Friday, July 29, 2005
Theology is often referred to as the "Study of God". This is too simplistic an answer, but will suffice for the lay person, unless he/she is interested to find out more. In general, a lot of people will be surprised when anyone decide to take a step towards doing something like theology. Afterall, not much money can be made from it, and theological qualifications are sometimes not recognized for purposes of visa applications by secular governments.
Some Common Accusations
A common accusation at people studying theology is that it merely increases 'Intellectualism'. In some ways that is true, as it requires lots of the use of the mind power and reasoning. (However, it only becomes intellectualism if the buck stops there.) Furthermore, isn't studying theology a waste of time, when one can study the Bible for himself and totally depend on the Holy Spirit? Why can't one just study the Bible with all the available Bible tools? Isn't it that a waste of time and money?
To let the accusations above stick without a response will do gross injustice to the schools of theology and students world-wide. If anyone think that studying theology is merely intellectualism, I would say that is not true theology, for true study of theology involves BOTH heart, mind and soul in thought as well as in practice. If one were to read Ps 119 through, one will soon realise that it is a PRIVILEGE and imperative to study theology. The Psalmist even said "Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts dliligently" (Ps 119:4). We have to know the Word, and to keep it diligently, and such require discipline and hard work. We need to know the Word that we may not sin against God. Of course we can still do theology on our own at home. The biggest problem with this argument is that by studying alone, one will miss out on the community life that a theological school provides.
Below are my other responses:
A) Because we love the Word of God.
The Psalmist states 'And I will delight myself in the commandments, which I have loved.' (Ps 119:47) Why should I be accused of doing something I loved to do? If those who loved to fly, goes to flying school; and those who loved to cook, learns recipes or go to cooking classes; those learning business processes do an MBA; why should theology students be treated any differently when they pursue their love wholeheartedly?
B) Because We want to learn from our Forefathers, and their experiences
It is a pity that man has a 'glorious' history of re-inventing the wheel. Instead of learning from what our forefathers has agonized and thought through, some chose to struggle themselves through. Their time would be better used to try to research and tackle the many mysteries and issues that remained unresolved. In this way, not only will they get up to speed quickly by learning from the ancient Fathers, they will also help accumulate learning and knowledge for the benefit of future generations. There is much more for us to learn from our Protestant heritage. Understanding the context of how the historical Church has grown helped us to be careful of spiritual potholes. For example, learning about the Methodist heritage, John Wesley, gives us insight into the problems of society at that time and how the Church has helped.
C) Because we seek to lead others correctly
The Psalmist said "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Ps 119:105). We need to avoid becoming the blind that lead the blind. As we let the Word of God illuminate us, we can help others to be guided by that light as well. People need directions in life. Direction setting need leaders to set forth and provide. Leaders need to be trained and guided. This training and guidance comes from God, through His revealed Word. The theological community from different races, walks of life, interdenominational forms a rich collection of experience and lifestyle that one will benefit richly.
D) Because We need Time to Study
Any diligent study of the Word need time. It is true that we spend regular time on daily devotions. However, do we really have time to study the History of the Christian faith, different schools of religious experiences, different ethical aspects of faith pertaining to daily life and work, the various denominational differences learnt through interactions with people outside our typical one-Church setting? We know that the busyness of life, family and work can easily swamp anyone. So much so that for some, the only spiritual input is the Sunday sermon (if he/she attends in the first place). Theologucal education is not cramming all the knowledge in within the timeframe of the programme concerned. It is the daily contemplative and diligent study + interaction that shapes the person to become even more grateful of the gift of life God has endowed upon us. Afterall, life is a gift.
E) Because of the Community of Like-Minded People
Nothing helps the study of Theology more than the presence of a community of like-minded folks. How often in the Church setting, when one attempt to do serious discussion on the doctrine of salvation but are not able to find sufficient interest among Church members to engage and guided in the proper manner? Sometimes any attempts to think and discuss more is brushed off as an exercise in "Intellectualism" or something too "chim" (deep) to understand and has no practical use. In a Christian college setting, there will be a community of individuals to spur each other to learning not just the mind but how they lived out that learning in their service and lifestyle. We fellowship and understand the Anglicans, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Methodists, Free Evangelicals, Brethren, and many others worldwide. It is also good to note that even within each denominations, there are subtle differences based on countries, theological inclinations, or other factors.
In this simple summary, I think the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages of studying theology. If anyone can afford the time and energy, he/she should do some theology at least during a part of his lifetime, say few days, few weeks, few months and better still few years. But underpinning these efforts, there should be a clear love for the Lord and His written Word.
In summary, I personally feel that the study of theology suffers from the 'lack' rather than the 'more'. By this I mean, the need for Churches everywhere is actually for more theological grounding. Open up the directory and point to any Church, and one of the top concerns is Christian Education. I like this saying by Abraham Lincoln:
"Colleges are places where pebbles are polished and diamonds are dimmed."
A Happy and Grateful Theological Student,
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
The English Bible that we have in our hands are actually translations of the original languages. My first Bible ever was an English translation, the Good News Bible. Historically, the first English translation (New Testament) was the Tyndale Bible named after William Tyndale who were eventually accused of heresy and treason in an unfair trial, and executed. The Old Testament (OT) were written in Hebrew and Aramaic while the New Testament (NT) were written in Greek. Translators will thus have to have a strong knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek in order to do the work of translation. The English Bible is thus not an original language Bible. Having said that, the quality and quantity of translations we have nowadays have helped English-language readers capture a greater understanding of the Bible. For the serious student without knowledge of Hebrew or Greek, and who wanted to do a good exegesis, Professor Gordon Fee of Regent College recommended 7 different good translations. Several members of the faculty at Regent College have also been involved with translations, namely JI Packer (ESV), Bruce Waltke / Gordon Fee (tNIV), Phil Long (NLT), Eugene Peterson (MSG).
My First Encounter
When I became a Christian many years ago, a good friend of mine gave me a Good News Bible (GNB) and that was my very first Bible I used. It was easy reading but soon I wanted something more solid. I adopted the King James Version (KJV) and fell in love immediately with its beauty and prose. The translation seemed so majestic and royal. Maybe that was why there is a 'King' in KJV.
At my first Bible School, I came to recognize that the New American Standard Bible (NASB) was a more literal translation in terms of its close adherence to the original languages. My Church then used the New International Version (NIV). So my main translations were the NIV, KJV followed by the NASB in terms of its frequency of usage. Most of my memory verses were done in KJV. Those days, I packed in Philippians, several Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount as well as parts of 1 Peter into my memory. My little KJV was all worn out. Today I can still recall parts of these chunks of memory verses, though not as good as my earlier years due to lack of review.
Now my scholarly professors at Regent College recommended me to use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Another reason to use it for study is because the NRSV includes the Apocrypha. Though the Apocyrpha is not considered canonical, it still provides some good reading. Another version I particularly like is the New Living Translation (NLT) because of its freshness and accuracy of its translations. Some of the versions are summarised in the diagram below:
There are 3 main categories of Bible translations, namely Literal, Paraphrase and Dynamic Equivalence.
#1 - Literal
In short, this form of translation is 'Word for Word'. Useful for those who wanted to be as faithful to the literal wording of the original languages.
Strengths = Good for word for word comparison and study.
Weaknesses = Some aspects of culture and meanings might be lost.
Well known versions in this category is the NASB and the KJV. [King James (KJV, NKJV), Revised Standard (RSV, NRSV)New American Standard (NAS)]
#2 - Paraphrase
Here, there is a greater level of translation based on the interpretor's understanding and theological persuasion.
Strengths = Easy to understand in terms of language and context
Weaknesses = Not exactly allowing the reader to interpret for himself as the translation is already in a large way already interpreted for the reader
Popular versions include the MESSAGE and the Living Bible. It is useful for general reading and for discussion purposes. [Phillips Translation, The Message, Open Bible, Living Bible, New Living Translation, Amplified Version]
#3 - Dynamic Equivalence
This approach attempts to strike a balance between the literal and the paraphrase. In essence, it tries to be as close as possible to the original languages, while interpreting the ancient contexts and cultures and modernise it for the current reader.
Strengths = Tries to remain faithful in terms of language and accuracy
Weaknesses = Such approaches is still prone to problems of subjectivity as well
Having said that, the Bible versions have been improved to a large extent. [NIV, NAB, NEB]
So here are my recommendations for good Bible study. Have at least 3 Bibles, one from each category. For me, if I were to buy 3 Bibles from scratch, I will choose the NASB, the tNIV and the NLT. The tNIV is a level better than the NIV and is the updated version of the very popular NIV. It has better scholarship and more gender inclusive. Of course for scholarly perspective I will choose the NRSV. Other good versions are the MESSAGE good for devotions, and of course the good old 1611 KJV. If you have money to buy only 1 Bible, choose the tNIV (Today's New International Version).
Of course there are other factors to consider like the theological background of the translators, the Greek and Hebrew texts used in the translations, textual criticism, interpretative framework, suffice to say that we in the 21st Century has been richly blessed with the amount of Bible Study tools available in a language many of us are comfortable with. So go ahead, open your Bibles and read them!
Some Sites on Bible Translations (these sites are for informative purposes only and does not imply my full agreement with everything there.)
Monday, July 25, 2005
As I was reflecting on faith and hope, it is refreshing to see the insight of yet another great quotation, which reminded us not to be too caught up to explain all the mysteries in the world. Often in life, mysteries are what they are meant to be: mysteries. Suffice to say, what we are is sufficient evidence to see God at work in our lives. Look at the fingers of a new born baby; or the common eye which is the world's most perfect lens; or the way the tree grows and the flowers bloom. Can man ever 'grow' these things by himself? The Scriptures said it well:"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow." (1 Cor 3:6). What folly when men claim to be able to grow things when they have no idea how the growing actually happened. They can try their hand at the best seedlings and fertilizer, but they are still utterly dependent on the weather and nature. Ever wondered why free-range eggs taste better than caged chicken eggs? Or why organic food is more desired than genetically manufactured ones?
God is always at work. For those of us who fail to see God's Hand at work, saying God is invisible, God is no where, just open your senses and you will soon realise that God is ever present with us. For what we see is only a glimpse of what we have not seen or yet to see. In God, we hope and trust that the beauty and glory of the Lord will be revealed in His time.
"If the work of God could be comprehended by reason, it would no longer be wonderful." Pope Gregory I (c.1020-1085)
(St. Gregory the Great)
Let there be faith and hope everytime we think of God.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
Several things happened over my 1 week holiday trip. One of them was the increasing momentum of my alumni Christian Fellowship. The other was thinking about what it means to be living under a prolonged illness.
While I was thinking about how to minister to the sick and needy, I kept going back to the word care. Words like 'Careful, Careless, CareFree and Care-Bears' came to mind.
The word CARE-FULLY brought about a new meaning to me. How do I learn to care for others and yet living life to the full? It is by no means a mutually exclusive thing. When we care for others, we become more human ourselves. When we become more human, we are living a fuller life compared to a person who only lives for himself. Put CARE and FULLY together we have the word 'carefully' which is usually understood as being cautious to avoid any injury or harm to oneself. CareFree on the other hand implies a life that is near devoid of worries. The saying goes, that "I do not care how much you know until I know how much you care", is often a benchmark for us intellectuals. The head and the heart must go hand in hand. We should learn to be honest in our heads as well as our hearts, more so when they appear to be in conflicting directions.
This thought came when I read about a brother (FT) caring for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, even after graduation more than 15 years ago. He was chairman of NTI Christian Fellowship back in 1983, and at that time diligently seeking to shepherd young undergraduates for Christ. After having graduated and worked for many years, he continued to show that care and concern, forming an Alumni chapter and using it as a platform to help unemployed new graduates as well as retrenched workers find jobs.
We all say that we have a busy lifestyle. Brother FT continued to live "CARE-FULLY" while holding down a full time job with a family of 4 to feed. Being busy is certainly no excuse for NOT caring for others. He paved the way for many to learn how to care despite a busy lifestyle. Thinking aloud. that is so true. It is important to take regular breaks to ask ourselves what we are busy with. Are those things which make us busy, worth our time? People say busy is good but when one uses that as an excuse to avoid caring for others, maybe that kind of busyness is bad.
I tell myself that it is important not to wait until we are too old before we realise the need to catch-up or link up with friends/relatives. Too often we pay lip-service to "We must catch up with one another next time". I do not want to start keeping in touch with fellow brethren when I am too old. Neither do I want to wait to play Chinese chess in the gardens with kopi-O in hand only when I start walking with grey white hairs with a walking stick. I have seen how my own father and other elderly people living very lonely lives. The time to link up and care is now, for later may never come. There is a very appropriate verse written in Hebrews 10:25 that is often used to teach fellowship in Christ.
"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
There is no need for theological training in order to understand how to apply this verse in our lives. Often, we need to avoid 'Analysis until Paralysis' and instead live out the Word for Christ is the Word. [Having said that, theological education is also important as it helped us recognize the whats and the whys in order for proper contextualizing.] The CARE-BEARS at the top of this post is symbolic as it joins two verbs, the caring and the bearing. I have never really been a fan of CareBears but with this renewed symbolism changed that. Care for one another and bearing one another's burdens is one of the most powerful testimonies for Christ. Live it.
All of us enjoyed the week at Kelowna and Banff. Interestingly I did not use my tripod until I remembered on our journey back. It was our only group photo we took and that was at Logan Lake after we made a slight detour from Highway 5 for a simple picnic lunch. See the wind blowing at us. Our mothers were feeling so cold. Cheers!
The View from the Gondola is awesome. See the Banff town at the bottom? The Banff Gondola was built since 1959 using Swiss technology. That is a little more comforting given that some of us are scared of heights. There were 7 of us and we got on 2 separate gondolas. Our mothers and Amelia were in one, and the rest of us in the other. Cost CAD22.75 per adult and CAD11.25 per child. Very expensive. Holidays are never cheap anyway.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Panoramic View of the Rockies from Banff Mount Sulphur Summit (21 July 2005). Amazing view and the photo can only capture a snapshot of the whole scenery. As I reflect, how true it is also for life. We can only capture a snapshot of our own life story. Better to live out and experience it to the full ourselves. The fullness of our sharing with other people is thus dependent on the fullness of our own lives. What we hear of other people's lives being touched by the Lord is just hearing it. We need to experience God for ourselves in order to appreciate Him and His glory! It is no wonder the psalmist say "Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep.
O LORD, you preserve both man and beast." (Ps 36:6)
God's righteousness like a mountain? That is awesome! If seeing the mountains overwhelms me, what more to see God? Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Our family drove to Kelowna and Banff last week. It was awesome, eating the freshest and sweetest cherries ever. Just look at the cherries. They were absolutely yummy. We ate and picked, and what was more amazing was the ease of which the cherries dropped out.
Monday, July 18, 2005
We lived in a Vacation House in Kelowna. The facilities there were amazing and there is an XBox there as well. They have DVDs, videos, hifi and all sorts of entertainment in the house But no internet.(sigh) Kids Playing XBox.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
Saturday, July 16, 2005
#1 - Safari
#2 - Firefox
#3 - Netscape/Mozilla
#4 - Internet Explorer
Safari is only available on Apple Mac OS platforms. It has been my favourite web browser since I got my Powerbook. Fast, simple interface and powerful. Of course, the other reason is that it distinguish itself from the other browsers that PC users have been used to. I rank it #1 in terms of frequency of use
Firefox is a close favourite. It works well with both Mac and PC platforms. What I like about it is its easy way to add extensions and themes. At the same time, it remembers very well web inputs and I like especially the tabbed browsing feature. The first time I used it, I was sold. All my family members have migrated away from the Microsoft IE.
Netscape/Mozilla is another good browser, though not as good as the top 2. The latest Netscape 8.02 is promising as it allows users to open all windows in tabbed format, something that the other Mozilla based browsers did not do as well.
Finally the old IE still stuck at version 6.0 Of course it is partially upgraded when you install the MSN toolbar which makes it a little more clunky, like wearing a face mask on a permanent basis. Hopefully this will be improved when they release version 7.0
So here it is, my initial take on Internet browsers.
Despite the distance from the island of Singapore, I could still feel the issues emanating from the recent NKF expose about the CEO's pay, the problem of corporate transparency and the resulting public reactions and even the vandalism than ensued the court case.
For those who do not know, the National Kidney Foundation is the largest charity organization in Singapore. Sometime in April 2004, there was an article written by a journalist Susan Long for the powerful newspaper The Straits Times, a publication by the government backed Singapore Press Holdings. The dispute was because of the implied extravagance of the CEO installing gold taps and flying first class using public donations. In trying to avoid negative public reactions over the implied negativity surrounding the use of public funds, the CEO, TT Durai launched a lawsuit against SPH for the publication. The case which was supposed to last 10 days starting from last week ended in two days after severe questioning of the CEO by a top lawyer Senior Counsel Davinder Singh (see picture). After two days, the NKF decided to drop the lawsuit, and under pressure by public sentiment, the CEO and the entire Board of Directors as well as the patron, Mrs Goh Chok Tong all resigned in order to pave the way for new people.
The entire saga has brought more negative perceptions on how public money is being spent by charities in Singapore. Chances are, such news are not good for social help organizations as it would mean they are viewed firstly with suspicion rather than trust. As the saying goes, it takes just one bad apple spoils the rest.
A friend emailed a funny poster which I attach for your laughs. The actual court case is of course not funny.
Some links for you to refer to:
I have never had a good impression of the way the NKF conducts their canvassing for funds. However, it is always important to understand that we are not angels ourselves. It it is possible for anyone of us to run the NKF, under similar political and corporate conditioning the CEO TT Durai have to work in, will any of us have behaved differently?
Let us play with a scenario: If for example, Pay CEO A $25k a month and he managed to bring in $100million a year. Pay CEO B $2.5k a month only managed to canvass for $100,000 only per year, which CEO will you employ? The end result, who suffers, the patients? A crazy ideal would be let the CEO work for free, and bring in multi-millions every year. Such an ideal world does not exist. The best thing would be to pay just wages according to the work cut out for him. In terms of corporate governance, as a Christian, it should not make a difference in how he/she behaves. He/She should do his/her utmost for the Lord no matter what organization he/she work for. For that matter, whether the person is a office manager, a doctor, a lawyer, a Church worker or simply a shop assistant, the work cut out should be discharged in a manner honouring to the Lord. As for wages, he/she should be paid appropriately according to the work cut out. Underpaying anyone is a sin!
This is one of the problems of human rationalising. How will we ever grow up in our understanding of corporate governance? How will we ever have a good balance of involving top corporate management into non-profit organizations? A clue to unravelling this problem is not to distinguish too sharply any organization in the first place. That is because underneath each job title, underneath each organizational umbrella is a normal human being like you and me, who needed to breathe, who needs to eat and drink, who has families and loved ones to care and provide for. The issue of paying someone justly is easier said than done. Having said that, it does not mean who stop at this point and don't do anything. On the contrary we should encourage and even applaud those who honestly tried to improve things. That is why Christian community ought to learn from one another the perceptions in place, and the rationale behind each decision to be made.
For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages. (1 Tim 5:18)
Please do not underpay the pastor or the Church worker. It is one thing to work by faith. It is another not to pay when an organization can afford to. Let the discussion go on.
I surrender. ie I confess that I am not strong enough to go against the tsunamis of web-logging. Many of my friends at Regent has been blogging away like crazy, sharing such wonderful things about their lives via the the latest and the hippiest blogging. After many months, I admit that the old ways of individual emails and individual posting on web sites seemed like comparing typewriters to a modern work-processor computers.
As a repentent computer person, I hereby pronounce my entry into the blogging world. So here I come, bloggers, wait for MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!