Back around 2014 or so I began writing a book on Theology of Missions. I took some of those for a class I was teaching n Mission Theology. After completion of the class, I got all excited about finishing the book. However, then I was asked to teach a class on Interreligious Dialogue. Being in the Philippines, it is hard to find book resources, so once again, my answer was to put together things into a book. But as I was doing that, I began to scavenge topics out of what I had done for my book on Theology of Missions.
In the end, I finished my book on Interreligious Dialogue, and pieces of my work on Theology of Missions. That might have been where things would end, but then COVID happened, and I thought that there was a chance to work on this book.
Anyway, eventually I finished and put an electronic copy on this site. But a couple of months ago, I decided to make a paperback version so I put it available online yesterday.
I feel good about it. It is not comprehensive. If you want something broader, consider “Encountering Theology of Mission” by Ott, Strauss, and Tennent is a better choice. But I hope my reflections have some value. Now that it is done, I wonder why I did not include a chapter on Spiritual versus Social versus Holistic missions. It is one of my favorite topics. I guess, it did not really fit into the 3-part structure I set up.
I am not a narrative theologian. I am not ever all that sure what training I would need to earn that title. However, I am interested in storying and orality and what Tom Steffen and William Bjoraker calls “oral hermeneutics.”
I have written a couple of articles in the last few weeks. One of them is on the localization of theology in a missions setting. That one is out there being reviewed to go in a journal. The other is a narrative theological reflection on the story of Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda. That one I directly put up on Academia.edu, and I plan to put it on this website directly as well. If you want to see it, click below.
I was looking up the proverb “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.” I was pretty sure that Benjamin Franklin originally said it. However, that eventually led me (as so many roads do) to the Wikipedia article and Wiktionary article, “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.”
There I found that Benjamin Franklin was not the first to say it. Algernon Sidney said it in its present form (Algernon Sidney (1698), chapter 2, in Discourses Concerning Government, volume 1, section 23, p. 298). However he was drawing from Greek Philosophers and a slew of others.
I found the Wikipedia article interesting because it talks about the widespread belief (at least in the United States) that the above proverb is from the Bible. It is clearly not in the Bible… but the question does remain as to whether it is a proverb based on good theology.
I really don’t think it is. As an American, I can relate to the cultural temptation to feel that the proverb is correct. I also feel as if one could put some brackets on it where it does hold true. It is arguable harmonious to the statement of James, “You have not because you ask not.” However, a truer statement is “God Helps Those Who Cannot Help Themselves.” This reminds me of the song by Paul Overstreet, “Love Helps Those (Who Cannot Help Themselves)”
I am presently working on an article based on the Pool of Bethesda story in John 5. Hope to have it done in a couple of weeks and then it will either be published to a journal here in the Philippines or I will simply put it up online. Time will tell. My argument is that the situation at the Pool of Bethesda is a great example of “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves” but that Jesus went there and did exactly the opposite, helping one who absolutely could not help himself. I make the suggestion that the act of Jesus should make us pause and wonder whether what was happening at Bethesda was indeed from God. Does God really grant mercy and favor on the strongest, richest, most capable? With a few possible exceptions, the answer seems to be NO! Hezekiah was granted 15 years extension to his life, but the broader story undermines the act— Hezekiah in effect used his extension of life to put his country in greater danger.
It feels like it is the time to throw myself into reading and writing and teaching in 2023. 2020 through 2022 were the years of pandemic and family issues. It looks like the pandemic is over (being replaced by endemic) while most of our family challenges are becoming ironed out. In fact, two major challenges just got worked out today. Praise God for that.
So there are a few things that I hope to take more seriously this year…
I want to finish my book on Theology of Mission (“Walking With” as Metaphor for Theology of Mission). It was actually completed last year, and had put electronic copies online. However, I am starting to clean it up now, presently in Chapter 3, to make it ready for formal printing. I have been mulling cleaning up my book on Cultural (or Missional) Anthropology. I pulled that book off publishing because I feel that there are problems with it. Not sure yet.
Work on Video training. I am presently working on video presentations for an online class on Missions History with Faith Bible College. I enjoy Missions History and so I not only like to work on these presentations, but have appreciated thee motivation to do more research. There is a book out recently by Doreen Morrison called “George Lisle: A Faith that Couldn’t be Denied.” This is a book on a person I have long wanted to learn more about. George Lisle was the first American to serve as a full-time mission in a foreign field.
I have been asked to take on the role of “editor-in-chief” in a journal— Philippine Journal of Religious Studies. This is a journal that was active at our seminary years ago but had taken a LONG break. I don’t know what an “editor-in-chief” does and as one who has rebelled against the peer-review system, I am being pulled into a very new place for me. It is good to learn and keep learning.
Beyond this… I don’t know. I am not keen on New Years resolutions. I don’t think I have ever set one, and I don’t want to start now. I watched a Youtube Video “Your Theme” by CGP Grey. He suggests that for year-long goals, SMART is not the right idea. Vague and abstract is the way to go. It can be linked by CLICKING HERE.
As faf as the blog, I think I will keep doing what I am doing. Just passed 150,000 views on this website. That is small for some, but for me… that is quite something. I am pretty sure that I will just keep writing about what ‘strikes my fancy.’
It is a post I feel pretty good about. Some would say that it is not a very… controversial topiC. However, every year some Christians will put out arguments as to why Christmas is NOT okay. Curiously, the central problem they bring up is not the (actual evil of) consumerism or the mental health issues often associated with the holiday. Rather, their complaint is that it has “pagan roots.” Of course it does not have pagan roots. It is a birthday anniversary celebration for Jesus… something that seems to be implied as “un-bad” based on the birth narratives in the Gospels. Many, however, suggest that it is bad because it is tied to Saturnalia— a Roman pagan festival. It seems like making arguments about missional accommodation is a bit… niche at best. However, recently have come out a number of videos (like from Youtube’s “Religion for Breakfast”) that point out that the relationship between the day chosen for Christmas and the day for Saturnalia is not only not concurrent, but the fact that it shares a similar season is probably coincidental.
Personally, I would argue that it could share the same exact day and do so intentionally and that this would not be bad. In fact, I have argued that one of the truly great things about Christmas is that it is one day with two holidays. It is Religious Christmas for Christians. It is Secular Christmas for non-Christians. Because of this, Christians and non-Christians can share a day of celebration and the blurring of lines between the two CAN actually be a good thing— a time to talk about the historical base for Christianity with others and the hope that it provides.
Some also complain that Christmas has too many pagan symbols associated with it— Christmas trees being a good example. In the Philippines, parols are popular. They are paper lanterns (the least ornate are anyway) shaped to remind one of the Star of Bethlehem. I suppose it has roots in “Chinese lanterns” and so (perhaps) have some weak connection to non-Christian practices. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Symbols and days are redeemable. If they weren’t, then this would be a problem. Pretty much everything we do or have has non-Christian associations.
OKAY>>> Finally we can get to Hanukkah
Is Hanukkah okay for Christians to celebrate? A lot of Christians seem to think of Hanukkah as being ‘bad’ because it is seen (somehow) as competition for Christmas. Certainly this year it is somewhat true. Hanukkah is a lunar holiday and so moves around a bit on the solar calendar, but this year it starts on December 18 (this year being 2022) and ending December 26.
Actually, I should note that I have some friends who go the opposite way from some Christians. They see Jewish holidays from the Bible as divinely sanctioned and all other celebrations as not. It can come from vairous arguments:
If Christians are grafted into Israel, maybe we should act like Israelites. (Pretty weak argument.)
Pretty much everything in the Old Testament is forever. If Yom Kippur is “Biblical” it is for all followers of God to do forever. (This is a slightly stronger argument at least.)
Celebration is not necessarily a good thing so we are limited to forms of celebration that are overtly sanctioned by God.
Negatively, the Campbellite argument that whatever the Bible does not explicitly command or allow should not be done by Christians.
So there are some Christians that may say that Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday, is okay while Christmas (never mentioned in the Bible) is not. For most Christians, however, the view is the other way around. Christmas is good, but Hanukkah is bad.
But Hanukkah is okay… really!! I would like to give a few reasons. All of them I believe are valid… but I don’t generally think one needs to justify celebrations, so I may not personally need any of them.
A. Hanukkah is part of our (Christian) heritage as well. Hanukkah comes to us through the Jews, being a celebration from the Maccabean period of their history. It is not in the Old Testament, but only because it comes from what is called the Intertestamental period. However, the basis for Hanukkah is from I Maccabbees chapter 4— a work that is part of the Roman Catholic Bible. Protestants reject the canonicity of I Maccabees. Still, Protestants should (hopefully) recognize the value of the Apocrypha even if they don’t see it as divinely inspired (in the same fashion as the Holy Bible at least). Regardless, although most Christians are not Jews, and we are not seen as part of the Jewish faith, the Jewish faith is part of our religious heritage.
B. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. John 10:22-23 notes that Jesus was in Jerusalem at Solomon’s portico on the temple grounds. This is the Feast of Dedication mentioned there. Presumably Jesus was there as part of the celebration of Hanukkah. For those who believe that Christians need a Biblical justification for celebration, this seems like it should be adequate.
C. For those Christians (as well as other groups like JWs) who identify most everything they don’t like as being “pagan,” if there is a holiday that is not considered Christian that cannot be charged with “paganism” it is Hanukkah. It is commemoration of the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It is pretty much the opposite of paganism.
<I should jump in here and note that in I Corinthians 10, there is a warning to Christians not to participate in Greek or Roman temple festivities since the sacrifices to these idols is sacrificing to demons. It is not clear to me how literal one is suppose to take this. Should one understand it to say that each idol literally has a demon associated with it and any temple ritual associated with that idol is essentially done to and for that demon? Many would say that this is EXACTLY what it is saying. The problem with this is that in many other parts of the Bible a very different perspective is found. In numerous places, the emphasis is on the idea that worshiping an idol is stupid because they are simply wood or stone and cannot see, hear, are respond. It is hard to reconcile those statements with the idea that idols have a demon directly associated with it who can indeed see, hear, and respond. In my mind, I believe it is more consistent with Scripture to say that demons are not directly associated with idols. Rather, the practice of idolatry is demonic… a violation of the Decalogue, and a choosing to worship the creation over the Creator. But even if one takes a more Peter Wagner sort of interpretation, it still has nothing to say to Hanukkah which has no idols, and is linked to a formal rejection of idols.>
D. Hanukkah can (and should) be a celebration to bring Christians and Jews together. I must admit, I have never been to a Hanukkah celebration. There simply are not many Jews in Baguio City, Philippines. However, I have known two or three in Baguio. One of them, Paul, invited me to the next Hanukkah celebration of his group. Their group (they actually call themselves “The Bagel Boys”) meets for major Jewish holidays bringing up a rabbi from the nearest synagogue (3 hours away). Sadly, he died that year so I never got the the exact time and place. That was too bad. I teach a course on Dialogue with Asian Religions. I hoped to bring at least a couple of students with me. I think it would have been a great blessing for everyone.
E. I think a strong argument could be made that when it comes to celebrations of other religions in one’s community, the question is not necessarily as simple as PARTICIPATE versus NOT PARTICIPATE. Perhaps the better question is HOW CAN I JOIN IN A WAY THAT IS GOD HONORING, CULTURALLY PARTICIPATING, AND BEING A BLESSING IN MY COMMUNITY EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR?
It is November 18, 2022, so I reckon it is late enough in the year to note the posts most viewed this year. I made some minor changes to some of them to make them more useful. This year has been the best year for views on this website with over 20,000 views. That is hardly impressive but as one who just writes what I feel like writing about with little to no attention to SEO, or even common-sense ideas to draw people in, I am happy. <Not that it matters, but the numbers below show views based on unique selections, not views from scrolling through contents.>
#1. Sodalities and Modalities in Missions. (568 views this year) I happen to like this post but I am shocked that it was Number One. I have written on sodality and modality structures before without much interest from others. This was an early draft of a section of my book on Missions Theology (“Walking With” as Metaphor for Mission Theology). I think one of the values of this post is that it also gives a bit of a hint at why Protestants were so slow to get active in Christian missions (beyond the more obvious). I added a couple of diagrams to this post because the book has them.
#2. Critique on Evangelism, Part One. (306 views this year) This is an old post of mine but I still agree with it. I do believe Evangelism is important but there are deep problems in the underlying theology as well as the methodology of it. Much evangelism probably is not even evangelism—- but just getting Christians to change denomination or affiliation. I added links so that subsequent parts of the post series can more easily be found.
#3. Non-violent Response and Self-Purification. (305 views this year) This is a quote, with comments, of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. I believe MLK is a good example for Christians in how to behave transformationally in a diseased culture. It seems like Christians (in the US at least) seem to think that riling themselves up is how to get change. Maybe it is… but it is not the right change.
#4. Cultural Perspective and the Prodigal Son. (288 views this year) I did not write anything particularly original here, but noted findings of others as to how much one’s own cultural worldview colors how we interpret the Bible. It is a massive blindspot, and blindspots can only be managed if they are acknowledged.
#5. Medical Mission Events in the Philippines, Part One. (283 views this year). Many years ago, my wife and I were part of a team that organized dozens of medical mission events in the Philippines. My dissertation was based on doing medical mission events in the Philippines. This post and the follow-on posts are from the dissertation. I modified this post so that it links to the other posts more efficiently. The dissertation was also modified into a short book that is available by CLICKING HERE.
#6. Three Stages of Prophecy and Word. (261 views this year). Some years ago I did some teaching in Biblical Theology (NOT my specialty). I noted that from the time of the Northern and Southern kingdoms through to the Intertestamental Period there is a transition from reliance on the spoken word (through prophets) with limited reliance on written text to gradual reliance on the written text. Prophecy was not seen as completely disappearing We see a gradual lessening of the role of prophecy but not its eradication. However, what disappears is oral prophecy seen as authoritative or “canon.” We see the same thing in the 1st century… transition from oral canon to written canon. I think the post provides a middle ground perspective between those who see Bible-era prophecy as both contemporary and fully authoritative, and those who see it as gone and never to be seen again.
#7. Problems with Spiritual Gifts. (252 views this year). I used to teach Spiritual gift assessments. I started out with the commonly accepted view of many that spiritual gifts are a major missing component in understanding of the functioning of the church. Over time I began to question a lot of what I was teaching especially as much of the information appeared to be simply made up. I don’t want to completely disrespect the idea (it is a Biblical term even if some of the interpretations don’t appear to be Biblical) so I just think of these issues as problems.
#8. The Missionary Journeys of Peter, Part One. (225 views this year). While Paul is the only missionary/apostle of the primitive church of whom we get detailed travel information over a sizable period of time. There are others such as Peter for whom we do know some regarding travels.
I have been watching some videos on the Orality movement, with focus on Oral Hermeneutics and Character Theology. It has been interesting. The hosts are Billy Coppedge and Ricki Gidoomal. The primary instructors are Tom Steffen and Bill Bjoraker. One of those videos, I was able to join as a (mostly) lurker. I have considerable interest in storying and narrative theology and contextual theology so I have found it interesting. If you are interested, I do recommend going to the video channel or the podcast channel. Below is the video that I was able to sit in on. Hopefully I will be able to join the next one.
I wrote an article for Bukal Life Journal. The journal is the publication of Bukal Life Care and Counseling Center, and deals with topics relating to pastoral care and counseling, and pastoral theology.
One of my favorite topics is looking at how Christian Missions and Pastoral Care intersect.
The article is titled, “
Theological Reflection through Storyingin the Orality and Clinical Pastoral Training Movements
It is originally published in the 2022 edition of Bukal Life Journal, pages 27-42.
I wrote a textbook for seminary students in the Philippines. I still use the book (“Ministry in Diversity”). However, I stopped selling the book because I wanted to make some changes.
One area I have been struggling with is the use of the term “Cultural Anthropology.” The term is used both by missionaries and (secular) cultural/social anthropologists. However, some firmly believe that the term cultural anthropology has the built-in presumption of cultural relativism. I am not totally convinced of this, but that did bring up the good question of what should missionaries hold to in terms of culture.
Upon reflection, I think there is value in separating between culture and religion. Now before anyone jumps all over me for this, I am only suggesting that there is some value in separating them even if one cannot truly separate the two.
If one pretends that one can separate religion and culture, then one can identify two spectra. One relates to culture ranging from cultural relativism (all cultures are equally valid and cannot be judged by outsiders) to cultural imperialism (all cultures can judged by my own culture and changed to be like my own culture). Religiously, one can see a spectrum from religious pluralism (all religions are equally valid and cannot be judged by outsiders) to religious exclusivism (my own faith/religion is the only one that is completely valid and is to challenge other faiths).4
Simplifying the spectra into two regions each, one can create quadrants. The Green Region I am calling “Civilizing” Missionaries. This goes back to many of the Great Century missionaries. Many were Religious Exclusivists and Cultural Imperialists. This makes me think of David Livingstone’s 3-Cs— Christianity, Civilization, Commerce. Such a model separates between religion and culture but still sees part of the missionary endeavor to change culture (“civilize”).
The Pink and Orange Regions are where there is Cultural Relativism. I am using the term “Presence” Missions here. This hearkens back to the developments especially associated with conciliar missions especially as popularized in the 1960s. Missions in this view was done by missionaries that would focus on a ministry of presence— often with the presumption that God’s work in and through the culture meant that the message of the gospel was unnecessary to be shared. I put out Presence Missions for both categories regarding culture. After all, in some forms of Christian community development, there may be a strong effort to change the culture even if religiously there is little desire to proselytize.
That leaves Transformative Missions in the Yellow region. There is an embracing of an Exclusive view regarding faith. However, the goal is not destroy culture. The hope, at least, is that the Gospel will fulfil or bring out the best in culture.
As I said, it is not realistic to separate culture from religion… but we do in many ways. We do separate Secular from Sacred… Holy from Mundane. Some of the boundaries are artificial, but Acts 15 (among other passages) do suggest the gospel transforms cultures without undermining them.
I need to make changes in the book but must figure out how to wrestle with this issue better.
It is also available in podcast form on some platforms under ‘God Speaks.’
I have watched all of the ones so far, and was able to participate live (although mostly as a lurker). For those interested in Orality, not just as a method for sharing the gospel with those who cannot read, but also in terms of communicating in a world that commonly learns without reliance on print media.