Monday, August 28, 2006

The Christian Science Monitor

This is my favourite news source for a few reasions, but the biggest one is thats it give an analysis of the global events, rather than the ussual plain story-telling that other news agencies do in their rush to get us the latest news. As David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace record in "The People's Almanac";

The Christian Science Monitor is one of the most respected newspapers in the world. It is noted for its thoughtful treatment of the news and careful editing. (The paper rarely runs much over 20 pages.) Like many European elite papers, it tries to put the news in perspective and analyze it. The Monitor has won innumerable awards for its excellent journalism.

Erwin Dain Canham, who was made editor in chief in 1964, stated in his book Commitment to Freedom: "The Monitor does not leave out news just because it is unpleasant, nro seek to throw a rosy glow over a world that is often far from rosy. To describe the Monitor as a 'clean' Newspaper is correct but incomplete. It also strives to expse whatever needs to be uncovered in order to be removed or remedied. It seeks to put the news in a sound perspective, giving greatest emphasis to what is important and reducing the merely sensational to its place in the accurate system of values."

The paper is owned by the trustees of the Christian Science Monitor Publishing Committee; its directors are the directors of the First Church of Christ Scientist. The religion influences some of the Monitor's taboos: no drug advertising, no pictures depicting smoking or drinking (though it did publish a picture of Churchill with his famous cigar), very little emphasis on medical ness, no coverage of blood sports. The paper has fought against compulsory medical examinations, inculations, and other medical procedures. It does not use the words "dead," "death," or "dying" in relation to people and accepts no paid death notices. Its phrase for death is "passed on." (There is an appocryphal story about a Monitor corresdpndent filing a story about "passed-on mules" on a W. W. I battlefield.)

No matter what its taboos, the Monitor is widely read by highly literate, influential people all over the world; it has daily editions in over 120 nations and a huge staff of professional journalists, with full-time correspondents stationed in several countries.

Since the Monitor is an afternoon paper which stresses thoughtful presentaton of the news, it claims few sensational scoops. However--

In 1910, in a Monitor interview, Thomas Edison predicted 3-dimensional television. The interview might be termed a long-range scoop.

On October 3, 1923, the paper published an exclusive interview with Hitler which clearly brought out the danger of his ideas. On the same page was an article by Churchill.

On May 14, 1928, it warned against the dangers of the bull market.

As early as march, 1941, the Monitor printed news about Hitler's plan to invade the Soviet Union, an event which took place in June of that year.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Multiculturalism - How Can It Be Wrong?

It is shocking and saddening (?) to read such an offensive and skewed history of the Christian faith by an IKIM official published at the STAR...

"...a history that is full of horrible tales of persecution and intolerance in the name of religion (read Christianity)"?

What can we do? Well, let your voice be heard by sending just a line or two of feedbacks to feedback@thestar.com.my

You can also SMS your opinions to them.
Type ENT STAR TALK, followed by your message, and send to 66222.

The last time we checked Malaysia is still a multi-cultural, multi-religious country

Multiculturalism - How can it be wrong?

By NG KAM WENG
Research Director,
Kairos Research Centre


THESE must be worrying times for Malaysian citizens if an official from Ikim, a government think-tank dedicated to the task of disseminating Islam as a tolerant religion, can come out with an article entitled Debunking multiculturalism that appeared in The Star (Aug 22, 2006).

Credit must be given to the writer, Md Asham Ahmad, for his forthrightness in arguing that Islam rather than multiculturalism be the framework for social policy in Malaysia.

Nevertheless, it is evident that the writer's forthrightness is not accompanied by accurate facts, given his skewed reading of Christian history.

Md Asham suggests that religious pluralism and multiculturalism is the outcome of a weak religion (Christianity) that does not stand comparison with Islam, given Islam's strong relation with the State.

I am always suspicious of mono-causal interpretations of history that purport to explain how the existing condition of a society arose from a particular ‘ism’.



A more nuanced reading of the history of the rise of liberalism and religious liberty would take into account the multiplicity of factors including the new discoveries of Oriental civilizations in the European age of exploration, the power struggle between hegemonic states (Spain and France) and new nation-states in Germany and the Netherlands, the rise of the merchant class and independent trading cities (like Geneva) and the conflict between tradition and critique of the Enlightenment thinkers.

Above all, multiculturalism, exemplified by toleration, was the outcome of ‘religious’ wars that led to the treaty of The Peace of Westphalia (1648). Notably, the provisions for religious freedom were called articles of peace.

It should be of interest to note that the challenge of managing religious plurality (a fact rather than an ideology) is not a unique problem of Western Christianity. We see ongoing conflicts in Asia and Africa – such as in Sudan, India and Iraq – that cry out for equivalents of the historic Peace of Westphalia.

It would do well for Md Asham to adopt a modest attitude of willingness to learn from the past rather than judge it with sarcasm, when it is evident that we Asians/Africans continue to be plagued by religious and cultural conflicts.

Md Asham suggests that non-Muslims are motivated by ideology when they commend multiculturalism as a valuable framework to promote social harmony.

He writes: “Multiculturalism, as understood and propagated by its proponents in this country is not based on diversity, but rather it strives to debunk Islam as a socio-political order.” By using words like ‘hostility’ and ‘subversion’ he also suggests that non-Muslims are imbued with an adversarial attitude.

The problem is, Md Asham has inverted the dynamics of rational debate in this country by suggesting that the non-Muslims’ call for multiculturalism is driven by an ideology inherently hostile to Islam.

The reality is that our nation was a plural society at its inception in 1957 and more so in 1963 when Malaysia incorporated the many tribal communities in East Malaysia.

One plainly cannot deny the existing social condition (plurality) that needs to be addressed. Hence, the stress on multiculturalism as the best modus vivendi for developing a national identity that expresses unity in diversity and equality for all peoples regardless of their culture and religion.

Since concepts have different meanings in different contexts, the onus is on writers to define their terms in a fair and accurate manner.

For example, Allan Bloom (The Closing of the American Mind) castigates western multiculturalism that leads to relativism, and results in the demise of “solidarity in defence of the truth”.

On the other hand, Malaysians and other Asians tend to describe multiculturalism as “the view that various cultures in a society merit equal respect and scholarly interests” cf. Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (1994).

Such sensitivity to contextual meanings would have cautioned Md Asham against making the suggestion that supporters of multiculturalism are merely motivated by hostility towards Islam based on family, neighbourhood and school.

Perhaps, Md Asham wrongly equates liberalism with libertarianism. Libertarianism is the view that individuals should be free to do whatever they wish so long as they do not infringe on other people’s freedom or property.

However, Md Asham would be remiss if he tars political liberalism with a form of libertarianism that undermines social relationships; bearing in mind that liberalism has a range of meanings.

It should be noted that classical liberalism as expounded by John Locke describes the essential theses of liberalism in the following terms: that the people are the source of all political power, that government cannot be justified unless it possesses their free consent, that all governmental measures are to be judged by an active citizen body, that men of government are to help them when they require it, but not to run their lives for them, and finally the State must be resisted if it steps beyond its political authority.

More importantly, political liberalism and multiculturalism in the Malaysian context envision the flourishing of citizens based on the preservation of fundamental liberties from encroaching State authoritarianism, if not totalitarianism.

Md Asham may find the theses objectionable, but a robust set of philosophical propositions demands careful and rational response rather than a debunking couched in loaded and emotive words.

Md Asham ends his article with a call for a polity that must be rooted in local history. But taking local history seriously must surely mean honouring the consensus on the specific form of secularism engraved in our Malaysian Constitution in 1957 and 1963.

Unlike some places in the West, secularism in Malaysia does not reject religion. It was the social consensus back in 1957 and 1963 that there should be no establishing of one religion above others in a multi-cultural, multi-religious society like Malaysia.

Secularism in Malaysian history as such commends a benign neutrality and benevolent support for religious plurality.

I find unacceptable Md Asham’s suggestion that, “it is through Malaysia, as an Islamic state, that other religions would thrive, and that we have a better chance of fostering national unity based on a common religious worldview.”

Firstly, it is undeniable that religions are presently flourishing in Malaysia under the existing Constitutional arrangement.

Secondly, national unity remains strong so long as State polity is based on overlapping consensus of diversity of religious worldviews (John Rawls).

I write this to contrast Md Asham’s call for unity under a common religious worldview, which suggests imposition by a dominant religion. In short, Md Asham’s suggestion is both unnecessary and counterproductive.

In conclusion, even though Md Asham’s article in debunking multiculturalism may be a legitimate academic exercise, I reject his suggestion that multiculturalism as historically understood and practiced in Malaysia is incongruent with our local cultural aspiration.

Indeed, I wish to stress that open debate on public philosophy is itself testament to the robustness of our national Constitution that envisions the task of nation building to be inclusive and open to positive contribution from all citizens regardless of race, culture and religion.

It is an affirmation of the politics of recognition, mutual respect and reciprocity.

The Jesus Dynasty?

Excerpt: "At first glance, The Jesus Dynasty seems like another dubious book cashing in on the notoriety of Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code. However, a quick perusal of the book will dispel this notion, given the academic credentials of the author, James Tabor. Tabor comes across as an archaeologist who has patiently collected and coordinated solid evidence to support his bold thesis. The Jesus Dynasty bears the marks of a well-researched academic book.

At the outset, The Jesus Dynasty argues for an alternative history of the origins of the Christian faith in Jesus the Messiah..."

"What is it that motivates Tabor to propose the radical thesis in his book? Tabor expresses hope that his reconfigured Christian faith will make Christians more amenable in inter-religious dialog between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Such sentiments are noble indeed. But noble sentiments aside, we must ask whether Tabor correctly read the biblical texts and sufficiently grounded his thesis on historical facts. In this regard, I find Tabor’s project wholly inadequate.

Tabor sandwiches his textual reading between layers of informative and entertaining accounts of his archaeological outings. The reader is gently led to place his trust in an authoritative archaeologist whose reading of the text is correspondingly trustworthy. In reality, the alert reader should know that there is little connection between Tabor’s stories and his textual readings. His expertise in one area does not make him an authority in others."

Read on for the FULL article

Read also Darrell Bock's response here

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Inter-Testamental Period

A brief history of 'Palestina' during the period between the Old and New Testaments.

Introduction

What happened in the biblical lands during the period book-ended by accounts mentioned in the Old Testament and the New Testament writings? In the Prostestant canon of 66 books, which excludes tha Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha, not much is stated regarding events after the return of some of the exiles from Babylonia to Jerusalem. The New Testament begins with annunciation to Mary, that she will bear a child who is to be named Jesus.

Please note that while the OT describes events up until the 500s B.C., their dates of composition are largely undetermined with certainty. Similarly, the NT describes events from about 4 B.C. but they were first composed around the 50s A.D. The inter-testamental period therefore covers a period in excess of 500 years. To put this in perspective, it spans a period from the time of William Shakespeare to our own time.

This is the reason why students of the Bible find the resources of this period very important to set biblical history in context. It also greatly aids our interpretation of texts we encounter in both the OT and the NT. A study of this period also links biblical history to secular socio-political history of the Near East and affirms many of the historical claims found in both the testaments.

Read on to learn more about the Inter-testamental Period

Written by Rev. R. Choong for Project Timothy, Academy for Christian Thought.

Hebrews, Israelites & Jews

Hebrews, Israelites, & Jews: Are they the same people?

Today, Israel refers to a nation, whose culture is Jewish and its language Hebrew. Yet in biblical times, the Hebrews were a people, Israel refers to a religious group and Jews were treated as a race – confusion!

The people who came from the extended family of Jacob (along with his servants and slaves) and settled in the land of Goshen in Egypt by Joseph’s invitation, were known as the Hebrew people. Moses led them out of slavery into the desert for 40 years. Joshua and Caleb then led the next generation of Hebrews into Canaan. Some Canaanites joined the Hebrews in worshipping YHWH and formed the religious nation of Israel (the name the Lord gave to Jacob, the second son of Isaac, the second son of Abraham). After the death of Solomon (926 B.C.), Israel was divided into the northern kingdom of “Israel” (10 tribes) & the southern kingdom of “Judah” (with the tribe of Benjamin. The Levites were given only cities, but Joseph’s sons, Manasseh & Ephraim, had lands of their own). In the 8th century B.C. the northern kingdom fell to Assyria. They were dispersed and intermarried. These lost tribes never recovered their national integrity. The southern kingdom of Judah was conquered in the 6th century B.C., many were exiled and also intermarried, but some returned to rebuild the old capital, Jerusalem. Following this, other Israelites began to describe themselves as the race of the Jews, after the tribe of Judah, even if they belonged to other tribes (e.g., Esther was a Benjamite but understood herself to be a Jew).

Hebrews

The biblical Hebrews belonged to a class of nomadic people to whom the more established groups applied the term “’Apiru” or “Habiru” . They included the relatives of Abram (who eventually called themselves “Israelites”) and many inconspicuous peoples scattered through Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Syria, Canaan, and Egypt. The term ’Apiru does not refer to an ethnic group but to a social stratum of people who lacked citizenship in the established nations of the Near East; “wanderers” or “outsiders” who lived a rootless existence on the fringes of society. The biblical word “Hebrew” was used as an ethnic term, found almost exclusively in biblical materials from the Abrahamic period to just before the Davidic period. Today, “Hebrew” describes the language of the Jewish people of nation of Israel.

Israelites

In the Bible, the word cannot be reduced to nationhood. While Hebrew is more of an ethnic term, Israel transcends ethnicity and even politics. It is a religious term. After their exodus from Egypt, the Hebrews of Jacob’s descent became known as Israel. Moses declared that Israel has become “the people of the Lord your God” (Deut. 27:9). God’s covenant with them for entry to the promised land was conditional. If they did not obey God, they would be cursed; “scattered among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other” (Deut.28:64). God ruled them through a succession of Judges. Desiring to be like the other nations, they defied God and pestered Judge Samuel for a human king. Israel the nation was formed (like the other nations). It ended in destruction and exile. Israel the religion had become Israel the political entity.

Is the modern state of Israel biblically privileged? No. This is a misidentification. The ‘nation of biblical Israel’ has been replaced by the spiritual nation of the Church. The promise to biblical Israel is now the promise to the Church – this was declared in Jeremiah 31:31-34 as ‘a new covenant’ which will ‘not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors.’ Modern day Israelis (nationality) are not the biblical Israelites.

Jews

This English word “Jew” is derived from the Middle English, Iewe, a translation of the Hebrew “yehudim” which means “from the tribe of Judah”. The term gained currency after the Fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. With the dispersal of the lost tribes of the northern kingdom to Assyria and the exile of many Judahites from Judah to Babylonia, the identity of the Israelites were at risk. By the time of the Persian period, the descendants of the former Israelites adopted the name “Jews” to identify themselves with the only intact tribe, Judah (which included the tribe of Benjamin) .

What was the motivation to give up one’s tribal identification (Dan, Reuben, Levi, etc.) in favor of another (Judah)? The social cost was high – those who did not share this “Jewish” identity were regarded as belonging to “the nations” (Acts 14:2), that is, Gentiles. Although Hebrew-speaking Israelites became known as the Jews, observing Jewish law, and describing themselves as culturally Jewish, the decisive factor in biblical times was not citizenship or language but religion . However, today, being Jewish refers to a cultural identification with no obligation to believe in God and being an observant Jew refers to the practice of modern religious Judaism that developed from rabbinical Judaism, the revised version, as it were, of the original Mosaic religion. The biblical reference to the Israelites is obsolete. The modern state of Israel is not a return of the lost tribes but a coming together of racially mixed groups who identify with the ancient religion of the Hebrew people as well as secular people groups who identify with the culture of rabbinical Judaism.

Both Jesus and Paul identified the composition of biblical Israel as those who obey the commands of God and his Son. Christians became the Israelites (not Israelis) of the New Testament. We are inheritors of God’s first chosen people, who were never meant to be a racial or genetic pedigree. That explains the racial intermarriages in the lineage of Abraham (including the pedigree of Jesus) that included non-Jews such as Keturah, Zipporah, Rahab, and Ruth. The definition of being Israel and indeed, Jewish, was fidelity to God; not to race, culture, language or geography. Hebrew, Israelites and Jews are not synonymous terms.

So What Are The Implications?

1) Christians are the new “biblical Israel”.

We possess the rightful claim to the God of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the Judges, the Kings, the prophets, the Apostles, the Apostolic Age, the Church Fathers and down to the present age. The Christian faith lies in a continuous succession of those whom God has called to be His own. A false understanding of being “chosen” was disastrous for Judaism. Their expectations were completely undermined by the Holocaust. A Messianic (Jewish) Christian stands with all other Christians before God. The claim that this is ‘replacement theology’ betrays an unfortunate misunderstanding of the scriptures. God made only one covenant with humanity. The Christian claim is that we are the chosen people because God loved us first.

2) Are the modern Jewish people biblically privileged?

No. While we acknowledge and celebrate the people first chosen by God to bring the good news to all nations, anyone who calls upon Christ as Lord and savior are among the chosen ones. There are not two ‘chosen’ peoples. The Gentiles have inherited the Jewish mandate. Indeed, from the religious meaning of being Jewish, believing Gentiles become Jewish, so that there is no difference before God (Gal.3:28). Present-day Jews hold no privileged salvific position and Paul noted that not all who are of Israel will be saved (Rom. 9:6). Thus we are charged to also witness to the Jews.

3) Is the modern state of Israel biblically privileged?

No. The modern Jewish state of Israel is not a part of the messianic kingdom of Jesus Christ, a kingdom “not of this world” (John 18:36).

The New Testament clarifies the Christian position: Mark 3:35 “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”. Galatians 3:7 “Those who believe are the children of Abraham”; 3:9 “those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham; 3:29 “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise”.

We must treat both the Palestinians and the Israelis with the respect and compassion due to a people at war, who nevertheless need to hear the gospel.

4) How are the Jews related to the Arabs?

The Hebrew language shares a Semitic history with the Arabic language. Many Arabs and all Jews claim that they are descendants of Noah through his son Shem and the patriarch Abraham/Ibrahim. Other Arabs claim their lineage from Abraham (Ibrahim) through his son, Ishmael and grandson Adnan – the Prophet Muhammad is one such Arab. Some Arabs are Bedouins who came from the Assyrian desert.
The term Arabs also refer to “the desert dwellers”. On this view, Abram/Ibrahim was a Mesopotamian (Chaldean) from modern Iraq and fathered many Arabian tribes (including the Midianites from Keturah), through his half-Egyptian son Ishmael; as well as the Arabian tribe we call the Jews, through Sarah’s grandson Jacob. The Jews could be understood as a sect of the Arab peoples, not a separate race. They are thus cousins among the “desert dwellers”.

5) Is there any Scriptural mandate for Zionism in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Many Christians tend to be Zionistic, i.e., believing that the church is obliged to defend political Zionism, the claim that a modern state of Israel should exist in the former “Palestina”. The misunderstanding rests with the presumption that (i) biblical religious Israel corresponds directly with the modern political state called Israel, and (ii) Israel is the location of Christ’s second coming . Since neither the state of Israel nor the Jewish people are biblically privileged, and the location of Jesus’ second coming is unknown, the Christian church has no Scriptural warrant nor mandate to choose Israel over Palestine.

The founding of Israel on May 14th 1948 was premised upon the return to the promised land based on the biblical covenants. However in Deut. 30:5, the biblical promise was explicitly conditioned on the people’s “return to the Lord”. In any case, once formed, modern political Israel operated as a secular nation.

Any legitimate claim for modern Israel cannot rest on biblical nor theological grounds. It was a political “settlement” endorsed by guilt-ridden western powers whose indifference to the horrors of European anti-Semitism failed to stop the Holocaust.

The establishment of Israel on May 14, 1948 by a United States resolution was yet another redistribution/invasion of Canaan, but this time, without any divine mandate.

In Search of Knowledge

What is the point of philosophy?

We are unable to scientifically theorize or theologically test, any proposal regarding such an origin without the rigor of philosophical speculation. If part of the scientific and theological enterprises includes rigorous philosophy, Christians should learn to get it right so that responsible philosophy can discipline both science and theology (theology is the academic discipline of the devotional practice called religion.) Christian theology has been drawn into the discussion because the new apologetic is to explain the Church’s creedal proclamations as an act of public accountability.

The natural sciences are the arts of collecting relevant evidence to support or reject the hypothesis of a theory. We observe the universe and conclude that everything is energy-matter. We construct observatories and build computers to measure, quantify and analyze the different data about the forms of energy-matter. We interpret this data to develop theories that make predictions for further data gathering that can be applied to other theories in a loop of inquiry: the theories we construct determine the kind of data we will obtain, which determines the kinds of theories we can affirm. This loop is a self-selecting mechanism for discovery. In a sense, one can discover what one is looking for. To counter this bias, the predictions must be logical and are tested against a hypothesis to allow us to reject it if it no longer can be modified to fit the incoming data. The modern sciences have approached and crossed the boundaries into philosophy and theology. Science can help theology side-step dead ends and implausible conclusions, for e.g., affirming that the notion of ‘the four corners of the earth’ is not to be understood literally after Col. Yuri Gagarin’s flight around the earth.

What is a natural phenomenon? The scientific presumption is that life is a natural outcome of the evolution of cosmic matter. This is to be expected because science is in the business of explaining natural phenomena. What then is a natural phenomenon? It is one that appears to be scientifically explicable. This is obviously a tautology. A process is natural if it can be scientifically explained and a scientific explanation of a process means it must be a natural phenomenon. This means that if a phenomenon cannot be explained by science, it may not be a natural phenomenon and conversely, if a phenomenon is supernatural, it cannot be explained scientifically. So how can we tell if a phenomenon is natural or not if it cannot be scientifically explained by science? It is convenient to then add that even phenomena that cannot presently be explained by science may in the future be, so it ought not to be considered supernatural phenomena. By this account, no phenomena can truly be considered supernatural because time has not yet run out.

Christian theology is a second-order source of knowledge that attempts to reconcile its reflections with the evidential inferences of the sciences. Both fields of inquiry are shaped by philosophical commitments.

What has the Genesis account or the first article of the Apostles’ Creed on the creation of the heavens and the earth to do with the origin of the universe, of life and of the human mind? Can divine proclamation cause the emergence of energy-matter, animate matter and lead to self-awareness? Read on

In the Beginning

What is the Christian teaching (doctrine) about creation?

The triune God created and made all that exists apart from God. Strangely, to understand the beginning, we have to first understand what to expect at the end. So although genealogy is about the beginning of existence, it can only be fully understood with reference to the final purpose at the end of creation, its teleological eschatology. The human race was not so much created as it was made, from created matter (earth and moisture). We were made in the image of God. But “What for?” The Church teaches that it is to exist and enjoy the glory of God in life everlasting. This presumes that existence is preferable to non-existence. It also presumes that fellowship is preferable to isolation. Finally, it presumes that to love and be loved is preferable to hate and be hated. To create is to establish and bring to being something previously without existence. The perennial question asked about reality is “Why is there something rather than nothing?” “How is God active both towards the world and within its structures?”

The Christian claim with regard to the origin of reality takes two forms:

1) God’s act of establishment is uniquely free and sovereign (The universe is in the hands of someone good and powerful rather than someone indifferent. This makes the issue of evil and suffering even more perplexing).

2) The theology of mediation of divine action (process of creation) takes various forms:

2.1: BY PERSONAL WORD: By the mere word of command: “Be” (“Let there be..”), an accommodation to the nature of creation, of a different order than of the creator. (The giving of space permitted there to be a reality other than God. God’s action of creation permits something its own unique freedom to be.

2.2: BY CRAFTSMANSHIP: Forming what has been created - God’s creation also includes the formation of what was initially created, e.g. Man (Psalm 139: 13-14 “ ... you knit me together in my mother’s womb, ... for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”) and the earth (Job 3: 14 describes the formation of the earth from primeval stuff “The earth takes shape like clay under a seal...”). God willed to allow another space and time to develop its own reality, writes Karl Barth. What about the six days of creation? Are these intervals ancient renditions of modern measures of time? Rather than wondering if ‘days’ meant six 24 hour cycles or not, Colin Gunton points to Basil of Caesarea who said, the pattern of days serves to establish the world’s relation to eternity Creation brought time to being. Gunton says that the seventh day of rest suggests that time is what God gives to things for their right development. [Time is God’s way of preventing everything from happening at once]

3.3: BY MINISTERIAL OPERATION: God enables some parts of creation serve as mediators of God’s creation of other parts (Genesis 1: 11, 20 “Let the earth bring forth...” the birth of a child). Humanity is the chief ministers of creation, as in the creative act of the sciences, and the arts. All fields of human inquiry are in fact examples of ministerial acts of creation by which we serve even unwittingly to further God’s will in creation. *Creation also means that all life belongs intimately to God because God alone is the giver, lord and master of life. ‘Life’ is peculiarly the Lord’s domain. Christians pray before each meal because all meals are intrinsically religious occasions in which we intrude God’s domain by killing life, i.e., all eating involves the sacrifice of other lives. Vegetarians do not escape this realization that the paradox of life rests on the inescapable necessity of death.

The Christian worldview learns to unprivilege the unnecessary grip of this life to the exclusion of anticipating the life everlasting to come. One commentator suggested that the Christian belief in life after death in the presence of God liberates us from the incessant need to memorialize ourselves through our DNA via expectations imposed on our children, physical monuments, preserving our ideas of physical beauty and youth, etc. If we are to be divinely renewed, we need not hang on to perishable masks for dear life. This permits us to truly love beyond our immediate kin and make progress towards 'loving our neighbor'.


The doctrine of creation states that God created everything that is not God. What does it mean?


1) There is other reality than God and that it is really other than he. [The only ontological distinction is between creator and creature, there are no intermediate forms. God maintains this divide but crosses it by the energies of the Son and the Spirit. In Jesus Christ, creator and creation meet with the meeting of the two realities]

2) Everything made by God is good. The world is supposed to be worldly. While the world was created good, the world we encounter is far from good. It presents us with a combination of good and evil. It needs to be redeemed.

3) Creation was ‘formed in Christ’ who holds it together (Colossians 1: 16). Unlike the pantheism of Spinoza or the postmodern retreat, this posits a fundamental unity of being and truth in Christ. This opens up the possibilities for evolutionary development without being limited to a consistency with the various forms of Darwinist dogma.

The doctrine of providence teaches that God cares that everything so created is maintained and sustained by divine power. The account of creation in Genesis places the seventh day as the day of rest, when God’s creatio initio (creation) is complete and creatio continua (providence) begins.

This doctrine of genealogy issued by divine revelation touches on the question of origins. How did the beginning begin? God need not and could have not but in generosity did will to create. We conclude that in the beginning God in generosity took the initiative to create creation and make out of it the human race. As we image ourselves after God, the principal driving force may well be the characteristic of generosity. We ought to be loving not because we are grateful but because we have the seeds of generosity within us.


Implications and applications:


1. If we were created for a purposeful future, someone greater than ourselves must value us. Life is a precious gift. To live a human life is a special gift. We are capable of much more than we dare hope. We are called to a nobler existence than we presume.

2. If we are provided for in our everyday existence, we must not be unnecessarily anxious about the wrong issues. We ought to consider what is beyond our capacity to transform and what is within our ability to change for the better.

3. In responding to science, history and religious pluralism, the greatest challenge to the development of a Christian worldview, we may ask

(i) how does this knowledge from the Scriptures direct our attitude towards the powerful advances in science and technology,

(ii) how does it help us understand the impact of history and our ability to learn from it for the future, and

(iii) how does the knowledge that we are dependent on the triune God embolden us to think about the responsibility and privilege of testimonial witnessing with the power of the gospel to heal, to comfort and to bring joy?

On Septemebr 24th, 2006, this lecture will be delivered at the ACT Kairos Lecture at Redeemer Presbyterian Church that meets at Hunter College, City University of New York.

Please check www.actministry.org for more details.

Melaka: RZIM Camp!

Shopping with my married colleagues, I discover a whole new universe I never knew existed. Whole "Baby r'us" stores devoted to baby products... and these fellas are so willing to spend jaw-dropping amount of money on branded baby car-seats. And I marvel at how parents care for their children by providing for their needs - clothes, foods, toys, luxuries etc.

But what about their spiritual & intellectual needs? Do we cultivate that?

if i have a kid (teenage and above) I'd send him to the Ravi Zacharias Ministry camp in October 27 – 29 2006, Friday – Sunday at Hotel Puri, Malacca.

Contact info:
Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
Tel: +65 6247 7695
Fax: +65 6247 9052
dorothy_low@rzimap.com.sg

Just look at the mouth-watering topics:

Movie discussions on 'Reel World', "The Hero" and "Melinda, Melinda" wud train us to appreciate, understand and experience and critique movies from a christian outlook

Spiritual disciplines like developing 'soul friends', comtemplation/reflections...

Scripture study on Genesis - focus on our Identity/Sexuality, Purpose and Destiny

Eye-opening Workshops on New Age, Islam, What is a Worldview? etc.

What I'd like to rave about, however, is the sessions Dr Clive Chin (SBC) will be doing - he taught me systematic theology 2 months ago, and definitely a humble, mission-minded, sacrificial and well-read scholar I look up to...

He'd be doing a session on "Biblical truth in a postmodern setting" (be conversant on postfoundationalism and stuffs like that, how it affects mission of church)

and "Gospel as Theo-drama" (where Clive will be drawing on the speech-act hermeneutics of Kevin Vanhoozer in this one, if u like 'drama of doctrine' in a nutshell, this session alone is worth the camp fees :)

Dun miss it! And bring ur frens/kids along...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Live and Let Live: A Christian Perspective on Biotechnology

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This is the age of cutting edge biotechnology. With the completion of the mapping of the human genome in 2000, we are poised for a great leap in life-changing biotechnological discoveries and innovations. Some of the many issues Christians shall face at the dawning of the 21st Century are:

• When does a human life begin?
• Is abortion allowed?
• Should Christian couples consider In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) or ‘test tube babies’ for their infertility problem?
• Should we allow ‘embryo reduction’ if there are too many embryos in successful IVF?
• What shall we do about ‘spare embryos’?
• What is therapeutic and reproductive cloning?
• Should human cloning be allowed?
• Is a ‘human’ clone a human being?
• Shall we allow embryonic stem cell research to continue?
• What are the promises of stem cell research?
• How will the practice of medicine be changed by new discoveries in biotechnology?
• Will you like to grow a new heart?
• Should scientist be allowed to make changes or ‘improve’ the human blueprint?
• Design your own baby?
• What is human eugenics?

The Bible does not give specific answers to these questions. Using biblical principles, this book seeks to help Christians to understand and be informed about these issues. Some of these questions may sound like science fiction. We have seen the way the silicon revolution of computers; mobile phones and the Internet have changed our lives within a decade. The biotechnology revolution has already begun. We are just beginning to experience its effect. We are living in ‘interesting times’.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Let People Think!

“Let me write the song of the nations, I don’t care who writes its laws”.

Loosely based on his book, “Deliver us from evil”, Ravi Zacharias spoke with courage, passion and conviction on moral relativism, hedonism and eliminating faith from the public sphere; and how all these brought forth the loss of shame, reason and meaning to Life and Society.

It was a public lecture like no other, especially when it was held within the walls of a Malaysian university; which ironically, had become a hostile ground for education and critical thinking and a fertile ground for indifference and moral relativism.

Drawing Logic and Reason and significant teachings of the Christian faith, Ravi Zacharias gave us all an important consideration about knowing the one true God.

Listen to the public lecture here-
The Three Great Challenges to Religion and Society- A Proposal for True Spirituality

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Religious Freedom in Old Testament

Religious Freedom in the Old Testament
Leong Tien Fock


A superficial reading of the Old Testament would lead one to think that there was no religious freedom in ancient Israel. For if you happened to be born into an Israelite family you are bound by the Ten Commandments and the other laws that came with the Mosaic Covenant. Under the Mosaic Law, the worship of idols and the breaking of the Sabbath were punishable by death. If you were born an Israelite you had no choice whatsoever but to worship the God of the Old Testament and in the manner prescribed. And so it seems.

Is the God of the Old Testament the same God of the New Testament? The seeming lack of religious freedom in ancient Israel suggests otherwise. To address this apparent discrepancy we need to explore an aspect of the Old Testament religion usually ignored in Old Testament studies. I am referring to the question of whether an Israelite individual or family could opt out of the Israelite religion at will. Since anyone in ancient Israel who worshipped foreign gods could be put to death, could he? Could they?

The Mosaic Covenant was made between God and Israel at Mount Sinai soon after Moses led them out of Egypt (Exodus 19). God had spoken to them that if they would keep this covenant He would be their God and they would be His people. They were given a choice as to whether they would be bound by this covenant. The people unanimously chose to do so. So there was religious freedom.

The question then arises: What about the future generations who did not participate in that choice? Since religion is a matter of personal conscience, why should they be bound by the choice of their forefathers? They did not choose to be born an Israelite to begin with!

It must be recognized that the Israelite religion was bound up with a piece of land. God made it very clear that they must observe the Mosaic Covenant in order to enter as well as to remain in the promised land. In fact, later in their history when they failed to do so despite repeated warnings they were exiled to Assyria and Babylonia.

This aspect of the Israelite religion has a very important implication on the question of religious freedom in the Old Testament. Since the occupation of the land was conditioned upon observing the Mosaic Covenant, any Israelite living in the land is deemed to have chosen to be, or remain, in the religion and be bound by the Mosaic Covenant. Anyone who chose to opt out of the religion must also opt out of the land. The death penalty on worshipping idols or breaking the Sabbath was intended for violations committed within the promised land. And there was no law that forbade an Israelite from leaving the religion by leaving the land.

The book of Ruth indicates that it was possible for an Israelite family to migrate out of the promised land. In this particular case they left the land and sojourned in Moab because of a famine and not because of a rejection of the Israelite religion. But there is no reason to believe that an Israelite family who wanted to worship the gods of Moab instead of the God of their forefathers could not have migrated to Moab for this very purpose. And there is no reason to suppose that the religious leaders of Israel would stop them from leaving. So as long as those who have renounced the Israelite faith do not worship their foreign gods within the promised land they are not punishable by the Mosaic Law. If they do not leave the land they are considered to have opted to remain in the religion and are therefore punishable by the relevant religious laws. So the blanket prohibition to worship idols or break the Sabbath (within the promised land) does not imply a lack of religious freedom in ancient Israel.

Hence a careful reading of the Old Testament shows that no Israelite would be punished for leaving the religion as he would have to also leave the land, and as a result the Mosaic Law would no longer be applicable. We are not aware of another religion practised today that is bound up with a piece of land. This means it is easy to misunderstand the Old Testament on the subject of religious freedom.

Dave: Soo Inn has written another helpful post, but from the New testament perspective, here.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Strange Rite at The Lord's Table


On the first Passover in ancient times
The hebrews were taught a strange rite
Egypt was perplexed at the sign
Of blood on Israel's doors that night

That quiet night was the last
For rebellious Egypt's firstborn
The Hebrews trembling and aghast
to find blood outside their doors the next morn

The solemn night and the sombre morn
The blood on the doors, the deadly breath
For a thousand years, Israel performed
One son spared on one son's death

When the age was ready and ripe,
This strange rite was perfected
One quiet and solemn night
A son prepared to be executed
But this was unlike the old years
When the weakly lamb's blood was shed
The new blood belonged to Heaven's Dear
God's own vein left to bled.

I came to the Table as Israel did
On the first Passover in ancient times
Trembling and aghast my petty wits
Couldst not fathom this strange design.
I, mortal, feeble and weak
Held in my hands God's Blood and Flesh
Unsure of many things, but this:
One son spared on one Son's death

Lord's Table, Aug 13 2006. BM Gospel Center

Rancangan Malaysia Ke-9

Christians must stand for social justice. That we have not done so to a greater extent is reflective of the lack of teaching that our gospel is as much a social as a spiritual one.

We can have no quarrel that the poor and marginalised must be given a hand up into the economic mainstream. Our reason is not the negative fear of social instability but the positive opportunity to show love and concern. The emphasis on eradicating poverty, intra-ethnic inequalities and care for such groups as the elderly, disabled, single mothers and orphans all resonate sympathetically with the Christian agenda for the past two millennia.

Where we would take issue with the 9MP is the unnecessary identification of socio-economic inequalities with race, and by implication religion. The ability to improve one’s standard of living should be based squarely on necessity and not ethnicity. The Christian premise is one that regards all as equal in the sight of Almighty God.


Source: NECF
A Christian's Perspective on the 9th Malaysian Plan

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Corruption: Weakest Link

Dear Friends,

NATIONAL CONGRESS ON INTEGRITY, 19 August 2006
"Concept of Integrity from the Islamic & Christian Perspectives"

Venue: University College Sedaya International (UCSI), Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA (location map)
Time: 9 am - 2 pm (Saturday)

The organizers
The National Congress on Integrity is an initiative of the Graduates Christian Fellowship (GCF) and the Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute (OHMSI). It begun in 2005 with a focus on the issue of Corruption: The Weakest Link. The 2nd NCOI focused on Christian Citizenship and the Local Government. This is the third Congress and is designed to be open to all. All those invited must register to become participants.

The Context
The world is divided especially after 911. Bridge builders are few and far in between. Malaysia is interested to develop and build National Integrity, within a multi-cultural and multi-religious framework. The fight against corruption is a cornerstone of the Government’s Agenda. The concept of integrity (and corruption) needs to be understood and appreciated in more interesting ways and approaches for efficient translation. The root word for the English word integrity is “integer” which means wholeness, completeness and some times, uprightness. But, are there other concepts of integrity than those of the English Dictionary? What about the scriptures, whether of the East or of the West or of South? How do they help us understand and appreciate this concept of integrity a little better?

The Text: Concept of Integrity from the Islamic and Christian perspectives

The 3rd NCOI is a Dialogue and Exploration of the concept of Integrity based on an Islamic and Christian worldviews.

Two world renowned speakers, who are authorities in their own fields of knowledge, have been invited to address to Keynote Sessions on the Concept of Integrity. They have been requested to address it from each of their scriptural perspectives. The goal of the dialogue is to help evolve a framework for action within a multicultural setting to pursue this agenda of integrity. The two speakers are Dr Ravi Zacharias and Professor Syed Hussein Alatas.

Outcome of the Dialogue

Three outcomes are expected from this Dialogue:

That they will be an improved appreciation of the Concept of Integrity within the context of the National Program on Integrity,

That there will be some common ground agreements on action steps that can be taken by the participants to improve National Integrity and the fight against corruption, and

That the organizers will be able to make a conscious and considered presentation to the Parliamentary Special Committee on Integrity based on the recommendations and the learning achieved from the National Dialogue.
Keynote Speakers

Dr Ravi Zacharias.

He has addressed writers of the peace accord in South Africa, President Fujimori's cabinet and parliament in Peru, and military officers at the Lenin Military Academy and the Center for Geopolitical Strategy in Moscow.

Professor Syed Hussein Alatas.

Syed Hussein Alatas was a founding member of the Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Gerakan)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Above All Earthly Powers

Today, I drove to Bethlehem Baptist North Campus for a combined church service at Bethlehem Baptist - a special "welcome-home!" gathering for John Piper's return from sabbatical in UK! It was under the open sky, a gentle breeze blowing

Piper's sermon was based on Jesus' parable on "The Pharisee and Tax Collector" (Luke 18: 9-14, biblical teaching on justification by faith. One of Piper's upcoming books may be in response of NT Wright's views on the topic...

The Pharisee was not a proto-Pelagian trying to pull himself up by his own moral bootstraps. Instead he attributes his moral achievement (he never robbed, or unfaithful to his wife - quite 'authentic' lifestyle!) and religious accomplishment (fasted twice a week and tithed!) as being enabled by God!

This guy is not a pelagian who thinks he can make it without God's help. He even thanked God for helping him to be different from others.

But his fatal mistake is that he considers that God-enabled righteousness as the GROUND of his standing before God, the Judge.

The tax collector, on the other hand, is a sinner. But he recognizes his own sinfulness and looks to God for mercy. And Jesus says, the tax collector goes home justified (declared as righteous) rather than the pharisee (who stands condemned)

This message is hazardous to popular notions of God works. We like the idea that 'authentic' people who live 'good lives' get saved.

But it is spiritually dangerous to put before the Judge our 'grace-imparted' deeds as the basis for being put right with God. None of us could stand before His holy light. No one.

All of us need to come before God with faith in the blood-bought righteousness of Jesus Christ. And Him alone.

Let our hope and the hope of others be on nothing less than the Christ and His wrath-absorbing work on the cross.

We sang a wonderful hymn as well:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea:
a great High Priest, whose name is Love,
who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on his hands,
my name is written on his heart;
I know that while in heaven he stands
no tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair,
and tells me of the guilt within,
upward I look, and see him there
who made an end of all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died,
my sinful soul is counted free;
for God, the Just, is satisfied
to look on him and pardon me.

Behold him there! the risen Lamb!
My perfect, spotless Righteousness,
the great unchangeable I AM,
the King of glory and of grace!

One with himself, I cannot die;
my soul is purchased by his blood;
my life is hid with Christ on high,
with Christ, my Savior and my God.


After waiting in line for 20 minutes or so, I managed to meet Piper himself, shook hands, took photos and chatted for a while. Even passed him a card on The Agora ministry just in case he would like to keep in touch.

Marvin, he also mentioned what a wonderful preacher you are! Wow, that means a lot coming from a master preacher.

Unfortunately i wont be around for the conference in September "The Supremacy of God in a postmodern world". Aiyor.

But the conference theme and speaker line-up sounds extremely promising:

Our aim is to call the church to a radical and very old vision of the Man, Jesus Christ—fully God, fully sovereign, fully redeeming by his substitutionary, wrath-absorbing death, fully alive and reigning, fully revealed for our salvation in the inerrant Holy Bible, and fully committed to being preached with human words and beautifully described with doctrinal propositions based on biblical paragraphs.

We love Dorothy Sayers’ old saying, “The Dogma is the Drama.” We think the post-propositional, post-dogmatic, post-authoritative “conversation” is post-relevant and post-saving.