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.


Sivin Kit said...

Thanks Joshua for sharing your thoughts. It's nice to see oneself through the eyes of the "other" :-)

well even though you resisted, I know you have"repented", and your "suspicions" of all things "emergent" is forgiven. LOL.

Sivin Kit said...

another second thought, it's fascinating how woo-ing a girl shapes one's theology! :-)

yourshoeah said...

Blessed are the Christian reductionists... for theirs is the ignorance and naivete.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Sivin,

So what have you learn about yourself through the eyes of the "other"?

(Thank you for the grace)

That's interesting right? When I think about it, I find it interesting too. The happenings around us are subtly molding us without us knowing... Do we then still have free-will? :D

Hi Yoshua,

We should hang out more often since you are on holidays now :D

Joshua Wong said...


What's wrong with Catholicism?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Joshua Wong,

What do you think?

suantak said...

it'd be interesting to know ur grouse against vinoth ramachandra. care to mention some?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi suantak,

Thank you for your interest but this is not a good place to share about that :-)