Sunday, 30 September 2007

What..You Can Speak Mandarin??



Most of the students in STM are still rather surprised that I can speak some "broken" Mandarin. In one of my earlier posts, I highlighted that I went to a Chinese National Type Primary and Secondary Schools. Of course, Pearlie was surprised to find out that I am Chinese educated!

Well, Pearlie is not the only one. One of our students in my pastoral group also found out this fact about me faily recently. It happened when we were having a BBQ at my place, and he heard me speaking in Mandarin. He was so shocked and stunned.

"What...you can speak Mandarin, ah! All this while I thought you don't understand Mandarin, and I struggled so hard to communicate with you in English for the past 7 months!"

Well...all that I can say is this: Most just assume that I don't speak Mandarin, and don't ask me about it.

Anyway, it was rather fun seeing this student's response and his shocked expression. One more secret of mine has been finally "discovered." I guess there will be more to come...


Cartoon credit: humorist.com

Saturday, 29 September 2007

It Was A Sad Day...

As a seminary lecturer, one of my deepest desires is to see students learn and grow through the assignments, essays, and thesis that they are working on. I do understand that sometimes because of the demands of the heavy workload, one may end up submitting a paper, essay or thesis just for the sake of getting a passing grade in order to obtain a piece of certificate at the end of their studies.

I feel very strongly that one should learn from one's mistakes and weaknesses (if any) in the papers or essays submitted. As such, I do point out some serious errors that students make, and sometimes I require them to make the necessary corrections in order to improve their work and, at the same time, to learn from the mistakes or errors that they make. Not to mention, sometimes this may improve their grade too.

However, comments on the students' mistakes and errors may not go down well at times. Sometimes, the request to rework on the papers may be frowned upon. I had one student remarked to me when I pointed out the shortcomings with the request for reworking on the paper: "I don't have time to look into it. I just want to get this out of the way."

When I heard such comments, I felt very sad, disappointed, and to a certain extent, upset. It was not because of the fact that my efforts went unappreciated. But I sometimes wonder what went wrong. Was there too much work for the students? Was I being too demanding? Or, what else could this be?

Whatever it might be, that was a sad day for me indeed.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Are Biblical Languages Still Necessary in Seminary?

Do we still need to teach Greek and Hebrew in the seminary? Is the knowledge of Greek and Hebrew a requirement for exegesis? Are biblical languages still necessary for Christian ministry?

These are some of the questions my colleague, the Rabbi, raised in his recent post which has generated some interesting discussion. This issue has been brewing in me for some time now. In fact this post that you are reading was first drafted sometime in August and I have been wondering whether to publish it or not. In response to the Rabbi's post, I thought that it would be good to just share my thoughts on this issue.

There have been some debates whether biblical languages are still required in the seminary curriculum. In Malaysia, seminaries like Bible College of Malaysia, Malaysia Bible Seminari and Seminari Theoloji Malaysia require students to do at least one biblical language, and this is usually Greek, and Hebrew is often considered as an elective.

Having taught at two seminaries in Malaysia for the past seven years, these are some of the frequent comments I received from former and current students:

  • I don't see the relevance of Greek or Hebrew in my ministry.

  • I don't foresee that I would use Greek after the Greek or exegesis class is over in the seminary.

  • Most pastors that I spoke to admit that they don't even refer to their Greek Bible after seminary, and they don't even use it in their ministry, whether in counselling, preaching, or teaching.

  • Some pastors don't even have time to read commentaries in preparing for their sermon, much less referring to the Greek text.

  • I don't see the benefit of learning Greek - after all, all that I did was to memorise the vocabulary and the various paradigms in order to pass the exams.

In addition, I have also received many complaints from students with regards to the difficulties in grasping Greek.

Therefore, the question is this: What is the use of learning something that I know I will never use it after seminary?

I don't have all the answers to the above questions. But for me, yes, I still read my Greek Bible (and occasionally Hebrew Bible), I still refer to the Greek text frequently, and I still play around BibleWorks for "fun" in my free time. Therefore, Greek is still very much alive in me. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that I am a lecturer in the seminary. As such, I think I am not in the best person to speak on behalf of those who are not in my position.

Perhaps at this juncture, I would like to offer my reflection from a different perspective.

I recalled some years ago that something caught my attention when I visited the website of International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC), a research and postgraduate institution of the International Islamic University Malaysia that offers Masters and PhD programmes in Islamic Studies. For the language requirements, in addition to the mastery of Arabic language, I was very surprised that Greek was also required so that those who study Islamic studies are also able to read the Christian scripture in its original language.

(I must qualify that recent visit to the website of ISTAC, there is no mention of the requirement or the offering of Greek language in its course offering. Therefore, I am uncertain whether any other languages other than Arabic are now being offered to or made compulsory for the students).

The mastery of Arabic language for the Islamic Scholars is never an option nor a requirement; in fact it is taken for granted that any Islamic scholar is able to speak, read and recite the Quran in Arabic fluently. Can this also be said to be the case with Christian scholars, ministers and pastors?

If it is true that Muslim Scholars and ministers are learning Greek so that they are able to read the NT in its original language, how much more do the Christian scholars and ministers owe it to themselves to learn at least one biblical language so that they would be able to read their own scripture in its original language as well.

If it is true that Muslims scholars and ministers are able to read the sacred text of other faiths in its original language other than their own, how much more do the Christian scholars and ministers need to master biblical language. Would the Christian dare to do less than this?

Can you imagine if seminaries in multi-religious Malaysia make it a requirement for students to master biblical languages, and in addition, to learn at least one other original language of the sacred texts of other religious faiths, I wonder what would happen? Would there be any takers?

Sometimes, I wonder whether why are we so prepared to take the easier path at the expense of future generation instead of willing to pay the price of learning biblical language and thereby gaining further insights into God's word? If our Muslim counterparts are able to do it, why not us? If we truly believe that our Bible is God's word, why are we willing to compromise? Do we actually love our scripture less?

Admittedly, I must also say that I have heard excellent sermons being preached without the speakers knowing the biblical languages. I often wonder if these preachers were to have some knowledge of biblical languages, would their sermon be better?

Having said that, I must also confess that sometimes the lack of interest in biblical languages could very well be due to our teaching methodology. Perhaps, we have failed to demonstrate to the students the treasure of learning Greek and Hebrew. Perhaps we have only taught the students the mechanical and technical aspects of the language where it is nothing beyond mere memorisation of the vocabulary and different paradigms just for the sake of passing the exams. Perhaps we have failed to show them the relevance of knowing Greek and Hebrew in their teaching and preaching.

I think we still have a long way to go before we could even be at par with our Muslim counterparts. Is anyone out there willing to journey with the Rabbi and the budding NT scholar?

One Race, Two Views?

On Sunday, the Star runs a rather interesting article on the Chinese community in Malaysia. Essentially, the article highlights that there are two distinct groups of Chinese community in Malaysia. The first group, called G1, comprises Chinese who "subscribe to the concept of the three pillars (Chinese Media, Chinese Schools and Chinese Organisations) for the simple reason that they make up 85-90% of the 6.5 million Chinese in the country. The remaining 10-15% are, for want of a better term, referred to as the English-speaking group (G2). The G2 encompasses those who are not Chinese-educated; they speak English and include a large number of Christians, the peranakan and also those who are part of the Lions and Rotary Clubs set."


It is interesting to note that according to this report, Chinese Chritians in Malaysia belong to the so-called G-2 group, a group that are labelled "as “bananas,” meaning they are yellow outside (Chinese), but white inside (pro-Western culture). Or, as the Hokkiens would put it a little more explicitly, the G2 folk “chiak ang moh sai” (have eaten too much Western s**t). There's no denying that the G2 are more open to Western ideas and ideals.

"Their ideas of governance, democracy, role of the media and even elections are influenced by the West, namely Britain and the United States. They like to say these are universal ideals even though half the world does not subscribe to the way the Americans and British think,” said Fui K. Soong, director of Insap, a political think tank affiliated to MCA.

In addition, the articles reports that "the G2 are issue-oriented. They are influenced by issues and their votes swing from one election to another. They are mostly middle-class, articulate and prone to take issues to the press and in recent years into the Internet...The Chinese, it is often said, are quite inscrutable about their politics but not this group. They are not afraid to air their political views or who they will vote for.

“They are so articulate about their grievances that people think, ‘oh dear, the entire Chinese community is upset’.But actually, their views reflect mainly those in this English-speaking group,” said Soong.

The G2 have been the most critical of the ruling party in recent years.

The Christians in the G2 are particularly concerned about the issue of Islamic state. According to Soong, the survival of the common law and the secular state is very important to this group because it guarantees their modern lifestyle and for the Christians, the freedom to practise their faith.

Their fears about the Islamic State is very real and emotional because they see it as a threat to Christianity. The fear comes from deep in the gut,” she said.

Read the rest of the article here.



It is rather interesting that Chinese Christians are labelled as such in the article. There is no denying that many Chinese believers in the Klang Valley belong to the group called G-2 in the article. It is even more interesting to note that Christians are particularly interested in the issue of Islamisation because of their concern for "their modern lifestyles...and the freedom to practise their faith." Islamisation is seen as "a threat to Christianity."

I could not help but to think whether Chinese Christians in Malaysia are only known as champions of freedom to practise Christianity and not freedom of religion in Malaysia? Are we only concerned about our "modern lifestyles" and conveniently turn our eyes away from the needs of the marginalised and those on the lower strata of society? Are we really blind? Are we really a group of selfish people who only care for ourselves?

On a personal note - what about me? To which group do I belong as a Chinese Christian in Malaysia? I am not sure whether I belong to G-1 or G-2. I grew up in the category of G-1 (well, at least Chinese educated) but now I think I belong to G-2 (I speak, dream and think in English, not Chinese. I read English newspaper instead of Chinese. I teach in English, and not Chinese, in the seminary. I worship in an English, not Chinese, speaking church). Perhaps a new category needs to be created, the G-3, to describe me. Or, perhaps I'm just simply confused - a result of theological education? Hmmm...

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

God, You Are The Only Audience


I have been feeling a bit uneasy about this for some time now. Every once in a while in my visits to various churches for my speaking engagements or in my own church, I would hear this phrase being uttered from the worship leader, "God, you are the only audience in this sanctuary as we worship you."

I am not sure how or when this understanding of God and our worship began to creep into the church. If God is reduced to the only audience in our worship services, then who are we? Who are the worship leader together with his/her team of musicians and back up singers? Are we simply actors/performers on stage trying to earn God's applause and approval? What about the preacher? What about the congregation?

If worship is a celebration of God's magnificence and majesty, and it is giving glory and honour due him, can God be the audience?

Perhaps this is just another way of saying that the worship team would like to give their best to God...perhaps I am just a little bit too sensitive on the use of this kind of terminology (sign of getting old?). I am not sure.

Monday, 24 September 2007

SBL Annual Meeting Programme Book

The 2007 SBL and AAR Annual Meeting Programme Handbook has just arrived in the mail today. Had a good time browsing through all the different and interesting programme units and meeting abstracts. Not to mention the showcase of the latest publications by various academic publishers. Flipping through the programme book makes me really wish I could make it to SBL Annual Meeting in San Diego this year.

Sometimes, this is the slight disadvantage of teaching in a seminary in the Two-Thirds world where tight operating budget would mean that it is almost impossible to sponsor a faculty member travelling to conferences in the Western world. Like in this instance, the cost for attending SBL Annual Meeting would be prohibitive.

I wish there could be greater awareness among churches of the importance of such conferences not only for faculty members but also for research students. While I was a doctoral student at the University of Wales, the Department of Theology and Religious Studies awarded me with very generous grant that included travelling and accommodation expenses that made it possible for me to read my papers at the SBL International Meeting held in Singapore and Edinburgh in 2005 and 2006 respectively. The opportunities to present aspects of my research have provided me not only invaluable exposure but also constructive feedback and encouragement from senior scholars for my work. The tremendous help that I received from reading the papers helped me further sharpened my argument in my thesis. I hope that our current research students in STM would also have this kind of opportunity and exposure that would help them not only in their research but also their professional career development in the future.

Anyway, I am looking forward to SBL International Meeting in Auckland in 2008. Hopefully my papers would be accepted and I would make my way there. At least it is closer to home compared to San Diego and Vienna (which I missed).

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Position: Tutor in Biblical Studies at SEITE

Tutor in Biblical Studies

SEITE requires a full-time Tutor to join the existing ecumenical staff team, to be based in either Medway or central London.

We are a regional provider of ministerial formation and theological education. We have 129 students registered for this year, including 90 Ministerial Students.

The person appointed will:
  • Lead the delivery and development of Biblical Studies teaching at the Institute
  • Share with staff colleagues responsibility for supervising Ministerial Students from the Anglican, Methodist and Lutheran Churches
  • Make a distinctive contribution to the development of the Institute.

Salary and benefits in accordance with the Lichfield scale.

Further details and Application Forms from:

The Administrator,
SEITE,
Sun Pier House,
Medway Street,
Chatham, ME4 4HF
Tel: 01634 846683
Email: administrator@seite.co.uk

Website:http://www.seite.co.uk/

Closing date for applications: October 1st 2007

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Nationhood: A Kairos Publication

The latest issue of Kairos Publication, Understanding the Modern World Through the Christian Eyes, is now available. The focus of this issue is on "Nationhood" in conjunction with the recent celebration of Malaysia's 50th year of independence from the British rule.

Interesting articles that make this issue a worthwhile collection include:
  • Redefining Success for the Nation by Steve Wong
  • Building National Unity in Poor Urban Communities by Kon Onn Sein
  • Historical Insights into the Problem of Race Relations in Malaysia by Tan Kang San
  • Life in the Service by Wong Ming Yook
  • Religious Freedom after 50 Years of Independence by Lim Heng Seng
  • Working Together for the Common Good by Wong Kim Kong
  • Negaraku: My Country, My King, My God by Bob Teoh
  • Redefining Patriotism: Why I Don’t Feel Like Celebrating by Wong Siew Li
  • A Christian Social Vision for Nation Building by Ng Kam Weng
  • Commentary: Tanah Air Ku! by Low Chai Hok
  • Stories from Borneo: Building Bridges: Empty Tins, Woks & Firewood by Sylvia Webb

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

STM Tuesday Morning Chapel


After our Tuesday morning chapel, Dr Ezra Kok, our Principal, and I were talking about my public lecture in the Inaugural Dialogue of OHMSI. Since there is a slot available in next week's chapel, Ezra suggested that we do a "political" reading of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Sounds like a good idea! So we agreed that we would do a dialogue for the following week's Tuesday morning chapel message, with both of us taking different political perspective respectively in reading the text.

It would be interesting to see how we engage the text in a different and fresh perspective governed by different hermeneutical approaches and what the response from seminary community would be. Wish us luck!




Cartoon credit: www.reverendfun.com

Was Jesus Political? A New Testament Perspective - 3

This is the 3rd and final installment of the full text of my lecture given at the OHMSI Inaugural Dialogue on September 15, 2007. Click here for Part 1 and Part 2 of the lecture.



4) The Implications for the Church Today

In the beginning of this paper, I have raised two questions.
1) Does Jesus exhibit any political awareness in his earthly ministry?
2) Do the multitude perceive the life, teaching and ministry of Jesus to be political?

After our brief consideration, we can only come to a conclusion that both Jesus and the multitude understood him as political, not in the narrow sense of gaining and maintaining powers in party politics, but in the broad sense of ensuring the good life of the community. This involves making decisions affecting social groups in terms of ethical values and priorities; proper and just economic allocation and distribution of resources; calling the political and religious establishments to integrity and transparency by exposing their inner corruption and abuse of power; and ultimately calling Israel to live as a people of God in light of God’s covenantal faithfulness, failing which, the dreadful judgement and the wrath of God would await them. Notice that all of these are carried out in the public square and not in the private sphere of religion.

What does this mean for the church today? As believers, Jesus not only summons us to a radically exclusive commitment and wholehearted devotion to him but also challenges us as a body of Christ to be the alternative assembly for the society. In this respect, the church is also political. This means that the church does not and cannot exist in isolation from the community that God has placed her.

Admitedly, in this paper, I will raise more questions rather than providing answers. Therefore, the questions for us are these: If we believe that if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, could the church therefore be a social unit that undercuts even our biological and familial relations, demonstrating that the rule and reign of God does not belong to the distant future but is indeed a present reality in our midst where forgiveness, love and acceptance are our boundary markers and badges of identity? In this respect, would it be great that we as Christ-followers are known to our society by our practices – that we care about the environment; speak out against injustice, abuse of power and corruption; reach out to the poor and marginalized; investing our scarce resources to the training, educating and equipping the people of God rather than channelling them to build bigger and more expensive multi-million Ringgit facilities? Could greater Christian initiatives toward deeper racial reconciliation be appreciated in the church? Would the church be known as tranforming agents for our community and society? Would the church be known by her unity rather than disunity?

Can the church refuse the acceptance of the stand that privatises faith? Is the church willing to pay the price in seeking out and protecting those facing injustice and without a voice? Is the church courageous enough to call rulers away from tyranny and oppression towards embracing the Jubilee values of justice and mercy and principles of public servanthood and accountability?

Perhaps this is a good time to reflect on our role as a church, and it could not be more significant that we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Operasi Lalang next month. Where was the church when Operasi Lalang was mounted? Have we not learned our lessons? Or do we continue to choose to remain silent, disengage ourselves and retreat to our comfortable cocoon, deceiving ourselves that all that we need to do is pray and wait impatiently for the second coming of our Lord?

To conclude: How can we impact and influence the community that God has placed us? Taking the cue from the Parable of the Good Samaritan, have we in anyway defined who is our neighbour? Have we reduced others in the world as classifiable commodities by drawing distinctions between persons, deciding who is, and who is not, our neighbour? What are some of the factors that would discourage us to “go and do likewise” today? Perhaps it time we are reminded that we cannot define our neighbour. We can only be a neighbour. To be effective salt and light for the Lord, we need, first of all, to be a neighbour. Perhaps it is time we rethink whether the church of Jesus Christ today exist for the city or the city exist for the church? Does the church exist for the believers or the believers exist for the church?

--- THE END ---


For other perspectives on and response to the dialogue, please see:

1) OHMSI Inaugural Launch - Was Jesus Political? - Sivin Kit (check out the video for the opening and closing part of the event)

2) "Was Jesus political"? - Pearlie

3) Oriental Hearts & Mind Study Institute - Johnny Ong

4) How Was Jesus 'Political'? - Dave Chong

5) How Was Jesus 'Political'? - The Agora

6) Yesterday at OMHSI (sic) forum, "Was Jesus Political?" - Steven Sim

7) Was Jesus Political? - Tricia

Was Jesus Political? A New Testament Perspective - 2


This is the second installment of the full text of my lecture for the Inaugural Dialogue organised by OHMSI. The first part can be found here.

1) The Self-Understanding of Jesus and his Mission
One does not need to go far to consider what others believe to be the political significance of Jesus life and ministry. Because of time, let’s limit our discussion to the birth narrative. Reading Mary’s Song in Luke 1:46-55 would have heightened our awareness just how political his mother thinks the birth of his son would be:

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:51-55)

While many of us are accustomed to spiritualising Mary’s song, when we read it in close context, it is nothing short of being very political. Not only will humility be exalted above pride, the rulers will be deposed, the hungry fed and the rich turned away. The outpouring of God’s mercy on the poor and those who fear him will no doubt bring significant change in the social order in which reversal of status is anticipated. As such, the mission of Jesus is seen in light of what is prophesied by Amos and the other prophets in the Hebrew bible – his birth is going to bring about the anticipated social justice.

Further political evidence surrounding the birth narratives of Jesus is also too strong to be ignored. For example:

  • the significance of Bethlehem as the city of David (Luke 2:4; cf. Matt 2:1, 5-6);

  • the angels’ proclamation of “peace on the earth among whom he is well pleased” to the shepherd (Luke 2:8-14) – this undermine the pax romana – peace is now from God and not Rome;

  • Herod’s fear and the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem ensuring no rival competitor for the throne of Israel could possibly survive (Matt 2:1-16);

  • the expectations of both Simeon (Luke 2: 25-35) and Anna (Luke 2: 36-38) that underscore the political significance of the coming of the Messiah, particularly in the appointment of Jesus “for the fall and rising of many in Israel.” (Luke 2:34).

We have seen how the multitude perceived the political significance of Jesus. What about Jesus himself? Time only permits us to look at one particular synagogue incident in Luke 4:16-21 where Jesus read the scripture from the Isaianic scroll.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-20)

In reading Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus understood himself as fulfilling Isaiah’s vision of an eschatological jubilee year. The proclamation of Jubilee is itself a political declaration. Properly observed, it would severely limit the concentration of power and wealth by the rich. Isaiah’s vision anticipates a new world order where God’s justice is administered; wrong will be made right; the injustices which lead to oppression and captivity will be reversed; and God’s people would receive the full measure of his blessings. Proclaiming “liberty to the captives” and “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” could mean nothing more than liberation from Israel’s enemies – Rome. And Jesus publicly announced the inauguration of this new age “today” (Luke 4:21), and not in a distant future.

2) The Message of Jesus
Jesus began his ministry with these words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). One cannot help but to be impressed at the precise vocabulary carefully chosen from the political realm. It hardly needs to be argued that “kingdom” is a political terminology. What is less prominent for many of us is that the “gospel” is also political. Originally, gospel refers to the kind of report or important public announcement highlighted by the Roman government deserving attention and celebration when it is received. But with the ministry of Jesus, the gospel is no longer good news of the deeds and works of Rome, but it is now the retelling and re-enacting of the works of God climaxed in the story of Jesus. God has now finally acted in and through Christ.

The kingdom represents the long awaited hope that Yahweh would one day save his people by fulfilling his covenant promises toward them, bringing both vindication and restoration to Israel by defeating her enemies. By proclaiming the fulfilment of this expectation publicly is itself a very political move of Jesus.

What about the teaching of Jesus? How would others perceive the teaching of Jesus? One of the most common teaching methods of Jesus is parables. We have only time to consider one – the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In this parable, a lawyer approached Jesus with this question: “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus told the parable that is highly political in nature. The best species of the Jewish people – the priest and Levite, representing the law and temple, did nothing to help another fellow Jew in the ditch. This would be totally unacceptable. The only person that came to his rescue is a pariah of the Jewish society – a Samaritan. This Samaritan demonstrated his godly compassion (as reflected in the Greek word, splagcni,zomai in Luke 10:33 – it is very unfortunate that NIV misses the nuance by translating this word simply as “took pity”) on the wounded Jew by helping him and bandaging his wound, and going the extra mile in ensuring that he was taken care off until he recuperated completely. At the climax of the story, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Who is a neighbour to the wounded Jew?” and exhorted him to “go and do likewise.”

In this parable, Jesus overturned the question of the lawyer and replaced it with one that is more fundamental. If the issue is about love of neighbour, the question one should be asking is that of how one is to express that love and compassion, not to whom it should be expressed. Could there be more subversive instructions with greater political overtones in this parable? This parable crosses the divide between culture, race and creed. It talks about unjust crime, racial discrimination, hatred, exploitation and prejudices. It even impeaches the religious leaders who are turning a blind eye and are unwilling to do anything about these problems. The national and ethnic loyalties are abandoned. The Samaritan is no longer the enemy, but a neighbour. Therefore, the ethics of the kingdom challenges one to reconsider one’s relationship with others. To ask the question, “Who is my neighbour?” (10:29) is grossly mistaken because in effect, one is asking “Who is not my neighbour?” Once we can define who our neighbour is, we are also in effect defining who our neighbour is not.



3) The Activities of Jesus
In what ways do the activities of Jesus inform us of their political significance? One thing without doubt, Jesus did things that got him into trouble and caused controversy. Consider the following activities:

  • his preference to participate in table fellowship with the most unlikely group of people – sinners and tax collectors - instead of the pious, holy and respectable figures of his days (e.g., Luke 15:1-2);

  • his decision to do things on Sabbath that were considered sacrilegious by others – such as healing and performing miracles (e.g., Mark 3:1-5);

  • his choice of allowing the untouchables prostitutes to anoint him (e.g., Luke 7:36-50);

  • his act of over turning the tables of the corrupted money changer in the temple courts during a Jewish sacred festival (e.g., Luke 19:45-46);

  • his harsh criticism of the ruling authorities by calling Herod a fox (Luke 13:32).

In addition, the choosing of the Twelve disciples is also a highly symbolic act that could not have been understood other than in light of the restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel and the end-time reconstitution of Israel. The miracles that Jesus performed and the acts of exorcisms are collectively pointers to the present reality of the kingdom of God. Finally, the ministry of Jesus is not only limited to the Jews as well. He also chose to reach out to the Samaritans and Gentiles, groups of people considered outcast by the pure-blooded Jews.

All these acts of Jesus simply point to one thing: they are not merely acts of mercy or compassion. They are prophetic symbolic acts. Jesus clearly knows what he was doing and what others would say when they saw him performing these acts. They revealed Jesus as one with a specific mission to the nation of Israel. It is no wonder that the religious establishment had him crucified as a criminal – a death befitting a person charged with sedition and for causing political uprising.


To be continued.....The final part, Part 3: The Implications for the Church Today.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Was Jesus Political? A New Testament Perspective - 1


The OHMSI Inaugural Dialogue was held on September 15, 2007, with more than 300 people filling the newly completed church hall of Petaling Jaya Gospel Hall, Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya. Apart from the two speakers (of which I was one) and five commentators who spoke on the topic, there were also interesting and lively comments from the floor. I guess the only regret that we had was that time was simply too short for further discussion and clarification.

Some have requested for the text of my lecture, and I promised that I will post it in my blog. However, let me just say that in my lecture, I have avoided interacting with various scholars and the wider issues because of the limited time (I was allocated 15 minutes) and for other reasons that I have mentioned elsewhere in my earlier post.

For those who wish that I could have interacted with New Testament scholars including John Dominic Crossan, Richard Horsley, Scot McKnight, Wolfgang Stegemann, Gerd Theissen, N. T. Wright, John Howard Yoder, and others, I hope that your patience will be rewarded as I am already in the process of expanding my lecture to include further interaction with these scholars. I hope to have it published in a peer-reviewed/academic journal in the very near future. In the meantime, your critical comments for my lecture is welcome.


FULL TEXT:

OHMSI Inaugural Dialogue:
“Was Jesus Political?” A New Testament Perspective
By Dr Lim Kar Yong
Lecturer in New Testament Studies
Seminari Theoloji Malaysia


Introduction

I recall reading an influential evangelical pastor affirming that the church should not engage in political action. For this pastor, the mission, energy and investment of the church is not to clean up the evils of society but to evangelise society. Unfortunately, this also characterises the position of the majority in our own shores. It is unfortunate that when the studies of Jesus are carried out within the confessional setting in the church, it is often accomplished though our theological framework. “Standard” understanding of Jesus is that he is the Son of God who died on the cross for the salvation of humanity. It is also often assumed that the Gospels and other scriptural writings are solely religious in nature. While this theological approach to the study of Jesus is no doubt true to our orthodox confession, this approach regrettably presents a one-sided perspective of Jesus – one that I am tempted to describe as a domestication of a “spiritual Jesus.” It is a Jesus that is, in the words of Scot McKnight, “described exclusively…in the category of a spiritual master, (and) as one who was primarily concerned with the inner religious life and its disciplines for the individual.”

This morning, I hope to reconsider our understanding of Jesus. Drawing from the contribution of the Historical Jesus research and the recent rise in the interest of social-scientific approach to the New Testament, we hope to reflect on this question, “Was Jesus political?” Or, in other words, is there a place in our faith for a “political” Jesus instead of merely a “spiritual” Jesus?

Before we proceed, perhaps it is good to clarify what I mean by the term, “politics.” In antiquity, according to Aristotle, politics is understood in the broad sense in which the objective is to realise the idea of a good life of a community within a city. On the other hand, politics can also be understood in the narrow sense as an art of gaining and maintaining power. I prefer to engage my reflection on the political Jesus in the broad sense. I use political to mean relating to public, state, or civil affairs. As such by “political” I do not mean that Jesus was thinking in terms of forming political parties or launching a revolt against Rome or Jerusalem. By “political” I propose to reconsider the historical Jesus as someone who has a mission to the nation of Israel in calling her to repentance in light of the coming judgment of God.

So the two questions I would like to consider are:
1) How much awareness does Jesus exhibit in his self-understanding of his mission to Israel as being political?
2) How would the multitudes perceive Jesus to be political through his teachings and activities?

Because of the limited time, I propose to consider briefly three aspects of the life and ministry of Jesus in light of the above two questions:
1. The self-understanding of Jesus and his mission
2. The message of Jesus
3. The activities of Jesus


To be continued.....
Part 2 - The self-understanding of Jesus and his mission; the message of Jesus; and the activities of Jesus.
Part 3 - The implication for the church today

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Freebie - Electronic Books worth US$25!

My colleague, the Rabbi, has highlighted that Zondervan Software is now offering a free download of Pradis 6.0 as well as electronic books worth up to US$25.00.

Follow this link for further information on how to claim this freebie. But please do it quick as offer expires September 17, 2007.

I have just downloaded the New International Dictionary of Biblical Archeology for free! You will be amazed how far you can go with US$25.00!!

The Ugly Side of Competition in Christian Publishing

Christianity Today in its September web issue reports that competition to publish celebrity Christians crowd out theology. It also provides link to Mark Taylor's article, "The Values and Perils of Competition." Abstract of the report is reproduced below:

Mark Taylor, president of Tyndale House Publishers, bemoans the effects of competition on his industry. It seems agents and large royalty payments, commonplace in the wider publishing world, have become the new reality for Christian publishers.

Taylor explains the process. An agent approaches the publisher with a can't-miss book proposal by a big-name Christian author. The publisher likes the idea. The agent lets the publisher know that other houses want the book. This project demands a serious advance. Perhaps against better judgment, the publisher bites.

"So we get the deal," Taylor writes. "We pay the advance. The manuscript comes in. We begin to wonder why we paid so much for this average manuscript. We edit it and market it and sell it and process the returns. And at the end of the day we take a huge write-off. If we're lucky, the book earns a net contribution to overheads. But in most of these scenarios, the book generates a loss even apart from overheads. Competition (and perhaps some greed) has nearly killed us."

What does all this have to do with theology? I won't guess which Tyndale books Taylor has in mind. But I can guess the genre. And it's not serious theology or catechesis for our churches. Al Hsu, an acquisitions and development editor at InterVarsity Press, explains the consequences. "[G]ood books (with less 'commercial potential') get squeezed out of the market and displaced from bookstore shelves to make way for high-profile books that publishers need to sell a boatload of to break even on."

This is business in the American market. I don't suspect Christian publishers will successfully collude to suppress author advances. At least the principle doesn't work in professional sports. So if the supply doesn't change, then demand must. Agents can pitch these books because we the readers often love our celebrity authors more than we care for sound doctrine. Consider the example of Hollywood. Movie studios would sooner take their chances on a star-studded cast with an iffy script than an unknown actor with a promising concept. It's a safer bet. Likewise, some Christian publishers will cast their lot with authors whose faces they can slap on the front of a book. If you don't like what you see in Christian bookstores, vote with your pocketbook. Lead not Christian publishers into the temptation of big advances for bad books. And when you do see good theology, drop some change.

Amen! Let us encourage our local Christian authors who write good theology and book stores that promotes good books (at reasonable price too)!

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Seminar: The Corinth that Paul Saw

The Spiritual Formation Institute has invited the budding NT scholar to lead a seminar on "The Corinth that Paul Saw: The Impact of the City on the Corinthians Letters."

Date: September 15, 2007
Time: 2.00pm-10.00pm
Venue: Berea in Holy Light Presbyterian Church, Jalan Gertak Merah, Johor Bahru.

Seminar Synopsis
This seminar, together with visual presentation, invites you to take an unforgettable journey to ancient Corinth that the apostle Paul saw in the AD 50s. where he founded a church during his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 18: 1-17). We will investigate the connection between the archaeological evidence of the ancient city of Corinth and Paul’s experience with the Corinthian church.

Come and see, feel, and take a walk with Paul in this booming city. Discover the connection between the socio-political setting of the ancient city and Paul’s fascinating correspondence with the church he established. Read 1 & 2 Corinthians with fresh insights as we unearth the relationships between the Agora and Paul’s decisive method of preaching in Corinth (1 Cor 2:1-5); the layout of a typical Roman villa and the Paul’s admonition of the abuse of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:17-34); the Temple of Asklepieion and Paul’s teaching of the church as a body of Christ with different parts (1 Cor 12:12-26); the Roman bath and Paul’s description of his sufferings (2 Cor 11:23-31); and many more.

Schedule
1.00-2.00 pm Registration
2.00-2.15 pm Welcome and Worship
2.15-4.00 pm Session One
4.00-4.30 pm Tea/coffee break
4.30-6.00 pm Session Two
6.00-7.00 pm Dinner
7.00-9.00 pm Session Three
9.00-10.00pm Questions and Answers

Download the brochure here for further information and registration for the seminar.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Health and Eucharist

Alex Tang gives a review on Joseph Prince's book, Health and Wholeness through the Holy Communion (Singapore: Media, 2006). One of the points highlighted is that “The Holy Communion is God’s solution to offset the decay (ageing). And even your friends will see the results. They will ask you, “Hey, why do you seem to look younger and younger? You never seem to age!”” (p.58).

Hmmm....any truth? Well....since coming to STM, I have been having Holy Communion more frequently now - twice a week in the seminary chapel. Could this be the result that when I went to see the doctor last week, he was shocked to find out that I am a lecturer and not a first year student? (BTW - it happened again earlier today when I took my mother to see her doctor. The doctor asked, "Are you a student?")

What is happening to the church in Singapore and Malaysia? If you want to stay young, you now have a choice: take frequent Holy Communion, or let your pastor touch your body parts and pray for you! Pick your choice....

Wonder what's next?

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Learning Greek


I have been thinking of posting something on learning Greek for sometime now - but I don't think I have to do it! Tony Siew has done an excellent job!

Check out his posts:




By the way, for those of you who might be interested, Tony will be in Petaling Jaya conducting a seminar on "The Relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament."

This seminar will review the following areas:

1. What do we mean by "Old" Testament? Is the OT relevant today? The biblical canon will be covered briefly.

2. Which parts of the laws in OT are no longer applicable in the NT? Case Study: The Ten Commandments and specific laws.

3. How do we interpret the OT in the light of the NT and vice-versa?

4. The Use of the OT in the NT with respect to:
a) Prophecy and Fulfillment
b) Typology
c) Moral Laws
d) Narratives
e) Citations and Allusions

Dates: 1 & 2 October 2007 (Monday and Tuesday evenings)
Time: 8.00 pm to 10.30 pm
Venue: First Baptist Church, 38 Jalan SS17/1D, 47500 Subang Jaya.

Review of Biblical Literature September 10, 2007

I just realised that I have not been posting the Review of Biblical Literature for some weeks now. Here's the latest published on September 10. Check out the reviews of some excellent NT books. Of interest for me are the major commentary on 2 Peter and Jude by Peter Davids (it's been a long while since a major commentary on these two neglected NT books has been published) and Craig Evans' work on the historical Jesus, Fabricating Jesus.


G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, eds.
Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament: Volume 15: sākar-tarsîs
http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=5577
Reviewed by W. Boyd Barrick

Peter H. Davids
The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude
http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=5582
Reviewed by James P. Sweeney
Reviewed by Daniel B. Wallace

Craig A. Evans
Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels
http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=5614
Reviewed by Stephen J. Patterson

Michael V. Fox
Ecclesiastes: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation
http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=5422
Reviewed by Thomas M. Bolin

Garrett C. Kenney
Mark's Gospel: Lectures and Lessons
http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=5837
Reviewed by Tom Shepherd

Lars Kierspel
The Jews and the World in the Fourth Gospel: Parallelism, Function, and Context
http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=5800
Reviewed by Adele Reinhartz

Jonathan D. Lawrence
Washing in Water: Trajectories of Ritual Bathing in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature
http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=5586
Reviewed by James W. Watts

Peter J. Leithart
1 and 2 Kings
http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=5696
Reviewed by Randall L. McKinion

Anthony C. Thiselton
1 Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary
http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=5729
Reviewed by H. H. Drake Williams III

Dieter Vieweger
Archäologie der biblischen Welt
http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=5450
Reviewed by Jonathan L. Reed

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

I Don't Feel Charged by the Holy Spirit!


Recently, my church carried out a survey on the demographics of the congregation. In the survey, questions are also asked on what one likes or dislike about their worship experience in the church.

In such a survey, it is inevitable that we receive interesting response from the congregation. I just discovered one today in the church office from my colleague:

" I don't feel charged by the Holy Spirit."

When told of this, my immediate response was, "Good...else you might be electrocuted and be on fire!"

My colleague was rather amused by my sense of (or lack of) humour...

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

The Unofficial Bibleworks Blog


I know that some of my students are requesting (or pestering...to put it mildly) that I do a training on how to use Bibleworks 7. I must admit that I am a bit tight for time and may only offer a training session in the next semester.

In the meantime, please visit the unofficial Bibleworks blog for ideas of how to fully maximise the use of Bibleworks. There are some very cool and interesting ideas there!

Be sure also to visit the Bibleworks Forum too if you have any issues or problems with the use of Bibleworks. Check out how other users of Bibleworks resolve the problems they face and learn some new tips or tricks in using the software.

Have fun with Bibleworks.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Introduction to the Study of Paul - Part 2


In my earlier post, I mentioned that I will post the 12 questions for discussion for my lecture on the Apostle Paul. Here are the questions.

1) “Nothing in Paul’s life could have prepared him for the shattering mystical experience that Luke described in Acts.” Do you agree with this statement describing Paul’s call/conversion experience on the Damascus road? Discuss.

2) Paul’s call/conversion “triggered a whole new belief in Jesus and a whole new belief that Jesus could save and how the Jewish law was not the centre piece anymore, because he came to believe that Jesus was not dead but alive.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement and why? Give your justification.

3) The narrator comments that after Paul’s call as the apostle for the Gentiles, “for the rest of his life, Paul would face hatred whenever he went; danger laid in wait.” Do you agree with this statement that suffering is a hallmark of Paul’s life? How would the suffering of Paul inform us about those who are called to be involved in God’s mission today?

4) The cornerstone of Paul’s teaching is the grace and mercy of God towards all human beings. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

5) “Paul was most comfortable teaching in big cites with large gentile population.” How would you evaluate this statement concerning Paul’s mission strategy?

6) Concerning Paul’s Gentile mission, Ben Witherington argues: “There was a tremendous spiritual hunger in the First-Century world. The culture was ready to hear the message about some powerful religion that would actually help them in their day to day live, make them better persons.” How do you make sense of Witherington’s argument? Is Witherington’s analysis an accurate reflection of our contemporary culture? If so, how would this inform you concerning the church’s mission today?

7) In responding to the problems of the Thessalonian church concerning the question of the second coming of Christ, the narrator suggests that “Paul’s response became the basic tenet of the Christian faith.” Do you agree with this observation? Would Paul have imagined that his correspondence addressing the problems of his churches would one day become authoritative scriptures in the Christian church?

8) Stephen Doyle has this to say concerning Paul’s ministry in Ephesus: “During the years that Paul spent in Ephesus, he did not cease to evangelise the other areas around (the city). He formed other evangelists, those who would bear the gospel to go out into the valley in that area.” How would you evaluate this statement? What does this statement describe about Paul and his mission? How could we appropriate Paul’s method in our context today?

9) Concerning Paul’s rhetoric for the need of unity in the Corinthian church, Margaret Mitchell argues that for Paul, “the unity of the church is more important than anything of these things that are dividing them. Unity in the ancient world …is bought at the price of submission of some person to a higher good.” Do you agree with Mitchell’s assessment?

10) It is illegal to flog Roman citiznes. Yet, according to Acts, Paul has been flogged. On this matter, Ben Witherington suggests that Paul “did not bring up the trump card of his Roman citizenship except when he seems to be in a particular crisis…He is bringing a message that says everybody is created in the image of God, everybody is important. Status that is higher does not count for anything with God.” Do you agree with Witherington’s assessment on Paul’s use of citizenship? The issue of Paul’s possession of Roman citizenship has been largely doubted by NT scholars. This is because Paul’s Roman citizenship is only mentioned in Acts, but is never mentioned by Paul himself in his letters. How do you make sense of this issue?

11) On Paul’s appeal to Philemon to receive back Onesimus, the runaway slave, as a brother but no longer as a slave, J Gordon Melton argues that Paul “is a pioneer, a radical thinker who changed the whole theology of the church. He opened (the church) up. It is no longer for free citizens of the Empire. It is for slaves, for everyone.” If Melton is correct in his argument, how would this affect the way we understand and do church today?

12) On his missionary success, Kenneth Davis attributes Paul as “one man (who) walked around, sailed around…the entire medditerranean world in the course of a very few years and changed history. (This is) an extraordinary achievement for a man who (was) living in a time of no mass communication, no speedy travel, and nothing you would associate today of how to market a message.” Do you agree with Davis’ assessment? In your opinion, how did Paul manage to do what Davis describes?

Introduction to the Study of Apostle Paul - Part 1

How does a budding biblical scholar teach the introduction to the study of the Apostle Paul?

A couple of weeks ago, I was struggling with how I should introduce the critical study of the Apostle Paul to my Introduction to the New Testament students. I could do a systematic presentation of the various critical issues on Paul, but I guess this will probably end up with information feeding that only fills the head. I suspect that many of them may not find this to be relevant to their confessional background. Not to mention that they would probably find this approach boring and less inspiring.

One of the ideas given by Richard Walsh in introducing the study of Paul is to show some clips from movies that portray the Apostle Paul, after which discussions could be generated based on the clips. His idea can be found in the edited volume by Mark Roncace and Patrick Gray, Teaching the Bible: Practical Strategies for Classroom Instruction, Resources for Biblical Study 49 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature 2005). For further discussion on the book, see my earlier post on Classroom Ideas for Teaching the Bible.

I decided to check out the library and I was not disappointed. I found a documentary on The Story of Paul the Apostle: The Man Who Turned the World Upside Down produced by the History Channel. This DVD is about 68 minutes in length and is about the right length for a 3-hour lecture period. It covers the life of Apostle Paul from his education in Jerusalem under the Rabbi Gamaliel to his exhortations on behalf of Christianity throughout the Mediterranean basin. The documentary is narrated by Martin Sheen and includes interview with a number of theologians and biblical scholars who reflect on the importance of his upbringing to his success in spreading the Word, and an in-depth analysis of his writings — some of the earliest Christian documents extant — which shed light not just on the origins of Christianity, but on the man who helped ensure its survival.

This movie offers opportunities for comparison to Acts and the Pauline epistles. From the interviews with various scholars, it exposes the students to some of the debates on the current critical studies of Paul. It also offers excellent opportunities for discussions about the wider issues surrounding introductory issues in the study of Paul, ranging from Paul's call/conversion; the impact of the Damascus Road experience on his life and theology; the New Perspective on Paul; Paul's missionary methods; Paul's letters and Christian doctrines; the socio-political world of the early Pauline communities; to the impact of Pauline mission in the Gentile world.


After the movie, I handed out a list of 12 questions (I will post the questions in a subsequent post) based on the movie and broke the class into 3 groups for discussion, with each group taking 4 out of the 12 question. This ended the 3-hour lecture.

The following week, we discussed the questions as a class and I gave my input on the wider issues. Personally, I find this to be a more helpful way of teaching introductory issues on Paul as the students were given opportunities to present their views and opinion, and were engaged in the discussions and debates. Of course, the downside was that this turned out to be a less systematic way of discussing the various issues on Paul. In addition, not all issues I would like to expose the students to were covered in the movie, and those issues were then supplemented with additional lectures.

Is this a more effective way in both teaching and learning about the introduction to the study of the Apostle Paul? Only the students can give the verdict. Further contribution from readers of this blog is most welcome.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

BibleTech 2008

Calling all the tekkies out there.

If your passion is the Bible and technology, Bible Tech 2008 might be the conference for you. To be held in Seattle, Washington from Jan 25-26, 2008, this two-day conference, sponsored by Logos Bible Software, is designed for publishers, programmers, webmasters, educators, bloggers and anyone interested in using technology to improve Bible study. BibleTech 2008 is an opportunity to meet others who share your interests and hear from industry leaders.

If you'd like to give a talk about a project you're working on, new technology you're excited about, or where you see the industry headed, please respond to the call for participation by August 13.

Any interested parties?

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Nicknames

Giving lecturers nicknames is one of the favourite pastimes and perhaps one of the most creative activities of the students in STM. I must confess I am not innocent of this, as I did give some of my professors some very creative and unique nicknames as well. If you are curious enough in wanting to know what nicknames I give to William Mounce, Moises Silva, Gregory Beale, Peter Kuzmic, and Haddon Robbinson, you have to ask me privately!!

Now that I am on the receiving end, I often wonder what nicknames students in the seminary give me. Some of the students are a bit discreet - the nicknames they give are always "quietly" uttered behind my back - and they are all convinced that I do not know some of these. But some of the students are bold enough to publicise them in the blogsphere and elsewhere.

This is just a sample of the list of names/descriptions/adjectives/titles I "earned" in the past few months since I begin teaching at STM:
  • slave driver - this title is deliberately mentioned in a blog with the hope that I will read it! And I have the proof for this!
  • paper doll - you got to know the context out of which this name is given.
  • cute - I won't tell you where I find this. However, no extra credit for the person who gives me this name! You got to try harder (hint hint...I like chocolate).
  • teruk - one of the most common descriptions given to me.
  • teruk-ly funny - huh? what is this??
  • genius - how nice! But this does not earn whoever that gives me this title any extra credit in the the exams or papers.
  • incorrigible - well, you can find this expression everywhere in the comments.
  • Apostle Lim - I am not going to tell you where I find this!
  • weird sense of imagination and humor - huh?
  • blooming NT scholar - well, technically not given by a student but a friend.
  • Batman in Infinite Crisis - not really a nickname, but it's a title that I am honoured to be tagged by a friend.
I think we better stop somewhere, else something like what is happening below might come true for me!!



Cartoons credit: Reverendfun.com


Friday, 7 September 2007

SBL Annual Meeting 2007 Online Programme Book

The Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting 2007 Online Programme Book is now available. There are some very interesting sessions this year. Wish I could be there!

Which Year Are You?

I have not been feeling too well for the past couple of days. So I decided to pay the doctor a visit. I went to one of the STM panel doctors.

When the doctor saw me, he asked, "Which year are you in STM?"

"First year," I replied

"Oh, first year. That's good."

"First year as a lecturer, not a student."

The doctor was taken aback for a while....

Thursday, 6 September 2007

How Does A Biblical Scholar...? The Struggle to Give A Public Lecture

I have been invited to give a 20-minute lecture on "Was Jesus Political?" from a New Testament perspective for the OHSMI Inaugural Dialogue to be held on September 15, 2007. I think the biggest struggle for me is how should I organise the lecture? At what level I should be giving the lecture - should it be more intellectual or devotional? How can I strike a balance?

I guess it all depends on the crowd that would be coming. If OHSMI dialogue is "designed for good scholarship towards effective discipleship," then I am tempted to do something more scholarly and intellectual. Perhaps there might be a group of people that might appreciate this approach. But again, being a public dialogue, the audience might be mixed and I am also concerned that perhaps some of the crowd may not fully appreciate or understand some of the issued addressed and where I am coming from - and the picture of Jesus that I will paint may differ significantly from one that they are used to - the Saviour of the world - and this may cause uneasiness among some of them.

I guess at the back of my mind, the question I have is this: Can Jesus, in the words of Scot McKnight, "be understood if he is described exclusively, or even primarily, in the category of a spiritual master, or as one who was primarily concerned with the inner religious life and its disciplines for the individual"? Is there a place in our faith for a "political" Jesus instead of merely a "spiritual" Jesus?

The struggle of a budding NT scholar in giving a public lecture.....Hope I survive!

Pete Williams Succeeds Bruce Winter as Warden of Tyndale House

As a alumnus of Tyndale House, Cambridge (I spent several months in Tyndale's excellent library while working on my Ph.D. in the UK), I am so glad that Pete William is now succeeding Bruce Winter as the Warden of Tyndale House.

Justin Taylor recently interviewed Pete on his new role as Warden. Read the interview and be encouraged by Pete's vision for Tyndale which is reproduced below:

"I believe that Tyndale House exists to develop evangelical biblical scholars and evangelical biblical scholarship. I would like, quite simply, for Tyndale to play its part in increasing the number of bright, humble, sane, passionate, evangelical scholars who are deeply learned and contribute to the church and to the articulation of the faith in a wider culture.

"More specifically, I’d like to see confessional scholarship clearly outstripping non-confessional scholarship in its quality and rigor. We should want evangelical scholars to be trained to a higher standard than other scholars. If others decide that one Masters degree is enough before the PhD, maybe we should require two (for instance, one in each Testament). It would be great to have the resources to be able to fund young scholars to study to a higher standard. I would also love to be in a position for us to have more post-doctoral research fellows (we currently have three) and to take on major publication projects such as a large-scale treatment of the NT canon, which is proving such fertile ground for contemporary myth-makers. Perhaps we could be involved in setting up more University appointments, not just in Cambridge, but also in other Universities in the UK."

I share Tony's wish to see biblical scholars of high calibre and a resource centre similar to Tyndale House in South-East Asia. Will this happen? If so, when?

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

OHMSI Dialogue: Was Jesus Political?



Do come and support yours truly for the Inaugural Dialogue during the official launch of OHMSI .

Date: September 15, 2007
Time: 10.00 am - 12.30pm
Venue: Petaling Jaya Gospel Hall, Jalan Gasing

You may register for the Inaugural Dialogue by clicking here.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Bring the Whole Bible to Chapel!

As I was rushing out my office for the chapel this morning, I quickly grabbed my NA-27 along.

But when I stepped into the chapel, I realised that this could be a mistake as our Rabbi would be preaching. True enough, he preached from Psalm 56:8. But on the brighter side, modern technology saved the day - the text was flashed on the projector.

The moral of the story: Bring the "whole" Bible to chapel next time! Or, better still, just don't bring it, count on modern technology!

1,000km in 4 days!

Over the Merdeka weekend, I clocked almost 1,000km on the road. On Friday morning, I drove from KL to Rompin to speak at the St. Mary's Cathedral Fellowship camp, and then back to Seremban the following day. Then on Sunday, I hit the road again together with two of my colleagues from church. This time, it was down south to historic Melaka to speak at the Malacca Evangelical Free Church, with the help from my colleagues who did a skit for me.

But we had a good break in Melaka. We decided to say a night and savoured some of the Melaka goodies....

Now it's back to work at the seminary. It was tiring, but yet a fulfilling weekend, despite all the hours spent on the road! The real joy is to see people responding to the exposition of the scriptures.

University of Manchester Scholarships

SCHOOL OF LANGUAGES, LINGUISTICS AND CULTURES/SCHOOL OF ARTS, HISTORIES AND CULTURES, University of Manchester (England)

Two Full PhD Studentships in Ancient Jewish Literature

Applications are invited for two PhD Studentships, funded by the AHRC as part of the project Typology of Anonymous and Pseudepigraphic Jewish Literature in Antiquity, c. 200 BCE to c. 700 CE at Manchester University. Applicants should hold a first-class or good upper second-class degree (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline, and have completed/are completing a Masters degree (or equivalent).

One PhD will address questions regarding the genre, coherence and argument in a rabbinic text, the other in a non-rabbinic Jewish text. The supervisors are Prof. A. Samely and Prof. P. S. Alexander, respectively.

Details of the PhD projects are available from: http://www.llc.manchester.ac.uk/postgraduate/funding/

The AHRC covers fees and subsistence (the latter at c. £12,600 p.a.) for 3 years. For full grants (fees plus maintenance) there is a prior 3-year UK residence requirement, the details of which are in the AHRC Guide: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/apply/postgrad/doctoral_awards_scheme.asp. Candidates not eligible for full grants may apply for fees-only awards.

The closing date is 30 September 2007 (successful candidates to register from January 2008).

Informal inquiries and applications should be addressed to:

Prof. A. Samely
School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures
University of Manchester
Oxford Road
M13 9PL
United Kingdom

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Sitiawan Roadshow - The Legacy of John Sung 5


The church that became our gathering point during our Sitiawan Roadshow a couple of weeks ago (for earlier posts, see parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) was the Pioneer Chinese Methodist Church. This is an historical site not only for the Christians but also for the founding of the city of Sitiawan.

In 1903, about more than 350 Christian Foochows arrived Sitiawan from China. Led by Rev Ling Ching Mi, this group that arrived was the Chinese Colonial Government’s second population transplant experiment in the Malay peninsula, following the success of a similar scheme in Sibu, Sarawak in 1901.

Rev Ling became the first pastor of the Pioneer Methodist Church. Today, Pioneer Methodist Church is a majestic building built in the shape of a cross. Originally built in 1904, the church was burnt down in 1906 and rebuilt in 1907. Near the church is the grave of Rev Ling.

The church also experienced a mighty revival as a result of the preaching and visits of John Sung in the 1930s. If one were to talk to the elderly church members, many would still fondly remember John Sung and the revival that took place then. There were many interesting testimonies of conversions and transformed lives. (photo to the left: The team from STM that visited Sitiawan, standing in front of Pioneer Chinese Methodist Church).

Countless Chinese in Sitiawan were converted and revived through the ministry of John Sung and they subsequently played a significant role in the growth of Christianity in Sitiawan and beyond the city. This is perhaps the biggest legacy of John Sung in Sitiawan.

Where is the John Sung of today? Where is he?