The Utilitarian Mindset is Killing the Church!

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I’ve read an article that gave me the inspiration to write this blog.  It’s one of those articles that is half right, and I so want to agree with, BUT I CAN’T.

The author began by decrying our crime of substituting relationship with ritual.  I find myself nodding with a hearty “amen.”  However, as I read on, I began to feel troubled.  The author then suggested that we should do in-depth Bible studies in order to build that relationship.  I still say amen. After all, how can I argue against Bible studies, especially if my PhD is in biblical studies?

At this juncture, the thesis takes a turn for less than best.  The thesis basically states that if we build relationship by in-depth Bible studies, our number would increase.  Now, make no mistake about it.  I’ve enjoyed speaking on biblical studies, and I’ve spoken in some of the largest North American Chinese churches as well as some gigantic churches in Asia.  My most recent half-month trip to Richmond Christian Community Church in Toronto (pictured above, I’m the bald guy with the biker leather jacket and earring) had given me the opportunity to speak at a vast multi-lingual congregation that was eager to learn about the Bible.  This was my second year with them.  This is the fact!  We like numbers.  We like big venues.  It’s very American; it’s very human.  Yet, the kingdom of God is not about numbers because there’re problems associated with numbers.

The problem comes when part of our argument is, “We should do such and such, and the number will come.”  That sort of logic doesn’t fly because it presupposes that number is the ultimate proof of whether we’re doing the right thing.  No!  Number proves nothing.  History has been fraught with massive number of people doing the wrong thing.  We do Bible studies so that our relationship with God and with each other can improve. Yes, that’s very biblical, but it shouldn’t logically follow that our church number would increase.  We don’t do it to increase the number. We do so because it is the right thing to do, if we claim the Bible as the word of God. At the very least, we should do it because we should at least be literate in our own faith.

We had better stop letting our American utilitarianism take over our faith or we may eventually be left with only have our own utilitarianism.

The Making of Right Texts, Wrong Meanings: Closing of the Canon and Revelation 22.18-19

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I’m going to blog about chapter 28 of my book. In many older systematic theology textbooks, Rev. 22.18-19 are cited as the proof text of the closing of the canon. The idea goes something like this.   The NT is a closed canon, and this verse proves that God has pronounced a curse on those who want to add or subtract from the number of books in the Bible.

The problem of the canon is a complex one. In the early church, there are many lists of the canonical NT. We can’t be sure all the list have all the books, in fact. This goes to show that the number of books that should be included were still being debated within different Christian communities. How do we reconcile such data.

My answer to such a question is, “There is no reason to reconcile such data.” Why? It is because this text is not talking about the canon. The verse clearly says the pronouncement was about the scroll. We’re talking about John closing the scroll he’s writing. That’s very much it.

As I always say, the texts are not at fault. The interpreter is!

How the anti-homosexual agenda are killing the Christian witness

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On my flight back from Hong Kong, I sat next to this young lady.  I found out that she swims for both Team Hong Kong and UC Berkeley Bears, my wife’s alma mater.  She happens to be a neuro science major as well.  Somehow she’s able to juggle her athletic endeavors and her studies without losing momentum with each.  In fact, I found out that she would be swimming for the Hong Kong Team in the Asia Games in September.   Naturally, our conversation drifted towards why I was traveling to Asia.  She shared with me that she’s Buddhist and how her faith impacted her life.  She further asked about my faith.  She told me that she had had exposure to Christianity because she went to the Diocesan Girl School (a famous Anglican prep school in Hong Kong).  She even owns a Bible!  At the very beginning of her inquiry, she asked, “How do Christians feel about LGBT?  What do you think about premarital sex?”  I found that quite odd.  Instead of asking about the Jesus I believe in, she asked about my views on sex.  I stated all her qualifications to say that even a highly intelligent person is asking such a distorted question about our faith.

On May 18, Hong Kong Christians had a demonstration FOR the family. It’s also known as the 518 event.  Instead of being FOR family, most people perceive the move to be anti-gay because many of the anti-homosexual parties had spearheaded the campaign.  They insisted that the event was not against homosexuals, but the damage was already done.  ALL people could think of when we talk about the faith is the gay issue.  So, when people ask me why I’m vehemently against such activities, my conversation with this young lady pretty much sums it up.  As I said often in my preaching class, the problem is not about intent or information but impact.  I don’t want people to identify my faith with what people do in their bedrooms.  If you think differently, so be it, but I’m sufficiently embarrassed for every conversation where I try to share my faith with people and we end up talking about sex.  After having such conversations repeatedly, I’m convinced that the witness of the church is totally lost in the white noise about sexuality.  You see? This young lady is not stupid, but she’s been drowned out by our white noise.  There’s no excuse for such white noise because when this white noise drowns out the gospel, we can no longer share the gospel.

The Making of Right Texts, Wrong Meanings: Israel and Revelation 7.1-17

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I’m going to blog about chapter 27 of my book. The passage of Rev. 7.1-17 is quite difficult. People have been fascinated by it, sometimes to an unhealthy degree. Their main fascinations by it are two. First, many would speculate on what the 144,000 people are.   Second, some may go further to what the seal meant.

 

Once again, the method to solve the identity exists both within and outside of the text. Within the text, how does number function in Revelation? As I said before, we need to make sure our system of interpretation is consistent within Revelation. 144,000 is a number in multiples of 12 and 10. How are 12’s and 10’s used in Revelation? What about the sealing of the forehead in Revelation? Within the storyline, what did the sealing mean for the entire story of Revelation itself? Is there another instance of sealing in Revelation? How about 666?

 

Another item within the storyline that deserves our attention is the identity of Israel? Who is Israel?   Many commentators just speculate that this Israel is the same as the Jews in Romans 11. Before we can harmonize Paul and John, we have to ask how language of nationality and nations functioned in the book. For the answer, we have to look at all instances of geographical locations and nationalities in the storyline of Revelation to determine the meaning of Israel instead of assigning it arbitrary meaning based on other biblical texts that may not even be related at all.

 

External to the text, what would numbering of people do in the time of John? The social and political function of numbering something we need to consider. What about the image of a seal on the forehead? How did John’s audience see a seal to the forehead? What did sealing of the forehead or any other body part do?

 

These are the hints in solving the problem.

 

As I always say, the texts are not at fault. The interpreter is!

Reblogged Matthew 18 blog now in Chinese with an English sermon as supplement

My Matthew 18 analysis in Chinese this time.  This has been translated and published in the link below.
Thesis: before you talk about reconciliation, mind your sphere and the little one. Read more here.
The English sermon which applies what i wrote here can be found here.

 

The Making of Right Texts, Wrong Meanings: The Knocking Jesus and Revelation 3.20

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I’m going to blog about chapter 26 of my book. Rev. 3.20 is the bedrock of many gospel tracts. People usually start by saying that God has a purpose for you and ends with the punch line of Revelation 3.20. They would tell the unbeliever that Jesus was knocking on the door and that all they had to do was to open up the door to let Jesus in.

 

The spiritual meaning of this verse is obviously analogizing the person’s heart as the door and Jesus can somehow “come into your heart” through that door. Besides a questionable description of how a person comes to faith, this usage of Rev. 3.20 is just plain wrong.

 

When reading the text, the most basic question to ask is, “To whom was this material written?” The incorrect answer is always “To me.” The answer should be obvious, but when the author says “anyone” whom did he mean? Believer or unbeliever? The answer to such a set of questions would seem obvious, but with the wrong traditional interpretation, the right answer is never obvious.

 

As I always say, the texts are not at fault. The interpreter is!

The “Jesus’ Wife” Controversy: Scholarship, Publicity, and The Issues

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Originally posted on Larry Hurtado's Blog:

As I indicated in my previous posting here, the “story” about the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment (and the other items in the small cache of papyri placed with Prof. Karen King) seems now increasingly clearly one of fakery and deception.  To their credit, the news media that so eagerly took up the Harvard Divinity School’s press releases and pronounced the fragment one of the most important discoveries about early Christianity of all time, have now begun to pick up on the evidence of fakery.

I’ve previously cited a few recent stories, and there is now another recent one, a 05 May story in the Washington Post here.  For more links, see Mark Goodacre’s “roundup” of developments here, which includes a link to the PBS interview with Michael Peppard here.

Update:  Although cited in a recent New York Times article as still entertaining the authenticity of the “Jesus’ Wife”…

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The Making of Right Texts, Wrong Meanings: The Wrong Spiritual Temperature and Revelation 3.16

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I’m going to blog about chapter 26 of my book. Rev. 3.16 has had its fair share of misreading. The usual meaning can be summarized by a famous mega-church pastor’s Facebook update, “Nowhere does the Bible say, ‘Because you’re white hot, I’ll spew you out of my mouth.’”   This little sound byte (which happens in pulpits all across the US every Sunday) may preach well. The only problem is, the Bible also doesn’t say that Christ would spew you out of his mouth because you’re cold. In fact, Christ may like cold water. That’s just my guess from reading Matthew 10.42. I could be wrong. He could also like hot water. The problem with this kind of interpretation is that it has mistaken that the original readers analogize the biblical analogy in the same way and that somehow they experience life the way we frame our spirituality. In this case, nothing is further from the truth.

In my last two blogs, I’ve discussed the importance of reading the text based on the experience of first century. One of the experiences would be geography. Water existed in geographical locations in those days. People would get the water from such locations and make use of it. Thus, in this blog, I will lay out the geographical experience, and you decide the meaning.

Laodicea (modern town of Laodikeia) located in the middle of Lycus River that came down through the Lycus Valley in Asia Minor. Downstream from it was Colossae. Due to the volcanic activities, the upper Lycus Valley, in the areas of Hieropolis, possessed hot springs that were beneficial for healing. By the time the water reached Laodicea, it would’ve been luke-warm. As the water continued to make its way down to Colossae, its impurity had been cleansed and the Colossians could drink the cool water. Thus, in upstream area of Hieropolis, the hot water had a better use for healing. In the downstream area of Colossae, the cold water was great for quenching thirst. Right in the middle was Laodicea where the luke-warm water was. Think about what Rev. 3.16 actually was saying.

As I always say, the texts are not at fault. The interpreter is!

PS. For more reading on the geography of the Seven Churches, get Colin Hemer, The Seven Churches of Asia Minor in their Local Setting.

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