Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Survey By NECF: Viewpoint on Theological Education

I have just returned from the one-day National Evangelical Christian Fellowship National Pastors/Leaders Consultation on Nation Building held today, July 31. During the consultation, all the participants were handed out a survey form, asking us whether we agree or disagree with a total of 28 viewpoints on various issues affecting the church.

In light of my earlier post on July 30 where I raised the issue of whether theological education is necessary for pastors/clergy and those in full-time Christian vocation, I am very intrigued to notice that, interestingly, Viewpoint No 20 of the survey states: Experience, maturity and character are more important than formal education. The congregation now takes the place of the seminaries in developing church leaders (emphasis original).

It will be very interesting to analyse the outcome of the survey on how many actually strongly agree, partially agree, strongly disagree, partially disagree, or are indifferent/have no opinion with regards to this viewpoint. Even more curious to know is the correlation between the opinion of the above Viewpoint No 20 and the level of theological education of the respondents be it at the level of diploma, undergraduate, or postgraduate seminary education (all respondents were asked to indicate the level of one's education which includes both "secular" and theological education).

I will be eagerly anticipating the results to be released by NECF, and I hope NECF releases the figures soon. Once analysed, we will know concretely the true stand of the evangelical churches affiliated with NECF on theological education, and whether the comment raised by JJ Wong in my earlier post could be substantiated with evidence.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Real Estate Examination and Theological Education: A Correlation?

In one of my earlier posts, I highlighted some of the concerns affecting the real estate industry in Malaysia. As someone who was involved in the industry as Registered Valuer and Registered Estate Agent in the 90s, I am naturally concerned and saddened that there has not been much progress in the professional development of the industry over the past decade. It was reported that there are now more than a staggering 10,000 unlicensed real estate agents in Malaysia. According to the statistics of Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents, this figure represents equal number of negotiators that work under registered real estate agents. In other words, for every real estate negotiator, there is one other illegal real estate agent. It is very sad to witness the present situation. This caused the Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents to issue an urgent appeal to the government. If this is any indication of the health of the profession, it suggests that the battle to weed out illegal real estate agents has not only been unsuccessful but the problem appears to have ballooned overtime.

I could not help but to see a very close correlation between the profession of estate agents and full-time Christian vocation. Since my return from the UK last October, I have been in conversation with a significant number of church leaders and pastors who questioned the relevance and necessity of theological education for pastors and those who desire to serve in full-time Christian vocation. I wonder whether is this an emerging trend in the Malaysian Christian scene where increasing number of church leaders and pastors are now arguing against the need for theological education?

As a former "insider" of the real estate industry, I am all too aware of some of the reasons why many illegal real estate agents exist and why many of them do not see the need to acquire the necessary professional qualifications. First, these unlicensed real estate agents feel that it is simply a waste of time to take up professional training. To be a registered estate agent, the route is often long and time consuming. On average, it takes an average of 4-5 years before one can be registered as a real estate agent. Secondly, to be a registered estate agent, the process is rather complicated. One has to pass the 2-part written examinations comprising a total of 12 papers if the candidate does not possess an undergraduate degree in the filed of valuation, property or real estate. After passing the qualifying examinations, this is followed by a minimum of two years supervised practical training under a Registered Estate Agent, at the end of which, the candidate may sit for the Test of Professional Competence (TPC). It is only after successfully passing the TPC that a candidate is qualified to apply for a licence to practise as a registered real estate agent. Another reason that is often cited for not seeking professional qualification is that the syllabus covered in the qualifying examinations is too broad and theoretical. Most see the requirements to study Land Law, Estate Agency Law, Property Taxation, Principles of Valuation, Building Technology, Principles of Economics, Land Economics are simply a waste of time. Finally, the most frequently cited reason for not acquiring for the professional qualification is this: if there is a short cut in which plenty of money is to be made, why bother and be burdened with acquiring the necessary professional qualification?

When I reflect on the reasons often cited against acquiring a professional qualification for real estate agent, I could not help but to notice a very close correlation with the same reasons why many believe that theological education is also not necessary for pastors. For those Christian pastors and church leaders, theological education is a waste of time. A typical period taken for completing a Bachelor of Divinity/Theology and Master of Divinity is 4 years and 3 years respectively. Why waste time in theological education when many people are dying without the knowledge of the gospel? The urgency is to preach the gospel now and to "save souls." Secondly, like the real estate qualification, theological education is also complicated. It is often assumed to be dry. It robs seminarians of their joy, zeal and passion in serving the Lord. It may also lead seminarians to become "liberal" in their theological understanding. Some may even lose their faith in seminary. Thirdly, like the real estate agent written examination, theological education is often described as too theoretical. One is required to do a broad curriculum. If a pastor only wants to preach Christ and the gospel, why bother with church history, christian education and counselling? Why waste time studying about the synoptic problem, the quest of the historical Jesus, the problems in identifying Paul's opponents, and whether 2 Corinthians is a unified letter or a fragment of 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 letters? Why bother with Greek when one does not even refer to it after graduation? Finally, if one is able to preach, lead people to Christ, teach the Bible, and this causes the church to continue to grow statistically, why bother with theological education?

We will be celebrating our 50th year of nationhood in one month's time. Our political leaders have often said that we have achieved much development and progress as a nation since independence. Can we also say the same as far as theological education is concerned? Have we also made significant progress in tandem with other areas of development and progress in the nation? Or, like the real estate professional qualification, is theological education no longer deemed necessary and relevant for the training of clergy, pastor and those aspiring to enter full-time Christian vocation?

At the end, I wonder which vocation is better for me: to be a seminary lecturer or practise as a valuer and real estate agent? Hmmm...food for thought...

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Jesus Legend: New Book by Eddy & Boyd

Once again, Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd join forces in writing what seems to me a very interesting book, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, to be published by Baker in August 2007.

The description of the book provided by the publisher is as follows:

"Much New Testament scholarship of the last 200 years has seen fit, to one degree or another, to relegate the Jesus tradition as recorded in the Gospels to the realm of legend, i.e., to the realm of fiction. But is this really what the evidence points to? By drawing together recent scholarship from a variety of fields, including history, anthropology, ethnography, folklore, and New Testament studies, Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd show that the evidence actually supports--rather than refutes--the historical reliability of the Gospels and the existence of Jesus."

"After first presenting the cumulative case argument for the 'legendary Jesus' thesis, the authors proceed to dismantle it and seriously bring into question its viability. In the process, they range through issues such as the historical-critical method, form criticism, oral tradition, the use of non-Christian sources, the writings of Paul, and the Hellenization of Judaism. They come to the conclusion that the view of Jesus embraced by the early church was 'substantially rooted in history.' Here is an important book in the field of Jesus studies, with potential textbook use in courses in New Testament studies and apologetics."

In one of the blurbs for the book, Robert M. Price, Professor of Biblical Criticism, Center for Inquiry Institute, and fellow of the Jesus Seminar has to to say: "I am gratified that my friends and colleagues Paul Eddy and Greg Boyd have taken my work as seriously as they have in this comprehensively researched book. Bravo for their repudiation of any bias of philosophical naturalism! Amen to their urging that the burden of proof is on whomever would reject any bit of gospel tradition as unhistorical. Other than this, I would dispute almost every one of their assertions--but that is why I recommend the book! What can you learn if you only reinforce your own viewpoint? I urge any reader of my books to read this one alongside them!"

Robert Price has successfully increased my appetite for this book. Will the Ringgit strengthen against the US dollars, please?

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Lost in Translation: Inconsistencies of the NIV?

In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned in passing my gripes with the inconsistencies of the NIV translation that I encountered in the process of writing devotional readings of John 17-21 for Asian Reflections 2008. In this post, I would like to highlight just one of them.

In John 18:18, NIV reads: "It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself." The passage is located within the context of Peter's denial of Jesus.

Moving on to John 21:9, NIV reads: "When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread." This context of this passage speaks of Jesus' restoration of Peter.

With the help of Bibleworks, I discover that the Greek word, anthrakia, translated "fire" in 18:18 and "fire of burning coals" in 21:9 is the same word. Anthrakia literally means "a charcoal fire" (BDAG, s.v.). However, NIV curiously omits "charcoal" or "burning coal" in 18:18 and simply translate it as "a fire." Unfortunately, this error remains uncorrected in TNIV.

This is surprising, and is another example to highlight one of the inconsistencies of the NIV translation. If one were to follow the flow of the narrative of the Fourth Evangelist carefully, one cannot help but to notice the deliberate choice of the word "anthrakia" in both the accounts of the denial and restoration of Peter. The smell of the burning coals is too strong to be missed. It is as if the Fourth Evangelist is using this word to conjure up the familiar smell of the burning coals to remind the readers that Jesus brings Peter to his lowest point of failure in order to bring him up to a position where he could be restored and recommissioned as a follower of Jesus by responding to the Master's call, "Follow Me" (21:19).

By mistranslating anthrakia simply as "fire" in 18:18 is to miss the point of the Fourth Evangelist. This is unfortunate. This particular inconsistency is even more obvious when a comparison is made with other translations. For example, ESV, NASB, NET, NLT, NRSV, and RSV all translated anthrakia as "a charcoal fire" both in 18:18 and 21:9.

Hopefully, this small example serves to illustrate the importance of the study of biblical Greek and the need to consult several translations if one were to carry out serious and in depth Bible study. There is simply no short cut if one wishes to dig deeper into the Scriptures. But the reward of drawing out significant insight and life-transforming truth awaits those who are willing to go deeper.

Friday, 27 July 2007

How Does A Biblical Scholar...? The Struggle to Write Devotionally - Part 2

Last week, I highlighted my struggles in writing the devotional readings for the 2008 edition of Asian Reflections, a bible reading project initiated by Scripture Union Malaysia.

I am very pleased that I have finally completed writing the devotional readings late last night. It was a very enriching exercise for me as it forced me to wrestle with the text as a budding NT scholar and yet challenged me to write down these insights at a level that is understood at a "popular" level.

Reading John 17-21 raises many issues, including the translation of the text in NIV translation, that require further research and reflection. Perhaps one of these days, some of these unresolved issues may find their way into some of the academic/peer reviewed journals....perhaps, perhaps...

I would encourage all of you to support this noble project by Scripture Union Malaysia when it is published in the 3rd quarter of 2007. I promote this not because I am one of the contributors, but I do believe it is a very worthwhile project resulting from the collaboration and contribution of many Malaysian and Asian writers; not to mention it makes excellent Christmas gift!

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

New Postdoctoral Programme and Fellowship

According to the announcement from the Department, the "LicDD is being created in order to enhance and strengthen our provision and research excellence in the key areas of the Department’s work. Such key areas include (but are not limited to) Church History, Celtic Studies, Monastic Studies, Systematic Theology, Orthodox Theology, Biblical Studies, Christian Ethics, Liturgical Studies, and Marian Studies. While preference will be given to candidates with expertise in the fields of Theology indicated, applications are invited from candidates with a strong research profile in any area of Theology or Religious Studies.

"Applicants for the LicDD must have completed all requirements for their doctoral degree at a recognized institution. We will be glad to accept applications from recent doctoral graduates who do not yet hold a tenured academic position, as well as from established academics who would like to conduct research in Lampeter during study leave.

"On admission, the candidate will be assigned an academic advisor from among the staff of the Department. The candidate will be eligible for the Licence in Divinity (Doctoral) on submission of a completed research project deemed suitable for publication in a refereed journal or esteemed collection of essays. The submitted project will be assessed for its suitability by the candidate’s advisor and one external assessor.

"The candidate will be expected to participate in the academic life of the department and in particular in its research seminar."

This is a very good opportunity for both senior scholars and recent PhD holders. Having studied at Lampeter for 3 years, I highly recommend this programme. Lampeter has a strong and excellent research culture, very supportive and warm faculty members, large and diverse postgraduate student body, and not to mention that the beautiful rural environment is very conducive for carrying out research activities.

Applications should be received no later than 15 August 2007.

A postdoctoral fellowship, in memory of E.W. Hunt is also available for LicDD students.

For further information and how to apply for the postdoctoral programme, click here.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Seminary Lecturer and Real Estate Professional...

I don't usually post news that are not related to my vocation as a seminary lecturer. But reading yesterday's The Star online prompted me to post something different.

According to the news report, the Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents (MIEA) is puzzled why no unlicensed real estate agent has been brought to court despite 20 police reports lodged so far. In fact, MIEA president K. Soma Sundram claimed that there were more than 10,000 unlicensed agents and they were hurting the industry image. This issue is nothing new and has been brought up for many decades already.

As both Registered Valuer and Registered Estate Agent, I am concerned that after so many years, the profession does not seem to be making any significant progress in dealing with illegal real estate agents (well, for those who do not know my background, I was in the real estate industry for many years in the 90s before entering full-time Christian vocation). These were the issues that we talked about in almost every conferences and congresses back then, and many memoranda had been forwarded to the relevant authorities. If yesterday's report in The Star is any indication, it suggests that things not only turned for the worst in the profession, the relevant authorities does not seem to be doing anything about it. This is indeed a sad day for the profession. A sad day when we think of the jubilee celebration of nationhood and when we are told by our political leaders how much we have progressed.

The Endings of Acts and The Sopranos

Micah Kiel recently contributed a rather interesting article comparing the ending of Acts of the Apostles to the final episode of The Sopranos in the Society of Biblical Literature Forum.

"What happens when something ends before it should? On a recent Sunday evening, millions of people went to bed with the unease of an open ending. The arguments proliferated immediately: Was the ending of The Sopranos a cheap trick or a beautiful work of art? Was the ending a snapshot of quotidian Sopranos dysfunction, depicting characters who have learned little and will continue in their ways? Or, were there hints of a different ending that the observer was supposed to supply once the screen went dark? While a comparison between Tony Soprano and the Apostle Paul may seem strange, the ending of the Acts of the Apostles elicits reactions similar to the ending of The Sopranos. Does the ending portray Paul in all his apostolic glory? Or, does Luke hint at another ending outside of the text?"

To read the rest of the article, Did Paul Get Whacked? The Endings of The Sopranos and the Acts of the Apostles, click here. It is definitely worth reading and it is also interesting to see how Kiel makes the connection between the New Testament and popular culture.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Lost In Translation: Language Matters

In my earlier post, I shared my struggles in writing the devotional readings for Asian Reflections, a project initiated by Scripture Union Malaysia. In the process of my writing, I discovered another frustration which is having to deal with some of the inconsistencies of the NIV translation. I will highlight some of these in future posts. But for now, I thought that it might be rather fun just to try this quiz on Lost in Translation: Language Matters and see how well one scores.

Check out the quiz by clicking on the following link:

Play Quiz: Lost in Translation: Language Matters now!

By the way, don't ask me what I score for the quiz.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Have You Seen A Roman Soldier in Pampers?

During the once-a-year STM picnic day held two weeks ago in Port Dickson, the students were allowed to do whatever they wanted to do to the lecturers by dressing them up in newspaper.

There was no shortage of creativity from the students especially when lecturers were hopelessly subjected to their mercy. In their newly given "once-a-year-licence" to vent their anger and frustration on the lecturers for giving them so much coursework in our courses, torturing them in our boring lectures (at least from their perspective), and more importantly, for not giving them the As that they think they deserve, the students decided to dress me up as a Roman soldier (at least that's what they had in mind, but the finished product was something else...a Roman soldier wearing pampers???).

But I must say it was rather fun - the "battle" with my OT colleague, Anthony Loke, somehow took on a new dimension beyond calling the OT the "preface" and the NT the "after-thought" or "appendix." We did get a bit physical....

For another perspective, see the post by one of the students.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Review of Biblical Literature July 18, 2007

The following latest reviews have been added to the Review of Biblical Literature.

Of significance to me are the reviews on Stanley Porter's edited volume on Paul and His Theology and Paul Rainbow's The Way of Salvation. Worthwhile mentioning is Jennifer Glancy's Slavery in Early Christianity which has helped me clarified some of my thoughts while working on my dissertation.

Daniel Berrigan
Genesis: Fair Beginnings, Then Foul
Reviewed by Dan W. Clanton Jr.

Michelle Brown, ed.
In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000
Reviewed by Michael W. Holmes

William G. Dever
Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel
Reviewed by Patrick D. Miller

Alessandro Falcetta, ed.
James Rendel Harris: New Testament Autographs and Other Essays
Reviewed by Christopher Tuckett

Jennifer A. Glancy
Slavery in Early Christianity
Reviewed by Fabian E. Udoh

Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre
Jesus among Her Children: Q, Eschatology, and the Construction of Christian Origins
Reviewed by Harry T. Fleddermann

Tim Meadowcroft
Reviewed by Henning Graf Reventlow

Piotr Michalowski and Niek Veldhuis, eds.
Approaches to Sumerian Literature: Studies in Honour of Stip (H. L. J. Vanstiphout)
Reviewed by Antoine Cavigneaux

Ute Neumann-Gorsolke
Herrschen in den Grenzen der Schöpfung: Ein Beitrag zur alttestamentlichen Anthropologie am Beispiel von Psalm 8, Genesis 1 und verwandten Texten
Reviewed by Thomas Krueger

Stanley E. Porter, ed.
Paul and His Theology
Reviewed by M. Eugene Boring

Paul A Rainbow
The Way of Salvation: The Role of Christian Obedience in Justification
Reviewed by Timothy Gombis

Horst Simonsen
Leonhard Goppelt (1911-1973)-Eine theologische Biographie: Exegese in theologischer und kirchlicher Verantwortung
Reviewed by Jim West

Anthony C. Thiselton
Thiselton on Hermeneutics: Collected Works with New Essays
Reviewed by Stanley E. Porter

Johan C. Thom
Cleanthes' Hymn to Zeus: Text, Translation, and Commentary
Reviewed by Troels Engberg-Pedersen

Martin Wallraff, ed.
Julius Africanus und die Christliche Weltchronistik
Reviewed by Jutta Tloka

Pastoral Group BBQ - Postscript

Following my earlier post on the pastoral groups BBQ, it just suddenly dawned on me that the rain, power cut and water cut all occurred when our Principal is away from STM.

Hmmmm...very interesting. Any connection here? Pure coincidence? Or....??

Friday, 20 July 2007

Pastoral Group BBQ - Another Sense of Humour of the Almighty?

Of late, I have begun to notice that "strange and mysterious things" do actually happen in STM, especially when they are somehow connected to the students (for my earlier posts on this, click here and here). Yesterday, it was no exception.

Since it was a public holiday for Negeri Sembilan, two pastoral groups decided that we should get together by having a BBQ at my place, which is just round the corner from the campus. We had a good time, no doubt. We had loads of food, and the "sin of gluttony" was rather prevalent (hmmm...how does one interpret the photo to the right?).

But something rather strange happened yesterday. This time, the water supply was cut off (hmmm...wondering whether is this supposed to be an answered prayer for someone in the group?? Will the guilty party please stand up???). Call it a coincidence when STM students get together. Previously, it was rain and power cut - and now water cut (and all these happened in the span of a few weeks in this semester. I wonder what would be next???)

I had a funny feeling that the water cut was not without a reason. As a result, we could not do the washing up of all the plates and utensils at my place - so we had to do it at the dining hall of STM. The students were near ecstatic when they saw me standing together with them in the washing up - they finally had a lecturer standing in line with them in doing the washing up, which was a very unusual sight. For those of you who may not be familiar with STM's dining etiquette, all the students take turn doing the washing up after every meal while all the lecturers are spared.

No wonder there was water cut! Perhaps some of the students have been praying hard for the water cut, so they could "punish" me by having me stood in solidarity with them in washing the dishes at the dining hall. One of them quipped, "Now you know how we feel after every meal!" The photo above says it all....

Another sense of humour of the Almighty?

Thursday, 19 July 2007

How Does A Biblical Scholar...? The Struggle to Write Devotionally

I must confess I am struggling - struggling to write the devotional readings for Asian Reflections for 2008, a 4-year bible reading project initiated by Scripture Union Malaysia. The deadline is way behind me now, and I am still struggling to put my thoughts in writing for a few more readings. I must be the only writer that has yet to submit the readings. My sincere apologies to Scripture Union, who has been very kind and patient with me, for all the inconveniences caused.

I am tasked with writing devotional commentaries for John 17-21. After spending a few years writing academically, I must say it is a bit of a struggle to write devotionally. It's not that I do not believe in writing devotionally (else, I would not have agreed to write for Scripture Union). I think my greatest struggle is to write in such a way as to connect with the hearts of the potential readers (not just the head), to cause them to ponder on the truth of the gospel, to challenge them to think through issues confronting them, and to convince them that God still speaks through the scriptures. This is one of my greatest challenges as a budding NT scholar!

I hope to complete writing the readings soon...yes...soon...very soon...

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

St Andrews' School of Divinity: Call for Papers

I have just been informed throught the British New Testament Society of the the following news item from St Mary's College, the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews.

Call for Papers

The Biblical Studies Seminar of the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews invites paper proposals on economic features of early Christianity, as reflected in extant data from the first three centuries ce. Of particular interest are proposals with a theological component that consider the topic in relation to:

1) New Testament texts; or

2) the use of the New Testament or the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible in Christian writings of the first three centuries ce.

The accepted papers are expected to be included in the Biblical Studies Seminar programme from February through May 2008. The Seminar will incur the presenters’ costs for B&B and for travel within Britain. Some of the papers may be published in a volume of collected essays.
Please send proposals of 500 words, by 15 September, to Dr Bruce Longenecker (BWL2@st-andrews.ac.uk), indicating full contact details and availability between February and May 2008. Proposals are invited from scholars at PhD level through to senior professors. Proposals from PhD students need to be accompanied by a letter of approval and recommendation from their PhD supervisor.

Any interested takers out there? Good opportunity and exposure for PhD candidates.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Report on State of Religious Liberty 2006

The National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) Malaysia has recently issued the Report on the State of religious Liberty in the Year 2006, a result of the research of the Religious Liberty Commission established under the auspices of NECF.

Several issues are addressed in this Report:

1) Developments in Law

2) Administrative Difficulties

3) Government Action in relation to Religion

4) Inter-Faith Issues

5) Religious Polarisation

Of particular concern, the Report notes:

"Since the Religious Liberties Commission’s reports began, there has been a noticeable degeneration of religious tolerance and an increase in the use of political, legislative, judicial and administrative authority to decide and enforce decisions that favour an austere and dogmatic brand of Islam over other religions, and at the cost of basic human rights."

This is one Report that all concerned citizens of Malaysia and those interested in religious liberty should take hold of and read carefully in order to have a clearer and better understanding of the issues addressed.

To download and read the complete Report, please click here.

Tentmakers International Congress 2007 - Part 4

In my earlier posts, I have been sharing some of my reflections as a delegate participating in the Tentmakers International Congress 2007 (for my earlier posts, see Part 1; Part 2 and Part 3). In this final post, I will briefly highlight what I personally perceived to be the positive developments in the tentmaking movement.

It seems to me that the tentmaking movement has been maturing over the years. One key emphasis that I have been hearing throughout the Congress is the need for marketplace ministry to be incorporated in the tentmaking movement. While marketplace ministry is mentioned numerous times in the Congress, it was not defined or further explained by the speakers. I can only safely assume that by suggesting the incorporation of marketplace ministry, it means that tentmakers are to reconsider the role faith plays in work/business and to affirm the intrinsic value of work/business as a legitimate expression of doing God's mission.

In the past, work/business is simply seen as nothing more than one of the legitimate means in gaining access into a country. There was no emphasis on the intrinsic value of work/business. This was reaffirmed when I was researching on the tentmaking movement as a Mockler Scholar in Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I could not find any materials, manuals or resources on tentmaking that placed emphasis on the value of work/business. My subsequent conversations with R. Paul Stevens and Pete Hammond further confirmed my findings.

But that was about 8-9 years ago. With the current emphasis on marketplace ministry, I hope that the dichotomy between faith and work will be removed. In this respect, work/business is no longer seen as simply the means of gaining access into a country to enable one to do evangelism but it is seen as part of God's mission in itself. This is certainly a step in the right direction for the tentmaking movement. I am glad that over the last 5 years or so, there is a proliferation of books on the value of work/business (something that is almost unheard of 10 years ago) and seminaries are also offering programmes and courses on marketplace ministry (e.g., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary offers an MA in Leadership and Business Ethics and a DMin in Workplace Leadership and Business Ethics. Of course, Regent College has always been in the forefront of promoting marketplace ministry. In STM, a course on Vocation, Work and Ministry is regularly offered).

This recent development is a very encouraging sign for me as over the past many years, I have been promoting the marketplace ministry, and challenging Christians in the marketplace to rethink about seeing their workplaces as mission and mission fields as well. I hope the Malaysian church is able to catch this vision as well.

Apart from the emphasis on the marketplace movement, three additional positive developments are worth mentioning. First, the emphasis on transforming communities also takes central stage in many of the discussions in the Congress. This is another very encouraging sign, as the tentmaking movement is now progressively making its shifts into holistic mission as well. The emphasis is no longer simply "getting people saved and sending them into heaven" but in transforming the communities - how to create maximum impact and transform the community through strategic development projects so that the gap between the poor and rich could be narrowed, and the standard of living of the local communities could be raised.

Secondly, the driving force behind the tentmaking movement has now gradually shifted to the two-third world. The "receiving nations" in the past are now the "sending nations." With globalisation, many professionals from the two-third world are now taking up strategic positions not only in developed nations but also in other developing nations. This group of professionals are naturally considered as "tentmakers" as well. While this is an encouraging development, this phenomena naturally raises another set of questions concerning mobilisation, training, equipping and resources of this particular group of tentmakers. This is an area that has been identified for further discussion and deliberation.

Finally, greater cooperation among the mission agencies, local churches and various denominations is also reported. This is crucial as no single person, agency or church is able to carry out the task of the Great Commission alone. At the same time, because of the greater dominance of the tentmaking movement by the two-third world, the voice of emerging scholars from this part of the world is also given its rightful hearing and can no longer be ignored by the West.

Overall, I think this Congress has largely achieved its objectives. Much has been said and discussed. But the question that remains is this: "Where do we go from here?" Will the churches unleash the talents in their midst? Will the churches adopt both a global and local missional framework? Will the churches and mission agencies work together with the seminaries to train, equip, and empower both existing and potential tentmakers?

Monday, 16 July 2007

STM Establishes the Institute of World Religions

In response of the increasing demand for continual education and trying challenges in a multi-religious context, STM recently established the Institute of World Religions headed by my colleague, Dr Solomon Rajah.

The objectives of the Institute are to:
  • Establish a rigorous methodology in research and study of religions;

  • Provide research work that deals with epistemology, philosophy, sociology and knowledge of classical and folk religions;

  • Provide the collection of sacred texts and literature in (a) digital form, (b) printed medium, and (c) net locations;

  • Build a reference library of non-Christian religious resources in order to provide access to those engaged in research;

  • Be a facilitator of inter-religious dialogue by organising seminars, workshops and symposiums;

  • Provide regular forums on religious issues of public concern;Establish formal relationship with religious Associations and Centres of higher learning;

  • Document significant religious movements and events in Malaysia;

  • Publish occasional papers on religions and religious issues in Malaysia;

  • Assist research students in their work on religions.

Click here for further information of the Institute and the programmes planned for the coming year.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Bibliography: How and Where - Part 3

This is the long-awaited 3rd post in the series on how to build one's bibliography for research by using online resources. In my previous posts, I have suggested how one could effectively search for books and journals online.

In this post, I will highlight some suggestions on how searches for theses and dissertations could easily be carried out in regions covering the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australasia.

Theological Research and Exchange Network – This is an extensive database covering North American Masters and Doctoral (mainly Doctor of Ministry) dissertations. Theses can be purchased at reasonable price and are available in pdf format (for immediate download) and Microfiche.

ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Services – This is a massive database containing more than 1.9 million North American Doctoral dissertations. Free search available only for past 2 years' dissertations. The most useful feature is the first 24-page free preview of the thesis, and this is essentially what one needs most of the time - the table of contents! Subscription required to search the entire database.

Theses Canada - Availability to search AMICUS, Canada's national online catalogue, for bibliographic records of all theses in Library and Archives Canada's theses collection, which was established in 1965. The most useful feature of Theses Canada programme is the availability to access and search the full text electronic versions of numerous Canadian theses and dissertations (no kidding - and it is FREE! I have downloaded several theses from this database).

British Thesis Services – This is a database maintained by the British Library. Search for theses accepted for higher degrees by universities in Great Britain and Ireland. However, the cost of purchasing the thesis can be rather prohibitive at times.

Aslib Index to Thesis - A comprehensive listing of theses with abstracts accepted for higher degrees by universities in Great Britain and Ireland. By subscription only.

Australasian Digital Theses (ADT) Project Database - Search all theses accepted for higher degrees by universities in Australasia. This is a fairly recent project, and theses in theology and religious studies are still quite limited in number. But the good news is that if you can find one thesis that is closely related to your research, it is FREELY available in pdf format. I managed to download a couple of theses from this database.

If one is able to search carefully and comprehensively all the above databases, he or she should comfortably have a credible list of both unpublished or published theses and a fairly good grasp of the trend of research in one's field of interest.

Coming up next...how to search for papers presented in international conferences...this is a bit more difficult and tricky...

5 PhD Scholarships Available

I received this alert last week through the British New Testament Society mailing list, but forgot to post it until today. Please pass this on to anyone that might be interested in this scholarship.

Note that one of the scholarships is designated to work with Steve Moyise on the use of OT in the NT. This is an excellent opportunity to work under the supervision of a very well known scholar who is not only an authority in the field of the use of OT in the NT but also publishes widely in this area. Don't miss out this opportunity.

"The University of Chichester is shortly to advertise in the Guardian/Times Higher five PhD bursaries worth £12,000 (+fees) for three years. One is specifically designated to work with Steve Moyise on some aspect of the use of Scripture in the New Testament. If you know of any MA students who might be interested, please ask them to email Steve Moyise for more details (s.moyise@chi.ac.uk)."

Friday, 13 July 2007

Tentmakers International Congress 2007 - Part 3

I decided to take a short break from sharing my reflections on the Congress. I thought it might be interesting to highlight what I discovered on the sidelines of the Congress.

I learned that SIM (formerly called Sudan Interior Mission) is now called Serving In Mission. But having spoken to one delegate from SIM, I realised SIM also stands for, among other things...
  • Sitting In Meeting
  • Sharing In Meeting
  • when things get a bit bored in meetings - Sleeping In Meeting
  • and I add...when sleeping is prolonged, it is...Snoring In Meeting (much to the amusement of the delegate...)
On the 2nd day of the conference, all delegates were treated to supper, ala Malaysian way. Since durian is in season, it is on the menu for supper. Durian for supper!! Wow!!

I wonder how this is possible, since the hotel has a big sign in the lobby that greets all visitors: "Durian is prohibited." Did someone smuggle durian into the hotel? If so, how was this done? Hmmm...Perhaps the durians made it to the "restricted access" hotel by being "tentmakers"?

I wonder how many foreign delegates would return to Malaysia after tasting durian, if they ever tried it....

I also wonder how many would have bad breath the next day....

I also wonder whether by serving durian, it is the organiser's way of orientation to all the tentmakers wannabes about inculturation and contextualisation, since food is so central to all cultures...

In addition, I also wonder would serving durian also functioned as a natural filtering process for all potential tentmakers intending to come to Malaysia?

Hmmm...Just food for thought.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Tentmakers International Congress 2007 - Part 2

Some people have asked why I am interested in the tenkmaking movement. There are several reasons.

First, I have been involved in the marketplace ministry movement for a number of years (as a Mockler Scholar at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with weekend involvement in the Marketplace Ministries of the historic Park Street Church in Boston, and having worked several years in an organisation that attempted to promote marketplace ministry movement). As such, I am interested to explore how the connection between faith and work/business can be further explored, particularly how this is being explored in the tentmaking movement.

Second, as a NT scholar with an interest in mission studies, I am also keen to find out the direction of tentmaking movement as a mission initiative in the global context today.

Third, as a Pauline scholar, I am interested to see how the tentmaking movement, which owes its name and existence to Paul as a tentmaker, has evolved over the years.

It was with these reasons that I decided to participate in the 5th Tentmakers International Malaysia Congress 2007, with the hope of listening and learning from those involved in strategic planning and the practice of tentmaking movement, and having a better understanding of how the direction of the tentmaking movement evolves in a fast-changing globalised context.

Having outlined my reasons and hopes in attending this congress, I must confess that I walked away with mixed feelings.

My reflection is simply based on the sessions that I have attended, and perhaps some of my concerns reflected here may have been very well adequately addressed in other parallel workshop sessions that I missed.

In one of the plenary sessions, the speaker addressed the issue of suffering as a tentmaker. I am very glad that this topic surfaced, as I have argued elsewhere that suffering in missiological contexts has been largely ignored (see my forthcoming article "Is There A Place For Suffering In Mission? Perspectives from Paul’s Sufferings in 2 Corinthians" in an edited volume tentatively titled The Soul of Mission: Perspectives on Christian Spirituality, Leadership and Asian Mission ).

While the speaker is right to emphasise the readiness and willingness to suffer as a tentmaker, I feel rather uncomfortable when I listened to the criteria of sufferings that were enumerated. He listed: 1) poverty; 2) willingness to lose jobs; and 3) readiness for numerous relocation as sufferings to be endured by the tentmaker. Perhaps I may have missed something else he said, but based on his PowerPoint slides, the emphasis seems to be narrowly focused on economic terms.

My uneasiness surfaced when we narrowly define sufferings in missiological context merely in economic terms and as a consequence of obeying Christ's Great Commission. I must qualify that I am in no way minimising the economic effects of following Christ or that this is an issue that tentmakers should not struggle with (those of us in the full-time Christian vocation would readily identify with this!!). What I am suggesting is that by merely focusing on these aspects, perhaps it does not give us a larger picture of the biblical teaching on suffering for the sake of the gospel.

If we were to examine Paul's sufferings carefully, a different picture emerged. Intrinsic and integral to his calling as an apostle to the Gentiles is suffering - he must suffer for the sake of Christ's name (see Acts 9:15-16). It is not a consequence. It is a necessity. Paul's understanding of his sufferings is further expounded in 2 Corinthians (see 2 Cor 1:3-11; 4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:23-12:10; and 13:4). For further discussion, see my "The Sufferings of Christ are Abundant in Us (2 Cor 1:5): A Narrative Dynamics Investigation of Paul's Sufferings in 2 Corinthians, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wales, 2007.

In a research seminar with mission studies scholars that I attended in 2004, I raised the question whether Paul's view his understanding of suffering as a consequence or as a necessity in his apostolic mission. I received two very interesting response. A missionary from North America serving in the African continent strongly suggested that suffering should be viewed as a consequence. He gave his life as an example where he made huge sacrifices to be a missionary in Africa - gave up a comfortable job, sacrificed financially, be far away from his family; and lived in a accommodation without air-condition in a tropical weather and, of course, without any hot shower facilities. He mentioned that all these sufferings could be easily avoided if he chose not to be a missionary.

On the other hand, a pastor from Eastern Europe argued otherwise. To him, suffering was a necessity for mission, and he shared from his life experiences as well. He was imprisoned as a result of sharing his faith. However, everyone in the prison knew the very reason why he was there in prison - it was precisely because of his faith. Even though he was not allowed to share his faith, the very fact of his presence in prison was itself a testimony and proclamation of the gospel which subsequently resulted in several conversions. As such, this pastor could easily identify with Paul's understanding of his suffering as intrinsic to his call as an apostle.

The problem of narrowing our understanding of suffering merely in economic terms and as a consequence in following after Christ has the danger of stressing the fact that we do have a choice - we do have a choice in choosing what type of cross we would like to carry; what type of sacrifice we would like to make; and what type of Christian obedience suits our purpose and motive. As such, we are the one who makes the call; it is not God who calls us.

If Paul the tentmaker views his suffering as a necessity and integral in his call to be the apostle to the Gentiles, dare we expect any less than this? Perhaps it's time we are reminded that religious security and a quest for safe haven of redemption without any risk are alien in Paul's gospel. Without the cross, there is no Pauline gospel, no Christian gospel. Without suffering, there is no Pauline mission, no Christian proclamation.

Further reflection continues....in Part 3.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Pope: Other Churches not True Church

How does one interpret the latest statement by Pope Benedict? Does this mean that we are not making progress in the ecumenical dialogue?

"Pope Benedict has approved a new text asserting that Christian denominations outside Roman Catholicism are not true Churches in the full sense of the word.

The document, issued by a Vatican watchdog, has been criticised as offensive by some Protestants.

The text was written by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Pope Benedict before his election as Pope.

It states that Christ established only one Church here on earth.

Other Christian denominations, it argues, cannot be called Churches in the proper sense because they cannot trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles."

Read the rest of the report on bbc.co.uk.

For another perspective, read the report by Nicole Winfield, Associated Press Writer.

Pastoral Group

On every Wednesday morning during the semester, STM student community meets in small pastoral groups with the faculty members as part of our spiritual formation exercise.

In my pastoral group, there are local students (from Malaysia) as well as students from the region such as Myanmar and Vietnam.

On one of the Wednesdays, one of our postgraduate students from Myanmar shared about her weekend ministry among the Myanmar migrant workers in the Klang Valley. She gave us insights into the life, struggles, frustrations, and challenges facing the migrant workers in this country.

Migrant workers contribute to the economic growth of Malaysia by involving in many areas of employment shunned by the locals. They are mostly labourers in the plantation and construction industries, manual workers in the manufacturing industry, and maids in the homes of many middle-class families.

Thank you for opening our eyes to the needs of the migrant workers in our very own shores, sharing the stories from their perspectives, and raising our awareness concerning the plight of these workers.

Tentmakers International Congress 2007 - Part 1

I have just returned from attending the 3-day 5th Tentmakers International Malaysian Congress 2007, held from July 9-11 at the Selesa Beach Resort, Port Dickson.

The aim of this congress is "to promote the Tentmaking initiatives and envision the key people to network and synergise the movement." More than 150 people from various parts of the world congregated in Port Dickson to discuss and share their experience and to network with one another on how tentmaking initiatives could be further promoted.

There were some very good sessions. A total of 4 plenary sessions were planned, and these covered the topics of "The Global Tentmaker Movement," "Serving the Unreached Peoples - Really?" "Mobilising Tentmakers," and "Tentmaking and New Global Mission movements." Reports on tentmaking activities from various regions ranging from Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia, Oceania, North America, Africa, to Europe were also presented. In addition, a total of 16 workshops sessions with diverse topics to cater to the wide ranging interests of the participants were also organised.

Overall, it was a good congress, and I have personally learned much from it. I will post a couple of my reflections in the subsequent days. Now...it's back to work in the seminary!

Monday, 9 July 2007

Review of Biblical Literature 2 July, 2007

The latest reviews have been added to the Review of Biblical Literature.

Stephen C. Carlson
The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark
Reviewed by Craig L. Blomberg

John Chryssavgis, trans.
Barsanuphius and John: Letters
Reviewed by Tim Vivian

Michael E. Fuller
The Restoration of Israel: Israel's Re-gathering and the Fate of the Nations in Early Jewish Literature and Luke-Acts
Reviewed by M. Eugene Boring

Russell Fuller and Kyoungwon Choi
Invitation to Biblical Hebrew: A Beginning Grammar
Reviewed by Arian Verheij

Russell Fuller, with Kyoungwon ChoiInvitation to Biblical Hebrew: A Beginning Grammar: Classroom DVDs
Reviewed by Thomas Wagner

Joseph H. Hellerman
Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as Cursus Pudorum
Reviewed by Jason Lamoreaux

David G. Horrell
An Introduction to the Study of Paul
Reviewed by Christopher Stanley
Reviewed by Stephen Westerholm

Henry Ansgar Kelly
Satan: A Biography
Reviewed by Jim West

Millard Lind
The Sound of Sheer Silence and the Killing State: The Death Penalty and the Bible
Reviewed by Jason R. Tatlock

Bernhard Mutschler
Das Corpus Johanneum bei Irenäus von Lyon: Studien und Kommentar zum dritten Buch von Adversus Haereses
Reviewed by Riemer Roukema

T. A. Perry
The Honeymoon Is Over: Jonah's Argument with God
Reviewed by Michael H. Floyd

Robert Rezetko, Timothy H. Lim, and W. Brian Aucker, eds.
Reflection and Refraction: Studies in Biblical Historiography in Honour of A. Graeme Auld
Reviewed by Diana Edelman

John F. A. Sawyer, ed.
The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture
Reviewed by Dan W. Clanton Jr.

Albert Wifstrand; Lars Rydbeck and Stanley E. Porter, eds.
Epochs and Styles: Selected Writings on the New Testament, Greek Language and Greek Culture in the Post-Classical Era
Reviewed by Steven Thompson

British New Testament Society Conference 2007

The 26th Annual British New Testament Society Conference will be hosted by University of Exeter from 6-8 September 2007.

The main speakers are Professor Morna Hooker who will be speaking on "Paul the Pastor: The Relevance of the Gospel"; Professor John Riches on "Reception History as Literary History"; and Professor Larry Hurtado on "Early Christian Manuscripts as Artefacts: An Illustrated Presentation."

This year's programmes for the seminar on Paul, Synoptic Gospels, and the Social World of the NT are now posted. We can expect the full details of the programmes for the other seminars to be made available soon.

In particular, this year's seminar on Paul proves to be very interesting compared to previous years, with papers from Francis Watson, Sean Winter, Ward Blanton, Roland Boer, Kathy Ehrensperger, and a joint paper by Cherryl Hunt, David Horrell, and Christopher Southgate.

I would to highlight the paper to be presented by NT scholar and a very dear friend, Kathy Ehrensperger, on "'Power in Pauline Discourse from a Feminist Perspective." The abstract of her paper is reproduced below:

"Paul was power conscious. This is hardly a matter of controversy. It is perceived as almost self-evident that Paul was self-consciously involved in the exercise of power. In recent scholarly debate controversy arises when it comes to the evaluation of what is perceived as fact in differing readings. Was Paul trying to impose his will and understanding of the gospel on others in order to establish a position of domination over them - or was he legitimately establishing a leadership role as the unique apostle to the gentiles?

Feminist scholars have drawn attention to the problems inherent in an image of Paul as a leader who exercised dominating power over others in order to establish a static hierarchy within the early Christ-movement, as well as the impact this image has had throughout history. If power is identical with domination and static hierarchies, the Pauline discourse witnesses to a departure from the ethos of a movement which was guided by sayings such as 'no one shall lord it over you'.

The question I will address in this paper is whether a different perception of power in the Pauline discourse emerges when alternative theories of power come into play. I am informed here by a variety of feminist theories of power which have moved beyond a concept of power as domination and power-over. It has been recognized that such models do not sufficiently account for the power of the powerless and subordinate, and also do not adequately encompass the diversity of forms of power that are present in social interaction. In response to this perceived deficiency, feminist theorists (drawing on theories of e.g. Hannah Arendt) have been developing theories of power which are attentive to the empowering dimension of power as well as to its dominating aspects, proposing a threefold perception of power as power-over, power-to and power-with. In this paper I will analyze aspects of the Pauline discourse of power, in concert with such threefold feminist perceptions of power advocating that, despite its contextual limitations, a significant discourse of empowerment emerges from such a reading."

It will be interesting to see how Kathy develops the notion of discourse of empowerment from her analysis of Pauline discourse on power. At the same time, I am also eagerly anticipating her forthcoming book, Paul and the Dynamics of Power: Communication and Interaction in the Early Christ-Movement, Library of New Testament Studies (London, New York: T&T Clark 2007), to be released by the third quarter of 2007.

I wish I could be in Exeter in September this year to participate in the British NT Conference....

Friday, 6 July 2007

Congratulations, Edwin

Edwin, one of our Master of Theology candidates from the Philippines, is all smiles today. He has successfully defended his thesis on the Christological reading of the temptation narrative of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew in his viva today, with some minor corrections. Both the examiners (and yours truly happens to be one of them) are very happy with his thesis and oral defence today.

Congratulations, Edwin, and we wish you all the best for your future ministry. Well done, and we are proud of you.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Violence and Peace: A New Book by My Colleague

Dr Solomon Rajah, my colleague who teaches Pastoral Theology and World Religions, has just published his new book, Violence and Peace: Some Asian Religious Thoughts and A Christian Perspective (Petaling Jaya: Council of Churches of Malaysia, 2007).

According to Solomon, this book is "an attempt to present a study on the problem of violence and peace within the Christian traditions, noting non-violence and peace as God's means of communicating the biblical faith within the realities of war, terrorism and violence in the world. It will also introduce helpful information of some Asian thoughts on violence and their peace imperatives."

Solomon's book is timely in view of the rise of violence of the present age of sectarian violence. What is particularly welcome in this book is Solomon's interaction with peace imperatives in some of the religious traditions in the Asian context including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Tribal religions. He also exhorts readers to follow the example of Jesus in embracing reconciliation, justice and peace.

Well written, informative and thought provoking, Solomon's book is highly recommended for pastors, Christians, and all those who are committed in pursuing non-violence in a violent world.

Solomon's previous publications include Folk Hinduism (Manila: ATESEA, 2000) and Symbols and the Church (Petaling Jaya: Council of Churches in Malaysia, 2005).

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

We "Complete" the Bible...

Anthony Loke and I make the "Bible" complete in STM. Anthony teaches the OT (I sometimes call it the "preface" to the NT...well, preface is the most important part of the book, it tells you why the book is written, and gives existence to the book...I'm not sure Anthony would agree with me) and I teach the NT in STM.

Anthony has just returned from his sabbatical leave. He is in the final stage of his PhD with the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies and hopes to submit his thesis by end of the year. We wish all the best, Anthony, and we look forward to calling you Rev Dr Anthony Loke!

PS. This is part of our photo taking exercise this morning in the seminary for our graduating students 2007.

Latest Update on July 5: After reading my post, Anthony strongly objects to my calling the OT as the "preface" of the NT. He strikes back by calling the NT "the after-thought." After all according to Rabbi Loke, the OT is "complete" for a Jew... hmmm...looks like the battle continues! This is the fun of "biblical scholarship'!!

The Cry of A Seminarian: A Chapel Message Response

This is my chapel message on July 3, 2007, in response to my earlier post, The Cry of A Seminarian.

When Jesus calls the twelve disciples, he invites them to join him on a journey - a journey of living together, a journey of learning together, and a journey of discovering together. Imagine that you are one of the twelve disciples on this journey.

If I were to ask you to blog about your journey and experience with Jesus and the rest of the disciples, what would you write? What would your story be like? As for me, if I were to blog, perhaps I will share a bit on the three crises that I experience in my journey with Jesus and the other disciples.

First, I would like to highlight that my journey with Jesus is a crisis of relationship. The twelve disciples never seem to get along pretty well in many instances. They argue about who is the greatest among them (Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46). Two of them even have their mother involved in trying to persuade Jesus to give them the best positions when Jesus establishes his kingdom – one to sit on Jesus’ left and the other on the right (Matt 20:20-21; cf. Mark 10:35-41). Don’t forget, there are a Zealot (Mark 3:18; cf. Matt 10:4; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13) and a tax collector (Mark 2:14; Matt 9:9; Luke 5:27-28) in their midst too. I suspect there might be resistance to the presence of these two people in the group. Some might even question the wisdom of Jesus in choosing Simon and Matthew to be his disciples because they might turn out to be liabilities for the whole group!

Second, this journey is a crisis of faith. The disciples expect Jesus to restore Israel. After all, Jesus is supposed to be the anticipated Messiah for Israel. But Jesus’ plan for the kingdom is not only for the Jews but it includes the Gentiles as well. To the Jews, surely they would not want to have anything to do with the Gentiles. They did not want to have anything to do with the Samaritans. Remember on one occasion, they even want to call fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritan villages (Luke 9:52-55). Imagine what would have crossed the minds of the disciples when Jesus takes them into Gentile territories to cast out demons, to perform miracles, and to heal the sick. Perhaps they would have responded, “How could this be? How could the Gentiles have a share in our inheritance?”

Third, this journey is also a crisis of failed expectations. The disciples have high hopes in following Jesus. They expect Jesus to establish the physical kingdom of God (Acts 1:6). They expect Jesus to liberate them from the powers of the Roman Empire. But Jesus tells them that his kingdom is not of this world. It is not a physical kingdom. Their dream and hope for the restoration of the kingdom of Israel are not fulfilled in the way they want them to be.

A crisis of relationship. A crisis of faith. A crisis of failed expectations. I wonder whether does this somehow describes your journey as a student in STM?

For the past two weeks, I have been in conversation with several bloggers on the issue of theological education and spiritual formation (for my earlier posts, see "Another 'Sick Project'"; Follow-Up on 'Another Sick Project: Character Formation and Theological Education"; and The Cry of A Seminarian). I have also been reading some of your blogs to understand some of your struggles.

One of you blogged a very penetrating and soul-searching article. In her post, Rccnlj pours out her heart as she struggles as a seminarian, reflects on her journey in her theological education, raises many questions concerning the various aspects of spiritual formation in theological education, and expresses her desires for lecturers to journey alongside her as she is being equipped for Christian ministry.

I confess I do not know how to respond as I listen to your struggles. I wish I know how to help you in your journey. I wish I have the answers to your struggles. But I want you to know that I am listening to your struggles. I hear your cry. I hear your frustrations. I deeply sympathize with you. I am with you in this journey as I have been in your shoes before.

Perhaps I can offer my reflection on what I learn from the disciples of Jesus
  1. They continue on this journey despite the odds. At one time, Jesus asks them whether they want to leave him. Peter answers, “To whom shall we go?” (John 6:68) They do not abandon this journey.
  2. They continue on this journey by supporting one another. They remain together after the burial and on the day of resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24:33; John 20:19). They remain together in the upper room on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1).

  3. They continue on this journey by trusting in Jesus’ promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit. They wait in expectation of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

My encouragement to all of us is this - you are not alone in this journey. Remember that the three years the disciples spend with Jesus are not easy years. But those years are crucial and necessary for their spiritual formation and preparation for greater service for the Lord. This journey that they embark is a journey that changes their lives forever. It is a journey that also changes the course of history of the world.

So I invite you, come, let us take this journey together as fellow pilgrims. Let us encourage and support one another. Let us laugh and cry together. Let us correct and admonish one another. But more importantly, let us not walk this journey alone. It is too difficult. It is too lonely. We can only take this journey together as a community of believers who despite our own weaknesses and flaws, yet resolve to help carry one another’s burden.

Will you join me, despite my flaws and weaknesses, in this journey so that together we can make a difference? So that together we can usher in the present reality of the kingdom of God in this land?

Come, join me in this journey – a journey of learning together, a journey of discovering together.

P/S. A word about the photos. They represent my journey as a theological student. They were taken in different seasons along the favourite path that I took almost daily for my walk when I was a doctoral student in Wales - perhaps the sheep in the farms would have seen my tears, sensed my frustrations and heard my struggles deep within as a theological student trying to make sense of his calling, faith, research, and future vocation as a theological educator.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Article in Asian Journal of Comparative Law

I have just been alerted on the journal article, "Law of Apostasy and Freedom of Religion in Malaysia" by Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil, MARA University of Technology, Shah Alam, Malaysia.

The abstract of this article is reproduced below:

The right to freedom of religion is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed in Islam. This is emphasised in verse 256 of Sura al-Baqara: "Let there be no compulsion in religion". However, the majority of classical Muslim jurists opine that the right to freedom of religion is not applicable to Muslims, that Muslims who intend to leave the Islamic faith or who have apostatised should be condemned to the death penalty. In reality, punishment for apostasy is not prescribed in the Qur'an and had not been practised by the Prophet (S.A.W.). Instead, the Prophet (S.A.W.) had imposed the death penalty upon apostates because their acts were contemptuous of, and hostile towards, Islam. Muslims who merely renounced the Islamic religion were only required to undergo a process of repentance (tawba). The right to freedom of religion is guaranteed in Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia. However, as Islamic matters belong to the state jurisdictions, most provisions in relation to apostasy are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Shari'a Courts. Apostates are subject to punishments such as fine, imprisonment and whipping. This article makes an in-depth study of the right to freedom of religion and the issue of apostasy from the Islamic law perspective, and argues that Muslims who intend to leave the Islamic faith are only required to undergo a process of repentance (tawba), and any punishment prescribed for apostasy is contrary to the right to freedom of religion.

The full text of this article may be accessed electronically through the Asian Journal of Comparative Law, 2/1 (April 2007). Check it out.

Answered Prayer?

It was my turn to speak at the chapel service at 8am this morning. But, at about 7.50am , there was a complete blackout in the entire campus.

In view of my earlier post commenting that STM students always pray fervently for rain at 5pm on every Thursday so that they could be spared of gardening activities (see "God Is So Good...") , someone asked me whether I prayed for blackout this morning so that chapel service could be cancelled, and I could be spared of preaching this morning (well, quite a number of people know that I always struggle in my sermon preparation).

Well, I did not pray for blackout. But if I did pray, it was not an answered prayer. The chapel service continued on as usual, despite the blackout.

By the way, the electricity came back just before chapel ended....Another sense of humour of the Almighty?

Sunday, 1 July 2007

The Cry of A Seminarian

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been much discussion on the relationship between the quality of theological education and spiritual formation/character building (for previous discussion, see my posts on "Another 'Sick Project'" and Follow-Up on 'Another Sick Project: Character Formation and Theological Education"; and also see the post on "Does Theological Education Produces Character?" by Alex Tang).

I have offered my views as a seminary lecturer, but I wonder what would be the persepctive of a seminary student? What is the experiece or expectation of a seminary student as far as his/her theological education in relation to spiritual formation is concerned?

I think it is important also to listen to the voice of a seminary student. After all, as a theological educator, my ultimate concern should not simply be my personal career development, my research interests and the publication of my scholarly discoveries (although all these are important and I must qualify that I am not discounting any of these), but also the education, equipping and empowerment of the students for whatever Christian vocation that they might be called to.

So I thought it would be good to read some of our students' blogs. This does not disappoint me, and I did not have to go far in my quest, as one seminary student blogged a very penetrating and soul-searching article on The Cry of A Seminarian.

In her post, Rccnlj pours out her heart as she struggles as a seminarian, reflects on her journey in her theological education, raises many questions concerning the various aspects of spiritual formation in theological education, and expresses her desires for lecturers to journey alongside her as she is being equipped for Christian ministry. This captures the essence of the questions I raised earlier on whether we could balance excellence in scholarship and spiritual formation in theological education.

Reading the post of Rccnlj set me thinking and reflecting on my role as a seminary lecturer and the expectation placed by the students. I think I will pick up this issue in next week's Tuesday chapel where it will be my turn to speak, or perhaps I will provide a response later.