Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Conference: Christianity in Contemporary China: Socio-Cultural Perspectives


China’s religious revival in recent years is a poignant indication of the significant role religion continues to play in the lives of many Chinese. As China globalizes and persists in its modernization effort, the various religions and spiritual movements are often compelled to engage in intricate negotiations with an officially atheistic ruling party that seeks to maintain hegemonic control over society. According to a number of surveys, Christianity has become one of the fastest growing religions in China. This international conference aims to provide an interdisciplinary platform for scholars to examine the complex ways in which Christianity shapes, and is shaped by, China’s contemporary social and cultural developments.

Given the increasing transnational flows of capital, ideas and personnel in and out of China these days, findings from the conference will shed important light on the shifting contours of China’s civil society as religion becomes an important element in its society and culture.

Go here for more information:

Keynote Speakers

"Signs and Wonders: Christianity and Hybrid Modernity in China”

Professor Richard Madsen, University of California, San Diego

"From 'Christianity in China' to 'Chinese Christianity': Changing Paradigms and Changing Perspectives”

Professor Peter Ng, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Invited Speakers

"Trying to make sense of history: Revivalist Christianity in China and their theological political interpretation of past and present history"

Tobias Brandner, Chinese University of Hong Kong

"Images of Jesus in contemporary Chinese popular culture"

Common Chan, Chinese University of Hong Kong

"Civil Society and the role of the Catholic Church in contemporary China"

Seguire Chan, Hong Kong Baptist University

"Calvin, culture and Christ? Developments of faith among Chinese intellectuals"

Fredrik Fällman, Stockholm University

"A Weberian Approach to urban/rural dynamics in Christianity in contemporary China"

Huang Ke-hsien, Northwestern University

"The house-church identity and preservation of Pentecostal-style Protestantism in China"

Kao Chen-yang, National Chengchi University, Taiwan

"The emergence of Christian subcultures in China: Beginnings of an inculturation from the grassroots?"

Katrin Fiedler, China Information Desk

"Saints, Secrets, and Salvation: Emergence and Development of Spiritual-Religious groups in the PRC after 1978"

Kristin Kupfer, Freelance researcher

"Co-optation and its Discontents: The Seventh-day Adventism in China"

Joseph Tse-Hei Lee, Pace University, New York

"The religious pattern of relationship structure in contemporary China: on the case of relationships between Buddhist and Christian"

Li Xiangping, East China Normal University

"Re-mapping Boundaries: Christianity and community formation among the minority nationalities"

Francis Lim, Nanyang Technological University

"Multiple Tensions and Dualistic Structure: A Sociological Study on Religious Market Theory and China’s Rural Christianities"

Liu Fang, Fudan University

"Christian Identity as Disobedient Narratives during China’s Post-Communist Transition"

Ma Li, Tongji University

Li Jin, Tongji University

"Three-Self Protestant churches, the local state and religious policy implementation in a north-eastern Chinese city"

Mark McLeister, University of Sheffield

"Making Sense of China’s State-Society Relations: Protestant House Churches in the Reform Era"

Teresa Wright, California State University, Long Beach

Teresa Zimmerman-Liu, California State University, Long Beach

"Christian Ethics and Business Life: an ethnographic account of overseas Chinese Christian entrepreneurs in China’s economic transition"

Joy Tong, Purdue University

"Unifying the Nation: Protestant Reactions to the Chinese Communist Party’s Nationalist Agenda Inside and Outside the Official Religious Associations"

Carsten Vala, Loyola University, Maryland

"Towards a public theology with Chinese characteristics: Prospects for engagement of the church with the civil society"

Paul Woods, Singapore Bible College

"Sino-Christian studies in contemporary China: A public interpretation"

Xie Zhibin, Shanghai Normal University

"The religiosity of popular Chinese cinema and its implications for contemporary Christianity"

Yam Chi-Keung, Chinese University of Hong Kong

"A church on the second-floor: a case study of a Protestant congregation in a residential building in Hong Kong"

Gustav K.K. Yeung, Chinese University of Hong Kong

"Beyond religion, politics, intellectuality and territory: How is Christianity transforming China?"

Yu Ying, Nottingham University

"Migration, Church and State: Migrant Christians and Migrant Churches in Wenzhou, “Chinese Jerusalem”"

Zhu Yujing, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Public lecture: Islam and adaptation to a western secular society

Gospel @ Areopagus first meeting

The report is up. Finally I managed to write the proceeding that took place about three weeks ago. Go to G@A website to check it out.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Vinoth on 'real' missionaries and 'real' mission fields. And why I think he is wrong on both counts.

Vinoth Ramachandran recently blogged about his critical sentiment over the emphasized role of the "pastors or "fulltime" workers in para-church organization." He perceived such emphasis as a weakness of churches in general, the recent Lausanne Congress’ speakers in particular.

He sees this weakness as a cause of the mistaken notion of polarizing and prioritising between the verbal preaching of the gospel and Christian social work:
"All the plenary speakers at the Congress were either pastors or "fulltime" workers in para-church organizations. They are not representative of the vast majority of Christians around the world who serve God as artists, engineers, lawyers, farmers, mechanics, biologists and a host of other "secular" occupations. They are the real "missionaries" of the Church, engaging with non-Christians on a daily basis, and whose work raises ethical issues that are at the cutting-edge of mission. As long as their voice is marginalized at such conferences, we shall continue to have such meaningless debates about "priorities"."

We see clearly here that Vinoth thinks that the Christians in "secular" workforce are "real" while the "pastors or "fulltime" workers" are less-real in term of carrying out God’s mission in the world.

In an earlier post, Vinoth wrote about this same point in his reflection on the Edinburgh 2010 conference:
"Perhaps the most divisive barrier we face is the one between pastors/clergy and the rest of us so-called "laity". All the speakers who addressed us during this conference were Bishops and senior pastors, seminary professors or leaders of Christian institutions. This perpetuates the massive "blind spot" concerning mission in our churches. Surely the primary way the church impacts the world is through the daily work of Christian men and women in offices, schools, factories, village councils, research laboratories, company board rooms, and so on. These are the contemporary sites of Christian mission." (Emphasis added)

Here, Vinoth identifies himself as part of the "laity", the group that is at the real mission field.

Three observations here:

First, to Vinoth, everyone who are serving fulltime in church or para-church organization are less-real missionaries as compared to the laity because they are not impacting the real mission field (the "offices, schools, factories, village councils, research laboratories, company board rooms, and so on").

Second, as reflected in the first point, we know that Vinoth assumes that there is a clear distinction between the real mission fields and the less-real ones. Therefore those who serve in the real mission fields are the real missionaries, while those pastors and fulltime workers are less-real missionaries.

Third, as reflected in the second point, Vinoth assumes that he knows who are the real Christians and who are not the real Christians. Therefore those "Christian men and women in offices, schools, factories, village councils, research laboratories, company board rooms, and so on" are the real ones. They all have their theology, personal struggles and issues sorted out, and are always ready to impact the world in the 'real' mission fields. While those Christian "pastor and fulltime workers" are not 'real' Christians because they still have not sort out their theology, personal struggles and issues (such as they have no idea where is the "real" mission field). The 'realness' of the missionary work is dependent on the 'realness' of the mission field.

My critique on Vinoth’s critiques is simply on the third point which grounds his second point, of which grounds his first point.

Vinoth’s clear distinction between those who are the real Christians and those who are not is highly questionable. No one knows for sure, according to the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13). Until Christ comes back again, we will always have the weeds and the wheat together. Augustine has expounded this in his City of God, Book 18.

That means the churches will always have weeds, that is the non-Christians who profess to be Christians, around. This applies to both the clergy as well as the laity. Therefore the internal politics at some churches are as challenging as secular organizations, if not worse. And there are laities who profess to be Christians but behave like pagans out there.

In a world where weeds and wheat cannot be distinguished, how then can we say that those who work in the churches are not facing issues that are common in the secular organizations? I have heard pastors and fulltime workers who said that their office politics are exactly like the secular workforce. I have heard of professing Christians who have indulged in nonsense like non-Christians in their offices, schools, factories, village councils, research laboratories, company board rooms, and so on. There are even clergies who do all kind of nonsense within the churches!

Vinoth highlights only those laities, like John R. Mott, who did great missionary works. But such an one-sided view seems more likely invoked just to elevate himself (a laity) as superior (more real) than pastors and fulltime workers.

The fact that he negates the highlights of those in the latter group who contributed as much as, if not more than, laity in missionary works is telling. It is too short-sighted of him if he couldn't think of any. Or, Vinoth has an inferiority complex or some sort of ego problem where he constantly need to justify himself, a non-clergy, as more superior than clergy so that he is in the position to teach the clergy since they are less-real?

Perhaps, Vinoth has not yet come across these situations. If that is the case, then it is not Vinoth’s fault that he came to such an incorrect perception about the world and missiology.

In such a world, the churches and the rest of the world is a mission field, where missionaries are needed to constantly reach out to people regardless of those who profess to be Christians or not. We need missionaries to reach out to missionaries in many cases. Of course, to those who are already professing, the outreach to them is slightly different from those who have not. But the point is that there is no such thing as the secular world is the real mission field while the churches are less-real.

When we don't fall into Vinoth's mistaken category, we will have a clearer picture of God’s mission in the real world.

As for the prioritizing of preaching over social works, I think Vinoth is right that there should not be a hierarchy. But saying that this hierarchy is due to the inferior position of the "pastors and fulltime workers" as compared to the laities is unfounded. Both preaching and social works go hand-in-hand.

I am, like Vinoth, against (1) preaching without social works, and (2) social works without preaching. But the difference between us is that I think in certain context, prioritizing is needed to balance the two. For instance, in context of scenario (1), social works need to be prioritized, while in scenario (2) it's the other way around. These adjustments do not mean one is more important than the other, but to balance the two, making sure they go hand-in-hand.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Shadow writer as the latest and least detectable way in academic fraud. And what does this mean to us?

Jonathan highlighted a piece of news about a job known as shadow writer. What they do is that they write for other people.

Not ghost writers like those hired by rich politicians or celebrities to write their memoir. Shadow writers are hired to write your undergraduate and post-graduate assignments. It's a whole new level of cheating.

It's not plagiarise where you take people's ideas as yours without giving them credit. The work of shadow writer is to write an entirely new piece of work with citations and all.

This phenomenon should shock the entire academia as much as it did to Scot McKnight.

Here's the except of the confession of a shadow writer from the Chronicle of Higher Education website:

I've written toward a master's degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I've worked on bachelor's degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I've written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I've attended three dozen online universities. I've completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else. [...] I'm a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can't detect, that you can't defend against, that you may not even know exists. (Emphasis added)

Not only that. What's more shocking is that the shadow writer reveals that he is hired by seminarians too!

I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America's moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.

An interesting point made is that the job of this shadow writer is more than someone who just write paper for students. He became more like a "personal educational counsellor."

This kind of works are undetectable as long as the students who employed such services remain docile and quiet. At Trinity Theological College, we have a lot of students who are working adults. They are given up to seven years to complete their undergraduate degrees, taking their modules slowly according to their free time. Any one of them could simply engage such services to graduate.

Full time students are under closer watch as they spend more time with the lecturers. The lecturers might know the competency of the full time students by more interaction. But as I have said, as long as the students remain inconspicuous, he or she will be fine.

Anyway, isn't such news a big blow to the ego of the academia, especially in societies that chase after education certificates? On one hand, we have scientists and academicians who provide fraud reports and unreliable findings (for eg. "as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed"). On the other hand, we have shadow writers who are doing all the works for possibly many upcoming academicians in the future.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sermon, seminar, or lecture?

Once I delivered a short sermon about 15 minutes to a group of youth. In the sermon, I related Ruth from the Old Testament with four modern revolutionaries: Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jean Paul Satre.

After the brief sharing, a youth came up to me and said, "Thank you for the lecture." I remember that I delivered a sermon, no?

That's my experience in preaching. I haven't had the opportunity to do preaching proper until early this week at Jubilee Church.

Last year Siow Hwee, one of the pastors at the church and a fellow blogger, invited me to be their speaker for this year's youth camp. I agreed.

So I asked Siow Hwee what are the topics they have for me? Here was his reply:

Three one-hour long sermons on (1) ethics of power, (2) ethics of wealth, and (3) ethics of religion. And one 30 minutes long sermon on Isaiah 2.1-5.

My first response was, "WHAT? Those are the topics for youth camp?" He then told me that that's the way they manage their church. They teach the congregation what seminaries teach their students.

I found out later that they are using books like John Goldingay's trilogy on the Old Testament in their Bible Studies syllabus. (And their library is comparable to the local seminaries. And they have very very impressive worship teams!)

After the camp is over, I still think it is rather bold on Siow Hwee's part to invite an inexperienced guy like me to speak at their youth camp.

As a reflection, I did really bad on the first one-hour long sermon: bad time management, points were all over the places, didn't get the message through.

Then came the night sermon on Isaiah 2. I stumbled at the beginning because I wasn't really sure if the message was appropriate as it was a very dark one. It is so dark that I didn't feel comfortable with the thought of sharing it to other people, not to mention to a group of youths.

Then I told to myself, "Heck it, worst scenario is that Siow Hwee will come onto the stage to drag me out." (Like what happened to Ignatius, the ultimate youth pastor. See the Youtube clip below.)

So I held my breath and read out all that I have written for 30 minutes. Then I ended it with a prayer and walked down from the pulpit with my head held down. Didn't dare to look up in case someone give me a finger or worse.

Then when I reached my seat, Siow Hwee gave me a thumb-up. Relieved... I was really glad that I wasn't dragged out from the church.

The following morning hour long sermons went all right. Not great but all right. Though it was lullaby to many, yet I managed to get my points through. I can live with disappointment as long as I have did what's within my capacity (which in turn shows how little I have).

I am glad it is over. I am especially encouraged when one of the youths, who is studying geography, approached me to express her appreciation for the second on wealth of which I shared about the philosophy of money, the ideology of wealth, and consumerism culture. She told me that she can relate to that as those are what she is studying.

Overall, I am very grateful for Siow Hwee for his critical comments after my first session. Those have really helped me a lot. From these experiences, I have learned more about my own homiletics and those assigned subjects.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What place is there for the freedom of conscience in PAS's Islamic State?

"Islamic state is the best, not just for Muslims but also for non-Muslims," so said PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.

Neither should we agree or disagree with Hadi's statement at this moment. What we need is explanation, as requested by Hadi. May be PAS really has a good Islamic political theology to offer for Malaysia's context. Unless they explain and we listen, this matter will stay stagnant.

So yes, PAS should be given time to explain what they mean by that statement.

On the side of the non-Muslim Malaysians, we have to learn to listen with open ears and solidarity with the awareness of the limitation expressed in the past Islamic political theology, especially when it concerns the liberty of individual's conscience (the freedom to convert out of Islam).

Personally, I do not think multiculturalism, as broadly defined, is feasible. The logical end of multiculturalism is extreme individualism where individuals are endowed with legal rights to claim privatized culture at the cost of common good, for example the allowance of consented cannibalism.

I do not endorse the idea of 'programmatic secularism' as well. Such secularism lacks the moral authority to govern and police. The state under such program will end up with (1) violent and arbitrary policing over religious communities, and hence (2) provoke the rise of extremist terrorism.

On one hand, people need to be empowered to avoid tyrannical oppression. On the other hand, rulers need to be empowered to avoid being overruled by democratic follies.

If these two poles cannot be compromised, does that mean we need a third authority to negotiate the tension between the two? And who in our society can be entrusted with such great power?

From a Christian perspective, the third authority lies (surprisingly?) in the Christian vision of time. What time is it now?

At present, we are inhabiting in a world full of ambivalence and ambiguity. Augustine calls the present time as the saeculum, where the restrainment of executive authority of rulers as well as people lies in the anticipation of the arrival of the finality of history. (Augustine, City of God [UK: Penguin edition, 2003], p.46)

It is this restrainment that prevent a tyrant and a group of fools from destroying each other. The created space out of this restrainment enables the cohabitation of both the tyrant and the fools, and so allows the freedom of conscience for all concerning religious conviction.

So it is still to be seen what kind of polity does PAS has for us Malaysians.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Unexpected busyness

I am caught in an unexpected busy schedule this month. Internship + part-time work + 3 church camps + a new initiative + a website for a TTC faculty member.

Internship needs me to report everyday from Tuesday to Friday, sometimes Saturday and Monday. I need to complete this to get a credit for my course. It's compulsory. During my off-day which usually fall on Monday or Saturday, I will offer to help out doing part-time at a bookshop. Previously I told them that I can help out in the month of December because I was not expecting this month to be so full.

Yet stuffs seem to work out fine. My internship supervisors are kind to take my service at another church camp as part of the internship.

On top of that, I have been busy launching a new initiative together with a few classmates. It's a network to encourage continuous learning among those who are preparing or already working full-time at church. We organize meetings where individuals are assign to present on topics to be discussed and learned from. Seminars, debates, and conferences are what we do too. This is also a book club as well as a network, fellowship and learning group. The bottom line is simply two:

1) Unity among Christians: A visible initiative where Christians from different denominations come together to converse over challenges, opportunities, and personal knowledge/experience that are related to the Kingdom of God. Our first session on last Thursday noon was on Kingdom of God. There were three presentations (Kingdom of God and Church Leadership; A Pentecostal's Perspective on Kingdom of God; Twentieth Century Theological Discussion on Kingdom of God).

2) Ever-learning/growing: None of us know it all. So this network keeps those who participate informed of other knowledges/experiences that they are not aware of. We get inspiration for this initiative from Gospel Coalition,, and We realize that those who are in ministry often get too molded by daily routines and sometimes our creativity get confined. Hence, we want to encourage people to daringly come out with ideas. Therefore the subtitle of the initiative is this: Scripture + Tradition + Praxis + Ideas.

This was planned before the break started. I took time to execute the plan during break. While I designed and solidified the framework of the initiative, the website, and organized the first meeting, my classmates slogged to prepare their insightful and very helpful presentations to share with us. I'm eager to blog about their presentation (they were really good) on that website, but that would have to wait until after next week. I'm grateful to my classmates who are willing to share their findings. If you are interested to take a look, go here: Gospel@Areopagus

I have also came out with a website for one of the faculty member. The faculty has brought up the website to TTC's Principal to see if he wants to do that for all the faculty members. They are still discussing about it so probably it's good for me not to share it here now.

In the midst of busyness, I am conscious and aware of what God's telling me: A busy person does not mean he or she is important. And a person's value or importance does not depend on how busy the person is.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Rowan Williams on 'Christ & Culture'

How in today's Church may we continue to maintain the dialogue about Niebuhr's insights: Christ above culture, within culture, against culture and beyond culture?

Archbishop's answer:
For those who don't know [Richard] Niebuhr's great book on Christ and Culture: those are the categories that this very distinguished German-American theologian proposes for understanding the relations between Christ and culture: the Church can work from within, it can work against, it can have an oppositional minority stance, it can seek to penetrate the structures of its society. And as chance would have it, I've just been reading a very interesting American book which questions the whole basis on which Niebuhr's analysis works and says that it's too artificial and slanted towards Niebuhr's own preferred conclusions, unsurprisingly. So I think that we probably need to step back a bit from too many generalizations about it and say that it's not so much about Christ and culture, it's about the community of Christ in its distinctiveness and worshipping practice and its study of the Bible, Eucharist and Baptism: that kind of community, relating to a variety of cultural institutions, with no such thing as culture in general, but cultures, with the question always in the Church's mind, 'How does our engagement with this particular context, this kind of politics, this kind of art, advance the Kingdom of God in some ways?' How do we in our encounter with whatever our society throws at us, seek to set forward that kind of humanity which God wills as his purpose for us all?
(Italics original; bold added)

To read the entire Q&A session, go to the Archbishop's website.

To listen to the MP3, go to University Chichester's website, where the Q&A session was held.