Most Updated Downloads of Two of my Books on Missions

I have noticed that I have been getting a lot downloads of electronic versions of my books. Two books that I have available are older versions of the book. I guess I did that because I figured if one wants the newest version, one can “buy the book”— paperback, that is.

But I had a change of heart. If you want the books, it is best to get the most up-to-date. Here They Are:

Walking With: A Reflection on Christian Missions: Click Here

Missions in Samaria: Click Here

If you want the paperbacks, go to MY BOOKS.

I will also mention that I pulled my book on Cultural Anthropology a year ago or so, because there were things I wanted to fix and/or improve. Not sure if or when I will put the paperback version back online. But I do hope to have the new version of the book in electronic form here in the next couple of months. I have 1/3 of a chapter to go on that.

Value of Story-based Ethics

Some years ago, I read book on ethics by Norman Geisler, “Christian Ethics: Options and Issues,” that spoke of 6 broad categories of ethics. The six (Antinomianism, Situationism, Generalism, Unqualified Absolutism, Conflicting Absolutism, and Graded Absolutism) could be divided into two broad categories— Absolute and non-Absolute. Absolute means that ethics is based on a clear ultimate/absolute authority. That authority might be called God. There are non-Absolute ethical systems as well where greater authority is centered on the individual or the community. I found value in the book as I came to the conclusion that ‘Graduated Absolutism’ was the strongest viewpoint in terms of Christian ethics.

But of course there are other ways of dividing ethics. A different one was in David Augsburger’s book, “Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures.” He spoke of three broad systems of ethics: Deontological, Teleological, and Contextual. He saw Deontological as rule-based, “right versus wrong,” and “the means justifies the ends.” Teleological is pragmatic, “good versus evil,” and “the end justifies the means.” These seem pretty straightforward, but also inadequate. Horrible things have been done based on the idea that the end is good, so the means must be good. On the other hand, equally horrible things have been done based on “just following the rules” that ignored what the results were. Arguably, Christian ethics is NOT one or the other, but a bit of both. (I know that this goes against what is commonly taught— that Christian ethics is Deontological. However, the New Testament makes it quite clear that we are no longer bound by a written law of dos and donts, but are bound by the Law of the Spirit. The New Testament writers never fully clarify in written word what the “Law of the Spirit” constitutes. This in itself suggests a couple of things. First, it is Absolutist— God is the basis. Second, it is NOT deontological— not based on a written list of thou shalts and thou shalt nots.

But where does Contextual fit in. Augsburger puts it as “Fit versus Unfit.” In other words, is it culturally appropriate or not. Paul talks along those lines at times talking about how Christian liberty (things that are not in a legal sense “wrong” may still be inappropriate. Philemon really can legally keep Onesimus as a slave if he chooses to… but he should really really consider how inappropriate it is for a Christian to keep his Christian brother in (figurative) shackles. Paul limits his own ethical freedoms to impact more for Christ. It is not legally wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols, but one should consider the context before deciding to act on this sort of freedom. In these things, there is the legal limitations (deontology), the concern about the results (teleology), but the response must take seriously the specific situation (context). All three are needed.

Let’s give an example of Contextual ethics through a story:

One day, Missionary Tom received a plot of land from the village elders to live on. Tom planted some figs. Figs were not commonly grown in that part of the world, but they actually thrived in the climate. It was only a couple of years when fruits formed in quantity. Tom looked forward to begin harvesting. However, as they neared ripening, they would disappear. Tom at first thought it was some animal going after them, but finally he realized it was people in the village. One day, he saw a couple of pre-teen boys taking figs from his own trees. He went out and grabbed them and took the figs from them. He spoke harshly to them about stealing, and how unhappy God was at them. They were afraid at his strong language, but also confused. Not satisfied by their response, Tom took them to the chief elder, who was sitting down smoking in front of his house.

Tom explained the situation and asked the chief elder to discipline them. The chief elder responded:

‘Pastor Tom, I cannot discipline them because they did nothing wrong. They certainly did not steal anything. We gave you land ot live on, but of course you don’t own the land— no one can own the land— you just use it. The land gave fruit. You don’t own the fruit any more than you own the land. If you had harvested the fruit and they had then taken what you harvested, then YES, they would be thieves. But that is not what happened. They harvested the fruit and you took it from them. So you are the thief. But I won’t discipline you. I don’t think you know any better. Just give the figs back to the boys and I think that is enough.”

This story gives an example of contextual ethics. Missionary Tom knew what the Bible (God) says, “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” However, the Bible does not define what stealing is. Stealing varies in terms of context. Each country has a different understanding of what ownership entails. I recall watching an episode of Gold Rush–Parker’s Trail, where Parker Schnabel, a gold mining businessman, goes gold prospecting in Australia. While there, they had a claim set up to do some surface mining. However, a couple of his comrades found poachers— people illegally harvesting gold from their land. They went after the poachers aggressively and might have even injured them if they hand not driven off quickly. Soon, however, they found out from local authorities that the poachers were not poachers at all. Until the claim reaches its formal initial start, it is freely available for people to come along and prospect for gold. The people were not stealing and if Parker’s friends had injured them, they would have been in deep trouble. Stealing is always wrong, but ownership is based on context.

It is in stories where ethic becomes really tested and there is opportunity for real understanding. Jesus would heal on the Sabbath Day, and seemed as if He made a point of doing this just to irk the religious authorities. One time he asked them after their complaint, “Is it wrong to do good on the Sabbath Day?” This is a great question, but it lacks the visceral impact of a story, Consider His question put into a story fragment in Luke 14:5,

“Then he asked them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will not immediately pull it out?”

You might not say it is a story, but it has the elements of a story. It has an implied status quo— a relaxing and holy Sabbath day. It had a initiating conflict— child (or ox) falls into a well. There is the moral conflict— what is the righteous action: leave the child in the well until the next day (if the child is still alive then), or take the child out of the whole. There is an implied resolution to the conflict— the person decides that it is more righteous to do good on the Sabbath day, than to allow evil to perpetuate on that day.

The story does more than a propositional statement— Honor the Sabbath Day and keep it Holy. The story provides the real world circumstances to challenge the sparse and inadequate proposition. What makes the Sabbath more honored. Is it honored by folding one’s hands while great evil runs wild? Or is the Sabbath more honored and holy when good is done (even if such benevolence requires some human effort)?

Previously, I challenged an interpretation of II Corinthians 12:14-15.

Look! I am ready to come to you this third time. I will not burden you, for I am not seeking what is yours, but you. For children are not obligated to save up for them parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for you

Some have argued that this means that children have no obligation to take care of their parents in their old age. This bumps up against the cultural ethics in many places (including in the Philippines where I live) where many parents anticipate being cared for by their children.

I believe the depending on a propositional statement loses the understanding of the passage in a way that would not be confused if put into a story form. Comparing parents to children and Paul to the (young) church of Corinth would lead to a story where the children would be young and the parents in the prime of life. Reading the story with the parents old and feeble and the children in prime of life would fall apart immediately since Paul clearly is describing himself as capable to take care of himself and not needing the support of this immature church.

So stories can make ethics more visceral, can challenge presumption and limits on propositional statements, and aid in interpretation. Additionally, stories are open-ended. They lead to discussions that help to understand other situations better. Rather than give an example here, I will ask you to look at another post I wrote. It is based on an ethical system used by the Kankana-ey people of the Northern Philippines. They use stories to give ethical direction. If you look at the story, there is a lot said, and a lot not said. This gives a great place for people to discuss and explore the “Why”s and the “What Next”s. This can lead to a much more ethically nuanced understanding.

The article is found by clicking here: Watwat is What?

Subversion of the Symbol of the Cross Quote

The planting of the first cross on Philippine soil is depicted in a painting by Vicente Manansala. Here the artist clearly shows the link between “mission” and “imperialism.” A priest blesses a large cross which has just been planted by indigenous laborers while Spanish soldiers carrying spears bark orders at them.

We are forced to ask whether, then as well as later, the message of Jesus and therefore his image was not thus turned into its opposite: the cross as a sign of the execution of an innocent victim having been turned around to function as a sword that could be used against Jews (culminating in the Holocaust, Muslims (the Crusades) redskinned Indians (Indian wars), and blacks (slave trade and slavery).

Anton Wessels, Images of Jesus: How Jesus is Perceived in Non-European Cultures. English translation by John Vriend

Manansala’s painting “The Planting of the First Cross” doesn’t seem to fit the description in the quote. The one’s planting the cross are clearly not indigenous laborers. Perhaps there is a different version of this painting done by Manansala. However overall, the analysis is spot on. The symbols of Christianity (priest and cross) are clearly supported by symbols of war (soldiers, armor, and halberds).

Vincente Manansala’s “Planting of the First Cross” (1965)

I think this subversion is pretty easy to do. Missionaries were often seen as supporting colonial imperialism because they utilized the might of the colonizers (guns, soldiers, ships, etc.) to be able to work. The fact that many missionaries were highly discomforted by what the colonial governments and colonizing populations were doing does not negate the fact that they would be seen as part of the problem by many. After all, in the painting described above, the priest utilized the spears and the soldiers used against the Cebuanos (local people) regardless of whether they approved of the behavior.

When evangelical short-term mission teams headed to Iraq after the (latest) Iraq War was over, were they seen positively (sharing their love and concern for the people there), neutrally (another voice in the dialogue of faith), or negatively (an invasion supported by the first invasion from the West)? I recognize that all ministry work takes advantage of the political landscape. St. Paul used his Roman citizenship to allow him to minister at times. But there also seems to have been some reticence in this. Most of the places that Paul traveled were conquered lands. His citizenship opened some doors, but it could shut others as well since his legal protection came through the sword and great bloodshed.

I am able to minister in the Philippines because it is a nation whose government supports a high level of religious freedom. I am grateful for the freedom. We have even done some ministry projects in partnership with local government or government agencies. That is a blessing, but we have to be careful not to be pawns of the government (US or Philippines) or seen as too closely linked to them.

History of Missions Class at Faith Bible College

It is good to keep learning. I am taking a course, “Teaching in Oral Cultures,” the first full course of study I have taken since 2013. It is also good to keep teaching. That is true for at least two reasons— one is that teaching forces one to keep learning. The other is that it helps others to learn as well.

I have a course set up on Populi at Faith Bible College this Summer. It is titled “History of Missions.” It is fully online and asynchronous (“max-flex” That’s because I have to go back and forth between the Philippines and the US. That makes it hard to guarantee a set face-to-face time. However, unlike some course, I think this works for “History of Misions”

I teach a number of courses at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary and Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary. However, PBTS is focused on God-called, Church-affirmed ministers. As such, there are greater limitations on who can take courses there. This is even more true of ABGTS. On the other hand Faith Bible College trains a wide variety of people— both traditional and non-traditional Bible school students. Of course, I absolutely do recommend PBTS and ABGTS for those seeking to do ministry— especially in Asia.

For those interested, you are welcome to try out the course this Summer. This sort of training format is new to me. I would love to get feedback. I need to keep learning.

Purified, Strenthened, Permeated, Concretized and Actualized Cultural Values

My daughters attended a Catholic University here in the Philippines, and Religious education was part of the curriculum. My daughters found some of the classes interesting and valuable… others drab and dull. It seems like the interest and investment of the instructors in their topic tended to rub off on the students. Anyway, they gave me their text books and I like a lot of the materials.

Here is an extended quote on what I would describe as Contextualization of the Christian Faith. The book describes it as “Renewed Catechesis.” Catechesis means Religious education, and renewed suggests making the teachings of the church relevant and resonant in new cultural settings.

“‘Catechesis today must be Christ-centered… Everything— the Blessed Virgin, the saints, the sacraments, word of life, devotions, etc. — must be taught in relation to Christ, and with the purpose of leading the catechized into intimacy with Christ’ (PCP-II 157). For Catechesis to be Christ-centered, it ‘must be rooted in the Word. Nothing and no one speaks better of the Incarnate Word than the scriptural Word of God… ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (PCP-II 159).

Renewed Catechesis must also be authentically Filipino and systematic. It becomes authentically Filipino if it is inculturated. Inculturation implies, first of all, communicating the Christian message using the language of the people (PCP-II 160). According to the NCDP, ‘the Christian message must be expressed through images, symbols, rites that are indigenous to Philippine culture.’ (NCDP 381).

PCP-II further describes inculturation as ‘the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures’ (PCP-II 202). A similar idea is expressed by the NCDP when it says that ‘authentic Filipino cultural values, attitudes and practices must themselves be viewed in the light of Christ andin terms of their basic Christian dimensions…’ (NCDP 381). Further, inculturation can happen because ‘Filipino values can be purified, permeated, and strengthened by Gospel values. Gospel values in turn are concretized and actualized in Filipino values and patterns of action’ (NCDP 383).

Growing as a Missionary Church, by Romano M. Bulatao, Reynaldo O. Dumpayan, and Lawrence D. Dumayas (Philippines, CPSP Publishing House, 2013), pages 5 and 6)

Clarifying a bit, PCP-II refers the “Second Plenary Council of the Philippines,” while NCDP refers to the “National Catechetical Directory of the Philippines.”

This is expressed somewhat different than I might. I would not necessarily focus on the Mother of Jesus, the Saints, and the Sacraments. But it can be argued that this quote doesn’t either. It says that everything points to the centeredness of Christ, and training must be centered on the Word of God (Christ) and the Holy Scriptures that reveal Christ. There is a lot of common ground there.

I rather like the way the quote describes inculturation of the Gospel message. Some people always focus on the risk of “tainting” the message of God with local values. Here however, inculturation describes a two-way street where Christian teachings and Cultural Values are aided in the process.

  • The Gospel message can purify Cultural values— it identifies the best in local beliefs, not just pointing out what is wrong.
  • The Gospel message can strengthen Cultural values— demonstrating that the good is not merely opinion of local culture, but also of God. (Much of Filipino traditional values are highly commendable, and need to strengthened, not undermined by the Christian Church.)
  • The Gospel message can permeate Cultural values— it does not have to be like oil and water or a veneer of one covering the other. A person being sanctified in Christ does not become a completely different person, but instead becomes what he or she was meant to be. In like manner, renewal of culture in Christ changes culture to be what it is meant to be— distinct, unique, and purified.
  • Filipino values concretize and actualize the Gospel message. The Gospel message will enter a culture feeling abstract and foreign. It will not be understandable on a visceral, emotional, spiritual level until it is connected with the way of life and manner of thought of people in the culture.

By the way, This book quotes from the PCP-II (“Second Plenary Council of the Philippines”) where it in turn quotes, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is the ignorance of Christ.” Until I looked it up, I did not know that this is a quote of St. Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate translation of the Bible.

While, as a non-Catholic, there are many aspects of the book that I cannot wholeheartedly accept. Nevertheless, I am glad my daughters received this religious training. They went to an Evangelical high school, and I must admit that at least some of religious education at the school was overly simplistic and trite. As sadly, much of it was most definitely NOT a Renewed Catechesis.

How Does God Use Deeply Flawed Servants?

One of my favorite books in the Bible is Habakkuk. In it, the prophet (Habakkuk) is trying to figure out when is God going to take care of all the evil that is happening in the Kingdom of Judah. God responds to the effect that, ‘Don’t worry. I am sending in the Babylonians and they are going to destroy everything.’

Habakkuk is, not surprisingly, not happy about this. He was a Jew as were the people of Judah. He wanted repentance and revival. He did not want them to be destroyed. And… he certainly did not think it was fair and righteous that God would use a people who were (seemingly) worse than the Jews..

God’s response is a bit… poetic… roundabout. However, the argument seems to be something like, “Don’t worry. I will use whoever or whatever I want as my tool of discipline. The Babylonians may be useful in the moment, but I will replace and judge them when the time is right.

But is this a general principle? What about people who are God’s servants by intention rather than merely by sovereign circumstances. What if a minister— pastor, missionary, and such— was deeply flawed. Will God use them? I have heard ministers, such as televangelists, who seemed to be horrible horrible people supported by the argument that their success and at least some of the fruit of their labor proves God’s favor.

An example that comes to mind is someone I will call Bernard. That is most definitely NOT his name. Also, he died decades ago so I am definitely not talking about you, the reader.

Bernard was a minister and a missionary. I won’t give too many details on his ministry. His primary role is in training no Christian servants. Bernard and his family were sent as missionaries by their denomination to Asia. His wife worked with local women, while Bernard established a training program for Christian ministers. He did this for 4 years. After that, however, he and his family had to leave. Bernard had been acting out sexually causing deep problems where he was serving.

Going back to the United States he found a position that would not be described as missionary work, but still essentially doing the same thing. He served there for awhile, but the same problems sprang up and he and his family had to move again. Bernard did continue to do ministry work, but in (relative) obscurity for a few more years.

This sounds like failure to me… but it is a bit more complicated than that. Bernard became known as the founder of the training program in the mission field because his first trainee (I will call him “Ben”) took the mantle of the ministry and ran with it successfully for decades. Now, this program is successfully being implemented where Bernard served in the field, as well as many other sites in Asia. Ben is commonly seen as the “Father” of this ministry, even though Bernard is still seen as the initiator.

In the United States, the place he worked was with a young colleague/trainee who went on to be a major leader and innovator in this minister training movement.

I chose to be very vague here. I have a friend who likes to tell stories where he changes the name but keeps enough details that those who are in the know… well, they know. I don’t like to do that. I am focus on principle here, not personality.

In principle, God used Bernard to jumpstart the work in Asia, and continue the work in America. You might say that God used him to plant the seeds. Others, however, cultivated and harvested the fruit.

I think God uses who God uses. God uses the best and the brightest. God uses the humblest and the most servant-minded. But sometimes God uses the most flawed. God used Balaam in the Old Testament and God used Judas Iscariot in the New. The former appeared to have a divine prophetic gift, the latter was a miracle worker. God used them when he needed them, and then set them aside for others who were motivated by love for God rather than adulation, money and other things.

I still think this topic needs more consideration… but I think this is a good start in my reflection. For now.