on Charles Taylor's A Secular Age

James Smith is leading a seminar on Charles Taylor's book A Secular Age at the Philosophy Department of Calvin College. I'm quite impressed by his efforts in making a space for everyone to join the conversations about the book. He has created a blog for it: To me, he sets a very good example for teachers, living in the age of the new media, to follow. And it is very useful for people like me who have no access to the book but wanting to read it. Our library doesn't have it, but I've requested our librarian to get a copy. In the meantime, he has kindly reserved the book for me from the National Library of Singapore and will pass it to me once he collects it. The joy of having an access to abundant resources... Something which I'll definitely miss once I'm back to Indonesia.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On Birthday Celebration

Should we celebrate our birthday? Is there really a good reason to celebrate our birthday? These questions usually come to my mind during my birthday or my loved ones' birthday. One of the reasons is that I was somehow born with this kind of hatred towards celebrations. One of the few celebrations that I can appreciate is none other than the Eucharistic celebration. Eucharistic celebration?!?! I guess some people will immediately conclude that I'm a boring person. Well, I'm not surprised. I'm used to it.

I recall a friend who always gives the same message during my birthday: "Don't be too serious in your life. Relax, man. Enjoy life!" He naively assumes that I'm not enjoying life. This, of course, presupposes a certain understanding of enjoyment. I guess there is a more basic question that we need to ask: Is life really to be enjoyed? Is life about enjoyment in any sense? But, anyway, I'm not going to share my thoughts on these questions now. I'm just thinking if there is really a good reason to celebrate a birthday.

When a baby newly born, everyone expects her to cry. From a biological point of view, some say that she will definitely cry for she needs to expand her lung and takes her very first breath of air. And crying is the manifestation of that process. But couldn't there be more to it? Could it be that, from a theological perspective, her cry represents the groaning of the whole universe? That is to say that the bloody birth event signifies her initiation into the fallen humanity which is embedded in this fallen world. The irony is this: the baby cries while everyone else is probably welcoming her with a joyful heart.
Of course everyone is glad to have a new companion in their temporary journey here on earth. But who knows what's in the mind of the cute little baby? If only she can talk right away...

So, given this understanding, when we celebrate our birthday we are actually celebrating our prolonged experience in this fallen world. It sounds like a good reason to celebrate it, doesn't it? (Yes, I'm being sarcastic here!) Well, if it doesn't sound good enough. Here is another reason: to give thanks to the LORD, the giver of life, for another year (age?) which has passed. As we do this, do we realize that our life can be said shortened and lengthened at the same time? Looking at it from the day we're born, our life is lengthened. 1yo, 2yo, 17yo, 30yo, etc. But, looking at it from the day we will eventually die, our life is shortened. If I knew that I would reach 60yo, it would mean I only have half of my life left when I celebrate my 30th birthday. This is how I usually see my life especially during my birthday. The end is getting nearer and nearer. So, if I were to find one good reason to celebrate my birthday, it would be to celebrate the remaining time that the coming King still entrusts me with to take part in realizing his coming kingdom.

Oh, in case you wonder, today is not my birthday. Today is my best friend's birthday. She is my fiancée. Happy birthday, dear! I look forward to continue to use the remaining time I have together with you to take part in realizing God's coming kingdom!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Exorcism and Deliverance

I and some friends have been talking about evil spirits and exorcism recently. All of us are theological students and some of us are wondering why our college does not offer any course on evil spirits and exorcism. It's not so much that we want to study them for the sake of studying them. But it's more for us to be prepared for dealing with such cases in our daily lives. (Btw, I had a few encounters with (evil?) spirits in my college.) One problem is that the Scripture doesn't provide us with adequate guidelines on how to do exorcism or how to differentiate demonic possession from psychotic disorder. So, I heartily welcome this forthcoming book entitled Exorcism and Deliverance. (h/t Sze Seng) I believe this book will be a very helpful resource for the Church to be better equipped for such ministry.

Monday, February 14, 2011

No One Is Looking for Love?

My random thought on Valentine's Day:

Premise 1 : No one is looking for an unlovable life partner to love.

Premise 2 : Love means loving the unlovable.

Conclusion : No one is looking for love.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Torture and Eucharist

I can hardly hear good news from my country Indonesia. I've come to a point where I feel numb upon hearing horrible news like a violent attack on an Islamic sect on Feb 6, 2011, followed by church burning in Temanggung, Central Java. (Btw, it's curious that Al-Jazeera doesn't report the second incident at all.) It's not my intention to try to find out or discuss whom to blame for these horrendous incident. If there is anything that I can think of (as I said earlier, I feel numb...), it is to realize the very presence of torture within Indonesian society. Even though Indonesians do not live under an autocratic regime, torture is still very much REAL. It is something which Singaporeans (I'm using Singaporeans as an example simply because I currently live in Singapore) will probably never understand. I recall how a Singaporean teen, whom I led in a Bibly study, had a difficult time to understand the word "persecution" when we tried to study biblical passages which talked about being persecuted for Christ. To him, "persecution" is merely a word without any correspondences whatsoever to any reality outside the word itself. He can't relate to it at all. So, it becomes meaningless.

Reading all these horrendous news reminds me of the torture which Christ chose to undergo. By willingly undergoing such an atrocious torture, he overturned the logic of torture. Torture caused Christ to suffer. But Christ's suffering brings life to all who believe in him and are willing to suffer and die for him and therefore live in him. This is celebrated in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is an antithesis of torture. As William Cavanaugh, theologizing from within the context of the Pinochet regime in Chile, has eloquently put it,
Torture creates fearful and isolated bodies, bodies docile to the purpose of regime; the Eucharist effects the body of Christ, a body marked by resistance to worldly power. Torture creates victims; Eucharist creates witnesses, martyrs. Isolation is overcome in the Eucharist by the building of a communal body which resists the state’s attempt to disappear it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wrightian Smith and Smithian Wright?

It is intriguing that James Smith and N.T. Wright seem to end up in the same place although they arrive there from quite different trajectories. Smith has been emphasizing the importance of practice as a "location" of a religion (where and how religion is to be found and recognized) and how practice is utmost important in shaping the religious identity of the members. This emphasis stems from his theological anthropology, following Augustine's footsteps, that human beings are NOT primarily thinking beings. We are defined primarily by what we love instead. "Human beings are lovers," Smith argues. And love takes practice. In a similar vein, Wright argues, "Love is not our duty. It is our destiny." Yet this destiny is not something which comes automatically. It takes hard work. In other words, love takes practice. He is, of course, speaking out of the framework of "grace alone" and "faith alone." So, you can heave a sigh of relief. Wright is NOT a Pelagian!
Check out these lectures by Smith and Wright. I bet you will not disagree with me that, to some extent, Smith is a Wrightian and Wright is a Smithian.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

China's Dirty Secrets: No Gain, No Pain

People say: "No pain, no gain". I think the other way round is also true: "No gain, no pain". Check this video out and you'll know what I'm talking about.

The Backbone of Spirituality: Bible Reading, Prayer, Eucharist

N.T. Wright shares how he keeps his spiritual life fresh. To him, the backbone of spirituality is Bible reading, prayer, and Eucharist. I guess most Protestants would agree with Wright on Bible reading and prayer. But only a few would not disagree with him on the Eucharist.
Do we realize that
most Protestant churches, at least in Asian context, do not celebrate the Eucharist in their weekly worship service? If the Church does believe that the Eucharist is indeed one of the most fundamental things which radically distinguishes the Church, as the people of God, from those outside God's covenant, isn't it hypocritical mind-boggling if she doesn't celebrate it in her worship services for some vague practical reasons?
John Calvin would agree with Wright that the Eucharist is food for the soul.
Now, if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. And, to speak more plainly, I rather experience than understand it. Therefore, I here embrace without controversy the truth of God in which I may safely rest. He declares his flesh the food of my soul, his blood its drink [John 6:53 ff.]. I offer my soul to him to be fed with such food. In his Sacred Supper he bids me take, eat, and drink his body and blood under the symbols of bread and wine. I do not doubt that he himself truly presents them, and that I receive them.
Institutes 4.17.32

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