Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rhetoric for prosperity theology/teaching

(Fountain of Wealth at Suntec City. This photo is taken from TravelerFolio.com)

The term "prosperity theology" comes in all shapes and sizes. A form of it is known as "Word-Faith" theology; another form is locally known as "Cultural Mandate". Nonetheless, they all share one similar ideology.

The Lausanne Theology Working group has produced a rather accurate definition of prosperity theology. No matter what form it takes, it still known for its "teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the "sowing of seeds" through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings."

It is very common for those who adopt prosperity theology to assert that wealth is God's blessing for his people so that they will be able to bless others. Prosperity theologians/teachers always claim that we are channels of God's blessings; God blesses us with wealth so that we can bless others with it.

There are many prosperity teachers around the globe. A local example is of course Kong Hee, the founder of City Harvest Church. On the 23rd of April 2009, he posted an article in response to several common critical statements concerning some of the questionable teachings being propounded by Charismatic Christians. One of these common criticisms is this, "Charismatics twist Scripture to justify an opulent lifestyle."

Here's Kong Hee's response to that criticism:
Not true. The vast majority of Charismatics are not fixated with wealth or materialism. Like most Christians, they believe that God provides for their need, not their greed. Having said that, Charismatics are not abhorrent to wealth that comes through diligent work or God’s blessing. Most believe that prosperity is God’s plan for the believer simply because of the abundance of Bible texts to support that. Take for example, 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” The word, “rich” (Gr. plouteo) means to become financially wealthy and increased with goods. For most Charismatics, success and wealth are means to help the poor, better society, and fulfill the Great Commission.
Sounds right? Of course it is. I totally agree that wealth is a gift to be given to others. Only recently I told a friend who has a well-paid job, "I don't care how much millions you make in a month. What's important is how much you give away to help meet the needs of others."

What Kong Hee wrote resonates well with the famous paraphrase of John Wesley's sermon, "First, gained all you can, and, secondly saved all you can, then give all you can."

It is right with this theology. However, we also know that most Charismatics turn this good theology into a rhetoric to cover up their own vices. They use this theology to accumulate wealth for themselves.

When wealth is given to them, they suddenly forgotten and hence abandoned the theological purpose of their given wealth. Instead of helping to meet others' real urgent needs, these prosperity teachers keep the gift for themselves, for their own enjoyment. They live lavishly irrespective of moderation and the impoverishment of those in desperate conditions.

Kong Hee knows about this good theology. It is unfortunate that he does not live up to it. From how he uses his God-given wealth, we know that he is just using this good piece of theology as a rhetoric for his personal acquisition for a luxurious upper-class lifestyle.

We have to be clear that we are not questioning the source of Kong Hee's income. His wealth could be obtained through his business dealings and not from the tithes of his congregation. The same goes to his wife, Sun Ho. Their incomes from their business engagements are legitimate and nothing wrong with that. Nonetheless, the theological purpose of wealth as God-gift that is meant to be given (a theology which Kong Hee himself believes in) still applies.

Kong Hee is just one local example among many other prosperity theologians and preachers around the world who misuse good theology as rhetoric to cover up their own aspiration for lavish living.

Earning big bucks is one thing. How to spend it is another. It is impossible to give a theological justification to rent a SGD$28,000/month mansion, drive a Mercedes Benz CLK550 and own a SGD$2.6 million luxury apartment.
"[I]n 1731 [John] Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was 30 pounds and his living expenses 28 pounds, so he had 2 pounds to give away. The next year his income doubled, but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he had 32 pounds to give to the poor.

In the third year, his income jumped to 90 pounds.
Instead of letting his expenses rise with his income, he kept them to 28 pounds and gave away 62 pounds. In the fourth year, he received 120 pounds. As before, his expenses were 28 pounds, so his giving rose to 92 pounds.[...]

One year his income was a little over 1400 pounds. He lived on 30 pounds and gave away nearly 1400 pounds. Because he had no family to care for, he had no need for savings. He was afraid of laying up treasures on earth, so the money went out in charity as quickly as it came in. He reports that he never had 100 pounds at any one time."
(Charles Edward White, What Wesley Practiced and Preached About Money)
One may argue that John Wesley did not have family and hence he can afford to gave away so much. While Kong Hee and other prosperity preachers have family to take care. But this argument is missing the point.

The point is that Christianity does not teach that God wants everyone to live as beggars or in the slump. Instead, as underlined above, God gives material wealth to some of his people. And to those who are given the gift, they should not forget the purpose of their gift. And the purpose is never about spending on luxurious living for themselves or their family. It is to help others, as Kong Hee himself preaches.

I am not against luxurious living or lavish lifestyle. It is alright for everyone to go for better living-hood through legitimate means. However, no one can do that or justify it by misusing theology as a self-serving rhetoric to achieve that. And it is this practice that is questionable.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Misuse of pseudonyms

In the past few days, I have been engaging on Temasek Review over an article that I have written, which they have published. It was a portion from my post on Mark Ng's case. There was a slight engagement at first, or so I thought. Yet when the conversation was carried further, I found it rather disappointing. Here is my last comment:
If sloo, Wisdom, and simple man represent the rational voice from the disagreeing side, I am rather utterly disappointed. I used to think that the education they were exposed to would avail more intelligibility in their public discourse. But what I have observed so far are ad hominems upon ad hominems. Well, democracy rears its ugly head yet once again. Anyway, I’ll take leave from further engagement as there is nothing of that sort is happening here except mere assertions, unjustifiable prejudices, and anything but rational conversation.

Now that I have tasted first hand the level of intelligibility, not to mention the inability to hold a well reasoned discourse, among some Singaporeans who hid behind pseudonyms, I can reasonably come to a perception over the nation’s society better. Thank you for all who have participated. It was enlightening and surprising for me to witness how Singapore’s public discourse, particularly on good platform such as the Temasek Review, was handled by some of these pseudonymous and dubious personas.

On the other hand, I have to extend my respect and deeper sense of gratitude to locals who have participated without hiding behind pseudonyms. The country is fortunate to have these cultivated individuals who are contributing to the public affair responsibly in their own namesake.

Singapore can still strive into its glorious future with the presence of individuals like Andrew Chuah, Jenny Wong, Jason Leong, and Lim Bock Bock (if this is not a pseudonym though I suspect that it is).
You may read the exchange there.

What I have come to observed, among other things, is the misuse of pseudonyms. Pseudonyms in a public discourse is allowed to protect the whistle blower. This is especially so if it is on political issues.

Should a whistler blower has a piece of information which the public needs to know, then a pseudonym's function is to protect the safety of the whistler blower.

One other case where pseudonym is responsibly used is when the author used it to make a point. That was what Soren Kierkagaard did with his pseudonymous works.

But in the case of the pseudonymous commentors on Temasek Review that I have engaged with, pseudonyms are being used irresponsibly. It is not about protecting individuals from public prosecution due to their leaking of vital confidential information. To these commentors, pseudonyms has different function. It is their license to engage in dialog irresponsibly.

Perhaps precisely because they don't want to embarrass themselves that they chose to use pseudonym. Or worse, precisely because they knew that they will embarrass themselves inevitably, hence they need to engage pseudonymously.

In any case, pseudonym used in such manner has been much exploited to the defeats of its very own purpose. Hence the role of the moderator in this discursive setting is pivotal. In peer-reviewed journal, part of such a role is played by the editor(s). Unfortunately such a critical moderatorship in a public discourse website does not easily come by.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Religious harmony in a given pluralistic society

(This photo is taken from the Strait Times' website: "New Creation pastor Mark Ng (left) hugging Taoist Federation chairman Tan Thiam Lye.")

I met Mark Ng a few times. He is a nice person. Last week, he was in the news, apologizing for the remark he made on Taoism. Here's Todayonline.com's report:
"[T]he Ministry of Home Affairs said: " We are aware of the case. [The Internal Security Department] has looked into it and taken up the matter with the New Creation Church. The church on its own accord contacted YouTube to remove the clip and it has apologised."
Mark went to look for Tan Thiam Lye, the chairman of Taoist Federation, to ask for forgiveness and give the latter a big hug. After that, Mark was glad, "It's good that we had a chance to talk face-to-face. Now we are friends."

If you ask for my opinion over this issue, I would unhesitatingly say that this shouldn't be an issue in the first place, in a civilized society.

Singapore's Constitution Part IV, 14 upholds every citizens' freedom of expression. And by 'every', the range includes all citizens from top to the bottom, from the father of modern Singapore Lee Kuan Yew to the aunties who work as cleaners at food-courts.

At the same time, there is chapter (14) (2) that governs the misuse of the liberty. "Parliament may by law impose on the [freedom of expression rights], such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence."

If I am not wrong, I may suppose that this chapter (14) (2) also extend to every citizens, ranging from Lee Kuan Yew to the cleaning aunties at food-courts.

If I am not wrong, I think the Internal Security Department (ISD) was interested in Mark's remark due to their conviction of a possibility that what Mark has said may not be in "the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality..."

Of course, there won't be such conviction in the ISD in the first place if they did not received complaints from some Singaporeans.

A few weeks ago, Lee Kuan Yew made a statement on Sri Lanka which was perceived by some as insensitive. I suppose no Singaporeans have written to ISD or the Foreign Minister to complain that such statement may not be in "the interest of Singapore [...] friendly relations with other countries..." And so the ISD has no need to call up Mr Lee for investigation (assuming that the ISD is daring enough). Nobody complained, so no case.

So Mark's case is not a matter of the Singaporean government being bias against his remark. The main cause that Mark was called up by the ISD is not due to the remark he made but due to the bias that some Singaporeans have against that remark. Some Singaporeans, like most of those from Mark's congregation, have no problem with Mark's remark. But some do.

In the same way, some Singaporeans do not have problem with Mr Lee's remark, but some do. But in this case, those who have problems with Mr Lee's remark did not write to ISD or the Foreign Minister to complain, hence there is no problem.

From these events, I see that there is a general sense of bias against religious issue but not international issue among Singaporeans; It is okay to have international strain but not okay to have religious strain.

So, my question to those Singaporeans who wrote to the authorities to complain against Mark is this: Why are you bias against Mark's remark but not Mr Lee's remark? Both issues involve first and foremost the dignity of human persons; unless you think that Sri Lankans are lesser humans and hence they don't deserve the same degree of sensitivity for their dignity? So why one and not the other?

My point is this. I do not have problem with Mr Lee's as well as Mark's remarks. Each entitles to his own freedom of expression. I don't think there should be a problem in the first place. The problem lies in those who wrote to the authorities. They have to justify their biasness.

If not, then their complain is arbitrary and their bias is itself an insensitivity.

"Sensitivity" should not be used so arbitrarily as the excuse to persecute one over the other. We must not instil fear in the name of unchecked sensitivity among the people to curb them from expressing what they think is true to them. Straining the liberty of individual is being insensitive itself and is against the Singapore's Constitution.

When a remark is seen as resentful, then one should be allowed the space to clarify. This opportunity allows individuals, be it Mark or Mr Lee, an opportunity to explain and not be ostracized or denied their civil right. We should allow space for conversation and dialog. This should be the mark of civility.

Add to that, clause (15) of the Constitution protects individual's right to "profess and practise his religion and to propagate it." Singaporeans (especially those who wrote to the authority to complain against Mark and who cannot justify their biasness against religious from international issue) need to read this clause within the local context.

The local context consists of religions that are exclusive in nature. The major religions in Singapore claim exclusivity for their own religious belief. Each religion sees itself doctrinally different from other religions.

In other words, the exclusive nature of these religions are part of what they are. If these exclusive religions are forced to be separated from their exclusive nature, then there is a violation of clause (15) as well as clause (14).

Given this religious context in Singapore, the locals have to understand that clause (15) is not merely upholding individual's right to religious practice. It is precisely in upholding this right that the clause is also upholding the exclusivity of these religions in the same breath.

If the society needs to find out the troublemakers that are raising tension in the community, I would point my finger to those who wrote to ISD and yet unable to justify their biasness against Mark but not Mr Lee.

These troublemakers and their concern for "sensitivity" stemmed from arbitrariness. Since it is arbitrary, then they do not have valid or justified reason to create tension among local communities. If they do, which they did, then they are in fact threatening "the interest of [...] public order or morality..."

Mark is in the same way just as right as Mr Lee. If anyone think that their remarks are wrong, please ask for clarification. Do not start shouting "Insensitive!" like uncivilized hooligans in some fantasy country with major religions or political views that are all inclusive in nature.

Religious harmony in a pluralistic society like Singapore cannot be fostered through complaints or the curbing of individual's liberty to express their exclusive religious and political view. To adopt that is to defeat both the "religious" and the "harmony" in the real sense of the words. Hence the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony and the ISD should not encourage the citizens to cultivate such intolerant attitude by entertaining these petty, unjustifiable and bias complaints! The authorities as representing the sovereign state of the country, that look into the welfare of all citizens, should be objective and impartial in their administration. They should not only investigate those who are being complained but also on those who complain since it can be the case that it is the latter group that attempts to stir social unrest.

Real religious harmony is fostered through an open space for continuous dialog as well as the attitude to accept and understand. Those who so cherish religious harmony should be harmonious in nature in spite of difference in understanding one another's religion or political standing.

"[T]he peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4.7)

Blogosphere's theology

There was a conversation on theologians and blogging culture that I had with Sivin Kit previously. I shared about the incident of an established academic theologian once asked me and my friends, "Would you spend time reading blogs or Wolfhart Pannenberg's books?"

We did not answer him as we were not sure. After a short moment of silence, the theologian said, "You don't really have to choose; of course it's Pannenberg."

Then I realized that it was a rhetorical question as it was asked with the assumption that we would reply, "Pannenberg."

I felt the need to clarify. So I opened my mouth, "But for many, like myself, learn about Pannenberg through blogs." The theologian agreed before he insisted, "Yes, only as an exposure. Blogs are written by any person (read: 'nobodies') and lack the substance as compared to struggling through Pannenberg's systematic theology."

Sivin, a theologian himself, said that if he was there, he would ask the theologian why Pannennberg's works are more substantial compared to theological blogs? Sivin believed that the degree of substantiality depends on how relevant it is to a person within his/her context.

Obviously to the theologian, whose context is in the academia, reading Pannenberg is more time-worthy. And the academia is still caught up with the practice of doing theology through the conventional media (books, journals, conferences). What if one's context of doing theology is different? What if we are doing theology with the new media (blogs, Facebook, semi-public e-forum)?

That is not to say that we disregard academic reading altogether, but to acknowledge that theology is always done in context. The academia style is one among others.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Formation: World Communion of Reformed Churches

It's on World Communion of Reformed Churches' website: "The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) are uniting to form a new body representing more than 80 million Reformed Christians worldwide. This united body will be called the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC)."

Ecumenical News International's comment on this unity:
"Reformed Christians trace their heritage back to the 16th-century Reformation led by Jean Calvin, John Knox and others, as well as to earlier movements that sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church.

"It will strengthen the contribution of the Reformed churches to unity, peace and justice," said WCC general secretary, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit. "This is a new expression of the visible unity of God's Church, and as such it represents both a gift from God and a sign of hope.
The Uniting General Council of this new WCRC has a blog too. And there are reasons for the new symbol. The motto for WCRC: "Unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4.3)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Theology and "condemn the sin but not the sinner"

We seldom see local theologians to speak out against questionable deeds carried out by other Christians. The reason is that most theologians believe that we should not portray a chaotic picture of the Christian community to the public.

I am for ecumenical movement and the unity of the different churches. Yet I don't see that pointing out the severity of a misconduct is providing a disservice to the body of Christ as a whole.

Pronouncing a public judgment against a deed, even if the deed implicates a fellow Christian, is not in a symmetrical relation with being merciful, loving, forgiving and reconciliation. It is not symmetrical because evil is the privation in this contingent world, while virtue is not. The former is parasitic and contingent, while the latter is desirable and absolute.

It is only a tension or a problem if we peg them symmetrically. So we can affirm both without tension. And to work this out is to spread our arms open while pronouncing judgment and making discernment on evil. In any case, it is a way of reminding the church of its theological calling, that is to strive to be what it is meant to be, but has so far invisible of being, the people of God.

The old saying that goes "condemn the sin but not the sinner" sounds nice but theologically, politically, and morally unsound. To do that, one has to separate the person from the person's deeds. But if a person is separated from his deeds, then what is left of justice?

Can a court of law condemn the crime but not the criminal? If so, where is the place for retribution?

Let's turn this around. Can we praise the good deed without also acknowledging the person? If so, where is the place for gratitude?

Assuming that we can separate the person from the person's deeds is to make judgment/discernment impossible.

May be most of the current Christian communities have adopted the old nice saying "condemn the sin but not the sinner." Yet there is at least one (excluding me) who does not buy it.

"But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned." (Galatians 2.11)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A theological-political reflection over the happening at City Harvest Church

I have always wondered how does City Harvest Church (CHC) administer itself as a functioning organization as well as a church? This is a theological question as much as a query over the power play within the church.

Being influential over 30,000 people is power-ful. Revolutions started with much lesser number of people than that. Jesus had only twelve to start with. The abolition of slavery in the eighteen century England was carried out by the Clapham Sect. The re-instatement of theistic belief in the analytic philosophical tradition was pioneered by a few epistemologists belonging to the Reformed tradition.

As a church, the controlling principles for the organization is outrightly theological whether one is aware of it or not. Church management, and thus the deliberation of power within the church, is a specific subject in ecclesiology. The church's mission, which is often known as the driving motive of the church, is a subject of eschatology. The very message that the church is given to testify in the world throughout history is a subject of systematic theology.

My point is simply this: Theology is the soul of the church. If the soul is vague, the church is superficial. When the soul is wrong, the church is deluded.

That is the reason why, to my discernment, CHC is going through what it is going through right now. Blogpastor was previously contemplating why is "all this happening" to CHC? And I think Blogpastor is not alone. Many must be wondering over the same question. And this post is a suggestion to answer that question.

My relationship with CHC and other similar Christian organizations is always in a form of an engagement. These organizations are huge and influential. Theologians (including theologian-wannabes) are always on our toes to discern the work of God in the world because it concerns God and his creation.

Hence we are sensitive over public and private matters involving the Christian community, the socially identifiable people who are representing God and his Christ. Therefore it is natural for me personally to try to understand the currents that are sweeping over CHC out of interest as much as out of concern.

After much that has surfaced in the past two months (co-owning Suntec Convention Center, plagiarism, CAD investigation), we can now have a better sense of how everything within CHC is connected.

Theology as the soul of the church.
The founder of CHC, Kong Hee, got his theological degrees from questionable institution. However, that does not mean one’s theology is weak. On the other hand, there may be good theologians who come from institutions that are lesser known too. So one’s formal theological education does not guarantee one’s theological acumen. So Kong Hee’s degrees do not say much about the quality of his theology. We have to examine his theology to find out.

His theology on ‘Cultural Mandate’ is regretfully flimsy and dubious. Cultural Mandate, as a movement to cultivate active contribution among Christians to the flourishing of the society, is wrongly understood and propounded by Kong Hee. The integrity of the movement is blurred in Kong Hee’s misrepresentation of it.

He got the right tagline (‘Cultural Mandate’) but the wrong content. Not to mention his mistaken theological interpretation on Biblical passages that he uses to support his wrong content. Therefore it is not a surprise that Kong Hee urged his congregation of 30,000 to reiterate to one another, “Knowledge is power,” during a service dated 23rd August 2009 at Expo. To the Christians, knowledge is not power; Christ is. Kong Hee’s theology of knowledge and power have been so confused with foreign philosophies. In this case, those of Michel Foucault.

During a dialog session with one of the founding members of CHC, Wu Yu Zhuang (a.k.a Mark Goh Yock Tuan), I noticed a flimsy understanding of Christian’s engagement with cultures permeates not merely the members but also the leaders. Kong Hee’s over-simplistic understanding of ‘culture’ flowing through the organization from top to bottom. I asked Wu Yu Zhuang how does CHC understand the term ‘Cultural Mandate’ and how does the church measures ‘relevance’?

In reply, he said that CHC is being relevant to culture by the casual clothes the pastors wear, the personal styles the leaders adopt, the contemporary worship songs the church uses for their weekly services. (Even until today, I am not sure if Wu Yu Zhuang answered my questions, assuming that he understood it in the first place.)

CHC’s mistaken perception of the ‘Cultural Mandate’ is serious because that is the vision that drives the church in the past recent years. That translates there are about 30,000 people who are being deluded over a mistaken ideology. And each week, these people are being fed with this wrong idea again and again. (My best friend Steven Sim has a wonderful contribution to our understanding of 'Cultural Mandate'. Perhaps the CHC community should look into that.)

Besides having a skewed theology on ‘Cultural Mandate’, Kong Hee’s theology on prosperity is also questionable. There are many, like Stillhaventfound, sympathise Kong Hee,
I personally believe Pastor Kong Hee is innocent - this is relating to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) investigations. I do so because I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’d be surprised if a pastor like him was out to make money. I believe his vision for God’s kingdom trumps his desire for person gain.
At first glance, such kind statement is seemingly appropriate to make. And it is especially so when it concerns another Christian brother. Yet I think that statement is not fair to Kong Hee and misrepresents him.

The statement distinguishes between Kong Hee’s personal monetary aspirations from his vision for God’s kingdom, as if the latter has nothing to do with the former. To put this another way, this view suggests that the preacher of prosperity teaching is not really working around wanting to get rich but he is sincerely carrying out God’s work which has no regards to the preacher’s own personal wealth-fare. I think this distinction is false.

To those who study Kong Hee’s theology, we recognize that Kong Hee’s personal monetary aspirations and his vision for God’s kingdom have been confusingly intertwined. This is seen in his own writings. Here are two examples:
1) [The people of God--Jeremiah 29.5-7) were not to be antagonistic as a community but to seek the peace and prosperity of the world God had placed them in, knowing that if their city prospered, they too would prosper. (Link)

2) [Most Charismatics] believe that prosperity is God’s plan for the believer simply because of the abundance of Bible texts to support that. Take for example, 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” The word, “rich” (Gr. plouteo) means to become financially wealthy and increased with goods. For most Charismatics, success and wealth are means to help the poor, better society, and fulfill the Great Commission. (Link)
Kong Hee’s theology allows him to pursue his personal monetary gain precisely as his vision for God’s kingdom. So I have no doubt that Kong Hee is a sincere man in his pursuit. That he firmly believes in what he teaches. Yet we have to be clear that the sincerity in one’s belief does not justify the wrongness of that belief. Sincerity also does not turn heterodoxy into orthodoxy. The Lausanne Theology Working Group has produced a rather fair statement examining the mistaken notion of prosperity teachings, like those of Kong Hee. Kong Hee is sincere and wrong.

Kong Hee’s and his cronies’ approach to power-play.
The beauty of a democracy is that human rights and freedom can be pursued for the common good of all.” That was what Kong Hee wrote in his reflection on the relation between religion and politics.

Though he did not comment on church’s polity, yet that statement shows that democracy is the best political system to him, as it guarantees the “common good of all.” However, Kong Hee does not exercise democratic polity in his own church. The power distribution in his organisation is structured in a way that secures Kong Hee’s and his cronies’ access to executive authority.

It is stated in CHC constitution that not all its members have the right to attend annual general meetings. “Only executive members--such as pastors, the board of directors and cell group leaders who have served at least three years--are entitled to do so,” reported in Todayonline.com.

I gathered from the dialog session with Wu Yu Zhuang that CHC distribution of power is centred on the church’s board. The ordination of reverends and pastors, the visible leaders in the church, has to be approved by the board. Kong Hee is part of the board. According to Wu Yu Zhuang, the board members are all disciples of Kong Hee. In other words, though we are told that it is the board that governs the church, yet on deeper level, it is rather apparent that the entire structure of governance in CHC is centred on Kong Hee. (Wu Yu Zhuang, as one of the founding members of CHC, regards Kong Hee as an “apostle.”)

It is expectable that people project themselves differently at places where they have no or less authority. Kong Hee’s comment on religion and politics was done with the context of him being a subject under the authority of the state. His unhesitant endorsement of democracy makes sense since democracy’s distribution of power is to the demos (the people) of which Kong Hee is one. The endorsement seems like Kong Hee’s attempt to secure a meagre slice of power for himself in the face of the overarching authoritative state.

Is Kong Hee a person who, be he consciously or sub-consciously, crave for authoritarian control? One can never be sure. Yet when we look at Kong Hee’s own governance of his organization, there is no more talk of democracy. At CHC, it looks more like a monarchy. And we know that accountability is vague under such polity. It is not too stretching to see this as a case of one man controlling the teaching and the executive authority of the church.

Overall, the persona of Kong Hee is vital to CHC as a functioning organization. What CHC is today is largely due to that one person. The mistaken theologies of 'Cultural Mandate' and prosperity propagated by Kong Hee are running deep in the congregation. He is the cornerstone that sustains the church. Unless CHC is open to accountability to the wider public (both to the theological institutions as well as the demos) rather than its own 'governing board', it is still a wonder whether can the CHC community be turned around to be a lesser deluded church. But that would mean the leadership of the church has, for the past decade, been circulating and promoting false teachings within the body of Christ. Though this will be a drastic acknowledgment on the part of CHC, yet it will not be irredeemable. Divine grace as well as the wider body of Christ are always around to build CHC up again.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Sivin & Yoshua

One of the "leading Protestant pastor[s] in Kuala Lumpur," Sivin Kit, and I barely know one another though we know each other's existence since the Agora days. At that time (late 2005 / early 2006) I was active in the Agora network and initially was suspicious of Sivin due to his connection with the Emergent movement. But who was to blame as I was worshiping Norman Geisler in those days? Then many events occurred that I gradually becoming more open to postmodern ideology. One of the events was when I attempted to woo a Roman Catholic girl.

My affection to her restrained me from condemning Roman Catholicism. (All Geisler worshipers have the tendency to do so.) She introduced a lot of things to me that I was not aware of. There was a point in time when I was partially considering chanting the blasphemous "Rome sweet home" mantra. Steven Sim knew about it and commented that, "Then both of you can meet in h.e.l.l." (LOL) Those were the days when we were still very much stuck to the er........ Fundamentals.

Anyway, last Sunday, I finally met up and conversed with Sivin. I went to look for him at his church, currently situated at the Lutheran Center.

I was surprised that his church was filled with young parents: A lot of young adults with babies. Actually I saw Sivin on 19 June 2007, when I attended a peaceful virgil at Dataran Merdeka for Revathi's case. But we didn't speak to each other at that time.

Sivin invited me for dinner in that evening. He reached my place to pick me up in his blue old Proton Wira. The car instantaneously betrayed the fact that this guy is not into 'health & wealth' gospel (which, by the way, is a good thing). We arrived at a nice eatery, sat on table number 56. And coincidentally, the bill was RM56. We spent about 3 hours conversing over many matters. I told him about my negative impression of one of his personal friend, Vinoth Ramachandra. In turn, Sivin shared about Vinoth's critique on his thesis for his Th.M. Sivin has a bubbly and outspoken persona. I, on the other hand, usually appear more quiet than one expected.

We talked about the way to theologize. Sivin mentioned about his "in-between" approach. When I heard Sivin uttered the term "in-between," I thought of William Desmond's in-between metaphysic. Anyway, Sivin mentioned about the inadequacy of theologizing on an arm-chair. He said that one's theology is constructed differently when one has participated in public demonstrations and had been chased by the police. Sivin went through all that. I agreed in silent. If not, I wouldn't have traveled all the way from Singapore to KL for a virgil alone. It was from such participation that one identifies with the subject one was contemplating. It is as if one wiped with one's own hands the tears of Revathi.

Hence by "in-between" Sivin meant the space between the academy on one side and the daily struggles of fellow humans on the other side.

I also told Sivin that I used to have a negative view of him last time due to his connection with the Emergent movement. Hearing that, he demanded me to ask for absolution. I stubbornly rejected that by appealing to my innocence. Of course, humor was in the air.

I asked Sivin to give me three characteristics of a good public theologian. He gave like a dozen. I didn't write them down. So it is better not elaborate here in case I misrepresent him. It's better for him to share for himself. The one thing I remember vividly is his concern for a holistic approach to life. He mingles around with Christian and non-Christian people who fight for social justice. And what he finds unfortunate is that there are those within both groups who dichotomize their public life from their lives in their home. Sivin wishes that those who fight for just treatment in the society can also treat their family members with equal zeal.

The other thing that we have in common is our distrust of academic grades as the indicator of one's intelligence. Sivin told me about someone who was previously one of the top students at Trinity Theological College, who now is somewhat disconnected. I agreed with him and brought up John Sung as another example. Sung's average score in his theological studies at Union Theological Seminary was above 90. Yet he was warded into the Bloomingdale Hospital to receive psychopathic treatment.

The next day, I had lunch with Yoshua Chua. We came to know each other during last year's Malaysia Presbytery AGM at Olympia Hotel. Briefly said, we met in a hotel. He is currently in his final stage of getting his M.Div, while I still have two more years to go for my B.Div.

What started as a simple lunch unexpectedly was carried into a 3 hours conversation at Starbucks. Our topic of discourse is mainly on theologizing as well. But this time, we were into the verification of theological knowledge. "How can we verify the truthfulness of a theology?"

He is currently completing his final essay for his Master's degree. And he is going through Francis Schaeffer's works. He also revealed that he is a Vantillian. Though I'm not a Vantillian, but it seems that I get along well with them (Steven Sim was a Vantillian! Not sure if he is still now). Yoshua is someone who has all the simple answers to all the complicated questions. Many times he repeatedly told me, "To me, it is simple..." before giving what appears to be quite a thoughtful statement, or that which leads to complicated problems.

Besides that, Yoshua remarked something that deeply resonates with my heart. He sees the inevitably for theology to involve 'science' should theology remain robust. I agree with him. From my recent reading of a wonderful book, Faith in Science, edited by W. Mark Richardson and Gordy Slack, I suggested to Yoshua that 'science' itself has to involve theology should science remain authoritative.

After arriving at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, in the past few days, I was preparing a syllabus on the issue of science and Christianity. My proposal is to provide a theological justification for science's lack in its metaphysical assumption. The work is apologetic in two senses. First, it is to establish a justification that Christianity can offer to the scientific enterprise among scientifically inclined people. Second, it is to justify the contribution from the scientific enterprise to theology among Christians.

At first, I plan to use the syllabus for one of the Christian Education classes in St. Andrew's church, but all the slots have been taken up. So this material has no avenue now. Should you want me to share it in any of your Christian Education classes, please feel free to let me know. However, the syllabus is not complete yet. I planned to include the discussion on Intelligent Design, Young/Old Earth Creationism, and theistic evolution.

Sivin, Yoshua and I are all theologian-wanna-be. None of us have Ph.D or Th.D. Sivin is nearest to getting one. Yoshua is nearing. I am still way behind both of them. Sivin is currently a pastor and social activist. While Yoshua and I are still wondering what should we do with our post-graduation lives.

Stephen Hawking is 'innocent'

Stephen Hawking came out with a (to put it politely) senseless statement during the recent World Science Festival, "There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works."

I am not offended because I am into religion but because I am into philosophy of science. Among philosophers who are in the discourse over science, most agree that 'science' is still very much a term needed to be further articulated. Hawking wrongly assumes that 'science' is already clearly defined and everyone knows what it is. Obviously, this remark is made out of (again, to put it politely) innocence.

In a recent Beginners Guides on Philosophy of Science, Geoffrey Gorham lamented that "there may be no single criterion for demarcating science from non-science or capturing the proper scientific attitude." Then Gorham went on to described the various nuances of 'science' in each given field, "The concept of "science" may in this way be similar to a concept like "game": there are many typical features of games--scorekeeping, rules, winners, and losers, etc.--but none of these are possessed by all and only games. [...] we will expect a science to involve empirically testable, mathematically precise, logically coherent explanations of natural systems, different sciences will exemplify these virtues in varying degrees." (p.40)

Hawking is not only wrong on the definition of science but also wrong on the definition of 'religion'. All contemporary scientists invoke authority in their published papers as a way to ensure the readers that there are already major works done to support the claims made in the papers. Contemporary theologians invoke authority for the similar reason. Clearly Hawking did not read contemporary theologians. If he did, obviously he failed to see this similarity. If he saw, certainly he had something else in his mind and was unable to convey with precision what was that when he made that remark, hence deluding the public over the issue.

Thus, Hawking, as a celebrated scientist (for whatever reason), did not give a fair definition of 'science' in his statement, and so provided a disservice to the field he has spent his entire life in. In any way, he fell short to deal justly and adequately over the issue relating science and religion. He should just stick to commenting on theoretical physic and not on another subject which is clearly out of his league.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

You have a degree, a job and a mysterious frustration

We, the generation Y, spend 2 years in kindergarten, 6 years in primary school, 4 to 7 years in secondary school, another 3 to 5 years for tertiary education. On average, we spend 18 to 20 years in school. Some even longer. To the generation Z, 'nursery' became essential.

Education is emphasized in the society, by governments, with the assumption that individuals are given the required skills to have a good life. All the subjects that we learn in school and colleges give us a set of specific skills to carry out monetary-generating industrial task.

If you are good in science or art in your secondary school days, you will likely end up pursuing an undergraduate and then perhaps a post-graduate degree in science or art. Then you will look for a job which your degree has equipped you for.

By definition, a 'job' in our current times, is work that generates monetary value primarily to the company regardless of what a 'good life' means. This practice works on the assumption that money as a means empowers individual to possess more goods because possessions usually means comfort and security. And these two in turn define what a 'good life' is. Our entire surrounding environment, from formal education to our work, is driven by this assumption.

However, this very education itself does not educate students on what is a 'good life. The structure of the world just assumes that with money we will have a 'good life'.

This assumption is prevalent among local families. Parents work hard to keep providing possessions to their children believing what the parents themselves are grown up with: more possession equals good life. Children are brought up by what their parents believe. The 20 years of formal education reasserts this assumption into students. Everyone is assuming it and seldom we spend as much time and energy to examine it. Add to that, the lack of explicit and serious reflection over what constitutes a 'good life' is blinding the society of what it really is. Gradually the means (possession) became the goal. Hence the culture of having more has become a norming norm without reference to the question 'what is a good life?'. We see this in the movie 'Life is Beautiful'. The character Guido deludes his son as his way of giving the son a sense of security and comfort in the prison camp. In the end, Guido was executed. His son was left an orphan and with an identity crisis. He doesn't know what is the real anymore. No doubt Guido deludes his son out of love. But is that the best way to love? Let's call this phenomena 'Y syndrome', since it is prevalent among the generation Y.

Quarter life crisis often is the result coming out from this environment. The characteristics of quarter life crisis (from wikipedia) are:
  • realizing that the pursuits of one's peers are useless
  • confronting their own mortality
  • watching time slowly take its toll on their parents, only to realize they are next
  • insecurity regarding the fact that their actions are meaningless
  • insecurity concerning ability to love themselves, let alone another person
  • insecurity regarding present accomplishments
  • re-evaluation of close interpersonal relationships
  • lack of friendships or romantic relationships, sexual frustration, and involuntary celibacy
  • disappointment with one's job
  • nostalgia for university, college, high school or elementary school life
  • tendency to hold stronger opinions
  • boredom with social interactions
  • loss of closeness to high school and college friends
  • financially-rooted stress (overwhelming college loans, unanticipatedly high cost of living, etc.)
  • loneliness, depression and suicidal tendencies
  • desire to have children
  • a sense that everyone is, somehow, doing better than you
  • frustration with social skills

However quarter life crisis is just a diagnosis. There are deeper problems for such frustrated experience of incompleteness. Yet I'll highlight only the common ones that those around me face.

We feel that our peers are having a 'gooder' life than us because they seem to have jobs with 'gooder' pay. Some of us also feel that others are having a 'gooder' life because they have went through marriage and kids. If we feel incomplete in comparison with our peers on these matters, then we are manifesting the symptoms of the Y syndrome. We measure a 'good life', and hence the 'gooder', with the amount of possession. The culture of having more has become the norm without reference to the question 'what is a good life?'. To give a Cartesian tag line, "I have, therefore I am."

Now, is there a problem here?

It is hard for us to be happy unless we know what a 'good life' is. Sad to say that our 20 years of education couldn't provide much help here. We are taught skills to earn money with the assumption that the more money we have, the more we will feel secured and comfortable and hence a good life. Yet our sense of possession has overwhelmed the sense of security and comfort that we ought to have when we possess stuffs. Therefore we often feel unhappy because we perceive ourselves as not having a good life by comparing possession with our peers. It is also a mistake to peg security and comfort with possession as if it is possession that defines a good life.

So what is the solution?

Two suggestions. First, we deconstruct the Y syndrome assumption of 'I have, therefore I am'. Second, we reconstruct our perception of what it means to have a 'good life'. What I have done here is the first step.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Relating Marketplace and Christ’s Body

This is a paper that I have prepared for the upcoming Lausanne's Special Interest Committee, the Marketplace Ministry. Their conference will be in Hong Kong next month. I can't afford to participate but have sent the paper to one of the committees for presentation. I have also sent this paper to TTC's 'Church & Society in Asia Today' journal but got rejected. In this case, I can share it here in the public.

Why I wrote this paper? Because I see the lack in current models of relating 'church and marketplace', in some extent 'church and state'. In view of recent interest in mega-churches' involvement in businesses, I thought that by sharing this paper, there is at least one theological account coming out from the local context to serve as a platform for further discussion to develop more theologically grounded praxis over this issue.

The abstract of the paper: I am suggesting that we need to see the theological enterprise and the marketplace as two metaphorical platforms sharing the same physical world, under one sovereign, that is God. They manifest themselves within myriad material establishment yet transcend beyond them. Thus they cannot be distinguished on the level of space and time. Rather, they are distinguished on the level of orientation. Despite many similarities, these two metaphors are not symmetrical because they do not share the same degree of exposure to Christ. What I mean by ‘exposure to Christ’ is the state of being one’s true self in relation to Christ. To illustrate my point, I examined Jesus' and Paul's relation to these two metaphors. Both Jesus and Paul were situated within the two interpenetrating metaphors (the marketplace and theological enterprise) and engaged both from within the metaphors.

Relating Marketplace and Christ’s Body: Metaphors, Interdisciplinary, and Two Examples.

By Joshua Woo Sze Zeng,

Student, Trinity Theological College, Singapore.

The ‘marketplace’ is not identical with the workplace. It is not even geographically bound. It is much more extensive than the Central Business Districts where specific economic activities are concentrated. Cosmopolitans like Wall Street, London, Kuala Lumpur, Paris, Silicon Valley, Bangalore and Raffles Place are just centres for some particular trades. The marketplace transcends geographical boundary and hence is not bound within cities. This reality is made more obvious through the commencement of e-commerce where transactions happen in the cyber-space.

Human transaction involves more than material commodity and capital; it also includes ideas and theories.
[1] The marketplace is the metaphorical platform of which the transaction of capital, commodity and theory takes place. This platform manifests itself within the establishment of governments, schools, companies, societies, households, organizations and even churches. As long as there is material and non-material goods provided, exchanged and consumed, there is the marketplace.[2] Whether we are conscious or unconscious about it, the marketplace is pervaded by all sorts of philosophy, if not theology.[3]

Similarly, theological enterprise is metaphorical. By ‘enterprise’ it does not merely refer to a company or an institution but the entire network that is grounded on the shared orientation that drive every organizations within it. The organizations within this network ranges from informal gatherings, churches, para-church organizations, theological colleges and seminaries, religious universities, theological think-tanks, non-government-organizations, welfare groups, non-profit organizations to companies. Thus a company established and managed by this shared orientation is no less a theological enterprise as a church. The network’s orientation is its constant conscious allegiance to Christ and commitment to God’s creation-renewal project (with full recognition of the differences within the entire network). The theological denotation of this enterprise is Christ’s one body. (Rom 12.5, 1 Cor 10.17, 12:27, Col 1.24, Eph 5.30) Therefore, instead of Christ being contained and found in the theological enterprise, it is the other way around: Wherever Christ is, there is his body, the theological enterprise.[4] Whether we are aware of Christ’s presence at certain places is another matter.

From this perspective, these two discrete metaphors are not material dimension. They manifest themselves within myriad material establishment yet transcend beyond them. Thus they cannot be distinguished on the level of space and time. Rather, they are distinguished on the level of orientation.

Despite many similarities, these two metaphors are
not symmetrical because they do not share the same degree of exposure to Christ. What I mean by ‘exposure to Christ’ is the state of being one’s true self in relation to Christ. When we are exposed in front of Christ, we are exposing our essential being in nakedness to him. In such exposure, there is no more cover-up or clothing of our ego and ideal for ourselves. We are entirely naked and embarrassingly subject to the stare of the Master, placing us back to our proper position as the servant. In the same way, the marketplace metaphor has its fair share of such exposure. Exposing the marketplace to Christ is to strip the marketplace naked layer by layer to show its true being in front of the striking gaze of its Master, to subject it back to its true form as a servant. By doing so, the marketplace is re-oriented according to its proper position and function.

Therefore it is not enough just by referencing the marketplace to Christ. "Reference" connotes stagnation and being mere informative. It is about pointing to the source of information. And it is precisely this informative tone, which we should avoid in marketplace theological discourse. Christ is not merely a reference for economic or political information. Neither is he the one who is content with any economic and political information nor just by being a provider of these references. These positions cannot hold him in his place.

Christ’s position as described in Ephesians 1.20-23 demands the very core being of socio-economy. Everything needs to be in their right place: as his subjects. In the same way the office of Chief Executive Officer is not merely the source of reference in a company. For this office to be
the office, it will necessarily require the rest of the company to be subjected under its purview. All departments in their proper position are subjects in relation to this office.

A few words need to be said on the orientation of the metaphors. Both metaphors are oriented by the lived experience of those living their daily lives in the metaphors. And the lived experiences of those within the marketplace are not as exposed to Christ as those within the theological enterprise. Hence the difference between the marketplace and theological enterprise is, firstly, by the degree of exposure to Christ. Subsequent ontological differences are merely building on this first level of difference.

Sociologists call these metaphorical platforms as ‘lifeworld’. It is the platform “described in terms of the customary ways of structuring the activities that take place within it”.
[5] For instance, the ‘Monthly Sales Report’ and ‘Profit and Loss Statement’ of a company meant different thing to different departments. To the Sales department, these are customarily records of performance and ground for strategic planning. To the Finance department, they are records of numerical transactions. And to the Human Resource department, these serve as references to decide who to be retrenched when times are bad. All departments share the same report, but each takes it to mean differently from one another. The individuals within different department experience the report differently from those from other department. Having said this, the relation between the two metaphors is much more complicatedly interconnected rather than clearly separated.

Two metaphors under one sovereign.
The interconnection of both metaphors exists in a mutually independent yet interpenetrative mode that often affects and modifies each other from context to context. To use an imperfect illustration, they are like sugar and salt. They look almost alike but stimulate entirely different taste. And when we dilute them with water and mix them together, they become less distinguishable from each other. The degree of sweetness and saltiness of the mixture depends on which substance is more.

In a way this relation resembles the
perichoretic dynamic within the Trinity.[6] The three divine persons are different from each other and mutually indwell each other to form one God-head. God’s paradoxical reality is defined by this perichoretic relationship. Somehow likewise, the identical traits of the marketplace and theological enterprise are recognizable and the differences are demarcated. Yet this does not prevent them from constantly interacting, penetrating and modifying each other.

Christian professionals who occupy this quasi-perichoretic reality often lack due recognition on this dynamic and hence often incapable to engage with it. So it is unsurprising that there exist an unnecessary subtle and deep distrust between Christians who work in the marketplace and those in theological enterprise. Their wrong perception on the connection between the two dimensions has resulted suspicion from both sides. Each side deem the other inadequate in regards to one’s own field of profession. To give an example, whenever a Christian marketplace ministry invites an instructor to address their members, they prefer someone from the marketplace with the assumption that the person’s working experience has direct relevance to the members and the marketplace’s concerns. While on the other hand a theological institution, like a church or seminary, prefers someone from within the theological circle with the assumption that the person’s working experience and education immediately qualify the person for the job.

To place the scenario the other way around, we are clouded by the phantom idea that we must avoid professionals in the theological enterprise who are not connected with the marketplace, as well as professionals in the marketplace who are disengaged with theological development. It is therefore tempting to tease theological professionals as ignorance of the marketplace or being arm-chaired, while taunting the marketplace professionals for being theologically illiterate if not heretical. Such enduring temptation often comes in the subtle form of “preference”. This implies that those who are not from one’s profession are “strangers”. By so doing, we are being led to disregard the person’s credibility and capability too readily.

Yet we have to ask what is the rationale for this preference? If this is the consequence of a mistaken perception, then have we got the relationship between the marketplace and theological enterprise right?

I am not discrediting theological education or working experience here, but pointing to the fact that we have taken the intricate connection between the marketplace and theological enterprise for granted. We can do better than making judgment, “preference”, based on a mistake. While stopping short from calling fire on both houses, I want to suggest that such a move is premature. Exchanges of naiveté caricatures should be shunned.

Besides, assuming disparity between the marketplace and theological enterprise is falling prey to the dichotomisation between the marketplace from theology, between the market from the Kingdom of God, between market-players from Christ. Is not such compartmentalisation the idol we, who believe the sovereignty of God in all spheres of reality, are to abandon in the first place?

I am not suggesting that we blur the differences by lumping both metaphors into a false unity. Neither am I saying that we should grant undue recognition to both. Instead, we intensify the exposure to Christ in both metaphors in the hope to further orientate both to Christ. Since both metaphors are distinguished firstly by degree of exposure to Christ, intensification will then expose the marketplace more to its own theological nature, which is otherwise hidden. At the same time, by intensifying exposure to Christ in the theological enterprise is pushing the enterprise to advance theological development. This is a way to participate in God’s project
through both metaphors. We see this intensification played out in Jules’ life in Pulp Fiction. Jules recites Ezekiel 25.17 to his objects before assassinates them. However, after experiencing a ‘miracle’ while carrying out a job, the Biblical passage took off a new meaning for him. Referring to that verse, “I been sayin' that shit for years… I never really questioned what it meant. I thought it was just a cold-blooded thing to say to a motherfucker before you popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this mornin' made me think twice.” Like the degree of exposure of the marketplace, theology was part of Jules’ life though existed in a trivial degree. However, it was only when his degree of exposure was intensified, the theology took on a new reality. And so in his parting words to Pumpkin, Jules confessed, “I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be a shepherd.” A conscious intensification.

The necessary mechanism to participate in God’s creation-renewal project.
However, in order to participate in God’s project by intensification, we need an interdisciplinary mechanism to ensure feasible working relation between the two metaphors. This mechanism exercises itself like a management consultant to a company. It does not belong to the two departments and does not even share the same portfolio with either. Its two main tasks are: (1) processing data derived from the two departments (marketplace and theological enterprise) in order to (2) develop effective and coherence theory to achieve performance.

As an annotation, I have to clarify the relation between theory and practice for our current discourse. All practices in the market are theoretically driven, and all theories have practical implication. Some theories are more relevant to accomplish a specific task while others are not. When people complain that a theory is not practical, they are basically saying that they do not see the
relevance of the theory to accomplish a specific task. In this case, either we help them to see the relevance of the theory, or direct them to alternative theories. The main point I am pointing out here is the fact that theory and practice are more interweaved than is usually recognized. An example is the recent study by Philip Goodchild that demonstrates how money, as the medium of exchange, is very much laden with theories.[7]

Back to the interdisciplinary mechanism: On the personal level, the dynamic of how this mechanism functions is analogous to how logical reasoning contributes to our cognitive faculty. Logical reasoning is necessary to process data derived from our perception and experiences in order to develop rationale. In the same way, the interdisciplinary mechanism is necessary to manage the collected data in order to engage the persisting issues in the marketplace as well as in theological enterprise. Given this specific function, the mechanism has to be philosophically robust.

Just as an effective management consultant who continuously upgrading and modifying his corporate strategy according to the data he received, the interdisciplinary mechanism is constantly appropriating itself according to the information fed to it. In the same way, Christian professionals who found themselves living in this duo-metaphorical and interpenetrating reality require the interdisciplinary mechanism to engage both metaphors. (That is of course if they are really serious to participate in God’s project.) Hence the individual Christian’s credibility and capability to engage marketplace’s or theological concerns should be gauged by the effectiveness of his or her interdisciplinary mechanism to handle the process of intensification of both metaphors, instead of a simplistic reading of the person’s ‘working experience’ and ‘theological degree’.

Two Examples: A labourer and his theologian that changed the world.
We will look briefly at both the labourer’s and the theologian’s lived experience within the quasi-perichoretic reality, engaging it from within the two metaphors (or dimensions or departments, whichever you prefer). The labourer is Jesus of Nazareth, and the theologian is Jesus’ most influential disciple, Paul of Tarsus. Jesus’ profession was a
tekton, a labourer whose contemporary equivalent job is the “blue-collar worker in lower-middle-class America”.[9] Paul on the other end was schooled at the famous Judaic theological institution of Gamaliel II, and later worked as a theologian with similar significance to present-day Jesuits. Their lives reveal how effectively they engaged the marketplace as well as the theological enterprise by intensifying their exposure to Christ.

We start with Jesus.

In a small town of Galilee, Jesus was a labourer who probably has inherited the handiwork career from his family. He was taught to read and interpret the Jewish scriptures on one hand
[10] and catechised with the Jewish tradition and rituals on the other. He was a deeply religious Jew who was situated in a world that was socially tensed, politically uncertain and economically unstable.[11] The people were heavily taxed, the Jewish religious establishment was exploitative and corrupted, people’s living hood was threatened, deep social fragmentation pervaded the community, revolutionaries were rampant, and pagan religiosities were widespread. It was an unsettling, confusing and chaotic time.

Middle class earners who live in modern cities can hardly imagine the dread that Jesus had to bear every morning after waking up. Existence was extremely mundane and hard. Waking up to such an intense condition hardly captured the imagination of professionals living in modern cities. Nevertheless Jesus, like the rest of his kinsmen, found comfort and hopes from within the Judaic religion, particularly in God’s promises to send the Christ (Messiah) to right the world. However, it seems that Jesus, differing from most of his kinsmen, was convinced of the imminence of this divine sending. His intense devotion to God and anticipation for God’s coming Christ led him, by the anointing of God, to assume the very Christ through whom God’s project was to be carried out. Hence Christ literally means the ‘anointed one’.

The more intense the situation got, the more intense Jesus’ religious devotion became. And eventually his vocation as the embodied Christ came by God’s anointing during his baptism (Luke 3.21-22). Hence he felt the urgency, as God’s promised Christ, to engage the frantic world on behalf of God. And so he went out to inaugurate God’s promised peace and justice.
[12] (However, we must not get the wrong idea that Jesus came to develop his calling as the Messiah arbitrarily. His calling to assume the Messiahship is already expected by Jesus’ parents even before his birth, as recorded vividly in chapter one and two of Luke’s gospel.)

In other words, Jesus’ vocation as the Christ was formed through a process of intensifying his exposure to the promised Christ through the two metaphors. However, one should not be too hasty to identify this with our contemporary people who give up their job in order to go into the pastorate. Yes, Jesus switched job but he did not give it up so that he may spend the rest of his life working as a preacher who preaches a sermon every Sunday that helps people feel good about themselves, or worst, telling people that God wants to bless them with material riches.

Jesus ended up adopting an itinerant style and went around places
[13], bringing changes to individuals and society by summoning each one to commit their lives to God’s creation-renewal project. To establish a peaceful and just society. He did not promise material possession or social security in this lifetime to his followers. Therefore it is intriguing to note that Jesus oriented his vocation not for higher salary or better working condition, but to fulfill God’s project in this quasi-perichoretic reality.

Though a labourer, Jesus can no less secure a longer life than the one he had. Yet he set out to reform the established system, to engage the metaphors, to right the wrongs in the society in accordance to God’s project. However, just as all reformation upset status quo, Jesus had to pay for it with his own life.

Paul was a promising theologian with an impressive Curriculum Vitae.
[14] Being a religious lawyer and teacher, he was very well trained not only in the Jewish traditions and scriptures, but also in ancient rhetoric.[15] Initially Paul violently engaged Jesus’ disciples as a service to his religious establishment. However, after being exposed to Christ on his way to Damascus (Acts 9.3-19), Paul subsequently alleged himself to him. He then re-oriented his life by placing Christ at the centre of his theology.

Since then he spent the rest of his life carrying out the vocation he has been commissioned for (1 Cor 9.16-19). He travelled around the known world of that time to establish believing and inclusive congregations encompassed the Jews and the non-Jews. Thus he was still a religious teacher as he used to be. But the content of his theology, theological vision, and ideal audiences have received comprehensive makeover by his appropriation of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.

Paul exposed his audiences to Christ and summoned them to commit themselves to God’s creation-renewal project together with him. This is the single theme underlying all his letters in the New Testament.

We are mistaken if we take this to mean that Paul was trying to convince his audience to receive Jesus into their heart and then impelling them to build and manage several multimillion denarii
mega-ghettos mega-churches with auditoriums of 20,000 seating capacity each. Similar with Jesus’ vocation, Paul had a much more extensive vision than that.

Paul was setting up new Christian communities everywhere he went. However, these communities generated major social, economic, and political complications. The communities exercised egalitarian principles where everyone was treated as equal and materially provided regardless of their socio-economic status. Individual’s property rights were not prioritised (contra Capitalism) though also not eliminated (contra Communism and Collectivism). The survival of each member took precedence over property ownership. Those who had more shared with those who had none. (Acts 2.42-47, 4.32-34) These congregations also upset some of the profiting trades in the marketplace. Many businesses were affected by the devotional live-style of these Christians.

It is also noteworthy that Paul was beaten and imprisoned by the authorities
precisely for exercising his theology. (Acts 16.19, 19.24-41) Similarly, Paul’s fellow theologians were prosecuted for making theological statement. (Acts 17.7: “they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.") These show that the theology that Paul and his congregations were exercising was intrinsically political. Devotion to Christ is a political habit. The way the Christian community organize itself subverts, upsets and at the same time corrects social ills. It seems that the more intense they were exposed to Christ, the more they engaged the society.

To these early congregations, devotion is not about spending 30 minutes to read the Bible and to pray everyday. It goes beyond that. Devotion is intensifying their exposure to Christ and their commitment to God’s creation-renewal project. They exposed the marketplace as well as the theological enterprise of their time to Christ. This is seen through the letters written by Paul. They are written to address theological concerns in the theological enterprise (for eg. churches in Corinth) yet intrinsically addressed also the issues of the marketplace. The quasi-perichoretic reality was around in their time as much as in ours.

This essay started by recognizing the underlying nature of both the marketplace and theological enterprise as theological, though the former being less explicit and the latter more overt. Both manifest overlappingly through domains such as governments, offices, societies, and churches. A quasi-perichoretic reality. Hence it is skewed to see the connection between the two metaphors as not existing in a mutually independent and interpenetrative mode that often affects and modifies each other from context to context. To adopt such a skewed view is to be a victim to the dichotomisation between the marketplace from theology, between the market from the Kingdom of God, between market-players from Christ. In effect, denying Christ the rightful allegiance we owed to him.

Instead, the way to engage these two metaphors from within is by intensifying the Christological exposure of both. However, an interdisciplinary mechanism is needed to ensure feasible working relation of their intensification.

We have precedence of Jesus of Nazareth, a religious labourer who ended up being the locus of theological discourse in the marketplace and theological enterprise for the past two millennia, and Paul, a theologian who set out to establish theological enterprise but ended up, together with his other fellow theologians, being prosecuted for subverting, overturning, and modifying the marketplace. Both Jesus and Paul were situated within the two interpenetrating metaphors (the marketplace and theological enterprise) and engaged both from within the metaphors. To translate all these to our contemporary setting is to start to see our surrounding world as one quasi-perichoretic reality. Most of God’s people are called to perform in a certain area, while some are called to perform in a few. The way we can do so is by intensifying the exposure to Christ
through both metaphors in the way exemplified by Jesus and Paul. A theological endeavour.[16]

[1] This is because commodity always comes along with theory. For eg. Apple’s 2006’s slogan ”Which iPod are you?”

[2] For Neil Johnson’s definition, see Timothy Liu, Gordon Preece, and Wong Siew Li, ed., Marketplace Ministry: Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 4 (Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 2005), p.2.

[3] See John Milbank’s intriguing analysis of secular positions as originated from heretical and pagan theories in Theology and Social Theory, 2nd Ed. (UK: Blackwell, 2006).

[4] Ignatius of Antioch has highlighted this circa 110 A.D: “Wherever Christ is, there is also the whole church.” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 8).

[5] Philip Agre and Ian Horswill, Lifeworld Analysis, http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/project/jair/pub/volume6/agre97a-html/lifeworlds.html (accessed 5 February 2010). As used by Jurgen Habermas, ‘lifeworld’ refers to “the background resources, contexts, and dimensions of social action that enable [us] to cooperate on the basis of […] shared cultural systems of meaning, institutional orders that stabilize patterns of action, and personality structures acquired in family, church, neighborhood, and school.” Jurgen Habermas, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/habermas/ (accessed 31 January 2010).

[6] Perichoretic is the adjective of perichoresis. It is a theological term coined by the Church Fathers to describe the mutual indwelling dynamic between the Persons of the Trinity. “The Persons of the Holy Trinity reciprocally contain one another while remaining what they are in their otherness from one another.” Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons (UK: T&T Clark, 1996), p.169-70. See also Stephen M. Smith, “Perichoresis,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (USA: Baker Book, 1984), p.843-844.

[7] Philip Goodchild, Theology of Money (USA: Duke University Press, 2009).

[8] Again, we have to be clear that we are not discrediting theological education or working experience. Rather we are pointing out the false assumption underlying such “preference” which makes us fall prey to the dichotomisation between the marketplace from Christ’s sovereignty on one hand, and save us from exchanging naiveté caricatures on the other.

[9] John Meier, A Marginal Jew, vol. 1(USA: Yale University Press, 1991), 282. The word ‘tekton’ in Mark 6.3 has been casually translated to ‘carpenter’, but that is not necessary as it can also be a person who works on stone and ivory too. (Ibid, 281).

[10] See Craig A.Evans, “Context, family and formation,” in The Cambridge Companion to Jesus, ed. Markus Bockmuehl (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

[11] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (UK: SPCK, 1992), 157-161.

[12] For a comprehensive account, see N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (UK: SPCK, 1996).

[13] Jesus is identified as a ‘virtuoso’ authority and carrying certain strategy to accomplish his vocation. See Brain J. Capper, Jesus, “Virtuoso Religion, and the Community of Goods,” in Engaging Economics: New Testament Scenarios and Early Christian Reception, ed. Bruce W. Longenecker and Kelly D. Liebengood, (USA: Eerdmans, 2009).

[14] See Chapter 3 of Paul Barnett, Paul: Missionary of Jesus (USA: Eerdmans, 2008).

[15] See Chapter 5 of Ben Witherington III, New Testament Rhetoric: An Introduction Guide to the Art of Persuasion in and of the New Testament (USA: Wipf & Stock, 2008). See also this upcoming work, J. Paul Sampley and Peter Lampe, ed. Paul and Rhetoric: A Study of the Current Rhetorical Traditions and Future Directions affecting Pauline scholarship (USA: T&T Clark, 2010).

[16] Some modern western examples would be William Stringfellow, Williams Wilberforce, and Philip Blond (still living). Some southeastern examples are Ng Kam Weng and Sivin Kit (both are still living).