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An open letter to ICCF

This letter is primarily addressed to the leaders of the Illini Chinese Christian Fellowship who served there in 2005-2006, at the time that I decided to leave ICCF.

I served faithfully in your organization for years, particularly in leading Bible studies and creating Bible study materials. I greatly enjoyed it and devoted a lot of time to it (probably too much time - in hindsight, I think I should have focused more on my studies). I tried to steer the fellowship clear of theological controversies and questionable teaching, and tried to set a (theologically and spiritually) balanced tone and an emphasis on practical spirituality and practical Bible study, rather than the doctrinal rabbit trails that others go for. In the process I had to be patient at times with strange ideas or doctrines, or even bad behavior from some people there. Though I did not always feel accepted as an outsider (as a non-Chinese), I at least thought I was serving faithfully, had friends there, and was making…
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Evangelicalism's gradual demise

The term "evangelical" was popularized by Martin Luther ("evangelisch" in German), which meant a follower of the gospel. The term was originally a very good and useful term, as it referred to someone who believed in a religion based on faith and following the teachings of Christ, rather than man-made religious rules. It was meaningful enough but also broad enough to encompass a general theological orientation and religious lifestyle. It could include and accommodate somewhat different views or interpretations of Christian belief, including those who focused more on the grace, spirituality and lifestyle of Christ. As such, it was not the exclusive property of one religious group or theological orientation. The meaning has been generally positive in modern church history.

However, in recent decades the term has been hijacked by fundamentalists who insist on a narrow interpretation of the term, insisting on a set of specific theological beliefs, while ignoring the Ch…

Portraits of Christ: John’s Gospel, part 2

In John’s Gospel we have an emphasis on Jesus that is unique compared to the other gospels. John not only emphasizes his deity, but his mysteriousness. The reader is left with an impression of Jesus as a mystical teacher, in the sense that his words and actions are not only those of a profound religious teacher, but of one who is other-worldly. So often in this gospel we read of Jesus making statements that the crowds, the religious teachers, and even his own disciples sometimes could not fathom.

For starters, there are the “I am” statements (e.g., I am the bread of life; I am the living water; I am the good shepherd; I am the way, the truth, and the life), which were clearly claims to divinity, for these statements in the Jewish context referred to God’s title “I am,” given when Moses inquired of his name at the burning bush. Jesus makes much use of mystical metaphors like these and others, like all the ‘day’ and ‘night’ references in this book, which portrays him as mystical or mys…

Portraits of Christ: John's gospel

John’s Gospel opens with a fascinating prose prologue in chapter 1 that essentially summarizes the themes of the entire book. It introduces Jesus in a manner that emphasizes his deity, then John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry, and finally, the spiritual essence of Jesus’ public ministry and outreach, and his ultimate rejection.
John begins with the language of creation, showing that Jesus was always with the Father, was involved in creation, and was thus eternal. John describes him as the Word (logos in Greek), which conveys multiple meanings. For Jewish people, it meant the Scriptures, meaning that Jesus himself is the ultimate revelation of God to us, because he himself is God, more so that the written word of God (the Old Testament, at this time). It also reminds Jewish readers of how God spoke the world into existence in Genesis 1, as well as divine wisdom personified in the wisdom literature such as Proverbs (the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 1-10). …

Portraits of Christ: Mark’s Gospel - Behold the Man

Imagine that you are a Gentile, such as a Roman or Greek, and put yourself into a first-century pagan mindset. What would you think if you heard of a man who went around healing people? You would probably think that he was a god. What if you heard of a man driving out evil spirits and granting divine forgiveness of people’s sins? You would think he was some kind of god. If you heard of a man raising someone from the dead, you would surely think of him as a god. What if you heard of a man miraculously feeding a crowd, and controlling the weather by commanding a storm to stop? You would think he was a god.

Now put that all together - one man doing all those things. He is not just a god -- not just a weather god, a nature deity, or a divine prophet. It soon becomes apparent that he is a divine being with power over all those things. He has power over nature, over matter, over health and disease, over life, over death. He is not just a god, but something more than that. By the time he ove…

Portraits of Christ: Luke’s Gospel, part 3

What does it mean to you that Jesus was a man? We hear a lot about him being God (and later blog posts in this series will address that), but we don’t hear as much about his human side. Luke emphasizes this aspect of Jesus, and it’s important for understanding how we relate to him.  
He grew up in the small farm village of Nazareth, which means that he lived doing hard work and manual labor for the first thirty years of his life before he became an itinerant rabbi (a travelling teacher and preacher). He may have been a carpenter, though that’s not clear. The word translated ‘carpenter’ in the original Greek New Testament (tektōn) could refer to a carpenter, builder, stonemason, craftsman, or other occupation. He nonetheless would have worked like others around him - not an easy life. And growing up in a farm village, he would have been acquainted with farm work, too. He was in a low socioeconomic class, like the majority of people in Palestine in his day, and would have had a difficult…

Portraits of Christ: Luke’s Gospel, part 2

Imagine living as a Jewish person in the province of Judea around the time of Jesus. Not only do you live under Roman oppression and taxation, but the Romans have carved out the province from the rest of Palestine so that it has few economic centers or resources, making the area fairly poor. On top of that, the corrupt provincial governor “King” Herod (and sons) has also oppressed the land as a cruel dictator, and has imposed his own additional taxes to support his life of luxury and his grand building projects. While the Romans venerated their Emperor Augustus as a god-like hero, empire-builder, and peace-maker, the Jewish people would view him less favorably.

Luke 2 sets up an implicit contrast between Augustus, in all his power to make life difficult (say, with an inconvenient census), and the Son of God, who is born to a peasant woman and lives among the common people. Furthermore, his birth is announced to shepherds, who were one of the lowest social classes in that time. This p…