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Abba Ah Beng's Durian Theology

Dr Alex Tang

 

“Going to the cinema to watch movies is sinful,” declared Disciple Ah Kow. “No, it’s not,” countered Disciple Ah Lek who loves to watch movies, “It’s educational.” Both disciples were washing toilets in the Sow-lin Monastery. The monastery has this policy that its disciples should share in the maintenance of the premises. The policy was instituted for building character in its disciples. The monastery also saves by not employing more janitorial staff.

“Watching movies corrupts the soul,” Ah Kow continued, “Did not the Apostle Peter said, ‘Do not love the world or anything in the world.[1]’” “But the Apostle Paul said, ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind.[2]’ Going to movies will renew our minds.” responded Ah Lek. “Sinner!” shouted Ah Kow, “You just want to watch semi-naked girls.” “Do not,” Ah Lek shouted back, “I want to watch the movie The Passion of the Christ.” “Liar!” screamed Ah Kow pushing Ah Lek. Ah Lek responded with a well executed ‘drunken tiger falling down the hill’ roundhouse kick.

Abba Ah Beng was sitting crossed legged eating durian[3] in the main hall when his two disciples were brought before him. He looked up at Ah Kow and Ah Lek with a gleam in his eyes, which set the two disciples’ knees quaking[4]. “Fighting again, I see,” sighed Abba Ah Beng, “Ah Kow, open this durian with this screwdriver.” Ah Kow reached out to grab the durian and tried to open the fruit. All he managed to get were lots of painful scratches. “Here, let me,” said Ah Lek as he reached out and grab the screwdriver. With a skilful poke and twist, he opened the fruit into two pieces revealing the seeds with its golden fleshy outer layer.

A rich aroma filled the hall. Both Abba Ah Beng and Ah Lek inhaled with a satisfied “Hmm.” Ah Kow gagged. “Such a wonderful smell” sighs Ah Lek. “So horrible-lah. Like rotten eggs!” Ah Kow complained. “Here,” Abba Ah Beng said, “eat, eat.” Ah Lek took a seed and ate its luscious flesh with a look of ecstasy on his face. “Very good-lah” he commented. Abba Ah Beng beamed. “Sure good-lah. Special tree, B94” he explained. Meanwhile, Ah Kow shut his eyes as he put the fleshy seed in his mouth. “Urgh!” he croaked, “the inner seed is so hard.” Then he choked and turned blue as he had accidentally swallowed the seed.

The Bible is like a durian,” explained Abba Ah Beng, as he performed the Heimlich manoeuvre on Ah Kow. “To apply it, you have to know how to open it. Otherwise all you get are some painful wounds. With the correct technique, which is the Holy Spirit, you can open the Bible and taste of its teachings. The succulent fleshy part of the seed is the interpretations and traditions of the church. These are the negotiable part of the Bible; like going to the movies, wearing jeans to church, or playing drums during worship. Some people love it, others hate it. The hard seed is the inner core of Biblical teaching. It is non-negotiable and consists of truths such as God is three and one (the Trinity), Jesus is the Son of God, and Jesus is fully human and fully God. This seed when planted in the right soil will grow into a tree and bear good fruits.”

Both disciples blinked in awe at Abba Ah Bang’s insight, the durian forgotten. Abba Ah Beng calmly finished his durian, burped and said, “I’m going to town, my movie starts in an hour.”

 

 

Abba Ah Beng’s ‘durian’ theology may sound strange to us but it does encapsulate certain truths about the Bible. To some people, the Bible is like a thorny hard durian. It is difficult to hold. The thorns may cause pain by scratches and skin punctures. Thus the Bible appears as an obstacle to many who seek the Truth. Some will spent their lives studying the exterior of the Bible becoming expert without tasting the succulent flesh within. As all durian lovers will know, there are certain ways to open the fruit without causing themselves bodily harm. By inserting a screwdriver or a blade into a certain spot and twisting it, the durian will split easily into two halves. Similarly to get to the truth in the Bible requires certain tools and know-how. The Holy Spirit, a willingness to seek the truth, and a working knowledge of the language are primary requirements to split the hard shell of the Bible. Without the Holy Spirit to open our spiritual eyes, the durian will remain a fruit.

The Bible contains many teachings. However, not all teachings contain the same weightage. Knowing about God is obviously more important than knowing how many meters make a cubit. The teachings of the Bible can be broadly divided into two groups; one which consists of teachings of core truths and are non-negotiable. These truths are often codified as in the Nicene Creed or in the Westminster Larger Catechism. Some examples are God the creator, the Trinity, Biblical inerrancy, and the redemptive mission of God. These truths stand outside of culture, time and space. The other group are the negotiable teachings. These teachings are to be interpreted in the context of the culture, time and space of the learners (hence negotiable). They have to be adapted by each generation of Christians to the era they exist in. Examples are whether we should have our worship service on Saturday or Sunday, or what type of music shall we play during our worship service, or should we serve grape water or wine during Holy Communion?

While it is easy to say that there are two groups; the non-negotiable and negotiable teachings, sometimes it is difficult to decide into which category a certain teaching belongs. One such example is that whether baptism should be done by sprinkling or immersion in water? While at first glance it may seem obvious, yet proponents for each mode of baptism will be able find enough verses to support their stand. Another example is should speaking in tongues be allowed in church? What shall we do in such cases? I believe then that it is time for us to stop fighting, and believe that our God is large enough for both positions. Why must everything be either/or? Why not either/and? One of the reasons why the church is so weak is because we are so fragmented. We spent most of our time and energy fighting over the non-essentials (negotiable) while neglecting the essentials (non-negotiable). We will be so much stronger if we focus only on the essentials of our faith.

 

Reflection Questions

1.      How do we discern which Biblical teachings are non-negotiable, and which negotiable?

2.      Why do you think Christians spend so much time fighting each other about Biblical negotiable teachings?

3.      What steps will you take to extend love in a disagreement over a negotiable Biblical teaching?

 

Dear Lord,

Thank you for giving us the Bible as our guide and as our light. Thank you for your Holy Spirit who opens our spiritual eyes to your Truth. Forgive us, Lord, for in our limited understanding and sinful nature, we pervert your truths. Teach us Lord to discern which are the non-negotiable, essential parts of your Truth and help us to incorporate them in our lives. Help us to discern which are the culture-bound negotiable parts of your Teachings, so that we may adapt them to our daily lives. Have mercy upon us.

Amen

 

Endnotes:

[1] 1 John 2:15a

[2] Romans 12:2b

[3] A durian is a round fruit with thorns on the outside. It is the King of fruits. Either you love it or hate it. Want to know more, google ‘durian’ and hope your computer do not smell.

[4] Disciple Ah Kow later set up the Christian group called Quakers.

 

|posted 20 January 2008|

               

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