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?

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

Don’t follow leaders that have no Vision!

If there’s no vision, “Christian” leaders asking for submission are calling for followers to submit to them instead of God.

Christian leaders are often frustrated when followers don’t follow them. They shouldn’t be. Technically and ultimately, all Christians are Jesus Christ’s followers.

Christian leaders should be concerned when those entrusted to them are not following God.

Christian leaders’ responsibility is to lead followers to the vision that God has given to them. When such vision is not conveyed, leaders calling for submission is in the danger of giving the impression that they are calling for followers to submit to them. When there’s no vision to refer to, all the followers see would be the persons who are calling for attention and submission!

As leader, I need to constantly remind myself about this.

Coronavirus and the Liberal Society

The protest against lockdowns amid the threats of Coronavirus (Covid-19) is due to the perceived infringement of human rights and economical plight. Both of the above are main concerns only in a liberal society, where members of society are defined by individualistic being having unquestionable human rights and freedom to seek their interests.

In countries which residents do not confine their identities to ideologies (capitalism or socialism), similar plights are experienced, but economic problem is often the responsibility of the state; and the welfare of the society takes precedence over human rights. Confucianist societies in East Asia are good examples of states taking charge of the people’s interests, with citizens obediently submit to the leadership of the state. There is no guarantee of success, but there is certainly a higher level of coordination in the fight against a pandemic. People in these countries are not demanding their human rights to be honored. Their welfare systems and financial institutions, which are often backed by the state, are free to dispense financial aids to the people. In a typical liberal society like the USA, where free-market capitalism is held as the only “truth,” the state is crippled by the ideological bondage of capitalism that antagonizes any government initiative that show a hint of socialism. Any help from the state is alleged to be a move towards “big government,” and quickly shunned by the believers of the free-market. (The Obama years come to mind) Politicians are understandably cautious. So people are left to look after themselves financially. People whose means of income are affected in the current Coronavirus lockdown will have limited help from the state. When food is running out, protesting the lockdown is a viable choice.

East Asia countries have no such ideological bondage. People in these countries seldom see themselves as autonomous individual with self-defined freedom. Their cultures uphold the good of the community, over the interest or freedom of individual. After all, in a pandemic, we realize, our private well-being are under threat unless everyone is well. From the ethical point of view, the lack of “telos” in liberalism is exposed in this pandemic. Self-centered individualism has become a threat to the whole society and its sociopolitical and economic systems, because it knows no “good” except one which is individualistic.

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.

Consumerist Church vs Missional Church

Missional vs Consumer

Some time ago I shared an infograph on my instagram (I shared it from somewhere. I lost track of the source. Please let me know if you own the image) 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 consumerist culture birthed by modern free-market capitalism? I think it will find its way to the consumers, and then change them to disciples.

Of course there are others who may think that consumerism is outright incompatible with the gospel. Again, if we understand it as a kind of culture, we should already know that no culture in this world is fully compatible with the gospel. That’s why some missionaries of today are engaging the “consumers” like the missionaries in the past, engaging them with their culture.

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

Finney’s Revivalism

I am working on McLoughlin’s ‘Modern Revivalism – Charles G. Finney to Billy Graham’. As I am writing an essay on Charles G. Finney, referring to this book is inevitable. It is interesting to see some different views from McLoughlin in this book, compared to Iain H. Murray’s excellent work – Revival and Revivalism. McLoughlin’s account of Finney is much more positive compared to Murray’s. He stressed the role historical context played in shaping Finney’s revivalism, while Murray tends to focus more on the split among the Presbyterians as a consequence of Finney’s influence. The best book for reading pleasure is Stuart Piggin’s ‘Firestorm of the Lord’ which deals more directly with the issue of revival and revivalism. The definition of revival and the difference between revival and revivalism are discussed in all three books, with Murray’s being a history account, while Mcloughlin looks at the larger American context of its revivalism, and Piggin includes more pastoral concerns.

Revival and Revivalism: Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858