Saturday, May 17, 2008

God, The Resting Place For Man

Hi everyone,

Enough laughter. I'm writing this entry in all seriousness. I have spent the past several months constantly engaging the Fundamentalists from Singapore on the blogosphere. To a large extent, it is indeed a lost cause - as my friend Pltypus constantly reminds me. They are too set on their ways. My original blog was called "Uncle Screwtape's Blogs". I used to write very candidly about my life, my struggles, my prayers, my family, my financial concerns, my hobbies, etc. After the invasion of the Fundamentalists, it was converted into "Jeremiah's Blues". Before that, I wrote again and again that I am not like the Fundamentalists. I do not identify with them at all. I found their expositions of Scriptures dull and lifeless, their undue affections for logical analysis a hindrance to the mystery of religion and their dependence upon their select handbooks very limiting. I was confronted by some and interrogated by others. At that time, the strategy was to shock them with weird behaviour and words - and hopefully shock them out of their comfort zone of dry-as-dust non-spirituality and judgmental moralism. That didn't work. In turn, they labelled me an ex-Christian who hates the Bible! I don't mind. My friends (Pltypus and La Tey) and I have never looked upon ourselves as saints anyway. My online handle is "Screwtape", the senior devil from C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters". I'm content with the occasional phase where I get into a mystical mode and write down some worthy religious sentiments. All that amidst a constant struggle to feed my family and to protect my kids from my maniacal parents. Life is tough enough. I don't pretend to know what the Christian religion is or should be. But, instinctively, I believe I'm at least able to tell what it's not:
  1. A Christian should not view things with the values of the world. He/She should not respect a person based on academic qualifications or financial standing. In line with this, a Christian places no value whatsoever upon any B.Sc.(Hons) titles or honoraries. Neither will a Christian boast about the books that he or she have read - or the libraries that he or she have amassed. A Christian boasts only in His Lord and before Whom he or she cast down all his trophies in this world. My friends and I are not envious even in the slightest of the B.Sc.(Hons) titles and honoraries. La Tey holds a degree and both Pltypus and I have a string of qualifications - but none of us will ever proudly display them. The papers were acquired with the sole purpose of getting a job and making a living. The papers do not define us nor do they describe our self-worth! Anyone among us is more than capable of writing intellectual papers of a very high-calibre but even such is just an exercise in vanity should it be done merely for show. We do not care a whit about social respectability and the values attached to "acceptable behaviour". Hence, our words and actions may be shocking to those with tender consciences. We say fuck - a word with no sexual connotations whatsoever. We speak Malay - a language looked down upon by the average Singaporean. We listen to rock music and read comic books. We are uncouth by social standards but we'd prefer that to the respectability of sterile and tame pseudo-moralists. Look around you, my friends, who are the ones responsible for the real evils among us? Those who say fuck? Or those who politely hide behind the nondescript "Edmund uses the f-bomb constantly and is therefore a heretic". C'mon, be real. Read Jeremiah and Ezekiel. These men were as uncouth as you can get. When will you distinguish between socially-defined evils and real evils? Many of these white-faced Fundamentalists have been brought up to believe that a University Degree instantly confers "respectability" upon one - and is a badge for "bearing testimony for the Lord" in studies/achievements. Then one is expected to be a role model in church giving lectures on "Creationism vs. Evolutionism" (to prove one's allegiance to the right beliefs) and to behave oneself by not cussing, not ogling girls, buying theological handbooks, avoiding MTV and Hollywood, etc. We mean to shock. We mean to live authentically. We will never hide behind hypocritical statements like "Be angry but do not sin - but I can at least be angry!" C'mon, we'll cuss like any fishmonger and weep on our knees the next moment - "Lord, please stay away from me. I am a man of unclean lips!" We have no moral high-ground. But we will not go so low as to adopt the narrow values of a corrupt and hypocritical society and call that "morality" or "sanctified goodness". Have you noticed that Bible men behaved as men - not as wafer-minded mama's boys? They sin, they lament their failures, they rant, they curse, they triumphed, they worshipped - and many of them are there in Hebrews Chapter 11. Have you ever wondered why? It's simple. A vital faith is not found in one whose heart is small. Think about that. Did you know that Jeremiah was considered a social misfit? There were seminaries in his time producing prophets like goods on an assembly line! They paraded around with their B.Th. and M.Div. degrees. He called them all liars and blasphemers. He smashed pots and cursed them. He was jailed and fed to the dogs. He was never an example of a socially acceptable fellow. Or Ezekiel who described the disobedience of Judah in very colourful terms about mares lusting for the gigantic dongs of male-horses? Did you know that the social-censors would not allow small children to read the Book of Ezekiel because of those passages? Haha! Even the much-esteemed chief of the prophets, Isaiah confessed that he was a man of unclean lips! When will you ever learn what is true righteousness? When will you learn that the socially acceptable clan murdered the prophets from Abel to Zechariah? Look, we're not proud of our behaviour. If you only knew us and our penitence. But not in public. We pray to our Father who sees in secret and hears us.

  2. A Christian doesn't seek so much to understand everything logically so much as to leave room for mystery in order to seek the Unknown God doxologically. The Fundamentalist version of religion is probably the narrowest, most rational and least spiritual religion that you can ever encounter. Everything goes back to a set of handbooks and methods of logical formulations. God is not the Incomprehensible Majesty that our eyes cannot behold. God is what the handbooks describe Him to be. Hence, this naturally extends itself to the arena of morals and human behaviour. Nothing is mysterious or vague. Everything is clearly defined in the name of "objectivism". We're not smart enough to be so "objective". Suffice it be if people mistake us for unlettered Galileans. Haha!

  3. A Christian should never be elitist. The common thread that I noticed in the Fundamentalists from Singapore is a tendency to point out the errors of others, then to offer a very insincere call to repentance (from a moral high-ground) and/or to issue an anathema! Some even discuss among themselves when it is appropriate to judge someone else or to anathemize someone else. They constantly label everything with the utmost convenience. One is either a "cessationist" or a "continual/continuationist". One is either "traditional/orthodox" or "emergent/liberal". One is either "objectivistic" or "relativistic". One is either "reformed" or "deformed". Everything is black and white. There is no greyness, no vagueness, no work-in-progress (meaning that we allow for the fact that people make mistakes or that the views expressed in such a time may not be representative of one in all times, at all places).

  4. A Christian is not one that is out of touch with the supernatural. The Christian religion is supernatural. It confronts finite men with the weight of eternity. How can we possibly comprehend the eternal via the methodologies of the finite (e.g. selected handbooks)? A Christian is hence someone who naturally views the rational and the logical with suspicion and tend to pay a tad more attention to matters of the heart, the affections, the instinctive. In other words, a Christian is one vitally engaging with the dirt-and-grime of the world and everyday life. A Christian wails in despair at times over his own failures. A Christian battles doubts in his breast. A Christian knows pain and disappointment. The pseudo-life of an armchair theologian is not that of the Redeemed Sons of Grace. The Christian life is supernatural - monergism is the belief in the supernatural beginnings of this life. The Christian life is an ongoing mystery - that a son of belial (like me) is able to praise the God of Glory should be an ongoing surprise, an ongoing occasion for thanksgiving, an ongoing reason for humility.
La Tey said to me several times that in recent years, I've grown too introspective; that my writings are too lightweight, too candid, too personal. I used to write long analytical essays to rival those of the Fundamentalists that I mentioned above. I used to write long studies and research on the authorship and background of Biblical books. I used to do all that during my mis-spent youth when I thought that the approval of churchmen mattered. When I thought that scholarship and an entrance into seminary mattered. When I thought that making a show of thinking big thoughts mattered. Then I realized that a Christian should be able to find inspiration from his surroundings. Then I realized that a Christian should be characterized by an awareness, a celebration of the mystery that surrounds him. A Christian should instead learn the discipline of "Be Still And Know That I Am God". Talk less. Listen more. Over the years, Pltypus have always been the more mystical one among us. La Tey is even more logical than I am (but thankfully talks less and hence, sin less!). I read about the Catholic practice of lectio divina and admired their devotional spirit - especially in light of the dry as dust expositions by Fundamentalists masquerading as "Weekly Meditations" on Scripture. We are the masterpiece of God, created in Christ. The poiema - the poems of God. Shouldn't our life be less a celebration of dry logic and be a little more lyrical, a little more poetic? Learn to laugh a little. Learn to cry a little. Believe me, it won't kill you to be a little more animated, a little more human.

At the same time, I was learning to appreciate the breadth and width of the Christian experience. I was with La Tey in the Methodist Wisdom Book Store last weekend. After that, we visited the Chinese "Xue Lin" Book Store. We were overwhelmed by the Christian books about us. There were so many things that we never learned before. African Christian bible-study methods and hermeneutics (the folks sit around the fire and each of them offer a piece of exposition or thought on the selected text - while someone records them down), the Walter Rauschenbusch social gospel that sees the limitations of extreme-soteriology (it instead expounds on the texts that illustrate how Christ is continuously incarnated and identified with the poor and downtrodden), the global concerns of Hans Kung (used to fear him because he represented ecumenism - in truth, he represents an attempt at an expansive religious experience and broader understanding of other traditions), and many, many other historical offshoots and traditions. Having said that, I'm not advocating all these movements and micro-groups within Christendom. I'm not saying that they're right nor am I saying that they're wrong. I'm saying that there's a possibility that the Fundamentalist experience of religion (that I've been brought up in) may not be the only valid experience/expression - that possibly, just possibly, we need to at least acquaint ourselves with a wider spectrum of folks who call upon the Name of Christ. The Fundamentalist, in recent years, have been described as a ghetto, a mind-prison and that is not without reason. They are so taken up with "contending for the faith once delivered" that sometimes (I'd even say oftentimes) they end up throwing out everything that doesn't conform to what they are familiar with without even a careful or open-minded consideration of other people's experiences/expression. Having said all that, I think I need to qualify my previous statements about Christians reading too many books. Truth is, the average Fundamentalist (even with 1,000+ books in his/her personal library) actually reads TOO FEW books!!!!! My point is this: they read too many books to reaffirm their already set-in-stone beliefs and values. They do not read enough books that describe other traditions. Hence, they comfortably denounce other people who say things that they are not familiar with (e.g. in their evaluation of the Emergent Movement that is, though not without its faults, do have some very vital things to say to the church at large). Furthermore, many of them engage opposing viewpoints not by carefully reading the books of "the enemy" - but by reading caricatures of them in their handbooks. How many of them would take Nietzsche's "Human, All Too Human" or "Ecce Homo" on a long bus ride and properly chew on his words? How many of them would bother reading Kierkegaard's "Purity Of Heart Is To Will One Thing" and realize how Christian this oft-maligned Danish existentialist really is? How many of them would bother identifying with the struggles of Jean-Paul Sartre in his "Nausea" in order to more appropriately understand the human condition? These are just some examples. They usually believe everything that Van Til or Gordon Clark said about these "enemies" - usually within the narrow contexts of objectivity, relativism, epistemology, etc. rather than more fully represent the breadth of their thoughts. When was it that the Christian religion became synonymous with bigotry and narrow-mindedness rather than with the courage of a Daniel, the breadth of learning of a St. Paul, the loving heart of a St. John or the meditative spirit of the Virgin Mary?

Enough from me. My words are, more often than not, the rantings of a mad man. Ignore me. That's okay. I'll end this entry with some quotes from a much beloved Christian writer, Aiden Wilson Tozer. If you won't listen to me, at least pay heed to what he said to the church:

"The movement toward objective truth and away from religious emotion was in reality a retreat from fanaticism. Bible-loving Christians half a century ago were repulsed by certain gross manifestations of religious flesh on the part of some of the very ones who laid claim to the most exalted spiritual experiences, and as a result fled from wildfire to deep freeze. Bible teachers became afraid to admit the validity of the religious symphaties. The text became the test of orthodoxy, and Fundamentalism, the most influential school of evangelical Christianity, went over to textualism. The inner life was neglected in a constant preoccupation with the 'truth', and truth was interpreted to mean doctrinal truth only. No other meaning of the word was allowed. Objectivism had won. The human heart cowered in its cold cellar, ashamed to show its face."
- from "Christ Died For Our Hearts" (The Root Of The Righteous)

"To those who have (unintentionally) degraded their conception of God to the level of their human understanding it may appear frightening to admit there are many things in the Scriptures and more things about the Godhead that transcend the human intellect. But a few minutes on our knees looking into the face of Christ will teach us humility, a virtue whose healing qualities have been known by God's elect from time out of mind. --- The pitiable attempt of churchmen to explain everything for the smiling unbeliever has had an effect exactly opposite to that which was intended. It has reduced worship to the level of the intellect and introduced the rationalistic spirit into the wonders of religion. --- No one should be ashamed to admit that he does not know, and no Christian should fear the effect of such a confession in the realm of things spiritual. Indeed the very power of the cross lies in the fact that it is the wisdom of God and not the wisdom of man. The day we manage to explain everything spiritual will be the day that we have (for ourselves) destroyed everything divine."
- from "Make Room For Mystery" (The Root Of The Righteous)

"Most of us are acquainted with churches that teach the Bible to their children from their tenderest years, give them long instruction in the catechism, drill them further in pastor's classes, and still never produce in them a living Christianity nor a virile godliness. Their members show no evidence of having passed from death unto life. None of the earmarks of salvation so plainly indicated in the Scriptures are found among them. Their religious lives are correct and reasonably moral, but wholly mechanical and altogether lacking in radiance. They wear their faith as persons in mourning once wore black arm bands to show their love and respect for the departed. --- Such persons cannot be dismissed as hypocrites. Many of them are pathetically serious about it all. They are simply blind. From lack of the vital Spirit they are forced to get along with the outward shell of faith, while all the time their deep hearts are starving for spiritual reality and they do not know what is wrong with them. --- The charge often made against us by Liberals, that we are 'bibliolaters', is probably not true in the same sense as meant by our detractors; but candour and self-analysis will force us to admit that there is often too much truth in their charge. Among religious persons of unquestioned orthodoxy there is sometimes found a dull dependence upon the letter of the text without the faintest understanding of its spirit. That truth is in its essence spiritual must constantly be kept before our minds if we would know the truth indeed. Jesus Christ is Himself the Truth, and He cannot be confined to mere words even though, as we ardently believe, He has Himself inspired the words. That which is spiritual cannot be shut in by ink or fenced in by type and paper. The best a book can do is to give us the letter of truth. If we ever receive more than this, it must be by the Holy Spirit who gives it. --- The great need of the hour among persons spiritually hungry is twofold: First, to know the Scriptures, apart from which no saving truth will be vouchsafed by our Lord; the second, to be enlightened by the Spirit, apart from whom the Scriptures will not be understood."
- from "Bible Taught Or Spirit Taught?" (The Root Of The Righteous)

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