The core mission of the Vietnamese Biblical Theology Society (VBTS) is to provide a platform for scholarly dialogue that advances the critical studies of biblical theology relevant to Vietnamese Christians in Vietnam and around the globe. What does it mean to be theologically sound? Why should we care?
We know that not every Vietnamese Christian cares about biblical theology beyond what they hear on Sunday morning. For some, biblical theology is something the pastors would “ad lib” when pressed with a question about what was said in the pulpit that did not sound right to people of the pews. For others, biblical theology concerns whether tithing is an outdated Old Testament practice or something still relevant today. If we tithe, should it be a tenth of gross or net income? How does biblical theology guide church practices? Is the pastoral pulpit only for men, or is there room for women? How should baptism be done – by spirit, by sprinkle, or by full immersion?
Is biblical theology about who’s right and who’s wrong? Is it about what happened in the mission fields long ago, and what worked and what didn’t work? How has biblical theology helped the Vietnamese people navigate between Eastern and Western cultures, contexts, and ways of thinking and seeing?
For many Vietnamese Christians, biblical theology is about translating what is spoken from the pulpit to what it means in the pews and in social media. For these individuals, biblical theology is about political and social ethics; it is about the 2016 election, about recent Harvard’s acceptance policies, or about Roe v. Wade and the departure of Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Hence, in order to be relevant to its readership, VBTS aims to engage the above-exemplified issues by encouraging reasoned dialogue and through scholarly analysis. VBTS holds a two-fold presupposition. First, we believe biblical texts are not ahistorical and acultural because they were written within specific times in history and in specific cultures. Thus, the Bible is to be read in light of the original socio-cultural settings of the first readers. Second, the theological ideas drawn from the biblical texts are universally adaptive. In other words, the Bible can speak to us today, across all languages, contexts, cultures, and peoples of different occupational backgrounds.
The ignorance of biblical theology, that is, the inability to interpret a given passage in the appropriate historical and cultural contexts, and the failure to explain that passage in light of applicable modern socio-cultural settings, have grave consequences. First, unsound biblical theology can lead to false teaching and ineffective ministry. Second, the lack of biblical theology can lead to ecumenical discord, leading to divisions among churches and Christians. Third, it can lead to the perpetuation of an undeveloped, outdated and problematic heuristics once used for mission work. Finally, lacking sound and relevant biblical theology can lead to the loss of the next generation of Vietnamese Christians whose spiritual and intellectual needs are not being fulfilled. All these consequences have caused the Vietnamese church to become more and more irrelevant in today societies.
Sound Vietnamese biblical theology demands that the Bible must be interpreted and explained to all Vietnamese at home or abroad, young or old, addressing relevant social, ethical, and spiritual issues facing the modern church. Otherwise, the Bible, the gospel, and the preaching of the Apostles will remain, at best, as unrefined philosophical ideas of an irrelevant and unsophisticated religion to the yet to be saved Vietnamese. Worse, the good news will echo the unwanted remnant of a hurtful past, a reminder of a deep scar left on the land by their colonizers, and thus never accepted as a part of the modern Vietnamese society.
The task is difficult and vast in scope, but we are not waiting for time to tell how our hope and dream will unfold. The time is now for us to take actions so that our hope, love, and faith can come forth and be revealed in sound biblical theologies and in scholarly languages as we reason with one another. We do these things and others in utmost humility and in all gratefulness as we advance the Gospel of our Lord.
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit spoke to us through the mouth of the Apostle the gospel of His Son in our own languages, in our time and space. Therefore, when we read the Gospel written in our own language, let God speaks to us again about the account of His Son and the task He has entrusted to us. Together, we will be the stepping-stones on which others will advance the gospel of our Lord for the Vietnamese people.