“I’m right, you’re wrong” – there’s no need for understanding?

Video for my mission ethics class next week. If you know Peter Boghossian you know this is fun. We all live in our own ethical habitat and don’t normally welcome the idea of “understanding others” because the idea of good life (ethics) has been fed to us by the same people who are living within the same “bubble” with us. That’s fine because that’s what we call culture – a system of coping with the world with its own narrative, worldview, rituals, and beliefs. Some of us decide which “bubble” (ethical habitat, defined by the culture) we want to live in and that’s fine too. But what if you live in a pluralistic society with many different cultures? Democracy alone cannot solve this because that will only mean a lot of people who are unwilling to understand each other trying to defeat others who disagree with them. Now, imagine doing Christian missions in this environment. That’s why you need a class on mission ethics!



Personhood and Ethics

We were discussing ethical habitats and the understanding of a fixed moral order in the minds of a host of Western moral philosophers in class yesterday. And I saw this today.

Wolfe’s points fit nicely with the understanding of virtue ethics, especially narrative ethics, one which Stanley Hauerwas champions. They are also relevant and helpful in our pursuit of finding practical insights in:

1. our personhood in relation with the Trinity and mission (see Roos Hastings’ Theological Ethics). This is profoundly crucial to our understanding of being humans, which Hastings argues, as “persons-in-relation,” in against atomic individuals. Wolfe recognizes this in “role-playing.”

2. our identity in our own sociopolitical relations – e.g. what roles are we playing in the story of God’s mission in a certain political dilemma?

Following Heidegger, this is indeed an attack to the classic Western metaphysics and a much needed reorientation towards a theological and fuller understanding of personhood.

A New Postgraduate Module on Ethics in Missions

This is happening in two weeks’ time. My journey to ethics in mission begins with mission studies, which lead me to political theology, and finally to ethics. This is where the wisdom of practical theology lies. Depending on the level and the preparedness of the students, we may be able to spend some time discussing the long lost interest in virtue ethics and the ethical deficiencies in the liberal West – which missionaries have uncritically brought to the majority world!

What’s the Purpose of the Law if we can’t actually keep it? On Missional Ethics and Deuteronomy

I am reading a book on mission ethics in the Bible. It strikes me that there is actually a very clear and strong logic for mission ethics in Deuteronomy. Here’s the bottom line:

  1. We can’t save ourselves.
  2. God saves us.
  3. God wants us to observe the Law given by Him.
  4. The Law doesn’t/can’t save us.
  5. The Law is for us to live a new and good life, which is defined as a life relying on God (hence we need to remember God, and live according to His commandments).
  6. Our new life witnesses to God’s power to save and transform.
  7. The way we live the new life (ethics) demonstrate God and God’s realm.
  8. Since we testify for God, our new life is missional.

All of the above can be easily derived from Deuteronomy. For those who are familiar with the book, you can even see the relevant chapters and contents as you browse through the list.

And there will be the question of “violence” in the mix of this. That will be for another post.

Of course the New Testament gives us more clue on how all these work out in the grand narrative of God’s salvation plan, but how often do you notice logic of mission ethics in Deuteronomy?

Talk: What is Incarnational Mission?

The registration link is: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUof-qhrz0jH9C5F0HdzgzH6VNW3x8ODygs

This talk considers the arguments for and against the missiological concept of Incarnational Mission. It presents a case for the concept to be applied within a framework of Christocentric Missio Dei.

This is a talk which follows the talk I gave for the book launch. The following will be discussed:

1. Incarnation, “the Incarnation,” and “Incarnational Mission”

2. The Motives and Logic of Incarnation

3. Incarnation as a Model for Mission

4. Countering Criticisms of Incarnational Mission

5. Incarnational Mission and the Church

Concerning Incarnational Mission and Social Engagement:

Most Christians believe they should do social engagement – in the form of social action or social services, including welfare and charity. Even the fundamentalist “Evangelicals” who suffer from the phobia of the “social gospel” would do social engagement. But most of them do it with wrong theology, or worse, without theology.

Let’s assume social engagement is the right thing to do. Do Christians do it with the right motive? What is their theological basis?

  1. Some do it to protect human rights
  2. Some do it to prepare for evangelism
  3. Some do it because it is good work
  4. Some do it to transform the society
  5. Some do it to evangelize

They all fall short of proper theologizing or even utterly wrong! Find out why in my upcoming talk. I will explain why incarnational mission could form the basis of Christian social engagement.

Disappointed with leaders? Followers have themselves to blame too!

We have seen people criticizing and venting their anger at leaders who fail them. They have all the rights to do so. But aren’t these leaders put in the position by this very same group of people?

Some would say, “I’ve never voted for that political leader.” Well, if you live in a democracy, you should know how it works. People are expected to recognize the leaders and the party that win the election. Not happy? Do your part and try to beat them in the next election.

The problem is, the amount of complaints is always proportionately much much more than the effort people put in to develop a healthy civil society that is capable of fighting for courses that actually benefiting the local communities. Instead of complaining, it is better to engage in actual community welfare than in debates and polemics. If the party that you supported failed to win the election, instead of attacking everything that the current government is doing (often uncritically), help the party you support improve their performance in their actual service for your local community. Then your party will stand a chance to win the next election and you will get rid of the leaders you don’t like!

But then, what often happens is the fact that the leaders we support have also turned out to be disappointing, and we feel disgruntled. And the same applies to churches and church leaders. How should Christians respond to such disappointment?

As I’ve stated in the beginning, the disappointment we feel comes from ourselves. We put our leaders in a position which they should never have occupied. We long for great leaders and we have created an image of leadership and imposed it on our leaders. Along with that false expectation is the honor which we bestow upon them. Some of us might notice that this is actually an act of idol worship. Idols don’t exist by themselves. We enact them, design them, decorate them, honor them, and worship them. The kind of leadership crisis we see and experience today is none other than a crisis of people making leaders idols, and leaders thinking that they deserve such treatment.

Idols don’t exist by themselves. We enact them, design them, decorate them, honor them, and worship them. The kind of leadership crisis we see and experience today is none other than a crisis of people making leaders idols, and leaders thinking that they deserve such treatment.

I have seen Christians idolizing other Christians. We need leaders. We should all learn from great thinkers, preachers, and teachers; and admire great Christian women and men. But we should be careful not to expect them to be different from us. They are mere mortal beings who are deemed to fail and susceptible to temptations. So we should always love them by setting boundaries for them. God uses broken people. The problem is not so much that our leaders have fallen into sin, but our expectations that they will not. When we do so, we are committing idolatry, because we are creating a false image and render to it what it never deserves.

Leaders at fault are to be punished. They should always be accountable. So are the followers. Are we, the followers doing our best to create a healthy community or civil society which would hold the leaders accountable? Or are we just stop at venting our anger? If we are disappointed, we need to check our expectations – have we stepped into the domain of idolatry by setting up our leaders to be what they are not?

War in Ukraine – An Example of Practical Theology!

Just as I concluded a talk on practical theology, I came across an example of how practical theology is at work through a sharing by an Old Testament expert, Dr. Anthony Loke.

His sharing is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9FlBHmCb8A

To give a Christian response to war, his approach is similar to what I shared in my recent talk. First he sets out the context – in reading the Bible, we come across violence and war so we wonder how we should make sense of those texts? He then leads his listeners through the biblical teaching about war, and presents the different perspectives expressed in the Old and New Testament. After that, an account of various theological thoughts on war by Christians throughout the ages is presented. Finally, he highlights the various difficulties we would face if we try to apply some of these biblical and theological ideas in today’s situation, since we are living in a very different world today. So there you go – a very good example of doing practical theology by a biblical scholar, who studies history, theology, tradition, and the context. I find his sharing helpful. He leaves me with a clear framework which allows me to further my theologizing. To me, his practical theology is very “useful!”

By the way, one of the themes which keeps recurring – though not explicitly in Dr. Loke’s sharing – is the pivotal role of ethics in our theological deliberations. Ethics forms a part of my model for practical theology. One participant who stayed back after the talk actually raised an issue which needs to be resolved through a practical theology which has a clear ethical position. I explained that often, when we face an ethical decision, it is more than just deciding what is right or wrong. The technical terms that describe the situation are “utilitarian or deontological.” Namely, we need to have some ideas which type of ethical system we are applying and whether they are justifiable in that particular situation.

So if you were in my recent talk, do check out Dr. Loke’s sharing to see another case study.

Thanks for joining!

The talk on the case of Practical Theology took place last Friday, with 100 registered (limit) and 82 participants turned up. The talk begins at 8:05pm and ended at 9:05pm. After a brief Question and Answer session, a few of the participants stayed back for further interactions for another 10-15 minutes.

I may consider repeating this talk for the second time if there is still interest or demand. That will give me a chance to improve the talk or even use another case to illustrate how theology should be done to respond to an actual, concrete situation. Maybe some of the participants from the first meeting can join me in the talk? The second round will also cater for those who registered but for some reasons missed the first round.

I find speaking in layperson language challenging. I may have also made unwise assumptions about what the audience may or may not know. I will let the participants tell me more about that. An email will be sent out to all participants to ask for their feedbacks.

The next scheduled talk will be quite different. I will be explaining incarnational mission. The target audience this time will be those who have at least completed a first degree in theology. But all are welcome. I will post more details about that talk in the coming days.

Upcoming Talks

As promised, there will be follow-up talks after the launch.
The first talk will be held on Friday, 22 April, 2022 at 8pm via Zoom.
The title of the talk is “What is Incarnational Mission?”

I will attempt to define Incarnational Mission and give an account on its relevance for the church today.
You may find the poster and further information regarding the talk below.
The registration link is: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUof-qhrz0jH9C5F0HdzgzH6VNW3x8ODygs

Registration is free but if you wish to send an offering or gift to the Anglican Training Institute, please consider a RM50 (or more) donation to its Scholarship Fund. The fund helps students who face financial difficulties to pay for their theological studies. You may contact Lydia (+60) 0146790703 to find out more about the Scholarship Fund.
Bank transfer:
Anglican Training Institute
RHB 21010300016353
If applicable, please make a remark on the transfer note with “Talk2.”
Tel: (+60) 088- 211225 or Lydia (+60) 0146790703 | Juliana (+60) 0143556049

Tel: (+60)088- 211225 or Lydia (+60)0146790703 | Juliana (+60)0143556049

What is Incarnational Mission? What isn’t?
Is the Incarnation a suitable model for mission?
Can mission be “incarnational?”
What is the relation between Incarnational Mission and the church?
What does it look like in our daily lives?

This talk considers the arguments for and against the missiological concept of Incarnational Mission. It presents a case for the concept to be applied within a framework of Christocentric Missio Dei.

This is a talk which follows the talk I gave for the book launch. The following will be discussed:

1. Incarnation, “the Incarnation,” and “Incarnational Mission”

2. The Motives and Logic of Incarnation

3. Incarnation as a Model for Mission

4. Countering Criticisms of Incarnational Mission

5. Incarnational Mission and the Church

Writing about the Anglican Church

Writing about the Anglican Church, especially the Anglican Communion, is a tough job. Recently I took the challenge of reviewing a book on Anglicanism. It turned out to be a response paper and one which is yet to complete.

The amount of reading and further research resulting from the attempted review above was much more than I expected. With another paper approaching deadline, I will have to put this “Anglican” project on hold.

Review on “Makeshifting the LMS: Strategies and Tactics in the Digital Classroom” by Eric C. Smith

This is a review I wrote to complete an online course:

Smith uses Michel de Certeau’s theoretical framework to outline the situation of online pedagogy. The Learning Management System (LMS) is depicted as the overarching structure (“strategies,” according to de Certeau). It has caused much uneasiness to theological educators who are transiting from traditional, non-digital classroom teaching. Smith outlines various shortcomings of LMS which affect the quality of teaching. Among them the lack of a sense of engagement, LMS’ potential over mediation, and the teachers feeling controlled by technology. Contrary to the common belief that digital classroom is an equalizer, the experience of LMS users is also determined by their technological, social, and economic background. Smith then proposes examples of “makeshifts” by using what Certeau calls “tactics.” Unlike the overarching structure, tactics are used to maneuver the structure and make it work for the users. In the case of LMS, Smith proposes the tweaks of user interface, method of delivery, use of forum, and the use of a hybrid of compensating tools. For those who are looking for a way to “survive” LMS in their institution, having been asked to use it, Smith’s paper offers the following. First, Smith is sensitive to the psychological state of educators who are struggling with LMS. This paper acknowledges their plights and offers help. Secondly, Smith’s use of Certeau’s framework is helpful, as it gives a clear overall picture of the situation, pitching the LMS on one side, and the educators on the other. They are described as entities within a same system. Educators should use “tactics” to navigates themselves through the waters of the strategies set by the LMS. Finally, Smith helpfully provides some real life examples on how makeshifts are made by educators to “game” the LMS, effectively making LMS work for them.

Smith’s paper can be found here:https://www.ats.edu/…/2019-theological-education-52-2.pdf