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I am designing a course on the biblical imagination and spirituality of Eugene Peterson.
Eugene Peterson’s lifelong focus is on soul care, especially on spiritual formation and pastoral nurturing. This course will be a dialogue with his thoughts, teaching, and applications using his Eerdmans spiritual theology series: Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (2005); Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (2006); The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus Is the Way (2007); Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers (2008); and Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (2010).
The expected major outcome of this course is that students will have reflected on where they are in their spiritual journey, understand the dynamics of formative and transformative aspects of their spiritual lives, and be equipped to nurture their and communal spiritual growth both physically and in Cyberspace. The focus on this course is on spiritual formation and spiritual theology.
more details to follow
When In The Soul Of The Serene Disciple
When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.
Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions.
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.
Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction.
What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.
We often think of hospitality or welcoming strangers as meeting new persons. It is that but much more. Welcoming strangers is also welcoming new understanding of who we are, and more importantly whose we are. It also involves welcoming new experiences, seasons of life and life’s changing circumstances.
Christian Spirituality: Theology in Action
by Dr Alex Tang
1. Definition of Christian Spirituality
The word spirituality has become popular to describe those attitudes, beliefs, practices that animate people’s lives and help them to reach out towards the supra-natural realities. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality notes that ‘ Christian spirituality is not simply for the ‘interior life’ or the inward person, but as much for the body as the soul, and is directed to the implementation of both the commandments of Christ, to love God and our neighbors.’
Christian Spirituality is the process of spiritual formation of a disciple of Jesus Christ for an authentic and fulfilled Christian life in the present world; involving bringing together the fundamental tenets of the Christian truths and the experience of living in God’s presence, grace and love in our daily life. It is Trinitarian, incarnational and grace-filled living. It is theology in action.
Christian spirituality as defined by others:
“[Spirituality] is a useful term to describe how, individually and collectively, we personally appropriate the traditional Christian beliefs about god, humanity, and the world, and express them in terms of our basic attitudes, life-style and activity”
Philip Sheldrake, Images of Holiness
“Whatever else may be affirmed about a spirituality which has a biblical precedent and style, spiritual maturity or spiritual fulfillment necessarily involves the whole person – body, mind, soul, place, relationships – in connection with the whole of creation throughout the era of time. Biblical spirituality encompasses the whole person in the totality of existence in the world, not some fragment or scrap or incident of a person”
William Stringfellow, The Politics of Spirituality
“Spirituality is a lived experience, the effort to apply relevant elements in the deposit of the Christian faith to the guidance of man and woman towards their spiritual growth, the progressive development of their persons which flowers into a proportionately increased insight and joy”
George Gauss, Ignatius of Loyola: Exercises and Selected Works
“Spirituality has to do with our experiencing of God and with the transformation of our consciousness and our lives as outcomes of that experience”
Richard O’Brien, Catholicism
“…we are to love God, we are to be alive to him, we are to be in communion with him, in this present moment of history. And we are to love men, to be alive to men as men, and to be in communication on a personal level with men, in this present moment of history”. (italics his)
Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality
Hence our spirituality begins with God. It begins with a divine call, rebirth and conversion (John 3:3-8; Acts 2:38-39) and continues with sanctification or spiritual formation. It requires divine grace and our willing co-operation. It involves our inner and outward lives. It involves the integration of ours lives as we are being restored by the Holy Spirit. The goal is to become more like Christ (Eph 4:13-16).
2. Essentials of Christian Spirituality
2.1 Knowing God, not just knowing about God.
2.2 Experiencing God to the full.
2.3 Transformation of existence on the basis of the Christian faith and truths.
2.4 Attaining Christian authenticity in life and thoughts.
3. Characteristics of Christian Spirituality
3.1 Christian spirituality is about totality of the whole person.
3.2 Christian spirituality is about the Trinitarian God of love and grace.
It is a prophetic spirituality.
3.3 We are sustained in the journey of faith by grace.
It is an empowering spirituality. It is a self-affirming, aware, and grateful for God’s gifts to us giving us a healthy self-esteem. It is also mutually empowering, affirming other people and facilitating their blossoming.
3.4 The spiritual life is a journey from achievement to rest.
It is a contemplative spirituality. It emphasizes moments of reflection, meditation, and contemplation – being present to the Present, a constant awareness of the absolute within us, who is the inexhaustible source of joy, love, and energy and makes us committed but carefree.
3.5 Christian spirituality is a healing spirituality.
It is a process of healing one’s own wounds and using one’s own experience to heal others.
3.6 Christian spirituality is Christian spiritualities.
Christian spirituality is not monolithic. As each person is different, even with the identical theological beliefs and emphasis, his or her spiritualities will be influenced by his or her temperament, social, financial, educational, denominational and cultural context. Hence on one hand, we can speak of Christian spirituality and on the other hand, we speak of Christian spiritualities.
3.7 The cauldron of an enduring spirituality is suffering and conflict.
3.8 We are not alone on the journey.
3.9 Christian spirituality is an Easter spirituality.
It is a spirituality that transcends Good Friday and is infected with the fearless joy of Easter. It resists the forces of death and promotes the enhancement of life. It feasts more than it fasts. It is not so much control as surrender. It is not cold asceticism but a celebration of life.
4. Biblical Basis of Christian Spirituality
4.1 The Spirituality of the Word.
“Contemplation, far from being opposed to theology, is in fact the normal perfection of theology. We must not separate intellectual study of divinely revealed truth and contemplative experience of that truth as if they could never have anything to do with one another. On the contrary, they are simply two aspects of the same thing. Dogmatic and mystical theology, or theology and ‘spirituality’ are not set in mutually exclusive categories, as if mysticism were for saintly women and theological study were for practical but, alas, unsaintly men. This fallacious division perhaps explain much that is actually lacking in both theology and spirituality. But the two belong together. Unless they are united there is no fervour, no life and no spiritual value in theology; no substance, no meaning and no sure orientation in the contemplative life.”
Thomas Merton, Trappist monk
4.2 The Bible in Christian Spirituality
(a) Any Bible exposition must pays close attention to the correct interpretation of the passage.
It is very important that any passage in the Bible must be interpreted correctly. The common error is to take a passage or a verse out of context to support our ideas. Someone said that ‘ a verse out of context is a pretext’.
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teaches will be judged more strictly.
God will hold us responsible for how we interprete the Bible. We must allow the Bible, which is the Word of God to speak for itself.
JN 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
Eugene Nida, executive secretary for translation of the American Bible Society was responsible for shaping 200 translation of the Bible in various languages. He was influential in the translation of Good News Bible (1976), Contemporary English Version (1995) and New Living Translation. He coined the word dynamic equivalence to describe a ‘meaning-based’ approach – one that looks for functional equivalence rather than formal resemblance in translation. He warns of ‘word worship’. In an interview with Christianity Today (Oct.7, 2002), he was asked, What do you consider your most important contribution to Bible translation, he answered “To help people be willing to say what the text means-not what the words are, but what the text means…Language is part of culture. Therefore, we have to understand the cultures of the New Testament period if we are going to understand what the writers were trying to say…. in most of Africa, sheep are regarded as very bad animals! Goats are greatly appreciated. If a woman were exchanged for a number of goats, she would have prestige. If she were exchanged for a number of sheep, she could never live it down.”
(b) The Bible has a fundamental unity, which includes the Old Testament and the New Testament.
2 Tim. 3 :16a
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
There is a strong tendency for Christians to place more emphasis on the New Testament than on the Old Testament. We preach more from the NT, do more quiet time from verses in NT and encourage each other with verses from the NT. We must remember that the NT is the continuation of the OT. It is one book. The writer to the Hebrews contrasts the ‘many and various ways’ in which “God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Heb.1:1-2). Paul traces God’s dealing with the world through successive stages associated with Adam, Abraham, Moses and Christ. The fact that Jesus quotes from the OT shows that OT is still relevant.
(c) The Holy Spirit has a fundamental role in understanding the Bible.
1 Cor. 2:10-14
10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
(d) The Bible must be understood in relationship to what it leads us to do.
2 Tim. 3:16,17
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
5. Prayer and Corporate Worship and Christian Spirituality
5.1 The Spirituality of Prayer.Prayer is communion, spirit speaking to Spirit. Prayer can be aided by the use of images
5.2 Forms of Prayer
5.2.1 The Jesus Prayer
The Jesus Prayer comes to us as a gift of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It was transmitted in its earliest version as lectio divina. The Jesus Prayer is more narrowly focused than lectio divina because it always uses the same biblical words. The words is the combination of the pleas in Luke 18:38 and Luke 18:13.
The first phrase-“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” – comes from the lips of a blind man outside Jericho. The second plea comes from the story of the Pharisee and the publican. The Pharisee in his prayer listed all his pious practices. The publican prayed a simple, heartfelt prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”.
Across the ages, Christians have prayed. “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” One of the shorter versions is: “Jesus Christ, have mercy”.
The Jesus Prayer is called a prayer of the “mind in the heart”. In the beginning your body prays the prayer. Your mouth repeats it as your mind concentrate on physically reciting it and the meaning of the words recited. Eventually, after thousands of repetition, perhaps over a number of years, you no longer repeat the words with your mouth but your mind keeps praying the prayer. Finally comes the prayer of the mind in the heart. You no longer consciously think about the words of the prayer. Now your whole life prays the prayer without your thinking about it. Or the prayer prays your life. Unconsciously, you focus your deepest attention-the attention of your entire life- on God.
5.2.2 Walking Prayer
Walking prayer is prayer in which we allow God to lead us. There is a place for vigorous intercession and laying our requests before Him. But allowing God to speak and place requests before us has a place. It may leads us to repentance, celebration, intercession, introspection and many other things. Walk with God and let the Holy Spirit leads you as you pray.
5.2.3 Centering Prayer
Centering prayer focuses on being, and aware of God.
5.2.4 Prayer of the Heart
Prayers that concentrate on emotional attachment or adoration of God. It develops and matures the emotional faculty of our souls. Its aim is to love God; to have our hearts enlarged so that God owns more and more of us. It is ‘being’ prayer rather than ‘doing’ prayer.
5.2.5 Stations of the Cross
Praying through the Stations of the Cross has traditionally been a popular method of contemplative prayer. Christians simply pray through the various events surrounding Christ’s crucifixion”
(2) the sentence of death given to Jesus
(3) Jesus receiving the cross
(4) Jesus falling
(5) Simon helping Jesus carry the cross
(6) Jesus falling a second time
(7) women mourning for Jesus
(8) Jesus falling again
(9) Jesus being stripped of his clothing
(10) Jesus calling out to John and Mary
(11) Jesus dying on the cross
(12) Jesus being taken down from the cross
(13) Jesus being laid in the tomb
5.2.6 Meditative Prayer
Ignatius of Loyola in The Spiritual Exercises talks about the reflection on a biblical text, prayerful reflection of a particular theme or prayerful use of an object (something you can see, taste, touch, hear or smell) and reflection on its particular lessons. Each time of prayer begins with a humble submission to God and ends with a return to God.
6. Reflection Questions
6.1 How would you describe your own spirituality? Write out your answer in full. Then review what you have written in six months. Do you expect any changes as you re-articulate your own spirituality?
6.2 How do you think the study of the Word and prayer will influence your spirituality?
Soli Deo Gloria
Someone asked me how reliable is the Gospels in the Bible? This is part of an article by Blomberg.
“Non-Christian religions often allege that the Gospels as they now appear cannot be trusted because the text has been greatly corrupted. This allegation has virtually no evidence to support it. There are 2,328 manuscripts and manuscript fragments surviving from the earliest centuries of the Christian church and representing all portions of the Gospels. The earliest fragment of any portion of the NT currently in existence is the John Rylands papyrus fragment (P52) of John 18:31–33, 37–38, which probably dates to c. A.D. 125 or within about thirty years of the original composition of the Fourth Gospel. Twenty-one papyri containing major sections of one or more Gospels can be dated to the third and fourth centuries, while five virtually complete NTs survive from the fourth and fifth centuries. Compared with the numbers and ages of manuscripts which have survived for most other ancient documents, including many believed to contain reliable accounts of historical events, this evidence is overwhelming.
As a result, textual critics have been able to reconstruct a highly reliable prototype of what the original Gospel writers undoubtedly wrote. Estimates suggest that from ninety-seven to ninety-nine percent of the original text is securely recoverable. More than fifty-four percent of all of the verses in the Gospels are entirely free of textual variants, and the vast majority of those which remain have no bearing on questions of historicity. Modern editions of the Greek NT (Nestle-Aland; UBS) print the textual variants which have any significant effect on meaning, and most modern English translations use footnotes to alert readers to the most disputed texts (e.g., Mt 6:13b; Mk 16:9–20; Jn 7:53–8:11).”
C. L. Blomberg, “Gospels (Historical Reliability),” ed. Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 292.
The most common reconstruction of the literary interrelationship of the Synoptic Gospels has Matthew and Luke depending on at least two written sources—Mark and Q* (a hypothetical document accounting for material Matthew and Luke have in common which is not found in Mark; see Synoptic Problem). Q is usually dated to the 50s and Mark is assumed to have utilized source material at least that old. With Christ’s crucifixion no earlier than A.D. 30, the time gap between events and written accounts is reduced to about twenty years
C. L. Blomberg, “Gospels (Historical Reliability),” ed. Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 294.
The virus, when it came, came like a thief in the night. It was unexpected, and we were unprepared. Though there was some news about a viral outbreak in China in November 2019, nobody paid it much heed. After all, there were always sporadic outbreaks of chicken and swine flu. The last worrisome outbreaks were Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, and Ebola in 2018. SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003. The illness spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before the SARS global outbreak of 2003 was contained. Closer to home, SARS was limited to Singapore and, for some unknown reason, did not cross the causeway. With MERS, we in Malaysia were on alert because of the large number of people going to the Middle East. Fortunately, no cases were reported here. Ebola and Africa seemed far away.
In December 2019, when I was at Disneyland with my grandchildren, I came across a more “teenage” Mickey Mouse than I am used to. Disney as a company is well aware of the necessity to reinvent itself for each generation, hence the need for an updated and cool Mickey with his coffee. Again, I am reminded of the need for the Church to reinvent itself for each generation in order to remain relevant.
I am not talking about core doctrines here. These should not change. I refer more to how we do church and are the church for the present generation. I remember reading somewhere about how the church is only one generation away from extinction. Steve Rabey, in his book on Authentic Faith, said, “This generation is falling through the cracks of Christendom and the modern church is sleepwalking their way through oblivion.” There is an urgency to review and revise how we do and are to be the church in this interconnected, digital citizen generation with the Internet of Everything.
Little did I know how my thinking would be brought to the test in the subsequent months when the storm warnings were sounded in Wuhan China about a new coronavirus, initially named novel SARS-CoV-2, because of its close resemblance to the SARS virus. Alarming news started coming in rapidly. The infected and death tolls started rising. Different countries were reporting cases, and the global spread was impressive. Then countries started reacting by placing their populations under lockdown. We were told of the need to “flatten the curve,” meaning to contain the spread by lockdown while allowing time for our healthcare facilities to be expanded. We observed healthcare facilities being overwhelmed in Italy and Spain as the virus spread.
Since COVID-19 is caused by an RNA virus, I expected it to mutate. I expected that, like its cousin, the SARS virus, it would mutate and become non-lethal in a few months; in fact, I was optimistic that it would be over by July 2020. Little did I know that, by limiting its spread, we were also limiting its mutation. By the end of 2020 we have gone through a roller coaster ride revealing the brokenness of our society, removing the delusions we have been living with, and resetting the way we shall live in this future.
This book chronicles some of my reflections as I struggle to find love, faith, and hope in this fateful year. It started with apprehension as I watched nation after nation fall under the onslaught of this pandemic. What is worrisome is that these countries are developed countries, with superb healthcare infrastructures. At home, we were celebrating the auspicious Chinese New Year of the metal rat. Then came the lockdowns and the orders restricting movement. It was sobering, because this is the first time I have experienced travel restrictions. With the lockdowns and the closing of onsite church services, I am forced to rethink who we are as a church and how we do church. I had more opportunities to explore cyberspace as the churches went online. I also try to understand the digital church in its various manifestations and how it will work with the physical churches.
available at Kindle
Addressing some concerns about COVID-19 Vaccines
•Safety •Efficacy and Effectiveness •Side effects •Use of human cell lines •Long term immunity •SARS-CoV-2 mutation variants •Human mutation – grow extra arm? •Mark of the Beast
Some information about the different types of COVID-19 Vaccines
Some Christian considerations on the COVID-19 vaccine. Talk delivered 07 February 2021 to Petaling Jaya Evangelical Free Church (PJEFC), Malaysia