Monday, December 31, 2007

Islam Hadhari: Developmental framework

National policy must aim to embrace all
by Tricia Yeoh

For the first time in Malaysia, a religious framework has been instituted within a national socio-economic development plan. Islam Hadhari was introduced in the Ninth Malaysia Plan as a "comprehensive and universal framework for the nation".

Indeed, Islam Hadhari is interwoven into many chapters, promoting "a progressive developmental outlook" and "a moral society with strong religious and spiritual values." This has stirred a wave of interest in Islam Hadhari: what it is, its implications, and how Malaysians should react to it.

Islam Hadhari literally translated means Civilisational Islam, a theory of government based upon the principles of Islam as derived from the Holy Quran. It seeks to emphasise development consistent with the central tenets of Islam. In particular, ten fundamental principles have been outlined and this includes faith and piety in Allah, a just and trustworthy government, and freedom and independence to the people.

This initiative has been very much a brainchild of current Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who introduced the concept in 2004, several months after his ascension into premiership. This step was taken to project a moderate Islam, perhaps as an attempt to soften the ex-Prime Minister's rather hard-line declaration of Malaysia as an Islamic state three years earlier. A new and fresh ideology might have been deemed necessary for his administration. Interestingly, we are the sole country promoting Islam Hadhari as national policy, which means that its definition is based purely upon one interpretation of Islam - Malaysia's.

However, it has also been emphasised that Islam Hadhari is not a new religion or mazhab (denomination). According to the official Islam Hadhari website, it is an effort to bring the ummah back to the fundamentals as prescribed in the Quran and the Hadith. This piece does not seek to delve into the theological or philosophical aspects of Islam Hadhari, but to explore its practical expression in Malaysian society.

Multiracial and Multireligious Malaysia

Malaysia: Truly Asia, the tourism slogan, is a Malaysian reality as seen in its major religions represented by Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Taoism, and Sikhism. In such a diverse and multicultural society, the call for harmony has always been a commitment of the government. National unity is of prime importance, with a range of policies implemented to this end, from educational to national language and national service policies.

The introduction of Islam Hadhari as a universal framework for national development implies that it applies to all Malaysians. The question is this: does it contradict or complement the government's efforts at promoting national unity? The answer lies not in mere rhetoric, which unfortunately has been one of the criticisms of Islam Hadhari, but in its actual fleshing out of policy into practice.

One obvious indicator of whether Islam Hadhari will work constructively towards national unity or not is the public's response. It will therefore only serve to strengthen national solidarity if, and only if, all Malaysians alike receive it with welcoming arms.

A non-Muslim can only appreciate the Muslim point of view if three elements are accepted. First, that Islam Hadhari should be advocated, since it combines fundamental elements of true Islam with modern development. Second, Islam is holistically applicable in all spheres of life, private and public. The Quran and Hadith certainly provide clear principles for this purpose. Finally, Islamic values can and should be assimilated into all levels of society.

What then of the non-Muslim's response? Are Islam Hadhari's principles really universal in nature? The first of these is "Faith and piety in Allah". Adherents of religions that do not preach Allah would be uncomfortable with this requirement.

For the sake of argument, assuming these ten principles are indeed universal and sound, how realistic is it that they can be translated into universally accepted practices? This is the real point of contention.

Cause for Concern?

That non-Muslims increasingly find it difficult to reconcile a sole religion as the basis of socio-economic development is a given. Whether or not these concerns are justified is another question. A spate of recent incidents has served to perpetuate some fears.

In October 2005, a non-Muslim student complained that she was barred from her university convocation because she refused to wear the tudung. Early this year, a directive was issued for all policewomen, Muslim or not, to wear the tudung for official ceremonies. The failure of some girls to wear the tudung resulted in their removal from a school netball team. There have been recent incidents of Hindu temple cleansing in the Klang Valley, bulldozers completely obliterating 100-year-old deities. Local authorities want to prosecute couples for public indecency (holding hands) on the count this is un-Islamic. A forum discussing the rights of religious freedoms as held in the Federal Constitution was recently disrupted.

It is interesting to note that all these have taken place after the Islam Hadhari concept was introduced by Pak Lah himself in 2004.

I started with the premise that for Islam Hadhari to be considered constructive towards the government's national unity efforts, it should be acceptable to all Malaysians. Although its principles may ensure Malaysia's multiracial society will benefit, its implementation process has begun to stir some anxiety.

If recent cases listed above are examples of the actual expression of Islam Hadhari, suffice to say it will not be well received by the non-Muslim public.

If, however, these are not good examples, then greater effort must be taken by the government to ensure it truly intends for Islam Hadhari to live up to its name as a civilisational and progressive Islam.

The problem in Malaysia is that most issues, including religion, are politicised for vested interests. Islam Hadhari should not be yet another tool to gain political clout. Unless the government can circumvent this, I cannot see how Islam Hadhari will get an all-round approval. It needs to seriously consider how to cater to the 40% non-Muslim public. Their responses cannot be disregarded. This is detrimental as it forms the basis of socio-economic development for the next four years.

Both the principle and practice of any unifying policy must receive equal affirmation from all races in Malaysia.

If Islam Hadhari in principle is something whose values all Malaysians alike can readily accept, this will be a tool to unite the country's diverse peoples. However, if this cannot be equally translated into an all-encompassing set of practices, it is potentially divisive in nature and must be rectified urgently.

The writer is a research analyst with a policy institute. The views expressed are her own. Comments:

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Handling Misconception Seminar

Michael Tan from Eagles will be doing a seminar on HANDLING MISCONCEPTION at First Assembly of God. It will train us on how to handle frequently asked questions/misconceptions about the Christian faith, learn from Jesus how to ask good questions, conversational apologetics and help to remove some common obstacles to faith in daily conversations.

Michael became a Christian in his teens through the Eagles in 1969. He joined the staff full-time in 1979. Michael is responsible for corporate communications and oversees the editorial team for VantagePoint. He also co-ordinates human resource needs for the organization. As a speaker and trainer, Michael conducts seminars on evangelism and leadership issues and also does evangelistic preaching.

Date: 12th January 2008 (Saturday)
Time: 8.30am - 5.00pm
Venue: Sanctuary of Praise Hall
Fee: RM30 (By registration) For more details, click here

Today, I discovered the Colporteur Book Store ministries which provide solid 'alternative' theological resources for the Malaysian christian community. They are open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 am till 5 pm only.

What does Colporteur mean? Basically, an itinerant seller or giver of religious literature or a peddler of religious books. Hey, that fits my previous job description too. It is situated at 84A, Jalan SS24/2, Tmn Megah, 47300 Petaling Jaya (Doulos Presbyterian) Tel/Fax: 03 78032383. Give 'em a visit and you may find something interesting.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Events In 2007

As we approach the end of 2007, it is time to take stock of what Agora had been up to this year, and give thanks to the Lord for the opportunities and imperfect achievements... And also as we look ahead at 2008, here are some questions that our Pastors would like to pose to us:

What is the one thing the team is doing right?

What is one thing needs improvement?

What further resources needed so that the ministry can be carried out even better?

"City Discipleship Presbyterian Church is a disciple-making church which multiplies disciples who influence and impact Klang Valley and beyond for CHRIST."

True discipleship will be evident through the impact in their spheres of influence. Agora ministry exists to create awareness amongst Malaysian Christians in a simple, engaging and winsome manner how the all-encompassing biblical worldview intersects with the various contemporary issues in the marketplace. We seek to work in partnership with churches and other organizations in the Christian community to demonstrate the Lordship of Christ in different spheres of life, trying to bridge the gap between Sunday School and Seminary, connecting a network of believers who take both the cultural mandate and great commission seriously to the glory of God and common good of our communities.

Events In 2007

Open Seminar/Talks on
i. “How Would Jesus Think?” and “Renewing Our Minds” (Dave at Uni Malaya – Jan 2007)
ii. Homosexuality (Ps Edmund Smith of Real Love Ministry - March 07),
iii. “Have We Lost Our Mind?” (Dave at Community Baptist Youth group - June 07),
iv. Social Justice by Tricia Yeoh (July 07),
v. “The Gospel and the tasks of the Church” (Agora Penang was launched on August 07),
vi. “Caring For The World: racial reconciliation, apologetics and integration of faith and marketplace.” (Dave at Emmanuel EFC youth camp – Sept 07)
vii. “Christian Apologetics” (Dave at Uni Kebangsaan Malaysia, PERKEB – Oct’ 07)
viii. “Challenges Of Our Generation” (Dave at Uni of Nottingham CF – Nov ’07)
ix. “Christian Worldview: The Big Questions, Dualism, Relativism & Understanding The Times” (Dave at D’Nous Academy camp held at Seminari Teologi Malaysia, Dec ’07)

b. Agora Penang had our inaugural meeting "The Gospel and the tasks of the Church" in Aug 07. Thanks to Yew Kong, Steven, Joanne and others! In April 2007, David assisted the Novus ministry team at the Habitude graduation camp in Malaysia Bible Seminary campus, Rawang. John Chung helped to organize a movie night with the Novus students, watching “Amazing Grace” the life of William Wilberforce and inspire some of them to pursue social justice as Christians in Nov 07

c. Initiated an online Book Project “Rebels For The Cross” - a book by youths and for youths in Malaysia. Works on volunteer basis. (Thanks to Keropok Lekor and gang for the vision! We can do it in 2008)

d. Monthly book study Total Truth initiative with OHMSI, involving different churches and vocations to develop biblical worldview. Work closely with OHMSI in promoting events/projects and a successful launch of “Was Jesus Political?” conference in Sept 2007.

e. Helped Grace@Work organize Preaching seminar at Antioch Center, Kota Damansara in Jan ’07.

f. Joshua Woo, David, Agora Singapore friends and Godlief Wesley took part in RZIM Reasonable Faith 2007 camp in Melaka. Met up with John Dickson, Stuart McAllister, Iching, Brian and team, learn about doing movie discussion, historical Jesus, Islam and pluralism.

g. Dave took part in the launch of “Young Disciples Of Jesus” youth ministry launch in Sept 2007.

h. Cahaya Nusantara, a Bahasa Malaysia blog, has also been launched for local believers. In March 2007, Agora translated two online articles into Bahasa Malaysia in response to the “Jesus Tomb” sensational news. It was an opportunity to engage with culture on an issue that draws attention to the death and resurrection of Christ.

i. Wrote an article for Multimedia university newsletter on “Racing Rats, Moving Cheese” (marketplace ministry) for the student fellowship in June 2007 and Graduate Christian Fellowship I-commentary on “Following Jesus In Marketplace”.

j. The team and Alicia helped to setup and oversee the church library.

k. Online forum grew to about 300 members and participation of contributors also increased.

l. Networked together with Andre Yee, Sovereign Grace, 9marks and Desiring God Ministry to translate articles into Bahasa Malaysia and Indonesia in a project called Open Source Mission which made use of wiki-powered technology. So far, half a dozen articles have been completed and a book translation in progress.

m. Planned seminars which were not successfully carried out – Therapeutic Arts, Gender Roles and Now That’s A Good Question! Did not have the chance to launch the evangelistic movie discussions as planned earlier in the year.

Ah Lek inherits Heaven and Earth

Whack! The bamboo stick bounced off Ah Lek’s shaven head followed by his “ouch!” “Stop daydreaming,” warned Abba Ah Beng, who is teaching his disciple how to study the Scriptures. Abba Ah Beng is a strong believer of an imported teaching method from Ha-mer-li-ca which states that young minds are empty trash cans, waiting to be filled by their teachers. “Read the text,” ordered Abba Ah Beng.

“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. Romans Chapter 8, verse 16 and 17” recited Ah Lek dutifully with the appropriate swaying motion of his body. For some strange reasons, the Sow Lin Monastery only uses the King James Version of the Bible. No other versions are acceptable. “We are heirs of God” ran through Ah Lek’s mind. Ah Lek remembers Ah Loong from his village. Ah Loong is born with a literal silver spoon in his mouth; being the sole heir of the rich village merchant. When Ah Loong’s father died, he inherited the family business. In the latest village gossip, he has ten concubines and three mistresses, five houses and slaves, and is severely obese (which is a sign of prosperity in ancient China).

“I am an heir of God!” The thought almost jolted Ah Lek off his stool. “God is rich,” he reasoned, “He owns everything. That means, one day it will all be mine!” After he has inherited God’s treasures, Ah Lek fantasies, he will drive to Ah Loong’s house in his brand new Lamborghini with a couple of pretty girls. His mansion will have a hundred rooms. It will be so huge that if he wants to find his wife, he will have to use his handheld GPS locator. He will be ruler of all the nations; presidents and dictators will come to pay their respects to him. He will have buildings and statues built by people who want to worship him….

Whack! “You cannot hit God’s heir!” slipped out before Ah Lek can control himself. “Why not?” asked Abba Ah Beng. “Because one day, I will inherit all of God’s riches. I am his heir. I will be rich and powerful,” Ah Lek, managed to stammer out a reply, fearful of the gleam in Abba Ah Beng’s eyes. “Ah,” said Abba Ah Beng, “heirs inherit when their fathers die. God, however, lives forever.”

We may laugh at the image of Ah Lek waiting forever to inherit God’s treasures but there is an important lesson we may learn from him-that of the correct interpretation of the Bible. More specifically, do we take the words of the Bible literally or not? Ah Lek did; interpreting that as an heir he inherits everything from his father. Titus however understood being an heir of God meant receiving eternal life (Titus 3:5-7). In the Old Testament the Israelites understood being heirs meant inheriting the land of Canaan by a promise through Abraham (Heb.11:8).

Paul taught Timothy that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim.2:16-17). The literal interpretation will be that by Scripture, Paul would have meant the Old Testament because the New Testament, as we know it, has not being written yet. However, all have us have accepted that Paul has meant the whole Bible when he used the word ‘Scripture’ implying that we accept the essence rather than the literal words of Paul. Other examples of accepting the Bible literally is to accept that Jesus taught that he had renounced his mother and brothers (Matt.12:48), that we are to sell all that we have (Matt.19:20-22), and we have to be born again by natural childbirth (John 3:1-9; poor Nicodemus wondered how he could fit into his mother’ womb!). While these are obvious examples of Bible passages not to be taken literally, there are others which are not so obvious.

So what happens? Some Christians begin to pick and choose their passages. We can aspire to be a literal Acts 2 church while conveniently leaving out the part about “were together and having all things in common” (v.44) and “daily meeting in the temple courts.”(v.46). Some stand their grounds and insist that the whole Bible is to be understood literally. To do that, they have to live in their own communities and insulate themselves from the 21st century. The Amish is a good example of these Bible literalists. Those on the other end of the continuum are the Bible liberalists. They insist that the Bible are written by men and are example of good teachings on life and moral values.

How then, do we as Christians, understand the Bible? First, we have to understand that the Bible is divided into different genre: historical, poetry, prophetic or allegorical, and prescriptive. Thus, a poem cannot be understood literally and we must not derive a doctrine from a historical incident recorded in the Bible. Second, we have to be aware of the limitations of various translations (or versions) of the Bible. These translations are called versions for a reason: they only approximate the true Bible or word of God. Each translation of the Bible has their strengths and weaknesses. Different translation reflects the biasness of those who translate from the ancient Greek, Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew languages. It is good to have at least two or three different translations of the Bible to compare. Third, Bible commentaries are useful if we recognized that they too have their limitations. It is better to study individual book commentaries rather than single volume whole Bible commentaries. There are scholars have spent their whole life working on a single book or sometimes a few verses of one book of the Bible and are worth reading. Four, put yourself in the place of whom the Bible is addressing. While it may be impossible for us to put ourselves in ancient Israel, we may understand better if we know more about the background, culture and language of the people to whom the Bible was originally directed. Finally, be open to the Holy Spirit as we read the Bible. We must be aware of our human tendency to read into the Bible what we want to hear. Instead we should allow the Holy Spirit to open our spiritual eyes and hearts to what God is saying to us through the words and sentences of the Bible. That, in the final analysis is how we understand the Bible.

Reflection Questions
1. How can you tell whether a passage is meant to be understood literally or not?
2. Which English Bible version are you using? Why this particular version? What other translations will complement your present version?
3. How do we allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the Bible?

Dear Lord,

Help us to read Your Word well and open our eyes to your spiritual truths. Give us understanding in studying Your Word, help us to discern what may distract us and what will draw us into Your depths. Help us to hear Your Voice by the help of the Holy Spirit through Your Word.


soli deo gloria

Friday, December 28, 2007

Understanding The Times

In view of requests to simplify the Total Truth lessons in bit-sized nuggets, here are some slides and notes from my sharing done for a group of teens/college students handpicked for the D'Nous Academy 2007 organised by FES/SU. The camp is the brainchild of Bishop Hwa Yung and Dr Kam Weng in view of the lack of reflective Christian leaders and combines intellectual development with heart/hand training in
the form of community service and dialogues with other faiths.

I had a good time interacting with the students, browsing through the Seminari Teology Malaysia library for my assignment on the book of Joshua and "lawatan sambil belajar" at the Maha Vihara Buddhist temple at Brickfields.

Allah, Who Is Confused?

What a Christmas gift we got from the govt this year! A friend Look.Observe wrote this letter to Malaysiakini, and indeed, more should do so in the media and blogs:

"It is with great unease and displeasure I read news in recent days of how the prime minister has systematically clamped down on other religions. First it was the issue of Hindu temple demolition, which was completely blanked out of mainstream newspapers. It seems that the irresponsible authorities who insisted on bringing down the temple were not brought to justice at all.

The Malaysiakini video clearly shows how the authorities have wronged the people, particularly the Hindu community in Malaysia. Instead of discussing the issue and taking proper steps, the issue was blanked out from all Malaysians. This leaves no room for Malaysians to learn from history as to not repeat such blunders.

At the dawn of the new year, Christians, particularly the Bahasa Malaysia speaking Christians in East Malaysia, got themselves another ‘Christmas present’ from the Internal Security Ministry. The ministry threatened not to renew Herald weekly’s publishing permit because the word “Allah” was used to refer to God. This is a very unreasonable act by the government.

Th word “Allah” is also used in the Middle East by all the religions of the Abrahamic faiths. Islam, Christianity and Judaism were all founded in the Middle East. So why then is the government making an issue out of nothing when such practices of Christians calling their God “Allah” is not an issue at all there?

By warning Herald not to publish their BM section because the term “Allah” was used, the ministry is actually telling Christians how to call their God in BM. BM is the national language of this country. It belongs to all Malaysians regardless of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim. The language is not exclusive to any party, race or religion.

I have never heard of any government imposing on a person or a group’s right to call out to their God or being told how to call their God. At the most, a person or group can try to convince the other person/group of how they believe God should or should not be called, but they have absolutely no right to impose it.

The answer to my question above would be that no one has the right to tell me how to address my God because my relationship with God is between me and God. It does not involve the country or the government. If it is wrong or if God does not like it when I address Him as “Allah” in BM, He can then strike me dead with lightning. I really don’t need the government or anybody else telling me how to address my God if God does not mind it."

Siew Foong at the NECF called for prayer:

2Chronicles 19: 6-7 “Consider what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord who is with you when you render judgment. Now then let the fear of the Lord be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of bribe.”

1. Justice and fairness to prevail
2. Christian leaders and lawyers involved in the lawsuits: wisdom, sound judgment and courage.
3. Against the temptation of the evil one, the spirit of compromise and the fear of man.

Hanya Satu Yang Anda Perlu

The Agora is part of the Gospel Translations project, and this is a resource that we have translated into Bahasa Malaysia:

"Jika Marta tahu peristiwa beliau naik berang akan tercatat dalam Injil Lukas, mungkin akan lebih sabar beliau menahan rasa geramnya itu. Akan tetapi, kisah yang memalukannya sudah menjadi pedoman kita kerana dalam Lukas 10:38-42 kita menemui salah satu kekunci penting (yang seringkali diabaikan) untuk kita bermesra dengan Tuhan.

Ceritanya berbuka tirai dengan Yesus dan sahabat-sahabatnya merentasi bandar Bethany yang terletak hanya dua batu ke arah timur Jerusalem. Di sini, Lukas menulis, “Seorang perempuan yang bernama Marta menerima Dia di rumahnya.”

Walaupun Lukas tidak memberi maklumat lebih lanjut, saya anggap Marta menjadi tuan rumah kepada para pengikutnya juga. Kalau begitu, beliau perlu merisaukan tentang makan minum bagi sekurang-kurangnya tiga belas orang tetamu. Rasanya tidak mungkin Marta membaca terlebih dahulu jadual perjalanan Yesus. Barangkali kunjungan Yesus adalah secara spontan, tidak dijangka.

Bayangkan anda dalam situasi Marta… Bagaimana kalau pastor anda dan dua belas rakan karibnya membuat lawatan ke rumah anda suatu hari dan berkata, “Apa khabar? Kami baru sampai. Boleh kita menjamu makan malam bersama-sama di rumah anda?” Macam mana reaksi anda?

Anda mungkin cuba kelihatan teruja. “Ini sudah bagus!” anda berkata. Senyuman kaku terukir dalam wajah anda. Apabila mereka melangkah masuk, anda mungkin mula meminta maaf kerana ruang tamu kurang kemas dan dapur dipenuhi pinggan mangkuk yang kotor. Pada masa yang sama, anda cuba menggeledah almari dan peti ais, tertanya-tanya sama ada makanan akan mencukupi untuk ‘kenduri kilat’ ini?

Dapatkah anda melihat keadaan Marta pada hari tersebut? Beliau bukan pemilik restoran, tetapi cuba mengendalikan sebuah rumah sebegini!

Jika bandar Bethany mempunyai restoran Cina atau Pizza Hut, mungkin Marta secara diplomatic akan menunjukkan arah kepada Yesus dan para sahabatNya untuk mencari makan di luar. Akan tetapi, tiada pilihan baginya. Ramai tetamu berkerumun untuk makan malam. Walaupun beliau ada niat yang baik, pergelutan dalam hatinya sukar dapat dielakkan.

Sebagai seorang wanita yang tekun dan tulus, Marta bersungguh-sungguh memasak untuk tetamu undangannya. Tidak keterlaluan beliau harapkan adik perempuannya Maria untuk membantu di dapur. Jadi bayangkanlah reaksinya apabila melihat Maria duduk dekat kaki Yesus, mendengar ajaranNya. Semasa Marta bertungkus lumus dengan aliran keringat dahi, adiknya bersantai, tidak sedar atau terjejas langsung. Adakah anda rasa keadaan sebegini mungkin menghangatkan serba sedikit perasaannya?

Pada ketika itu, bukan hanya masakan lauk sahaja yang ‘medidih’ di dapur Marta. Niat baiknya mula bertukar haluan yang tidak diduga. Sekarang beliau marah dan cuba memprojeksi perasaan bersalahnya kepada Maria pula.

“Tuan,” dia mencelah sambil menggendalakan ajaran Yesus, “Tidakkah Kau peduli bahawa Maria membiarkan aku buat kerja bersendiri? Suruhlah dia membantu aku!"

Jelasnya, ia bukan perbincangan sopan biasa, dan Marta, sudah tentu, tidak menjangka hal ini akan dimasukkan dalam Alkitab. Tapi pada masa itu, Maria kecewa, tindak balasnya terhadap apa yang beliau rasa kurang sensitif itu salah.

Akibatnya, reputasi Marta terjejas dalam pandangan kita jadi izinkan saya mempertahankan tindakannya itu sebentar. Dari kisah Injil berikutan, kita tahu beliau sudi belajar dari teguran Yesus yang lembut dan beradab. Begitu juga, beliau dipuji Yesus kerana layanannya yang tekun. Tanggungjawab melayani orang lain adalah tema yang ditekankan seluruh Alkitab. Bukan pelayanan, tapi sikapnya berdosa itu yang membawakan kepayahan.

Petikan Dari Disciplines For Life karya C.J. Mahaney, Sovereign Grace Ministries

Teruskan Bacaan Anda Di Sini:
Bahagian II, Bahagian III, Bahagian IV dan Bahagian V

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Church As MultiRacial Community

By Bishop Dr Robert Solomon

I was at a combined service recently where I had the joy of giving the benediction in three languages - Mandarin, Tamil, and English. The next day I was at a Peranakan service and had the opportunity to give the benediction in Malay. This experience reiterated for me the fact that the church is a multi-lingual and multiracial community. This is not just a sociological phenomenon, for in order to understand it adequately, we must begin with a theological perspective...

The question still remains: Can people of different races be bonded deeply?

The answer lies in the gospel and what it does to our ultimate identities. The gospel of Christ redemptively brings together people with different ethnic and national loyalties and identities by uniting them in a common and ultimate identity and allegiance. When we are baptised, we are given a common identity as children of the true and triune God. We become members of one Body, the Body of Christ. It is this unity that allows for the rich diversity in the God-created world to exist in the church, without conflict and chaos.

Without this unity located and centred in the one God and Father of all, one Lord, and one Spirit, and expressed in the one hope, one faith, one baptism, and one Body (Ephesians 4:4-6), there is no hope for the rich diversity of races to be brought together into real and abiding community, and no hope for the disappearance of the enmity, hatred, violence, and prejudices that often characterise inter-ethnic relations.

God brings us together from every tribe and tongue into one family, united by an identity and allegiance that transcend our ethnic and other penultimate identities. As Paul describes in Ephesians 2, the cross of Christ then becomes our peace, filling every interstitial space between peoples, thus bringing about reconciliation and richness.

It is this truth that fires our imagination to reach beyond our comfort zones and that has led the church in mission to reach out without discrimination so that the church becomes what the world ought to be, where all races have a God-given place. The churches in Singapore have shown signs of doing this as they reach out in mission to other people groups with the love of God. This mission of God must continue to shape and transform us. The experience of the church in Singapore, though not perfect in this regard, nevertheless does show glimpses of what God has in mind. Read the entire article

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas To All!

Times & Seasons (Chronos & Kairos)

Acts 1:7-8 and some special moments in Asian church history

SYNOPSIS: Is it possible to discern God's hand in human history? Can we learn lessons from church and missions history? Dr Ernest Chew discusses the relevance of the New Testament evangelist-historian Dr Luke's perspective in Acts 1:7-8 to our understanding of some critical kairos moments in Asian church history. He will focus on certain episodes and critical turning-points in the history of the church in China, India and Southeast Asia.

DATE: 29 February 2008 (Friday)
TIME: 8.00pm
PLACE: Banquet Hall, Lake Club, Kuala Lumpur
PRICE: RM 50 per dinner ticket

There are only limited places available for the Dinner Lecture. If you are interested, please contact Kairos Research Centre (Tel: 77265420 and email: to make reservations as soon as possible.


Dr Ernest C.T. Chew is Associate Professorial Fellow in the University Scholars Programme, National Unversity of Singapore. He holds the BA Honours and MA in History from the University of Singapore, and PhD from the University of Cambridge. Since 1970 he has lectured at the University of Singapore and then NUS in such areas as modern South and Southeast Asian history; imperial expansion, colonial administration, and decolonization; military and diplomatic history (including great military commanders, and the American way of war); and the history of Singapore.

He has held visiting fellowships at Harvard University (1974-75) and Cambridge University (1980-81), and was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Harvard and the Hoover Institution, Stanford, in 1988. He has also given lectures at the International House of Japan (1994), George Washington University (1996), and Gordon College (1998).

He is a past President of the International Association of Historians of Asia (1983-86), and a current Vice-President of the Malaysian Branch, Royal Asiatic Society. In Singapore, he has chaired advisory committees on history of the Ministry of Education, on oral history at the National Archives, and the Singapore History Museum Board; and is currently an Advisor of the National Heritage Board. He was awarded the PBM (Public Service Medal) by the Singapore Government in 1994.

The Path To Reconciliation

Excerpt from "Trends & Faith", The Great Commission Sept 2007. By Dr Leong Tien Fock

"Most Christians take for granted that when Christ died on the cross, He bore our sins. That means He substituted for us and suffered on our behalf. This is clearly taught in Scripture. But this teaching is becoming unpopular, especially among some younger christians. It has even been labelled "cosmic child abuse". This is not the place for a comprehensive response to this rising trend. We will consider one issue.

The charge of "cosmic child abuse" is based on the assumption that the teaching that Christ died on our behalf means He was punished as an innocent third party by His Father. This is not true. We need to look at the nature of forgiveness. In the process we will also see why forgiveness is difficult and why in some cases reconciliation is even more difficult. This helps to explain why there is often an impasse in resolving personal conflicts.

To forgive is to cancel a debt. In the Lord's Prayer we read, "Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matt 6:12) In human relationships this idea is more clearly seen when we forgive someone whose offense against us involves material loss. If I spread lies about you and cause you to lose a well-paying job, I owe you a debt. You can actually sue me for damages. To forgive me means you cancel that debt by absorbing all the loss yourself. Even if the lies did not result in material loss, you could still have sued me for the emotional pain you suffered. To forgive me means you willingly endure the pain and let me go scot-free.

So to forgive others we must be willing to bear the consequences of their wrong against us, whatever the consequences may be. What makes forgiveness difficult is that only the offended party can forgive. If I offend you, neither your pastor nor your father can forgive me on your behalf. But if you are the one who is offended, the last thing on your mind is to forgive me. You may even scream, "How can I let him go scot-free for what he did to me!?"

When we sin, we sin against God. So only God can forgive sin. And to forgive sin, God Himself must bear the consequences of sin, which is death. That means God must die. But God cannot die. So God had to become man to bear the consequence of sin. As John Stott puts it, it was "God in Christ" who died on our behalf. Hence Christ was not "punished as an innocent third party". He was the offended party. When He hung on the cross, He willingly bore the consequence of our sins so that we could be forgiven."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Designer Babies In Future?

Elise, a young camper I met at D'Nous Academy 2007, aspires to be a doctor and asked me over lunch on a Christian's perspective on genetic engineering - the vast potential of curing diseases related to genetic makeup, stem cell research, in vitro fertilisation etc.

Wilfred, a student at International Medical university, also suggested that maybe Agora could do a forum on "Nanotechnology". (Maybe not a bad idea, showing the film "Gattaca" in church but I had to search the net to understand what that is, cos the only time i heard of the term was in "Black Cat" animes!)

Taking the easy way out I promised them that I'd compile some online resources in the blog so here it is... Do let me know if they are good or not-so-good.

"Christians should be involved in discussions over science, technology, biotechnology, and medicine with all of their potentials and pitfalls. We have a role to play in shaping the future,and can be involved in technological discussions in a number of ways.

We can study to work as scientists and researchers who develop technologies while recognizing the sovereignty of God over all things.Christians must model appropriate and God-honoring utilization of technology, and we can engage the designers and developers of technology to argue for its wise creation, implementation, and use.
As citizens, we can participate in the political processes surrounding the
regulation and oversight of technology.

It is important that we recognize not only the threats that technology presents, but also the opportunities for obeying the cultural mandate that humans have been given by God. One theologian asserts, “the problem is not with technology itself but our lack of a moral framework that can tell us how rightly to resist and appropriate it.” Excerpt from Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends chapter on Human 2.0: Transhumanism as a cultural trend

More Related Resources:
Human Genetic Engineering
Genetic Engineering
Stem Cells and the Life Sciences: Benefits to Humanity or Harm?
Dr Alex Tang's "Live and Let Live"
'Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Ought We Do What We Can Do?'
Xeroxing the Soul? Theological and Ethical Responses to Human Cloning

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ecclesiates: The Meaning Of Life

After more than a year of labor, Dr Leong Tien Fock finally reached the conclusion of his commentary/blog on Ecclesiastes:

“"The conclusion, says Qoheleth, in light of all that has been heard, is indeed what has been anticipated all along: fear God and keep His commandments... In other words, this is what being human is all about. It is the very essence or purpose of human existence. No wonder when a human being violates God’s commandments and commits something unconscionable we would say, “He is not a human being!”

This explains why “God so works that man should fear Him” (3:14). And why life does not really make sense until and unless we live according to this purpose. In our exposition we have already discussed how the fear of God contributes in different ways to the meaning of life. What needs to be added here is that the fear of God provides a transcendent purpose for living under the sun. A transcendent purpose is certainly more worthwhile and meaningful than one which is not. And human beings do express the need for such a purpose. As sociologist Peter Berger puts it, “The religious impulse, the quest for meaning that transcends the restricted space of empirical existence in this world, has been a perennial feature of humanity. (This is not a theological statement but an anthropological one—an agnostic or even an atheist philosopher may well agree with it.) It would require something close to a mutation of the species to extinguish this impulse for good” (1999:13).

Theologian McGrath confirms that even prominent atheists like Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx do not deny the fact that human beings do seek for transcendent meaning; they simply sought to explain away this human desire as “nothing more than a coping mechanism thrown up by the human mind to shield us from the unbearable pain of knowing [from their atheist point of view] that life is pointless” (2002:11-12). Even if it is indeed purely a “coping mechanism,” being able to cope with reality is still better than bearing the “unbearable pain” of meaninglessness. And what if Qoheleth is correct, that this “coping mechanism” is not just an invention of the human mind but also an intention of the divine will?

If Qoheleth is correct, “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.” This judgment is here given as the basis (“For”) to heed his exhortation to fear God and keep His commandments. Since this judgment is comprehensive, especially since even “every hidden thing” will not escape scrutiny, it has to be a judgment after death. Furthermore, only a belief in such an inescapable judgment would be adequate to move one’s conscience to take Qoheleth's exhortation and God's commandments seriously. If Qoheleth did not have in mind a judgment after death, his exhortation to fear God rings hollow.

Also, the human heart cries out for a final accounting of all that is done under the sun. For unless good deeds are ultimately vindicated and bad deeds incriminated, our sense of justice is violated, and like a movie that ends with the villain vanquishing the hero, life does not make sense. Only with an assurance of a final and just accounting do we have an idea of how the story of life under the sun ends, and ends meaningfully. Only then do we know something of the significance, or meaning, of what we do in this world. With the disclosure of this transcendent ingredient to the meaning of life, Qoheleth ends his speech."

Recently, I did an assignment on existential meaninglessness from the angle of the after life with interaction with some of Freud and Marx's themes as well.

Check out The Case for Afterlife, Is Heaven a pie in the sky? and How on Hell Is It Fair?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Golden Compass: Atheism For Kids?

Al Mohler: Tayangan The Golden Compass sebagai filem gergasi musim sejuk ini merupakan cabaran baru bagi umat Kristian -- terutamanya ibu bapa. Yang baru adalah penerbitan sebuah filem fantasi menarik dengan para pelakon terkenal ini yang juga membawa suatu pesanan yang secara langsung subversif terhadap agama Kristian. Barangkali ia bukan cabaran terakhir sebegini.

Setelah menonton filem ini pada suatu tayangan pendahuluan dan membaca ketiga-tiga buku His Dark Materials karya Philip Pullman, saya yakin kita menghadapi suatu cabaran yang nyata dan memerlukan pemikiran cermat dan kematangan daya fikir.

Teruskan penerokaan anda dalam topik ini di sini:

LeaderU: The Golden Compass: A World of Spiritual Darkness

A Briefing For Concerned Christians by Al Mohler

Atheism For Kids by Gene Edward Veith

A Primer on Atheism By Russ Wise

Golden Compass: Pointing In The Wrong Direction

ChristianityToday Review

Review by the Thinking Christian

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christian Journalism?

"A slim, bespectacled former Marxist from a Russian Jewish background, Olasky is a journalism professor and editor of World magazine... American welfare policy had come to an impasse: Though welfare had done some good for those who needed only a temporary boost to get back on their feet, it had also created a permanent underclass - the chronically poor, whose poverty was related to social pathologies such as alcohol addiction, drug abuse, fatherless homes, and crime. Every on both sides of the political aisle agreed that welfare needed to be reformed, but no one knew how to do it... In researching the vast proliferation of Christian charities in the nineteenth century, often dubbed the Benevolent Empire, Olasky found that the churches specialized in personal assistance that didn't just hand out money; they helped people change their lives, focusing on job training and education. They required that the poor do some useful work, giving them a chance to rebuild their dignity by making a worthwhile contribution to society. They helped outcasts to build a social network - to reconnect with family and church for ongoing support and accountability. Most of all, they addressed the moral and spiritual needs that lie at the heart of dysfunctional behavior.

Clearly, this goes beyond what any government can do. In fact, government aid can actually make things worse. By handing out welfare checks impersonally to all who qualify, without addressing the underlying behavioral problems, the government in essence "rewards" antisocial and dysfunctional patterns."

Quoted from "Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity" by Nancy Pearcey, page 61

Olasky also wrote a book suggesting how Christian journalism looks like in Telling The Truth . Do check it out!


Introduction: The Sad State of Christian Journalism
1. Biblical Objectivity
2. Directed Reporting
3. A Great Cloud of Journalistic Witnesses
4. Field Reporting and Interviewing
5. Organizing for Readability
6. The Streets Declare the Sinfulness of Man
7. Investigating and Profiling
8. Leads, Nut Grafs, Bodies, Ends, Headlines
9. Theocentrism or Egocentrism?
10. Biblically Directed Reviewing
11. First Person Accounts and Sports Stories
12. Modern Journalism Emerges
13. Overview of Start-up Considerations
14. Journalistic Ethics in an Era of Subjectivity

A. Line-by-Line Editing: Example
B. McDowall's Defense of Biblical Sensationalism
C. The Decline of American Journalism
D. A Christian Journalism Revival?

Computing Technology: Created, Fallen, In Need Of Redemption?

By Joel C. Adams
Department of Computer Science, Calvin College

Abstract: If we accept the premise that computing technology is a part of the created order, then avariety of creation-related biblical themes become applicable to computing technology.In this paper, we explore some of the implications of these themes for computing technology,particularly the themes of creation-fall-redemption, the cultural mandate, and stewardship. We also explore two developments in computing technology – the evolution of user interfaces and the evolution of programming languages – in the light of these themes.

Read on for the entire article

More Than Surviving in the Marketplace

By Rev Wong Fong Yang

Daniel 6 : The sermon raises the issue of Christian faith in the marketplace, which many have pondered but not articulated in the open. Is our Christian faith robust enough to stand up to the rigor of life in the public square? There are Christians who discovered that it is difficult to practice their faith in their professions. This resulted in privatization of faith. Christian faith has no bearing upon public life from Monday till Saturday. It is kept in the private domain, most notably in the church on Sunday.

Is it possible for Christians to rise to prominent positions in political arena, business world or the marketplace without having to compromise their faith? Are there successful models? How does one live out his or her Christian faith in the corporate world? How does one work in an environment, which promotes bribery and corruption? Can we trust God to work through our situations?

Daniel was remarkably consistent in his faith throughout his professional life in politics. Whether he was 16 or 80 years old made no difference. When he had to make a stand for his faith, he would do so without compromise one bit. At the age of 16, he risked the opportunity to serve the greatest king when he resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine (Dan 1:8). At the age of 80, he was close to losing his life at the lions’ den (Dan 6:16-18). In both instances, his faith triumphed and God prospered him. What did it take for Daniel to be so consistent in his faith and professional practice? Why did he succeed why others fail? What is the theological truth that the writer of Daniel wants us to know so that we too can live like Daniel and triumph over difficult situations in life?

The central theme of the book is about the sovereignty of God in international political affairs. The Jewish exiles struggled with the theological truth that their God is sovereign over all nations, when reality negated their understanding. The fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple and the deportation of the leadership and upper classes of Judah in 586 BC was the most devastating historical and theological event in the Jewish national history. And it evoked a most profound question: Who, indeed is sovereign –Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian and Persian successors, who had brought the catastrophic judgment to pass, or the God of Israel who had either allowed it to happen or was powerless to prevent it?

The book of Daniel makes crystal clear that the LORD God remains absolutely sovereign over human affairs notwithstanding the collapse and fall of both Israel and Judah. Daniel had come to understand the sovereignty of God through the long years since his uprooting from Jerusalem and arrival in Babylon. He saw how God delivered his 3 friends from the fiery furnace. He witnessed the mighty hand of God in bringing king Nebuchadnezzar to his knees (Dan 4). King Belshazzar was slain for his blasphemous act against God (Dan 5). Kings rise and kings fall, kingdoms come and kingdoms go, all according to the dictates of the sovereignty of God. This truth – that Yahweh is Lord over all- was not merely the theological assertion by Daniel, it also finds response in the confessions of Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego (Dan 3:17), and king Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4:1-3; 34-37), Darius (Dan 6:25-27).

What do we learn from the life of Daniel?
Daniel faces the possibility of death and the end of his illustrious political career. He chose to die for his faith rather than to renounce God, but he was saved eventually.

The fundamental message of Daniel is that through every circumstance of life particularly in the marketplace, it is possible to live a life if faith and victory because God reigns supreme. Therefore God’s people must not be afraid of the evil of the day. Look at Daniel how his colleagues plotted his downfall and death out of professional jealousy. Yet at the end of the day, the noose, which was meant for Daniel, ended on the enemies’ neck. All those who had falsely accused Daniel were thrown into the lions’ den instead. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed their bones. God demonstrated his power and control over every circumstance.

We see the ability of God to intervene at any given point along the way to make his control evident. If he had shut the mouths of the lions, he certainly could shut the mouths of evil people in the marketplace for his people. God calls us to persist in faithfulness in the marketplace in spite of opposition and even the threat of death. He shows himself able to take care of his people in whatever situation. We can run our business with godly values and believe that God is in control of the marketplace and he will work out his plan, as we stay faithful to him.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Magic Of Christmas

By Yap Yoke Yeow


In the latest offering by Tom Hanks, The Polar Express, a young boy’s sense of the magic of Christmas fades as he confronts the myth of Santa Claus. But in a series of neck-breaking adventures on a magical train he learns that by believing hope is restored. In Hanks’ deep and lustrous voice, the ticket collector tells him, ‘The most real things in this world can’t be seen or touched.’ Though he finally gets to see AND touch Santa it was only when he believed that the tinkling of sleigh bells could be heard again. The magic was at last restored.

Rediscovering the real magic of Christmas buried under layers of commercialism on one hand and church activity on the other is a real challenge. Christmas is a good time indeded to find hope again. To experience a miracle.

If Christmas is about restoring hope, what we do we need to believe? What have we lost the ability to hear? What do need to see and touch this Christmas? What is the REAL THING?

Follow me on a journey, not to the North Pole, but East to Bethlehem, 30BC or so to meet some shepherds and their encounter with the real thing.

Read Luke 2:8-20

Ken Gire in Moments with the Saviour, sets the stage:

‘This knot of shepherds on the fringe of Jewish society spends the night atop a stone tower, a couple of them watching the flocks while the others huddle around a fire, catching what sleep they can. Eusebius writes that this watchtower stood about a thousand paces from Bethlehem. Jewish tradition adds that the tower overlooked a special flock of sheep. Sheep set aside for sacrifices.’

The Shepherds

These were the among the few people who first beheld the baby Jesus. Who saw him and touched him as a newborn. And through history we can reach back in time to ‘see and touch’ Jesus too. The baby, whom John tells us is God in the flesh. Coming into the world between the legs of teenage girl barely able to comprehend what was going on. Not an abstract philosophy or a set of beliefs. Not a feel-good story for the year-end. He is real as flesh and blood is real.

But what made it more amazing was that these shepherds were considered an unclean people by religious law (read Lev 11:44 onwards.) They were a shunned minority encamped outside of Bethlehem. Forbidden from temple worship, anyone who touches them also becomes unclean immediately. It was no fun being a shepherd, cast out into unmarked fields and walled off from society. So how could shepherds who are unclean and unfit to come into contact with the Holy – to see and touch God in the flesh?

The Lamb

Ken Gire describes what it would’ve been like for the shepherds to meet Jesus: ‘there amid the straw, with white cloths wound so tightly around him, he looks to them like a newborn lamb… He lies there so meekly. Cradled in the most unexpected of places. Coming.. in the weakest of ways.’

These shepherds who guarded sheep set apart for sacrifices would’ve understood. For centuries, hundreds of thousands of lambs have been slaughtered to make up for the sins of the people. Animal after animal, there was no end to it. They could never truly pay for their sins. Not until this one perfect lamb. The one spotless, blameless and without blemish sent to take away the sins of the world. A perfect sacrifice by one who is without sin. This was a baby born to die. Destined to shoulder our sins and die in our place.

The baby Jesus was both the Holy One and the Lamb who will make the way for God and man to be reconciled. Beyond seeing and touching, that is what we need to believe today. Jesus came to us in flesh and blood. And it is the same flesh that will be pierced years later, on a cross. The same blood that is poured out on Calvary. He came to reach us who are unclean and by His blood make us clean.

When we look at the baby Jesus, we are looking at one, as Gire says, who is ‘Waiting for us to come, yet willing for us not to. Waiting for us to see, yet willing for us to turn away. Waiting for us to worship him, yet willing for us to renounce him… He is Christ the Lord. Yet he has placed himself at the mercy of his creation. At the mercy of strangers to take him in. At the mercy of animals to warm him. At the mercy of mortals to feed him, to protect him, to raise him…’

He invites us to come as we are – though unclean, unwanted and without hope. Stoop low into the manger to see and touch. Believe again that He has been born into our lives to save us. And listen to his unconditional love to you.

‘But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.’

Like Mary, let us fully receive and deeply rejoice in the miracle of the Holy God born into our lives. Like the shepherds let us worship in humble awe, deeply grateful for our new lives – not as the unclean and unwanted but as the Beloved and the Chosen. For that is the ‘magic of Christmas’ that we need to believe and experience for ourselves.

This message was delivered at Ampang Gospel Centre's Youth Christmas Night on 18 December 2004

The Purpose of Our Vocation - Don't Serve God, Serve People?

As someone who works in the marketplace, I know that it can sometimes be challenging to understand the significance of a "marketplace calling". As I'm reading through God at Work, Gene Veith is offering me fresh perspectives on how to view my vocation.

Veith makes the point, that as Christians, we are citizens of two kingdoms - the spiritual kingdom of God where He rules the hearts of His people and the earthly kingdom where God rules over His creation. Understanding the difference between the two kingdoms is vital to shaping our approach to vocation.

Christians are citizens in both of God's kingdoms. In His spiritual kingdom, we rest in Christ; in His earthly kingdom, we serve our neighbors. The greatest commandments as affirmed by Christ Himself, are thus fulfilled: "Love the Lord your God" and "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30-31). p.38

Veith's point is that in the spiritual kingdom, we must not relate to God on the basis of our works but rather by grace alone. In this realm, our works have no merit, it is faith that pleases and "serves" God.

It is dangerous according to the Reformers to confuse the two realms. We dare not come before God trusting in all the good works we have done. We come before God as sinners. If we trust in our works...we feel no need for Christ's forgiveness. This is why all vocations are equal before God. In the spiritual kingdom...peasants are equal to kings. p.38-39

He goes on to tell us that the point of our vocation is not to serve God but to serve our neighbor.

Again, Luther said that faith serves God but works serve our neighbor. We often speak of "serving God"... in the spiritual realm, it is God who serves us. "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). In our vocations, we are not serving God - we are serving other people. p.39

OK, let me get this straight - the purpose of vocation isn't to serve God? Just in case, I might have misunderstood, he clarifies by repeating the assertion a little later.

In vocation, we are not doing good works for God - we are doing good works for our neighbor. This locates moral action in the real messy world of everyday concrete interactions with other people. The purpose of vocation is to love and serve one's neighbor. This is the test, the criterion and the guide for how to live out each and every vocation anyone can be called to...who are my neighbors in my particular vocation, and how can I serve them with the love of God? p.39-40

Do you agree with Veith? Is the point of our working, not so much to serve God but rather to serve our neighbor? If so, who are your neighbors in your vocation and how do you serve them?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hospitable Society

Feasting and care for the poor have been polarized in contemporary culture. If you’re a “conservative,” you’re in favor of free trade, consumption without guilt, festivity without concern for those who can’t join you, who probably deserve their poverty anyway. If you’re a “liberal,” you renounce festivity because other people are hungry and how dare you eat when someone else isn’t.

The Biblical prophets combine a promise of festivity with severe denunciation of greed, luxury, and oppression. But they combine the two seamlessly by emphasizing hospitality. The promise is a feast like the feasts of the Pentateuch, where the widow, stranger, and Levite are not forgotten but included as welcome guests.

Against both “conservative” indifference and liberal asceticism, the Bible presents the ideal of the hospitable society.

- Peter Leithart

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Regaining Our Virtues

What Is Moral Relativism?
Virtues (morality) are not like ice cream flavors (“Yucks!”), but like insulin to diabetics.

The modern Enlightenment worldview considers what is empirically testable as ‘public facts’ that are objectively knowable, tradition-free and observer-neutral. What is not scientifically provable (i.e. ethical value, theology) is considered ‘private values’ best kept in the closet. It created the separation of religious truth in upper story (faith) and scientific facts in the lower story (reason). In the public squares, boardroom or lecture hall, religious conviction is ruled out of court in decision-making. Result: Faith became privately engaging but publicly irrelevant. (Os Guinness)

After WW2, there is a shift in people getting disillusioned with absolute claims as masks for power. In the postmodern mood, there is a complete loss of hope for truth. Truth is not discovered; truth is created (social construct).

Three types of moral relativism:
- “Society Does” Relativism: Observe that people in India think it is wrong to eat cows while beef steaks are popular in U.S. See “The Abolition of Man” by C.S. Lewis.

- “Society Says” Relativism (Normative ethical relativism): If ethics are relative to each culture, then anyone outside the culture loses the right to critique it. Essentially that was the argument of the Nazi leaders during the Nuremberg Trials. A moral reformer like a Martin Luther King, Jr. would be immoral by definition because he's violating the rules of society. There is a moral Law above the law of the land that even governments are beholden to.

- “I Say” Relavitism: Who are you to say how I ought to live? Everything is a private judgment call, a personal preference or mere opinion. “Every man did what was right in his own eyes”.

Relativism's Fatal Flaws
1. Relativists can't accuse others of wrongdoing. (oppose racism, exploitation, genocide)
2. Relativists can't complain about the problem of evil.
3. Relativists can't demand justice and fairness.
4. Relativists can't promote the obligation of tolerance.

"You shouldn't force your morality on me." Always ask, "Why not?" Usually the response is going to be an example of his/her forcing his/her morality on you. Why is relativism a self-defeating position? If I said that my brother is an only child, you would say that my statement is self-refuting. An only child would not have a brother.

1. There are objective moral rules. Each of us is privately aware there is something wrong with us. Maybe we feel guilty because we are guilty.
2. 'We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.’-CS Lewis. Christians have a consistent foundation to speak out against social evils based upon God’s revelation. Moral relativists do not.
3. Each of us has violated those laws many times and is guilty of moral crimes against our sovereign, the moral law-giver, the Judge. We ought to be punished.
4. The Christian message makes sense in this world. Love: Amnesty and mercy are offered to anyone who abandons the rebellion and seeks forgiveness on God's term. On Christ the solid rock we stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

Materials shared at DNous Academy 2007 Camp are based on Greg Koukl's “Ambassador For Christ” resources in and Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith's book Relativism - Feet Firmly Planted In Thin Air

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What Is Dualism?

Scripture defines the human problem as moral rebellion against God but the Greeks believe the problem is metaphysical. The material world is seen as evil/chaotic while the spiritual Forms are rational/good. Augustine treated the contemplative life of prayer and meditation in monasteries as superior to the active life of ordinary work in the world. Descartes and Kant pictured the world as a huge mechanistic system moving in fixed patterns by natural laws while the mind is the realm of thought, emotion, will.

Three types of Christian dualism:
Human - Body versus Soul (Two opposing substances, one is “important/redeemable” and the other “useless/lost.” But man is a cohesive whole. The whole man was created good, and the whole man is being redeemed.)

Reality - Heaven versus World (Escape this hopelessly lost physical world for an otherworldly, disembodied existence. Heaven and earth shall be renewed.)

Faith - Sacred versus Secular (Prayer and religious meditation is more valuable than manual labor. All of life is sacred.)

Biblical Thinking Tools

Creation: The physical world God made was GOOD! Nature is a showcase of His glory. Humanity is made in God’s own image for relationship, different from the rest of creation. Life is sacred. Work is meaningful in a rhythm of rest and labor.

Fall: We have pushed God out from our thinking and living. In disobedience, we have made physical and mental substitutes (idols) to tell us right from wrong. Sin has corrupted nature, fractured social relationships, alienation, resulted in toilsome work directed by selfishness. But even sinners still bear God’s Image and capable of genuine knowledge by God’s common grace.

Redemption: Christ has freed us from power of sin, reconciled us with God and restored us to be fully, truly human. Our work shares in His redemptive purpose to reverse the effects of sin. We join Christ in ushering His kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Saved to do good in THIS world, not an otherworldly escapism.

How Shall We Live?

Abraham Kuyper, journalist/theologian/politician/educator says: “There is not a square inch in the universe that Christ does not claim, “This is mine!” The Lordship of Christ embraces all of life. Do all things for the glory of God. If all life is the Lord’s, reflect about your area of study, interest, vocation and leisure. For example:

•Science – What’s Its Method and Limits? How Shall We Consider Macroevolution?
•Medical Fields – How shall I view mercy killing, abortion, cloning, stem cell research?
•Business/Economics – How should wealth be distributed? By merits or social status? Do corporations have moral duty or only profit?
•Law –How does the church relate to the state? What is justice? Should we legislate morality?
•Psychology – Certain brain functions and emotions are co-related, is there a soul distinct from the brain? Is moral behavior like homosexuality determined by biological factors?
•Media/Journalism – What are ethical issues and virtues relevant to my vocation?
•Literature – Should we seek the author’s intent of writing? Does meaning reside in the reader?
•Movies – Was it honest or artfully done well? What does the story say about what’s right, true or beautiful? Who’s the good guy?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Worship That Turns Us OUT And IN

In his excellent book, The Message of the Living God, Peter Lewis says “Worship turns us out as well as in”._ That is how it should be, but I’m not convinced its the case for a good many of us. Our corporate worship turns us further in and hardly out at all. But perhaps you are wondering what Lewis is getting at and where I’m going with this topic. Two points will set us in the right direction. Firstly, we should think of worship in comprehensive terms: the totality of our lives being lived to the glory of our Creator God (Romans 12:1-2). Even when Christians come together for corporate worship, for instance on a Sunday morning, worship includes other elements besides singing, e.g. reading the Bible, preaching, praying, communion etc. all with the purpose of enabling us to engage with the Triune God. Secondly, there is a connection between the worship of the people of God and how they participate in the mission of God.

Now listen to the hard-hitting analysis of the theologian, Donald Bloesch, as he writes about worship in the modern church:
Much of modern religion turns the soul inward rather than directing it outward to the crying needs of society. Modern Evangelicalism has shamefully adapted to the therapeutic society, which makes personal fulfilment the be all and end all of human existence. An eros spirituality, the desire to possess God and his blessings, predominates over a spirituality of the cross, a willingness to serve both God and our neighbour in God’s world._ (2001:55).

I admit to feeling disturbed when I visit churches and sit through a two hour service of corporate worship without hearing a single mention of “the crying needs of society”? There might be some mention of the wider world in the sermon, but the songs and prayers and it would seem, the whole approach to worship, cultivates a spirituality that is almost exclusively focused inward. A quick survey of Amazon will show how popular the themes of worship and spirituality are for modern Christians. But we need to ask whether or not our spirituality - shaped in no small way by the corporate worship patterns in our churches - is serving to strengthen our engagement with the society that surrounds us or simply contributing to a more inward looking church?

The closest you get to a definition of worship in the New Testament is in Hebrews 13:15-16:

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

These verses are essentially telling us that true worship cannot be divorced from the way we live and serve others. Worship consists in these two sacrifices: adoration and action. Its not that one is sacred and the other secular. Both are part of our worship - in both we live for the glory of God. I’m drawing here on the work of Miroslav Volf, and in an essay entitled “Adoration and Action” he establishes the essential link between worship and our calling to be missional communities that impact the wider world.

There is something profoundly hypocritical about praising God for God’s mighty deeds of salvation and cooperating at the same time with the demons of destruction, whether by neglecting to do good or by actively doing evil. Only those who help the Jews may sing the Gregorian chant, Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly said, in the context of Nazi Germany._

The Bible does not recognize a spirituality that is only concerned about adoration. The Great Commandment, too often divorced from the Great Commission, tells us to love God with heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbour. On the other hand, there are Christians who are passionate about social justice, serving the poor, fighting corruption, caring for the environment, and doing a whole host of other good things, but who don’t see the connection between these things and a biblical understanding of worship; who don’t recognize the necessity of punctuating their lives with regular times of corporate worship; and there are churches and pastors that may say ‘amen’ to such socially minded believers, but who continue to encourage a pattern of corporate worship that “turns the soul inward”. But action that does not flow from a life of worship - a life that in its entirety is offered to God as a living sacrifice, that is sustained by regular attentiveness to God’s Word and is assisted by and accountable to, the company of God’s people - will not be the kind of action that is sufficiently God-shaped, that reflects His character, or that necessarily bears lasting fruit to the glory of Christ.

I am deliberately setting out two extremes - on one side the Christian who is so keen to adore God that they ignore the world, and on the other, the Christian activist, so keen to save the world that they ignore God. My main concern in this article is with the former, but the latter sets particular traps for busy evangelicals who love to embrace techniques and strategies, to make plans, set goals and count the numbers. Modern Christians, as J. I. Packer points out, tend to make busyness their religion. We admire and imitate, and so become, Christian workaholics, supposing that the busiest believers are always the best._ Adoration requires action and action requires adoration and worship embraces both. And therefore living this life of worship will require living in that rhythm we were created to enjoy, and recognising that, “Without adoration action is blind; without action adoration is empty.”_

In the early centuries of the church one of the major factors in the spread of the gospel is said to have been the quality of the worship in the church. The totality of peoples’ lives, including their corporate gatherings, were distinctive and compelling.

Alan Kreider, in “Worship and Evangelism in the Early Church”_ provides examples of the distinctive Christian witness of the early Christians. One of these examples is from the life of Bishop Cyprian of Carthage.

Hot on the heels of severe persecution during 250-251, there came a great plague. It was a dangerous situation. Wealthy pagans were getting out of Carthage, but Cyprian remained. Taking Matthew 5:43-48 as his text, his preaching persuaded the Christians to stay in Carthage rather than save their own skin - not even to put their own survival first, but to love those people who had recently been persecuting them. So, the Christian community stayed in Carthage, they loved their neighbours and their enemies, nursing and caring for Christians and pagans alike. The result: not only did the relatively small Christian community survive, but they had a higher survival rate than their pagan neighbours. And those pagans who had been loved and cared for by Christians became more open to the gospel.

How were Christians, under such pressure and persecution able to live that way? Kreider says it was because of their worship. This was worship that over time transformed pagan people who had come to faith in Jesus, making them into distinctive people who lived in such a way that individually and corporately they looked like Jesus Christ. This is what made them and their message so attractive and compelling. The corporate worship of the church was transforming believers so that in situations of tension, danger and difficulty they were able to react, not like pagans, but like Jesus.

Kreider says these early Christians would want to ask us some questions:

At work or at home... are you known to your neighbours? Are you known as members of a superstitio, a deviation from the norms of accepted behaviour? Are you distinctive because of Jesus, whose teachings and way offer you perspectives and ways of living that are new? And how about your congregations? In the way that they function and worship, are they becoming communities of peace and freedom which are evidences of the truth of the gospel?... in your worship, what do your rites (for you all have them) say about your churches’ beliefs and priorities? Are your rites strong and living, enabling you to address the issues that really trouble your communities? Do you evaluate your worship primarily by how it makes you feel, or by the extent to which it shapes your character - as communities of faith and as individual Christians - so you look like Jesus Christ?

Peter Rowan
September, 2007.

1 Peter Lewis, The Message of the Living God, The Bible Speaks Today, (Leicester: IVP, 2000), 327._2 Donald G. Bloesch, “Whatever Happened to God?” Christianity Today (February, 5th 2001), 55._3 Miroslav Volf, “Worship as Adoration and Action: Reflections on a Christian Way of Being-in-the-World”, in D. A. Carson (ed), Worship: Adoration and Action (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1993), 211._4 James I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, (Leicester: IVP, 1984), 98._5 Volf, (1993), 209._6 Alan Kreider, “Worship and Evangelism in Pre-Christendom.” The Laing Lecture, 1994, in Vox Evangelica, (Vol. XXIV, 1994)._7 Kreider, (1994), 30.

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KeropokLekor: Semenjak mendapat jaringan lebar (Broadband) di asrama universiti, saya mendapat hubungan yang sangat akrab dengan jaringan ilmu pengetahuan, komunikasi dan komuniti online dalam internet. Salah satu daripada keberkatan yang telah saya perolehi adalah pendedahan saya kepada ilmu teologi.

Saya mula mengenali forum The Agora apabila saya melayari laman CDPC, salah satu gereja di Subang Jaya yang sama denominasi dengan gereja saya di kampung. Saya pun ternampak suatu forum yang dianjurkan oleh mereka dan menjadi begitu berminat sekali. Oleh itu, saya pun mengambil keputusan untuk menjengahnya dan begitu diberkati sekali oleh sesi forum tersebut.

Lagipun, penganjurnya Hedonese dan beberapa orang sahabatnya (yang telah saya lupa nama mereka) begitu bernas sekali bertukar-tukar pendapat dalam forum tersebut. Apa yang lebih bagus lagi adalah keramahan dan kemesraan mereka terhadap orang baru seperti saya ini, dengan mengambil inisiatif untuk berkenalan dengan saya, mengajak saya minum kopi dan juga menghantar saya pulang ke stesen KTM Subang Jaya.

Dengan itu, bermula hubungan saya dengan kumpulan tersebut dalam forum internet yang menjadi sumber makanan spiritual dan intelek saya untuk lebih daripada satu tahun. Melalui forum itu, saya terdedah bukan sahaja kepada sumber maklumat pengajian teologi dan alkitab yang boleh diperolehi di Malaysia dan juga online, tetapi juga bidang falsafah, apologetik, perbandingan agama, pelayanan di tempat kerja, dialog antara agama, keadilan sosial, politik dan isu-isu semasa. Mereka percaya bahawa iman dan Tuhan tidak boleh dipisahkan daripada hal-ehwal duniawi, dan segalanya perlu dibawa kehadapan muka Tuhan, coram Deo.

Selepas beberapa lama, saya diinspirasikan untuk membuat keputusan untuk mengambil jurusan teologi di beberapa institusi pengajian teologi yang menawarkan pengajian diploma separuh masa jarak jauh seperti Kolej Alkitab New Zealand, Kolej Baptist Carey, Universiti London dan sebagainya, tetapi peluang saya tertutup apabila permohonan saya ditolak atas beberapa halangan teknikal. Beban pengajian perubatan saya di universiti juga kian bertambah dan tidak memungkin saya untuk mengambil pengajian tambahan. Tetapi jauh dalam hati saya ada satu keinginan untuk melanjutkan pelajaran ke peringkat pasca-graduat dalam bidang-bidang jurusan kesenian yang saya minati apabila tamat ijazah pertama saya.

DiscordantDude: On appearance, this group of people hold mundane jobs of everyday life but in reality, they are a group of dynamic thinkers committed to philosophical reflections of everyday life with the mission statement "to inspire & train laypeople in the marketplace to live out and proclaim the lordship of Christ over every domain of their life. The Greek agora, or marketplace, was where citizens could meet to discuss issues of the day - ethics, life, faith and philosophy." I have benefited greatly from my interaction with them especially in their translating 'deep' writings into laypeople language for me.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Time for Kindness

Article from Graceatwork
by Soo-Inn Tan, 20 Aug 2007

Ever heard of Augustine of Hippo?
"Few people today would doubt that Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was the greatest writer of the early Christian church. Certainly, he has left us more books than anyone else. For centuries, most of the Western Church took its understanding of Christian doctrine from him, and his influence lingers even today."
(Gerald Bray, Christian History & Biography, October 1, 2003 )

I recently discovered a key event in Augustine's journey to Jesus.

"A turning point for Augustine was hearing the story (of Jesus) from a man whom he respected intellectually and who treated Augustine as a human being, not as an enemy to be defeated. Augustine recalled his initial experience with Ambrose, bishop of Milan.

'This man of God received me (Augustine) like a father and, as bishop, told me how glad he was that I had come. My heart warmed to him, not at first as a teacher of the truth, which I had quite despaired of finding in your Church, but simply as a man who showed me kindness. I listened attentively when he preached to the people.'"
(Daniel Taylor, Tell Me A Story, St. Paul, MN: Bog Wog Press, 2001,p.87)

Two things struck me about Augustine's encounter with Ambrose. First, Ambrose didn't treat Augustine as an enemy to conquered. His approach was not adversarial. And secondly, Ambrose treated Augustine with kindness. Ambrose could teach us a thing or two about ministering in our post-modern world.

Too often, we in the conservative church have approached evangelism with an adversarial spirit, using programmes and abstract propositional truths as our main weapons. This approach may have met with some success in another age. They look increasingly ineffective in this one.

I am not questioning our commitment to absolute truth as revealed by God through the Scriptures. Nor am I disputing the exclusive claims of Christ as the only way back to the Father. But what we must ask in today's pluralistic and post-modern world is, how do we help people hear the truth?

As a cynical intellectual, pre-conversion Augustine would have been very at home in our age. His awakening to the truth of Christ gives us a significant clue as to how we should reach out to people today. Augustine's heart and mind was engaged by "a man who showed him kindness."

I enjoy hearing the stories of how people come to follow Jesus. Many of these stories include references to encounters with a Christian who cared, believers who showed kindness. Indeed, as Francis Schaeffer reminded us, love is the final apologetic. And the divine pattern.

God demonstrated His kindness to the Jews by rescuing them from slavery in Egypt --- before He invited them to enter into a covenant relationship with Him. Jesus came feeding the hungry and healing the sick even as He called people back to the kingship of God. (He reserved His harshest words for the religious leaders who should have known better.) Indeed while we were yet sinners Jesus died for us and it is on the basis of this ultimate sacrifice of love that He calls us to follow Him. In a post-modern age, indeed in any age, the divine pattern is to lead with love.

The danger is that we reduce love to a technique. We show love to people so that they will turn to the gospel. If love is a technique it is definitely not a very efficient one. No guarantees here. Jesus had His Judas. Many wolf down God's offerings of love but bite the hand that feeds them. And while some, like Augustine, have responded positively to love, many have not. Indeed love, by its very nature cannot be reduced to a technique.

If love is not a technique, what then it is? It is a demonstration of the character of God. 1John 4:7b-8 says:

“Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (TNIV)

When we lead with kindness, when we genuinely care for people, we are demonstrating something of the God who dwells in us.

A fallen humanity, whether they realize it or not, longs to reconnect with the God who is love. Unfortunately many want to do so on their terms and therefore cannot find their way home. But the longing is still there.

And so when people experience kindness, it awakens a memory of a Love they were created to receive. And so intellectual and non- intellectual alike respond to experiences of kindness.

This is some thing so basic yet often missed by the church. We pour so much energy in perfecting our evangelistic programmes when we should be helping our people grow in Christ likeness and in charity. Or worse we try to shock and awe people into the Kingdom by impressive buildings, numbers, programmes and the cleverness of our arguments, when we should be encouraging our folks to make simple acts of kindness a lifestyle.

More than ever, we need to follow John, who loved because He first loved us (1John 4:19). Now is the time for kindness.

Your brother,
Soo-Inn Tan