Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Giving Reason For The Hope V

No matter how we conceptualize it, the ethical criterion of truth remains a crucial challenge for the faith community. As a minority, we are called to demonstrate how a Trinitarian approach for community formation nurtures ‘unity-in-diversity’ in contradistinction from a potentially pluralistic but violent clash of civilizations or a docile state of monistic ‘dhimmitude’.

If the ultimate apologetic is found in Jesus’ prayer that His believers may be one as a reflection of Trinitarian love (John 17:21-22), our challenge today may sound like this: “How would the koinonia as an inclusive, sanctified, racially and socially diverse community of faith be any different from a monolithic ummah or a secular, fragmented individualism?” Would the church translate theology into socio-political practices that would answer our community’s yearning for racial reconciliation, public governance with integrity, peacemaking and liberation from oppression and poverty? The late Lesslie Newbigin wrote that it is precisely because we want unity that we seek the truth by which alone humankind can become one: “That truth is not a doctrine or a worldview or even a religious experience; it is certainly not to be found by repeating abstract nouns like justice and love; it is the man Jesus Christ in whom God was reconciling the world. The Truth is personal, concrete, historical.”

If the Malaysian church could thus demonstrate an alternative society that transcends ethnic, cultural, economic class and political barriers, the perception of Christianity as a Western colonial reality will be more effectively exorcised. Our apologetic should also take on board a faithful portrayal of Christ, as the Suffering Servant-King who laid aside His majesty and emptied Himself in humility to rescue and serve humanity (Matthew 10:28, Luke 22:27). The cross subverts every pretension to power by violence and de-legitimates manipulation and oppression. Although it does not guarantee innocence in its adherents, we find within the biblical meta-narrative is two inherent anti-totalizing inclinations - a radical sensitivity to suffering and God’s overarching creational intent over all, thus preventing a partisan abuse. Through the atonement of Christ, the way for reconciliation and forgiveness is made possible even for the oppressors.

In a stirring call, Engel and Dryness argued that the New Testament church made a parody of the ‘center-periphery’ mission model, which has as its starting point centers of power and wealth before moving to the periphery of those who were impoverished spiritually and physically. The book of Acts recorded how the gospel made its way from Jerusalem, an insignificant backwater of the Roman Empire to the very household of Caesar. Today, churches in the so-called Two-Thirds World need to embody the self-emptying and suffering Christ, not the imperialist Caesar. As servant-leaders, we need to engage contemporary issues in our proclamation and service for the sake of the world as significant missionary-sending contributors. In word and deed, we sensitively recognize the diversity and integrity of different cultures and ‘language games’, while holding to the significant possibility for meaningful communication as we also share a basic humanity in God’s image and live together in the same created world.

Concluding Remarks

While there is certainly indispensable necessity for worldview encounter and legitimate art of persuasion, we need to get beyond a confrontational mode of interfaith dialogue. There are also other themes which deserve our attention like interfaith dialogues in promoting common social harmony, joint action in overcoming racism, AIDS and poverty. Although the process of Islamization is a growing concern, which calls for courageous countercultural witness, the church also needs to draw from the rich resources for social programs that spring from a common theistic outlook with Islam, the national religion, as opposed to naturalistic secularism. At the same time, dialogue-in-life should permeate the rank and file in the office, classroom, factory and ‘rumah terbuka’ during festivities. That is, Christians should abandon a ‘ghetto’ mentality and actively pursue to be with the other, collaborate with them in action and discourse to understand and be understood. To be effective, the laity must be equipped to do conversational evangelism.

In conclusion, let us heed the rousing call for the apologetic task by J. G. Machen when he said, “It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation, and the absence of that makes even the best preparation useless. But as a matter of fact God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the while collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.”

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