Monday, April 30, 2007

from around the world- other voices

From Sherman YL Kuek, OSL
Sherman is an itinerant minister and an Adjunct Lecturer in Christian Theology at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia (STM). He spends much of his time journeying with his friends in reflecting on faith, life, and culture in a profoundly theological and yet simple way. Sherman blogs on

In speaking of contextualisation, there are (rather simplistically) two trends of thought:

1) The gospel consists of a "static universal core", a series of articulations which is time insensitive and perennially unchanging. The contextualisation project is simply about enfleshing this core with a cultural facade for the facilitation of communication and understanding. The core, essentially, does not change.

2) The gospel consists of a "dynamic universal core", a series of articulations which is time sensitive and perennially changing with the development of our theological understanding. The contextualisation project, whilst being about the cultural expression of this "dynamic universal core", is also about allowing the enfleshment process to provoke us to re-examine the legitimacy and relevance of the universal core. This means that the universal core, by its sheer dynamic nature, is vulnerable to being modified, changed, eradicated, retained, or reaffirmed in accordance with that deemed necessary.

I suspect that the "emerging" people are those who are more ready to embrace the second of the two approaches, and not anyone is willing to sit well with this methodological vulnerability.

But anyone who is seriously going to engage his/her context authentically would almost immediately see that the second of the two is probably the only way by which one can be authentically contextual in his/her theological methodology.

This section dwells on some further sustained thoughts pertaining to the "dynamic universal core". If we posit that the dynamic universal core is "time sensitive and perennially changing with the development of our theological understanding", what reasonable sources possess legitimate ascendancy over the dynamism of the core?

It is open knowledge that the emerging people are serious about engaging with the dominant culture confronting the Christian gospel (in the West the postmodern culture, and in Asia perhaps the postcolonial ethos). First and foremost, this engagement is about the vulnerability of allowing the dominant culture to challenge the Christian gospel with serious questions regarding the adequacy, accuracy, and even the absolute rightness of the latter.

But it is probably a misunderstanding beyond proportions that these people engaging with culture are actually permitting the culture to redefine the core. It is most likely that culture raises questions which shed doubt on the perennial universality of the core, but not necessarily that culture redefines the core.

In my observation, it seems to me that whilst culture is permitted the role of the "interrogator", the contextual thinkers are going back into the Great Christian Tradition to seek solutions for these problems raised by culture. They do not claim that culture itself provides the answers. They seem to have an implicit understanding that the Great Christian Tradition itself possesses more than a sufficient wealth of wisdom to provide plausible solutions for challenges posed by culture. The Great Christian Tradition causes one to expand and deepen the core such that one realises that his definition and demarcation of the core may have been overly limited and unnecessarily fossilised.

Thus, it is not uncommon for contextual thinkers to move beyond the boundaries of their own limited traditions (i.e. their denominational / traditional boundaries and familiar scope of theological positions) towards other even older traditions in search of responses to the problems posed by culture. This explains the openness of the emerging people towards the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions and their willingness to listen to other ecclesial voices beyond that with which they are familiar. Again, this is not something deemed acceptable to every Christian thinker of every tradition. Some traditions are, by their sheer nature, implicitly closed to conversations which challenge the rudiments of their all-familiar categories.

The Christian faith is more than 500 years old. In fact, the memory of the Christian Church goes back beyond 2,000 years. The contextual thinker holds on to this wealth of ecclesial life and therefore understands that there is no need for theological insecurity, for he has a long, long history - a Great Story of which he is a part - consisting of multiple voices of wisdom who have come before him and who would be able to infuse wisdom and impart solutions in his endeavour to be a relevant voice within the present scheme of life. This is the reservoir of ecclesial jurors for the contextual thinker which many others fail to observe or choose to ignore all together.

For him, the challenges posed by cultural confrontations do not cause him to pander into a state of intimidation and self-preserving defensiveness, for he looks beyond himself and his restrained traditional familiarity; and behold, a world of endless possibilities is open before him as he gleans from the voices of his many Fathers who once treaded the path on which he now finds himself. Someone aptly comments (and the contextual thinker certainly mirrors it well): "It's not about the old ways, it's about the much older ways".

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Maybe it doesn't matter

Maybe the check list of do's and don't doesn't matter like we've been taught. Maybe God isn't shaking his head in disapproval when we miss ' quiet time". Maybe someone sitting in a wheel chair, helpless means as much to God as Billy Graham, or some other Christian big name. Maybe we trying for all the wrong things.

Trying isn't what it's all about, but we keep doing it. Can Christians emerge beyond the feeble religion they've created to satisfy themselves?

Thursday, April 19, 2007


I heard a guy at seminary conclude that emerging church was great for bringing younger people into the church, but they have some doctrine and things wrong. It was as if he thought some concrete idea was agreed upon. Most people are only contributing to a conversation. They are takinga crack at things in their own way. It's all a work in progress, and each experience varies from case to case. But that's not the perception.

How do you convince people a "movement" is a movement unlike any movement they have ever seen, with different rules and looks?

Friday, April 13, 2007


edited from Spiritual ethoughts Monthly installment

Sometimes I wonder if non-believers think that Christianity is “no fun”, or in most ways unappealing, because instead of living the abundant life Jesus brought from heaven to earth, Christians have become Prisoners of War in our battle of Good and Evil. Do Christians seem a bit dull? Do they seem sort of nasty? Do they seem like whiners? Do they pick on each other? Do they, and do you, down deep in your heart secretly wish for more? We’ve sort of been captured.

It’s not that we’ve become prisoners because our enemy is more powerful, but we’ve willing walking into a prison camp of sorts. Or more likely, we’ve subtly slipped into a cell of lethargy. For some, this happens in the same way a coal chills as it is separated the warmth of live briquettes. It boils down to authentic accountability. The masks stay on, and so no one knows the real struggles. Sometimes we are simply prisoners in a chamber where the doors are already wide open. We merely stay where we are most comfortable.

Regardless of the manner in which it happens, from time to time, the abundant life is not the life we live. Troubles crowd in, doubt sways us, business steals us away, illness plagues us, sin besets us, people hurt us, or in some other ways we lose focus. Some way we miss that our source of life abundant is the only sate for our thirst. Jesus, our Living Water, is the Fountain we must ingest frequently, daily. We don’t do it to satisfy a checklist, but to quench ourselves. To live.

It’s no wonder so many Christians are Missing in Action, or Prisoners of War. We strive so hard to keep a grip on all the moving parts of our lives, and the whole time, we slip into the dehydrated, mundane, un-abundant, and too-thirsty-too-soon-life without the best water.

I know this is the bigger war at stake. It is the more common one. The one between Good and Evil is fought in the skirmishes on the battlefields of Self firstly, and most frequently. These often-overlooked tussles lead to the bigger theaters of combat, which are the powerful choices, the ones that can bring true destruction or restoration in one's life. Victory in the small continual contests are really the only way we can avoid having to fight and lose the worst wars. We were never meant to be prisoners. Jesus came to set us free. We can be free indeed.