A Theology of Celebration (Part II)

This is a continuation of “A Theology of Celebration (Part I).” You are welcome to read that one first.

However, I have decided to make this second part more briefly than originally. Part one was written close to the time when some Christians were expressing the belief that Valentines Day may be “Un-Christian” and therefore should not be celebrated. But that was a few weeks ago. In a couple of more weeks, we will start getting the FB notices and articles that Easter is “Un-Christian” and likewise should not be celebrated. But at the moment, I am not feeling that annoyance so I will shorten my argument.

The starting point for a Theology of Christian Celebration is that God approves of celebration. We see celebration as being affirmed in Heaven in a number of places. Consider Luke 15:10 and Revelation 7:9ff. Celebration then, at least as a concept is not sinful… it is even viewed positively by God.

On earth, celebrations were identified by Jesus as good (consider Luke 19 and John 12 as examples of people celebrating Jesus’s presence). Additionally, the Jews had a number of celebrations of different sorts. Consider for a moment some of the variety.

  • Some had been formally commanded by God (in the Torah) and some were not.
  • Some were tied to historical events (Passover, dedication of the temple, Purim, Chanukkah), and some were not.
  • Some were based on harvest festivals (pre-Jewish celebrations) and some were not.
  • Some were national and some were tied to rites of passage (circumcision, wedding) and some were ad hoc (community feasts like described in Luke 15).
  • Some were highly religious (day of atonement), some were not really religious at all (community feast), and some were non-religious where a religious significance was tied to it (Like Shavuot).

Let’s consider this last one. Shavuot marks a period of time in the year in Palestine where the end of the Barley harvest meets the beginning of the wheat harvest. As such it lines as a harvest festival and was certainly celebrated as a harvest festival well before the time of Moses. However, with Moses and the arrival of the Torah, The Feast of Weeks was established (“Shavuot”) in the Torah, to commemorate the gift of the Law to the Israelites. Later on, during the Feast of Weeks (also known as Pentecost), the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. This event has been marked until today as Pentecost and is celebrated as part of the Christian Liturgical calendar. So we have one continuous celebration from Pre-Israel days to the Christian era— a harvest festival, the arrival of the Torah, and the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Not only does this appear to be blessed by God, it appears to be intentional. The arrival of the Holy Spirit ushering in the Church age, is supposed to remind people of the arrival of the Torah ushering in the era of the Law, and both are to remind people of the joy of the arrival of the first wheat of the agricultural cycle. The overlapping symbols are not competitive but supportive.

Today there are those who feel that symbols have a certain permanence of meaning to them. And a symbol of permanent meaning has a permanent moral value associated with it. Therefore, a day that was once used by pagans cannot be used by anyone else for any other purpose. A symbol that has meaning in one faith can never be redeemed by another faith.

The truth is, however, that symbols (especially “pure symbols”) have meanings associated with them that are purely arbitrary. Even with iconic symbols, however, they can be redefined as well. A cross can be a symbol of disgrace and of execution, or it can be a symbol of faith and salvation. Meat that had been sacrificed to the Greek god Zeus, can symbolize the power of polytheistic Greek faith to give health and blessing, or it can be a worthless activity that can be ignored as one thanks the God of the Bible who provides all good things.

Celebrations are similar. If someone feels like he is doing wrong by celebrating something, then he should not. If someone feels like he is celebrating something worthy of Godly joy, he should feel no shame.

However, the challenge comes when these two people come together. What do we do then. Who is the weaker brother? It could be argued that either of them is the weaker brother and is required to adjust to the other out of loving concern. On the other hand, perhaps neither are the weaker brother. Perhaps they each simply disagree. Neither needs to apologize and neither needs to try to shame the other.

But that brings up a new thought. Can one join a celebration of a different religion or celebrate a secular event? Is that wrong? Generally, there are two answers given:

  • No you can’t. You are joining in something that is wrong.   Or…
  • Yes you can. We have Christian liberty. What is not clearly wrong is… right.

I would argue that there is another option… and that is “Maybe.” From a missiological standpoint there are then two questions that need to be considered.

Question #1.  Rather than focus on Yes I can or No I can’t celebrate, the question can be “How can I as a Christian join with the celebrations of my community, my friends, and still be true to my faith?”

Question #2.  How can I redeem the symbols of this celebration so that Christians can embrace the culture transformatively?

To me these questions are better to consider than addressing the issue of Bad versus Good.  Is Valentine’s Day non-Christian? In some ways, historically, and practically, the answer is clearly Yes. In some ways Valentine’s Day is non-Christian. Is Valentine’s Day Christian? Historically, it is also quite clear that the answer has to be Yes as well. Valentine’s Day has very clear Christian roots. So instead of fighting about trying to argue that Yes is No… Christians should ask the question,

“How can we as Christians celebrate Valentine’s Day in a way that is transformative in our community and true to our God.”

 

Snapshots of Faith

Years ago, my wife and I wrote an article for a symposium on disaster response held at University of the Philippines (Baguio branch). We started writing it and then when more details came out it was clear that the topics they were covering were FAR different than our focus. We finished the article anyway (at least a solid First Draft). Years later (today) I made a few small corrections, so if you are interested in reading it, you can read the updated version of Academia.edu.

Snapshots of Faith, Hope, and Growth in Disaster Response Chaplaincy

Asian Christian Theology? (Part II)

Years ago I wrote an article on Asian Christian Theology, where I expressed some questions or concerns about how some consider this.  (You can read it by CLICKING HERE).

Recently I was in a meeting where exploration of supporting Asian Christian Theology books was explored. Some questions came up that commonly come up when this topic is being considered. For example, what defines Asian Christian Theology? If one is Asian does this make one’s theological writings Asian or not? Many Asians are trained (and sometimes indoctrinated) in Western schools or traditions. Will the results of these Asian writers be Asian theology, or simply Western Theology written by an Asian.

Additionally, do Asian Christian Theologies have characteristics that make them distinctly different AS A GROUP from Western or other Christian Theologies? Considering the variety of Asian cultures it seems doubtful that there is one unifying theme. Continental identity does not seem adequate.

Further, does Asian Christian Theology have unique methodologies (or at least foci) different from Western? Perhaps there is a greater focus on narrative over propositional truths. Maybe the dominant metaphors would be different. Perhaps systematization would be less valued. But if an Asian wrote a systematic theology with a strong focus on propositional truths, would that make it “un-Asian”?

For me, the key point is not on any of the above.  I would suggest something different.

cultural-bridge

The above figure suggests theology as a man-made construct that relates God’s unchanging revelation to Man’s changing culture(s). Since human cultures are diverse and changing, good theologies should be:

  • Contemporary
  • Culturally Practical
  • Making sense within the culture

<Consider reading the post where I talk about this more. It was meant to be part of a book that I never finished.  Click Here.>

With this in mind, what is an Asian Christian Theology? It is one that is

  • Relevant to people living in a present Asian culture
  • Has practical value to these same people in that culture
  • Utilizes metaphors, thought processes, and such that make sense to people in that culture.
  • AND… effectively links accurately and fully to God’s revelation.

I could add a fifth point. Ideally, it should speak to people of other cultures as well. That is because we are not only part of a local community of faith, we are part of a universal community of faith. As such, it should not serve as a wedge between local and non-local Christians. (Theology should both unify and diversify.)

Ultimately, the best test of whether a theology is Asian is “Does it give God’s answers to the questions that come from Asians within an Asian culture?”

Normalized Persecution

“I support religious freedom. I think the free exercise of religion is very important to a free society. But when I hear evangelicals say they must stand in solidarity with a particular candidate to protect their religious freedom, what I hear them saying is they want to avoid the persecution that every Christian generation except the most recent ones in the west have suffered. The Christian free of persecution is actually historically anomalous. And it is no coincidence that the Christian west free of persecution became lazy, unserious, and worldly. A Christianity that does not stand apart from a political party isn’t authentically Christian because it has compromised with a part the world. Christ says persecution will come to the church. We don’t need to want it. I support religious freedom. Persecution will come in other ways.”

Quote by Erick Erickson (blogger and radio host)

I avoid the mess called American politics as well as those who play in that mess. However, this is a good quote that has a universal quality to it. Persecution is normal… And healthy… for the church.

Top Posts for 2019

Greetings to all. 2019 has been a good year for me this year… overall. As far as this website, I have enjoyed putting up posts periodically. However, I tailed off a bit towards the end. Partly, this was because of  book work (my own and others), and partly because I was working on another blogsite (https://adventures-in-pastoral-theology.org/), and perhaps a bit of a feeling that I had said all I wanted to say. This happens once in a while. No problem with that, but one evidence is that most of my posts this year have gotten few hits. Think I need to embrace a bit of a break to let new ideas come up.

But here are the top posts read in 2019:

#1.  Kintsukuroi Faith:  Beautifully Broken. Part 1.  I am glad this is #1 since it is one of my favorite themes– our perfection and sanctification is not best seen in hiding our failures, but in the “scars” that demonstrate what God has been doing in our lives. Actually, Part 2 of this post is #7 in 2019.

#2.  Cultural Perspective and the Prodigal Son.  This post looks at research done that shows how our reading of Scripture is strongly influenced. Sometimes the presumption of people is that culture distorts interpretation… and that certainly can be true. However, looking at Scripture through a different culture can also reveal what was always there.

#3.  Medical Mission Events in the Philippines, Part 1. This one is surprising to me. However, from 2004 to 2010, my wife and I were directly or indirectly involved in approximately 70 medical mission events in the Philippines. I also wrote my dissertation on doing medical missions, and my first book was a book version of my dissertation. So this post was the first part of a multi-part post on this topic. as well as connecting to the book I wrote on that subject.   The other parts follow part

#4.  Oral Tradition and Rida Rida Ranka.  This is one of my few “non-religious” posts. It explores how communication happens through oral means. I use the Scandinavian children’s poem “Rida Rida Ranka” as the basis for that.

#5. What Happens When Conflicts are Not Resolved.  We get asked to do training on conflict resolution. This post was on the process of conflict escalation, particularly as it happens in church. I would probably do the post different now, but it is still not bad. <Curiously, there has only been one vote put on that post and it was “One Star”— Poor.  I must have annoyed someone.>

#24.  No Pictures Please… .  I added this one because it was actually the highest ranked post that I posted this year. It is one of my favorites so no complaints there. It is a series of stories of where picture-taking was counter-productive for missions and ministry.

 

 

Reflective Book Review: “Principles of Leading Muslims to Christ”

I don’t do book reviews very often. Frankly, I usually read through or skim through books rather than deeply read a book. And I even more rarely read a book in the manner appropriate for critique.  However, the author of “Principles of Leading Muslims to Christ” was one of my students, and I did work through the book cleaning up some aspects. Anyway, here is my rather lengthy review.

The book, “Principles of Leading Muslims to Christ: Effective Contextualization and Dialogue for Transformation and Discipleship,” was written by Adesegun Hammed Olayisola. He is a Nigerian who was raised as a Muslim and trained as a Muslim, before coming to be a follower of Jesus when he was college age.

I find the book has several strengths, one weakness, and one or two things that fit in a gray zone between these points.  I will start with strengths:

1.  It is written from a position of sympathy and love for Muslims. Much Christian writing regarding Muslims tends to embrace negative stereotypes. I once decided to electronically cut ties with a pastor friend who essentially used his FB account to promulgate every hateful click-baity story put out there that degrades Islam or its adherents. The author finds much that is commendable in Islam and its adherents, and chooses not to pander to his primarily Christian audience.

2.  He takes up more space bringing awareness of Islamic teachings over Christian responses to those teachings. Some of this is because of the next point. However, in addition he notes that Christians often have a stunning ignorance of Islamic beliefs (and I would add beliefs of almost all other religions). Effective interaction with Muslims begins from a foundation of understanding, rather than ignorance.

3.  Olayiwola recommends dialogue built off of a foundation of mutual understanding over the utilization of argument,  or special plan or technique. Argument generally drives people further apart and special techniques or procedures often are ineffective because they completely fail to take into account the individuality of belief, personality, values, and situation of the person one is talking to. He recommends using a clarification form of dialogue (as opposed to argumentative or relativizing dialogue), and finds value in the 7 principles of Max Warren for interreligious dialogue.

4.  He emphasizes what needs to be done with those Muslims who decide to follow Christ. He speaks particularly of those Muslims who, like himself, find themselves ostracized by family and community (and for some by nation) because of this change of faith. He gives a lot of good advice as to how to bring them into the community of faith. He does not recommend C5 or C6 groups, but does see the need for churches who are MBB (Muslim Background Believer)-friendly. Ideally, it is pastored by an MBB. He speaks of some of the difficulty and rejection he had with Christians and Christian groups for some trivial things such as his name (an “Islamic” name) and whether being a Christian requires a Muslim to start eating pork, or reject part of his (polygamous) family.

The major negative aspect of the book is that it is roughly edited. I have to bring this back on me. I helped with the editing, but Olayiwola lacks to resources for professional editing. It does show, but I don’t believe that it undermines the book, but readers should be aware of this. <As a person who cannot afford professional editing, and as one who likes to put out books first, and fix some problems in later revisions, I am quite sympathetic of this.>

There are some other things that I consider neither negative or positive, but are worth noting.

  1.  The book arguably is not clearly written to any specific target demographic. The early part of the book spends considerable time talking about the story of Sarah and Hagar. This is shared because it is an important issue for many Muslims. However, for most Christians, Hagar and Sarah of Old Testament characters, and a rather obscure New Testament metaphor for salvation. For many Muslims, the story is much more. The author spent considerable time on this because it is important to Muslims and an important separation point for Muslims and Christians. The likely readers, Christians, should embrace this focus rather than seeking to undermine this focus. (I remember when the author presented this topic in one of my classes, and students began to try to argue with him. It was as if they forgot that the presenter is a Christian who is trying to present Islam from an insiders perspective for the benefit of the class.)  Additionally, context of Islam and Christianity is heavily skewed towards Nigeria. As such he focuses on concerns such as “white weddings,” polygamy, prosperity churches, and shariah. While many readers wouldn’t connect with some of these issues, it is unlikely to be beneficial to speak of Islam and Christianity only from a supracultural, decontextualized, setting.
  2. His principles of leading Muslims to Christ point to the idea that there is no set method. The title of the book should hint at this, but Christians are so used to focusing on methods, that they often struggle with focusing on principles or on process. However, once one embraces a method, one often disregards relationship. Additionally, whatever method works in one context is likely to be unhelpful in many (most… nearly all) other contexts.

I do think this book is valuable to Christians who love their Muslim neighbors. But expect to be challenged.

Olayiwola’s book is available at this time in online sources such as Amazon.com.

NOTE:  Olayiwola used some of what I had written on Interreligious Dialogue. If you want to read up more on this topic, consider my book:

Dialogue in Diversity