Monday, 28 December 2009

Why Would Laypeople Want Theological Education?

The following is an article written by Sally Simmel on "Why would laypeople want theological education, anyway?" published in the Alban Institute's website today.

In this new world, this global village we inhabit, growing ever more complicated and accessible through science and technology, many of us think daily about the meaning and purpose of our lives. We are mindful of the decisions that need to be made to make sense of the world and our place in it. We can all tell stories of significant life experiences and the role we feel God is playing in them. A child is born, a child dies. A job is terminated; a new one is begun. We fall in love; we encounter something in nature that stirs us beyond anything we have known before. A parent dies and the loss lasts a very long time. We feel yearnings in our very soul for something yet unknown. We witness an incredible sunset or experience an amazing piece of art or poetry. We wonder about God's role in the universe and our role with God in the ongoing creation and sustaining of the planet. Even as we live in a post-9/11 world, with wars and natural disasters, worldwide economic changes, and climate and environmental issues, the search for meaning continues and each generation shares the universal concerns for life and common good.

This is the world to which we in continuing theological education introduce the questions of why and how to provide theological education for laity living into the worthy questions of faith for this time.

Laity are those members of the church whom God has called to the church outside the walls of the church. In unison they might say, "We write the laws of our lands and invent new technologies to serve humanity. We know how to clone animals and humans and measure germs on Mars. We rear and educate children. We work in corporations, governments, and health care systems. We build roads and homes. We write and produce movies and TV shows. In those endeavors, we seek to practice our faith. We need the wisdom of faith through deeper theological reflection to help discern the how and why of it all."

They might also say in unison that they are not theologians, while they in fact are doing theology. For the most part, that means they are not trained in theology for preaching, teaching, and Word and Sacrament ministry. That is a particular call. "Doing theology" does not merely mean studying tradition, doctrine, and Scripture so that one knows about those things. Rather, theology balances fact and theory with the lived experience of God each of us has. All experience has meaning and provides insight for the journey. To stay either in the academic mode or the experiential mode would deny the wholeness of each person, God, and the universe.

At a very early age, the people of God begin to speak to God, to recognize there is a God, even without fully understanding: "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord..." Laypeople of all ages and cultures are searching for meaning and purpose. The church risks losing them if the only theological reflection available to them is the church school. A forty-three-year-old from the East Coast sums up some of the longing for meaning in life when she asks, "What is this deep longing I feel in spite of success and happiness? What is God's purpose for me? How do I know when God is speaking to me?"

Even in their mature years, people wonder about meaning and purpose as they remain vital but begin, as one sixty-something puts it, "to deal with end-of-life decisions for parents and in-laws. How, as Christians, do we make choices for ourselves and our loved ones?" Some issues in later life are about new relationships with children and grandchildren, meaningful retirement, or new directions for the vital years yet to come. Other issues are connected to new technologies that are frightening and often not understood by clergy or laity who are not working in the fields of science and technology. How do we bring the science and faith perspectives together in ways that assist Christians in making decisions?

Unlike the more predictable and compact list of theological needs of church professionals, the possibilities for educational programming for laity are awesome. All of life and faith is out there to chew on. That makes developing educational opportunities tricky, but accepting the challenge means multiplying the number of people who are equipped for ministry in the world and in the church. People in church-related occupations may also be grateful for such offerings; many will appreciate a shift in emphasis for their own particular ministries. Continuing educators can enter the lay market in any number of places, slowly at first and then incrementally increasing or reframing offerings, testing, and checking with the audiences. I offer four strategies to help you get started:
  1. Involve laity in solid theological education (along with clergy, in many instances) where presenters and teachers pay special attention to applying their material to real-life situations. That will require a shift in teaching style for some presenters.
  2. Create reflection groups of people in similar occupations. Use a small group approach to provide information, support, accountability, and deep engagement in the issues of work and the marketplace. Often occupational groups are best done ecumenically; it strengthens relationships and better represents the day-to-day workplace connections of most Christians.
  3. Extend the groups mentioned in the first two strategies to include online conversations where possible. The Internet allows people to relate in real time and cyber time from anywhere participants find themselves working. Ethical and moral situations in which people find themselves on any given day can be discussed from a distance with trusted friends. A combination of face-to-face and online time probably appeals to many. The group can decide that for itself. Continuing educators need to be open to this type of format.
  4. Face squarely the challenges that this new group of participants will bring to traditional areas of your curriculum. For example, preaching events are popular for clergy. With laity, think about how pastors preach so that the Word can be heard. How do laity hear the preaching and then reword it for themselves? Who is responsible for the translating? Can laity and clergy do that together? How? Clergy and laity could participate in mealtime, evening, one-day, and weekend events.

There is no end to the corners of life that would benefit from theological reflection and education. In a post-Christian world, our faith should reach every aspect of work and family life, global economics, politics, and religion. Millions of laity are eager for the opportunity to expand their horizons, to think differently, to live differently. Learning happens in all of life and through all of life.

Why would laypeople want theological education, anyway? For life, of course.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Blogging on Christmas Day

Since I returned from Cambridge two weeks ago, life has been on a fast track without any prospect of slowing down till the new year. There are many things to attend to, from ministry to family, from church to personal matters.

In the past years, I would normally take some time off to reflect on Christmas, but this year, I failed to do so until now. Now that I am at home after an early Christmas service, and have some quiet moments for myself, I decided to blog my reflection for this Christmas.

I am reminded of my personal failures and weaknesses these past few days. I guess this brings me to the very meaning of Christmas. Christ took on flesh precisely for the brokenness of the world and the sinfulness of humanity to give us a hope and a future.

Interestingly, Sze Zeng blogs about his "mysterious change in personality" where he now turns his back on his active clubbing life and has become an introvert. I think I am heading down the same road too of becoming an introvert. I noticed that I have begun to retreat a bit more this year. Perhaps this is due to the fact I needed to find space to discover myself, to discover God and to enjoy the presence of God. One of the reasons is that living in a performance driven culture, it is natural to measure the success and effectiveness of our ministry based on the expectations of human. Our worship of God in church is measured against a 'feel-good' experience that the latest worship enhancement aided by modern technology can bring instead of the delight it brings God. Our sermon is measured against how it has ministered to the hearts of the people instead of allowing the truth of God to be communicated. Hence, I find myself retreating, often finding solace in the presence of God after preaching a sermon or teaching a class. The pressure of ministry can be daunting and stressful at times. It is through these moments I know I can be broken before God in my weakness and yet at the same time draw strength from Him.

At the same time, I have begun to enjoy spending time in nurturing spiritual friendships. All the more I am convinced that programmatic discipleship training carried out in many churches has failed to produce true disciples for the Lord. It is through personal touch and many hours of time spent in having teh tarik (or Starbucks for those who can afford it) that a life is touched, transformed and influenced for the Kingdom.

That's Christmas for me this year - Jesus has come to touch the world. Through his minstry on earth, he touched lives - some through his teaching, and many through personal touch. Jesus is never too busy to stop and heal the woman with bleeding problem for 12 years, to have a conversation with a Samaritan woman by the well, and to walk alongside troubled disciples on the road to Emmaus. May we find time to touch someone this Christmas.

Blessed Christmas.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Here's wishing all the readers of my blog Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I've been missing from the blogsphere for sometime. This is partly due to the year end holidays. Ironically, it is supposed to be a holidy season, but we end up being busier than ever - the reunions, the shopping, the eating spree, etc! But it's been a good time catching up with family and friends, near and far!

Review of Biblical Literature December 17, 2009

The following are new reviews added on December 17.

Rami Arav
Bethsaida: A City by the North Shore of the Sea of Galilee, vol. 4
Reviewed by David Fiensy

Gary Burge, Lynn Cohick, and Gene Green
The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within Its Cultural Context
Reviewed by Mark Fairchild

Guy Couturier
«En commençant par Moïse et les prophètes...»: Études Vétérotestamentaires
Reviewed by Philippe Guillaume

J. de Waal Dryden
Theology and Ethics in 1 Peter: Paraenetic Strategies for Christian Character Formation
Reviewed by John H. Elliott

Duane A. Garrett
Amos: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text
Reviewed by John Engle

Luigi Gioia
The Theological Epistemology of Augustine's De Trinitate
Reviewed by Mark Weedman

Daniel M. Gurtner
The Torn Veil: Matthew's Exposition of the Death of Jesus
Reviewed by Felix Cortez

André LaCocque
Esther Regina: A Bakhtinian Reading
Reviewed by Mercedes García Bachmann

Roger L. Omanson
A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger's Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators
Reviewed by Zeba Crook

Carol Poster and Linda C. Mitchell, eds.
Letter-Writing Manuals and Instruction from Antiquity to the Present: Historical and Bibliographic Studies
Reviewed by Jan-Wim Wesselius

Kavin C. Rowe
Early Narrative Christology: The Lord in the Gospel of Luke
Reviewed by Troy Troftgruben

Louis A. Ruprecht Jr.
God Gardened East: A Gardner's Meditation on the Dynamics of Genesis
Reviewed by David Maas

Niketas Siniossoglou
Plato and Theodoret: The Christian Appropriation of Platonic Philosophy and the Hellenic Intellectual Resistance
Reviewed by Jeremy Schott

R. M. M. Tuschling
Angels and Orthodoxy: A Study in Their Development in Syria and Palestine from the Qumran Texts to Ephrem the Syrian
Reviewed by Jan G. van der Watt

Karen J. Wenell
Jesus and Land: Sacred and Social Space in Second Temple Judaism
Reviewed by Cecilia Wassen

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Redcliffe and Allnations Announced Merger

Redcliffe College and allnations, two colleges specilising in mission training based in the UK, recently announced a merger to be completed by summer 2010. The merged entity will become one of the largest mission and cross-cultural training institutions in the world.

For further infomation concerning the announcement, please click here and here.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

5 Weeks: What Have I Achieved at Tyndale House?

My time at Tyndale House, Cambridge, has almost come to an end. I will be flying home tomorrow night. Time flies, and 5 weeks just seem like a few days for me. I have been clocking in almost 10-12 hours of work in the library daily from Mondays to Saturdays, not to mention that I continue to work most of the evenings when I got home [I hope this can assure my colleague that my trip to Cambridge is really work. He keeps on teasing me and insisting that I am having a nice vacation in Cambridge with plenty of 'kiau kah' (literally means 'shaking legs' or 'crossing legs') sessions. Well, to be honest, I don't even have time to 'kiau kah' although I truly wish I could!]

So what have I achieved in these 5 weeks?

First, I have completed a draft of a 8000-word essay that will be published in a compendium of essays on Paul and Identity Formation to be published by T&T Clark next year.

Secondly, I have also made some progress in my writing for my book on Paul's Use of Images in the Corinthian Correspondence. I've made some changes to the introductory chapter and further clarified the methodology. I also did some additional writing on some of the chapters, tidied up some of the arguments, and also updated my reading on issues related to these chapters.

Although my progress falls short of my initial target, I must say I am still pleased with the achievements thus far. It would have been nice if I have a 4-5-month sabbatical soon, then I would be able to complete the first draft of the book. But I have to accept the reality of teaching in Malaysia that sabbatical is a privilege and not a right, so I am not sure where such privilege will be accorded. Nevertheless, I am thankful I have the 5-week period to work on the book - that itself I am grateful.

I will miss Tyndale House and its excellent resources.

Street Preaching: Does this still work?

"Believe in Jesus, then you will be saved. If not, you are going to hell!"

I turned around and saw this gentleman, standing at the corner of the market square in Cambridge, shouting at the top of his voice and holding what looks like a Bible in his hands.

I wonder whether such preaching still works in this present time and age. Would this encourage people to embrace the gospel or would this simply put people off?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A Little Walk Around Cambridge

Sometime last week, we had a very lovely and sunny day in Cambridge. So I decided to take some time off work and took a stroll around the city with a friend. Here are some photos taken around some of the colleges with my Sony Ericsson K530i mobile.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Can A Bibliophile Resist This?

I have told myself that I should resist buying books for this trip of mine to Cambridge. But when a bibliophile sees this, can he resist temptation?

Friday, 4 December 2009

1 More Week to Go

I have not been too active in the blogsphere lately. It's not that I do not have anything to blog. My time has been largely consumed in trying to get as much work done as possible before the end of my stay at Tyndale House.

Time flies - and by next week this time, I will be at Heathrow airport waiting for my flight home. I look forward to being home, but at the same time, I will miss all the resouces here at Tyndale. It's kind of a paradox.

It's back to work for now.

Review of Biblical Literature December 1, 2009

The following new reviews have been added to the Review of Biblical Literature :

Stephanie Dalley
Esther's Revenge at Susa: From Sennacherib to Ahasuerus
Reviewed by Aaron Koller

Susan R. Garrett
No Ordinary Angel: Celestial Spirits and Christian Claims about Jesus
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Beverly Roberts Gaventa
Our Mother Saint Paul
Reviewed by Pamela Eisenbaum

James M. Howard
Paul, the Community, and Progressive Sanctification: An Exploration into Community-Based Transformation within Pauline Theology
Reviewed by Ron Clark

Jeremy F. Hultin
The Ethics of Obscene Speech in Early Christianity and Its Environment
Reviewed by Stephan Witetschek

Christine E. Joynes, ed.
Perspectives on the Passion: Encountering the Bible through the Arts
Reviewed by Christopher Rowland

André LaCocque
Onslaught against Innocence: Cain, Abel, and the Yahwist
Reviewed by Mark McEntire

Bernard M. Levinson
Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel
Reviewed by Karla Suomala

Thomas E. Levy, P. M. Michele Daviau, Randall W. Younker, and May Shaer, eds.
Crossing Jordan: North American Contributions to the Archaeology of Jordan
Reviewed by Aren Maeir

Steve Mason
Josephus, Judea, and Christian Origins: Methods and Categories
Reviewed by Sean Freyne

Tim Newton
The Forgotten Gospels: Life and Teachings of Jesus Supplementary to the New Testament: A New Translation
Reviewed by Thomas Bergholz

Maria-Zoe Petropoulou
Animal Sacrifice in Ancient Greek Religion, Judaism, and Christianity, 100 BC to AD 200
Reviewed by Adele Reinhartz

John F. A. Sawyer
A Concise Dictionary of the Bible and Its Reception
Reviewed by C. L. Seow

Stephen Sizer
Zion's Christian Soldiers
? The Bible, Israel and the Church
Reviewed by Faydra Shapiro

Gerhard H. Visscher
Romans 4 and the New Perspective on Paul: Faith Embraces the Promise
Reviewed by Don Garlington

Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm
Preaching the Gospel of Mark: Proclaiming the Power of God
Reviewed by Antipas L. Harris