Thursday, October 28, 2010

The thorn in the flesh of Trinity Theological College: "It is a liberal college"

Last Saturday, I got to know the Dean of Biblical Studies of another local Christian education institution. He was a scientist all his life before taking up his current position. I told him that I have one of his books and really glad that he wrote it. We chatted a bit before I had to excuse myself to resume my work.

In our conversation, he brought up to me that Trinity Theological College (TTC) is a liberal institution. He recalled a time when he was told that the education philosophies of the Principal of TTC are these: (1) To expose or bombard the students to all kind of teachings; (2) Leave the students to learn for themselves what is to be believed, what are the orthodox doctrines.

He then continued to say that the faculty at TTC does not guide the students which doctrines to believe.

(To him, those are the criteria suits for the label "liberal." To me, I think it is difficult to define what constitutes "liberal".)

I asked him which Principal was he referring to. He said that it is the current one, Dr. Ngoei Foong Nghian. I was surprised.

Then I told him that I am a student at TTC and I have been studying there for more than a year and being taught by various members of the faculty. And I do not find any of the lecturers in any way resembles the hearsay he heard.

Concerning the hearsay that we are exposed to all kinds of teachings: To me personally, I do not find our lecturers expose us to all kinds of teachings. We are taught only what are relevant to our course. A good way to see what kind of teachings we are getting is through the textbooks that we use.

In Old Testament course, we used An Introduction to the Old Testament by Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard. In Theology class, Millard Erickson's Christian Theology, a standard Evangelical textbook. For our hermeneutic course, we use Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Craig Blomberg, William Klein, and Robert Hubbard.

For Mission and Evangelism course, we use David Bocsh's Transforming Mission and Perspectives edited by Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne. For Church History, History of World Christian Movement written by Dale Martin and Scott Sunquist. As for New Testament, the lecturer, Tony, is currently using The New Testament in Antiquity by Gary Burge, Lynn Cohick, and Gene Green.

All these are written by Evangelical scholars who are often marked as critical, conservative and evangelical (in the sense that they give emphasis on missionary work). And I know of non-conservative works for each of these subjects--I read them in my free time--so when I say these are conservative I really mean it. Don't believe me, read these works for yourself to find out.

Concerning the hearsay that TTC's faculty is not guiding the students whenever we face with problem in our studies over doctrinal issues: Well anyone who thinks so should just register into any one of TTC's courses.

In every class, the lecturers provide guidance from topics to topics. Just this afternoon we were taught about Classical Dispensationalism in our class on Eschatology. Our lecturer, Dr. Roland Chia, expounded the origin and characteristics of this school of thought in the first session before he moved on to give a critique on it during the second session.

In one of the class on 'Mission in an Age of Globalization', I raised the possibility of transhumanism in the future and Christian's openness to embrace the culture. Dr. Andrew Peh disagreed with me by alluding to Christ's incarnation as the justification that the attempt to technologize human being will only depreciate the human body. And he always avail his own space for us to hang out and chill whenever we are stressed.

Rev. Malcolm Tan who taught us 'Asian Religions' conscientiously and meticulously guided the class through the various religions by emphasizing the differences between Christianity and the rest. Many times, he shared with us his reasons why he is still a Christian despite there are so many religions in the world.

In Dr. Mark Chan's class on biblical interpretation, he told us that he belongs to the Gadamerian school of hermeneutics and emphasizes on the canonical status and character of the Bible. At the end of each session, we are given time to discuss and clarify with him over any question that we have. And he has never failed to respond to us by guiding us back to the importance of cultivating a self-critical approach that we need to study the Scripture critically and with reverence. Recently, he has published an article on Christianity Today website on the issue of relativism. The article concludes with this statement: "To believe in absolute truth is to run counter to the spirit of the age. We can expect to be ridiculed, ostracized, and opposed. We need to be reminded that the one who was Truth Incarnate, the one John describes as "full of grace and truth," became Truth Crucified at the hands of those bent on snuffing out the light of truth. Darkness did not have the last word. Light pierced the tomb of Jesus, and in the resurrection of Christ, we have Truth Vindicated." Is this liberal?

Dr. Yu Chin Cheak, who taught us 'Pastoral Care and Counseling', conducted a one-on-one session with everyone of us to help us on how to carry out our assignment in areas of our choosing. She always emphasized on our own spiritual well being, teaching us how to take care of ourselves when we are out there giving pastoral care.

These are just a few examples. All other courses that I have attended are managed by similarly responsible lecturers who are convicted Christians themselves. As far as I know, all the lecturers at TTC affirm the incarnation and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I hope such hearsay may be disposed accordingly. I think it is rather uncharitable to propagate falsehood such as those told to the Dean that I've met. I guess such slanders must have given a lot of hard time to TTC's faculty, not to mention the Principal.

Such rumors prevent and disrupt the unity among the different parts of Christ's body. It destroys any possibility of solidarity as well as demonizing our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. No wonder apostle Paul lumped such practice among the other vices that Christian people should avoid.
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
(Romans 1.28-31)


SHWong said...

I believe the main issue is not that TTC is liberal. The issue is that, in comparison, TTC is still not evangelical/ fundamentalist/ indoctrinating etc enough for those on the far right of the spectrum. It is an unfortunate state of affairs when the moderates are now considered liberals because the ultra conservatives consider themselves as the norm.

achorusofehoes said...

Nowadays the liberal label gets tagged on almost everyone or in your case here on institutions also as well. The criteria for being liberal is somewhat shady. Judging from the text books you just mentioned just now they are ones that I use as well in some of my classes. Well, looking at it in a positive manner, anything liberal for me is worth investigating or in terms of books, reading.

Cheat Grace said...

Brother, I think this is a carryover baggage from the early days when TTC got their lecturers from the West. THen they did not yet have a pool of lecturers of the quality they have now. then TTC ended up with lecturers who did not believe in the miracles of Jesus or the Exodus, no universal flood, Gen1-11 was just a collection of near eastern myths, etc. I think they have moved from those kind of lecturers in the last 25 years and the groundbreaking was done by the previous principals of TTC. Why bother with the comments of people who can't be bothered to discern the truth?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi SHWong,

What you have pointed out is so true. In this sense, the measuring standard of what is liberal and what is conservative is subjective.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi achorusofehoes,

I think you are right. Everything considered 'liberal' should be worth investigating & reading. That's the mark of education.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Cheat Grace,

That's the history behind TTC. If I'm not wrong, the liberal outset was being cleared away since the time of Choong Chee Pang, when he was the Principal (1980s). Since then the legacy of being Evangelical stays until now. So it was really surprising to me when I heard that such hearsay is still around.

Ita said...

I faced the same issues. Some people around me and in Indonesia perceive TTC as liberal and I'm looking forward to be able to respond to their statement. What you write here was really helpful. Thanks!
Can I link this post in my blog?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Ita,

Oh, so this is not only something I faced. Of course you can link this post. Feel free.

Oh ya, happy holidays!

hanguoxiong said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

This is the first time I am blogging at your site. I have been visiting your blog for a period of time.

Personally, I have heard the word 'liberal' being used too loosely (i.e., those who use the NIV are 'liberals'), by both clergy and laity alike. I have strong convictions (I am Reformed and Confessional, by the way) but I would never label TTC or BGST or SBC as liberal.

By using the label 'liberal' (and any other derogatory terms) loosely on others, one can easily impute the characteristics of 'liberals' to his/her theological opponent, and engage in bringing down a straw man, even though his/her theological opponent may not be 'liberal' at all. As responsible individuals, we need to nuance our remarks and represent the theological position of other Christians (and Christian organizations)accurately.

Hope my comments would helpful in a way.

David Han

Sze Zeng said...

Hi David,

I certainly agree with what you said here. It does not help to consign anyone into a label and build a strawman out of it. Your comment is helpful. Thank you.