Some Christian considerations on the COVID-19 vaccine. Talk delivered 07 February 2021 to Petaling Jaya Evangelical Free Church (PJEFC), Malaysia
Asian Christian Theology (2019). I enjoyed reading this volume as it is written mostly by Asians to give an Asian perspective. I count many contributors as my personal friends which is an added bonus. It is an excellent collection of contextual theology scholarship.
I am surprised that none of these Asian writers writes from the eastern (Asian not Orthodox) shame/honor perspective. Instead, all of them approach their contextual theology from a western guilt/innocence perspective. Yes, I know, all our theological education are taught from the western guilt/innocence perspective. I have hoped our Asian scholars will take up the challenge to address the imbalance.
Our interpretation of the bible has always been transactional. The analogy is that of a law court. If you are guilty, you will have to pay a price. Jesus Christ came and paid the price. That is guilt/innocence.
What if Adam and Eve brought shame the Lord and caused Him to lose honor by their disobedience? They have dishonoured God. The need to redress that for is reconciliation and a repair of a broken relationship which affects not only the people involved but also the community and society. That is shame/honour. Jesus came to remove our shame and restore our honor with God.
Two-thirds of the world population functions from the eastern shame/honor perspective. Yet, we approach them with the guilt/innocence approach.
Would not it be time for our Asian scholars to teach and write on the eastern shame/honor perspective?
What is more important, is not our bible written from the shame/honor perspective?
I started the Kairos Spiritual Formation website in 2006, starting from a scratch using Microsoft FrontPage and a couple of website building guide books. It was an exciting challenge for me to learn programming language and website design. That is almost 10 years ago.
I have been continuing updating the website on a weekly basis, adding all my writings, reflections and other stuff. In these years, website designs and language has changed tremendously. Microsoft Frontpage has been discontinued by Microsoft when better and more user friendly website builders became available. Many nowadays do not require the knowledge of any language.
I find my Kairos Spiritual Formation website very useful. Though it has an aged look to it, it still serves me well as a resource and hopefully to others out there. The original purpose of this website is to serve as a free resource on spiritual formation, spiritual direction, engaging culture, spiritual nurture and other areas I am interested and is researching in.
I have considered updating it but the website has ballooned to about 9,800 files! I once consulted a website designer to upgrade the website but the poor guy turned pale and ran out of the room. I guess it will not be easy to upgrade such a large website. Since it is difficult to upgrade, I have decided to maintain it as long as possible. Microsoft has since stopped servicing and updating its Frontpage.
I am still keen to have a fresh look. I cannot do anything more to my present Kairos Spiritual Formation landing page (front page). I have twitched the software so much that I fear it will just die on me. So I decided to start another website which will link to my Kairos Spiritual Formation website. This new website will have all the frills and bells of new website designs. It also gives me the opportunity to update my skills on website designs. So here it is, Alex Tang, Seeing God in all things http://www.alextang.org
I know the title is a bit Kuyperian and Ignatian. Will I be transferring all my files to this new website? I am not too sure I want to do that for two reasons. One is that it will involve a lot of work and time to manually transfer the files. I know there are programs to do that but so far these program do a reasonable transfer but often mess up the files. The second reason is that I am afraid that by the time I have finished updating the new website, a new generation of website will have arrived with more bells and frills. I know how that feels. I still have old cartridge tapes, LD, VCD, DVD, HDVDV and now Bluray of the same movies!
Seth Godin, an innovative thinker and marketeer gives a fresh perspective and reminds us what may be a problem with our pedagogy in Stop Stealing Dreams. He writes,
What is school for?
The economy has changed, probably forever.
School was invented to create a constant stream of compliant factory workers to the growing businesses of the 1900s. It continues to do an excellent job at achieving this goal, but it’s not a goal we need to achieve any longer.
In this 30,000 word manifesto, I imagine a different set of goals and start (I hope) a discussion about how we can reach them. One thing is certain: if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’ve been getting.
Our kids are too important to sacrifice to the status quo.
Here, Godin questions the schooling instructional paradigm. It is interesting to note that while most disciplines (medicine, social sciences, humanities) have moved away from this paradigm whose main mode of pedagogy is the lecture, this seems to be the mainstay in theological education. There seems to be a lot of support for the lecture as the main mode of content transference. However there may be another agenda for the theological professors’ support of lectures. Some professors have indicated in private discussions that their sole support for the lectures is that in preparing lectures help them in writing their books!
Research shows that Christian, particularly evangelical, institutions demonstrate a marked moral difference in five areas: (1) faculty attitudes; (2) Bible, theology, and ethics in the curriculum; (3) measured or reported impact on character or moral attitudes; (4) students’ moral reasoning; and (5) alumni views about moral education.
I find this comment by Dallas Willard on his homepage of his website very relevant.
My sense of ministry is to judge the lay of the land for your times and shoot where the enemy is. The enemy in our time is not human capacity, or over activism, but the enemy is passivity – the idea that God has done everything and you are essentially left to be a consumer of the grace of God, so the only thing you have to do is find out how to do that and do it regularly. I think this is a terrible mistake and accounts for the withdrawal of active Christians from so many areas of life where they should be present. It also accounts for the lack of spiritual growth, for you can be sure that if you do not act in an advised fashion consistently and resolutely you will not grow spiritually.
There is a great collection of his articles and recordings on Dallas Willard’s website
In an interesting article published in Medscape on Training the Physician and the Anesthesiologist of the Future by Alex Macario, MD, MBA the training program of anesthesiologists is presented.
Figure 1. Factors that influence the changing physician workforce.
However I am more interested in the way he discerns the different demographic of the various groups of people involved in the training. This has relevance not only in the training of physicians but also of other areas including theological education.
Figure 2. Recent generations by year of birth.
Alex Macario’s study is focused on the United States but his characteristics of Generation Y is fascinating and will be useful for educators elsewhere in the world.
Table 1. Characteristics of the Millennial Generation
|Largest generation of young people in the country’s history, likely surpassing the aging baby boom generation (78 million)|
|Economically, they may not be better off than their doting parents, especially after the 2008 worldwide financial crisis|
|The most ethnically and racially diverse cohort of youth in United States history: 60% (a record low) are white, 19% are Hispanic, 14% black, 4% Asian; and 3% are mixed race or other. They are comfortable with heterogeneity in living arrangement or socioeconomic class|
|Team-oriented, banding together to socialize rather than pairing off, acting as each other’s resources or peer mentors|
|Civic-minded with a desire to make a positive contribution to society and to the health of the planet|
|Have been spurred to achievement and display a self-confidence that reflects their being raised in a child-centered world|
|Comfortable with Web communications, media, and digital technologies (eg, Facebook, YouTube, Google and Wikipedia)|
|Easier social communication through technology may explain the reputation of the millennial generation for being peer-oriented|
|Accelerating technologic change may create shorter generations, as young people just a few years apart have different experiences with technology|
|Increased global exposure through the Web, leading students and residents in record numbers to seek international educational experiences|
|Many millennials (42% of women and 30% of men) talk to their parents every day and many are still financially dependent on their parents; this has led to a new acronym: KIPPERS (Kids in Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings). As the skills required for certain jobs become more specialized, many young people return to school for professional degrees with the hope that this additional training will help them land a job. This creates more dependence on others, such as their parents, for financial support.|
Education and training in the present have to be designed to factor in the demographic of the millennials if these programs are to be successful.
Worth thinking about.
A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE OF EDUCATION IN CHURCHES IN MALAYSIA
General education in Malaysia is deeply influenced by the state schools system in Britain and the church Sunday school movement. The state schools in the British Isles, which adopted the schooling-instructional model, were developed in 1870s to efficiently train a workforce to be minimally literate for the industrial revolution. Australian educator Brian Hill calls this “schools for the industrial society” (1985, 42). The Sunday school movement was started earlier in the 1780s and was influential in teaching children how to read, write and numeracy skills as well as learning about the Christian faith. In the nineteenth century, after its formation the state schools began to take over the function of the Sunday schools in teaching the children in the 3 Rs (writing, reading, arithmetic). The Sunday schools gradually began to focus solely on religious education. However, following the state schools, they adopted the schooling model (Hill 1985, 46). During the nineteenth century, the schooling-instructional paradigm found its way into other formative areas of Christian faith communities and gradually became the mainstay of education in Christian faith communities.
Alan Andrews (ed.), (March 2010), The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation, Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
It is heartening to note that there are many new books on spiritual formation that moves beyond teaching spiritual disciplines and a contemplative life to engage on the theology of (Christian) spiritual formation. In September 2002, a group of theologians, pastors, authors and church leaders got together to form the Theological and Cultural Thinkers (TACT) group to serve as a think tank on spiritual formation. This book which is a collaborative effort of some best in the field which reads like a list of who’s who in spiritual formation and discipleship: Dallas Willard, Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, Keith Andrews, Bill Hull, Keith Meyer, Peggy Reynoso, Paula Fuller, Bruce Demarest, Michael Glerup, Christopher Morton, Richard Averbeck and Alan Andrews.
TACT defines seven process elements of spiritual formation and three theological elements in this book. Each of these elements is expanded upon by one of TACT’s members as a chapter in the book. The process elements of spiritual formation are:
The gospel of the kingdom is the realm of God’s active goodness in forming us in Christ as we follow Him. The kingdom of God is grand, majestic, and full of beauty. We come to understand the kingdom by repenting and simply becoming apprentices of Jesus in His kingdom.
Spiritual formation is rooted in relationship with God and one another. Communities of grace and trust open the door to gaining permission to share truth among fellow believers and the unbelieving world.
Spiritual formation into Christlikeness involves an intentional public, personal, and communal commitment to living as Jesus’ disciples who are being transformed into His image in all aspects of our lives as we learn to obey His commands.
Spiritual formation is a lifelong pursuit of being conformed to the image of Christ from the inside out and not a matter of external activity alone.
Spiritual formation is a continual process of transforming the whole person, including the healing of woundedness and rebellion, by the power of God, not to be confused with mere technique or program.
Spiritual formation occurs when God, in His grace, invades the destructiveness of suffering that result from the fall of man and uses the pain of suffering that results for His redemptive purposes in His people. There is also unique suffering that shapes the formation of believers as they enter into the call to love a lost world and the inevitable suffering that result from that love.
Spiritual formation in Christ is a process of growing in kingdom living and participating in God’s mission. This begins with our personal reconciliation with God and results in an irrepressible manifestation of God’s good news. Disciples of the kingdom labor in community for reconciliation with God and one another as a central priority of mission. They also pursue justice and compassion for all people and work to correct institutional sin inherent in human structures.
The theological elements of spiritual formation are:
The theology of spiritual formation emerges from the Trinitarian nature of God – relational, loving, gracious, mutually submissive, and unified in will.
Spiritual formation takes place by the direct work of the Holy Spirit, regenerating and conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ as the Spirit indwells, fills, guides, gifts, and empowers people for life in the community of faith and in the world.
Spiritual formation is based upon the Bible as God’s reliable and authoritative revelation. The Bible, our primary source of truth, guides and informs the use of spiritual disciplines and models of spirituality as they have emerged worldwide and throughout time.
These key process elements of spiritual formation as highlighted by TACT is an intentional lifelong process that transforms with suffering as one of the agents of learning and with healing of “woundedness and rebellion” of a person from “inside-out” to the image of Christ. This involves “kingdom living and participating in God’s mission” and is lived out in communities and in relationships with others. The basis is the nature of the Trinitarian God and is the direct work of the Holy Spirit with the Bible as God’s revelation. While it is crafted by Evangelical authors based upon churches in the United States in North America, it nevertheless represents most of the universal elements of spiritual formation. Unfortunately they are not able to totally dissociate themselves from their cultural context of individualism. While there are references to the community, the process elements are more suited for spiritual formation in individuals who together with other individuals undergoing the same process are involved in building communities and missional ventures rather than the communities themselves have a role in the formation It is about “persons-in-communities” rather that “persons-of-communities.” Communities, especially Christian faith communities should have a bigger role to play in the TACT perspective.
A comparison of TACT’s elements of spiritual formation may be made with A Call to Spiritual Formation drafted by another study group on spiritual formation and proclaimed during the Renovaré International Conference in June of 2009, at San Antonio, Texas, USA. (http://acalltospiritualformation.info/history.aspx accessed 20 July 2009)
Christian spiritual formation is the process of being shaped by the Spirit into the likeness of Christ, filled with love for God and the world.
God calls us all to become like Jesus. Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”* We experience this abundance of life – here and now – as our passions, character, understanding, and relationships are increasingly aligned with those of Christ. This lifelong transformation within and among us is the continual gift of God’s Spirit. We are called to be renewed into the likeness of Jesus – but we do not always fully embrace this calling. Sometimes we seem content to be known as “Christians” without intentionally engaging with this work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Other times we desperately long for a new way of life, wanting to grow in our walk with Jesus, but needing help and encouragement. We, therefore, commit to pursue passionately and to receive joyfully God’s grace to be more fully transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (John 7:37–39;*John 10:10;Romans 8:29;1 Corinthians 11:1;1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Corinthians 3:17–18;2 Corinthians 4:16–18; 2 Corinthians 5:16–21;Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 3:16–19;1 John 3:2;1 John 4:17)
As we are rooted in Jesus and in the kingdom he proclaims, we are progressively transformed. Jesus is the center of all life and history, both the source and goal of all creation. God shaped this universe as a place where the love and life of Jesus Christ might flourish. Because we are formed in the divine image, we have the capacity to receive and express this life and love. Although human disobedience corrupts the divine image in us, God still forms a people able to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love their neighbors as themselves. Jesus makes this possible through his life, death, and resurrection. In him we experience a restored relationship of love with God and one another, and continual transformation into his likeness. We are becoming a reconciled and renewed community – which is both the goal and the substance of life in God’s kingdom. This is the good news we proclaim with joy to the whole world. (Genesis 1:26–28; Genesis 3:1–7;Proverbs 8:22–31;Isaiah 42:5–9;Jeremiah 31:33–34;Mark12:28–34;John 1:1–18; John 13:34–35;Romans 5:9–11;Romans 8:1–11;Romans 8:19–23;Ephesians 2:11–22;Colossians 1:9–23;1 Thessalonians 5:23;1 John 2:7–11)
Our engagement with God’s transforming grace is vital. Renewal into the image of Christ is not a human attainment; it is a gift of grace. God mercifully uses all our experiences, including our suffering and trials, to teach and transform us. Even so, transformation requires our involvement and effort. We need to make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit’s work in all our life experiences, particularly through intentional engagement with historical Christian disciplines, including Word and sacrament. These practices open us to the presence and grace of God. As a result, we become, through time and experience, the kind of persons who naturally express love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. (Matthew 5:43–48; Matthew 11:29–30; Luke 6:40; John 7:38; John 15:5–17; Romans 12:1–2; Galatians 5:16–25; Philippians 2:12–13; Philippians 3:12–16; Titus 2:11–14; Hebrews 5:13–6:1;Hebrews 12:7–13; James 4:7–8;1 Peter 2:2;1 Peter 4:1–2)
Spiritual formation happens in community. As we long to know and follow Jesus and be formed into his likeness, we journey with those who share this longing. God is calling the church to be a place of transformation. Here we struggle to fulfill our calling to love. Here we learn to attend to the invitations of God’s Spirit. Here we follow the presence of God in our midst. Spiritual community is the catalyst for our transformation and a sending base for our mission of love to the world. (Matthew 18:20; Luke 6:12–19; John 17:20–26; Acts 2:42–47; Romans 12:4–8; 1 Corinthians 12:1–7; Galatians 6:1–2; Ephesians 4:1–16; Hebrews 10:23–25;1 Peter 2:4–10)
Spiritual formation is, by its very nature, missional. As we are formed into the likeness of Christ, we increasingly share God’s infinitely tender love for others. We deepen in our compassion for the poor, the broken, and the lost. We ache and pray and labor for others in a new way, a selfless way, a joy‐filled way. Our hearts are enlarged toward all people and toward all of creation. (Isaiah 60:1–4; Matthew 5:14–16; Matthew 28:18–20; John 3:16–21; John 20:21–23; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Galatians 6:10; 1 John 4:7–21)
We invite all people, everywhere, to embrace with us this calling to become like Jesus. By God’s grace, we will seek to become lovers: lovers of God, lovers of people, and lovers of all creation. We will immerse ourselves in a lifestyle that is attentive and responsive to the gracious presence of God. We commit ourselves to the community of Christ’s beloved, the church, so that we can learn this way of love together. We entreat you to join us. (Matthew 5:1–10; Matthew 13:44–46; Mark 1:15;Luke 9:23–24;Romans 12:1–2; 2 Corinthians 6:1; 1 Timothy 6:11–12; Revelation 21:2;Revelation 22:17)
The elements of A Call to Spiritual Formation are similar to those suggested by the TACT group. Again, the weakness seems to be the lesser role of the Christian faith communities as compared to the role of the individuals involved. The role mentioned is that the “church to be a place of transformation.” The church or Christian faith community is not just a place for transformation but should be a transforming agent itself. Unlike the TACT group, the drafters of A Call did not give any theological grounding except numerous biblical references. For more details, see my Critique of A Call to Spiritual Formation
This book The Kingdom Life deals mainly with defining the nature and process of spiritual formation. The question a discerning reader will ask is how these process elements of spiritual formation may be applied in a church setting. In the epilogue, Alan Andrews and Christopher Morton mentioned some guiding principles of what they called ‘spiritual-formation church.’ These guiding principles are:
Guiding Principle 1:
Spiritual formation occurs in believers as they engage in intentional personal formation, community formation and missional formation. These three dimensions of spiritual development must not be compartmentalized or separated but organically connected.
Guiding Principle 2:
The center of the spiritual-formation church is Jesus and His kingdom. The Bible is a Christocentric book. Jesus’ primary message was about the immediate nearness and availability of His kingdom to us.
Guiding Principle 3:
Every spiritual-formation church must be rooted in the soil of the lost, the vulnerable, and the least.
Guiding Principle 4:
The spiritual-formation church should seek to create an environment of grace that welcomes everyone who will come to the “rivers of living water” (John 7:38, NASB) that resides in the culture of God’s kingdom.
Guiding Principle 5:
The spiritual-formation church must seek to reach, teach, and practically engage the people in spiritual formation. This means intentional spiritual formation must be the central passion of the church.
Guiding Principle 6:
Equipping people for ministry is critical to the health of the spiritual-formation church.
Guiding Principle 7:
The spiritual-formation church develops new leaders for the advancement of the gospel and the spiritual formation of the people of God.
Guiding Principle 8:
The Bible uses multiple metaphors to describe the people of God, but the primary descriptors are organic – for example, body and family (p. 301-312).
Andrews and Morton pointed out correctly that “intentional spiritual formation must be the central passion of the church.” The central passion of the spiritual-formation church is the place for “intentional personal formation, community formation and missional formation.” This implies that the spiritual-formation church is not just a place where believers practice the spiritual disciplines and be missional. It means more than that. The question to be asked is whether the present institutional church with its formative practices is the ideal model for spiritual formation and discipleship to take place. Is there a need to reorganize the formative practices and even the structure of the church itself? These are important questions if the central passion of the church is intentional spiritual formation.
There has been much confusion about the meaning and usage of these words: discipleship, spiritual formation, and Christian spiritual formation. These words are sometimes used interchangeably by some teachers while others offered a more nuanced definition. Here I will offer some definitions of these terms.
Spiritual formation is the process of forming our inner spiritual beings (soul) which manifest outwardly as our character. This is an ongoing process which starts when we are in our mothers’ womb and continues until we die. There are numerous influences that affect our spiritual formation which includes our cultural legacy, our childhood experiences, our ethnicity, the socio-political environments in which we live in, the dominant culture in our society, and our social interactions with other people, including our family members. Often these influences act subconsciously by a process of socialization or enculturation. In other words, all of us are undergoing spiritual formation all the time, whether we are conscious of it or not.
Christian conversion (accepting Christ) involves a change in status by our justification by faith, and of the formative regeneration of our souls (sanctification). Christian spiritual formation starts after conversion. Christian spiritual formation is the process of the redemptive inner transformation of the character of a person to reflect the character of Christ himself. There are two components to Christian spiritual formation: (1) the work of the Holy Spirit, and (2) the willingness of a person to follow Christ in discipleship. Christian spiritual formation is a collaborative divine-human interaction. The influences that act on Christian spiritual formation are similar to those experiences by all living human beings. Additional influences are the formative practices of the Christian faith communities (Christian education) and the Word of God.
Discipleship is the part of Christian spiritual formation where we can be actively involved in. The Holy Spirit is ever willing to be involved but respect our choices and will not force us to be disciples. Discipleship is following and obeying the teachings of Jesus Christ and in doing so, we become Christ-like in our character. Jesus summarizes this by saying that, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). To be his follower, Jesus points out that there is a part about denying self, and there is another part about following him. Luke helpfully gives us some essential features on discipleship. These essentials are trust (Lk 9:37-43); suffering (Lk 9:44-45); humility (Lk 9:46-50); purpose (Lk 9: 51-56); commitment (Lk 9: 57-62); involvement (Lk 10:1-20), and prayer (Lk 10:21-24). However all these need the work of the Holy Spirit if Christian spiritual formation is to take place. We cannot will or discipline our bodies into spiritual transformation.
The purpose (telos) of Christian spiritual formation is three-fold reflecting the economy of the Triune God. Christian spiritual formation is (1) to restore image of God (imago Dei) within us so that we reflect the character of Christ; (2) to form a people of God –the body of Christ; and (3) to be part of God’s plan of reconciliation with all of creation (missio Dei). Christian spiritual formation is Trinitarian in basis as it is an invitation to join in the perichoresis or eternal dance of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
So let us embark on the journey of Christian spiritual formation, availing ourselves to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, and intentionally becoming disciples of Jesus Christ with “informed minds, hearts on fire, and contemplative in actions” until “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)