Category Archives: Readings

Acts define faith: Grimes’ Beginnings in Ritual Studies

 

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I’ve just begun reading Ronald Grimes early ground-breaking work in ritual studies (1st ed. 1982), Beginnings in Ritual Studies.  In popular thinking, the notion of “ritual” is often negatively appreciated as empty routine actions.  Yet the truth is, ”ritual” permeates all human life, such as daily getting up on a fixed schedule, then bathing and dressing in certain manners.  Related to “ritual,” and drawing on Victor Turner’s insights on liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”), Grimes roughly defines “ritualizing” as practicing certain actions aimed towards moving us (e.g., liminal movement) from one state to another (pp. 49-51).

Observing ritual within Christian practice, particularly referring to practices of worship, is called liturgics.  In his first chapter, Grimes outlines seven critiques of “classical Christian liturgical theory and practice” (referring to practices of Christian worship) (p. 5)  For me, three critiques particularly stand out.  First is Grimes’ charge that “classical liturgics” up till his time, “has typically operated from the top down— . . . from intellect to soul or body . . .”  This leads to the next critique, wherein “words” often “obscure most of the tactile, gustatory, and kinaesthetic aspects of liturgy.”

Building on these two critiques, Grimes then concludes with his final critique, presented as a question regarding how we identify Christian “faith.”  He thus ask, “What would happen” if we identified “the faith ritologically instead of theologically?”  (p. 7)

Grimes is foremost referring to apologetics; how we prove our faith.  The actual term he uses is not “identify” but “defend”: “What would happen if they [e.g., “Christian ritualists,” which described all Christians engaged in Christian behaviour] defended the faith ritologically instead of theologically”?  He then states for example, “if they said, for instance, ‘My sister or brother is whoever breaks bread with me,’ instead of, ‘My religious relatives’ are those who assent to this creed?’”

Grimes finally poses the question: “What would be gained and lost if action took precedence over word or if the community defined who is a Christian descriptively and gesturally, rather than confessionally and theologically?” (p. 7)

I am recalling both theological and biblical precedence that substantiates Grimes’ challenging question.  Theologically, one thing that comes to mind is the ancient Christian dictum: “How we pray shapes what we believe” (lex orandi lex credendi).  We can just as well say, what we practice shapes our belief, and shows what we believe.

Meanwhile, there are really a lot of Scriptural themes that parallel Grimes’ question.  Let me recall some.

  • “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’” (Matt 9.13)
  • “By this all people will know you are my disciples, that you love one another.” (John 13.35)
  • “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace . . . without given them the things needed . . . what good is that? So also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2.14-17)

Finally, another thought comes to mind, which is what Grimes is really talking about.  Those confessionally outside Christian faith, yet act in ways congruent with God’s mission to heal creation, do a better job demonstrating the reality of God and his redemptive involvement within creation, that than those who verbally or creedally confess Christian faith, yet do not practice a way of life that is congruent to God’s moral aims.

To conclude, Grimes’ reflections on ritology reminds us that the apologetic of Christian faith, or better yet, an apologetic of the triune God we confess as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, really depends as much on ortho-praxis (“right practice”) as on orthodoxy (“right belief”).  Yet really, perhaps even more.  Both our confession and witness is not simply a matter of verbal truth.  Rather, it involves practicing the goodness and beauty of God; and that is how we make known the Gospel we profess.

Grimes, Ronald L. Beginnings in Ritual Studies. 3rd Ed. Waterloo, Canada: Ritual Studies International, 2010.

https://www.amazon.com/Beginnings-Ritual-Studies-Ronald-Grimes/dp/1453752625

 

 

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Beauty calls

Refugees beind wire

If we can’t welcome the world’s pain

If we shut our eyes to all that’s ugly

If no lament sides our praise

We don’t know Beauty.

 

If we can’t touch what’s ugly

If we shut out all that pains

We resist Beauty’s call.

 

Yet Beauty raises her voice.

In the market she cries out

“My words are just

For I lift up the lowly

To reign as the beautified;

Them I move to right the world

 

And give me praise.”

 

Implicit themes from Scripture

I have titled these verses as “Beauty Calls.”  Yet as should be evident from the following background, another good title would be, “The Acts of Commissioning Beauty.”  I was much inspired by calling to mind several Scriptures; namely: Proverbs 8.1-8; Isaiah 61.1-3; Matthew 25.34-40; Luke 1.52, 4.16-18; Acts 1.8; and 1 Corinthians 13.

Let me briefly elaborate on some of the biblical imageries and themes.  The poem begins with the hyperbole of 1 Corinthians 13: “If I . . . but have not love,” I am a noisy gong, I am nothing, and I gain nothing.  Next, the poem recalls from the perspective of Psalms, the integral role of lament.  What we learn from the biblical example is that just as congregational worship requires praise and thanksgiving, so also it requires lament.  If there is no room for lament in our worship, we are really out of touch with the heart of God.  Third, the poem indirectly refers to Christ as materially present within suffering humanity; this is how I read the parable of the Final Judgement (Matt 25).  Then the poem likens Beauty to Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 8.  Lady Wisdom is, Beauty.

Finally, the poem also likens Beauty to the Holy Spirit who comes upon us, empowering us for mission.  I have rendered this coming upon” in a forceful sense; hence Beauty is the subject who acts on us as object— moving us to action.  Thus Beauty says: Them I move to right the world.”  What results, is praise.

Theological themes

These verses also reflect several theological themes, all related to the ancient Christian notion of beauty as an attribute of God. In this sense, Beauty is also known as one of the three Transcendental Attributes, along with Goodness and Truth.

The poem thus reflects a theological aesthetic comprising a strong missional theme, which I believe should be implicit within any Christian theological aesthetic.  More specifically, what the poem evokes is a theological aesthetic in the keys of mission and Pentecost.

Here I am particularly drawing on the works of three theologians who each in varied ways suggest how theological aesthetics should foster increasing union with God in His mission to save and perfect creation.  First is Roman Catholic Oliver Davis, whose sacramental Christology I complement with Wesleyan theologian Stephen John Wright’s notion of Beauty as Subject who acts on human objects.  Foremost funding this poem however are themes derived from the theological aesthetic developed by the late South American Roman Catholic theologian, Alejandro García-Rivera.

Davis is especially known for his sacramental Christology.[1]  He argues for greater recognition of Christ’s missionally summoning reign, sacramentally present within suffering creation.[2]  From this theme, he discusses the role of aesthetics toward life formation in the context of Christian discipleship.  More specifically, Davies argues that theologically, aesthetics means increasing harmony between our actions and God’s moral will toward creation—hence, a perfecting form that emerges through our enacted union with Christ’s mission within creation.  He stresses that our aesthetical focus should not primarily be about reflecting on beauty as the beauty of Christ, but on our acting in union with Christ’s beauty.[3] He thus writes, “The beauty of Christ is not something we primarily behold therefore, within epistemology…but is something we primarily encounter and enter into in life, through acts, with implications for epistemology.”[4]

Yet I am pushing Davies’ reasoning towards the Pentecostal stress on the Spirit of Christ as Subject who acts on human objects (Luke 4.16-18; Acts 1.8).  I would proffer that this suggests— the beauty of Christ that summons us to missional action.   Hence, as the poem suggest, Beauty is the Subject who acts on human objects— calling them to moral action.

I derived this theme from Wesleyan theologian Stephen John Wright.  Wright argues that in true Christian ecstatic experience, Beauty “acts upon” us, granting us vision towards the coming beautifying of creation.[5]  Drawing on the Wesleyan notion of prevenient grace, he also argues that when Beauty acts on us, it summons us to co-operative synergy with the Holy Spirit towards shaping the future according to God’s moral aims for creation.[6]

Finally, the theological aesthetic this poem evokes, foremost reflects insights I have received from Alejandro García-Rivera’s book, The Community of the Beautiful: A Theological Aesthetics (The Liturgical Press, 1999).[7]  Let me recall several pertinent themes from García-Rivera’s work.  García-Rivera begins by drawing some important differences between the notions of aesthetics, Beauty, beautiful, theological aesthetics, and glory and praise.

He notes that in both ancient and more modern discourse, philosophical reflection on aesthetics has been concerned with the question, “What moves the human heart?”[8]  Regarding Beauty, he consistently depicts it as one of the three Transcendental Predicates; hence, along with the Good and True, one of the three chief qualities of God.[9]  García-Rivera correlates Beauty to glory.  The purpose of God’s glory is evocative: to evoke our “praise.”[10]  Meanwhile, the “beautiful,” refers to those who give God praise; or that which gives God praise.[11]  Those creatures responding to Beauty’s call for praise, García-Rivera designates as, “the community of the Beautiful.”[12]

Drawing from Mary’s “Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55), García-Rivera argues that “giving praise” requires an aesthetic/artistic notion known as, “foregrounding.”  This refers to bringing something/someone that has been kept in the background, to the “foreground,” which involves shifting at the same time to the background, that or those who were earlier in the foreground.  Mary’s song reveals the work of “foreground” in her, phrase, “lifted up.”  Those without power have now become “lifted up,” while those in power have been “brought down” (Luke 1.52).[13]  This García-Rivera argues is what theological aesthetics is all about: “foregrounding”: the lifting up of the lowly.  This requires a “community of the Beautiful,” those moved by Beauty’s call.  The community of the Beautiful involves themselves in God’s redemptive work of “foregrounding” (lifting up the lowly).  By doing so, they give God praise.[14]  Therefore, García-Rivera suggests that what emerges is a “cosmic liturgy,” whereby the “Community of the Beautiful” “receiving Glory and returns Praise”;[15] in other words, that “receives Gift and returns Eucharist.”[16]

Let me conclude with a relevant descriptive of Pentecostals at worship before God.  As Pentecostal theologian Daniel Castelo says, we should define ourselves as an “epicletic community” who live doxologically before God.  This means waiting yet ready for renewing encounter with Him through fresh comings of His Spirit.[17]  May I suggest that we approach times of epicletic encounter with expectation of dreams, visions, and prophesies.  In doing so, may we receive visions of Christ hidden within crippled humanity.  For there at the gate called Beautiful, we hear Him calling.  There His Spirit acts on us.  There His Spirit sends us with prophesies of new creation walking, leaping, and praising God.

Amazon Link to García-Rivera’s book:

García-Rivera, Alejandro. The Community of the Beautiful: A Theological Aesthetics. Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier, The Liturgical Press, 1999.

END NOTES

[1] Oliver Davies’ Christology exemplifies his broader project in he refers to as the immanent-material orientation of Transformation Theology and its corresponding material/mind causality oriented methodologies.  See: Oliver Davies, Theology of Transformation: Faith, Freedom, and the Christian Act (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013); Oliver Davies, Paul D. Janz, and Clemens Sedmak, Transformation Theology: Church in the World (London, UK: T & T Clark, 2007); Paul D. Janz, “What is ‘Transformation Theology’?” American Theological Inquiry 2, no. 2 (July 2009): 9-22.  Four essays in a 2015 edition of the Journal of Pentecostal Theology explored implications his work raises for pentecostal theology.  As Frank D. Macchia points out, Davies’ work richly resonates with the traditional pentecostal stress on Christ’s Spirit-giving presence within the church, while prompting them “to think more materially about where the exalted Christ is encountered in our world”; “A Theology of Christ as Act: A Response to Oliver Davies,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 24 (2015): 145–53 (151).

[2] Davies, Theology of Transformation, 60-61.

[3] Ibid, 26-27; see also 200-201.

[4] Ibid, 27.

[5] Stephen John Wright, “Apocalyptic Beauty: God’s Priority and the Ontology of the Future,” Aldersgate Papers: Theological Journal of the Australasian Centre for Wesleyan Research, vol. 9 (September 2011): 9-21 (14).

[6] Ibid, 17-18.

[7] Alejandro García-Rivera, The Community of the Beautiful: A Theological Aesthetics (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier, The Liturgical Press, 1999),

[8] Ibid, 9.

[9] Ibid, 10-11.

[10] Ibid, 12-14.

[11] Ibid, 13-14.

[12] Ibid, 37, 155-196.

[13] Ibid, 37.

[14] Ibid, 37-38, 195-196

[15] Ibid, 17; 185.

[16] Ibid, 20.

[17] Daniel Castelo, Revisioning Pentecostal Ethics: The Epicletic Community (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2012), 2-3, 22.

Review: Vondey, Wolfgang. Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel. 2017.

 

 Pentecostally systematic and synthetic / structurally symphonic / aesthetically beautiful

Wolfgang Vondey has produced a beautifully written theological masterpiece, presenting a visionary method and example for constructing Pentecostal systematic theology.  It is a method directly emerging from within the lived experiences and practices of Pentecostalism, along with the tradition’s theological tradition.  I would characterise this seminal construction of Pentecostal theology through three descriptions: 1. pentecostally systematic and synthetic; 2. structurally symphonic; and 3. aesthetically beautiful.

  1. Pentecostally systematic and synthetic

Systematic in a Pentecostal way

This is a systematic theology though not according to a traditional structure of systematic theology.  Now to be sure, neither does it attempt to cover all normally identified areas of a single volume systematic theology.  Yet let me explain what it does, and why.

After the Introduction and Chapter 1 titled “Prolegomena to Pentecostal Doctrine,” the next five chapters (“Part 1: “Full Gospel Story”) present a theological exposition of the Pentecostal Fivefold Gospel (the historic Pentecostal fivefold Christological motifs of Jesus as Saviour, Sanctifier, Spirit baptiser, Healer, and Coming king):

Ch. 2, “Saved: Meeting Jesus at the Altar”

Ch. 3, “Sanctified: Participating in the Life of God”

Ch. 4, “Baptized: Transformed by the Holy Spirit”

Ch. 5, “Healed: Manifesting Signs and Wonders”

Ch. 6, “Commissioned: Enacting the Coming Kingdom.”

Then in Part 2 (“Full Gospel Theology”) Vondey appropriates the five Christological motifs of the Full Gospel, to theological construction of five selected theological foci.

Chapter 7: Creation: Spirit, Redemption, and Cosmology

Chapter 8: Humanity: Divine Image, Human Agency, and Theological Anthropology

Chapter 9: Society: Civilization, the Common Good, and Cultural Theory

Chapter 10: Church: Mission, Movement and Ecclesiology

Chapter 11: God: Pentecost, Altar, and Doxology

Conclusion: Living the Full Gospel

Hence, each of these five chapters comprise five sections, each section examining one the respective foci from the prism of one of the Christological motifs.  For example, following is how this approach works out in Chapter 7 (“Creation”):

  1. “Creation as the economy of salvation” : Christ as Saviour
  2. “Creation as the materialization of sanctification” : Christ as Sanctifier
  3. “Creation baptized in the Spirit” : Christ as Spirit baptizer
  4. “Divine Healing and the fullness of Redemption : Christ as Healer
  5. “Creation and the renewal of the cosmos”: Christ as Coming King

So, in this book, Vondey has not attempted a full blown one volume systematic theology.  Rather, his main attempt, as I understand it, is to suggest a methodology wholly derived from within Pentecostalism, from which to construct Pentecostal contributions to or rendering of, systematic theology.  He has primarily done so through the structure of the Pentecostal Fivefold Gospel.

Synthetic in a Pentecostal way

My preceding observation leads to this second one: Vondey’s greater purpose is to suggest a theological method for constructing systematic theology; namely, a method retrieved from the historic repository of Pentecostal spirituality and its theological tradition.  Incidentally, when you glean through Vondey’s footnotes, you will discover that the majority of his sources are, Pentecostal theological sources.  While the book clearly demonstrates ecumenical cognizance and aims, he has intentionally retrieved most of his sources from within Pentecostal scholarship, in order to demonstrate the theological maturation of contemporary Pentecostal scholarship.  This is what Walter Hollenweger earlier referred to as, the “Pentecostal critical tradition.”  It is as if Vondey had “synthetically” taken up this whole critical tradition as it presently exists, and squarely constructed on it, this exemplar of Pentecostal systematic theology.

Lately, I have been reflecting more on the contrasting notions of “primary theology” and “secondary theology,” foremost drawing from the work of Roman Catholic liturgical theologian David Fagerberg.  A key theme to Fagerberg’s work is his insistence that all formal/academic theologising be described as “secondary theology,” with the “primary theology” referring to whatever can be immediately sourced from liturgical experience, or encounter with God within the liturgical setting; as in fact Vondey consistently stresses throughout this work. To bring this discussion back to Vondey’s work, what he in fact is stressing, is that what broadly lies beneath, the “pentecostal critical tradition” (secondary theology), is the primary theology of pentecostal experience.

I believe Fagerberg would say that primary theology closely relates to and fosters what has been historically called, “mystical theology”— a knowing of God along the way to deification that comes through one’s maturation through deeper initiation into the economy of salvation (that’s my present understanding of “mystical theology”).  Similarly, Vondey argues that while “Pentecostal theology is not synonymous with spirituality,” it is “an expression of mystical theology” (p. 18).  More pointed to Vondey’s book is his stress that the source of good “Pentecostal theology (in the secondary sense) is “the heart of Pentecost” (p. 6).  So to recap, my first observation is that Vondey has effectively produced a systematic theology is that pentecostally systematic and synthetic, meaning that he has gathered up the vast critical tradition of formal/academic pentecostal scholarship, in a manner illustrating how a systemic theology can and should be constructed on the primary theology of pentecostal liturgical experience.

  1. Structurally symphonic.

Here I am drawing an analogy from a classical music symphony.  I cannot recall all the details on what qualifies a set of musical instruments or a music piece as a symphony.  Yet I enjoy classical music symphonies, where the conductor beautifully integrates all those separate instruments and melodies towards one increasingly symphonic work, often with several crescendos on the way to a fitting climax.  This is exactly what Vondey has achieved!

Let me describe one way he composes and directs this “theological symphony.”  I refer to how he translates the Pentecostal Fivefold Full Gospel into a “theological narrative” movement (pp. 6-8, 21-24), where God draws us to Himself at a sacred place and time metaphorically called the “altar,” then from there sends us out in mission through the transforming power that “Pentecost” signifies.  Hence, Throughout Vondey’s book, the term “altar” functions as a “theological symbol” (p. 5) signifying the Pentecostal stress on ongoing or periodic transforming encounters with God, which generally occur within the liturgical context of worship (pp. 8-9, 25-26, 31-32, 282-283, 289).  Then Vondey pulls these themes together to suggest that the very notion of “Pentecostal theology,” calls us to the “altar” (pp. 5, 10, 255-256, 291, 294).  Therefore, the five “full gospel” Christological themes narrate our movement toward and at the altar, then from it in mission with God to the world, and finally back again to the altar that signifies encountering God in worship (pp. 8-9, 55, 83-84, 90, 289).

  1. Aesthetically beautiful.

Finally, the preceding two qualities (pentecostally systematic/synthetic and structurally symphonic) make this work altogether, aesthetically beautiful.  This beauty again emerges from Vondey’s theological method.  He makes that bold suggestion that what we should methodically recognise as prior to a Pentecostal exposition of doctrine or theology is: “Pentecost” (p. 11).  Hence, “Pentecost is the very prolegomenon of Pentecostal theology” (p. 12).  Vondey then suggests several motifs that should appropriately fund a Pentecostal systematic theology: “play,” “spirituality,” “experience,” the “full gospel,” “affections,” “praxis,” and “embodiment” (pp. 12-24).  Hence, Vondey articulates a methodology directly informed not just by Pentecostal beliefs, but by commonly identified Pentecostal experiences and practices (pp. 3, 5-6, 9, 30-34).

These aesthetical themes especially blossom in Chapter 11 (“God”) and the book’s Conclusion.  Note for instance, Chapter 11’s sub-title: “Pentecost, Altar, and Doxology.”  The chapter reads sermonically, via its translation of the five Christological motifs as verbal descriptions of the triune God.  Then the beauty of the Conclusion comes foremost through its climatic suggestion that Pentecostal theology is really— “liturgical theology,” calling us to the altar” in, “worship,” which “is the beginning and end of Pentecost” (p. 294).  It is particularly beautiful through its final suggestion that the whole book’s thrust leads to one important implication: “Pentecostal theology is at heart a liturgical theology” (p. 281).

By doing so, I suppose, the book closes with a challenge or rather invitation towards a newly emerging and promising foray within pentecostal studies; namely, the constructing of pentecostal liturgical theologies, or pentecostal theologies of liturgy.  This invitation of course, should recall to mind Hollenweger’s insightful yet not so often well-known thesis (from his book, The Pentecostals) that the main contribution of Pentecostalism to world Christianity is not, as often yet wrong assumed, pneumatology.  Rather, it is, liturgy.

Finally, also adding to these aesthetic qualities is the book’s imagery rich yet simple vocabulary, and its highly readable and profoundly edifying prose.  For these reasons, what we have here is a systematic theology that may richly fund Pentecostal preaching and congregational liturgical leadership with formatively-powerful imageries, symbols, and themes—evocatively calling people to God at the altar of Pentecost.

 Following is a link to Vondey’s book at Amazon, where I have posted this same book review:

 

 

Vondey, Wolfgang. Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel. London, UK: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017.  ISBN: HB: 978-0-5672-7539-4. Page numbers: 302 pages + xiv.  Cost: US$114.

 

 

50 / 15 Most Influential Authors / Writers

Listed here are 50 writers whom I think for one reason or another, have had an indelible  influence on me over the past ten years.  Those names preceded by a diamond, indicate those whom I would identify as the 15 most influential authors.

Several important comments are in order here.  First, the list is alphabetical, not in order of interest or importance.  Second, there are other formative authors that have shaped me earlier in life; I have not listed them here, because the following list represents in contrast influential authors since around 2000.  Click here to read that list. Third, my interest in a given author is not always through a book they have written; for some, I have only read articles they wrote, such as in theological journals.  Fourth, I have managed to expand my interests quite widely; some authors here are from past ages, and some are from traditions quite different from my own.  Fifth, these authors comprise several genres or subjects; some are quite theological, while some are more of a popular level.  A few are quite philosophical, and a few reflect a mystical direction.  Sixth, just because I list an author here, does not means that I necessarily endorse all that a given author writes or represents; but in such a case, while I may not be wholly sympathetic with a given author, I have managed to find some kind of salient insight or trajectory from him or her, that I found most helpful for me.

Finally, as earlier mentioned, I think all these authors have together, come to have an indelible influence on my current thinking, theological perspectives, and understanding of life and ministry.

50 / 15 most influential authors / writers:

Allan Anderson

Robert Banks

Karl Barth

♦ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

David Bosch

Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Donald Bloesch

Christoph Blumhardt

Marcus Borg

♦ Walter Brueggemann

Emil Brunner

Martin Buber

Simon Chan

G. K. Chesterton

Brevard Childs

♦ Terry Cross

Ralph Del Colle

♦ Murray Dempster

Avery Dulles

Richard Foster

Hans Frei

Robert Greenleaf

♦ Stanley Grenz

♦ Stanley Hauerwas

♦ Abraham Herschel

Alan Hirch

♦ Walter Hollenweger

Howard Irvin

Soren Kierkegaard

Steven Land

♦ C. S. Lewis

Madeleine L’Engle

♦ George Lindbeck

♦ Frank Macchia

Robert Menzies

William Menzies

Henri Nouwen

Thomas Oden

Eugene Peterson

♦ Clark Pinnock

Cecil M. Robeck

Walter Rauschenbusch

James K.A. Smith

Roger Stronstad

Del Tarr

♦ Robert Webber

Dallas Willard

♦ N. T. Wright

♦ Evelyn Underhill

Amos Yong

Most impactful readings before year 2000 / Why preachers should read theology

“Reading plays a large part in our lives. . . .  In the furbishing of the mind and the quickening of the spirit, a servant of God needs contact with the outstanding works accessible. . . . By our reading and meditation we are preparing ourselves for sacred ministry.”  Ralph Turnbull, A Minister’s Obstacles

“Study plays an essential part in the life of prayer.

The spiritual life needs strong intellectual foundations.

The study of theology is a necessary accompaniment to a life of meditation.”

Thomas Merton

Following this brief essay, are some listings of books and articles which I think have been most impactful upon my Christian life, ministry, and life message, prior to the year 2000:

Most influential readings / Bible / Biographies / Christian Life / Devotionals / Hermeneutics / Leadership / Ministry / Theological / Other selected works

Importance of reading

I have sought to read widely, but not because “I am a reader.”  I have heard enough, read, and observed that many really great preachers are widely read.

I’ve also observed that even outside the church world, world and national class leaders are also oftentimes widely read.  Steve Jobs (Apple, Pixar CEO) is one recent example.  Here in Singapore, many of the top government ministers, modeled foremost by the MM and the PM, are scholars and readers.  All this confirms Warren Wiersbe’s dictum, “Readers are leaders.”  (On Being a Servant).  J. Robert Clinton (Making of a Leader) also identified the experience of being “widely read,” as a key leadership process, and core expression of a learning posture.

In his classic exposition, A Minister’s Obstacles, Ralph Turnbull says the “vice of sloth” is partly avoided through reading widely: “The horizon widens, and preaching is enriched in proportion as we learn to group all knowledge around the Name which is above ever name.  Pity the minister who never reads anything and who has no passion for reading.”

Why preachers should read theology (albeit good theology)

“It is possible to render neutral and ineffective the vital truths of redemption by the vanity of cleverness.

“The Church has been tempted to dilute the message by throwing over dogmatic preaching to substitute nebulous meandering . . . We plead for a return to dogmatic preaching: not harsh . . . but gracious . . . Christ-centered preaching. . . . Deep theology is the best fuel of devotion; it readily catches fire, and once kindled it burns long.”

Ralph G. Turnbull, A Minster’s Obstacles

Finally, I’ll end with some thoughts about the reading of theology.  I have come to believe that most modern evangelicals have unfortunately been led to believe that their “Evangelical” identity- is either a historical restoration, or a pure expression of biblical faith.  This is partly due to how most Evangelicals unknowingly hold to the “fallen Church” view of church history (after Constantine’s Christianisation of the Roman Empire).  I myself hold to it to some extent.  The problem is that most Evangelicals lack the critical apparatus to discern and balance the view in tension with other reasonable paradigms.

What most evangelicals fail to appreciate, or are not aware of however, is that in spite of our strengths, we have weaknesses.  One is the “anti-intellectual” residual which fell out of the mid 20th century Liberal-Fundamentalist conflicts, which left its indelible influence on modern Evangelicalism.  This residual is usually expressed through “Bible only, no need for theology” expressions and mindsets.  Well, as a Pentecostal, I appreciate a number of variables underpinning this conviction; perhaps I’ll engage this in another blog entry!

But for now, I refer to one penetrating analysis of modern evangelicalism by Mark Noll, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., and David Wells (“Evangelical Theology Today,” Theology Today Vol. 51, No. 4 (1995).  They recall how the great preachers and revival leaders of the 15th to 17th century Reformation were pastor-theologians, steeped in patristic theology.  Luther, Calvin, Crammer, Edwards, and Wesley “were genuinely effective theologians. . . .

They had a deep grasp of the Scriptures, they steeped themselves in the enduring traditions of the Church, and they examined sensitively . . . the best thinking of their own day.  The result was theology that communicated powerfully, theology that spoke with authority from the Scriptures to the world in which these theologians lived.”

Noll, Plantinga, and Wells then refer to the “corrupting influences of modernity,” within the modern Evangelicalism “where “anti-intellectual forces . . . [have been] mowing down the small prophetic protests raised against them.  This is perhaps the heart of the contemporary evangelical tragedy.”  I would say that a redeeming strength to Baby Boomer pragmatic Christianity, and its accompanying church growth movement, was its attempt to break down secular / sacred dichotomies, in its pursuit for contemporary relevance.  But that pursuit is leading to the movement’s eventual implosion.

For again, the loss of theological depth has now created a scenario where “truth” in the local church is measured by what is “practical,” resulting in “a synthesis of Christianity with popular culture in order to survive in the marketplace.” (Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind).  Similarly, Mark Chan of Eagles Communication has identified the present “Mcdonaldization and Disneyization” of Evangelical churches (see the article in my list of readings).

Chan warns that while “all truth is God’s truth . . . the danger comes . . . [that When we accord the efficiency paradigm the last word, we risk the secularized captivity of the church.”  Chan refers to a “dumbing down” amongst believers in Sunday worship services, where, “Preaching that demands the use of the mind- particularly expository preaching rooted in the biblical text- is increasingly seen as dated and irrelevant.  Welcome to the world of McNugget preaching!”  Harsh words but perhaps, there may well be a darker side to the present attraction towards “conversational style,” seeker-sensitive homilies.  We should recall the story of King Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:26), who replaced the gold shields in the temple- taking by Shishak, for shields of brass.  “All is not gold that glitters.”

Yet how do we preach out of the fullness of Christ in the power of the Spirit, with depth that simultaneously engages mind and spirit, and facilitates an encounter with the Holy Spirit, without-  falling into the dreaded delivery of “doctrine,” information about God and mere Bible topics or, the mistaken passing of biblical exposition for myopic “over-analysis” of Bible texts?  Again space does not here suffice.  Yet I firmly believe that modern scholastic, conservative theology (and not just liberal theology) is largely responsible for a number of stifling, dead homiletical and hermeneutical paradigms, which have further lead to the present “anti-intellectualism.”

There is however, a fresh wind blowing.  Movements are in motion, calling for a restored fusion of the mind, soul, and spirit, for a restored incarnational witness of Christian life.  I call attention here to two helpful trends.  First, Robert Webber drew attention to the “Younger Evangelicals,” whom in contrast to their pragmatic evangelical predecessors, are seeking out “wellsprings” of ancient but time-endured fountains of spiritual formation and expression.  Second, there is an emerging appreciation and awareness that the Bible coveys truth primarily through its predominate genre of narrative.  Through the medium of story paradigms, biblical truth can be preached that calls forth a transaction between the Spirit of God and the human spirit, even as it engages both the mind and soul.

Both trends point to a renewed call for theological breadth and depth, and thus the return of those who once led the Church as pastor-theologians.  These emerging leaders will position themselves as conversant within both the local church and theological academy; for in fact, the two must become fused together.

Most enjoyable readings

The following list of books represent some of the most enjoyable readings or authors that I’ve come to enjoy in more recent years:

Blumhardt, Christoph, Action in Waiting.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship.

Brueggemann, Walter, The Prophetic Imagination.

Buber, Martin. On Judaism.

Buber, Martin. I and Thou.

Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy.

L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water.

Greenleaf, Robert A. On Becoming a Servant Leader.

Heschel, Abraham J. The Prophets.

Hollenweger, Walter J. Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide.

Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory.

Peterson, Eugene. The Jesus Way.

Macchia, Frank. Baptized in the Spirit.

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace.

Most influential readings

I have selected 13 readings.  First at the top is Elisabeth Elliot’s Shadow of the Almighty. I read the book as a new Christian at the age of 21.  I purchased it while attending the Urbana 81 Missions Conference in Illinois, USA (Intervarsity Christian Fellowship).  For several years after it left a profound influence on my life.  It obviously led to my eventual departure from the States in 1989.  Truly life changing.  The next most impactful reading was Clinton’s Making of a Leader; I read it around 1993, while in Uganda.  It spoke deeply about the relation between leadership and sanctification.  Then in 1994, while in Ghana, my parents sent me a copy of Tarr’s Double Image.  Its impact was on my reading of Scripture; it set the path towards a more dynamic understanding of the Bible and hermeneutics.  About the same time I began reading devotional materials by Amy Carmichael.  I was deeply attracted to the depth of her inner life, revealed through Gold Cord, which was actually a story about how she founded the Dohnavur Fellowship in India.

Oden wrote his Systematic Theology for preaching and teaching in the local church, seeking also to draw upon the best insights across the history and traditions of the Church.  I read it a few years ago, and find it illustrative of what I am calling for in my preceding reflections.  Another book is authored by Hollenweger, yet another is co-authored by him and another is a biography on him.  These three books spoke deeply to me about Pentecostalism- my deep affinity with the tradition, its almost tragic failings, and my affinity with Hollenweger’s vision and proposals for its future.  The works by Aker, Cross, Pinnock and Stronstad together have also decisively shaped my aspirations towards the Pentecostal message.  Foster’s Streams of Living Water is a recent reading, but it has left an indelible longing to build a Pentecostal ethos, enriched with the best of the other great traditions.

Anderson, Allan H. and Walter J. Hollenweger. Eds. Pentecostals after a Century: Global Perspectives on a Movement in Transition. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999.

Carmichael, Amy. Gold Cord: The Story of a Fellowship. Dohnavur, India: Dohnavur Fellowship, n.d.

Clinton, J. Robert. The Making of a Leader:  Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development. Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress, 1988.

Cross, Terry. “A Proposal to Break the Ice:  What Can Pentecostal Theology Offer Evangelical Theology.” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 10, No. 2 (April 2002):  44-73.

Elliot Elisabeth. Shadow of the Almighty, The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot. HarperSanFransico, 1989.

Foster, Richard. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.

Hollenweger, Walter J. Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.

Oden, Thomas C. Systematic Theology. The Living God, Vol. 1 (1987); The Word of Life, Vol. 2 (1992); Life in the Spirit, Vol. 3 (1994). New York, NY: HarperSanFransicso; HarperCollins Publishers, 1987, 1992, 1994.

Price, Lynne. Theology Out of Place: A Theological Biography of Walter J. Hollenweger. London, UK; New York, NY: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

Pinnock, Clark H. “Divine Relationality:  A Pentecostal Contribution to the Doctrine of God.” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 16 (2000):  3-26.

__________. Flame of Love:  A Theology of the Holy Spirit. Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Stronstad, Roger. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke. Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers, 1984.

Tarr, Del. Double Image:  Biblical Insights from African Parables. New York, NY; Mahwah, NJ:  Paulist Press, 1994.

Biographies

Carmichael, Amy. Gold Cord: The Story of a Fellowship. Dohnavur, India: Dohnavur Fellowship, n.d.

Elliot Elisabeth. Who Shall Ascend: The Life of R. Kenneth Strachan of Costa Rica. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1968.

Houghton, Frank. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur:  The Story of a Lover and Her Beloved. Fort Washington, PA:  Christian Literature Crusade, n.d.

Kinnear, Angus L. Against the Tide: The Story of Watchman Nee. Bombay, India: Gospel Literature Service, 1973.

Christian Life

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Rev. ed. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1963.

Brown, Rodney-Howard. The Touch of God. Milton Keynes, UK: Nelson Word, 1995.

Chambers, Oswald. Not Knowing Wither: The Steps of Abraham’s Faith Retraced. Haunts, UK: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1975.

Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. New York, NY:  Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908; New York, NY: Doubleday; Image Books, 2001.

Kendall, R.T. The Anointing: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1998.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. Scribner; Simon & Schuster Inc., 1952.

__________. The Weight of Glory, and other Addresses. New York, NY: HarperSanFransico; HarperCollins Publishers, 1949, 1980.

Monk Kidd, Sue, When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Directions for Life’s Sacred Questions. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers; HarperSanFrancisco, 1990.

Nee, Watchman. Changed into His Likeness. Ed. Angus Kinnear, Kingsway Publications, n.d.

__________. What Shall this Man do? Watchman Nee. Ed. Angus Kinnear. Wheaton, IL:  Tyndale House Publishers, 1971.

Solomon, Robert M. Fire for the Journey: Reflections for a God-guided Life. Singapore: Genesis Books, Armour Publishing, 2002.

Sasser, Sam. The Potter’s Touch: Consecrated to Servanthood. Destiny Image Publishers, 1991.

Sorge, Bob. The Fire of Delayed Answers. Canandaigua, NY: Oasis House; Bob Sorge Ministries, 1996.

Warner, Rob. Prepare for Revival. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton

Willard, Dallas. The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship. Oxford, UK: Monarch Books, 2006.

Devotionals

Carmichael, Amy. His Thoughts Said . . . His Father Said . . . Middlesex, UK: Dohnavur Fellowship; Penn, US: Christian Literature Crusade, 1971.

Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Toronto, Canada:  McClelland and Stewart, 1935.

Kempis, Thomas A. The Imitation of Christ. Trans. by E. M. Blaiklock. Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979.

Leadership / Ministry

Chan, Mark L. Y. “The Cross Between the Golden Arches and Mickey Mouse: Discipleship in an Age of Mcdonaldization and Disneyization.” In Truth to Proclaim: The Gospel in Church and Society. A Trinity Theological Journal Supplement. Ed. Simon Chan. Singapore: Trinity Theological College, 2002.

Greenleaf, Robert K. On Becoming a Servant Leader. Eds don M. Frick and Larry C. Spears. San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996._________. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1977.

MacDonald, Gordon. Rebuilding Your Broken World. Nashville, TN:  Oliver-Nelson Books, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1988.

Roberts, Randal. Ed. Lessons in Leadership:  Fifty Respected Evangelical Leaders Share Their Wisdom on Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI:  Kregel Publications, 1999.

Turnbull, Ralph G. A Minister’s Obstacles. Revell’s Preaching and Pastoral Aid Series. Westwood, NJ:  Fleming H. Revell Co., 1959.

Theological

Aulen, Gustav. Christus Victor:  A Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement. Trans. by A. G. Hebert. London, UK:  SPCK, 1931.

Banks, Robert. Paul’s Idea of Community.  Rev. Ed. Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers, 1994.

Barth, Karl. The Doctrine of the Word of God. Vol 1.1 of Church Dogmatics. Trans. by G.W. Bromiley. Edinburgh, UK: T. and T. Clark, 1975.

Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress; Fortress Press, 2001.

Brunner, Emil. The Christian Doctrine of God. Vol. 1. Trans. By Olive Wyon. London, UK:  Lutterworth Press, 1949.

Grenz, Stanley J. Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-Theological Era (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic; BridgePoint Books, 2000.

Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory, and other Addresses (New York, NY: HarperSanFransico; HarperCollins Publishers, 1949, 1980.

Macchia, Frank D. Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.

McGrath, Alister E. The Mystery of the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House; Academie Books, 1988.

Menzies, William W. and Robert P. Menzies. Spirit and Power:  Foundations of Pentecostal Experience. Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House; HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.

Menzies, William W. “The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology.” In Perspectives on Evangelical Theology.  Papers from the Thirtieth Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Eds. Kenneth S. Kantzer and Stanley N. Gundry. Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, n.d.

McGavran, Donald A. Understanding Church Growth. 3rd ed. Ed. C. Peter Wagner. Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.

Pinnock, Clark H. Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness. Carlisle, UK; Paternoster Press; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006.

Bible

Aker, Ben. “New Directions in Lukan Theology:  Reflections on Luke 3:21-22 and Some Implications.” In Faces of Renewal:  Studies in Honor of Stanley M. Horton. Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers, 1988.

Bradt, Kevin M. Story as a Way of Knowing. Kansas City, KA:  Sheed & Ward, 1997.

Heschel, Abraham. The Prophets. New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962; HarperPerennial Modern Classics, 2001.

Stronstad, Roger. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke. Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers, 1984.

Talbert, Charles. H. Reading Luke:  A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel. New York, NY:  Crossroad, 1982.

Other selected readings

Buber, Martin. I and Thou. 2nd Ed. Trans. By Ronald Gregor Smith. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958.

___________. On Judaism. Ed. Nahum N. Glatzer. New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1967.