Friday, November 30, 2007

Ichtus Research Centre

The beginning of Ichthus Research Centre

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

The reason for the name Ichthus Research Centre

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

The basic direction and policies of the Research Centre

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Getting Back On Course

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

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

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

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

Neglecting Evangelism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stark Reality

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

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

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

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

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

The Language of Priority

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Combined Witness of the Whole Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Holy Worldly Church

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

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

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

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

Where in the World is the Church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where in the Church is the World?

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

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

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

Conclusion


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

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Valley of Vision

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

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


许多的哲学可能将真理分成两种:Propositional(表示真理是可以以各种命题一一阐述)
或者 Personal(表示真理是生活化位格化的)。虽然在约翰福音里,基督曾将宣告“我是真理!…”,但是这只是仅仅一次罢了。反之,在约翰福音里,有8次类似“若非你们相信。。。(某个命题)。。。,你不能得救”的句子。基督徒可以相信真理既是Propositional, 也是Personal的,不需要在两者之间做出选择。


圣经的清晰(Claritas Scriptura)

圣经是清晰易了的。这个教义的形成或多或少受到历史时代的影响。此教义强调的最强时,正是宗教改革更正的时期。当时的罗马天主教已经形成了解经必须通过天主教的训导权(Magisterium)。天主教此教义的形成,给予的原因是圣经过于难懂,如果让一般信徒自己解经,将会造成混乱和分歧。改革宗的先驱们极力反对,因为这样无疑把教会的权柄放在圣经之上。教会应该伏在圣经的权柄底下。

后现代主义带来冲击。硬派的后现代主义者强调一切,根本上来说,是未可知的。因为我们的有限,我们看待任何一样事情都是有观点的(Perspectivalist)。如此,我们没有人能够掌握确实的知识。基督徒可以承认自己的有限,也同意每个人都是有观点的局限。唯有神不受观点的限制,因为神是全知的。但是,基督徒不需要因此而就同意说我们未能掌握确实的知识。尤其是因为经文常常提到,神如此说是要我们知道之类的言语。因此,我们能够有确据地知道认识,是圣经已经假设的前提。

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