Friday, November 30, 2007

Here are some updates on the project that Agora is a part of with Open Source Mission.

Our goal with the project is to make gospel-centered resources accessible for Christians of every nation and language . Our vision is that Christians everywhere will be able to learn about the gospel in their own languages and without financial impediments.

Believe it or not, we now have nearly 50 active translators in 9 languages, and in addition to the book that we are working on, we’ve translated about 40 Desiring God articles. The team with the most volunteers currently is the Spanish language one, and we will probably have enough Spanish material in the next month or two to actually start publicizing a Spanish Resource site. Bahasa Indonesia has the second most translations — chapters from CJ Mahaney's "This Great Salvation" and a few articles as well.

But the Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese language teams would need more help. If you guys are interested to help out on a voluntary basis, let's network and contact andrew at opensourcemission dot com

We are now in partnership with Desiring God, 9marks and Sovereign Grace in providing their online resources free.


“Sovereign Grace is passionate about gospel-centered churches built on the foundation of sound doctrine. That’s why we’re excited to partner with Open Source Mission. OSM’s new approach to translation and free distribution of gospel-centered materials will help make such churches a reality around the world.”

- C.J. Mahaney, President, Sovereign Grace Ministries

"I believe Open Source Mission is an answer to our prayers. We’re trying to make Desiring God's resources as accessible and affordable as possible to as many peoples around the world as possible...but we can't keep up with all the language translation requests. O that we had a new model to facilitate translations...I think Open Source Mission might be that model."

- Jon Bloom, Executive Director, Desiring God

"The western world is incredibly wealthy and ironically selfish. We in the Christian community should reflect the generosity God has shown us in Christ by investing in resources for the benefit of others. An obvious way is the translation of solid, gospel material into other languages. Open Source Mission and Sovereign Grace Ministries once again lead the way in generosity and zeal with their new translation initiative, I trust the men behind this program and most importantly I trust the God they serve who desires to see men and women from every nation come to know him."

- Dr. Mark Dever, Senior Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church

Ichtus Research Centre

The beginning of Ichthus Research Centre

The Ichthus Research Centre began with the dream of a farsighted couple who believed that high level biblical and theological studies should be carried out in Asia. Through their generous gift, made in memory of their late parents Mr. Yao Ye Siu and Mrs. Yao Lee Sau Han, the Centre came into existence. The future of the Centre depends upon the contributions of many others who share their dream. We would like to welcome all those who would like to work together to make this dream become a reality.

The reason for the name Ichthus Research Centre

Throughout church history the Greek word IXQUS (which means "fish"and can be transliterated as ICHTHUS) has had a special meaning to followers of Jesus Christ. For the early church the "sign of the fish" became an important mark of identification. The letters of the word IXQUS came to stand for the words Ihsouj Xristoj Qeou Uioj Swthr - "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Saviour." The Ichthus Research Centre exists in recognition that Jesus Christ is both God's Son and our Saviour.

The basic direction and policies of the Research Centre

The Ichthus Research Centre for Biblical and Theological Studies exists for a number of reasons:

To produce contextualized biblical and theological research.
To promote interaction among specialists in the areas of biblical studies and theology.
To organize seminars for the discussion of biblical and theological issues of contemporary interest.
To build up a quality collection of scholarly books and journals on theological and biblical studies for use by Ichthus members.
To develop a digital library in order to enhance research in theological and biblical studies.
To encourage local and foreign scholars to write biblical and/or theological papers for presentation and/or publication.
To encourage members to publish their research and to enable them to do so as far as it is possible

Membership in the Ichthus Research Centre
The Ichthus Research Centre offers two different types of membership.
Full Membership is available to those who have a doctoral degree (PhD or ThD) in either biblical or theological studies.

Associate Membership is available to those who have a Master of Divinity degree (or equivalent) in either biblical or theological studies.
SBC students who are working for the degree of Th.M. are also eligible for associate membership.

Membership with Ichthus Research Centre is available at an annual fee of $50. Members should reapply each year. Anyone holding either a Full or Associate Membership is eligible to use the Centre‘s books and other materials at the SBC library, as well as to attend Ichthus seminars without charge. Singapore Bible College library membership is available at no additional cost for Ichthus members. Ichthus members are also eligible to apply for the use of Ichthus facility for research-writing purposes. In addition, members will also be able to purchase Ichthus publications at reduced rates.

Fellowship Checklist

From Marvin Wong's book "Between Friends": Do you have true biblical fellowship in your life? The following questions adapted from author Patrick Morley helped me examine the current state of my friendships and fellowship.

When things go badly wrong, is there someone I can tell?

Do I have friends who will risk my disapproval to suggest to me that I may be getting off-track in life through sin or poor judgment?

Do I have friends with whom I can confide in who won't think any less of me?

Is there someone to whom I am accountable?

Is there someone who would share with me all of the financial resources at their disposal if I were in trouble?

If your answer is 'no' to all the above, then you will seriously need to reexamine this area of your life. The Christian pilgrimage is one we cannot walk alone. We need other people and other people need us.

Blurb: In Between Friends, Marvin Wong examines the challenges of living out an authentic Christian faith in the Malaysian marketplace. The broad range of topics - from calling to guidance, work, rest, leisure, ambition, parents, singleness, temptations and society - are examined in a warm, thoughtful and personal way.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Challenges In Our Generation

Presented a talk on servant leadership and challenges of our generation at the University of Nottingham, Semenyih. Again, I see signs of the Lord bringing the mission field to our doorsteps in Malaysia and thank God for the student community here who aspires to be salt and light here

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Beowulf Retold

Beowulf is the oldest epic poem in the English language. Dated around 700 AD, it is the source from which most of the Western mythology and ‘heroes’ stories originate. The epic starts in Denmark. King Hrothgar’s palace (mead hall) named Heorot was under nightly attacks by a monster called Grendel for 12 years. Grendel attacked them every night and carried off his warriors as food. Beowulf, a prince of the Geats of southern Sweden arrived with a small band of warriors to aid King Hrothgar. That night Beowulf engaged Grendel in fierce hand to hand combat. Grendel could not match the strength of Beowulf, was mortally injured and escaped by tearing off his arm. The next day was a day of rejoicing. However that night, Heorot was attacked by Grendel’s mother. The next morning, Beowulf tracked her to her cave and killed her, bringing back to King Hrothgar, Grendel’s head.

In second part of the epic, Beowulf returned home to King Hygelac. After the death of the king and his son, Beowulf succeeded to the throne and ruled for 50 years. The country was attacked by a fire-breathing dragon. An aged Beowulf fought the dragon, finally killing it with the loss of his own life. The epic ends with his funereal rites and lament. Unlike most early epics, Beowulf is an altruistic hero. Most scholars agree that the epic was gradually infused with Christian symbolism as the monks duplicated the manuscript. Some scholars regard the epic as a Christian allegory; as a battle between good and evil. It is significant that Beowulf’s three battles are not against man but against a monster, an evil demon, and a destroyer of civilization. His sacrificial death is the fulfillment of a hero’s life.

In the movie, Beowulf (2007), screenwriter Avery and Gaiman went beyond the epic to show us a very different portrait of Beowulf. Their Beowulf was not the altruistic hero of the epic but a flawed human being. He was a fighter with an appetite for glory, land, gold, women and be immortalized in songs by their bards. He enjoyed the stories being told about him and was not above embellishing some details to make himself look better. In the movie, after killing Grendel and in turn attacked by Grendel’s mother, Beowulf tracked her to her cave. There instead of killing her, he was seduced by her promise of a kingdom, land, gold, women and invincibility in return for impregnating her. This sin will come back to plague him. The movie continued with Grendel’s mother fulfilling her part of the bargain. Beowulf became king.

The kingship, glory, land, gold, women and invincibility became wearisome as King Beowulf soon discovered. He was constantly in battle with those who wanted to kill him and thus become legend themselves. Then the country was attacked by a dragon which turned out to be his son (by Grendel’s mother). Beowulf succeeded in killing the dragon by sacrificing his life. It was interesting how Avery and Gaiman turned the epic story about good versus evil to an examination of personal sin and its consequences.

Beowulf was led down the path of self destruction by his pride. Thus he was unable to resist the temptations of kingship, lands, gold, women, invincibility and celebrity. By his Faustian pact with Grendel’s mother, he laid the seed for his own self destruction. He sold his soul for worldly success. A small sin grew into a big one. Beowulf redeemed himself in his final act of self sacrifice to save those he loved.

This movie version of Beowulf reminds me of another action hero in the Bible- Samson (Judges 13-16). Samson was proud, and arrogant about his great strength. Thus he was unable to resist the temptations of beautiful Philistine women and wealth. He sinned by marrying them thus breaking the Mosaic Law. The consequences of his sin was that he was blinded and chained like an animal. His redemption came when he sacrificed himself by pulling down Dagon’s temple, killing himself and many Philistines. In spite of his flawed nature, Samson is considered a Judge and a leader of the Israelites. Beowulf and Samson revealed a flawed humanity, prone to pride and sin. Before we are too quick to judge them, we must remind ourselves that we too shared the same flawed humanity.

The lesson is how not to sin and suffer its consequences; to avoid the temptation to sin. 1 Peter 5:8 and James 1:14-15 warns us about the danger of temptations to sin. Our vulnerable to temptations arise from our false self (also called old nature and old man). Our false nature tells us that we can only be happy if we have power, lands, gold, sex, fame or invincibility. When temptations appear, it whispers in our ears that it is okay to commit a small sin so that we can get what we want. “It is only a small sin,” it croons, “probably no one will notice.” It quotes Scriptures to show us that all our sins have been forgiven, so just do it! Our false self neglect to tell us what our true self already knew. We are forgiven for our sins but we still have to bear its consequences. Sometimes the consequences of our sins may affect many generations. King David, the apple of God’s eye had to watch his newborn child (conceived in adultery) die, and suffer the treachery of his son Absalom. When we sin, it is often not only we who suffer but those whom we love. So when temptations to sin appear, run away as fast as you can; in the opposite direction! G.K. Chesterston remarks, “It is always simple to fall; there is an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands.”

Reflection Questions
1. What are some temptations to sin that are facing you at this moment? Is that in a relationship that should not be developed further? Some aspect of your work? Your ambition? Your priorities?
2. How will you go about resisting temptations to sin?
3. Are you accountable to anybody? Accountability groups of two or three persons are very helpful to help us resist temptations to sin.

We acknowledge that we are flawed beings. We thank you that you have redeemed us and given us a true self (new nature). Yet we know our false self (old nature) is still working on us. We know the temptations of the world are very strong. There are also those who will trip us to watch us fall. Father, we ask for the help of your Holy Spirit to strengthen us to resist temptations to sin. We also ask that you will send us brothers and sisters to whom we can be accountable to. Help us, we pray.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Theology Of Vocation

“If we do not have a theology of vocation we lapse into debilitating alternatives: fatalism (doing what’s required by ‘the forces’ and ‘the powers’), luck (which denies purposefulness in life and reduces our life to a bundle of accidents), karma (which ties performace to future rewards), nihilism (which denies that there is any good end to which the travail of history might lead) and… self-actualization (in which we invent the meaning and purpose of our lives, making us magicians).”

Paul Stevens, The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), page 72

Read The Entire Article:
"In summary, God’s call is primarily soteriological rather than occupational-we are called more to someone (God) than to do something. Luther “extended the concept of divine call, vocation, to all worthy occupations” (Bainton, pp. 180-81), but he meant that the Christian is called to be a Christian in whatever situation he or she finds himself or herself, rather than equate vocation with occupation (Kolden, pp. 382-90)."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

From Architecture to Argument

John G Stackhouse writes in his essay From Architecture to Argument:

"Any important work done well is an effective apologetic, especially as integrity in service continues to erode in our society. A Christian plumber who answers calls promptly, fixes problems quickly and thoroughly, and charges a fair price for time and materials makes a powerful impression upon every customer. A Christian manager who sets out clear expectations, listens attentively to complaints and suggestions and responds with evident thoughtfulness and wisdom elicits respect that strengthens any explicitly Christian testimony he or she might render."

He also wrote a helpful article on mission:

"What God rescues us to, furthermore, is the original agenda he set out for us in Genesis 1, namely, to "fill the earth and subdue it." He planted a garden for us to tend (Gen. 2) and commanded our first parents to raise up generations of gardeners to fan out across the earth to till the rest of it. This is what it means to bear the image of God. We, too, are to improve the situation, to cultivate what we encounter, to make shalom in every sector of life. And such work is our ultimate destiny as well, as we are to "reign with him" over the new earth he promises (2 Tim. 2:12). Thus we are not going back to Eden, nor up to a (spiritual) heaven, but forward to the New Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven to earth as our proper home (Rev. 21).

The Christian gospel therefore is not a narrowly spiritual one, but literally embraces everything, everywhere, at every moment. Every action that brings shalom—that preserves or enhances the flourishing of things, people, and relationships—is the primary will of God for humanity. Christians ought therefore to recognize and affirm anything our neighbors do to make peace, whether those neighbors intend to honor God or not. Indeed, we can cooperate with them in those ventures, since we see in them the divine agenda of shalom." Read on for the entire article

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sharpen Your Writing Skill

A workshop for Christian writers jointly organised by Scripture Union,
Asian Beacon and Kairos Research

Christians who want to be involved in the literature ministry in Malaysia are encouraged to attend.

Dates: Friday December 14th, 2007 (8.30am-6.30pm)
Saturday December 15th, 2007 (8.30am-12.45pm)
(Refreshments will be provided)

Venue: Petaling Jaya Gospel Hall, 1A, Jalan Gasing,
46000 Petaling Jaya

Trainer: Dr Andrew Clark

Fee: RM 100 for single participants
RM 300 for a group of 4 participants

Closing Date: November 30th, 2007

Dr Andrew Clark was educated at Cambridge and the London School of Theology. He has worked as a commissioning editor with Scripture Union England and Wales for 10 years. He previously served as a missionary in Hong Kong, where he was involved in church planting and teaching at seminaries. He was a member of OMF International for 15 years. Dr Clark’s wife, Pat, is Chinese and works as an interpreter. They have two sons, Stephen and Tim.

Topics that will be covered include:
· What makes a good article
· How to write material that is scriptural and relevant
· How to interpret the Bible: respecting literary genres, the importance of biblical context
· How to build bridges with today’s world
· How to begin and end well
· Working effectively with editors
· Common problems writers encounter

There will be opportunities to do some writing in small groups. There will also be a Q&A session.
Direct all enquiries to 03-7782 9592 or info@

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Christian Social Vision for Nation-Building

By Dr Ng Kam Weng, Kairos Research Center

A Christian Philosophy for the Common Good

“The Church must exercise prophetic witness towards wider society and to government,” exclaimed the young man as he urged his friends to join a candlelight vigil in front of the High Court to express their concerns over a recent High Court judgment that was seen to be in conflict with fundamental liberties.

I can sense the earnestness of this young man and other young people like him who are willing to fight for social justice. They challenge the older generation not to remain indifferent out of cynicism towards authorities who enforce unjust policies that make life difficult for the common people. These two groups demonstrate two opposing tendencies among Christians on how to relate to wider society. Some Christians retreat into their spiritual ghetto so that authorities will leave them in peace. In effect, these Christians compromise their ideals of justice and end up supporting the status quo.

Other Christians exploit the gospel as a tool for social activism, if not as an ideological weapon, to condemn anyone who does not share their views for being de facto, on the side of the oppressors. It was not too long ago when some radical theologians reduced the saving work of Christ to mean nothing more than political liberation. In this case, anger and self-righteousness led to a distortion of the gospel. Given these competing approaches, the urgent question that Christians need to be answer is: in what way is the church to present a prophetic witness to authorities?

Sober realism should alert Christians to the tendency of the state to become an embodiment of the collective egoism of dominant tribes in a nation. Such states will not take kindly to any criticism from minority groups and idealistic social activists, especially when political contestation becomes intense. The state will certainly hit hard at social activists, agitating for political equality and social-economic justice, with its arsenal of police power that ranges from intimidation to arrests and imprisonment.

If Christian social engagement were merely one of following cues from wider society, albeit cues from recognised experts, it may be wondered why the church needs to get involved in the name of Christ. Furthermore, without sustenance from a deep Christian spirituality, it is doubtful if Christians can sustain a long-term witness in the face of threats and intimidation. As such, Christian social engagement needs a biblically-informed and well-thought out social vision that includes concrete benchmarks of social justice and democracy. Christian engagement that is based on informed moral convictions will persevere in the face of adversity.

One fundamental category that has helped Christians devise a comprehensive framework for political engagement is the concept of ‘Covenant’. Michael Walzer correctly captures the social character of the covenant: “The covenant, then, represented a social commitment to obey God’s law, based upon a presumed internal receptivity and consent. It was a self-imposed law, but the self-imposition was a social act and subject to social enforcement in God’s name” (Michael Walzer, The Revolution of The Saints, pp. 56-57).

Read on for the entire article

Quote Of The Day

J. G. Machen: “It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation, and the absence of that makes even the best preparation useless. But as a matter of fact God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.”

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Agora On Facebook!

Facebook is a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them... I just had my FACEBOOK profile - some of my favorite haunts are the the Agora and Campus Crusade Influencers For Christ groups led by Fiona and Mishael.

Here is the description of the IFC movement:

"In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus challenges us to be salt and light--to influence the world. Every Christian can be an influencer for Christ-- a growing believer who lives in the power of the Holy Spirit and actively seeks to live out God's calling for his life.

Our Mission Statement:
Building movements everywhere so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus.

To be salt and light of the world we need to be connected Christians. This group allows you to connect with Christians everywhere so that these relationships will provide a synergistic momentum to building a movement of like-minded Influencers for Christ.

Our focus is to build movements of people who desire to evangelize, disciple and mobilize others to engage in God's work of transforming the world."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Holy Worldly Church

By Dr Mark Chan, Coordinator of Faith and Society, CSCA, Trinity Theological College

Christians learn from young that they are to be 'in the world' yet not 'of the world'. Implicit in this is the twin conviction that believers are

a) to live out their faith within the realities of everyday life, and
b) to guard against becoming so identified with the ungodly system of our world
that they lose their distinctive identity. This paradoxical stance of being rooted in the world and yet not at home in it comes out of the fact that Christians are simultaneously citizens of (particular nations in) this world and citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Two questions are relevant in this connection:
'Where in the world is the church?'
'Where in the church is the world?'

Where in the World is the Church?

This question is both a lament and a challenge. It is a lament in that it wonders if the institutional church is not so mired in her parochial concerns that she is frankly out of touch with the many pressing issues of our times; and it is a challenge in that it summons the church to her responsibility as the agent of God's Kingdom within the kingdoms of the world.

God is deeply in love with the world. If God loved the world enough to send his Son to die for it, surely he's interested in what's happening to it and in it. His redemptive plan is aimed not just at the reconciliation of sinners to himself but also the restoration of all creation. Did the Lord not teach us to pray that the Kingdom might be manifested 'on earth as it is heaven' (Matt 6:10)?

The Christian faith is a world-transforming faith. To be sure, it is about spiritual transformation of the heart; but it does not stop there. Our faith may be personal, but it is never privatized. To retreat to a spiritual ghetto is to forfeit our birthright as God's people called to be with him and to serve his purposes in the world.

Unfortunately, the church's involvement in the world often extends no further than mounting evangelistic forays to rescue souls from damnation, or performing good works aimed at alleviating the distresses of people. While these activities are integral to the Christian calling in the world, they do not exhaust the church's call to be salt and light in the world.

The church is to be actively engaged in the public square where the important issues of life are debated and decided. The gospel is public truth, and as mediators of the Gospel in the world, Christians have a responsibility to relate the claims of the gospel to social issues such as racism, inter-religious harmony, marital breakups, and the changing face of the family, the spread of infectious diseases, ethics in biomedical research, economic disparity, etc.

More than just social activism, the church needs to be intellectually engaged, to win not the heart of people but also their mind. On matters of public morality for instance, the church must make her prophetic voice heard in language and terms that make sense in our pluralistic public square. Christians can ill afford to be uninformed and uninvolved about developments in the world.

The 'governing authorities' have been appointed by God to promote the good and to restrain and punish every evildoers (Romans 13:1-7, cf. John 19:11), and Christians as concerned citizens are expected to contribute responsibly to the maintenance of a social order that mirrors the scriptural vision of Shalom. Insofar as the state is committed to justice and righteousness, Christians are to submit to its authority and work with and within its structures to bring about the common good.

When Jesus tells his disciples to 'render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's' (Matthew 22:21), He not only legitimises the state apparatus but also delimits the state's sovereignty. To give back to Caesar what is his implies that the state has the right to receive tribute from its citizens. But this is not an absolute authority, for that belongs to God alone. Yet it is when Christians submit wholly to God that they are imbued with a vision and empowered to seek the welfare of the nation.

The church has a priestly role in society as well. This entails imploring God on the behalf of the world and interceding for political leaders and all who are in positions of influence (media moguls, financial czars, law lords, etc), so that Christians may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness (1Timothy 2:11, Titus 3:1f).

Where in the Church is the World?

One reason for the church's neglect of the public square may well be because the world has already colonised the church. Here is a call to see if the church has unwittingly imbibed ideals, values, and practices that are contrary to God's will. Nothing dilutes the Christian's devotion and witness in the world quite like being enmeshed in ungodly worldliness.

In seeking to revitalize the church's public weakness, we must necessarily talk about the holiness of the church. Only a holy church can respond to the call of holy worldliness. The Christians' commendation of wholesome and upright living in the world rings hollow if it is not embodied in the lives of believers. Therefore we need to ask in what areas of life in the church have we allowed the world to determine our agenda. Paul's advice is apt in this regard, "Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking" (Romans 12:2).
The Christian church owes it to the world to invest in the formation of moral citizens who will contribute positively to the common good.

We serve the world best by being what we have been created by God to be: a distinct and holy people called out from the world of sin and inducted into the counter-cultural community of God the King. Being good citizens of God's kingdom has a direct impact on whether we are good citizens of our nation. We are of no earthly good if we compromise our identity in order to gain acceptance or win the popularity contest. Maintaining our distinctiveness means that the church cannot be co-opted by any political party. She forfeits her position as God's ambassador when she puts the coercive power of the state behind her truth claims or when her voice becomes nothing more than an echo of the state's policies. The Church and the State should not be confused.


The call to holy worldliness is the call to deny oneself and to take up the cross. The chruch that is for God and the world must bear the image of the sacrificial Lamb of God. For just as Christ was broken and shared for the salvation of the world, the church too must be marked by the same eucharistic self-giving if she is to be God's good news in the world.

Between Romans 13 and Revelation 13

This is an ecommentary, reproduced here in full, from Tan Soo Inn at Grace@Work.

"We must obey God rather than human beings!"
(Acts 5:29 TNIV)

eCommentary: Between Romans 13 and Revelation 13

Some of my Christian friends in Malaysia are caught in a dilemma. The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH), is calling for a peaceful rally to be held this Saturday, to press for reforms in the electoral system. [Note: Bar Council's response is here]. The police have refused to give a permit for the rally citing various legal reasons. BERSIH has appealed against the decision. There has been no news as to whether the appeal has been successful at time of writing.

Some Christians are sympathetic to the concerns of BERSIH. They want to see changes in the electoral process that would help elections to be more "clean and fair." But they are not sure if they should take part in a rally which has not been permitted by the powers that be. Citing Romans 13: 1-7 some feel that they should not.

Others argue that the powers of the state are not absolute especially when they deny citizens basic rights like the right for peaceful assembly. Therefore many Christians are asking WWJD? What would Jesus do? The better question perhaps would be "what would Jesus have me do?"

Let me state up front that I haven't received any direct word from the Lord. All I know is that seeking to follow the Lordship of Christ in a fallen world means that Christians often need wisdom to discern between various biblical injunctions. On the matter of the relationship between church and state, Christians have to take seriously the biblical material found in both Romans 13 and Revelation 13.

Commenting on Romans 13:1-7, Dennis Hamm, SJ, writes:

"Paul was indeed making the case here that normally civil authorities are servants (knowingly or not) of divine providence. Obedience to such officials was a way of loving one's neighbour as oneself and fostering the order necessary for harmony in society."
("Faith's Call to Justice", The American Catholic Weekly, July 31, 2006, p. 2)
But in the same article he also warns against "a passive and uncritical attitude towards public officials." He points out the danger of such an interpretation by reminding us that during the rise of Nazism in Germany, some pastors urged their churches to cooperate with Hitler and his agents on the basis of Romans 13. "Hitler was, after all, a legitimately elected official" (Hamm, p. 2).

The situation in Revelation 13 however is very different from the one in Romans 13. Nigel Wright points out that Revelation 13 "acts as the counterpoint to Romans 13. The author (of Revelation 13) refers to Rome and its persecution of the saints, and reveals the beastly character of human power systems. In accordance with the nature of apocalyptic literature, the author describes here the potential nature of all human power. All governments have it within them to be idolatrous and to oppose the good." ("The Church and 'God's Servant' the State, Part 1", Anabaptism Today, Issue 7, October 1994, p. 3)

In Revelation 13 there is no call to submit to the civil authorities. Instead believers are called to be faithful to Christ even if it costs them their lives. The church is never called to violent resistance. But there is clear teaching about the need to suffer if need be, when being true to one's Lord means coming up against a state that is now in opposition to the concerns of the Lord.

Therefore, the Christian's default position should be to support the state, seeing it as "a power ordained by God for the preservation of order" (Wright, p. 5). However, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Dennis Hamm reminds us that to be good Christian citizens also "includes the right, and at times the duty, to voice (our) just criticism of that which seems harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of community" (Hamm, p. 2-3).

In the light of passages like Revelation 13, Douglas J. Moo interprets
Romans 13:1-7 in this way:

"...Paul's demand that Christians submit to government means simply that they recognize government's rightful place within the hierarchy of relationships established by God, a hierarchy at whose pinnacle is God. When, therefore, government usurps its place, and commands us to do something contrary to our ultimate Lord, we are free - indeed obligated - to disobey. This view may, however, unduly weaken the meaning of 'submit.' Perhaps the best solution, then, is to view 13:1-7 as a general statement about how the Christian should relate to government, with exceptions to this advice assumed but not spelled out here."
("Romans", New Bible Commentary, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994, p. 1153)
So, should Christians attend the BERSIH rally if the police permit is not forthcoming? In this and in many other issues, I will say again "ask the Boss." He has promised to give us wisdom when we need it (James 1:5). Therefore the church should come before the Lord for a time of discernment. The Living Christ is in our communities and speaks to us through His Word and through His Spirit. We need to be confident of His presence and His leading and seek His mind together.

Still, this side of heaven we "see in a glass darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12) and different Christian groups may come to different conclusions on this matter. We need to be gracious enough to accept and love those who, in trying to follow Christ, come to different conclusions from us. What we can do is to encourage one another to be faithful to obey Jesus as He calls us to "deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him" (Luke 9:23). And to be faithful in preaching the gospel.

Ajith Fernando's recent article in Christianity Today [BK's note: excellent "back to basics" article!] is timely. While he applauds evangelicalism's present commitment to societal involvement, he warns that the pendulum should not swing too much away from our duty to proclaim the gospel. He says:

"I will do all I can to encourage people to live the Christian life in
society. But I will also follow Christ's example in placing before Christians the fact of eternal damnation and the glory of eternal salvation. And I will challenge them to follow the agenda of Jesus, who 'came to seek and to save the lost' (Luke 19:10), reminding them of the advice of Jude, who said, '... save others by snatching them out of the fire' (v.23)."
Some of us have been convicted to take part in BERSIH's rally. But we should all be clear that the ultimate solution to humankind's problems is the gospel of Jesus Christ. And in our commitment to share the gospel we must be prepared to stand alone.

Your brother,
Soo-Inn Tan

See also Brian's earlier post on Jesus and Politics Primer

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Counting The Cost

Some younger Christians wondered "Who is Dr David G?" I thought it would timely to share this article by Pastor Tony Lim, from whom I have learnt much this year in the area of mentoring, church and discipleship.

Rethinking The Meaning Of The Cross For Christian Discipleship
Festschrift for Dr David (Past Chairman, OMF, Malaysia)
(Read The Entire Essay in Honour of Dr David's 70th Birthday)

Evangelical spirituality or Evangelicalism has always emphasised the importance of the cross. Indeed John Stott argued that “the cross is at the centre of the evangelical faith. Indeed…it lies at the centre of the historic, biblical faith..” Stott pointed out that JI Packer called the atoning death of Christ for sinful rebellious humanity as Evangelicalism’s distinguishing mark. (Stott 1986:7)

The apostle Paul in Philippians chapter two gives us a lovely vignette of the character, person and life of Christ :

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus’ life was the embodiment of self-denial, sacrifice, suffering and cross bearing. As disciples of Jesus we are called to be like Christ. Luke records Jesus saying, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Lk 6.40) . Discipleship as understood by Luke in his gospel and Acts, involves “‘both a way to walk and a mission to fulfil” (Charles Talbert quoted in Wilkins 1992: 271). Discipleship means to follow Jesus and become like him in the totality of our life. It involves the whole person, what we do and who we are. When Jesus called men and women to follow him, he warned them to consider what Wilkins calls “the twin prerequisites of discipleship – cost and cross”. There is a cost to pay and a cross of suffering to bear. Luke’s gospel records many such “cost and cross passages”. (Wilkins, 1992:217)

Consider the following verses:

(Cost, Cross) "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Lk 9.23).

(Cost )"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. (Lk 14.26)

(Cost) He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 60Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 61Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good bye to my family." 62Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." (Lk 9.59)

However, difficulties arise when we try to faithfully apply the teachings of the above passages. Wilkins in his seminal study on discipleship pointed out that
these cost and cross messages in the Gospels are some of the most difficult passages in Scripture to understand rightly. He goes on to say:

“when we try to apply Jesus’ challenge to count the cost, we often struggle with going to extremes. Some people emphasise counting the cost so strongly that they have been accused of advocating ‘works salvation.’ Some people who do not include any challenge to count the cost have been accused of advocating ‘easy believism’. (Wilkins 1992: 220)

Young people (below the age of 30)(Buster generation) have often complained to me as their pastor about the older folk’s (the booster generation also known as silent or builder generation in the States), someone born between 1927 and 1945, Dr David’s vintage) severe and even harsh demands on them. They claim that discipleship as understood by the booster generation is arguably more demanding and more narrow than biblically warranted. Pose them the question, “Should Christians emigrate” and the answer inevitably would be a resounding no!

“Is discipleship always about suffering and taking the least attractive option? Given a choice must a Christian always choose the harder and more sacrificial option? Is there no place for a theoretical chemist, a nuclear physicist, a brilliant pianist and the like, to emigrate so as to find a happy niche to pursue his or her career in a developed country? (see Hwa Yung [4] 2007: 20)

Let me try to flesh out some of the problems, young people face with the Gospels’ cost and cross passages as they seek to follow God’s will in their choice and place of career. Consider the following fictitious case study:

Case study

A young man (from the busters generation, born between 1965 and 1983) fresh from his PhD studies in Theology from Cambridge University had two offers to teach. One came from a seminary in Malaysia, a developing country. At the seminary in Malaysia, he has to be a generalist, prepared to teach any subject, and not just his specialty. The other offer comes from a prestigious and well known but liberal seminary in Singapore, regarded by many as a developed nation. At this seminary, he will be expected only to teach in his specialised field. He is also given much time and opportunity to do further research. Anxious to know the will of the Lord, he asked two men whom he respected very much for advice and guidance.

The first man he asked for counsel come from the booster generation (someone born between 1927 and 1945).

“Simple, young man. Go to where the need is more serious”, was the older man’s counsel.

To which the young man replied, “ But the need in both seminaries is serious. The one in Malaysia needs well trained lecturers. The one in Singapore urgently needs an evangelical voice.”

“Young man, the seminary in the developed world will always be able to attract intelligent, gifted men and women. Not so many man or woman would be so willing to go teach in the third world seminary. You take the harder road, the road less travelled. After all the Lord said, ‘ "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”. (Lk 9.23). In addition ponder upon these verses (and he goes on to quote the passages above)

Still not quite satisfied, our young man sought out another respected mentor, someone from the baby boomers generation ( born between 1946 and 1964).

When the young man explained his dilemma, the second mentor replied,

“ What is most important is that you engaged in a ministry which allows you to best develop your gifts. Remember with your PhD, you are a specialist, you need to be in a place that allows you to pursue excellence and be an agent of change. Obviously the seminary in the Singapore is the place for you.”

“But what about the biblical call to taking up the cross, self denial, and sacrifice?” asked the perplexed young man.

“Remember Daniel and his three friends?” replied second mentor. Opening his bible he read from Daniel chapter 1,

‘3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility- 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king's service.

6 Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.’

God placed Daniel and his three friends in an elitist and privileged environment. He gave them special ability to do well in their studies. They did so much better than their Babylonian rivals. They demonstrated excellence and in later years were instrumental in ensuring an efficient and corrupt free administration. God could have put them in an obscure and insignificant village. But that will be a waste of the special abilities or gifts that He had given them.” Concluded the second mentor.

Before we examine whether the counsel given to the young man, were biblically correct and acceptable, let us look at the issues at stake here.

On the surface both the booster and boomer generation respectively, will like to claim that their advice was based on scripture. Both will be surprised that their advice to the young man may be based on values, tradition and understanding of discipleship which are characteristic of their generation or socio-cultural era. This may or may not be based on a perspective and interpretation that is biblically correct. We all come to the biblical text wearing our cultural and generational biasness or lenses. This is the reason why for many years, good biblical Christians in South Africa were unable to see how unjust and unbiblical the Apartheid system was. A cultural blind spot prevented them from seeing the clear teaching about the equality of all men and women before God. In a similar way, the booster’s and boomers’ generation may be more influenced by their generational biasness than they realised.

Here is a snapshot of the booster generation who are missionaries of the traditional school.

“The boosters were brought up in a world which had experienced the Great Depression and World War II. In both events, people endured great hardship and won through. Boosters were hardworking, single-minded, persevering, committed, frugal and willing to turn their hands to whatever needed doing for the sake of goal…

As missionaries, boosters provided the model of missionary service still followed by traditional missionary societies today. They went out in response to a clear, firmly held sense of all to a particular country with a particular society for life, sight unseen. They were prepared to go anywhere and do anything. No sacrifice was too great for the sake of the gospel, and however great the hardship, resignation was unthinkable….” (Donavan and Myors 1997: 42,43)

In contrast, as Donavan and Myors point out :

“the baby boomers were born into material prosperity as a result of the hard work of their fathers….they were aware of the horrors rather than the glory of war – through hearing about the Holocaust and Hiroshima… boomers became the protesting, questioning, pragmatic, yet idealistic generation. They hold themselves responsible for their own lives and choices and respect the right of others to do the same…..the baby boomers bring to mission specialised knowledge, skill, vision, energy and willingness for hard work. They place great importance on using their God given skills and training to the maximum to His glory. Fulfilment in their work is very important to them, as is continuing professional development. If these things are not available or do not seem likely to happen, boomers will become frustrated and discouraged and may leave the mission.” (Donavan and Myors 1997:43,44)

The defining characteristic of the booster generation is their hardiness, their commitment, their readiness to bear the cost and cross of discipleship. Theirs is a disciplined generation that says, “ No bible, no breakfast”. So their advice would inevitably be: go where the need is greatest. Imitate Christ in self denial and self sacrifice.

The boomers’ on the other hand, place a deep importance on using their God given gifts, skills and training to the maximum for God’s glory. “Fulfilment in work is very important to them, as is continuing professional development”. (Donovan and Myors 1997:44). Therefore to the boomers, being in a place where they cannot use their skills to the best makes no sense. It cannot be honouring to God. They identify such a situation with the unfaithful servant who given one talent by his master, did nothing with it. Instead, he buried it under the ground. (Mt 25.24-28) So the boomers’ advice is predictable: be in a place where you can use best use your gifts for the Lord’s glory.

These distinctive generational and socio-cultural perspectives are the lenses that the boosters and the boomers bring to their reading and understanding of Scripture. The purpose of this essay is to examine the respective generational perspectives and see whether they are in line with biblical teaching.

Arguably the most influential leaders in Asia today, still come from the booster generation. Though many in the booster generation may have retired, they still retained immense influence as highly respected elder statesman. Their lives of faithful dedication, self sacrifice, obedience, godliness and commitment is the ‘gold’ standard by which contemporary Christians are measured by.

In Malaysia, many men and women of Dr David’s generation were pioneers in many movements and institutions that we take for granted today. Movements like the Fellowship of Evangelical Students, Graduates Christian Fellowship, Scripture Union, bible colleges like Malaysia Bible Seminari, social services like Malaysian Care, national Christian movements like the NECF and so on. They were among the first generation of Evangelical leaders and provided needed leadership for many churches in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

The torch is now slowly but surely passing on to the baby boomers generation. Many from this generation are currently the senior pastors, and senior Christian leaders in churches, and organisations, both secular and Christian today. Their influence will rise even as that of the booster generation wane.

Therefore it is important for us to ask whether the booster generation’s emphasis on self denial, and sacrifice, is more of a generational cultural perspective rather than necessarily a biblical perspective. Conversely, has the baby boomers’ generational cultural perspective soft pedalled the biblical demands concerning the cost and cross of discipleship? Has self fulfilment taken priority over Christ centeredness?

It is important for these conflicting perspectives to be sorted out properly based on biblical principles and understanding. If not, unnecessary conflict in their understanding of the demands of discipleship between the booster generation and the baby boomers generation will hinder the progress of the Gospel.

Let us now consider the Gospels’ cost and cross passages in more detail. It is clear from the passages that there is indeed a cost and a cross to discipleship. However Wilkins argues that :

“the same cost of discipleship is not demanded for all. Jesus personalises the cost of discipleship according to what he knows are the priorities of a person’s heart. For example, the saying on hating father and mother and leaving family must be balanced with incidents such as the one involving the Gerasene demoniac. The Gerasene man, out of whom were cast a legion of demons, begged to accompany Jesus, yet Jesus redirected his attention, telling him, ‘Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you. (Mk 5.18; Lk 8.38-39). Here the person is told to go back specifically to his household and friends to tell them of Jesus. Jesus knew the heart of the person, knew what was best for the proclamation of the Gospel, and did not call the person to the same kind of ‘cost’ to which others were called. His calling was personalised in line with Jesus’ knowledge of the priorities of his life and Jesus’ intentions for him.” (Wilkins 1992: 110, italics, mine)

In consistently asking all Christians to always take on the more difficult and less travelled path, we forget that Jesus did not uniformly ask the same cost of discipleship for all his disciples. Some were asked to leave father and mother, others to stay home. Some like the rich young ruler was told to sell everything he has and give to the poor.

22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." 23When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. 24Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Lk 18.22-25)

At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mk 10.22)

But Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea who were also rich were not told to do the same. For these two men, wealth was not the issue in their lives.

Similarly to consistently advise Christians to a place where they may fully utilise their gifts may be akin to urging Christians to put self fulfilment and development above Christ. Our priorities must be the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. Not our ambitions, personal development, security and family.

In the final analysis, the Gospel’s cost and cross passages must be understood at two different levels. So far we have been concentrating on the first level which is directed to the would-be disciple of Jesus. These passages tell the would be disciple what it cost to respond to the biblical call to salvation. Which is essentially a call to the Kingdom of God, a call to believe on Jesus for eternal life. For the term disciple in the bible designated a believer in Jesus. ( See Wilkins 1992:111)

In presenting our evangelistic message, we must make clear that there is a cost to being a disciple of Jesus. The good news of the Gospel as Grayston puts it, is not a “time-share presentation detailing the benefits. We do not pander to the ‘what’s in it for me?’ mentality of the world”. (Grayston 2007:41) It is clear that true faith means having an allegiance to Christ alone. No other allegiances must hinder a person from a life of discipleship and obedience to God. Hence no ‘idol’, be it ambition, family or personal desires for power, wealth and influence must take precedence over Christ. Christ sternly taught: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. (Mk 9.43). There is a thus a cost to pay and a cross to be carried.

The second level in which the cost and cross passages need to be understood is the continuing cost of what it means to live out the call of God upon our lives, once we are now his disciples. It is a more than a question of vocation. It involves the whole person before Christ. It asks the question, “ In all that I am, in all that I do, am I living in conformity to Christ? Am I obedient to His call and will in my life?”

Without a good and biblical understanding of call, it is difficult to properly apply the gospel’s cost and cross passages. Either we are too hard or we are too soft on ourselves. We find it hard to find the proper balance. Therefore on a personal level, the conscientious Christian may have the tendency to be harder on himself than biblically warranted. Given a situation where he is given a choice between a ‘harder’ option and an ‘easier’ option, he will always opt without much thinking for the harder option.

For in his mind, this will always please the Lord. For he fears that the easier option is a temptation to put self above Christ. Therefore in taking the harder option, he has the assurance, that he is certainly not pleasing himself. For given a choice he will choose the easier option. But amidst all this troubled soul searching, it is not pleasing the Lord which is the main motive. It is taking the easy way out in ensuring a guilt free state of mind. He has not taken the pains to consider God’s call upon his life at all.

The uncommitted Christian on the other hand as Hwa Yung so perceptively put it, “will take the path of least resistance in life, spiritually and emotionally”
(Yung 2007:23)

So how do we understand God’s call upon our lives? One of the best definitions of calling is that given by Os Guinness. Calling according to him is much more than a job or even a vocation. It involves not only what we do, but who we are, the complete person before God He writes:

Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service. (Guinness 1998: 4)

In other words, calling gives us a focused sense of purpose in our life, a reason for being not just doing a task, or a job or responsibility. A biblical purpose is always an unchanging reason for being. It holds true for you regardless of your circumstances or season of life. As Boa puts it “When a Christ-centred purpose become the focus of your life, it harmonizes all the other areas, such as family, work, finances and ministry”. Life without a transcendent source of purpose and calling would be an exercise in futility. Malcolm Muggeridge puts it well,

“It has never been possible for me to persuade myself that the universe could have been created, and we, homo sapiens, so-called, have, generation after gen­eration, somehow made our appearance to sojourn briefly on our tiny earth, solely in order to mount the interminable soap opera, with the same charac­ters and situations endlessly recurring, that we call history. It would be like building a great stadium for a display of tiddly-winks, or a vast opera house for a mouth-organ recital. There must, in other words, be another reason for our existence and that of the universe than just getting through the days of our life as best we may; some other destiny than merely using up such physical, intel­lectual and spiritual creativity as has been vouchsafed us”.

Understanding call in terms of life-purpose, life-task help us to release the full potential of Christians to serve the Lord according to their talents, gifts, burdens and passion. As Steven Covey writing in the context of secular management observes:

“when you engage in work (ministry) that taps your talents and fuels your passion that rises out of a great need in the world (church?) that you feel drawn by conscience to meet; therein lies your voice, your calling, your soul’s code”.
(Boa 2004:5)

It is therefore possible that God’s call upon our life, vocationally, may be to a place and a lifestyle that on the surface is comfortable and luxurious. Nonetheless, in God’s wisdom, it would prove strategic, effective and essential for the proclamation of the gospel. Nehemiah’s position as cup bearer to King Artaxerxes was a privileged, cushioned and influential position. So too, Daniel and his three friends. It would be a great mistake to ask Nehemiah, Daniel and his three friends to go to a small village in the Babylonian empire simply because we believe mistakenly that Christ asked us to always take the more sacrificial and less attractive option. We must not rule out the possibility that God may have placed them where they are.

On the other hand, Dr Paul Brand , a world renowned hand surgeon in his early years worked in an unknown Christian missionary leprosy hospital in Vellore, India. Arguably he could have worked in any well known hospital in the Western world. There he will have access to much better facilities. But Vellore was the place where he made most of his cutting edge discoveries in hand surgery. Fiona E. Thomas gives additional information below:

“A skilled and inventive surgeon , he pioneered tendon transfer techniques with leprosy patients, and opened up a whole new world of disability prevention and rehabilitation for the most vulnerable and helpless in society. In the late 1940s, he became the first surgeon in the world to use reconstructive surgery to correct the deformities of leprosy in the hands and feet”.

Dr Paul was highly honoured for his pioneering surgical work. Among them:

He was Hunterian Professor of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1952; in 1960 he received the Albert Lasker Award for outstanding leadership and service in the field of rehabilitation; in 1961 he was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II with a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for promotion of good relations between the Republic of India and Great Britain; in 1977 the Damian-Dutton Award for outstanding contributions in prevention of disabilities due to leprosy; and the US Surgeon General's Medallion for his rehabilitation work in Carville, LA..

He passed away in 2003. So Dr Paul Brand chose the harder, more sacrificial route in his early years as a doctor. Later he chose the ‘easier’ route and moved to America. He also received many honours and awards. Did he therefore compromise in his later years, the principles taught in the biblical passages of cost and cross?

Surely not. He responded to the continuing call of God on his life. Dr Paul Brand surrendered his life to Christ. His life was like the other great Paul, the apostle who wrote:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2.20)

Henri Nouwen sums it up well:

“Whether we work in an office, travel the world, write books, make films, care for the poor, offer leadership, or fulfil unspectacular tasks, the question is not ‘What do I most want?’ but ‘What is my vocation?’ The most prestigious position in society can be an expression of obedience to our call as well as a sign of our refusal to hear that call, and the least prestigious position, too, can a be a response to our vocation as well as a way to avoid it.” (Nouwen 1996:77)

It is thus helpful to realize that Jesus personalized the cost of discipleship according to each individual. One person’s weakness is another person’s strength. Our Lord and Shepherd knows our hearts intimately and he personalizes His call accordingly. We cannot demand the cost of discipleship to be the same, on all and sundry. In addition, a proper understanding of calling will help us to better evaluate the insights, the strengths and weaknesses of the booster and boomers generation understanding of the cost and cross messages of the Gospels. If we clearly understand God’s will or calling for us, then we must be prepared to pay whatever cost Christ may have for us. We must be willing to bear whatever cross He may have for us.

Christ may send us to an impoverished third world country. A country without proper medical care, running water or electricity. Where it is a severe trial just to carry out we routine daily chores, like cooking and washing. But at the same time, it may be a place where the people are responsive and seek the Lord with great fervour. Or He may send us to a place where we have access to the best medical care and every possible modern conveniences. But where the people are cold and hardened against the gospel. Conversely, Christ may send us to a place that is modern, developed and where the people are zealous and hungry for the Lord!

In the end, however, the cost of discipleship to each individual is the same for all true disciples of Christ. We are to completely surrender our lives to the Lord. To go where He send us without question. For finally: “The cost of discipleship is one’s own life”. (Wilkins 1992: 218).

Stott, John. The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove: IVP, 1986, p7

Wilkins, Michael Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992, p 221

However I am not suggesting in any way that Dr David subscribes fully to the Booster generation’s worldview. In his advice to young and old, he seeks prayerfully to discover the will of God together with whoever is seeking his counsel. He certainly doesn’t give un-reflected standard advice.

Yung, Hwa, "Should Christian Emigrate," Understanding the Modern World Through Modern Eyes, October 2007, Kairos Publications

Consider the Pauline theme of equality within the social structure in Gal 3.28; 1 Cor 12.13; Col 3.11

See Kath Donovan, Myors, Ruth, "Reflections on Attrition in Career Missionaries: A Generational Perspective into the Future," in Too Valuable to Lose, ed. William D. Taylor (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1997).

We think of Rev Peter Young, David Boler, Rev Loh Soon Choy, Elena and Harold Cooke and others like them. Dr David himself was the first chairman of the OMF Malaysia.

Because of space constrains we will leave out the busters generational cultural perspective. Besides we want to major on the influence of leaders. The busters as a whole are still too young to exercise wide spread, national influence.

Some of the points of difficulty between the booster, boomers and buster generation had been documented by Donavan and Myors in their article quoted in the essay.

John Grayston, "Devotional on Ps 27," Encounter With God, October to, Dec, 2007,p 41 .

“Harder” is relative. Teaching in a third world country may be more difficult in terms of physical conditions. But teaching in a ‘liberal’ seminary may be ‘harder’ emotionally, socially and academically. One may very well be ridiculed, marginalised and put into cold storage for your evangelical views.

Although in his article, Yung is writing about issues pertaining to ‘migration’.

Os Guinness, The Call (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), p 4

Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), p 465

Quoted by Kenneth Boa in Conformed to His Image, p 455

Stephen Covey, The 8Th Habit (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004). p5, parenthesis, mine

The information on Paul Brand is taken from an obituary written by Fiona Ellen Thomas Communications Officer The Leprosy Mission International

In 1966 he was seconded to the United States Public Health Service Hospital in Carville, Louisiana, which is the only leprosy hospital in the US and a world-famous centre for leprosy research

Henri Nouwen, Can You Drink The Cup? (Mumbai: Pauline Publications, 1996), 77.

Getting Back On Course

Ajith Fernando - It's time to return to the priority of evangelism.

Those wanting to follow Christ in seeking and saving the lost will always be despised for their supposed arrogance.The Church is notorious for its course corrections. Toward the end of the 19th century, theological liberals began to emphasize the humanness of Christ. They presented Christ's life as the main focus of the gospel. Evangelicals reacted by emphasizing the atoning work of Christ (especially as explained by Paul), almost to the exclusion of the life of Christ. So liberals concentrated on good deeds and evangelicals on saving souls.

But by the middle of the 20th century, we evangelicals realized our mistake. Carl F. H. Henry's The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism in 1947 and the Lausanne Covenant of 1974 were landmark documents leading us to once again see social concern as an element of the church's mission. Some evangelicals gave greater weight than before to the Gospels and the kingdom of God, while others advocated for a right-wing political agenda. But regardless of where we fell on the political spectrum, we were encouraged to engage the culture and seek to demonstrate the Christian ethic daily.

The old "evangelism versus social action" war was over—or so I believed. In Sri Lanka, I was devoted to raising up a "post-war" generation for whom social involvement and evangelism were natural outgrowths of commitment to Christ.

Neglecting Evangelism?

But lately some disconcerting trends—more course corrections, if you will—have left me feeling uneasy. I hear evangelicals talking a lot about justice and kingdom values but not proclaiming the gospel to those of other faiths and winning them for Christ. Of course, if someone asks them about Christianity, they will explain the gospel. Thus, some people will be converted to Christ through their witness.

But that is a woefully inadequate strategy. Most of the billions of people in the world who do not know Christ will not come and ask us. We need to take the initiative to go to them.

Earlier evangelicals emphasized proclamation, while liberals emphasized presence—living out our Christianity before the people among whom we live. I fear that the old "presence versus proclamation" battle has come back to the church, or will shortly. Some evangelicals are going down that same road, though they claim to believe in proclamation evangelism.

This is why I am calling for a fresh commitment to proactive evangelism. We can't wait for people to come to us—we must urgently go to them. We must look for ways to make contact with them and use all our creativity and determination to communicate the gospel.

Yes, I praise God that evangelicals have discovered the AIDS challenge. I am only sorry that it took us so long. In biblical times, God called his people to pay special attention to sojourners, widows, orphans, and the oppressed. AIDS patients are the equivalent of such people today.

I pray that many evangelicals will devote themselves to lifelong service with such marginalized groups, including the mentally ill, the homeless, and the neglected aged. And, as Moses and Jesus said, "You always have the poor with you" (Mark 14:7; Deut. 15:11), indicating that we will have a responsibility to the poor as long as this world exists.

However, we must remember that today our society has accepted AIDS ministry and social development as attractive avenues of service. Evangelism will never have that attraction. Those wanting to follow Christ in seeking and saving the lost will always be despised for their supposed arrogance.

We Christians in Asia, Africa, and Latin America get very sensitive when we are accused of being arrogant. We do not like to be associated with the colonial rulers who looked down on us and on our cultures.

Worse, nations are outlawing conversion through what is called coercion. Those evangelizing among non-Christians are being persecuted severely in many places of the world. So we face several obstacles that could stop our evangelistic momentum and replace it with more palatable agendas.

Stark Reality

How could we be guilty of such negligence? The following questions challenge our shortsightedness:

• In the sayings of Jesus, he talked much about the coming judgment. Do we? If not, the next generation won't believe it. One generation neglects the belief; the next generation rejects it.

• Jesus said, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" The context shows that the Lord is talking about eternal destruction, which we can avert only by accepting his grace, denying self, taking up the cross, and following him. Does this perspective color the way we look at people who do not follow Jesus?

• Why did the Holy Spirit ensure that there are seven statements of Christ's Great Commission in the New Testament—one each in Matthew (28:18-20), Mark (16:15-18), and Luke (24:46-49), and two each in John (17:18; 20:21-23) and Acts (1:8; 10:42)? Is it not because Jesus believed that before he left, it was important to drill into his disciples' minds the priority of the work of saving souls for eternity?

Now of course the Great Commission would be meaningless if those who obeyed it did not also obey the Great Commandment to love God and our neighbor. And we must continue to challenge people with the dual responsibility to live the gospel in society and to take the gospel to the unreached.

The Language of Priority

Can we then say that evangelism must have priority over social concern? I have always been reluctant to use the language of priority. I have felt that such talk comes out of the Western desire to have things nicely lined up in a logical progression (e.g. God, family, and ministry).

I prefer to simply say that our calling is to be obedient to God totally. If God is in control of our lives, he will lead us so that we will give the proper place to the whole will of God for us.

But Satan is also active, and he does not like to see the population of heaven increase. He will do all he can to prevent Christians from making disciples by going to the nations, baptizing people, and teaching them the commands of the Lord (Matt. 28:19-20). I fear that many evangelicals have fallen into Satan's trap of upholding kingdom values to the diminution of God's call to proactively go after the lost and proclaim the gospel.

Yes, we are called to be holistic. But part of holistic Christianity surely is the statement of Christ that all earthly gain is worthless if a person loses his life to eternal destruction. The stark fact of lostness places before us the urgency of evangelism. No, such thinking is not common in some evangelical circles today. A theological faculty member of a university in Europe held a seminar a few years ago to discuss one of my books. One of the presenters, an evangelical scholar, faulted me for using the supposedly confusing term "lostness" when referring to those who do not believe in Christ.

As for me, I will do all I can to encourage people to live the Christian life in society. But I will also follow Christ's example in placing before Christians the fact of eternal damnation and the glory of eternal salvation.

And I will challenge them to follow the agenda of Jesus, who "came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10), reminding them of the advice of Jude, who said, "… save others by snatching them out of the fire" (Jude 23).

The Combined Witness of the Whole Church

I am reluctant to reinsert the priority argument. But we need clarity. Some will rightly say that because of calling or circumstances in some parts of the world, faithful Christians cannot always preach. They are called instead to social work, and government regulations prohibit combining social work with evangelism. Fair enough.

Even though Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka is an evangelistic organization, we did not do any gospel proclamation during our massive tsunami-relief operation in 2005, according to government rules. Integrity demanded that we not do what we love to do—persuade people to receive Christ's salvation. (I believe, of course, that people were impressed by the gospel simply by seeing the way Christians helped them. But we would not call that evangelism.)

After about four months of almost total immersion in tsunami relief, we returned to our primary call, evangelism, and in the process refused millions of rupees offered to us for new tsunami-related relief projects. This does not mean that we do no social work now. As a youth organization, we do a lot of things, especially in education, to help youth from economically poor backgrounds advance in life. But we try not to tie that work too closely with evangelism. We do not want people to think that our help is tied to conversion.

In Nepal, Christian missionaries have been laboring faithfully for over 50 years, doing social work in the name of Christ. Evangelism, however, has been prohibited. For the first 30 years of this ministry, they saw little evangelistic fruit, but in the past 20 or so there has been an amazing evangelistic harvest of hundreds of thousands of people coming to Christ through the work of local Christians. I believe the faithful witness of the missionaries played a major role in helping people listen to the gospel as proclaimed by the Nepalese.

So, yes, some parts of the body of Christ may be called to do things other than proclaiming the gospel of eternal salvation, though they would verbally advocate other aspects of the kingdom agenda—such as justice, fair play, and righteous values. Indeed, every Christian needs to be committed to the whole gospel, seeking to be a personal witness through life and word.

To that end, Christian social-service organizations must ensure that their workers are not only committed to their social work, but also to Christ as Lord of their lives. So even though verbal witness may not be part of their job descriptions, they need to be committed to it in their personal lives.

Let me also add that much of the church's witness through social engagement and human rights advocacy will be done by laypeople who go into the structures of society and live out their Christianity. The local church and Christian organizations should teach the laity a truly biblical approach that motivates and guides them in their service. No one disputes that we must apply the Scriptures to the social issues of the day in our preaching and teaching. Pastors should also pray for laypeople serving in society and advise, comfort, and encourage them. For example, John Wesley sent his last letter to William Wilberforce encouraging him in his antislavery campaign.

Practical realities will dictate that not every segment of the church will be involved in all forms of proactive evangelism and all forms of social engagement. Parachurch organizations will indeed specialize, while being committed to the whole mission of the church. Local churches will do a little of most aspects of the mission of the church.

But taken together, the whole body of Christ will be engaged in the whole mission of the church. As the Lausanne movement puts it, the whole church must take the whole gospel to the whole world.

The tendency among some evangelicals to downplay verbal proclamation—including persuading people to receive Christ's salvation—demands a fresh call for evangelicals to emphasize the urgency of proactive evangelism. And if talk of priority will help the church to a fresh commitment, then so be it.

Christ certainly seems to share that priority: "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?" (Matt. 16:26).

Valley Of Vision

Our longtime friend at the Forum, Edward Sim aka Gummiebear (one of my all time favorite childhood cartoons!) just started a blog called Valley Of Vision, translating excellent materials in Mandarin and already it looks very promising. He translated the following from Carson's preaching notes:

真理并不一定产生信心,也有可能导致不信。我将真理告诉你们,你们就因此不信我。 (约翰 8:45) 这节经文令人惊讶之处,在于真理与不信的关系。因为耶稣将真理告诉犹太人,导致了他们的不信。

或者 Personal(表示真理是生活化位格化的)。虽然在约翰福音里,基督曾将宣告“我是真理!…”,但是这只是仅仅一次罢了。反之,在约翰福音里,有8次类似“若非你们相信。。。(某个命题)。。。,你不能得救”的句子。基督徒可以相信真理既是Propositional, 也是Personal的,不需要在两者之间做出选择。

圣经的清晰(Claritas Scriptura)



圣经的清晰并不意味着所有的经文都一样清楚,所有的解经家有同等的恩赐,所有的解释都正确。也不意味着我们不需要教师,因为圣经清楚显示神将教师赐给教会。但是教师的权柄是伏在圣经之下的。 圣经是人人皆有可能理解的,并非某小群人的专利。认识圣经的途径是可以学习传授的,不是任何一种说不出的奥秘或魔术。

Monday, November 05, 2007

Five Love Languages

Was very impressed by the youths at Emmanuel Evangelical Free Church (Hui Ling, Irwinder, Grace, Ruth and Monica), who summarised Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages on PowerPoint: