Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Happy Independence for Malaysia

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."
(Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Joseph Ratzinger's theology of the purgatory vis-a-vis Christology

Roman Catholic theologians draw their support for their theology of purgatory by reference to 2 Maccabees 12:43-46. Since the Roman Catholics recognize the Maccabean text as canonical, their theology is legitimized by such reference. They can claim their concept of purgatory as scriptural.

Protestants do not acknowledge the Maccabean text as canonical. Hence our rejection of the theology of purgatory is valid simply because there is no such reference in our canon. However, some Protestants do acknowledge the Maccabean text, along with other inter-testamental books, as canonical.

The question I want to explore is this: Do this latter group of Protestants need to accept the theology of purgatory by virtue of their acknowledgment of the inter-testemental literature as canonical?

My attempt to answer this question came from the following extract from my essay submitted for Theology II class. Following the 16th century Reformers, I find current pope's theology on purgatory with reference to the effectiveness of the work of Christ problematic:
As stated in the Council of Trent, “[T]here is a purgatory […] and that the souls therein are aided by the suffrages of the faithful and chiefly by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar.”[1] In this view “’Hades’ applies to everyone in the period between death and resurrection. But this state contains “various levels of happiness and unhappiness,” which correspond to the different levels of justification and sanctification of the faithful on earth.”[2]

The Reformers reject purgatory because of the confidence in the efficacy and sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work that eliminate any intermediate state cleansing of those who are already in him (Gal. 3.1-14, Eph. 2.8-9, Heb. 9.11-15). So even if Protestants affirm the reference to the Maccabean literature as canonical, our Christology—following that of the authors of Galatians, Ephesians and Hebrews—is enough to fulfil the Maccabean’s rites, making it irrelevant under the new covenant. However, Roman Catholic theologians like Joseph Ratzinger fail to grasp the overwhelming-ness of the Reformers’ Christology. And often they do that with a bit of irony.[3]

[1] As quoted in Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology (USA: Catholic University of America Press, 1988), p.220.
[2] Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology (USA: Catholic University of America Press, 1988), p.228. Emphasis added.
[3] Ironically, Ratzinger thought that the Reformers’ Christology is weak because Christ’s atoning work cannot be extended into the after life. He wrote, “Given [the Reformers’] doctrine of justification, they were unable to concede that there might be atonement in the life to come.” (Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology [USA: Catholic University of America Press, 1988], p.219). Yet if Christ’s atoning measure is effective not through gradualness or repetition but “once for all” (Hebrew 9.26-28), who needs to extend it to the after life?
Ratzinger perceived as a fact that Protestant's Christology cannot accommodate the Roman Catholic's theology of purgatory as an unable-ness. Yet it is precisely the able-ness of Protestant's Christology that there is no exigent for a purgatory.

So what is the extent of able-ness of Christ's work on the cross and his resurrection? This is quite clear to the Reformers: The accomplishment of Christ has enabled the disabling of other means of redemption such as through suffrages.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

E. Philip Davis on Christians' role in contemporary market

Eric Philip Davis is a senior research fellow at the National Institute for Economic and Social Research and also a pastor of Penge Baptist Church in London. Christian Today highlighted some of the points in Davis' recent article:
"Governments led the population into believing that economic growth was sustainable and gave the impression that risk had been abolished. And households were by no means obliged to take on so much debt, which for many led to catastrophe.

The church has a clear responsibility to offer a culture that offers an alternative to mere consumption.

We must show our neighbours that the desire for more should be tempered by long-term individual interests, wider social needs, environmental concerns and a focus on saving rather than borrowing.

Banks and governments are often hailed as holding the answers to all our problems. But a biblical analysis of the current situation implies that all of us have a responsibility.

We must recognise the idolatry in our economic system and condemn the structural injustices it generates.

The aims of economics – wealth, consumption, power – stand in stark contrast to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God: the law of love for God and neighbour and responsible stewardship.

The church should proclaim this vigorously."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Stephen Green on the sustainability of businesses

Asia Society has an interview with HSBC Bank Chairman Stephen Green, who is also an ordained minister of the Church of England, on the nature of doing business. Here is the transcript that I've done based on the 2 minutes snippet of the 72 minutes long program:

"I think, firstly, it is clear to me that businesses have that responsibility which we were just talking about: to think about how their activities contribute to the common good.

Now they got to be profitable, they are not charity. They job is to grow the business profitably. But they need to think about that on a sustainable basis.

Sustainability means not the next quarter, maximizing quarter by quarter. It means thinking about a sustainable business model that earns profit, that earns a return on the capital that are entrusted to them by their shareholders.

And if you think about that in a long term perspective, that takes you into think about the engagement of your people and on a long term commitment to the business. It also very importantly takes you into the question of the social responsibility of the company. And corporate social responsibility often actually becomes a buzzword which is a problem. And it certainly often been talked about as though it is an adjunct to the rule of business of the company: "That will keep the activist off my back." Well no, actually that's the raison d'être (reason for being) of the business.

So thinking about the social responsibility of the business is not at all inconsistent with long term profitable development of the business model. Not at all. On the contrary, these things are interdependent. So that's for the businesses, and it creates a board level and a senior management level to be thinking about the specific implication of that.

The onus to government. One of the characteristic of market fundamentalism in its extreme form anyway is the belief that the market is self-policing; the more it is left alone, the more better everybody will be. Well, I don't think that is ever true. And certainly the current crisis has told us that's not true.

The fact is that the market is not, and we know it and anybody who has a longer term perspective of history will know it, the markets are not self-policing. They are not self-stabilizing. You need governmental oversight. You need an appropriate regulation. There are all sorts of wrong way to do regulation of course. But there is no sense in my view that you can run complex modern economy in complex modern market without a fairly extensive and carefully calibrated governmental involvement. So absolutely governments have a role, so do businesses and so, of course, the individuals."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Having faith" and "having faith in God"

Let's say Marc Hauser's students did not complain about his misconduct. In that case, no one would know that Hauser's works are flawed.

And let's also say that the entire scientific community believes Hauser's reports and does not think it necessary to recreate Hauser's experiment. And Hauser's work is being made reference by many other scientists in their own field as a main supporting argument for their own work. And so Hauser's research is recognized as established scientific data.

Soon, other scientists and educators will just have to cite Hauser's work as an established fact. They will perhaps start their citation in this way, "Scientists have established the fact that..." And so the whole world would come to believe that Hauser has provided a factual finding.

Here is how Michael Ruse described Robert K. Merton's observation: "...science is a community activity. Scientists may not always work together, although of course that is now very much the norm, but they do rely on each other, particularly for the ideas and theories that they use in their own research. In turn, they contribute—and want to contribute—to the general pool of knowledge."

Now, if it is true that Hauser's work is a fraud and no one found out about it, does that make it an established scientific fact?

Yes, it is an established scientific fact as believed by the whole world. But if it is a fraud, it is not a true fact. And the whole world regards this finding as truth by faith, without knowing that it is a fabrication.

Some scientists think that 'faith' is a bad word that connotes irrationality, falsehood, unreasonableness, closed-mindedness, non-objective, etc.

Worse, some atheists cite (and so unreservedly believe) these scientists as an authority to support their own atheistic stance without knowing that their dependence on scientists' claims is an act of faith. Their ignorant despise on those who practice faith is in fact a despise on themselves.

Here is an important question: How many scientists or students of science out there in the world conduct and repeat all the experiments cited in their own report? If no, then the scientific practice and education itself are inevitably grounded on faith; receiving knowledge that are passed down from the tradition of the community by having faith that these knowledge are established truth.

There is a difference between practicing faith and practicing faith in God. Everyone practices faith, while not everyone practices faith in God. Militant atheists charge Christians for being guilty of both. But the matter of debate is really on the latter practice. Christians have long acknowledged the former practice, while the militant atheists are still very antagonistic about it to the extend of denying it.

The debate on practicing faith in God is still not settled. But the Christians at least got the former practice right.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Marc Hauser and morality

"Our moral instincts are immune to the explicitly articulated commandments handed down by religions and government." (p.xviii)

"I will argue that this marriage between morality and religion is not only forced but unnecessary, crying out for a divorce."
(Marc Hauser, Moral Minds [USA: HarperCollins, 2006], p.xx)
The author of the book Moral Minds is the Professor of Psychology, Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and Biological Anthropology at Harvard University. He is now in trouble. It has been found out that Hauser has eight misconducts in his research work.

It all started with an experiment. Here is what The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote:
"It was one experiment in particular that led members of Mr. Hauser's lab to become suspicious of his research and, in the end, to report their concerns about the professor to Harvard administrators.

The experiment tested the ability of rhesus monkeys to recognize sound patterns. Researchers played a series of three tones (in a pattern like A-B-A) over a sound system. After establishing the pattern, they would vary it (for instance, A-B-B) and see whether the monkeys were aware of the change. If a monkey looked at the speaker, this was taken as an indication that a difference was noticed.

The method has been used in experiments on primates and human infants. Mr. Hauser has long worked on studies that seemed to show that primates, like rhesus monkeys or cotton-top tamarins, can recognize patterns as well as human infants do. Such pattern recognition is thought to be a component of language acquisition.

Researchers watched videotapes of the experiments and "coded" the results, meaning that they wrote down how the monkeys reacted. As was common practice, two researchers independently coded the results so that their findings could later be compared to eliminate errors or bias.

According to the document that was provided to The Chronicle, the experiment in question was coded by Mr. Hauser and a research assistant in his laboratory. A second research assistant was asked by Mr. Hauser to analyze the results. When the second research assistant analyzed the first research assistant's codes, he found that the monkeys didn't seem to notice the change in pattern. In fact, they looked at the speaker more often when the pattern was the same. In other words, the experiment was a bust.

But Mr. Hauser's coding showed something else entirely: He found that the monkeys did notice the change in pattern—and, according to his numbers, the results were statistically significant. If his coding was right, the experiment was a big success.

The second research assistant was bothered by the discrepancy. How could two researchers watching the same videotapes arrive at such different conclusions? He suggested to Mr. Hauser that a third researcher should code the results. In an e-mail message to Mr. Hauser, a copy of which was provided to The Chronicle, the research assistant who analyzed the numbers explained his concern. "I don't feel comfortable analyzing results/publishing data with that kind of skew until we can verify that with a third coder," he wrote.

A graduate student agreed with the research assistant and joined him in pressing Mr. Hauser to allow the results to be checked, the document given to The Chronicle indicates. But Mr. Hauser resisted, repeatedly arguing against having a third researcher code the videotapes and writing that they should simply go with the data as he had already coded it. After several back-and-forths, it became plain that the professor was annoyed.

"i am getting a bit pissed here," Mr. Hauser wrote in an e-mail to one research assistant. "there were no inconsistencies! let me repeat what happened. i coded everything. then [a research assistant] coded all the trials highlighted in yellow. we only had one trial that didn't agree. i then mistakenly told [another research assistant] to look at column B when he should have looked at column D. ... we need to resolve this because i am not sure why we are going in circles."

The research assistant who analyzed the data and the graduate student decided to review the tapes themselves, without Mr. Hauser's permission, the document says. They each coded the results independently. Their findings concurred with the conclusion that the experiment had failed: The monkeys didn't appear to react to the change in patterns.

They then reviewed Mr. Hauser's coding and, according to the research assistant's statement, discovered that what he had written down bore little relation to what they had actually observed on the videotapes. He would, for instance, mark that a monkey had turned its head when the monkey didn't so much as flinch. It wasn't simply a case of differing interpretations, they believed: His data were just completely wrong.

As word of the problem with the experiment spread, several other lab members revealed they had had similar run-ins with Mr. Hauser, the former research assistant says. This wasn't the first time something like this had happened. There was, several researchers in the lab believed, a pattern in which Mr. Hauser reported false data and then insisted that it be used.

They brought their evidence to the university's ombudsman and, later, to the dean's office. This set in motion an investigation that would lead to Mr. Hauser's lab being raided by the university in the fall of 2007 to collect evidence. It wasn't until this year, however, that the investigation was completed. It found problems with at least three papers. Because Mr. Hauser has received federal grant money, the report has most likely been turned over to the Office of Research Integrity at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services."
Hauser's case might create a ripple effect across the scientific community as there are other scientists whose work made reference to his findings.

Michael Ruse who used to praise Hauser's work "to the sky" can't help but to feel "a bit stupid" and "mad" because of what Hauser has done to the scientific community. Ruse further complained that "If you fake the ideas or results, and publish them, the poison spreads. We are all now at risk of using phony information, and our own work suffers. The community suffers."

That is another way of saying that the scientific community works on trust. And Hauser has betrayed that trust.

When trust is compromised, the scientist loses his credibility. The credibility of works made reference to him will be doubtful. The credibility of all graduate researchers studied under him will be affected in one way or another.

The fact is that the entire scientific community depends heavily on trust. And another synonym of 'trust' is, of course, 'faith'.

Let's go back to the two quotes by Hauser at the beginning of this post. He claims that morality is immune to religion and government. I wonder if it was due to this conviction that Hauser thought it was not immoral to provide false report; betraying the faith the government and the scientific community have on him, and so lying to the whole world?

When morality is individualized and domesticated, one just wouldn't know what is it anymore?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Roland Chia: a passionate theologian

Anyone who thinks that all theologians always talk until they fall asleep in their own lecture must have not attended any of Roland Chia's lesson before.

Roland is currently the Chew Hock Hin Chair of Christian Doctrine and the Dean of Postgraduate Studies at Trinity Theological College. After attended his introductory course on theology for one year, I'm now attending his course on eschatology. I think this is one of his pet subjects as he has written a book on it, 'Hope for the World: A Christian Vision of the Last Things'. He was the mentor of the family group that I was attached to in my previous two semesters.

Roland doesn't use powerpoint to aid his presentation. After he walk into the class, he would lay down all the notes that he needs on his table. And after most of the students are present, he will start his lecture.

He lectures like a master story teller. On the topic of eschatological discourse in modern times, a topic which extends over three weeks, Roland narrated the discourse beginning from the time of Albert Schweitzer to Rudolf Bultmann to Karl Barth to C. H. Dodd to Oscar Cullman to Jurgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg. Following the class week by week is like following an episodic television drama.

Roland always include the examination of the dialectic among pertinent theologians in his story. This exercise helps us to understand how these theologians relate to one another in their theological proposal and counter-proposal.

One may also notice that Roland's gift is particularly in the clarifying of ideas with precision, besides being a good story teller. His gift is best reflected in his book 'Revelation and Theology: The Knowledge of God in Balthasar and Barth', a doctoral dissertation done under the supervision of the prominent British theologian Colin Gunton. It is already difficult to understand both Barth and Balthasar, not to mention to compare and contrast their theology.

At some of our family group sessions, we get to consult Roland over various issues pertaining to medical ethics. In recent years, he has spent much of his time engaging this area and has recently written a book to help Christians understand the issue, 'Biomedical Ethics and The Church: An Introduction'.

Previously he has co-edited with Mark Chan a book on the relationship between science and theology in the area of genetic and anthropology titled 'Beyond Determinism and Reductionism: Genetic Science and the Person'. No wonder one collegemate recently wrote that Roland is like a "theological dictionary in the form of human." I concur.

Besides being a good lecturer, he is also a caring and wonderful supervisor and dean whose assistance is always there for the postgraduate students. That's what some of the postgraduate students told me.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Why do we make sense? (Part 2)

We are able to make sense and strive to make sense because we have faith. Fundamentally our pilgrimage to make sense of it all starts with trust. We trust that our cognitive and experiential faculties are properly functioning. We trust that the data we are exposed to are reliable.

If we don't have faith in our cognitive and experiential faculties, then we will have great difficulty to live through any day. We won't be able to come to any senses, not to mention that we can't even speak intelligibly. In order to express ourselves intelligibly, our cognitive and experiential faculties have to be assumed as functioning properly.

If we don't have faith in the fact that the data that we are exposed to are reliable, then we hardly able to make sense of the things we experience; such as the taste of the food we eat, the images we see, the sound we hear.

To make sense, we have to start with faith. This is basic to contemporary epistemology. Atheistic rhetoric that pegs 'faith' or 'belief' on one end while 'reason' or 'rationality' on the other end is a false equation. For example,
"Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence."
(Richard Dawkins, Untitled Lecture, Edinburgh Science Festival, 1992)

"The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simply unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry."
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene [UK: Oxford University Press, 30th anniversay edition, 2006], p.198)
Such rhetorics are popular. Those who adopt it think that it is sensible. But as I've tried to show in this and previous post, our ability and strive to make sense are fundamentally a step of faith.

Hence the belief in the existence of God is a question on where and why do we put our trust at? Whether we end with the belief or disbelief in God's existent, our starting point is always a event of trust. As for the question on how do we put our trust is sufficiently discussed in Nicholas Wolterstorff's little book 'Reason within the Bounds of Religion', Part 1.

Some great Christian apologists like to say that our trust in God is a reasonable faith (William L. Craig titled his book 'Reasonable Faith'). These apologists suggest that our trust in God's existent can come by through a journey of reasoning. And as we journey along, we will come to realize that it is reasonable to trust in the existence of God.

However, I am not primarily doing apologetics here. I am discussing epistemology (to which Christian apologetic is a by-product). I have come to see more and more that we are operating on faithful reason. The fact that we are able to make sense and strive to make sense is a long journey of trust.
"I don't know; I must believe."
(Jacques Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind [USA: University of Chicago Press, 1993], p. 155. Emphasis added.)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Why do we make sense?

"Commenting on Richard Dawkin's book The God Delusion, which strikes many of the same notes as Harris's books, fellow atheist Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy at Florida State University, says, "The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist." And in response to Sam Harris's presentation at the Salk Institute, atheist and professor of psychology Scott Atran used almost identical words: "I find it fascinating that among the brilliant scientists and philosophers at the conference, there was no convincing evidence presented that they know how to deal with the basic irrationality of human life other than to insist against all reason and evidence that things ought to be rational and evidence based. It makes me embarassed to be a scientist and atheist."
(Ravi Zacharias, The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists [USA: Zondervan, 2008], p.23)

"...atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning."
(C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

What convinces me to believe in the existent of God?

It seems that it makes more sense that creatures like us not merely able to conceptualize rationally and meaningfully about the world but also strive to do so unceasingly. I am not even here touching on objective/subjective debate, but pointing to the mere fundamental humans' outlook to life.

If our existence is reducible to matter and nothing other than matter (as atheists suggest), then it is just improbable that we could even come to make sense of our existence, not to mention our dying to want to make sense about it. There is a divine reason why scientists and philosophers are trying so hard for so long to discover the Theory of Everything.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Relation between religion and politics: Difference between Islam and Christianity

"[Jesus] envisages a transnational and transcultural community that is not identified with any one state, he anticipates the obligation to give to the Caesar that is in power whatever is his due.

[...] Certainly this utterance of the Lord Jesus has been one of the roots, though not the only one, of long-standing and constantly evolving tensions between the church and the state across the centuries. Moreover, this way of looking at things is one of the most important features that differentiates Christianity and Islam. Islam has no body of tradition that enables it to distinguish between church and state. [...] the state's role, finally, is to bow to the law of Allah."
(D. A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited [UK: Apollos, 2008]. p.57)
This observation on Islam by the Research Professor of the New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School coheres well with that of Dominique Colas, a Professor of Political Science at Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris:
"Whereas Christianity developed on the periphery of the Roman Empire and little by little conquered the center--this initial exteriority followed by a fusion with Caesar was continually repeated in the Christian West, where the distance between church and state came first, and the state would take its revenge on the Caesaro-papist arrangement by enabling the secular autonomy of civil society--the political construction of the state in the Middle East and North Africa followed a model of conquest involving the importation of a faith, a language--Arabic--and organization into caliphates. "This state," affirmed Bernard Lewis, "was defined by Islam, and full membership belonged, alone, to those professed the dominant faith." It is not then Islam itself but the conditions of its expansion that explain the absence of differentiation between civil society and the state."
(Dominique Colas, Civil Society and Fanaticism: Conjoined Histories [USA: Stanford University Press, 1997], p.97-98)
Carson locates Islam's heritage widely as "tradition". Colas locates it to Islam's history of "propagation" (p.97). This explains why Muslims generally are still advocating to place the authority of Syariah on the same par as civil law, and so creating problems to various multicultural societies. A case in point is of course Malaysia.

While Christianity has a more variegated and hence balanced approach to the relation between politics and religion, Islam is still struggling to articulate its own approach in the face of contemporary socio-political milieu due to its narrower heritage.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Nicholas Wolterstorff on Christian scholarship

"For the Christian to undertake scholarship is to undertake a course of action that may lead him into the painful process of revising his actual Christian commitment, sorting through his beliefs, and discarding some from a position where they can any longer function as control. It may, indeed, even lead him to a point where his authentic commitment has undergone change. We are all profoundly historical creatures."
(Nicholas Wolterstorff, Reason within the Bounds of Religion [USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1976; Second edition, 1984], p.96-97. Emphasis original.)
Being historical means that none of our learning is final as all of it are subjected to the constraint of history, and so non-objective. It is not only the process of continuous investigation and revising that is painful. The fact that knowing the absolute tentativeness of one's current knowledge and belief is very very unsettling.

Aggression and abruptness in daily experience

What do you sense listening to DJ Sonya's Chocolate? I sensed rapturous subtle aggression in the song. The ending is abrupt.

Many incidents in life, and life itself, is no less that abrupt. As abrupt as a friend who recently passed away. As abrupt as receiving an email inviting me to speak at a national conference's workshop to which Calvin Chong, the dean at Singapore Bible College, will also be speaking, and whom I just had an abrupt chat two days before the invitation came. And it came not through Calvin's contact but someone else. Did I mentioned that Calvin abruptly brought up this conference in the chat?

Hard to imagine the absence of subtle aggression underlying this strange series of abruptness. In Reformed Theology, to which I--a Presbyterian--am particularly identifying with, this is the movement underneath all instances in our experiences and that which moves us to a certain direction. A movement none of us are responsible for yet making daily decision on top of it.

Aggression and abruptness as themes of God's sovereignty and humans' location within that sovereignty. What is happening around us individual's aggression; our daily decision to act or not to act in a given situation. Yet Chocolate, like all other songs, has to end at one point or another.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What's up with Harriet Baber, Indonesia, Taliban, Japan, money & happiness, laziness & good health, Malaysia, Vatican, energy, and Marina Bay Sands?

Harriet Baber posted a description of her "informed faith" recently. The philosopher, who specializes in analytic philosophy, commented against the inconsistency of those who are anti Christianity, "...it's remarkable that the very individuals who are most vocal in their opposition to religiously motivated puritanism are the most fiercely puritanical when it comes to truth. They condemn Christians for imposing constraints on sensual pleasure but are outraged that we should take pleasure in the consolations of religion instead of squarely facing what they believe to be the hard truths about the human condition."

Baber's context is very much contained within the western world that privileged by social openness to intelligent discourse. Therefore the challenges she faces is very much on the individual's level and the discourse on the intelligibility of one's allegiance, be it religious or not. While in Indonesia where privileges like this does not exist.

There have been an escalation of attacks on churches around the nation. The government lacks the political will to do what is right. A report shows that these radical Muslims assert socio-political influences to the local government administration which in effect crippling the latter from acting to correct the situation.

Further to the west, ten Christian workers who were "delivering aid and medical care in Nuristan of Afghanistan" were shot dead by the Islamist movement Taliban. I am just bewildered that these Afghans would murder good Samaritans who were providing help to their own Afghan people. This same group recently whipped a pregnant widow with 200 slashes before shot her to death.

These are instances of evil manifested through religion in general, Islam in particular. Evil done in the name of religion is not uncommon. It exists in the major religions in the world. Christianity included. I'm very much tempted to think that these murderers are beyond redemption, yet who am I to pronounce limitation to God's grace.

On the other hand, we have to ask can we prevent these instances? How?

Recently there is a study done on the relation between money and happiness. The study shows that obsession with money, not least wealth accumulation, impairs our ability to enjoy life. This is "because wealth allows people to experience the best that life has to offer, it ultimately undermines their ability to savor life’s little pleasures."

Japan finally apologize for its past ill-treatment on South Korea. A Japanese friend once told me that Japanese educators altered historical facts to make their past look good on textbooks. Japan as a nation has no conscience and courage to face its own past. So when I read this latest story, I thought to myself, "At last Japan has come to its sense." That is commendable. Yet Japan has to apologize also to other countries in the region for the evils they did in the past!

It seems that there is a link between laziness and good health. The more lazy we are, the worse will be our health. In view of this connection, Richard Weiler and Emmanuel Stamatakis proposed that "perhaps physical inactivity should also be considered for recognition as a disease in its own right." That means laziness would be categorized as a disease!

Al Jazeera reported forced conversion among the aborigines in Malaysia by the Islamic authority. The UMNO government promises development to these minorities if they convert to Islam. That means the minorities will not received help if they are not Muslims. The Christian Federation of Malaysia has responded with a statement.

I am amused to think about it. I used to hear anti-Christians condemning Christian of being guilty for doing social-development work because they want to spread the gospel. I wonder what would these anti-Christians say to these Muslims who only provide development after the people convert?

Malaysia's UMNO government seems to be running the country with the religious concern in mind and tackling with underhanded approach. Perhaps, these rulers should start listening to what Michael Schuman has to say about the nation's immediate economic concern before it is too late. "The economy's growth engine remains unchanged – export-oriented manufacturing backed by foreign investment. Its companies are just not innovating or adding much value to what they produce."

Even on religious matter, UMNO is still far from demonstrating itself as a model for Islamic civilization. A recent example of interfaith initiative from the Muslims at Manchester put UMNO's Islam to embarrassment. "A mosque has given £52,000 to help transform a neglected United Reformed Church building into a thriving community centre."

At Vatican, a strong statement is produced to rebuke Cardinals from critiquing another Cardinal, while the Roman church is losing members due to its failure to handle the prevalent sexual abuses in the organization. ‎"Regarding accusations against a cardinal, we remind everyone that, in the [Roman Catholic] Church, only the pope has the authority to accuse a cardinal," stated in the statement.

Reading that makes me wonder: So who has the authority to accuse the pope? That implies the pope is beyond accusation. Does this consistently marks the true blue Roman Catholic theology: Pope is God in the Roman Catholic universe?

On a more positive notes, the world most powerful nations have joined hands to fund a 15 billion euros project to create clean energy through the fusion of deuterium and tritium which produces helium. The project is inspired by the mechanism of the sun. However, the commercial result will only produced in 2040, when I am 58 if still alive.

Marina Bay Sands, one of the two casino resorts in Singapore, reported a profit of $127 millions after operating for its first 65 days. I wonder how much from this amount are direct earning from the casino. A friend who works there estimates to be about 80%. And I wonder how many local and overseas families are affected by that.

If one measures the well being of a nation through monetary value, then one may say that the casino prove to boost Singapore's economy. If one measures by the well being of individual family unit, one may think that Singapore and its allowance for the building of the casino is subtly contributing to the disintegration of families across the region.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Between Cornelius Van Til and Karl Barth

Lewis B. Smedes was a Reformed theologian at Fuller Theological Seminary. He studied at Calvin College, Calvin Theological Seminary, Free University of Amsterdam; received thorough Reformed education.

His accomplishment in the area of theology and ethics was widely recognized and honored by the establishment of the Lewis B. Smedes Chair of Christian Ethics to which Glen H. Stassen, an outstanding Christian ethicist whose book 'Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context' won the best book on theology and ethics in 2004, is currently occupying.

Smedes was personally acquainted with Cornelius Van Til and Karl Barth. He described in his autobiography how Van Til was over-preoccupied with himself that he simply cannot read Barth appropriately (H/T: Kevin Davis):
"I was mesmerized for one semester by the boldness of Van Til’s thinking, but by the second semester I began to suspect that he was stretching a defensible theory of knowledge to the borders of absurdity. If true, it would mean that unless any two people had correct beliefs about God and about the world they could not have a genuine conversation about anything. How can two people talk respectfully together about interesting parts of reality — the economy, for instance, or the possibility of life on Mars — if one of them assumes that everything the other person says about anything is doomed to be dead wrong?

Van Til was convinced that if anyone’s assumptions about God are wrong, she cannot be trusted even when she says that she believes the gospel truth about Jesus. He wrote a book called The New Modernism in which he contended that the star theologian of the century, Karl Barth, was a modernist because, in Van Til’s view, he denied that Jesus was God in human form and denied as well that he had risen from the dead. The hitch was that Barth had affirmed these things over and over and, in fact, was largely to be credited with bringing the gospel back into the churches of Europe. But Van Til said that even if Barth shouted from the tower of St. Peter’s that Jesus was the Son of God, he could not believe what he was saying. His philosophical presuppositions would not let him.

Several years later, after I had finished my graduate studies in Amsterdam, I had occasion to put the question to Barth himself: “Sir, if you will permit me an absurd anachronism, let us suppose that a journalist carried a camera into Jesus’ tomb about eight o’clock on Easter Sunday morning and took pictures of every inch of the tomb, what would have showed up on his film?” Barth sighed. This again? He had been asked questions like this by every skeptical evangelical who got within shouting distance of him. But he was patient: “He would have gotten nothing but pictures of an empty tomb. Jesus was not there. He had walked out of the tomb early that morning.”

I told Van Til about this conversation. His answer was, for me, a final exhibition of intellectual futility. “Smedes,” he said, “you have studied philosophy, you should know that Barth cannot believe that Jesus rose from the dead.” Cannot! Not merely does not, but cannot believe what he said he believed. Conversation finished."
Just yesterday, a collegemate (whose email address bears the label "vantilian") told me that he recently bought two of Van Til's books. One being his famous work on apologetic 'The Defense of the Faith', while the other one on Barth. I did not ask my vantilian collegemate whether was it 'Christianity and Barthianism' or 'New Modernism'. If Van Til can't even allow Barth to be Barth without reading himself into Barth, as Smedes has so willingly pointed out, then one is left to wonder how reliable is Van Til's understanding of Barth?

Perhaps Ben Myer was not wrong in calling one of Van Til's works the worst book ever written on Karl Barth?

Bruce L. McCormack on Kierkegaard's influence on Barth

In response to the prevailing assumption that Soren Kierkegaard was the "dominant influence" on Barth's second edition of his commentary on Romans, Bruce L. McCormack has this to say,
"A significant group of scholars working in the field of "early Barth" research have concluded that Kierkegaard's contribution, while not insignificant, was of much more limited value than was once thought. [...] [T]he influence of Heinrich Barth and Franz Overbeck was more important than that of the Danish philosopher. Kierkegaard's role was limited to strengthening Barth's commitment to certain modes of thought whose real origin lay in the influence of the distinctive form of neo-Kantianism elaborated by Barth's philosopher brother Heinrich in the years immediately following the way, and to providing him with a number of categories which (once they had been transformed for Barth's strictly theological purposes!) could be employed in clarifying a point of view which would, for the most part, have been complete without them."
(Bruce L. McCormack, Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development 1909-1936 [UK: Oxford University Press, 1995], p.217)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Achieving is in the pursuing

Every morning uncle Tan woke up with the aim to equip himself to contribute to his local congregation at Batu Pahat. He persisted in finishing his two years Master of Theological Studies program at Trinity Theological College after having worked in secular professions for about three decades, seeing a need for him to be adequate to serve the Lord.

Many times he often told us that he doesn't know what will he be doing after graduation. He had three plans in mind yet he was not sure which should he take.

He sought to inspire the younger generation in Malaysia to lead the Christian community, particularly the Presbyterians, to broaden the work of Christ in the surrounding. That's why he invited me to attend the Malaysia's Presbyterian Church's 20th annual assembly eight months ago, to get me in touch with Malaysian Presbyterians.

He was my clustermate for an entire academic year. His room was just roughly three meters away from mine. There were a few times he shared with me that he would set up a think-tank group for the Presbyterians in Malaysia and would want to include me in the initiative.

Besides having a constant sense of humor, uncle Tan was a rigorous reader and thinker. I was honored to provide as much help as I could in his struggle with his essay on St Paul's Christology. After graduated in May this year, he went back to Batu Pahat to start doing what he was learning to do in the past two academic years.

About two weeks ago, he came to have dinner with us together with his family. During dinner, he shared with us that he was reading up on certain Reformed theology. Little did any of us who were around that table knew that that was the last time we would see uncle Tan.

Last month, just two months after his graduation, uncle Tan was diagnosed with fourth stage liver cancer. Many of us are saddened by the unfortunate news. And just more than an hour ago, we received news that uncle Tan has died.


Merely less than three months after graduation.

Uncle Tan spent a large portion of his life contemplating theological studies. After having decided to persevere through a two-years program, he thought it is time for him to fully avail himself for ministry. And less than 100 days later, there is no more ministry. There is no more him.

Some of us must have felt a throw back and start asking what's the point then?

This experience pushes me to believe more firmly that achievement is in the pursue; being is in the becoming. Our goal may or may not be reached. Nonetheless the process in reaching that goal is deservingly a goal in itself.

Two evenings ago, during our cluster devotion time, we were asked the question whether is there something that we know we should achieve but so far we still have not achieve it. Edmund (one of my clustermates and classmates) and I shared that what happened to uncle Tan has provided us a framework to see that our daily life not simply a process but also one that consists many tiny goals. And it is in these achieved tiny goals that our life makes sense, our day feels full.

A few months ago, I told a collegemate that the learning of how to participate in the public square, to articulate a public theology, is in the participation itself. Now, what uncle Tan has went through has helped me to see how this as a more satisfying way to live. This may help you, the readers, too.

Uncle Tan's favorite jokes are those that make fun of lawyers. He told many to us. Here is one that I told him, and now to you all:

"I slept like a lawyer yesterday. Through the night, I lied on one side and then lied on the other." (From Factually Yes, Legally No, a book that I bought because of uncle Tan).

Thank you, uncle Tan. We miss you.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The New Testament has its limits?

Paul Trebilco from University of Otago lectured on "Global and Local in the New Testament and Earliest Christianity" last week at Trinity Theological College. The lecture was moderated by Professor Trebilco's student, TTC's very own New Testament Lecturer Tony Siew. You can find the summary of the lecture at Christian Post.

The lecture coincides, in topic, with one the the courses that I am taking this semester: Mission in a Globalized World. The class teaches on global issues facing most of the current human race now.

Overall, Professor Trebilco highlights the world wide outreach of Christianity in the first generation of Christian history. He listed Romans 1.8, Colossians 1.5-6, 1 Peter 5.9 and 1 Timothy 3.16 as evidents that Christianity was a global phenomenon even in its nascent stage just because these passages bear phrases like "throughout the world" and "in the whole world".

In his note, it is stated in the conclusion, "[T]he dialectic between world-wide connectedness and the local is one of the key dynamics of earliest Christianity." (Emphasis original, p.3)

I find this disagreeable. It is obvious that these New Testament authors were either employing exaggerated expression to make their point or they were simply writing out of ignorant. Or both.

Christianity did not reach the Malaya peninsula or Japan or the Polynesia until several centuries later. To claim Christianity as a global phenomenon is stretching a far bit. At most, one can claim that Christianity was spread to the known world to the New Testament authors at that time. Definitely not a global event.

On a upside, Professor Trebilco mentioned a significant point on the social interaction among Christians and between Christians and non-Christians in earliest Christianity. Humans regardless of ethnicity were thought to be equal before God and hence was so taught among the first Christians.

In his notes, "[P]eople with no ethnic connections seeing themselves as belonging together." (Emphasis original, p.3) A truth that needs to be passed around and down.

During the Question & Answer session, I expressed my gratitude to the speaker before raising two questions to seek his opinion. The first one has to do with economics, while the second with social-politics:

1) Any suggestion for us to understand today's competitive nature in the market in light of the social interaction among the early Christians? For eg. Let's say a Christian set up an e-commerce website like Amazon.com to sell Christian books. And the business of local Christian bookshops run by local Christians are severely affected to the extent that they need to close down. So how should we understand this competitive nature among Christians?

2) How do we understand our current reality of nation-states? For eg. The Trinity Theological College's community consists of people from different countries. Let's say in the near future, after all of us have graduated, a regional war occur for some reasons. And some of us here are enlisted to serve in the military to defend our own nation. So should TTC students start shooting each other at warzone at that time?

Professor Trebilco remarked that question 1 is too complicated and he has no suggestion for it. However he highlighted that the early Christians were overwhelmed by compassion that some, like the Macedonians, who were already facing financial difficulty still gave donation to other Christians who were in need.

"Out of the most severe trial, [the Macedonians'] overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints." (2 Corinthians 8.1-4, emphasis added.)

This example set by these early Christians put many of us modern followers of Christ to embarrassment. Worse still, there are Christians who preach the health and wealth gospel which totally disregard the example lived by their early predecessors.

Professor Trebilco suggested that there is a strong case for pacifism throughout the New Testament. I think that if that is the case, then that will have significant implication for local Singaporean and Malaysian Christians who serve in the army whether through the National Service obligation or voluntary sign-on.

After the lecture, one of my collegemates remarked that my questions are trick questions. I shared with him that they are not. I have always been thinking that the New Testament is not a book that answers many of our contemporary affairs. And Professor Trebilco agreed with that. He humbly admitted that he is just a New Testament scholar, implying that his expertise is rather confined. He is right and nothing wrong with that. Yet he could be wrong too. Perhaps the New Testament has something to say about the competitive nature in a globalized world. Just that Professor Trebilco has no time or interest to examine that aspect.

Anyway, I would like to think that we are connected to each other on equal standing before God despite the fact that resources are scarce and competition is inevitable. And it is precisely on equal standing before God that competition takes place, for competition presumes equal standing. That's why 100 meters sprint has all the contenders start at the same mark.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Inspiration during last Wednesday class on world religions

Studying the major religions prevalent in our world is like being in the multi-dimensional transparent box where one finds oneself in the midst of various connected dots and structures. Studying two major religions is like seeing two multi-dimensional transparent boxes placed next to each other. And the interaction of people from different religion is like these boxes interacting with each other.

Religion to a person is not merely a set of beliefs that we can specify in detail and in isolation from other presumptions that the person is caught into. Religion is usually thought to be a part of a person. When a person pray, she is thought to be doing religion.

I think a person is a part of religion. When a person pray, religion is doing her; changing the person to be who the religion wants her to be.

Think about this. When you pray, do you do it because you want to?

Or could it be that you find yourself in a situation, condition, and position that you can respond in no other way than to kneel, be grateful and appeal?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

James Dunn's Did the first Christians worship Jesus?

If you run a bookshop, where would you shelve James Dunn's latest book 'Did the first Christians worship Jesus?'?

I found it at the section on 'Worship' at the bookshop where I work. So I grabbed the three copies, brought them to the counter, changed their category to 'Christology' before shelving them to where they really belong.

For sure, this latest work is less dense than Dunn's Christianity in the Making trilogy. And it is easy to read in the sense that the argument is clear. Yet one may misunderstand Dunn's argument if one cannot follow the nuances he carefully crafted throughout the book.

Personally, I think the entire book is not to answer the provocative question the book asks on its cover "Did the first Christians worship Jesus?" but to examine exactly what do we mean by that question.

The main concern of the book is to probe the meaning of 'worship' and 'Jesus' to the first Christians. Dunn uses the analogy of a wall and a window to describe the first (Jewish) Christians' understanding of Jesus in relation to God. They did not think Jesus as the wall to which their sight of God reaches its end. They were not committing 'Jesus-olatry'. In other words, they did not see Jesus as the wall with the inscription "God" on it. Instead, Dunn argues, the first Christians saw Jesus as the window through which they saw God.

Dunn's work can be easily misunderstood if one failed to follow through his nuances. I have a group of readers of the book in mind which I think is most vulnerable to misreading this book.

That's the Muslims.

In fact there is already one Muslim reviewer who actually thinks that Dunn "effectively takes issue with the great christological statements of the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon and joins the ranks of the unitarians in affirming a simple monotheistic theology. But his conclusions have far reaching implications for orthodox Christianity which stands condemned as promoting the serious sin of idolatry in its worship of Jesus as God."

The reviewer's misreading is most obvious in his (mis)perception that Dunn is "reluctant to take on board the effectiveness of these (Judaism's and Islam's persisting claim "that the worship of Jesus constitutes a denial of Christianity’s claim to be a monotheistic religion") critiques."

Dunn has specifically made it clear as early as page 1 to 2 that what he was doing in the book is to clarify how did the Nicaea council came to affirm the concept of Trinity through the Jesus event. Here's what Dunn wrote, which some (like the mentioned Muslim reviewer) are simply too blinded by their own dogmatism to take notice,
"...the classic creedal distinction between different 'persons' of the Godhead, when 'person' is understood in its everyday sense, invites the perception of God in tri-theistic rather than Trinitarian terms, as three and distinct individual 'persons'. In view of this, it may be helpful to look back to the beginning of the process that resulted in the formulation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and in doing so to clarify what lay behind the confession of Jesus as the Son of God in Trinitarian terms...

...a more fruitful way forward would be to inquire behind the process that has given Christianity its creedal confessions, to attempt some closer examination of the beginning of the process [of Christians worshiping Jesus as God]. (Emphasis added, p.1-2)
If one has read through the book, one would not miss the final part where Dunn emphasizes that the Jesus, as perceived by first Christians, is one that neither Muslims and Judaic Jews able to accept, and hence uniquely Christian, uniquely Trinitarian,
"...Christianity has gone further in declaring that God has bridged the gulf [between the divine and human] not merely in scripture and temple, not only through priest and prophet, but in a particular individual whom God revealed himself and who constitutes the bridge over the gulf in himself. That claim remains a claim too far for Jews and Muslims. But the claim that Christians make is that the character of God has never been revealed so fully and profoundly as in Jesus--in his mission, in his cruel death on the cross, and in his resurrection and exaltation. It is because Jesus died as he did that Christians find it necessary to speak of the God who suffers, even of 'the crucified God'. (Emphasis added, p.150)
To miss all these is to misread Dunn's work. No where in Dunn's work "takes issue with the great christological statements of the councils of Nicea" as the Muslim reviewer alleges.

Anyway, Dunn was right in wanting to clarify the early Christians' perception of Jesus prior to the Nicaea council. Yet he clarified it wrongly.

Larry Hurtado, whom Dunn dedicated this latest book to, has provided an elaborate review of Dunn's work. Hurtado is critical over Dunn's "anxiety about Jesus being the recipient of worship" (Hurtado, p.2) and explains why.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Prayer and politics

Someone once remarked to me that if prayer is effective in realizing wishes, then we don't need political initiatives, movements, and changes in the current situation in Malaysia, or the world.

I think that prayer is not only submitting our earnest aspiration to God but also to invoke our sense of urgency and moral instinct while reckoning our own limitation and fallibility. So prayer is not only part of politics but itself is a political act.

In praying, we are acknowledging a higher authority than those who are ruling the society and nation. While praying, we are appealing to this higher power.
"To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world."
(Karl Barth, The Christian Life: Church Dogmatics IV.4)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

What's up with Mahathir, Young Imam reality show, anti-ISA, religious-bigots, Anne Rice, and North Korea's relation with Myanmar?

Dr Mahathir remarked that the plunge of 81.1% in Foreign Direct Investment in Malaysia is due to foreigners' lack of funds without taking into account the incapability of the ruling government. Apparently he is still not awaken from his sleep since 1997 economic crisis despite Thomas L. Friedman's diligent attempt to wake him up in 'The Lexus and the Olive Tree'.

After 13 years, he still cannot accept that fact that he and his ruling regime has failed Malaysia. If foreigners really have no money to invest into the country, where then do the foreign funds invested into Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines come from?

Dr Mahathir is still denying the fact that the country he once ruled is functioning on the disintegrating structure and rotting image he has built into the country on the global map. His remark is an attempt to purge himself from being responsible for the severe problem the nation has inherited from his governance.

While Malaysia is failing to attract more foreign investment, the popular local Young Imam reality show has selected Muhammad Asyraf Mohamad Ridzuan as the winner. He is known as a "religious scholar" representing Islam. The criteria for winning are "recite verses from the Koran, wash corpses and slaughter sheep according to Islamic rules, and persuade youngsters away from sex and drugs."

Without any intention to offend Muslims, I think that setting up such criteria to select an Imam that embodies the ideals of local young generation of Muslims is promoting the wrong value among the people.

A religious leader, not to mention a religious scholar, should be someone who is intellectually and socially tested and qualified. The criteria used in Young Imam prioritize solely the virtue of following instructions at the risk of independent intellectual capability. Obedience without a critical mind is at best someone who does best to obey and follow; not to lead and inspire. Are we selecting the best potential leader or someone who is best being led?

Could this be the epitome of Malaysia's educational value under the ruling government? Popularizing 'docile' as the ultimate virtue among the masses in order to rule them with ease? If so, then the show is deviating the Islamic tradition of which its history is graced by intellectuals like Abū Ḥāmed Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī and Abū 'l-Walīd Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Rushd.

It couldn't be more obvious that the ruling government does not value independent critical thinking. Just yesterday, 33 people who attended anti-Internal-Security-Act virgil were arrested. Within this context, the reality show is a political act to subtly restructure the consciousness of the masses.

September 11 is nearing. Some American Christians want to hold a 'Burn a Quran' day to commemorate the day. “We only did it because we felt there needed to be an outcry against Islam, because Islam is presenting itself as a religion of peace,” said Dr. Terry Jones, senior pastor of Dove World Outreach Center.

One can easily sympathize with those like Terry Jones who feel defeated to be hopeful to see Islam as a peaceful religion with all the escalating violence being carried out by Muslims at certain quarters around the world. The picture of Islam being a peaceful religion at this moment in history is still to be seen. Yet organizing a commemoration by burning Quran is not what the world needs right now. Nothing is more urgent than to build trustworthy relationship between Muslims and Christians. And the proposed commemoration could just easily jeopardize any effort to do that. In turn, in irony, presenting Christianity as a religion of bigotry.

No wonder the fame novelist, Anne Rice, recently announced her dissociation from 'Christians'. "I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity," she said.

Her sentiment appends my reason why I'm not a 'Christian'. I have stated that I'm not a Christian because I'm too cowardice to consider myself as one. It just amazes me that some people are so casual to identify themselves as 'Christian' without thinking through what does that identification entails. They thought believing the Apostle Creed is enough. Well, "even the demons believe that—and shudder." (James 2.19)

Nearer to our shore, though we don't know the full details of North Korean minister's visit to Myanmar, but we can be sure that he is not there for holidays.

Myanmar has just sealed its relationship with India despite disagreement in the 1990s. It has been on good terms with China. Now, by sealing relationship with North Korea despite difference since 1983, Myanmar has secured support from three powerful nations in the region. All three possess nuclear weapons.

The junta can now ignore Asean's pressure for it to be democratic. None of the Asean members possess nuclear technology. What's there to be afraid of when you have countries with big economic and military power as friends?

A democratic future for Myanmar is still far from sight. Asean's losing control of one of its members reveals how inadequate the working relationship among the members. They still have not figure out how should they relate to one another since 1967.

Mark L. Y. Chan's sense of humor

He is a lecturer in philosophical theology at Trinity Theological College. He is also the senior pastor of Evangel Christian Church.

Mark did his Ph.D under the supervision of the legendary Anthony Thiselton, who recently was elected to the British Academy. Thiselton was shot to the academy stardom in 1980 when he published a book bearing the title 'The Two Horizons: New Testament hermeneutics and philosophical description with special reference to Heidegger, Bultmann, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein.'

As if that work alone has not completely shook the world of biblical hermeneutic, ten years later, Thiselton wrote another book titled 'New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading' to make sure the world of hermeneutic receives the quake that it rightly deserves.

It is under this overwhelming persona that Mark completed his dissertation 'Christology from Within and Ahead: Hermeneutics, contingency, and the quest for transcontextual criteria in Christology'. This work itself was cited several times in Thiselton's later publications like the Hermeneutics of Doctrine (p.412-413).

Mark is now teaching a course on biblical interpretation to undergraduates besides an other more intensive course on hermeneutics to postgraduates. Anyone who attends the course will notice his consistent sense of humor.

During one of the classes, he told us about dialectical discourse in philosophical hermeneutic. He began the subject by clarifying that the topic is not about how to use Hokkien language.

At a different occasion he told us about his pen-pal, Bill, who writes to him everyday. "I receive bill everyday," he said.

All these just add to the fun of the course of study. (I wonder if he picked up the sense of humor from Thiselton too?) Combination of good philosophical theology with humor always makes one anticipate to attend the class.