Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Fear of the Unknown : The Business of Christian Education XL

Twelve years into the 21st century shows more and more the world’s inclination toward speed.  Computer technology keeps pushing the speed limit of the processor and graphics.  Engine technology is also pushed to surpass the current speed limit.  Even work is forced to speed up in order to increase production quantity.  Human’s fascination with speed is very interesting.  Being constrained in time might have caused humans to wish to break free of time or at least to be less constrained by it.  Speeding up is known to put us at the verge of breaking the constrain of time.  The secular world is aware of the world’s tendency to speed up everything.  So they move faster in almost everything.  The business world especially leads the way in speed.  Everything else is tagging along behind business.

One theologian once said that Christianity is much too slow to respond to the change in the world.  This slow tendency leaves Christianity about 50 years behind the world now.  In every sector, Christianity is too slow.  The church is very slow to respond to the dynamics of the society, economy, politics, etc. and thus lagging behind in helping and encouraging congregations to make sense of the world change that affects every bit of their lives.  Christian schools and universities are faster in their response because of their more open attitude toward any research findings and new knowledge discovery.  However, often, the openness leads to the shaking of the theological foundations they have.  Seminaries are counted among the slowest to respond.  Seminaries are considered the gate for
preserving the theological purity and orthodoxy, and thus reluctant to be open to new findings and tend to dismiss challenges from the secular world by labeling the secular as faithless and thus unqualified to judge.

The underlying tension is a classic one, Tradition versus Innovation.  Both tradition and innovation have their strengths and weaknesses.  But both also need each other.  Preserving tradition only while disregarding innovation will cause stagnancy and lack of development.  The result of stagnancy can be devastating.  Living beings are meant to grow, develop, and progress.  Being stagnant will be equal to regress.  Children who do not reach a proper milestone either in their physical development or mental growth signal that something is not right.  Growth is considered natural.  So if a living creature does not grow properly, then something wrong is usually assumed.  More strongly, lack of growth can sometimes signals death.  And for sure death is undesirable.

On the other hand throwing away tradition and pursuing only innovation will cause massive growth which tends to be uncontrollable.  Uncontrolled growth usually is a dangerous signal.  The farming community knows that if locusts grow uncontrolled, they will cause destruction to farms.  Explosion of growth may create imbalance to life.  Growth is desirable, but uncontrolled growth can demolish stability.  Humans cannot live without stability.  Tradition provides stability.  Too many changes without stability will bring chaos.

Tradition needs innovation in the same way innovation needs tradition.  My critique to the mainstream Christianity, however, is that it tends to embrace tradition at the expense of innovation.  Consequently, creativity is often discouraged.  Different ways of looking at things are considered dangerous.  The current trend in biblical theology causes limited scope of reading the Scripture.  The fixation on the author’s intention of each book in the Bible causes severe limitation in the understanding of the Scripture.  The sad part is that even among Biblical scholars the author’s intention is often unclear and still under serious debates.  Perhaps, maybe, are still dominating the speculation of what actually the author’s intention when writing the Biblical book is.  This alone disrupts a very important hermeneutical principle that the entire Bible is authored by God himself, which makes the Bible has a single author instead of many.  Therefore, the current trend in Biblical theology, as my criticism goes, is hindering the area of interpretation where books in the Bible are interrelated to each other.

A current discussion with professors in a certain seminary discloses this troubling fixation.  Moreover, the conviction that every book has its own theology that is somehow not connected to other book unless explicitly clued in within the book has a debilitating effect on the understanding of the biblical texts.  For example, Exodus theology has its own territory and cannot be referred to by other book unless specifically mentioned or clued in.  A commentary cautions of the mistake bringing in comparison of Jesus’ temptation and the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden in the gospel of Matthew.  It says that only the gospel of Luke warrants the comparison, simply because only the gospel of Luke mentions Adam in its genealogy.  This caution is in itself begging the question: “How about the gospel of John?  Can anyone compare Jesus with Adam through the gospel of John?  Remember that there is no genealogy in the gospel of John.”  The typology of Adam cannot be restricted to merely the gospel of Luke just because Luke mentions Adam in his genealogy.  Such restriction is absurd and crippling possible richer understanding of the biblical texts.

The heart of my criticism is that such restriction, consciously or not, treats the Bible as 66 collection books coincidentally bound together into one volume.  People may explicitly say that they consider the Bible as one unit, but if the way they interpret the Bible is very restricted as what is described above, then their practice betrays their own statement.  The Bible must be treated as truly one unit.  God is the author, and all of the human authors are instrumental in God’s hands to carry on his message.  Theologians must go back to the basic hermeneutical principles and not elevating literary speculations above the more important principles.  Fascination on literary details can be inspiring but if the cost is the more important hermeneutical principles, then such fascination must be halted.  Too much credit given to each human author of the books in the Bible may blindfold us of the main author of the Bible, God.  What I’m concern about is that a lot of theologians today read in too much through literary imagination that they themselves “create” in order to make sense of the biblical texts.  The question is, “Is the current trend of biblical theology a good tradition to keep?  Or is it a bad innovation that should be tossed away?”

Reading the Scripture, for sure, requires creative mind.  There are many routes of creative imagination in interpreting biblical texts.  Restricting the good creative imagination is a wrong move.  Endorsing the bad creative imagination is also wrong.  We need to realize that if one creative interpretation is not unbiblical, and is not a heresy, and is not theologically false, then one will need to be careful not to easily dismiss the interpretation without proper refutation loaded with strong proofs.  For example, to say that comparing Jesus’ temptation with Adam’s in the gospel of Matthew is a mistake requires the person claiming it wrong to provide the warranted refutation.  A statement is innocent until proven guilty.  One cannot just say that the statement is wrong because he/she doesn’t see it the same way.  The same goes with idea and argument.  If the refutation is just relying on whether we feel inclined toward it or not – like or dislike – then it’s a weak refutation, and therefore the statement/idea/argument attempted to be refuted stands.

Acknowledged or not, the secular world is fairer toward different perspectives than the Christian world.  True that good tradition must be preserved.  But we also need to be aware that there is bad tradition.  True that good innovation must be pursued, but there is also bad innovation.  Innovation today can be tradition tomorrow.  Theologians must be conscious to keep their mind open for creative angles in the reading of biblical texts, but also strongly grounded in the right theology.

One of the heaviest burdens is on the shoulder of seminaries.  Churches look up at seminaries as the place for truth discovery.  Responding to the fast pace of the world requires creative minds and strong hearts.  The Christian world is already lagging behind.  Compromising the good theology for the sake of catching up with the world is not worth it.  But staying behind without any effort to be on top only shows irresponsibility.  If we are professors in seminaries, we must be mindful as to what do we really TEACH our students.  Do we tend to allow creative minds to flourish or do we prefer hammering down creativity for fear of the unknown?  Do we fear because we ourselves do not comprehend theology or because we fear that the students are smarter than us?  Many professors tend to tie their students in the chair and discourage creativity.  They prefer their students to think like them instead of letting the students to have their own minds.  When this happens, the result is Christianity staying behind for good.  Creative minds cannot bloom.  Thus any research done in seminaries will just mimic the traditional minds of the professors.  From this balcony, I can say that tradition trumps innovation.  What I’m worried is that the bad tradition is the one that is killing the good innovation.

The world is moving way faster than Christianity.  A good portion of the seminary education is busy hammering down good innovation with bad tradition.  The church looks up at the seminary and waters down their teaching to the congregations.  Christian schools and universities, on the other hand, are flirting with the secular world.  Christianity is already moving slowly, and with our current pace we are going to regress in no time.  At the same time, our main institutions that intersect with the world will slowly becoming like the world.  So if Christians don’t start coming out from their shell and beginning to shake off their fear of the unknown with whatever they can do to shake it off, then soon we will be like the primitive tribe of Amazonian jungle living in Manhattan.

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