26 June 2008

Discovering the Word through Biblical Theology

My reading/listening of Goldsworthy (According to Plan), Peterson's lectures on Biblical Theology (Oakhill Seminary) and articles from the IVP New Dictionary of Biblical Theology has been very gratifying and rewarding. The amazing thing for me is to see intellectually substantiated what I've always believed about the Bible - it's unity (in the diversity of many authors in different times and situations), it's one overarching message (built up from many narratives) and it's final convergence on Christ.

I'm learning that you not only can see themes run through this salvation history, but it is the framework of salvation history that must determine how these themes are understood. I drew a lot of diagrams to help me conceptualise how BT changes the way I read the Bible. Maybe I'll show post them up here one day.

One is a series of lenses that converges rays of light to a single focal point, the lenses being historical-literary context, canonical context, and Christological context. Put simply, a passage in the Bible is not being properly interpreted without seeing it through the whole Bible and Christ as it's framework or context. The historical-literary context asks: What is the author trying to say to the audience then and there; in their need and situation? The second then asks: Where/how does this fit in, and what does it contribute to the salvation-history story of the WHOLE Bible? The third then asks: How do I see Christ in this passage, and this passage in Christ?

Another is a set of concentric circles; the smallest being historical-literary, followed by canonical, then Christological, then God-church, then the world. Seeing it in enlarging circles helps me develop it's applicability. The smallest message unit is to the original audience, then, as part of the witness of the whole Bible, then as signboard pointing to Christ, then as God speaking to his church today, and finally, as the church being a witness to the world.

When I do my daily reading of the Bible now, I try to sit back at the end, close my eyes, and rethink the passage in these contexts... it's simply an amazing exercise for me to see the levels of significance just grow in depth and breadth to encompass all time and all of life.

Peterson in the first couple of lectures also taught me some remarkable things I never realised: that the apostle Peter was doing BT in his sermon in Acts ch 2, and he learnt it from Jesus in the post-resurrection period when Christ explained to them how the Law, Prophets and Psalms were fufilled in him! Also that the genealogy in Matthew is a sketch of salvation history milestones/landmarks - Adam, Abraham, David, and Christ - for epochal eras of salvation history!

Where have I been all these years?

Well, my excitement must give way to disciplined reading and reflection day by day. And seeing myself in the sweep of salvation history certainly adds a very important to perspective to how am I called to live. There is a sense of where we've come from and where we're headed, and the trajectory of life is being set right.

22 June 2008

Not every week I get a Sunday like this. Joan's at work - rescucitating the collapsed or straightening a fractured limb, whatever it is she has to do in the ER. My job's to keep baby clean and fed and give him his nap.

Ah but what joy it is when it isn't a task but a chance to reclaim some father and son time and create a few significant moments in our own history.

Fed him with Bob the Builder playing to keep him sufficiently cooperative. Showered him to a silky smooth radiance. Then at his yawning cue, put off the lights, draw the drapes and rock him to sleep.

Heck, I thought to myself. I may as well get some deep rest myself. So as he drifted into sleep I also proceeded to defragment my thoughts and feelings, breathe deeply, letting go the many tensions and suppressed inner conflicts. Soon he was flat out on the mattress and I was in the armchair, reclaiming my own center. It was my time to be. Be myself. And be with God. Letting me be me, God be God. In stillness know that nothing else matters, nothing was important. There really is nothing else apart from.. Here in this silent meeting was all things answered.

An hour passed. Ethan stirs. I sidle alongside him, cheek to the bed. He smiles and does the same, grinning contentedly.

'You're a good boy!' I offered.
He grins even wider, almost sheepishly.
'You love daddy?' I tease.
He nods affirmingly.
Then unexpextedly he lunges forward on all fours and pecks me on the cheek. Then shyly buries his face.
'Daddy loves you too!'
This goes on for a few minutes on the mattress. The beam of noon sun escaping between drapes shone brighter.

Then we had lunch. He sat on an adult chair next to mine, watched me eat, nibbled on some bits of sweet potato and grabbing my fork now and then to feed me!

Ah. The sweetness of wasting time together. Doing nothing 'important' yet having the most important thing there is. Ethan teaches me rest. Ethan teaches me how to be a father, and how to be a child.

What am I doing now? Thumbing this log, on the floor, my back against the washing machine. While Ethan rearranges everything in the kitchen cabinet.

Life. Just doesn't get better than this.

19 June 2008

Starting with the single unit

Continuing my search for a unified method for understanding self and managing life, I decided I must start with the most basic unit - the person. Over the years of scanty reading and brief exposures to various schools of thought, the one model I'm most convinced of is the 'physicalist non-reductionist' model of the person.

The idea in this model, to my simple mind, is that you can't reduce the person to his feelings, his thoughts, and his bodily processes as though they were separate entities (hence reductionist), nor can you separate mind and body - one cannot exist or function without the other (hence physicalist.) Put another way, while you can describe various aspects, functions or domains of a person - eg. body, soul & spirit; mind, emotions, volition, & intuition; affective & cognitive, etc. - there are no lines of demarcation where one ends and the other starts. And none exist without the other.

Of course, once you have a model, you will need to decide on its parts. While theologians are largely diveded into a bipartite (body & soul) or tripartite (body, soul & spirit), I'm not convinced it matters how or to how many parts we divide the person as long as we remember that we are each a UNITY. In fact, when we think of ourselves as image-bearers of a Triune God, it demands a unity in diversity, but not necessarily a tripartite man. Ok, I digress..

Using a model for healthcare (WHO definition of health), and the tripartite description in 1 Thes 5:23 of the Bible, I'm quite happy, for descriptive and life-management purposes (read: disclaimer, disclaimer! This is not a theological statement)to see man as biopsychosocial and and body, soul and spirit. I further sub-describe soul in terms of mind and heart - wherein the mind is rational/cognitive, and the heart is emotional/affective. Spiritually we relate to God, intuit the world, and our most primary motivations and subconscious driving force reside in our spirit. Socially we relate to others and in these relationships we often find our definition - in 'the other' so to speak.

Well, that is, in brief how I see the 'parts' or 'aspects' of a person that will need managing. As a concentric circle, I have the spirit in the centre, the soul (mind and heart) as the middle circle, and the body as the outer circle within a framework of the community (box).

To manage life, I will need to start there. In order of importance as well as direction of forces, I need to start from the centre - the spirit, from which everything flows: how I perceive the world, how I relate to self and others, what my motives and desires are, and so on. Following that, emotional, mental and physical health constitutes my core health. Without vibrant inner life, my outer life will surely collapse. From spirit to soul, soul to body, body to relationships with others: family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, etc. (I do consider relationship with self crucial - but that can come under emotional health.. more later.)

So to start the life-management process at this level.. I need to ask myself what is my desired outcome/goals:
1. Spiritually
2. Intellectually
3. Emotionally
4. Physically
5. Socially/relationally?
.. at the end of my life, at... well,.. as far you can project or to the end of this week!

14 June 2008

Halfway there

I turn 36 in a week. If 72 is the average lifespan of a man, I'm halfway there. I'm half done living, and I've got another half to go. No, I'm not making a big deal of it nor am I soliciting birthday gifts (or sympathy! LOL.) I just felt a 'lil, well, reflective, seeing that I'm growing old and all.

It's odd (but probably quite usual) that at thirty-six I'm learning some things for the first time in my life.. and going,.. 'You mean that's the way it's done? I'm 36 and I only just realised that? What have I been doing the last...'.

Well, one of those things is this: TIME SHOULD NOT BE MEASURED IN HOURS OR TASKS. This comes after years of attempting to manage time: new year's resolutions, yearly planning, quarterly goals, monthly reviews, weekly plans, daily execution schedules, domain/role mapping, and all that jazz (believe me I've tried it all, and invented a few of my own.) Well, after many years of frustration, and some of unprecedented success, I've realised it's not the way to go.

For one simple reason: life is not about how well I spend my hours (squeezing in as much productivity into the minute) nor of tasks accomplished. It's about meaningfully giving God glory, living out my calling, and blessing people in an impactful way.

If I've learnt anything being an educationist, it is that you should have clear objectives that match your desired outcome.

So if I live my life by hours and tasks, that is what I will achieve - hours spent, and tasks accomplished. Of course, if these hours were well spent and the tasks aligned to good goals - they would have had positive results. But that still does not ensure a satisfying experience executing them; nor real blessing to others in a spiritual/relational sense. More often than not I finish a week in blazing glory; every one of my projects well-executed, only to find myself NOT gratified and growing in joy. Instead I slump in the weekend, in a spent state wondering.. what's next.. And then I start again.

How SHOULD I measure/plan life then? I believe it's best to approach life with the same yardstick as we want to measure the outcome: SPIRITUAL AND RELATIONAL. Goals and tasks and time are servants of these realities. Even the holy grail of management - the vision and mission statement - are not penultimate. They are secondary to relationships (be it vertical - with God, horizontal - with others, or internal - with self) and the spirit of these relationships.

So, at thirty-six, I want to not to bother about the hours. Or the tasks completed (yes, we all love ticking off the boxes on our PDAs!) Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to stop planning my days or ticking off radio-boxes on my Task list. But I AM going to bring life-management to a more basic level. I don't know how I'm going to do it yet. I don't even have the vocabulary or appropriate categories. But I know I need to operate from a more basic, more primary cente.

...to be cont'd