Archive for the 'Theology' Category

World Cup dreams (football)

footballThe following is a true story… well actually, it is true that I dreamed this dream last night.

As Brazil was losing to Netherlands in the World Cup third place match (they were 2-0 down at that time) , I fell asleep and I dreamed that I was in the Brazilian team, as a defender (no joke, I really dreamed this! I don’t even like football that much, and so it was all the more crazy.)

Anyway… I was a Brazilian defender… and another team (not necessary Netherlands) was on the attack. A foul led to a free kick near the goal box. And I was marked to stand in the defensive line on the far left of the line. The kicker kicked and the ball flew past me on my left… the kick was not that fast… but I just missed it… and the ball rolled pass the goal line. Interestingly, even as I was dreaming… before the kicker kicked… I remember thinking that the kicker will try to kick past me on the left… even before it happened. However, when it happened, I was still unable to stop it.

Then… goal number two… another attack on the Brazilian goal… this time… as a defender I stood at the goal line, to the left of the goal-keeper to cover the goal as the attackers grew close enough to shoot. I remember thinking that they will probably kick straight towards my right and that’s exactly what happened… and even though I knew what was going to happen, again I saw the ball go past me, and to another goal. I missed.

When I woke up… Brazil had lost 3-0… but it really felt like I was “living” the moment of Brazil’s loss. I had seen the 7-1 humiliation to Germany. And now this 3-0 loss was just more pain. So dreaming this dream was probably expected… I had taken the loss a little personally… and had empathised with the Brazilian defenders.

But I also remember thinking that failure sometimes happens even when you know the answers… when you know what to do. In my dream… I could pre-empt the attackers… I knew what would happen… and yet I was not fast enough to execute that defence… I was not able to stop the ball. I obviously felt sympathy for the actual Brazilian defenders.

But this also reminded me about how (in theology) we aim to know/speak the right answers, but that is so very different (even hard) to actually perfectly follow the right answers. We may know what to do, but so often we are unable to do what we know we should do.

Anyway… that’s enough world cup theology for now. At least I had another sport to talk about other than cricket! :)

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Facebook theology – On preaching, teaching and the Church

ImageI posted something the other day on Facebook (on Google+ actually, but it was also shared to Facebook). A few “likes” and “comments” followed and I found myself writing/posting comments about theological issues. I want to post the comments here… not because anything earth-shattering was being said, but because, for the sake of posterity, it’s an interesting case on how theology (conversation) can develop in today’s age. And thus, keeping the focus on dialogue, the emphasis is that talking, responding AND WRITING, is a good foundation for growing in theology and becoming mature theologians.

(nb. In most cases, I’m not correcting the grammar/spelling of comments, and keeping it as is, unless it distracts too much from the central message. I’m also keeping the names hidden for privacy reasons.)

NAyK Original post: John Stott once wrote that Jesus never “retreated behind the safety of a pulpit” rather he “spoke in settings where people were bold enough to talk back.” Would be interesting if more of us teachers would not retreat behind the safety of the lectern, so that our students would become bold enough to talk back. (bold enough to disagree/provide alternatives/and sometimes even ask questions that they would not dare ask authority figures)

BC Comment: Not using lectern or pulpit would be a good start, I think.

DA Comment: But its helpful to also remember that John Stott fervently believed in preaching…..which is different from dialogue and discussion. the pulpit only serves that end. The pulpit is not the issue, its the content of our preaching is. there are lots of speakers on God tv and youtube you don’t use pulpits but terribly misuse the scriptures…..there is a time for preaching there is a time for discussion. both are important and needed. Pulpit is sometimes just symbolic of the fact that the written word of God proclaimed and imparted to us by his Spirit is of supreme importance. This is why some traditional churches have pulpits up in front and sometimes high up. I think that’s great. But sadly the content of the preaching in many (not all) mainline churches is scriptural. There are few things more powerfully than a preacher who preaches the word of God accurately from a pulpit.

DA next comment: Sorry my point may seem a bit scrambled up, but its facebook after all…….and one more point- this is why house churches have thrown out the baby with the bath water….

NAyK (my) response: To DA, Wow, that was a big dismissal of “house churches”… perhaps you mean a certain type of “house churches” or even just one particular type ;) . (There are many models of house churches).

About preaching + pulpit, the issue is “power” and while the content ideally should be the word of God, as you noted, it is not always. And so… there seems to be a need for the congregation to “correct”, or at least “test” the preacher—Berean example, whether during or after the service. But instead, the pulpit has become a sacred fortress that legitimizes/authorizes the speaker… regardless of content (or character). Thus, the “safety” comment by Stott.

Nevertheless, my note is about education/teaching… and there hopefully you would appreciate a more open model… where the teacher does not simply deliver lecture notes (hence the lectern) but actually engages with students allowing dialogue/discussion, even disagreement.

SD Comment: I agree NAyK, although the teacher or preacher should not let the dialogue go off topic or disrupt the class/service, so that the whole group may benefit from the teaching. Although, come to think of it, Jesus several times turned a ‘distraction’ into an important teaching. Wish I could attend one of your classes!

DA Comment: Hi NAyK, first of all i admit i didn’t read carefully that you were talking about teachers and students in a classroom setting right?…about the “power” problem that’s exactly why i believe in plurality of leaders – elder-led churches….and secondly why I also [believe that] individual churches should have autonomy in functioning as opposed to the typical episcopal form of government….so this whole thing relates to all the wider topic of church government.

NAyK (my) response: Hi DA. Wow, from where to where. :) Yes, elder-led churches does help address the issue of [power by] keeping fellow elders in check, so that even if the congregation does not correct the pastor, the fellow elders can. The only problem is that if there emerges a (natural/common) hierarchy within the elders and then we’re back to square one, where one individual again exerts greater power and sometimes prevents others from disagreeing with him.

Speaking on Church government… it’s a really practical thing, and much needed. However, I tend to prefer a more “spirtualistic” (theological) approach when talking about Church governance (shows that I’m not, and hopefully will never be, a pastor in the formal sense). I feel that fellowship of elders is important, nevertheless, the Church must always insist on the priority of God, and the priority of Word, above the pastoring/preaching team so that whenever they speak, they remind the congregation that they speak as interpreters of the Word, rather than as equal to the Word. Too often, we have made our pastors as equal to prophets, who are saying the very words of God. On one sense, this is true, “by faith” (as John Stott, again, would emphasise),

Nevertheless, I feel, the pastor himself must constantly remind the congregation that he is but an interpreter, and thus he must call on the congregation to improve their own interpretation (even if it means that eventually members of the congregation will exceed the pastor). The pastor/elders must invite the congregation to learn to interpret (and improve), then I think the leadership is truly accountable to the Word, and the correct governing structure is in place.

Otherwise, the congregation simply comes to the pastor as the equal to God’s voice, without consciously recognising that they [too] are responsible to interpret God’s word. The congregation must be allowed to see that the pastor, along with the fellowship of elders, are fellow interpreters, though of course by calling, gifting, training, … perhaps more advanced. The congregation must see itself as participating through the listening, the recalling and even their own eventual witnessing/preaching/communicating through that very model of interpretation that the pastor/elders have expressed. Sometimes that will mean, even disagreeing.

(More comments may follow. This is not a closed post)

What is Contextual Theology? More questions than answers

Few days ago I was reading an academic paper written intentionally from a Kenyan contextual perspective. The paper critiqued the state of the Kenyan church and called for a transformation of the content and method of education in the Kenya. What struck me was that the author talked about the Kenyan church in almost the exact manner we talk about the Indian church. The Kenyan church, also the recipient of Colonial Christianity, had almost the exact concerns as those facing India.

I asked the author (it was a presentation), what was distinctively “contextual” in his approach since there was such similarity. What was uniquely Kenyan in his theological formulation, his methodology, or even his solution? The author’s defense was that the history of the Kenyan Church, as well as the issues facing the Kenyan church, were unique. While the author was probably right to clarify it like this, in the paper I did not see enough evidence of a theology that arose from the awareness of the history of Kenya or even the unique issues affecting Kenya. In effect, the generic “theological solution” was simply that generic.

This reminded me about how difficult “contextual theology” really is. What we usually see in attempts of “contextual theology” is theology that has implications to a particular region… hence a “practical theology”. This kind of theology seeks to address a particular issue facing a particular context. The generic nature of the “solution” is therefore not a problem because similar issues will have similar solutions.

However, we rarely see good “contextual theology” that actually uniquely emerges out of the context.This kind of theology, that is truly contextual, is mostly unique to the context within which it emerges from. In fact, it may not make sense to those outside that context, but it certainly rings a visceral bell in those within that context. This kind of theology is not simply about the issues facing the context (culture), like poverty, pluralism, lack of education etc. Rather, theology itself is made the issue. Do we understand the Bible correctly? Have we been brain-washed into thinking in a particular way? How should we (from our context) understand God, his word, that helps us to rightly understand and rightly communicate God here, today.

There have been contextual theologians in the past who have done this intentionally or unintentionally. However, good examples of “contextual theology” today are rare. It requires the theologian to be completely honest, even to the point of being willing to question age-old beliefs and traditions.

Keeping in mind the controversial nature of “contextual theology” I’m not sure whether it is a challenge worth fighting for.  But my gut-feeling is that contextual theology, the honest and compelling kind, is still needed today.

“The Word of God and the Church” – Eduard Thurneysen (excerpt)

This quote is from The Word of God and the Church, by Eduard Thurneysen, as cited by Marcus Ward, Our Theological Task, p. 186. It reminds, even challenges us, that our theological enterprise must always seek to be practical to the living struggles of the people, our neighbours.

Life rises before us and makes its claim. What does this theology mean for life? Does it mean anything? we know what life is–folly, error, sin, injustice, passion, drunkenness, mammon, war. That is life, but still more, it is death. It means men who are out of work, women who are being exploited, rich who are prisoners of their money, poor who have sunk down into bitterness. what does it mean that in the midst of this life, you as a theologian found a theology, work at exegesis and dogmatics, and preach sermons? Is it not clear that if the one does not come within sight of the other, if our theology and this life have nothing to do with each other, if when you are sitting by your study-lamp with your problems you do not keep in mind the brother who lives there outside in the labourers’ district in the distress of his poverty, or in the  fashionable quarter in the distress of his wealth, indeed, if it is not definitely for the sake of this man and because you have him in your mind that you work at your theology, then what use is all your theology?

Preaching from Jeremiah – A Sermon on Judgement and Hope

JEREMIAH – JUDGEMENT AND HOPE

Sermon Draft – 27 June, 2010 (SAIACS Chapel) (All bible references are taken from the NIV)

Jer 17:14 Heal me, O Lord , and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.

The point of the sermon is this: The story of the (early part of the) book of Jeremiah is that there is false hope being offered by the people, which God entirely rejects. Judgement is coming. However, there is also true hope for the people of God, that not everything will be destroyed, God will restore his people.

INTRODUCTION

Personal confession: I find the Bible difficult to understand.

Yet God led me to Jeremiah, to challenge me to know him outside the normal simple texts that I chose.

So for that past few months I have been meditating on the book of Jeremiah. I have thorough enjoyed reading Jeremiah and have even begun to understand parts of it that I thought I wouldn’t understand. Despite the generally negative tone, there is a fundamental positive message for the people of God, and a little of that excitement and hope is want to share with you today.

For my text I am taking a marathon survey through the first 31 chapters of Jeremiah, though focussing on 27-31.

Please don’t be shocked, we are not going verse by verse! But I’m hoping that we will get a feel for the text. But I also hope that you will read for yourself, test for yourself, what I am saying, and take a journey into this difficult yet fascinating text.

BIBLICAL SURVEY

The first 30 chapters take the reader through a message of judgement, shown from the perspective of God who is hurt and angry with his people who have forsaken him.

GRACE TO JUDGEMENT

Shifting from possible grace to inevitable judgement

One of the early chapters (chapter 2 in fact) shows God as the accuser, bringing charges against the people of Israel for forsaking their God.

Continue reading ‘Preaching from Jeremiah – A Sermon on Judgement and Hope’

The difference between philosophy and theology: blogwatch

It is hard for me to draw any sharp distinction between a Christian theology and a Christian philosophy. Philosophy generally is understood as an attempt to understand the world in its most broad, general features. It includes metaphysics or ontology (the study of being, of what “is”), epistemology (the study of knowing) and theory of value (ethics, aesthetics, etc.) If one seeks to develop a Christian philosophy, then he will certainly be doing so under the authority of Scripture, and thus will be applying Scripture to philosophical questions. As such, he would be doing theology, according to our definition [Frame’s definition of Theology is “the application of God’s word by people to all areas of life.”]. Philosophy would be a subdivision of theology. Further, since philosophy is concerned with reality in a broad, comprehensive sense, it may well take it as its task to “apply the word of God to all areas of life.” That would make philosophy, not a subdivision of theology, but identical to theology….

read more here: http://apolojet.wordpress.com/2007/08/07/whats-the-difference-between-philosophy-and-theology/

The Problem of Theology (today)

The problem with theology is the danger of approaching the inquiry of truth, even God himself, with preconceived notions. It’s almost as if everyone today is so confirmed about what they believe that if the Bible suggests anything else, then that biblical reading must be wrong! This extends beyond scriptural reading to actual discussions, where the discussions are based around more discussions. There is talk about talk, where there is a discussion about theologians, and what they say about truth, rather than with an attempt to engage directly with truth.

Of course we depend on knowledge, on traditional knowledge, yet the nature of discussion today seems to be a confirmation or discussion about what others say, or should say, rather than an actual discussion of truth of God.

The alternative is as simple as to genuinely ask: What does God say? Who is God? What is his plan for us? Clearly such fundamental questions cannot be answered adequately without an adequate knowledge of God, through the Holy Spirit Himself.

Yet, instead, the discussions of these questions in current theology are devoid of the actual encounter with God (how many classes have we sat in without prayer, confession, worship), and instead we study words about those who speak words about God. Our knowledge is judged by how we conform to accepted knowledge.

The only way out, I think, is if there is a regular attempt to understand God’s word, more importantly, an intentional attempt to meet God and seek what he wants. What are His desires. (and we not decide for him). Allow ourselves to question our pre-understandings about God… and yet have the faith in God. Thus, not become sceptics, but becoming disciples who ask questions that we really want answered. And our goal is not to know more, but to follow better.


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Passage for this Season

Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.