Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Books on Spiritual Formation

Here are some of the books I recommend on spiritual formation.
Happy reading!

Labels: ,

"I can't do this, Sam"

Frodo Baggins: “I can’t do this, Sam”.

Sam: “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr Frodo, the ones that really matter. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was with so much bad happened?

But in the end it is only a passing thing. This shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stay with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something”.

Frodo: “What are we holding on to, Sam?”

Sam: “That there’s some good in this world, Mr Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for!”

Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers

Reflection moments

1. What burdens are you carrying today?

2. Why are you carrying them?

3. What gives you hope.

Lord, we look at the burdens that we have placed upon ourselves and we are weary. Help us to put down these burdens. Help us to recognise and carry only these burdens you ask us to carry. Give us the courage and the strength to discard the rest. Give us hope so that we can walk for another day.


Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Can God Suffers?

In this Lenten period as we meditate on the sufferings of Christ, let me ask you a simple question, "Can God Suffers?"

In answering the question,Can God Suffers ?, Gerald Bray, Director of Research for the Latimer Trust, Research Professor at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, explains the change in understanding of the theology of the “impassibility” (apathea-the divine nature cannot suffer) and the redefining of that theology. He highlights that we have changed in our understanding of God in the last one hundred years. Yes, God does suffer, he replies.

Ronald Goetz, holder of the Niebuhr distinguished chair of theology and ethics at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Illinois, in his article The Suffering God: The Rise of a New Orthodoxy, ask an interesting question:
“The mere fact of God’s suffering doesn’t solve the question; it exacerbates it. For there can no longer be a retreat into the hidden decrees of the eternal, all-wise, changeless and unaffected God. The suffering God is with us in the here and now. God must answer in the here and now before one can make any sense of the by and by. God, the fellow sufferer, is inexcusable if all that he can do is suffer. But if God is ultimately redeemer, how dare he hold out on redemption here and now in the face of real evil?”

Goetz's answer is even more interesting.

Richard Bauckham, Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St. Andrews, offers a deep theological reflection on why God suffers. His discussion centres on the context of suffering in the twentieth century, our expanded understanding of God of the prophets, a God of personal love, and the crucified God in 'Only the Suffering God Can help': divine passibility in modern theology.

Father Thomas G. Weinandy, Oxford don, Capuchin priest offers a contrary view in Does God Suffer? He writes convincingly that God in transcendence and immanence cannot suffer, and it is bad theology and philosophy to imply that he does. He questions the wisdom that the theology of the impassibility of God that has been understood for two thousand years has been overturned in a hundred years.

What do you think?


Labels: , ,

The Early Church and Spiritual Formation

A Historical Review of Spiritual Formation in the Early Church to the Reformation and After

Early Church Period
Studies in early Christian faith communities have shown that formation practices were based on the Christian narratives which were used to form or shape the faith of these communities. These formation practices were often sensitive to the culture of their place and time (Engen 2004, 21-25).

From the first to the second centuries, new Christian converts were instructed using writings from the Didache, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. At the end of the second century, teachings of new Christians were formalised by the founding of the Catechetical School at Alexandria. Here new converts were taught the basics of the Christian faith together with non-Christian learning. Two prominent teachers were Origen and Clement (Habermas 2001, 112)

It was in the early part of the third century that a fully organised plan of catechism was developed. A rigorous three year period were mandated before the adult convert were baptised. These 3 years period were to allow time for the new adult convert to change their lifestyle to one more fitting as a Christian. This period is called the catechumenate. This was necessary as most new converts were adults, converting from paganism.

From the fourth to the sixth century, infant baptisms became more common and the number of adults seeking catechumenate began to decrease. The emphasis and content of the catechism were slowly changed as more non-Christian disciplines were taught. The content of the catechism were the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed. The Ten Commandments were added by the thirteenth century (Habermas 2001, 112). However with the decrease in the number of adult seeking catechumenate, the catechism instructions deteriorated and the instructions were often given after baptism.

The catechism was the ancient church’s way of corporate spiritual formation. The Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments were recited in daily mass and in weekly Sunday services. It is part of the church liturgical worship. Members of the congregations were expected to memorise and be able to recite them.

Chan writes,
“When we recite the creed, we are doing more than telling ourselves what we believe; we are engaged in what in speech-act theory is called a performative act. We are making a pledge of self-giving to the God we believe in. In the practice of recitation, the creed functions like a nation’s national anthem or pledge.” (2005, 4).

The creed served the purpose of reminding the members of their basic beliefs, the Ten Commandments remind them to check themselves for their sins, and the prayer is the church’s prayer to God. Hence the incorporate of the catechism into the church worship liturgy serves a very important spiritual formation function. It reminds them they are a “separated” people, and reinforce their identity as a “separated” people.[1] Therefore the liturgy itself was an important in the corporate spiritual formation process.

The early church fathers taught that conversion was a process. One was slowly released from the bondage of the world. In that time period, Christian religious beliefs were incorporated into daily life. The catechumen was slowly helped by the church and her members to study and memorise the catechism, to live a life of holiness, to confess their sins and to serve others. This was a community effort. They would be horrified to learn of our conversion techniques and a quick prayer “accepting Christ into our heart.”

Chan comments,
“The ancient catechumenal process corresponds more closely to the idea of continuing conversion. It is a process of becoming in which the initial response is tested out, clarified, and strengthened. Just as true love between a man and a woman culminates in marriage, the catechumenal process culminates in baptism, when one renounces he world, vows lifelong commitment to follow Christ and enters into full communion with the church.”(2006, 124-125).

Conversion was a process that started with intention. That is why it takes at least 3 years before baptism was offered and performed. The spiritual formation process through the catechism did not end with baptism but continued through it to the rest of their lives. Again the early church understood baptism as early Judaism regarded Bar Mitzvah.

Monastic and Mendicant Period

The monastic movement helped to keep in continuity, some of the educational and instructional structure of the catechism. The Monastic consist of three different groups; those who were hermits and lived alone; those who live in communes under a monastic rule, and those who lived in communities under a spiritual director. It is those who lived in communes and communities that practice a form of community spiritual formation. Their purpose was to detach from worldly affairs and devote themselves to prayers and study. Spiritual disciplines like lectio divina, the Jesus prayer and contemplative prayers were developed during this time.

The decline of the monastic period saw the blooming of the mendicants. These were monks who vowed to live a life of poverty and to serve God. They were organised under various orders named after their founders, for example, the Franciscan (Francis of Assisi) and Dominicans (Dominic). The Dominicans were especially noteworthy because their call was to study, to preach and teach the gospel. Thomas Aquinas and Meister Eckhart were Dominicans. They continued the instructing of the catechism. However, the socio-political situation had changed. Though the Church is still rich and powerful, it has lost its influence over the general populace which succumbed to superstitions and a fearful Christian religiosity. In time, it led to the Reformation.

Reformation Period

One of the reforms done during the Reformation was to review the catechism. Martin Luther wrote his Large Catechism (April, 1529) and his Smaller Catechism, a month later. In these, Luther restructured the traditional instruction contents into three components. First was the “Code” of Christian beliefs, second was the “Creed” of the central message of Christ and lastly, the “Cult” which were instructions on how to appropriate Christ’s redemption through prayers and sacraments.

Reformed Tradition

John Calvin wrote the Catechism of the Church at Geneva (English) in 1542. This work was in the form of a 129 questions and answers format. This made it easier for the students to understand and remember. In 1563, the Heidelberg Catechism was written and it incorporated the 129 questions and answers. It contains segments on human misery, human redemption and divine redemption[2]. Therefore there is the cognitive aspect of the catechism which involved learning the answers and also behavioural modification necessary to live in a “Christian community”.

Weaver placed the reformed/Presbyterian worship service between the “prayer-book liturgical tradition” groups of churches, where liturgy was strictly followed, and the “free-church tradition”, where there were no prescribed liturgical rules[3] (Weaver 2002, 30). The reformed worship incorporates the spiritual formation processes found in the early catechism in liturgy worship services. These processes includes the focus on the praise and adoration of God, the participation of worshippers in worship rather than as spectators, a Word-centered liturgy, emphasis on preaching as a means of grace and the presence of order, dignity and grace (Weaver 2002, 33-34). The Lord’s Table, baptism and confirmations are also important aspect of the reformed worship. Therefore corporate spiritual formation takes place as people are reminded weekly of the creed, prayer and rules governing the Christian faith.

The catechumenate is an important spiritual formation tool that the Asian church should be encouraged to reconsider. First, conversion is the moving from one world to another. In the Asian context, it may mean detaching and breaking away from cultural and social roots. The relationship of a new convert with their non-Christian parents, siblings, relatives and friends may never be the same again. There is also the need to relearn cultural norms that is acceptable to Christianity. In some new converts, exorcism may need to be done. In others, the new converts may need to break the bonds with the temples. For example, some of them may be given as godchildren to the goddess Kwan Yin. These bonds need to be broken.

Second, the whole church is involved in forming the new convert’s lifestyle and religious instructions. Relationships need to be build and maintained. Prayers need to be offered for each other. New converts need to show how to use the means of grace to grow in their faith.

Finally, an adequate contextualised course of instruction must to be given. A good course is the Heidelberg Catechism. It is comprehensive in that it deals with the Christian creed and sacraments. Simon Chan asked some interesting questions
“How do we teach the Trinity vis-avis the world religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam?…How does the Christian doctrine of the Spirit relate to the traditional Asian animistic instinct?... What do we make of the hierarchical structure of the Asian family?...How does Christian prayer differ from the idea prevailing in popular religions that it is an “exchange” between a person and the deity?” (2006, 116-117)


[1] The whole idea is to reinforce the idea that baptized Christians are separated from the world, the flesh and the devil. The Augustinian image of moving from the City of Man to the City of God is helpful here. Augustine, S. (1993). The City of God. New York, The Modern Library.p.345-379. Being baptism is more significant then than is nowadays.

[2] “The Heidelberg Catechism of the Reformed Churches of the Palatinate (1563) began with the doctrine of sin and human misery (Qs1-11) followed by the doctrines of redemption and salvation by faith (Qs 12-21). The content of faith is specified in question 22:”What is it, then, for a Christian to believe?” Answer “All that is promised us in the Gospel, which the articles of our catholic, undoubted Christian faith teach us to sum.” The articles of faith are summed up in the Apostles’ Creed (Qs 23-85). Questions 59-64 discuss the appropriation of Christ by faith, with question 64 making the transition from creed to sacrament” Chan, S. (2006). Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community. Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press.p.108

[3] Weaver mentions three major liturgical streams. The prayer-book stream includes the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran has a liturgy format for all their churches. All their churches are required to follow the given format. At the other end is the free-church stream, which does not have a fixed liturgy or rules for governing the context and conduct of worship. Weaver mentioned the Presbyterians as being in between without mentioning the name of the stream. Weaver, J. D. (2002). Presbyterian Worship: A Guide for Clergy. Lousiville, KN, Geneva Press.p.30

Labels: , , ,

Monday, February 26, 2007

John Denver- Annie's Song

You fill up my senses

Like a night in a forest

Like a mountain in springtime

Like a walk in the rain

Like a storm in the desert

Like a sleepy blue ocean

You fill up my senses

Come fill me again

Come let me love you

Let me give my life to you

Let me drown in your laughter

Let me die in your arms

Let me lay down beside you

Let me always be with you

Come let me love you

Come love me again

Let me always be with you

Come let me love you

Come love me again



Reel Light: Film and Spirituality

I love watching movies. It is one of my favourite pastimes, the other being reading, writing, making spaceship models, golf, eating, computer games, and collecting Batman figurines. Does watching movies influence my spirituality? Yes, I believe it does because whatever we expose ourselves to informs, forms and conforms us. I like the story from the First Nation tribes in Canada. An elder said that there are two wolves inside us. These wolves are always at war. One is good, kind and gentle. The other is aggressive, wild and cruel. How do we determine which wolf will be victorious? The one we feed the most. If we feed or watch a lot of movies with violence, cruelty, the Occult, or horror themes, it will definitely affect our spirituality.

Spiritual Growth Ministries' Journal of Contemplative Spirituality (Refresh) has its theme for the Winter 2006 issue: Reel Light: Film and Spirituality.

Andrew Dunn, the editor asks, "What if the act of movie going and watching has become a religious activity for many with its own rituals and temples as John Lyden suggests? I notice how religiously large quantities of popcorn, lollies, soft drink or coffee and icecream are consumed at the cinema, almost sacramentally one suspects! What if the communal aspect of film viewing has become a modus operandi for creating community that has its own life and vigour?" He then gives us some guidelines on how to watch movies in Cinema and Contemplation

Paul Fromont writes on Spiritual Direction: Waking Up and Recovering Ourselves through Movies. Using the movie The Matrix as the context, he uses waking up and recovering our true selves. Val Roberts uses the movie Forrest Gump to show us The Power of Love. Digby Wilkerson offers us his list of 100 Art and Faith Films. Man, I have not seen many of them. And Martin Stewart offers us his thoughts on Films as Parables.

The Journal also supplied some useful links:

Journal of Religion and Film.

Christianity Today at the Movies offering “Biblical perspectives on contemporary cinema”.

Describes itself as “pop culture from a spiritual point of view”.

Jesus: Real to Reel Bibliography and Web Resources For Religion/Theology and Film.

Film making as spiritual practice and ministry.

Jesus: The Christ Film Web Pages

Labels: , , ,

Jewish Traditions on Spiritual Formation

Jewish Traditions on spiritual formation during the New Testament Period and after.

The spiritual formation process in the Jewish tradition starts with the bonding process between the father and child, the home, the synagogue practices and the synagogue.

First, the parent (translated “teacher” in Hebrew) is the one who starts the spiritual formation process in the child. It is often the father who becomes the one solely responsible for the faith formation of the child from the time of birth – the “gidual banim u-vanot” which translates as “a value related to the birth and development of children.” (Spiro 1987; Edersheim 1994, 99-114).

The family has an important role to play in the initial spiritual formation of the child. The family has “taharat hamishpachah” which is the value of integrity, honesty and loving relationships in a family. Another value is “kibud av va-em” which means honouring one’s father and mother. The family is also to provide a nurturing environment of “shalom bayit” which is “the sense of harmony and wholeness.” The family is the nursery from which the faith formation of the child grows. It is that the family that forms an integrated complete unit in a larger unit which is the “K’lal Yisrael,” the Jewish community (Spiro 1987).

Second, one of the key emphases in synagogue practice is the Bar Mitzah (Bat Mitzah for females) at the age of thirteen . Children realise that all their education and faith formation is to prepare them for the Bar or Bat Mitzah. After the initiation ceremony, the rest of their lives are meant to live out the principles and practices of Bar or Bat Mitzah. “Mitzah” can be translated as “commandment.” Bar means “son of” (Bat “daughter of”). What this means is that the ceremony marks the time when a Jew becomes responsible for living out the commandments of God for the rest of his or her life.

The preparation of the child for the Bar Mitzah begins when he or she is 4 years old. The education process that is started by the father is now taken on by the synagogue; the “cultural, intellectual, and emotional conditioning” that involves learning about Jewish history, culture, identity and reading of the Torah leads to its culmination in the Bar Mitzah (Spiro 1987). “At five years old (one is fit) for the Scripture, at ten for the Mishnah, at thirteen for (fulfilling of ) the commandments, at fifteen for the Talmud, at eighteen for the bride-chamber, at twenty for pursuing (a calling), at thirty for authority, at forty for discernment, at fifty for counsel, at sixty for to be an elder, at seventy for grey hairs, at eighty for special strength, at ninety for bowed back, and at a hundred a man is a one that (already) died and passed away and ceased from the world (Mishnah,’Abot v.21)” as quoted in Edersheim, A. (1994). Sketches of Jewish Social Life. Peabody, Henderickson Publishers. p.113

Third, is the formative role of synagogue worship. The Torah is divided into 54 sections. A separately section is read every Saturday morning in the synagogue throughout the year (Edersheim 1994, 245-255). Learning from the Torah and Haftarah (prophetic section of the Bible) are encouraged and practiced. Knowledge is not despised but embrace by the synagogue. Everyone is a student; young and old. “The wise student is one who applies his knowledge to serve and improve his life and lives of other.”(Spiro 1987, 552). There is a corporate culture of learning that continually challenges yet integrating learned principles in all stages of Jewish life.

Finally, the religious festivals play an important role in national formative practices. These religious festivals were related to Temple worship. And temple worship reminded the people of Yahweh, their God. Hence their whole year revolved round their religious festivals. There were daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly festivals, and great stress was laid on the regular observance of them in every particular one. During three major festivals or feasts, every male in the family have to go to Jerusalem. This meant planning for the journey. So the ancient Israelites mark times by the religious festivals.

1. The regular festivals were:
(a) The weekly Sabbath (Lev. 23:1–3; Ex. 16:23–29; 20:8–11; 31:12).
(b) The seventh new moon, or the feast of Trumpets (Num. 28:11–15; 29:1–6).
(c) The Sabbatical year (Ex. 23:10, 11; Lev. 25:2–7).
(d) The year of jubilee (Lev. 25:8–16; 27:16–25).

2. The great feasts were:
(a) The Passover.
(b) The feast of Pentecost.
(c) The feast of Tabernacles.
On each of these occasions every male Israelite was commanded “to appear before the Lord” (Deut. 27:7; Neh. 8:9–12).

3. The Day of Atonement
The tenth day of the seventh month (Lev. 16:1, 34; 23:26–32; Num. 29:7–11). The great annual day of humiliation and expiation for the sins of the nation, “the fast” (Acts 27:9).

The festivals were designed to constantly remind the Jews of God and of the Temple in Jerusalem and also to create a national identity. Concerning the three festivals which all males of the family must travel to Jerusalem, Brueggemann has this to say, “The main point would seem to be, “You must show up!” in order to give visible attestation that one is publicly aligned with YHWH and with YHWH’s people” (Brueggemann 2005, 13).

Hence, the Jewish way of faith formation involves the family and the synagogue. It is a corporate enterprise with family and synagogue practices which enhance and direct the learning effort. There are clearly defined pedagogy and desired outcomes. This can be considered corporate spiritual formation.

soli deo gloria

Labels: , , ,

The Guardian

The Guardian is an interesting movie about the work of the Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers. These are members of the Coast Guard who jump into the sea to rescue shipwreck sailors. As can be imagined from the nature of their work, it is dangerous and the risk of injury is high. This is especially dangerous in the cold waters of the north. In this movie, the setting is the Bering Sea. The filming is wonderful and the shots of high waves and rough seas reminds me of The Perfect Storm. It make me feel cold just watching the movie. It also makes me want to eat ice-cream. I wonder why.

The movie is about Ben Randall (Kevin Costner), a rescue swimmer who is something of a legend in the Coast Guard because he holds almost all of their records including a record of the number of people rescued. Ben is a determined type of person who is like a bulldog; once they have a grip on you, they never give up.

The story starts with his wife leaving him and he lost his whole team in a freak accident during a rescue. Ben is forced to take up a job training new recruits. Here he meets Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a hot shot young swimming champion who wants to join the Rescue Swimmers so that he can beat all of Ben's record. After an unorthodox training stint, Ben went back to his old unit at Kodiak, Alaska. Jake graduated and is transferred to be Ben's partner! Hey, it is a movie. In Jake's first training mission, they are forced to turn it into a real rescue mission. Ben sacrificed himself to save Jake. Duh.

The storyline is predictable. It would have been a powerful movie if we are made to empathise with Ben Randall. With his wife leaving him and his partner killed, Kostner did not pull off in his acting to draw the audience to even sympathise with him. Instead, he is acting as if he has nothing worse than a bad hang-over. Then his treatment of his trainee Jake makes it looks like he had a chip on his shoulder.

Jake is always trying to find out the number of persons Ben has saved so that he can beat the record. The only memorable part of the movie is when Ben replied that he only keep score of the numbers that he did not rescue; those who had died. It is meant to show the character of Ben. Personally I think it is a lousy way to keep score. It's like seeing the glass half full or half empty. Keeping score of those he could not save will make a neurotic out of him.

On the DVD, there is an alternate ending. That's one of the beauty of DVD. The other is that I do not have to go to the cinema to watch the show. I like the alternate ending better.

The Guardian is watchable. It is like The Perfect Storm with helicopters.


God Will Not Abandon You

We have all felt let down and abandoned by others. But God said, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” God will never leave you. God will never forsake you. He’s always there with you. Experience comfort and confidence knowing than God can’t leave you stranded in the turmoil of life.

Hebrews 13:5, 6
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"


Matthew 6:25-27
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?


Psalm 27:1
The LORD is my light and my salvation--
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life--
of whom shall I be afraid?

When evil men advance against me
to devour my flesh,
when my enemies and my foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.

Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.

One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the LORD.

Hear my voice when I call, O LORD;
be merciful to me and answer me.

My heart says of you, "Seek his face!"
Your face, LORD, I will seek.

Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will receive me.

Teach me your way, O LORD;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.

Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing out violence.

I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.

Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.


Soli Deo Gloria

Labels: , ,

Saturday, February 24, 2007


A short stubby hand reaches out to touch the coarse linen swaddling his body in a stable. The other hand reaches out and touches a soft gentle face, that of his mother, Mary. And there is another face with bristly hairs, his father Joseph. Moments before, these hands enfolds the whole of all known universes, able to create something out of nothing, and brings order out of chaos. Now these are the hands of a small, helpless baby boy, unable even to feed himself. These are the hands of God incarnate.

A small hand reaches out to touch the gold lining of the walls of the Temple. The boy’s hands are small, soft, and gentle. These hands play with mud; making mud cakes, and animals. Fingernails are stained as the hands patiently mould and form mud figurines. These hands point and gesture chasing the thoughts of their owner as he argues a point with the teachers in the Temple. These are the hands of a young Immanuel.

A hand reaches out for a piece of wood. This hand is now hard; callused at the tips and the palms, scarred on the fingers. These hands have worked at his father’s carpenter workshop for many years. They have learned to appreciate the feeling of good wood, to feel for the grain and to perceive the plane of the cut. They know how to handle tools, and knows where to cut and where not to cut. They have made straight what was once bent and bend what was once straight. These are the hands of a carpenter’s son.

A hand reaches out and begins to write on the sand, as an angry mob mills around, picking up stones and rocks. These men were ready to punish a woman caught in the act of adultery. The punishment was death by stoning. They hesitated as they read what a finger of the carpenter’s son has written on the hot burning sand. Then their hearts burn with shame. One by one, they tossed aside their stones and rocks and walked away. A hand reaches out to the hapless woman and a voice said, “Go and sin no more” These are the hands of love.

A hand reaches out and touches a blind man’s eyes. Eyes that were unable to appreciate the bright colours of flowers, the beauty of the setting sun or the smile on the face of a beloved one. “Do you see anything?” a gentle voice asked. The man looked and saw tree shapes walking around. Doubts began to fill his heart and hope fades. The hands touch his eyes again. Suddenly the world come into focus. It is such a beautiful world. These are the hands of healing.

A hand reaches up and a voice asks for water. The Samaritan woman hesitates and wonders about this Jewish man’s motive. It was late morning and they are alone. She pours water from her jar and watches as the man drinks from his cupped hands. These are not the soft, pale hands of a priest, scribe or rabbi, she notes. Her mouth opens in awe as these hands point to the sky to emphasis that true worship is neither here in Samaria or in Jerusalem but in spirit and in truth. These are the hands of spiritual glocalization.

A hand reaches out and clasps its partner tightly in prayer. The body tenses as the mind struggles with the commitment required of the carpenter’s son. Beads of blood form on his brows, flow down his face and fall on the garden’s grass. The night is dark, the air heavy, and the world is hushed at this significant moment in kairos time. The hand searches in vain for another human hand but his friends are all asleep. Finally, the moment of decision, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” The tense hands relax. These are the hands of a saviour.

A hand is laid out on a piece of wood and a heavy nail was driven violently through it. Tissues are torn, tendons cut, bones crushed and nerves scream out in pain as the brutal blow is struck. Then as the cross is hoisted into the air, the hands tear as the weight of the body bears on them. These hands hold the body on the cross as the man struggles with his breathing. A voice says, “It is finished.” A dividing curtain somewhere tears and light shines through. These are the hands of Christ.

A hand reaches out to Thomas for him to examine. A day ago, these hands lay ashen and dead in a tomb. Thomas looked at the nail-pierced hands and his worship burst out, “My Lord and my God.” These pierced hands held a sobbing Mary Magdalene and clasp the trembling hands of his beloved disciple. They make breakfast for head-strong Peter. These hands were dead but now are alive. They bless the disciples as the man ascends to heaven. As the resurrected Christ sits on the right hand of God, his hands continues to intercede for his followers on earth. These are the hands of God.

Many hands now reach out to each other and their neighbours. These hands help the poor, defend the helpless, encourage the depressed, liberate the oppressed, comfort the distressed, gather the lost, build up the community, restore broken relationships, calm the angry, clean a cut, feed the hungry, lift the fallen, support the broken, pray for the hopeless, reach the unreachable, touch the untouchables, forgive the unforgivable, teach the clueless, feed the hungry, heal the wounded, empower the powerless, and demonstrate Christ-like character on earth. These are the hands of the Body of Christ.

Now, give me a hand.

Reflection Moments

(1) Read the article slowly with constant stopping for reflection and meditation. Practice lectio divina or meditative reading. What words, thoughts or ideas appeal to you strongly? Pray about that. Ask God to help you understand what he is saying to you.

(2) Read each paragraph. Imagine the hand in your mind; how do you think the hands looks like; what colour, shape, skin texture, features. Imagine holding that hand in your own hands. What do you feel? Praise and thank God for your feelings and impressions.

(3) How will you give a hand to the world today? Think of doing something concrete for someone. Is there something you have been meaning to do but have not done so? Do it today.

soli deo gloria

Labels: , , ,

Paul's View on Spiritual Formation

While Paul’s letters indicate that Christian meetings are held in homes, the household was not the Christian community. Instead the home serves only as meeting place. This is because outsiders come into the home to form the community. Such a community was made up of members from different social groups, the head of the family may not be the head of the community, women played a greater role, and the leaders are often not recognized as leaders outside the church community (Osmer 2005, 18-20).

This is radical thinking on Paul’s part as it is a departure from rabbinic Judaism where a sacred place such as the Temple or the local synagogue is central to the worshipping community. Banks notes that according to Paul, “God’s intention is not the fashioning merely of mature individuals but of mature communities as well. The Christian community does not exist just as a means to individual ends, though a mature community is an influential factor in shaping the individual maturity of its members.” (Banks 1994, 67). Hence to Paul, the Christian worshipping community is not a place but a group of people.

In defining Paul’s understanding of the purpose of church, Banks writes, “is the growth and edification of its members into Christ and into a common life through their God-given ministry to one another (1 Cor 14:12,19,26)” (1994, 90). This takes place when they are having a common meal and when they are ministering to each other with their spiritual gifts or both together. Worship is living their whole lives in Christ all the time. Hence worship cannot be limited to one period of time or place as in the house church only. So one does not need go to church for worship but are to worship freely anywhere.

Radical freedom through Christ was the theological basis of Paul’s understanding of community (Banks 1994, 25). The three components of Bank’s summary from his book are reproduced below:
• from certain things e.g.. sin, the Law, death, and alien powers
• for certain things, e.g., righteousness, conformity to Jesus, and suffering
• resulting in a personal and life-giving experience of liberty
• upon Christ, who terminated humanity’s enslavement through his death and resurrection
• upon the Spirit, who communicates Christ’s life and purpose as a received divine gift rather than innate possibility
• with others, since liberty leads to service and can only be practically defined in relation to their needs
• with the world, since the universe itself will experience the liberty of transformation along with those who are Christ’s
• giving liberty a social and cosmic, as well as a personal and theocentric dimension

There are certain implications in Paul’s thinking about spiritual formation. First, the worshipping community is where spiritual formation takes place. This is important because Paul does not limit the community to one place but to the community of believers. Paul have moved from the Temple and synagogue as spiritual formation centres to the communities of faith as centres for spiritual formation (Osmer 1992, 21). Aside from that Paul believes in the unity and guiding power of the Holy Spirit. As James Dunn explains, “…what draws and keep believers together for Paul was not simply a common membership of a congregation, but the common experience of the Spirit. It was the awareness that their experience of the Spirit was one in which others had also shared which provided the bond of mutual understanding and sympathy.” (Dunn 1998, 561-562) If the Holy Spirit is the guiding Spirit of the community, why should he not also be spiritually forming the members?

Second, Paul thinks of communities of people rather than places. This is reflected in his writing to communities in cities rather than to a specific church in his epistles. Though many of his epistles are in response to certain crisis in the communities, it also contains a lot of advice about spiritual formation. Many of these advice concern collective behaviour, practices and belief of the communities. For example, the armour of God in Eph. 6: 13-18 is often interpreted as it is for individuals to put on the armour. On the other hand, Paul may have meant for the community of faith in Ephesus to put on the armour. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians emphasise the unity of the community as one; one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph.4:4). Hence when Paul refers to the one who puts on the armour, he may be referring to the community rather than to individual Christians. Brian Winkle and Ken Gnanakan made a similar argument (Wintle and Gnanakan 2006, 199). Nevertheless, Paul also sends personal greetings in his letters.

Third, Paul’s appreciation of “God in Christ” was instrumental in making him Christianity’s greatest theologian (Schreiner 2001, 19-35) Appreciating God’s redemptive plan opens his eyes to the greatness of God’s love for all people. Hence he teaches about salvation for people groups while he also talks about individual spiritual formation. Paul’s main emphasis is always on Jesus’ death and his resurrection. However his ideas about spiritual formation are always in context of a community. Meeks elaborates, “The one God of the Christians, as of the Jews, is personal and active. His spirit, or alternately, the spirit of his Son, acts in, on, and with individual believers and the whole community. The social correlate is the intimacy of the local household, A high level of commitment is demanded, the degree of direct interpersonal engagement is strong, the authority structure is fluid (though not exclusively), and the internal boundaries are weak (but not troublesome)” (Meeks 1983, 190).

It is this central theology of a personal God who involves himself with men, the strong commitment, the fluid authority structure, and the weak internal boundaries that allows room for spiritual formation.

Fourth, though Paul does not teach specifically about the kingdom of God, his teachings on the “priesthood of all believers” are radical. It was a major deviation from Old Testament teaching where a priest is needed to stand for man before God. Priests also have a duty to spiritually form the people of God. Therefore, Paul is also teaching that the community of faith have the priestly duty to, and the power for the spiritual formation of each other. Herman Ridderbos notes, “But this sanctification then involves active dedication to God by the church itself, the condition of moral holiness that responds to calling and election.” (Ridderbos 1966, 261-262). The community of faith is to have responsibility for spiritual formation (sanctification). This is especially important as members of Paul’s community come from all strata of society. Meeks observes, “ Mostly, as individuals and was a whole, they are weak in terms of social power and status, they experience indifference or hostility from neighbors, yet they are exhilarated by experiences of power in their meetings, both in ordinary terms of leadership, as the groups begin to make their own institutions, and in the particularly with demonstrations of spirit possession.” (Meeks 1983, 191). Ben Witherington responds, “Here again the ancient collectivist culture suggests that the group defines the identity of the individuals in it, not the other way around.” (Witherington III 1998, 222).

Fifth, Paul uses the sacrament of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as central teachings in which the community can understand, commit to and be spiritually formed by. These teachings later become the catechism of the church. Paul also taught the teachings of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the traditions. However, Paul does more than just teach the materials but he reinterprets them in the light of his understanding of the Triune God.

Finally, Paul is careful to distinguish between the communities of believers in a locality and his communities of travelling missionaries. The former was for edification and to build up the believers in the faith and the latter was to spread the gospel (Banks 1994, 169).

Banks writes, “Paul’s approach to community has stimulated the creation of alternatives to ecclesiastical structures and counterculture groups, e.g. house churches and basic Christian communities and at times these have been accompanied by a contemporary version of Paul’s work to complement and enhance their activities” (1994, 192).

It seems that Paul recognises the formative power of the communities of faith and uses it as a tool in the unstable, changing socio-political climate of the first century to develop spiritual formation communities for the nurturing and training of believers.

soli deo gloria

Labels: , , , , ,

Old Friends

A Commentary from my old friend, Dr Tan Soo Inn

[February 23, 2007 Edition]

"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity." (Proverbs 17:17)

Commentary: Old Friends

We met for tea on the second day of the Lunar New Year. I had known both of them for more than forty years.
Faces more lined, hair more gray, but in so many ways we were the same boys who knew each other in primary (elementary) school.

But here we were in our 50s' excitedly sharing the most recent life lessons learnt, testing plans and perceptions, laughing at jokes old and new, drawing life and strength from each other. Old friends. As we parted we silently articulated hopes that we would do this again next year and quietly hoped that we would meet up more often than that.

Forty years and more meant that our lives were inextricably bound together in so many ways. They were there through the seasons of life --- single, married, children, career, midlife decisions and the unexpected twists in our journies that no one could have foreseen. In the darkest moments of our lives we turned to each other. We turned to our friends.

Along the way each of us had made the friendship of Christ and so not only were we friends, we were friends in Christ. Therefore this was a friendship that would continue beyond this life. Here was comfort indeed as we began to come to terms with our mortality.

We had seen each other at our best and at our worst. True friends accept one another and create safe spaces for each other to work through the struggles of life. Where needed we spoke what we believed to be true and right but always couched in language that said "I am here for you."

As I look at my own evolution as a friend I see that it is also an indicator of my growth as a human being. When I began my friendship with these and other friends, I was selfish, consumed with my own agendas, poor in my ability to emphatise with others.
Growing older is to grow in the realisation that one has so far yet to go. But if I am a better friend today than forty years ago it is evidence of God's grace at work in my life.

Too much literature on human development focuses on the growth of individuals in isolation. More and more I realise that who we really are and how far we have really grown can only be seen in how we relate to others.

Tom Rath points out in his book Vital Friends (New York: Gallup Press, 2006):

"The majority of courses, professional development programs, and books highlight how to improve yourself. You take courses in grade school to improve your own ability to read, write, add, and subtract. Then as you progress through the educational system you have the opportunity to spend more time educating yourself in areas you choose. When you enter the workforce, you might get the chance to add to your base of knowledge by participating in training and development programs designed to make you a better individual employee."(p. 17)

In contrast to this highly individualistic approach to life, Rath points out that:

"Friendships add significant value to our marriages, families, work, and lives. At some level, everything we see and feel is the product of a personal relationship. Look around you and see if you can identify anything created in true isolation. After pondering this for a few moments, you might notice how dependent we are on connections with other people. Remove relationships from the equation, and everything disappears." (p.16)

If friendships are so important to life it is ironic that: "During our teenage years, we spend nearly one-third of our time with friends. For the rest of our lives, the average time we spend with friends is less than 10%." (Rath, p.22)

The duties of adulthood mean we no longer have the same discretionary time that we enjoyed in our adolescence. Nevertheless if friendship and personal relationships are so vital to our well being and our humanity, we would be wise to invest time to intentionally cultivate and nurture friendship in our families, churches and offices and in our other social networks. Truly it is not good for human-kind to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

In a world that is changing rapidly, consumed by a Darwinian globalisation that makes us competitors, a world increasingly defined by technologies that isolate us more and more, perhaps the most counter-cultural decision we can make is to put a high premium on friendship.
It might just save our lives.

Your brother,
Soo-Inn Tan

Labels: , , ,

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ghost Rider

I watched the movie Ghost Rider today. It has a starling cast, Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze / Ghost Rider; Eva Mendes as Roxanne Simpson; Wes Bentley as Blackheart; Sam Elliott as Caretaker / Carter Slade and Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles. I always like to watch Nicholas Cage acting. He has permanent confused, and conflicted look. I have never read the comic so I was hoping the movie will be a treat.

Johnny Blaze, carnival stunt motorcyclist sold his soul to the devil, Mephistopheles so that his father will be cured of his lung cancer. After signing the contract, the devil cured his father but killed him in an accident. Johnny however was bonded to the contract to be the devil's bounty hunter, the Ghost Rider. Apparently, the devil needed a Ghost Rider to catch souls that have escaped from hell. Johnny turns into the Ghost Rider in the presence of evil. His lethal weapon was the "penance stare" with which he will show the bad guys the evil they have done in their life which in turn will kill them. The baddie is Blackhart who has an ambition to absorb as much evil souls as possible so that he become "Legion" and take over the world.

The movie was slow moving and the special effects was poor. I was expecting more spectacular pyrotecnics. The costume design was like matrix meets incredible hulk. The fighting was uneventful and straight forward.

Two interesting thoughts went through my mind during the show. First is the concept of the contract with the devil. Apparently the devil sticks closely to the lines of the contract while Carter Slade, the former Ghost Rider speaks of God giving a second chance. The second is the concept of penance stare. One was punished by exposing to one's former sins. Sounds like purgatory.

Reviews of the movies have not been good. Now I shall have look for a Ghost Rider comic so that I will know how it was supposed to be.

I do not recommend for children to watch it without parental guidance.

Labels: , , ,

In The Upper Room

A close personal friend and brother John Chong Ser Choon has written an excellent book for Lenten Meditation.

John is the Retreat Director of Trinity Life Centre.

In the Upper Room is based on John 13-17. John Chong highlights the record of John the beloved disciple of the conversations held around the communal meal of the Last Supper. It contains readings for each of the 40 days of Lent with his Sunday meditations on the Trinity.

I will be using this book for my Lenten meditation this year.

The book is available at some Christian bookstores. You can also get it by contacting John at

Labels: , , ,

Jesus' Way of Spiritual Formation

There have been many studies done on the andragogy of Jesus (Bruce 1988; Stein 1994; Zuck 1995; Horne and Gunn 1998). While these are excellent studies, they tend to document mainly what Jesus has done in teaching and leading the disciples. “The great objective of Jesus was to bring men to attain his own state of mind. This objective led him to become a teacher, and the difficulty of his task determined his methods, for example, training a few, being reticent, and healing men and women.” (Horne and Gunn 1998, 19).

Most of these studies focus on Jesus dealing with the twelve disciples as individuals rather than as a community. The eleven apostles-disciples and other disciples scattered when Jesus was arrested and crucified. Yet these disciples, when they were given the Great Commission by the resurrected Jesus were able to go into the world to start communities of faith. These studies done on the training of the twelve were viewed through the modern worldview. It was pre-modern at Jesus’ times. Will it be possible to look through postmodern worldview and suggest that Jesus’ training of the twelve were not done individually but as a community? Will it be possible that Jesus’ objective was to create a learning community or organisation for his twelve disciples and others so that they as a community undergo the process of corporate spiritual formation? This is also more in keeping with the Middle Eastern culture they live in where the community was more important than individuals.

In his definition of a learning organisation, Senge writes, “Learning in an organisation means the continual testing of experience, and the transformation of experience into knowledge, accessible to the whole organisation and relevant to its core purpose” (Senge, Cambron-McCabe et al. 2000). Senge’s concept of a learning organisation[1] goes deeper than the traditional schooling model pedagogy. It involves transformational change or metanoia in the leaders and people of the community so that they can become who they are meant to be (Senge, 1990, 13).

(Read more)

Labels: , , , , ,

Thomas Merton on Scripture Reading

By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.

Thomas Merton

Labels: ,

Response to David Hesselgrave in EMQ Jan 07

A Response to David Hesselgrave’s “Brian McLaren’s Contextualization of the Gospel” Evangelical Mission Quarterly, January 2007

Professor David J. Hesselgrave, professor emeritus of mission at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School published a critique on Brian McLaren’s contextualization of the gospel. It is commendable that someone of Professor’s Hesselgrave stature should examine McLaren’s contextualization theory.

First, Hesselgrave started his introduction by comparing McLaren to his former undergraduate adviser, Dr. Paul Holmer. Both are prone to making provocative and confusing statements. Hesselgrave went on to quote McLaren as going out of his way “to be provocative, mischievous and unclear.” This would have made Hesselgrave’s task very difficult because he has to shift through McLaren’s statements to differentiate that which is intentionally provocative and intentionally unclear. Hence Hesselgave cannot take every statement of McLaren to mean exactly what McLaren believes. It is hoped that Hesselgrave, as a good scholar, would have consulted McLaren as to the “correctness” of Hesselgrave’s interpretation of his statement.

Second, Hesselgrave based his paper on two of McLaren’s books; A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on Spiritual Journey (2001) and A Generous Orthodoxy (2004) and on Edwin Frizen, Jr’s 75 Years of IFMA 1917-1972 (1992). Frizen’s book gave a historical account of IFMA (Interdenominational Foreign Missions Association)’s history and can be considered to contain “a full fledged statement of faith (SOF)” of the IFMA (94). McLaren’s books can not be considered by any stretch of imagination to be SOF documents. A New Kind of Christian is written as an imaginative novel, which McLaren has stated elsewhere is not autobiographical. A Generous Orthodoxy is a book of personal reflection and is also not a SOF. Therefore it will not be correct to compare and contrast the three books and critique them academically. A critique of contextualization should have included all of McLaren’s publications. McLaren never claimed to represent the emerging church movement so it cannot be said, as it is often in the paper that what he believes represented the emerging church movement. The emerging church movement is a loose collection of people with diverse practices and beliefs.

Third, Hesselgrave has chosen to examine McLaren’s contextualisation of the gospel in four areas, (1) mission, (2) believing, (3) belonging, and (4) becoming.

(1) ‘McLaren’s New “Missional Mission”’

Hesselgrave writes, “McLaren says that “missional” means that the Church should first reflect on its mission in the world and then allow its theology to flow out of that reflection rather than first reflecting on theology and allowing its understanding of mission to flow out of theology (2004, 105-106).” My own copy of McLaren’s book must be different because its pagination is different. However on page 115 of my copy (2004), McLaren writes that it was David Bosch, Lesslie Newbigin and Vincent Donovan who wrote “rather than seeing missiology as a study within theology, theology is actually a discipline within Christian mission. Theology is the church on a mission reflecting on its message, its identity, its meaning.” Practical theology is not new nor is limited to McLaren. Others are studying its applications (Schleiermacher 1966; Browning 1991; Heitink 1999).

As a follow-on thought on McLaren’s missional mission statement that all are called to be “followers of Jesus,” Hesselgrave quotes McLaren, “Buddhists who “feel so called will become Buddhist followers of Jesus” and they should be given by that opportunity and invitation” (2004, 264). However, in his book, McLaren is writing about incarnational living which may involve influencing them to be followers of Jesus. McLaren is not talking about conversion but incarnational evangelism (McLaren 1999, 150-157). In the analysis for this section, I agree with Hesselgrave that his disagreement with McLaren’s mission and missiology “is not just hermeneutical; it is epistemological.”(95).

(2) ‘New Ways of Believing Scripture’

Here, the focus was on the way McLaren reads Scripture. A good example to use is to describe the way McLaren reads Scripture is the comparison in the Old Testament in reading the ‘letter’ and the ‘spirit’ of the Law. The difference is in the way which Hesselgrave and McLaren view revelation from the Bible. Hesselgrave believes, “revelation occurred when the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible authors to write scripture, not when the Holy Spirit enables readers to discover its truth at some deeper or highest level.” (97). McLaren believes that the Holy Spirit nowadays can lead readers of the Bible into greater spiritual truth and understanding. Again the difference between the two is hermeneutical and epistemological.

(3) ‘New Ways of Belonging: The Church’

In his concept of church as a community, McLaren welcomes everybody. Hesselgrave argues that Church is for believers only. Again there is a difference in definition. McLaren takes church (with a small ‘c’) to refer to a community of believers, seekers and others. McLaren writes that he is not a Universalist.

(4) ‘New Way of Becoming: Becoming a Christian.’

Hesselgrave mentions that “McLaren prefers to think and speak in terms of conversations rather than conversions.”(99). This may be a misinterpretation of McLaren. McLaren normally uses the term conversation to denote dialogue rather than conversion or evangelism. He also questioned the ‘simple step of conversion by praying the sinner’s prayer’ and suggests a longer period of conversion and sanctification. Hesselgrave continues, “And, according to him, becoming good is more a process than a point: more a matter of following than a gradual transformation than radical turning (2001, chaps.8-9; 204, 254). Therefore I believe Hesselgrave is right in pointing out that McLaren has much in common with Horace Bushnell “who also criticized evangelical individualism, revivalism, and conversionism.”

Finally, Hesselgrave may be mistaken to consider McLaren and other members of the emerging church movement as “following the lead of twentieth century liberals when they insists on accommodating postmodernism by resisting biblical authority and replacing the biblical gospel with another gospel of whatever derivation.”(100). The battles with the liberals were over long ago.

This paper reveals a lot about the different hermeneutical methodologies and epistemological grounds of these two men[1]. It also shows their modern and postmodern worldviews respectively (Erickson 2002, 59-86). In a way, it reflects the ongoing conversations or the discussions between those who are positive towards the emerging church movement and those who are against. This reminds us of the conversation about whether Gentile believers must be circumcised or not. Unfortunately we do not have a wise Jerusalem Council to offer us guidance. However, we do echo Gamaliel II, who when asked about the followers of the Way declared, “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39 NIV)


Browning, D. (1991). A Fundamental Practical Theology:Descriptive and Strategic Proposals. Minneapolis, Fortress Press.
Erickson, Millard. J. The Post Modern World: Discerning the Times and the Spirit of our Age. Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books
Heitink, G. (1999). Practical Theology: History, Theory, and Action Domains. Grand Rapids, MI, Wm. B. Eerdmans.
McLaren, B. D. (1999). Finding Faith. Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan.
McLaren, B. D. (2001). A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two friends on a Spiritual Journey. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
McLaren, B. D. (2004). A Generous Orthodoxy. Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan.
Schleiermacher, F. (1966). Brief Outline on the study of Theology. Richmond, VA, John Know Press.
Tomlinson, D. (2003). The Post-Evangelical (Revised North American Edition). Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan.


[1] Dave Tomlinson, vicar of St. Luke’s Anglican Church in North London writes, “For evangelicals, truth is rarely seen as problematic. Truth not expressed literally is usually not true at all. Post-evangelicals, on the other hand, feel uneasy with such a cut-and-dried approach and find themselves towards a more relative understanding of truth.” Tomlinson, D. (2003). The Post-Evangelical (Revised North American Edition). Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan. p.93. While Hesselgrave is an evangelical scholar, I believe Brian McLaren will consider himself as post-evangelical.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Peace Prayer

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received,
and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones,
and allow your soul the freedom
to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for and in each and every one of you.


Theresa of Avila

Labels: ,


COMPUTERS by Esther de Waal

I programme my computer
with the love of God.
God be with me now
as I call words into being.
May they make real
my work of love.
May they join
in the work of creation.
Calling from nothing,
uttered over chaos
bringing order.

From Ray Simpson’s Celtic Blessings For Everyday Life. Hodder 1998 P.3.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Spiritual Formation and the Kingdom of God

Jesus’ teachings revolve around the kingdom of God. This is synonymous with the kingdom of heaven. Robert Stein noted “the expression is found in sixty-one separate sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. Counting parallels to these passages, the expression occurs over eighty-one times.” (Stein 1996, 451). The numbers emphasis how central the kingdom of God is to Jesus’ teaching. The kingdom of God is not a political kingdom nor is it an ideological one. The kingdom is about rule of God in the world today. And this has an influence on spiritual formation.

First, spiritual formation in the kingdom of God submits to the Kingship of Christ. Jesus Christ is the king of this kingdom. An important aspect of spiritual formation is to recognise that Jesus Christ is King, Lord, and Master over our lives. Spiritual formation is the process of gradually learning to give up control and ownership of our own lives and submit it under the kingship of Jesus. This act of submission is sometimes called, “taking up the cross.” The cross in the New Testament times was a punishment designed to humiliate and give a painful death. Dying to our ego is both humiliating and painful. This will mean submitting every aspects of our life under his kingship; relationships, work, and our belongings. Kenneth Boa describes a holistic spirituality when “believers for whom Christ is pre-eminent as the focus of their being and pursuits. These people acknowledge his sufficiency and supremacy by relegating all areas to his rule and authority. (italics author’s)” (2001, 221). It is in surrender to Christ that we become more like Christ.

Second, spiritual formation in the kingdom of God involves spiritual warfare. Ladd writes, “The kingdom is not an abstract principle; the kingdom comes. It is God’s rule actively invading the kingdom of Satan.”(1984, 608). This kingdom is a one that will come at the end of the age and it is already here. It arrived when God came into history as Jesus Christ. Hence the kingdom has an ‘already-not yet’ component. Spiritual formation also means being involved in spiritual warfare. Paul warned the Ephesians that “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph.6:12). Spiritual formation equips us to put on the full armour of God for spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:13-18). It is in spiritual warfare that spiritual formation engages culture and the world.

Third, spiritual formation in the kingdom of God means living in the presence of God now. Dallas Willard reminds us that the spiritual disciplines are to help us slow down so that we can hear God (Willard 1999). Like Brother Lawrence, spiritual formation will help us to discern the presence of God in the mundane, routine of our daily life (Lawrence 1982).

Finally, spiritual formation in the kingdom of God gives us the opportunity to partake of the nature of God (2 Peter 1:4; 1 Jn 3:12). In the end times when the kingdom of God comes again, we shall be like Christ in our whole being. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, we shall be receiving the deification of theosis. In all instances, we shall achieve our goal be become prefect like Christ when we receive our gloried bodies when Christ comes again.

The kingdom of God allows us another perspective in understanding spiritual formation. It includes the process of submitting to the Lordship of Christ, practicing the presence of God, involvement in spiritual warfare and being part of God’s timing when the kingdom comes in the future.

soli deo gloria

Labels: , , , ,

Modern Discipleship and Spiritual Formation

There is a need to differentiate discipleship and spiritual formation. Discipleship is difficult to define. In the New Testament, the term used of Jesus’ followers was disciples (mathētēs) which was used 262 times. However the term was rare in the Old Testament and not at all in the Epistles. This implies that there is a difference in emphasis on being a disciple in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and in the epistles. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were called to a cultic Temple worship. Hence they were covenant holder with Yahweh, not disciples. In the Gospels, the disciples are followers of Jesus Christ in his presence, and were unique because that situation will never be repeated again. In the epistles, the followers of Jesus no longer have Jesus personally so have to depend on the Word and the Holy Spirit. Thus, while it is easy to define disciples, it is hard to define discipleship.

Discipleship is sometimes described by what they, the followers of Christ (Gospel) or the followers of the Risen Christ (epistle) are. Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes discipleship as “allegiance to the suffering Christ.” Others however understand discipleship in terms of what disciples do in their spiritual life, involvement in evangelism and follow-up of new converts. What eventually happened was that discipleship becomes a school where disciples are taught evangelism, follow-up and living a Christian life. These disciples are also trained to teach others. They become “disciplemakers”, following the principles of 2 Tim. 2:2. Discipleship became very content-centered. It also became a program where one can progress from one level to another. This is usually done in within a limited timeframe. I shall call this “modern discipleship” to distinguish it from discipleship in the Gospels, and in the epistles.

Spiritual formation arises out of a reaction against the inflexible, fixed, content-centered programs of modern discipleship. The table below compares modern discipleship and spiritual formation.

There are certain aspects of modern spiritual formation that we must be aware of.

First, modern discipleship is not biblical in its methodology. Discipleship in the Gospels is following Jesus around in person and learning from him. Discipleship in the epistle is learning from the Holy Spirit, the Word and the community of faith. Modern discipleship is indoctrination with structured training programs for the purpose of producing disciples. In biblical models, all teachings are life events oriented and lived experiences done in community or in small groups.

Second, modern discipleship is objective-orientated. People are seen as an object to be moulded into a disciple or a disciplemaker. People are also seen as an objective to be achieved. To be a disciple, one must attend a certain number of teaching events (done on a one-to-one basis), take part in an evangelistic event and lead somebody “to Christ”. People should be given the dignity not to be considered an object.

Third, modern discipleship is individualistic. In its disciplemaking philosophy, the intent is to produce disciples with a personal relationship with God. Unfortunately modern discipleship has a weak ecclesiology. The program tends to produce very individualistic Christians. As new disciples are made, they were encouraged to join local congregations but the emphasis will be on training or making new disciples. Many believers who come out of the modern disciplemaking programs do not join the local congregations. Some went on to form small para-church nucleus of disciplemaking groups while the majority find that they do not fit in with the local congregation. Most end up as churchless Christians.

Finally, modern discipleship is not effective. Many disciple makers find that they do not produce more than two generations of disciplemaker. The chain usually ends at the third generation. Campus ministries which once major on disciplemaking are now refocusing their attention elsewhere.

The modern discipleship model heavily influences the current literature on spiritual formation. Modern discipleship placed a heavy emphasis on theological content, behavioural modification and psychology. As noted earlier, modern discipleship produces very individualistic Christians.

soli deo gloria

Labels: , ,

A Prayer for Ash Wednesday 2007

O Lord and heavenly Father, who has given unto us your people the true bread that comes down from heaven, even your Son, Jesus Christ, grant that throughout this Lent our souls may be so fed by him that we may continually live in him and he in us; and that day by day we may be renewed in spirit by the power of his endless life, who gave himself for us and now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


Frederick B. MacNutt ( 1873-1949)

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Daredevil: The Devil, Inside and Out

For Daredevil fans who has been following the storyline from Daredevil Volume 1-13 which ended with The Murdock Papers will have been aware that Matt Murdock has been exposed as Daredevil. While the government cannot prove that Matt Murdock is Daredevil, they have been trying very hard. Daredevil has became more violent in the protection of his beloved district, Hells' Kitchen. Living a life as an exposed superhero is not easy, as Matt soon found out. All his friends are in dangers from criminals seeking revenge. I have enjoyed the series by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. I have always wondered what a man will do when he is driven to the edge. When everything he had, everything he fought hard for was taken away from him.

Marvel has revamped Daredevil: The Man Without Fear by bringing in the new creative team of Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark. They took off from the finale of The Murdock Papers.

Matt Murdock is now in prison awaiting trial. He is there with many of the criminals whom he has helped put there, both as Daredevil and as lawyer Matt Murdock. Also in the same prison are the Kingpin and Bullseye. Now all the prisoners know he is Daredevil. Matt have to survive in the most notorius prison in the state. The prison itself is controlled by three factions of prisoners.

Then his best friend and defence lawyer, Foggy Nelson was knifed to death in the very prison after visiting him! How much can a man take before he goes over edge? Will Daredevil give in to his rage and become the devil himself? This an interesting start to hopefully another exciting storyline in the Daredevil saga.

BTW Daredevil/ Matt Murdock is a devoted Catholic.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Odoru! Hidamari no Tami

you'll be surprise how a few pieces of plastic, a marker pen and a solar panel can bring you happiness


More Electronic Culture

This is the second book I read today. Learning from Hugh Hewitt about blogs, he recommends that blog posting be short. Hence I decided to break the posting about electronic culture into two. See, I am learning.

Shane Hipps,(2005) The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan)

Shane Hipps is the pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church. Before becoming a pastor, Hipps works as a strategic planner in advertising. Shane examines the influence of electronic media on the church. This is an example of the media becoming the message. It is also an exploration of modern and postmodern knowledge (knowing).

Modern knowledge is based on the metaphor of the printing press. "Knowledge as Building". Also known as foundationalism, knowledge is conceived as having one foundation and subsequent knowledge is built on it like bricks forming a wall and then a building. This leads to a linear sequential type of thinking.

Post modern thinking is based on the metaphor of the telegraph. "Knowledge as Web". Developed by Willard V. Quine in 1970 as "web of belief", knowledge is conditioned by our experience and claimed truths. These claimed truths are interconnected and informed, but not formed by experience. The more connections we have, the more we know. Like a telegraph, the more lines, the more people we can speak to and ask. Knowledge is two-way. Experience shapes belief and belief shapes experience.

According to Hipps, the effects of electronic culture on the church are

*Electronic culture intensifies a right brain encounter with God, corporate approaches to faith, and, our reliance on intuition and experience for God.

*When electronic culture is taken to an extreme, it reverses into relativism. It also reverses our capacity for abstract thought and critical reasoning skills.

*Electronic culture retrieves Eastern Orthodox and medieval Catholic spirituality (i.e. contemplating icons). It also retrieves the gospel story of Jesus as central to the faith.

*Electronic culture obsolesces our belief in the metanarrative. It obsolesces our belief that conversion is a one-time, binary event. Finally, it obsolesces the role of abstract propositional faith and the full impact of Paul's letters.

These are very serious effects that Hipps highlights in his book. Especially worrying is that fact that "abstract propositional faith" and "Paul's letters" become obsolete. If that happens, where will we be as a church?

soli deo gloria

Labels: , , , ,

Electronic Culture

Ah, second day of the Chinese New Year of the Golden Pig. It is a public holiday here in Malaysia and I am not on hospital call. So finally have some reading time *grin*

Hugh Hewitt(2005) Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation that's Changing Your World is an interesting book. Hewitt is a syndicated radio show host, a professor of Law at Chapman Law School, an author and is an avid blogger. This book is a call for the Corporate world to take blogging seriously.

Hewitt likens blogging as equivalent with the printing press. The movable type printing press was instrumental in widely distributing Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses in 1517. This was a tremendous boost for the Reformation. Blogging is the 21st century equivalent of the printing press where information are distributed instantly and is causing an "Information Reformation".

The first blog appeared in 1999. In 2005 there are more than 4 millions blogs. There are poliblogs (blogs about politics, especially USA politics in Hewitt's book), faithblogs, and many other types of blogs. There are blogs with high numbers of visitors and blogs with few visitors, which is known as "long tail of the dog". Hewitt cautions about looking down on these medium and low volume blogs because he says that these are a large market because these blogs have loyal and faithful following.

Does blog have an effect on opinion shaping? Hewitt tend to think so. He writes about "blog swarms" causing "opionion storms" in the US. He gives the example of Trent Lott and Howell Raines in 2002 and 2003, details of Kerry's Vietnam service in August 2004 and of Dan Rather in September 2004.

Hewitt then went on to encourage large corporate to blog- their CEO, managers and workers. He also encourages large corporations to employ bloggers to blog for them! This makes for an interesting employment opportunity!

Unfortunately, in a rapid moving world, books about the information revolution tend to become dated quickly. However it is an interesting read about blogging especially in the United States where Hewitt reserved all his comments.

Labels: , ,

The Trinitarian Basis for Spiritual Formation

Spiritual formation is about relationships. What is important to assess is relationship with whom? The answer is spiritual formation is an ongoing relationship with the Triune God. The doctrine of the Trinity is that God reveals himself in the Scripture as God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There is only one God and in the essence of this one Godhead, there are three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These three persons are neither parts of one another, facets, or modes of existence but are co-equal and co-eternal.Karl Rahner describes the Trinity in a short sentence, “The ‘economic’ Trinity is the ‘immanent’ Trinity and the ‘immanent’ Trinity is the ‘economic’ Trinity” (Rahner 1967, 22)He is uniquely one: “The Lord, our God is one Lord” (Deu.6:4). Read more

soli deo gloria

Labels: , ,

Comparing Dallas Willard and Brian McLaren

Dallas Willard’s model of spiritual formation has been welcomed with open arms by the evangelical communities of faith while much doubt has been thrown at McLaren’s model, some of it personal. Why is Willard’s spiritual formation model so appealing?

First, it is concrete and easily understood. VIM is instructional and sequential. We are used to this type of thinking because we are familiar with modernity. McLaren’s model is mainly descriptive and there is not a real structure behind it because it was presented in a postmodern way.

Second, Willard’s model has a ‘scientific’ basis as he draws from his expertise as a philosopher and theologian and from psychological and personality theories to construct his model. McLaren did not offer any proof except to say that “ a more holistic concept of spiritual formation has begun to emerge – drawing both from Catholic and monastic sources and drawing from contemporary philosophy and educational theory as well.”

Third, Willard, though ecumenical in his outlook does not openly acknowledge his sources from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. McLaren, however, openly confess that he draws from both the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and also from other religious traditions. This has made him suspect in many ‘evangelical's’ eyes.

Finally, Willard’s approach is rational and scholarly. His impeccable academic credential as professor and former director of the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California and his writings make him respectable as a voice to be heard. McLaren, an equally prolific writer, however then to be provocative. This coupled with his academic qualifications and his association with the ‘rebel’ faction of the emerging/emergent church movement resulted in him being a target of criticism rather than one to be listened to.

Any thoughts?

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Renovation of the Heart

Dallas Willard, a professor and former director of the School of Philosophy at the University of California, coined the acronym “VIM” in describing the pattern for spiritual formation.

Willard describes " spiritual formation, without regard to any specific religious context or tradition, is the process by which the human spirit or will is given a definite "form" or character." To Willard, spiritual formation is character formation.

VIM stands for vision, intention, and means.

He writes,

“VIM” is a derivative of the Latin term “vis.” meaning direction, strength, force, vigor, power, energy, or virtue; and sometimes meaning sense, import, nature, or essence. Spiritual formation in Christlikeness is all of this to human existence. It is the path by which we can truly, as Paul told the Ephesians, “be empowered in the Lord and in the energy of his might”(Ephesians 6:10, PAR) and “become mighty with his energy though his Spirit entering into the inward person”(3:16, PAR)

Vision of “life in the Kingdom”

Spiritual formation starts with the vision of partaking of the life in the kingdom of God here and now. This means we experience the presence of God in our lives now. It also means that we take part in God’s mission on earth now. However this vision is not something we conjure up but has to be given to us by God.

Intention to be a "Kingdom Person”

After receiving the vision, we have to make a decision to intentionally be a “kingdom person.” What this means is to trust, believe and obey the teachings of Jesus. This belief is not just an intellectual acceptance but must be translated into action. To trust and to believe is to act out in obedience to Christ.

Means for Spiritual Transformation

These “means for spiritual transformation” are, “for replacing of the inner character of the “lost” with the inner character of Jesus: his vision, understanding, feelings, decisions, and character.” p.89 This is achieved by discovering, reflecting and identifying the thoughts, feelings, habits, social interactions and other ingrained attitude that prevents us from becoming like Jesus. Once we have identified these failings we then take steps to retrain our inner person into a new worldview, habits, attitudes and feelings. The chief means is by studying and meditating on the Scriptures.

And I thought VIM is a brand name for a dishwasher!

soli deo gloria

Labels: ,