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Wake up, Congress: my wishlist for a fallen giant

Congress PartyThe year is 2014 and we all, Indians, know the story. The Congress party has been defeated in the polls by BJP, and by defeated we mean almost obliterated. Yet, just the other day, a member of this defeated Congress party criticised, even “mocked”, the qualifications of some of the BJP cabinet ministers. Obviously the ruling party, BJP, hit back. But I can’t help but feel that if the Congress wants to redefine itself as a party, then this kind of criticism, personal attack, must stop. Of course politicians will attack their opponents, but attacks of this kind of are insensible especially when the Congress itself had chosen several non-qualified people for its Ministerial berths.

I had been silent during most of the elections, hating to read every news report that dug another nail in the Congress coffin. But now, that the results are out, and the new party and PM and proxy government (RSS) are installed, it’s time for some reflection. And the above issue makes me fear that change may be impossible for the Congress. And I really fear that. So I want to draft a wishlist for what Congress needs to do, to change. Obviously, no significant Congress party worker will be reading this post, but if I (and millions of Indians) can comment about inconsequential things like the Indian cricket team, about what they must do to win, why can’t I put down my thoughts on what Congress can do to win (at least win my support back)?! So here’s my wishlist for a Congress resurrection…

What do I wish from the congress?

I wish, I hope, that the Congress can redefine itself as a clean party that cares for the nation.

I wish that it will get back to their roots of nationalism, secularism, development of the poor…

I wish it will continue its push for young leadership.

I wish it will show that it is more than a single-family run unit, which means that there needs to be clear political leaders agreeing to the larger party ideology… rather than being defined by their Gandhi-loyalty.

Relatedly, I wish the Congress party will allow at least three non-Gandhi related leaders to rise as spokesmen, workers and the new face of the Congress party.  (I don’t mind the Gandhi family being in Congress, and in fact the biggest recent contribution Sonia Gandhi made for India, was to sacrifice her position to be PM. She could have easily become Prime Minister 10 years ago, but she said no. Thus, that mentality, that service attitude, for the betterment of the nation, can remain where the Gandhi’s can be seen as allowing others to rise).

I wish the Congress will apologise for its corruption.

I wish the Congress will apologise for being negligent during the Anti-Sikh riots.

I wish the Congress will reject votebank politics… where it panders to the minorities during elections, and does nothing to instil in us all a vision of a nation.

While I wish that the Congress will rightly critique the connection between BJP and the proxy government RSS, I still hope that Congress will have more intelligent things to say against this current government than argue that it is “communal”. BJP is communal, yes, but they are good at hiding it (and in this election they have hardly talked about it), so I hope that there will be more to say to critique the government, a better fight from the Congress.

I wish the Congress will spend time wooing middle class voters, taking their criticism, and listening to their suggestions.

I wish the Congress will learn from the AAP, especially from its grass roots and lower-middle class method of campaigning. I even like Arvind Kejriwal’s speak when he become Chief Ministry. It struck, I think, the right notes of an ideal vision for nation building.

I wish the Congress will not rely only on past accomplishments but actually have a vision for the future of the nation.

I wish the Congress will learn better marketing skills. Even as I hope it will rebuild its vision, I hope it will let us all (ALL) know about it.

And so, yes, I support a transformation of the Congress party. I hope Congress share in the above vision and transform itself.

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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)

Child’s faith

Few days ago, my faith was tested. There was a student (his family are our friends) whom we found out needed a lot of money (and we mean a lot!) to be able to finish his theological education.  The situation was so dire that if he was not able to raise the amount by the deadline, which was in one week, then he would not be able to graduate. I knew that family and I knew that they just did not have the resources to raise that amount. As we (my wife and I) talked about the situation, we were grim and talked seriously about what could be done.

Without hesitation, our (6-year-old) daughter, who we didn’t realise was listening to our conversation, said, “I have money (for that family).” She promptly went to her purse and took out some of the money she got during her Christmas holidays, money that she was saving for something really special that she wanted. From that purse she took out about half of it and gave it to us to give it to that family.

I was stunned. And hugely moved. While we had tried to encourage generosity in our family, we never expected “sacrificial” giving from our daughter.

The money, which amounted to about Rs. 125, was obviously way short of what was needed. But we put it in an envelop and straightaway went to that family, gave it to them, and prayed with them. Later that night, we prayed once again for that family, wondering again where the huge amount would come from. Our daughter said, “If God wants them to graduate, he’ll help them get the money.”

Honestly. No matter how “cute” or moving her words were, I was still skeptical. I just didn’t know where the money would come from.

Then suddenly, on the final day of the deadline, I talked to the accounts office and it turned out that all the money had to been raised for that student… from various sources (meaning not just one generous benefactor).

We rejoiced. We told our daughter too. And she didn’t seem too surprised that the money came through and just went about her play.

Through this I learned something about faith. My daughter was right. If it’s part of God’s plan, he will make a way. My daughter was also right to put her faith into action and give sacrificially, even if it didn’t seem to make a difference. And through the providentially happy ending of the story I learned that God will make the impossible, possible. To believe that, to trust that, and to act accordingly, was faith.

BCCI says, “One who is contributing more should get more.” And God says?

These last few days, amidst the generals struggles, joys and tragedies of life, another story is playing out… that of the BCCI, Australia and England, asking for greater influence and control of the ICC. “The big three” as they are called, as seeking to alter how the ICC (a corporate body for governing worldwide cricket) works. Latest news here: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci-icc/content/story/714187.html

Evidently, the vision of “global” responsibility, service and sacrifice are missing, ironically in a nation that has been both a beneficiary of a global service vision and also continues to struggle with mass poverty and need.

An attitude of “rich get richer” really does not help a country like India, where Sport is just one facet of life. If India is commercially successful in cricket and to some extent IT sectors, it does not mean that we as a nation are succeeding. We need to have a more corporate responsibility to help not just lesser funded sports, but also lesser funded areas like education, agriculture, or even medical facilities in semi-urban/rural regions.

But spreading the wealth is clearly not the ethos of BCCI… who are looking to protect their own interest.

And God’s voice… by which I mean, a voice that comes from the Bible… is:

Phillipian 2:3-4: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Hmmm.

 

A day with Google plus: ideas

I had an interesting time experimenting with Google Plus the other day. Basically, I decided to post any significant thought I was having, something like twitter for thoughts. I wanted to see what I would say if I maintained a roughly two-hour posting cycle. Meaning, every two hours I would post some thoughts on G+.

I took the dialogue approach… exploring theological thinking that could generate discussion and further reflection. This allowed me to condense any thought into a conversation idea. I found that I was very aware of what I was posting… and the idea that I had to choose the perspective from which I was reflecting was also quite important.

One thought, for instance, was about the need to be people centred while also being institution centred. The other was about cricket… and the idea of how failure of teams affects personal feelings of failure. This led me to further express the ideas that I have been having for a theology of sport.

It was interesting to see the desire to create a “byte” out of my random thoughts through the day… and interestingly, there were so many. Each of those thoughts… if thought through and presented well… could emerge as a blogpost… or even as an article.

Hence… it showed how ideas were not the problem. And places like Google+ were great places to express burgeoning ideas.

However… what happens to the 1000s of ideas that fester. Mostly they evaporate… without a trace. Other times, I have found myself wanting to start something, but not having the will to continue with it. I have, of late, become more cautious with exploring ideas for that very fear… fear of leaving things unfinished.

I am left with the feeling of “what next”… should I think about generating such ideas… or more specifically… keep publicizing them… or should i just focus on 1 or 2 ideas and develop them?

Fact is, I remain without direction… and like many unfinished projects… this thought will remain without conclusion… and my google plus craze… will remain a phase… until I get back to experiencing and living without formulating, combined with systematically articulating and communicating.

 

Contextual or Practical? More thoughts on contextual theology

Of late I’ve been thinking a lot about contextual theology; particularly in the context of the popular equation of contextual theology with practical theology (arising often from some western mission-oriented scholars). The belief (proposal) is that theology, when dealing with the practical contextual issues of our time, is contextual. Rooted in this belief is a methodological presupposition that there is a consistent gospel, known/understandable/communicable across time and cultures. What remains, from this clear/unchanging gospel, is the practical time-bound/culture-bound application of the issues. Many would admit that the gospel is and must continue to be interpreted from cultural frameworks. However, the priority of scriptures is so strongly emphasized that the actual “power” that the context has over our understanding of scripture is largely ignored. We are left with a monolithic (standard) view of God and revelation, without the cultural nuances that could theoretically significantly alter / differentiate our understanding of them.

Contextual theologians for their part (and I wish I could side more fully with this side) are those who appeal to the contextual nature of understanding and make an intentional attempt to discover the gospel within their contextual framework. These “contextual” frameworks include ethnicity and gender, but also social ethics like justice and peace. The concern here is not simply to “apply” the gospel, but to understand (even re-understand) the gospel contextually. Hence, theology, and our pet (standard) doctrines like Creation, redemption, eschatology, need to be revisited from the contextual point of view. God must be seen as being involved with the world, and thus our involvement with God’s world, and God’s activity in this world, is seen to naturally be coloured by our perceptions of this world.

This quest to understand God “from below” (as it has been called) is truly a much-needed activity, especially for younger churches who need to discover who God is and what the Bible says, for themselves, for their communities. Like the “western church” they (we) too need to be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, grow in our theology through theological debate.

I need to say that I (personally) am averse to the anti-western flavour that a lot of contextual theology takes. Furthermore, I am also averse to the aggressive anti-biblical, anti-church rhetoric that is proposed. However, especially in view of the last paragraph, I feel the younger churches must be allowed to make such mistakes even as other “contextual” theologians from the younger churches should be allowed to disagree with our (contextual) counterparts.

I don’t mean that theological debate must take place at the exclusion of the “west”, but rather that this debate must be a real one… and must not simply be between “west and east” but also within/between “east and east” (south and south… or whatever metaphor / classification we choose to employ).

So positively, drawn from the first paragraph, I want to affirm that contextual theology must have (and the must is a norm that I propose, and in view of the needed debate between contextual theologians) a missional flavour. It is true that theology for theology sake is beautiful and good, but the challenge to be practical may indeed give greater focus and direction, even urgency, to our contextual ramblings. It is the crisis of the present that can govern/shape our theology, and that crisis… like the challenges of society, of church, of ethics etc… must also be the focus of our theological engagement.

Similarly, I am now less averse to the equation of practical theology with contextual theology, though I do still disagree with its equation that contextual theology equals practical theology. However, I am certainly inclined to think that the practical focus of contextual theology, may in fact be its strength.

Modern Trends in Theology

A thought paper

The goal of this thought paper is to put down, as honestly and quickly as possibly, what I already know about the topic “Modern trends in theology”. Partly this is motivated by the need to get clarity about this subject. Thus, I seek to draw out what I know and possibly expose the gaps of what I do not know. I also, more importantly, want to move out of the “knowing about” paradigm and see whether there is a “doing” that exists, something that suggests that I am relevant within the modern trends in theology, whether I am doing theology or still just talking about it. I’m hoping that as I do this I will make some progress.

To answer these questions and proceed accordingly, I guess the first thing I typically do is to define (or redefine) what I mean by theology. I remember answering what theology was by saying that it was an answer to a question that relates to God. I would add that it is an answer to a question/concern that arises from God, and yet arises out of seeing God in that context, and also in search of God in/through that issue, and answered with the help of God, informed by his witness in scriptures and the tradition that holds scriptures together. The reason I put so much God into the focus, is because I feel the true nature of theology will always be God. The moment God goes out of focus, theology becomes anthropology or something else. These somethings elses are not bad in themselves, but theology as a discipline must be concerned with its central concern, which is God.

In the past few years, I have gained a clearer understanding of the relevance of history and church to do theology, and thus I know that this “God-talk” is not an individual discussion, or an experiential expression, but is a dialogue with other voices. The use of other voices, traditions, is not simply one method of theology, it is the very nature of theology. Thus, the contextual motivations/concerns, the dialogical nature, are all parts of the very fabric of theology which is done for the purpose of “knowing God” and making Him known.

This last sentence, clearer shows a bias towards the evangelical tradition, particularly in the communication of God. The bias is still a “knowing” which I think is a big problem in evangelical thought. I think we mean it as something more, more than cognitive, I personally think of a relation “knowing” in the sense that God “knows” us, or even Adam “knew” Eve. Still, the word knowledge is so coloured with cognitive post-enlightenment thinking that it is too difficult to avoid.

And perhaps here I am ready to state what I think is a contemporary trend in theology. It is the moving away from the cognitive knowledge of God as paramount, to a more fuller relation with God through actions/life. This non-cognitive aspect of our relation with God is expressed through a rejection of purely propositional accounts of God and theology, towards narrative discourses or even relational methods that aims to better approach towards a truer/richer/fuller picture of who God is and who God is for creation.

Relatedly, there is a diversification of our approach to God, where especially seen through Trinitarian, Pneumatological, and other “models” our access to God is shown to be better/fuller by filling the missing gaps that previously limited (Christological, or ecclesiocentric) models failed to do.

The goal is to get a better, more complete picture of God and God’s relation with humanity and creation. And that certainly is a very popular trend in contemporary Christian scholarship.

The other trend is contextualisation of theology, by which I want to emphasise the subjective element of theology. There is a movement away from objective understandings of God, to the recognition that knowledge of God is shaped by our perceptions, by our cultures, by our environment etc. This recovery of subjectivity, is both a recovery of faith in theology (so Christians doing Christian theology), but also is the rise of confidence in narrower theological positions that distinguish and highlight key differences. So we have evangelical, orthodox, catholic theologies. We also have reformed, Pentecostal theologies. We have further the more obvious contextual theologies like liberation, feminist and dalit, as well as postmodern/postcolonial theologies. Each of these theologies aims to highlight both the significance of particularist understandings of the Christian gospel, but also points to the lack (intentionally or unintentionally) in others. At best, the goal is to work together to come up with a more wholistic understanding of the Christian gospel.

There is another way theology is moving, and that is to address contemporary issues. While the goal of theology is at best to be relevant to the context, nevertheless, this trend, to address the burning issues of society today is especially unique. Perhaps it is the proliferation of global awareness through mass media, however, more than ever, theology has been seeking to address issues of economics, politics, sexuality, ethics, social justice, environment and so forth. More specific issues are also addressed, like human rights and child theology.

There is a similar comfort with theology to be interdisciplinary. So there is a much more inter-mingling of disciplines, with anthropology, philosophy, natural science all mixing with the theological space.

The goal, through this above trend, is to broaden the scope of theology to address living issues, and also in ways that are living methods and disciplines today.

Methodologically, theology has moved towards theories of language, interest in hermeneutics, interest in cultures/contexts, user of inter-disciplinary tools. All, once again, showing that theology is not simply static and propositional or institutional, but is willing to try out new ideas, explore its own content from multiple perspectives.

So here we have it, a short thought paper on the modern trends in theology. How this all fits with “doing” I’m still not sure. And there is obviously more left to say, but at least I have gotten started by doing some theological reflection at least!


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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.