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.


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


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”.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Persecution in West Java

Muslim Militants Close Churches in West Java

Sources in Indonesia have informed us that the campaign by a radical Islamic group to close down Christian churches in the province of West Java has escalated in recent days. Members of the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI), an organization of Muslim clerics that receives 5 billion Rupia (nearly US$600,000) in support from the government of Indonesia, entered eight churches during worship services on Sunday, August 14, and ordered the churches closed. Sunday's incident brings to 35 the number of West Java churches shut down since the MUI issued a series of eleven fatwas, or religious rulings, at the end of July. Among other things, the fatwas condemned religious teachings influenced by pluralism, liberalism and secularism as "against Islam," directed Muslims to consider Islam to be the one true religion and all other faiths to be wrong, forbade marriages between Muslims and adherents of other religions and denounced Muslims who prayed with persons from other traditions. Many observers see a connection between the issuing of the fatwas and the increase in church closures.

It is also noteworthy that both the announcement of the fatwas and the escalation in the church-closing campaign have taken place since the beginning of the trial of three Indonesian women on charges of enticing Muslim children to convert to Christianity. As we reported last month (see story), three Christian women who ran an after-school program called "Cheerful Sunday" in the Indramayu district of West Java were arrested in May and put on trial at the end of June. Their trial, which convenes for only two hours every Thursday, has been marred by loud and boisterous protests by radical Islamic elements both outside and inside the courtroom. The protestors have coached witnesses, called for the execution of the defendants and sought to intimidate the judges, openly threatening them if they fail to bring a guilty verdict. A European observer of the court proceedings on August 11, who was herself handled roughly and doused with water by the protestors as she entered the courtroom, said that she saw no way for the women to receive a fair trial under the circumstances.

Read the rest of the article