Monday, June 27, 2005

Not forsaken nor forgotten.

With his face partially hidden behind a wooden stilt, a little boy carefully peered his face towards mine. He was silent, but his eyes already asked a question, "Who are you?"

The Orang Asli community living in the jungles of Malaysia are the most singled out, sidelined- call it by any other term; downright abandoned by the Government in every effort it makes to improve the standard of living of the nation. Cut off by road inaccessibilty (otherwise only made accessible by loggers who are in for the profit), this community has virtually no access to electricity, education or medical attention of any manner. A clean water source is their only prized amenity.

Even as their plight is being highlighted now, loggers and profit-hungry Chinese planters are robbing them of their land- for logging and land for durian plantations. Lack of education leave them defenseless in knowing which property is rightfully theirs. And being illiterate means total vulnerability towards fraudulent contracts, if any were to be made to them in the first place.Illiteracy not only makes them raw, easy targets of oppression by the loggers, planters and irresponsible government officers, but also suppresses them greatly from any much-needed social development.

Here, they are to remain as odd job workers- never mind if they had to fight to death with the foreign labourers entering the country in abundance. Here, they are to remain silent, for being deprived the key to knowledge equates to them being dumb and mute. Here, they are to remain as outcasts- pushed further into the undesirable conditions of jungle-living. No sooner would their obscurity become so apparent, that their existence becomes otherwise.

Such is the fragility of these people, and it is with this glass-like nature of the existence of the marginalised community of Malaysia that an appeal must be made to those who are educated, those who own the privilege of knowing how to read and write and perhaps do even more- The Orang Asli community is not a community destined for negligience, to think of them in such a manner would render any one of us deserving of a similar fate. For they are too, the Rakyat, citizens of Malaysia. Therefore, in no manner that they should be treated as a leprous society- left alone to fend for their existence without even the most basic, yet a right that is of crucial importance- the right to education, the privilege to read and write. It is, therefore a responsibility that each and every one of us must bear.

Even so, a Christian's call to duty weighs so much more. If the Government refused to have their part in this, then let us, the Church; with the grace of our Almighty God; bear this burden with deep-rooted love and conviction that the God Whose Supremacy is in all things shall see to it being done.Not that our actions come in second only to the government's, but that our worldview must be consciously geared towards the act of proclaiming His Kingdom- dispensing teaching aids and knowledge to them, so that they may not only learn to read and write, they would be able to know God's Word and see it as treasure.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Packer Gave Me An A-

eCOMMENTARY: Packer Gave Me An A-

[June 24th 2005 Edition]

"Take these hands
Teach them what to carry
Take these hands
Don't make a fist
Take this mouth
So quick to criticize
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn"

[Yahweh, by U2]

"Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!'

[Holy, Holy, Holy Reginald Heber, John B. Dykes]

Ok. More confession time.
When I was studying in Regent College I had the privilege to do a number of courses under the venerable J. I. Packer. Thing is I received an A- for all my courses with him. I could never break through to get an A. I guess I should be grateful that I never slipped to a B either.

But as most of us discovered, no one in the churches ever bothers to ask what grades you received in bible college. In time you too forget much of the stuff you heard in the classroom lectures. (Hopefully a lot of it gets internalized.)

But there was a phrase that Dr Packer would mention from time to time, a personal theological mantra if you will, that few us will ever forget. Once in awhile Packer would remind us that "the purpose of theology is doxology."

Any true study of God must lead to an encounter that drives us to our knees in wonder and worship.

Trouble is, the study of theology is not very much in vogue these days.
The June 14 2005 issue of the Barna Update had this headline:

"Christians Say They Do Best At Relationships, Worst In Bible Knowledge."

This may merely be a symptom of the age we live in, a lonely time where people hunger for authentic relationships, but also a postmodern time where religion is privatized and experiential rather than historical and truth based.

Are you disturbed by this lack of knowledge of the basic beliefs of our faith? You should.

Christianity is a faith based on revelation.It is a faith that is built on the reality that God has spoken and that what He has spoken to us is contained in the words of the Bible.

However it is critical to bear in mind what theology is for. What happens when we honestly encounter God in the truth that He has revealed to us?

I believe all healthy study of biblical truth must lead to three results. A study of theology must be relational, transformational, and missional.

All true study of theology must be relational. It must draw us closer to God.
Moses had to learn about the true nature of God to be able to approach Him correctly (Exodus 3:1-6). In the end we discover that God is also the Waiting Father (Luke 15:11-32). Doxology indeed!

All true study of theology must be transformational. It must help us become more Christ like. As people of God we are to reflect His character (Matthew 5:43-48).
And it is by imbibing His Word that we grow to be like Him (1 Peter 2:1-3; Romans 12:1-2).

All true study of theology must be missional. It must both inspire and equip one to serve others in the name of Christ. Paul was able to comfort the grieving Christians at Thessalonica with proper theology (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
The true servant of God waits to hear a word from God so that he has something to offer to he weary (Isaiah 50:4).

Theology must be relational, transformational, and missional. This is my own mantra about the study of theology albeit a longer and less compact one than Packers', seeing that I don't have his packing skills.

But if the neglect of the study of theology is horrendously dangerous, the relegation of theology to some scholastic exercise that involves only the mind but does not issue forth in worship, Christ likeness and mission, is also dangerously askew.

Many laymen see the study of theology as an exercise of the mastery of certain facts and the jargon that go with it. No wonder they fear that they will be bored to death by theology.

There is the influence of the flesh in us that keeps us from the things of God. This requires repentance and a cry to God to make us hunger after Him. But there is also the need to rescue the study of theology from its academic prison.

Theologian is not a bad word.

Some of us will be called to study the discipline in depth. We will need some mastery of the required languages. We will need to know the history of the development of Christian doctrine. We will need to know the requisite technical terms. We must be aware of the key thinkers in the field. Theologians are specialist thinkers and teachers in service to the church.

But ALL of us need to know God and the things of God. It is sadly ironical that while many shy away from any serious study of the truths of God, many are hungry for a deeper relationship with Him. Many desire to be more like Him. Many are overwhelmed with the needs of the world and hunger for some answers in order to be of help.

We need to let our people know that the proper study of theology, a study with heart as well as mind, will go a long way in addressing their deepest needs. This may explain why Packer's KNOWING GOD continues to be a best seller year after year.

Theology is not some esoteric discipline for the intellectual few. It is God's word of life for all.

I like the way the Lion Handbook of Christian Belief puts it:

"No one lives without beliefs. We all believe something, have some view of what life means. And what we believe affects us deeply; in a real sense we are what we believe. So 'doctrine' and belief are not something to be left to the theorists or the experts. Our understanding of Christianity and our response to it, will be the most crucial thing in our whole lives."

And the true test of the study of theology is not what grades we get.
The true test of theology is what kind of people we become.
Do we become people who are passionately in love with God?
Are we people of holiness and deep compassion?
Do we serve a hurting world with His wisdom?

The people in the pews may be smarter than we think. Perhaps they already know the true test of theological study. They don't care what grades you received in seminary. They want to see what kind of people you are.

It's just that it would have been nice to have gotten an A from Packer just once.

Your brother,
Soo-Inn Tan
Write me!

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Peel off the Skin of Mistrust

Kian Ming co-writes a column in the NST entitled Chisel and Stone.
2:54pm Wed Aug 21st, 2002

I am a ‘banana’. Yellow (Chinese) on the outside but white (Anglophile) on the inside.

This was not the way it was supposed to be. I would have gone to SRJK (C) Kuen Cheng in KL but an unforeseen turn of events saw me being enrolled in La Salle PJ primary school which was much closer to home. I was packed off to ‘angmoh’ (“Anglophile” in Hokkien) Singapore after Form 3 and then left for the UK for my undergraduate studies.

If not for my parents who spoke Mandarin to me at home and my love for Jackie Cheng songs and Stephen Chow movies, I would probably not understand a single word of Cantonese or Mandarin. As it is, my Mandarin and Cantonese are passable enough for me to order food at hawker stalls and Chinese restaurants.

Because of my schooling history the whole issue of the Chinese medium schools and the political controversies surrounding them totally baffled and mystified me.

If preserving the Chinese language and culture was the main reason behind the Chinese school movement, that rationale didn’t seem to make sense. Singapore, where
I studied for four years, taught only one subject in Chinese in six years of primary education and four years of secondary education — and that was Chinese. Yet, the Chinese language and culture are still alive and well there.

Channel 8, the Chinese television channel, was still popular. Many of my Singaporean friends were fluent and conversant in Mandarin. The sale of Chinese books
and kung-fu comics were strong and steady. Qingming performances were as popular as ever. And this despite the country being ruled for much of its post-independence history by a supposedly ‘Anglophile’ prime minister who studied in Cambridge, England.

Thinking that I should find out more about the history of the Chinese education movement in Malaysia before I ignore their views, I decided to read a book entitled
The Protean Saga by Dr Kua Kia Soong, human rights activist, former member of parliament for PJ Utara and now the principal of the New Era College in Kuala
Lumpur. I must thank Dr Kua immensely for writing this book on the history of the Chinese education movement in Malaysia in English for the benefit of bananas like

I found it a fascinating read. I found out that some of the baggage which Chinese educationist organisations like the Dong Jiao Zong has is because
of their past experiences.

I found out about the struggles of Chinese educationist Lim Lian Geok whose very name would evoke tremendous emotion among the Chinese community, and how he was denied Malaysian citizenship because of his championing for the cause of Chinese education in Malaysia.

I found out about the trials surrounding the attempt to establish a private Chinese university in Malaysia, the Merdeka University, and how that attempt failed.

I found out about the conversion of the Chinese medium secondary schools into national schools and how the promises to the Chinese educationists were not kept.

I found out about how the Chinese educationist movement and its supporters managed to run and fund the small number of independent Chinese secondary schools still in existence in Malaysia which includes famous names like Chung Ling in Penang and Chung Hwa in KL.

That gave a context for many of the current happenings in the field of Chinese education. I began to understand why the SRJK (C) Damansara issue was such a
subject of controversy. I began to understand why the Chinese educationists objected to the establishment of vision schools (Something which I couldn’t, before;
after all, it has the laudable aim of trying to get children from different races to mix together, doesn’t it?).

More recently, I began to see the point of view of the Chinese educationists in terms of their objections to the teaching of Math and Science in English.

That movement has been burnt in the past and the lack of trust prevents them from working and cooperating with the government in the present.

Reconciliatory steps

I believe that both sides should take reconciliatory steps to build up again the level of trust and to improve their relations.

For example, the Chinese educationist movement needs to understand the government’s urgency in trying to improve the standard of English in Malaysian schools.

Even if they do not object to this aim but the methods because of fears that it might decrease the high standards of Math and Science in Chinese medium schools, they must provide concrete alternatives on how the standards of English can be improved in these schools.

They must understand that despite the relatively high passing rate for English in these schools (approximately 70 percent), the fact that many Chinese students from a new village setting have only limited exposure to English in their school life.

The government on its part should give assurances that the vernacular schools in the proposed vision schools would not be converted into national schools. They
must give assurances that it has enough teachers or in the process of training teachers to teach Math and Science in English effectively.

In fact, they could even consider leaving the Chinese (and the Tamil) schools out of the initial exercise to teach Math and Science in English.

If this programme does show an improvement in the standard of English in national schools and succeed in attracting a large number of Chinese (and Indian)
students into them, then the Chinese educationists would have less fear in following suit (and less reason not to as well).

Knowing the history behind the Chinese educationists in Malaysia is important. However, knowing how to overcome the baggage left by history is even more
fundamental to progress into the future.

Standing Up For Jesus

Lai Tak Ming of Graduate Christian Fellowship sums up what the kind of Christianity that is needed in Malaysia in this article

... and the kind of engaging, warm and informed Christians the Agora seeks to raise.

"The church in Malaysia seems to be growing and expanding and thriving with increasing attendance, bigger churches and mega churches mushrooming...

And yet…this growth does not appear to have a proportionate impact on the society at large. The moderating influence as salt and the beacon of hope as light to the world does not seem to have made much of a dent to our Malaysian society. WHY NOT?

Could it be that we, the church, the representative of the Kingdom of God in Malaysia are too preoccupied with our `other world' pursuits that we have neglected our `current world' obligations?

Could it be that we are too parochial in our outlook, too inward looking and too concerned only with personal piety and forms of religiosity? An anecdotal example was shared to me by a friend about how during a Sunday sermon, the pastor talked about the need to spend more time in fellowship with the brothers and sisters and not with our non Christian friends less we become `polluted' by them.

How, I wonder, are we going to be true to our calling to be `salt and light' if we are reluctant to be engaged with the world and to be involved with the lives of those in need of a `physician' as the Lord puts it? Jesus did not ask us to look at him in heaven and be saved. He came into our midst and walked with us and lived our lives to present us the logos of life.

In Amos, God made it very clear what is of greater concern to him. It is not our worship services and beautiful music (and mind you, some of our services have gotten quite sophisticated), or the acts of Christian piety (more bumper stickers and wall posters, tracts and other symbolism of religiosity). It is about justice and righteous living that God wants to see without sacrificing the others. Check out what Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matt 23:23.

So where are we, fellow Christians? Are we making a difference for God in our respective corners of our world? Will Malaysia become a better place because we are here? I commend those of us who have the courage to stand up and be counted, who have decided to walk into the furnace of corruption and wickedness to, with God's help, become beacons of light for the world and the rest of us laggards. I commend the Chun Wais, the Seng Koks, the Ron Tans, the Nehemiahs, the Denisons and many others who dare stand up in the marketplace to make a difference for God.

A sign of our times.

Christians Say They Do Best At Relationships, Worst In Bible Knowledge

A sign of our times.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Vision Statement

The Agora: Vision Statement

"The Agora Ministry seeks to inspire & train laypeople in the marketplace to live out and proclaim the lordship of Christ over every domain of their life."


As a grassroots movement, the Agora seeks to encourage Christians in Malaysia to develop a robust and biblical worldview in which we fulfill our different vocations in the public square.

The church in Malaysia faces contemporary challenges to her life and mission in areas such as ethics, modern science, religious pluralism, church-state relations, culture, relativism, economics etc.

It is our conviction that the great challenge for the Church today is the call to engage contemporary culture in a constructive and critical manner through a biblically faithful vision.

Unless we do so, the Church’s witness for Christ suffers.


We seek to establish these values in our life, family and community

1. Thinking After God’s Thoughts – to think through the issues of life, faith and culture with a mind submitted to the Word of God. To integrate our minds, emotions, wills and strength in holistic worship of God and discerning His purpose for our times.

2. Learning Community – to learn and live in context of community, fellowship and accountability with other believers to benefit from each other in teaching, correction, and training in righteousness, that we may be equipped for every good work.

3. Mission in The Marketplace – To be accurately informed, winsome and wise ambassadors for Christ within our various callings and places in the marketplace as ‘little platoons’ of mercy and truth.

Values And Convictions

We are evangelical in that we believe the Bible is trustworthy and reliable, and Jesus is the only way for sinners to be reconciled with God.

We welcome discerning laypeople to work together in a multidisciplinary sharing to cross-pollinate ideas and contribute towards loving the Lord with all our hearts and minds. We are not scholars so we may not have all the answers. To the best of our abilities, we seek to diligently draw upon scholarly resources.

We have a bias towards using simple, understandable language in our conversations. But we also seek to grow together in our understanding of God’s word and God’s world.

We have a bias towards evangelism and translating theology into practice (praxis).
We do not issue 'fatwas', but we do hope to bring out issues into open dialogue, even debate, in a spirit of love and respect.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Police Commission

What has the Police Commission got to do with the Great Commission?

As a Christian citizen of Malaysia, how shall we respond to the findings and recommendations of the recent Police Commission report?

The entire nation awaits the fruits of its labour to push for accountability and transparency. But the interim report of the Police Commission was made public at the cost of RM100

This round, Meng Wai would present his findings on the Police Commission report, and suggest ways in which we can support its efforts (i.e. write to the authorities). He has been an inspiring model to me, having been active in Suaram, counselling, theological studies and calligraphy.

I look forward to learn more from him, and put into action our theology of engagement with the world, not just a privatized faith. :)

Date: 26 June 2005
Time: 1.30 pm
Venue: CDPC