Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Books For Sale

                    Classic Reformed doctrine of God by Herman Bavinck RM 40

The church for the future - Carpe Manana RM15 by Leonard Sweet

Bill Lane Craig vs John D Crossan on historical Jesus/resurrection RM 25

                             "Prophecy"? Rick Joyner's Final Quest RM 5

Sam Harris (atheist) on Free Will and predestination RM 25

Intro to Old Testament Theology by JN Schofield RM 5

Spiritual formation and church, Emergent RM 15

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: How Long, O Lord?

Review: How Long O Lord? (DA Carson)

Despite advances in science, pain and death remain an inevitable part of life. Where is God when suffering abounds and tragedy strikes in the form of cancer, tsunami, wars and abuse? For some, it is an intellectual question to reconcile the existence of a loving and all-powerful God in the face of seemingly purposeless evil. For others, it is an existential cry from the heart. D. A. Carson wrote this book to help Christians not only to find assurance that their beliefs are consistent but to apply and draw comfort from them in the dark seasons of suffering.

In Part I, Carson cautioned us against false security that we could be insulated from suffering and radical evil through our own resources. Sometimes, we expect immediate relief from pain through our prayers and forget that God works for the good of those who love Him precisely in the midst of misery. It is not a promise to remove suffering altogether in this side of heaven. We may also draw false comfort from biblically indefensible notions of God as a sympathetic but less-than-omnipotent god or as a deistic Watchmaker who stay uninvolved with the world after setting natural laws in motion. Such attempts at justifying God’s ways with humanity (or theodicy) are sub-biblical, Carson argues, because Scripture reveals God as personally involved with the world and His omnipotence is not constrained with human freedom.

In Part II, Carson explores selective biblical themes relevant to the problem of evil and suffering to locate it within a Christian framework. From a survey of redemptive history, we find that an originally good creation is corrupted by human sin. Sickness and death entered the world as a result. While it does not mean that every bit of suffering is necessarily the immediate consequence of a particular sin, there is a profound sense that we are sinners who take part in and deserve the sufferings of a fallen world. We have forfeited any “right” to a life of ceaseless comfort. It is by God’s mercies that we are not destroyed. While discussing social evils, Carson pointed out that Jesus was not surprised by the prevalence of wars, famines and earthquakes (Matthew 24). Instead, the Lord treats natural disasters and injustices as incentives to repentance: “Unless you repent, you too will all perish”. It thus runs counter to our default expectation that we deserve prosperity and health while suffering and death are grossly ‘unfair’.

There are also sufferings peculiar to the people of God as a form of discipline for their ultimate good and intended to help them to fight sin. It is not necessarily a consequence for the lack of faith or prayer. Sometimes, mature Christian leaders may experience suffering closely connected to opposition to their courageous witness so that through their weakness, the life of Christ may be revealed and nourish the church (2 Corinthians 4:8-12). The chapter on Job is also a provocative challenge to the mistaken notion that the righteous will not suffer or those who suffer must have directly deserved it: The real question is whether we are more interested in seeking God for His own sake or for personal gain? Will we still worship Him when all worldly comforts are stripped away?

Another helpful biblical theme is God’s promise to right all wrongs and wipe away all tears at the End. It assures us that wickedness will not prosper ultimately. Death will not have the last word. From that eschatological perspective, we cultivate homesickness for heaven in God’s presence and avoid putting our hopes on all things finite. Ultimately, however, only the cross of Calvary reveals to us the kind of suffering God that we can trust despite not having all the answers. It is not “a kind of immanentist identification of God with all human suffering” (page 189). The cross is the supreme display of God’s justice and love. Christ suffered once-for-all to reconcile His people to the Father. He knows first hand what suffering is and therefore, He is able to sympathize with our weakness. Whatever hidden reasons God has for allowing tragedies and disasters, the reason could not be that He does not care. Only the God who carries the scars of wounds on Himself could really speak to and heal our own brokenness.

In Part III, Carson discusses the mystery of providence in how the Bible affirms God’s all-encompassing sovereignty in a way that is compatible with meaningful human responsibility. It consists more of biblical expositions than philosophical speculations. God’s loving providence teaches us to trust and obey in spite of not having all the answers. “God is less interested in answering our questions than in other things: securing our allegiance, establishing our faith, nurturing a desire for holiness” (page 245).

Finally, the book concludes with some pastoral reflections that often in the midst of suffering, the most comforting “answers” are simple presence, practical help and silent tears with those who mourn. Overall, I found it to be most helpful to anchor our faith in solid biblical insights so that we will stand firm when the storm of inevitable of pain and death comes. It challenges our false demands for how life ought to be and our idolatrous dependence in our own resources to insulate life from pain. It offers much wisdom and sensitivity in dealing with the problem of suffering in a gospel-centered perspective.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Life and Legacy of John Calvin

The Life and Legacy of John Calvin

When pro-reform supporters regained power in the city councils, Calvin was urged to return and continue his work in Geneva. Martin Bucer, the reformer at Strasbourg, was reported to have employed Farel’s earlier strategy: If Calvin refused to resume his ministry he will be acting like Jonah who tried to run away from God! In September 1541, Calvin reluctantly accepted the request and picked up preaching from the Bible passage where he had left off three years ago. Timothy George commented, “In this way Calvin signaled that he intended his life and his theology to be, not a device of his own making, but a responsible witness to the Word of God”.

Click here to read the life and legacy of John Calvin

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Love God With All Your Mind

Love God With All Our Mind

I found out that for many Christians an intellectual understanding of what we believe and why you believe is not important as long as you have an experiential feeling in your heart! The heart is what you used in a relationship with God but the brain is what you used while studying science, computers, economics and history in school. There is a separation of the heart for spiritual stuffs and the mind for secular stuffs like dinosaurs. When that happens, no wonder our faith has so little impact on how we do our work or studies in the world. And no wonder our ‘daily activities’ outside the church has very little to do with God or the gospel.

But the Bible seems to say: “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewal of your minds”. It doesn’t say “Be transformed by the removal of your minds”! So we don’t need to remove our brains in order to be a Christian. In fact, renewing our mind with God’s truth and kingdom values is crucial to our spiritual growth.

The following is sermon transcript for today's sermon at Klang Presbyterian Church

Love God With All Your Mind

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Book Review: Conformed To His Image

Book Review: Conformed to His Image (Kenneth Boa)

Spirituality is very much woven into the very fabric of life in Asian cultures. Even more modern-minded and upwardly-mobile generation of younger Malaysians gravitate to feng shui paraphernalia, bomoh medicine and yoga gurus for the promises of health, prosperity and self-fulfillment. A similar awareness and hunger for spiritual renewal is also evident amongst Christians, but how is an authentic biblical spirituality any different from that of their surrounding cultures? What are the distinctive marks of Christian spirituality?

In his book Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation, Kenneth Boa seeks to provide a more comprehensive and balanced approach to the spiritual life from a biblical perspective. He describes spirituality as a “Christ-centered orientation to every component of life through the mediating power of the indwelling Holy Spirit” (page 19). It is analogous to a pilgrim’s journey which starts with our embrace of God’s free grace and progresses through lifelong faith and obedience in Christ. Even though the book is designed as a college or seminary text, it is highly readable with chapter overviews, helpful charts and emphasis on practice. There are thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter intended to lead us to reflect and apply what had been learnt earlier. I would heartily recommend it as an excellent, balanced and indispensable resource for small groups, churches and lay leaders who seek a deeper spirituality as well.

Click on the Scribd Document above for a summary and review of this book

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Liberation Theology: The Gospel and Solidarity With The Poor

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

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why On Earth Are We Here For?

Presented a talk on "Faith And Love" at Uniten Christian Fellowship or TECHFLOW on Wednesday with the transcript here.

Below is my assignment on "The Search For Meaning in Life", teasing out the relevance of Ecclesiastes in Malaysian society

“What is the point of living if everything ends in death? Why on earth we are here for?” These perennial questions about the purpose of life are often raised by most sensitive and reflective people around the world. But our socio-cultural context, in different degrees, influences how we answer that question. Many Malaysians of Chinese origin like my friend (let’s call him “Meng”) are descendants of immigrants who had risked the sea, worked hard and lived frugally to strive for a better future. Like many Malaysian Chinese who live in urban centers, Meng inherited his ancestors’ spirit of diligence and resilience. Wealth accumulation and education for his children (so that they in turn could have better opportunities to make a living) become top priorities since these factors provide a measure of security when he can hardly depend on anyone else for support.

If religion is often a projection of human needs/fears as Freud suggested, then perhaps we can interpret the motivation behind his cultural beliefs like consulting feng shui consultants before setting up a business, the Ching Ming practice of burning paper money for the deceased or the Chinese New Year tradition of welcoming the god of prosperity. It may be observed that the functional god in his life is Money. The pursuit of wealth and the dream of striking a lottery jackpot provide his meaning for existing, sense of security and significance. “Seize the day (Carpe Diem)!” is his life slogan. He would say, “Since we will all ultimately end up in the grave, let’s live with gusto, work hard and play hard and squeeze all the fun and excitement out of the ride”.

The psychologist Viktor Frankl suggested that the will to fulfill a meaning in life is the primary motivational force in humanity. Those who lack a meaning worth living for and find an inner void within their hearts experience ‘existential vacuum’. This is a widespread phenomenon in a rampantly industrializing economy where traditional values are lost. Existential vacuum manifests itself in boredom, addiction (i.e. workaholic, alcoholic or substance abuse), despair, the will to money, apathy or unbridled sexual libido. That could be an apt description of many city dwellers like Meng. What relevance would Qoheleth, the writer of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, have for people like him?

I think Qoheleth would present an unpleasant challenge to those whose pursuits focus on earthly goals that we find ‘under the sun’. All these toils, projects and pleasure are ultimately transient, impermanent and ultimately profitless. Although wisdom, wealth and backpacking in exotic places have temporal benefits, we do not take any gain in life with us when we die. We come into this world alone and empty-handed, so shall we leave it. In the long run, there is no net gain. There is “a time to be born and a time to die” (3:2). “We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us” (5:15). It is like chasing after the wind. Vanity of vanities! Not only do we face the certainty of death, we also face the uncertainties of life. No one knows what would happen to his hard-earned wealth even in this lifetime since injustice (3:16) or bad investment (5:14) could overtake us anytime. The Chinese proverb “Wealth does not pass three generations” has often been proven correct with nepotism, poor management and power struggles occurring in Chinese family enterprises. Who can tell if his successor will not squander his wealth (2:18-23)? While all human needs (i.e. food, shelter, clothes) can be satisfied, human greed for money is inherently insatiable. When we try to fill up the vacuum in our hearts with material things, we end up consuming more with ever-decreasing joy with each additional purchase (5:10-11).

But Meng may wonder, “Why should my worldly ambitions be profitless if it gives me a sense of worth and security? And why must life be eternal in order for it to be meaningful?” Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel would probably agree that human life viewed as a whole is absurd apart from God but insist that we could still find life subjectively meaningful as long as we don’t wonder if it fits into some larger purpose. Entertaining such thoughts is a sign of taking ourselves too seriously. Existentialists like Sartre would probably urge us to create a self-customized meaning and define our own essence from our bare existence. Without God, there is no objective, cosmic meaning in life. But it also makes all sorts of subjective meanings possible.

Some may even argue that an infinite life would be meaningless because we will get tired of it eventually. Consider Karl Popper who said, “There are those who think that life is valueless because it comes to an end. They fail to see that the opposite argument might also be proposed: that if there were no end to life, life would have no value; that it is, in part, the ever-present danger of losing it which helps bring home to us the value of life.” Life is perceived to be worthwhile and significant only because mortality awaits us, bringing a sense of poignant urgency to our transitory lives. Albert Camus’ solution to the urgent question of “Why live and not commit suicide?” is basically a call to stoically face the tension of absurdity.

However, there remains a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction for most people in conceding that our lives are not connected to something bigger than ourselves. The significance of a movie snapshot depends on how it contributed to the conclusion of the whole story (of which the captured moment is a part). Only when we see that connection would we conclude the meaning of that picture as part of a comedy or a tragedy. Unless we know how the story ends, we do not know its significance or meaning. This existential vacuum becomes more acute when we consider the gross injustices that were committed and appeared unpunished in the lifetime of their perpetrators. Qoheleth rightly observed that “even in the courts of law, the very place where righteousness and justice are supposed to be guaranteed, wickedness may be present” (3:16). In this moral context, the demand for a cosmic meaning in life is not motivated not so much by hubris but by justice. The philosopher Immanuel Kant saw that ethics are practically meaningless without God and the afterlife. If death is an abyss of nothingness, then the victims who suffered for a righteous cause under oppressive regimes have ultimately faced a meaningless death. In contrast, Qoheleth offers the alternative of a solid confidence that God will “judge every deed under the sun, whether good or bad, hidden or not” (12:14).

Ethics and significance in life make sense only when we presuppose God.

For most people, there is an existential dissatisfaction with accepting that at the bottom of our lives, there is no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. But the moment we look up and see if life as a whole makes sense, the question of ultimate meaning comes back to haunt us. No wonder we desperately seek escapism from confronting this horrible abyss of nothingness by drowning ourselves with subjective meanings like work, relationships, leisure and power. This ‘coping mechanism’ needs to be maintained diligently because God had “put eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out what God does from beginning to the end” (3:12). There is an internal God-given preoccupation (3:10) whereby human beings are able to transcend the present moment and survey the past and think of the future. Yet they were not able to find out or change what God had determined, and so, their sense of vanity is aggravated. For God so works that men should fear Him (3:14).

William Lane Craig put it like this: “If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life? Does it really matter whether he ever existed at all? It might be said that his life was important because it influenced others or affected the course of history. But this only shows a relative significance to his life, not an ultimate significance. His life may be important relative to certain other events, but what is the ultimate significance of any of those events? If all the events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate meaning of influencing any of them? Ultimately, it makes no difference”. For Qoheleth, a transitory life is meaningful as we choose responsibly to live in the fear of God and to keep his commandments (12:13). This is a perspective on death that is not mere passive acceptance, but one which urges us to enjoy life each day that God has given as a gift (3:12-13, 22).

In 2:24-26 Qoheleth affirmed that the ability to have carefree enjoyment is “from the hand of God.” Only when we embrace the reality that life is transient would we be liberated from greed, lust and despair and turn to God as the source of our significance. Ironically, by fearing God and keeping His commandments on marital faithfulness, honest labor and wise living, we are empowered to enjoy these temporal blessings to the full while we live. Leong Tien Fock wrote, “Since we have no say over whether we could take with us what we have when we die, which can happen at any time and without prior notice, how can we say that we own the things we work for? We do not even own our very life! They are not allotted to us as such. What is allotted is only the enjoyment these things can give us while we still “own” them. To appreciate this reality we need to view this world the way a child views a child-care center full of toys. What is “allotted” to him is the enjoyment of whatever toys he gets to “own” while he is there, but he cannot take any of them with him when he leaves. It would be foolish of the child to spend the few hours he has at the center busy looking out for and gathering his favorite toys, and then guarding them, as if he could bring them home, and in the process miss the opportunity to enjoy any of them.” Instead of making temporal wealth, pleasure and wisdom our idols, we can worship the Giver and thereby, enjoy these gifts truly as we put them in the proper perspective.

Last but not least, it is true that a transient life evokes a certain poignant urgency as Popper says. For example, we appreciate our loved ones more if we know we will lose them for good one day. However, Christian theism goes beyond that to claim that such relationships and significant endeavors may not terminate in death. Would that really diminish the meaning of life? The notion that eternal life would be boring and meaningless is based on the unproven assumption that the joys of heaven would be exhaustible. But why should we assume that in order to advance a strawman argument? Christian theism actually affirms that apart from the joys of reunion with loved ones and fulfilling work that awaits us in the renewed creation, we will spend eternity in relationship with the inexhaustible God Himself.

Theologian John Piper put it this way: “God is infinite and wills to reveal himself to us for our enjoyment of his fullness forever. Yet we are finite and cannot at any time, or in any finite duration of time, comprehend the limitless, infinite fullness of God’s glory… Therefore the implication is that our union with God, in the all-satisfying experience of his glory, can never be complete, but must be increasing with intimacy and intensity forever and ever.” There will always be more of God to discover, learn and savor since finite creatures will never exhaustively know Him. Therefore, glorifying and enjoying God forever remains the meaningful purpose for humanity. From his grace, we can accept and enjoy the good gifts of His creation – be it challenging achievements, authentic relationships and beauty.

Pictures courtesy of Animal World and Stu's View and Philosophy @ Fort Hare and Ginside

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book Review: Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Questions about life’s meaning and suffering which were formerly handled by priests or rabbis are now increasingly confronted by psychiatrists and doctors. In his bestseller Man's Search for Meaning, Dr Victor Frankl highlighted the distinctive of logotherapy, also known as the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy”, as the idea that “the striving to find a meaning in one's life is the primary motivational force in man”. Therefore, for logotheraphy, the focus is on the will to meaning in contrast to the will to pleasure of Freudian psychoanalysis and the will to power stressed by Adlerian psychology. While Freud and Adler tried to discover primal drives latent in the past, Frankl focuses rather on the meanings one is called to fulfill in the future. In his moving autobiographical account of experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, he observed how prisoners who lost hope in the future would be subject to mental and physical decay.

According to Frankl, man’s search for meaning is not a derived projection from more basic instinctual drives or sublimations. Otherwise it would lose its ability to challenge or summon him to live or even die for these values. Unlike Sartre’s axiom that existence precedes essence, Frankl’s existentialism asserts that the meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves but rather we discover it as ‘something confronting existence’. Those who lack a meaning worth living for and find an inner void within their hearts experience ‘existential vacuum’. This is a widespread phenomenon of the twentieth century due to the loss of traditional values and rampant industrialization, manifesting itself in boredom, addiction, the will to money, apathy or unbridled sexual libido.

As a Christian, I applaud Frankl’s critique of the determinism prevailing in much of psychoanalysis that reduced man to nothing but a victim of hereditary or environmental conditions. We share the hope that a ‘rehumanized psychiatry’ would replace the tendency to treat human minds as machines and focus on mere techniques. Indeed, Frankl’s view of man is biblical in the sense that man has both the potentials of behaving like a swine or a saint. Man’s dignity lies in him being created in the image of God and yet marred by the depravity of sin. However, Frankl has an overly optimistic view of human freedom in which even the most evil persons are ultimately self-determining. Through restricted by conditions, they are free to change their own destiny. In the Christian perspective, fallen man is in need of divine rescue and inner liberation before such a change is possible. As long as his basic orientation is self-centered, the outward change merely vacillates between hedonism and legalism. ‘Existential vacuum’ (and its symptoms) express in modern terms Augustine’s ancient prayer that our hearts are restless until they find fulfillment or satisfaction in God.

Read on for the rest of the article

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Reason For Our Hope

Audio Sermon on 1 Peter 3:13-16 Giving The Reason For Our Hope can be downloaded here. We need to communicate the gospel clearly, lovingly and compellingly by being thoughtful, informed, honest and humble ambassadors for Christ. We embody the gospel with our lives and declare the gospel with our words. We need to show the world a community worth seeing and a faith worth thinking about.

Giving a Reason for Our Faith

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Monkeying With The Selfish Gene

Listen carefully the next time you overheard an argument in office or at home. For you may just stumble upon a powerful clue for God’s existence!

In his bestseller Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis observed that when we quarrel, we would often appeal to some higher Moral Law to which the other party is accountable. For example, it is common to hear people argue like this: “That’s my seat, I was here first”, “Give me a piece of your orange, I gave you some of mine” or “How do you like it if someone did the same to you?” Such arguments do not merely express our displeasure at someone’s behavior. They are actually appealing to a standard of right and wrong which we expect others to know about and ought to follow. Otherwise it would be as futile as claiming that a footballer had committed a foul without some agreement about the rules. This transcendent and universal Moral Law is a signpost pointing to God who is the Lawgiver.

But not everyone would agree. Popular writers such as Richard Dawkins and Robert Wright have tried to show that rudimentary forms of moral cognition can be found in animals as well. Here is a discussion on whether natural selection can account for morality as we know it available in the latest edition of Kairos Magazine.

The Selfish Gene: Monkeying With Morality