Friday, February 25, 2011

RZIM Conference: Register Now!

What is RZIM?

This year, RZIM conference focuses on the questions youths face in the 21st century. Register now at rzimap at singnet dot com dot sg!

RZIM Apologetics Conference For Youth Workers 2011

The Topics: I would be doing two workshops on "Jesus, the only way - Pluralism" and "Has Science Disproved God?"

Tools for the Trade-Topics 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chronology of Events: The Bahasa Malaysia Alkitab

Bahasa Malaysia Alkitab - Chronology of Events

The chronology of events since 5,000 copies of the Alkitab have been confiscated by the Ministry of Home Affairs since 2009 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In Defense of Biblical Authority

As a Christian apologist, I am often asked if my job is to defend what Christians believe. Actually, not so. This is because there is no single set of beliefs that all 2 billion Christians share. My task is to affirm, as the starting point, the Bible that we have today, as primary authority for the life of the Church. 

But before I can even do that, I have to acknowledge that the Christian traditions around the world use slightly different collections of books to mean the 'Bible.' They range from 66 to 84 canonical books. 

Since the Protestant Bible is the smallest collection (66), it is the only complete collection that every Christian tradition agrees with. This is why ACT's Project Timothy focusses on the Protestant Biblical canon of 66 books. 

I am tasked with explaining what these 66 books mean in its original contexts and what they may mean to us today. Then and only then can we begin to speak of defending the authority of the Bible. By this I mean that we consider the geohistorical, literary, philosophical and scientific influences of each writing with integrity to more responsibly understand what each writer meant when they wrote the books. 

Today, with great advances in learning, especially in the fields of geology, history, philosophy, literature, and the natural sciences, every Christian bears the responsibility to proclaim God's Word with clarity and integrity. 

We are not to hide behind dogma or feel threatened by fresh insights that expose any of our misinformed understanding. Instead, we should delight in the gifts of God for each new generation of thinkers who can help us understand more and preachers who can teach with conviction and passion.

This is apologetics at its best - the passionate commitment to a convictional confession of faith.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reason for God: How Can You Say “There Is Only One Way to God”?

Last Sunday we started The Reason For God chat room at CDPC Puchong with 10 participants (with 7 more to come). The conversations were free-flowing and engaging. Especially enjoyed how different perspectives from different people (lawyer, artist, psychologist, etc) enrich each other.
We watched a DVD featuring unscripted, live discussions of Tim Keller with six seekers/skeptics. One of them said something like: Whatever you believe, you must be willing to abandon it and let it be scrutinized. Otherwise it won’t be a strong belief because you are afraid that it will be challenged.

Do you agree with him?

Logically, the mutual exclusiveness of religious claims is evident to some of the participants. How do we get right with God? (Through good works or by grace) Where do we go after death? When a person dies, he can’t reincarnate, go to heaven or hell, end up in purgatory and cease to exist all at the same time. They can’t all be true. At least, one view must be wrong.

But the pluralist may respond like this: The doctrinal dogmas may be different but the spiritual experience or moral teaching/practice is the same. Different religions are just fighting over words when they are experiencing essentially the same thing (Story of ten blind men encountering the elephant for the first time).

In reality, although it sounds humble, pluralism says, “All religions are mistaken or partially correct like the blind men. All of them did not get the whole picture. But now I got the truth of what the elephant is like!” The only way you can know everyone else is blind is if you are the one who can see the elephant. Despite their mistaken beliefs, they are all in some way responding to God. It is just that they are not doing so in the manner in which the believers themselves think they are. But it is hard to see why this way of rejecting other’s beliefs as ‘blind’ is any more tolerant than the non-pluralist.

Do all religions really teach us to do good? They do share much ethical insights but differ on moral issues also. Is it good to have many wives or just one? Is it good to eat meat or sacrifice animals? 

What is the common subjective spiritual experience that all religions share? (John Hicks: a move from self centeredness to Reality-centeredness) But if the Real is absolutely beyond knowing, how can we know it exists? If no truth claim can describe it, how can one say anything of it?

Zen Buddhism claims mystical, direct, unmediated access to the ultimate nature of reality (satori – enlightenment). It is not just a human response to the Real. If true, then one religion has direct privileged access to truth contrary to pluralist claim. What does it mean to be ‘self centered’ or ‘Reality centered’? (Realize you are one with Brahman? Recognize that nirvana is ultimate? Center your life on Jesus?). It’s too vague and reductionistic in a way not acceptable to what other faiths claim about themselves...

Is belief in ‘one way to God’ narrow-minded as it shuts you off from new insights that come from other religions?

It is common to confuse ‘narrow-mindedness’ with holding a particular view with strong conviction. Gregory Boyd: “Narrow-mindedness does not attach to what you believe, but how you believe it. If I refused to consider any perspective, any religious book, and any philosophy which disagreed with my own, that would be narrow-minded. But just because I hold to a belief that disagrees with other perspectives, other religious books and other philosophies doesn’t itself make me narrow.”

Can we learn insights from other religions? Sure, but it doesn’t mean we cannot be critical as well. “Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” – G.K. Chesterton

Isn’t it unfair that God revealed Himself to only some people and not to others? What about those who have never heard of the good news? Where is the justice in that? It should be more open to all.

Different theories to reconcile God’s justice with the necessity of the gospel for salvation: God will not offer the gospel to those whom He knows would not have responded positively anyway. Or, after death, those whom God knows would respond positively may be offered the gospel. Keller: It’s a mystery that God has not revealed to us.

What does Romans chapter 1 say about ‘not enough evidence for God’? Actually, people are suppressing the universal knowledge of God they do have because of sin. People are without excuse for God’s moral character, power and wisdom have been evident to all since creation of the world. They are still accountable for how they live by the moral law within their hearts. So it’s still fair because they won’t be judged by what they don’t know. But the bad news is we have all violated our own moral standards and deserve just punishment. That is why we need a Savior (Christ) who died for our sins.

There are different theories to reconcile God’s justice with the necessity of the gospel for salvation. See Terrance Tiessen’s “Who Can be Saved? Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions

Ecclesiocentrists: Access to salvation is only available to those who hear and receive the gospel at least in the case of competent adults.

Agnosticism: It’s a mystery that God has not revealed to us since Scripture is silent.

Accessibilists: Salvation is through Christ alone but accessible to the unevangelised beyond the boundaries of the church. Non-Christian religions are not salvific.

Religious instrumentalists: Salvation is through Christ but accepts that non-Christian religions are means of salvation.

“[My] position is exclusivist in the sense that it affirms the unique truth of the revelation in Jesus Christ, but it is not exclusivist in the sense of denying the possibility of the salvation of the non-Christian. It is inclusivist in the sense that it refuses to limit the saving grace of God to the members of the Christian church, but it rejects the inclusivism which regards the non-Christian religions as vehicles of salvation. It is pluralist in the sense of acknowledging the gracious work of God in the lives of all human beings, but it rejects a pluralism which denies the uniqueness and decisiveness of what God has done in Jesus Christ.” (Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society)

Pluralism promotes peace and tolerance in a world of religious conflict. When you have exclusive hold on truth, it will lead to problems. Solution: Take religions less seriously or literally i.e. Jesus is God.

But everybody brings their essential faith commitments (which cannot be proven by science). Everyone has their worldview (about where we come from, who we are, the purpose of life and our destiny) and all have their exclusive views.

For example, even pluralism will exclude other beliefs like the incarnation of God in Christ. It works only if followers of all faiths water down their conflicting truth claims in favor of pluralism. In the end, the only way humanity could attain unity is when they exclusively agree on a ‘faith’ different than their own.

The real question, then, is “Which fundamental belief leads their believers to be the most loving and honor those with whom they differ?” (See: Reason for God, page 18 – 21)

Peace may be achieved not at the cost of truth or dismissal of genuine differences. In fact, tolerance itself implies disagreement. We do not ‘tolerate’ people who agree with us. They are on our side! If every religious person is a pluralist, what room is there for tolerance? Instead, genuine tolerance recognizes conflicting truth claims and does not press for artificial common denominator. Despite our differences, we respect and honor one another as persons who have the God-given right to believe, practice and propagate our faiths. We should avoid what Alister McGrath called ‘a repressive enforcement of a predetermined notion of what something or someone should be, rather than a willingness to accept them for what they actually are.’

OK fine – Only one religion is true or all are false. But how can you tell? How do you choose your ‘home’ or belief (worldview)? By research or upbringing?

What are some criteria that you think ‘the true religion’ ought to have? There are some tests of truth that can help us measure different religious claims (moral criterion, coherence, empirical/historical claims, trustworthy authority). We can know whether these claims are true or false, rather than wishful thinking.

Greg Koukl: For example, if I told you that out in my car, in my glove box, I have a square circle, how many of you would want to take a peek? There are no square circles because a square circle is a contradiction in terms.

It's like a person who said, "I met a woman who was ten years younger than her son." Now, no empirical search is necessary for you to reject this claim. By definition, mothers are older than their children. That is why there can't be a woman ten years younger than her son. Even if the most brilliant person said this to you, you could immediately reject it.

The point I am making is this. There are some particular things you can judge as false without ever leaving the room because a moment's reflection tells you there is something wrong. These things can't be true because they violate the test of coherence. In other words, it doesn't make sense; it's contradictory.

What about this “all religions are the same” view? What it fails to take into consideration is that much of religious truth is actually competing and not complimentary. Religions have contradictory claims. For example, God in the Christian tradition is personal and in the eastern tradition is impersonal. God can't be personal and not personal at the same time. One view must be wrong.

The point is, we can use this test of coherence to disqualify certain views as being false on their face. The religious pluralism view--the idea that all religions lead to God, that all roads lead to Rome--is false on its face because all religions can't be true at the same time.

The Reason for God - One Way to God?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Questions About Creation Care

Common Questions Christians Ask About Creation Care

Common Questions Christians Ask About Creation Care

By David Chong and Friends from “Biblical Environmental Stewardship Malaysia”

Question 1: Why care for creation if it is to be destroyed by fire eventually (2 Peter 3:10-13)? Why bother since we'd be whisked away safely in our spirits from this God-forsaken physical planet?

Our Christian duty to be responsible stewards of God’s creation is based on clear biblical instruction in the Creation Mandate and motivated by love for the Creator and love for our neighbors, whose well-being depends very much on a sound ecosystem. (See Dr Leong Tien Fock’s article on Creation Care in this edition of Kairos for more details).

Therefore, it does not ultimately rest on any eschatological debate on whether the present universe will be utterly destroyed and replaced by a new universe created from scratch. It is clear though that the earth as it is now will not remain forever but will pass away.

The passage in 2 Peter 3:6-13 seem to imply that the present world will be subjected to judgment by fire but would ultimately result in the new heaven and the new earth. John Piper writes, “When Revelation 21:1 and 2 Peter 3:10 say that the present earth and heavens will ‘pass away,’ it does not have to mean that they go out of existence, but may mean that there will be such a change in them that their present condition passes away. We might say, ‘The caterpillar passes away, and the butterfly emerges.’ There is a real passing away, and there is a real continuity, a real connection.”

Through fire, the present universe will be refined, restored, renewed and transformed into the new one. Just as the old world was destroyed by the Flood and the present world arose out of it, so also would the present world be dissolved by fire to give rise to a purified new heaven and new earth (2 Peter 3:5-7).

God did not create the physical world only to annihilate or abandon it. Rather, He will completely transform and rescue the present fallen universe. "We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth" (2 Peter 3:13). There are two Greek words for the word "new": Neos means “new in time or origin” while kainos means “new in nature or quality”.

Here Peter uses kainos to denote that the present heaven and earth will be changed in its nature. We see the same meaning in 2 Corinthians 9:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new (kainos) creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (kainos).” It means that the same person who is regenerated will be radically transformed, rather than being replaced by someone else.

When many people think of the resurrection, they also think of those popular cartoon sketches of people floating around in fluffy clouds, wearing white gowns with a harp in their hand and a halo on their head. The idea is to escape as a ghost-like spirit from this physical world. It creates a mentality where we withdraw from life and passively wait for the afterlife.

But the Christian hope of eternal life is not about running away from reality. We look forward to a resurrection just like Jesus’ where we will be raised to life in a glorified body. What God has done in Christ on Easter morning, He would do on a cosmic scale for the entire creation, including us! In the meantime, we are to live today as if the future is already present. The way we live should point forward to what God’s reign in its future fullness would look like. Therefore we have every reason and motivation to care for creation today!

“As God may gather the scattered DNA and atoms and molecules of our bodies, he will regather all he needs of the scorched and disfigured Earth. As our old bodies will be raised to new bodies, so the old Earth will be raised to become the New Earth. So, will the earth be destroyed or renewed? The answer is both—but the “destruction” will be temporal and partial, whereas the renewal will be eternal and complete.” (Randy Alcorn, “Heaven”)

Question 2: Shouldn't we spend our time and resources helping poor people rather than animals or plants?

Vinoth Ramachandran once remarked that the question is like asking a poor mother not to bother about her child’s education because feeding him is more important. Of course, both basic needs should be our concern although in some contexts, saving lives would have higher priority than environmental conservation.

In most situations, however, it’s not an either/or choice. The well-being of rural poor is often dependent on a sustainable ecosystem. The natural resources are their ‘pharmacy’ (from which they gather medicinal herbs) and ‘local supermarket’ (from which they are supplied daily needs) and water supply system. Environmental degradation disproportionately affects the poor. Since there is close interdependence in the ecosystem, animal and plant extinctions would ultimately be unhealthy to people as well. Helping people to manage and develop their natural resources in a sustainable manner would in turn alleviate poverty.

Therefore, we must care for both people and for non-human elements of God’s creation. Obeying God’s commandment to be responsible stewards of His world is also an expression of love for the Creator and for people, especially the rural poor.

The main challenge to creation care is to start with ourselves. None of us likes to change our lifestyle if it involves perceived inconvenience. If each of us care enough to act in the light of what we discover, we can begin to live a simpler lifestyle, reduce pollution load and free up more resources for those really in need. Dean Ohlman wrote, “We must not prioritize our ethical obligations to such an extent that we excuse the plight of animals made to suffer unnecessarily by our neglect or cruelty.”

Question 3: Isn't this business about ‘saving the earth’ a distraction to the church’s task of ‘saving souls’?

This question is best addressed by asking a similar question – “Is parenting a distraction from our Christian task of evangelism?”

For those of us with children, parenting is a time-consuming responsibility we carry out daily. It’s part and parcel of living in obedience to God. We rarely need to choose between caring for our children and witnessing for Christ. We perform each duty when it is required and doing either one does not contradict the other.

In the same way, Dean Ohlman observed that “earth-keeping is a natural and integral aspect of our day-to-day decision-making regarding spending, work, consumption, transportation, waste management, and so forth. The problem is that not until recently have we come to understand how irresponsible we have been regarding this foundational aspect of daily living.”

A Christian analysis of environmental degradation sees its primary cause in our broken relationship with God which leads us on a futile quest for fulfillment at the expense of the earth. Instead of purveying more gloomy news and passing more laws, lasting progress can only come about when people have a radical change of heart. And the fruit of gospel witness should result in transformed hearts and reordered lifestyles towards God, other people and the creation as part of our discipleship. The conservation movement today is in dire need of hope that the good news has to offer.

Not only that. Every time we care for creation, we are really witnessing to the Creator. We are demonstrating to the community the practical outworking of the gospel with our lives.

For instance, A Rocha, a Christian conservation movement, took a piece of unkempt land in West London and turned it into an oasis for wildlife called Minet Country Park. It raised questions among the neighboring people, “Why are they doing this?” It gives opportunities for them to find out that our ecology is based on the gospel and our gospel is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Question 4: What’s the point? The ecological problems are so huge. What I do won't make any difference.”

Environmental stewardship is a loving response to God and turning away from consumerist lifestyles. As Christians, we can do what is right not primarily because of the perceived usefulness, but as an act of worship. This perspective frees us from the despair that secular environmentalists face – to act rightly while trusting in the sovereignty of God for the results even when the circumstances look bleak.

Suggested Resources: