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Showing posts from July, 2007

Why orthodoxy?

A common question posed by skeptics and non-believers is why we Christians insist on religious orthodoxy. Aren't other things like "love" (whatever they mean by that) more important? Well, true Christian love without a proper foundation is hollow. Christian living without a proper foundation is pointless. In fact, without orthodoxy (proper belief) and orthopraxy (proper lifestyle), it is no longer biblical Christianity, but a human-made religion, an idolatry, a god of one's own making.

This is the case if we deny that God is transcendent, holy, beyond our understanding; all-powerful, all-knowing; immanent and ubiquitous and omni-present, always at hand and near us at the same time he is transcendent; that he exists as a trinity of Father, Christ, and Spirit, which is how he revealed himself to us; that he is love and loves us, but is very unhappy with how we ignore him and how we treat him and how we treat each other; that Christ as God died for our sins so we could b…

Creating gods

An ancient writer once wrote that if horses had gods, they would look like horses. Likewise, in the various religions of the world, when people create their own gods or idols, they look very human like. The ancient Greek gods were scoundrels and perverts. So were the gods of the ancient Near Eastern religions - Molech, the various regional forms of Baal, Ashtoreth / Astarte, and such. When people invent their own religions, they can only create gods in their own image - or in the image of animals and people, with human (a)moral characteristics. No man-made religion was created in which its god or gods were not created in man's image, in the likeness of humans, with human limitations or human-like nature.

However, the God of the Bible is completely different. He is always shown to be a loving, holy, just, and even wrathful God, equally in both Old and New Testaments (those who claim otherwise either don't know the Bible well enough, or are reading it thru their own cultural filt…

In memoriam: Bae Hyung-kyu

Pastor Bae Hyung-kyu was recently killed by his Taliban captors. He was the pastor of the young adult ministry at Saemmul Church in Bundang/ Seoul, Korea. He was well-liked by church members, was known for serving God passionately despite chronic health issues, and knew all the young adults personally at Saemmul. My sister-in-law (the youngest sister of my wife Daisy) and her husband are active in that church and knew him. When my sister-in-law Heshca got married there, Pastor Bae led the opening prayer of their wedding.

He died on his 42nd birthday. He is survived by his wife and daughter. [See Korea Herald article: "Pastor Bae was a man of God".]

Let us pray for his family and church members; for peace in Afghanistan; and for the work of the gospel there.

Fearing and loving God

'Fearing God', in the biblical sense, is not human, natural, psychological fear in the normal sense, but an attempt to capture in words the kind of attitude of profound awe and respect we are to have toward God. It is a deep, serious, arresting sense of wonder and amazement of who God is and what he is like, realizing how totally mind-blowingly awesome and totally different he is from us or anything we know, how he is beyond human comprehension..
Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses. (Psalm 25:12) The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant. (Psalm 25:12-14) Do not let your heart envy sinners, but be zealous for the fear of the Lord all the day. (Prov. 23.7) The fear of the Lord leads to life, and he who has it will abide in satisfaction; he will not be visited with evil. (Prov. 19:23) Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man's all. For God will bring every work int…

Need 台灣人 for language experiment (Urbana-Champaign IL)

I need a lot of people from Taiwan for a language / psychology experiment. It's a 70 min. computer experiment at my lab in Beckman, which pays $7. It involves pushing buttons to answer questions about Chinese characters. Soon I'll have a similar experiment that involves naming characters. I may also have shorter versions of these experiments later on.

You can also do a 20-min. language survey for another $4.

Requirements: Native speaker of Chinese, from Taiwan; born and raised and lived in Taiwan until at least age 15; Chinese is your first and dominant / primary language; no reading impairments (like, no dyslexia / 識字困難/誦讀困難)

Please email Kent Lee at: kentlee7[at]gmail[.]com for more info or to make an appointment. Please tell your friends, too. Please help a poor grad student to graduate. :)

Bonaventure: The soul's journey into God

First, therefore, I invite the reader to the groans of prayer through Christ crucified, through whose blood we are cleansed from the filth of vice -- so that he not believe that reading is sufficient without unction, speculation without devotion, investigation without wonder, observation without joy, work without piety, knowledge without love, understanding without humility, endeavor without divine grace, reflection without divinely inspired wisdom. To those, therefore, predisposed by divine grace, the humble and the pious, the contrite and the devout, those anointed with the oil of gladness, the lovers of divine wisdom, and those inflamed with a desire for it, to those wishing to give themselves to glorifying, wondering at and even savoring God, I propose the following considerations, suggesting that the mirror presented by the external world is of little or no value unless the mirror of our soul has been cleaned and polished.

Therefore, man of God, first exercise yourself in remorse…

Worship styles

I find myself in the odd position of being quite fond of two very different styles of worship, and being in need of both for a balanced spiritual life - and I gladly defend both from their detractors.

For years I have been fond of contemporary worship, and find it very conducive for spiritual growth and real worship. Some criticize it for its subjective and emotional nature, but in fact that is its advantage, and why I defend it, as it offers something lacking in many forms of worship in traditional churches. Traditional church worship can be lifeless, and most of all, a hollow ritual, an expression of mere religious rationalism or ritualistic religion (but not necessarily; see below). It is objective to an unhealthy degree. You see, Christianity is about a personal, daily-life relationship with God that we are to experience in a real way. It's about a personal relationship with God, not just an intellectual relationship or intellectual religious experience. Modern worship brings t…

Forgiveness, conflict and estrangement

Forgiveness is hard. I guess that's why the teachings of Jesus on forgiving others seemed so revolutionary, so unnatural, so counter-intuitive. It's particularly hard when the other party doesn't seem interested in conflict resolution or setting things right. Maybe they are insensitive and don't care; maybe they didn't realize what they did; maybe they moved on and there's no chance of addressing it with them; or who knows, maybe they sent an email to explain and make up, but it got lost and you never got it and never knew they sent it. Whatever the reason, sometimes we have to forgive when the other party hasn't responded. Yet we are commanded to do so. It's partly an act of the will to invoke the spiritual, Christian agape love, and to remember how much Christ did so we could be forgiven. But so often those seem like religious rationalizations in the face of pain and humiliation from others. Forgiveness can be really hard to do. I find there are no ea…

What's the point of theology?

Some might ask what the point of theology is, as often it has been misused in various ways - for selfish intellectual thrill and indulgence, cultivating the ego, showing off, for controlling others, for reasons other than what it is intended.

Theology literally means 'knowledge of / knowing God' - and that's the point. Real theology, pursued properly, should bring you closer to God, in a real, meaningful way. Otherwise it's just religious intellectualism or religious rationalism, or maybe some sort of religious sensationalism (e.g., the way prophecy is often taught) or a way to rationalize a sanctified emotionalism (as in some abuses of charismatic theology).

Real theology, at the simple or very profound level, should somehow lead you closer to God. Either it provides you practical means of connecting directly to God, overcoming barriers to intimacy with God, or at least leads you to a fear and wonder of God, or a deeper love of God, that translates to a closer relatio…

How to pray

Good advice on how to pray, specifically, what to pray for, and how to direct one's spiritual life, from St. Bonaventure (San Bonaventura, 1221-1274), a 13th century Italian saint:

...ask [for] grace not teaching, desire not understanding, the groan of prayer not the effort of reading, the Bridegroom not the teacher, God not man, darkness not brightness, not light bur rather the fire that wholly enflames and transforms into God by its extreme anointments and most ardent affections. This fire is God and "its furnace is in Jerusalem".

St. Bonaventure, The Mind's Journey into God, chapter 2

Fearing God

Fear of God in the biblical sense is not fear in the average psychological sense; but there is no adequate word in English that is strong enough to describe it. Fear of God means a profound awe, respect, and reverence of God. It's profound, heavy awe in light of who he is, his holiness, and how infinite, magnificent, omnipotent, loving, incomprehensible, and totally different he his, that he is beyond our understanding.

Fearing God is the ultimate realization of worship and loving God with all our hearts, soul, and strength, and leads us to love God in such a way, more than ever before. Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom, for only then do we begin to realize who we are and what God is like, and what that means for us. Fearing God means approaching him with deep reverence, focusing on him rather than ourselves. It means our minds cannot handle how infinite, other-worldly, different, holy, and transcendent he is - our minds are boggled when we contemplate who he is. We can only…

God is...

God is God. There are no words to describe or define him adequately. There is no way our minds can comprehend him, no way our natural minds can grasp him. His ways are not our ways. He exists outside the cosmos, i.e., he is transcendent, as the cosmos is merely his creation. He exists in a sense that we cannot understand; it is not any sort of existence that we can understand. For instance, his existence and essence are infinite, and he is self-existent. We can only grasp whatever exists in a temporal sense - that which begins at some point, is created, and ceases to exist (only the human soul does not cease).

But God justs exists. Infinitely. We cannot wrap our minds around that. We can sort of imagine our souls not ceasing to exist, living forever into the future, because we haven't died yet. But can you imagine existing without having ever been born, without ever having a beginning? Of course not; it blows your mind. But that's how God is. We cannot grasp his existence or e…

God is...

God is God. There are no words to describe or define him adequately. There is no way our minds can comprehend him, no way our natural minds can grasp him. His ways are not our ways. He exists outside the cosmos, i.e., he is transcendent, as the cosmos is merely his creation. He exists in a sense that we cannot understand; it is not any sort of existence that we can understand. For instance, his existence and essence are infinite, and he is self-existent. We can only grasp whatever exists in a temporal sense - that which begins at some point, is created, and ceases to exist (only the human soul does not cease).

But God justs exists. Infinitely. We cannot wrap our minds around that. We can sort of imagine our souls not ceasing to exist, living forever into the future, because we haven't died yet. But can you imagine existing without having ever been born, without ever having a beginning? Of course not; it blows your mind. But that's how God is. We cannot grasp his existence or e…

Jesus is...

Jesus is fully God and fully man, together*. That is a mystery that we cannot really grasp, another aspect of God of which we can only stand in awe and wonder.

As C.S. Lewis stated, there are only three options to Christ, three ways to respond: that he is Lord, a lunatic, or a liar. And that is how people in his day responded. At one point, his family came to take him - in that day, that meant to take him away, because they thought he was crazy, and some of the people thought he was crazy: "And when his family heard about it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, 'He is beside himself [i.e., crazy]. He is possessed by Beelzebub'" (Mark 3:21). The Pharisees viewed him as a liar, accused him of blasphemy, and even attributed his powers to the devil. Clearly he claimed to be God, for that is why the religious leaders hated him and wanted to kill him; such was clearly stated at his trial. He claimed to be God, a fact that cannot be argued away. No sane huma…

Faith is...

Faith is what Jesus described as choosing to give up everything to follow him, to be his disciple. That means absolute, full commitment. St. Paul described it in terms of salvation and justification by faith alone. The Old Testament described faith and salvation in terms of the covenant, and also described faith this way:

Hear Oh Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. [Dt. 6]

The Hebrew word for 'strength' [meh-ode'] is broad in meaning, including "intensity, vehemence; exceedingly, utterly, great(ly)". Biblical faith is passionate, and requires giving your all to God, loving him with your whole being - mentally, psychologically, intellectually, and emotionally, with passion.

Faith or belief in the biblical sense is not just intellectual assent or intellectual belief. Look at the Latin word for 'faith', which gives you a better sense than our modern Western t…

Psalm 5

In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation. [Psalm 5:3]

What does he wait in expectation of? On a superficial level, one might think that he waits for God to answer his prayer, in the sense of specific prayer requests as we think of prayer requests today - "God, do X for me". To some degree that may be true, but I think that is hardly the main point. When you pray for God to do something, you don't just stop and wait there in your prayer place for it - not, "God, please do X for me" and wait there for a response. Rather, it concerns something deeper, something not related to the kind of self-focused prayers that we modern Christians think of.

What does a really spiritual person as for, as his/her primary prayer? Not specific supplications for help as we often think of it. The main thing that prayer is about is seeking God. That's the main point of prayer. Like Paul said, "I want to know …

Orthopraxy and orthodoxy

To sum up, some basic principles of orthopraxy discussed so far are:

1. Public confession of faith and witness

2. Grace-based practice of faith - spirituality and lifestyle based on grace; not only is salvation based on faith, but so is sanctification

3. Observing the sacraments or ordinances (baptism, communion / eucharist)

4. Observing spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, attending church, quiet times, reading Scripture

5. Love and fear of God

6. Love of others - believers and non-believers

The list above adds spiritual disciplines in addition to what was discussed in the previous posts. These are considered essential for a well organized, balanced spiritual life, are commanded in Scripture, and have a long history of importance and primacy in Christian practice throughout church history. I may be missing something important, but for now this will do as a starting point.

Now when we consider the basic tenants of orthodoxy, these principles of orthopraxy shoudl follow from them, and I th…

Orthopraxy (part 3)

In this post on orthopraxy, again I'm kind of rambling, shooting in the dark, just playing with what might be essential elements of Christian orthopraxy. So I welcome your thoughts and critiques on this.

The epistle of James talks a lot about how Christians should live, that our faith is properly demonstrated and proved ("justified") by our works, and without proper lifestyle, our faith is dead. But when we talk about general orthopraxy, we don't want to get bogged down on a bunch of rules, a rule system - that leads to legalism, and avoiding legalism is an important goal here in developing the concept of orthopraxy. That's why I want to develop principles of orthopraxy, to provide a coherent framework for practicing Christianity, Christian lifestyle, and the relationship between faith, orthodoxy, and practice.

So a logical place to start is with the Ten Commandments, which are foundational to biblical morality and lifestyle, but not with individual commandments…

Orthopraxy: Some basics

How do we define a "practicing Christian" as opposed to one who merely claims to be a Christian, e.g., on the basis of cultural reasons, human religiosity, or mere intellectual assent to church creeds? How do we define a church body or fellowship group as not only biblical, but balanced and healthy in its practice of the faith? I think that it's necessary to be able to define that, when churches, especially evangelicals, so emphasize faith alone, or orthodoxy as a basis of Christianity or theology, to the exclusion of lifestyle and practice. Thus, many people in the pews think that assenting to certain creeds and maybe performing certain rituals are sufficient for Christian spirituality. They are not.

Clearly we need orthodoxy, since that's essential for biblical faith; otherwise, it's heresy or heterodoxy. (As one blogger points out, orthodoxy is not a dental procedure, and it has an added advantage that it can score you 23 points in Scrabble, getting rid of th…

Christian orthopraxy

[Today's post begins a new and perhaps somewhat rambling theological thread over the next few days.]

Evangelical and orthodox Christianity (be it Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or other denominations) is defined by several crucial, fundamental beliefs, namely: [1] the triune, omnipotent God who create all things; [2] the full deity and humanity of Christ; [3] Scripture as God's authoritative, revealed word; [4] Christ's death and resurrection; [5] salvation by faith in Christ alone; and [6] Christ's imminent return. Christianity differs from other religions by its unique, faith alone basis for salvation, and its conception of God. It also differs from other religions in that what makes a person a Christian is not intellectual acceptance of these points, but a personal relationship with Christ, by faith and surrender to him as Lord and Savior. The spiritual relationship makes a person a Christian, but this necessarily entails full acceptance of the above six es…

What faith is not...

When I was younger, for example, in my teenage years in fundamentalist churches, I used to regularly hear some bad analogies for faith, especially in evangelistic or apologetic contexts. I heard faith being compared to sitting in a chair [“your belief in the chair’s ability to hold you does no good unless you sit in it”] or getting on a plane [“your belief in the plane’s ability to take off safely or transport you won’t work until you decide to board it”]. Now I cringe whenever I hear salvation compared sitting on a chair, or getting on a plane. Thankfully, my church here doesn’t use such analogies that trivialize faith and salvation.

Such analogies are cheesy, simplistic illustrations of salvation. They reduce faith to something trite, like a mundane decision, a mere intellectual act, little different than choosing to vote for a certain party, or choosing what shoes to wear in the morning. And they’re rather human-focused rather than God-focused. (They sound rather Arminian, in fact.)…

Why do we call him Father?

Years ago I was leading a Bible study at our fellowship, and it was the start of a new semester, hence more visitors than usual, and so this study had a few new people. I don't remember the topic of that particular Bible study, but in the middle of the study, out of the blue, one of the visitors suddenly interrupted with a very off-topic comment. She said that we should think about vieweing God addressing God as a female instead of a male, and her husband chimed in to support her. We were surprised by this sudden, heterodox point, which was unrelated to what we were discussing - something just out of the blue. I was able to handle it, and had support from other well informed believers. I tried to explain that we don't think that God is literally male, but it's an important biblical metaphor, how God revealed himself to us, and how he wants us to view him as an authority figure and such. They weren't satisfied, of course, tried to argue, and didn't return after that…