Friday, 11 September 2009

IDMC - Part 3

In my earlier post, I shared some of my reflections and observations concerning the Intentional Disciple Making Conference hosted by Covenant Evangelical Free Church in Singapore. What I did in that post is to highlight some of observations that I perceive to be the strengths of the conference. In this promised follow-up post, I hope to offer some of my critique and reservations concerning some of the issues dealt with or highlighted in the conference.

First, it seems to me that most of what Rev Edmund Chan covered in his plenary sessions remained at conceptual level. For those who have done some theological studies or those who are informed readers of serious or academic theological books, this might not be much of an issue. But for most of the audience, having to grasp with the theology of God for the first time within 2-1/2 days might be a little bit daunting. How theology could be made simple in everyday life and how this can be lived out in everyday life remains rather sketchy. Although Rev Chan has made clear on several occasions during the conference that his purpose is to lay the foundation and to provoke thinking, I feel that for many who may be hearing such theological concepts for the first time may need further guidance in helping them navigate through many issues confronting them in their Christian journey. One of the participants remarked to me, "With all these high-sounding words and statements being made, I wonder if there is any substance to it." To be fair to Rev Chan, although he did attempt to bring all that he had covered together in the final plenary session, it would have been more beneficial if additional practical examples be given in each of the sessions.

Second, I find Rev Chan's plenary session on how theology should be done is "inadequate and truncated", to use the one of his most quoted phrase in the conference. Rev Chan listed 6 building blocks for what he perceived to be the fundamental necessities for the theological task. These are:
  • 1) the necessity of theological vision
  • 2) the necessity of theological foundation
  • 3) the necessity of theological contemplation
  • 4) the necessity of theological pedagogy
  • 5) the necessity of theological holism
  • 6) the necessity of theological humility.
Rev Chan is to be applauded for crafting these fundamental building blocks in provoking the participants to carry out the task of theology not merely as an intellectual exercise but to integrate it into the whole of life and faith. But I find 2 elements missing in Rev Chan's theological task, namely, the necessity of theological community and the necessity of theological practice. Let me explain briefly. I am a strong proponent that the theological task is to be carried out within a theological community, and any hermeneutic for theological interpretation that is done outside a community should be viewed with suspect. Perhaps I am, in some ways, influenced by the works of Stephen Fowl, Kevin Vanhoozer and Richard Hays, just to name a few. After all, as a NT scholar, I accept without hesitation the premise that the church makes a vital contribution to my theological discourse and that any theological discourse is to be done with and for the church. And furthermore, this theological conversation not only participates in centuries-long conversation with interpreters - both ancient and modern, but also engages in animated dialogue with one another around a meal fellowship, over a teh tarik at mamak, in Starbucks, over Yahoo Instant Messenger, and in a noisy living room filled with active children. This aspect of doing the theological task within a community is, what seems to me, being minimised in Rev Chan's theological vision.

On the other hand, I also believe that the theological task should not be merely an intellectual stimulating exercise that tickles the brain but does not bring about the needful transformation of the heart or move the heart with compassion to theological practice. One cannot do theology without talking about the transformation of the community, society and nation. While Rev Chan did mention in passing about the need for transformation, it seems to me that his focus is on spiritual transformation of individuals that leads to discipleship and evangelism, but not moving into the engagement of the public square. If my observation is correct, I believe the theological task promoted by Rev Chan may need some correction to include the necessity of theological practice.

Third, it seems to me that the quality of the various workshops is rather uneven. The workshops could have been a great opportunity to augment and strengthen the main theme of the conference, "Knowing God: Theology Made Relevant in Discipleship Today." As I have mentioned above, one of the shortcomings of the conference is that much of what Rev Chan expounded on remains at conceptual level, and the workshops could have been an excellent platform in bringing out the theme in practical, daily Christian living. One of the workshops I attended was disappointing, to say the least. In this workshop, we were asked to do a quick exercise to gauge our stress level by assigning different weightage to different issues in life. As a single, my immediate reaction based on this exercise is this: "I don't have any stress!" But is this a true picture? Immediately, I looked at the source of this exercise and it was dated back to 1967! I find this to be totally unacceptable. How can one use an exercise designed in 1967 to gauge the stress level today? This is by far the most disappointing aspect of the conference. I would like to believe that the speaker of the workshop would have done more homework, and to utilise a more updated statistics available for this kind of exercise.

Overall, as I have indicated in my previous post, I find this conference to be a very spiritually refreshing one for me as a professional NT scholar and theological educator who teaches the Scripture daily to my student. My criticisms in this post are not meant to detract us from what would otherwise be a great conference.

The success of the 2009 conference is clearly reflected in the overwhelming response to the 2010 Intentional Disciple Making Conference. All the 1,800 seats available for the live package have been snapped up! So what's left are the live-time video package.

So, are you persuaded to be a part of the 2010 IDMC? If so, better act fast, else you will be left behind!

For my earlier posts:
Part 1 - please click here
Part 2 - please click here


Sceptics δΈθ‚–η”Ÿ said...

EFC folks well done,,,

any how, I am thrilled to see such conference held and attracted crowds in Singapore...

this is indeed counter effect to conferences held by charimatic community, which stress on "ways to success,,,ways to increase...";

"inner healings,,,healing and deliverance,,"

Conference said...

As always, I enjoyed Pr Edmund's preaching and teaching. He has the gift of making the Word of God come alive and have a knack for helping you love "the Word of God" and the "God of the Word" more. That's kudos to him.

But interestingly, I find the words "Holy Spirit" glaringly missing from the conference. In case I was wrong, I asked my wife whether that's her observation. She concurred. Goes to show that each church has its area of emphasis on pulpit. Not that Pr Edmund is anti-charistmatic, for he has openly stated that he believes in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and all. Just goes to show that's why we (the churches) need each other because we are definitely imperfect in many ways. One strength will build up on another weakness. Convenant EFC definitely has the unusual strength of making theology relevant and fun!

Kar Yong said...

Hi Sceptics,
I think there is a hunger for serious teaching of the scripture. In Malaysia, you can see that the annual Klang Valley Bible Conference also attracts crowd that is in excess of 1,000!

Kar Yong said...

Hi Conference,
You are right to observe that the Holy Spirit is somehow missing in the conference. You are not the only one that highlighted this. A few have spoken to me on this. Perhaps it has to do with the theme of the conference?

Anyway - It was a great conference.

Alex Tang said...

Hi Kar Yong,

Thank you for your reflection on the IDMC 2009. It is indeed refreshing to read about what you think about the conference.

I have been studying Edmund Chan's disciplemaking ministries for some time as it is closely linked with my interest in spiritual formation. Your comments evoked three observations in me.

Firstly, it is surprising to me and a few others that Edmund's concept of discipleship remains conceptual in spite of so many years of majoring in this area.

Secondly, there is a lack of community emphasis in his model. His conceptual model is still persons-in-community rather than community-of persons.

Finally, I find his model too program orientated rather than soul-person orientated.

This is not meant as a criticism of Edmund because I think he is doing a good job of promoting disciplemaking, something that is greatly needed in our churches.

Also he is an excellent communicator which sometimes mask the inadequacy of his content.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Alex,
Thanks for your thoughts. When I mentioned that what Rev Chan said was at conceptual level, I mean the exposition of the theme of the conference - ie, understanding theology of God, not so much of his model of discipleship. Perhaps I have not been too clear on this.

I concur with you on your observation that the discipleship model mayb be a bit too programmatic. I have left this matter out in this post, as I would like to read up on his new book on discipleship programme, Roots and Wings, before offering my comments.

Like you say, Rev Chan has many good stuff to offer, and I really wish him all the best and all God's blessings. All of us have been indebted to him for what he has done.

Pat said...

Thank you for your comments on the conference. I stumbled on your blog searching for IDMC.
I wonder if I could tap on your understanding on the baptism of Jesus. This has nothing to do with IDMC but I do not know how to send you a post on another topic.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Pat,
Thanks for dropping by. Your question about the baptism of Jesus is rather general. I am not sure what you want to ask. You could email me: karyong at stm dot edu dot my.