Monday, May 28, 2007

Converge, Diverge & Submerge!

Here we go again, folks! This time it is Bob's turn (our good friend from Emergent Malaysia) to give us some free press:
"The Reformed perspective is primarily engaged in Malaysia via The Agora, a ministry initiated by City Discipleship Presbyterian Church in Subang Jaya. I still am on the fringes of The Agora although my direct involvement in the discussions have essentially been zero for quite a few months. I do find myself agreeing and in sympathy with a lot of what is discussed despite not being convinced about the comprehensiveness of Reformed theology."

The blog post was really about the Gospel Coalition, and of course, the usual concern that anything with Carson and Driscoll or Tim Keller in there would be automatic suspects to "degenerate into another partisan holy huddle", "exclusive" and "pedestalic", rejecting "newer forms" of churches and believers who dun think like them. And needless to say, when it comes to Brian McLaren's projects, the coast is clear.

Dunno about this, but it does seem charitable if we would speak personally with Carson first at the KVBC to clarify if these concerns are genuine or imagined before giving the poor guy such bad press though. Have we called Carson up personally to check, Bob? Maybe we need to wait till October :)

But never mind, it's always 'nice' for the Agora to be associated with these supposedly "exclusive" folks, though we never asked for it.

There's nothing fresh or ground-breaking here actually. I am reminded of a similar conversation with Alwyn which covered the same misperceptions on the Convergence, Divergence and Submergence back in 2005! (So if you have been out of the loop, maybe those would help)

But I think some short reclarifications are in order.

1) Just because some folks in Emergent Malaysia are open theists doesn't mean that open theism is primarily engaged in Emergent Malaysia. Similarly, if "Reformed theology" refers to a full-blown TULIP soteriology, then neither CDPC nor the Agora are explicitly Reformed even though some of our blog contributors (including yours truly!) are. That doesn't mean we are relativists or postmodernists either.

We are basically evangelicals who believe in the supreme authority of Bible as fully trustworthy rule of faith and conduct, and that by Christ's substitutionary atonement on the cross, sinners could to be graciously reconciled with God through faith.(Vision Statement). In that sense, the perspectives in the AGora are about as inclusive and diverse as the evangelical family in Malaysia, with friends and contributors from EFC, Baptist, Anglican, Brethren, Assembly of God, independent charismatics and Presbyterians too. The invitation to all to come and see, bring along some "siew pao" remains wide open!

2) There is an Agora Online Forum, where we discussed about issues affecting the Malaysian church in general and some theological issues as well. Much personal contact and "providential" collaboration for ministry has sprung up from there. Are we a holy huddle? Our track record speaks for itself, we've been in partnership and supported projects from friends at GCF, OHMSI, Real Love ministry, RZIM, iBridge, Kairos, Mercy Malaysia, MCCC and other churches as well. And I could probably count with three fingers, how many times "reformed theology" (TULIP) was discussed in the Agora Googlegroup. It doesn't mean we're ashamed of it, but simply that we have much bigger fish to fry most of the times. Dun believe, ka? Join us and see la! Hehe...

We're very concerned about connecting God's word with the younger generation (the rakyat) using simple, practical and understandable language. Echoing C.S. Lewis,

I have come to the conclusion that if you cannot translate your own thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts are confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood your own meaning.

3) Just because some of us dun feel too 'restricted' by some touchstones of Christian orthodoxy like the supreme authority of Scripture, substitutionary atonement, Deity of Christ doesn't make us 'exclusive' in a bad sense. Bob probably has his own 'bottom line' somewhere too. Perhaps, short creeds like "truth is personal!"

Although I'm personally not convinced that McLarenism or post-foundationalism is the best way of being missional either, I feel that it is somewhat unfair for us to label others as exclusive or guilty of partisanship, when in fact we believe that they are simply wrong. Dead wrong, perhaps. But the former labels suggests a character defect while the latter suggests a convictional error. It doesn't help to confuse the two.

Whatever it is, I wish Bob and the Parti Keadilan Rakyat all the best in the upcoming general election! Bigger fish to fry? Soli Deo Gloria!


Bob K said...

I hope to clarify that my thoughts are generally about the Gospel Coalition based on the reflections of those who were actually there for the conference.

They were not meant to imply that I shared the same fears about The Agora or that this particular forum shares the same sociological characteristics. In contrary, The Agora generally has shown itself to be more inclusive; to a certain extent; even if a lot of the main participants tend to come from a more Reformed perspective and is definitely one of the better models out there for critical dialogue and reflection within the Christian community in Malaysia.

My post was also not meant to be a critique of the Reformed faith and theology. I may have my own reasons not to embrace it but similiarly I do not reject it in totality. I admit to having developed my own bias having being brought up within a Wesleyan tradition and later spending many years in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles; which probably made me wade pretty deeply in the waters of the Arminian perspective. I have, however, come to realise the inadequacies of that perspective as well and maybe come to terms with the fact that while there might be a "Total Truth" out there (to poach a term), our various explanations of that truth, taken in isolation, has yet to be totally adequate.

I am still optimistic of seeing some point of convergence between the various expressions of the Evangelical community that are genuinely concerned about how badly compromised our faith has been with the world. Unfortunately, for the time being, I don't see it happening yet; whether among those who would call themselves Emerging or those that would call themselves otherwise.

But since it's the Pentecost anyway, I have hope and trust in the Holy Spirit to bring about miracles even when humanity has run out of ideas :)

dave chang said...

Appreciate those clarifications, Bob! Good to rehearse similar conversations we had in the past.

Its possible to be Pentecostal without speaking in tongues, Tony Campolo reminded us.

In case this wud be a more accurate description in the blog, bro, reformed theology is "primarily engaged" in Malaysia via groups like The Right Path, STEMI, BiblePresbyterians and Reformed Baptist congregations :)

Bob K said...

It was actually within the context of engagement of faith and praxis. The Agora is definitely a good example of a forum set up to engage these questions and as you mentioned in your post, does primarily engage it from a Reformed perspective, even if 4, 5 or 7 point Calvinism is not specifically mentioned.

Bob K said...

And please .. do spare me the B-Ps and Reformed Baptists at the moment .. hehe .. not really up to dealing with them at the moment :P

Dave Chang said...

C'mon bro! You came to an Agora forum on Buddhism once rite? How many points did u hear us mention or even whisper? :)

Or even in recent discussions in the forum, do you hear a "Reformed perspective" on the Lina Joy case?

Funny la u... haha

Bob K said...

That's what I meant :)

Anonymous said...

I wonder why u r taking great pains at distancing yourself from acknowledging the 'important contribution and roles' that the Reformed folks have in Agora?

It should be acknowledged that Agora supports the "Total Truth" study group, where the author makes some disparaging remarks on methodism mah...

Can u tell me how tat will not be misconstrued as "exclusive"? Agora endorsed somemore, wah...

Eh, aren't all key Agora leaders reformed?

Funny la u... haha

Bob K said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob K said...

Hey anonymous,

Chill mate. This thread is just a result of a misunderstanding and misreading of my earlier blog post. There's no real need to make it any worst. So let's just let it end here.

Blessings and shalom,

Bob K

Dave Chang said...

Aik! Bersandiwara pulak haha...

Anon, I'm not sure why I'm seen as "distancing myself" from my own theology! hahaa...

Of course, there are some of us who are reformed and reforming. Actually, not all key Agora leaders are reformed. Another misunderstanding :)

But if the key leaders are, that doesn't mean "reformed theology is primarily engaged in Agora". That is the main misreading I'm correcting in Bob's post la, dun be too upset ok?

Also, where did the "Total Truth" study group or the author make any "disparaging remarks" on methodism la? In fact, i came away from reading that chapter on John Wesley/Whitefield with greater admiration for what they did at the great awakening!

We have Methodists in the study group too, quite happily reading and learning and sharing with us.
No complaint... only outsiders lor

If dun believe, come and have siew pao with us lar... It's not charitable to attack first then check later ma...

Is this gracious revolution? where is the love, yo? Where is the conversation, yo..

Every Square Inch said...

I read Bob K's original post and wonder why there is any concern about Gospel Coalition not seeking a "centrist position". I think when it comes to biblical truth, whenever we venture down the path of seeking "the middle ground", we are approaching it with a flawed methodology. As Christians, we should honestly approach any position beginning with an honest pursuit of what the Bible would say. If that appears extreme in relation to relative positions of different parties, then so be it.

I'd like to exhort a pursuit biblical truth, not a centrist position. With that in mind, the gospel coalition folks are ok by me.

Sandiwara Redux said...

I felt that Bob has been attacked unfairly in a response to him by the founder of Malaysian Christian think-tank with elitist tendencies and a Reformed bent...