Sunday, November 27, 2005

Exclusively so.

“There are two things we need to grasp firmly as we seek to communicate the gospel today, whether we are speaking to ourselves, to other Christians or to those totally outside. The first is that there are certain unchangeable facts which are true. These have no relationship to the shifting tides. They make the Christian system what it is, and if they are altered, Christianity becomes something else. This must be emphasized because there are evangelical Christians today who, in all sincerity, are concerned with their lack of communication, but in order to bridge the gap they are tending to change what must remain unchangeable. If we do this we are no longer communicating Christianity, and what we have left is no different from the surrounding consensus. But we cannot present a balanced picture if we stop here. We must realize that we are facing a rapidly changing historical situation, and if we are going to talk to people about the gospel we need to know what is the present ebb and flow of thought forms. Unless we do this the unchangeable principles of Christianity will fall on deaf ears. And if we are going to reach to intellectuals and the workers, both groups right outside our middle-class churches, then we shall need to do a great deal of heart-searching as to how we may speak what is eternal into a changing historical situation”- Escape from Reason, Francis A. Schaeffer.

My applause goes to Mr. Schaeffer for such timeless teachings in such timely manner. Either this man who wrote this passage in 1968 had lived ahead of his time, or that the communication of the Gospel has always been ‘threatened’ with worldly-wise philosophies and thought forms. I plead to both cases and am thankful that the legacy that our heroes of faith from the previous generation left, still rings truth and commands power and inspiration, despite the seemingly dearth of an active Christian vocation in thinking in the present generation.

Let me begin by attempting to be ‘inclusive’ about the description of a Christian’s participation as a ‘thinker’. I like to constitute a Christian thinker as simply a professing Christian who thinks through the presentation of ideas before him and formulate worldviews thereafter. That vague description fits just about anyone, but much as I like open-ended questions with plenty of room for various answers; I find myself begging for clarity.

What do I actually mean by ‘a professing Christian’ and ‘thinking through ideas and formulating worldviews?’ Am I expecting someone to make conscious and pains-taking efforts to do so only to qualify him as ‘thinking’? Am I expecting that someone to know the Christ as taught in the Bible and believe in Him who had done all to redeem God’s elect from the bondage to Sin and therefore Death, and hence, committing his life and allegiance to Him for the sanctification of his soul- having zero confidence that his salvation is owing to his works but that his full confidence is in God’s grace that was ever bestowed to him; to qualify him as a Christian?

I would give liberty to open some space for various answers for the former, yet I cannot, in any manner give room for slippery slopes in the latter, simply because of what Mr. Schaeffer had spoken so strongly about- there are certain unchangeable facts which are true. Therefore, I am already exclusive when I assert certain criteria for classification’s sake.

In a similar manner of communicating the Gospel, I give room for Schaeffer’s classical call to “need to do a great deal of heart-searching as to how we may speak what is eternal into a changing historical situation”, yet must maintain a certain degree of exclusivity in not allowing ‘generosity for the contending of more than one true Christian theology’, which seems to me a rather relative and liberal stand.

While I respect the multi-faceted theological views among Christians (Calvinists and Arminians, being one of the most famous), I can’t help but to point out that by pleading our case or presenting a particular worldview to another, we are in one way or another, practicing exclusivity for we are demonstrating a certain preference in an issue which we feels is worthy to be presented over; therefore I deem the distinguish between ‘inclusive’ or ‘exclusive’ unnecessary as I now see that, it is rather inevitable for any of us not to practice exclusivity to a certain degree.

I am, however, more interested or rather concerned; with the theology make-up that is packaged when Christian thinkers come forward presenting what seems ‘more relevant to the Church today’. I am most agreeable that in order to engage conversationally with someone to the Gospel, one needs to understand the thought forms of the audience; yet there is a fine line between communicating the Gospel in a manner most connective to the present generation and taking the gist of the Gospel out just to be more empathetic nor adding to what is not in the Bible.

Nevertheless, I am glad for the space created by Christians for deep reflections and well-intended criticism. I believe there is much to be learnt through structured groups that put meticulous efforts in discussing and communicating Truth to both believers and non-believers alike, but at the same time, there must be an even deeper realisation to be careful on what we are propagating to others; not just how diversely we are doing it.

If mannerism determines how true Christianity is per se, I am afraid Christianity is left to rot in the dichotomies of being more ‘missional’ or ‘apologetics’ without realizing that apologetics is entwined in mission by nature- a ‘marriage’ for the glory of our God.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Dances with light.

The beginning Picking up Streaking Rolling Flash Climax

Friction. Tension. Ignition.

Synchronised. Cheorographed. Chemistry.

Ethereal. Instantanous. Begging for reaction.

Twirls. Spins. Dramatic throwbacks- breathe-taking.

One word- Beautiful!

- Some thoughts while documenting the playful dances of lightning.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Heart of worship.

It is often said that music is the greatest expression of Man’s emotions. Out of the abundance of gladness, a man sings. Out of the great depths in the valley of shadows and despair too, a man sings.

In the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis wrote of how Life was sprung forth by the sounds of Aslan’s singing voice. J.R.R. Tolkien too, wrote of a similar outburst of Life from Ainur’s song; in the Silmarillon. Puritan John Bunyan wrote of Christian, as often singing, on his journey to the Heavenly City in Pilgrim’s Progress. It is amazing how these great Christian writers were of one heart in agreement with the marvel and beauty of singing.

If Christians could be boastful in the Lord for anything, it would be the joys He has given us in praising Him with singing. A careful reading of psalms and hymns would help us to understand that worship to Him in singing is never separated from worship to Him in hearing of His Word. For a treasured hymn is sung over and over again, even until today because of its rich theology embedded in every verse sung.

I agree with Piper on why certain books are ‘classical works’ while other are not, simply because those books are read by generations after generations for the understanding of good theology. It is when a book is not remembered for its clarity in delivering theological truths, that it is deemed as ‘inaccessible’ and forgettable. The same principles would therefore, apply to some of the wonderful hymns we sing today.

Often, we compromise the quality of our worship to God, when we do not concern ourselves with the theological truths of a song. If we have forgotten our essence of praise to God in singing, I pray we re-evaluate some of the songs our generation sings today; in parallel with the hymns and choruses that Christians of the previous generation have sung.

Let us not be mistaken by the reasons of appreciating hymns such as ‘Blessed Assurance’ or ‘Amazing Grace’ due to their aged value per se- rather, we are to be reminded by these hymns, that our praises must reflect the object of our praise, which is God alone. While I have no qualms listening to contemporary Christian music, I find that most have now diluted their theology truths to accommodate secular taste.

If a song that we sing to worship God today were to end with a mere pleasant tune, we are indeed missing the whole point of worship. If we were writing a song to worship God today, with only a memorable tune in mind, we cheapens the meaning of worship with empty praises; for our understanding of God, our adoration to Him and our doxology; were never reflected in our worship to Him. It is not our highest expressions of emotions to Him for our hearts are not in it- they are somewhere else, yearning for praises to themselves.

Lastly, consider William Cowper’s words as we reflect on our previous attitudes in rendering appraisal to Him by way of singing - the very reason why we should give Him nothing less than all our hearts, minds and souls in worship.

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there have I, as vile as he,
Washed all my sins away.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Self-righteousness.

A Buddhist cousin, perhaps; in response to Christianity emerging in his family has put up a weblog on some of the Buddhist ideas he has learnt. Armed with little ability to read in Chinese (thanks to the efforts put in in vain attempts to understand Buddhist teachings better during pre-conversion days), I attempted to make out some of the ideas in place here.

“A doctor in the act of treating his patient requires also an element of fate and such fate is confidence. If the patient has absolute confidence in his restoration to good health, regardless of whether the doctor is skillful, the patient will still recover. Medical attention only assists. While 5% of recovery is contributed to the aid of doctors and medicine, 95% of the way to recovery must be credited to self. One can recover from illnesses by only drinking water, relaxation, and letting go of his worries, without the aid of medical help- as the way to recovery is psychological, rather than physical. It is when we do not grasp this philosophy, and we allow the conditions of the world to take over us, rather than we taking control of them; that we suffer. We must therefore learn to condition the world, rather than allow the world to condition us. Only then, all is possible.”

While this is a simple, allegorical illustration drawn towards Buddhism’s central teachings on achievements through self-righteousness, it nevertheless serves us as a reminder on how a humanistic philosophy serves well only when Man is reaping good fortune, but is destructed easily upon difficult times, as already seen during the Depression and World Wars in the early 20th century.

One who is ignorant of the origin of Righteousness, would nevertheless, attempts his hardest to practice it- if not with stoic diligence, at least; with generally-accepted means of obedience. Everyone knows it is good to be kind towards a blind man, to have mutual respect for his brothers and sisters or even to be gracious to his neighbour; for instance- and how when ‘good’ is benchmarked against breaking promises, not queuing up to buy one’s food, not asking for one’s permission before taking his belongings; are ‘bad’. No one needs to be taught into that. Yet, without the fundamental knowledge on how Conscience to practice righteousness was engraved into Man’s hearts; Conscience became merely a means and ends to practice self-righteousness.

In a post-modernistic society, the idea of owning self-righteousness is indeed appealing as it is deemed to be the ticket- the leap from rationalism to faith, which is mistaken as the synonym for non-rational. Yet, neither rationalism nor faith in this sense was the way for Man, in the first place. I do not appeal to having confidence in myself to bail myself out of God’s wrath by means of self-righteousness because I find myself not in control in keeping righteousness consistently, even in the simplest manners; like not offering my seat to the elderly because I was tired, even if it was righteous to do so. If I were to justify this by saying that “this is excusable because I am tired’, I am excluding the righteousness factor to my actions, which refutes my intention to observe the perfection of obtaining self-righteousness in the first place.

Therefore, I am ‘pushed to the brink’ where the only way to reconcile my handicap to my consciousness and natural desire to wanting to be righteous is that my righteousness is an ‘imputed one’, rather than a self-constructed one. What I fail to do by my own means, I am justified- yet not by my own righteousness because it had failed me in the first place, but rather by God who can claim to be all-righteous because He simply is, and has imparted His righteousness in me through the justification of sins, bore by Christ. I am thus, simultaneously just and sinner, righteous and unrighteous; yet, I cannot credit my righteousness to myself for I have no part with it, but am imparted with it.

Telling myself that I do not need medical attention when I am dying of cancer but reliance upon myself is not only a lie, but a self-destructing one; simply because with all the mental strength that I have, my bodily functions are no longer able to put up with it. My sickness has thus, caused me to be handicapped; rendering myself zero contribution to recovery.

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Renewal.

bohtea was first conceived with reflections for private readership in mind. While the blog was inadvertantly exposed- to much chagrin of the administrator; she must admit that her spiritual growth would have suffered much delay, if not for the seasoned-with-salt comments and critiques made by friends in and out of this humble interactive space.

Previously, bohtea was 'governed' with intuitive flow as the introduction of the blog suggested-'if she could smell a storm brewing nearby'. Yet, the administrator also notices a paradoxical restriction of writings in it. Her guesses would be that perhaps, a sense of 'strict censorship' was unconsciously developed in this blog, thus providing a safe, cushioned playground of thought rather than an open space wide enough for flying kites of intellect without having one getting tangled with another. More importantly, a space wide enough for fumbles.

Hence, it was only apt for bohtea to be reconstructed- presenting not only answers to questions which the administrator had previously painstakingly endured before arriving to a particular blog entry, but also with questions- hopefully contagious enough to keep both the administrator and readers something to ponder over tea. The administrator is also toying with the idea of putting in some stumbling rocks for decoration!

Perhaps, speaking or rather, writing in abstract and metaphorical terms are both distracting and confusing- not that the administrator could help it. With much excitement, the administrator outlined a more definite structure of this blog as such-

1) Theological reflections- what would bohtea be without this? It is in the hopes of the administrator to include a theological perspective to every issue encountered as a consciousness of delight and pleasure in the Lord, as well as highlighting pressing concerns for her Father's world, both in Word and in deed.

2) Reading reviews- One cannot engage without ideas, ideas cannot be conceived without knowledge and knowledge cannot be gained without the interest of intellectual pursuit- which is in reading, if not only reading. bohtea hopes to journal questions and thoughts gathered from the various encounters with reading materials that she can get her hands on and perhaps, even open up space for exchange of opinions on ideas discussed in books read.

3) Noteworthy mentions- rare mentions of where the administrator have been or going to be, if not sitting behind the computer, as though to indicate that her world is measured by 70cm x 40cm. This would only revolve Christian events, Malaysian jazz gigs and perhaps, photo essays of subjects that raise the attention of the administrator.

The blog administrator dreams to be paid to do this, but so far; her dreams have been futile and she still toils with her calculator, edging towards becoming a tax-collector by day. Yet, bohtea is not a mere outlet for occasional ramblings but rather, a sphere of learning, away from text-book knowledge; in which she prays, if God willing; equips her to her calling but most importantly; enables her to enhance her worship to God.

A whole new level of commitment is therefore required for it. Perhaps, the administrator has to substitute tea with more coffee. Yet, if this sanctifies, if this brings upon renewal of the mind and conduct, so it shall be that we "put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness."

Soli Deo Gloria.