Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Jesus and Politics: A Primer

There’s quite a lot of good content out there already on the intersection between Christianity and politics, whether from a more philosophical angle (eg. what is the basis of pluralism and how should Christians approach it?), or from the more recent trend in biblical studies to consider Paul’s thoughts in the context of imperial Rome. And of course, rants about George Bush. So if you’re already well-versed on these topics, nothing new here. In fact, it’s probably worth picking the brains of some of my better-informed readers; they'll know more than I do! But – maybe riffing in part on Wai Nyan’s thoughts - I thought I’ll try to offer a succinct orientation point. My purpose here is not to prescribe a particular approach to politics, but rather, to show that engaging with the political, properly understood, is an inevitable part of Christian discipleship.

It was a particularly intense moment in a trial involving political corruption. The prosecutor took a bite out of his kuih lapis, then walked over slowly to the witness. "Isn’t it true," he elongated the words, "that you took 10,000 ringgit to compromise the case?"

The witness, elbow propped on the witness stand, just stared blankly into space.

The prosecutor went on the offensive. "Isn’t it true," he repeated, louder this time. "Isn’t it true, that you, in your moment of greed, accepted 10,000 ringgit so as to compromise this case?" The witness still did not respond.

The judge finally leaned over and said, "Encik, please answer the question."

"Oh", the startled witness said in a loud whisper. "I thought he was talking to you."

Not a true story, but Malaysians reading this will probably think that it’s not too far off the mark. It illustrates too the cynicism towards politics in general, whereby the word has become synonymous with corruption, the abuse of power, lack of integrity. That such a word should be uttered in the hallowed halls of church would be anathema to many. Not that the word or concept of "religion" has fared much better. It is greeted by a similar disdain, with many equating it to lifeless dogmatism; at best an irrelevance, at worse a threat. Yet in Malaysia, more so than in a place like post-Christian Europe, where the forces of secularisation has long held the upper hand, the two often meet, even if the government prefers to try to keep the two at arms length from each other. More than a few, Christians or not, agree with such sentiments, preferring to echo the poet William Butler Yeats:
How can I, that girl standing there
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Or Malaysian. But if we think about it, we see that politics, properly understood, affects all of us. It touches on our education. How many of my generation were annoyed by the constant back-and-forth about Bahasa Baku? How many of those younger than me were affected by the decision to teach Maths and Science in English? Should I send my kid to a national or vernacular school? It touches on money, property and ownership. I’m sure taxes occupy a corner, or perhaps even a large room, in the minds of many. What would happen if the government follows Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and seizes land from one to give to the other? Is our government already doing this to the Orang Asli or the Ibans, only more covertly?

"The personal is the political" is probably a provocative overstatement, but it does capture that maybe the two are closer than we think. And so we begin to see that politics, yes, has to do with who has the right to power and the basis for such rights, but also more broadly, on the “everyday” stuff that happens if we live in a society. And so when I use the word politics/political here, I mean it, in line with a widely-used definition, as a way of life of a people who share a common life, which includes the structures of authority.

How does Jesus and following him fit into all this? The word "authority" should ring a bell. Think about some basic Christian truths for a moment. We know God is the Creator and owns the rights to his world. The world, in fact, is created by and for Jesus (Colossians 1:15ff), including "thrones or powers or rulers or authorities". So God is the supreme authority. The public arena is not off-limits to God, something we see again and again in the Old Testament. The Egyptian Pharaoh and his gods, magicians and all, face off against God in Exodus and loses. The prophets of Baal face off against God’s man, Elijah, and loses. Not that Israel was any better off; their rebellious kings earn the wrath of God, and the Jews are thrown into exile and under Roman suppression.

The Jews in New Testament times were both despairing and defiant (sounds familiar?), and came up with several solutions. One group, the Zealots, thought: "We’ve been passive too long. We obviously need a revolution, a violent one if need be." Another coalition, the Sadducees and Herodians, thought, "We need to co-operate. Playing the game is the only safe option". A more familiar group to us, the Pharisees, thought: "Actually, the only reason we’re in this position is that we’re all obviously very impure. We need to be better at keeping the law! This way, maybe God then will return to us. The Romans are so sinful, but then so are the Herodians and Zealots!"

Enter into the scene Jesus and his announcement of good news, the gospel (Mark 1:14-15). As we have just seen, the Jews were very much at home with the idea of the kingship of God; it was a fundamental aspect of their beliefs and hopes. For Jesus to proclaim the gospel would have immediately conjured up images of Isaiah and God’s promise of God’s reappearance to set the world right, when his rule would be visible once more amongst all the nations. Yet Jesus confronted and subverted all the positions of the various Jewish parties. In doing so, he was not running away from politics, but actually making a new political statement of his own by proposing a new approach to doing politics, which would be the way of the cross. Take, for example, the parable of the banquet (Luke 14:15-24). One guest makes a pious remark, presumably because he was in religious company, but Jesus seizes the opportunity to use such religious small-talk to teach about the inclusivity of the kingdom of God. In doing so, he evokes imagery from Isaiah 25:6 (emphasis mine): "And the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces of marrow, and refined, aged wine".

But even if you were not a Jew, the term "gospel" or good news still had political overtones. If you were living then, you would simply have used the term to herald the arrival of the emperor, quite similar to a “long live the king!”. It was intended not just for information, but to elicit a response. Jesus would then perform prophetically symbolic acts that demonstrated that he was the king. It was certainly unmistakable to many of the Jews, they tried to make him king by force (John 6:15)! But as C.S Lewis has illustrated so vividly through the character of Aslan, this is a king who would rescue by his death. The Jewish parties wanted to assassinate him because he was threatening their politics, and got him on the charge that he was causing a public disturbance. Jesus’ answer? "You are right in saying that I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me" (John 18:38). The true king demands allegiance. (For another example, see my Christmas post last year.)

Therefore, the gospel has a political dimension, in that it reaches into every area of our lives, the public and the domestic. Gospel people, that is, the church, thus are in a sense a political community, but certainly not of the kind the world envisions. Paul, writing from a Roman prison, encourages the Philippians that their citizenship is in heaven (3:20), but at the same time urges them to live out their citizenships in the here and now in a "manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (1:27), an implication of the truth that Jesus is Lord (2:11). This was during a time when Philippi was a Roman colony and many of its citizens enjoyed the privileges bestowed upon them by Roman citizenship. "They function within their society as a prophetic subculture, whose cross-shaped living offers a visible alternative to the ethos of the dominant culture" (Dean Flemming).

In other words, the way they live is distinctive, engaging with the political realities of the society they live in a Christ-like fashion. Lim Kar Yong writes:
What does this mean for the church today? As believers, Jesus not only summons us to a radically exclusive commitment and wholehearted devotion to him but also challenges us as a body of Christ to be the alternative assembly for the society. In this respect, the church is also political. This means that the church does not and cannot exist in isolation from the community that God has placed her.
It is often difficult to know what this looks like. There is no one size fits all model. Sometimes this would be demonstrated in praying for and co-operating with the civil authorities. At other times, it might mean speaking up for the marginalised. It might mean, for some of us, engaging in the frontlines in working in political parties or NGOs. For others, this might not be the case: it might be something as simple as praying faithfully everyday for the authorities.

But it is clear, if Jesus is Lord, the political is not excluded. Rather, it reminds us that politics is a very real concern of the God we worship and to ask Christians to be witnesses in the arena. If Jesus is Lord, crude nationalism cannot be our creed. If the gospel is our message, then we cannot either feel that our race, whatever that might be, is superior. At the same time, if Jesus is Lord, then we know that civil authorities are not the final arbiter. If the gospel is our message, we know that politics of whatever stripe are ultimately limited, for they cannot secure our salvation and we should not place our confidence in them. The gospel reminds us that human authority can always be abused.

But finally, the gospel reminds us that there is true hope. I think this is an important message for Malaysians in particular to hear. I am struck by how the thoughts and actions of the Saduccees flow directly from their beliefs. If you ever took my subject namesake, BK (Bible Knowledge) for SPM, you would know that the Saduccees did not believe in a resurrection. Well no wonder they chose to collude with the Romans; if there is no life after death, then of course you would want a comfortable life now! But Christians believe in a resurrection, a day when all will bow before the Lord and there will be a great banquet. And it is this hope which sustains us in the here and now and motivates us to work as transforming agents of the Kingdom. Amen.

Notable links:
Politics in Malaysia - relevant for Christians?, by Ong Kian Ming with more practical suggestions. Also in the issue of Kairos Magazine: Engaging Wider Society, I think.

'Was Jesus Political?', talk given by Lim Kar Yong at the launch of Malaysian thinkthank OHMSI.

Submission to Authorities: Pliancy at all costs?, by Ong Kian Ming, with questions for reflection.

Education Malaysia - the best blog on this issue, of which Ong Kian Ming is one of the bloggers.

Lim Kit Siang, noted veteran Malaysian opposition parliamentarian.

Rocky's Bru, blog of veteran journalist Ahiruddin Atan, and a wellspring of information.

Apologies for not being as succint as I would have liked!

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

May the angels truly dance!

I thought I'll share this. A few months ago, I told the story of my good friend L and shared my joy at what I thought was his decision to turn to Jesus. To my embarassment, it turned out that my announcement was premature. My friend, L, told me that he didn't think he was a Christian yet, although he was "trying to be one". As we talked, it became clear that he still hadn't grasped the gospel yet, but was still hungry to know more.

L went back to his home country over the summer, but returned a couple of weeks ago. Today we met up to read the Bible together.
I thought that as I've been doing Romans in my Bible studies, we would turn to Romans 1:1-17, and particularly to bring out the nature of the gospel as Paul describes it in this letter. As a lead-in question, I asked, "So, what would you say, generally speaking, is good news?" He was slightly confused by my question, so I said, "I suppose if I got really good results in my exams, that would be an example of good news, wouldn't it?" He agreed enthusiastically, and together we thought of a few other examples: a good friend gets married, Manchester United thrashing Arsenal (what? that is good news!). I thought I'll push him a little more, and asked, "What about on a bigger scale, maybe? What would be really good news?" Now, at this point, I was thinking that he would reply along the lines of "the end of war" or something like that. He then trained his gaze meaningfully at me, rubbed his chin, and said, " You know what, BK? I know what was definitely the bestest good news for you. It's obvious. It was when you met and knew Jesus. There surely can't be any better news than that."

That answer probably accounts for the spilt coffee all over my Bible and jeans. Probably from all the tension of trying to keep my jaw shut.

We had a good time exploring what Paul says about the gospel, and it was great, noticing the divine origins of the gospel and its supreme subject matter: Jesus Christ. As we got to 1:16 and looked at it, I asked him (actually, this must be the Holy Spirit, since there's no way I'll ever be so bold!): "So, why do you think I want to tell you about Jesus?" And he went: "Because you're not ashamed?" (If I had more coffee I'd would have spilt it all. And I was thinking to myself: "Oh L, how wrong you are! I'm more ashamed than I care to admit!"). And he went on: "And you want me to believe in him because you know that's the best for me." Now at the is point I was thinking, who's really getting more out of our Bible-reading time here, me or him?

I was really happy that he seemed to grasp more of the saving work of Jesus. Even better was when we went to the evening service tonight, and I saw the sermon outline included "Denying the gospel" and "Living by the gospel". (It was on 1 John 1:5-2:2). At the end of the service, he told me that he had prayed to God, asking him to help him follow Jesus. And he said that there were less and less barriers stopping him, although there was still one significant barrier, which I wouldn't share here. We had a good discussion on forgiveness and how the gospel impacts us corporately, especially in the way Christians relate to others. He asked good questions and pushed me harder to think through some of my own assumptions.

I thought I'll share this simply as an encouragement to others, and to catch a glimpse of the glorious gospel we have. I know how difficult witnessing is, and I'm a wimp most, if not all, of the time. Yet I'm just stunned sometimes, even with Romans 1:16 being hammered into me, how dynamic, how powerful, how life-giving the gospel is. Please do pray for L that he would turn to Jesus. Only God changes hearts. And pray for me too. Even as I share this, I'm aware I have mixed motives, as if sharing this proves my Christian credentials or elevates my status or something. Instead, I turn to the words of that old hymn that it might prove true:

May the love of Jesus fill me
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,
This is victory, this is victory.

...And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him, seeing only Him.

[Complete digression: This hymn has been set to a smashing new tune by Mark Peterson!]

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Review: Once

I was in the mood to watch an indie flick today, and, having read a glowing review of Once in Empire, was pleased to see that one of the two London locations it was playing at was reasonably nearby. Good choice!

Once is beautiful and intimate, a love letter both to music and the privilege of friendship, even when that friendship is precariously poised on a precipice that overlooks the treacherous seas of romance and the warning flag is up. There is only the barest of plots – the two characters the story revolves around aren’t even named. It’s simply the tale of an Irish busker (Glen Hansard) who meets a Czech immigrant (Marina Irglova) and discover a mutual affinity for music and each other. We, the audience, are simply the invisible chaperone as we watch their relationship bloom in the most ordinary of settings: in their homes, in a shop, on the streets. And of course, a large part of the film is the music, which is woven effortlessly through the film as part of the narrative – it is the passion of both characters, after all, and a natural part of their lives – as well possessing as an expositional function: it makes the inner thoughts of the characters accessible to us. We could say that Once is a musical, but not as how you would normally conceive a musical. However, if you’re not into singer-songwriterish type music, you might not enjoy the film so much.

I really did no justice to the feel of the film in the last paragraph. Trust me when I say this is no Hugh Grant vehicle.

A film like this depends heavily on the characters to make it compelling, and Glen and Marina, who are both professional musicians rather than actors, are remarkable. They produce understated but powerful performances. This is as far from standard Hollywood romantic comedy as you get here. The conversations are made up of the everyday stuff that you and I have. (Fixing a hoover / vacuum cleaner, anyone?) We empathise with the complicating circumstances when they show up as they get to know each other better. Isn't this true of real life, that as we get to know each other better, more of our messiness shows up as well? As the characters deal with the awkward limbo between friendship and something more, the choices that they eventually make are powerfully communicated because they arise so organically.

The way the film was shot lends it a naturalistic feel; when Mara walks back home from a quick trip to the local store at night, I know exactly what that’s like because I’ve done the same thing myself. Ditto for the scenes in the high street, anyone who’s walked down a high street in any British town would have no problem placing themselves in the crowd. (Note: The film is set in Dublin.) The only thing I wished was a more steady hand when the director, John Carney, used close-up shots. The slight motions of the frame were enough to give me a little headache!

Once is worth lauding because it never moves into escapism. It recognises that life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, and that man (and woman!) cannot live by self-gratification alone. Communal scenes are highlighted throughout and neither the characters, thankfully, demonstrate anything more than a hint, if that, of narcissism.

At the same time, it is a film that basks in celebrating the good moments as they come, and encourages us not to dwell on the hardships of life, but to view them as opportunities instead. To this end, Once is incurably romantic. May it be more romances of this nature are made!

Sundance winner, ****

I thought of putting up a video of Falling Slowly, arguably the standout song from the film here, but actually, I think it’s better if you first encounter it in the context of the film first. But here’s Part 1 of an interesting four-part interview with Glen and Marina (you can access the other parts from the follow-up links at the end of the video):

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Friday, October 26, 2007

middle-aged Malaysia

I'm glad that there are other Christian bloggers who write about the socio-political realities currently facing Malaysians. I know I certainly don't write about them enough! *BK feels guilty*. I guess it's because I know others are already covering and commenting on these issues much better than I can, and the truth is that, as much as I try to keep up, I need to attend to my current reality, which is as a Malaysian living in the UK and who, at the moment, interacts with more non-Malaysians than Malaysians on a day-to-day basis. God loves Malaysia, but he loves other nations too.

But here's some stuff worthy of your attention:

Bob Kee has a great post + video on remembering Ops Lalang, 20 years later. I'm too young to have any recollection of this, so it was an eye-opening read.

Michael Backman has a very scathing column on the PM. I hate to say it, but without being disrespectful, performance-wise, Datuk Abdullah Badawi is the weakest Malaysian PM in history.

After some thought, I finally signed the petition to save the judiciary earlier this week. The non-action of the appointed taskforce only annoyed me and speeded up my decision.

Chris the Discordant Dude has some thoughts on a Merdeka Statement forum held in London this past week. Thanks DD for inviting me, and sorry I couldn't be there!

Deb's personal reflections.

Pinkpau's now famous diatribe on the judiciary issue, thanks to being linked by Jeff Ooi. I have to say, she's perfected the art of the rant!

I read Isaiah 14 this morning, and I am reminded that although it appears that the corrupt might get away with their hoarded riches, they will fall in the end. Don't give up yet!

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Men and women's roles: 1 Timothy 2:8-15 part ii

A mono-dialogue
Continuing the conversation (Gen. 1-3)
The end of the conversation (but not really)
1 Timothy 2:8-15 (Part i)

Structure of 1 Timothy 2:8-15
v.8 the conduct expected of men
v.9-10 the dress code of women
v.11-12 an instruction for the woman
v.13-14 the reason/basis
v.15 who knows???

Diving in
So, in light of the love of God for the whole world which has just been stressed, Paul wants to remind the men that they should be prayerful people. That the warning is against anger and disputing possibly could be to do with the false or controversial teaching that probably resulted in church disputes or division. Think about it, how quickly do we drop to our knees in prayer every time we hear the rumblings of discontentment in church? In our eagerness to score points for our side, we often end up painting a rather unattractive picture of the church family. Our love for each other is obscured, or even worse, absent. What more of our love for our neighbour? Obviously, this doesn’t minimise the importance of doctrine, given what Paul is stressing throughout the entire letter, but the upholding of truth inevitably includes the way we live our lives.

Paul has already affirmed the truth of Christ Jesus, and that is what we should unite around. I think the way I’ve framed the whole issue makes sense because I think v.9-10 also has in mind church division, so v.8-10 makes a couplet. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that women can’t pray (eg. 1 Cor. 11:5). More likely, this could be the particular problem men faced in a situation of a divided church; reacting with anger or a contentious spirit is easier than getting down to the business of praying.

Similarly, the mission and thus, the conduct of the church are probably in Paul’s mind with regards to v.9-10. It isn’t that Paul is trying to institute some kind of draconian dress code. He is cautioning against self-indulgence, where such dress was a sign of extravagant luxury and would have sent wrong signals to the have-nots. No, Paul says, actually, if we want to make sure that people are receptive to the gospel, what should mark us out immediately are our good deeds. In other words, this would have been counter-cultural in a world where flaunting what we have is expected.

So we finally arrive at v.11-15. In light of what we’ve just learned, all of you should pray for me now. :)

The following three paragraphs draw heavily from the sermon I heard:

v.11. The word translated "quietness" here doesn’t mean total silence. (Again, we think of 1 Cor. 11:5). Rather, it simply means to have a quiet and peaceable spirit. Again, makes sense in light of the context of false teaching and church division. So there is no way any church can justify total silence on the part of the women. The word "submission" here is used in the same way in Ephesians 5, which I already mentioned in my three-way conversation with myself...errr, Alex and Casey. So again, it seems to me to hint at some form of order here, which makes sense in light of v.13-14.

v.12 "have authority over" here is not the term used to mean the normal exercise of authority, but rather another term which has negative connotations of usurping authority or being domineering. So Paul is stressing attitude and manner of learning. (Actually, I find it interesting that my pastor, a complementarian, opted for this, since I believe that the noted biblical scholar Andreas Kostenberger has actually argued for the former option on grammatical grounds convincingly enough that even many egalitarians have accepted his conclusions. However, it does not make a difference for my pastor’s overall argument, as the next paragraph will make clear. He and Kostenberger are essentially on the same page, I think, even if they don’t agree on this!)

In the sermon I heard, it was argued that v.11-12 is actually one sentence in the original, again, an assertion backed up by grammatical evidence. v.11 and 12 are not two separate instructions, but rather, one command. So, in other words, the command here is that a woman is not to teach in such a way that exercises authority over man. Now obviously, I am not at all qualified to evaluate such an argument! But the implications of this is simply that this should only be restricted to the church, and not to all situations, so one can’t use this passage to argue against women CEOs or Prime Ministers. I’m quite happy to accept this.

This command is grounded in creation (v.13-14), which suggests a universal application rather than a time-bound command. Paul also appeals to creation in 1 Cor. 11. How you take this depends on how you interpret Genesis 1-3. But it seems to me Paul is arguing by ascribing some significance to the order of creation here, and it’s hard to escape that without doing some fancy twisting, and I think the context of chapter 2 also lends this point credence. I also think that while v.14 can and has been interpreted misogynistically, i.e the woman is somehow more prone to deception, I would simply take it as a statement of fact. So I don’t buy the argument that the reason woman can’t teach is because she’s gullible. Instead, it’s better again, it seems to me, to take v.13-14 together, so that we see one factor in v. 14 happening – Eve sinning – is due to the irresponsibility of v.13, Adam, as designated head, fails to stop this. Again, this of course assumes a complementarian interpretation of Gen. 3.

As for v. 15, you can imagine no one quite knows what to make of this. My pastor suggests that it is possible that some have reasoned that, since, during the Fall, one of the effects of sin was the pain of childbearing, some false teachers could have been suggesting that to be redeemed meant that women no longer should suffer from pain. So if you were still undergoing pain in childbearing, you weren’t saved. So Paul wants to stamp out such patently false teaching. Rather, it is continuing in the faith which is important. I think it makes sense.

So that’s my reading, which is decidedly complementarian. But within this boundaries,
I think there is actually plenty of flexibility for women to get involved in ministry. I have happily sat under the teaching of women in Bible studies. I think the more I think of it, the more I am wanting to give full range of expression to women in ministry. I am still a little hesitant on women in the pulpit (is that teaching with authority?), but I know some complementarian churches have women preachers, as long as the overall leader is male. There still needs to be more thought on this, as egalitarians have often charged complementarians, rightly to my mind, with confusion over the exact parameters of what women can and cannot do in ministry.

I think the next post in this series will be the last; I haven't quite figured out what to say yet! Maybe that's a good thing. It'd be more general comments, though, so I hope the exercise of close(r) reading of the biblical texts, which ends here, has proven beneficial!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Men and women's roles: 1 Timothy 2:8-15 part i

A mono-dialogue
Continuing the conversation (Gen. 1-3)
The end of the conversation (but not really)

This is one of the most disputed passages in the whole Bible today. There have literally been hundreds of books written just on these eight verses alone! And I haven’t actually read even a single one of them! So it’s tempting to just give up on this portion of Scripture and discreetly turn the page. Still, I do trust in the clarity of Scripture, so long as we are in line with how language and literature (genre etc.) works, and we understand that clarity does not equal to ease of understanding – understanding the Bible can be hard work!

To tackle 1 Timothy 2:8-15, it seems important to me to see where these 8 sentences emerge from. Also, I am fairly dependent on a sermon I heard on this passage for this post, especially on linguistic matters, since I don’t understand Greek nor do I own any commentary on 1 Timothy. It'd probably help to have an open Bible at hand somewhere to follow this post.

Background and purpose of 1 Timothy
Paul is on his way to Macedonia, but he has left Timothy back in Ephesus. The reason for this is the rise of false teachers in the church (1:3-4). Paul had already taken serious action against two of them, Hymenaeus and Alexander (1:19-20). More generally, this seems to be primarily a book about church order, so in chapter 2, we already have instructions concerning our controversial passage as well as public prayer, chapter 3 on the qualifications for overseers and deacons, chapter 4 on church discipline and chapter 5 on caring for different groups in the church, be it widows or slaves.

But I don’t think we need to see the rise of false teachers as just a side note, an “oh, btw Tim, do take care of the business of false teachers while I tell you how to run a church” from Paul. Instead, I think the spectre of false teaching looms large in Paul’s thinking regarding the running of the household of God, and the letter is bookended by a charge to be faithful and a warning against false teaching. "Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care” (6:20). Paul is concerned that the church must be seen as the “church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth" (3:15). When we gather together, we are in some way, a family, a group of ambassadors of God. Therefore, all these instructions about church order are, in the end, to ensure that God’s name is not besmirched by improper conduct among his people, which could be undermined by all sorts of false teaching. (Notice how 4:1-5 follows immediately on from 3:14-16). So in v.16, possibly quoting an old creed or hymn, Paul gives us doctrinal teaching, but not in an abstract sense, since it is finally to do with person of Jesus. It is the "mystery of godliness", so doctrine and conduct, theology and worship, go together.

In chapter 1, Paul has spoken against false teachers, reminding us of the usefulness of the law in showing up our sin, and given his testimony about God’s abundant grace in Jesus. This is something worth fighting for and we can’t let others shipwreck it (1:18-20).

So why is Paul so adamant about this? This is made clear in chapter 2. It’s not about nitpicking over the final details of doctrine. No, it’s all about mission. In 2:1-7, the first matters he addresses to the church is prayer. Pray for the authorities (v.1-2)...why? So that they won’t get in the way of mission (v.3), a mission that is huge in scope ("all men"). Mission is the heartbeat of God (v.4-5), and at the center of it is Jesus (v.5), the only one who could reconcile us to God. This is Paul’s heart too (v.7). Paul remembers this all too well: "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of which I am the worse" (1:15). This is set against the less than trustworthy sayings of the false teachers, eg. 1:4, 1:8-10, 3:1, 4:1-5, 9-10.

Why is this so important? Because unfortunately, the NIV has left out a very important word in v.8. It should start with the word "therefore", linking v.8-15 back to 2:1-7. We need to understand v.8-15 in light of v.1-7. (See more literal translations like the NASB or ESV which has kept the word.) So when we read the instructions regarding men and women in worship, we should do so, knowing that Paul has the mission of the church in mind.

[To be continued, when BK jumps into shark-infested waters!]

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Intermission: Capa's Jump and To Start a War

Time for a little break.

If you were to ask me right now, which are the 3 best films I've seen this year, I'll probably say Ratatouille, The Lives of Others, and Little Children - the latter two technically 2006 releases. But if you were to ask me about my favourite films of 2007, then it'd have to be Ratatouille (again), Hot Fuzz and Sunshine.

In my review of Sunshine, I mentioned really enjoying the operatic score, and ever since then I've been waiting patiently for the soundtrack to come out. The release date isn't too far away apparently, but a couple of tracks have already made it onto Youtube. Here's Capa's Jump, played during the scene right before the climax of the film where everything just goes berserk. Still gives me the goosebumps.

(Don't worry, no spoilers in the video!)

I haven't actually bought many albums this year, but earlier this summer I did make a double swoop on Arcade Fire's new album Neon Bible and Boxer by the lesser-known band The National. I think both have the potential to make many top 10 lists at the end of the year. Here's the delightfully simple but tuneful To Start a War live.


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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Men and women's roles: The end of the conversation (but not really)

A mono-dialogue
Continuing the conversation (Gen. 1-3)

Because we're not emerging.


BK: So we’ve covered the Creation and Fall story-blocks...so how about we cover the Redemption block? How does Jesus figure in? Let me quote Galatians 3:28 – "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Why don’t you each tell us what the complementarian and egalitarian take is?

Casey: For the egalitarian, this is a total abolishment of class, racial and gender barriers in Christ. So, it’s a reversal of Genesis 3 as I’ve described before, and full male/female equality is restored.

Alex: Complementarians understand this to simply mean that God’s salvation extends to everyone! So just because I’m a Gentile doesn’t mean I am denied entry into God’s kingdom. Ditto for women. Gender has no role to play in our salvation, so just because someone is a guy doesn’t mean he somehow merits salvation more than women.

BK: Let’s perhaps cover just one more issue. We haven’t talked about marriage yet. How does this play out within the complementarian and egalitarian framework? I’m thinking specifically of Ephesians 5:22-33.

Casey: Let’s look at this in context. Don’t leave out v.21, where it says, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ". Surely this, however we interpret what follows, needs to be kept in mind. So I don’t think it’s as simple as pointing at this text and saying, "aha! Isn’t this clear?" The culture of the time certainly didn’t think much of women! So Paul subverts their cultural understanding, using marriage as a prime example. There is mutual submission at work here. Women serve their wiveshusbands, but equally men love their wives, just like Christ! This is followed by the examples of parent-child and masters-slave.

Alex: I agree that v.21 is an important transitioning verse. But if you thought I was jumping though hoops on Genesis 3, I think you’re doing the same here! Firstly, the reason the wife should submit to her husband is precisely because he is the "head". Her submission is modelled on the church’s submission to Christ. This is quite simply, the natural reading. The difference is, headship shouldn’t be modelled on the world, but on Christ and his sacrificial love. No chest-pumping for the man here. So I am totally with you on men loving their wives! In fact, husbands get more airtime in this passage to make sure that blokes really, really understand the humble love they are to model. So I agree with you on the imperative, but take exception to the fact that you label this as mutual submission.

Don't be a (Tasmanian) devil of a husband!
Casey: I concede, against my will, that complementarians have the stronger case here, but I don’t think the egalitarian case is crushed completely. I still think there is some kind of mutual submission going on, and that needs some explaining.

BK: Sorry Casey, I do think complementarians win on this one. Linguistically, there might be one way to explain "submit" as well. Stott tells me that the Greek word for submit, hypotassomai, has at its heart the word for order, taxis. There has yet to be even one example in ancient Greek literature that understands this word in the context of relationship between persons. It’s always in relation to authority. So submission here could potentially mean a humble recognition of ordering of roles within marriage. But this isn’t the clincher for me. It’s 5:24. We submit to Christ, but Christ doesn’t submit to the church. He’s the glorified Lord. But as Alex already pointed out, men can’t be arrogant about this.

Casey: No fair being a fictional character of your imagination! I should caution you though that some people might bristle at a perceived patriarchal tone in what you just said. But since I’m actually in your mind, I know you’re not equating men as somehow superior. But some egalitarians simply think that’s how the logic works out; no matter how much complementarians try to dress it up, it’s the guy who "wins". I don’t think so though, you know, me being nice and all.

BK: Oooh, you get a bonus for this. How about I let you make one more point for the egalitarian position, with no rebuttal from Alex?

Alex: *finds himself gagged* Mhmmhfmhhwmm!!!!

Casey: In 1 Corinthians 12, we find that the Holy Spirit is sovereign in his distribution of spiritual gifts, there is no distinction between gender. Surely, if the spiritual gifting is gender-neutral, and God wants them to be exercised, men and women should be free to exercise them. There are after all, examples of female leadership in the Bible.

BK: Alright. I didn’t say I can’t make a rebuttal!

Casey: *whacks BK with a baseball bat*

BK: Ow! Ow! Can’t you take a joke? And where did you get that bat from anyway?

Alex: Hey Casey, I’m hungry. What say we get outta here for a bite? I’m sick of being in BK’s mind anyway. Let’s jump over to Jamie Oliver’s...

Casey: Nigella’s better...

BK: I’m staying out of this one.

Postscript: I do hope that the exchanges above give a much better idea of how both sides justify their positions exegetically. I chose to concentrate on Genesis 1-3 primarily because so many of the other relevant passages appeal back to them, plus, I’ve actually studied Gen. 1-3 in some depth. There’re even more arguments both sides could throw out on Genesis 1-3 alone, never mind 1 Corinthians et al., but Alex and Casey decided that there was more than enough to chew on! I hope you don’t mind that this is a little skewed towards the complementarian side. This in part reflects my upbringing and the church teaching I’ve received, (possibly personality and experience plays a part too). I probably haven’t heard all the egalitarian arguments yet, but for now, the complementarians have won me.

For the moment, I’ve restricted the discussion mainly to discussion of the biblical texts themselves, since I think that’s where we should all start, and that will continue into the next post in this series when we look at 1 Tim 2:8-15. Later, I might discuss how this debate touches on other vitally important parts of Christian belief, and all the miscellaneous stuff that has yet to be touched on, like how this works out in practice etc. etc.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Men and women's roles: Continuing the conversation (Gen. 1-3)

with Alex and Casey. Which is actually me. But not really. Arrrgh! I'll go see my psychiatrist now.

A mono-dialogue


Alex: Don’t worry, that’s not the only argument. Secondly, Adam is allowed to name Eve. Naming, in the context of Genesis and Ancient Near Eastern culture, implies a measure of responsibility for and authority over what is named. So for a king in the Ancient Near East, to name people or things was an act of authority. This is probably why Genesis 1 is written in such a way; anyone who read Genesis 1 would recognise that God, by naming or calling things, is showing he is the ultimate authority over creation. So, the act of Adam naming Eve (Gen. 2:23) would be another point where responsible male headship is demonstrated.

Casey: I see this differently. For example, God named the animals before human beings. Does that mean that animals have priority over humans? Nope. So the order of creation shouldn’t be such a big deal. A few of us would argue too that while the description of the historical-cultural context you argued for is plausible, it developed later. Besides, I think that there is a possibility that man naming woman is simply an act of his own free will (Gen. 2:22), and that you read too much into this. From my own reading, man calling woman "bone of my bones" shows that woman is equal to man. She was made, not from his head or his feet, but from his ribs.

Alex: This is where we part ways, it seems. Again, I fully agree that woman is equal to man in value, dignity, personhood and so on. I suppose you could say we are equal in our essential humanness, so I agree with you on "bone of my bones". But she is also called "woman, for she was taken out of man" which to me indicates some difference being highlighted. Yet man and woman can enjoy each other and be united. I still think this fits better with the text itself as well as the context.

Casey: Shouldn't I get my turn now?

Alex: Alright.

Casey: You argue for equality in personhood but distinction in roles. But when we look at Genesis 1:26-27, we are not just equally made in his image, but both man and woman are given the responsibility to rule over his creation. So I don’t think there’s a case for role differentiation. Instead, I think this is because of the Fall and the entry of sin. I would think that Genesis 3:16 shows this clearly. So previously man and woman were one flesh – great image, isn’t it? – but now her husband will rule over her. As one flesh, they were part of each other; it wasn’t a case of male authoritarianism. Male headship is a result of the Fall.

Alex: Hey, Jesus loves the institution of marriage and hates divorce, so I am all for one flesh too! Just...don't, err, let your imagination run away on the one flesh imagery. But I don’t buy your reading. "One flesh" could just as easily show the complementarity of man and woman. They fit together. And notice what happens after Eve sins. God goes to Adam first for an explanation. When God explains the penalty for sin, it is to Adam he charges it to. I think this is backed up by Romans 5:12-21. It implies headship on Adam’s part.

BK: Ooooh, I find that compelling!

Casey: No fair BK! You’re supposed to be impartial!

BK: *sheepish* Sorry. You are in my mind after all, which is actually a breeding place for eeeeeevil...I mean, it isn’t a neutral ground. But I’m trying my best to accommodate you.
the brain control room
Casey: I’ll be in your brain’s control room to do a little tweaking later...

Alex: With regards to Genesis 3:16, complementarians understand it on the basis of what "desire" means. The same word is used in Genesis 4:7, and in its context, means to conquer, usurp, a desire to usurp authority. So in the Fall, the sense is that woman now has sinful desires to be controlling or manipulative. Similarly, man now sinfully wants to rule over their wife in a way God had not intended. In other words, male headship, which should be marked by love, responsibility, and tenderness, is now replaced by brutishness and oppression.

Casey: I still think that you’re twisting what Gen. 3:16 says. I think I can agree with you when you mention that Adam now sinfully seeks to dominate or oppress his wife, but I would argue that in this verse, the first half about childbearing relates to the effects of sin about woman, whereas the second half is exclusively about man. Isn’t this the first time as well a subordinate relationship is introduced in the text? So, desire here is simply a woman’s right desire for companionship or something similar from her husband.

BK: So Alex’s case builds upon the way the word "desire" is used in Genesis 4:7...

Alex: ...which I would think has force because Genesis 4 is so close to Genesis 3, so there’s no real reason to think the word is used differently. Moreover, the same word and meaning is used in Song of Songs somewhere. And how can this desire be woman’s right desire when the context of chapter 3 is sin?

BK: ...whereas Casey, assuming earlier arguments made for Genesis 1-2, thinks that Genesis 3 reads much better by showing the subservience of woman to man, where there was no hint before, unless you read it into the text.

Casey: Yeah. Don’t forget how I read Genesis 1:26-27!

BK: Whew! That was exhausting! We’ve spent lots of time on Genesis 1-3, and my brain is running low on fuel.

Casey: Yes...*rubs hands*...do you want me to, er, help you in the brain control room?

Alex: Hey!

Casey: I tried.

BK: So we’ve covered the Creation and Fall story-blocks…so how about we cover the Redemption block? How does Jesus figure in?

[always end on a cliffhanger! How will the cosmic battle between Alex and Casey play out?]

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Men and women's roles: A mono-dialogue


BK: Welcome to the lair that is BK’s mind! Ignore the cobwebs and creaking sounds. They’re for uh, aesthetic purposes.

I went back and forth as to whether to start with 1 Tim 2:8-15 and go from there, but in the end I figured a top-down approach was better suited, not least because 1 Tim refers to Genesis, a key passage in the entire discussion.

I should say beforehand that if you’ve arrived at this post via google, please don’t take this to be exhaustive or definitive, as I am very much still pitching my tent on the slope known as the learning curve myself. At the same time, I obviously hope that I am mostly on the mark with my take on the two camps Christians generally find themselves in, and that everyone listening in around the campfire with little knowledge beforehand would have a better grasp of the issues involved by the end. This is so important as I think one of the reasons the two sides often talk past each other boils down to a failure to understand what the other actually believes.

Say hello to two fictional constructs of my mind, Alex and Casey. (Haha, maybe this way I can declare no liability). Alex and Casey?They tell me that the picture to your right is a good portrait of them, but I'm not so sure. What do you think? I shall declare beforehand that tentatively, my position is similar to the one held by Alex, and that I hope I don’t misrepresent Casey! Evangelical Christians have generally held one of these two positions regarding the role of women in ministry and family. So could you describe your respective stands?

Casey: Well, Alex is the hierarchicalist...

Alex: Hey, that makes me sound like some evil dictator with a harem of Carrie Fisher look-alikes! It’s complementarian, c-o-m-p-l-e-m-e-n-t-a-r-i-a-n. I’ll appreciate that, you evangelical feminist! And spell it right too!

Casey: Oh, and evangelical feminist isn’t any less pejorative? Do you think I burn bras and effigies of Tyson or something, except that I just call it spiritual warfare? I’m an egalitarian, which captures what I stand for much better, and doesn’t send out all the wrong signals like you just did, Jabba!

BK: *Ahem* Errr.....you do realise the vibes you both are sending is messing with my mind, don’t you?

Alex and Casey: Sorry.

Alex: I appreciate that you take the Bible just as seriously as I do, even if I don’t always think how you argue your case does it justice.

Casey: And I appreciate that you believe than men and women are equally made in the image of God, even if I think that you don’t always see the contradiction in the logic of your argument.

Alex: Fwiends?
Casey: Fwiends.

BK: Awww, Christian charity in action...but I’m afraid I have to interrupt the lovefest, folks. I hope that continues in this conversation though, so no cheap shots at each other! So now we know what you are. Apart from a shared love for Star Wars, how about you tell me what exactly a complementarian and an egalitarian believe?

Alex: I guess basically speaking, complementarians believe that God created men and women as equals in value and dignity as human persons, but with different gender-defined roles. Our different roles as head and helper complement each other, hence, complementarianism. These distinct roles do not indicate superiority for the man, but rather reflect the design of an infinitely wise Creator.

Casey: Egalitarians believe that men and women are equal not just in personhood, but in roles. Men and women are full equal partners in life, with similar opportunities in ministry and responsibilities in the family. We recognise men and women are different, but our gender shouldn’t really affect the role we play.

Alex: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). As Casey already mentioned above, we agree on this. Men and women both deserve to be treated as human beings fully. We shouldn’t treat each other as less than this.

BK: I see. And yet you differ. It seems to me that how you understand creation plays a big part in the divergence of paths. Is that fair?

Casey: Yep, so how I’ll read Genesis 1-3 would diverge from Alex. I think Alex takes a wrong turn. Turn on the headlights; it’d help you see through the fog!

Alex: Definitely. The creation account gives us a norm. When the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus with a question about divorce, he goes back to Genesis (Matthew 19:35-38). Btw, Casey, you’re the one driving the wrong way, methinks.

BK: So give us more on Genesis 1-3 then!

Alex: So, we’re equal in value and dignity, and I so want to stress this because of we so often get accused of seeing woman as somehow lesser…

Casey: …which I think is sometimes justified…

Alex: That’s fair enough. We complementarians need to speak out against injustice perpetuated against women all over the world. Back to the main point. So Genesis 1 shows us made in the image of God, but Genesis 2 shows us that men and women are created equal but different! Firstly, notice the order of creation. Man was created first, then woman...

Casey: This is why sometimes complementarians just make me want to tear out my (and their) hair! No offence Alex. How can you use such an argument? I think you’re reading that in!

Alex: Hold your horses, er, hair, Casey! That does seem a bit arbitrary, but let me finish. I think that would be true normally, but the order of creation is important precisely because that’s what Paul appeals to in his argument. See 1 Corinthians 11:8, and of course, 1 Tim 2:11-15, which I believe BK here would talk more about. I take Paul’s words here to be inspired Scripture. This appears to be the norm.

Casey: I just don’t agree.

Alex: Don’t worry, that’s not the only argument...

[Keep tuning in for the next installment of Looney Tunes, er, I mean, Tom and Jerry, nonono, I mean, Alex and Casey!]

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Men and women's roles: Intro

He let her knew early on who was the boss. He looked her right in the eye, and said clearly, “You’re the boss”. – Anonymous
don't go yet Lord, you haven't fixed the detailsI think I was probably 10 or so when I first began to puzzle why some boys thought about girls so much. OK, most of the girls I knew weren’t appalling or scary or anything like that, but they didn’t seem very exciting. For the most part, I was oblivious to them.

Then puberty hit, and that question has errr, evolved. No longer was the mystery the attention afforded the ladies, but the women themselves!

So this is where I strain the analogy and say that I have had a similar experience with the question of the role of women in the church and home. For many years after becoming a Christian I was happily ignorant, only dimly aware that some parts of the church were paying this issue a bewildering amount of attention. But sooner or later, if you’re a Christian, there’s just no evading this. This came home to roost when I led a Bible study on 1 Corinthians early last year and we got to chapter 11. What did I actually believe? I was left scratching my head – and I still do – but it’s no longer over the existence of this debate but rather over the complexity of the discussion.

It’s always wise counsel, especially in blogging, not to rush to comment over matters where you’re out of your depth, particularly when they are strongly emotive. Go to any relatively popular Christian blog, and you’ll always find that the posts that are most commented on, alongside predestination/free will, is on women in ministry. And trust me on this, the rhetoric that is sometimes used would probably make even Kenny blush.

And this is because, I think, partly due to the fact that these questions touch on the very core of our being. It’s about who we are, how we see ourselves. This isn’t just banal chitchat about how nice the weather is. This is part of a larger conversation in the wider world. There is a huge amount of confusion over what it means to be a man or woman today, not helped by the challenge to the categories of gender as an intrinsic part of our human makeup. Let me just randomly pull out two quotes from two introductory works I have on critical theory. “In proposing gender as a basic problem and an essential category in cultural and historical analysis, feminists have recast the issue of women’s relative identity as equally an issue for men, who, upon ceasing to be mankind, become, precisely, men.” “What the term ‘sexual difference’ [as opposed to ‘gender’] may usefully gesture towards, then, is the idea that identity itself is perhaps most productively and critically seen as fissured, haunted, at odds with itself.” Are women from Venus, men from Mars, or are we all actually part of a huge galactic diaspora? What of metrosexuals, female eunuchs and chauvinist pigs of both sexes?

NT scholar Scot McKnight thinks that “When it comes down to it, there is fear on all sides...fear coming out in a host of emotions and reactions. There is no one answer; there is nothing simple here; the reason this is a big issue is because it involves all of us — male and female — in all kinds of theological and ecclesial settings and it includes our marriages and our children and our basic decisions.” I think he’s on to something. And we might come back to this. And although the chatter is normally focused on the women, it's equally just as important for the men.

So I was very reluctant to get drawn in when Tim invited my participation on this, and more specifically, 1 Timothy 2:8-15. A "what the" moment indeed! In the end, though, I decided that this might be a good opportunity, at the very least, to locate my bearings. I find I’m always much better at clarifying my thoughts when I write them down, and anyway, this needn’t be taken as a definitive, comprehensive statement of my beliefs about the roles of women. I’m allowed to change my mind!

I had been trying to figure out how best to approach this. There's usually a big need for the discussion to be contextualised to minimise misunderstanding. The problem is that it’s hard to be pithy, as the gallons of ink spilled on this topic show. At the same time, I don’t want to overreach and end up saying too little in too many words. Very importantly, I feel, it is possible to get lost in a fog of issues, be it cultural, historical, a particular situation etc., but I think it's key that the starting point is the Bible, and so a lot of the discussion will simply be the hard work of looking at the text itself. Anyway, this is a rough outline of where I’m going:

A broad overview of what different Christians believe concerning the roles of men and women
A more in-depth look at 1 Tim 2:8-15, since this was the passage under scrutiny in the first place.
Further thoughts on miscellaneous issues not discussed above but which needs touching on.

All subject to change of course!

(Note: clicking on the "men and women's roles" label below to see the entire series).

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

I know I'm late but...

wow wow wow. I think I'm truly an unabashed Brad Bird fanboy now. Ratatouille finally opened in the UK yesterday and I went to see it tonight with my bro and sis-in-law. Great story, great animation, great heart, great everything. I have nothing to add to the heaping amount of praise it's already garnered. The LA Times piece is well-written and Jeffrey Overstreet's review is thoughtful as always.

A long shot for an Oscar Best Pic nomination (Beauty and the Beast is the only animated film in history to have been nominated)?


Now, where can I get my hands on a copy of The Iron Giant?

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Friday, October 12, 2007

the difference between choruses and hymns

hahahaha....this is funny. (HT: Mark Conner)

An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was. "Well," said the farmer, "It was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns." "Praise choruses", said his wife, "What are those?"

"Oh, they're OK. They are sort of like hymns, only different," said the farmer. "Well, what's the difference?" asked his wife.

The farmer said, "Well, it's like this - If I were to say to you, "Martha the cows are in the corn" - well that would be a hymn. If on the other hand, I were to say to you, "Martha, Martha, Martha, Oh Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA, the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows the white cows, the black and white cows, the COWS, COWS, COWS are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, the CORN, CORN, CORN." Then if I was to repeat the whole thing two or three times, well, that would be a praise chorus."

The next weekend, his nephew, a young, new Christian from the city came to visit and attended the local church of the small town. He went home and his mother asked him how it was. "Well," said the young man, "It was good. They did something different, however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs."

"Hymns," asked his mother, "What are those?" "Oh, they're OK. They are sort of like regular songs, only different," said the young man. "Well, what's the difference?" asked his mother. The young man said, "Well, it's like this - If I were to say to you, "Martha, the cows are in the corn," - well, that would be a regular song. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you:

'Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry
Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by
To the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth.
For the way of the animals who can explain
There in their heads is no shadow of sense
Hearkenest they in God's sun or His rain
Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced
Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight
Have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed
Then goaded by minions of darkness and night
They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed
So look to that bright shining day by and by
Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn
Where no vicious animals make my soul cry
And I no longer see those foul cows in the corn."

Then if I were to do only verses one, three and four and do a key change on the last verse, well, that would be a hymn."

Source Unknown

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dawkins and Lennox

For those of you who are interested in pursuing the science/religion or atheism/theism debate, the recent debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox is now available at Dawkins's official website. I'm not planning to listen to it myself, but do leave a comment if you find something interesting. Mark Meynell thought it was even-handed for the most part, although he was a little frustrated with the format.

I'm guessing John Lennox is probably unknown to most of you. Lennox is Reader in Mathematics and Laing Trust Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green College, Oxford, which is one of the prettier colleges and just a 5 minutes walk from where I used to live! I've heard Lennox speak in person a few times; twice on science and religion and once an invigorating sermon on Daniel 1, and I can say with confidence that he's supremely intelligent and a very winsome communicator. Come to think of it, I just remembered - I've blogged a talk of his before. It isn't the best of writeups though.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Psalm 73: A correction in perspective

You've probably noticed that the Psalms have been a particular focus in my Bible reading lately, probably because we looked at some of them at church over the summer. Over the past couple of years I've preferred to read through whole books of the Bible for quiet times, but for October-December I've temporarily reverted to using devotional notes. (I'm using Scripture Union's Encounter with God). Their Sundays - I'm a day behind - are reserved for looking at a psalm. So I was struck once again when I read Psalm 73 tonight. It's fairly straightforward and a good tonic for the times when everything else seems hunky-dory for everyone but you.

The notes started by asking what my idea of a good life might be like. I thought about it and tried to be as honest with myself as I could. This is my version: a life where I am surrounded by good friends who will provide good companionship and intimacy, and where I never need to worry about money. But not for Asaph, one of David's music leaders, who presumably wrote this psalm. For him, he sees that "it is good to be near to God" (v.28). This statement comes right at the end of the psalm, but the journey to this conclusion is by no means easy. He felt that he all too easily often slipped from the path of godliness (v.2). Furthermore, contrary to his own stumbling gait, he saw the wicked and arrogant around him who "have no struggles" and "are free from the burdens common to man" (v3-4). I think this is a feeling familiar to many of us. I know I certainly often wonder whether being a Christian is worth it. I remember walking through London's financial district recently one evening and was struck by the palpable sense of power that practically exuded from the many suits that had gathered at the many pubs for drinks. And feeling completely inadequate. "What good did it do me to keep my thoughts pure and refuse to do wrong?" (v.13, CEV).

According to my notes, two factors helped Asaph break out of his disorientation. The turning point appears to come in v.15, when he sees going against the fellowship of all those straining on the journey with him as a fundamental betrayal. Second, 'he regained his spiritual balance by visiting the temple, where he came to understand (perhaps through a sermon) that the prosperity of the wicked would be short-lived (v.17-20)'.

This, then is a psalm of two halves. I haven't examined it yet, but there might be a chiastic structure. In any case, it's not hard to contrast the sentiments in v.1-14 with v.21-28. Most encouragingly, though, is v.26. "My heart and my flesh may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever". The heart, in biblical language, is not referring just to the emotions, but the center of the human spirit, where emotions, the will, thoughts and so on flow. The psalmist confesses, as we must, that God is the sustainer of our total being, our whole life. And he does so by grace, and so "I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge." And this psalm is here in the Bible, presumably, because it speaks to every generation, who would have felt as Asaph felt. Psalm 73 makes it possible, as G.K Chesterton puts it, that "one might see great things from the valley".

Rather randomly, I happened to listen to a Hillsong United song (doesn't happen often nowadays!) that I've only heard a couple of times before right after reading this psalm, and the lyrics seemed rather apt as a response. And so I end with it:

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Speak O Lord

This is a song we've been singing quite a lot recently in church just before the preaching of the word. It's written by the Gettys and Stuart Townend, who, when they colloborate, often produce pure gold. They're arguably the best modern hymn-writers in English today. It's a great help in preparing us to listen humbly and respond accordingly whenever we open the Bible. I like it a lot, so thought I'll promote it for use in the wider church! :)

Speak, O Lord

Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.

Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility;
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority.
Words of pow'r that can never fail—
Let their truth prevail over unbelief.

Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us—
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we'll stand on Your promises,
And by faith we'll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

The wrap

W-att? R A P
Serving internet addicts and compulsive clickers since WWII.

First up is a project worthy of your attention. Open Source Mission is an initiative courtesy of some of the folks over at The Agora, seeking to translate contemporary Christian literature into various languages, including BM. It's entirely volunteer-driven, and dependent on people willing to donate their time and effort. If you're interested, click here to find out more.

A fascinating column from The Star: One race, two sets of views, detailing the demographics of the Chinese community in Malaysia from a socio-political angle. That they mainly fall into the two distinct groups of being either Chinese or English-educated will not be news to many, but what caught me by surprise was the disparity in numbers; I was not expecting an 85:15 ratio! I obviously fall into the latter category, and found the article fair in its characterisation (although with a pro-government slant tacked on at the end) and informative. [HT: budding scholar Lim Kar Yong]

Being anti-social me, I'm not one for social-networking sites, but even I have found Facebook compelling. With it, though, comes a reshaping of social dynamics, one which I either had never encountered before or was too naive to realise. Do I add that "friend" when I've only said hi to her once; this probably being connected to how introverts and extroverts define "friend" differently? This piece, Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism, is by far the best article I've seen written so far on social networking and its implications for social interaction, identity formation etc. It's a little long, but I think definitely worth the slow read. I commend it whole-heartedly.

If this is true, I'm really disturbed. The plight of Nordin Ahmad and the extent of corruption in the police force of Malaysia. *lights a candle*

Helen Ang's commentary on the state of dissension in Malaysia.

A funny extract on love from The Essential Guide to being a Girl. That's the sequel to the surprise bestseller hit of last year, The Dangerous Book for Boys. Both books trade on the gimmick of unabashed nostalgia, whereby they are presented as tomes which hark back to a simpler, more black-and-white times.

Do you love books? The ethics of handling - and manhandling - a book. Originally from the Chicago Tribune.

And check out this massive photo collection of some of the most breathtakingly beautiful libraries in the world! I've studied in the Duke of Humphries and the British Library, as well as the Radcliffe Camera, although the Camera, while absolutely beautiful to look at, can be dark and depressing.

Ben Witherington on the relationship of the OT to the NT according to the Church Father Chrysostom.

J.P Moreland succintly shows us what Jesus believed about Scripture.

Phil Ryken on mercy ministry from a Reformed perspective. Conclusion: "it is not just part of our theology that calls us to mercy ministry; it is everything in our entire theology. We must never forget that every doctrine that is taught in every part of Scripture from creation to the final judgment compels us to show the mercy of God to lost sinners, in the gospel of His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit."

And Stephen Murray reminds us of both the gospel and its entailments, without confusing the two.
[definition of entailments]

Never noticed this blog before - Parchment and Pen. Worth a check from time to time.

Our longings for our pretense to meet our reality - a primer on authenticity.

Abortion is hardly the sexy subject of the moment, but when even a feminist is repulsed, let's not completely forget it either.

Even the smiley has a story! Digital 'Smiley Face' turns 25. :-)

I think that should keep you happy. The Wrap. The source that you can trust. Sort of.

† Expand post

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Wordsmiths: Instruments (2)

This edition is dedicated to the recently departed Madeleine L’Engle. Many – including me! – did not know that her craft was not limited to prose but poetry too. This evocative piece is from Lines Scribbled from an Envelope and Other Poems.

stars and atoms
Instruments (2)

Hold me against the dark: I am afraid.
Circle me with your arms. I am made
So tiny and my atoms so unstable
That at any moment I may explode. I am unable
To contain myself in unity. My outlines shiver
With the shock of living. I endeavor
To hold the I as one only for the cloud
Of which I am a fragment, yet to which I'm vowed
To be responsible. Its light against my face
Reveals the witness of the stars, each in its place
Singing, each compassed by the rest,
The many joined to one, the mightiest to the least.
It is so great a thing to be an infinitesimal part
of this immeasurable orchestra the music bursts the heart,
And from this tiny plosion all the fragments join:
Joy orders the disunity until the song is one.

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