Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some unexpectedly-important books I read in 2011, and two unexpected projects

This list betrays my interests and the fields that I am less incompetent at. Each of these informs and forms my spiritual life in this past one year. 

This list is what it is because I wanted to learn about some controversial events in the past (the crusades and Constantine's relationship with the 4th century Church), to be inspired (F.F. Bruce's life), to explore uncharted horizons (contemporary's Pentecostal theology, John Damascene's Byzantine theology, and Islamic theology), to get some sense of what the local theological scene is like (Malaysian and Singaporean authors), and to deepen my understanding on philosophical/public/political theology.

Among them, I thought Oliver O' Donovan's and Philip Goodchild's most difficult to read. Reading them is like choking on ice-cream. Tasty, but choked!

Some of the things I didn't expect from the list:

  • I didn't expect Simon Chan's treatment on Pentecostal Ecclesiology has so much important thing to say to other Protestant tradition. Low-Church congregants have so much to learn from the book, particularly about the doctrinal status and perception of the Church!
  • I didn't expect money is laden with so much theology. Philip Goodchild's book basically unpacks the theological aspects of money, exposing the dogmatic conditions for the materialization of money.
  • I didn't expect Emperor Constantine can be sympathized by present Christians since he has been  popularly smudged by the believing community in general. Peter Leithart shows that he can.
  • I didn't expect a Regius Professor (Nigel Biggar) can write so remarkably clear and comprehensible.

Besides reading these books, completing course assignments and Field Education internship through the year, I had the opportunity to work with others on two unexpected projects. 

The first one is with Yale Centre for Faith and Culture's Pathway for Mutual Respect's upcoming literature. Norani, the organization's Asia Project Director, invited each of us to contribute two short essays (350 words) on Muslim-Christian issues. I vaguely have an idea how the final product would be like, as I was told it wouldn't be out so soon. 

The second one is a book project on Christian political responsibility in Malaysia. The hardcopies just came out from the press last week. It is titled as 'The Bible and the Ballot: Reflections on Christian political engagement in Malaysia today'. Here's how the book looks like:

When this project was first conceived, I didn't thought that it would be a hardcopy book. Nevertheless, Soo-Inn and Bernice from Graceworks believed in it and carried the project through. This book contains contribution from six of us who share the same mission in this area. Our hope for this project is to provide some clarification on the ambiguous relationship between Christian discipleship and the challenging situations facing the country at the present moment. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent and its political theology

"In the Christ-event we found the elements of God's rule: an act of power, an act of judgment and the gift of possession. But these elements are presented in the narrative account of a decisive act, an act in which God's rule was mediated and his people reconstituted in Christ. We are told of the Advent of the one in whom the possession was vested, the conflict that his coming evoked and the vindication that he received at God's hand. To speak of God's rule from this point on must mean more than to assert divine sovereignty, or even divine intervention, in general terms. It means recounting this narrative and drawing the conclusions implied in it. And so we face the task of tracing its chief moments. We cannot discuss the question of 'secular' government, the question from which Western political theology has too often been content to start, unless we approach it historically, from a Christology that has been displayed in narrative form as Gospel."
(Oliver O' Donovan, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the roots of political theology [UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996], p.133)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Race-based ideology and Islam: The Malaysian enigma

Published on the New Mandala: New perspectives on mainland Southeast Asia website, dated 5 December 2011.

In the recent United Malays National Organisation’s (UMNO) general assembly, the “Prime Minister and Umno President Datuk Seri Najib Razak launched a Bumiputera Economic Transformation Roadmap” as a gesture to inform the Malay community that his political party will continue to advance the Malay agenda.[1]

UMNO’s Deputy President Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin further affirmed this race-based ideology by saying that “it is vital” to protect “Malay political power.”[2] He justified such ideology by painting the picture that the interest of the Malay race, given its demography in the country, dictates the well being of the whole nation. “[W]hen we talk about Malay interest it does not mean we are racist because the largest group in the Malaysian society whether you like it or not is still Malays, Bumiputeras and Muslims.”[3]

Seeing ‘Malays’, ‘Bumiputeras’, and ‘Muslims’ being juxtaposed next to each other certainly stirs up curiosity as to what actually has the third group (Muslims) to do with the other two:
Does Islam teach race-based ideology or race-favouritism? Is it true that Islam requires the advancement of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ (Malay Supremacy)?