Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More on Ruth

I’ve finished reading Sinclair Ferguson’s exposition on Ruth, Faithful God, and it certainly lives up to the praise lavished on it over at Amazon. It’s a little book, but in the short space he’s given Ferguson helps us enter Ruth’s world, pays careful attention to the text, shows where it ultimately points to Jesus and makes pastoral insights throughout. The book has as its genesis a series of talks given at the conference of the Evangelical Movement of Wales and it shows. Happy to commend this to anyone seeking to understand Ruth better!

Anyway, more thoughts on Ruth (initial thoughts here), with help from Ferguson and others…

Covenant background – God’s people will be blessed if they were faithful to their covenant promises and vice versa. That a famine was occurring was a warning sign from God that his people were drifting away from him, and a call to repent. God is asking his people to come back to him. But Eliminech decides to take his family away from God and into Moab instead; maybe he thought that it would just be for a brief time, but before you know it, the sons are grown up and marry Moabite women! Ruth 1 has a sad beginning; they move away from famine, but they do not escape death.

Naomi’s decision to return (the act of returning being given great emphasis in chp.1) is a sign of her repentance. God is merciful – he “provides food” (1:6), literally “gives them bread”. Bethlehem in fact literally means “house of bread”. Of course Naomi et al. would be unaware of it, but hints of how God will ultimately shows his mercy, through Jesus the bread of life, are there. Why did Naomi ask Ruth and Orpah to go back? Surely she wanted them to know Israel’s God? But Naomi is actually asking them to count the cost, following this God will not guarantee comfort. Not to mention that it will be difficult for them in a foreign land where Moabites were generally not welcomed. Ruth’s memorable quip is in fact a sign of her own faith. It’s a transfer of allegiance. Ruth 1 ends with a harvest, again hinting at a turning point in the plot.

Ruth 2. Ruth just happens to stumble onto Boaz’s field, and Boaz just happens to arrive at just the right time – God must have been smiling then! What about Boaz’s charity? He gave her loads of barley to take home. Again the theme of famine to abundance is there. God is shown to be a faithful God who keeps his promises. Following him is costly, but it is also worth it. “Blessed are those who thirst and hunger after righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matt 5:6) And of course, Boaz is probably smitten as well!

Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer, a guy who might have potential rights over Naomi’s property and be expected to look after her. Boaz and his God-centeredness is an example we can emulate. Ferguson puts it nicely here: “In Boaz law and love are one.” He understands obedience to God can be delightful (shades of Piper?). Law and gospel issues are also interesting to think about in Ruth, although since I am fairly clueless on the topic I wouldn’t go there now. Ruth probably was unaware of Boaz’s position, but Naomi isn’t!

Ruth 3. I thought this was the most difficult chapter to understand. What’s going on here? Ferguson suggests that Naomi, in her enthusiasm to get Ruth and Boaz together and also improve her own security, is impatient and rash. Others disagree. Ruth is still regarded as of noble character (v.11). Ambiguity! But in any case, Boaz still acts honourably at this point, knowing full-well that there is another kinsman-redeemer who is a closer relation. A positive picture of relationships characterized by integrity, patience and trust is painted. Christians can rest in the purposes of God and in Jesus, our Redeemer. Naomi herself adopts a more patient gesture of trust by the end of chapter 3: let’s see what happens. God is working as much in day-to-day, ordinary life as in more extravagant, miraculous offerings.

Ruth 4. The closer relative counts the cost, he can’t do it. Boaz does! His selflessness comes through. Again, obedience is not for him a millstone. Happy endings all around. No more barrenness! Just another sign of God’s faithfulness, as he was to Sarah, to Hannah, to Elizabeth.

Ferguson says that Ruth is multum in parvo, much in little. I think he’s right!

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Monday, January 28, 2008


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cray on being disciples and citizens

via an anonymous 2nd century Christian. (Quotes galore this past week as I have nothing inspired to say and there're plenty of wiser and more inspired people around!) :-)

"All things have been created through [Jesus] and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:16-17). So the question of dual citizenship cannot be resolved by dividing life into a sphere where Christ rules and another where we operate according to different principles. Discipleship is to be lived out in every dimension of life. The Christian term for citizenship is in effect, public discipleship.

This can bring Christians into conflict with their societies, when the values of society and the values of Christ's kingdom conflict. But it does not set Christians over against their societies, as public discipleship seeks the common good, in the light of the kingdom of God. This was beautifully expressed in the best-known section of the second-century Epistle to Diognetus.

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity...But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives...To sum up all in one word— what the soul is in the body, Christians are in the world. "
 -  Graham Cray, Disciples & Citizens: A Vision for Distinctive Living, pp.22-23

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Friday, January 25, 2008

McCracken on gospel foundations for godliness

"...the ways God tells us to be godly are connected to what he tells us to believe in the Gospel.

So - for example - lots in the Bible about not being proud. Great. Now I am a Christian, I must TRY not to be proud. No No No! If I am a Christian, and have believed that I am saved because of God and not me, and that all of us stand before God only on that basis (which I do believe, because I am a Christian!) I cannot be proud. I just can't. The things that God tells us to do as Christians aren't his wishlist for how he thinks people should live, as much as simply the applications of the the truths of the Gospel to actually living.

For too long I have heard (and believed, sadly) that godliness is some type of project involving effort and accountability that one gets on with after trusting the Gospel to become a Christian. It isn't. In fact, that's veering towards the Galatian heresy in my not so humble opinion.

Godliness is my battle to believe the Gospel. When I sin, I need to dig out the root of unbelief. The things he is telling me to do are related to the ways he tells me to act. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

Why is no one telling people this? "

 -  Maurice McCracken, UCCF

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Auden on the pursuit of knowledge

Wise words from the poet W.H Auden:

"In our culture, we have all accepted the notion that the right to know is absolute and unlimited. The gossip column is one side of the medal; the cobalt bomb is the other. We are quite prepared to admit that, while food and sex are good in themselves, an uncontrolled pursuit of either is not, but it is difficult for us to believe that intellectual curiosity is a desire like any other, and to recognize that correct knowledge and truth are not identical. To apply a categorical imperative to knowing, so that, instead of asking, "What can I know?" we ask, "What, at this moment, am I meant to know?" - to entertain the possibility that the only knowledge which can be true for us is the knowledge that we can live up to - that seems to all of us crazy and almost immoral."

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Wordsmiths: fragment. To the Moon.

Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing Heaven, and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,--
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

- Percy Bysshe Shelley

His childhood was dead or lost and with it his soul capable of simple joys and he was drifting amid life like the barren shell of the moon...He repeated to himself the lines of Shelley's fragment. Its alternation of sad human ineffectualness with vast inhuman cycles of activity chilled him, and he forgot his own human and ineffectual grieving.
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce.

N.B: Thought I'll post something a little more melancholic this time around.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pamuk on reading well

Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk:

"to read well is not to pass one’s eyes and one’s mind slowly and carefully over a text: it is to immerse oneself utterly in its soul. This is why we fall in love with only a few books in a lifetime. Even the most finely honed personal library is made up of a number of books that are all in competition with one another. The jealousies among these books endows the creative writer with a certain gloom. Flaubert was right to say that if a man were to read ten books with sufficient care, he would become a sage. As a rule, most people have not even done that, and that is why they collect books and show off their libraries."
That's my sharp intake of breath you hear...

(HT: Peter Leithart)

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Profile of a baby-snatcher

Quake in fear, all mums and tots! BK is on the prowl...

Was on the Tube yesterday and probably stared too long at this super-cute toddler and his antics in the same carriage. I got out at Waterloo only to discover that the Jubilee Line wasn't running, so I hopped back onto the Northern Line to change at Kennington. Once at Kennington, got onto the train I wanted only to discover, having left them back at Waterloo, the same mum and cute tot! The mum was visibly startled to see me again, and after my earlier stare-a-thon she had probably sized me up as some pram-snatching stalker. Thankfully, once she started cooing at her kid again she forgot all about me.


Point of the post? Er, do I need one? I could talk about the other time when a fistfight broke out on my train carriage, shattered windows and all...

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Films, Fischer and failed flights

Cloverfield is already out in the US, with more sure to follow. Here are some of 2008's most anticipated films. I'm especially interested to see Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker.

Bobby Fischer died today. Bobby was a chess legend, quite possibly the most brilliant and eccentric of the grandmasters of the 20th century. I don't think he ever played Kasparov; now that would have been something!

And for a real life hero, how about the guy who piloted that British Airways crash flight when the Boeing 777 completely failed? "This man deserves a medal as big as a frying pan!"

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

That's this year's lunches taken care of

I spent £130 today. Not only that, but it was all on sandwiches. Imagine that, that's around RM850 worth of bread and fillings! :-o

Context: The sandwiches we normally have for lunchtime services, which I help out with, for a variety of reasons were not available today, so quick improvisation was needed. Wonder what the City folk were thinking as they made their way to M&S during lunch break only to discover a distinct lack of ham and pickle sandwiches!


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Language, Power and the Malaysian Christian

English language of the land?One of the most stimulating blogs I’ve read lately is by local writer Chuah Guat Eng. Her passion mainly revolves around Malaysian literature in English, and she’s obviously very conversant with all the related issues surrounding the topic.

She has a particularly fascinating post asking "Is there a future for Malaysian literature in English?" Now I realise that litblogs and so-called “literary” topics isn’t really many of my readers’ cup of tea, but bear with me for a second, especially as I think it has bearings on issues beyond the merely “literary”. Beginning with the story of the founding of Rhino Press in 1997, a small Malaysian press dedicated to publishing “young Malaysian writers”, Chuah finds herself asking the question: “But why did they all write in English?” True, English is the linguistic fountainhead one must draw from to survive in today’s global city, yet paradoxically, in the borough of Malaysia this wellspring is not located at the centre but on the margins. She then proceeds to explore the biographies and histories of these various writers, all of whom were among the first few generations of fairly well-off Malaysians to have had their entire school education in the Malay medium. The answers these writers gave were varied, but Chuah thinks the crux of the matter boils down to moving beyond the straitjacket of a uniform national identity and the tired binary oppositions of us versus them (in this case, Asian/Eastern versus the Mat Sallehs*). These are writers who no longer feel the need to address this identity crisis (which is perceived as an illusion anyhow) but to get on with engaging with current socio-political realities: democracy, human rights, social justice. The post ends on a sobering note – Rhino Press, far from being further along the road to fulfilling its vision, now publishes cookery books. The hand of the free market was probably just too strong.

During my brief time struggling with the arcane subject of postcolonial studies at university, I was for the first time really asked to consider what it meant for me, a Malaysian Chinese, to speak, write, and think in English. Of course, I had already experienced some discomfiture whenever I communicated with my mainly Chinese-speaking relatives since I don’t speak Chinese very well. Such a question, of course, also throws up a host of other questions and assumptions, including seeing language as political, as having power. One of the results of colonialism is that aspects of the colonial culture are superimposed on that of the colonised, the obvious example here being the English language. Frantz Fanon, who is one of the early major figures in postcolonial studies, provocatively says: "Colonialism forces the people it dominates to ask themselves the questions constantly: ‘In reality, who am I?’". The language we speak influences the way we view reality. Fanon takes the rather radical position that to take up the language of the colonizer is to accept the world and standards of the colonizer, and I suppose, he implicitly presupposes some semblance of oppression. This is a form of what is commonly known as the "hermeneutics of suspicion".

To illustrate this, imagine writing a story which uses Manglish, with all the lahs and so on in it. Is the writer, then, breaking some sort of grammatical rule by not adhering to "standard" English? Should the writer even adhere to this standard? How will this translate to English-speaking cultures? This also helpfully shows that there are always aspects of culture that don’t translate well. I know for example, that many Malaysians find it difficult to find the appropriate English word for perasaan or manja. Similarly, a British friend of mine who has been learning Mandarin mentioned what a great phrase ma fan is – saying that although it could reasonably be translated as “annoying”, it doesn’t quite capture the full semantic range/ connotations of the word. Of course, this is also what often happens in Bible translation as well, sometimes it can be extremely hard to fully capture all the foibles or nuances of what was originally written in Hebrew or Greek.

I’m not bright enough to constructively engage with all of the above. Nonetheless, all these complex issues regarding the politics of language are interesting and I would say, important, in light of today’s political situation in Malaysia. Political scientist Farish Noor talks about "the other Malaysia", that is, the many elements that make up Malaysian society that is denied a voice in the official apparatus or machinery, but that is increasingly hard to contain, hence the appearance of Hindraf, to take one obvious recent example. Similarly, the brand of rhetoric practiced in Malaysia is too often couched in racial and communitarian terms. The government-controlled English media in Malaysia, for instance, plays up the Islamisation bogeyman whereas the Malay media spins the very same issue in a much more populist fashion. Of note is the recent controversy over "Allah", while seemingly trivial on one level, is also symptomatic of deeper cracks in Malaysian society.

Is there a sense, then, that Malaysian Christians can redeem the language, learning not to use terminology inappropriately? Not to capitulate to ways of speaking which inflames, and to lend a voice to the voiceless? Language is a gift from God. One might say it is an essential part of our humanness, what separates us from animals. Also, I would say that God himself models how we should use language since he is a trustworthy God who speaks truly. He also speaks humbly, since the words he gives to us contained in Scripture is both divine and human. At the same time, unlike us, God speaks with complete authority, but not in an oppressive manner as the colonizers do, but as the omniscient God who sees knows all languages, all cultures and all reality. (I haven’t been able to work out the implications of this to the immediate matter at hand but I’m sure there's something there). I know my friend Wai Nyan has not been at all impressed with some of the language used by the Malaysian "underground" (sorry, felt the need to be cool there), and while I think he has been a little too quick and harsh to question motives and a little over-generous to the government, I understand the thrust of his concerns. Language and culture are closely linked, and we surely must seek to use language in a redemptive sense if we want to have any impact on culture.

Just as importantly, I think, are the missiological implications. I remember once how a Western missionary observed that he found mission work in Singapore, a country where English is widely spoken, more difficult than in a non-English speaking country. A language spoken in common can actually serve to conceal cultural and worldview differences rather than reveal them. A word could have different connotations to different people. The word "Asian" here in Britain for instance, primarily denotes those who come from the Indian subcontinent; I suspect the same word used in America or Australia tends to denote a person of Chinese, Japanese or Korean origin. That is the impetus behind Bible translations, for having the Word in your own language can be massively empowering. As I’ve mentioned earlier, there are some words which are difficult to translate and to have it in your own language could be quite a gift and allow them to function and reflect better on their own contexts and cultures. I think Westerners (and to be fair, not just Westerners) may overlook this factor. Although perhaps not for me, so thoroughly embedded am I in the English language! Yet it is precisely that the English I speak is dual, both a "standard" English and Manglish, which illustrates the need for further reflection.

This post has taken a life of its own – I’m sorry that I’ve rambled on a bit. It certainly took on directions I didn’t expect! Hope it made some sort of sense. In any case, please feel free to comment and correct any unintended heresies I might have spouted.

*white men; generic term for Caucasians. Could be taken as slightly pejorative! Which in itself illustrates the point of this post really.

P/S In case I get misinterpreted, I should of course say that the hermeneutics of suspicion and those who see oppresive power discourses in everything have taken things too far for a Christian to accept.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Overheard (though not by me) in the lifts at Covent Garden Tube station -

Out of town Girl 1: "Ooooh, ooooh! We're in London now! Do you think we'll see anyone famous?"

Out of town Girl 2: "Oh I hope so. Loads of famous people live in London. I bet we do. Especially here!"

London Girl behind them (snorting): "Yeah. All our famous people come to the lifts at Covent Garden."

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ruth: Second impressions

I found Ruth a delightful read this evening. I was initially slated to lead a Bible study on it this term, and although that's no longer happening, I was keen to revisit a neglected portion of my Bible. For me, Ruth conjures up memories of colouring pictures and memory verses (Chant it with me! "Your people will be my people and your God my God"), a legacy of Sunday School. Now that I'm no longer sitting spellbound at the feet of Aunty Mary and her storytelling prowess, I'm left to ponder. So why is this story in the Bible at all? Did God think we were lacking some romance? Where does it all fit in within salvation history?

Here are some of the things that struck me:

The setting of Ruth is very localised. No great tales of kings or wars or multitudes of people gallivanting through the desert. Instead, we now home in on life in a small village and in particular, a couple of characters. It all feels very laidback and breezy, rustic even. All the newsworthy events of the day fade into the background. "In the days when the judges ruled..." (1:1). Ruth is sandwiched between Judges and 1 Samuel, which tend to be more about the "important" people of the day. By contrast, Ruth and Naomi and Boaz are just your ordinary Everyman and Everywoman. In fact, one of the things that stood out to me in chapter 2 was how everything was occuring within the context of everyday life: meals, work, conversations, from sunrise to sundown.

In some ways, the story centers on Naomi more than Ruth. When we meet Naomi, life is tough. Her husband and sons are all gone, and she is alone with her two Moabite daughter-in-laws in a foreign land where famine has struck. Right away we're also told that her family is from Bethlehem, Judah, something that is highlighted from time to time thereafter. She is from the line of Judah, Jacob and Abraham. This might begin to explain why Naomi becomes such a focus and give us an inkling of how God is working at this particular juncture in history. Ruth is bookended by family history actually. It begins with this particular family from Judah and ends with a genealogy that sees fit to end with King David. This is quite poignant in light of Jacob's deathbed prophecy that "the sceptre will not depart from Judah" (Genesis 49:10) and Naomi's initial despair, and of course, as Christians, this is made sweeter by the knowledge that this genealogy ends up with the birth of King Jesus.

From start to end, Naomi moves from hopelessness to hope and ultimately, joy. In the first chapter, she talks matter-of-factly about her lack of prospects regarding family, children and implicitly, the end of her lineage. She gives in to Ruth's stubborness, but for her it doesn't really make an iota of difference. I liked her sardonic "Don't call me Naomi. Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter" (1:20; I was imagining this being said in a James Bond kind of way but that might be stretching it...). This begins to change in the next couple of chapters as she begins to play excited matchmaker. One of the most interesting things about the whole she-bang with Boaz, who is part of Naomi's family, getting together with Ruth is that the family name will not disappear from the records (4:10). It all ends in marital bliss, with a newly devoted family and renewed trust in God. The whole romance, in other words, is actually a testimony to God's faithfulness in keeping his covenant promise. After all the depression we find in Judges, Ruth is thankfully, a happy story - there's plenty of phrases sprinkled throughout on God's blessing and praising God - and is indicative of the grace of God. That this happens in an ordinary village and through ordinary events is even more encouraging.

Another theme I think is there is that of refuge. Ruth finds refuge under Naomi, both find refuge under Boaz, and ultimately, they all find refuge under God. This is made explicit by Boaz's statement: "May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge." (2:12). Naomi decides to go home upon hearing that the Lord was aiding his people (1:6). Ruth, too, appears to demonstrate that she is a true follower of YHWH by her conduct, even if she is a foreigner. Her place of birth doesn't automatically exclude her.

Her foreign status is highlighted throughout chapter 2, as is Boaz's kindness to her. I don't know my Deuteronomic law well, but I was wondering if his orders to the men in 2:15-16 was him going well beyond what was mandated, giving us more evidence that this is a guy with some character. In any case, he does show compassion the widow, fatherless, and alien, which in turn is meant to remind Israel of God's faithfulness to them in leading them out of Egypt. Again in chapter 3, Boaz shows what he's made of by his faithfulness to God's commands that he marry her as a kinsman-redeemer. I'm still a little clueless on the details of the story here. I have a rather vague idea that this has something to do with obedience to God's laws (Deuteronomy 25:5ff), but I don't get all the business of lying down and uncovering feet and whatnot! This I guess also has something to do with Boaz commending Ruth on her not chasing after some other stud. You know, I always imagined that Boaz was some dashing young cowboy-type, but he could easily and more likely have been middle-aged and a bit on the pudgy side...

Anyway, I found Ruth pretty exciting. I'm planning to read pastor-scholar Sinclair Ferguson's exposition, Faithful God, at some point and I'm sure it will illuminate me even further.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

God-centered application

At our most recent Bible study leaders rendezvous - that makes it sound exciting doesn't it? - Henry, the guy responsible for our particular grouping, very briefly walked us through some ways we could think about God while we were thinking about how we might apply the Scriptures. (I think he was drawing upon the work of John Frame, but having never read Frame, I'm not sure). I should also say the following is my own take and not Henry's remarks verbatim!

Using the book of Exodus as our paradigmatic lens, we see God the Rescuer in action in leading his people out of Egypt, as well as in the Passover event. We also see God the Ruler, as seen, for instance, in the giving of the Law, which comprehensively covers all of life. Finally, he is the One who is with us, as He comes to dwell in the tabernacle. (I was tempted to neatly alliterate all three and say God the Relater, but that just sounds terrible.) Conservative evangelicals tend to focus on the first two and forget that God indwells us via the Holy Spirit, thus neglecting the experiential dimension, whereas charismatic Christians tend to have a better grasp of the latter. This being an overgeneralisation of course.

God shows his 'Godness' (my word), then, by showing how firstly, he is in control of all things. For instance, his rescue involves his absolute mastery over nature, hence the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. He also displays his authority, or his right to be obeyed, seen in the giving of his commands, especially in light of the First Commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me". Finally, God is a covenantal God, a God who is always with his people, as clearly seen firstly in his interaction with Moses (Ex. 3:12) and through his leading of his people through the wilderness.

This then, might begin to help us think about how to let God's word speak to us today. (We were looking at some specific Psalms but I'll be more general here). If God is in control, how might we then show our trust? It might involve correcting wrong patterns of thinking or strengthening our belief that God is trustworthy or recalling and holding onto something we learn of God's nature from the passage. If God is the supreme authority and deserving of obedience, then what might we need to repent of? Again, differing and more specific applications can come out depending on both the passage and the person. (This is the probably the area we're most likely to think of when we think about "application"). Finally, in light of the truth that Christians have a relationship with God, i.e God is with us!, what might we, from passage X, take delight in?

I'm sure more could be said, but it certainly seemed like a good starting point when thinking about how we allow the Scriptures to examine us!

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The wrap

Ho-ho-ho! Santa’s bulging sack is way over the weight limit, and he needs to chuck some stuff. And where better to dump them than on the first wrap of 2008?

In light of the recent controversy over whether non-Muslims could legitimately use ‘Allah’ to refer to God, Malaysian theologian Dr. Ng Kam Weng has written a piece defending the right of non-Muslims to use the term. It’s a fairly academic piece; if you’ll like a more layperson-friendly, journalistic tone that covers similar ground, check out What’s in a Name?. Bob Kee attempts to move beyond the polemics. I belong to the Evangelical Church of Borneo (SIB) back home and I’ve sung songs giving praise to ‘Allah’ before – as have other East Malaysian Christians. I did sometimes wonder at the rationale behind that. Now I know!

For my fellow Malaysians, an event announcement:
The Christian and the General Election: Core Issues.
Date: 26th January 2008. Speakers include Gerakan’s Dr. Tan Kee Kwong, MCA’s Loh Seng Kok, DAP’s Lim Guan Eng and well-known activist, Dr. Irene Fernandez of Tenaganita. Online registration only.

Lee Chee Keat shares his thoughts on the two biggest stumbling blocks to following Christ for Malaysian Chinese.

Anthony Loke, who teaches at a Malaysian seminary, tells us a little about the current generation of Malaysian seminarians and raises some questions. Plus an interesting comment thread! (See also Dr. Alex Tang’s post 'Will You send your children to Bible school?'). On a related note, the D’Nous Academy organised by FES/SU Malaysia sounds like a good idea. I would have loved something like this back in my day!

This was quite a while ago now, but I should mention CT’s profile of Hillsong. Hillsong, of course, has had a fairly big impact on Malaysian evangelicalism.

Michael Patton offers a nuanced answer to the question 'Are all Sins really equal in God’s sight?’' Conclusion: "...while not all people sin to the same degree, we all share in an equally depraved nature." He did a great job of correcting my thinking on this!

Rhett Smith on book libraries and the Amazon Kindle.

Just how powerful is Google?

Al Mohler has written some good reflections on life in the cellular age. I think it’s important that we consider how technology shapes our lives, often in subtle ways.

There’s a great feature in Guardian Books about reading as therapy, investigating how reading might alleviate pain or distress. Meanwhile, distinguished literary critic Stanley Fish attacks the idea that the humanities can somehow save us. I don’t necessarily disagree. As Lundin and Gallagher rightly say (of literature): “A Christian perspective on reading lies between the extremes of hedonism and redemption.” Also, there’s an interesting (and slightly polemical) piece on the liberal arts curriculum at Harvard in First Things. (HT: Justin Taylor). While I was at Oxford, I would agree that the emphasis also fell on the "therapy of critique", as the author puts it, although I don’t want to overplay it either. It certainly caught me by surprise!

Oxford University study blows holes into the idea of a strict divide between ‘high’ culture and pop culture.

Would you believe it? The UK government really does have an X-Files!

Santa is off to a well-deserved break in the Bermudas!

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Monday, January 07, 2008


There's a little news item tucked away in Christianity Today about a mini-controversy regarding an African-American (Christian) professor's request to worship at a church not affiliated with the denomination of the college where she teaches. The basis for this is cultural rather than doctrinal. But it's not so much the newsworthiness of the piece but what said professor wrote in her request that struck me:

"I need a place of worship that is already consistent with my culture and able to grapple with issues of race in ways which make it a respite, a re-charging and growing place for me, as opposed to another location where I must 'work' and where I am 'other'."
I know exactly what she means. Because that's how I often feel too.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Gospel outlines

Gospel outlines have never featured prominently in my witness. When I was a teenager, during the rare times I dared to lift my head out of the rabbit hole and timidly venture to share my faith with a friend, I would more likely appeal to my testimony, which was nothing earth-shaking, perhaps throwing in a bit of pop apologetics - C.S Lewis's famous triad of whether Jesus was a liar, lunatic or legend comes to mind here - along the way. Or just as likely, I would appeal to some combination of felt-needs: how God was the only one who could fill the hole in our lives, God fulfilling our identity and so on. This is of course true on many levels, but that isn't quite the gospel, only the outworkings of it.

I do vaguely recall having in my possession a gospel tract on my bedroom bookshelf, complete with the classic illustration of a chasm between God and man and Jesus as the bridge. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the Four Spiritual Laws, but it was similar. That would also have been pretty close to the gospel I grew up with. Now, in recent years there's been plenty of discussion about what really constitutes the good news of Christianity, and gospel presentations such as the Four Spiritual Laws have been critiqued as being too individualistic or reductionistic, with the gospel essentially being boiled down to a fire escape. So I was quite interested to see James Choung, who works for InterVarsity Fellowship in the USA, develop this new model. (HT: Al Hsu) James is attempting to present a more holistic vision of the gospel that tries to capture the corporate dimensions of the gospel as well. He's also written a companion book, True Story, which will be released later this year. Judging from the blurb, the book will present the gospel narrative in more detail for both believer and unbeliever alike. Here's the Youtube video of his outline:

I'm struck by how similar his basic outline follows N.T Wright in Simply Christian, beginning as it does with a broken world where we all thirst for something better. I suspect that Wright must be one of his primary influences. There's a lot to like about his outline - I especially like the threefold emphasis on God, each other, and the world, which I think is very biblical; it's right there in Genesis! And so he helpfully shows firstly how attractive the original world as conceived by God was, and how sin ("we decided that we were going to run the whole show...") has affected everything, not just our relationship with God, but with each other and the world.

But I'm not quite sold. I think that if previous gospel outlines were too individualistic, this goes too far the other way. It was actually oddly depersonalising. In his 'sin circle', he talks about "damage" a lot. I wonder if that's too docile a word. In fact, I think it is quite reductionistic in one sense. It's definitely true that alienation from each other and from God is an effect of sin. Sin also enslaves us and makes us feel dirty. The way he presents it though downplayed our role in allowing such evil to flourish. Amongst other things, sin is personal and tells of our guilt before God. When he said "we're damaged by evil", it sounded as if evil was an external oppresive force which we had little to do with.

His diagnosis of the problem consequently shaped his presentation of salvation, where he talked about how through Jesus, "all this crap [in our sinful world]" died with him and that we can "be healed in Jesus name". Again, I wonder if the language used is too mild, and that it could possibly lead to misunderstandings in our therapeutic culture. I don't think I was too clear either on why Jesus had to die. In explaining the disconnect between the sinful world we see now and the restored world envisioned by Christians, he says that the problems are overwhelming and that's why we need "Jesus' resources". Now I'm very wary of what I'm going to say next, because I can see why he presented it as such, as it circumvents "cheap grace" and promotes a much more activist (missional?) mindset, but it almost felt as if he had turned the gospel into a Christianised Malaysia Boleh! chant (for my non-Malaysian readers, this is basically a motivational slogan used by the government in the "Anything is possible!" spirit). Grace seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Again I hasten to add that there's a lot I like about the gospel outline. And I guess in the end, no matter what, all outlines tend to be reductionistic in one way or another, that's why they're called outlines! Plus he only had 3 minutes, and I suppose James will expand his material further in his book. Depending on the context, it might be appropriate to utilise such an outline. The tension comes down to which motif of the atonement we wish to employ as our dominant theme. Here, the emphasis is more on the victorious reign of God, whereas more individualistic outlines focus on the substitutionary death of Jesus. It would be really nice to find some way of complementing the two (or more!), since both are inextricably linked to each other.

I've only skimmed through it, but so far it seems as if the best resource that holds the two together is The World We All Want, developed by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. It's more of an evangelistic course along the lines of Alpha or Christianity Explored. In conservative evangelical circles here, the outline that is the most popular is Two Ways to Live. The helpful thing about presenting God as King/Ruler and humans who rule/steward the world under him, as twtl does, is that it maintains the corporate dimension, although as the outline goes on, it does tend to shift to a more individualistic tone.

For me, although I very seldom use gospel outlines, I do often find them helpful by picturing them in my head as it helps me think about some of the key themes I should mention if I do get an opportunity to share the gospel. They can be of use too to those who don't share the same mother tongue as us or those who might find wordy explainations a barrier and will benefit from a visual aid. And maybe it's a good thing that the gospel is irreducible to an outline after all, as it keeps us humble and reminds us of the depth of the riches of Jesus' life, death and resurrection!

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Taking stock of my blogging

become a famous bloggerSince it is the new year, I thought it might be a good idea to take stock of my blogging, something I haven't done for a while. Having blogged very little in 2006, I picked up the pace this last year from March onwards, when I got hold of a new laptop.

ThisLast year, I found myself blogging more explicitly on biblical passages, such as 2 Timothy or various psalms, such as Psalm 8. In addition, I briefly worked through the complementarian and egalitarian positions, which also got me quite a few google hits. I think this renewed focus parallels what's happening in my life outside the virtual world, where I both gained a renewed confidence that the Scriptures are the speech-acts of God and a realisation that I needed to try to get a better grasp of what the Bible says. In other words, I needed a better handle on the basics first before going for the cheem (deep) stuff! And committing words to screen has proven helpful in doing this.

I found myself reading more biblioblogs this last year, most of them not on my blogroll, such as the always enlightening Euangelion. I had fun too discovering some Malaysian blogs such as pearlie and Lim Kar Yong. It seems like you can easily access the thoughts of just about any well-known scholar these days; I noticed, for example, that OT professor Peter Enns is the latest to join the blogosphere.

Alongside the wrap, I instituted Wordsmiths this last year, where I featured various literary pieces, mainly poetry. It also helps with my blogging rhythm, I noticed. In fact, Paul David Tripp's Psalm 51 inspired poem was one of my most popular posts. One of the things I'm considering doing this year is actually doing a regular book post, since I am a bibliophile after all. But I'm not quite sure what - perhaps highlighting various books that are coming out?

The highlight of the year was discovering that I had made Stephen Murray's blogroll, although I have no idea why! I'm the least illustrious and intelligent member of the group on his sidebar.

I expect that when I get a job blogging output would once again be reduced, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Anyway, the floor is open to all of my readers now. I need feedback. What have you liked about my blogging? What could be better? (I know that I break one of the cardinal rules of blogging often, and that is to be concise!) My writing style? (I experiment so much less these days). One thing I'm quite curious about, how many of you use RSS/Google Reader/etc. to read this blog? Plus anything and everything else. No asking to redesign my blog though, I don't have the time! And feel free to comment anonymously, if you're shy-shy one.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year

2008 is here!

As 2008 dawns in the midst of the Twelve Days of Christmas, how we long for peace: for shalom, that great Biblical word for the flourishing of each individual, each relationship, and the cosmos as a whole in harmony with God.

Read the rest of Regent principal John Stackhouse's piece.

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