Thursday, December 29, 2005

Theology For Community

Learning as a group enables us to leverage on each other's insights and perspectives. It is also more fun and allow us to bounce off ideas.

This is in keeping with one of Agora goals next year - "Learning as a Community" to equip ourselves with some basic, foundational lessons in theology. As a group, we found Wayne Grudem's accessible volume on Systematic Theology to be readable and it provides the emphasis on worship and Christian living that we look for.

We'd be starting our discussion on "What is systematic theology? Why study it? And how?" Normally a conducive study group should not be too large so we are limiting the number of participants. But dun worry, there's always the 2006 'workshops' starting in February...

Date: January 22, 2006 (Sunday)
Time: 1.40 pm

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Presenting Agora Singapore!

Agora getting contagious in Singapore

More pictures of Agora Singapore in action.

Visit www.theagorasg.blogspot.com for presentations and future discussions of the group.

Soli Deo Gloria!

How Do Free-Thinkers Think When They Think They are Thinking Freely?

We do not think in a vacuum.
Even free-thinkers are not as free as they think they are when they are thinking, or when they think they are thinking.
This is because thinking is an active exercise of the will. More importantly, all thinking begins with prior beliefs. We call these foundational assumptions control beliefs.

1 DATA, THEORY, AND CONVICTIONS

The quest for human knowledge is shaped by decisions about what is worth investigating and what presuppositions to hold in order to direct the available economic and intellectual resources for the maximum payoff. In the preface to his Reason Within the Bounds of Religion, Nicholas Wolterstorff identified two issues that all scholars face: (i) which matters to investigate and (ii) which views to hold. He develops a research program by which theory building is based on the three parameters of (i) data, (ii) theory and (iii) control beliefs.
Control beliefs (CB) may take the form of methodological, philosophical or ontological convictions. It is used to weigh theories and doctrines in science and theology. If a theory or doctrine does not fit the CB, it has to be either revised or discarded. The test is ultimately probabilistic, i.e., whatever seems to be more likely than not the case. Most of the conflicts between science and theology occur at the level of control beliefs.
Our structures of beliefs form the filter by which we determine what data can be trusted as knowledge. We all build up a set of control beliefs (CB) that anchor all other derivative beliefs (DB). In time, such beliefs become entrenched in our confessions, our public expression of our private beliefs. One may confess that God exists. Such a confession may arise from a conviction that this is so even if it cannot be proven. When challenged, we may make a commitment to buttress our convictions by making more public confessions.

2 CHRISTIAN BELIEF

Christian belief is no different from all other kinds of belief. It possesses control beliefs by which to evaluate other sources of data. Information that becomes adopted as authoritative acquires the status of knowledge. Although knowledge may be tested and challenged, sometimes even losing its status if contrary information undermines it, control beliefs are rarely toppled.
In Christian belief, the stakes are as high as they can possibly get. It extends beyond the most precious possession we all have, biological existence. For the Christian, belief in and about God concerns everlasting life. Such belief shapes our knowledge of reality and should be evident in our decisions and behavior. Unlike mere intellectual assent, the issues are live and the outcome must be consistent with the commitments.

3 FAITH AND BELIEF

3.1 Can people of faith change their beliefs?
What is fidelity to divine revelation? It is fashionable to believe that faithfulness, say; to the teachings of the Bible means our understanding of what it teaches does not change with time. If this was so, today's Christians would not need to buy new books offering fresh insights, scholars and researchers need not spend time clarifying difficult passages and preachers and missionaries need not work at studying the Bible. It would also mean that all the changes throughout church history are acts of infidelity. The Reformers would be accused of faithlessness.

Such a static view of human understanding also presumes that
(i) Knowledge of God through the Scriptures and the saints are perfect for all time
(ii) Our ancestors had intelligence that cannot or need not be surpassed
(iii) Their interpretations are perfect and need no correction, and
(iv) Correction of human interpretations of our knowledge of God is undesirable
In practice, the church does not act like this. We conduct all sorts of programs to better educate ourselves and increase our powers of understanding just as the Lord encouraged us to. Understanding is a progressive and cumulative act. God is not angry at imperfect understanding but for willful misunderstanding leading to disobedience. Our faith should be steadfast with regard to God, not to our understanding about God.
The most dangerous type of religious believers are those who stop thinking, or renewing their minds. Indeed, most heresies or wrong beliefs arise from a stubborn resistance to fresh understanding of the old data. Knowledge depends not only on data but also on the interpretation of it. Many biblical characters and leaders of the church change their understanding on learning curves. Prophets had to unlearn what they thought were correct views about God. Most regarded themselves as faithful to God when in fact they were faithful to their understanding of God. Thus Abram changed his view of God many times when he was corrected from his ways; David certainly had his share of missing God's point and Solomon continued in his father's missteps; Peter had to be stopped from undermining God's salvation plan; Paul thought he was doing God a favor by persecuting Christians; and the Corinthian church believed they were exercising freedom in Christ by endorsing 'free-love'.
It is the height of arrogance to suppose that we in this generation have no inherent mistakes regarding our understanding of God. The history intellectual progress is nothing more than discoveries of errors to be corrected until the correction itself becomes corrected. This does not mean that what we think we know about God is wrong. But it does mean that, like children, our powers of achieving understanding about God increases with learning and correction. Our approximations of knowledge get better with each passing generation, as it should. While we should not be unnecessarily ashamed of past errors, we should also not be arrogant about recent gains in understanding.

3.2. The role of extra-biblical knowledge
Christian belief and faith welcomes extra-biblical resources to complete our understanding of reality (e.g. The Pilot Syndrome: On a plane, even a priest prefers a qualified pilot to one who shares his theological views. We need more than knowledge from the Bible to survive.) The Bible is not a comprehensive guidebook for everything we need for living. It is a special message from God with frameworks by which to build a worldview to assess how we are doing. While the Bible is a special inheritance from believers who came before us, it is a relatively recent resource. Most of the people who worshipped God had no access to the Bible. Less than two thousand years ago, no one in the world had the New Testament. Before the public ministry of Jesus, no one had his teachings to go by. Before Moses was called into service, there would have been no mosaic teachings and laws from God. The faithful at the time of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob and Joseph, did not have the Old Testament. St. Augustine wrote De Doctrina Christiana that Christians ought to seek legitimate uses of extra-biblical sources because all knowledge ultimately comes from God. This is not to diminish the value of the Bible, but to draw attention to the fact that unlike the Muslims, we are not really “People of the Book”. We are “People of the God who gave us the Book”.

4 CONTROLLING CONTROL BELIEFS
(Renewing our minds)

Can control beliefs change? Yes. Romans 12: 1-2 speaks of the renewal of our minds. Paul refers to the shaping of our control beliefs so that it is subservient to God's will. In this passage, Paul does not say we are to conform to God's will because God is more powerful. Rather, when we reflect deeply and honestly by renewing our minds back to the state when we first gave our hearts (minds) to God, we can test and discern the perfect will of God.
Christians have the privilege of having the help of the Holy Spirit as our personal trainer. The Spirit's primary function with regard to Christians stated in John 16: 13, is to sustain the fidelity of our (control) beliefs by guiding us into all truth and declare to us “the things that are to come”. In John 16: 8, Jesus taught that the Helper (Advocate) will come to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. It is this convicting power of the Holy Spirit which will safeguard Christian control beliefs if we let it. It is with this divine promise that we dare to confront the excesses of postmodern uncertainty. Yet the paradox of free will given to us means we can undermine our own advantage by refusing to submit to the Spirit. It is only by voluntarily and intentionally permitting the Holy Spirit to control our control beliefs can we begin our quest for a Christian mind.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Symposium: The Truth About Torture?

Symposium: The Truth About Torture?

“Torture is not always impermissible,” argues Charles Krauthammer in “The Truth About Torture", his provocative essay in The Weekly Standard. “However rare the cases, there are circumstances in which, by any rational moral calculus, torture not only would be permissible but would be required (to acquire life-saving information). And once you've established the principle, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, all that's left to haggle about is the price. In the case of torture, that means that the argument is not whether torture is ever permissible, but when--i.e., under what obviously stringent circumstances: how big, how imminent, how preventable the ticking time bomb.”

American Christians discuss the Christian position and response to the hot issue of torture. Participating in the debate are Darrell Cole, John Jefferson Davis, Daniel Heimbach, Mark Liederbach, Kenneth Magnuson, Albert Mohler, Richard John Neuhaus & Robert Vischer.

Read the full article and their individual essays here

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Atheism

ATHEISM
(A) What is Atheism?

1) “Atheism” = Greek word derives from two words “A” and “theos”.
“A” means “No” and “theos” means “God”.
Atheism means “No-God-ism”

2) Not to be confused with
a) Agnostic – that will says “I don’t know whether God exists” or “I can’t know whether God
exists”.
b) Skeptic – will say “I doubt that God exists”.

3) Atheists say “I know / believe that God does not exist”.

4) Atheism is not only a negative anti-theistic philosophy but positively affirms that matter is
the ultimate reality.


(B) Varieties of Atheism

1) Traditional / Metaphysical Atheism
- holds that there never was, is or will be a God.

2) Mythological Atheism
- popularized by Friedrich Nietzsche
- “God is dead”
- believe the God-myth was never a Being but was once a live model by which people lived.
This myth has been killed by the advancement of man’s understanding and culture.

3) Philosophical Atheism
- professes no god and lives as if there is no god.

4) Practical / Pragmatic Atheism
- professes existence of God but lives as if God does not exist.


(C) Main Tenets of Atheism

1) Reality
- Matter was, matter is and matter will be.
- Matter is the only reality

2) God
- God is a superstition, a myth, a psychological projection of human.
- God did not create man, man created God.

3) Human Beings
- a human being is matter in motion with no immortal soul.
- the product of evolution, random shuffling of molecules.
- no immortal soul, no spirit, no eternal destiny, no ultimate meaning.
- everything in this universe is meaningless.

4) World
- essentially matter or energy.
- the universe is the product of evolution.
- the universe is eternal or if not, it came into existence “out of nothing and by nothing”.

5) Evil
- evil is real.
- origin of evil is in human ignorant.
- man can defeat evil and does not need God’s help.
- man is the boss.

6) Destiny
- depends on what human make it out to be.
- no God guiding the world.

7) Miracles
- impossible
- nothing beyond the nature, no supernatural events.
- Everything can be explained with reference to natural events only.


(D) Positive Critiques

1) Their professed commitment to reason and science is a good thing.

2) Their insistence on the principle of sufficient reason.

3) They recognize evil as real.
contrast: pantheism eg. Hinduism

4) Their concern on justice and human rights.

5) They are loyal opposition to theists.
- They serve as a corrective to invalid theistic reasoning.


(E) Negative Critiques

1) Atheists insist that reason came from non-reason through naturalistic means, this makes
atheism unreliable.
- how do atheists depend on their reason if everything happens because of random shuffling
of molecules.
c/f: Christian - God created me with reasoning capacity.
- In Old Testament, Isaiah 1:18 – invite his people to reason with Him.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD
- New Testament – he is commanding us to reason with non-believers. – 1 Peter 3:15
“…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for
the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”
- Our reason has basis.

“Reason might conceivably be found to depend on (another reason), and so on; it would not matter how far this process was carried, provided you found Reason coming from Reason at each stage. It is only when you are asked to believe that Reason comes from non-Reason that you must cry Halt! for if you don’t, all thought is discredited. It is, therefore, obvious that sooner or later you must admit a Reason which exists absolutely on its own.”
C. S. Lewis, Miracles

2) By claiming absolute knowledge of the non-existence of God, the absolute Being, it engages in
self-defeating statements.
- There is no God means there in no being who knows everything because God is omniscient.
- “I have infinite knowledge that there is no one has infinite knowledge.”

3) Atheism fails to measure up to an adequate standard of coherent and congruence with
respect to its explanation of the origin of universe.
Eg. The universe has its beginning in the big bang.
Q: Who caused the big bang?
- Law of causality requires me to ask the question.
Christian – cause of the cosmos is GOD.

4) Atheists can believe in morality, but they cannot justify this belief.
- It is one thing to say that hate, racism and rape are wrong. But if there is no ultimate
standard of morality (ie GOD), then how can these things be wrong?
- A moral law requires a moral law giver.

5) What is the basis for meaning?
- Most atheists believe life is meaningful and worth living. But how can it be if there is no
purpose for life or destiny after this life?



(F) Dialogue with Atheists.

1) Beginning with a positive note when dialoguing with atheists.
- Build bridges of understanding and communication with them.
- Indian proverb: Cutting a person’s nose off then offering a rose for him to smell
- Paul – surrounded by idolatry, he was completely shattered on the inside, but when he
stands up to speak to the Athenian … how did he start? Acts 17:16, 22-23
“Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”

- Paul establishes the point of contact.
- arousing interest in them.

2) He who asserts must prove.
- If atheists make a positive claim, he has the burden of proof.

3) Ask a good question.

a. To gain information and stay out of the “hot seat”.
1) Ask clarification question to understand what he says and so that you do not
misunderstand / misrepresent him (beware of straw man fallacy).

2) Key Q: “What do you mean by that?” (“What he thinks?”)
eg. - There is no God
Q: “What do you mean by God?”
- “All religions are basically the same.”
Q: “In what way are religions all basically the same?”

3) It accomplishes few things.
i. it immediately engages the non-believer in an interactive way.
ii. it shows a genuine interest in the other’s view.
iii. it forces him to think more carefully about exactly what he does mean.


4) Staying out of the “hot seat”.
i. when you are not academically prepared or not quick enough on your feet to deal with
the challenge.
ii. shift from argument mode to fact finding mode.
eg. “Can you explain your view and your reasons for it so that I get it right, then let me
think about it.”
iii. the key is to stay out of the hot seat but stay engaged.



b. To reverse the burden of proof.

1) we should get out of the habit of trying to refute every story a non-believer can spin or
every story he can manufacture (no more free rides).
2) Place the burden of proof on them.
- they have got a lot of explaining to do themselves.
3) Key Q: “How did you come to that conclusion?” (How he thinks?)

c. To indirectly exploit a weakness or a flaw in someone’s views.
1) suggest an alternative

2) key Q: “Have you ever considered ….”
eg: “Have you ever considered … that the existence of evil is actually evidence for the
existence of God, not against it?”
“Have you ever considered … that if the Bible were “merely written by men” it would
be very hard to account for the fulfilled prophecies?”

4) The Suicide Tactic

i) Point out self-refuting arguments / statements

ii) Self-refuting statements, the minute you say then, they become false.
eg: “I cannot speak a word in English.”
“There is no truth.”
“You can’t know anything for sure.”
“I don’t believe anything unless it can be proven scientifically.”
“It’s wrong to try to change other people’s religions beliefs.”

5) The “Taking the Roof Off” Tactic

i) “Every man has built a roof over his head to shield himself at the point of tension …
The Christian, lovingly, must remove the shelter [the roof] and allow the truth of the
external world and of what man is, to beat upon him. When the roof is off, each man
must stand naked and wounded before the truth of what is.”

“He must come to know that his roof is a false protection from the storm of what is.”

“We confront men with reality; we remove their protection and their escapes; we allow
the avalanches to fall.”

Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

ii) First you adopt the other person’s viewpoint for the sake of argument. Then you press him to
the logical conclusion of his view.

Matthew 12:24-26
“But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons” Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?”

eg. : X: “I was born with a natural urge towards man”
Y: “I was born with a natural urge towards beautiful women. Do I take them and have
my own ways with them?”

X: “It’s okay as long as I’m not hurting anyone.”
Y: “Then you have no objections to peeping-Toms? They are not hurting anyone.”

Monday, December 12, 2005

The beautiful doctor and the foreign maid

The beautiful doctor and the foreign maid

I don’t have a foreign maid and am thinking of getting one in the future, but if I ever do, it will be with careful apprehension not to become like this slave driver or this inhumane maid abuser who victimized poor Nirmala Bonat till she looked like till she was battered and burned (follow the previous link for the disturbing details).

Now this case is very extreme, and the evil of it is obvious to me, but what about the normal questions, like will I treat her as a human with rights? Can I give her time out to rest, after all, humans need rest? Will I deny her friendship and contact with her people just because I run the risk of her running away and loosing my deposit and installments, not realizing that she has become more of an asset to me than a complex human being?

Do you see the complications? Can we balance our self interest and being Christian to a human being at the same time? I wish pastors and churches would preach sermons on how to be a Christian foreign maid employer, and the church would legislate in its laws, discipline for maid abusers. MCA attempts to answer these questions here, and they even ask the question that I think we modern city people don’t want to face, “is this a form of modern slavery?”, and they document one of the practices by these cruel maid agencies;

----------------------------------------------
“Modern day slavery?

It has become standard practice in most maid agencies that the salaries of foreign servants will not be paid for between 4 ~ 6 months as reimbursement for the latter’s advance airfares and medical reports initially borne by the agency.

While some sympathetic families may give a token sum to their maid at the end of the month, this act is discouraged by the agencies. The reason given is that it will “pamper” or “soften” the maid.

Newly arrived maids have also reported that before being employed in homes, they are given no rest in that, they are made to work continuously, cleaning away the agency’s premises or agent’s house.

Similarly, if the maid is sacked after the three or six month trial-and-replacement period, all her savings or monies earned since would be confiscated by the agents as compensation to the agency. She may even be sent back to her home country without a single sen at all. Returned maids are also allegedly beaten and/or slapped in the face for being given back to their agency.”
----------------------------------------------


Now amidst the darkness that looms over this issue, the light (of Christ in general or special grace I don’t know) of kindness and goodness shines – and this man, Dr. Raymond Yuen is worthy of our honor and highest esteem. The Star newspaper carried this beautiful story of his love and kindness to his Sri Lankan maid and her family, and he has display not just a basic kindness and respect for his maid as a human being, but an interest in her and her well being, in a Christ-like fashion. I cannot help but wonder if he is a Christian, though the article tells us that his maid is. So here is a tribute to the good doctor, who has set the standard for us all in being an employer.

And I know there will be even Christians who would read this story of this good doctor and scoff “but he is spoiling her, and she will repay his goodness with abuse” – take heed if you react this way, are you hiding self interest and defiance to Christ’s commandment to love your neighbour as yourself behind that excuse! Wouldn’t you want to have friends with your own people in a strange land, to have time out in a day, and on weekends, and to be able to be friendly with the people you have to live with everyday? Is that too much to ask? If it is, do the kingdom of God a favour and don’t get a maid, you aren’t mature enough to handle it.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Narnia: Non-Spoilers

C.S. Lewis demanded that a person should not believe in Christianity before being convinced of its truthfulness. He once described himself by saying “I am an empirical Christian, I came to Christ through induction.”

Appeal to Imagination

But Lewis was not all argument, logic, and evidences. Another side of Lewis the apologist exists – the imaginative Lewis – which sets him apart in the genre of apologetics. Lewis believed that while apologists might reach people through argument, Christianity can also be conveyed imaginatively. He contended that our great need is not “more little books on Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent.” If the writer presents a story with Christianity providing its underlying meaning instead of relativism, hedonism, and materialism as its primary interpretive framework, the reader would be challenged to think of all things differently.


Here is a history of Narnia. Narnia story as evangelistic resource.

More on Narnia from David Tan, Justin, Colson, BK and Leon

Sexual health conference to be held in Malaysia

Pauline Puah
Aug 23, 05 5:25pm
Malaysiakini.com


An Asia Pacific-level conference on reproductive and sexual health will be held in Malaysia this year.

Among the issues to be discussed include sex education in schools, transexuality and homosexuality.

Local organising committee chairperson Dr Kamaruzaman Ali said society must be more compassionate in helping marginalised groups such as ethnic minorities, disabled people, migrant workers, refugees and sexual minorities.

“We always have negative perceptions about the transsexual gender who are working as prostitutes. But we must understand how this came about,” he told a press conference in Petaling Jaya today.

With the theme ‘Expanded and Comprehensive Response in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for all Communities”, the 3rd Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health (APCRSH) will be held from Nov 17 to 21 in Petaling Jaya.

The event is organised by the Federation of Family Planning Associations of Malaysia (FFPAM), International Planned Parenthood Federation, East, South East Asia and Oceania Region (IPPF-ESEAOR).

It is also supported by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and Ministry of Health.

Review and re-strategise

Kamaruzaman said the conference will provide a platform for the region, in particular policy makers, donors, academicians, professionals, service providers, community workers and volunteers to review, re-strategise and reaffirm their commitment to reach out to all communities through an expanded and comprehensive response.

He also urged all parties to discuss issues on reproduction and sexual health objectively instead of emotionally.

“We need to think and address the issues globally as the global problems will reach our doorstep...This is the reality of life. We cannot sweep them under the carpet. We must be more open and address them,” he said.

He said the organiser will also compile proceedings of the conference and subsequently submit them to the ministry concerned.

Meanwhile, Dr Raj Karim, regional director of IPPF-ESEAOR said the conference is a framework for people to voice their opinions about sexual health which all this while has been kept under wraps.

It is better late than never. We can’t just talk and discuss about it but we need action. Issues are catching up with us.

“We allow participants from the civil society, non-governmental organisations, governments and international organisations to talk about these issues,” she added.

From Malaysia Kini

Monday, December 05, 2005

NECF Malaysia's Response to Transsexuality

NECF Research Commission

Title: Transsexuality-An Evangelical Christian Response
Author: Research Department

NECF Malaysia respects individual rights and diverse perspectives on transsexuality, but remains steadfast in Biblical principles. We affirm God's love and concern for all humanity, and believe that God creates human beings as either male or female. Authentic change from a person's birth sex is not possible and an ongoing transsexual lifestyle is incompatible with God's will as revealed in Scripture and in creation. After careful consideration, we affirm and recommend the following:

1. We recognise that all of us are sinners, and that the only real hope for sinful people, whether heterosexual, homosexual or transsexual, is for wholeness that is found only in Jesus Christ.

2. We deeply regret any hurt caused to transsexuals by any unwelcoming or rejecting attitudes on the part of the Church. We call upon evangelical congregations to genuinely welcome and accept transsexuals, while acknowledging the need for parallel teaching, wisdom and discernment.

3. We affirm that monogamous heterosexual marriage is the form of partnership uniquely intended by God for sexual relationship between men and women. We would resist church service for the marriage or blessing of transsexual partnerships on scriptural grounds.

4. We appeal to the medical and psychiatric professions to prioritize research into the root psychological, social, spiritual and physical causes of ‘transsexuality' for the purpose of holistic treatment

5. We commend and encourage transsexuals who have determined to restore their birth sex identity as a result of biblical conviction, and/or who have decided to resist gender reassignment surgery. We would seek prayerfully to support their reorientation through the grace of God.

6. We prayerfully affirm and encourage those family members who are subjected to the impact of transsexuality and would seek to support them pastorally.

7. We commend the work of those organisations, pastoral workers and churches that seek to help and support transsexuals.

8. We in principle are opposed to civil discrimination against transsexuals, for example in respect of human rights and employment.

Read the full article here

John Chung delivered a presentation on homosexuality, which was fruitful in getting the church to discussly openly an issue that has been 'hidden' for too long. Those who missed the forum may download some snippets here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Da Vinci Code Movie

Sony Pictures presents The Da Vinci Code Movie



It's here! The Tsunami comes and we are prepared! It debuts in Malaysia on 18th of May 2006, so we have time for a few more forums? I wonder if we should do it before or after the movie?

The silly trailer says;

"No matter what you read
No matter what you believe..."

and then ends there! I was waiting for a conclusion that never came.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Comparative Religion Dialogues?

Our good friend is in the news, be prepared for more 'peace and harmony' in the planned dialogues...

The Star, Monday November 21, 2005

Foundation plans more interfaith talks

KUALA LUMPUR: The Islamic Information and Services Foundation (IIS) plans to conduct more interfaith dialogues with non-Muslim religious groups to better understand their views involving Muslims to promote peace and harmony.

IIS Dakwah officer in comparative religion Shah Kirit Kakulal Govindji said the foundation was already having closed door dialogues to discuss issues pertaining to Islam and other religions.

“We are now planning to have a public forum with other religious organisations. I am of the opinion that these dialogues help us have a better understanding of other religions and to promote the true meaning of Islam to non-Muslims,” he said during a talk entitled “Islam ... A Backward Religion?” at a hotel here yesterday.

More than 300 people of various faiths attended the hour-long talk on the basis of Islam and why the religion was misunderstood after the Sept 11 terrorist attack in the United States.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

C. S. Lewis Superstar

C. S. Lewis Superstar



"Clive Staples Lewis was anything but a classic evangelical, socially or theologically. He smoked cigarettes and a pipe, and he regularly visited pubs to drink beer with friends. Though he shared basic Christian beliefs with evangelicals, he didn't subscribe to biblical inerrancy or penal substitution. He believed in purgatory and baptismal regeneration. How did someone with such a checkered pedigree come to be a theological Elvis Presley, adored by evangelicals?"

Read the full article on Christianity Today

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Agora: December

Topic: Can Man Live Without God?

An overview on atheism. Why it is attractive? How do we engage our friends who struggle with God's existence in meaningful dialogues?

Presenter: Lee Han Meng
Date: 4 Dec 2005 (Sun)
Time: 1.45 pm
Location: CDPC

Topic: Postmodernism

An overview on postmodernism and the modernism of which it is 'post'.
What are the challenges/opportunities to Christian mission in this brave new world?

Presenter: David Chong
Date: 10 Dec 2005 (Sat)
Time: 2 p.m.
Location: CDPC

Monday, November 21, 2005

Mission For the Glory of God: A Reflection

An old entry somewhere in the dusty archive:

Mission exists where worship does not, John Piper reminds us that mission, contrary to what many many of us seemed to be taking it to be, is not the ultimate, God is...

[click on title for full post-outside this web]

Friday, November 18, 2005

What On Earth Am I here For?

Will I Miss God's Wonderful Plan(s) For My Life?
Why Is Finding God's Will So Hard?
How Do I Discern My Calling In Life?
Is My Work A Curse Than A Gift?
When Will We Liberate the Laity?




We spend only one day in church, while the other 6 days are spent in the workplace. But we don't hear it being discussed much in church.

"Oh, we talk about it all right. But usually our talk consists of complaints about our current job or the search for a new job. Work occupies an ambiguous place in our Christian lives." (Marvin Wong, Between Friends)

Do you see your work as a missionfield or you mission in life?
Come find out how you can discover the vocation(s) which God has placed you here to be and do.

Discover more about the way you have been made and the path to which the Creator of your life is leading: the invitation of God to live and work wholeheartedly and fruitfully.

Speaker: Paul Stevens
Date: 3 December 2005 (Saturday)
Time: 8 pm
Venue: City Discipleship Presbyterian Church

Jointly sponsored by Grace@Work & The Agora.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sex Change

If you have a friend who derives excitement from amputating his own leg and ask for your blessing to carry out that operation, what is the most loving thing for you to do in that situation?


Allow him to amputate his own leg or tell him that there is something wrong with his thoughts?


Any normal person would have chosen the latter, and so would I.


So these 3 churches, Bountiful Harvest, Shepherd's Centre and Assembly of Love, that blessed the wedding of Joshua Beh and Jess Chung, do they really think that they have done something very loving, allowing and condoning a sex change (and then marriage) when the deeper problem lies not with the sex but the depravity of the mind?


The media is trumpeting the fact that those who backed this wedding are "loving, open and understanding". But you don't love a person with toothache by giving him sweets when he ask for it. You love him by bringing him to a dentist.


To be open and understanding, let's look at the facts. I recommend this article by Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist-in-chief at John Hopkins Hospital - Surgical Sex. I quote him:


"We saw the results as demonstrating that just as these men enjoyed cross-dressing as women before the operation so they enjoyed cross-living after it. But they were no better in their psychological integration or any easier to live with. With these facts in hand I concluded that Hopkins was fundamentally cooperating with a mental illness. We psychiatrists, I thought, would do better to concentrate on trying to fix their minds and not their genitalia."


Isn't this exactly what the Bible also teaches:


"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles." (Romans 1:21-23)


"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." (Romans 1:26-27)


On what grounds, if not on the authority of Scripture, that these 3 churches decide to bless this union of same sex? (Notice I still use same sex because I don't think going through a sex-change operation means a person's sex is changed. You can remove the gonads, but not replace them. Read here)


NECF has responded by saying:


“It’s clearly stated in the Bible. There is no such thing as creation of half-half. Therefore, biologically and genetically, there is only male and female. Therefore, there is no chance it (the marriage) will be condoned by the Christian church. As a religious group, we have to follow the religion based on the Bible.”


IMHO, I think this calls for a certain measure of Christian discipline on the 3 churches by the community of Christians in Malaysia if they continue to stick with their wayward beliefs.


Any thoughts?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

RC Sproul dreams of a modern reformation

R.C. Sproul's vision of believers applying truth to every sphere of their lives. "I dream of a new reformation," he says, "a reformation that is not simply a renewal of life but a new vision of life: a vision that yields new forms and structures in society and culture. As long as Christians restrict their Christianity to a religion, a faith that is compartmentalized and isolated from life, they can have revival but never, ever reformation. We need to hear and do the Word of God in all of our lives."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mauvaise foi is french for Bad Faith

The French Existentialist Jean Paul Sartre coined the term ‘Mauvaise foi’ which is translated “bad faith”, defined as the culpable self deception involved in declining to accept responsibility for one’s choices. He used it in the context of refuting Christianity’s concept of original sin, claiming it violence to human responsibility and free will [1].

But this concept has evolved over time, and bad faith has come to mean a lot more, one popular theme is the idea of cognitive dissidence which is best summed up as;

“Cognitive dissonance is a condition first proposed by the psychologist Leon Festinger in 1956, relating to his hypothesis of cognitive consistency. Cognitive dissonance is a state of opposition between cognitions. For the purpose of cognitive consistency theory, cognitions are defined as being an attitude, emotion, belief or value, although more recent theories, such as ecological cognition suggest that they can also be a goal, plan, or an interest. In brief, the theory of cognitive dissonance holds that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the human mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to minimize the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions.”

Source: The Wikipedia

So the person with this bad faith, deceives himself, and mitigates any threats to their framework, believes, so that they are not vulnerable. I have seen this illustrated before in situations like;

Example 1

I remember listening to CNN news, a few weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the world trade centre, an American journalist was in Afghanistan, interviewing a Taliban man who was exporting illegal narcotics from Afghanistan, and when he was asked if this was wrong, he agreed that it was. And so the reporter retorted, “If its wrong to sell these drugs, why are you doing it” to which he promptly responded “As long as we don’t sell it to Muslims, its fine”.

Example 2

DA Carson tells of a man, that woke up one morning convinced he was dead. His wife did everything she could to try and convince him he was still alive, but he refused to accept it. Finally she calls the family physician, and he comes over and reasons with the man. Two hours later, he realizes its futile, the man remained convinced that he was dead, and so the doctor got an idea and said to the man, “Do dead people bleed?”. The man said, “I don’t think so” and so the doctor gave him a 30 minute scientific explanation to prove that one dead as long as he has been, could not possibly bleed. So the man conceded “yes, dead people cannot bleed”, and the doctor reached into his bag and pulled out a needle. He then went over to the man, and pricked his hand, and a drop of blood appeared and soon turned into light bleeding. The doctor said to him, “see, do you know what this means?” and to this the man exclaimed, “yes, I suppose that dead people do bleed!”.

So this is a condition that we Christians must avoid at all cost, we must strive, not to build our empires of ideologies, then make and modify truth to conform to it, but to seek to follow truth, to where ever it, and He, may lead us.

----------------------------------------------
[1] Sartre's French term for "bad faith," the culpable self-deception involved in declining to accept responsibility for one's choices. Recommended Reading: Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, tr. by Hazel E. Barnes (Washington Square, 1993) {at Amazon.com}; Joseph S. Catalano, A Commentary on Jean-Paul Sartre's 'Being and Nothingness' (Chicago, 1985) {at Amazon.com}; and Ronald E. Santoni,

Bad Faith, Good Faith, and Authenticity in Sartre's Early Philosophy (Temple, 1995) {at Amazon.com} bad faith {Fr. mauvaise foi} In the philosophy of Sartre, an effort to avoid anxiety by denying the full extent of one's own freedom. Bad faith, on this view, is an especially harmful variety of self-deception, since it forestalls authentic appropriation of responsibility for ourselves. Recommended Reading: Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, tr. by Hazel E. Barnes (Washington Square, 1993) {at Amazon.com} and Ronald E. Santoni, Bad Faith, Good Faith, and Authenticity in Sartre's Early Philosophy (Temple, 1995) {at Amazon.com}.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Living Room

Rev Wong and Dave will be in the hot seats of the Living Room, a young adult ministry in SIB that addresses marketplace issues... So far, the ministry dealt with gender issues, reverse-culture shock etc.

The Topic: Da Vinci Code forum
Date: Nov 11 (Friday)

Please pray for us... Ian, the energetic end-time financial consultant, reminds me of Larry King :) and hilarious as David Letterman could be... hehehe... Suspect it would be fun.

But more importantly, i hope it's informative and prepare Christians to engage culture in an intelligent, calm and sensible manner.

Movies can work for us (Narnia) or against us (Da Vinci Code).

La Shawn Barber was right on the money when she wrote:

"Unbelievers (and not a few Christians) may scoff at us for taking The Da Vinci Code phenomenon so seriously. But pop culture is powerful, and although we surely have more productive things to do, setting the record straight and offering a reasoned defense of the faith and correcting historical inaccuracies are also important, even when the subject is fiction.

Christian bloggers can create a blog swarm around the upcoming movie...

Commit to studying your Bible if you’re not doing so already, read early church history (see articles) and articles on The Da Vinci Code written by other Christians, and start publicly defending what you believe."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

THE AGORA PROJECT

A non Christian version of the Agora

"The Agora Project is a non-profit co-operative organization of young professionals with the mission of fostering an informed, creative, and engaged generation of independent leaders through the free expression of ideas, community development opportunities, and social activities"

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Three Christian teenage girls were beheaded in Indonesia

Three Christian teenage girls were beheaded in Indonesia

Time is GMT + 8 hours
Posted: 30 October 2005 0725 hrs


Three teenage schoolgirls beheaded in Indonesia

JAKARTA - Three Christian teenage girls were beheaded Saturday, police said, in an assault that marks an escalation of the violence against non-Muslims in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi province.

The three high school students were found with their heads severed early Saturday in the sectarian-divided town of Poso, said provincial police spokesman Rais Adam.

The girls were believed to have been murdered while they walked to school, Adam said.

He said two of the victims' heads were found near a police post while the third was discovered outside a Christian church in Poso.

Read the full story from Channel News Asia

Friday, October 28, 2005

OpinionJournal Extra : The Future of Tradition

OpinionJournal Extra : The Future of Tradition

Can it withstand the onslaught of abstract reasoning?

BY LEE HARRIS
Friday, July 22, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT


America has been in the midst of a culture war for some time and will probably remain so for some time longer. But culture war is not peculiar to this country. Indeed, there have been at least three great culture wars fought in the course of Western history, including one contemporaneous with the rise of the Sophists in ancient Greece, the epoch identified with the French Enlightenment and the German Aufkl�rung, and our own current battle. The first two ended in disaster for the societies in which they occurred--and the outcome of the third is still pending.

Each of these wars has its own particular antagonists, each its own weapons of combat, each its own battlefield. But the essential nature of a culture war is invariant: A set of traditional values comes under attack by those who, like the Greek Sophist, the French philosophe and the American intellectual, make their living by their superior proficiency in handling abstract ideas, and promote a radically new and revolutionary set of values. This is precisely what one would expect from those who excel in dispute and argumentation. "

Read the full article

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Engaging The World

We have a three-prong strategy this year...

1. Learning as a community (probably use Grudem's Systematic Theology)
2. Inspire serious reflections on our faith in 'everyday language'
3. Engaging our neighbors in respectful and winsome dialogues

Was thinking lately how we could 'engage' our neighbors in meaningful discussions about faith, truth and life from a biblical worldview...

Perhaps using what we learnt to good effect in real-life practice... where the rubber meets the road... Meng Wai unintentionally gave me an idea...

It seems, "What better place to do it in our context than in public forums like
Malaysiakini.com? There's space for freedom of speech there..."

The letters column were hi-quality stuffs read by thousands of Malaysians - Malays, Indians, Chinese, Iban, Kadazan etc... representing diverse faiths, vocations and cultures...

Current hot topics being discussed are 'freedom of religion and apostasy', interfaith dialogues, nation building, evolution and God; and just out of the stove, a defense of pluralism by Catholic theologian Edmund Chia, who studied under Edward Schillebeeckx.

I think evangelical Christians are under-represented in the marketplace of ideas that is the internet and occasionally, we respond with knee-jerk reactions...

We need to be intentional, organised and prepared for long-haul engagement and timely response at the speed of Net discourses.

This seems like a good opportunity to exercise some respectful and informed 'interfaith dialogue'...

Is anyone interested to come together and contribute his or her skills as ambassadors for Christ as a cross-denominational team in the public square?

Contact me at hedonese@yahoo.com

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I love God coz it really works!

Joshua reflects on a grim truth of today's Christianity:

"In his essay "Can Religion Cure Our Troubles?", Russell wrote:


"I can respect the men who argue that religion is true and therefore ought to be believed, but i can only feel profound moral reprobation for those who say that religion ought to be believed because it is useful, and that to ask whether it is true is a waste of time."At National University of Singapore, as some of us (Christians) gathered after a talk by someone on some topic, there came an student who asked us for our reason why do we think that our belief is true. At first, everyone hesistated to give an answer, then there was this young lady voice out that the reason why she thinks that Christianity is true is because she believes the bible is the word of God, and the word of God helped her whenever she was struggling with decision making. The bible provided her solutions, therefore she believes that Christianity is true.

That's pragmatism. Christianity is no longer true because it is true in itself, but because it's workable. What kind of rubbish is this?

Christianity is true, therefore it works... not it works, therefore it's true!" (Click here to read full post)

Monday, October 17, 2005

Coming Soon...

Exciting upcoming events from the Agora...

Topic: Homosexuality - An overview of homosexuality and how we can reaffirm biblical manhood and womanhood.

Presenter: John Chung
Date: 20 Nov 2005 (Sun)
Time: 1.45 pm

Topic: Can Man Live Without God? An overview on atheism and how we can understand and engage our friends in meaningful dialogue

Presenter: Lee Han Meng
Date: 4 Dec 2005 (Sun)
Time: 1.45 pm

Topic: Postmodernism - An overview on postmodernism and its challenges/opportunities to Christian mission

Presenter: David Chong
Date: 17 Dec 2005 (Sat)
Time: 2 p.m.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Wired News: What Would Jesus Blog?

Wired News: What Would Jesus Blog?

Associated Press

01:38 PM Oct. 15, 2005 PT

LA MIRADA, California -- What would Jesus blog? That and other pressing questions drew 135 Christians to Southern California this weekend for a national conference billed as the first-ever for "God bloggers," a growing community of online writers who exchange information and analyze current events from a Christian perspective.

The three-day conference at Biola University marked an important benchmark for Christian bloggers, who have worked behind the scenes for years to spread the gospel and infuse politics with religion.

Some predicted bloggers could play a role in reforming the modern church by keeping televangelists and other high-profile Christian leaders honest. Joe Carter, author of The Evangelical Outpost, compared blogging to the 95 Theses posted by Martin Luther nearly 500 years ago that launched the Protestant Reformation.

Read the whole article

GodBlogCon 05: Christian Bloggers Unite

GodBlogCon 05: Christian Bloggers unite

Hmm. I think Agora should organize something like this for this part of the world.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

J.S. Bach: For the Glory of God - Christianity Today Magazine

J.S. Bach: For the Glory of God - Christianity Today Magazine:

"I remember reading for the first time in my freshman year a simple statement by this master musician. Bach said, 'Music's only purpose should be the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.' The more I pondered this sentence, the more it liberated my heart. Music was given to glorify God in heaven and to edify men and women on earth. It wasn't to make lots of money, or to meet my ego needs, or to see my name in lights. Music was about blessing the Lord and blessing others. After months of auditions, rehearsals, recitals, and competitions, the simplicity of Bach's statement was a balm for my soul. "

Read the rest here:

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Human Technology

The Human Technology

People are always complaining about the impersonal cyberspace and the dehumanizing of technology, now while I am in agreement with some of these claims, let me make an apology for technology.

Read full article

The Cross and the Lotus: A Dialogue on Sufferings


We live in an age fertile for the growth of Buddhism, a religion once upon a time seen as a highly metaphysical and mythical belief which did not appeal to the rational mind. Yet as we begin to see the relaxation of the grip of modernity in our lives, when truth is not so much perceived as controlled and static, but chaotic and dynamic, when materialism failed to address the deepest desire of mankind, when the supernatural is once again explored and extolled, when spirituality is pursued minus the autocracy and authority of organized religion, Buddhism flourished.

As the religion began to gain popularity, and in this age where interfacing with different ideologies is inevitable, to dialogue with Buddhism is certainly a good initiative if not a necessary one. As we approach them in dialogue whether in words or in actions, whether for evangelism or not, let us be a fairer critique to their position. And to be able to do so, we need to equip ourselves with a fairly reasonable understanding of this complex and complicated religion. And of course, understanding their position, we not only strive to be fairer critique but also better neighbours to our Buddhist friends. This is the objective of this presentation...[read on]

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Audio Soul Food

Audio Soul Food

If your like me and find that life is getting really, really, busy and its getting harder to find time to read, then why not feed your mind and soul with some excellent online Audio resources; here are some I recommend;


  1. Desiringgod.org - Listen to the great exegete and expositor of the bible, John Piper preach through Romans in his church or to his daily message on his radio show. ***

  2. Ligonier.org - Listen to the great theologian and philosopher Dr. R C Sproul on his daily radio program.

  3. Rzim.org – Listen to the great evangelist and apologist Ravi Zacharias on his radio shows, let my people think and just thinking. ***

  4. Whitehorseinn.org – Listen in on conversations between Dr. Michael Horton and his friends as they tackle contemporary theological and doctrinal issues on a weekly radio show. **

  5. IssuesEtc.org – Listen to Rev Todd Wilken interview different experts to discuss issues on their daily radio show pertaining to life in the world and in the church from a distinctively reformed perspective. ***

  6. Apologetics.com – Listen in to John Snyder and staff pick up heavy but interesting topics (like the problem of evil and who was Adam) on their weekly radio show. **

  7. str.org – Stand to Reason’s host Greg Koukl demonstrates the skills and tactics he teaches to be winsome ambassadors on his weekly radio show complete with Q&A (registration required). **

  8. Reasons.org – Listening for Science buffs, who want to hear creation updates, a daily radio show designed to demonstrate the compatibility of the Bible with science. ***
  9. 9Marks - Listen to Mark Dever conduct great interviews of Christian leaders in USA on a weekly show.**
  10. Veritas Forum - The best of Christian minds at forums held all around the world. Recordings are then made available to download, here. ***


    ** Available in MP3 download
    *** Available on Podcast

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Agora: The First Year

Time passes by so fast that I didn't realise it has been a year since the Agora Ministry started... Until Leon reminded us in the blog.

It is with gratitude and amazement at God's grace that we recount the events from our first year... Was good to come together last Sunday as friends to celebrate, evaluate and plan ahead.

September ‘04 - Leon presented on “What is true spirituality?” comparing the unreflective activist and the ivory tower scholar. Propose a more integrated, heart-and-mind Christian life.

Sharing among participants – some expressed the need to study basic doctrines as a learning community, the need to get our hands dirty and apply lessons in tangible mission and evangelism, to blur the acred-secular divide (marketplace). Most participants are CDPC members who are keen on the Agora project.

October ‘04 - The web log was started as communication medium in cyberspace to cast vision, comment on a variety of theological, missional, socio-political issues, inspire and provide announcements.

November ‘04 - Some Agora members went for the iBridge camp in Port Dickson. Network with graduates from across Malaysia.

December ‘04 - LT Jeyachandran (RZIM) gave a talk on Christian theology as Trinitarian, giving unity in diversity. A lot of people focus on what we can do for God and what God can do for us, but we forget God Himself – the call to be Godcentered. Mostly students turned up.

A solemn yet deeply delightful New Year dinner at Leon’s place with a group of students. Reflection on the problem of evil in the aftermath of the tsunami.

January ‘05 - Han Meng presented on "Relativism – Is Truth Ice Cream or Insulin?" Discussed the challenge of relativism to mission and ethics. Experimented with mock dialogue to show how it is self-destructing. Introduce resource for further study.

Vision statement was drafted to explain what the ministry is about, some guiding principles and convictions

February ‘05 - Dave presented Lord Of The Rings, a primer into Tolkien’s worldview expressed in the blockbuster. A small group turned up, including seeker. Clips of the movie were shown. Discussion revolves around which character inspire us most and eucatastrophe (fortunate fall?)

The Agora attended a dakwah meeting conducted by Khalid Yassin, a Muslim preacher. Bought a copy of their apologetic training material. Presented with Koran. Managed to ask questions during the forum session.

March ‘05 - Esther Ong presented SEE Evangelism in main sanctuary. The best turnout from mostly CDPC members after Rev Wong’s announcements. Different creative methods of sharing the gospel with friends.

April ‘05 - Met Ng Kam Weng to discuss a series of classes for Agora and UM students to develop a Christian worldview

May ‘05 - John Chung presented “Politics, Why Bother?” giving theological basis for our involvement and how to do so. Many first-timers invited by friends or heard about event from website. Discussed about economic divide, freedom of religion, cultural mandate in relation to the gospel.

June ‘05 - Scheduled for Police Commission Report but was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Suggest future session on Counseling Skills instead

David conducted STR apologetics training for iBridge friends in Melaka for about a dozen participants. Discuss the informed, winsome and tactful ambassador and pluralism. Unapologetic dialogue with a Darwinist friend.

July ‘05 - Christ Seminar was born, to encourage the pursuit of truth (veritas) among varsity students. They will soon embark on a series of presentations, which address issues raised by Jesus Seminar.

No workshop due to busy schedule.

August ‘05 RZIM Conference – 6 Agora members were sponsored by CDPC to learn apologetics from Ravi Zacharias and team. Had the chance to network with like-minded Asians from Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia etc. Generally, it was well-received as Leon developed the Agora card & logo. Ravi loved the bookmarks, ordered them and agreed to come to KL

The Da Vinci Code Forum features Rev Wong, Kam Weng and David. Good turnout from the public, many non-CDPC guests. An example of engaging popular culture. The VCD is being distributed with Agora blog printed at the front. Passion Café agreed to be distributor and organizer/supplier for future events.

SIB plans to do another forum, David Letterman style.

John and Han Meng proposed to start equipping the library and use it as resource center to encourage a reading community. Set up booths during fellowship to introduce books.

Sept ‘05 - Agora members assisted in Ron Choong’s seminar promotion, CDPC Mission Conference & KVBC. Network with related Malaysian ministries

Leon presented first RZIM workshop on God & Science – there is no final conflict. Science is our study of nature, may correct our wrong interpretation. What Scripture reveals about science and history is inerrant. Discussed on evolution, the limits of science, and use of science in evangelism

Oct '05 - Soo Inn gave us a crash course on Public Speaking Skills (foretaste of the homiletics class next year)...

Look out for the Lotus, The Crescent and the Cross next as we continue our pilgrimage into the next year!

Soli Deo Gloria...

Postmodernism Outline

Here's a tentative outline of the pomo workshop (ur feedback and criticism most welcome)

Introduction: Why Do We Need To Grapple with Postmodernism?
- Understand the Way the World Thinks
- Evaluate the Opportunities and Threats To Mission

But, what Is Modernism?
- Some themes of modernism: confidence in human rationality as the measure of all things, science & technology to improve the world (progress), the rise of nation-states and world ideologies, suspicion towards religious authority and superstitions, Naturalism as the new creation story

- Descartes' "I think therefore I am" & Kant's fact/value divide

- World Wars show how technology can be efficiently used for evil (Holocaust)

What Is Postmodernism?

Some trends...

- continuity and discontinuity with modernism. "Capitalism in hyperdrive?"

- Cynicism towards claims of truth as tools of power and oppression

- No metanarrative, what is true for you may not be true for me

- Our access to truth is human, incomplete and limited by language and determined by socio-cultural factors

- Truth is relationally constructed, in our communities

- We cannot or should not discover author's intended meaning, its your response that matters

- openness to experimenting spiritualities, not organised religions

- openness to many differing views, stories as important in living in
new global village

Opportunities:
- community, dialogue and listening as indispensable
- ethical criterion of a faith (is it oppressive or liberating?)
- The story of Jesus as 'theology of the cross', not oppression.

Response to 'Threats':
- Just bcos I learnt it from my culture, doesn't make it false (genetic fallacy)
- Manipulation of religion is idolatry (but why would we invent a more traumatizing
God?)
- Counterculture mandate, 'the truth is out there'
- We do not have complete knowledge but some true knowledge.

Friday, October 07, 2005

New Perspective on Paul

Here's a write-up from Dave on the New Perspective on Paul

" there are crucial insights to be gleaned from the New Perspective. Sanders put us all in his debt by refuting a simplistic portrait of Judaism and Dunn brought to our attention much-neglected sociological aspects of Pauline theology. N.T. Wright’s ongoing project on the centrality of the Kingship of Christ in the gospel poses a much needed correction to the popular concept of Christianity as an individualistic, otherworldly religious experience. I have come away breathless and challenged by the clarity and incisive insights with which Wright unpacked Paul’s proclamation as a rhetoric against pagan worldviews and political oppression.

However, if we are to understand the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith, we would do well to heed Westerholm’s call to return and read exegetical masters like Luther once again. The great ecumenical article of faith that once held together orthodox, pre-schism traditions in the East and West needs to be rediscovered, not abandoned, if genuine unity in the gospel is to be achieved . [45] I expect to see the Church’s historic understanding of justification by faith would be significantly refined, but vindicated, in the process of the ongoing debate for the glory of God and the good of His people. The practical pay-off should therefore be nothing less than a renewed zeal and urgency to a missionary enterprise that truly transcends racial and cultural boundaries."


At NECF consultation, Dr Leong Tien Fock presented a balanced approach, highlighting how Christians can be 'countercultural' towards both modernism and postmodernism in The Battle For Truth

"... as postmodernisation follows modernisation and globalisation, what first emerges will be moderate postmodernism (a culture does not jump from a scientific to an anti-scientific mindset overnight). And since moderate postmodernism is, in a sense, a friend to Christianity, the battle for truth against modernity in places where postmodernism is not yet a stronghold favours the Church. But there must be sufficient Christians who overcome the corruptive power of modernity and postmodernism. By God's grace there will be. Will you and I be among them?

Give of your best to the Master ... join in the battle for truth!"

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Lotus, The Crescent & The Cross

Steven Sim (The Agora) will present "The Lotus & The Cross", discussing how we can engage our Buddhist friends in meaningful dialogues. This ancient Eastern worldview may have its Golden Age in the 21st century.

Date: 9 October 2005 (Sunday)
Time: 1.45 pm
Venue: City Discipleship Presbyterian Church ( Location Map )

David Ting (The Agora) will present an overview on Islam called "The Crescent in the Light of the Cross" and how we can engage our neighbors in constructive and critical interfaith discussions.

Date: 16 October 2005 (Sunday)
Time: 1.45 pm
Venue: City Discipleship Presbyterian Church ( Location Map )

Rabbinic Evangelism, anyone?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Is there a conflict between Science and Religion?

I was given the privileged recently to speak on Science in an Agora organized meeting in CDPC, and this is what I presented;

Click here if you want to read it online
Click here if you want to download it in Microsoft Word
Click here if you want to download it in Adobe Acrobat PDF


Please do a review for me, and get back to me with your challenges, critique, etc.

Thanks,

Leon Keith Jackson

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A 'Real' Kind Of Christian

Discerning readers will notice that the Agora blog is consciously developing a certain model of faith that engages the heart and mind, the church and culture...

The good news is we are not alone. We heartily recommend these kinds of Christian engagements, sorely needed in our Malaysian context.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry Apologetics Camp!

What are the questions of the skeptics and of those who are earnestly seeking for truth? How can we respond appropriately, and articulate persuasively our faith and belief in Jesus Christ? This program is designed to help you offer an apologetic that makes sense to both the heart and mind.

Your mind will be stretched with a range of topics in apologetics, philosophy, ethics and other disciplines. You will be challenged, and you will walk away with the tools you need to offer answers with substance to the questions of the unbeliever.

For more details, click RZIM Camp

LECTURES ON THEOLOGY OF PAUL

Aim: To gain a knowledge of key theological elements in the Pauline Epistles through from exegetical reading of the Biblical texts. Issues central to the modern debates about Paul will be introduced. Special emphasis to be given to the books of Galatians, Romans and 1 Corinthians.

VENUE: PJEFC, Section 13/6, Petaling Jaya
TIME: 2:30 pm to 6 pm
DATE: 1, 15 October 2005; 5, 19 November 2005
LECTURER – Dr. Ng Kam Weng

For more details, click Paul's Theology


The Da Vinci Code Forum

Dan Brown's novel has taken the world by storm! Not only is it an intriquing page-turner, it also made some controversial claims about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the Bible and the Church.

Come Explore The Facts or Fictions Behind the Bestseller!

Who are the Gnostics? Who was Mary Magdalene? Is there a conspiracy theory to cover up the truth? Will the real Jesus please stand up?

For more details, click Da Vinci Code forum

Graduate Christian Fellowship: The Christian Mindset

Camp Dates: Fixed Nov 3, 4, 5 and 6 (all public holiday)
Speakers: Dr Ng Kam Weng. Mr Ong Boon Chiang and Dr Samuel Ong
Cost: RM 120
Venue: SUFES Campsite, Tapah

Are the Christian graduates in Malaysia thinking the way the should be especially in the vocation, work that they are choosing? How do we develop a Christian mindset in the midst of our society? The decision making of many Christian young grads in choosing a job, salary, residence, lifestyle etc are based on many things - expectation of family, peers, society ... How are we to think as Christians in all these?

For more details, click on iBridge Camp

The Christian Lawyer Seminar

The purpose: Give lawyers and law students greater insight into the different avenues and fields they can venture into bearing in mind their calling as Christians, the level of competence required and the attendant cost and challenges. Take the opportunity to seek the views of respected Christians in the field of law in relation to the myriad of practical struggles we all go through each day as Christians trying to “live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).

For more details, click The Christian Lawyer Seminar

Friday, September 16, 2005

Agora's 1'st anniversary



City Discipleship Presbyterian Church is amongst many things a refuge for the intellectually active & appreciative Christian. We live in a time where people have dichotomized the ‘mind’ and ‘heart’ and thus churches are formed for the thinkers or the feelers and amidst all this, many who seek a union of the two get alienated. But God in His providence has provided for a blessed few, a man in the Klang Valley with a vision to produce a well developed holistic approach to being a church in the midst of the marketplace. Thus, like many others, Alicia and myself found ourselves looking for a church that was serious about doctrine and Biblical exposition – and yet would bleed for the poor and the unevangelized.

So by a turn of events and confirmations from God, we (Alicia and I) were led to CDPC, and after a year of observation, felt sure enough to apply for membership. We enjoyed the honesty and zeal of Pastor Caleb, and the faithfulness and friendship of Pastor Aik Khiam, but it was Pastor Wong that really made us decide that this was the church for us. We came in the midst of his exposition on Luke, and heard him make great bold exhortations to the congregation about helping the poor and evangelizing the lost – this assured me of his authenticity as a preacher. But it was my time spent with him in person that revealed his zeal and passion for so many enterprises that I could not make an exhaustive list here, except to say that they build the Kingdom of God. Someone once said, “Pastor Wong comes up with 5 ideas per minute” – but he also labours to make those ideas a reality.

In CDPC we met some like minded people like David Chong, Steven Sim, John Chung, Han Meng, Bee Theng and so on that were seeking to make “believers think, and thinkers believe” and in a very fluid and providential way, many of our interactions led to the forming of the Agora, a ministry that seeks to inspire and train people in the marketplace to live out and proclaim the Lordship of Christ over every domain of life. This ministry was born and nurtured by some of us, but it was only possible in the environment of love and support of CDPC, and more so, the sheer faith, love and hope Pastor Wong put in us.

He would unashamedly tell us “I am proud of you” and muster up support and resources to help us. When six of us were sponsored to attend the Ravi Zacharias conference in Bali, many of the other participants were surprised that we had so much support in our church for a ministry like Agora. This saddened us, because of the anti-intellectual climate of our times, but also made us proud of our ministry, church and Pastor.

So as the Agora celebrates its 1 year anniversary this September – lets also pay tribute to Rev. Wong Fong Yang, who adopted us and is nurturing us to a maturity that he models for us. Happy anniversary Agora, and thanks Pastor.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Science: Study of Creation

A teaser for Leon's coming workshop on "God and Science", which Christians who love the sciences should not miss. Welcome to our 'living room'!

Date: 18 September 2005 (Sunday)
Time: 1.30 pm
Venue: City Discipleship Presbyterian Church ( Location Map )


Title: Can we be Christians and love Science?

Part 1: Defining Science
*Biblical mandate - Gen 1:28-31 understanding and using God's world
*Science = Asking questions and finding answers, gathers knowledge of the creation, uses it to accomplish desired ends (technology)

Part 2: History of the relationship between Science and Religion
*Universal reality of religion - explaining the unexplained
*Physics and Metaphysics
*Induction vs. deduction
*Francis Bacon and the Scientific revolution
*the Galileo Incident - was Christianity to blame?
*Aquinas & Kant's discussion on Science and Religion
*Superstition permeates religion and is the convenient answer to the unknown
*Science = General revelation, the Bible = Special revelation
* Examples of the disaster of not being able to distinguish the rightful domains of science and religion

Part 3: Application
*Hermeneutics and Science – working together and meeting at the top
*Life is wholesome – Science & Metaphysical issues answered and being learnt
* The Christian should be the best Scientist of all
* Case study : Young earth vs old earth – how do we respond given all that we have learned

Reading, Thinking Generation

While on the plane coming back from Bali, John and Han Meng came up with a brilliant idea to revive the CDPC library. It's located at a "out-of-sight-out-of-mind" corner, so nobody ever uses the resources.

So here's the game-plan:
1) Start a catalogue and borrowing system
2) Invest in resources that build mature, clear-thinking believers (beyond self-help)
3) Volunteers take turns to place resources near the coffee table, inviting people to check out a book
4) Periodically do book reviews for the buletin board/newsletter to arouse interest

It may not look like a very glamorous ministry, but it's a powerful one.

Think of the potential that a revived church library could equip an army of thinking, reading and literate believers who could integrate their vocation with the Christian faith.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Following Jesus In School

Most Fascinating table-talk topics...

The latest score in EPL?
Juicy celebrity gossip?
The petrol price hike?
Counterstrike again?

When I was an undergraduate, 'BGR' is the undisputed winner. "Truth or Dare".
But if recent 'yam char' sessions are anything to go by. A new contender is in town.

Meet John, Ben, Allie and Keng, all Christian/Asian undergraduates. (not real names)

Keng reads literature in London. Here, he encounters lots of theories about deconstructionism, reader response etc. and wonders how much he could take in without compromising his faith. Hanging on for dear life, he found refuge in Doug Groothius' "Truth Decay". At the same time, he doesn't want to glorify or bury Derrida, but to understand him.

Allie did a similar course in california. Same story... she wonders if our reading of ANY book is based on our subjective 'glasses', as she was taught, getting to the 'true meaning' of Scripture is neither possible nor desirable. Nobody could answer the questions she was facing. But she persevered, read a bit of Geisler. To her surprise, she found tat her classmates were more than interested in her views when she presented it clearly in a "discussion" mode. (ie not preaching mode)

Given a choice for assignment topic, Ben (in Singapore) is considering to write about the 'anarchy of information technology'. He went asking around for resources that would give him a 'biblical worldview' to address such issues. (Ellul, Postman?) Rather than taking the road-more-travelled to get easy grades, he'd try to research on something that is closer to his heart and interests... and maybe a thesis that will bless the church?

Finally, John is doing philosophy in Bristol. Has been reading quite a bit of Kant lately. He always received cautions from well-meaning Christians...

"Be careful of philosophy, ar, boy. Dun lose your faith"

But coming back to Msia for holidays, he was disturbed by some pretty shallow assertions made in pulpit. (Unless ur a certain type of creationist, ur selling out to secular naturalists) Nevertheless, he's not arrogant or condescending. Instead he found a small community of pastor/mentors in UK church, who could help guiding him thru issues. Didn't the bible say that the church (not seminary, university) is the foundation of truth?

As we chatted our hearts out, we briefly mentioned the 'bf/gf' thingy. But quickly moved on... hehehe...

I look back on my own schooldays... Frankly I can't tell if Webber or Comte were the good guys or bad guys! (or shades of grey? heheh) The lecturer almost hoodwinked me to think that if Marx didn't say "religion is the opium of masses" Christians wud be Marxists!

But it's so heartening that these young people are already trying (falteringly, but honestly) to work out their faith in whatever they are studying in class.

Imagine if a whole generation of such youngsters come forth to integrate their chosen disciplines with what God has revealed in Scripture about reality.

This is what The Agora dreams of... labors for... finds inspiration from.

Weird as it may sound, the Bible does have answers to questions the world ask.
Legend has it, that when Schaeffer found this out, he couldn't sleep and pound his fists against the wall...

"The Bible has the answers... How am I gonna take it the people who are asking??"

May we be such ambassadors - informed, winsome and tactful!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Mission: Pluralism In Malaysia

Have you heard the ancient story of ten blind men trying to describe an elephant after touching different parts of its body? As the blind men announced their conflicting discoveries, a heated argument ensued. Awakened by the quarrel, the Rajah corrected all of them by saying, “The elephant is a huge animal and each of you touched a part. In order to know the whole truth about what the elephant looks like, you must put together all the parts!”

The moral of the story is that no religion has privileged access to the whole truth. Each religious view is a partial experience of the same Reality from its own culturally-conditioned perspective. Religious pluralism sees all religions as equally valid in terms of access to truth and effectiveness in salvation. This view is popular because we need to ward off violent fundamentalism in the wake of post-911 ‘war on terror’. After all, it is no longer politically correct to claim to have the truth while contrary views are wrong in a society of diverse religious perspective like Malaysia. Surely, there are many sincere, self-giving and authentic people in all expressions of faith!

On a closer look, religious pluralism is self-defeating since the pluralist has unwittingly assumed a ‘privileged position’ to truth even while he denied everyone the same access. Isn’t it exceedingly ironic that the pluralist took on the role of the all-seeing Rajah right after admitting his own limited perception as one of the ten blind men? According to pluralism, all religions are deemed mistaken in supposing their basic beliefs are true. Sure, they all make contact with the elephantine Reality but not in the same manner in which the believers themselves think they are. Is the pluralists’ way of rejecting other religious beliefs as mistaken any more ‘tolerant’ than others?

More importantly, could religious pluralism really deliver its practical promises of peace and tolerance? In reality, it could only do so if adherents of all faiths relativize their conflicting truth claims in favor of pluralism. In the end, the only way humanity could attain unity is when they exclusively agree on a ‘faith’ different than their own. The late Lesslie Newbigin wrote that it is precisely because we want unity that we seek the truth by which alone humankind can become one:

“That truth is not a doctrine or a worldview or even a religious experience; it is certainly not to be found by repeating abstract nouns like justice and love; it is the man Jesus Christ in whom God was reconciling the world. The Truth is personal, concrete, historical.”

Genuine peace could be attained not at the cost of dismissing genuine differences. In fact, tolerance itself implies disagreement. We do not ‘tolerate’ people who agree with us. They are on our side! If every religious person is a pluralist, what room is there for tolerance? Instead, genuine tolerance recognizes conflicting truth claims and does not press for artificial, minimal denominator. We respect and honor one another as persons who have the God-given right to believe, practice and propagate our faiths. We celebrate and not begrudge the fact that men of different creeds are capable of moral exploits, profound insights and creative aesthetics. Missionary Martin Goldsmith wrote, “Sin and the remnant image of God interact both in cultures and religions. We dare not dismiss them as merely demonic, evil or totally false.”

Usually a pluralistic vision of mission tends towards ‘truth-seeking’ mode of interfaith dialogue as a substitute for evangelism. As a result, we shun away from such invitations even though the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi recently called for dialogues to promote social harmony at a World Council of Churches conference in Kuala Lumpur. However, dialogue and evangelism should not be seen as mutually exclusive. Missiologist David Bosch wrote, “We affirm that witness does not preclude dialogue but invites it, and that dialogue does not preclude witness but extends and deepens it”. Although the main goal of dialogue is mutual understanding, there is a sense of fair play in ‘interfaith forums’ that draw crowds who otherwise would not have stepped into a one-sided evangelistic meeting.

In all such endeavors, Newbigin wrote, “The Christian who participates in dialogue with people of other faiths will do so on the basis of his faith. The presuppositions which shape his thinking will be those which he draws from the Gospel… He cannot agree that the position of final authority can be taken by anything other than the Gospel – either by a philosophical system, or by mystical experience, or by the requirements of national and global unity. Confessing Christ – incarnate, crucified and risen – as true light and true life, he cannot accept any other’s alleged authority as having right of way over this.”

While there is certainly legitimate place for worldview encounter, other constructive themes deserve our attention such as promoting joint action in overcoming racism, AIDS, abortion and poverty. The church has yet to draw from the rich resources for social programs that spring from a common theistic outlook with Islam. At the same time, dialogue-in-life should permeate the rank and file in the office, classroom, cafeteria and ‘rumah terbuka’ during festivities. That is, Christians should abandon a ‘ghetto’ mentality and actively pursue to be with the other, collaborate with them in action and discourse to understand and be understood.

In summary, mission-as-dialogue would not be effective if the Malaysian grassroots were not trained to know what and why they believed. Leaders also have a responsibility not to “isolate” the church but to ‘inoculate’ them by accurately representing the religious views of others also. At the same time, we must decide to embrace unpopularity or persecution, if need be, as the cost of following Christ. How shall we demonstrate that the gospel speaks to here-and-now Malaysian issues like the politicization of religion, AIDS prevention, good governance and economic equity? If our proclamation is not embodied concretely, the world would see our faith as “privately engaging, publicly irrelevant”.