Fun With Venn Diagrams and Context

I do like Venn Diagrams— as well as quadrants and pretty much any other diagram that presents data or sets in a way that gives clarity.

Jackson Wu had one I really liked in his article, “Why has the Church Lost “Face”? Examining Our Blindspot About Honor and Shame.” 

It is an interesting article… You can Click HERE.

Here is the Venn Diagram he used:

Jackson Wu Venn Diagram

The image blackened region 2 because that was the region he was focusing on. Instead of modifying it, I have it exactly as it was in the article. Below are the descriptions. I used some of Wu’s words, and some of my own.

Area 1 is where biblical truth overlaps with one’s theology but not the cultural context. Many of the canned evangelistic presentations fit into this area (like the Romans Road or Four Spiritual Laws). They may be Biblical Enough, and represent fairly well a (very simplified) soteriology. However, in many cultures, including fear or shame focused cultures, or cultures where hell lacks a genuine role as a motivator, the presentations really don’t hit the mark.

Area 2 is where biblical truth overlaps with the cultural context without being addressed in one’s theology. Wu mentions Hiebert’s “excluded middle.” One could add concerns about demons.

Area 3 is where one’s theology and the cultural context overlap with biblical truth, as in a high view of the family or social responsibility.

Area 4 is where elements in a theology overlap with a cultural context but not with biblical truth. Lots of these. Americanism or Prosperity Doctrine are pretty obvious. It could be argued that Gnosticism and Arianism were theologies built quite comfortably with the cultures they were in… but not with the Bible.

Area 5 is where elements in a theology overlap with neither biblical truth nor a cultural context. Wu notes Western individualism  taken to a collectivistic culture. When a missionary in Area 4 goes to an incompatible culture without contextualizing.

Area 6 is where cultural beliefs or values are inconsistent both with biblical truth and a particular theology. All cultures diverge from the Bible in some ways. So when there is no theology that connects with that aspect, one is in this area. For William Carey, he saw widow-burning and refusal to educate women as Bengla cultural behaviors that were both unbiblical and not theologically justifiable.

Virtual Reality Baptism (VRB)

My daughter showed me a thing that has been making the rounds on various parts of the web. It was a baptism being done in “virtual reality.” The baptism wasn’t done in the real world utilizing real water and real physical bodies. Rather it was being done with “avatars” in a virtual/digital environment. I hadn’t heard of such a thing before… but with a bit of reflection, it seems surprising that I hadn’t thought of the possibility. If you want to see an example, you can simply go to the web browser of your choice and type in “VR baptism.”

Image result for vr baptism

It is an interesting idea in missions. I would like to make a bit of a list of what I think are the good (or potential good) as well as the not so good (or potentially bad) things from my perspective. <My perspective is Baptist. As a Baptist I consider baptism to be symbolic rather than “sacramental.” In other words it is a ritual that expresses meaning rather than being a bestower of special blessings or grace. As such, the water does not need to be specially blessed (nor do wine or bread for Eucharist/Communion). Additionally, Baptists see baptism for believers only. Also as a Baptist, we believe baptism should be by immersion in water… vice sprinking, or pouring. However, I am not as legalistic about this one as many Baptists. Immersion is more historically correct and links better as symbol with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. However, since it is a symbol only, the exact formula is not critical. And since pouring, for example, does fit fairly well with baptism as symbolizing (in part) ritual purification, and no better or worse than immersion as symbolizing spiritual unity with the church, I don’t fuss with other traditions about that one.> Ultimately, I am not going to argue whether water has to be real (the oxidized form of hydrogen) or whether it can be virtual. Symbolically, it doesn’t matter, only sacramentally or denominationally. That is not my concern.

So here we go.

Good.  VR baptism (VRB) does well in making baptism public. One idea of baptism, both at the beginning and in the present, is that baptism is a public presentation of one’s faith. In many places, baptism is done in a baptistry with only a few friends, relatives and church members present. In some parts of the world where religious conversion is discouraged or outlawed (remarkable thought, huh?) baptisms are often done very secretly… perhaps in a hotel bathroom for example. VRB arguably is more in line with one of the main purposes of baptism.       But…

Not so Good.  VRB actually hides identity through the use of avatars. As such, it perhaps really isn’t a public display of faith at all. In fact, it is possible to fake it… for basic trollery.    But…

Good.  For those in countries where convesion is illegal, VRB could potentially allow a person to express faith in Christ in a public (virtual) setting that is outside of the reach of religious police.  But…

Not so Good.  VRB may be expressing faith within a virtual environment, but not really a local congregation (generally). As such, one could argue that the ritual is not simply virtual, but fictional.  But…

Good.  For some people, cyberchurch is a reality. While there may be serious questions as to whether  this “New Thing” is a “Good Thing,” it certainly is a “Thing.” For some, their virtual community is more real to them than their brick and mortar world.  But…

Not so Good.  Rituals have an impact in part due to their visceral nature. The taste and texture of the bread and wine are part of the spiritual connection. The water on the skin is part of that experience. Especially for sensates (those who experience the transcendent through impact of the various senses), there is something lost in VRB.  But…

Good.  For some people, real world baptism is not a very viable option, due to disability, health, or locale. As such, VRB may be appropriate.  But…

Not so Good.  While it may be a door to religious experience for some people, it can be a wall for others— drawing them further into “cyberspace” and out of real-world socialization. While it may sound contrary to the thoughts of some, the church should draw one into the world not away.

For me, a few things seem like worthy of thinking about when it comes to VRB.

1.  VRB can actually do baptism better if it allows testimony to be given to the faith experience of the one being baptized. Probably the best baptism I witnessed was one in a non-Baptist church I attended in Taiwan. In that a woman joined the church with a baptism ceremony. She gave a maybe 15 minute testimony of her conversion to Christianity. It was actually quite moving. (Thankfully, it was translated for those of us suffering from language barrier). With VRB a picture of the actual person, and a written or spoken testimony can be associated with the ceremony on screen or with a clickable link. The baptism can also be kept in a file that can be viewed whenever people choose, rather than ONLY at a single point in time and space.  (Accommodations can be made for those who truly need to maintain some anonymity.)

2.  There needs to be a good vetting and catechetical process. While we can ‘t avoid posers completely, there should be a process to minimize this. And there should be a process of training to ensure the person understands what they are doing as well as the faith that they claim to now be an adherent to. <Unfortunately, real-world baptisms often fail greatly in this area as well.>

3.  The avatars allowed should be carefully thought out. Should one be able to be baptized using “Spiderpig” or “Family Guy” as his avatar? I don’t really think so, but avatars do have symbolic value to represent a person, so some flexibility should be allowed.

4.  Some thought shoud be given as to who can be baptized— beyond issues of faith and identity. Should VRB only be done for those seeking to be active members of a cyberchurch? Should all be allowed to be baptized? This should be thoughtfully worked out beforehand.

Of course, expect many real-world churches not to accept VRB. I am from a Baptist church and Baptist churches do not accept the baptism of infants since we see baptism as expressing faith of the one being baptized, not the faith of the parents. Many Baptists don’t accept believer’s baptism of transferees who were baptized utilizing a different ritual. (Goodness, there are some groups that won’t accept baptism if it did not use their preferred formula “In Jesus Name…” or “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…”). As such, VRB is likely to be valuable personally not corporately… except in cyberchurches or other such online communities.

 

 

 

Your Greatest Strength is….

Related image

We do a number of tests at our counseling center. We have partners in our work who are psychometricians, but we generally have little to do with tests that are built around DSM-V.  We tend to focus on tests that are more valuable in pastoral counseling, and ones that lead more towards conversation than formal diagnosis. Nevertheless, tests are often seen as valuable for self-awareness and making changes for the future. But what changes?

We like to do some simple tests in terms of relationships, conflict management, personality types, and leadership style. Most of these don’t measure linearly a certain pathological quality. Most of these look at categories that have both good and bad aspects to them. So if one looks at personality type tests such as Enneagram or Myers-Briggs, the presumption is that each type has strengths as well as weaknesses, and that the world is ultimately a better place because of the diversity of types found in society.

So what do you do with this information?  Here are three possibilities.

  1.  Work to Your Strengths. When a person takes a vocational aptitude test, or perhaps one in “spiritual giftings” or spiritual temperaments, one is often instructed that the strengths should guide one in what to focus on in terms of job, ministry, and self-growth. It kind of makes sense. If one is good in math and science, then one’s career should probably be one that utilizes and hones this aptitude.
  2. Work on Your Weaknesses. This takes a more holistic view, and can apply to certain types of tests. With NCD (natural church development) the theory is that the weakest area of a church is the limiter to growth. Focusing on strengths will do little. For humans, we may be healthy physically, psychoemotionally, and spiritually, but weak in terms of socialization (for example). To be a healthy human being, we should be healthy in all of these aspects, and so working on socialization is important.

I would like to add a third perspective.

YOUR GREATEST STRENGTH… IS YOUR GREATEST TEMPTATION

One could argue that this is a bit of a mix of the previous two. It addresses the fact that strengths are important and need to be directly acknowledged and worked on. It addresses the fact that weaknesses are also important in that over-reliance on strengths may ultimately prove harmful.

By what do I mean by the statement “Your greatest strength is your greatest temptation?”  I will start with a personal example. I am an analytic type. Being the administrator of a counseling center, I would like to say, “I minister to papers so that others can minister to people.” This was a similar view that I had when we were organizing medical missions events. While the three Rs (Reading, ‘Riting,’ and Research) may be my strength (Paperwork over People), I allowed that side to dominate my activity. I avoided dealing with people and doing counseling, and focused on activities that involve being in front of a computer (like now).

But I had to grow. Growing wasn’t to focus on my strengths, allowing areas of weakness to languish more and more. At the same time, neither was it ignoring my strengths to focus on my weaknesses. I looked at my strengths as important, but also a temptation to be unbalanced. To embrace balance I value my strengths but be careful not to focus too much on these strengths alone, but invest time and energy in my weaknesses as well.

This perspective has importance of other areas as well.

  • Consider the Love Language test. It seeks to demonstrate what is one’s primary way in which one identifies love in self and others. The five are:  Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Your primary “love language” tells you how you best identify loving behavior of others and how you generally show love to others. None of these are wrong. In fact, all of them have value… at times. The problem is that in relationships one may find that the two may have very different love languages. So one really needs to become love “bilingual.” This neither rejects one’s strength, nor fully embraces it. Additionally, in a work environment, physical touch or quality time may not always be helpful or practical to encourage employees. One may need to learn to value words of affirmation, for example. One’s strength is neither good, nor bad… but it can be a temptation.
  • Consider Conflict Management. There are different strategies for addressing conflict. Some may typically work better than others, but all work okay in certain situations. Sometimes combating is best while at other times compromising, collaborating, acquiescing, or even avoiding may be the most successful. The issue is not which one is best, but the risk of utilizing one’s preferred method indiscriminantly. It is good to be good at what one is good at (a truism certainly) but being good in one area may tempt one to use it at inappropriate times.
  • Ministry. We teach chaplaincy (CPE) at our counseling center. We teach seminarians how to utilize basic pastoral care skills to provide care for those in the hospital (and other settings). But often trainees fall into temptation and utilize their own strengths inappropriate. We had a trainee from a Charismatic Christian background who would go around praying over the dying and declaring them healed. (This was problematic to deal with when the patient would die— giving false hope and confusion for the family.) Another from an Evangelical background, would start out trying to do pastoral counseling and active listening, and then quickly drop into a canned evangelistic routine. (I can assure you that having a chaplain talking to a sick person who is undergoing diagnostic testing is not being helped if the chaplain suddenly says, “So where do you think you will be if you die tonight?”) We have had nurses take chaplaincy, and they struggle to avoid focusing on medical symptoms and giving medical advice.

Learning one’s strengths can be useful… but only if one learns how to utilize that knowledge.

Two Prayers of Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)

O Lord, you have called me to open my hand,
that you might fill it:
but I would not open it;
I held the world fast,
and kept my hand shut,
and would not let it go.
But you alone can open it for me;
not my hand only, but my mouth;
not my mouth, but my heart also.
Grant that I may know nothing but you,
account all things a loss compared with you,
and endeavor to be transformed
to be like you.

Guide us, Lord,
in all the changes and varieties of the world;
that we may have evenness and tranquility of spirit:
that we may not grumble in adversity
nor  grow proud in prosperity,
but in serene faith surrender our souls
to your most divine will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

<The two are “translated” into a more recent form of English. Source is from www.acollectionofprayers.com>

Communal Music

I am pastoring a young churchplant right now here in Baguio, and we are diverse in age, status, and ethnicity. One of the challenges we have is music. What music should we use in church. A couple of decades ago, a large percentage of Evangelical churches in the Philippines suddenly turned over their music to a worship team made up of high school and college youth. This was a pretty painful experience— listening and watching church youth try to mimic their favorite Hillsong videos right down to the enunciation and body movements. I recall being in a seminary class and having students speak derisively of those old fashioned churches that still hold onto hymns because their parents still prefer them. My response was to be kind to their parents because their own tastes are likely to be mocked by their own chuldren. Well, today that has happened with the new generation commonly rejecting the “Praise & Worship” style of the seminary students 10 to 15 years ago.

Around that same time (10 years ago or so)  I recall reading a book on worship music styles describing 6 major styles (six in the area that the writer lived at least). One of the styles was called “Blended” or the mixing of musical genres. The writer spoke rather negatively of that, much in line with others such as Rick Warren who believed that growth (or at least church health) comes from, in part, consistency of style and tone.

None of this suggests what music we should focus on today. But then I was reminded of what my church back in the US (our sending church) has done. While their format has changed over the years. The last time I was there, they had three services. Service A utilized Country Gospel (and a bit of Christian Bluegrass). Service B utilized  Contemporary Christian (perhaps a bit more from the folk tradition than some versions of CC). Service C utilized Hymns. What does this tell me? One thing it could tell me is that different people like different things, so the church sought to keep them all happy. That is probably true, and perhaps it is the prime motivation. But I felt that I saw something different that is key.

CONNECTIONS

Hear me out here.

Service A.  The church is in a part of the US where country and bluegrass are BIG. The service, with the focus on this style, then connects the church to the community.

Service B.  This particular service is called the “Family Service.” Musically, one can see why. It’s focus on a folkish contemporary Christian results in a style of music that is pretty accessible to a wide range of ages. The style connects generations.

Service C.  The church has a large number of people who find hymns inspirational. While some people see them as old-timey (and certainly some have long passed their sell-by date), the new generation of Christians seem to be open to hymns more than the previous one… especially if the tunes are reworked a bit, with unnecessary bridges or choruses added in. In fact, hymns are my 21 year old’s preferred style. But to me, hymns connect to history. The church is not a 20 year old phenomenon, it is a 2000 year phenomenon. Hymns, in a small way, connect us to our history— remembering and honoring those who have gone before us.

So what do we do in Baguio? We are a church plant of around 40 people who all meet together in one main worship service per week. We don’t have the option of having three different services— music tailored to each group. So do we chose music that is inoffensive to the majority— music that is mildly pleasant, or maybe pleasantly mild?

My thought right now is to focus on connections. Separate genres for separate groups in a church, undermines the connection ideal a bit, I think. Instead, we must recognized that corporate worship is for worshiping God, but also for making connections. If it was simply about worship, we could give tailored individualized playlists that people can plug into their ears as the walk around… singing along if they want. But for corporate worship, we are connecting with each other in our worship.

As such, we should find ways to choose music that:

  • Connects to the community. There should be music that is accessible to those in the surrounding culture.
  • Connects to the generations within the church. There should be music that everyone can, on some level, appreciate.
  • Connects to our history. Our music can, at least at times, draw us to generations of the faithful before us.
  • (Adding a fourth) Connects to our diversity. The church is made up of great ethnic diversity. Our local church certainly is… and if yours isn’t, why is that? As such, music should also honor that diversity, reminding us that John’s vision of (perhaps) ideal worship starting in Revelation 7:9 is first identified by the unity within its extreme diversity, and the diversity within its extreme unity.

I really don’t think that these four areas can be handled with one single musical genre. As such, I believe we do need to embrace a sort of blended worship. A major complaint regarding blended styles in worship services is that it tends to result in a lot of different groups all being relatively unhappy. That seems a valid concern. But connection doesn’t happen simply by mixing together different styles of songs. It must be an intentionally educative process. Singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” followed by “Mahal na Mahal Kita Panginoon” doesn’t automatically get people to recognize that the church of the early Protestant movement in Germany is connected to the modern evangelical church in the Philippines. The connection must be identified, and integrated into the music worship experience.