Three “Already, but not Yet” Quotes

New Years is a time of living in the present while intentionally looking backward and forward. With that in mind, here are three quotes on aspects of the Christian life that are ours in the present, although (only fully “made real”) in the future. Since I believe that full reality is outside of our capacity in this life, my prayer for you in 2018 is continued progress towards holiness, perfection, and righteousness, things that one, strangely, presently have in Christ.

Holiness: 

“It is the fundamental motif of all New Testament ethics that upon the basis of the Holy Spirit, and by faith in the work performed by Christ, man is that which which he will become only in the future, that he is already sinless, already holy, although this becomes reality only in the future.”

Oscar Cullmann, “Christ and Time,” 75.

 

Perfection:

Christian perfection is this, to fear God sincerely, and again to conceive great faith, and to trust that for Christ’s sake God is pacified towards us; to ask, and with certainty to look for, help from God in all our affairs, according to our calling; and meantime outwardly to do good works diligently and to attend to our calling. In these things doth consist true perfection and the true worship of God;…”

Philip Melancthon, Quoted by R. Newton Flew, “The Idea of Perfection in Christian Theology (1968), 246.

 

Righteousness:

“A man’s relationship to God is no fiction. God does not treat a sinner as though he were righteous; he is in fact righteous. Through Christ he has entered into a new relationship with God and is in fact righteous in terms of this relationship. The unrighteous man stands in relationship to God as a sinner and thus must finally experience the condemnation of the righteous judge.”

George E. Ladd, “Righteousness in Romas,” Southwestern Journal of Theology, 19, Fall 1976.

More on this (with the eschatological aspect) at https://munsonmissions.org/2017/01/29/become-what-thou-art/

Willy Wonka and the Advent

Well I do love the 1971 movie, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” I did enjoy the book it was based on (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). but it has been over three decades since I read it and its sequel, so I would rather base the story on that movie not the book. The revisioning of the story by Tim Burton could have, should have perhaps, been better, but ultimately wasn’t.

In the 1971 movie, what was the reason for the “advent” of Willie Wonka, the breaking of years of mysterious absence? A few options could be suggested:

  • To give out several golden tickets.

    image-Bathroom-Pass-Meme-Willy-Wonka-willy-wonka-memes-and-meme-acrylic-painting-willywonka-wonkameme-wonkapaining-willy-Bathroom-Pass-Meme-Willy
    Let’s Not Be Meme
  • To give an amazing tour of the chocolate factory
  • To find a mentor to be trained to be his replacement as the head of the chocolate factory
  • To sell more chocolate
  • To deal with dangerous candy manufacturing competitors.

The fifth option was shown to be a red herring at the end of the movie, but the first four have more potential. At the end of the movie, the “real reason” given was to seek a mentor. However, the methodology of getting there was quite poor. The plot has two major sections that point towards the first two options— the search for the golden tickets and tour of the factory. However, the search for the tickets was more of a means, rather than an end of itself,  and the tour is joined by the participants all with very different motives.

Perhaps the only option that really makes sense is the fourth one. Willy Wonka opened the doors of his factory to sell more chocolate. It alone justifies the awkward method of seeking a mentor, and justifies putting tickets into the wrapping of chocolate bars that must be purchased.

And yet, that is unsatisfying. The movie is not just a business strategy, it is a story. That story depended on the entire plot, not just reduction to a single purpose or plot device. The story would not exist without the golden tickets or the tour. As part of the plot, they have more value than seeking a mentor or selling more chocolate, regardless of their centrality to the “purpose” of the story.

And then, you really can’t overlook Charlie either. His role as poor child, who cares for others, (the ultimate underdog) must be considered if one seeks an overall moral to the story.

So what does this have to do with the “Advent” of Christ?

A bit of a “Twitterstorm” started some days ago when Tim Keller put up the following Tweet:

“Jesus didn’t come primarily to solve the economic, political, and social problems of the world. He came to forgive our sins.”

I was quite surprised at the ruckus this fairly straightforward statement made. I do remember being a bit uncomfortable with it. I don’t like reductionism, and I wish Evangelicals weren’t so fascinated by “bumper sticker theology.”  Of course, some of the concern hinges on what one means by “primarily.” After all, if primarily means the one main central reason, presumably God could have come up with a method of forgiveness that was a bit more… direct. Other reasons could also be given:

  • Demonstration of God’s love. This comes, in part, from John 3:16. One might make the argument that it demonstrates God’s love because the incarnation provides the means for forgiving sins. But that is quite reductionistic. The method itself says much about God’s love, as God chose to humble Himself, and identify Himself with His creation.
  • To bless all peoples. The Abrahamic Covenant sees itself fulfilled, in part, by the Advent of Christ. This blessing has a universal quality to it that transcends issues of salvation, election, free will, and atonement.
  • To be the anointed one. Our Bibles are not just the Epistles. They are also the Gospels and the Old Testament. One could probably just as accurately say that Jesus came, primarily, to fulfil God’s promise for the anointed liberator of God’s people.
  • To provide a way. While we often focus on forgiveness coming from faith, faith is generally described in terms of a path. In Jesus we have not just the life and the truth, but also the way. Jesus came as a prophetic teacher, to provide revolutionary ethics in how we are to live. It is hard to see how that can be seen as secondary.
  • To give ultimate victory in spiritual battle. While many like to reify the spiritual war metaphor,this seems much less than a primary purpose for the advent. God is not in some uncertain struggle with the devil. Much like with Willy Wonka, the struggle with competition is more of a red herring.
  • To inaugurate the Kingdom of God. The reign of God has implications with regards economic, political, and social problems. I guess that is the reason that I struggle with Keller’s quote. Can one say that the inauguration of the Kingdom of God is secondary to the establishing a means for forgiveness? I’m not sure.
  • To reveal Himself. Much like in the above movie where Charlie is character is part of the purpose of the story, so is Jesus in the advent. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. He is the revelation of God “in these last days.” Presumably, God could have come up with a way to forgive that maintained His own personal splendor and transcendence. Islam, for example, prefers a merciful God that lacks the messy self-involvement of identification and incarnation. But in the Christian faith, how could one place this below the strategy of the atonement?

In the end, the Advent of Christ is a story. I believe it is ill-advised to suggest that elements of the story are subordinate to others.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was not primarily about a business strategy, it was not primarily about selling chocolate, it was not primarily about finding a golden ticket. and it wasn’t primarily about a tour of the factory. They were all critical elements. Willy Wonka could find a successor in a more efficient manner, and sell chocolate with thousands of different strategies. In a story, the method is still part of the story. And so are the primary characters.

Is Jesus primary reason for coming to provide a method to forgive sins (the “golden ticket” purpose)? Maybe, but if it is primary, that doesn’t make the other reasons secondary, nor is the method secondary, nor Himself secondary.

I like a lot of what Tim Keller says even though our theology is different in some ways (Frankly, I feel good that I would fail the TGC litmus test),  His tweet isn’t bad, even if I would struggle to agree wholeheartedly. Maybe his biggest error is to try to speak broadly on the Advent of Christ in 280 characters.

 

Maligayang Pasko Again!!

It is Christmastime in 2017. Most years I put a little post about Christmas. Some are better than others. This year I linked Christmas with a short story by Cyril Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl. (https://munsonmissions.org/2017/12/22/christmas-and-the-gift-of-garigolli/)

However, two of my favorites I wrote were from 2012. You may want to read them.

Christmas, It’s Okay… Really.  It looks at Christmas with regards to the issues of Contextualization, Separatism, Historicity, Ascetism, and Conformity.

St. Joseph at Christmas.  Views Joseph the Carpenter in the light of several roles he could have chosen in the story of Christmas.

Have a blessed Christmas. Below is one of the least impressive Christmas cards you will ever see. I have limited photo manipulation skills, and even more limited ability to get my family all in the same place at the same time for a picture. This was taken at the Staff and Faculty Christmas Party of Philippine Baptist Theological Semnary, December 15, 2017.

https://bobandceliamunson.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/christmas-2017.jpg?w=637

Ministry in Diversity. 2nd Edition

Finally got my book updated. Previously, I was tryingMinistry BookCover 2a to finish the book “Ministry in Diversity” quickly so that it could be used in my Cultural Anthropology class. So I was a bit… sloppy. My son helped me fix a lot of it. We got most of the problems fixed now (HOPEFULLY all of them). Also added another chapter. Chapter 17 is on Interreligious Dialogue (IRD). Additionally, I expanded my chapter on Language a bit. However, because of changing the formatting, it is now about 60 pages shorter, despite having more content. That also reduced the cost a bit. Kindle version will be up soon,

Christmas and “The Gift of Garigolli”

This is a follow-on of my previous post on the Golden Rule and how it is affected in cross-cultural situations. If you haven’t yet, you can read the post HERE.

An interesting story that points this out is “The Gift of Garigolli” by Cyril M. Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl. It can be found in an anthology “Critical Mass,” published in 1977, among other places. It is science fiction, but in doing so it takes to an extreme case a difference of cultures making it (nearly) impossible to apply The Golden Rule, or The Great Commandment, in a way that is teleologically or contextually ethical.

It has been years since I read the story. However, the story is about microscopic aliens that have come to earth for research, I believe. However, part of their protocol is to do more than the National Park Service concept of “Please take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.” In their culture, since they benefited from their hosts, they must leave behind a gift. A good cultural value. The problem was, being microscopic, that were unable to communicate with humans, and could not figure out what these giant creatures (us) would appreciate. The aliens understood that a gift was not really a gift unless it was recognized as a boon to the recipient.  Early attempts were a failure as humans failed to even notice the attempts of gift-giving. Humans were in fact totally unaware that they were sharing space with extraterrestrials.

Eventually, through some experimenting and a bit of dumb luck, the aliens made something that humans recognized as a wonderful thing. The aliens satisfied the requirements of their culture and they were finally able to leave.

It is still under copyright, I am pretty sure, so I can’t point you to a webpage to read it. Too bad, but I don’t want to spoil the story. It also has an interesting second “parable” of sorts regarding a plastics manufacturing executive and how his ethics and aesthetics are driven by economics. I don’t think his perspective is uncommon.

Anyway, it will be Christmas in three days. It is a time of giving and receiving gifts. It is a time to remember God’s great gift to us. It is also a time, I believe, to remember that a gift has failed to be a gift until it is recognizably a blessing to the recipient.

If Jesus born over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, Judea, is a gift for all people, how can we help people understand that it is indeed a gift?

If we are supposed to express God’s love to others, and yet fail to do so in a way that people can recognize and appreciate, have we truly expressed God’s love?

 

The Golden Rule in Cultural Application

The Golden Rule is the term often used for the command of Jesus in Matthew 7:12:

“Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them.”

This positive form is also balanced by what is sometimes called the Silver Rule that says almost the same thing but from a negative sense. It may not be fair to suggest that one is “gold” and the other “silver.” In fact, one version of Jesus’ command is written in the “silver” format. This is found in Didache 1:3:

“Do not do to others, what you yourself would not want done to you.”

This rule, in both of its forms, provides a valuable guide and benchmark for ethical behavior. It would be, in fact, quite an amazing thing to see Christians (of any flavor) make an honest attempt to live according to this rule.

That being said, the rule is not as simple as it first appears when it comes to cross-cultural applications. Let me give a couple of examples.

Example 1.  I teach in the Philippines and do in fact enjoy it. I get to learn much from my students who come from many different countries— mostly in Asia. But there are some interesting challenges at times. For example, I have a number of students from Myanmar. In Myanmar, teachers are highly respected (a good thing, I think). In an attempt to demonstrate respect to their teachers, they listen very quietly and never ask questions. After all, to ask questions is to suggest that the teacher did a poor job in his/her instruction.

For me, on the other hand, I like students to ask questions. It makes the class more interesting, and gives me an opportunity to learn and grow, along with the students. Additionally, I feel that asking questions is a sign of respect. In their asking, they are showing that they are paying attention, and care about what I am talking about.

Thus, the Golden (and Silver) Rule is challenged a bit. How I want to be treated is quite different than how another may want to be treated.

Example 2.  This is based on an old story that contrasts the Asian and American attitudes regarding hospitality. Consider the figures below (from my book, “Ministry in Diversity,”

The first sketch shows an American staying in a Filipino household.

 

The second sketch shows a Filipino in an American household.

In both cases, the host is applying the Golden Rule with the guest. However, in both cases, there is a misfire.

These examples are not to suggest that there is an inherent problem with the Rule. However, one does have to take a step inward before going outward. In Example One, both myself as a teacher and one from Myanmar want to be treated with respect. That is the commonality where the Golden Rule applies. However, it must be filtered through culture to identify how such respect would be demonstrated.  In the second example, both hosts desire to be hospitable, and both guests desire to be treated with hospitality. However, how such hospitality is carried out so that it is recognized and appreciated, is again mediated by culture.

These are in no sense the only examples of this. If I ask someone to come to a celebration I am holding, I would like the person to think about it, check his schedule, and then tell me definitively whether he can come or not, when he knows for sure. Because of that, I am tempted to do the same thing. However, in some cultures that is highly insulting. Rather, the proper response is to immediately accept the offer, and then only later, regretfully, back out. Again, the Golden Rule applies (I want to be shown honor, and to express honor) but I must understand how this is demonstrated in that culture.

Can think of some other examples??

Consider an implication of this. One can follow the “letter of the law” by knowing oneself. However, to follow it teleologically and contextually (despite what some Christian Ethics books imply, Deontological Ethics is not the same as Christian Ethics), one must understand the other person as well.

 

 

Argument and Ego Response

I find this an interesting phenomenon. Maybe you will as well. I am teaching a course in Inter-religious Dialogue. The first third of the course is on some principles of IRD, while the second deals with the beliefs of some major word religions.

We had covered Rabbinical Judaism already54169d1c6e7a2ce8d29a09433db6a687 and were now in Islam. One of my students is much more of an expert in Islamic beliefs than I am since he was raised in a culture where these beliefs were really deeply ingrained in the educational system. I was happy to let him teach parts of this section. So he gets up and says that he will teach Islamic beliefs from an insider perspective. As he started to teach, it was interesting that some of the other students begin to challenge him in some of the points and bringing up counter-arguments. I found that interesting because:

  • The student who was teaching Islamic beliefs is not a member of that faith, and yet the very fact that he was teaching it from an insider perspective appeared to make some of the fellow students uncomfortable.
  • One of the principles I drilled into my students is that one should try to “walk in the shoes” of those of another belief system. That is, listen respectfully and try to understand their faith from their position. After all, beliefs (no matter how crazy they may sound from an etic position) make a lot of sense from an insider (emic) position. I recall reading an Islamic tract that was trying to convince Christians that they should become Muslims. It became pretty obvious that they did not understand Christian theology. The writers were writing from a specifically Islamic perspective to people they were not even trying to understand.
  • I have equally pointed out the general futility to argument in changing people’s minds. Generally, argument leads to backfire where the beliefs of the two parties tend to diverge rather than converge via argument.

So when the students were bumping up against other belief perspectives and standards of authority, they became defensive and started drifting into argument mode. Even though the person “on the other side” was also a Christian, the circumstances triggered the response.

I am sure that some in the class would look at the situation differently. They might say that the arguing was a fun or even humorous response. However, that response, whatever the cause, still tended to sabotage the learning experience because it involved a rejection of trying to understand things from the non-Christian perspective. They were listening to respond rather than to understand.

When I brought this up, the class adjusted. But I don’t think this response is unique. Much of my class went to the local mosque for Friday noon prayers, and also did a tour of the school at the mosque where they teach Arabic and the Tawhid. While there, one of the Islamic students tried to strike up a theological argument. One of my students did respond well. He said, “That’s really not why we are here today. We are here to learn, not to argue.”

Our religious beliefs are not only what we believe, they also become part of our values and self-understanding, so the very existence of people who don’t value those beliefs, and even have counter-beliefs, tend to trigger a reaction.

It is curious that many people think that arguing over faith is a good method to convince others to change to their own beliefs. This is simply not true. Most people respond to warm words and actions rather than cold logic.

The trigger for argument in many cases is not a desire to evangelize, but ego response.

 

Ministerial Recovery

We all fail sometimes. Sometimes the failure is minor… sometimes it can be spectacular. Sometimes one has control over the situation of the failure, and sometimes not.

Failure is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, failures are great opportunities to grow. But not all failures are equal to each other. Consider three forms of failure.

  1.  Failure of Vision. A minister lacks visiona clear vision or perhaps the minister’s vision proves to be leading in the wrong direction.
  2. Failure of Competence.  A minister lacks the skill-set and/or experience for what he/she is doing.
  3. Failure of Trustworthiness. The minister violates trust by cheating, or breaking a promise.

The last one, failure of trustworthiness needs a bit of explanation. After all, to fail in doing what one promises to do is not automatically a trustworthy issue, in my opinion. For me trustworthiness has to do with the martial virtues– Courage (doing what is right despite fear), Duty (doing what is right regardless of preference), and Honor (doing what is right despite lack of oversight). Failure in these virtues is a failure of trustworthiness. These failures are all very different.

What is easiest to personally correct?

Trustworthiness Failure. In theory this can be done quickly with repentance. However, in practice it can take awhile because failure in the area of trustworthiness will continue to be a temptation during stress. Ministry has lots of stresses.

Vision Failure. Nehemiah went from no vision to a very clear vision in four months. Paul and Moses got at least a start of a vision in a very quick event (Damascus Road and Burning Bush), even if they needed new vision adjustments periodically. I believe vision is a human AND divine activity. Ultimately, a lack of vision I believe is a failure on the human side, rather than the divine side. But it is correctable.

Competence Failure. Training, mentoring, and experience can be gained in a few months to a few years.

What is the easiest to recover from?

Vision Failure. People will commonly accept the transition from a muddy vision to a clear vision, or a change of direction, especially if the change can be clearly articulated.

Competence Failure. People generally understand that people start out without skills and knowledge. They may wait awhile for the person to prove himself/herself but another chance will normally be given.

Trustworthiness Failure. Some understand and give another chance and some don’t. We don’t know why John Mark quit on the first missionary journey… but probably an issue of lack of courage or duty. His uncle Barnabas was ready quickly to give him a second chance. Paul, on the other hand took a few years to warm up to him. Some will never forget a failure of trustworthiness.

What do we tend to emphasize?

Competence.  Preparation for ministry often focuses on learning skills and doctrine.

Depends. Some focus more on morals or trustworthiness, while others more on calling/vision. Either way, they are often given less priority than ministerial competence.

What failure is most risky?

Trustworthiness Failure.  Regardless of whether one is in charge or a worker bee, a failure in this area can sour future opportunities for ministry (especially if due to failure in terms of honor).

The Others. One can learn as a mentee (protege or apprentice) without a lot of risk. Additionally, in that role, one doesn’t really need to have a clear vision. One can learn while working helping another’s vision. These are bigger issues if the person is a leader.