Right Texts, Wrong Prayers? On the Prayers at the Inauguaration


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Well, well, well, the day we’ve all anticipated has finally arrived. As expected, as one of my non-Christian friends remarked, it has turned into a church service. As expected, there’s plenty to ponder in the ceremony. I’m only going to ponder on the thin slice of that event, the scriptural quotation of the rabbi Marvin Hier and the Christian leader Franklin Graham. The reason why I pick on these two isn’t because I hate them. Far from it. I love them enough to provide some corrections to their scriptural quotation to save them from divine wrath. I’m only half kidding. My concern of course is the claim by many evangelicals that Trump could be the “most Christian” of all presidents. If he’s the most Christian, at least he should surround himself with people who know the sacred scripture of the faith. Apparently, the evidence points the opposite direction.

Rabbi Hier quoted from Psalm 137. “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…” If you prefer the musical version, here’s one by Boney M. The problem is this. Jewish refugees and exiles wrote the psalm when they were captured by the Babylonians. Trump has already made it very clear that he doesn’t want any “illegal immigrants”, those who seek asylum in the US. His followers by and large are anti-refugees, especially those refugees from Muslim war-torn countries. For the rabbi to pray the prayer of the refugees is an insult to the suffering of his own people. The Psalm also calls a curse upon those who created the refugee crisis (and that goes for both sides of the political divide).

It ends with these harrowing imprecations,

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.”

Are we really ready for that prayer? Are we ready to call that curse upon anyone who caused those crisis (including our own foreign policy makers)? PERHAPS, the rabbi inadvertently prayed this prayer appropriately for this occasion. Who knows? What irony!

Then comes Franklin Graham. He quotes from 1 Timothy 2.1-6, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with praying for kings and those in authority. I believe in that as a Christian. However, I think Graham has failed to notice that the context for that prayer is for a church service. In 1 Timothy 2.8, the author wrote, “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” The raised hands were the gesture of prayer in first-century church services. Did Graham notice that he really isn’t in a church service? By conducting himself in this way, he gives the impression that the inauguration is a church service. He may think that it’s quite a great marketing (i.e. evangelism) for the church, but I assure every reader that all my unbeliever friends are outright turned off by this pseudo-church service. Evangelical Christianity has mastered the art of lousy marketing. 

Well, as is fitting for this day, I’m going to add my own quote. I saw this quote from my buddy Doug Jantz. When Israel conducted its first unofficial election back in the time of David, they elected to have Saul to be their king, and that election turned out to be a disaster. This is most fitting for evangelicals who put their trust in politicians (on both sides, but especially those who say that Trump is God’s man), kings and king makers. Listen to the prophet Samuel from 1 Samuel 8.10-12, 18.

“Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, ‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots…And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day’.”

Let that sink in!



Post-Election Sticks and Stones: Lessons on Words after the Trump Election



“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Nonsense.

“The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” James 3.6. Good sense.


It’s just been a few days after Trump’s close victory in the US election. The reactions range from jubilance to outrage. The reasons for such reactions are many and complex. I’m only going to deal with the aspect related to the above quotes. One immediate impact is racially targeted crimes, aka hate crimes. Already, more than 200 racist incidents have been reported (not counting unreported ones, of course). Such incidents have shown that racism has always been there in the underbelly of America, but so many are shocked because they never saw that underbelly. Some are still in denial.

Most elections in recent years have an edge of nastiness and mud slinging, but the Trump campaign was trademarked with xenophobic and racist rhetoric. I heard one friend say, “It’s just rhetoric” because it seems Trump has reneged on many if not most of his promises. Is it just rhetoric though? Even if it is, is it true that “words will never hurt me.”

Evident from all the racist incidents, words do indeed transform rhetoric into sticks and stones. Trump had provided the vehicle to deliver bold racism that racist whites formerly couldn’t put into words. In one situation, a class of students chanted “build that wall” (in reference to Trump’s promised wall against Mexicans crossing the border) to their Mexican classmates. Others make jokes about deporting immigrants obviously in reference to Trump’s promise to boot illegal immigrants. These are just words though. Grow thicker skin, they say. But skin can only grow so thick when punches start raining. Apparently, some of these incidents aren’t merely verbal. My friend, a white female, was at the bar chatting with a man who supported Trump. When he found out that she didn’t vote for Trump, he got belligerent. Argument ensued followed by the man trying to assault her. Lucky she learned self defense and put him down. This is in “enlightened” and liberal California. As we recall, Trump is also the same person who longed for the good old days when he can punch someone who didn’t agree with him. Can we place the entire blame on Trump for these people’s action? No, these people are individual who should be responsible for their action. BUT we should place the blame on Trump’s rhetoric for providing the vehicle for these people verbal and physical abuse. Some misinformed people argue that we simply can’t blame Trump for all these incidents. Such an argument is simplistic and unbiblical. Trump’s rhetoric has to take part of the blame.

What some Christians fail to grasp in this election cycle is the biblical truth about words. They’ve subscribed to the false understanding of “words are just words.” Words are NOT just words. The congregation of James was in some dispute, and unqualified people had been using words to cause further chaos. This gave the reason for James to write these words. It seems that our country is in some chaos. Some say that the chaos has always been there, and those incidents have always been there. I doubt if their claim is right. More than 200 racist incidents reported in half a week isn’t just made up my media to get ratings. It’s abnormal. I think Christians need to take what James said seriously. I think we’ve laughed off a lot of Trump’s antics in this election (please don’t bring in Hillary in at this point. I’m just referring to Trump here) because we frankly have a careless view on words. James admonished us to take words seriously.

If James described the tongue as a wild fire, then Trump’s careless words have set our country burning on both sides (yes, I’m aware that some people have beaten up Trump supporters and caused destruction of properties too). If Christian citizens do not hold their own words and their leaders’ words accountable, the result will be unimaginable.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will be the cause of those broken bone (or a national forest fire). Words aren’t just words!


“If Any of You Are Without Sin …”: Trump and Evangelical Illiteracy


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“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw stone …”
John 8.7 (NIV)

Today, I’m going to comment on a classically misunderstood verse that isn’t even covered in Right Texts, Wrong Meanings. I normally don’t comment on John 7.53-8.11 as this passage seems to be a late addition, but its frequent quotation has forced me to comment on it. A Christian leader no less than James Dobson says, “I do not condone nor defend Donald Trump’s terrible comments made 11 years ago. They are indefensible and awful. I’m sure there are other misdeeds in his past, although as Jesus said, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,’ I am, however, more concerned about America’s future than Donald Trump’s past. I wonder about how Bill Clinton’s language stands up in private.” This post will show how Dobson’s quotation of John 8.7 is a complete travesty of biblical hermeneutics and literacy.

The story of John 8 is simple. A woman was caught in the act of adultery, most likely in the heat of copulation, and the Pharisees wanted to stone her to death. Jesus asked whether anyone was without sin. Everyone left, and no one condemned her. Dobson and his fan base of course take this as a perfect analogy to Trump’s sexual transgressions. However, the analogy is completely misplaced in the following ways.

The nature of sexual sins is different. In the woman’s case, she was having consensual adulterous sex. While adultery is wrong, it was at least consensual. When Donald Trump says, “I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful ― I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait… And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything…Grab them by the pussy…You can do anything…” Trump just described sexual assault in a few short and lewd sentencet. To many, this happened more than 10 years ago, but sexual assault is the same crime 10 years, 20 years or even 100 years ago. The women gave no consent. Many would find this to be a locker room talk of macho male fantasy. The problem is, Trump has also had allegations launched against him on sexual assault, on peeping at naked underaged Miss Teen USA pageant contestants, and even one pending rape case of a 13 year old girl Katie Johnson. The pattern has never been consensual, locker room fantasy or otherwise. So, please stop analogizing the sin of the adulterous woman with that of Trump. The usage of John 8.7 is immoral!

The problem is never the allegation of sin. Some who look at Trump’s situation are saying that perhaps we should be more forgiving and not judge a man’s words so harshly. In other words, we must silence the critics using religious language. When we look at the story of John 8, Jesus never denied that fact that the woman was sinful. In fact, the language he used in John 8.11 “Neither do I condemn you” is highly legal. Jesus didn’t really pronounce forgiveness per se. He only spared her life. The real person she needed to ask forgiveness should be her husband, but the Bible doesn’t really talk about that. Many want to dismiss Trump’s talk as just locker room stuff, but the locker room stuff appears to be confession of a rape culture that shouldn’t exist in any room, locker room or otherwise. Forgiveness? How about Trump ask forgiveness from those women he groped, but no, he didn’t do that! We don’t have the right or authority to forgive Trump. We aren’t rape victims or victims of sexual harassment. The easy dismissal of a serial behavior from a future leader of the US by Christians makes mockery of all Christian ethics. This easy forgiveness is the reason why sexual abuse is so prevalent in conservative Christian circles (whether Protestant or Catholic). Jesus took sin seriously by using legal language. So should Christians. The usage of John 8.7 mocks the very God on whom this faith is found.

The power relationships between the adulterous woman and Trump are different. Remember the context of the adulterous woman. The Pharisees wanted to stone her. When I read a story like this, I always wonder where the man who committed the crime was. The absence of the adulterous man shows that she was used as a tool to test Jesus. The Pharisees here weren’t after real justice. They merely wanted to force Jesus’ hand in condemning her to death. She was a helpless victim caught in the power game of a society of unequal power between men and women. Trump is far from the status of the powerless. In fact, he’s one of the most powerful men whose accountants and lawyers are capable to help him avoid taxation while he makes millions. We should fix the tax code that enables him to do that. He also acts in a powerful role in the harassment of many women. I know someone’s going to inevitably bring up Bill Clinton. If Clinton harassed women or committed adultery, he’s also wrong, but we’re ONLY talking Trump because evangelicals aren’t using John 8 to defend Clinton at the moment. The status between the adulterous woman and Trump are as far as heaven is from hell. While she was just trying to escape with her life. She wasn’t trying to be the king of Israel.  Trump is going for the most powerful position in the free world. The usage of John 8.7 misunderstands both the worlds of Jesus and of Trump.

The situations of the woman’s and Trump are completely different. We must notice that Jesus was quite serious about the adulterous woman’s sin. He never denied it. At the same time, after he dismissed her, he didn’t come out to say that she’s now serving as the paragon of purity. No, Jesus wouldn’t say that. Trump however flippantly dismisses his own moral downfall, and then turns around and says, ” He’s ready to take on one of the most powerful political positions in the world. He isn’t going away like the adulterous woman. While he uses words of repentance, he doesn’t bear the fruits of repentance. In fact, Trump claims, “I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.” How can we trust a man who says one thing but does another? Apparently, Trump’s evangelical supporters are asking us to do exactly that. This sort of ethical suicide is what gives evangelicals a bad name. Again, I’m not saying that Hillary is all that honest, but the evangelicals aren’t using John 8 to support her now, are they? In fact, they really want to stone her. The usage of John 8.7 is a double standard that has plagued evangelicals for ages that has now made the entire movement a running joke.

Whatever one thinks of Hillary (and I’m really not a fan), we can’t dismiss the fact that the failure of evangelical leadership in this election boils down to a kind of dire biblical illiteracy that has infiltrated its ranks. Perhaps, if they REALLY read their Bibles instead of messing about with powerful political people (on all sides), they’d do better as a moral authority. Until then, they’ve become a moral joke.

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

Obligation to What? Christian Approach to the Political Process



“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…”

Galatians 1.3 (NIV)

I’ve been writing sections of a book discussing Paul and his political views. I can’t help seeing the relevance to both the US (my home) and Hong Kong (where I often work).

At home, the evangelicals have finally stood behind Donald Trump out of their fear and disdain for Hillary. I’m going to lay aside whether Hillary is a fit candidate or not and discuss purely the many evangelical Christian responses. The typical response I see on social media has a very simple logic that goes something like this. You’re obligated to vote for Trump if you’re a true Christian because the alternative is evil. The logic speaks to a popular utilitarian mentality. It’s basically saying that since we live in a flawed system, we have to choose a route that “works for us.” In this alternate universe of evangelicalism, obligation is either to a candidate or a political process.

The ten seats of the Hong Kong legislative election is also part of the political discussion. These ten seats are for the Christian leaders and they’re essentially picked by drawing lot. Many are clamoring for those seats from the large denominations. Some would go as far as saying that participation in this fraud democracy is at least better than not participating. Again, the obligation is for self-serving utilitarian reasons.

When Paul spoke of Jesus as the Lord, he placed all believers under the obligation to Jesus. By making the candidate or the political process the thing to which we feel obligated, we have essentially made them our gods. In Paul’s world, “obligation” is something people owed to a superior overlord. The ultimate obligation of a believer isn’t to a human being or a process. What if none of this works?

There’s a real possibility that our best effort will fall flat. It’s happened in history repeatedly. What then? I’d say that in our case, we have replaced our integrity and faithfulness with utilitarianism, our self interest, our agenda and our heroes. Obligating ourselves to candidates who blatantly hold anti-Christian values isn’t faithful. Obligating ourselves to a political lie that pretends to be a democratically elected process is even less faithful. If we strip away all our utilitarianism, our self interest, our agenda and even the heroes we worship (be it Trump, Hillary or Bernie), what do we have left? I don’t think we will have integrity and faithfulness left. When we replace God with a process or an idol, we’re in a dangerous place. So what if we succeed? Without integrity and faithfulness, our success is nothing other than rubbish.

Lately, in many church circles, there’s been a call for a new kind of Reformation. In fact, I just saw this morning someone was talking about that in HK. Before we can reform anything, perhaps we need to reform ourselves, our lost conscience and our idolatry. When it comes to politics, Christians tend to put their hope in politicians and the political process rather than God. Perhaps that’s our biggest problem at the present time. The only person we’re obligated to is Jesus Christ. Otherwise, “Jesus is Lord” is a mere cliche.

Colin Kaepernick Exposes Our Greatest Problem



“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you…”

Matthew 7.1-2 (NIV translation)

This verse is part of the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus that is often misquoted because people tend to quote “Do not judge” and then leave out the rest of it.

This week, the media once again focus on Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco quarterback who was a huge star under Jim Harbaugh but whose stardom had dimmed starting last season. During the pre-season, he had sat during the national anthem. He continues to sit at the season opener and will probably sit as long as we keep watching him.

I’m not going to deal with whether I agree with his form of protest in this blog. I at least agree with him that we do have a racial problem in this country that seems to be only obvious for people color (whether brown, black, red or yellow) that isn’t always obvious to some white people. I’m not here to talk about that either. I’ve already dealt with that issue in a different post regarding the Christian context. I’ll only deal with one objection that people often brought up: hypocrisy. The argument usually goes something like this (or in similar logic): Colin K makes millions; it’s hypocrisy for him to just talk about this issue because he hardly knows anything about being oppressed.

The argument redefines hypocrisy in that hypocrisy, in the biblical sense, doesn’t mean ignorance. It doesn’t mean that just because a person has less knowledge about poverty or oppression, he can’t speak on it. Hypocrisy in the biblical sense literally means “to play act” in the Greek language in which the Bible was written. In other words, being hypocritical means to merely talk about someone else without action that matches the righteousness of the criticism. In other words, if I’m morally upright, then I can talk about morality. If I build a good marriage, I can speak on marriage and so on.

So, Colin Kaepernick has already explained in numerous occasions on what he’s concerned about. I don’t need to rehash the issues. Whatever you think of Colin Kaepernick, he isn’t a hypocrite. Quite often, people frame their criticism on  hypocrisy against those who only chase issues but do nothing about them.  Usually, the argument goes something like this. Why doesn’t the black community policed itself? Why doesn’t a critic do something positive about the black community problem instead of talking about it? Herein lies the problem. Colin Kaepernick is doing something about that.

Besides using his influence to raise money for children’s charity, he now vows to donate almost 1/10 of his salary to causes that will rectify the present concern. Now, people are getting petty and start to question what causes he’s donating to. The big plus from this however is that the San Francisco Forty Niners will also donate the same amount to causes that work towards racial issues. So, Colin Kaepernick isn’t a hypocrite. He’s doing this not only as a cost to his own business sponsorship but also to his own pocketbook.

So, before anyone wants to point finger at hypocrisy, I only have one thing to ask. Have you donated 1/10 of what you make to a cause you believe in? If not, Colin Kaepernick, in one fell swoop, just made hypocrites of a whole lot of his critics. Whatever we label Colin Kaepernick, we can’t call him a hypocrites.

I don’t think most critics exercise the same stringent criteria on themselves as on Colin Kaepernick. Jesus was right. Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you…


PS. In case you wonder, we do donate more than 1/10 of our household income to causes we believe in, both here and abroad. I don’t make millions like Colin Kaepernick, but I’m trying to do my part.

The Multicultural Church is an American Fairy Tale!

“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarians, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

Colossians 3.11 (NIV)


I was reading the blog of a new Facebook friend Dave Owen the other day. Dave is the president of Pacific Islands University. He was reviewing John Piper’s book Bloodline in which Piper talks about the multicultural church and so on. The context of course is the American (especially Protestant) church.

I’m going to cut to the chase and ask some simple questions. When people think of the American church in the global church, whom do they think of? John Piper, Franklin Graham, Bill Hybels? Yes, that’s the galacticos of American evangelicalism.

Notice the list of names I give are all white middle class church leaders. Now, there’s nothing wrong with white middle class church leaders. But if we want to look at our impact globally, then our intent have been lost in our impact because most people (American or not) think of the American church as the white church. In light of recent election and all the debates about racial divide and white privilege, that’s precisely the kind of impact we have globally. Oh, I know at least one or two readers (at least) will say, “Oh, you’re Asian. You have Francis Chan.” Right! Whether Francis Chan represents me is quite another topic. I certainly don’t “have” Francis Chan. I don’t own Francis Chan. While I appreciate what he says in some of his talks and books, I dare say that Francis Chan isn’t the global face of American Christianity. He isn’t the first name that comes up. His is the afterthought if that afterthought even occurs. His is the name people spit out when someone claims that American Christianity is so white. You can think of your own favorite minority Christian leader for that purpose. That appeal is by exception and not by average. Exceptions are exceptions. Exceptions aren’t the norm.

In reality, our church is the product of our society. Our church isn’t so sanctified FROM society as much as we like to think it is. Think about the photo I posted on there. I know I have an international readership. If you’re non-American, would the first thought that occurred in your mind is that this is a picture of an all-American kid? I bet not. If you’re American, some of you probably have at least entertained the thought of, “I wonder what country this kid’s from?” No, “all-American” wouldn’t be the first thing that popped into most of your minds, if you’re honest with yourself. Let me clue you in. That’s my all-American Sinopolitan (google that word) older kid and his car, posing on the driveway of my all-American colonial house (Georgian style, to be exact). Yep! The photo is very all-American. He was born in the USA (in the multicultural Bay Area), lived in UK and Hong Kong. He speaks perfect English, accented French and Mandarin. He gets all A’s all the time in any class that requires writing simply because his English is brilliant and vocabulary rich. If he were white, one would consider him to be privileged (since he’s multilingual, lived all over the world, dresses like a fashion model, and works for AMERICAN Eagle) upper crest, but he isn’t. Instead, people probably wonder if he immigrated from Asia somewhere. That’s OUR America. That’s OUR church. In America, the church is the spitting image of society.

What can we do as Christians if we want to move towards multicultural church leadership? I would say the solution is simple but not easily executed. Those in power have to deliberately train up and staff the leadership of their churches to be multicultural. When we look at John Piper’s church, Bethlehem Baptist Church, the staffing isn’t really full of the people of color. In fact, the staff is mostly white men. If you don’t believe me, check out their website. When the picture the global church sees is mostly white male, John Piper can talk and write until his face is purple that he values the biblical value of multiculturalism, it won’t amount to the worth of the stuff in the rubbish bin.

Before anyone accuses me of doing church Affirmative Action style, let me be quite clear about what I’m trying to say. The accusers against Affirmative Action usually say that it pushes unqualified people of color into opportunities that should be reserved for more qualified white people. Some may even go as far as saying that the Affirmative Action laws have cast doubts on truly qualified minorities simply because of other unqualified individuals filling positions. These assumptions aren’t application for the church. The days of unqualified leaders are long past. There’re as many good minority church leaders who can preach and write. In fact, many of them are more capable just to compete with less capable whites and still don’t get the leadership jobs. I rarely see white pastors actively seek out or train up people of color to succeed them. Without leadership from people of color, how would people of color be incorporated in our largely segregated white churches?

I’m not saying that people of color necessarily want to or need to (oh, please!) occupy those position of high profile. Many of us are just content to work within our own ethnic groups (e.g. black churches, Asian churches, Hispanic churches etc.). But let’s not write about diversity without any proven action and pretend that the American white church is diverse and that the image we present to the world is that of diversity. To me, as an Asian American, constituents of American evangelical Christianity simply don’t detect the absurdity of their faith: a white church leader who staffs his church with mostly white leaders writing about diversity. What rich irony! The image of the American church comes from the skin color of leadership, not from books written about diversity by people who don’t practice diversity. My friend Dave Owen states bluntly, “It is pretty hard to have diverse disciples without diverse leaders.”

Right Quotes, Wrong Meanings!



It’s been a while since I wrote Right Texts, Wrong Meanings. The topic is worth revisiting for just about everything quotable in life. While many preachers continue to misquote Jesus, Paul or Peter, Christians writers and some theologians misquote other theologians. In our sound bite electronic age, this often gives the appearance of being an expert in this or that.

Now that much of the quotation search engine is available for getting fancy quotes in, many start quoting famous theologians like Calvin, Barth, Hauerwas, Moltmann and Bonhoeffer. The two interpretive elements I emphasize are literary context and historical context. It doesn’t matter how eloquent the quote is. As long as the quote isn’t in line with the original essays in which it appears, it is a misquotation. Some can connect their own cause with merely one or two words of the quote and think that quotation would accord them the power they seek. However, even if we get the literary context right, it doesn’t mean that the interpretive exercise is over. Every text is also a product of a historical context. Calvin’s view of church-state relationship and his way of using scripture to justify that view came from an era where separation of church and state was inconceivable. He wrote as a lawyer, often in defense of the legal system he tried to uphold in Geneva. Barth and Bonhoeffer wrote in light of Nazi Germany. Their writing also resulted in certain praxis in their lives whether for Barth to move away from Germany or for Bonhoeffer to stay in Germany. Moltmann matured as a theologian in post-WWII rebuilding era in Germany. Hauerwas spent his youth in the Jim Crow era where blacks were forced to have their own restaurants, bathrooms and the seats in the back of the bus. He also saw the deterioration of the democratic process here in the US. His writings came out of these and other circumstances.

When we quote these theological luminaries for the purpose of some other contexts, are we really being true to the original historical context? I can say that surely, we don’t often respect those historical context. Let me use HK as an example. Is HK government a parallel with Calvin’s Geneva or Nazi Germany and WWII? Is HK government parallel with the republican government of the US? No! It isn’t! If the historical situation isn’t exactly parallel, what gives us the right to quote these guys as some kind of eternal truth? Nothing! Unless we can find some form of historical and literary parallel, all our quotes show is our utter ignorance instead of enlightenment. I’m not saying that there’s zero parallel historically, but most of the quotes I see seem totally oblivious to this issue. The quote only make us sound sophisticated (“Ha ha, I know Greek and you don’t.”) and gives us a false sense of authority. Instead of being educated, we’re further misinforming our readers and students. Adding a few German, French, or English words (or whatever language from which the quote came) does nothing! Appearance of being well educated is often far from reality. It’s as bad as a preacher misquoting Jesus out of the blue in some topical sermon (Yes, I realize this happens all the time everywhere even in mega churches. So?).

Every quote is an act of interpretation, especially taken from the context from which it is written for some other agenda. These days, I think we need to rescue Calvin, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Moltmann, and Hauerwas from their hijackers. The problem is never the quote. The problem is the interpreter. Let Barth be Barth! Next time someone uses a quote, ask him, “What’s the context?” We need accountability.

Rescuing Daniel from His Hijackers: On Christian Participation in a Corrupt Political System

“…But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food …” Daniel 1.8

Recent discussions on occupying the seats of the HK fraudulent election heats up again in the theological circles. Soon or later, someone will appeal to Daniel to justify Christian participation in politics. I’m not against participation, but the appeal to Daniel ought to be much more cautious than a rhetorical tactic. The appeal to Daniel (and many other biblical characters) is a popular tact to justify Christian involvement in politics, even in corrupt political systems.

Usually the argument goes something like this. Daniel is the typology of Christian participation in a corrupt political system. If Daniel can do it, why can’t I? Now, I’m no expert on HK politics, as I follow it as an amateur. However, I do know a thing or two about the Bible. Having spoken in Baltimore last year on the first half of Daniel and last weekend on the second half of Daniel, I think I ought to reflect on the appeal to Daniel in the HK election or any Christian participation in politics. I’ll only look at Daniel as a character in the book of Daniel. Anyone who wants to argue about authorship can go read some commentaries on Daniel. What exactly about Daniel that allows us to appeal to him as a typology for Christian participation in politics? Let me name just two criteria to make the matter simple.

The first appealing criteria about Daniel’s participation is intelligence. In order to navigate that system, Daniel had intelligence in abundance. The Bible says that he was without physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand and qualified to serve in the king’s palace (Dan. 1.4). What that meant was that he was an obvious genius and a physical specimen. He was near perfect. The Babylonians had superiority over Israel in every sense back in those days, whether in culture or military might. For the Babylonians to recognize these qualities, Daniel and his friends must have been quite outstanding, not just in an ordinary sense but in the sense of even greater than their superior captors. Yet, they didn’t stop at being intelligent. In a society where illiteracy was high, their mere ability to read literature set them apart from fellow Israelites, but they had further education to be informed by the language and literature of Babylon (Dan. 1.4). Thus, they had both nature and nurture on their side. What did learning the language and literature of Babylon do? The learning enabled Daniel and his friends to administer properly in their future leadership roles in serving the king. As far as whether we have people in the theological circle that would resemble Daniel’s education and intelligence, I’m not qualified to judge. Now, if we look at the situation in HK theological circles and those involved in the debate, there aren’t many who have had real government experience other than my colleague Dr. Freeman Huen. Whether you agree with him or not (certainly, he and I can disagree on some fine points for sure), he has walked the walk. For the most part, as far as I know, the rest are just like Donald Trump talking about longevity in business success or marriage. It’s mostly just fantastic balderdash and a good mix of hot humid air. I’m not talking about elitism here. I’m talking about competence.

The second appealing trait about Daniel’s participation is integrity. Daniel continued to take great risks even as he was serving the king. In fact, he would be safer not to serve the king and be an ordinary captive. We often notice the heroic exploits and piety of Daniel, but his prophetic office is where we can clearly see integrity. In Dan. 4, Daniel was forced to interpret a dream that was unfavorable to the king. In fact, it was a message of doom against the dignity of the king. In the Ancient Near East, the king’s honor was something a nation preserved. It was a supreme crime to offend the king’s honor. Daniel could’ve sugar-coated the interpretation about the king’s demise in Dan. 4, but he didn’t. He spoke plainly against the king without knowing what the final outcome would be. He even told the king he would eat grass. Next time you think you’re Daniel, ask yourself whether you have the courage to tell Xi Jingping to eat grass! Report back! As if that wasn’t courageous enough, we mustn’t fail to notice that roughly half of Daniel (Dan 7-12) was devoted to pronouncing doom against the Medo-Persian Empire where Daniel also served its kings. That fact alone shows that Daniel was a man who wasn’t afraid to speak the truth without having to measure the consequences of his prophecy. It’s already quite evident in HK politics that MANY “Christian politicians” haven’t only failed their duties but further succeeding in sugar-coating the lies from Beijing. Their participation is the very opposite of Daniel’s. They were eager to please the government or to participate in the governmental power structure. Their record is mostly abysmal, highlighted by the dire failure of Donald Tsang, a self-proclaimed Catholic. The theological circle is no different really. I’ve even heard a former principal of a major seminary who supported the pro-China speed rail spending (while the money could be spent on bettering the quality of life for the poor) previously now speaking on the destruction of crosses on mainland churches and blaming the churches for not dialoguing with government. How does any of this demonstrate the integrity of Daniel? If anything, these sad examples are the poverty in integrity. In the administration of Xi Jinping, Daniel would be imprisoned, tortured and put to death. In short, we don’t have people who have enough integrity to speak the truth forcefully without worrying about 1) personal interests 2) institutional interests (i.e., “mission” to China, especially to China’s wealthy and powerful elite). No, I can safely say that we don’t have a Daniel who’s qualified to serve the king now. Intelligence without integrity can do more harm than good.

Part of our job as church leaders, theologians and biblical scholars is to help the church and society where we are, but if we can’t fulfill that task, at least don’t hurt the people. So, before you dare to appeal to Daniel’s example, ask yourself whether you’re the kind of person like Daniel. I dare say that there aren’t too many people even in the history of humankind that’s like Daniel, let alone the corrupt circle of HK politics (and church denominations). The worst case scenario is the US. Here in the US, we have every candidate claiming piety towards the Christian God more than the next. I’m not against Christian involvement in politics (a successful example would be Abraham Kuyper), but I’m against the careless appeal to the Bible even when the appeal clearly doesn’t respect the text, culture and message of the Bible. Before you hijack the Bible for your own ambition or publicity, go read your Bible first!

As I said countless times, the problem isn’t the biblical text. The problem comes from foolish interpreters.



Passing an Inheritance


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“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and I’m persuaded, now lives in you also … What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus..” 2 Timothy 1.5, 13.

The past weekend marks a great milestone for my kid’s short athletic career. He broke the state record on the deadlift. I held a record in the same lift more than 10 years ago in California. He’s a chip off the old block. Many would think that it’s purely genetic. Yet, other things also contribute. We saw a lot of impressive lifts in the meet, including a smallish Asian man who deadlifted more than four times (yes, FOUR TIMES) his bodyweight for a world record. The biggest deadlift of the day was a few pounds short of 900 lbs. (yes, 900!). To give an idea of what that means, an average car weighs 4000 lbs. That’s almost one-fourth of a car. A most impressive feat for me however (as a dad) was this Japanese-Hawaiian kid who’s around 14 or 15 who just lifted a few pounds less than my son but weighs about 10 lbs less. My son made a keen observation in the warmup room. All the lifter kids have fathers who are lifters. This little kid who did the super heavy weight isn’t big, but he has great techniques. He was accompanied by his entire family who are all lifters and all the friends from those lifters’ gym. They were all Hawaiians and they all looked related. I saw them giving advice and support in the warmup room and preparing like real professionals. Isn’t that what it takes to be a great athlete? My son joked that this kid probably won the genetic lottery, but in all honesty, genetics without knowledge still lack substance. What I passed on to my son also came from my experience and from all the great lifters I lifted with in my younger days. They all contributed to his success. It takes more than talent. It takes the willingness to coach and pass knowledge. I think that’s how life works.

The serial suicides in Hong Kong really have me worried about the young people. One of them could’ve been my son if he were stuck in that educational environment, as he’s talented in unconventional ways that a rigid traditional education wouldn’t appreciate. Certainly, we can’t deny that the educational bureau has to shoulder a large part of the blame for the environment it fostered. Kids aren’t meant to be in the pressure cooker. I think this is also a alarm bell for parents. It’s hard to be a parent in this situation. Many parents are busy working (partly due to necessity), while sending many of their children to maids and tutoring classes. I believe academic failure is only part of the picture. Children need coaching and emotional support. They need their parents to pass on what they know to them. This is something tutors can’t do for them. The kids could acquire some skills, but skills are best learned from someone who loves and cares about you. I think there’s no easy solution, but it’s a sobering time for many of us parents.

When we look at the problem of failure, failure isn’t always a problem because there’re plenty who have failed but climbed back up. One of the contributing factors to stand back up is the emotional and spiritual support for the person. Emotional and spiritual support can only come from someone who cares. Sometimes it can come from a faith community. Certainly, it would help a great deal when there’s plenty of parental care and guidance. I see a lot of very capable parents who are successful and intelligent, but don’t really contribute to passing on those skills to their children. I believe success isn’t about the individual. It’s a corporate effort. I realize that there’re many exceptional cases when everything seems right but the children still choose that tragic path, but we can certainly try to do our best corporate effort to mentor our children and our young people, whether in church or family.

When we look at Timothy’s heritage, he had a grandma and a mother who were both first-generation believers. They cultivated Timothy whose life was also enriched by the continuous mentoring of Paul. Timothy faced plenty of difficulties. He was able to persevere. We need more people to walk with young people more than ever in our very challenging time.

The Blind Worship of E-Books: Are E-Books Really Better?


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A recent Facebook post written by Dr. John Chan, a junior colleague, got me thinking about how technology impacts our learning and even our church life. The post basically says that the decrying of electronic books is an antiquated way of thinking, and that it represents other antiquated ways of thinking. I wish to challenge all parts of his general statements. I will only speak on what I know from teaching preachers how to communicate on the pulpit and on New Testament studies. I’ll leave the rest of the argument with others with greater expertise in other areas of communications. Anyone wanting my further opinion on communications in modern media age can consult my second Chinese monograph on preaching, published by Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary, a textbook I use for my preaching classes.

The argument about media isn’t that new, believe it or not. If anyone thinks that it’s really about being progressive versus antiquated, he needs to read Plato dating some 2500 years before our conversation. Yes, 2500 years ago! Plato knew stuff. In Phaedrus, he talked about the changing media and how writing could impact the reception of originally oral presentations. I’ve blogged about it elsewhere. I won’t rehash it here. I just wish to deal directly with Chan’s post.

The post written by Chan says that people want to read printed books instead of reading e-books is due to habit, and he feel bothered by such a traditional way of thinking. Sure, IF habit is only the reason they decry e-books, then I’d be bothered too. I’ve never been accused of being a traditionalist in my entire academic career. If anything, people often accuse me of being too progressive. The issue is very much more complicated than traditional versus progressive. He writes that if someone loves to read, he would read using any medium, including using e-books or the computer screen. I can’t disagree, but is that the only argument in favor of e-books, the love for reading? I don’t think so. This is where his baseless opinion begins to fall apart. What he fails to realize is that the medium of each person who loves to read impacts the way the text is received.

Here’re some complicated issues to ponder. A few decades ago, Marshall McLuhan proclaims, “The medium is the message.” McLuhan may be more than half right. If the message is only information like Chan suggests, yes, it’s very simple to read the data the way one reads a dictionary, but it isn’t that simple. Reading for data is the lowest level of reading that is mostly primary (or elementary) school stuff. Reading is mostly not for data. Reading is for interpretation, and when you interpret, you need context. . Text isn’t just data, as McLuhan notes. Instead, the interpreter receives text, and here’s where Chan’s worldview runs into trouble.

All over Asia, Australia, and many parts of N. America, I’ve tested the effects of reading e-books in my explanation of the importance of a printed Bible for our primary reading tool in listening to sermons and in personal reading. I think I’ve conducted a wide enough samples of experiment with both the Chinese-speaking and English-speaking communities to say with a very large degree of certainty that e-books have serious drawbacks in certain kind of reading. When it comes to listening to sermons and Bible reading, e-book Bible is the main culprit in many exegetical fallacies, especially when the interpreter rips the text out of its context.

In my experiment, I usually ask how many have a cell phone with the Bible in it. Then, I ask how many have a Kindle Bible. Usually a large number of people have their e-book Bibles. Then, I get out my printed Bible and call out the passage I wish to discuss. Thereafter, I ask those with cell phones how many verses they can access. Most can only access 3-4 verses. At best, some can get 10 verses. The Kindle can get a few more. In my Bible, I can get about 80 verses on two opened pages. Who can read the context more? I can!

Some may say that most people have excellent memory and can recall the context. In every single instance I conducted this experiment, I’ve yet to have one single person recall the context before the verses clearly for me without flipping back to it. Believe me, people have very bad short-term memory.

Some may say that they can flip back in their e-book Bible to see the context. The only problem is when these people flip back in their electronic Bibles, they can’t see what was originally on their screen. They’re limited by their 3, 10 or at most 15 verses right in front of them. What if I’m preaching nonsense and say that the Bible says thus and thus, but no one can check me? You’d better be able to see your 80 verses in front of your opened printed Bible and not rely on your 3-4 verses in your cell phone. Otherwise, we’re pretty much up the creek without an oar then, aren’t we? Many who favor electronic hegemony in fact are up the creek without an oar. That’s because the medium DOES MATTER. The medium impacts reception/interpretation. Anyone who says otherwise is probably equally incapable of reading well in context.

Certain books need context more than others. This is my experience. For example, if I’m reading Barth’s Dogmatics in print, I can better appreciate the context on which he made a certain claim. If I’m reading a monograph (e.g., in biblical studies) in humanities that depends largely on subtle argumentation, context is everything. In my teaching experience, I can almost always tell which students are used to reading out of context. These are the same students who quote what a commentator says about another commentator but attribute the opinion to the wrong commentator. These are the same students who use e-books and even e-commentaries. I have graded papers to prove that. So, the e-book argument isn’t all that simplistic at all. Since most of my Chinese work is in the monograph variety, I would resist any overture to turn them into e-books. Even if I lose some sales, it’s better than being misread and misquoted. I almost regret allowing certain Chinese publishers to do my stuff in electronic format. In fact, it didn’t only fail to increase sales. It killed sales and the entire series. While I plan on republishing and updating the series, I won’t ever allow it to be in electronic form again.Critical reading needs a printed medium.

Other books may be more conducive to electronic reading, as I said earlier. I have dictionaries in my computer I read for data. At the same time, I would assert that this kind of reading is the lowest form of reading that most people with advanced education beyond secondary education (high school) should get away from. E-books may have their place, but their place isn’t as big as the technology worshippers claim. IF e-books take the primary place, I foresee more non-contextual reading that import one’s theological agenda (aka “theological reading”) into the text rather than letting the text speak. At that point, if the said text is the Bible, that leads us back to raping the text for our cannon fodder.

The problem doesn’t only deal with printed books. It has to do with a lack of understanding of how communication works. It also has to do with a blind worship of certain popular technological trends without considering many surrounding factors. The lack of understanding and blind worship of trends can extend to other areas in life where we mistake regress for progress.

By the way, I do use a Kindle to read novels when I fly on long-hauls and I have excellent memory, but e-book isn’t the last word on book matter.