Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christians and their mind

John Sung is no doubt one of the greatest Asian evangelist, but is his approach to vocation a model for subsequent generations?

Timothy Tow wrote a short biography of John Sung. He recorded the incident when John Sung, while on his way back to China from America, dumped all his academic degrees into the sea.

Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong has often announced his great admiration of John Sung and mentioned this incident as some sort of highlight or an honorable Christian act.

This is rather puzzling as Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong himself is a Reformed theologian who adheres the great tradition of the Cultural Mandate. Cultural Mandate is the belief in the ordained vocation to engage with external-church issues such as in the academia, parliament, or factory. And those who believe in Cultural Mandate place significant emphasis on academic achievements or at least the extensive exercise of the mind. Thus throwing academic degrees away is anything but a symbol that overturns of the aspiration of Cultural Mandate.

My own opinion is that John Sung remains a great evangelist. His approach to Christian vocation and calling should not be a norm or model for Christians. In fact, I am surprised that John Sung, who earned a doctorate in Chemistry, failed to grasp the bigger divine vision mediated through the Bible to us.

Karl Barth was living in the same era and bombarded by the academia in one way or another in the same way as John Sung. But he did not think it necessary to throw away his degrees. Barth was not only a preacher, he was served in the army at the age of 50+ to defy the Nazi, drafted the Barmen declaration to counter liberal theology, continue to serve as a Christian educator all his life. And Barth does not have a doctorate in natural sciences.

Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong and those who adhere to the Cultural Mandate have another more sympathetic option to pick.

22 comments:

The Hedonese said...

Well i heard ST commented once on John Sung throwing his Phd in Chemistry (?) if not mistaken, about a seminary student who said he wanna emulate JS by just preaching the gospel without needing any seminary training (the fact is he didnt study for his exams)

Effectively he said John Sung could do it because he already attained a Phd, but you dun even have a Phd so you got nothing to sacrifice in the first place hehe

in any case one can appreciate JS despite disagreement with him on the cultural mandate just as one appreciate Karl Barth's theology while disagreeing with him on inerrancy :)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Dave,

Right. We can't always appreciate with everything everyone does. :)

davinci said...

john sung is one of pioneer phd holder from the West academic tradition, but he remained in his whole life and be satisfied, with sunday school religious education.

in terms of secular discipline, he is top, but in terms of theological knowledge, he only got sunday school standard. He bounded by the mentality of 1920-30 chinese fundamentalist tradition.

He hardly a reformed-informed person, but a wholely wesleyan-revivalist. if you see him today, you would mistaken he is charismatic/pentecostal.

He died of severe 痔疮, because he rejected medical treatment, praying that God would heal him, and he believe so, because he said, "when I pray for others, God heals, so this time, God must heal me !"

I think people from native chinese speaking and writing, would understand John Sung much better than english readers, including Timothy Tow.... because English media idolised JS with only compliments...

sorry I couldnt quote you the source of my reading because you and your gang dont read chinese. haha ..

I think Sze zeng, this time, you censor/total annihilating again, my candid remarkss. ha ha .. like malaysian and singapore government...

ha .

Alex Tang said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

Maybe John Sung throwing away his academic degrees has nothing to do with the cultural mandate but more to do with the spiritual movement of his inner being.

Whatever our theological leanings, having higher degrees is a strong temptations to fall for the sin of pride and self-sufficiency. To grow spiritually and remain close to God, we need to detach ourselves from our achievements. I regard John Sung's action as a symbolic gesture of his spiritual detachment from his academic achievements.

Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year

Sze Zeng said...

Hi davinci,

No, I won't censor it. But pls kindly provide the sources/references. They are important. Dont worry over my illiteracy. I'll get someone to translate them. :)

If what u said is true, then John Sung is equivalent to some sort of Richard Bonnke. A great evangelist but well...

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Alex,

You have a good point there. May be it is like how Timothy Tow wrote it, that John Sung was repenting over his own 'sinfulness', and the throwing away his degrees is a symbol for himself.

Yet on the other hand, a deeper digging into John Sung's psychology condition also reveals how he has failed to grapple with the issue of 'Christian intellect', especially through his experience with Union Theological Seminary.

blogpastor said...

I am an admirer of John Sung because of the enduring fruit of his ministry in Malaysia and Singapore.

Yes he is an evangelist-revivalist whose sermons defy proper exegesis but are impregnated by the Spirit's presence and power.

His throwing away of his Phd is his equivalent of St Paul's counting all his achievements dung compared with personal knowledge of Christ.

Like Alex, I believe it was his personal response to an inner invitation by God for him to put what is greatly valued by man on the altar of sacrifice. And like you I agree, that action is not to be a norm for everyone though the perfect submission it indicates is a norm for every soul to incorporate into his or her life.

davinci said...

tks SZ for releasing my candid, blasphemous comment to public. I am surprised, haha!

I will let yu know the source later. taken from a reseach paper by, Hong Kong alliance bible seminary's principal.

He used to write very good papers on chinese indigenous church, and critical to John sung, wathman nee ...

haha, watchman nee is another guy, used to be romanticised by english speaking folks...

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Kenny,

About 4-5 years ago, I heard from Steven SIm that during one of John Sung's sermon on the Holy Spirit, he made a charcoal fire on his pulpit and fan it while preaching.

That's very creative. May be he is the first 'emergent'(!)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi davinci,

No surprise! haha... I dont usually block comment unless they are very nasty.

Thank you. I look forward to learn more about John Sung. Waiting for your references.

Steven Sim said...

I believe the background for John Sung throwing away his academic awards (he kept his PhD to be given to his parents as act of filial piety), was Jesus' words in the gospel: What profits a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul.

Rather than seeing John Sung's act as overturning the cultural mandate or sanctioning a "full time worker" job instead of a "secular" job, we should see it as one man's personal act of self sacrifice compelled by his Lord's love.

Steven Sim

davinci said...

Hi sirs, the reading follows:

梁家麟,“徘徊在耶儒之间”,宇宙光出版,1997; pg:313-342.

This is a monograph by Hong Kong, Alliance Bible seminary, principal.

He is authoritative in the research of chinese indigenous church movement..

davinci said...

John Sung famous for preaching "born again". He approached christians, church elders and pastors, asking them, have you been born again?

This sound absurd, by today's perspective.haha!

JS says, born-again is a specific, one time,concrete and experiential event. How to obtain? you must confess your sins, one by one , since you were kid. and confess until you cry, empty yourself,and feel the joy and power from the Holy Spirit...(then only you can be sure that , you are born again)

Actually, JS confused Wesleyan second blessing, peak experience with biblical born-again experiece.

JS claimed that, unless you got such "experiential,born-again" peak experience, you are not saved!!!

In this respect, John Sung is heretical,when examined under evangelical soteriology.

Sorry to those who like to romanticise the indigenous chinese revivalist;;; I said this, in support to the research paper revealed by Dr Liang.Ha!

Of course, I support the fact that JS indeed brought in revival movement to chinese churches in the thirties...

In fact, he was my role model during my teenage romanticism....

godwordistruth said...

Alex, Kenny and Steven gave some balanced comments to your point on John Sung's ditching of academic trophies into the sea except for the PHD cert which he saved for his parents.

Davinci made a number of sweeping statements and insinuations but gave little reliable references to back it up. He claimed that John Sung only had a "Sunday School Religious Education". The fact is JS did go to a Modernist bible seminary known Union Theological Seminary before he was sent to a mental asylum. It is well known that he said he read the Bible 40 times during the time he spent in the mental asylum. I guessed the Holy Spirit, original author of the Bible, was his actual Professor in Theology, reformed or otherwise.

Kenny's point is exactly right, the enduring fruit of John Sung's ministry in China, Taiwan and South East Asia is evident. I have personally met and seen many older Christians whose lives were transformed by the Gospel preached during John Sung evangelistic meetings. These Christians went on to win more converts for Christ and built churches in these countries. What JS has sowed is literally reaping more than a hundred folds.

The power of the Holy Spirit in John Sung's ministry and life is clear. However, John Sung is neither pentecostal nor Charismatic, in fact he was against the "tongues" position. He read 11 chapters of Bible every day and spent hours in prayer every day seeking God's power for his ministries and the Holy Spirit came mightily to save souls.

He lived not for himself nor his family but for his beloved Saviour. He took up his cross, deny himself and follow his Master. That is John Sung.

John Sung's lost dairies have been found providentially. His daughter, Levi has released it for publication in both Chinese and English:
“The Journal Once Lost” 2008
http://www.armourpublishing.com/armour/site/products/NEW_TITLES/Christian/9789814222082

Sze Zeng said...

hi godwordistruth,

Do you know what happened to John Sung when he was at Union Theological Seminary?

He couldn't cope with the courses and he broke down.

Do you know why he was sent to a mental asylum?

"The more he searched for the truth in these false religions, the more confused and desperate he became. For forty days and nights, Sung endured an intense struggle between truth and error and between the Spirit of God and the spirit of Satan. On the fortieth night which was February 10, 1927, Sung reached the point where he no longer desired to live. Nevertheless, he persevered in prayer and in the confession of his sins.

As the clock struck midnight, he was suddenly overwhelmed by a vision of the crucified Christ standing before him. In a compassionate voice, the Lord comforted him, 'My son, your sins are forgiven! Your name is now changed to John.' When the vision receded, John felt a wonderful relief in the sudden rolling away of his sin-burden. Leaping to his feet with a shout of Hallelujah!, he sang loud praises to God. His songs rang through the corridors of his fourth floor dormitory.

For a whole week, Sung preached the glad news of his newfound Savior ceaselessly. Gentle as a lamb to those who heard him patiently, he had the boldness of a lion against every power of darkness. His spiritual eyes opened, he went straight to his favorite teacher, Fosdick, and declared: 'You are of the devil. You made me lose my faith!' For denouncing sin in high places, he was sent to a mental asylum where he was confined for 193 days."


JOhn Sung was troubled mentally and psychologically. Something like what Kenton Sparks identify as '"intellectual dissonance" which happen to believers who struggle with their intellect.

Have you read his lost diary? What has he written that make you think he is intellectually capable to handle 'Christianity' with its confusing baggage?

Sze Zeng said...

"The power of the Holy Spirit in John Sung's ministry and life is clear. However, John Sung is neither pentecostal nor Charismatic"

What do u mean by that? The Mormon churches has millions of followers and they believe in the holy spirit too. Does that make their teaching and ministry came by the holy Spirit?

godwordistruth said...

Hi Sze Zeng,
I have a copy of John Sung diaries read it but did not finish it. I have read "John Sung My Teacher (Rev Timothy Tow)", Asian Awakening (Timothy Tow) and also Rev William E. Schubert “I REMEMBER JOHN SUNG”.

You are very right, many people claimed to believe in "Holy Spirit" and "Jesus". The question is which "Holy Spirit" ? Which "Jesus" ?

John Sung was greatly used by God and through his ministry left a great impact on many churches through truly transformed and consecrated lives for Jesus Christ with enduring results.

You can read some part of the Holy Spirit power in John Sung Ministry here:
When the Holy Spirit Moves and Brings Revival
http://godwordistruth.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/when-the-holy-spirit-moves-and-brings-revival/

Holy Spirit’s work in convicting all sinners before God
http://godwordistruth.wordpress.com/2008/09/21/holy-spirits-work-in-convicting-all-sinners-before-god/

Holy Spirit Fell on All Present
http://godwordistruth.wordpress.com/2008/08/31/holy-spirit-fell-on-all-present/

Sze Zeng said...

hi godwordistruth,

since u have read about John Sung from a various sources, what is your analysis of the relation between his intellect and his faith? Especially the time he was at Union Theological Seminary?

Thanks for the resources! :)

davinci said...

haha! with due respect I talk about JS.

JS 's sunday school education crashed with liberal theology of Union's class learning, making him insane....

No source ever supported that , JS did learn good, scholarly stuff from Union.

JS said, found in his biography; Jesus appeared to him, in asylum cell, teaching him secret ways of hermeneutics(surely not historical-grammatical),then he read 40 times the bible, since then he powerfully expoused and preached the Bible..

Does this mystical self proclaimation, akin to Benny Hinn's 9 O'clock in the morning?

Does this not sound absurd?

When scrutinising his standard-widely -repeated-preahed sermons, I dont see the 'secret of ' his so-called secret way of hermeneutics...

any one could help me ?

anyway, JS seemed repeated what apostle Paul says, the Lord personally instructed him, in the arabia desert...

davinci said...

Why Godwordistruth, says Davinci lacks of sources to support?

I thought I have given the reading by the Hong Kong scholar...??

In fact Dr Leong from Hong Kong given more shocking reseach on Watchman Nee..

a ha, I think Watchman Nee even worth more discussion than JS.

Sze Zeng interested in Watchman Nee?

in fact , more reseach done on watchman than js. and watchman impacted more people with his more systematic teaching than JS did.

Sze Zeng said...

hi davinci,

Watchman nee?....hmm... not yet :)

I'm interested with Stephen Tong!

davinci said...

Malaysian scholar, Lee Ken AN, researched on Watch Nee, phd dissertation with Westminster TSem.

so far, dont think Steven.tong worthy for reseached in, except one guy, Sze zeng does that..haha!

just rectify: Benny Hinn's"good morning Holy Spirit"; not 9 o clock in the morning.

In that, Benny Hinn claimed to have close encounter, direct conversation , dialogue with the Holy Spirit, and of course, obtained revelation from such awesome experience.

Again, screening through Benny 's preaching, why dont discover anything "specially revealed"? anyone can help Davinci?