Friday, May 30, 2008

The Gospel in All Its Forms

Like God, the gospel is both one and more than that.
by Tim Keller

Tim KellerThe gospel has been described as a pool in which a toddler can wade and yet an elephant can swim. It is both simple enough to tell to a child and profound enough for the greatest minds to explore. Indeed, even angels never tire of looking into it (1 Peter 1:12). Humans are by no means angels, however, so rather than contemplating it, we argue about it.

A generation ago evangelicals agreed on "the simple gospel": (1) God made you and wants to have a relationship with you, (2) but your sin separates you from God. (3) Jesus took the punishment your sins deserved, (4) so if you repent from sins and trust in him for your salvation, you will be forgiven, justified, and accepted freely by grace, and indwelt with his Spirit until you die and go to heaven.

There are today at least two major criticisms of this simple formulation. Many say that it is too individualistic, that Christ's salvation is not so much to bring individual happiness as to bring peace, justice, and a new creation. A second criticism is that there is no one "simple gospel" because "everything is contextual" and the Bible itself contains many gospel presentations that exist in tension with each other.

No single gospel message?
Let's take the second criticism first. The belief that there is no single basic gospel outline in the Bible goes back at least to the Tubingen school of biblical scholarship, which insisted Paul's gospel of justification was sharply different from Jesus' gospel of the kingdom. In the 20th century, British professor C.H. Dodd countered that there was one consensus gospel message in the Bible. Then, in turn, James Dunn argued in Unity and Diversity in the New Testament (1977) that the gospel formulations in the Bible are so different that we can't come up with a single outline.

Now hundreds of websites of young Christian leaders complain that the older evangelical church spent too much time reading Romans rather than Jesus' declaration that "the kingdom of God is at hand." But to be true to first-century Christians' own understanding of the gospel, I believe we must side with Dodd over Dunn. Paul is emphatic that the gospel he presents is the same as the one preached by the Jerusalem apostles. "Whether it was I or they," Paul says, referring to Peter and the others, "so we preached and so you believed" (1 Cor. 15:10-11). This statement assumes a single body of gospel content.

One gospel, many forms
So yes, there must be one gospel, yet there are clearly different forms in which that one gospel can be expressed. This is the Bible's own way of speaking of the gospel, and we should stick with it. Paul is an example. After insisting there is only one gospel (Gal. 1:8), he then speaks of being entrusted with "the gospel of the uncircumcised" as opposed to the "gospel of the circumcised" (Gal. 2:7).


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gospel Translation Vision: Volunteers Welcome

It was not very long ago that Andre and I chatted over breakfast at a restaurant in Subang, outside CDPC. We share common concern about the crying need for theological literacy in the Asian region in a language that is close to their hearts, and the power of collaboration across the internet.

One of the critical success factors I felt was lacking in previous false starts is the buy-in from existing church structures - Who's gonna read these stuffs we translate if the leaders and believers themselves dunno about them? Or dun encourage their people to check it out?

With this video, I am glad and thankful to God that the vision is fast taking shape.. and has bloomed in ways we never imagined. (at least I didn't) And Andre and Andrew Mahr have done a great job getting the folks at Desiring God, Sovereign Grace and 9marks on board. Of course, getting the copyright to resources is overcoming a major hurdel, we still need volunteers from all over the world who catch the vision and willing to chip in.

If that person is you, I want you to lift up your hand. Nobody's watching. All eyes are closed... all heads bowed and the music gently playing. If you are the man or the woman, lift up that hand and type a mail to hedonese at gmail dot com

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Seeing is Believing

“What is it this time?” asked Abba Ah Beng as senior disciple Ah Kow dragged junior disciple Ah Lek into his meditation cell. “Why are you interrupting my meditation on the gospel of John?”

“I caught this thief stealing food from the kitchen,” shouted Ah Kow, “he must be punished. Greedy pig!”

“Ah Lek, what have you to say for yourself?” asked Abba Ah Beng, his serenity of biblical meditation shattered.

Silence. Ah Lek just looked at the ground.

“Young man, tell me the truth. Are you stealing food from the kitchen?”

Again silence.

“Go to your cell and stay there for three days! You will only have water but no food. You will confess and fast and pray for forgiveness” Abba Ah Beng ordered.

One week later, Ah Kow spotted Ah Lek sneaking out of the kitchen window with a bag of roast beef. “Gotcha,” Ah Kow thought to himself as he followed Ah Lek at a distance. “Where are you going? I’m gonna catch you with food in your mouth”

Ah Lek walked briskly to the village. It was a cold winter evening. Reaching the edge of the village, he looked fugitively around before ducking into a small hut. He was there for an hour before he came out. A pretty young girl came to the door and waved goodbye to him. Watching from behind a bush, Ah Kow’s jaw dropped to the ground.

“Is this true? Senior disciple said you are keeping a mistress in the village. Tell me the truth or I will expel you.” Abba Ah Beng’s face was turning a crimson red as he struggled to keep his temper. The other disciples cowered in the background.

Silence. Ah Lek continued to look at the ground.

“Go to your cell until I decide what to do with you! You are a disgrace to our community”

That night, Abba Ah Beng cannot find peace as he tried to meditate. His soul was in turmoil. He dressed and went to the house by the village. He knocked on the door. A pretty young girl opened the door. “Abba sir. I had wanted to come to see you but my father is very sick and I cannot leave his side. He is a strong man but he fell down last month . Now he cannot move his arms and legs. Your disciple is very kind to bring food for us. I have planned to come to thank you personally when my father is better.”

Abba Ah Beng looked into the shack through the door and saw a shrunken paralysed man lying on the bed. Compassion filled his heart and he felt a strong stirring of the Holy Spirit. Abba Ah Beng strode to the bed and commanded, “In the Name of Jesus be well!” The man sunken on the bed blinked as he felt strength returning to his limbs.

“Ah Lek, why didn’t you tell us you are helping this sick man and his daughter?” Abba Ah Beng said, facing all his disciples in the chapel the next morning.

“I..I didn’t think I should. Didn’t Jesus teach that in works of charity, do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing?” stammered Ah Lek.

“I do not think Jesus meant it so literally. It will be confusing if your right and left hand do not know what each is doing. He means we must not boast about our good deeds. At times you have to let others know or it may be misinterpreted. You could have been expelled.”

Turning to Ah Kow, Abba Ah Beng said, “And why are you so quick to judge your brother disciple? You see him stealing food and think he is a greedy pig. You see a girl and think he is having a mistress. In your mind, you have already judged him guilty before you give him a chance to prove his innocence. I wish you will have the love to judge your brother innocent unless proven otherwise.”

“Or better still don’t judge at all,” Abba Ah Beng turning to the rest of the disciples, “ Jesus said ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’ Next time, think carefully before you cast the first stone.”.

more Abba Ah Beng stories

A Study of Islam for Christians in Malaysia

I always have the conviction that Christians should know more about Islam, the religion of the majority of their neighbours in Malaysia.

Anglican Rev. Albert Sundararaj Walters, Vicar of the Parish of St. Peter, Kuala Lumpur has just written such a book. He starts with a general survey of Islam in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Then he narrows his focus to issues between Christians and Muslims in Malaysia and concludes with some bridge building strategies.

you can order his books by writing to him at

ISBN 978-983-43378-1-0 No. of pages: 428
Publisher: Council of Churches of Malaysia Year: 2007
Price: RM35.00 US$15 GBP£12 (postage & packaging extra)



1 Arabia before Islam: Geographical and Human Setting
2 Prophet Muhammad and the Early Muslim Community
3 The Expansion of Islam
4 Christians under Islamic Rule
5 The Quran and the Hadith
6 Doctrines of the Islamic Faith
7 The Five Pillars of Islam
8 Islamic Law and Sunni Schools of Fiqh
9 The Emergence of Sunni Theology
10 Sufism: Development, Thought and Practice
11 Islamic Personal and Communal Life
12 Status of Woman in Islam
13 Modern Islamic Movements

14 Islam in Southeast Asia
15 The Introduction and Spread of Islam in Malaysia
16 Malaysia: The Context
17 Islamic Resurgence and Islamisation in Malaysia
18 Christians Respond to Islamisation

19 Christian Attitudes to Islam
20 Muslim Perceptions of Christianity
21 Christians and Muslims in Malaysia
22 The Church in Malaysia: Issues and Challenges
23 Building Bridges: Celebrating Diversity

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Debut Sermon On Pentecost Sunday

Thank God for bringing me through a hectic weekend. Because Rev Wong was ministering in Mongolia and Peter Rowan unavailable, I was given the opportunity to give an exposition of James 5:13-20 on Pentecost Sunday/Global Day of Prayer. You may check it out at the CDPC website

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Amazing Grace: Reflections On The Life Of Wilberforce

I've watched the movie twice already, but still find it inspiring especially when watching together with about 80+ friends, brothers and sisters at Community Baptist Church. It was also the final wrap-up discussion of the Total Truth group. Look forward to the day a Malaysian movie maker do a commentary or movie on Tan Sri Tan Chee Koon :D

Some brief comments from my post-movie sharing. Social justice is a marathon, not a 10 second sprint or 100 metre dash. Wilberforce suffered 20 years of defeat, discouragement and even death threat for his struggle before slavery was finally abolished 3 days before his death. Winning an election in 2 weeks is just the beginning...

The life of Wilberforce reminds us the need for more full time Christians in the world (and more fulltime workers in the church) to make a difference where they are. When Wilberforce was 25 years old, he has a spiritual transformation so dramatic that he considered quitting politics to be a priest. As depicted in the movie, a wise mentor in the form of John Newton (ex slave trader and famous hymn writer of "Amazing Grace") counselled against a career change.

Thirdly social justice is a community project, not a solo effort. Burnout is a constant danger. The scene of Hannah, Clarkson, Equiano etc sharing a meal together ("We humbly suggest that you can do both (serving God and being a political activist)") shows how different people bring their unique skills, contributions (look for evidence, write books, look for loopholes in the legislation etc)

Although not a part of the movie, Wilberforce has a group of friends who meet up regularly for prayer and worship called the Clapham Sect. They share evangelical Christian faith, long term commitment to social cause and lifelong friendship. Together they worked hard for missions, translating the bible, improve working conditions for the poor in manufacturing industry, agricultural reform to supply affordable food, prevent animal cruelty (RSCPA), prison reform, improve child labor conditions, freedom of religion, education and oppose blood sport/duels etc.

You can't do all of that on your own, we need the power of community. Imagine if every cell group in our churches just choose ONE cause of mercy or justice and commit long term to it!

Finally, there's a scene in the movie where Wilberforce asked his affluent MP friends to "remember the Madagascar (a slave ship that reeks of the stench of death). Remember that God created man equal". The theological conviction behind his activism is that every human being regardless of race is created in God's image and therefore has inherent dignity and worth. Especially relevant in Msia where race relations have been so politicised, and the church needs to work for racial reconciliation.