Monday, December 22, 2008

Have Christians Lost Their Minds? Part I

Kairos magazine latest edition The Church's Neglected Treasure is fresh out of the stove. Here is an unedited draft of my article on the the loss and recovery of the Christian mind in our spirituality and mission.

As an inquisitive new believer in secondary school, I began asking how the Genesis account of creation in seven days explains those fascinating dinosaurs I discovered while watching documentary shows on T.V. Were they safe inside Noah’s ark? Did the flood wipe them out?

So in hope for some answers, I picked up the courage to ask my science teacher who also happened to be a Christian. He gazed at me somewhat quizzically and asked another question in return, “Tell me. Does God answer your prayers?”

I nodded sheepishly, baffled by how the quality of my “devotion time” had anything to do with the extinction of dinosaurs! Perhaps sensing my perplexity, he explained, “If God has answered your prayers, why do you need to ask so many things?”

From that day on, I found out that for many Christians an intellectual understanding of the faith is not important as long as we have an experiential feeling that it works! The heart is what you used in a relationship with God but the brain is what you used while studying science, economics and history in school.

This common suspicion towards the role of the mind in our spiritual life may sometimes be fueled by faulty interpretations of Bible passages: “What’s the use of reason since we should have faith like a child? (Matthew 8:13) Knowledge just puffs up our pride (1 Corinthians 8:1) so we should avoid secular studies. And shouldn’t we beware of hollow and deceptive philosophy? (Colossians 2:8)”

To begin with, we should not confuse the need for a childlike faith (humble, dependent trust in God) with childish thinking. To the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote, “Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” (1 Corinthians 14:20) He also warned against a proud attitude that paraded one’s spiritual knowledge for self-glory instead of mutual, loving edification. The real problem is arrogance, not knowledge in itself. Therefore, our proper response is humility, not ignorance.

Indeed, we need to be careful of many deceptive ideas available nowadays. But we cannot beware of bad philosophy if we are not even aware of it in the first place. The cure is truthful, biblical and sound thinking (not the absence of it). C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” The learned apostle Paul himself was familiar with the ideas of pagan philosophers so that he can discern truth from error. (Colossians 2:8)

Discipleship of the mind is so crucial because we are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength and all our mind. (Luke 10:27) It is obedience to the greatest commandment of our Lord Jesus. Scripture also calls us to be transformed by the renewal (not removal!) of our mind less we be conformed to worldly patterns. (Romans 12:2)

But what practical value is there in developing a ‘Christian mind’? Isn’t it just theoretical, head knowledge that does not help us live properly?

Although there is partial truth to the perception that scholars sometimes split hairs over seemingly irrelevant issues, the best theologians often aid us not merely to gather data but to gain wisdom for life. After all, a good theory is a very practical thing just as having a good map is an immense help to reach unknown destinations. In the same way, an accurate mental map of reality guides our navigation through difficult decisions in the world.

Furthermore, what we believe to be true has a powerful influence over how we should live. For example, if we view human life as merely a biological machine, we won’t be terribly inclined to treat it with much dignity or respect. Or if we truly understand God to be holy and gracious as revealed in Scripture, our spiritual life gradually reflects His own character. Sound theology should flow from the head to the heart and finally to the hands. True knowledge and living experience enrich each other.

Read Part Two: Have Christians Lost Their minds?

Have Christians Lost Their Minds? Part II

In this age of digital information, it is also nearly impossible to isolate our loved ones from ideas (even harmful ones!) They are just a Google search away.

What we can do, however, is to boost up our spiritual immune system by being informed of these ideas first and equipped to evaluate them from a biblical perspective. The strategy is not retreat into a cultural ghetto, but cultivating a robust Christian worldview that understands and engages culture. When the church provides thinking tools that empower our youths, they will learn how to detect faulty arguments and dismantle irrational assumptions on their own. By training them what and why Christians believe, we intentionally raise up a generation of confident, conversant and winsome ambassadors for the Kingdom. An informed faith prepares us to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:16)

But if we neglect the discipleship of our minds, we easily absorb materialistic values or hedonistic practices from popular movies, songs and novels without even knowing it. Our witness of the gospel would also lack boldness as we succumb to the temptation to either withdraw from or compromise with the world. Since the gospel is public truth (not merely private experiences), Christians have a responsibility to speak sensibly in the public square where crucial issues of life are discussed and decided.

Today, there is an urgent and serious need for us to explore how the church as a redeemed community in the world responds to racism, inter-religious harmony, economic disparity, the spread of infectious diseases, ethics in biomedical technology and so on. We cannot address these burning issues in our Malaysian society without faithfully and diligently applying our minds to connect God’s word with God’s world.

How then shall we recover the Christian mind? Here are some brief suggestions:

• Help the laity to integrate biblical faith with their vocation. Discipleship classes should also tackle unique opportunities and challenges they face in the marketplace as a lawyer, artist, businessperson, teacher, healthcare workers etc.

• Encourage healthy reading habits by stocking up the church library with solid resources that stimulates the mind and create interest with regular book reviews.

• Preach well-prepared sermons that help the congregation to read the Scriptures themselves, not merely packed with entertaining how-to advice.

• Does our youth ministry educate students to think Christianly about the subjects they learn in school or colleges? More than games and songs, they may need to discern what’s true, beautiful and ethical expressed in these disciplines.

• If we have evangelistic courses like Alpha or Christianity Explored, small group leaders could be trained in apologetics so they can handle frequently asked questions from seekers with humility, confidence and knowledge.

Can you imagine what the transformation of our spirituality and witness in society looks like when our minds are regularly renewed with such practices? It is a lifelong project that requires lots of energy and time, but the effort will be worth our while.

And you’ll never know when a curious young believer may approach you with questions about the book of Genesis and the last dinosaurs!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Forgotten Treasures: God’s Prophets of the Old Testament

By Rabbi Anthony Loke

There is a group of people mainly found in the Old Testament (OT) who might be considered strange or eccentric today. They have been called diverse names such as prophet, seer, visionary, man of God, and man of the Spirit. Whatever the designation, one thing stands out clearly: they were unique. They often stood out in the crowd like sore thumbs, distinct in the way they dressed (hairy mantle, e.g. Zechariah 13:4), what they ate (wild honey and locusts, e.g. 2 Kings 1:8) or what they did (walking barefoot and naked, e.g. Isaiah 20:2).

These prophets came from all walks of life – from priest (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) to herdsman and sycamore tree dresser (Amos), to royalty (Isaiah) – but the personal backgrounds of the majority were unknown. Sometimes even their patrimony was not preserved and their lineage left unspecified. The OT is not concerned with their biographical details. It clearly had little or no interest in the kinds of questions modern readers would ask. The prophets are remembered not because they lived interesting lives but because of their message. Their lasting legacy was the words they left behind. These linger long after the prophets disappeared from the scene. Who can forget some of their more memorable sayings?

‘But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.’ (Amos 5:24)
‘He has showed you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 5:24)

When prophets spoke, even kings stopped to listen (e.g. David in 2 Samuel 12:13). Confrontation with them often proved futile (e.g. the story of Elijah and King Ahaziah in 2 Kings 1:9-17). They were often treated as enemies of the state and the originators of trouble (e.g. Elijah was called the “troubler of Israel” in 1 Kings 18:17). Yet, people frequently sought them for advice about venturing to war (e.g. Micaiah ben Imlah in 1 Kings 22) or to look for lost donkeys (e.g. Samuel the seer in 1 Samuel 9:6) or to seek help when all seemed lost (e.g. Elisha in 2 Kings 4).

Not only did they preach with power and conviction, some of them even dramatised their messages. Ezekiel immediately comes to mind. For Ezekiel, his life and personality became part and parcel of his message. One day, he was found lying on one side. After 390 days, he proceeded to turn over to lie on the other side for another 40 days (Ezekiel 4:4, 6). Another time, he cut his hair and beard and divided the hair into three portions; one portion he burnt, the second he chopped up with his sword, and the third he scattered into the air. Then he took some and sewed them inside the hem of his garment (Ezekiel 5:1-4). One night, with his belongings bundled up, he made a hole in the wall, and proceeded to crawl through it, leaving his flabbergasted neighbours to wonder about his sanity, if they had not already doubted it before (Ezekiel 12:1-7).

Read on for the full article at Kairos latest issue The Church's Forgotten Treasures.

The Day God Showed Up On Earth 1

Preached a pre-Christmas evangelistic sermon today based on the themes from Tim Keller's sermon The Purpose of Christmas. Audio sermon can be downloaded here

Text: 1 John 1:1–4
Topic: Incarnation
Big Idea: Because the Word became flesh, we have a joy that transforms our lives.

This is what Scripture says: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”

Introduction: Good morning, church and friends! Christmas is just 4 days away. Are you feeling the holiday mood yet?

I know for many people, this is the season to be jolly. It's a time to celebrate, sing carols, throw parties, receive presents and lots of merry making. As we wrap up the year 2008, it’s also a time to relax, go on a holiday with family and have some well-deserved fun. And yes, sales promotions are everywhere. It’s a mad rush to shop till we drop.

Or if you are in the retail business or have sales target to achieve, Christmas is the season to be busy. It’s a crazy time to close deals, meet datelines and lots of profit making. For Christians, we may be just so stressed up with many church programs and activities, endless rehearsals and singing practices.

But for others, Christmas is the season to be depressed. Psychologists have found that many people experience a sad and anxious mood during and after Christmas. Statistics for suicide also increase. The reason goes something like this: “Everyone is supposed to be happy and be with their family during the holidays - since I am not, there must be something wrong with me”. This ‘holiday blues’ is most keenly felt if we are separated from loved ones. The loneliness, tiredness and isolation become more intense when there is pressure to look happy at parties or gatherings. The contrast can be very depressing.

But if we are not feeling Christmassy yet, that's ok. Because Christmas is not about Christmas. It’s not about sales promotion, Santa Claus or all that jazz. Christmas is all about Christ. That God has not left us alone. He showed up on planet earth to rescue us. The baby born on that first Christmas night two thousand years ago was called Immanuel, God with us. His presence is with us even now whether we feel Him or not.

And the scripture passage today taken from 1st Letter of John tells us what Christmas is all about. It says something radical about God and how Christmas can transform our lives whether we feel happy, busy or sad today.

Firstly, Christmas tells us something radical about God.

If you understand the word incarnation, you'll understand what Christmas is about. And the meaning of incarnation is nicely captured in the song we sang just now “Hark the Herald angels sing!” The second stanza goes like this:

Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel (meaning, God with us)
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Incarnation simply means that God took on flesh and blood and showed up on planet earth as a human being. Amazingly, He decided to come as a helpless baby born of a virgin girl. He did not come as some sort of violent, conquering warrior.

In the Bible passage we read just now, the apostle John tells us that Jesus the Son of God has appeared to us. He is the Word of life who was “from the beginning”. That means: He existed long before the heavens and the earth were even created.
People have always wondered about the universe that we live in. Sue May told me a story about her friend who never had much interest in God and one day she went scuba diving and so amazed to see a whole new world underwater so beautiful that by the time, she came up from the water, she believed in God.

I wonder if you too have ever looked up to a starry sky and feel a sense of cosmic wonder: “How come we exist in this universe? Why is there something rather than nothing? Where do we come from?” Suppose that in the beginning there was nothing. If there was absolutely nothing at the start, there won’t be anything now. Because out of nothing, nothing comes. No cause, no effect.

But something does exist today and not only that, if we look around us, everything that we observe has a beginning and was caused to exist by something else. For example, I have a beginning and my existence was caused by my parents, and my parents came to exist because of my grandparents, and if you rewind all the way back, even the universe has a beginning. Scientists called it the big bang. But what caused the big bang? Who is the big banger?

There must be something or someone that has always existed from the very beginning. In ancient times, the Greeks called that eternal force that holds the universe together Logos. The Logos (translated as the word) gives life to human beings. The Chinese also have a similar idea in the Tao that brings harmony to opposite forces of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’.

So when the apostle John spoke of the “Word of life”, the people understood what he was talking about. He’s talking about the Logos that made all things to exist, brings order to chaos. The Logos has always existed, it is eternal, uncreated since the very beginning of time…

But then John went on to say something radical that they never thought of: “Guess what? This Logos is not something abstract or a philosophical system. It’s not even an impersonal force that you can manipulate by hiring a fengshui master.”
The Logos is a person. He is someone who knows, makes choices and can communicate with us. He is relational. From the Gospel of John, we read: “In the beginning was the Logos, the Logos was with God and the Logos was God. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.… The Logos became flesh and dwell among us.”

That’s what Christmas is about. The God who is from eternity stepped into time. He took on flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood. The invisible has become visible, the spiritual has become physical. The ideal has become reality. In other words, God has become human without losing His divine nature. It’s a profound mystery -Jesus is not just fully man, He is fully God.

To appreciate just how radical this is, we can compare it with what other religions tell us about God. On one hand, in Islam/Judaism, God is so high above the creation, so transcendent that incarnation is impossible. It’s scandalous to think that God could take on human nature. On the other hand, in some Eastern religions like Hinduism/Buddhism, God is so close to the world, so immanent that reincarnation is normal. It happens to everyone. Everybody has a divine spark in us. So not all religions are the same…

Listen to these words from Tim Keller: But Christianity is unique. It doesn't say incarnation is normal, but it doesn't say it's impossible. It says God is so immanent (near us) that it is possible, but he is so transcendent (high above us) that the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is an earth-shaking, history-changing, life-transforming, paradigm-shattering event. Christianity has a unique view on this that sets it apart from everything else.

So who is Jesus? He’s a teacher but not just a good teacher. He’s a prophet but not just a human prophet. He’s so much more. He is the transcendent God who became incarnate. He’s not a far away God. He is God with us.

Secondly, not only does Christmas tell us something radical about God, it also tells us something historical about Him. The story of Jesus actually happened in space and time. On earth. In Israel. Two thousand years ago.

Unlike the wonderful stories we find in the Hikayat Ramayana, for example, it is not meant to be read as a myth. They cannot be just wonderful fairy tales that teach us moral lessons.

Imagine if I were to say to you that my late Grandmother appeared to me in a dream last night and gave me the recipe for a magic soup that gives eternal youth. And I can sell it to you for a thousand ringgit each. Could you examine this dream to see it’s true or false? You can’t because you have no access to my dream.

But imagine again if I were to say to you that she appeared to me at the Sunway Pyramid skating rink at 12 p.m. yesterday in front of more than one hundred shoppers and ice-skaters who can confirm this event… ah ha… now that’s different… that is an open public event … it’s something you can investigate, you can check out the facts, interview the witnesses and so on… it’s something historical you can verify…

The apostle John says: We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard. We saw His miracles. We heard His teachings. With our very own eyes. With our own ears. Our hands have touched Him, this person who is Eternal Life. This Jesus of Nazareth.

So these records of Jesus were written based on eyewitness accounts, people who have seen and heard Jesus while He was still on earth.

If the resurrection of Jesus was made up, it would be easily shot down by hundreds of eyewitnesses in Jerusalem who saw him crucified and buried. His enemies would be just too happy to show off his tomb and the story will die off very quickly. But the eyewitnesses did not contradict the empty tomb. Instead, people were invited to check out the facts with about five hundred witnesses who saw Jesus appeared after His resurrection from the grave.

The point of Christmas is that Jesus really lived, and he really died. It happened in space and time. He did these things in public. It is open to public examination and invites us to investigate its claims.

But you may wonder: What’s the big deal about something that happened so long ago? I live a good and moral life. That’s most important anyway, right? It doesn’t matter what happened in history. I don’t steal or murder, God will surely accept me.

But that’s salvation by good works. Trying to impress God by how good we are and then God owes us a ticket to heaven.

The bad news is you and I are both separated from God and God is so holy that there has to be punishment for our sins. In our deepest heart, if we look at ourselves in the mirror honestly, we know that we are simply not good enough judging by our own standard, not to mention God’s holy standards.

Suppose you are driving your car to work or school one day and you ran the traffic lights and got caught by the police. You cannot say: “Tolong-lah Encik, don’t give me the saman. Just now, got nine traffic lights, I also follow the rules. I only ran one out of ten traffic lights lah...”

If this excuse can’t help us with the local police, it cannot help us on Judgment Day to say “God, I know I have committed many sins but look at so many good things I have done also.”

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (1 John1:8)

Why did Jesus the son of God come to earth? The good news is not that He came to tell us: “Try harder, live a good life and then earn a ticket to heaven.”

The good news of Christmas is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the perfect life we should have lived, and died on the cross to pay for our sins (He took the death that we deserved). So when we turn away from our sin and trust in him and what he has done for us, we are accepted freely by God. We are rescued by grace alone. That’s why He came: To save us from our sins.

If these things didn't really happen in history 2000 years ago, then we can't be forgiven by grace. And we are still carrying the crushing burden of condemnation and sin on our shoulders.

But the good news is God incarnate did come and lived and died for us. The witnesses heard him, saw him, touched him and proclaimed him. Because it happened in history, we have hope, forgiveness and acceptance from God.

Do you know Jesus as your Lord and as your Savior? Would you trust in what He has done for you today? Check out Part 2

The Day God Showed Up On Earth 2

Full audio sermon can be downloaded here.

Thirdly, because Christmas is radical and historical, it invites us to a personal relationship with God.

If you see who Jesus is and why He came to earth, God became flesh and lived the life you should have lived, died the death you should have died — then Christmas invites you to know God personally. That means we can have a friendship, fellowship, an intimate communion with God himself. We become truly free and truly ourselves in the context of a love relationship.

The apostle John says, "Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son." This word fellowship, which is koinonia, means that we now have a basis to be reconciled with God.

He is no longer vague or far away in heaven. He has shown Himself to us. So we don’t need to guess what God is like and what He wants from us, He has come personally to tell us. Now He has a human face.

And if some of us here are spiritually seeking and you want to know what it means to be a Christian: Well, it means you come into a relationship where you acknowledge God as the Father, who loves and cares for you as a father cares for a child. You call God “Father”. And you receive Jesus the ultimate expression of God’s saving love, as your Lord and Savior. And the Holy Spirit lives in you and gives you the power to know and follow Him. Then through baptism you express this immersion into a love relationship with God.

So Christmas is an invitation by God to say: “Look how far I've come to be near you. Now draw near to me. I don't want to be a concept; I want to be a friend.”

Lastly, Christmas invites you to be passionately incarnational.

If we know Jesus personally as our Lord and Savior, we have the hope of eternal life beyond the grave. God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

But when many people think of eternal life, they think of cartoons of people floating around in fluffy clouds, wearing white gowns with a harp in their hand and a halo on their head. So the idea is to escape from this physical world, and treat life on earth here and now as a temporary transit point to heaven. But the danger of that is we can be so heavenly that we are of no earthly good. It creates a mentality where we withdraw from life and focus only on the afterlife.

We see the poor oppressed and the environment destroyed and we shrug, “Oh well, this world’s gonna burn anyway so I just wait for my time to go to heaven.” No wonder many people see religion as a drug that makes us insensitive to pain and oppression happening around the world.

But the Christian hope of eternal life is not like that. It is not about running away from reality. The future of the gospel is a new heaven and a new earth. This world will be renewed, not abandoned. The hope of Christians is the resurrection, where we will be raised to eternal life in an incorruptible glorified physical body. Because God himself took on physical flesh and blood and invaded this planet, we long to see the presence of God's kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Because the rightful king of the world had entered human history. All unjust rulers are at risk. Dictators like king Herod, Roman Caesar, Satan, Sin, Death, Injustice, Pain, Disease, Hatred - their days are numbered. The worst they can do is give death but even death is conquered by the resurrection.

The King had come. The kingdom of God had broken into history, bringing healing and hope, peace and life. Christmas marks the beginning of God's mission to recapture the world for Himself.

So as His followers, we are also invited to imitate Christ be living incarnational lives. We also enter into other people’s worlds, as he entered ours. We seek first to understand then be understood. We enter into the world of their thinking as we try to understand how others look at life and how they see the gospel. We come into the world of their feeling as we try to empathise with their pain. And we come into the world of their living as we live, embody and demonstrate the gospel in the orang asli village, at the low cost apartments at Angsana and Mentari.

In conclusion, Christmas tells us something radical and historical about God – he has come to earth and revealed himself supremely in the person of Jesus the Messiah. Because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us, Christmas invites us to love God personally with all our heart, mind and strength. It also frees us to get involved in the lives of other people by embodying God’s kingdom on earth.

If the present creation will not be abandoned but transformed, then in the meantime, we are to work here-and-now looking forward to that final vision. So that our community and church could be a foretaste, a glimpse or movie preview of its future glory. Incarnational spirituality is lived out in down to earth realities, where we do business, how we cook in the kitchen, when we play with our children, study, love and do exercise, infusing everyday life with fresh authentic meaning. The gospel must be embodied with our lives and proclaimed with our words.

Think about that the next time someone wished you "merry Christmas" this year!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tribute to Malaysian Art Icon

From Encyclopedia of Modern Asia Summary: Datuk Chuah Thean Teng (1914-2008) a Malaysian painter achieved an international reputation during the 1950s by developing a new art form that adapted the wax-resist techniques of batik textile production to create a painting medium. Chuah captured traditional Malayan ways of life on canvas in colorful scenes rendered in a semiabstract style.

During the decade following Malaya's establishment as an independent nation in 1957, Chuah was credited with giving artistic expression to a distinctively Malayan visual consciousness. Together with two sons, Chuah Seow Keng and Chuah Siew Tang, who have followed their father as painters in batik, Chuah established the Yahong Gallery in Penang.

Click here for a sample of his breathtaking works and a short introduction on the artist.

Himanshu Bhatt's tribute at The Sun: "For his place in our nation's history, it is only apt that we give due recognition to the legacy of Chuah. It is time that Chuah's profound contribution to our culture and art is celebrated, perhaps in the same vein that Holland trakes pride in Van Gogh, Spain in Salvador Dali and China in Xu Beihong."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Born of the Virgin Mary

by R.C. Sproul

Along with the great theologian and philosopher Anselm of Canterbury we ask the question, Cur deus homo? Why the God-man? When we look at the biblical answer to that question, we see that the purpose behind the incarnation of Christ is to fulfill His work as God’s appointed Mediator. It is said in Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself ….” Now, the Bible speaks of many mediators with a small or lower case “m.” A mediator is an agent who stands between two parties who are estranged and in need of reconciliation. But when Paul writes to Timothy of a solitary Mediator, a single Mediator, with a capital “M,” he’s referring to that Mediator who is the supreme Intercessor between God and fallen humanity. This Mediator, Jesus Christ, is indeed the God-man.

In the early centuries of the church, with the office of mediator and the ministry of reconciliation in view, the church had to deal with heretical movements that would disturb the balance of this mediating character of Christ. Our one Mediator, who stands as an agent to reconcile God and man, is the One who participates both in deity and in humanity. In the gospel of John, we read that it was the eternal Logos, the Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us. It was the second person of the Trinity who took upon Himself a human nature to work out our redemption. In the fifth century at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the church had to fight against a sinister teaching called the Monophysite heresy. The term monophysite is derived from the prefix mono, which means “one,” and from the root phusis, which means “nature” or “essence.” The heretic Eutyches taught that Christ, in the incarnation, had a single nature, which he called a “theanthropic nature.” This theanthropic nature (which combines the word theos, meaning “God,” and anthropos, meaning “man”) gives us a Savior who is a hybrid, but under close scrutiny would be seen to be one who was neither God nor man. The Monophysite heresy obscured the distinction between God and man, giving us either a deified human or a humanized deity. It was against the backdrop of this heresy that the Chalcedonian Creed insisted Christ possesses two distinct natures, divine and human. He is vere homo (truly human) and vere Deus (truly divine, or truly God). These two natures are united in the mystery of the incarnation, but it is important according to Christian orthodoxy that we understand the divine nature of Christ is fully God and the human nature is fully human. So this one person who had two natures, divine and human, was perfectly suited to be our Mediator between God and men. An earlier church council, the Council of Nicea in 325, had declared that Christ came “for us men, and for our salvation.” That is, His mission was to reconcile the estrangement that existed between God and humanity.

It is important to note that for Christ to be our perfect Mediator, the incarnation was not a union between God and an angel, or between God and a brutish creature such as an elephant or a chimpanzee. The reconciliation that was needed was between God and human beings. In His role as Mediator and the God-man, Jesus assumed the office of the second Adam, or what the Bible calls the last Adam. He entered into a corporate solidarity with our humanity, being a representative like unto Adam in his representation. Paul, for example, in his letter to the Romans gives the contrast between the original Adam and Jesus as the second Adam. In Romans 5, verse 15, he says, “For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” Here we observe the contrast between the calamity that came upon the human race because of the disobedience of the original Adam and the glory that comes to believers because of Christ’s obedience. Paul goes on to say in verse 19: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Adam functioned in the role of a mediator, and he failed miserably in his task. That failure was rectified by the perfect success of Christ, the God-man. We read later in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians these words: “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man” (1 Cor. 15:45).

We see then the purpose of the first advent of Christ. The Logos took upon Himself a human nature, the Word became flesh to effect our redemption by fulfilling the role of the perfect Mediator between God and man. The new Adam is our champion, our representative, who satisfies the demands of God’s law for us and wins for us the blessing that God promised to His creatures if we would obey His law. Like Adam, we failed to obey the Law, but the new Adam, our Mediator, has fulfilled the Law perfectly for us and won for us the crown of redemption. That is the foundation for the joy of Christmas.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, and he is the author of the book The Glory of Christ. This article is from the December 2005 issue of Tabletalk magazine.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Great Commission And Creation Mandate

Dr Leong Tien Fock's paper for NECF Forum VI: TRANSFORM NATION AGENDA
is already online for preview. It takes a fresh look at the Great Commission in light of the Creation Mandate and provides a firm biblical-theological basis for what is called "wholistic mission". Here is an excerpt:

The eschatological Kingdom and the Great Commission

It is in the context of what the Church and disciples of Christ are called to be and to do that the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations by “going,” “baptizing” and “teaching” them is given. Certainly, in “going” to make disciples, the Gospel must be preached and accepted before the “baptizing” can happen. But the Gospel to be preached is the Gospel of the Kingdom, which is an invitation to repent and believe in Jesus so as to enter the Kingdom of God, thereby having a foretaste of the eschatological salvation. This explains why there is such a focus on “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you,” that is, teaching them to submit to God’s reign by seeking to do His will in every area of their life.

The Great Commission is premised on “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” This means Christ is already reigning in heaven and on earth. Hence the Great Commission is premised on the presence of the eschatological Kingdom of God. But Christ will not impose His authority on the nations. When disciples, and not just converts, of all nations are made, people of all nations will willingly recognize Christ’s authority and seek to do God’s will. Hence the Great Commission is, in this sense, about seeking God’s Kingdom to “come” to, and hence His will be done in, all nations. Since not everyone will become a disciple, Christ’s reign will not be universally recognized. And since even the disciples of Christ have not yet fully experienced the eschatological salvation, Christ’s reign will not be
perfectly recognized. The Great Commission is given with the promise that Christ would be with His disciples even to end of the age. Hence the work of the Great Commission is to continue until He comes back to consummate the Kingdom, where His reign will then be universally and perfectly recognized.

The kingdom of God and the Creation Mandate

Since the Kingdom of God was promised in the Old Testament, we need to understand what the kingdom or reign of God means in that context to fully appreciate the meaning of the Great Commission (note: the Kingdom refers to the eschatological Kingdom, while kingdom refers to kingship or reign in general). In order not to miss anything, we need to go all the way back to the very first commission given to the human race: the Creation Mandate (Gen 1:28).

It was before the Fall and in the Garden of Eden that God blessed Adam and Eve, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Thus the mandate to fill and subdue the earth and rule over the creatures was given when Adam and Eve were in direct fellowship with God and before there was a need for world redemption.

This mandate must first be understood in this context before we can relate it to the Great Commission.

When the earth was first created it was “formless and void” and God had to do some major renovation on the earth and the solar system before life on earth was possible. Then he created plant and animal life and finally human life (Genesis 1). God further developed (a small portion of) the earth by planting the Garden of Eden and placed the first human couple there to “cultivate it and keep it” (2:15).

It is in this context that the Creation Mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill and subdue the earth (outside the Garden of Eden) was given. What did it mean to Adam and Eve?

John Walton in his Genesis commentary explains:
If people were going to fill the earth, we must conclude that they were not
intended to stay in the garden in a static situation. Yet moving out of the garden
would appear a hardship since land outside the garden was not as hospitable as
that inside the garden (otherwise the garden would not be distinguishable).
Perhaps, then, we should surmise that people were gradually supposed to extend
the garden as they went about subduing and ruling. Extending the garden would
extend the food supply as well as extend the sacred space (since that is what the
garden represented).

The Garden was a “sacred space” because it was within this space that God dwelled with Adam and Eve. And within this space God’s will was to be done perfectly (“on earth as it is in heaven”). And when they sinned by not submitting to His will they were driven out. In other words, the Garden was where the kingship of God was fully realized, and to expand the Garden by filling and subduing the earth was to expand the kingdom of God. It was thus the pre-Fall version of the command to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matt 6:33).

The Creation Mandate came with the assurance of the availability of food in the Garden (Gen 1:29) just as the command in Matthew 6:33 came with an assurance of the provision of food (and other basic needs) through a promise. The implication in both cases is that the need to “make a living” is no excuse for not fulfilling the mandate or the command to extend God’s kingdom.

But how would the multiplying of human beings and the filling and subduing of the earth actually work out in history?

Albert Wolters has answered it well:
When God rested from His work of creation (and renovation) on the seventh day,
this is not the end of the development of creation, however. Although God has
withdrawn from the work of creation, he has put an image of himself on the earth
with a mandate to continue. The earth had been completely unformed and empty;
in the six-day process of development God had formed it and filled it—but not
completely. People must now carry on the work of development; by being fruitful
they must fill it even more; by subduing it they must form it even more. Mankind,
as God’s representatives on earth, carry on where God left off. But this is now to be
a human development of the earth. The human race will fill the earth with its own
kind, and it will form the earth for its own kind. From now on the development of
the created earth will be societal and cultural in nature. In a single word, the task
ahead is civilization.

Thus the Creation Mandate is to develop a civilization that would spread to the whole earth.

But what kind of civilization would this be? The first human civilization was that of the ungodly Cain and his descendants. They did build a city and develop agriculture, industry and the arts (Gen 4:17-22). But they did not call upon the name of the LORD (cf. 4:26). And Lamech not only practiced polygamy; he boasted about killing a boy for hitting him and, unlike Cain, had no fear of the consequence (4:23-24). It was a godless civilization that eventually led to the Flood, which destroyed the world except Noah and his family.

The Creation Mandate was given before Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God. And they
were in direct fellowship with Him. So the civilization was intended to be distinctly (but not completely) different from that developed by Cain and his descendants. The difference would not be in the building of the city and the development of agriculture, industry and the arts. All this is part of the mandate to “fill and subdue” the earth. The distinct difference would be that the civilization is developed in obedience to, and in fellowship with, the Creator.

Hence, the civilization is to be an expression of the kingdom of God. In other words,
the kingdom of God is to be expressed through a civilization. What then is this civilization supposed to be like?

Read on for the rest of article

Monday, December 08, 2008

Giving A Reason For Hope

David and Henry will be co-presenting a session on how to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:16) this coming Saturday. Discover why the use and limits of apologetics and some practical tips on how to use it in our conversations.

Open to all and free of charge.

Date: 13 December (Saturday)
Time: 3:00pm to 5:00pm

Venue: City Discipleship Presbyterian Church (CDPC)
W-10-2 Subang Square Business Center,
Jalan SS15/4g, Subang Jaya

Contact Number: Kristy 012-6812693 or Roy: 012-7595323
Artwork from HeqiArts

Unlocking The Mysteries of Life

A thoughtful and well presented documentary for "intelligence" behind the design we see in the life forms we find in the universe

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Meditating on Yoga

On Nov. 22, the National Fatwa Council (NFC) issued an edict that yoga is haram (prohibited) for Muslims. Earlier on, Prof. Zakaria Stapa of the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Islamic Studies Centre had remarked that practising yoga could deviate Muslims from their faith. His statement drew negative reactions from yoga instructors and students.

The president of the Malaysia Yoga Society lamented the misunderstanding and said that Malaysian yoga was different from the practices in India which incorporated religion and spirituality. It was “more of a treatment modality” (TheSun, 23/11/08)

Many view yoga as a form of exercise to strengthen and improve their muscles and breathing as well as to relax their mind, thus keeping them good health. But why has it become such a big issue to certain religious groups? The bone of contention seems to be the meditation techniques – or “curbing the mind” as some call it. While it has been argued that these techniques are scientifically proven to improve one’s health and have nothing to do with religion, yogis – practitioners of yoga who have reached an advanced spiritual state – think otherwise. They are adamant that yoga, regardless of how it is branded, is Hinduism.

Within the Christian community, yoga too has been a controversial subject – some have reservations while others see nothing wrong as long as those who practise do not deviate from Christian faith. Rev. Dr Herman Shastri, the General Secretary of the Malaysian Council of Churches, opined that it was all right so long as Christians do not pray “to other Gods while practising yoga” (The Star, 31/10/08). However, some Christians disagree, and like the yogis, they firmly believe that yoga cannot be separated from its Hindu roots even if one takes away the spiritual underpinning and practises only the physical exercises.

Still others hold that yoga can surely be redeemed for God’s good purposes because our God is a redemptive God. A growing interest in Christian Yoga was thus developed, particularly in America, replacing Hindu spirituality and philosophy with Christian spirituality and theories. Such concept, nonetheless, did not go down well with certain groups.

The American Hindu Foundation, in its response to an article “Stretching for Jesus” featured in Time magazine (25 Aug. 2005), commented, “Hindu Americans are rightfully outraged by the brazen appropriation of one of their vibrant faith’s most lasting contributions to this country’s health, well-being and popular culture.” It called Christian Yoga an act of “intellectual property theft” and accused evangelical Christians of proselytising and converting Hindus in the guise of Christianised Hindu practices. Some Christians who formerly practised yoga think that Christian Yoga is an oxymoron.

In actual fact, Christian yoga, according to Dr Ng Kam Weng, director of Kairos Research Centre, fails to understand how yoga meditative exercises (especially the breathing techniques and the mantra chanting) work to disrupt our mental function. Change of name does not change the process, he says.

Yoga is an ancient practice that originated from India. The goal of the practitioners is to achieve oneness or union with the Absolute through physical and mental disciplines. Dr Ng emphasises that one must keep in mind the historical connection between yoga and Hinduism and how such practices are traditionally integrated with its own philosophy and spiritual worldview. The physical exercises are merely initial steps to prepare oneself to become more attuned to a higher reality.

Perhaps the question for many Christians would be: Is it possible to separate the physical exercise from the spiritual aspect?

“In theory it is possible for Christians to separate the physical exercises from the spiritual exercises. I have in mind Christians who just want to try out some postures to stretch their muscles when they exercise at home. Others who are more serious may try out *Pilates. However, those who take yoga seriously will soon find that yoga is offered as a package deal. Meditation is the main ingredient to achieve spiritual enlightenment. In other words, serious yoga instructors do not separate the form from the substance,” Dr Ng explains.

He also clarifies the difference between Christian and yoga meditation. The former carries a positive function as meditating on the glory of God and His manifold works inspire the Christian to praise and love God; it is relationship and content oriented. The latter, in contrast, has a negative function; it deliberately empties the mind of rational thought processes and eventually leads to the dissolution of ego or the inner self. Dr Ng cautions that Christians should be wary of such exercises in dissociating the mind from its normal function since this may leave one vulnerable to external spiritual influence.

Some may have reportedly found peace with yoga meditation, but others have developed mental dysfunction, e.g. hallucination, outburst of uncontrollable energies through the body and emotional trauma. According to renowned psychoanalyst Carl Jung, “The deliberately-induced psychotic state, which in certain unstable individuals might easily lead to a real psychosis, is a danger that needs to be taken very seriously indeed.”

Dr Ng urges Christians, who are practising yoga or who are thinking of taking it up, to seriously consider their motive for doing so. If it is merely for physical exercises, there are other alternatives; if it is for meditation, we need to seriously consider the basis of yoga meditation as it is traditionally practised.

“Why would I hitch my Christian faith to a process which might render myself vulnerable to influence from deceptive spiritual forces?” he asks.

While yoga practices are culturally not wrong, Christians are encouraged to exercise spiritual discernment in making their choices.

*Pilates (pĭ-lä’tēz) – A system of exercises that promote the strengthening of the body, often using specialised equipment. Named after Joseph Pilates (1880–1967), German-born American physical fitness instructor who developed the system. – The American Heritage® Dictionary


For your reading:

Yoga and the Body of Christ (bk) by Dave Hunt ()

"Non-Muslims have a right to comment on fatwas" & "Fatwa Council Bans Yoga: Non-Muslims told not to comment" by Ng Kam Weng (

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Organs for Sale

Organ donation has always been regarded as an altruistic act. Thus all government, professional societies and ethics committees regard it as unethical to allow for sales of kidney. Altruism is implied that a person donates an organ (usually a kidney) without coercion and receiving any compensation including financial ones. Their only reward is satisfaction in their self-sacrificial action. Unfortunately there are not many altruistic persons around. Most organs for transplants come from brain dead or dead donors (cadaveric organ transplants). Very few living persons come forward as donors. The result is a scarcity of organs for transplants which results in thousands of deaths for want of organs.

By not allowing sales of organs, these organisations have unwittingly created a black market for organs sales. Unscrupulous middlemen have arisen to take advantage of the needs of organs. In countries where the laws were not so stringent, a commercial transplantation trade of transplant tourism has arisen where one may buy a kidney if one is willing to pay and not ask too many questions. There is no protection for donors. Horror stories abound of people being kidnapped and their kidneys removed, the poor exploited or prisoners forced to donate their kidneys. The middlemen reaped large amount while the donors were given pittance. In a recent court case in Singapore, the donor received $23,700 for his kidney out of the $300,000, magnate Tang Wee Sung paid the middleman. This is the unregulated free market!

In an effect to address the scarcity of organs for transplantation, the Singapore government has taken the bold step of legalising the monetary ‘compensation’ for kidney donors (The Straits Times, Nov 1, 2008). The amount which may be in five or six figures will compensate the donors for their kidneys. It is also suggested that all transplants be regulated through an independent organisation to ensure that the donors will not be taken advantage of. Singapore sidestepped the ethical issue by allowing monetary compensation rather than sales. This is the semi-regulated approach to organ donations.

A third alternative is the Iranian model which the fully regulated model. In Iran, all organs transplants are done through a state-sponsored body which regulate organ transplant in a transparent, non-commercial, and middle-man free process. Donors are paid by this government sponsored agency. It has worked well so far and in Iran there is no waiting list; all patients (rich, poor, educated, uneducated) have receive their transplants. Iran has a government sponsored healthcare system so the model may not work in other countries.

Is there a difference between a sale and compensation? A sale is a business transaction while a compensation is something given for something lost or given. However when it comes to human organ, it is a thin line between the two. It is interesting to note that while it is unethical to sell one’s kidney, however it is acceptable to sell one’s sperms or eggs or in some countries, blood. The moral ethical basis that lies behind the forbidding of sale of human organs come from the group of moral theories called virtue-based theories. The virtue-based theories are based on the premise that human beings are basically good and altruistic. Reality has however shown how far that is from the truth.

It may be time for us to review the ethics of human organ sales. What do you think?

picture credit

Monday, November 24, 2008

You Can't Take It With You

The first thing that come to mind when someone says, “You can’t take it with you” are our jewelleries, companies, fame and fortune. Very few of us think of our bodies, those vessels which have embodied our souls for so many years. Our bodies are being discarded as our souls move into the hereafter. Like discarding a dirty shirt for a clean one, we exchange our mortal bodies for immortal ones.

How many of us ever think of the mortal bodies we leave behind except to think of its disposal-cremation or burial? Yet our mortal left-behind bodies may still be of use to others. Yes, I am talking about organ donation.

Every year thousands of people are in need of organs for transplantation. They are quite happy to receive the organs from dead bodies (cadaveric organ donors). These organs can save their lives. People with kidney failure and on dialysis can tell you about their ordeals. A person with kidney failure will need to be dialysed on the average 2-3 times a week. Each session last 4-6 hours and incur financial cost. In between dialysis, they are tired and lethargic. They may be alive but there is no quality to their lives. They need kidneys.

There is such an acute shortage of organs for transplant that a black market exists to supply this need. People are going to countries like China, India, Turkey and other poorer countries to buy kidneys.

Personally I think all Christians should be organ donors. After all we are going to get a new body! At least let the discarded one be of use; our final legacy to this world. Even better will be if we are to donate one of our kidney when we are alive. After all God gave us two kidneys and the body function equally well with only one. That will be truly self-sacrificing love.

photo credit

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Quest For Covenant Community & Pluralist Democracy in Islamic Context

The main body of this volume comprises three essays by Ng Kam Weng , which were presented originally as the 2006 Annual Lectures of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia (CSCA), the mission research arm of Trinity Theological College , Singapore . They explore the possibility of democratic pluralism from within the predominantly Islamic context of Malaysia , and propose the concept of Covenant as a promising basis for collaboration between Christianity and Islam. Interacting with a broad spectrum of socio-political thinkers, these lectures probe the dynamics of democratic deliberation and point to resources from within the two faith traditions that can contribute to building the common life based on covenant community and social solidarity.

Responses from Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi‘, Robert A. Hunt and Peter G. Riddell, three international scholars who have contributed significantly to fostering greater understanding between Christianity and Islam, are included.

1. Pluralist Democracy and Spheres of J ustice: The Quest for ‘Complex Equality’ in an Islamic Context
2. Religious Dialogue and Democratic Deliberation
3. Religion and Moral Citizenry: Whose Morality? What Law? Which Moral Community?
4. A Response by Ibrahim Abu-Rabi‘
5. A Response by Robert A. Hunt
6. A Response by Peter G. Riddell


Ng Kam Weng is Research Director and Resident Scholar of Kairos Research Centre in Malaysia .

Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi‘ is the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities Chair in Islamic Studies, Department of History and Classics, the University of Alberta in Edmonton , Canada .

Robert A. Hunt is Director of Global Theological Education at the Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, USA.

Peter G. Riddell is Professorial Dean, Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at the Bible College of Victoria in Melbourne , Australia .


Mark L. Y. Chan is Lecturer in Theology and Coordinator of the Faith and Society research cluster of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia at Trinity Theological College .

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ketuanan Melayu - a non-Muslim view

From Malaysiakini

Before I begin, I want to caveat this by stating that I am not, and do not pretend, to be an expert on Islam. I am writing this purely from my perspective as a non-Muslim Malaysian.

The issue of Ketuanan Melayu has yet again raised its head after the recent speech by former minister Zaid Ibrahim at the LawAsia conference. In the aftermath of that speech, Zaid has been called a traitor to his own race and has been asked by Umno leaders to apologise.
Instead of deconstructing Zaid's speech and the predictable Umno response, I want to examine the possible negative effects that Umno's unyielding stand on emphasising Ketuanan Melayu has had on the public image of Islam in the eyes of non-Muslims in Malaysia.

As far as I know, Islam is one of the two major faith traditions in the world (the other being Christianity) which practices active proselytisation. In Christianity, these activities are sometimes known as evangelism. In Islam, it is known as 'dakwah' which literally means 'an invitation' or to 'to invite' in Arabic.

Again, as far as my limited understanding is concerned, dakwah or reaching out to non-Muslims, which may be prioritised differently depending on the rules of government in that state, is nonetheless an important responsibility on the part of Muslims.

If this is indeed the case, then the question of why there are relatively few non-Malay converts to Islam is certainly worth asking. There are currently an estimated 50,000 Chinese Muslims in Malaysia out of a total Chinese population of more than six million. In other words, less than 1% of the Chinese population in Malaysia is Muslim.

The percentage of Indian Muslims is presumably higher but this has to do more with migration of Indian Muslims to Malaysia rather than new converts among the Indian community who are not Muslim.

In Malaysia, all Malays are Muslims

To answer the question with any level of certainty would require numerous years of serious study and research. For now, I would like to propose a hypothesis for why this could be the case.

We in Malaysia have been conditioned assumed that all Malays are Muslims. Indeed, it is stated in the constitution under Article 160 that ‘Malay’ means a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, and conforms to Malay custom.

But what is not stated in the constitution is that all Muslims must necessarily be Malays. Indeed, many non-Muslims often forget that there is a significant number of non-Malay bumiputera Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak and that pockets of Indian and Siamese Muslims can be found in Penang and Kedah.

The perception among non-Muslims in Malaysia that all Malays are Muslims and that most of the Muslims they know are Malays. This is surely a challenge and obstacle which groups such as the Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (Yadim) who want to proselytise to this group of people must face. If Islam is the preserve of Malays only, why should I, as a Chinese or Indian, want to step into this preserve?

But such proselytising efforts, already difficult to begin with because of social and cultural obstacles, are surely made much more difficult by Umno's insistence of repeating the mantra of Ketuanan Melayu.

By doing so, they are inadvertently changing the public perception of non-Muslims towards Islam - that it is no longer a religion which emphasises equality of all races. Again, as far as I know, there is no one 'superior' race or nationality in Islam. Malay Muslims, Indonesian Muslims, Pakistani Muslims, Arab Muslims and all other Muslims are of equal standing in Islam.

But with the assertion of Ketuanan Melayu, the status of equality is threatened, at least in the context of Malaysia. Malay Muslims are suddenly elevated to a position of racial superiority over that of Indian and Chinese Muslims.

One of the underlying driving forces of the civil rights movement in the United States was the fact that black soldiers who were fighting and dying side and side with their white brethren in Vietnam found themselves segregated when they returned home.

While not equivalent, one can imagine a situation which a fictitious Chinese Malaysian may face if he undertook a similar journey such as the one Malcolm X took to the Middle East and discovered the reality that was the Muslim 'ummah' converging from all over the world and coming from different nationalities to worship in Mecca but then went back home to Malaysia only to find that his Chinese Muslim children do not have the same rights as those of his Malay friends.

Putting immense psychological barriers

With each increasingly strident cry of Ketuanan Melayu, Umno leaders are putting up immense psychological barriers in the path of non-Muslims who may otherwise have been attracted to the tenets and practices of the Muslim faith, especially when approached by trusted friends whom they see as excellent examples of the religion in practice.

Almost as important is the fact that such cries also put barriers in the minds of Malays who may otherwise not find it problematic to proselytise to their non-Malay friends. If they have been influenced to think that Islam is only the preserve of the Malays, then why should they reach out to their Chinese and Indian friends and tell them about Islam?

Of course, one can easily show examples of other countries where Islam is not equated with a particular race but has not gained many converts. Our neighbours in the north and in the south are good case in points.

But I would counter with the argument that Malaysia occupies a unique position in the world in that it is one of the few countries with a majority of Muslims and a significant proportion of non-Muslims in its population. Not many other countries in the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) can boast of this unique configuration.

As such, Malaysia has the opportunity to demonstrate not only to its minority non-Muslim population but also to the rest of the world that Islam can be and is a religion which is attractive and relevant for all peoples rather than with a certain group which has traditionally been associated with that religion.

Imagine the kind of statement which Malaysia would be making on behalf of Islam if by good governance and the implementation of a more open, just and equal society, it would attract a significant number of Chinese, Indians and other non-Muslim bumiputera groups in Sabah and Sarawak to embrace Islam on their own accord and on their own terms? Would that not yield more returns for Islam than the constant shouting from the rooftops about Ketuanan Melayu?

In putting forth this hypothesis and trying to stretch it as far as I think it will go, I've had to leave aside other explanatory factors as to why many non-Muslims in Malaysia do not consider Islam as a viable alternative in their 'menu' of religious alternatives.

I've left out the fact that many of them probably do not see Umno leaders as exemplary models of what a Muslim lifestyle should be. I've left out the fact that institutional structures have increasingly equated converting to Islam as 'masuk Melayu' where one has to abandon one's culture even if some aspects of it do not contravene with Islamic practices. I've left out the many social and cultural pressures which a Chinese or Indian convert to Islam faces among his own family and friends.

But I do this for a specific purpose. If this article reaches the hands of any Umno leader or member, I hope that they will reflect on some of the consequences of their hardline stance on Ketuanan Melayu.

With every shout of Ketuanan Melayu, you push away another non-Muslim from Islam. If you think that the responsibility of dakwah to non-Muslims is important, perhaps even more important that the NEP or calls for racial supremacy, then you should reconsider your current position.

No matter how one tries to spin it, most non-Muslims will equate Ketuanan Melayu with racial superiority of the Malays and this puts an indelible psychological mark on their minds that Islam, at least the version that is espoused by Umno, is not consistent with the equality of races within the religion. You need to consider that your actions may be partly responsible for preventing most non-Muslims from even considering a religion which, in my opinion, all Malaysians need to learn more about, even if they do not consider embracing it.

ONG KIAN MING is a PhD candidate in political science at Duke University.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Neither Christ Nor Antichrist

By Soo-Inn Tan

Scully (to Skinner): "With all due respect, sir, I think you overestimate your
position in the chain of command."
("The Blessing Way", X-Files Season 3)

I have friends who think that the Democratic Party is a tool of the devil. They
are terribly disturbed that Barrack Obama has been elected and see him as a strong candidate for the Antichrist. Many others see him in Messianic terms. They are overjoyed that he has prevailed and see him as ushering in a bright new era for the United States. My word to both groups --- get real. Obama is neither Christ nor Antichrist.

This is a historic moment in American politics and because in so many ways what happens in America affects the rest of us, it is also a historic moment for the world. The hunger for change was so overwhelming that it carried a black first term senator with a name like Barrack Hussein Obama into the White House. Not quite walking on water but close. With minimal hyperbole, Thomas Friedman calls the election of Barrack Obama as the moment the American Civil war finally concluded. Those of us in Malaysia can only look on with envy and wonder when we will ever move beyond the politics of race.

And Obama has made all the right promises. His rhetoric of hope has galvanised a nation. If he can deliver on only a fraction of the things he promised, America and the world will be a better place. I am hopeful but not holding my breath. I have learned long ago, from life, and from the Scriptures, that all human leaders have clay feet and are destined to disappoint us.

1 and 2 Kings contain a record of the various kings that ruled Judah and Israel. Some were better than others. None of them could come close to the reign of King David. He was the benchmark of human leadership and he was marked by spectacular failures. God can use human leaders to bring about substantial change for good. I think of the Lincolns and the Churchills and the Sun Yat-Suns and the enormous good they did in their life times. It is very possible that Obama will be used by God to bring his nation to another level in her development. But I will not be dismayed if he doesn't. I am not cynical, just realistic. All human leaders are flawed.

Malaysians will remember the hopes that came with the election results of March 8th 2008. There was so much hope that Anwar would quickly usher in a new era in Malaysian politics. But he has not delivered on a number of key promises. And there are signs that some components of the opposition coalition are reverting to old ways of thinking. We need to be realistic as to what we can expect from human leaders.

I am glad March 8th happened. In many ways Malaysia has changed for the better. March 8 slowed down the march of racism and corruption that had crippled the nation for so long. But I am not surprised that Anwar and the coalition he leads could not deliver on all they had promised. Sooner or later we all learn that we must not overestimate our capacity to influence history. (Remember the promises that Abdullah Badawi made when he was running for election?)

So those who think that Barrack Obama is the Antichrist shouldn't be too worried. There is just so much he can do. And those who think that Obama is the Messiah should lower their expectations a notch or two or ten. He was not born in a manger. (And neither was he born on Krypton and sent to save planet earth.)

All leaders running for public office must give some indication to how they can deliver. Obama has come across as honest and realistic while giving his vision of change. The level of euphoria greeting his election however, tells me that deep in the human heart, there is hunger for a Messiah. In our darkest moments we know we cannot save ourselves. But Christians should never forget that our ultimate salvation will not come form politics.

That doesn't mean that Christians should withdraw from the political process. As Jordan Hylden reminds us in a recent article:

[... Christians are called to act like Christians in the many places in the world
that are not the church --- in our jobs, schools, communities, and governments. Involvement in secular institutions is no substitute for the gospel, of course. But it would be a small gospel indeed that could have no effect on the way they are run. As William Wilberforce showed, such involvement can make a real difference in the word and can itself be a witness to the gospel. ( "Aliens and Citizens," Christianity Today, November, 2008, 37).

I am delighted that many of my friends are actively involved in the political process and see their involvement as an expression of their discipleship. I am just concerned that we do not get so carried away with the euphoria of the hour that we begin to equate our battles in the political sphere as the only or the main way to bring about permanent change in society --- and get unduly elated or unduly worried by the political fortunes of our chosen candidates/parties.

Our ultimate hope is still in a God who is on His throne, a God who decides which ruler rises and which ruler falls. While we work for kingdom values in all spheres of life our ultimate hope is in the King Himself, a Messiah who came and is coming again.

[For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands
(Luke 1:49-53 NLT)]

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Book Review: The Living Church

The Living Church: Convictions of a lifelong pastor – John Stott, IVP 2007: A Review By Davin Wong

I’ve come to observe that in every generation, God has placed the desire among his people to be alive! It is then timely that John Stott’s book entitled The Living Church was on sale at the recent Klang Valley Bible Conference. After all, as an Anglican myself, who better to learn about “doing Church” than from an esteemed Anglican Minister himself.

Having read the book, one of the chapters that particularly stand out was Evangelism. Specifically, the section entitled The Church Must Organize Itself: Its Structures. Here John Stott warns amongst other things on the danger of having too many activities during the week so much so that it becomes detrimental to the Christian family life. He then moves on to suggest a practical guide for the Church to organize itself especially to discover how far its structures reflect its identity. The questions are divided into 2 groups – a local community survey and a survey on the local church. He recommends that the church council studies the survey and then out of this reflection grow a strategy for mission.

Next was the chapter on Fellowship. I am in agreement with Stott that the word fellowship is an overworked and undervalued term. In this chapter, Stott wastes no time to recover the fuller meaning of the word fellowship with biblical, historical and practical arguments. He ends with some words of wisdom for us to consider “We want fellowship groups to be true to their name, expressing the fullness of koinonia. So we keep asking ourselves: are we growing in Christian maturity together? Are we serving the Lord, the church or the world together? Are we increasing in love and care for one another? Then, we may say with confidence and joy that we had good fellowship together”

Devoting a chapter to the topic of Giving, Stott affirms that Christian giving is an extremely important topic on the contemporary church’s agenda. This is why we need to think biblically about Christian giving. In expounding the ten principles of giving – mainly from 2 Corinthians 8 & 9, Stott reminds afresh that we are to give ‘what he has decided in his heart to give’, neither reluctantly, nor under compulsion, but rather ungrudgingly, because ‘God loves a cheerful giver’. Stott goes on to say that ‘There is a sense here of a settled conviction about how much to give; of a decision reached after careful consideration, and always with joy and cheerfulness.’ and ‘It is rarely necessary to give on the spur of the moment. How much better to take time and seek that settled conviction.’ giving what he has decided on his heart. Also noteworthy is the point on page 134 that Christian giving can express our theology.

Of particular interests to us Anglicans would be one of the 3 historical appendices entitled, ‘Why I am still a member of the Church of England’. Here Stott sketches 4 distinctive features of the Church of England which also constitute four reasons why he belongs to it. The features are: a historical church, a confessional church, a national church, and a liturgical church. But Stott is quick to admit that many evangelicals feel uncomfortable in the Church of England. And that his description of the Anglican Church is more of an ideal than a reality for many parishes. On this, he weighs 2 options - separation in order to maintain doctrinal purity or conformity to maintain unity. Showing the flaws of both options, he then offers a 3rd option – comprehension, the pursuit of unity and truth simultaneously. Even with the 3rd option, Stott doesn’t shy from acknowledging and listing examples of circumstances where believers might feel obliged to leave. He nevertheless concludes this section with these words ‘until that day comes, I for one intend to stay in and fight on. So I do believe in the Church of England, in the rightness of belonging to it and of maintaining a faithful evangelical witness within it and to it. For I believe in the power of God’s Word and Spirit to reform and renew the Church. I also believe in the patience of God. Max Warren wrote that ‘the history of the Church is the story of the patience of God’


Monday, November 03, 2008

Public Forum on Biomedical Ethical Issues in the Contemporary Malaysian Church

in conjunction with the above November Institute
Malaysia Bible Seminary (MBS) and City Discipleship Presbyterian Church (CDPC)

invites you to a

Public Forum on Biomedical Ethical Issues in the Contemporary Malaysian Church

Time: 8.00pm-10.30pm

Date: Thursday 20th November, 2008

Place: City Discipleship Presbyterian Church (CDPC)
W-10-2, Subang Square Business Centre,
Jalan SS15/4G
Subang Jaya 47500

Speakers and Panelists:
Dr Alex Tang (doctor)
Rev Wong Fong Yang (pastor)
Rev Dr Eddy Ho (theologian)
Mr Lee Swee Seng (lawyer)

(03) 5621 2844 (CDPC)
(03) 3342 7482 (MBS)

If you are in the Klang valley, do come and join us for this public forum. I look forward to meeting you

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Breaking News for Christmas!

This is from Bob Teoh, A Christian journalist in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Dear friends

Christmas Story

This Christmas, I am coming out with a 32-page booklet with a selection of six Christmas stories which I have written since 2000 and published in local newspapers. There is also one story taken strictly from the Bible with full chapter and verse reference and a url link for those who may want to check out for themselves.

These stories are very reader-friendly and are therefore suitable for giving to your neighbours and colleagues. In fact, some of them have even quotes from the Qur'an regarding the birth of Jesus. Though not evangelsitic tracts, these are contextualised Christmas stories to give non-Christians an idea of what Christmas is all about.

They are priced at RM3.00 each, or less than the price of a Christmas card, for the purpose for giving them away. Publication of this booklet is generously and professionally undertaken by

You can pre-order them at packets of ten (10) each for RM30.00 and it will be delivered or posted to you. You can just bank in the payment through the ATM. Please let me know your order and I will provide you my Maybank account number. Contact me at

They will also be available at the Burning Bush Bookshop at DUMC and other designated bookshops.

Regards and have a blessed Christmas,

Bob Teoh

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Preaching Christ From Old Testament

In conjunction with Reformation Sunday, Dr Robert Vannoy preached on Sanctification by faith from Romans 6 in City Discipleship Presbyterian church. He is now the Emeritus Professor in the Allan A. MacRae Chair of Biblical Studies in Biblical Theological Seminary. Dr Vannoy has served as the editor, contributor, and translation consultant for many journals, books, bible dictionaries and commentaries. He was a translation consultant for the NIV bible and the International Standard Version bible and for 1, 2 Samuel in the New Living Translation. It was a pleasure for me to meet him and his wife, fetching them to church and engaging him in conversation on how to preach Christ from the Old testament. Check out his sermon here and also a wealth of Old Testament resources here

Engaging The New Media

Dr. Tim Dearborn will be in Malaysia for a Worldvision event.

His Expertise: Christianity, Development, Humanitarian Issues

He serves as Dean of the Chapel and Associate Professor of Theology at Seattle Pacific University, where he is responsible for all campus ministry and urban and global volunteer programs. His interests include church life, leadership, and mission. He has served and taught in India, Scotland, and France; consulted with missionaries in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nepal, and Tanzania; and visited ministries in numerous countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. He has published four books on spirituality and mission, most recently From Mission Tourists to Global Citizens: A Preparation Workbook for Short-term Mission Teams.
Dr. Dearborn also teaches on the faculties of Fuller Theological Seminary and Regent College, and before coming to Seattle Pacific, served as Chief of Staff for World Vision (U.S.). He was the founder of the Seattle Association for Theological Education; taught for seven years at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and the French Evangelical Seminary in Vaux-sur-Seine, France; and served as pastor of mission for eight years at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle.

Tim holds a B.A. from Whitman College, an M.T.S. from Harvard University Divinity School, a Th.M. from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen. He is married to Kerry Kappel Dearborn, who also serves as a professor of theology at Seattle Pacific University, as well as for Regent College and Fuller Theological Seminary. They have three daughters.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Serving The Community

Ram and Hannah will be speaking on 'Serving The Community" at CDPC this coming Sunday 26 October at 10.00 am. Venue is our church and map available here.

Do invite your friends who will be interested to hear what motivates this young couple to be involved in social action.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Christian Perspectives on Medical Ethics

November Institute 2008
Malaysia Bible Seminary

MEDICAL ETHICS: Biomedical Ethical Issues in the Contemporary Malaysian Church

November Institute
November Institute is a week-long study conference held annually one week after the MBS graduation. This conference intends to explore and engage contemporary issues that are affecting the Church and Society at large. Pastors, church workers, missionaries and laity from all denominations are invited to enrol for the conference wither for credit or audit.

Date: November 17-20, 2008 (Mon-Thur)
Venue: Malaysia Bible Seminari,
1-11, Jalan Dendang 1, Kaw.16
Berkeley Town Centre
41300 Klang, Selangor
Tel: 03-33427482
Fax: 03-33412094
Speaker: Dr Alex Tang

Speaker’s Profile:

Dr Alex Tang is a senior consultant paediatrician in Johor Specialist Hospital and teaches part-time in the Monash Medical School of Malaysia in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. He received his medical training in Malaysia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, and his theological training in Malaysia, Singapore and the United States. Alex has taught and written about biomedical ethics. He has contributed to numerous journals and his latest two books are; A Good Day to Die: A Christian Perspective on Mercy-Killing and Live and Let Live: A Christian Perspective of Biotechnology.


Advances in medical treatment modalities, biotechnological innovations, and genetic-molecular manipulations have brought about a set of unique challenges to issues not faced by the Church before. We live in a time of tremendous rapid changes, and incredible complexity. How then, should we as a Church responds to these issues and how can we help those who are struggling to live as Christian in these difficult times?

In this seminar, we shall use a pastoral-theological approach to examine, reflect and develop responses to these difficult moral and ethical issues – test tube and designer babies, facts and fallacies of stem cell therapies, cloning, reproductive issues, abortion, mercy-killing, allocation of scarce healthcare resources, living will, gene therapy, prenatal diagnosis, aesthetic surgery, transexuality - facing the contemporary Malaysian Church. This seminar is relevant to pastors, theologians, church leaders, counsellors, seminarians, doctors, and all Christians who are committed to living ethically in these changing times.

more information and registration form