An Update (13/10/08)

I’ve been back in the UK for roughly 2 weeks now. After such a long summer vacation, this has been a period of transition for me, adjusting to independent life, settling back into Cambridge and all its routines, working out how to manage my time wisely for the term, so much so that I’ve neglected some of my relationships back home. It doesn’t help when time zone differences prove inconvenient. Nevertheless, I apologise, and will really try getting into the flow of things yet again.

It’s been a good start to the term so far. Almost seems less hectic than the previous year…but it’s always calm before the storm. Anyways, with summer internship applications to work on, it’s a much appreciated situation.

I popped into Borders the other day just to look at some books, and wandered over to the religious section. The books on Christianity are quite a shocking selection, though perhaps this should be unsurprising. Christianity doesn’t sell. Worldly wisdom disguised as Christianity sells all too well though. However, there are a few gems. I’m happy that they still sell C.S. Lewis, and I also found a copy of the Confessions of St. Augustine. It was 6 quid. I bought it. 

It’s been a good read thus far. I’m really enjoying it. While it can be hard to follow the text at times, given that it’s an unabridged translation, there are moments where my heart expands and my feet just seem to leave the ground. The book is really a conversation Augustine has with God; it is an extended prayer. Yet what is striking about this extended prayer that makes mine pale in comparison is the profound depth of his affection for God. I’m just reaching the end of Book I, but I highly recommend it for devotional reading.

As for blogging, I have been on quite a hiatus. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been reading so much that I’ve not really had the time to sit down and think through things sufficiently. As such, I have had little to say. However, over the past few days, there have been various questions and topics that have captivate me, and I feel compel to pursue some of these ideas and lend expression to the. Therefore, here are a list of likely topics I’ll blog on in the future:

1. Do I have a favourite Gospel? This was somewhat sparked by the new sermon series John Piper has started on the book of John, and also a question that was asked during church lunch, that is, is there a gospel you would recommend to a non-Christian looking to get into the Bible?

2. Why do people leave the church? This question was sparked off by Shan Berg’s post on his blog. This question has reared its head many times in the past. I believe it is time for me to settle this issue as best as I can at the moment. I foresee this being a series of posts.

3. The decline of the importance of preaching. This is something that has increasingly convicted me over the past few months. Do people today have the wrong view of preaching? Why is there an increasing tendency to lean towards visual substitutes? What are the common fallacies of today’s preaching? This was sparked off by a question by a friend on how long I reckon sermons should be.

4. Are some books (in particular new ‘devotional’ books) too heavy on application but too light on theology? (I am altogether dismissing those that are too light on both. Although I do wish to address the question of whether there exists a place for these sort of books.) What is the problem with this? Should we be satisfied with such bite-sized nuggets? Can they be useful? Can they be harmful? Should we attempt harder but richer books? This was sparked off by my recent start on the Confessions of St. Augustine.  Also, I have a post in reserve on the importance of reading good books and why they are crucial to our theology (and also why theology is so important). I might incorporate the latter into the former.

5. How politically involved should Christians be? This is probably one of the toughest topics on my list, and I am slightly fearful of approaching it; it seems unworkable. But it is highly relevant, and I believe it is an issue that must be addressed, in light of the developments in Malaysia, and also the increasing politicisation of Christians in America.

6. What does the fear of the Lord truly mean? I’m currently working through the book of Proverbs, and am attempting to understand its main point. Its purpose is clearly stated at the start of the book – the proverbs are for attaining widsom and discipline, for understanding words of insight, for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, for giving knowledge and discretion to the young, and for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. There are two things that captivate me here. The first is that the purpose of the proverbs are for understanding parables. I wonder whether wisdom gained here will supplement the interpretation of Jesus’ parables. The second is verse 7, which says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools (or one who is morally deficient) despise wisdom and discipline. What does the fear of the Lord signify? For if it is the beginning of knowledge, and knowledge is good, and crucial to right living, then it seems a pressing matter to properly work out what it means for us to fear the Lord.

7. What is the gospel? This question has plagued me incessantly for many weeks. Christians are commanded to spread the gospel, but sometimes I wonder whether this is truly happening. Some claim to be spreading the gospel, but it often seems to me to be too diluted to still be considered good news! Some gospels are too imbalanced, stressing ‘positive’ things like love and acceptance, while glossing over ‘negative’ things like sin and repentance. I wonder how often we are guilty of this. What is the right balance? What is the gospel that we are to share? Personally, I’m tempted to hold this question off until I acquire certain books and read them.

8. What is the purpose of Jesus’ suffering? This question was sparked off by a recent decision by my CU to screen the Passion of the Christ as an evangelistic film. I personally think the film is theologically erroneous and is likely to bring more harm than good to our evangelistic efforts. For example, the account is primarily sourced from extrabiblical revelation, there is an abundance of Catholic theology in the form of Mariolatry and the continual suffering of Jesus in the sacraments – the sacrifice of the altar, and the visual caricaturing of Jesus as tall, slim and handsome and the subtle emotional deception of visual imagery is worrying. I really do believe it produces Catholics, not Christians. In any case, I started digging up some old articles I had read in regard to the movie, and in the process, this question sprung to the forefront of my mind. There seems to be a fixation with the suffering of Jesus in the Catholic faith (and thus the movie, which is described as an animated crucifix). This stands in stark contrast with the empty cross of the Protestants that symbolises the triumph of Jesus. I wish to explore whether there is anything wrong with such an emphasis, and believe the way to answer this is to turn to the Bible and analyse the context of Jesus’ sufferings within.

And that is as much as I can presently recall. 8 topics. I hope to make headway on them soon. As it stands though, the next three days will be rather busy, as I have to finish some supervision work, and attend two career events, leaving me with little spare time to blog.

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