Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Jesus Tomb?


Deja vu... Just when we think Da Vinci Code is all over, here comes another sensationalized story on the supposed marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene...
Lose no sleep over the latest buzz on James Cameron's documentary on the Talpiot family tombs (alleged "Jesus Family Tomb") , and make the most of the opportunities to be an informed, winsome and tactful ambassador for Christ...



The Asian Face of Christ?



by Dr Tan Kang San


Excerpt: "I will explore Chinese perceptions of Jesus and illustrate how traditional Christian mission approaches need to engage with these portraits of Jesus. For a start, Chinese Buddhists universally view Jesus as a moral teacher, someone as great as Buddha, Confucius, and Lao Tze. Traditionally, this has been bad news for Christians who impatiently pointed out that Jesus is Lord and God of the universe.

While Jesus as a moral teacher may be a bad place to end, it is not a bad place to start! The moral teachings of Jesus in the Bible can be studied and discussed with Buddhists, just as Christians need to study the moral teachings of Buddha and Confucius. The Sermons on the Mount, Parables and the teachings of Jesus in the gospels, stories of Jesus’ interaction with the poor and marginalized are powerful stories for presenting Jesus as a moral teacher. Superficially, Christians have been doing this but they did it in the spirit of evangelism rather than a genuine acceptance of Jesus as a moral teacher. ...

Last but not least, these Asian perspectives of Jesus need to be subjected to the test of the scriptures, and found not in contradiction with historical images of Jesus accepted in other Christian communities. The Asian Jesus cannot be inculturated to Asian soil to the extent that he is unrecognizable from the Jesus found in the Bible or apostolic Christology. Therefore, efforts to present Christ as an incarnation of Buddha will cause more confusion than clarity for Buddhists... "

There And Back Again: Malaysian Exiles


Antony Loke wrote this biblical exposition to "show how an Old Testament exilic text, in this particular case, Isaiah 40-55, can be read in the light of and allowed to speak to a contemporary situation: the post-1987 Operation Lalang Malaysian Church."

Excerpt: "How did the Malaysian church respond to this national crisis (DC:Operasi Lalang)? Unfortunately, it was not too well. The morning edition of the Star national newspaper showed a blackened photo, to protest against the Government’s use of the ISA.

While the rest of the nation raised a hue and cry against the injustice, the Malaysian church was unduly silent. In the days and weeks that followed, the Malaysian church did not respond in its Christian magazines and publications or local church newsletters with the single exception of the Catholic Asian News (CAN) which openly called all Roman Catholics to pray and hold masses for those detained, regardless of whether the detainees were Roman Catholics or not.

The self-imposed muzzled silence of the rest of the Malaysian church was perplexing and baffling.
Why did it respond in this manner? Was it purely out of fear? Fear of further repercussions from the Government, which was already emboldened to use the ISA and which, it was felt, would not hesitate to use it again? Was the self-muzzling an act of restraint lest the more vocal prophetic voices within the church lashed out against the Government’s actions and caused more harm in that volatile situation? From hindsight, we are better able now to judge the response of the Malaysian church. But at that time, what would have been our response in the midst of the confusion, despair and despondency that had crept into the church?"

The Malaysian Dilemma


Peter Rowan is the lecturer who has influenced me the most, over the course of my crawlingly slow part-time studies in Malaysia Bible Seminari. While he was in CDPC, I always look forward to his sermons on mission and theology. Miss him much since he's back in Ireland.

He got some of us to do some surveys for his research on mission in Malaysia, and I'm glad he finally got a version of this fantastic article online.

Where Is The Racially Reconciled Community?
Peter Rowan


"Here is an issue that is always current and potentially explosive but which is only occasionally discussed in theological circles, and rarely addressed in the congregational setting of many Malaysian protestant churches: racial integration.
The diversity of Malaysian society is well known: a majority Muslim country with significant Chinese, Indian and indigenous communities. On the verge of celebrating 50 years of independence, Malaysia has much to be proud of. But substantial racial integration remains illusive...

since reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel, and since the gospel transcends the barriers of race, ethnicity and culture, and since the church is the most inclusive community on earth, the local church is a community of hope in a fragmented world.

In Malaysia, the church has the task of not only proclaiming the message of reconciliation to all Malaysians, but of embodying the concrete implications of that message in its community life, so that Malaysians of all races can look at a local church community and see the gospel fleshed out in a racially reconciled group of people who can work, worship and witness together."

A MUST READ!

The following is the full article:

The Malaysian Dilemma
Where is the Racially Reconciled Community?
Author: Peter Rowan, Lecturer at Malaysia Bible Seminary, Malaysia.

The Situation

This is arguably one of the most consistently discussed topics in Malaysian public life -- explored by academics, filmmakers, politicians and newspaper editors alike. Here is an issue that is always current and potentially explosive but which is only occasionally discussed in theological circles, and rarely addressed in the congregational setting of many Malaysian protestant churches: racial integration.
The diversity of Malaysian society is well known: a majority Muslim country with significant Chinese, Indian and indigenous communities. On the verge of celebrating 50 years of independence, Malaysia has much to be proud of. But substantial racial integration remains illusive.
Significant complexities surround this issue and these brief comments will barely skim the surface. But by way of approach, consider the following questions: What role do churches have in a divided society in search of racial integration? And is our approach to such an issue more a matter of strategy when it ought be a matter of spirituality?

Since Malaysia’s independence, many have pinned their hopes on the education system to provide the necessary foundations for racial integration, and on the local school as a place where such integration can be seen in action, preparing each generation for the reality of Bangsa Malaysia. [1] But recent research has shown that in this aspect at least, the education system may have failed. [2] Of course, it continues to be a worthy goal for schools to pursue. We need to provide contexts in which our children learn to interact with their peers from other ethnic groups and to appreciate from an early age the diversity of Malaysia’s multicultural life. Research has shown that people who have experienced significant “prior interracial contact in schools and neighbourhoods [are] more likely, as adults, to have more racially diverse general social groups and friendship circles.” [3] But if schools (and neighbourhoods) are providing only superficial rather than significant prior contact, where can the latter occur and where can a racially reconciled community be seen in action? One answer, surely, is the local church. But are Malaysian churches functioning as models to the wider society of what reconciled communities look like, or are they just as racially segregated as the world around them?

I would want to argue that since reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel, and since the gospel transcends the barriers of race, ethnicity and culture, and since the church is the most inclusive community on earth, the local church is a community of hope in a fragmented world. In Malaysia, the church has the task of not only proclaiming the message of reconciliation to all Malaysians, but of embodying the concrete implications of that message in its community life, so that Malaysians of all races can look at a local church community and see the gospel fleshed out in a racially reconciled group of people who can work, worship and witness together. But several objections, or at least concerns, may be raised. Let me offer a response to three, followed by several modest recommendations.

Objections
1. Surely Malaysian society is too diverse for us to expect any sort of multiracial, multiethnic local church to take root and realistically function? We might ask if such a phenomenon has happened elsewhere and can solid examples be provided? In response we would do well to remind ourselves that the first century Mediterranean world in which the church took root was arguably a more complex and diverse place than 21st century Malaysia. We often think of that ancient world as comprising of just two distinct groups, Jew and Gentile, forgetting the great diversity not just of the Gentile world but of Judaism itself. And yet, in such a diverse world, multiracial and multilingual Christian congregations were planted and grew.
A study of the NT churches would show that the overwhelming evidence supports the view that early Christian congregations were indeed multiracial and multilingual and that this diversity was intentional rather than accidental. [4] In terms of its multicultural inclusiveness, Pentecost was no ecclesiastical blip. The Holy Spirit propelled the church in the direction already set in the OT concerning the ingathering of all nations into the people of God (Gen. 12:1-3; Isaiah 19:16-25; 60; Jer. 12:14-16; Zeph. 3:9; Zech. 14:6). What Abraham saw by faith, was now reality – the multicultural, multiracial church of God.

John Stott says of Pentecost: “Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly than this the multiracial, multinational, multilingual nature of the kingdom of Christ.” Pentecost therefore “symbolized a new unity in the Spirit transcending racial, national and linguistic barriers.” [5] Indeed, the two-volume work of Luke-Acts speaks powerfully to the issue of race within the church. Luke provides examples of how the gospel challenges us to abandon culturally driven worldviews about racial prejudice. “As a pattern of true discipleship, Luke reminds the Church today that the gospel demands that we forsake our inherited culturally driven racial prejudices, and accept all people – especially those different from us – as integral parts of the church.” [6] The early Christian churches of the NT were marked by cultural diversity. There was an intentional strategy to build racially inclusive communities that were united by faith. In their wonderfully stimulating and thought-provoking book, the authors of United by Faith underline how, “Together these congregations produced a movement for social unity across the great divide of culture, tradition, class and race. Ultimately, the unity of the first-century church was the result of the miracle of reconciliation…” [7] You may think he puts it rather strongly, but in Tom Wright’s view, “If our churches are still divided in any way along racial or cultural lines, [Paul] would say that our gospel, our very grasp of the meaning of Jesus’ death, is called into question.” [8]

2. Am I suggesting that we relinquish our cultural distinctives? Is not a uniracial congregation the best context for the fullest expression of my God-given culture? Apart from the fact that culture is never static and always changing, we should understand that the reconciling of different racial groups into one congregation does not inevitably have to lead to dull uniformity. Developing a multi-racial congregation is not about excluding diversity or uniqueness from the life of the church. The corporate worship of a racially, ethnically mixed congregation needs to include the cultural elements of more than one group. By using different styles of music, varying the language, liturgy and form of the service, and the degree of participation invited – such inclusiveness and creativity can be enriching and can lead the congregation to a broader understanding of God himself. So then, rather than a dull, lowest-common-denominator type culture dominating the church, a unique hybrid culture can develop that utilizes the best of all the representative cultures in the congregation. And this can bear fruit in the total life of the congregation, not just in its corporate worship. The aim is integration, not assimilation.

3. Is not evangelism and church planting more effective when conducted by a uniracial congregation? There is truth in the oft-quoted observation of Donald McGavran that, “men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers”. [9] From this he to hear the gospel without having to cross a cultural or social barrier in order to become a Christian. The question, however, is not whether such a principle is effective in terms of evangelism, but is it biblical? Of course, humanly speaking, people gravitate towards their ‘own kind’. But are we correct to turn a sociological observation into a missiological principle without providing an adequate biblical foundation? Should it be normative in our church practice? And are ethnically united churches essential for evangelism and defensible biblically and theologically? I take the view that they are not. However, I acknowledge that working with one cultural group is a useful starting point in evangelism and in the early stages of church planting. But in the sharing of the good news itself and in the discipleship that follows, new Christians and young congregations need to know that they are part of the multiethnic, multicultural people of God and that they need to be integrated or at least connected in some way, if at all possible, into a more multiethnic church or network of churches.

Ways forward

With racial and ethnic diversity being a hallmark of 21st century Malaysian life, do more to equip Christians to think biblically and theologically about this issue. Make it the focus of a preaching series; give more attention to it in discipleship classes and seminary courses. For example, how do we think Christianly about national unity, the concept of Bangsa Malaysia, race and the education system, interracial marriages and family life, etc?

Given the racially mixed communities in which many local churches are located in Malaysia, aim to develop more racially mixed leadership teams in local churches.
Be more intentional in broadening the fellowship of uniethnic congregations, so that instead of remaining in isolation, they reflect something of the universality and diversity of the body of Christ. Perhaps we can organise worship services and activities that bring these congregations together on a more regular basis to express, celebrate and make visible, their unity in the faith. Practical difficulties such as language differences can be more easily overcome these days with simultaneous translation becoming more accessible and affordable.

Finally, while churches can and should be spearheading initiatives in their local communities that help create contexts for greater racial integration, there must be a commitment to sharing the gospel with all the peoples of Malaysia because ultimately, only in Christ can true reconciliation be found and the multiracial dream come true.

In racially diverse contexts where problems of ethnicity are always present, the local church has the responsibility of demonstrating the social implications of the gospel of reconciliation to the local community; demonstrating what a racially reconciled life really looks like.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Call To Redeem Culture

Kam Weng presented this discussion on cultural mandate and intellectual witness at an iBridge Camp. Some of the slides were done by him while the rest were taken from all over the Net.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hands




A short stubby hand reaches out to touch the coarse linen swaddling his body in a stable. The other hand reaches out and touches a soft gentle face, that of his mother, Mary. And there is another face with bristly hairs on his face, his father Joseph. Moments before, these hands enfolds the whole of all known universes, able to create something out of nothing, and brings order out of chaos. Now these are the hands of a small, helpless baby boy, unable even to feed himself. These are the hands of God incarnate.

A small hand reaches out to touch the gold lining of the walls of the Temple. The boy’s hands are small, soft, and gentle. These hands play with mud; making mud cakes, and animals. Fingernails are stained as the hands patiently mould and form mud figurines. These hands point and gesture chasing the thoughts of their owner as he argues a point with the teachers in the Temple. These are the hands of a young Immanuel.

A hand reaches out for a piece of wood. This hand is now hard; callused at the tips and the palms, scarred on the fingers. These hands have worked at his father’s carpenter workshop for many years. They have learned to appreciate the feeling of good wood, to feel for the grain and to perceive the plane of the cut. It knows how to handle tools, and knows where to cut and where not to cut. It has made straight what was once bent and bend what was once straight. These are the hands of a carpenter’s son.

A hand reaches out and begins to write on the sand, as an angry mob mills around, picking up stones and rocks. These men were ready to punish a woman caught in the act of adultery. The punishment was death by stoning. They hesitated as they read what a finger of the carpenter’s son has written on the hot burning sand. Then their hearts burn with shame. One by one, they tossed aside their stones and rocks and walked away. A hand reached out to the hapless woman and a voice said, “Go and sin no more” These are the hands of love.

A hand reaches out and touches a blind man’s eyes. Eyes that were unable to appreciate the bright colours of flowers, the beauty of the setting sun or the smile on the face of a beloved one. “Do you see anything?” a gentle voice asked. The man looked and saw tree shapes walking around. Doubts began to fill his heart and hope fades. The hands touch his eyes again. Suddenly the world come into focus. It is such a beautiful world. These are the hands of healing.

A hand reaches up and a voice asks for water. The Samaritan woman hesitates and wonders about this Jewish man’s motive. It was late morning and they are alone. She pours water from her jar and watches as the man drinks from his cupped hands. These are not the soft, pale hands of a priest, scribe or rabbi, she notes. Her mouth opens in awe as these hands point to the sky to emphasis that true worship is neither here in Samaria or in Jerusalem but in spirit and in truth. These are the hands of spiritual glocalization.

A hand reaches out and clasps its partner tightly in prayer. The body tenses as the mind struggles with the commitment required of the carpenter’s son. Beads of blood form on his brows, flow down his face and fall on the garden’s grass. The night is dark, the air heavy, and the world is hushed at this significant moment in kairos time. The hand searches in vain for another human hand but his friends are all asleep. Finally, the moment of decision, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” The tense hands relax. These are the hands of a saviour.

A hand is laid out on a piece of wood and a heavy nail was driven violently through it. Tissues are torn, tendons cut, bones crushed and nerves scream out in pain as the brutal blow is struck. Then as the cross is hoisted into the air, the hands tear as the weight of the body bears on them. These hands hold the body on the cross as the man struggles with his breathing. A voice says, “It is finished.” A dividing curtain somewhere tears and light shines through. These are the hands of Christ.

A hand reaches out to Thomas for him to examine. A day ago, these hands lay ashen and dead in a tomb. Thomas looked at the nail-pierced hands and his worship burst out, “My Lord and my God.” These pierced hands held a sobbing Mary Magdalene and clasp the trembling hands of his beloved disciple. It makes breakfast for head-strong Peter. These hands were dead but now are alive. They bless the disciples as the man ascends to heaven. As the resurrected Christ sits on the right hand of God, his hands continues to intercede for his followers on earth. These are the hands of God.

Many hands now reach out to each other and their neighbours. These hands help the poor, defend the helpless, encourage the depressed, liberate the oppressed, comfort the distressed, gather the lost, build up the community, restore broken relationships, calm the angry, clean a cut, feed the hungry, lift the fallen, support the broken, pray for the hopeless, reach the unreachable, touch the untouchables, forgive the unforgivable, teach the clueless, feed the hungry, heal the wounded, empower the powerless, and demonstrate Christ-like character on earth. These are the hands of the Body of Christ.

Now, give me a hand.



Reflection Moments

(1) Read the article slowly with constant stopping for reflection and meditation. Practice lectio divina or meditative reading. What words, thoughts or ideas appeal to you strongly? Pray about that. Ask God to help you understand what he is saying to you.

(2) Read each paragraph. Imagine the hand in your mind; how do you think the hands looks like; what colour, shape, skin texture, features. Imagine holding that hand in your own hands. What do you feel? Praise and thank God for your feelings and impressions.

(3) How will you give a hand to the world today? Think of doing something concrete for someone. Is there something you have been meaning to do but have not done so? Do it today.

soli deo gloria

Friday, February 23, 2007

Reasonable Faith 2007

Reasonable Faith Training Program

Date: April 13 - 15, 2007
Venue: Hotel Puri Melaka, Malaysia
Contact: iching@rzimap.com.sg (IChing) for more details abt registration

Exciting and Relevant Issue: "Jesus among other lords"

The experienced RZIM team will take you on a discovery exploration on Religion roulette: How can we know for sure?, Interactive Movie Discussions, Worldview thinking, How now shall we live?, Postmodern spirituality, Jesus then and now, Ecclesiastes, Communicating the gospel in a pluralistic society and so much more!

Without a firm foundation in Scripture and the uniqueness of Christ, we would risk being captivated by religious pluralism and postmodern spirituality which reduced the gospel narrative as merely one among many religious options in the supermarket. I highly recommend this camp to everyone!

Pemodenan, Kebangkitan Agama dan Pertembungan Budaya : Teologi Budaya dan Keterlibatan Sosial (1)

tulisan Dr. Ng Kam Weng, untuk NECF
(terjemahan Keropok Lekor)

A. KESAKSIAN INTELEK KEPADA MASYARAKAT UMUM

Adolf Hernack telah memerhatikan bahawa kebangkitan gereja awal bukan sahaja kerana kasih mereka melebihi kumpulan lain, tapi pemikiran mereka juga menjangkau para pengkritik. Orang Kristian awal yakin tentang kebenaran intelek dan kerasionalan wahyu Kristiani.

J.G. Machen telah menulis, “Kita boleh berkhutbah dengan sepenuh semangat seorang Reformer tetapi hanya boleh memenangi hati seorang dua di sana sini, jika kita membenarkan seluruh pemikiran masyarakat dan dunia keseluruhan dikuasai oleh idea-idea yang secara logiknya menyempitkan Kristianiti sebagai suatu delusi semata-mata”

Kita mesti menghadapi cabaran daripada budaya yang menentang Kristianiti jika kesaksian Kristiani hendak mempunyai kredibiliti.

• Mempunyai pemahaman yang penuh tentang dunia moden.

• Mengenalpasti isu penting untuk dihadapi jika kita ingin mengikut saranan J.H. Bavinck untuk menawan budaya dan pemikiran dalam Kristus.

• Membentuk semula konsep untuk refleksi Kristiani dan meletakkan keutamaan untuk pendidikan teologi. Banyak kali aktivisme telah mengambil tempat refleksi teologi yang serius apabila kita berjuang dalam krisis masa kini. Tetapi dalam ketiadaan dasar intelek yang unik dan ketidakupayaan kita untuk mengeluarkan kritikan terhadap andaian dan paten pemikiran dominan dunia, kita akan berakhir dengan hanya sia-sianya melayan agenda elit bukan Kristian dan akhirnya dipengaruhi kekuasaan masa kini.

• Memastikan bahawa teologi didasarkan terhadap tradisi Alkitabiah dan dihubungkan dengan realiti kontekstual. Ini memerlukan satu pendekatan baru kepada pendidikan teologi dan cara melatih pemikir dan pengembala Kristian.

Teruskan Bacaan Anda Di Sini

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Spiritual Formation and the Kingdom of God


Jesus’ teachings revolve around the kingdom of God. This is synonymous with the kingdom of heaven. Robert Stein noted “the expression is found in sixty-one separate sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. Counting parallels to these passages, the expression occurs over eighty-one times.” The numbers emphasis how central the kingdom of God is to Jesus’ teaching. The kingdom of God is not a political kingdom nor is it an ideological one. The kingdom is about rule of God in the world today. And this has an influence on spiritual formation.

First, spiritual formation in the kingdom of God is the process of submission to the Kingship of Christ. Jesus Christ is the king of this kingdom. An important aspect of spiritual formation is to recognise that Jesus Christ is King, Lord, and Master over our lives. Spiritual formation is the process of gradually learning to give up control and ownership of our own lives and submit it under the kingship of Jesus. This act of submission is sometimes called, “taking up the cross.” The cross in the New Testament times was a punishment designed to humiliate and give a painful death. Dying to our ego is both humiliating and painful. This will mean submitting every aspects of our life under his kingship; relationships, work, and our belongings. Kenneth Boa describes a holistic spirituality when “believers for whom Christ is pre-eminent as the focus of their being and pursuits. These people acknowledge his sufficiency and supremacy by relegating all areas to his rule and authority.” It is in surrender to Christ that we become more like Christ.

Second, spiritual formation in the kingdom of God involves spiritual warfare. Ladd writes, “The kingdom is not an abstract principle; the kingdom comes. It is God’s rule actively invading the kingdom of Satan.” This kingdom is a one that will come at the end of the age and it is already here. It arrived when God came into history as Jesus Christ. Hence the kingdom has an ‘already-not yet’ component. Spiritual formation also means being involved in spiritual warfare. Paul warned the Ephesians that “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph.6:12). Spiritual formation equips us to put on the full armour of God for spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:13-18). It is in spiritual warfare that spiritual formation engages culture and the world.

Third, spiritual formation in the kingdom of God means living in the presence of God now. Dallas Willard reminds us that the spiritual disciplines are to help us slow down so that we can hear God. Like Brother Lawrence, spiritual formation will help us to discern the presence of God in the mundane, routine of our daily life.

Finally, spiritual formation in the kingdom of God gives us the opportunity to partake of the nature of God (2 Peter 1:4; 1 Jn 3:12). In the end times when the kingdom of God comes again, we shall be like Christ in our whole being. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, we shall be receiving the deification of theosis. In all instances, we shall achieve our goal be become prefect like Christ when we receive our gloried bodies when Christ comes again.

The kingdom of God allows us another perspective in understanding spiritual formation. It includes the process of submitting to the Lordship of Christ, practicing the presence of God, involvement in spiritual warfare and being part of God’s timing when the kingdom comes in the future.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Making Music For The Kingdom


Minni Ang wrote a much-needed reflection on Proclaiming God’s Kingdom through Music, discussing "how music permeates modern life and what our response to this should be as citizens of the kingdom of Jesus Christ residing in the world of today.

We will look at how the entire foundation of Western music was built by committed Christians and how this dominance of music slipped away into the hands of others. We will then look at the role of music within the Church of today, and close with challenges facing Christians to redeem and restore music for the kingdom of God."

DID YOU KNOW?
In random tests conducted in a Malaysian church recently, it was found that the volume levels during the service averaged 96 dB, with spikes of up to 110 dB at times. Scientific studies have shown that continual exposure to noises with amplitudes greater than 90 dB can cause permanent hearing damage!
Maybe it’s time for churches to turn down the volume…


Click here to Read The Entire Article

Discover Your Life Mission

Paul Stevens, a former lecturer at Regent and theologian on marketplace ministry, shared about discovering our life vocation at an event organised by Grace@Work and Agora some time last year. Here are the slides used, and if they are helpful, pls feel free to share w friends in church.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Francis Collins : Scientist as believer


The often strained relationship between science and religion has become particularly combative lately. In one corner we have scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker who view religion as a relic of our superstitious, prescientific past that humanity should abandon. In the other corner are religious believers who charge that science is morally nihilistic and inadequate for understanding the wonders of existence. Into this breach steps Francis Collins, who offers himself as proof that science and religion can be reconciled. As leader of the Human Genome Project, Collins is among the world's most important scientists, the head of a multibillion-dollar research program aimed at understanding human nature and healing our innate disorders. And yet in his best-selling book, The Language of God, he recounts how he accepted Christ as his savior in 1978 and has been a devout Christian ever since. "The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome," he writes. "He can be worshiped in the cathedral or in the laboratory." Recently Collins discussed his faith with science writer John Horgan, who has explored the boundaries between science and spirituality in his own books The End of Science and Rational Mysticism. Horgan, who has described himself as "an agnostic increasingly disturbed by religion's influence on human affairs," directs the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Interview by John Horgan

Horgan: As a scientist who looks for natural explanations of things and demands evidence, how can you also believe in miracles, like the resurrection?

Collins: I don't have a problem with the concept that miracles might occasionally occur at moments of great significance, where there is a message being transmitted to us by God Almighty. But as a scientist I set my standards for miracles very high.

Horgan: The problem I have with miracles is not just that they violate what science tells us about how the world works. They also make God seem too capricious. For example, many people believe that if they pray hard enough God will intercede to heal them or a loved one. But does that mean that all those who don't get better aren't worthy?

Collins: In my own experience as a physician, I have not seen a miraculous healing, and I don't expect to see one. Also, prayer for me is not a way to manipulate God into doing what we want him to do. Prayer for me is much more a sense of trying to get into fellowship with God. I'm trying to figure out what I should be doing rather than telling Almighty God what he should be doing. Look at the Lord's Prayer. It says, "Thy will be done." It wasn't, "Our Father who art in Heaven, please get me a parking space."

Horgan: I must admit that I've become more concerned lately about the harmful effects of religion because of religious terrorism like 9/11 and the growing power of the religious right in the United States.

Collins: What faith has not been used by demagogues as a club over somebody's head? Whether it was the Inquisition or the Crusades on the one hand or the World Trade Center on the other? But we shouldn't judge the pure truths of faith by the way they are applied any more than we should judge the pure truth of love by an abusive marriage. We as children of God have been given by God this knowledge of right and wrong, this Moral Law, which I see as a particularly compelling signpost to his existence. But we also have this thing called free will, which we exercise all the time to break that law. We shouldn't blame faith for the ways people distort it and misuse it.

Horgan: Many people have a hard time believing in God because of the problem of evil. If God loves us, why is life filled with so much suffering?

Collins: That is the most fundamental question that all seekers have to wrestle with. First of all, if our ultimate goal is to grow, learn, and discover things about ourselves and things about God, then unfortunately a life of ease is probably not the way to get there. I know I have learned very little about myself or God when everything is going well. Also, a lot of the pain and suffering in the world we cannot lay at God's feet. God gave us free will, and we may choose to exercise it in ways that end up hurting other people.

Horgan: Physicist Steven Weinberg, who is an atheist, asks why six million Jews, including his relatives, had to die in the Holocaust so that the Nazis could exercise their free will.

Collins: If God had to intervene miraculously every time one of us chose to do something evil, it would be a very strange, chaotic, unpredictable world. Free will leads to people doing terrible things to each other. Innocent people die as a result. You can't blame anyone except the evildoers for that. So that's not God's fault. The harder question is when suffering seems to have come about through no human ill action. A child with cancer, a natural disaster, a tornado or tsunami. Why would God not prevent those things from happening?

Horgan: Some philosophers, such as Charles Hartshorne, have suggested that maybe God isn't fully in control of his creation. The poet Annie Dillard expresses this idea in her phrase "God the semi-competent."

Collins: That's delightful—and probably blasphemous! An alternative is the notion of God being outside of nature and time and having a perspective of our blink-of-an-eye existence that goes both far back and far forward. In some admittedly metaphysical way, that allows me to say that the meaning of suffering may not always be apparent to me. There can be reasons for terrible things happening that I cannot know.

Horgan: I'm an agnostic, and I was bothered when in your book you called agnosticism a "cop-out." Agnosticism doesn't mean you're lazy or don't care. It means you aren't satisfied with any answers for what after all are ultimate mysteries.

Collins: That was a put-down that should not apply to earnest agnostics who have considered the evidence and still don't find an answer. I was reacting to the agnosticism I see in the scientific community, which has not been arrived at by a careful examination of the evidence. I went through a phase when I was a casual agnostic, and I am perhaps too quick to assume that others have no more depth than I did.

Horgan: Free will is a very important concept to me, as it is to you. It's the basis for our morality and search for meaning. Don't you worry that science in general and genetics in particular—and your work as head of the Genome Project—are undermining belief in free will?

Collins: You're talking about genetic determinism, which implies that we are helpless marionettes being controlled by strings made of double helices. That is so far away from what we know scientifically! Heredity does have an influence not only over medical risks but also over certain behaviors and personality traits. But look at identical twins, who have exactly the same DNA but often don't behave alike or think alike. They show the importance of learning and experience—and free will. I think we all, whether we are religious or not, recognize that free will is a reality. There are some fringe elements that say, "No, it's all an illusion, we're just pawns in some computer model." But I don't think that carries you very far.

Horgan: What do you think of Darwinian explanations of altruism, or what you call agape, totally selfless love and compassion for someone not directly related to you?

Collins: It's been a little of a just-so story so far. Many would argue that altruism has been supported by evolution because it helps the group survive. But some people sacrificially give of themselves to those who are outside their group and with whom they have absolutely nothing in common. Such as Mother Teresa, Oskar Schindler, many others. That is the nobility of humankind in its purist form. That doesn't seem like it can be explained by a Darwinian model, but I'm not hanging my faith on this.

Horgan: What do you think about the field of neurotheology, which attempts to identify the neural basis of religious experiences?

Collins: I think it's fascinating but not particularly surprising. We humans are flesh and blood. So it wouldn't trouble me—if I were to have some mystical experience myself—to discover that my temporal lobe was lit up. That doesn't mean that this doesn't have genuine spiritual significance. Those who come at this issue with the presumption that there is nothing outside the natural world will look at this data and say, "Ya see?" Whereas those who come with the presumption that we are spiritual creatures will go, "Cool! There is a natural correlate to this mystical experience! How about that!"

Horgan: Some scientists have predicted that genetic engineering may give us superhuman intelligence and greatly extended life spans, perhaps even immortality. These are possible long-term consequences of the Human Genome Project and other lines of research. If these things happen, what do you think would be the consequences for religious traditions?

Collins: That outcome would trouble me. But we're so far away from that reality that it's hard to spend a lot of time worrying about it, when you consider all the truly benevolent things we could do in the near term.

Horgan: I'm really asking, does religion require suffering? Could we reduce suffering to the point where we just won't need religion?

Collins: In spite of the fact that we have achieved all these wonderful medical advances and made it possible to live longer and eradicate diseases, we will probably still figure out ways to argue with each other and sometimes to kill each other, out of our self-righteousness and our determination that we have to be on top. So the death rate will continue to be one per person, whatever the means. We may understand a lot about biology, we may understand a lot about how to prevent illness, and we may understand the life span. But I don't think we'll ever figure out how to stop humans from doing bad things to each other. That will always be our greatest and most distressing experience here on this planet, and that will make us long the most for something more.

Adapted from http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0702/voices.html

The Trinitarian Basis for Spiritual Formation


Spiritual formation is about relationships. What is important to assess is relationship with whom? The answer is spiritual formation is an ongoing relationship with the Triune God. The doctrine of the Trinity is that God reveals himself in the Scripture as God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There is only one God and in the essence of this one Godhead, there are three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These three persons are neither parts of one another, facets, or modes of existence but are co-equal and co-eternal.Karl Rahner describes the Trinity in a short sentence, “The ‘economic’ Trinity is the ‘immanent’ Trinity and the ‘immanent’ Trinity is the ‘economic’ Trinity” (Rahner 1967, 22)He is uniquely one: “The Lord, our God is one Lord” (Deu.6:4). Read more

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Art For God's Glory

An interview with Colin Kirton, Artistic Director of Footstool Players and freelance performing artist (October 2006)

"While the arrogance of modern art sets itself against God, Christian art history tells us that art is one of the finest expressions of mankind’s spiritual aspiration. Indeed, art is more than just word or dance or paint, it is also the voice of one’s soul in his or her spiritual quest. In the Malaysian Church context, art has yet to be recognized as having a role in the Kingdom of God. If at all, it is merely seen as an evangelistic tool. Perhaps an interview with Colin Kirton may enlighten us on how art plays its role in discovering and articulating Christian faith. Simply, do art for God’s glory!"

Read The Entire Interview Here

Question: One of Footstool Players’ objectives is to challenge Christians and seekers with regard to matters of faith. In this increasingly visual-oriented culture, the Bible seems to have lost its appeal in its written form; young people today don't read. How can art provoke them to read the Bible? How can art help young people to understand God's work through Scripture?

Colin: We find ways to creatively express the eternal truths of the Scripture in art forms that will have memorable impact in the lives of our audience. Art makes the familiar unfamiliar so that the audience is forced to see something with new eyes. For the Footstool Players and I, we do this through the medium of theatre. Theatre is in effect storytelling, and that is pretty close to the way the Bible goes about communicating God’s heart to us! Much of Scripture is narrative, metaphor and poetry. It makes great subject matter for theatre!

Often, we forget that the Judeo-Christian faith is very much based on the pre-Gutenberg oral tradition.

In the 21st century, audio-visual has become dominant, not just with young people, but with the older folks too! We need to rise to the occasion and find ways to communicate Scriptural truth in the media of the day. This is certainly not to diminish the need to read our Bible! But there is a need to creatively explore other options to capture the minds and hearts of people. I am always amazed at how, years later, some of the audience can articulate details and the point of the theatrical pieces we have performed, when they are often unable to even remember what their pastors preached about two Sundays ago!

Race, Stereotyping and Racism

Race relations is an issue - whether you're in the United States, Middle East or even Malaysia. It's an inescapable fact of increasing pluralistic communities that form the basis of modern urban life across the world.

As I've asserted in a prior post on Every Square Inch, how Christians think and respond to racism is strategic to contextualizing the gospel. Unfortunately, there are precious few voices that speak biblically and faithfully on this topic. Hence, we miss the opportunity to communicate the gospel as glorious good news to an area of life that "the world" cares deeply about but cannot fix.

One compelling, insightful voice is that of John Piper. In the article, Stereotypes, Generalizations and Racism, he offers three exhortations to Christians.
  • Christians should not simply reflect the morality of their era but the morality of the Bible.
  • Christians should not be guilty of stereotyping groups, recognizing that stereotyping is different from the just and loving use of generalizations
  • Christians should use generalizations justly and lovingly to form true and helpful judgments about people and life.
I think Piper's analysis, differentiating between generalizations and stereotyping is particularly helpful here. In his article, he defines generalization is the method by which we derive principles, laws and understand standard behavior. Generalization carries no moral or ethical component. On the other hand, he defines stereotyping as unjustified and uncharitable generalizations. He also goes on to define how uncharitable generalizations and stereotyping can lead us to racism.

How does this stack up against real life issues pertaining to race relations? In view of these exhortations, can racial profiling ever be justified?

Dave: Thanks Andre for a great and relevant topic. Looking at some churches in US, i realise how intentional they have integrated ethnic diversity in the worship service. Malaysians have a lot to learn.. Here are some recommended readings too on ethnic identity in Christ, racial harmony and interracial marriage, reconciliation

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Blood Diamond

Globel Witness: "Human rights organisations Amnesty International and Global Witness have today (22 January) called on the diamond industry to make good on its promises to clean up the international diamond trade and ensure that consumers can be sure the gems they buy are not blood diamonds.

The call comes as the film Blood Diamond opens in cinemas all over the UK later this week (1). Amnesty International and Global Witness have launched a new website www.blooddiamondaction.org with information consumers can use to try and ensure any diamond jewellery they buy is conflict-free.

Blood diamonds are gems that have been used by rebel groups to fund armed conflict and civil war. The new blockbuster draws attention to the devastating impact the trade in blood diamonds has had in countries such as Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where billions of dollars of profits from the sale of diamonds have been used to fuel brutal wars."

WorldVision: Boycotting Diamonds Is Not The Answer. "Before buying diamonds, consumers should ask retailers about their policies on "blood diamonds" and whether they can certify their diamonds are not funding conflict. If such certification cannot be presented, inquire about other retailers who can.

"We want to remind the public, especially during the holiday season, to ask their jeweler about the '5 C's' in diamond buying — color, carat, cut, clarity and conflict."

Friday, February 16, 2007

Welcoming the Stranger in an Unfriendly World


In an age where we grill and padlock our homes, wire our cars with the most sophisticated of alarms and warn our children not to talk to strangers, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where we readily open our homes to strangers. With violence and crimes on the rise, our hesitance seems justified and right.

Yet, Hebrews 13:2 tells us: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

What does being hospitable mean to Christians? What are the theological sources of Christian hospitality?

It is with great pleasure that World Vision Malaysia, in cooperation with Kairos Research Centre, is organizing the Making Room Consultation on “Hospitality & Welcoming The Stranger” on March 12 & 13, 2007 at The Royale Bintang Damansara, Mutiara Damansara.

The Consultation seeks to formulate a deeper understanding of Christian hospitality that builds up common social life through good works of mercy, and that extends peace and justice, especially to strangers outside the community of faith.

We have a good team of resource persons, consisting of both theologians and practitioners, for this consultation. Our guest, Dr. Tim Dearborn, Associate Professor of Theology at Seattle Pacific University and Associate Director for Christian Commitments of World Vision International, will bring to us recent theological discussions on the topic of hospitality in the Bible.

The Making Room Consultation is open to all church leaders and Christian-based NGOs free of charge. All who are interested are urged to register with Ms Trias Chew of World Vision Malaysia (tel: 78806414, e-mail: trias_chew@wvi.org) before or by Friday, 16 February 2007.

We invite you to join us as we come together to explore strategies for developing caring Christian ministries in a world that is polarized by geo-political uncertainties and communal tensions. Let us be living examples of God’s work on the cross that overcomes violence and offers a reconciliation that invites fallen humans to experience God’s healing presence in their lives.

Yours sincerely
LIEW Tong Ngan, Executive Director of World Vision Malaysia

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Economics of Religion?

Russ Roberts of Econ Talk (A podcast by The Library of Economics and Liberty) Interviews Templeton Award Winner Larry Iannaccone of George Mason University on the Economics of Religion. What is the Economics of Religion? It began like many things in Economics with Adam Smith;

Adam Smith ([1776] 1965: 740-766) laid the foundation for the economic analysis of religion in a largely ignored chapter of The Wealth of Nations. Smith argued that self-interest motivates clergy just as it does secular producers; that market forces constrain churches just as they do secular firms; and that the benefits of competition, the burdens of monopoly, and the hazards of government regulation are as real for religion as for any other sector of the economy. (For an attempt to test these assertions, see Iannaccone 1991)

Smith's insights languished for 200 years, but since the 1970's, and especially in the past few years, economists and sociologists have returned to Smith's insights. (Contemporary research on the economics of religion began with Azzi and Ehrenberg [1975].) Viewing religious behavior as an instance of rational choice, rather than an exception to it, researchers have analyzed religious behavior at the individual, group, and market level.

Individual-level research has focused on the determinants of religious participation (church attendance and giving) and religious mobility (denominational switching and religious intermarriage). Group-level research has sought to explain why different types of people are drawn to different types of groups and, in particular, why many high-cost, "sectarian" groups enjoy substantial success, both high levels of commitment and continued growth, in the religious marketplace. Market-level research has sought to determine whether monopoly, regulation, and competition affect religious institutions and religious outcomes in the same ways that they affect standard, markets. (For an overview of this work, see "An Introduction to the Economics of Religion".)

Do listen to the Podcast here and then lets discuss what your perspective is on this as a Christian.

Temuramah bersama Judy Berinai


This is an interview with Ps. Judy Berinai from the Sabah Theological Seminary. We shall look at her ministry and contribution towards Christian Education in Malaysia.

"Visi saya untuk Gereja Malaysia secara keseluruhan adalah untuk mencapai satu kesatuan. Apabila wujud kesatuan itu, kita menjadi teguh. Bersatu kita teguh, bercerai kita roboh. Impian saya adalah gereja Malaysia boleh bekerjasama dan saling memperlengkapi antara satu sama lain, bukannya untuk bersaing secara negatif untuk menonjolkan diri sehingga menjatuhkan orang lain. Selain itu, saya berharap Gereja Malaysia (Gereja adalah masyarakat Kristian, bukannya bangunan) boleh menjadi jemaah yang menonjolkan nilai-nilai Kristian dalam kehidupan mereka, supaya kita boleh menunjukkan kita ini Kristian Malaysia, bukan Kristian Barat. Banyak yang menyamakan kita dengan Barat, terutamanya nilai-nilai dan kehidupan Barat, termasuklah yang negatif di kalangan artis-artis mereka. Dalam pada masa yang sama, masyarakat majmuk adalah sesuatu yang menarik untuk memperkayakan diri kita. Saya berharap kita akan dapat lebih memahami agama-agama lain kerana dengan begitulah rasa ketakutan akan hilang dan kita boleh berkongsi kasih Kristus, kerana Kristuslah jalan kebenaran dan hidup (Yoh 14:6)"

-- Judy Berinai, 31 Januari 2007

the rest of the interview can be read here

Friday, February 09, 2007

Trinitarian Atonement

Can God forgive sin without Christ bearing the penalty? It depends on what it means to forgive. If Christ bore the penalty, did he do so as an “innocent third party” (giving the impression of "cosmic child abuse")? It depends on what it means to forgive.

The following is excerpted from A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Volume 2, pages 74-77) by James Oliver Buswell, Jr.

1. Forgiveness

Before reviewing the history of the doctrine of the atonement, and before examining the Scripture in detail, I must state a generalization which I believe to be of great importance, and which has meant much to me over a period of many years: I believe that all genuine forgiveness involves substitutional suffering fully commensurate with the disvalue of that which is forgiven. When orthodox theologians such as Charles Hodge reject the word "forgiveness" as conveying the central meaning of the atonement I must make it clear that I entirely agree. What Hodge and others mean by "forgiveness" correctly corresponds to the more superficial popular usage of the word. I do feel, however, that a deeper analysis of what is involved in genuine forgiveness is not contrary to traditional orthodox theology as Charles Hodge and other competent writers have set it forth. I came to the generalization which I suggest from a simple acceptance of the scriptural substitutional view of the atonement, and I make my suggestion as a defense of the substitutional view.

When I learned that there have been theological liberals who have suggested a "forgiveness" view of the atonement while rejecting the "substitutional" view, the discovery was a shock to me and caused me to re-examine my suggestion to see whether I had been wandering from the biblical position. I shall show later wherein my suggestion differs from the "liberal" views which emphasize forgiveness.

My chief point is that Christ is not a "third party" in the case, but the party sinned against. The "One Mediator" is "God manifest in the flesh" (I Timothy 2:5; 3:16). Since genuine forgiveness necessarily involves substitutional bearing of the sin forgiven, and since the crucifixion of Christ is to be taken as the all-inclusive, all-representative act of sin, therefore Christ died for my sin in my place as my Substitute. I should justly have been swept into the Lake of Fire. He might have said, "Angels, destroy them." But when He said, "Father, forgive them," He was dying in my place.

To make clear my own point of view at this stage in the discussion I ask the reader's indulgence in inserting the following material which I wrote in the early days of my ministry, material which was first published in 1924.

2. My Testimony in 1924

On my way to the Kansas City Student Volunteer Convention [in December 1913], I fell into conversation on the train with a philosophy teacher from the University of ———. In this conversation I met for the first time the modernistic criticisms of the doctrine of the atonement. I defended my orthodox views of substitution to the best of my immature ability. The Professor replied, "Those views will not appeal to your mind when you become more mature. Why not say that God simply forgives men, as we must forgive each other, and as the state pardons a criminal?"

In my first summer quarter in the University of —————— I again met with the same argument. It was advanced by several older students in a conversation at lunch in a restaurant. My belief in the Substitutional Atonement was laughed at. I replied to the best of my ability with the best illustrations I could command. "Oh, yes," one of the older students answered, "I used to believe that way and preach that way, but I gave it up long ago."

THE PROBLEM

I went back to my room very thoughtful, and stayed there in prayer and meditation for I don't know how long. I remember that I walked back and forth, and sat down, and lay on my bed, and got up repeatedly to walk again. I thank God that that day I utterly disregarded my assigned studies and prayed and thought through a vital problem. Let no one suppose that I doubted for a moment that Christ died for my sins in my place. I did not doubt that, for I had been born again. My problem was that I had been unable to express my convictions in terms which modernistic-minded men could at all comprehend. "Our Passover," "Our Sin Offering," "Our Redeemer," "Our Ransom," "Our Mediator," all these terms were utterly void of significance in their minds, as they are in the minds of thousands of young people everywhere today. We had no common language of religious terms, such as Paul had with the Jews and even with the pagans of his day. When I said, "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us," I was not, as Paul was, giving a new and fuller meaning to a bit of dearly cherished religious symbolism; I was to them merely repeating in a childish way an archaic and utterly meaningless formula of a long-buried age. "Substitutional Atonement is not necessary in human forgiveness," they said, "Why should it be necessary in Divine Forgiveness?"

I must give the conclusions I arrived at that day, though I hesitate to give them as briefly as I must here. ... I will give them in the knowledge that they have proved helpful to some of my friends who have met the particular problem which I have met, and in the hope that none of God's good people who have not met and are not likely to meet this problem, will be at all disturbed by the discussion of it.

THE ANSWER

1. The prophecy of the philosophy professor has proved the opposite of the truth. If there is one thing which has matured with my maturing, in the past ten years since the prophecy was made, it is my belief in the Substitutional Atonement. Christ died for my sins as my Substitute.

2. All forgiveness, human and divine, is in the very nature of the case vicarious, substitutional. I cannot take time here to develop this thought, but it is, to me, one of the most valuable views my mind has ever entertained. No one ever really forgives another, except he bears the penalty of the other's sin against him. When the state pardons a criminal, society takes upon itself the burden of the criminal's guilt. When we pray, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," we are not asking God to forgive us by a vicarious sacrifice while we forgive each other by merely overlooking faults which cost us nothing. The human analogy is of course imperfect, but all the moral outlines of divine substitutional atonement are present in human forgiveness.

3. The guilt of one individual's sin against another cannot morally be transferred to a third party. Moses and Paul prayed that they might become substitutes for Israel, and bear their guilt, but it was morally impossible, for they were third parties in the affair. "None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him" (Psalm 49:7). When we say that Christ died as our Substitute, we do not in any sense imply that He was a third party who stepped in between God and man.

4. The guilt of one individual's sin against another can morally be borne either by the sinner (as in the case of justice without forgiveness . . .) or by the one sinned against (as in the case of forgiveness . . .) Christ was not a third party in the affair at Calvary. He was God against Whom that sin (and every sin in the last analysis) was committed. The issue was sharp, at Calvary, between twelve legions of angels to compel the ones offending to bear the guilt, and the lone Saviour, the One offended who in forgiveness bore the guilt Himself. No voluminous system of theology could comprehend the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ, but in the word 'forgiveness' it is more fully comprehended than in any other human formula. When the Son of God, being hanged on a gibbet of shame by the sons of men, said, "Father, forgive them," instead of saying "Angelic hosts, destroy them," He did, in the clearest imaginable way, substitute Himself for sinners, and bare their sin “in His own body on the tree.” What a wonderful Saviour!

Good to Great


Here's a resource that I think can be useful to anyone in business. Jim Collins, business guru and author of bestselling titles like Good to Great, has a website with lots of good materials including snippets of talks on business and leadership. I especially like a couple of his talks entitled Creating a Pocket of Greatness, Level 5 Evolution and also Work Life Balance for the Level 5 Leader.

If you're in the world of business, you need to check it out.

By the way, Christians just love Jim Collins. In part, it's because of his well received analysis and insights on leadership. There is also something noble about not settling just for good, but pursuing greatness. He has garnered a following among Christians and even brings his wisdom to bear for pastors and churches in this interesting Christianity Today interview.

I really love much of what he says too but I wonder if the model he offers, serves as the proper model for true greatness. I raise the question in this post of Every Square Inch - tell me if you agree.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Divine Child Abuse?

What did Christ accomplish on the cross? To demonstrate His love. To triumph over principalities and powers. (Christus Victor). To set a moral example of obedience. To pay a ransom for our souls.

These are important facets of the cross, but we can't stop there.

II Corinthians 5:22: “He (God the Father) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin, to become sin on our behalf that we could become the righteousness of God in Him.”

At the heart of the cross, Christ bore our sins and took upon Himself the just wrath of God that we deserved. He took the punishment as our substitute so that we may be forgiven and rescued.

Unless the cross actually saves us, it would be an empty show of love just like the silly lovesick boy who says, "Darling, I will prove my love for you by jumping off Niagara Falls".

It is only meaningful act of love if the beloved is in real danger such that diving in would be an attempt to rescue her.

And a humiliating and painful death by crucifixion is hardly victorious if not because by setting us free from the power of sin and death, Christ has disarmed the weapons of the enemy. Satan is defeated on the cross as he no longer has any claim on us. Christ has paid the ransom, and triumphantly snatched us from his hands.

And yes, we can learn about obedience of the Son even unto death and denying one's will to do the Father's by looking at the cross. But it is because Christ has died and rescued us from our moral condemnation that we have the most powerful, motivating influence for obedience in life.

So we can make much sense of the other motifs through the lens of Christ's substitutionary death. But in and of themselves, these motifs are emptied of their power. Sadly, this notion of penal substitutionary atonement has sometimes been described as 'cosmic child abuse'.

Greg Koukl wrote some helpful responses here
"Why is it an act of love for God the Father to punish His Son? How is it the Father’s love? I could see it being an act of love for Jesus if he chose to do it, but how is it an act of love by the Father that Jesus would lay down His life? How is it loving that the Father would punish a third party?

If you did something bad to me, and I grabbed Joe Blow over there and said to you that I was going to forgive you because I’m going to punch this guy out, you would wonder how it’s an act of love for me to forgive you by punching him out? It might be his love if he said to punch him out on your behalf, but hardly an act of my love. Unless - in the case of God the Father, and the Son, Jesus, that the Son is also God. That is, it is not just another man that the Father is punishing for our sins, but God who became a man Himself and took upon Himself His own just punishment.

This is why it’s so important to approach this challenge with an understanding of the Trinity, and understanding of the nature of God Jesus is God; He isn’t just an innocent third party. He is the Judge Himself suffering, the One who determines the punishment takes it, the One who passes judgment receives it. It is Jesus, the incarnate God. That is how it’s an example of the love of God.

It is precisely because God is love that He has made a way for sinful men to be forgiven and His holy quality of justice to be upheld at the same time so that, as Paul writes, He can be both the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."

Read on for Greg's full story. Also check out Mark Dever's Nothing But The Blood and Gary William's Punished In Our Place (with an important discussion on pre-Anselm theologians)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Movies As Teaching Tools

An American pastor serving in Msia was absolutely shocked that our education system did not include a philosophy class. And we also discussed how we could encourage our youths to reflect deeper about faith and the world if people dun read texts?

I suggested movies as a powerful medium to introduce stuffs, and some time back, we showed The Schindler's List followed by a group discussion in church. We haven't found the perfect formula to do it yet, movies tend to be long and people get too tired to talk after that. Maybe we can edit only selected scenes and launch into discussion after each segment. Greg Koukl wrote a good commentary on the movie here

"This is a true story of a Nazi party member, a smooth-talking war profiteer, a womanizer who made millions in Deutsch marks from Jewish slave labor and-this is the twist-ended up spending all of that money to ransom the very Jews he had been exploiting. It was really quite touching to see how, in the process, Schindler underwent a slow conversion.

He went from seeing the Jews he had working for him in his small town factory in Krakow, Poland, as a ticket to the success and wealth that had long eluded him as a businessman, to seeing them as valuable human beings he now had an opportunity to rescue.

He did rescue about 1,100 of them. Because of what he did, Oscar Schindler is the only Nazi who is buried in Jerusalem.

This is a must-see film. I think those younger than high-school age should see it under supervision, and even for the older ones the viewing should be a family event. There is hard language. There are some brief sexual scenes with some nudity. But that's not the most difficult part. The difficult part is seeing-in the very powerful, even-handed, well-done, careful-not-to-overstate manner that Steven Spielberg is capable of as a director-how human beings were wantonly destroyed."

Biblical Truth to Postmodern Youth

Dr Leong Tien Fock's article Teaching Biblical Truth To Postmodern Youth has been published at the NECF Forum V "A Spiritual Healthcheck of the Church in Malaysia".

"Under modernity, where Biblical truth has been marginalised both in the world and (effectively) in the church, it has been “out of season” for the preaching or teaching of the Word. (Modernity refers collectively to the intellectual mood, the social and economic condition, as well as the physical environment constructed by modernisation. Since city folks are immersed in modernity, to “see” modernity one needs to contrast the environment, way-of-life and mindset in a village with that of a city. Modernity incarnates the idea that there is no God. Hence God does not feel real and the Bible seems quaint.)

Now postmodernity (a cultural trend that questions the assumptions of modernity) is making its presence felt. Will the teaching of God’s Word be “in season”? It depends. It may not be if we continue to teach the Bible based on the assumptions of modernity. But we are not suggesting that we accommodate postmodernity just to get a sympathetic hearing for the Bible. How then should we teach Biblical truth to postmodern youths? (Our basic concern is how to teach the Bible according to the nature of Biblical truth and how it is embodied in the Bible. The following discussion on “postmodern youth” and “Biblical truth” is to highlight the relevance and urgency of teaching the Bible in this “biblical” manner)."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Develop Youth Leaders

YOUTH LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT FORUM:

“There are many issues affecting youths in society. They need space where they can articulate concerns that matter to them. They need to know that they can make a difference in society.”

According to the General Secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM), the above will form the basis of an anticipated gathering of Christian youths from different churches discussing the role of youth.

“Discovering Rights and Responsibilities; Covenanting for Change”

The theme of the Forum will be “Discovering Rights and Responsibilities; Covenanting for Change”.

It will be held from 9-11 March 2007 at the YMCA Kuala Lumpur.

Ms Chrisanne Chin, who is Chairperson of the CCM Youth Network, explained that the programmes planned are intended to introduce youths to concerns that are close to their hearts. “By bringing youths from different churches together, we hope to foster friendship and discover new ways of impacting society as ecumenical youth,” Ms Chrisanne explained.

Many resourceful persons representing various NGOs will be participating. Among them are from SUARAM, PETPOSITIVE, Beautiful Gate, P.S. the Children, etc.

The organizers have appealed for early registration to make sure that interested youths will have a place at the forthcoming Forum.

For registration or further information, contact:
(1) Ms Jaime Tan,
YMCA, 95 Jalan Padang Belia, 50470 Kuala Lumpur
Tel. 03 2274 1439
Fax 03 2274 0559
E-mail: jaimetan@ymcakl..com
(2) Mr. Andrew Tan,
CCM
Tel. 03 7956 7092
Fax 03 7956 0353
E-mail: ccmbb@tm.net.my

Conversational Evangelism


Spiritual Formation Institute Seminar 2007/1
Date: 17 & 24 March 2007 (Saturdays)
Time: 2.00pm-6.00pm
Venue: Holy Light Church main hall, Johor Bahru

Synopsis

"How do we share the gospel with those who seem less and less interested in hearing about the person of Christ and who may in fact think we are somewhat arrogant for holding such an exclusive view of truth?" "What do you said to someone who told you that 'I am glad that Christianity works for you but please leave me alone, I am happy with what I believe!'?"

Conversational Evangelism explores effective ways of integrating compelling Christian evidences into our daily conversations with pre-believers through interactive dialogue. There are primarily four types of conversational engagements:

(1) a conversation that focuses on hearing what the other person actually believes;
(2) on asking questions illuminating gaps in their belief systems;
(3) on uncovering real barriers and deeper root issues; and
(4) on building a bridge to the gospel. This seminar will also suggest some practical ways to use Conversational Evangelism effectively in ones daily witness.

Objectives Of Seminar

· To understand the problems in evangelism today in a Post-Christian World
· To clarify misunderstandings that could affect our witness
· To learn how to use a pre-evangelism paradigm in your witness to others.
· To give practical ideas on how to implement this model into your daily witness to increase your effectiveness in witnessing to others.


Speakers
Rev. Dave Geisler and Elder Gan Kim Choon

Rev Dr Dave Geisler received his Th.M. and M.A.B.S. from Dallas Theological Seminary, and Doctor of Ministry in Apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary. He has been involved in church and para-church college ministry for 15 years. He is currently the founder and President of Meekness and Truth Ministries based here in Singapore. Dave, is married to Charlene, a Singaporean, and they have two children, Kristina and Jonathan.

Elder Gan Kim Choon, currently student of Master of Arts (Pastoral Counselling) in Singapore Bible College. He is married to Toon Fung, and have three children, Joanna, Joshua and Joseph.

For enquiries, please contact Spiritual Formation Institute, Holy Light Church (English), 11C, Jalan Gertak Merah, 80100 Johor Bahru
Tel: 07-2243285 Fax: 07-2235476
Dr. Alex Tang Tel: 07-2253014

Download brochure here. More about Spiritual Formation Institute at www.kairos2.com/spiritual_formation_institute.htm

Friday, February 02, 2007

Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD)

Remember the time during the Cold War where the thousands of ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) from the two superpowers, the USSR and the USA, faced poised at one another, ready to be released at the press of a button to unleash complete total destruction on both countries? The thinking behind this fearsome strategy is MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction). The fact that your enemies can destroy your country at the same time you destroy theirs was meant to help the leaders not to be too hasty in their decision making at the threat of war.

In our society today, there is also a MAD strategy in play. Only the proponents are ourselves and other people in our society. This play is very destructive. It is more dangerous in that it is acting on our subconscious, at a level where we are all unaware that we are involved in the destruction. And more surprising is that it is socially acceptable. In fact society praises its outworking. I am talking about our achievement orientated lifestyles.

What is wrong with being achievement orientated? Achievement by itself is good. All the comforts and security of our society is created by people achieving what they set out to do. It is the cost of achievement that is the problem. Many achievements are obtained at the price of broken relationships, dysfunctional families, exploitation of fellow human beings and self abuse. How does this situation come about?

We are created in God’s image. Human beings are created for unconditional love. Unfortunately, early in our childhood, we are taught that love is conditional. We are given love if we do something; be nice to our siblings, being obedient, be polite. Love is withheld if we misbehave. So we learn young to play the game, the game of gaining conditional love. We learn early that achievement always win conditional love. Yet, our souls long for unconditional love. Almost all of us can recall the longing for this love. Because we cannot get this unconditional love from our loved ones, we learn to repress it.

Repression does not make the longings go away but converts it to aggression, irritability and anger. This repression is self destructive. Many of us are angry most of the time. Some of us develop ulcers, hypertension and depression. This repression also causes us to be cruel to other people, and to want to hurt them. As these impulses are subconscious, we often do it without realizing it. That is why we always hurt the ones we love.

While we repress our need for unconditional love, we continue to pursue our need for love, even conditional love, by achieving things. Unfortunately we soon discovered that earned love is not fulfilling. With all our achievement, we feel empty inside. So we anaesthetize ourselves with entertainment, sex, trophies or even more achievements. We discovered the maxim, “he won dies with the most toys win”, wins nothing. So it become a destructive vicious cycle, this achievement orientated lifestyle.

The only way for us to get out of this vicious cycle is to receive unconditional love. God is the only Person who can give unconditional love. Receiving the unconditional love is the first part of the journey. We next need to break the subconscious thought patterns that have developed in our minds.

We can break these destructive thought patterns by worship. In worship, (1) confession brings to our conscious mind the destructive thought patterns, (2) repentance helps us to renounce it, and (3) proclamation and prayer helps to celebrate and embrace the healing unconditional love brings to our lives. When we establish a pattern of worship in a community of faith, this repeated pattern helps us to break out of the vicious cycle of the achievement orientated lifestyle.

It is only when we receive unconditional love and do not have to repress our need of it that we achieve shalom; the peace with God, with man and with all creation. Hence the need to continue to worship regularly with a community of faith. Worship is the antidote to prevent the mutual assured destruction of our souls.

Soli deo gloria