Saturday, October 21, 2006

Luther's Theology of the Cross

19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened [Rom. 1.20].
20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
22. That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.
The above theses are taken from the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, where Martin Luther was called upon to defend his theses.

I will be doing a paper on a book by Mark Shaw, titled 10 Great Ideas from Church History. One of the chapters covers Luther’s theology of the cross, which regards God as working through paradox. For instance, Matthew 10:39 states: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Another example of paradox is though the world sees Christ dying on the cross as a disgrace and a failure, Christ’s work on the cross is actually a victorious triumphant work of redemption that was planned before creation began.

This excerpt below, which is taken from 10 Great Ideas from Church History, shows how the theology of the cross can be used to critically assess the rising prevalence of seeker-sensitive sermons and the disregard of the importance of good theology in too many churches.
But how can decision-makers translate Luther’s great idea into good decisions? Let’s look at some possible decisions that might unleash the power of the cross in our churches, families and organizations.

Use #1: The cross and preaching. By “preaching the cross” I don’t mean we should preach only evangelistic sermons. Instead we need to bring the perspective of the cross into everything we preach. William Willimon, chaplain at Duke University, writes about preaching to consumer-oriented audiences who appear to want entertainment more than enlightenment. It’s easy for preachers to make one of two mistakes in responding to such congregations. One mistake is to give in “to their consumer mind-set” with “feel-good” sermons that avoid biblical truths. The second mistake is to give up. We can develop the attitude that “my people don’t care about the gospel. They just want to be entertained.” What Willimon has discovered about beating the consumer mindset is striking:
My first priority, then, is to preach a sermon that speaks about the gospel, not a speech that explores people’s experience. In the admirable attempts to be relevant, too many sermons I hear whitewash therapeutic solutions with biblical “principles” where the Bible ends up sounding like the latest rage of popular psychology.
What we need in our churches is talk “about Jesus Christ and what he has done for us and what he calls us to do for him and for one another.” When we lift up the cross of Christ each week as both a way of salvation and a way of seeing, we will turn an audience into a church and consumers into the committed. As David Wells has written: “The Church is called to declare the message of the cross, not to uncover God’s hidden purposes in the world or the secrets of his inner therapy.” We must bring people under the cross to get them over the world.

Use #2: The cross and theological literacy. If theology in general is despised in our churches and organizations, then the theology of the cross will be marginalized as well. When we cultivate our people’s appetite for doctrine, however, the theology of the cross can be unleashed.

George Barna has described the “theology of the typical American” as “nothing less than frightening.” What is the problem? “The lack of accurate knowledge about God’s Word, about his principles for life, and the apparent absence of influence the Church is having upon the thinking and behavior of this nation is a rude awakening for those who assume we are in the midst of a spiritual revival.” This theological slippage also appears among evangelicals. Denominations that were once known for their defense of the faith now talk only of marketing their churches or ordering their private worlds. Yet “to value theology,” argues David Wells, “is to value the means by which the Church can become more faithful and more effective in this world.”

Providentially, the structures for the theological renewal are already in place. Adult Sunday-school classes and weekday small group dot the landscape. Useful resources that could be studied by those in such networks abound. Alister McGrath’s The Mystery of the Cross would be one place to begin. New theological methods such as narrative theology, which employs story forms to communicate theological truth, have made theological study more accessible to a wider audience.

When theology matters, the theology of the cross will matter more. Keeping in mind Luther’s warning that a theology of glory will do more harm than good, wise decision-makers will take practical action to raise the theological literacy of their congregations.
More articles on the theology of the cross can be found here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Jonathan Edwards is My Homeboy

For those of you who have not read Christianity Today’s feature article Young, Restless and Reformed, which appeared last month, do hop over to the website to read it. One of my classmates had kindly told me about this article. I was able to read it in my college library, as my Bible college has a monthly subscription to Christianity Today.

I have found it to be quite a fair and balanced article about the resurgence of Calvinism among the Southern Baptists.

An excerpt from the article:
It's because the young Calvinists value theological systems far less than God and his Word. Whatever the cultural factors, many Calvinist converts respond to hallmark passages like Romans 9 and Ephesians 1. "I really don't like to raise any banner of Calvinism or Reformed theology," said Eric Lonergan, a 23-year-old University of Minnesota graduate. "Those are just terms. I just like to look at the Word and let it speak for itself."

That's the essence of what Joshua Harris calls "humble orthodoxy." He reluctantly debates doctrine, but he passionately studies Scripture and seeks to apply all its truth.

"If you really understand Reformed theology, we should all just sit around shaking our heads going, 'It's unbelievable. Why would God choose any of us?'" Harris said. "You are so amazed by grace, you're not picking a fight with anyone, you're just crying tears of amazement that should lead to a heart for lost people, that God does indeed save, when he doesn't have to save anybody."
It appears that someone is taking orders for the “Jonathan Edwards is My Homeboy” T-shirts too.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

News report: British Airways employee sent home for wearing cross necklace

An excerpt from an article published today:
BA said its policy was that employees must wear jewelry, including religious symbols, under their uniforms.

"This rule applies for all jewelry and religious symbols on chains and is not specific to the cross," the airline said in a statement.

"Other items such as turbans, hijabs and bangles can be worn as it is not practical for staff to conceal them beneath their uniforms."
Hmm... I am now waiting with bated breath for the outbreaks of violent street protests and riots staged by Christians around the world, demanding for the CEO of British Airways to publicly apologize for offending Christian sensitivities. Perhaps there might be sporadic killings from this outrage too.

British Airways employee says she was sent home from work for wearing cross necklace, International Herald Tribune

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Food for thought: Anglicanism and missions

Just a quick food for thought...

Last month, I submitted a paper that compare and contrast the liturgical services of an Anglican church and a Roman Catholic Church. In order to do the paper, I had to visit St Andrew’s Cathedral and Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. Those visits were quite an eye-opener. Well... I finally got my paper back today and thank God, I believe I did pretty well for someone whose academic background was in IT rather than the humanities. I am also reminded of a thought that I had after I handed in my paper last month.

Unlike today where the majority of the Anglican Church is literate, people back in the days of the Reformation were mostly illiterate. Through the lectures and my readings on Anglicanism, I learned that one of the reasons for its emphasis on liturgical ceremonies was to impart Bible teachings to the laity through the use of our three major senses: sight, sound and smell. The observance of the liturgical year is one such example.

For those of us who comes from non-episcopal denominations, perhaps this is one thing we could learn from the Anglican Church when we are exploring various ways to educate illiterate people in our missions programmes.

Monday, October 09, 2006

EE-Taow! The Mouk Story

"EE-Taow" means "it’s very true" in the Mouk language.

During the Theology of Mission class last week, my lecturer showed a video by New Tribes Mission about the Mouk tribe of Papua New Guinea. The reenactment of their salvation testimony was quite powerful and moving, and so I thought I should read up a little more about the Mouk people. And lo and behold, I found the same video I watched while googling for the Mouk tribe.

According to the lecturer, the team of missionaries took about two years to study the Mouk language and way of life, to educate the Mouk people, and to translate the Bible into the Mouk language. When the missionaries were ready to present the Gospel, they invited the entire village to a series of Bible teachings in which they explained the Bible in the language of the tribe. For three months, the villagers would gather together twice a day on Monday to Friday where each session lasted about an hour, while the missionaries chronologically walked through the key points of the Bible.

You can watch the EE-Taow! The Mouk Story video on Google Videos or download the entire video here. Or else you can read the story of the Mouk people here.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

First Year at Bible College

This is my first post to my blog in quite a while. To some of my readers, I’m apologize for not being able to reply to your emails because of my heavy workload.

If readers wish to know the main reason I have not been updating my blog, well… the book on the left pretty much says everything. Yes… William D. Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek has been taking up most of my time. I am currently in the first semester of my first year in Bible college. So far, my college experience has been fantastic. My classmates and lecturers are great and the college environment allows me to be exposed to different theological traditions. There are people of many nationalities (e.g. Chinese, Malaysians, Koreans, Japanese, Americans etc) and various denominations (e.g. Presbyterians, Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostals etc).

This semester I have taken on a total of seven subjects, and they are: Greek I, Hermeneutics, Old Testament Backgrounds, Survey of Church History, Christian Spirituality, Theology of Mission, and Church Music Ministry. For the past couple of months, I have been extremely busy with school assignments, quizzes, readings and lectures. There is a Greek quiz almost every week. In fact, I would be sitting for another one this coming Tuesday.

On top of that, I have been going to work after classes as well. This may get pretty tiring at times, but thanks to God for placing me a work environment where I can, sort of, multi-task between my work and my studies. So to sum it up, I am studying full-time at my Bible college, working full-time, and at the same time, am involved in different areas of ministry in my church.

Because of my daily travels between the college and the workplace, I thought it would be best to get for myself a notebook. So I got myself a MacBook (2 GHz Intel Core Duo). I am currently typing this post on my MacBook. This is my first switch from a PC to Mac and I must say that the transition has been smooth. I have upgraded the RAM to 2 GB and as of this moment, I am running 3 operating systems (two of them using Parallels): OSX (Tiger), Windows XP, and Kubuntu Linux 6.06.

I would like to end this post with a testimony. A day before the Greek I mid-semester exam, my wisdom tooth was causing so much pain that I could not concentrate on my Greek I revisions. By the evening, the pain was so unbearable that I had to go to the dentist who gave me an injection to numb the pain. Skipping or postponing the exam was not an option for me. The dentist had also prescribed some painkillers so that I could focus on my revisions and the exam. To cut the story short, I sat for the exam and I have received the result, which is surprisingly good. So I would like to give thanks to God for the good grade despite the ordeal I had went through the previous evening.