Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Joshua 6: Siege Of Jericho, Rescue of Rahab

Joshua 6 - Siege of Jericho, Rescue of Rahab

The conquest of Canaan took place within the larger inter-textual setting of God’s covenantal commitment to bless Abraham and through his descendants, make him a blessing to all nations on earth. The redemptive purpose of God would weave through the nation of Israel and its land to ultimately embrace all nations and the whole renewed creation. Having been liberated from Egyptian oppression, the theocratic state of Israel would now be established in the land once promised to the patriarch. Therefore, the book of Joshua stood as a fulfillment of covenantal promise to Abraham and Moses regarding the possession of the land (Genesis 12:7; Deuteronomy 1:6-8). It also set the stage for the rest of redemptive history including the establishment of Davidic dynasty, Babylonian exile, eventual restoration and the coming of the Messiah. Read on for the rest of exegetical paper and sermon

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Perspective on Paul

Credo500 has released my work in progress paper on the New Perspective On Paul, interacting with Stendahl, Sanders and Wright here with a review from Ps Lu Tsun En. Do check it out and leave your comments and feedback

Evaluate the “New Perspective” on Paul’s exposition of the doctrine of justification by faith alone

Introduction

Since the groundbreaking work in E. P. Sanders’ monograph, “Paul and Palestinian Judaism”, a paradigm shift had taken place within New Testament scholarship with regards to the center of Pauline theology. Although by no means a monolithic movement, the New Perspective represents a fundamental rethinking of what the gospel really means. The present paper sought to analyze and evaluate New Perspective views on the doctrine of justification sola fide primarily through interaction with major proponents.

Some common characteristics among New Perspective interpreters are the serious attempt to place Paul within his socio-religious framework in first century Palestine, offering a more positive evaluation of Judaism and response to Schweitzer’s agenda-setting question about the center of his theology as understood from the epistles. [1] In this discussion, we would proceed by interacting with Stendahl on hermeneutical presuppositions, Sanders on Jewish socio-religious context and finally, N.T. Wright on exegesis of key passages related to justification sola fide . [2]

Before tracing the historical development of New Perspective, we must say a word about the classical perspective on Paul. Traditionally, Reformed interpreters like Luther and Calvin have painted a portrait of Paul as self-righteous Pharisee who strived to earn his salvation by observing the law and amass good works with his own effort. This form of legalism was characteristic of the Judaism of his day. On that fateful road to Damascus, Paul had a conversion encounter with the resurrected Christ. As expounded most fully in Romans, Paul came to understand that one’s legal or forensic standing before God was not based on works of the law, but justified freely through faith alone. The Law-Gospel antithesis described the function of the Law as a means to terrify the sinner with God’s justice so as to seek refuge in the imputed righteousness of Christ sola gratia (Luther) or primarily a revelation of the perfect, divine will (Calvin) . [3] Previously regarded as the orthodox article of faith on which the Church either stands or falls, the doctrine of justification sola fide was the material cause of the Reformation movement.

The Quest for the Historical Paul

However, this consensus among Paul’s interpreters has been steadily eroded over the past thirty years. Perhaps the herald of the new interpretive paradigm was Swedish Lutheran theologian, Krister Stendahl. In his essay, "The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West”, Stendahl argued that since Augustine’s Confessions, Christians have misunderstood Paul through the lens of the inward-looking, individualistic mindset of Western culture . [4] Thus, the apostle’s original concerns about the communal relationships between Jews and Gentiles were obscured. The result is nothing short of an expose of the conceptual baggage carried by the Reformers as they approach the text. In relation to justification sola fide, Tom Wright also pointed out that the church’s understanding of justification was forged in the battlefields of Pelagius against Augustine in the fifth century and Erasmus against Luther in the sixteenth century . [5] If we can’t approach the Pauline corpus with an introspective, guilt-ridden conscience in search for a gracious God, how then shall we read?

After Stendahl heralded the impending paradigm by exposing the presuppositions of Reformation paradigm, the floodgates were opened with the publication of Sanders’ influential “Paul and Palestinian Judaism.” In the preface, Sanders spoke of his attempt to “compare Judaism, understood on its own terms, with Paul, understood on his own terms.” Based on his research on ancient literature on Palestinian Judaism (as in non-Diaspora), Sanders argued that the caricature of Judaism as a legalistic religion was a historically false “straw man”. He proposed that within the pattern of religion found in Second Temple Judaism dubbed covenantal nomism, “obedience maintains one’s position in the covenant, but it does not earn God’s grace as such .” [6] Obedience is required to “stay in” God’s covenant but “getting in” was always based on God’s electing grace. In His mercy, God has chosen Israel and given them the law. Transgression is punished. However, the law has provided means of atonement for the restoration of covenant relationship. Salvation is therefore not earned but solely by grace alone. While qualifying the drawbacks of using the term “soteriology ,” [7] Sanders wrote that:

"When a man is concerned to be ‘in’ rather than ‘out’, we may consider him to have a ‘soteriological’ concern, even though he may have no view concerning an afterlife at all… covenantal nomism is the view that one's place in God's plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man, his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression ." [8]

Granted that Paul the Pharisee had reoriented himself to a new Christian community whom he had previously persecuted, there was essentially no change in his “pattern of religion”. There was no radical, salvific discontinuity between the post-Damascus, Pauline doctrines of justification by faith and the tradition of his fathers. If Sander’s historical analysis is correct, how then shall we understand the polemics of Paul that “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law”? If Paul was interacting with covenantal nomism, a religion of grace, what do we make of his doctrine of justification by faith?

Here, Sanders argued that Paul began with a prior conviction that Jesus is the universal Savior of all, and any reference to human plight is the necessary, rhetorical outworking from that dogmatic conviction . [9] He didn’t start with any plight of humanity or a pre-conversion dissatisfaction with the Law. [10] The only problem Paul had with Judaism was: It is not Christianity. If Sanders’ solution does not appear simplistic, many New Perspective scholars were nonetheless dissatisfied with his reinterpretation of Pauline theology despite standing upon the revolutionary foundation which he laid.

Eschewing a Lutheran Law-Gospel antithesis yet discontented with Sanders’ proposal, N.T. Wright offered a more promising alternative for understanding the doctrine of justification by faith. He argued that nationalistic “boundary markers” like circumcision, Sabbath and food laws marked out the pious Jews as evidence of being God’s covenant-keepers, in anticipation of the Yahweh’s eschatological vindication of their status as true Israel . [11] Since Paul never abandoned Judaism, his fiery polemics against the works of the law should be understood within his new vocation as the apostle to the Gentiles. James D.G. Dunn, another New Perspective scholar argued rather similarly that the Damascus Christophany was primarily Paul’s calling to the Gentile mission while remaining within covenantal nomism . [12] The apostolic herald of the Christ was on a crusade to remove such culture-specific badges that separated Jews and Gentile Christians as a covenant community. We shall look more closely how Wright reformulate the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith.

To begin with, Wright argued that God’s righteousness should be understood as His covenant faithfulness to His promises to Israel, instead of the distributive justice of God . [13] Thus Luther’s notion of iustitia Dei is ruled out as a Latin irrelevance. Wright framed God’s righteousness as “that aspect of God’s character because of which He saves Israel despite Israel’s perversity and lostness… thus cognate with His trustworthiness on the one hand, and Israel’s salvation on the other. [14] Carried over to a forensic law court setting, Israel comes before the divine Judge pleading her case against her pagan oppressors. God is righteous when He is faithful to His covenant to vindicate Israel’s case as promised. Israel is righteous or justified “as a result of the decision of the court” in an eschatological fulfillment . [15]

Although Wright stresses the forensic dimension of justification, it was not about how someone might enter God’s covenant community but of “how you can tell who belongs to that community” before end-time Judgment. Justification was “God’s eschatological definition, both future and present, of who was, in fact, a member of His people… It wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology, not so much about salvation as about the church. ” [16] The issue of salvation at the heart of Pauline theology centers on Jesus and the proclamation of His kingship. Justification is not about getting in or staying in a covenant relationship with God, but the boundary markers that indicate to us in the present who would be part of the vindicated Israel in the future.

The Case for Paul, the Apostle of Faith

If the New Perspective on Paul is right, then the article of faith upon which the Church stands or falls is shaken to the core. While some evangelicals eagerly jump on the bandwagon, other theologians offer knee-jerk response against it by pointing out its radical departure from historic creeds. Ultimately we need to evaluate these views in the following order – presupposition analysis, socio-historical context and exegesis.

To begin with, we could examine Stendahl’s thesis that Paul’s “robust conscience” necessarily precludes an acute, introspective awareness of sin as a peculiarly Western idea . [17] For example, Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18 seems to suggest that a contrite spirit is the requirement for being “justified”. David, the Eastern Psalmist, may have a robust conscience (Psalm 17: 1 – 5) but he is also known for struggling with inward guilt in Psalm 51. These two themes seem to interplay in tension throughout the Old Testament until they find a resolution and harmony at the event of Jesus’ crucifixion. Philippians 3:6 should not be taken as proof-text that Paul considered himself to have kept the law perfectly. Colin Kruse commented, “This verse is found in a context in which Paul deals with externals, the evidences of his Jewish pedigree and piety… It is better then to understand Philippians 3:6 in terms of misplaced pride in which the apostle indulged in pre-Christian days. It does not reflect his views about the possibility of perfect obedience. ” [18]

In another significant contribution, Frank Thielman proposed that ancient Jewish literature, canonical or otherwise, contained a common pattern in which Israel’s inability to keep the law (the plight) will be cured in the eschatological future where God will free Israel to obey His commands (the solution) . [19] Instead of being plagued by personal sins, Paul was burdened by Israel’s corporate failures, which resulted in Gentile oppression. Thielman also argued that there were Jews who believed in a synergistic relation between human effort and divine grace as the means of eschatological vindication. Against such beliefs, the post-Damascus Paul wrestled valiantly in Philippians 3: 2-11 and Colossians 2:13-14. Paul’s movement “from plight to solution” could then make a lot of sense within his own Jewish milieu, not as an imposition of Western categories.

We could also note that New Perspective is itself not based on ‘presuppositionless’ exegesis. The new Paul has emerged from the terrible aftermath of Auschwitz. The Nazis’ propaganda in support of the Holocaust was shockingly dressed in Christian garb. Isn’t it tempting to construct a Paul who could easily evade charges of anti-Semitism by opposing mere boundary markers yet essentially in agreement with Judaism? Following Schweitzer’s critique of the historical Jesus project, the quest for Paul is also in danger of becoming a self-reflection of the spirit of the age . [20] Our prevailing postmodern mood in general is intolerant of religious exclusivism. In the face of imposing challenge from secularism and naturalism, N.T. Wright’s proposal to undercut the central Catholic-Protestant debate on justification, as a peripheral issue of ecclesiology, is attractive to sensitive believers who long for unity in Christ’s Body. However, if justification by faith is essential to Paul’s apostolic gospel as asserted by the Reformers, compromise would be too high a price to pay for such perceived tactical advantage . [21] As responsible exegetes, we need to identify the lens with which we ourselves interpret the data otherwise the meaning of the text is skewed. While exegesis cannot be done without a perspective provided by one’s presupposition and reading community, the text can address and even change our lens if necessary . [22]

At this point, it would be well for us to consider the socio-religious background of Paul in connection with first-century Palestinian Judaism. More recently, scholarly research into the soteriological pattern found in diverse Jewish literature from apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo, the Dead Sea Scrolls and other rabbinical traditions had cast doubt on whether “covenantal nomism” was an adequate description of Palestinian Judaism. In volume 1 of “Justification and Variegated Nomism”, the contributors’ findings seemed to suggest that Second Temple Judaism was much more complex and lack uniformity. [23] In a review, Craig Blomberg listed some texts especially 2 Enoch, 4 Ezra, Testament of Abraham and 2 Baruch that seem to favor a more legalistic theology. The data gathered by Sanders’ study can also be interpreted in support for a legalistic Judaism. For instance, the sheer number and minute detail of laws in Mishnah, that the covenant is not even mentioned in Tannaitic writings and the rabbinic explanation of God’s election on the basis of Israel’s choice to accept the covenant or on the merits of their forefathers . [24] Friedrich Avemarie’s investigation showed that rabbinic Judaism tends to hold the emphasis of “electing grace” and “works” in tension without any neat, unified system as what Sanders proposed . [25] In light of this correction, we cannot readily dismiss Paul’s admission that his pre-conversion status before God was not only based on electing grace, but also his zealousness for the law, circumcision, ancestry and legalistic righteousness (Galatians 1:14, Philippians 3:5-6).

In reality both Romanism and past/present Judaism could be more accurately categorized as “semi-Pelagian”, instead of what Wright described as “proto-Pelagian”. Both patterns of religion teach that man and God are “co-operators in salvation, that grace could complement and supplement human nature ”. [26] The issue ever hinges on the little word “sola” in sola fide and sola gratia. Hence, a more variegated construction of first century Judaism allows Paul’s polemics against the law to be understood in soteriological terms.

Sifting the Epistles of the Apostle

Before discussing key passages in Paul’s epistles which would have decisive bearing in the debate, we are confronted with what Kasemann called the central concept of Pauline theology - ‘the righteousness of God’ (dikaiosune theou). According to Old Testament scholars like Gerhard von Rad, it meant God’s ‘covenantal faithfulness’ to fulfill His saving promises to Israel. It seems like a necessary correction to the view of righteousness understood as conformity to an ethical norm . [27] However, the grid of ‘covenantal faithfulness’, on which the weight of Wright’s thesis rests, is too narrow to support the datum in Old Testament where God’s righteousness is also demonstrated specifically in fulfilling His punitive, non-saving promises to Israel . [28] Therefore, Mark Siefrid’s caution that the words ‘righteousness’ and ‘covenant’ are rarely used in the same context in Old Testament should be considered more seriously. [29]

John Piper offered a more plausible alternative after surveying Old Testament texts like Psalm 143 and Daniel 9: “While God’s allegiance to the covenant is a real manifestation of God’s righteousness, nevertheless the most fundamental characteristic of God’s righteousness is His allegiance to His own name… His commitment to Israel is penultimate. His commitment to maintaining the glory and honor of His name is ultimate. ” [30] It is because God’s glory should be revealed before a watching world that both His punitive justice and saving faithfulness are manifested. In Isaiah’s prediction of God’s eschatological saving acts closely related to His righteousness, the ground for Israel’s salvation is God’s passion for His own glory:

“For the sake of my name I delay my wrath and for my praise I restrain it for you, in order not to cut you off… For my own sake, for my own sake I will act, for how can (my name) be profaned? And my glory I will not give to another”. (Isaiah 48:9-11)

If the righteousness of God refers to neither distributive justice nor covenantal faithfulness but to God’s commitment to the glory of His name, how shall we exegete ? [31]

Commenting on the epistle to Galatia, Wright pointed out that the issue in Antioch was not how one may be saved, but who one is allowed to eat with? Can Gentile Christians share full table-fellowship or do they need to be marked out by circumcision as part of the covenant community? However, this proposal failed to account for Paul’s own assessment of the situation in Galatians 1:6-9. His indictment of his opponents (to the point of throwing eternal anathema) lies in their perversion of the gospel of Christ itself. The inconsistency of Jewish Christians separating themselves from Gentile believers is symptomatic of a more serious lapse in the nature of Paul’s gospel (Galatians 2:14). If the gospel is a royal announcement of Jesus as Lord, not justification by faith, why would Paul charge them of preaching another gospel that nullifies Christ’s death ? (Gal 2:21) [32]

A compelling case for viewing justification by faith as a ‘covenant-entry’ issue can be made by taking seriously the link between Abraham’s blessing and the promise of the Spirit (Galatians 3:14). Christ redeemed us that the blessing given to Abraham would be realized in that the nations would receive the promise of the Spirit by faith in Christ. Being declared as righteous through faith, apart from the law, (Gal 3:6) is the basis for receiving the Spirit and not least, covenant-entry into Abraham’s family (Gal 3:2, 6-7) . [33] Contra Wright, Paul’s discourse in Galatians does not merely indulge in peripheral bickering on how one is defined as a member of Abraham’s covenant community. Justification of the Gentiles by faith is nothing less than the ‘gospel’ announced in advance to Abraham so that the nations would now enter into his covenant blessings.

In response to scholars who envision justification sola fide as later ecclesiological issue, Seyoon Kim pointed out that Paul himself interpreted the Christophany as the pleasure of God “to reveal his Son in me” (the gospel) “so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles” (the commission) . [34] If Paul developed justification by faith much later during the Antioch controversies about the place of Gentiles, as Dunn suggests , [35] then the polemical context in Galatians 1 and 2 would make little sense. Here, Paul defended his law-free gospel, apostleship and the Gentile mission as having an inseparable and divine origin in the Christophany. If he came to realize justification sola fide apart from the law only much later, the argument would inevitably fall apart . [36] Luke’s account would concur that the commission Paul received from Christ to both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 1:16) is primarily salvific - “to open their eyes from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God so that they may receive forgiveness of sins ” (Acts 22:16-18). [37]

Regarding the crucial passage of Romans 3:21-31, Wright argued that God had demonstrated His covenant faithfulness when He dealt with sin in the cross and resurrection so that covenant membership is now available to both Jews and Gentiles. The boasting of Romans 3:27 is the racial boast of the Jew to Gentiles, not that of the successful moralist to God. Otherwise, it does not logically follow that Paul should retort, “Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is He not of Gentiles also? ” [38] In the covenantal context, justification means that believers are declared or defined, in the present, to be true covenant members on the basis of faith, not by circumcision or natural descent.

However, the force of Wright’s argument is blunted significantly if we take note of Paul’s ad absurdum strategy in Romans 3:29. His opponents did not historically hold the view that Yahweh is a provincial deity of the Jews only. Rather, Paul is carrying his opponents’ position to its undesirable logical conclusions. Simon Gathercole pointed out that if obedience to the Torah were God’s appointed means to justification, then He would have no concern for Gentiles who did not have access to Torah . [39] Therefore it is more likely that the boasting refers to the confidence that God would vindicate Israel before the Gentiles by virtue of Israel’s election and obedience to Torah . [40] It does not necessarily imply self-righteousness, only that Paul’s contemporaries wrongly assumed that they had fulfilled the requirements of Torah. Theirs was a failure not merely to include Gentiles in the covenant, but also a failure to know God in a salvific sense, which Paul agonized over in Romans 9. There is no distinction between those who have Torah and those who don’t because all have sinned and failed to reflect the glory of God (Romans 3:23). In Romans 1, Paul indicted mankind as having knowledge of God but failed to glorify Him as God and exchanged His glory for images of the created. The centrality of God’s glory in Christ is carried over in Romans 3:21 – 31 where God’s righteousness required vindication or demonstration because of the proposal that God had left sins committed beforehand unpunished and justified sinners freely (verse 26) . [41] In contrast, to avoid playing off justice with mercy, Wright’s interpretation exhibited no such tension evident in the text. Rather, justification of God’s community is only expected of His covenantal faithfulness. The passing over of sins committed by those who dishonored God’s glory threw a long shadow over God’s “righteousness” precisely because God’s commitment to the honor of His name is at stake. Therefore the cross as a sacrifice of atonement or propitiation for sins (verse 25) was utterly crucial in order to demonstrate that God’s honor was upheld even as He justified those who believe.


With a covenantal grid, Wright also interpreted Philippians 3:2-11 as Paul’s refusal to grasp racial covenant membership, though possessing it according to the flesh, by virtue of his birth, marked out by circumcision and being a zealous Pharisee. “Faith is the badge of covenant membership, not something someone performs as a kind of initiation test .” [42] However, it is improper to suppose that ‘gaining Christ’ is not an initiatory phase in covenant membership. To “gain Christ” and be “found in Him” (verse 9) is to assume the same positional status as “having righteousness that comes from God” through faith in Christ. The latter is not a mere marker of which the former is reality. That which Paul rejected as “loss” and “refuse” was hardly membership indicators, but the confidence in “the works of the law as the basis for man’s righteousness before God” . [43] His apparent “profit” in the past (verse 7) was antithetical “gaining Christ”. To be sure, the attempt to gain righteousness of our own works and merits was not antithetical to inclusive community boundary, but the salvific, all-surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. Paul gave a similar assessment in Romans 9:31, “But Israel, although following after the law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why not? Because it did not start from faith, but from supposed works.” While Wright is correct to point out that the text is not explicit about a “righteousness of God,” we should not see a false dichotomy here as the “righteousness from God” (alien righteousness which Paul received, not his own) does not preclude that possibility . [44]

After a sampling of crucial Pauline texts on justification by faith, I find that while the Reformation view may require refinement and clarification in light of the New Perspective challenge, its key features emerge from exegesis, not eisegesis. Instead of being a mere boundary marker, Paul viewed justification by faith as the only means of salvation from the wrath of God: “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him” (Romans 5:9).


Conclusion

In summary, there are crucial insights to be gleaned from the New Perspective. Sanders put us all in his debt by refuting a simplistic portrait of Judaism and Dunn brought to our attention much-neglected sociological aspects of Pauline theology. N.T. Wright’s ongoing project on the centrality of the Kingship of Christ in the gospel poses a much needed correction to the popular concept of Christianity as an individualistic, otherworldly religious experience. I have come away breathless and challenged by the clarity and incisive insights with which Wright unpacked Paul’s proclamation as a rhetoric against pagan worldviews and political oppression.


However, if we are to understand the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith, we would do well to heed Westerholm’s call to return and read exegetical masters like Luther once again. The great ecumenical article of faith that once held together orthodox, pre-schism traditions in the East and West needs to be rediscovered, not abandoned, if genuine unity in the gospel is to be achieved . [45] I expect to see the Church’s historic understanding of justification by faith would be significantly refined, but vindicated, in the process of the ongoing debate for the glory of God and the good of His people. The practical pay-off should therefore be nothing less than a renewed zeal and urgency to a missionary enterprise that truly transcends racial and cultural boundaries.


Footnotes:

[1] For Schweitzer, only two views were credible contenders for the center of Pauline theology. He argued that “Christ-mysticism” understood in the context of apocalyptic Judaism is the center of which “justification by faith” is but a peripheral apologetic for the inclusion of Gentiles into the church.

[2] In keeping with sound hermeneutical principles, presupposition and socio-historical contextual analysis methodologically precedes exegesis of the text. I have chosen to interact with Stendahl and Sanders because of their ground-breaking contribution in the respective areas. As for Wright, his exegesis on justification seems most persuasive, refreshing and influential among New Perspective scholars I’ve read.

[3] F. Thielman, A Contextual Approach: Paul and the Law, (Illinois: InterVarsity, 1994) pages 14-27.

[4] The article was first published in English in Harvard Theological Review in 1963.

[5] N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the real founder of Christianity? (Oxford: Lion, 1997), page 113

[6] J. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion, (London: SCM Press, 1977), page 420

[7] For example, Sanders noted that Rabbinic Judaism is not primarily other-worldly. “What must I do to be saved?” is not a prominent query for them.

[8] J. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, page 75.

[9] Building on Sanders theory, Raisanen’s Paul and the Law went even further to argue that Paul had no consistent theology of the Law at all. For an evaluation, see J. Barclay, Paul and the law: Observations on some recent debates, Themelios, vol.12, September 1986, pages 9 -11

[10] F. Thielman, A Contextual Approach: Paul and the Law, pages 35 – 37.

[11] N.T. Wright, What Did Saint Paul really said: Was Paul of Tarsus the real founder of Christianity?, page 132

[12] J. D. G. Dunn, ‘A Light to the Gentiles’ or ‘The End of the Law?’ The Significance of the Damascus Road Christophany for Paul’ in the monograph Jesus, Paul and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1990), pages 98 – 99. Quoted in S. Kim, Paul and the New Perspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul’s Gospel, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), page 22

[13] See Isaiah 40 – 55, Daniel 9 and Psalm 143 for the biblical warrant.

[14] N.T. Wright, What Did Saint Paul really said: Was Paul of Tarsus the real founder of Christianity?, page 96

[15] Ibid., page 98

[16] Ibid., page 119

[17] S. Kim, The Origin of Paul’s Gospel, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), page 53. Kim cited the Thanksgiving Hymns of Qumran as suggesting the possibility for rigorous Jews to sometimes doubt their ability to keep the law perfectly.

[18] C. Kruse, Paul, the Law and Justification, (Leicester: Apollos, 1996), page 83.

[19] Frank Thielman, From Plight to Solution: A Jewish Framework for Understanding Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians and Romans (Leiden: Brill, 1989) page 45. Quote was from Kruse, op. cit., page 45.

[20] Kirster Stendahl, for example, is actively involved in ecumenical dialogue with Jewish scholars via the International Council of Christians and Jews. The perceived advantage of improving post-Holocaust Jewish-Christian relation may be done at the expense of silencing Paul’s exclusivistic gospel. Is it possible that in an ironic twist, the guilty conscience of post-Holocaust Europe has now been read into the text?

[21] Luther wrote, “Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised, even if heaven and earth… should be destroyed.” Quoted in Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Pub.,1998), page 62

[22] Grant Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, (Illinois: InterVarsity, 1991), page 412

[23] In Summary and Conclusions, Don Carson wrote that “Sanders is not wrong everywhere… he is wrong when he tries to establish his category is right everywhere”.

[24] T. Shreiner, The Law & Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993) pages 114 – 117.

[25] Mark A. Siefrid, The ‘New Perspective on Paul’ and Its Problems, essay drawn from Christ, Our Righteousness, published by Appolos, UK.

[26] P. F. M. Zahl, Mistakes of the New Perspective, Themelios Vol 27:1, page 7

[27] C. Hodge, Romans, (Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1989), page 95. Commenting on this term in Romans 3:25-26, Hodge wrote: ‘Justice is the attribute with which the remission, or passing by, of sins without punishment, seemed to be in conflict.’ But God’s righteousness can be displayed in showing mercy as shown in Psalm 143.

[28] David Hill cited Lamentations 1:18 and Isaiah 10:22 in support for his thesis that “within the action of divine righteousness, there is a place for deliverance and condemnation, a place for salvation and for punishment”. D. Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings: Studies in the Semantics of Soteriological Terms, (Cambridge 1997), page 90

[29] M. Siefrid, The ‘New Perspective on Paul’ and Its Problems, Themelios 25.2 (2000)

[30] J. Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical & Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), page 112. See also God’s Passion for His Glory (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1998).

[31] The implications of Piper’s thesis are more fully developed in Tom Shreiner’s “Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ.”

[32] N.T. Wright, What did Saint Paul really say?, page 126

[33] T. Shreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology. (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2001), page 208

[34] S. Kim, The Origin of Paul’s Gospel, page 57. The text was taken from Galatians 2:16.

[35] J. D. G. Dunn, “Paul and Justification by Faith” in The Road from Damascus edited by R. Longenecker, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), page 99 Quoted in Kim, Paul and the New Perspective, page 27

[36] S. Kim, The Origin of Paul’s Gospel, pages 58 – 60.

[37] S. Kim, Paul and the New Perspective, page 49. Kim also pointed out the “problematic implication of Dunn’s minimalistic view… it makes the gospel practically irrelevant to the Jews”. A Messiah who does not save Israel is a contradiction of terms! The notion that Jews have an equally valid system of salvation in Judaism, apart from Christ, is untenable. Genuine tolerance in Jewish-Christian relation should be upheld by the doctrine that man was created in the image of God, not by downplaying the central doctrine of justification sola fide.

[38] Wright, What did Saint Paul really say?, page 129

[39] S. Gathercole, Where Is Boasting? Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1 – 5. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), page 232

[40] Ibid, page 226. In support of his thesis, Gathercole cited Sirach 31:5, 10 as an example from the various Jewish sources surveyed.

[41] S. Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith: Paul and His Recent Interpreters, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), page 160. Westerholm’s critique here may also be applied to Wright: “Although Sanders and Raisanen both concede universal sinfulness in Romans 1-3, the tenet is dismissed to the periphery of Paul’s thought.”

[42] N.T. Wright, What did Saint Paul really say?, page 125

[43] H. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1975), page 138

[44] J. Piper, Counted As Righteous, (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2002), page 84

[45] T. Oden, The Justification Reader, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), pages 26 - 27

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Loving The Enemy

(Matthew 5:43-48) 43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Sermon Audio on "Loving The Enemy" can be downloaded here with group discussion questions.

Salam 1Malaysia! We are continuing a series of sermons based on the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus spells out what it is like living as the people of God’s Kingdom, what it means to be a community that follows after Jesus as their King. He is challenging the kind of empty religion that looks good on the outside but is corrupted on the inside. Many people think, “I’m morally okay since I’m not a serial killer or I don’t sleep with someone else’s wife. When I swear in God’s name, I don’t break my oath. I’m basically quite a good person lah.” But Jesus goes deeper than the outward, external action. He zooms in to our inner hearts, our hidden motives and secret intentions. “No, that’s not good enough. You have heard that it was said that… But I tell you this…”

You should not commit murder in your heart with hatred. It is a sin to commit adultery in your heart with lust. Your word is your bond. Tell the truth in what you say. Don’t need to swear at all.

Again we see how radical Jesus’ message was to his original audience and to us today. He is not abolishing the Old Testament Law by lowering the standard. Instead He is fulfilling the purpose of the Law by going to the root of the problem. Sin must be dealt with radically in our heart. And this is the “righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law”. It’s not just following the letter of the law, but also keeping the spirit of the law. It is obedience that comes from the inside out.

In the passage we read just now, Jesus does the same thing again. You see, the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself is not something new. It’s also found in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19:18, it says, “'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.” But as time went by, the people in Israel began to limit love only to their fellow Israelites. Who is my neighbor? Only my own people. My relatives. Those who share my race and religion. So I’d love them exclusively. The rest are not my neighbors so I can hate them. Some folks (like the Qumran community famous for the Dead Sea Scrolls) would go around saying, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy'. But they heard it wrong. The part on ‘hating your enemy’ was not there in the biblical text.

So Jesus sets the record straight: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” In that famous parable we call “The Good Samaritan,” an expert of the Law asked Jesus this very question: “Who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus told him this parable which most of us know by heart: “A man was robbed, stripped, beaten and left half dead. A priest happened to walk past, and when he saw the man, he quickly moved on. Then a Levite who works for the temple saw him but ignored his needs as well. Lastly, a Samaritan stopped and took pity on him. He took care of him and paid for his medical fees. Now who is a neighbor to that victim?”

In those days, the Jews did not associate with the Samaritans due to many racial, religious and political reasons. Hmm… If that sounds strangely familiar to us in Malaysia, it’s because we too have different ethnic and religious groups living side by side with each other but with precious little contact and understanding in between. By telling the parable, Jesus subversively expanded the definition of a ‘neighbor’ to go beyond friends and families and include even the Samaritans. A neighbor is anyone in need whom you can help.

So He broke down the walls of hate by including even outsiders as a neighbor to be loved as well. Instead of rejecting sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors, He ate with them in fellowship meals. This is how the Kingdom of God looks like. To those who think “I’m a loving person. I love my own people”, Jesus says “Your love is too narrow. It’s selective on who you want to love. Don’t pick and choose. Love your enemies also.”

But it’s so hard, almost impossible to love our enemies, right? Pray for those who persecute me? Are you serious? This is something that I struggle to learn as well.

On a personal level, there are people who purposely hurt us or anger us for no good reason. Some play office politics and give us an unfair deal. How can I love someone who offended me, betrayed me, insulted me and broke relationship with me? Do you know someone like that?

In certain societies, the decision to follow Jesus may mean losing your job, your loved ones and even your life. Persecution is the cost of discipleship. Although in Malaysia, it has not come to the point of martyrdom, we still experience milder forms of persecution like the destruction of church buildings, the ban on the word ‘Allah’ in our Bahasa literature, restrictions on the liberty of conscience for some Malaysians and so on. Sometimes persecution can come in the form of the insults, ridicule, false accusations and gossips.

So how should we respond when we experience things like that?

Do you remember that Star Wars movie called “Return of the Jedi”? I watched it as a kid and one of Soo Inn’s ecommentary uses it as a helpful analogy. In the movie, the hero Luke Skywalker tried to avoid fighting the bad guy Darth Vader, who was also his own father. But when Darth Vader threatened to turn Luke's sister to the Dark Side, Luke went crazy and chopped off Vader's mechanical right hand. Then the evil emperor, who was observing this duel, made a tempting offer: "Good! Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father's place at my side!" (Finish him off!)

And the evil emperor is right – there is a kind of power that comes with fear, anger and hate. To those who have a tidak-apa attitude when it comes to suffering or injustice in the world, they may never get angry at anything. And if we are too engrossed with the comforts of life to care much for the suffering around us, then probably we need to be more concerned about what God cares about and be more aware of what’s happening out there.

But for some of us who care deeply about social justice, poverty, human rights… it is often easy to get angry, depressed and furious at unjust things happening in our country especially when those responsible often don’t pay for what they have done. And it’s tempting to surrender ourselves to rage and hatred. At first, our righteous anger is directed against real injustice… That righteous anger gives us motivation and power to fight evil. But when we are angry, it can also quickly lead to unrighteous anger and careless decisions… Soon we draw the line between good and evil along the lines of us against them… of one race against another (we are the good guys, they are the bad guys) when in reality, the line of good and evil cuts across every human heart. When hatred and anger consumes us, we are drawn towards the Dark side.

At the climax of that Star Wars movie, young Luke Skywalker refuses to choose the dark side. He refused to deliver the final blow. Instead, he threw away his light saber and chose to suffer and die for being true to the Light. Yet it is his very "weakness" that inspires his father Darth Vader himself to love once again and to reject the dark side in his final moments. The Jedi knight saved the galaxy through his weakness.

When Jesus says: Love your enemies, He didn’t ask us to do anything that He himself is not prepared to do first. And He already did it on the cross when He forgave and prayed for those who crucified him saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Come to think of it, aren’t we all in fact sinners who have rebelled against God and we were once His enemies? Yet Christ died for us that we may be reconciled.

This does not mean that our Christian response to evil must be passive. In Romans 13, we know that the state is granted authority by God to bear the sword and punish the wicked. So Christians can and should use all legal means at our disposal to fight evil and corruption.

But we are not to repay evil with evil, but with good. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Jesus is calling us to let go of our bitterness, vengefulness and personal vendetta. The path of the kingdom is love (even to our enemies), prayer for those who persecute us and the willingness to suffer for Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who suffered so much in Nazi Germany during World War 2, said "This is the supreme command. Through the medium of prayer, we go to our enemy, we stand by his side, and we plead to God for him."

Still, this is not something easy to do. Where do we get the power to do the impossible? We cannot do it unless by the empowering grace of the Holy Spirit.
In the Bible passage today, I think we can find some powerful reasons or motivations for us to love our enemies. The first motivation is found in verse 45: “So that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

What does that mean? John Piper explains it this way (and I quote) “This does not mean we can earn our way into God's family by loving our enemies. Rather it means that when we love our enemies, we prove ourselves to be in God's family. If you love your enemies the way God loves his enemies, then you show that you ARE a child of God. You are seen to be a child of God… You can't earn the status of a child. You can be born into the family or you can be adopted into the family. You can't work your way into it. Jesus means that loving our enemies shows that God has already become our Father, and that the only reason we are able to love our enemies is because he loves us first...” End quote.

And how did we become part of God’s family in the first place? How did we get adopted as a child of the Father? It’s through forgiveness… By grace, God in Christ has forgiven us (His enemies) even though we don’t deserve it… When we look at the horror of our own sin and then look at the holiness of God, we see our utter hopelessness. But the good news is Christ has taken our punishment on the cross so that we can be reconciled with our Father and be adopted into His family. Our wrongs have been freely forgiven through faith in Christ.

Have we not experienced God’s forgiveness and grace? If we have been forgiven so abundantly by God, how can we not forgive others? If we have truly known God as our Father, surely this relationship ought to overflow in love for our enemies as well. How can we not forgive after having been forgiven so much?

The second reason or motivation to love our enemies is this: It’s because God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

In other words, we are called to imitate our Father in Heaven who makes no distinction between the just and the unjust when sending good gifts of His creation. His kindness is lavished on both moral and immoral people. He sends rain and harvest to the padi farmers in Kedah, the farmers in Kelantan, the pineapple farmers in Sarawak – it doesn’t matter if they voted for Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat, it doesn’t matter what they believe or don’t believe.

So we love our enemies because that is how God treats His enemies. He causes his planet to rotate for the evil and the good, and produces oxygen for the righteous and the unrighteous. John Calvin describes it as a divine kindness that is common to all. Some people call it ‘common grace’. But this grace is not saving grace. It does not mean that God will not punish the wicked and reward the righteous one day. Of course, He will ultimately do that.

And it’s important to keep this in mind. Because what makes it so hard to let go of our anger is the overwhelming sense that the person who offended us does not deserve to be forgiven. If the hurt is deep and great injustice was committed against us, there is a valid sense of moral outrage. We feel that if we forgive this person, we trivialize the seriousness of that wrong he has committed. This evil must not be forgotten or ignored. So how do we resolve this tension of unconditional love on one hand and the cry for justice on the other?

Part of the answer is found in God’s promise of final judgment. Because God alone is the perfect Judge, we are freed from the personal craving for revenge. The question is: “Do you trust God to set things right? Do you believe He sees the issues and the offender’s motives far better than what we can see? His justice is purer and wiser than ours. We can’t improve on His judgment. And He has promised there will be a day of reckoning… Will you trust Him as the perfect Judge?”

Consider Romans 12:17-21 “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

We don’t take justice into our own hands because the ultimate Punisher is God. Our motives are mixed at best. Our judgments are limited in perspective. But He sees all and His eyes are pure. So don’t take revenge, leave room for God to repay.

In fact, this is also the example of Christ Himself. 1 Peter 2:21-23 “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

So leave room for God’s wrath. Entrust yourself to God who judges fairly. Justice shall be served but in the meantime, we need to be set free from the craving for revenge. We do so by imitating God who shows His kindness to both the wicked and the righteous. We do so by trusting in God’s promise to deliver justice. Be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect. The word ‘perfect’ doesn’t mean we can be 100% without sin in this life. It actually means: Be “complete”, be “all embracing” in your love just as God is merciful and all-inclusive in His love.

The third motivation to love our enemies is this: If we love those who love us, how are we different from the tax collectors? And if we greet only our own brothers, do not even pagans do that?

Don Carson gives us some background on tax collectors: In those days, a Roman citizen can literally buy a territory in the Roman empire and he would have rights to collect taxes from that place. Then he can outsource the collection to the local “Ah Long” or ‘Mafia’ type of people. They in turn outsource to others to collect taxes from the rakyat. These tax collectors would have a quota to hit, and they can keep skim off the rest of the money for themselves. Corruption goes all the way up this multi-level tax ladder. As a result, tax collectors were despised as traitors of their own people.

But even tax collectors have friends. At least they can have lunch with other tax collectors. Despicable though they may be, they have their own ‘in’ group. Even the pagans (those who do not worship Yahweh) greet their own brothers, so how is the church any different if we only love and greet those who love us in return? It is when we love our enemies that people will see something peculiar in the church.

To be salt and light in the world, we must live as a radically different kind of people. If we only love people who are lovable and beautiful, how are we any different from everyone else?

Loving our enemies displays the distinctiveness of the Kingdom in a fallen world that has seen too much of violence, hatred and bloodshed. It’s a radical counter culture.

OK fine – But is this Christian ideal of loving your enemy practical or not? Does it really work in a fallen world like ours? Chairman Mao Zedong once said (The Little Red Book, 1964): “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” You want social change? Use force, violence and the will-to-power. So can this message of Jesus about loving our enemy really change the world?

I think it can. Let me encourage you with the real life story of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. He was a pastor and civil rights activist who struggled against racial segregation and discrimination. Do you know that in the 1950s there was a custom in the southern parts of America that African-Americans had to sit at the back of a bus? On the 1st of December 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks, an African-American woman was arrested by the police for refusing to stand and let a white bus rider take her seat. It would be the spark that lights up a revolution. Martin Luther King, a pastor in the city and other community leaders called a meeting and a big crowd came to the church. The decision was made to boycott the bus company in protest. For 381 days, they would walk or carpool to work instead of taking the bus. This is an example of civil disobedience.

In retaliation, his home was bombed by terrorists. His wife and their baby daughter escaped without injury. When he arrived home he found an angry crowd waiting to take revenge. But Dr. King told them to go home: "We must learn to meet hate with love".
Eventually in 1956 the Supreme Court declared that local laws for racial segregation on buses were illegal. The boycott was a success. As a symbol of reconciliation and victory, Dr. King and a white minister, Rev. Smiley, shared the front seat of a public bus together.

Throughout his career, he was jailed and beaten many times. In the end he was assasinated at the age of 39. Through it all, he did not retaliate with violence but with forgiveness. The legacy of his life transformed a whole nation without causing bloodshed and continued to inspire civil rights movements all over the world. This is not an idealistic pie in the sky … It can be done. It has been done.

Of course, his example is not perfect but I think we Malaysian Christians can learn a lot from his model of balancing the New Testament ideal of unconditional love with the prophetic justice of the Old Testament. It is not enough to just talk about love we need to also care deeply for justice. It is not enough to get angry over injustice we need to promote righteousness in a way that loves our enemies.

With this story in mind, listen to these famous words by Martin Luther King when he preached on the same Bible passage on loving our enemies. Listen for its prophetic relevance to how the church should live in Malaysia today.

He said: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.

The relevance of what I have said to the crisis in race relations should be readily apparent. There will be no permanent solution to the race problem until oppressed men develop the capacity to love their enemies. The darkness of racial injustice will be dispelled only by the light of forgiving love. For more than three centuries American Negroes have been battered by the iron rod of oppression, frustrated by day and bewildered by night by unbearable injustice and burdened with the ugly weight of discrimination. Forced to live with these shameful conditions, we are tempted to become bitter and to retaliate with a corresponding hate. But if this happens, the new order we seek will be little more than a duplicate of the old order. We must in strength and humility meet hate with love… Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way. (What is this other way?)

He goes on: While hating segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community.

To our most bitter opponents we say: "We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with spiritual force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory." End of Quote

This is the way of the cross. This is how we setup signposts of the Kingdom that points to a different way of being human. Not through hatred but through love for our enemies.

Bringing this closer to home, I wonder how can we apply this in our Malaysian context? Recently we hear of disturbing news of intolerance in our country like the famous cow-head incident. There was a protest against the proposed construction of a Hindu temple in Shah Alam where some irresponsible people stomped and spat at the head of a cow, a sacred animal for Hindus. It was a clearly provocative act, with threats of violence.

Or the recent case of two Muslim journalists who sneaked into a Catholic church as spies to take Holy Communion, then spit out the host (bread) and took photographs of it to be published some more. This is a sacrilegious act to Catholics who believe the host to be the real body of Christ. And the internet went on overdrive with angry condemnations.

For such a time as this, how should we as Christians respond?

I don’t have any easy answers and this may sound naive but just wondering (and I invite you to imagine with me. Maybe you can come up with more creative and better ways of doing it). I wonder: What happens if the Church or individual Christians issue a calm statement that what these people have done is wrong, and relevant authorities should investigate and charge if any law is broken. But at the same time, we also say, “We forgive you for what you have done. You may have been manipulated by people with vested interests. We would like to meet you personally, sit down over coffee and listen to what you have to say and why you behave like that. Maybe we can find a win-win solution”. I wonder how the society would react when we respond in love and respect when insulted and provoked like that? Would it make Malaysians sit up and take notice: “These Christians are really out of this world lah”?

For such a time as this, the world is watching. They are asking: “Which community has beliefs that make its members treat people in other communities with love and respect- to serve them and meet their needs? Which community's beliefs lead people to demonize and attack those who violate their boundaries?" (Keller) For such a time as this, the world is looking for answers.

When we encounter intolerance, fear and racial tension in our beloved country, may we also receive wisdom and courage from the Holy Spirit to find creative ways to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us… This is the way of the cross.

Will you be part of this culture of peace in a time of racial polarization? Will you follow Him even if it costs a great deal?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Business as Mission seminar

Date : 12 Sept 2009 SATURDAY
Time : 2.30 – 6.00 pm (followed by fellowship in the coffee shop next door)
Venue : Bandar Puchong Gospel Centre (refer map in the attachment)
Speaker : Mr. Yeoh Seng Eng, Executive Director of Care Channels International Ltd.(Singapore)

"Care Channels International Ltd is a non-profit organization that seeks to help the poor through a holistic approach. Helping the poor is more than a matter of hand-outs. The poor themselves have the potential to grow, to move out of their poverty if given opportunity and training. Ultimately, our aim is for them to become self-sufficient and independent."

Objectives of the seminar

To introduce BAM to Christians leaders, businessmen and professionals
To mobilize the talents in the business field for Great Commission
To share the experience of Care Channels in BAM ministry

Scope of talk

What is BAM? How is it different from tentmaking or traditional missions strategies?

Why is BAM such a special ministry opportunity for businessmen and professionals to fulfill the Great Commission? (e.g. they can utilize their special skills and experience to assist the poor locals, and missionaries in the field to earn a living, to assist the local churches to be financially independent etc.)
Care Channels’ work in China, Timor Leste, Indonesia, Pakistan and Philippines.
Specific examples of how the audience can participate right away. (Giving money is the obvious way. How about personal involvement? Any immediate projects?)

If you are interested to come, please book a seat with Jimmy, GCF (Graduates Christian Fellowship) staff worker at jimmylee_79@yahoo.com or call 016-4532275. Admission to this talk is absolutely free! However if you wish to give freewill offerings to defray the cost of putting this seminar together, you are most welcome to do so after the seminar. The seminar is limited to only 100 participants.

So please register asap to book your seat.
Note : this seminar is open to Christians only
Dave: Photo courtesy of this website

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Love Song Dedications


Ah Beng called up the radio to dedicate a love song to Ah Lian.

What song will he choose? That depends on whether he is a fan of...

Calvinism: "I knew I loved you before I met you" (Savage Garden)

Creationism: "Making Love Out of Nothing At All" (Air Supply)

Open theism: "I don't know much, but I know I love you" (Don't Know Much - Aaron Neville & Linda Ronstadt)

Wittgenstein: "It's only words... words are all I have to take your heart away" (Words - Boyzone)

Foundationalism: "Girl you have to show me why this is not our time, When all the evidence is saying that you're wrong" (Cliff Richards - Somethin' Is Goin' On)

Pelagius: "She went to heaven so I gotta be good, so I can see my baby when i leave this world" (Pearl Jam - Last Kiss)

Quaker: "I feel the earth move under my feet, I feel the skies tumbling down" (I Feel The Earth Move - Martika)

Reformed Epistemologist: (Live - "Heaven")
"I don't need no one to tell me about heaven
I look at my daughter, and I believe.
I don't need no proof when it comes to God and truth
I can see the sunset and I perceive"

NT Wright: ("Heaven is a place on earth" - Belinda Carlisle)

Dispensational Eschatology: REM - "It's The End of the World as we know it (and i feel fine)"


Feel free to add on...

Christ Centered Preaching


Please book in your calender the dates for Klang Valley Bible Conference 2009 and Expository Preaching Seminar 2009.

And please note that we're back at the Clubhouse of Tropicana Golf and Country Club.

This year, we are pleased to announce that we have expanded to Penang as well, but only for the Expository Preaching Seminar, details as below.

Our speaker this year is Dr Bryan Chappell, who is the President and Professor of Practical Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, USA.

Our publicity brochures and registration forms is still being prepared - they should be ready by August 2009. We will send you another email then :)

Please also join us in prayer that the events will run smoothly and many may be blessed by the teaching of GOD's Word. Thanks!
*************************************************

KLANG VALLEY BIBLE CONFERENCE (KVBC) 2009

Expositions from the book of Daniel
Date: 6 to 8 October 2008 (Tuesday to Thursday)
Time: 8:15 p.m. nightly
Venue: Clubhouse, Tropicana Golf & Country Club, Petaling Jaya
Speaker: Dr Bryan Chappell

Free Admission

We hope to see you there! For further information, please visit our website

Please note that Bryan Chappell will also be conducting the Expository Preaching Seminar 2009, details as follows:

EXPOSITORY PREACHING SEMINAR (EPS) 2009
Christ-centred Preaching - Proclaiming the Grace of all Scripture

KLANG VALLEY
Date: 7 and 8 October 2009 (Wednesday and Thursday)
Time: 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Venue: Clubhouse, Tropicana Golf & Country Club, Petaling Jaya
Speaker: Dr Bryan Chappell
Cost: RM 80 per person

PENANG
Date: 9 and 10 October 2008 (Friday and Saturday)
Time: 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (Friday, 9 Oct 2009) and 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Saturday, 10 Oct 2009)
Venue: Wesley Methodist Church, 136 Jalan Burmah, 10050 Penang
Speaker: Dr Bryan Chappell
Cost: RM 40 per person

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Arts and the Church

The Agora recently threw a discussion of the relationship between Arts and the Church - an uncomfortable one at best. The relationship, I mean, not the discussion.

There is a joke amongst musicians in the Christian Contemporary Music world: just how many JPM's (Jesus's Per Minute) does a song's lyric need before a Christian radio station will agree to play it on the air? The joke points not so subtly to a long-standing complaint from Christians involved in the arts, who often feel that local churches demand that 'Christian' art carry obvious evangelical overtones.

Of course, there are complaints that go the other way as well: many in the church fear that the inclusion of contemporary works of art, drama, music, etc. into corporate worship is a form of compromise with the world.

Both complaints have merit. And both complaints are based upon misunderstandings: often churches do not understand either the power or the limitations of art, and so church leaders can sometimes make demands of artists that end up destroying the art; often artists do not understand the nature of the Gospel itself, and so sometimes in their efforts to help Christians engage with culture they can end up compromising the church - and vice versa: often churches to not understand the nature of the Gospel, while artists can underestimate the power and limitations of art. Throw all that into the rojak, and what the Church often gets is sub-standard art preaching a sub-standard gospel. Which comes first, bad art or bad gospel? Sometimes it is hard to tell.

C.S. Lewis was a champion of the idea that there are Stories ('Myths') that transcend storytelling itself. From his perspective as a professor of medieval literature, even a very good poet or writer cannot elevate a two-dimensional story, or a collection of facts; by contrast, a fully realized, 'mythical' story can be told un-poetically or even in synopsis form, and will still seize the heart of the listener. From Lewis' perspective, the Gospel story is the greatest and most complete of all stories, of which other myths only partake in bits and pieces. Once the Church distills the great Story down to a collection of propositional - or pietistic - 'truths' (which may or may not bear any resemblance to reality), it is very difficult for even a very good Christian artist to resurrect the underlying story. But if the Church continues to tell the Gospel story, the propositional truths will remain evident, will become even more so! - and the hearts of those who listen will be captured by the beauty of Christ.

So what we find is a truly symbiotic relationship. Artists - Christians with a gift for storytelling - need the Church to preach the real Story to them, the Story which will elevate their art beyond the merely beautiful, or prophetic, through the mythical to the sublime. And the Church needs Christian artists to imagine and reimagine the great Story for each context and time, so as to elevate truth and theology beyond mere sermonizing to an art form that actually preaches 'the Gospel, in season and out of season' to everyone who will hear.