Chinese New Year, and Continuity and Discontinuity in Biblical Theology

Chinese New Year passed with the usual surfeit of steamboats and lo heis and barbecues and restaurant feasts and CNY tidbits.

homemade pineapple tarts with melty crusts and Anzac biccies with bak-kwaWas glad to get back to merely nibbling on a colleague’s homemade pineapple tarts and some Anzac biccies (because of Australia Day) studded with bak-kwa, instead of being pressed, on pain of seeming discourteous, to sample a plenitude of snack jars as we visited friends over the holidays.

Double-treat Tuesday -

Ecstatic too to be back to smoothie bowls for breakfast and to be cracking on with the second volume of “Justification and Variegated Nomism“. Nom nom.

The lecturers at the Cornhill Training Course used to be adamant that every single passage of the OT should point to Christ, citing Luke 24:27. I thought this an unwieldy sledgehammer that resulted in all sorts of dodgy exegesis. Yet, I also thought that the insistence of some folk at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate on holding tightly the tension of the biblical narrative (and so being very hesitant in going to Christ), while dealing quite well with an OT passage’s position on the salvation-historical timeline, did not adequately take into account our position on that same timeline.

How then to read, teach, and preach the OT now? Could some part of the answer depend on one’s conclusion on the continuity and discontinuity between the testaments?

  • What should we, who live on the other side of the cross/resurrection/ascension, make of the Old Testament ?
  • Which laws should we follow and which ones should we ditch?
  • What about infant baptism (as continuity from saved-as-a-household x circumcision)(see eg. pg 3 of Themelios April 2016)? What about keeping the Sabbath (on Saturdays)?
  • What is the biblical warrant for any of that?

 This didn’t make it as one of my Heresies of the Month back in London. But since it will be a lifelong task to comprehensively consider the continuity and discontinuity between the OT and NT, let’s get this party started.

dragonfruit smoothie bowl with Korean strawberries and Chilean blueberries

 I do not think the usual tripartite division of the law into moral, civil, ceremonial laws works well:

  • they are not biblical categories – no Bible writer thought in those categories
  • therefore, they impose an alien framework on the text

The first port of call, perhaps, would be a careful reading of how NT writers treat the OT.

D.A. Carson, in “Mystery and Fulfillment: Toward a More Comprehensive Paradigm of Paul’s Understanding of the Old and the New” (p393, Justification and Variegated Nomism), concludes that for Paul, this is a “both-and”. That is,

“Paul thinks of the gospel he preaches a simultaneously something that has been predicted in times past, with those predictions now fulfilled, and something that has been hidden in times past, and now revealed.

…there is no evidence that Paul himself was aware of any tension between these two stances…the two stances…genuinely lock together…

…Paul assess the significance of Israel and the Sinai covenant within the larger biblical narrative…the law’s most important function is to bring Israel, across time, to Christ…

…the Old Testament, rightly read in its salvation-historical structure, led to Christ…

…the law is upheld precisely in that to which it points…”

Yet, Carson is insistent that we need to see too “how radically Christocentric Paul’s reading of the Old Testament really is…”

Andy Naselli’s done a good summary here.

cast-iron shashuka - tomatoes, chickpeas, bayleaves, cabanossi, eggsa quick shashuka lunch straight from the hot cast-iron pan

Right. So are there any general principles that one can draw on what continues and what doesn’t, and can this be applied to any OT text faithfully?

Akan datang.

Chinese Lunar New Year Reunion Steamboat Dinner

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Bak Kwa 肉干 Biscuits or Candied Bacon Cookies, and that Man with a Demon

Saddled with several bags of Chinese New Year 肉干 bak kwa, I thought of possibly making bak kwa ice-cream at last, having talked about it repeatedly to patient friends for the last half decade. Then, like a strange re-interpreted re-enactment of the fable of the Stone Soup, there came a bag of flour and a bag of instant oats and half a tray of eggs, so bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies in Americanese) it would be.

Had a look at several bak kwa cookie recipes online. The ones here and here looked delightful, but I was thinking of something not quite so melty-in-the-mouth, something crispy outside and chewy inside, something very Anzac bikkie-ish.

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)So here’s an attempt – the sugar and salt were included to emphasise the sweet-savory-ness of the bak kwa. Not too bad, imho!

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)Every year when bak kwa appears in homes everywhere during the Lunar New Year, I think of a classmate of mine who had been sad not to be able to eat pork. We, of course, were careful not to put temptation in his way either. One day, I asked why pig meat was considered unclean. Because, he said somewhat bitterly, Jesus had driven demons into pigs.

Reading through the Gospel of Mark today accompanied by Andrew Sach & Tim Hiorns’ excellent Dig Deeper into the Gospels, I wished we were still in touch. Mark 5:1-20 records the event my classmate probably had in mind:

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marvelled.

I suppose one solution to my friend’s unhappiness would have been for him to realise that since the pigs drowned, they had no opportunity to pass on their demons to future generations of piggies (assuming that demons worked genetically or by vector).

"Dig Deeper into the Gospels" posing with bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies) But the better solution would be to find out why Mark wrote this in the first place. It wasn’t the back story to pigs being stinky things to be avoided at all costs. The focus wasn’t on Porky but on Jesus.

It was, in the context of the whole Gospel of Mark and in light of the preceding and succeeding accounts of Jesus calming the storm and healing the bleedin’ woman and Jairus’ daughter, about Jesus’ incredible frightening power. This passage is thick with fear, not just from the begging demons but also from the begging humans who witnessed his power.

So it’s not “oh, how nice, I’ll put him in my address book just in case I need a good exorcist next time”. Nor is it so much “Jesus is powerful to save, so don’t be afraid but trust him.” It’s “OMG, Jesus is bigger and badder (well, the street-speak meaning of “powerful-scary” at least) than anything you are afraid of. Both trust and fear him instead!”

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)

Recipe

115g unsalted butter
100g dark brown sugar
67g caster sugar

1 medium egg
¼ tsp vanilla extract

146g flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt

45g instant oat flakes
120g bak kwa, lightly toasted then chopped

PS. apparently Plain Vanilla Bakery (34A Lorong Mambong, Singapore, facebook) sells bak kwa cookies, but i’d have to wait till next year to grab some.

Making Dumplings and Pedagogical Approaches to Teaching Bible Reading / Bible Study / Bible Interpretation

What pedagogical approaches are there for teaching people to read the Bible for themselves? I asked several people as a small assembly line of chatterers produced dumplings for dinner.

making dumplings on the second day of Chinese New Year, Singapore(Dumplings, Chinese dumplings and other ones in the same skinned family – Latvian and Russian pelmeni eaten with sour cream and Mongolian Бууз (buuz) slick with the oil of boiled mutton and Georgian khinkali, are best contained a delicate membrane that just about holds the filling in but can be broken with a decisive chomp. Too thick a skin and poor granny might be chewing till kingdom come. Also, when chopsticks are the utensils of choice, the food needs to be bite-sized to avoid all sorts of ungainly contortions (or perhaps that’s just me).

Lucky Peach magazine’s recent dumpling obsession under the banner of Dumpling Month, has resulted in a nice cluster of anecdotal articles on dumpling diplomacy (complete with recipe for shui jiao), the familial socialising that comes with communal making of jiaozidumplings shaped to look like mice.)

Biblical interpretation is mostly about good comprehension skills, yet at the same time it is about God’s word being used by God’s Spirit as a sword for God’s people. So the first and most important thing about biblical interpretation is prayer – depending on God to enable us to understand what he is saying in his word.

But what about comprehension? How can comprehension be taught? Whether or not unique to the school programme I was in, but I don’t remember being formally taught to read or understand a passage. It was just something picked up as we went along.

An English teacher, while rolling out the dough, admitted that even in the normal education stream in Singapore, understanding a passage isn’t a priority in most Singapore schools. Rather, students learn how to ace exams by knowing how marks are allocated for certain sorts of questions. This might explain the dearth of constructive political-social discussions online and offline.

making dumplings on the second day of Chinese New Year, Singaporeugly dumplings

This is very preliminary sketch of things. Have to train a few groups in “Bible reading” and Bible study leading in the next few months, and typing things out helps me think. Wish someone else more competent could do it, but here I am. So, future me, here are some very vague, possibly confused, thoughts about how I might go about it. Please edit as mistakes become apparent:

Session 1 – Priority of God’s Word (Why do Bible study at all?)

Several people have suggested that we dive straight into the skills bit and skip all this “boring doctrine”. But I think that understanding the divine origin of God’s word, and the implications of that undergirds the whole of the human life. Most people would agree its priority in the Christian life, but what exactly does this mean?

There is so much to talk about, including:

    • the trustworthiness of the word because of its divine origins;
    • the necessity of the word because of our sinful creatureliness (cf. John 1:18 – cue cheeky question of “if Christ is the Word of God, then Christians are those who believe in Christ, not in the Bible” etc. Nope, false dichotomy.);
    • the sufficiency of the word to accomplish God’s purposes in the world and in us (1 Corinthians 2:6-16, 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:6). Therefore we focus on planting the word faithfully, not ensuring the fruit, eg. the experience the word should produce, the community that the word should gather, the repentance that the word might extract;
    • the power of the word to do this (2 Timothy 3:15-16);
    • confidence in the word – clarity and purpose (cf. reader-response);
    • the ultimate authority that lies in the word (cf. the Pie of Ultimate Authority); and
    • as a warning against bibliolatry, how the Bible is merely the means to an end and not the end.

Maybe Timothy Ward’s excellent Words of Life: Scripture as the living and active word of God as set reading? Or some David Jackman? Jackman’s always good.

Here’s one facet:

  • Q: What is God’s plan for the world? His will and plan is, in the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).
  • Q: Since we Christians are part of “all things”, how are we to be united to him? Once we were separated from Christ and far off, but have now been brought near and united with each other and in Christ through his blood (Ephesians 2:11-22). But that’s not all – we are to maintain the unity of the Spirit, build up the one body of Christ until “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-16)
  • Q: What does God give us to enable the body of Christ to be built up? Bible (apostles, prophets), people to tell us about Jesus (evangelists), people to proclaim Christ/teach us about Jesus from the Bible (shepherds, teachers) (Ephesians 4:11-16)
  • Q: Why are these necessary for the building up of the body?
  • Q: Who builds the body of Christ?
  • Q: How do they do it?

-> Q: What does this tell us about the usual way God accomplishes his plan for the world?

-> Q: What then are we seeking to accomplish in our times of Bible study?

-> Q: Why would the idea that “everyone can make the Bible say anything they want” be blasphemous?

-> Q: What specific ways would this change the way we personally lead Bible study this year?

 When I was little, Bible study was a chore that you avoided the best you could. But the reality is that it’s not just necessary for growth as much our daily food and water, it’s also like sweet fresh water after you’ve crawled about in a hot acrid desert, or, when you’ve come in from the snow, stamping your feet and sniffling, a steaming pot of slow-cooked stew, rich with red wine, bobbing with tender beef chunks and good carrots and tomatoes .

working on God's word in the Bible with some reference material - Timothy Ward's "Words of Life", Andrew Sach and Richard Alldritt's "Dig Even Deeper", Andrew Sach and Tim Hiorn's "Dig Deeper into the Gospels"Session 2 +++ – Grammatical-Historical Bit and Expositional (Book) Context (What is he saying and why is he saying it?)

God chose to make his official communication through human agents, using human language, expecting human minds to comprehend the same…but not without hard work.

Ask an evangelical minister for book recommendations for a toolkit to interpret the Bible and you get:

As a young Christian, neither of the first two books worked very well for me. It was all very well to have a catalogue of tools to use and a few worked examples, but I still couldn’t understand how they were to be deployed. “It’s more of an art than a science.” they said. Oh thanks very much, I said then, could I have someone hold my hand please? (The latest in the Dig Deeper series is really very useful in this regard, I think.)

Many years on now, I find myself agreeing that it’s more of an art than a science. But let’s see how much of a process we can put on it to help others.

It is clear that to understand the Bible correctly, we need to understand what the human author of that particular passage is saying. God chose to work through prophets and apostles and they wrote at a specific time, to a specific people, in a specific situation.

So our interpretation would have to be two-fold:

(i) working out what the human author is saying; and

(ii) understanding, as far as is necessary, the historical context into which he is writing. working on God's word in the BibleQ: How do I work out what God, through a historical author, is saying?

Here goes an attempt at a process (although I suspect one usually moves back and forth between most of these points in any ordinary reading exercise):

  • read through the whole book once preferably, if you are distracted by such things, without editor-imposed headings and sub-headings
  • note any obvious themes, statements of purpose for writing
  • hypothesize a structure to the book (how the Gospel writers build their argument/evidence for Jesus as the Son of God etc, or for Paul’s epistles, perhaps his argument flow)
  • hypothesize a structure to the given passage
  • work through individual chunks to test hypothesis – bearing in mind the genre of the book or of the specific chunk, dealing with the grammatical stuff like nouns, verbs, tenses, cases, use of metaphors and idioms, and using the usual comprehension skills (eg. in Dig Deeper‘s terminology, “linking words”, “repetition”, “narrator’s comment”, “tone and feel”, “quotation / allusion”) or equivalent in the language in use for that study (Chinese? Tamil? French?)
  • work through the details – this is somewhat controversial in certain circles: my SLOB leader was adamant that one must not spend alot of time working on the details, whereas a lecturer at The School was convinced that the main point of what the author was saying was dependent on the details and the more elusive our understanding of them was, the harder we needed to work at them. I suspect it’s the more-art-than-science thing of knowing when to pursue the details and when to leave them alone because it is unlikely they will contribute much to the main point.
  • check hypothesis of structure to given passage
  • from the structure, hypothesise the main point, that is, the thrust of the given passage

Q: What do we do with the historical context and the expositional/book context? Check how the hypothesised main point might fit into author’s context, intended audience, and the overall purpose of the book as a whole. After all the breaking up of a book into passages for bite-sized studies is artificial.

  • How would this passage link to previous chunk?
  • How would this passage help to develop the purpose of the book (if stated)?
  • What would be missing if this section was not here?
  • Why is this here? What would change if this passage was moved somewhere else in the book?

So:

Q: What does the passage say?

Q: Why is the passage saying this?

Q: Why is it saying it here?

Then come to a conclusion as to the main point of the given passage. Write what some people call a purpose statement – stating the aim of the human author in this chunk of the book. Ensure that it is a clear and specific sentence, not something that can be applied to any other part of the New Testament (eg. not “God loves you and his son died for you.”)

But we need to hold our horses – a nice succinct purpose statement is not the point of Bible study; responding rightly to what God has said is (see Session 4).

(Pedagogical approach-wise, wonder if, instead of doing endless exegetical exercises, we could just work through the text together with the leader modelling how he/she was thinking about it as we went along. Very NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) “pseudo-science”, but it’s certainly the way I personally learn best.)

not quite shashuka Session 3 – Redemptive-historical Context Hmm, it’s really artificial to break all this up into different sessions, but seeing that I have only an hour for each session…

All Scripture (and all of us) fit in somewhere on God’s timeline for the world. Knowing where our particular book fits in eschatologically would help us understand not only what God was saying to his people then, but also what he is saying to us now as we head towards the consummation of all that he has promised.

Loads of biblical theology (“the study of how every text in the Bible relates to every other text in the Bible”) books to choose from here: Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel and Kingdom and Vaughan Roberts’ God’s Big Picture trace the storyline through the Bible with themes of kingdom and covenant, Michael You’s Read Mark Learn: Bible Overview studies at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, and Thomas Schriener and D.A. Carson have a good number of books and articles on this between them.

Session 4 – Living in Light of God’s Word

The main point of the main point is to understand God’s word so that our minds can be changed and we can live differently. Michael You has said in several of his talks that broadly, there isn’t that much that God wants to tell us:

  • he wants us to acknowledge that he is God and we are not;
  • he wants us to see that reality is quite different from what we might think. Our baseline is usually that this world is all there is, will continue forever. But the world isn’t like that – God exists, he made this world, this world will come to an end, whether you like it or not, and Jesus will return to judge;
  • he wants us to change our worldview that shapes how we think and how we act. If we think that this world is all there is, then we want more money, and to get that we will decide on a well-paying job even if we have to work all days of the week. Even if we were brought up in a Christian family, most of us have a worldview that tells us that we have security because of the things of this world. But the reality is that this world is passing away and God wants us to want the new world to come. We must want what God wants, his goals, eternity, new creation.
  • God is not an arbitrary spoilsport. He cares for us with his infinite power and love and he wants us to be assured that we can leave our lives in his hands.

Our right response to God’s word will totally transform our lives. Will this work? Pray so. Now to get some dinner.

Ash Wednesday, Pineapple Tarts at Chinese New Year, and the Significance of Lent

“Excuse me,” I said to the lady who’d just sat down beside me on the bus,”You’ve got this bit of…oh…” I’d mistaken a cross marked with dark ash on her forehead for unwelcome dirt.

So it was Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent. For one brief moment, I thought of pleading Lent as an excuse to abstain from all the Chinese New Year “goodies” that inevitably beleaguers visitors as they make their rounds, festive house-visiting. To decline any of the pineapple tarts, kueh bangkit, kueh lapis, bak kwa, love letters, peanut cookies, sugee cookies, etc would be to blow a raspberry at the proffered hospitality. But having always nurtured a great dislike of the overly sweet, overly buttery stuff, accompanied by sickly pop soda in garish colours, if I could just claim a fast…

Le Cafe Confectionery, golf ball pineapple tarts, Chinese New Year, SingaporeLe Cafe golf-ball pineapple tarts

Sadly, that would have been a very bad excuse indeed:

(i) it would be an outright lie;

(ii) but if I did make good my fast not just to escape the tyranny of festive baked goods, my motive for so doing would have been wrong ab initio; and

(iii) even if I did mean to fast for a properly good reason, there’s the danger of hypocrisy:

“Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you…” (Matthew 6:1, 16-18)

Kim Choo pineapple tarts (with cloves), Chinese New Year, Singapore
Kim Choo pineapple tarts (with cloves), Chinese New Year, SingaporeKim Choo pineapple tart / balls with cloves

Well, come to think of it, what rationale is there for fasting for Lent? It’s not prescribed in the Bible. And we can be quite sure about what it is not:

  • for Christians, it is certainly not to earn merit. For Buddhists, for example, vassa is a period of intensive meditation, marked by asceticism – in practice, by the giving up of meat-eating, alcohol-drinking, and smoking. From what I understand (and I might be wrong, since I was only Buddhist for a few years), this stems from the Buddhist world-view that one must accumulate merit in life to ensure rebirth higher up on the spiritual liberation plane. For the Christian, however, there is the understanding that sin is not acknowledging God, who created the world and sustains it, as God, and therefore not heeding his word. The punishment for sin is death, but the blood of Jesus on the cross paid for all the sin of humankind who ever existed in human history. We accept this offer of life by believing that Jesus really did pay for our sins, and living with him as our Lord (as God the Father appointed him to be) and God. Nothing we can do can earn us our salvation, and self-inflicted pain does not in any way gain us spiritual reward;Glory kueh bangkit, Chinese New Year, Singapore
  • it is not quite an act of repentance per se. There are many instances in the Old Testament where fasting is a sign of sorrow over sin, contrition, repentance. That is to say, sackcloth and ashes (eg. Nehemiah 9:1) were merely an outward symbol of the inward turning back to God – the mere act of fasting meant nothing in itself. If sin means not to acknowledge God as God, then repentance is turning back and doing the opposite – acknowledging God as God, and living according to his word in the Bible. Said God through Isaiah to the people of his time:“Cry aloud; do not hold back;
    lift up your voice like a trumpet;
    declare to my people their transgression,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
    2 Yet they seek me daily
    and delight to know my ways,
    as if they were a nation that did righteousness
    and did not forsake the judgement of their God;
    they ask of me righteous judgements;
    they delight to draw near to God.
    3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
    Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
    and oppress all your workers.
    4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to hit with a wicked fist.
    Fasting like yours this day
    will not make your voice to be heard on high.
    5 Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day for a person to humble himself?
    Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
    and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
    Will you call this a fast,
    and a day acceptable to the Lord?
    6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
    to let the oppressed[b] go free,
    and to break every yoke?
    7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
    when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58, see also Zechariah 7)Glory pineapple tarts, Chinese New Year, SingaporeGlory pineapple tarts, Chinese New Year, Singapore
  • it might be hipster spirituality, not true spirituality. Carl Trueman (good name!) in Ash Wednesday: Picking and Choosing Our Piety wonders how much of the popularity of Lenten observance “speaks of a certain carnality: The desire to do something which simply looks cool and which has a certain ostentatious spirituality about it. As an act of piety, it costs nothing yet implies a deep seriousness. In fact, far from revealing deep seriousness…it simply exposes the superficiality, eclectic consumerism and underlying identity confusion of the movement…it also puzzles me that time and energy is spent each year on extolling the virtues of Lent when comparatively little is spent on extolling the virtues of the Lord’s Day. Presbyterianism has its liturgical calendar, its way of marking time: Six days of earthly pursuits and one day of rest and gathered worship. Of course, that is rather boring. Boring, that is, unless you understand the rich theology which underlies the Lord’s Day and gathered worship, and realize that every week one meets together with fellow believers to taste a little bit of heaven on earth.”
  • fasting is commonly termed a “spiritual discipline” but what is a spiritual discipline? Spirituality itself is a mere theological construct whose basis, as D.A. Carson says in When is Spirituality Spiritual?, is scripturally debatable. And this theory generally devolves into techniques of self-discipline, sometimes called “spiritual disciplines” in order to get on more intimate relations with God.But, continues Carson in Spiritual Disciplines, techniques are never neutral. They are invariably loaded with theological presuppositions, often unrecognized. How closely would fasting (and self-flagellation, hairy shirts etc.) be tied to “medieval notions of elitist perfectionism not open to ordinary Christians? A relationship with God is not based on ecstatic experiences akin to going on a green detox diet or decluttering one’s possessions, but on meditating and chewing on how he has revealed himself in history, as recorded in the Bible, and so understanding him enough to be thinking his thoughts after him.

    “In one sense…all those who by God’s grace exercise saving faith in Christ Jesus have the Spirit (Romans 8:9) and are “spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:1-15). But then we are to “live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), and that means self-consciously putting to death the “acts of sinful nature” and producing the “fruit of the Spirit”…And so we could go on, adding dimensions to any construct of spirituality controlled by the Word of God, correcting ourselves and our experience by Scripture, so that we may enjoy the fullness of the heritage that is ours in Christ Jesus while remaining entirely unwilling to be seduced by every passing fad.”

In Search of the Best Red Velvet Cake / Cupcake / Ice-cream / Confection in Singapore

So it’s that time in the Singapore calendar that requires a seasonal amount of red in all shades and in all objects – from clothes to decorations to food.

The younger tiers of multi-generational families aren’t usually superstitious. So they don’t believe that good luck (whatever that is) can be derived from surrounding themselves with scarlet, vermillion, rose, maroon etc, but are quite willing to toe the traditional line for the sake of the older folk. Besides, it’s all in good fun – like dressing up for Halloween.

Food, however, is the issue. There’s only so much you can do with mandarin oranges (believed to represent prosperity) before everyone gets citrused-out. So I wondered if we could fit in some red velvet confections (so we could say,”Look – it’s red!” to any elderly objectors). It’ll probably be easy just to buy something with the requisite red food colouring. But what about that slight cocoa taste (though not full-on chocolate), paired with cream cheese frosting? Might be slightly harder. And it’s all generally cohinealled nowadays (Adams Extract being on the main beneficiaries perhaps?), so I wouldn’t expect of find them containing the depth of the earthy beets of World War II.

Will update “reviews” (ha!) as we try more red velvet stuff:

red velvet cupcake, Plain Vanilla BakeryRed velvet cupcake from Plain Vanilla Bakery (facebook, , 34A Lorong Mambong, Holland Village). Plain Vanilla is known for its tender-crumbed cupcakes with buttercream frosting and this delivered. A nod to the Platonic form of the red velvet with a hint of cocoa in the cake base and a whiff of cream cheese in the frosting, but I was hankering for more than a mere reference.

red velvet cake, Rouse, Dunlop StreetA slice of red velvet cake sold at Rouse (36 Dunlop Street). Dense cake with good cocoa taste, cream cheese evident in frosting, topped with a sprinkling of cocoa nibs. Just a pity we had to scrap so much frosting off to even out the cake-frosting ratio.

Chinatown Tai Chong Kok 大中国饼家 Nian Gao 年糕

年糕 nian gao, new year cake, from Tai Chong Kok, SingaporeSeeking shelter from the sun at Alexandra Village, I almost came to a sticky end, backing into trolleys loaded with nian gao 年糕 – traditional glutinous rice cakes usually shared amongst families at Chinese New Year.

Chinatown Tai Chong Kok (Hue Kee)” read the sign above the shop, to distinguish it, I suppose, from the Sago Street Tai Chong Kok 大中国饼家 stable.

年糕 nian gao, new year cake, from Tai Chong Kok, SingaporeThe names of both confectioneries suggest that they originated from the same stall. A trope in any narrative of Singapore food history is the splitting of ways after a quarrel amongst family members who used to work in the same shop, with both parties laying claim to the goodwill already associated with the name of the original stall.

In such event, who should be recognised as the “authentic” stall? The current owners of the original site of the first stall? The assistants to, then successors of, the original bakers to whom secret recipes might have been passed? What is the essence of the reputation of a food brand?

年糕 nian gao, new year cake, from Tai Chong Kok, Singapore