Efficiency and Spirituality in the Church


Is inefficiency a spiritual problem? Or contrarily, is efficiency a sign of hastiness and impatience, hence a kind of spiritual deficiency?

The answer to the questions above depends on which culture you are coming from. We operate according to our respective culture or worldview.

Those who are raised in a modernist culture where efficiency is highly valued often think that ministry in church must be as efficient or even more efficient that works done “in the world.” Some experience God through their serving in church or when they “feel” that the church is progressing with a good momentum. Others are simply used to the way things are in the modern world. They like it fast and efficient. When these are not found in the church they become disgruntled.

The “modern” church has many other problems. John Drane famously outlined them in his book, “The McDonaldization of the Church.”

Very few of us are trained to think from another cultural perspective. Thus, we tend to judge according to our cultural preferences. To prefer efficiency is a cultural preference. Not all culture follows the modernist definition of good life – with efficiency being a part of it for the purpose of production. This is the residue of industrial revolution and modernity.

We should not judge the seemingly inefficiency of the church based on our modernist cultural preferences and habits. The concept of efficiency is relative and not absolute. In some settings, being efficient is not valued, while in another, highly regarded.

So, what is the value of efficiency? Should the church be efficient?

Efficiency concerns achieving a goal within a given time.

Any goal is bound by the factor of time. No goal can be achieved apart from having it set within a time frame. To read the bible is a goal. To read it one chapter a month is a goal set according to a time frame. According to the set goal, one chapter a year is inefficiency. Discarding efficiency is as good as discarding having any goal.

Some will argue that we should just let things “flow” and by prayers, they will “fall into places.” I think that’s fine as long as everyone in the group is agreeable and comfortable. In the church setting, the modernists will move on to other more modernist churches. In normal circumstances, in the context of Malaysian churches, this will be the middle-upper class. But there is a more serious problem.

Inefficiency may seem harmless. Yet it is often a kind of irresponsibility. A parent that fails to feed a child on time is inefficient. If this prolongs, the child’s life will be endangered. The character of the parent is now highly questionable.

There is a thin line between training the child to have patience and abusing him/her.

We must not based our spirituality on efficiency. Yet, we must be efficient. Our efficiency is not to be based on our uncritical, habitual cultural preferences. It is based on our identity as children of God aiming to be more Christ-like, with dependency on God, and grace to accept any inadequacy. So there should be gracious acceptance that things may not be as efficient as we have expected; yet, not to be discouraged as we continue to set goals and aim to achieve them efficiently. Leaders (or servants) are efficient because their goals are set for those they serve. Their efficiency is to provide timely help to those they lead.

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Consumerist Church vs Missional Church


Some time ago I shared an infograph on my instagram and received some positive responses. I feel that I might as well outline my other concerns with the church today. Yes we are in a consumerist culture and this needs to be accepted. No amount of attacks towards consumerism is going to yield more disciples. Worse, most of our approaches of merely condemning the present cultures only distance the church from the ‘normal’ people around us.

Accepting the reality of consumerist culture helps us to realistically assess the situation and prayerfully seek God’s way of engaging with the people in such context.

The Jews in the early church were not aware of the nature of the gospel which can travel from one culture to another and change those cultures in the process. The New Testament clearly shows how Paul, Peter and the early church eventually came to realization that the gospel was for the gentiles as well. Surely the trans-cultural nature of the gospel will take its effect in our age. The gospel has been accepted by the Greeco-Roman world and changes them, and the same happened to the European cultures. In today’s postmodern, highly consumeristic context, the gospel will surely challenge and change the culture – after it has entered it.

So before we criticize those who believe they are entrusted to engage the consumers of today, let’s pause and remember that once, the Jews were also wondering if the gospel should remain entirely Jewish. Today, we who grew up in a different socioeconomic context, must not be too quick to judge. Shall the gospel be domesticated by the agrarian culture and be excluded from the consumecons culture birthed by modern free-market capitalism? I think it will find its way to the consumers, and then change them to disciples.

The gospel doesn’t change, and it doesn’t need us to overprotect it.

Theology in the 21st Century


There is a postmodern theology. Although the term ‘postmodern’ might be overused, it still mean something. Modernity has passed. Not all elements of modernism has left us, just as not all of Medieval left Enlightenment Europe, or tribal/traditional culture left the developed Asian countries of today. Yet, postmodernity has arrived. Whenever the overarching, over-confident meta-narrative of the Enlightenment project is in doubt, modernism fades and postmodernity arises. It is in politics, society and arts. There is a certain ‘postmodern’ culture which defines its own meanings and symbols. The very reactions towards the failed Enlightenment confidence, coupled with a world dominated by free-market capitalism, allows an ultra utilitarianistic and narcissistic culture to emerge. This culture only sees individuals. Blinded to the need to submit to governments and authorities, partly due to market forces and self-interest, this generation of postmoderns are also pragmatic – ”meaning’ means very little to them apart from what meant to be of their own interest. There is no need for a universal truth or value.

How does this affect theology in the 21st century? It is certain that systematic theology will suffer (it has) as it is suited more for a modernist mindset than a postmodern one. Yet the more crucial question is how can we theologise if the modern category is faulty? This is not new. The discovery of various cultures worldwide and the missionary encounter with them have confirmed that the Western categories or methods of theologising is limited. Western Christianity, it was discovered, was modernist, especially when compared to the various contextual theologies in the Third World.

Mission theology, informed by the Liberation Theology and other contextual theologies, should take prominent role in theologising in the 21st century. If the modern project was Western, postmoderns represent a multitude of cultures and peoples. If theology was at a time (from Enlightenment to the 20th century), a Western and systematic exercise, today it shall be a ‘postmodern’ exercise for Global Christianity. Thus, mission theologians equipped with the skills of contextualisation and training in classical theology, history, biblical studies and practical ministries, must set the pace for this age. To the postmodern, a proper exegesis of a biblical text means very little unless it means something to him or her. An all encompassing, structural, and theoretical, and authoritative tone suited to the big meta-narrative claim has given way to the cry for meaning of the particulars and individuals. It will take a missionary of the 21st century whom can decipher cultures to communicate with them. Just as the residues of modernity still linger around, and their values not to be undermined, a postmodern way of doing theology does not deny the classical and modern ways of doing theology. Yet it takes the bull by its horns by asking relevant questions about this age, while reinventing and evolving itself to be relevant to the present era.

p.s. There is no denial of a core – or a constant in context of Christianity. Just how this core can be discovered and discerned is a continuous debate. Suggested readings:

Mission Responses to Postmodernism by John Corrie

MISSION AND CONTEXTUALIZATION by John Corrie

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Inculturation Explained (con’t)


I have posted some pieces about inculturation earlier and the posts have been receiving on average 3 views per day ever since.  I am currently writing a paper on ‘redefining inculturation’, attempting to propose a more comprehensive definition for inculturation. My previous posts were mainly a combination of thoughts and theology from the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches. They were basically not critical work and has very little academic value.

In my present research, I have managed to review a whole range of definitions of inculturation and the ways in which those definitions have come into being. All that I would like to say here is this: inculturation is a huge subject.

Currently I am still working on the definition of ‘culture’ – that is after months of studies.

East Meets West: An Infographic Portrait by Yang Liu


East Meets West: An Infographic Portrait by Yang Liu

West meets East – Life of elderly.

Click to find a series of infographics designed by Yang LIU, a Chinese living in Germany. Question to ponder: If these are cultural outlook what would be the underlying worldview, beliefs and values which cause these?

Recommended Writing Tools for Thesis/Dissertation


I have been using Microsoft Word as my standard essay and dissertation writing tool. Recently I came across Scrivener, a writing tool for Mac OS and Windows which also includes many project management functions. It enables me to drag and drop sections of my writings whenever I need to reorganise the structure. It also allows links within the application which connect me to articles or resources which I refer to. The best about Scrivener to me is the way it allows me to focus on a section of a long writing, while enabling me to jump from section to section with ease. With that I am able to focus on a section of my writing without losing sight of the big picture.
Buy Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)

What is the Gospel?


Tom Wirght talks about the gospel.

I have doing some research on inculturation.  One of the main confusions people have – be they Roman Catholics or Protestants – is whether the ‘gospel’ interacts with ‘culture’ or actually the church, the Christian faith or Christ Himself does so.

Of course I have my own conclusion after some massive revamp of my own previous dissertation. Anyway, one of the key issues in the study is the definition of ‘gospel’. So after listening to N.T. Wirght’s short definition of the gospel, do you think that the gospel interacts and dialogues with culture(s)?

 

The Culture of Giving Tips


This is a must read for anyone who seriously wants to learn about culture: Readers’ tipping nightmares and fairytales

Some excerpts:

1. Kenneth McLeod, Xiamen, China: I live and work in China; last year at a trade conference we were invited to a banquet by our Chinese hosts. The waitress was giving top class service and an American tried to give the waitress a tip, which she refused. However he still forced the tip into her pocket; at this juncture the waitresses manager saw the money go into the waitress’ pocket, the manager came across to the waitress and sacked her on the spot. She took the money out of the waitress’ pocket and tried to give it back to the American, who refused to take it back and an altercation started, much to our Chinese hosts’ embarrassment. I had to take him aside and explain to him that he was insulting our hosts and Chinese people in general. He couldn’t understand that it was insulting to tip in China, that the employer paid staff a wage set by the government. All I could get from him was: “Oh we do that in in America all the time.” He seemed mystified that customs in countries other than America are different. The waitress didn’t get her job back, because the manageress would have “lost face” with the rest of her staff, if she admitted that she had made a mistake.

4. Ian H.Thain, Banbury, UK: I found that giving tips to hotel staff in the Philippines was met with embarrassment. But equally, I didn’t want to be seen as tight-fisted when I know how little they earn compared with us, and I felt embarrassed if I didn’t tip. One restaurant in the USA had a large notice by the cash desk: “We pay our staff well. Please do not insult them by leaving tips.” However, beside the till itself was a jar labelled “Insults”.

 

 

Proclamation is necessary!


In my further research into the subject of ‘inculturation’, I have found that ‘proclamation’ plays a key role in the whole process. I have also found the following, which I think is useful for Protestants (especially Evangelicals) in their attempt to re-examine their attitude towards evangelism.

20. The Church in Asia is all the more eager for the task of proclamation knowing that “through the working of the Spirit, there already exists in individuals and peoples an expectation, even if an unconscious one, of knowing the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death”. This insistence on proclamation is prompted not by sectarian impulse nor the spirit of proselytism nor any sense of superiority. The Church evangelizes in obedience to Christ’s command, in the knowledge that every person has the right to hear the Good News of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ. To bear witness to Jesus Christ is the supreme service which the Church can offer to the peoples of Asia, for it responds to their profound longing for the Absolute, and it unveils the truths and values which will ensure their integral human development.

Deeply aware of the complexity of so many different situations in Asia, and “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), the Church proclaims the Good News with loving respect and esteem for her listeners. Proclamation which respects the rights of consciences does not violate freedom, since faith always demands a free response on the part of the individual. Respect, however, does not eliminate the need for the explicit proclamation of the Gospel in its fullness. Especially in the context of the rich array of cultures and religions in Asia it must be pointed out that “neither respect and esteem for these religions nor the complexity of the questions raised are an invitation to the Church to withhold from these non-Christians the proclamation of Jesus Christ”.

Redemptoris Missio

Phan wrote a very good summary of the above, combining also the thoughts of John Paul II from the Ecclesia in Asia:

Proclamation

Among the many activities of the church‘s mission there must no doubt be proclamation. There was a rumor that at the Asian Synod, which met in Rome 19 April-14 May 1998, there was a fear that in Asia “dialogue” had replaced or at least overshadowed “proclamation,” Perhaps for this reason, in his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Asia, the pope reaffirms not only the necessity but also the “primacy” of proclamation: “There can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord. The Second Vatican Council and the magisterium since then, responding to a certain confusion about the true nature of the church’s mission, have repeatedly stressed the primacy of the proclamation of Jesus Christ in all evangelizing work” (EA, no. 19).

What is meant by “proclamation” here? If past missionary practices are any guide, we tend to take it to mean verbal announcement of the good news. written and/or oral, Protestants mostly by means of the Bible. and Catholics mostly by means of the catechism, The emphasis is laid on the verbal communication of a message or a doctrine, and the preferred if not exclusive means are words. The main content of the proclamation is the truth that Jesus is “the only Savior,” “the one mediator between God and mankind” (RM, no. 5).

Though this is admittedly the common meaning of proclamation, it is most interesting that John Paul II, in Ecclesia in Asia, where he reaffirms both the necessity and primacy of proclamation. nowhere emphasizes the exclusive use of words or doctrinal formulas to convey the message that Jesus is the only savior for all humankind. On the contrary, he says that “the presentation of Jesus Christ as the only Savior needs to follow a pedagogy that will introduce people step by step to the full appropriation of the mystery. Clearly, the initial evangelization of non-Christians and the continuing proclamation of Jesus to believers will have to be different in their approach” (EA, no. 20). As examples of these approaches. the pope mentions stories. parables, symbols, personal contact. and inculturation (see EA, nos. 20»22). More important. he also mentions “Christian life as proclamation.” a life marked by “prayer, fasting and various forms of asceticism . . . renunciation, detachment, humility, simplicity and silence” (EA, no. 23). No less important is John Paul lI‘s remark that in Asia “people are more persuaded by holiness of life than by intellectual argument” (EA, no. 42). Furthermore, the pope notes that in many places in Asia where explicit proclamation is forbidden and religious freedom is denied or systematically restricted, “the silent witness of life still remains the only way of proclaiming God‘s kingdom” (EA, no. 23). In sum, the pope recognizes that there is a “legitimate variety of approaches to the proclamation of Jesus, provided that the faith itself is respected in all its integrity” (EA, no. 23).

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I am a product of early Chinese education, Malay high school and British tertiary education. A Malaysian. Read theology, philosophy and a little history. Loves the Bible. Interested in how China would become had Ricci’s effort survived the Rite Controversy, and how today’s churches can learn from this particular relationship between faith and culture. This brings me to another interest – the Emerging Church movement. As a computer science graduate I am also an analyst and a generalist. So I like to relate, consolidate and integrate ideas.

Lin Khee Vun

kheevun@transformingmission.com