Monday, November 22, 2010

Discover Your Life Calling

One of the guiding principles of CDPC Puchong is Integration of Faith and Work (celebrate God's presence at home, work and rest. Equip followers of Christ in the marketplace). And we had great pleasure and honor to celebrate the dedication of Han Meng and Doris' legal office in Subang Jaya today. We walk through different parts of the office, praying for God's presence and wisdom and courage as they work out their calling in the marketplace. That coincides with this Sunday's sermon on "What On Earth Am I Here For: Discover Your Life Calling"

Discover Your Life Calling

Powerpoint slides downloadable below:
Discover Our Calling

Sunday, October 10, 2010

How Do We Know The Bible Is Authentic?

The latest edition of Kairos magazine: "Rediscovering the Whole Bible" is out! There is an article addressing how Christians can be confident that the Bible we read today accurately reflects the original writings and how to choose an English translation of the Bible:

Have you ever played the Telephone Game? It’s an all-time favorite ice breaker where the first player thinks up a phrase and whispers it to his immediate neighbor. And the message gets passed on quietly to the next person until it reaches the last player who in turn shouts it out loud.

In a ‘successful’ game, the final message would bear so little resemblance to the original statement that everyone breaks out in laughter.

Despite their best attempts, mistakes easily creep in somewhere down the line and distort the entire message.

If communication is such a precarious business, how can we know that the Bible we read today accurately reflect the original writings of the authors?

The original manuscripts were lost in the sands of time. All we have were copies of the original. But people make mistakes. Errors accumulate with each successive copy.

In a few hundred years, who could tell how much of the original message was left intact? Just like in the Telephone Game.

Compound that with the fact that the Bible was not written in English. Not even King James English.

Most of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew (a few passages were in Aramaic) while the entire New Testament was composed in Greek. That means that for most of us, the message of the Bible needs to be translated into a language we can read and understand.

But why are there so many different English versions of the Bible? How much confidence could we have in the accuracy of these translations?

Recovering Lost Lecture Notes

Unlike the telephone game, however, the biblical text was passed down to us in written form. Writings can be tested and less susceptible to distortions compared to oral whispers. In the ice breaker, communication is limited as “one-to-one” with everyone lined up in single file. But the Apostle Paul’s letters can be transmitted via multiple copies, which in turn duplicated into more numerous copies. Its transmission was non-linear.

The fact is that historians can confidently reconstruct what an ancient manuscript says from existing copies even though they may contain differences.

Here is an analogy of how it works.

During secondary school, I had an Economics teacher whose teaching style seems to have missed the invention of the photocopy machine. Mrs. Lee would write her lengthy lecture notes on the whiteboard while the students furiously copy them down before she could wipe them off.

Suppose that the entire class was hit by a flu bug on the crucial day that Mrs. Lee handed out her much-anticipated “spot questions and sample answers” before the exams. Only three students managed to attend the class and copy them down on their notepads. Pitying their sick friends, each of them lent their notes to ten of their classmates who in turn made more hand-written copies.

Since I had missed the class, the original copy on the whiteboard was lost forever. With exams only a week away, I anxiously tried to contact Mrs. Lee and the three students who made those copies. But for some mysterious reasons, they were also down with flu and quarantined for a week. In a state of panic, I rounded up all the remaining classmates and spread out thirty hand-written copies on the floor to recover the original wordings.

Immediately I can detect some differences. Ten copies have a misspelled word (“inflaxion” instead of “inflation”). Five copies had wrongly ordered phrases (“buy high, sell low” instead of “buy low, sell high”). And one copy contains an entire paragraph not found in any of the others.

Do you think I can accurately reconstruct Mrs. Lee’s original lecture notes based on these different copies?

Sure, I can. Misspellings can be easily spotted, mixed-up phrases can be corrected and it is more likely that an extra paragraph was added to one copy than for it to be omitted from twenty nine copies.

Authentic Text: How Many? How Early?

In simplified form, that is how the science of textual criticism works. Even with more numerous and complicated errors, historians can still recover an ancient document depending on two factors:

1) How many surviving copies do we have to compare and test? The more manuscripts we have, the easier it is to detect differences.

2) What is the time gap between the oldest surviving copies and the writing of the original? The closer to the original, the more confidence we have in the manuscripts.

First let us look at the statistics for non-biblical texts:

Caesar's The Gallic Wars has 10 surviving manuscripts with the earliest copy dating to 1,000 years after the original writing; Thucydides' History (8 manuscripts; 1,300 years elapsed); Herodotus' History (8 manuscripts; 1,350 years elapsed) and Tacitus' Annals (20 manuscripts; 1,000 years). The best preserved of ancient non-biblical writings is Homer’s Iliad with about 650 surviving copies (500 years elapsed).

In comparison, there are approximately 5,500 Greek existing manuscripts that contain all or part of the New Testament! The New Testament was written from about A.D. 50 to A.D. 90. Two major manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus (A.D. 325) and Codex Sinaiticus (A.D. 350) date within 250 years of the time of composition. Most fascinating of all, the earliest fragment of a small portion of John’s Gospel dates about A.D. 120 with other important fragments dating within 150-200 years from the time of composition.

On both counts, the manuscript evidence for the biblical texts overwhelmingly surpassed those of other ancient documents. If skeptics dismiss the Bible as unreliable, then they must also dismiss the reliability of virtually everything we learn from ancient documents.

Even if all of these precious biblical manuscripts were somehow lost, we could still reconstruct the entire New Testament from quotations of Scripture found in ancient catechisms, lectionaries and writings of the church fathers. As the gospel spread further by the end of the 2nd century A.D., New Testament translations were made into Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian and other languages. These early versions (more than 18,000 surviving copies) provide valuable resources for scholars to cross-check the original Greek wordings.

Sir Frederic Kenyon, former director of the British Museum and foremost authority on the subject, wrote:

"The interval between the dates of the original composition (of the New Testament) and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established."
Found In Translation

Now, what about the accuracy of the English Bible translations? Even a brief visit to the nearest Christian bookstore would yield a bewildering variety of Bible versions available today.

How shall we even begin to decide on picking one for our personal use?

For almost three hundred years, the King James Version (completed in 1611) was the most widely accepted translation for English-speaking Protestants. Its lofty language had a profound influence on literature and history. However, modern readers began to find its archaic words hard to understand, thus providing impetus for the explosive growth of Bible translations.

Another important reason for fresh translations came about as archaeologists discovered more and older copies of the biblical text (i.e. the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Codex Sinaiticus). As we saw earlier, such a wealth of manuscript evidence enables us to get even closer to the original writings.

Thirdly, the proliferation of English versions resulted from different translation approaches adopted by the translators. Do they aim for an essentially literal word-for-word translation? Or is their goal a thought-for-thought translation that seeks to get the idea across instead? Or is it a free paraphrase like Eugene Peterson’s The Message? Although all translators need to balance readability and faithfulness to the original text, Bible versions differ in how each of these objectives is emphasized.

For the most accurate access to the biblical text, a modern translation that benefits from the best available manuscripts and adopts a ‘word-for-word’ approach that seeks to retain the words that the biblical authors wrote would be a preferred choice. A paraphrased version can provide an interesting read but when it comes to serious study of God’s inspired word, we need a translation that is as close to the original as possible.

Avoid translations made by a single person for it would leave us at the mercy of his or her own private interpretation. Most important translations are done by committees where its members can check on each other.

Choose a readable translation written in contemporary vernacular. You may also find certain Bible study tools like maps, study notes, cross-references and concordances helpful.

Lastly, it may be a good idea to try out a few translations before making your choice. When you come across a difficult verse, read it in several versions and observe the differences. You may also find online resources like convenient and inexpensive for this purpose.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rojak Spirituality

We are spoilt for choice when it comes to food. Imagine walking into a giant food court where you can find char koay teow, sushi, curry, kebab, Nasi Padang, grilled steak, dim sum – almost everything else you can think of under the same roof. You can choose to eat anything you want. You can mix it up – eat a bit of sushi for appetizer, then chicken rice for main course and finish with rojak for dessert. How about that? Are you feeling hungry already?

But for a lot of people, making choices about spirituality or religion is also like eating in a food court. It’s all up to your personal tastes or preference. Some like it hot, others like it cold. It can also be a bit like ‘rojak’ – you just mix up all the ingredients and hopefully it tastes good. “Oh, I like my religion with a pinch of Buddhism, a sprinkle of Christianity, two cups of Lillian Too feng shui and a glass of Hinduism – shaken, not stirred.” What’s your personal religious preference?

So… in today’s society, for someone to even claim that a certain religious practice is wrong or that some religious beliefs are untrue, that would sound arrogant and intolerant. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s as if someone say to you, “You are wrong to choose nasi lemak for lunch today” or “You are a bad person if you chose to eat “char koay teow”. You should have chosen Maggi goreng.” That sounds so intolerant (it doesn’t make sense) because we live in a time of “rojak spirituality”. People choose their faith or spirituality or religion based on personal taste or preferences. You like chocolate ice cream, I like strawberry flavor. You like Islam, I like Christianity, she likes Buddhism. It’s based on what we like. There is no right or wrong answer here.

But truth or reality is not like ice cream. It is more like insulin. When my wife Grace was pregnant with Zhen, she was found to have gestational diabetes. Maybe due to hormonal imbalance, her body does not produce enough insulin to break down sugar in her blood. So what did she need to do? Almost everyday she has to give herself an insulin injection to maintain her health. And she cannot say, “I don’t feel like taking insulin anymore. Let’s see… I think I would prefer to take ice cream instead”. If she stopped taking insulin and choose ice cream, it would be very bad for her health and for the baby. In the same way, we are all sin-sick people in need of a cure that is the gospel. We don’t get to decide what is true based on our subjective tastes. That’s make-believe. Reality is like a solid rock. Just because we don’t like it doesn’t make it false. Just because we like something doesn’t make it true either. When it comes to spirituality or faith, the reason we ought to believe something is because it is true… Truth is like insulin to someone who suffers from diabetes, it’s not ice cream.

And in the passage of Scripture we read just now, Jesus was about to go to the cross. It was just before the Passover feast. He knew His time was near. He had lived the life that we should have lived and now He would face the death that we should have died. He came from God and He was going back to God. He was about to accomplish His mission in the world and return to the Father. So he was having his last meal together with his disciples. But his disciples were worried – “Who is going to betray Jesus? The Master is leaving us but where is He going?”

So Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled; Trust in God, trust also in Me. In my Father's house are many rooms; I am going there to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take you with me. You know the way to the place where I am going."

One of the disciples Thomas asked him: “But Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how do we know the way?” And then Jesus replied with this famous statement: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” Great teachers point us to the truth, but they don't claim to BE the truth. Jesus, however, makes this amazing claim about himself – I am the way, the truth and the life.

So today I’d like to consider THREE implications of Jesus’ unique claim for us, Christians, living in a multi-religious, multi-cultural society such as ours:

1st implication: Jesus is the way so walk in Him with confidence.

Some years back, I met a church leader who believed that all religions are valid paths to God. He told me, “Yes, yes, yes… Jesus is the way to God, but there are other ways to get there too.” All roads lead to Rome. But if you come to think about it for just a minute, actually not all roads lead to Rome. In fact you can’t drive to Rome using any roads in Singapore. Not all roads lead to Rome.

Jesus did not claim to be just one of many ways to God. He says: “I am the way; no one comes to God but by me.” That’s quite a big claim to make. A man who makes a claim to be the only way to God cannot be just another religious guru. He is either a mad man, a bad man or He is really who He claims to be. Jesus did not leave us the option of regarding him as just another wise human teacher. Great human teachers point to the truth, but they don't claim to be the truth. And yet, here we are confronted with the unique claim of Jesus to be the way, the truth and the life.

This is something that many people find hard to accept. In one of our family conversations about Christianity, my dear relatives told me, “How can you Christians believe that Jesus is the only way? That’s too narrow and exclusive. All religions are lead to God. We are like the ten blind men trying to describe an elephant. One guy touched its trunk and said “The elephant is like a snake”. Another touched its body and said, “No, it’s like a wall”. Yet another touched its leg and think it’s like a tree. As they argued amongst themselves, the King walked by and set them straight, “All of you only got part of the truth. The elephant is a huge animal and each of you touched only a part!”

At first, the story appears to be very humble and inclusive: The truth is greater than any one of us can understand. But the only way you can know that all religions have only part of the truth is if you have the whole truth. The only way you could know that none of the blind men have the whole truth is if you can see the elephant. The only way you can tell this story is if you are the King who sees everything. There is an appearance of humility but actually there is a hidden, almost arrogant assumption that the storyteller has a knowledge that is superior to all others. But how did he get this knowledge? How can he see when everyone else is blind? If I am blind and you are blind, then how can you possibly know what the elephant is really like? You see, the problem with this story is it is actually making a very exclusive statement that no one else got it all correct except himself.

And the funny thing is: the story also contains an important truth. Because the only Person who can see everything and know the complete truth is the King… It’s God Himself. No one else can do that. Like blind men, we humans are all limited and sinful creatures who can only see part of reality. There is nothing we can boast about because we are blind like everyone else groping in the dark. We won’t know what the truth is like unless… unless the King has spoken. Unless the King who knows everything reveals Himself to us and corrects our mistakes. And guess what? That is exactly what the gospel is all about. God has already revealed Himself in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “I once was blind but now I see…” because God has revealed Himself to us. The only way we can know the truth is because He has made Himself known in Christ. He is not just one of many ways or one of many gods. Jesus is the way so let us walk in Him with confidence.

2nd implication: Jesus is the truth so proclaim Him with humility

A few months ago, the Singapore Internal Security Department called up a church leader, Pastor Tan (not to be confused with our own Pastor Tan), after receiving complaints about two video clips he had posted on his church website that showed him making "insensitive comments about Buddhism." The Ministry of Home Affairs said that his remarks were "highly inappropriate and unacceptable as they trivialised and insulted the beliefs of Buddhists and Taoists." The pastor has since removed the video clips from the website and he apologized to the Buddhist and Taoist communities, promising that such incidents would not happen again. This could easily happen in Malaysia as well and it shows the need for Christians to rethink how we relate to people of other faiths. Do we ever catch ourselves making inaccurate, insensitive or insulting jokes about other religious beliefs or practices?

Indeed, we need to share the truth of the gospel faithfully, without watering down the gospel. But we also need to speak the truth in love, gentleness and humility. We need to respect and honor those who have yet to know Christ as persons who were made in God’s image. They have the right to believe, practice and propagate their faiths even if they don’t agree with us. We should celebrate and not begrudge the fact that people of different religions are capable of great moral integrity and profound wisdom too. When we see what is good, true and beautiful being taught by others, we can thank God that in spite of our sinful natures, this is still possible because of the common humanity we share with them. Although tainted by sin, the image of God in fallen people can still produce something good, true and beautiful. And we can use these common grounds (our shared humanity) as a bridge to dialogue with others and communicate the gospel that only in Christ would the truth, the beauty and the goodness that we all cherish make any sense at all. A missionary in Indonesia Martin Goldsmith wrote, “Sin and the remnant image of God interact both in cultures and religions. So we dare not dismiss all cultures and religions as merely demonic, evil or totally false.” Instead, there is every reason for Christians to listen to our non-Christian neighbors and humbly learn what they believe about God, about life, about truth and about salvation. Seek first to understand then be understood.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of speaking to a mixed group of medical students at an interfaith dialogue. It was something I have always wanted to do. The topic was on the Purpose of Life. A Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian speaker was each given 15 minutes to present their views followed by questions and answers from the students. I felt it was a fruitful time as I learn from the other speakers and students. Interestingly, I also get to (legally and openly) share the gospel in front of a few dozen Muslim students. Open conversation and evangelism should not be seen as mutually exclusive. Instead, gospel witness invites dialogues and questions. And having meaningful dialogue with our neighbors expands and deepens our gospel witness. On a more personal level, interfaith conversations like that can happen at the mamak stall, kopitiam, cafeteria or anywhere. And I’m so glad that some of us in CDPC organized a visit to a mosque with a team from our partner churches in America. We went there to dialogue with the imam, to learn and ask questions about Islam. You see, this is the kind of dialogue, truth encounter and mutual understanding needed not only for our American mission team, but especially for our local youths as well. It would be tragic if we spend our whole lives growing up in Asia but never know anything about what our neighbors really believe or what worship means to them just down the road.

So there is no place for arrogance or insensitive jokes when it comes to speaking the truth. If people want to reject the gospel, let them do so because they refuse to accept the claims of the gospel, and not because they are turned off by our offensive or insensitive behavior. The truth is not an abstract list of dos-and-don’ts or a religious experience. The truth is personal and historical. Jesus is the truth so let us proclaim Him with humility, gentleness and respect.

The last implication: Jesus is the life so live with grace for others

There is a good reason why the idea that all religions are equally valid or “rojak spirituality” (as I call it) is so popular today. In a global village where we live so close to each other, people want to avoid religious violence and conflicts. After the September 11 attack, the ‘war on terror’ or , the world is desperately looking for ways in which different religious groups can live in peace, harmony and tolerance. That is a very noble and sincere motivation that we all share. But the thinking goes like this: “If you claim to have the truth and others don’t, that will lead to conflict and oppression. You will look down on others, right? My faith is better than yours. The followers of my religion are more holy than yours.”

So wouldn’t it be nice if everybody thinks all religions are the same, then there is nothing to fight about rite? Sounds nice, but only if everybody in the world thinks like that… The problem is: You can have peace if and only if followers of all faiths play down their own beliefs and exclusively agree on another ‘faith’ different from their own. A superficial unity is achieved at the cost of ignoring genuine differences. But tolerance itself implies disagreement. You cannot ‘tolerate’ people who agree with you. They are on your side! Tolerance implies that you don’t agree on the same thing. If every person believes in the same thing that all religions are equal, then what room is there for tolerance and respect?

So on one extreme we have people who believe in absolute truth but promote conflict and separation; on the other extreme we have people who want to promote peace but they give up on the truth. Maybe there is another way. Because Jesus is the resurrection life, He can empower us to live as agents of peace and reconciliation in the society. How can the gospel do that? Well, if you believe that God accepts you because of your good works and salvation depends on how holy and righteous you are in obeying laws and regulations, then it’s very easy for you to look down on those who are not as good, holy and righteous. “Hhmph! Those are unbelievers, I want nothing to do with them. They are sinful and unclean.” Or you will look at the religious people and think, “Hmmph! Those religious fanatics, I want nothing to do with them. They are exclusive, crazy and violent!”

But the gospel says you are not saved by your performance, wisdom or morality. You are saved when you admit that you are never good enough so you need Jesus the Savior to save you from your sins. Not because of what you have done but what Christ had done on the cross for you. You are saved by grace. It’s a gift that you don’t deserve… Tim Keller said it this way: The gospel humbles you (you’re not better than others) and leads you to expect that those who don’t agree with you may be morally better than you. You would expect to find nonbelievers who are much nicer, wiser and better than we are. So you can’t look down on others. At the heart of the gospel is the life of a man who died for his enemies, prayed and forgave those who opposed and slandered him. If you follow Him, if your life is modeled after His Life, then how can you be violent to others? You can’t. His Life will release and empower you to be a peace maker, to be generous and sacrificially serve and pray for those who are different and even opposed to you. That’s what the world desperately need today. Won’t you like to be part of it?

Perhaps there is no better time for Christians to be peace makers, to intercede for the well being of non-Christian leaders, sacrificially serve those who are different than us and sincerely invite them to our place of worship for fellowship and conversations… Perhaps that’s what it means to be salt and light in our context… Jesus is the Life so let us live with grace for others.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Biblical Environmental Stewardship

Question: Shouldn't we spend our time and resources helping poor people rather than animals or plants?

Vinoth Ramachandran once remarked that the question is like asking a poor mother not to bother about her child’s education because feeding him is more important. Of course, both basic needs should be our concern although in some contexts, saving lives would have higher priority than environmental conservation.

In most situations, however, it’s not an either/or choice. The well-being of rural poor is often dependent on a sustainable ecosystem. The natural resources are their ‘pharmacy’ (from which they gather medicinal herbs) and ‘local supermarket’ (from which they are supplied daily needs) and water supply system. Environmental degradation disproportionately affects the poor. Since there is close interdependence in the ecosystem, animal and plant extinctions would ultimately be unhealthy to people as well. Helping people to manage and develop their natural resources in a sustainable manner would in turn alleviate poverty.

Therefore, we must care for both people and for non-human elements of God’s creation.

Obeying God’s commandment to be responsible stewards of His world is also an expression of love for the Creator and for people, especially the rural poor.

The main challenge to creation care is to start with ourselves. None of us likes to change our lifestyle if it involves perceived inconvenience. If each of us care enough to act in the light of what we discover, we can begin to live a simpler lifestyle, reduce pollution load and free up more resources for those really in need.

Dean Ohlman wrote, “We must not prioritize our ethical obligations to such an extent that we excuse the plight of animals made to suffer unnecessarily by our neglect or cruelty.”

Question: Isn't this business about ‘saving the earth’ a distraction to the church’s task of ‘saving souls’?

This question is best addressed by asking a similar question – “Is parenting a distraction from our Christian task of evangelism?”

For those of us with children, parenting is a time-consuming responsibility we carry out daily. It’s part and parcel of living in obedience to God. We rarely need to choose between caring for our children and witnessing for Christ. We perform each duty when it is required and doing either one does not contradict the other.

In the same way, Dean Ohlman observed that “earth-keeping is a natural and integral aspect of our day-to-day decision-making regarding spending, work, consumption, transportation, waste management, and so forth. The problem is that not until recently have we come to understand how irresponsible we have been regarding this foundational aspect of daily living.”

A Christian analysis of environmental degradation sees its primary cause in our broken relationship with God which leads us on a futile quest for fulfillment at the expense of the earth. Instead of purveying more gloomy news and passing more laws, lasting progress can only come about when people have a radical change of heart. And the fruit of gospel witness should result in transformed hearts and reordered lifestyles towards God, other people and the creation as part of our discipleship.

The conservation movement today is in dire need of hope that the good news has to offer.

Not only that. Every time we care for creation, we are really witnessing to the Creator.

We are demonstrating to the community the practical outworking of the gospel with our lives.

For instance, A Rocha, a Christian conservation movement, took a piece of unkempt land in West London and turned it into an oasis for wildlife called Minet Country Park. It raised questions among the neighboring people, “Why are they doing this?” It gives opportunities for them to find out that our ecology is based on the gospel and our gospel is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Question: What’s the point? The ecological problems are so huge. What I do won't make any difference.”

Environmental stewardship is a loving response to God and turning away from consumerist lifestyles. As Christians, we can do what is right not primarily because of the perceived usefulness, but as an act of worship. This perspective frees us from the despair that secular environmentalists face – to act rightly while trusting in the sovereignty of God for the results even when the circumstances look bleak.

Suggested Resources:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Common Questions About Creation Care

Why care for creation if it is to be destroyed by fire eventually (2 Peter 3:10-13)? Why bother since we'd be whisked away safely in our spirits from this God-forsaken physical planet?

Our Christian duty to be responsible stewards of God’s creation is based on clear biblical instruction in the Creation Mandate and motivated by love for the Creator and love for our neighbors, whose well-being depends very much on a sound ecosystem.

Therefore, it does not ultimately rest on any eschatological debate on whether the present universe will be utterly destroyed and replaced by a new universe created from scratch. It is clear though that the earth as it is now will not remain forever but will pass away.

The passage in 2 Peter 3:6-13 seem to imply that the present world will be subjected to judgment by fire but would ultimately result in the new heaven and the new earth. John Piper writes, “When Revelation 21:1 and 2 Peter 3:10 say that the present earth and heavens will ‘pass away,’ it does not have to mean that they go out of existence, but may mean that there will be such a change in them that their present condition passes away.

We might say, ‘The caterpillar passes away, and the butterfly emerges.’ There is a real passing away, and there is a real continuity, a real connection.”

Through fire, the present universe will be refined, restored, renewed and transformed into the new one. Just as the old world was destroyed by the Flood and the present world arose out of it, so also would the present world be dissolved by fire to give rise to a purified new heaven and new earth (2 Peter 3:5-7).

Read on below:

Common Questions Christians Ask About Creation Care

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Liberation Theology: The Gospel and Solidarity With The Poor

Although liberation theology is by no means monolithic, certain broad emphases are discernible in how its practitioners understand the function of theological reflection. In contrast with abstract metaphysics that seem disconnected with ordinary life, liberation theologians stressed that theology should proceed in dialectical relationship with the common experience of oppression and poverty. The theologian is not a disinterested and neutral observer.

Rather his or her commitment to the poor against unjust structures which dehumanize God’s children becomes the particular, concrete context for critical reflection on praxis in light of God’s word. Committed action comes first, reflection follows as a second step. An understanding of liberation theology cannot be acquired by mere learning without actively taking the first step of embarking on its path.

Latin American Liberation Theology: The Gospel & Solidarity With The Poor

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Prolepsis of God’s Revelation in History

Since the 1960’s, a different theological project that is concerned with the classical quest for ultimate truth again has emerged. The foremost among its proponents is Wolfhart Pannenberg, a former student of Barth. The German theologian sought to propose correctives to what he perceived to be increasing privatization of modern theology as a merely subjective sphere sheltered from public scientific or historical inquiry. The retreat of theology into a cultural ghetto owes much to a post-Enlightenment mindset which views authority and claims of truth with suspicion. For Pannenberg, systematic theology ought to be a discipline in search for universal truth that illumines all human knowledge. As such, theological statements ought to be boldly open to rational inquiry of the historical basis on which they rest.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Schleiermacher: Dawn of Liberal Theology

Schleiermacher: Dawn of Liberal Theology

The seed that Schleiermacher planted would blossom into the liberalism that dominated Protestant thought in the early 20th century. In the autumn of 1797, Schleiermacher began to be connected with a circle of young Romantic friends devoted to aesthetic, literary and philosophical interests. It was to such Berlin bohemians who were influenced by idealistic spirit of the age, rather than skeptical rationalistic materialists, that he wrote his first book On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers. Not only was religion despised due to popular misunderstanding, his main concern was directed to clarify its essence and clear away confusions of substituting religious piety “for a mess of metaphysical and ethical crumbs” courtesy of the Age of Reason.


Monday, March 29, 2010

The Purpose Of Life (IMU Interfaith Forum)

Had the pleasure of doing an interfaith forum at International Medical University on the topic of The Purpose of Life alongside Saudara Shah Kirit, Bro Michael Aloysius, Mr Ganga and Dr Phang. The message can be downloaded here

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Easter: Coming To A Planet Near You

The tomb is empty! Christ has risen from the grave.

Startled with fear and doubt, the best theory His disciples could come up with was that they have seen a ghost! (Luke 24:37)

So he shows them His very physical hands and feet, “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones”.

Still they remain stunned in joy and amazement. Then Jesus gave them the ultimate evidence.

“You’ve got anything here to eat?”

And the risen Lord of the universe munched down a piece of broiled fish in front of their eyes (Luke 24:42). His resurrected body is capable of swallowing food neatly unlike those messy ghosts we find in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean.

This is no phantom. He is back – with muscles, bones and a functioning stomach.

All over the world, Christians celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. It marks the end of Lent season of fasting, prayer and penance; and the beginning of Easter season that lasts for fifty days until Pentecost. Tom Wright wrote, “If Lent is a time to give things up; Easter ought to be a time to take things up.”

If Lent is a season to let go of old habits, sins and attitudes that hinder our walk with God, what are the new and wholesome things we should pick up for Easter season?

That really depends on how we understand the meaning of Easter for us today.

When many people think of the resurrection, they think of life after death in heaven. Like those popular cartoon sketches of people floating around in fluffy clouds, wearing white gowns with a harp in their hand and a halo on their head. The idea is to escape from this physical world. Life on this earth is just a temporary transit station to a disembodied state of bliss somewhere else.

And the danger of that is we can be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. It creates a mentality where we withdraw from life and passively wait for the afterlife.

But the Christian hope of eternal life is not like that. It is not about running away from reality. Our ultimate future is a new heaven and a new earth. This world we live in will be renewed, transformed and restored. It won’t be abandoned or left to rot.

So we look forward to a resurrection just like Jesus’ where we will be raised to life in an incorruptible and glorified body. (Not as a ghostly, floating apparition!)

What God has done in Christ on Easter morning, He would do on a cosmic scale for the entire creation, including us. There will be no more sorrow, sickness, decay or violence for God will wipe away every tear and restore all that is good. C.S. Lewis described the future redeemed world to be more substantial, more tangible and more solid than the world as we know it.

The fullness of God's kingdom shall come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. So we can expect to be fruitful stewards of His renewed universe and worshipful priests who glorify and enjoy God’s presence for eternity.

But while we wait for that glorious day, we can start practicing right now! In the meantime, we are to live today as if the future is already present. The way we go about our daily chores, prayers and worship are to be signposts pointing forward to what God’s reign in its future fullness would look like.

The church community is like a movie preview: We are to display some hints, glimpses or foretastes of the actual movie so people will look at us and go, “Wow! I want to see the complete show!” New Creation: Coming soon to a planet near you…

If that is what Easter resurrection means, shall we not take up some new things that model (in small ways) the future kingdom of justice, love and hope?

Now, how would that look like?

Perhaps it could mean simple things like signing up for a new project that gets our hands dirty conserving the environment. Or maybe, getting involved in caring for the poor and the sick around us? Ever thought of spending some time and energy on a worthy social cause that promotes fairness and peace in our country?

Surely the surprising reality of Easter Sunday ought to empower us to be witnesses of Christ’s death and resurrection the way it did for the early disciples.

If the present creation and our bodies will not be forsaken but ultimately transformed, then we are to work here-and-now in anticipation of that final vision. Resurrection power is lived out in down-to-earth realities, grounded in the real world where we do business, as we cook in the kitchen, when we play with our children, study in schools, draw a painting, love and be loved, infusing everyday life with fresh spirituality and power.

If Lent is a season for fasting, then perhaps Easter should be a season of celebrating the newness of life, the goodness of creation and the hope of future glory that may even include a hearty meal of broiled fish eaten to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:5)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lent Reflection: Preserved to Persevere In Grace

Date: Saturday, March 13
Title: Preserved to Persevere In Grace
The Bible Passage: Romans 8:18-39

Key Words: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

John Bunyan’s classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress depicted Christian’s spiritual journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Along the narrow road, he came across a host of temptations and dangers.

We read of how Christian was mired in the Swamp of Despondency, almost deceived by Worldly Wiseman’s advice, deserted by his fickle companion Pliable and wounded in a fight with the dart-throwing monster Apollyon. On other occasions, he was wearied into slumber on the Hill of Difficulty, bribed by Demas’ wealth and thrown into prison by Giant Despair of Doubting castle.

He was also mocked and persecuted after refusing to be enticed by the merchandises at Vanity Fair, the city of sinful pleasures!

Do you recognize some of these challenges along your own spiritual trek to the Celestial City? Ever felt being abandoned lately? Tired of plodding on the road less traveled? Hurt by cruel ridicule or gossip? Knocked down with despair and doubt? Lured away by worldly comforts?

The apostle Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (v18).

As Christians, we do not wander like aimless vagabonds. Rather, we travel as pilgrims with a destination at heart. Our glorious hope of a renewed creation and resurrected bodies in God’s presence made the present hardships we face pale in comparison.

In the midst of all these obstacles, God works out His sovereign purposes for the good of those who love him. He has begun redemption in foreknowing, predestinating, calling and justifying us that we may be shaped into Christ-likeness. If God is for us, who can be against us?

If He has already done the hard part of giving His own Son to us all, how could He not do the easier bit of preserving us till the finishing line? What could possibly separate us from the love of God?

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:37-39)

“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come,
Tis’ Grace has brought me safe thus far, And Grace will lead me home.”
- From the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Lent Reflection: Our Hope against All Hope

Date: Thursday, March 4
Title: Our Hope against All Hope
The Bible Passage: Romans 4: 13-25

Key Words: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations.” (Romans 4:18)

Reality check: The guy was a centenarian while his wife was sterile. They faced the fact that they were never going to have a child of their own. (v19)

But here comes the promise: “Your name will be Abraham for you will be the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5). It must have sounded like a divine punch line because even Abraham and Sarah can barely stop laughing! Yet when all hope seemed lost, they put their confidence in God. If He can raise the dead and create everything out of nothing, surely He is big enough to do what He has said.

Their miracle boy Isaac was pledged by the sheer grace of God. And they received the promise with the empty hands of faith. It was not something they had earned. God didn’t say, “Obey this law and I will bless you”.

It was more like, “I will bless you and make you a blessing. Believe in My promise”.

Abraham believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (v22)

Don’t we sometimes get into the habit of bargaining with our heavenly Father for goodies? “Lord, if I deny myself some earthly pleasures, would you promise to answer my requests? Or if I give extra offering, surely I deserve extra blessing!”

Such prayers look more like a business deal than a relationship. And if we fail to keep up with our efforts to appease God, we fall into despair.

Perhaps we need another reality check: Aren’t we now spiritual children of Abraham through faith in Jesus? By sheer grace, God’s promised blessing is poured out to many nations (including us!)

Like Abraham, we are declared as righteous through Christ who died for our sins and resurrected for our justification (v 25). That’s good news!

Which means the basis of our acceptance and petitions before God depends on what Christ has done rather than our track record in law-keeping. The gospel sets us free to humbly say, “Lord, it’s not about me. It’s all from you and for your glory. Help me with this need or support me without it being met. I trust in your promise to never leave nor forsake me.”

When all hope seems lost, open up the empty hands of faith and lay hold of His promises. Be fully persuaded that God has the power to do what he has said.

Monday, February 22, 2010



A Rocha是一个以基督为信仰的自然保护组织,我们的名称是源于葡萄牙语的磐石,也是 我们组织的第一个启动项目,一个葡萄牙的野外研究中心。现在,A Rocha已经发展成为一个全球性项目大家族,遍布欧洲、中东、非洲、南北美洲、亚洲 以及大洋洲。A Rocha项目具有跨文化的特点,强调社群共享,致力于科学研究、自然保护行动和环境 教育。

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Second Thoughts About "Canonical Pseudepigraphy"

In his Dictionary of Later New Testament and Its Developments article on pseudepigraphy (which means “false superscription”), James Dunn discussed the problem of New Testament writings that explicitly claim to have been written by a certain person but were believed by many modern scholars to have been written by someone else.

Unlike anonymous New Testament writings such as the book of Hebrews, the issue of false attribution in pseudepigraphal writings raised questions about their integrity and acceptability in the canon. For example, we read of Serapion (second century A.D.) who rejected the Gospel of Peter as “the writings that falsely bear their names [Peter and the other apostles] . . . knowing that such were not handed down to us” (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 6.12.3).

Dunn described the nature of the moral and theological problem in this way, “It is this judgment of falseness, of an intent to deceive and mislead, particularly by passing off as apostolic what should not be so regarded, that makes the issue of pseudepigraphy in the NT so sensitive.” On the other hand, Dunn recognized the significant consensus of NT scholarship that maintains the pseudepigraphic character of NT writings such as Ephesians, the Pastoral epistles and 2 Peter. How then should we reconcile this apparent contradiction?

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