Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Bible and the Ballot: Interview 2: What’s your article about?

In view of the upcoming Malaysia's general election, Graceworks has conducted an interview with all the contributors of The Bible and the Ballot: Reflections on Christian Political Engagement in Malaysia Today. Here is the second round.

Questions 2: There are seven articles in the book. What’s yours about?

My article “Naming Names” tries to make a biblical case for churches to be less hesitant in identifying with specific political candidates. I’m hoping to abolish the fear of a preacher speaking against (or for) a particular candidate. I wish to draw some connections between how Jesus and the prophets were tembak-ing certain specific people, and how maybe we needn’t hesitate that much today if we come across similar crimes.

My piece “Strengthening Democracy in Malaysia” deals with the public sphere. I point out that Malaysian laws have stemmed public information and discussion on issues that concern all of us. However, with the advent of social networking tools and the results of the 12th General Elections, things have changed. People are increasingly getting and sharing information that was once restricted and organizing themselves into groups to make their concerns known to the authorities. Consider, for example, the public protests that have taken place in the past year or so, and how the government is becoming responsive to these concerns.

In my piece “Why am I Attending Vigils for Dr Jeyakumar and EO6?” I tell of my encounter with deaths in detention. I also share how studying the book of Revelation with the aid of a book by Eugene Peterson helped me recognize that I had been radicalized by the Messiah. I cite Vishal Mangalwadi who gave me fresh insight into what to expect when we proclaim Jesus as King, not only of heaven, but also of all the kings of the earth. I explain why my mere presence at a protest is power for others. While my contribution is mostly a personal story, the other contributors seek to motivate and suggest frameworks for reflection and action.

My contribution in the book “Prayer and Political Consideration” is to provide a guide for Christians to pray for the country and how we can respond to others. For example, Matthew 5:44 says that we ought to pray for those who persecute us. Does this mean that Christians can only pray and must not defend themselves when persecuted? Also, what does it mean to ”love your enemy” when the Christian community is mistreated politically? These are the issues that we try to engage in the book.

On my part, rather than writing another article, I offered to write an “Afterword” because I saw that each individual piece was actually part of our ongoing conversation together in different arenas at different times, i.e., face to face or in most cases screen to screen via blogs, email and Facebook.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ridiculous rules in upcoming Malaysia general election

BERSIH alerted the public about this (H/T: Rama Ramanathan):
Yesterday, the 19th of April 2012, many Bills were rushed through Parliament.  One of them which appears to have escaped the attention of the public was a Bill that sought to amend the Election Offences Act 1954.  The amendments are, to say the least, shocking and have far reaching consequences upon the voting process.

They are designed solely for the purpose of making the voting process less transparent. Needless to say this Bill was passed.
(From Ramanathan) UMNO-BN has changed the election laws. Things you should know:
1. Restraints on defamatory, racist and sexist remarks have been removed.
2. There will be fewer independent polling agents at polling booths.
3. Independent observers will now be prevented from checking the IC's of voters.
4. Observers will not be able to check for indelible ink on the fingers of voters.
5. Phantom voters will be able to vote more freely than ever before.
6. Polling agent training attended by volunteers for years is 'suddenly' inapplicable.

These changes were implemented independently of the Parliamentary Select Committee.

1. Could there be anything more hypocritical than these changes?
2. Is the Election Commission independent?
3. Is BERSIH wrong to call the Election Commission to resign?
4. What should decent, honest leaders/supporters/instruments of BN to do?
5. How will we hold them accountable?
6. What should preachers to say tomorrow (Sunday) about these changes?
7. What should Christian members of the cabinet say or do?

Read more here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Bible and the Ballot: Interview 1: What’s it all about actually?

In view of the upcoming Malaysia's general election, Graceworks has conducted an interview with all the contributors of The Bible and the Ballot: Reflections on Christian Political Engagement in Malaysia Today. Here is the first round.

Question 1: The book is so 'cheem'. What’s it all about actually?

When I ‘marketed’ it to my church members, I said that the book was especially for Christians who are still somewhat apathetic about the political situation in Malaysia, those who are steadfast against voting (or who haven’t registered themselves), or who have decided to keep an arm’s length from issues like justice, power, oppression, etc.

The Bible and the Ballot hopes to remedy the above mindset by approaching politics from different angles and perspectives, all of which have one objective in mind: To sensitize the reader to the problems Malaysia is experiencing as a nation, the abuses committed by the incumbent government, and issues Christians need to engage with.

Basically, each of us in our own way set out to think about Christian involvement about politics.

The Bible and the Ballot is about what it means to engage Malaysian society today, as Christians, in a very politically charged environment. We explain what motivates us. We share our thoughts on current events and we speak about the people who challenge, inspire and guide us.

Hahahaha… Actually, it’s the other way round. A reader told me that The Bible and the Ballot is not cheem enough; in his words, it “lacks depth”!

All the same, I would say that it is not so much that the content is too in-depth, but it is perhaps foreign. What I mean is that the issues discussed in the book are not what the majority Christian community in Malaysia are usually exposed to. Churches in our country do not often teach about these matters. So the book is meant to create awareness that Christian discipleship at certain times in history includes socio-political engagement. And we believe that the present is such a time.

But if you have been following this sort of conversation for a while (like the person who said that the book is not cheem enough) then the book wouldn’t be so foreign.

'Cheem'? Really? Then again the authors are writing authentically from their own unique experiences and reflections. Overall, it's a book about how Christians are critically thinking through their choices in the light of so much that's been happening in Malaysia. Furthermore, it's also about how one wrestles with drawing from Biblical wisdom in the midst of challenging circumstances in today's complicated world.

It's not a one-size-fit-all book; it's more like “here’s what some of us have done, and we offer it as one way of living our Christian faith today”, or “this is how we've thought through this, and we hope it will encourage you to reflect with a Christian mindset”. Of course, my own hope is that the readers will be encouraged to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God” in both our personal and public lives!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Karl Barth's political discipleship

This is a picture of Barth in his army uniform. During the early period of World War II, Barth, who was then 54 years old, voluntarily enlisted himself to serve in the Swiss army. 

[Barth] was sent with 'the armed emergency service' to a unit which, in case of an attack upon Switzerland, had the task of holding up the German army within the border areas for a while until the Swiss regular army could gather in the 'stronghold' of the Alpine fortress." The unit, as its members knew, would hardly have had a chance of survival.
(Frank Jehle, Ever Against the Stream: The Politics of Karl Barth, 1906-1968, trans. Richard and Martha Burnett [USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002], p.69. Emphasis added.)

If the Germans had attacked the Swiss border, the Church Dogmatics will not come in 14 volumes.

It is worth noting that Barth's enlistment into the army was not so much motivated by nationalism in the service of his country. Rather, it was his resistance against the evil of the Third Reich. His enlistment was a service to God

In his letter to Bishop Bell of Chichester dated June 19, 1942, Barth enclosed a photo of himself in army uniform with the written words: "Resist the evil with all means." (Ibid, emphasis original.)

Barth has made himself a good example of Christian engagement with politics. We participate in a country's political process not due to nation-state nationalism. Our only allegiance is to God. And our only citizenship belongs to the heavenly Kingdom, the true State to which every other temporal country is but a reflection. As Barth wrote in 1938,

It must be emphasized, above all else, that in this future city in which Christians have their citizenship here and now (without yet being able to inhabit it), we are concerned not with an ideal but with a real State—yes, with the only real State; not with an imaginary one but with the only one that truly exists. And it is the fact that Christians have their citizenship in this, the real State, that makes them strangers and sojourners within the State, or within the States of this age and this world.” (Karl Barth, Community, State and the Church: Three Essays [USA: Doubleday, 1960], p.123.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Richard A. Muller on John Calvin and TULIP

Yesterday, I had a conversation with friends on the relationship between Calvin and 'Calvinist'. That led me to read up Richard A. Muller's lecture given at Calvin College in 2009 that addressed this question.

It is very interesting to find out from Muller, who is noted for his 4-volumes of Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (USA: Baker Academic) and his two books on John Calvin (The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition and After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition, both published by Oxford University Press), about the famous TULIP and how Calvin was not definite on "L", Limited Atonement (emphasis added): 

It is really quite odd and a-historical to associate a particular document written in the Netherlands in 1618-19 with the whole of Calvinism and then to reduce its meaning to TULIP. Many of you here know that the word is actually "tulp." "Tulip" isn't Dutch--sometimes I wonder whether Arminius was just trying to correct someone's spelling when he was accused of omitting that "i" for irresistable grace. More seriously, there is no historical association between the acrostic TULIP and the Canons of Dort. As far as we know, both the acrostic and the associated usage of "five points of Calvinism" are of Anglo-American origin and do not date back before the nineteenth century. It is remarkable how quickly bad ideas catch on. When, therefore, the question of Calvin's relationship to Calvinism is reduced to this popular floral meditation--did Calvin teach TULIP?--any answer will be grounded on a misrepresentation. Calvin himself, certainly never thought of this model, but neither did later so-called Calvinists. Or, to make the point in another way, Calvin and his fellow Reformers held to doctrines that stand in clear continuity with the Canons of Dort, but neither Calvin nor his fellow Reformers, nor the authors of the Canons, would have reduced their confessional position to TULIP.

In fact, it is quite evident in the cases of "T" and the "L." I don't think Calvin ever uttered a phrase that easily translates as "total depravity." He certainly never spoke of "limited atonement." Neither term appears in the Canons of Dort, nor is either one of these terms characteristic of the language of Reformed or Calvinistic orthodoxy in the seventeenth century. (p.8)

Simply stated, neither Calvin, nor Beza, nor the Canons of Dort, nor any of the orthodox Reformed thinker of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries mention limited atonement--and insofar as they did not mention it, they hardly could have taught the doctrine. [...] To make the point a bit less bluntly and with more attention to the historical materials, the question debated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, concerned the meaning of those biblical passages in which Christ is said to have paid a ransom for all or God is said to will the salvation of all or of the whole world, given the large number of biblical passages that indicate a limitation of salvation to some, namely, to the elect or believers. This is an old question, belonging to the patristic and medieval church as well as to the early modern Reformed and, since the time of Peter Lombard, had been discussed in terms of the sufficiency and efficiency of Christ's satisfaction in relation to the universality of the preaching of redemption. (p.9)

Various of the later Reformed appealed to Calvin on both sides of the debate. [...] Later Reformed theology, then, is more specific on this particular point than Calvin had been--and arguably, his somewhat vague formulations point (or could be pointed) in several directions, as in fact can the formulae from the Synod of Dort. (p.10)

The whole lecture is made available by Calvin College here.

So what do you think about the relationship between John Calvin and TULIP? Should TULIP be the central identifier, the litmus test, for people to identify themselves as 'Calvinist'? Why, and why not?

Monday, April 09, 2012

John Dickson's twits on Jesus' resurrection

John Dickson founding Director of the Centre of Public Christianity tweeted three short statements on Jesus' resurrection. A good reminder:
"The resurrection of Jesus is the lesser of two evils for all who seek a rational explanation of Easter." - Orthodox Jew, Prof. Pinchas Lapide.
(For the fuller quote here.)

“That Jesus’ followers had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact." - resurrection agnostic, Prof. E. P. Sanders.

“It is impossible to suppose there was conscious deception in the claims about the resurrection.” - Jewish classicist, Prof Joseph Klausner.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

3 significances of Easter

Here are the three best homilies on the ressurection that I know:

N. T. Wright on the historical and theological meaning of Jesus' resurrection.

Peter Rollins on denying and affirming Jesus' ressurection.

Tony Campolo on the different paradigm between Jesus' death and his resurrection:

Thursday, April 05, 2012

George Lindbeck was at Trinity Theological College, Singapore

"Dr. George Lindbeck, of Yale University, a widely known ecumenist, came to the College for one term. He directed a seminar on ecumenics for faculty members, pastors, and laymen."
(Timothy Y. H. Chow, 'Trinity Theological College---"Work In Progress" Report,' in Trinity Theological College Annual, vol. 6, ed., Clayton H. Chu [Singapore: Trinity Theological College, 1969], p.5. H/T: Leow Theng Huat.)

Lindbeck is recognized as one of the fathers of post-liberal theology (which means it is not liberal), or the so-called 'Yale-School' theology. His most famous book is The Nature of Doctrine: Religions and Theology in a Postliberal Age (USA: Westminster John Knox Press, 1984). Alister McGrath's The Genesis of Doctrine: A Study in the Foundation of Doctrinal Criticism (UK: Blackwell, 1990) engages Lindbeck's book extensively.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Four questions on Hasan Ali’s ‘proof’ of proselytisation

(Slept at 2am last night to write this. The edited version appeared at The Malaysia Insider.)
It was reported yesterday that Datuk Hasan Ali revealed videos of three Malays who were allegedly converted to Christianity. The faces of the three individuals were not seen. However, their given aliases were Ramli Abdullah, Zakiah Musa and Ahmad Syafiq Ridzuan.

The report stated that two of them have embraced Islam after being counseled by Hasan’s Unit Selamatkan Akidah (USA), while the other one is seen prayed with Hasan “to return him to Islam.”

Hasan did not allow recording of the videos to protect the three, to assure their safety. “They asked me, how can the safety of their lives be guaranteed.”

Hasan applauded the trio for testifying in the videos despite the fact that apostates from Islam are usually disowned by their Muslim family and friends.

Reading this news raises four questions.

First, how trustworthy are these videos? The identity of the three individuals cannot be verified in any way. Does Hasan Ali expect the public to believe whatever he said because he showed some videos with three unknown individuals talking about whatever they did? Does Hasan really think that his fellow Muslims and the public are so gullible?

Let us assume (for argument’s sake) from this point onwards that Hasan’s proofs are authentic. The second question is about Hasan’s understanding and portrayal of Islam and Muslim family. He said that Muslim families disown their own family member when that member converts to other religion.

It is curious whether is it true that Islam does not teach about the importance of family bond, and how such bond should not be simply broken even in the cases of differing religion? Does Islam really teach that different religion must not be accommodated in the family? What happens if one member in a non-Muslim family becomes Muslim? Does that one member similarly have to disown the rest of his or her family?

The same goes to Islamic view on friendship: Muslim and non-Muslim cannot be friends? If these are true (as Hasan alleged) then it is worrying to know that the familial love and friendship taught in Islam and practiced among Muslim families are so fragile and intolerant. Or, are all these Hasan’s own misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam and Muslim families?

Third, Hasan said that the identity of the three individuals needs to be protected in order to guarantee the “safety of their lives.” It is curious who might threaten to end their lives? Their Muslim families and friends? If yes, then is this how Muslim families and friends behave, that is they will threaten the life of their own family member and friend because they change religion?

Or, was the threat coming from Christians because the trio has converted back to Islam after they have become Christians? If this is true, then it is foreseeable that the Christian leaders and the Christian community in the country will rise to condemn such unacceptable behavior.

If the threat is neither from Muslims nor Christians, could it be from Hasan himself?

The fourth question concerns the proselytization that Hasan claimed to expose. He said that those videos are proofs that Malay-Muslims are being converted to Christianity. However, Hasan also said that the individuals have converted to Islam through his USA. So the videos are not proofs of one type of proselytization (Muslims convert to Christianity), but proofs of two types (the other being Christians convert to Islam).

May be Hasan was referring to the trio when he confessed, “I have already brought back a few Muslims through USA.” 

So if those videos are authentic, then they are proofs of two types of proselytization: From Islam to Christianity, and from Christianity to Islam. Therefore by presenting those videos as proofs of only one type of proselytization, Hasan has framed his presentation to give us only half-truth.

So the fourth question is why did Hasan frame his whole presentation as half-truth? As the proverb goes, ‘Half-truth is more dangerous than falsehood,’ it is curious why did he give to the Malaysian public something that is more dangerous than falsehood?

Perhaps, no one other than Hasan Ali himself knows what is he doing. Nevertheless the Malaysian public should be concern or at least aware over such uncharacteristic antic displayed by an assemblyman.