Doing Theology in the Philippines: An Evaluation

You can buy the book here: Doing Theology in the Philippines

Instructions:

Write an evaluation of Doing Theology in the Philippines
, explaining where you agreed or disagreed with the book. Which ideas might be helpful in your ministry? Which ideas aren’t suitable? Do some strike you as dangerous or unbiblical?  Are you strongly supportive of any of them. Please explain reasons for all your comments. Information about your own ministry situation or experience is also appropriate as it sheds light on your reasoning or explains examples of contextualization. Length: 5-10 pages

Pre-knowledge Evaluation

Prior to reading this book, I already had a recurring dilemma about contextualization and its tenets. The dominant theme of this book was the gist of Ed Lapiz, a famous Filipino evangelical preacher and one of the authors of this book also. I first heard him in the year 2011 over the radio and was interested on his daily broadcast called Day by Day. For a period of time, I like the style of his preaching because he is humorous, practical, nationalistic, and spontaneous. His illustrations are well-acquainted to the Filipino culture which almost all can relate to. He uses the teaching philosophy of apperception and reconstruction, taking the exact ideologies of the Filipino mind, and challenging them in light of God’s truths. I had downloaded his preachings, bought his books and listened via live air radio.

In the length of months of my listening to his doctrine, I got one of his main emphases. He advocates what we call as “Indigenous Christianity” which I realized is somewhat interconnected with contextualization. His advocacies also include redemption of ethnic Filipino ways of worship and rituals in an attempt to ascribe them and address them to God of Israel and of the church. He also wrote a paper called The Redemption of Dance1, which builds on Biblical foundational truths towards the redemption of the arts for the glory of God.

I was agreeing with everything Ed Lapiz was teaching before until I read from a blog critique written on a site called The Bereans that critiques the tenets expressed by Lapiz. This resulted to a dilemma in my understanding. The point from the counteracting notion was that “the Bible was given to change cultures” and not the “culture to define the Bible.” The critique also adds that since our ancient Filipino ancestors are Gentile idolaters, there is no way we can “carry over” the pagan-dedicated practices to the new life of regeneration. On the other hand, the countering reason again in my mind is that “All truth is God’s truth.” Given that since a certain practice is found in the animistic tribes, does not mean that it has to be totally discounted as part of Christian worship. Everything was made by Him, through Him, and for Him, including the arts and culture. So the struggling is between the redemptive nature of indigenousness of Christianity and the sanctification of God’s cultural trends. I could express my sheer dilemma between these two, and was having a hard time discerning which of them I could find my place with.

So these are the predominant thinking before I dived into this book, that’s why I was eager to discover some depths of insight and how I can express my ideas about the matters presented.

http://www.icdf.com/resources/redemption-of-dance-jan08.pdf

http://www.thebereans.net/per-critique1.shtml

Indigenize!

Indigenization seems to be the overarching theme of the book, and this theme is largely looming and growing among the broader circles of Evangelical Christianity in the Philippines. This book is composed of a compilation of different papers from renowned Filipino theologians and Christian authors who shared their knowledge in relation to the context of Doing Theology in the Philippines
. For me, the overall aim of this book is summarized in the phrase, “Contextualization means articulating biblical faith using our own terms and in light of our local issues.” (Doing Theology in the Philippines
, page 4).

I would like to divide this evaluation paper into two major sections. These include my different answers to the questions provided in the course requirements. The first section includes the different thoughts that I agree with from this book. It also includes phrases that I find positive, useful, biblical and I can support with. The second section includes parts of the book that I find disagreeable, unbiblical, dangerous and unprofitable.

Generally Positive Views

The principle of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22 teaches that “become all things to all men.” It is translating the gospel into a language that is understood by the culture by which we live in. This is a verse where Paul gives the idea that goes the same with contextualization. This phrase expressed by Paul transformed into a dedicated book I am reviewing. These words of Paul could be seen reincarnated to the Filipino Christians who have gone through the years of Biblical Christianity.
The overarching positive thing that I experienced from this book was anchored on the words of Paul penned above. This book helps that reality be actualized in the context of the Filipino Christian development. As expressed by T. Gener, “Filipinos should not simply receive theology from elsewhere; they must actively participate in its development here.” (Doing Theology in the Philippines
, p.7)
The authors’ track record
In general, the positive thing I see from this book is the nativity of the authors who have successful track records and reputable ministry portfolio in the Philippines. Knowing some basic information of their background gives an idea that the book is authored by minds that live within the context of Filipino culture, and not merely Westerners who had done “intellectual” research and presentation about the topic. It would benefit us a lot because as Filipinos, we underwent more than four of five centuries of colonial leadership, exploitation and domination.

Centuries of colonialism may have led many of us not to have big confidence to our fellowmen, and rather place confidence to foreigners whom we have been accustomed to be dependent of over the years. I propose that this has been due to an unbiblical way of leading the nations in the previous centuries. The unbiblical patterns of the Philippine colonizers could be summed up in the lack or failure to train the locals into achieving development for themselves.” This failure led to a common sickness among the Filipinos, and even as I see it, it is still rampant until now this disease of the soul which could be labeled as “disinterest and apathy in the zeal for development.” Yes, we have been under colonial leaders, but there is a lack of spirit to human and community development in the majority of our citizens, leading to innumerable consequences.

Nationalism and patriotism has been a popular theme now in this post-colonial generation, leading to the rise of pursuing one’s own cultural identity. It is scant of attaining the mentality of “dewesternizing” cultures, especially those who have been under the colonies for the past centuries. I see this, however, as having both a negative and a positive effect. But I see the Western infiltration of the Philippines as a phenomenon leaning towards positive influence of our country. The “dewesternization notion”, however, is popularly perpetuated among the constituents of the University of the Philippines, which Ed Lapiz has been a graduate of. That’s why I could sense the spirit of the University in his works, only in the context of Christianity. “Foreign dominated people cannot anchor themselves in their past… cannot chart a future. A foreign dominated nation is a lost nation, perhaps not a nation at all.” (Doing Theology in the Philippines, page 177). I see this as both a dangerous and a challenging notion, based on where the understanding would lead to. How? I penned my explanation below:

Bashing the West: Pros and Cons

For me, dewesternization only turns into a threat if this zeal of pursuing one’s own nationalistic goals tend to include the Westerner’s Christian influence that came together with it. I see the Western’s efforts especially that of the United States of America such as spreading culture throughout the world, establishing a world order and initiating grassroots involvements as an inseparable fruit of mission work. Through the years that these American missionaries (both the traditional and professional ones who have trodden the soils of Asia), they have carried with them powerful principles and benefits that had been a result of the Christian-immersed West. However, Filipinos should not neglect the fact that much of what the West has brought were cultures shaped by the Bible itself. America was founded from the principles of the Bible, and that culture transported to many parts of the world, and established world orders, should not be denied of positive outlook. As many of the Americans are the seed of Abraham (the Christians), many Americans has been sent as aliens from above to countries of the world so that “all families and nations of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

We may mislabel Christianity as “Western” alone and miss the most important ingredient of it- Christ Himself. As a precaution to this semi-dangerous militancy against the West, we should never “throw the baby out with the water.” Some of the Biblically-founded values I could perceive in a Western mind include the valuing of time, punctuality, culture of training and intentional leadership, advanced pursuit of knowledge, detail-orientedness, identity-consciousness, patriotism, excellent stewardship, organization and courteousness. Of course, these are not possessed by all Americans themselves or the Westerners, but the predominantly-influencing values of the culture tend to be founded on the Biblical seeds sown throughout the centuries that has passed. I see these factors which resulted to developed worlds or the first worlds.

Biblical Values and Filipino response

On the other hand, I do believe that the Filipino culture still has seeds of the gospel in it. We may not find some praiseworthy Filipino values predominantly practiced among the Western culture. Even though most of the Filipinos still has fresher memories of unbiblical cultures around them, there were many cultural practices that reflect Biblical values. These include family-orientedness, politeness, timelessness (as highlighted by Ed Lapiz, DTP, page 192), relationship-consciousness, emotional bonding, (utang na loob) gratitiude, submissiveness and community-mindedness. Of course, not all of these values are dominant among the Filipinos, but the base culture are very much like it. Although I am personally convicted that the base culture of the unregenerate Filipino community is nothing but anti-God itself, in a humanistic viewpoint, it may include seeds of the truth from the Creator, as every Filipino is also an image of God. Because of the gradual “westernization” of the Filipino youth, there are notable decline of some of these traits and adaptation to those that are predominant among the West.

All in all, I should say that a Filipino Christian has to be discerning towards values that might be found dominant in either West or East, and use his wisdom which ones to adopt and which ones to discontinue. The Scripture has a beautiful description of its ability in Psalm 19:7 as “making wise the simple.” The word simple means “open-minded” which leads to a picture of a person who believes and follows everything that he inputs. Without the Scripture, Filipinos will just be “simple” people who blindly accept all of western thought even the spiritually-destructive ones. Also, without the Scripture, Filipinos may act militarily against the Western world, and always seeing them  as a threat. These militant behavior have the danger of including the Judeo-Protestant values the West has acquired and proliferated to the nations throughout centuries.

An effect of an emerging mission work

In general sense, I think one reason that this book has come out is because of the effectiveness of the Christian gospel in this country in the past decades. You see, in the history of mankind, whenever Christianity enters a culture, the native culture experiences a disruptive change to its considered previous “norms.” Since the Christian gospel has the power to save, it also has the power to change.

Everywhere Christianity has traversed, we could see a struggle within the receiving culture on how to contextualize such truths. There is also an inertia among the “bringers” of the gospel on how these Scriptural principles would transpire on the receiving culture. This has been the work and experience of countless Christian missionaries and transplanted workers who have been from one culture to another culture. But in the midst of this Christian fulfillment, there must be an active analysis about Christianity’s relationship to the receiving culture. As one author puts it, “Why Filipinize? For freedom. To set the people of the world free from colonialist Christianity… Why Filipinize? For equality, and for true brotherhood and sisterhood. Heavily westernized, colonialist, elitist Christianity alienates people.” (Ed Lapiz, DTP, page 192). Although this notion of Lapiz for me is still subject to deeper evaluation since he might be referring to Spanish colonialist mindset or early batch of American brand of Christianity, or he could be searching for a “better brand of Christianity” that should have entered the gates of the Philippines.”

The “evangelical” dominance of this book

One thing I also admire about this book is the unity of evangelical authors to such achievement. Although there are no fundamental baptist groups included in their team, the fact that they are predominantly Bible-believing or evangelical Christians give the book a different impression than the rest. Not only that it is purely-written by Filipino folks, it is also evangelical/ fundamental/ Bible-believing in nature.

Incorporated Chinese worldview

I think one of the distinct characteristic of this book is their move to include worldview of the Chinese mind to the Filipino Culture (page 65 / chapter 5). As a Filipino, I grew up looking up to many Chinese citizens around me, and can’t help but be influenced by their mindset as well. They are everywhere in this country, and most of them are the ones dominating the Financial-Political world. The fact that this book touches this topic, lifts it one step higher compared to those who have been written by Americans or any nationals outside the Filipino immersion. “Chinese Filipinos encounter and often assimilate Roman Catholic or evangelical belief systems… he or she also needs to be disentangled from all the unbiblical, sometimes even anti-Christian worldviews that are vestiges of non-Christian religions.” (Jean Uayan, DTP, page 77).

Balanced and well-dispersed

Another positive characteristic is the book’s balanced views on the issues permeating the country. One example is how EDSA Revolution People Power was brought to biblical scrutiny (DTP, Chapter 9, page 131 ). It is a noble thing to fearlessly express negative sentiment towards the behavior on that Filipino Revolution, as well as the positive ones. I appreciate Isabelo Magalit’s “Five Grades of Government”, categorizing human government and its characteristics, (DTP, page 140-141).

Through this chapter, I have seen that the book does not only trod on the theological landscape, but also to the socio-political challenges in the country. I am glad that one of my favorite topics, poverty, was also touched in its pages. I find this as a contributing factor to the formula of the book’s relevancy equation. The book addressed one of the pervading issues of the country which is political corruption. “To simply accept a ruler who oppresses, or deceives, or is unjust, because that ruler is God’s provision, is illogical. God might tolerate such as ruler, for a while. But God does not install rulers to do evil! That would make God a partner in wickedness.” (Isabelo Magalit, DTP, page 140).

If I could recommend one incorporation to this book, I would give an advice of dedicating a study on the theology of poverty. If this were included in the book, it will escalate the book one level higher. Poverty is not only a prevalent issue surrounding Filipino citizens. It is also a well-sought, well-mitigated topic for decades among the weary pre-21st century generation.

Contextualize to revolutionize!

Jesus Himself is a master revolutionizer. He understands the importance of surfacing needs so well that he was able to powerfully utilize it to bring an individual to salvation. He is rooted in the knowledge that the acknowledgment of one’s needs could lead to the attention and hunger of a person which leads him to the power of sustainable life transformation. That is why, one thing that would capture the interest of Filipinos in relation to God’s Word is the dynamic relationship between theology and economy.
Philippines has witnessed countless of people power and revolutions in the past decades. We are a country of revolts. But our revolts should not be in vain if the ideologies we have fought for were grounded on the Biblical truth of Christ. For 8 years that I have been teaching Sunday School (5 years as a student, and 3 years as a post-grad), one thing I’ve observed is that Filipinos “wake up” in the class if we talk about topics that really interests them. Having spent much time on young people, such topics are: love life, career, better place, cleanliness of the soul, temptations, purity, sex, money, family and personal development.

So all in all, one positive thing I see from this book is its power to reform or revolutionize. It creates a force to its readers that ushers steady and sustainable progress in the years to come if taken at heart.

 

Failure to dedicate a section to the evaluation of the early Christian Missions to the Philippines

I think one reason that raised this interest in me is because of the rise of knowledge through the internet. After studying countless resources from the Christian authors of both of the ancient and the conteporary world, my knowledge of Historical Christianity has somewhat deepened. One of the things I have become aware of is the history of the Puritans and Reformation. For around 2 years now, I have been intrigued by the question if the Christianity that entered the Philippines in the early 20th century could be the Reformed Christianity and if it can be traced back to the branches of Lutheran/Calvinistic Protestantism.

Seeing significant differences between the Christianity received by the Philippines (the Christianity where I grew up) and the Christianity as expressed by the prominent Reformers of that glorious Protestant/Puritan past, I could not ignore in my mind that there should be a substantial study to be addressed in this situation. I believe one area that this book has failed to address is how this Christianity from the 1900’s failed contextualization, and how those early American ABWE and Evangelical missionaries of Iloilo, Manila, Cebu and Mindanao relate to the real Protestant Christianity that it has supposed to have taken origins from. Yes, I admit that there really has connections and differences between the Reformed tradition and the early Christian missions, but I think the book will have more vibrancy if it has addressed this area. Maybe pointing to other books like Elaine Kennedy’s book on Baptist history of the Philippines could help. But I hope clearer understanding would enter if “Filipino Christianity of the West” will be more defined as that of the 1900’s or 1600’s, American’s or British’s, Reformed’s or Baptist’s etc, etc.

Since contextualization is perceived to be “lacking” among the developing Christianity in this country, I guess it would help a lot to dedicate an evaluation on the early Baptist or Christian missions in the Philippines. As one of the authors puts it, real Biblical Christianity should be a work dedicated “to disciple and train Christians for a lifestyle of dikaiosune. The Bible ought to be used to form communities of faith. Love and servanthood that foster freedom are a better mark of the church than control or subservience.” (Lorenzo Bautista, Doing Theology in the Philippines, page 57) This is a powerful statement that catapults a wrecking ball of destruction to the fortresses of Spanish colonization. But another question would be, “Could this be a case to the early Christian missionaries of the 20th century Philippines? Did they fail to achieve the highlighted keyword of training and discipling the natives, not just in ecclesiastical leadership, but as well as economic, political and social development in fulfillment of the Biblical mandate to subdue and cultivate the world (Genesis 1:28)?.

Why am I proposing this? It’s because I have some small introductory knowledge about another set of Christian missions in other countries. Take for example, South Korea who was governed in the past by Missionary movements such as the Presbyterians, Hong Kong and Singapore (although I am not deeply acquainted with these, but one thing I am sure is there good governance now and in the past that led them to there elevated community status now). Christian Missionary Colonizers of world were not of course necessarily Americans, but may have included the British and Dutch. I’d wish to see a chapter in this book comparing the fruits of these nations with regards to the quality of their colonization products. We’re aware of how the different countries whom they have governed changed significantly, not just spiritually but economically. I believe the study about the different Christianity from the SuperPowers of the Colonization era would help the understanding of the current status of Filipino Christianity in a major manner.

The silent gap

It might be safe to say that the book highlights some Roman Catholic paraphernalia in an affirmative manner. One example would be the integration of Noli Mendoza’s chapter on “De Belen” and Jose de Mesa’s “Ave Maria” (DTP, page 150). Overall, good and convincing arguments were created, however, it leaves a gap in the mind and invites unsolicited questions. If I would give an unsolicited advice, that would be a short chapter explaining these in a dedicated manner. In that way, further repercussions and false assumptions would be avoided.

I have had a negative inclination to some points made by Lapiz’s “Pagbabalik sa sarili, Pagsimbang likas at Hiyang sa Filipino.” First, is that I could not find substantial Biblical pillars for his platform teaching by which I can land my feet. He advocates a “Christianity that we can claim as our own.” This is of course a noble idea, a solemn expression of Christ’s command to “love your neighbor as ourself.” This is the gist of all efforts of indigenization we could all acclaim. I find this as a notion having a useful and helpful percentage, in a sense that contextualization touches the mission recipients’ hearts.  But, as I could recall, there are not much Scriptural references that strongly supports a kind of worship that goes back to the original culture practices, save the futuristic vision of having “all nations, tribes, and tongues, and cultures bow before Him.” (Revelation 7:9).

Conclusion

To resolve dilemmas and achieve a notable end, I could sum up with this phrase: “Contextualizing without jeopardizing.” The work of contextualizing is a blessed work for those called unto the gospel ministry, as it involves continually building relationships with people who don’t believe, and having the strength from God to live His Word and reflect to the surrounding culture. Contextualization is the same effort created by the translators of the English Bible, in a desire to “contextualize” the Greek and Hebrew words of God to the ordinary people.

However, the challenge on this topic is to move closest to the line of context without fitting the fallen patterns of this world, resulting to a point that there will no more be a distinguishable difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. As regenerate people, we are to be “in the world” but should continue in “not being of it.” Sadly, some Christians may have this twisted view that contextualization mean compromise. This should not be the case. It is not giving people what they want, how they want and following the people’s fallen desires.
Therefore, Christians must balance between not contextualizing and too much contextualizing. Without contextualization, no one will be saved because no one would understand the message of the gospel. But with too much contextualization, the gospel’s message would be hidden by the pervasive culture, and no salvation will transpire because the gospel is a call to change and not similitude of lifestyle. Filipino Christians must continually to work in contextualizing the truths of God so that the eyes of the surrounding culture will understand the meaning of God’s eternal Word.
This write-up is one of my requirements in Masteral Class.

Buy the book here: Doing Theology in the Philippines

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