Friday, October 30, 2009

Christians in the Public Square

3rd November 2009 (Tues, 8 pm - 9.30 pm @ Cathedral New Sanctuary)
Speaker: Prof. Roland Chia

Recently, the role of religion in the public square has received some attention by the media. Should Christians be involved in public debates and discourse for the common good of society? Most Christians in Singapore would emphasize the importance of evangelism, but is Christian engagement in social and political issues part of Christian witness.

This talk will attempt to answer some of these questions by looking at the Bible and Christian tradition. The talk will develop a theology of Christian witness in an ideologically and religiously plural society like Singapore. It will also see to delineate the 'rules' of such engagement in the context of a profound Christian theological realism. The following questions will be discussed:

  • What is the scope of the Christian's witness?
  • Is Christian witness itself a political activity?
  • What is the role of the Church (and Christians) in society?
  • Is there a place for compromise in Christian social engagement?


About the Speaker:
Prof. Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine and Dean of the School of Postgraduate Studies at Trinity Theological College. He is author of numerous articles and books including, Hope for the World: A Christian Vision of the Last Things (2005) and The Right to Die? A Response to Euthanasia (2009).

To register, please email sacce@livingstreams.org.sg with your name, contact number, email address, and the Cathedral service you are currently attending.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Good Value: Reflections on money, morality and an uncertain world


Stephen Green is the author of Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality and an Uncertain World. There is a recent interview he did with the Daily Mail where he made reference to John Calvin on how to draw the line on financial exploitation.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stanley Hauerwas on pacifism

An interview and write-up on Stanley Hauerwas' stand on pacifism. The article's excerpt:

"As far as just war is concerned, I think it's a terrific theory... Unfortunately, it has no purchase in reality. For example, I note that the reason people think the theory can be used in Iraq is because we have the capacity (and the `we' means the United States) to fight a war in Iraq. Did `we' get that capacity on just war grounds? No, the United States got that capacity on the grounds of political realism shaped by the Cold War. So, just warriors need to get serious and tell us what would a just war foreign policy, shaped by an equally just war Pentagon, look like."

As with many who are committed to nonviolence, Hauerwas has found himself asked what are his alternatives to bombing Afghanistan and Iraq. "Such questions," he replies, "assume that pacifists must have an alternative foreign policy. My only response is I do not have a foreign policy. I have something better--a church constituted by people who would rather die than kill."

"If you ask one of the crucial theological questions--why was Jesus killed?--the answer isn't `because God wants us to love one another.' Why in the hell would anyone kill Jesus for that? That's stupid. It's not even interesting. Why did he get killed? Because he challenged the powers that be. The church is a political institution calling people to be an alternative to the world. That's what the cross is about."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sanctification v.s Deification

In church history class, we learn that the western Roman church says that human development is a process of 'sanctification,' while the eastern Constantinople church says it's 'deification.' Both viewed the other as different from their own. And when a Penangite like me read this, I say it's 'LPPL' (lam pah pah lan).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Caliph Umar's & Bishop Sophronius' interfaith approach: Respect


During 7th century, the Muslim army has started to expand their empire into the Christian area under the command of Caliph Umar.

"Whenever a church was taken over for use as a mosque, furthermore, the building was not allowed to revert to its former religious use. One of the traditions concerning Umar tells of his first visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. As the hour for Muslim prayer approached, the Christian bishop invited the caliph to offer prayer inside the church. The caliph is said to have declined, and instead to have stepped outside to do so. Were he to offer prayer inside the church, he said, the zealous among his followers would have claimed the building as a mosque. By praying outside the church, Umar preserved it as a Christian house of worship."
(Dale T. Irvin and Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement, vol. 1, p.274)

One lesson to learn from this unusual encounter. Bishop Sophronius' hospitality was extended to invite the caliph to use the church for his Islamic prayer even though he is convinced that the Muslims or Saracens were "godless" (Christmas Sermon 507). It is likely that the bishop opened up the place for the Muslims due to political pressure or whatever reason, but the caliph's refusal has nonetheless show us that mutual respect for differences is a reality. It is not a possible perfection that we can reach. It is a fact that has been realized. What we need is to carry on this tradition.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Was Jesus' demonstration in the temple violent?

Jesus’ demonstration in the Temple must be understood, in the light of the prophetic passages cited [Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11], as a call for repentance and a sign that the promised eschatological restoration is at hand…. In any case, none of the evangelists presents this incident as a coup attempt to seize power over the religious or political establishment in Jerusalem. It is, rather, an act of symbolic ’street theater,’ in line with precedents well established in Israel’s prophetic tradition (e.g., Jer. 27:1-22). Thus, it is an act of violence in approximately the same way that antinuclear protesters commit an act of violence when they break into a navy base and pour blood on nuclear submarines. No one is hurt or killed in Jesus’ Temple demonstration. The incident is a forceful demonstration against a prevailing system in which violence and injustice prevail, a sign that Jesus intends to bring about a new order in according with Isaiah’s vision of eschatological peace. It is difficult to see how such a story can serve as a warrant for Christians to wage war and kill.
(Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Tetsament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), p.334-335.)

According to Hays, Jesus' action was violent in the sense of disfiguring idols, but not in the sense of mutilating idolaters. The way Christians' involvement in politics is never through the mutilation of another person even if that person is an enemy.

As an enemy, he/she is only relating to you secondarily. Primarily, we are all human beings who are endowed with the same divine duty to see and reflect in each other the face of God. We are asked to disfigure idols, but never the face of God.

Resurrection of Jesus is the lesser evil

"When these peasants, shepherds, and fishermen, who betrayed and denied their master, and then failed him miserably, suddenly could be changed overnight into a confidant mission society, convinced of salvation and able to work with much more success after Easter than before Easter, then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation … If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception – without a fundamental faith experience – then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself. In a purely logical analysis, the resurrection of Jesus is ‘the lesser of two evils’ for all those who seek a rational explanation of the worldwide consequences of that Easter faith."
(Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective. A italicized portion was highlighted by John Lennox in a debate with Michael Shermer).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

God's place in this dangerous, fallen, yet redeemed universe

From the debate between Michael Shermer and John Lennox on God's existence:

Question:
The question of an imperfect universe, is that or is that not the hallmark of creator god?

Michael Shermer
It is entirely possible that God exist and he is just a nasty bastard that likes to screw up people's lives. You know, an evil god, a god that is not so good. That's entirely possible. All kinds of different variation of god there might be. The god that John believes in however will have problem to explain why he would let that sort of things happened? Not human evil where he would let humans to do bad things to one another. "That's free will." Okay, I can buy that. But why innocent children should die? Why would god allow that, and again, what god got against anti-theist? What's with that? Can't do it?... Why he chose to do it yet chose to do other things? I'm sorry, I just can't accept that god works in mysterious ways answer. That's not an answer.

John Lennox:
I mentioned in my introduction very briefly that this is the hardest problem. That is very clear. And when people, and perhaps some of you in the audience, have suffered, it is a problem that needs to be handled with extreme care. I have the problem because I believe in a god of love. And if I did not believe that there is going to be ultimate justice, I would immediately leave this lecturn. This is a damage world, we all aware of it. And any philosophy that doesn't have regard for that damage is seriously wrong. And one of the things that disturbs me about the new atheism is that it's an utopianism. It seems to believe that the perfectability of humanity has no real answer to this except to say, "that's exactly what you would expect if the universe is a product of flying chance and necessity." I believe that's not the case. I think if you look at a cathedral that's being bombed, you can see evidents of its original structure and beauty. And there is not one of us who hasn't seen that this universe doesn't just present a one sided picture of unmitigated disaster and evil. It presents a mixed picture. And so my question is this: Are there sufficient ground for trusting god in the midst of a universe that's got ragged edges? And that's what brings me inevitably to the point where I finish my introduction. Without the cross of Christ, that makes no sense to me. But if god has really come into our world, and taken part in our human suffering, I find there enough evident to trust him even when there are major problems. Let me just briefly illustrate this. I nearly died last Christmas. And if it fits in with what Michael was saying earlier. And the medics got to me in the last minute and saved my life. But last year, my sister's 22 years-old daughter died of a brain tumor. I was spared, she wasn't. And if I didn't feel my Christianity with robust enough, it's all very well that Michael is dead right, he is absolutely dead right, this nonsense of says wonderful, I was spared, I got to have something that I could talk to my sister about. She and I can both understand the one thankfulness that I didn't die but helped her with the fact that she lost her daughter. And these are very difficult things that I have discovered in my experience, that faith in Christ in god has given people a bedrock of hope and enable them to go through that kind of trauma.

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and Adjunct Professor of Economics at Claremont Graduate University.

Prof. John Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science, and Pastoral Advisor at Green Templeton College. In addition he teaches on Science and Religion in the University of Oxford and on Apologetics and Biblical Exposition at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. During the Cold War he made repeated visits over 25 years to many of the Communist countries and since the collapse of communism has visited Russia repeatedly speaking in Universities and Academies of Science.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Be known and be loved

I was delighted to sit in the pew among my fellow Presbyterians to received the Sacrament and the message in June this year.

The speaker was Dr. Ian Smith, a New Testament scholar who is also the current Vice Principal and Academic Dean of the Presbyterian Theological Centre in Sydney. He was also the speaker for this year's ORPC church camp.

Like a glass of cold water in a humid noon, the message quenched me.

Drawing from Jean Paul Satre's 'keyhole-peeping' illustration, Smith shared with us that usually when we are known by other people thoroughly, they will see us in our nakedness with all our weakness, limitations, and filthiness. And in such disgraceful state, hardly we are loved and accepted.

And here is the difference between humans and God. When we are known by other people, we are rejected. But when we are known by God, we are accepted and loved.

Download the message to listen here (from ORPC's website).

New "New Atheism" - Atheism 3.0

Atheism 1.0:
There is no god. So, wake up.


Atheism 2.0:
THERE IS NO FUCKING GOD!!! RELIGION IS EVIL & POISONS EVERYTHING!!!


Atheism 3.0:
"There’s still no God, but maybe religion isn’t all that bad." (Daniel Burke, Atheism 3.0 finds a little more room for belief).

What stupid things people do on halloween?

As if believing that the KJV is the only inspired and hence authoritative translation is not stupid enough, these folks will be burning some copies of NIV and books by Billy Graham and Rick Warren during halloween as symbolic protest.

Not sure if any locals here in Singapore would join them. Probably no.

Friday, October 16, 2009

1 good outcome when church-state is muddled

It is easy to list numerous examples of bad consequences when the relation between church and state being mixed. However there is one positive instance in the history of this matter:

One of the most telling incidents in [emperor Theodosius'] relationship with [bishop Ambrose of Milan] occurred in 390. The emperor had ordered the massacre of the inhabitants of Thessalonica following the killing of one of his imperial representatives in the city. Shocked by the barbarity of the act, Ambrose ordered Theodosius to undergo public penance for the deed, forbidding him access to the eucharistic table until he did so. Theodosius submitted, providing a precedent for church-state relations that would later be drawn upon by other church leaders in the Catholic West.
(Dale T. Irvin and Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement, vol. 1, p.225)

An affirmative example where the church held the state accountable for its action, regulating the moral compass of a nation, and condemning the wicked conducts of the imperial and the parliaments.

The characters of covenantal justice

Max L. Stackhouse's article on covenantal justice underlines the covenant between God and his people. According to him, the purpose for this covenant is to direct the world to acquire its intended glory.

"This God’s laws and ends do not change from age to age, even if our understandings of them do. This God limits the divine capacity for infinite freedom and does not alter the basic pattern of existence whereby life is sustained, even if that life is always changing. Yet this God also may freely blot out human failures to live up to what is required, and reaches out again and again, dynamically renewing the covenants of life by seeking to restore the principalities and powers to their intended form and end so that those who live within them live more responsibly in relationship to God and neighbor."

Stackhouse lays out further the character of this covenant as "stable and dynamic" on one end, while "pre-given yet unfinished" on the other.

'Stable' because God is self-sufficient, and hence when he says that he is for his people, his promise remains. 'Dynamic' because his people are not self-sufficient. And when his people at different time and place encounter his covenant, they adjust.

'Pre-given' because we cannot explain values and morality. Therefore the givenness of the covenant which humans are still debating over and over is assumed. 'Unfinished' because we don't know what how exactly the end glory will be, and when that end will come. That implies that we shall not have the final say of what the end will be like. However there should not be tentative say about the end.

The covenantal justice testifies to God's continuous acts of restoration of social, economic, and political systems. The covenant reaches out to humanity beyond our tinted past and the unforeseen future, from within our own experiences of the fallen reality and aspiration for a better one. In the scale of a local multi-ethnic community, this outreach widens our openness and acceptance of individual differences and liberty, with a firm and prudent recognition of responsibility we owe to our creator, neighbor, and nature.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

1 identity in Christ?

Malaysia's current Prime Minister is busy lauding 1Malaysia as his vision for the multi-ethnic nation to be united. But we know that that is a political ploy and an empty rhetoric by the UMNO.

On a different arena, we have Christians, churches, and Christian leaders lauding somewhat the same concept: unity amidst diversity. The recent symposium involving 120 theologians across denominations and traditions organized by the World Council of Churches is pointing the right way in working towards unity. One of the participant, Rev. Marianela de la Paz Cot, emphasized,

"The concept of the people of God should be understood as something that releases us from our rigid positions as the institutional church to send us out on a journey... The Church is called to be one, but cannot understand that call from an exclusive or excluding perspective... We are the people of God, called to journey together, not to demonize and leave behind others because we consider them 'not one of us.' Revelation is polyphonic."

I am totally for this. I am caught especially by her concluding statement 'Revelation is polyphonic.' Yet on the other hand, we cannot deny that individual churches are still far from this pursuit.

Take a local example. The Methodist Conference, the largest Protestant denomination in Singapore, consists of three different conferences Chinese Annual Conference (CAC), Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference (ETAC) and Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC). Although all three are under the same body, yet they are recognized as three different bodies within the Methodist organization.

Being Methodist, all three share similar, if not identical, set of doctrines. Nonetheless all three have different organizational structure and ministries that overlapped each other. The CAC's churches were set up to serve the Chinese-dialect speaking congregations, but now they have their own English congregations. The same goes to TRAC's churches. They were supposed cater to the English speaking congregation, but now they have their own Chinese-dialect congregation.

Though three are under the same conference, yet all adopted different payroll under different conferences. Given that ETAC is the smallest among the three, naturally the salary of their leaders and workers are lesser compared to the CAC and TRAC.

Another example is the three Anglican parishes around Potong Pasir area: Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Chapel of the Resurrection, and Church of the Ascension. All three are within walking distance, providing English and Mandarin services, yet run differently. That means there are duplication of ministries and hence duplication of expenditure.

No doubt each three respective bodies within the Methodist and Anglican church have considered to combine and to work together as an entity. Yet none of these attempt are successful due to monetary reasons and historical identity. Each parties failed to compromise and are not willing to give up their precious identity as if their identification is based on the local churches. At this juncture, what remains are politics: Who gets what, and says who?

What happened to all the preachings and talks about being one in Christ, having no identity except that which is in Christ? Are these Christ-talk or cock-talk?

So far I have only highlighted the disparity within 2 denominations. There are other denominations and hundreds of independent churches that are geographically located close together and conduct services simultaneously. A good example is City Harvest and FCBC which hold their Sunday services at Expo. Each occupies conference halls which are literally next to each other.

1 identity in Christ? Even within contemporary Christianity, hardly we have the right spirit to move towards visible unity (as contrast 'spiritual' unity). Is visible unity among diversity really plausible?

On the other hand, some say that we ought not to unite merely for the sake of unity, yet to think further about it, what's so abhorrent about that? At least Jesus didn't think that way (John 17.20-21).

But, who gets what and says who?

"For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God." (1 Cor 3.21-23). St. Paul wrote that as a guide for his churches in Corinth. I think there are some wisdom to be harnessed for the use in our situation.

Now and finally we may ask, what is Christ's vision for his bride?

"I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17.20-21).

Reflecting back to Malaysia's political scene. Racial politic as practiced by UMNO cannot achieve unity among the multi-ethnic community simply for its lack of such ontological impetus. Hence racial politic has forfeited itself. Equal rights across racial distinction is not a Western ideal but Christ's. The vision of an ontology of a united diverse community is, as far as our current phase of humanity is aware, a non-natural and self-transcending ultimatum posed against ourselves yet for ourselves.

Feel free to voice your disagreement and correction.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lego's Brick Testament

Lego has come out with their depiction of the stories in the Bible through their building blocks known as the Brick Testament. Interestingly there are comedic, sexual and violent content:

(God created Adam)


(God breathes the breath of life into Adam)


(Adam and Eve learned from the dogs in Eden, hence we have the classic doggie-style)


(The building of the Tower of Babel)


(The massacre at Ai by Joshua and the Israelites)


(The massacre of 12,000 at Ai)


(King David staring at Bathseba)


(Massacre of humans by angels in Revelation)


(Angels dumping human corpses into the great wine press)


(The angels pressing wine outside the city)


(The wine came out)


(The Trinity: Son, Father and Holy Ghost)

Penang Economic Monthly


This is a new magazine published by the Socio-Economic and Environmental Research Institute (SERI) in Penang. I was given a preview copy. The Penang Economic Monthly, page 5, flashes out its mission statement:

1. Offer reliable socio-economic data for the benefit of decision makers in government and the private sector;

2. Supply Penangites with knowledge about significant issues that will promote public participation;

3. Encourage discussion about various aspects of Penang's fate and fortune;


4. Provide information about Penang personalities who have contributed, sometimes in very unassuming but critical ways, to the reputation and well-being of the state;

5. Place the spotlight on ordinary Penangites who are otherwise unnoticed and ugnored, but who nevertheless define the culture of the state in essential ways;


6. Highlight the importance of the island as a generator of culture, education, industry and cosmopolitanism;


7. Emphasize present trends in the arts, industry, politics, and economics that are prominent in Penang, and that affect the immediate future of the state and country, and,

8. Discover and display Penang's multifaceted history.

Ooi Kee Beng, the editor's wrapped and lucid description of the magazine: It is about remembering Penang's forgotten dreams.

How timely and strategic. After the coming of change since last year's March 08 defeat of the Barisan National, the new state government has ceaselessly bringing back the socio-economic stature the Pearl of the Orient once enjoyed. This promising publication project is one of the latest effort to re-construct and re-develop the potential of Penang and its people that have been overlooked and ignored by the previous government. This preview issue features an article by the aspiring Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng 'Repossessing the future of Penang.' It was a shock to discover how neglected the state was while under the ruling of Barisan National,

"...over the last 10 years, Penang household income actually increased the least among all the states, including Sabah and Sarawak. Between 1999 and 2004, this figure grew by 2.5 per cent annually, while the average for the whole country was 6.6 percent!"

It is good that the Penang Economic Monthly is serving as a channel for issues like this to be made deservedly known to us. The magazine is basically answering two soteriological questions facing the Penang state: (1) How did we get here?, and (2) How are we going to where we are destined to be?

Penang Trip 10-13 Oct 2009

Democratic Action Party's 2009 Convention. Almost all the muscles were there: Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, DAP chairman Karpal Singh, etc.


Grandma's and grandpa's remembrance plank. Went to pay respect and remember them together with my parents in a Buddhist temple.


My parents' plank (the one with red tape). They have reserved this spot in a local Buddhist temple. So next time when they are not around, this is where we will go to pay our respect. The red tape signifies that the named persons are still alive, the plank and spot are reserved.


This is the "Woo's ancestors" (胡) plank. It represents all the deceased Woos from the first Woo. Most probably can't trace back to the hominids, but somewhere during the dynasties?


Food for ancestors. I asked my parents that if grandma, grandpa, and
the ancestors already reincarnated to other better realms, then how can they eat these food? They said that this is a symbol of respect. Reminiscent their presence here and now, sharing meals. A virtuous sense of remembering the family members and re-identifying one's own root and identity. Can't help but to see some similarity with the Eucharist, "Do this in remembrance of me."


Parents inspecting the extension work of the Buddhist temple to which they are active members (equivalent to 'elders' and 'deacons').

Monday, October 12, 2009

The different between death and being alive

"...human life is life that is aware of death. It is therefore dependent on the acceptance and affirmation of death. Because human life can be negated, denied and rejected, it must be affirmed, accepted and chosen. Because human life can suffocate in self-hate, it must develop self-love, which grows out of the experience of being loved. Life is kept living through interest in life. If interest in life flickers and dies out, then life loses its human quality, and dies biologically too. Human life comes from love, comes alive through love, and through love is able to make other life living. If this experience of love disappears from a human life, that life becomes petrified and dies even while the body lives."
(Jurgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology, p.148).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Half-truth on salvation and damnation

Have you heard people proclaiming from the pulpit that if someone does not accept Jesus as savior, he/she will not be saved? This is not entirely wrong. But it is only half-truth.

Recently I came across a case. The mother of a family has just passed away without accepting Jesus, as far as we know. And due to this, the son who is a Christian grieves over the fact that his mother is now burning in hell for eternity. Obviously the son is assuming too much after absorbing too much half-truth preached on salvation and eternal damnation.

Here is the other half. First, we will never know what happened at that final moment before someone dies. He/she may go through conversion through unseen means. Second, we must not think that the salvific capability of Christ is limited by our imagination and bound within our capability to convert.

"...if somebody dies in unbelief, is he then out, or is there hope also for him? The answer is: Our means of preaching and praying come to an end with death, but not Christ's power, because he was resurrected and has his possibilities with the dead, preaching the Gospel in the world of the dead. There is, therefore, no reason and no right for us to condemn and exclude anyone, living or dead. We are not the judges of faith, but the servants of joy."
(Jurgen Moltmann, Double Predestination: The Elected Ones and the Crowd of the Condemned, emphasis added).

Bruce Waltke's latest paper on barriers preventing the acceptance of evolution theory

The BioLogos Foundation has uploaded Waltke's essay on their website:

The paper—one of seven that will be discussed at our upcoming November workshop—looks at eleven barriers keeping evangelical theologians from accepting evolutions as a valid means of creation. Waltke’s research includes survey responses from presidents and faculty from leading evangelical seminaries, as well as what their responses can tell us about the apparent gap between science and faith among evangelicals.

One of the points in Waltke's survey is whether do you think that "The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, when interpreted by the grammatico-historical method... cannot be harmonized with creation by the process of evolution" is true. Waltke found that 44% (out of 200++ evangelical professors) thinks that this reading of Genesis 1 is a barrier to accept evolution theory. He then proposed how one can appreciate the creation account in Genesis better,

"The first barrier can be lowered, I suggest, by recognizing the two levels of literature: the historical story level and the interpretive, creative plot level. On the story level the accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 are historical; on the plot level they are creative representations of the historical reality. To help students understand the distinction between story and plot I bring to class a half glass of water. When asked whether the glass is full or half full, students hesitate to answer the obvious—it must be a trick—but when called upon to vote, they almost unanimously vote for its being half-full. I respond that it is full: full of gas, visible and invisible. I then ask them to paint a picture of invisible gas, whereupon they realize the need for creativity. I suggest representing the invisible reality by putting the water in the top half of the glass. I then ask them to paint the invisible abstraction that both the visible and invisible gases are necessary to sustain life. To paint this invisible truth I suggest adding a goldfish to the top half of the glass and a canary to the bottom. They now realize my creative, finished painting is based on ostensive reality, not on mythical fiction, and the additional creative element expresses truth beyond the historical reality. Similarly, the accounts of creation are based on real history, but presented creatively, using the form of ancient Near Eastern cosmogonies." (Emphasis mine, page 8).

Previously I have consulted Waltke's commentary on Genesis in my essay on interpreting Genesis 1. It is a well written with substance and surprisingly easy to read (I used to have the impression that Waltke's writing is difficult to read).

Click here to download Waltke's paper.

God-sized patience is needed to deal with cultural differences

"Well-meaning people can cause major worldview problems when they introduce good changes and apply them at the surface level without due attention to the deep-level meanings people attach to them. For example, the missionary requirement that Africans with more than one wife must divorce the "extras" before they can be baptized leads both Christian and non-Christian Africans to certain worldview assumptions concerning the Christian God. Among these are: God is against the real leaders of African society, God is not in favor of women having help and companionship around the home, God wants men to be enslaved to a single wife..., and God favors divorce, social irresponsibility and even prostitution. None of these conclusions is irrational or far-fetched from their point of view. Though we believe God intends that each man have only one wife, this change was forced too quickly, unlike God's patient approach in the Old Testament where He took many generations to do away with the custom."
(Charles H. Kraft, 'Culture, Worldview and Contextualization', in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Fourth Edition, ed., Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, p. 403).

Friday, October 09, 2009

The mechanics of kingdom of God and its translatability to our community


"In the kingdom of God, human forms of relationality come to mirror the relatedness that characterizes the Trinity. Practically speaking, this means the end of self-asserting moral autonomy, whether of individuals towards each other, or of communities toward each other, or of humankind toward the natural environment, or of humankind toward God. In every case, human life is lived out in the conscious knowledge that each of us depends upon others and that our identity is constituted by our relations with other individuals and communities and with the natural environment and, ultimately, with God."
(Samuel M. Powell, Participating in God: Creation and Trinity, p.158)

A society and market driven by consumerism ignores this to their own peril. Unless the global community recognizes and participates in the sacramental living-hood exemplified within the Trinity, lives and natures are on perennial death threats.

The kingdom of God is here. There is a divine way to relate to other people, the natural world, and to God. Change your old way and incorporate this message. (Mark 1.15).

Hence incorporating the message in disciple-making is nothing less than the incorporation of various individuals into the relationality of the Trinity. It must goes beyond evangelism ("come and see") and catechism. It is about the Eucharist, "Let us partake, let us participate".

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Paul Steven Public Lecture

God's calling can mean....


The call to worship God can mean
the temptation to idolatry
.”

(Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1, p. 55)

Scripture has authority on which area of our lives?

Christianity is a religion of words, a religion of the Book… The Reformers insisted that Scripture not only has the final say, but it is the formal principle of everything we believe about doctrine or conduct. That is, it shapes and forms out faith. It does not simply sign off on essentially secular definitions of reality borrowed from psychology, business, sociology, politics, and the like. Rather, it is more likely to overthrow our presuppositions… [Earthly things] including science, art, and philosophy, unbelievers could contribute to the advance of knowledge and experience. After all, Scripture is not interested in telling us everything about everything, and God’s world is open to the investigation of everyone. But the transcendent realities of God’s character, His commands and His saving work, are not available to the philosopher, scientist, artist, or therapist. Secular wisdom may lead us to the truth about the revolution of planets, but it cannot explain the nature of God, the self and guilt and redemption. It cannot lead us to the truth about how we are saved from God’s wrath, for it refuses to believe that this is even a reality in the first place.
(Michael Horton, ‘Foreword,’ in Sola Scriptura, ed., Don Kistler, [USA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995], xvi-xvii. Emphasis mine).

This is a common feature of believers' view on the function of Bible. But there is a deep flaw with this. We assume too readily that we understand our 'belief', 'doctrine' and 'conduct' came to us as pre-packed. Women's voting rights and anti-slavery laws did not come to us pre-packed. It took humans centuries to realize these and work them out. (A good contemporary example is the issue on polygamy).

Hence the assumption of scripture's authority is a given to believers, and it is our understanding of 'doctrine' and 'conduct' that cannot be assumed so readily. Therefore to demarcate secular studies from theological studies can not be as clear as some of us want to.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Discussion on the meaning of the 'eschatological millennium'

Thanks to Michael Bird for the tip. There was a 2-hours discussion organized by John Piper's organization involving:

Jim Hamilton (Professor of New Testament at Southern Seminary in Louisville).

Sam Storms (Pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City)

Doug Wilson (Pastor of Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho).


Premillennialism (represented by Jim Hamilton): The return of Christ happens before (pre-) the thousand-year reign of Christ, which is a reign of the risen Christ on the earth.

Amillennialism (represented by Sam Storms): The return of Christ happens after the thousand-year reign, a reign that occurs in heaven, in the intermediate state, and not upon the earth. Those who have died in faith and entered into the presence of Christ share his rule and reign during the current church age in which we now live.

Postmillennialism (represented by Doug Wilson): The return of Christ happens after (post-) the thousand-year reign, which corresponds to the Christian age, and the reign of Christ from heaven leads the church to triumph by and through the gospel to such an extent that the Great Commission will be successfully fulfilled, and the Christian faith will pervade all the cultures of all the nations of men. All Christ's enemies will be subdued in this way, with the exception of death, which he will destroy by his coming.

An organic view on theology

"Theology is a junior partner in a conversation brought into being by God. This conversation creates and sustains a community. By speaking gently to it, God brings the world up to be his creature and a partner in conversation with him. He intends to make the world competent to participate freely in the speech and conversation that brings it into being. The church is the event in which God is heard, and the first community brought into being by this conversation."
(Douglas H. Knight, The Eschatology Economy, p.1. Emphasis mine.)

I like the way this is put out. The church as a conversing happenstance. It is something that happened and still happening. When the believing community converses and hears God, that's when the community assumes its destined identity, becoming what it was meant to be: the church.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

At peace with a 'B+'?

That's the grade I get for my essay on interpreting Genesis 1-2 in light of contemporary sciences. The lecturer said that I didn't give her what she requires and hence the grade is being pulled down.

Let me explain. In this assignment each of us in the group need to complete 2 tasks: (1) Submit an individually-researched paper; (2) Participate in a mock-debate among the different individuals in the group.

The instruction on the Course Requirement for task (1) is this:

Six Days of Creation: Literal or Figurative?

a. Read at least the following:
  • David Wilkinson, The Message of Creation, p.271-279.

  • G. L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of the Old Testament Introduction, rev. ed., p.156-160.

  • Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings, p.53-57.

  • Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis, p.39-59.

b. Summarize the four different views of creation, and state which view the above authors hold. (30%)

c. Critique each of the four views, i.e., what are their respective strengths and weaknesses? (30%)

d. Which view do you prefer and why? Here, you may need to do further research by providing new data/arguments to support your view and/or to evaluate the underlying assumptions/criteria of the different arguments. (30%)

e. Reflect on one practical application of this issue, whether pastoral, theological, ecumenical, or with respect to apologetics. (10%)

I have carefully read the instruction and the 4 books in my research. I categorize each view in this way: (1) Literary genre, in relation to (2) scientific relevance. So,

David Wilkinson: Literal-Non-Scientific.

G. L. Archer, Jr.: Figurative-Scientific.

Henri M. Morris: Literal-Scientific.

Henri Blocher: Figurative-Non-Scientific.

I have summarized and stated in the essay each view the authors hold.

However, during the presentation (task 2), the group did not discuss these 4 views held by the authors. Rather we discussed:

1) Literal Theory (=Henri M. Morris: Literal-Scientific)
2) Gap Theory
3) Day-Age Theory (=G. L. Archer, Jr.: Figurative-Scientific)
4) Framework Theory (=Henri Blocher: Figurative-Non-Scientific)

During the preparation of the mock-debate, I have told the group that the 'Gap Theory' is not hold by any of the authors. The group thought that it was alright, and I followed them. So in the presentation, we presented these 4 views. After that we submitted our individual essay.

This morning I was told that I didn't discuss the 'Gap Theory' in the essay and hence my grade is marked down. I told the lecturer that my essay is not related to the mock-debate, and I followed the instruction carefully to "summarize the four different views of creation, and state which view the above authors hold." Since none of the authors hold the 'Gap Theory' then I shouldn't discuss it. I have also told her that I have clarified to the group during our mock-debate preparation that the 'Gap Theory' is not hold by any of the authors, to made it clear to her that I know very clearly what I was writing about. The lecturer said something like we were supposed to discuss the views proposed in the books. But I don't see that I have not followed the instruction.

I think the instruction is clear that we discuss only the view the authors and not all the views discussed in their books (altogether there are about 6 views).

This means I was penalized for following the instruction, not for breaking them.

Now I'm thinking whether should I pursue this matter further?

Simple phrase to express tolerance for homosexual relationship

From National Organization for Marriage:

"Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose,
they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us."

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Theology is...

"Theology is thinking what to say to be saying the gospel. Like every intellectual enterprise, this demands its own appropriate practices of thought. Since the gospel is whatever the apostles said to say, "Jesus is risen," apostolic reflective activity also - however profoundly or superficially done - must have been the right sort of thing to be doing.

"Theology... may be described as the historically continuing discussion and debate internal to the mission of the gospel. Apostolic theology is the founding beginning of this dicussion.

"Theology is a continuing argument between different and sometimes incompatible proposals, and presumably always will be. If the theology of the apostolic church were uniform, it would be less available to us."
(Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology vol.1, p.32-33. Italic original.)

Friday, October 02, 2009

"Do this in remembrance of me" means...

(Rev. Phua Chee Seng, Moderator of Singapore Presbyterian Synod preparing the Eucharist at Trinity Theological College's chapel during the 61st Thanksgiving service)

"...the eucharist is not the memorial of past meals with Jesus but the reality of contemporary response to his hospitality – a hospitality once and for all established as indestructible by the cross and the resurrection, so that what was done in the ministry of Jesus in Galilee and Jerusalem is done constantly in the history of the Church."


This morning, I had the honor to serve the Eucharist in Presbyterian-style to John Chew, the Archbishop of Anglican South East Asia. Look forward for the honor to serve Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England. Today South East Asia, Tomorrow Canterbury.

CSCA's Christianity in Southeast Asia Series

Trinity Theological College's Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia (CSCA) has launched the first publication in their Christianity in Southeast Asia Series:

Issues of Law and Justice in Singapore
edited by Daniel K. S. Koh and Kiem-Kiok Kwa



"It comprises essays written by seven contributors representing various professions including theology and law academia.

The book provides a theological framework on the subject of law in the form of two essays written by Dr Koh himself and Gordon Wong, Professor of Old Testament at TTC.

Topics covered include criminal law, abortion, marriage, the social principles of the Church with a focus on the Methodist Church in Singapore, and faith, hope and love in the public square." (Christian Post, Sept. 25, 2009).

"In his offering on criminal law and punishment, lawyer and pastor William Wan commented on the extraordinary powers of the government minister and noted the potential for abuse.

Writing on religion and abortion, assistant professor of law Tan Seow Hon showed how the law on abortion was based on a eugenics social policy rather than moral justification and suggested that it was an ‘appropriate’ time for “renewed debate and review of the legislation”." (Christian Post, Sept. 29, 2009)

Doing Public Theology in Singapore

Brought to you by Singapore Bible College's Ichthus Research Centre:


Speaker:
Dr. Kwa Kiem Kiok

Date/Time:
26 Oct 2009 / 10 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.

Venue:
Singapore Bible College, 9-15 Adam Road, Singapore.


Description
Public theology guides the church to engage in society on public issues. It helps the church to understand the issues and to present a Christian point of view, and engages with the media, academia and other members of society. By nature, it is a contextual theology. What works for one society may not work in another society because conditions are different. Our Speaker, Dr. Kwa Kiem Kiok is concerned that we have a good understanding of our own socio-political context in order for us to be able to engage meaningfully; and we do not just engage at the high up level, but also consider how to influence the people in the pew.

In this seminar, Dr. Kwa will use the casino debates as a case study of how the Methodist Church took part in this debate and what the views of Methodists are on this issue of engaging in the public square. She will share her views on the issues face in Singapore like homosexuality, euthanasia, bioethics, globalization, relating with those of other religions.

About the speaker
Dr Kwa holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Asbury Theological Seminary. She spent six years with Graduates' Christian Fellowship, an affiliate of Fellowship of Evangelical Students, equipping graduates for witness and ministry in the marketplace. While pursuing her doctoral studies she also worked at the International Office at Asbury Theological Seminary. After a brief time to set up a research centre for the National Council of Churches in Singapore, she now joins the EAST as a lecturer in inter-cultural studies.

Fee
S$10 for general public; S$5 for SBC alumni; S$5 for SBC students (special rate of S$3 per person for those who register through their respective class). Ichthus members please bring along your membership card to enter without charges.

Registration
For registration and enquires, please email with your name, address, contact number & the name of the event, or call Phyllis at +65 6559 1532 on Tuesday & Friday (10 am to 5 pm). Prior registration is preferred due to limited seats.

God over Bible

Where do we start to construct a theology of the Bible, or the nature of scripture? To starts from the 'Bible' itself is not saying much. To be specific is to start with the recorded testimonies of encounters with the Christ, who was believed to be the embodiment of the divine. We begin by encountering the biblical authors' encounters of Christ's encounter with his world and themselves, and translate that to our encounter God's relating to our world.

Put as briefly as possible, a doctrine of Scripture requires a doctrine of God.
(Rowan Williams, ‘Historical Criticism and Sacred Text’, in Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom, ed., David F. Ford and Graham Stanton, [UK: SCM, 2003], 228).

"Every view of Scripture, in particular, proves on analysis to be bound up with an overall view of God and man."
(J.I. Packer, 'Encountering Pressent-Day Views of Scripture,' in The Foundation of Biblical Authority, ed. James Montgomery Boice, [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978], 61-62).

"John Macquarie...states that in Christian theology the doctrine of God "has a central place" that "underlies all the other doctrines.""
(Frank Hasel, Scripture in the Theologies of W. Pannenberg and D. G. Bloesch, [UK: Peter Lang, 1996], 128, n.2).

"Christian dogmatics in every part is the doctrine of God."
(Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology vol.1, [USA: Eerdmans, 1991], 447).