Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reflecting on Doctor Who (The Beast Below) as a Christian

The following are conversations found in the Doctor Who episode The Beast Below (Season 5). Every time I watch this episode, I find myself moved by the similarities between this and the Christian experience. (But of course there are huge differences between the Doctor and God.)

Amy Pond: What if you were really old, and really kind and lonely, your whole race dead. What couldn't you do then? If you were that old, and that kind, and the very last of your kind, you couldn't just stand there and watch children cry.

Amy: Amazing, though, don’t you think? The Star Whale. All that pain and misery…and loneliness…and it just made it kind.

The Doctor: But you couldn’t have known how it would react.

Amy: You couldn’t. But I’ve seen it before. Very old and very kind, and the very, very last. Sound a bit familiar? Hey...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The worrying trend of declining Bible literacy

A research report published by the Evangelical Alliance in the UK (EAUK) just came out. (Click here for the report.) It mentions two interesting trends about Christians in the 16-24 age group.

First, they are “less likely to strongly agree that the Bible has supreme authority in guiding their beliefs, views and behaviour.” Second, they are “less likely to pray or read (or listen to) the Bible every day.”

Similarly, Cheryl Catford, the former principal of Tabor College in Melbourne, also observed the declining Biblical literacy in Australia in recent years. In an article in 2009 she talked about her experience of seeing a decline in Biblical knowledge among first-year theological students over her more than 15 years of teaching. The challenge of this phenomenon for the church today is well summarised in the following comment in the EAUK report.

"For many in this (younger) age group, beliefs have been shaped by good youth work and summer festivals, rather than personal devotions. We have shared bite-sized theology but one of the greatest challenges is to enable this age group to take responsibility for their own discipleship amidst busy, media saturated lives."

I have written an article to list three reasons for the decline in Bible literacy and two responses to it. Click here for my article.

(Or see my previous post for the excerpts.)

Friday, February 25, 2011

How one may participate in Christ's glory

Just found these great words in Ernst Kasemann's commentary on Romans.

"For Paul too the Spirit is the miraculous power of the heavenly world which breaks into the earthly sphere to fashion a new creature... Then he confronts them them with the theology of the cross and reminds them that the Spirit who makes Christ present on earth is the very one who imposes on them a pilgrim theology... Only he who participates on earth in the passion of the Kyrios [the Lord] will participate in his glory." (page 229; Kasemann is commenting on Romans 8:17; emphasis added)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Jesus walked among us in Cape Town" by Christopher Wright

I found a great article written by Christopher Wright about his reflections on the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, in October 2010.

Click here to read the whole article. Here are two excerpts.

The body of Christ was very real in its multi­cultural, multi-coloured human skin. But more than that, some of these sisters and brothers came from countries where Christians are a tiny, suffering minority, where they have to meet in small, hidden groups, or to keep a very low profile, with no public freedom to sing and proclaim the name of the Lord Jesus.

We sought to listen to the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ. And in his mercy, through his Holy Spirit, Christ spoke to his listening people. Through the many voices of Bible exposition, plenary addresses, and group discussion, two repeated themes were heard in a wide variety of formats:

* The need for radical obedient discipleship, leading to maturity, to growth in depth as well as growth in numbers,

* The need for radical cross-centred reconciliation, leading to unity, to growth in love as well as growth in faith and hope.

Both discipleship and reconciliation are indispensable to our mission. By contrast, we lament the scandal of the shallowness of so much Christian profession worldwide, and the scandal of our dividedness and lack of love. We acknowledge that both are seriously damaging to our witness to the gospel.

Tom Wright's advice to the next generation of leaders

Michael Bird has posted a clip of Tom Wright, which is about Wright's advice to the next generation of Christian leaders.

What I like about Tom Wright is not only his scholarship, but his pastor's heart. His advice here is simple, but most important. After 30 years of being a Christians this is exactly what I would say to the next generation of leaders. (And it's an important and timely reminder for myself.)

Click here for the clip.

Timothy Gombis on Ephesians

Michael Bird's blog has a post that cites the following from Gombis' The Drama of Ephesians regarding Ephesians 2.

"Paul tells the story in Ephesians 2 of God beginning to fulfill his promises to reclaim and redeem his creation, restoring his world and humanity to their original condition. The whole world was meant to be God's temple, according to the biblical narrative, as God dwelled with humanity and delighted in humanity's enjoyment of creation. After the fall and the tragic corruption of creation, God promises to make all things new and to return with his life-giving presence. These promises are now being fulfilled in the church and will one day be fulfilled creation-wide. This is why Paul quotes Psalm 110 in Ephesians 1:22. God has installed his King on his heavenly throne, and Jesus Christ has begun his work of reclaiming his world. The powers and authorities had rebelled, hijacking God's good world, and have held it in their oppressive and enslaving grip. But God has broken their hold in Jesus Christ and is magnifying his victory through the church. God has triumphed by opening up a sphere within creation that is the beginning of God's work of making all things new" (p. 105).

Lament as true prayer (Dr Diane Jacobson)

I find this an excellent way of describing lament and prayer in the Old Testament. The following quotes are taken from an article written by Dr Diane Jacobson in The Lutheran, July 2005.

We speak honestly of what we know. God meets us there.

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words" (Romans 8:26).

I often think the sighs of the Spirit are heard most clearly in the laments of the Psalms. Praying the laments is difficult. But so often they are our deepest and truest prayers...

Some say God, in utter grace, allows us to express such lamentation until the time we can return to faithfulness. But I contend that the importance and truth of our laments goes much deeper: To lament is to be faithful.

The lament, more than any other form of prayer, speaks directly to God of the reality of suffering. And God knows when our prayers are true. (emphasis added)

Consider the book of Job. Job's speech is rife with lamentation. He rails against the Almighty, throwing the issue of suffering into God's face, begging for a relationship that speaks to the truth of his loss and pain. Job's friends are appalled by his words, which they deem unfaithful. The friends reason that humans should never question God's motives but, in all humility, should accept suffering as the righteous judgment of a just God...

But in contrast to his friends, Job refused to overlook the depth of his suffering. He refused to protect God from his despair. He refused to believe God wasn't active in the world. Perhaps most importantly, Job continued to speak directly to God, praying for justice, relief and comfort. True prayer, true speech to and about God, never uses theological platitudes to deny the reality of the world.

The power of the lament is this: We come to God boldly, directly, defenses stripped away, with nothing standing between us and the Almighty. Standing thus, we can do nothing but speak the truth from our depth. This isn't to say that we suddenly have right understanding, only that we speak honestly of what we know. God meets us there.

"Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. ... I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word !hope" (Psalm 130:1, 5).

True prayer, true speech to and about God, never uses theological platitudes to deny the reality of the world.

Click here for the full article.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The decline of Bible literacy

Here is my new article entitled The Decline of Bible Literacy.

Some excerpts below.

A research report published by the Evangelical Alliance in the UK (EAUK) just came out. It mentions two interesting trends about Christians in the 16-24 age group. First, they are “less likely to strongly agree that the Bible has supreme authority in guiding their beliefs, views and behaviour.” Second, they are “less likely to pray or read (or listen to) the Bible every day.”

On the one hand, there has been an overemphasis on the intellect. Pastors at my age (the 40-something age group) often complain that their theological training was loaded with a highly intellectual analysis of the Scripture, which is not useful in ministry.

On the other hand, there are those who habitually use the Bible out of context. Their teaching is characterised by the use of proof-texts and the neglect of the literary, social and historical context of the Biblical texts.

Maybe our attempt to make sense of the Christian faith in the emerging culture has led us to neglect the basics, including the simple but all-important discipline of reading the Scripture devotionally - both individually and as a community?

The Bible is no dry theology textbook. It is a book consisting of stories easily accessible to everyone – both the educated and unlearned.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Reflection: Power, privilege and social justice

Here are some thoughts on power, privilege and social justice.

For those of us who are in a relative position of power and privilege, social justice is an abstract notion of how to choose between different actions, personal lifestyles and public policies. For those who are poor and powerless, social injustice is about despair, hopelessness and, sadly for some, a matter of life and death.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Paul and poverty - Bruce Longenecker's new book

Just bought Bruce Longenecker's book called Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty and the Greco-Roman World (Grant Rapids: Eerdmans), 2010. Here is what he says in the first chapter (page 1).

[C]are for the poor is shown to be an integral part of the "good news" that Paul preached... For Paul, economic assistance of the poor was not sufficient in and of itself, nor was it exhaustive of the good news of Jesus; but neither was it supplemental or peripheral to that good news. In fact, falling within the essentials of the good news, care for the poor was thought by Paul to be a necessary hallmark of the corporate life of Jesus-followers who lived in conformity with the good news of the early Jesus-movement.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Some reflections about knowing God

Here is my recent reflection about knowing God.

Without knowing the Crucified and Risen Christ we cannot truly know God.
Without following Christ's way of life we cannot be truly human as God intends.

And without knowing God how can we have the courage to follow Jesus' sacrificial way of life?
Yet without embodying his self-giving life how can we truly know him?