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Kairos Seminar on Greek Philosophy and Christian Thought (2022)

Lecturer: Dr. Ng Kam Weng

Seminar Description: Students (1) will be introduced to influential theories found in some key texts of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy that have been significant for Christian theology and apologetics, and (2) will critically analyze how seminal Christian thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas integrated the philosophical insights from Greek philosophy to construct a Christian philosophical tradition which can assist Christian witness and practice today.

Module I (a). Plato (2 weeks)
Nature of Knowledge and Reality: Doctrine of Forms, Allegory of the Cave and the Sun (The Republic VI-VII), and Theaetetus
Immortality of the Soul (Republic, Phaedo & Phaedrus)
God and cosmology (Timaeus) Continue reading “Kairos Seminar on Greek Philosophy and Christian Thought (2022)”

The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 3/3: Resurrection and Pauline Soteriology

Our earlier discussion on the resurrected Christ as the life-giving Spirit leads us to consider how crucial the resurrection of Christ is in Pauline soteriology, seen especially in 1 Cor. 15. There is a debate over who Paul’s Corinthian opponents really were. /1/ Some suggest that they were those who because of Hellenistic philosophy denied the resurrection of the body or flesh and looked for a survival of the immortal soul beyond the grave. /2/ However, this view implies that Paul missed the point of his opponents and that he failed to argue why a disembodied survival is not an adequate hope.

William Dykstra observes that Paul responds to the denial of resurrection not with a simple logical argument but with a salvation-historical argument. For the Corinthians could still accept Christ’s resurrection and at the same time deny any future resurrection for others, Christ’s case being a unique one for them. As such, a good case can be made for arguing that the Corinthians were guilty of the error of over-realized eschatology, as it gives a more consistent reading of the rest of the epistle. /3/ Continue reading “The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 3/3: Resurrection and Pauline Soteriology”

The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 2/3: Resurrection and Pauline Christology

What was Paul’s new perception of the resurrected Christ after his conversion through an encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus? We shall consider Rom 1:3-4, 2 Cor. 3:17 and 1 Cor. 15:45 as the pivotal points in our discussion of this question.

A. Romans 1:3, 4
We can trace a clear development of what Paul has to say about Christ in this long introduction to the epistle. In verse 1, Jesus is the Messiah. In verse 3, the Messiah is God’s Son. In verse 4a, this Messiah Jesus, whose sonship was veiled in the days of his flesh, is suddenly (by the resurrection) revealed as ‘Son of God in power’. Finally, the climactic stage in the progressive revelation of Jesus is Paul’s confession that “Jesus is Lord”.

A pattern of parallels and contrasts is also evident in verses 3 and 4:

Verse 3 Verse 4
1. born (γενομένου, genomenou) – declared (ὁρισθέντος, horisthentos)
2. according to the flesh (κατὰ σάρκα, kata sarka) – according to the spirit of holiness, ie., the Holy Spirit (κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης, kata pneuma hagiōsynēs) /1/
3. of the seed of David (ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ, ek spermatos Dauid) – by the resurrection of the dead (ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, ex anastaseōs nekrōn)

Continue reading “The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 2/3: Resurrection and Pauline Christology”

The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 1/3: Resurrection and Apostolic Commissioning

I. Apostolic Witness
Any discussion on the resurrection of Christ must take seriously the testimony of Paul’s first-hand account of the resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ. In Paul that we have immediate access to an eye-witness to the resurrection, a witness who could say, “last of all… he also appeared to me” (1 Cor. 15:8). Furthermore, he is a witness whose radical transformation of life only underscores the veracity of his testimony when he changed from being a persecutor bent on the destruction of the early church to becoming its foremost defender. Jesus, who he once rejected as a pretended Messiah, he now preached as the resurrected Lord, exalted at the right hand of God. Before the Damascus experience he could only regard Christ from a human point of view (2 Cor. 5:16), i.e., he applied worldly (Pharisaic) standards to his understanding of Christ, judging him according to the concepts of the Messiah at that time. /1/ This worldview was shattered on Damascus Road and was then substituted by another anchored solely on the risen Christ. /2/ Such a change, we submit, is neither due to the process of Paul yielding to the logic of the early witnesses, nor to be reduced to a fruition of psychological preparations in his life. /3/ Rather, it was because as Paul himself testified, he was confronted by the risen Christ on Damascus Road. It was a revelation of Jesus Christ, ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (apokalypseōs Iēsou Christou, Gal. 1:12). This phrase is probably not a subjective genitive (i.e., from Jesus Christ; NIV) but is an objective genitive, i.e., God revealed Jesus Christ and the gospel. /4/ As F.F. Bruce writes, “The gospel and the risen Christ were inseparable; both were revealed to Paul in the same moment. To preach the gospel (Gal. 1:11) was to preach Christ (Gal.1:16).”/5/ Continue reading “The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 1/3: Resurrection and Apostolic Commissioning”

Buddhist (D.T. Suzuki) Critique of the Cross

Bonhoeffer’s emphasis on the cross as evidence of the love of God which engages with the suffering of the world head-on provides a decisive answer to the Buddhist allegation that Christianity is a world-negating religion. Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki claims that the cruelty surrounding the crucifixion of Christ negates the simple realities of this life and does not compare well with the Buddhist sense of peaceful transition from this life to the next.

Christian symbolism has much to do with the suffering of man. The crucifixion is the climax of all suffering. Buddhists also speak much about suffering and its climax of all suffering is the Buddha serenely sitting under the Bodhi tree by the river Niranjana. Christ carries his suffering to the end of his earthly life whereas Buddha puts an end to it while living and goes on preaching the gospel of enlightenment until he quietly passes away under the twin Sala tree… when Buddha attained his supreme enlightenment, he was in his sitting posture; he was neither attached to nor detached from the earth; he was one with it, he grew out of it, and yet he was not crushed by it./1/ Continue reading “Buddhist (D.T. Suzuki) Critique of the Cross”

Islamic Rejection of the Crucified Messiah

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ recorded in the four Gospels is supported by impeccable testimonies of multiple eyewitnesses. The historical factuality of the cross is further attested by reports found in authoritative non-Christian historical sources like Josephus and Tacitus. The Christian witness to the crucifixion is plausible since it is inconceivable why Christians should invent the crucifixion which declares that their founder died an accursed death under divine judgment on the Cross. As such, an outright denial of the crucifixion would amount to a willful blindness to historical reality. Some Muslim critics therefore grudgingly acknowledge that historically a crucifixion did occur. However, they suggest that someone other than Jesus was crucified. They argue that Christians have misunderstood the significance of the Cross because they are victims of an illusion. God, they claim, replaced Jesus with someone that bore his likeness.

Muslim scholars bypass the historical record with an appeal to the Quranic revelation: Continue reading “Islamic Rejection of the Crucified Messiah”

Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement as God’s Act of Righteousness and Grace

The nature of the atonement
[Atonement as “satisfaction” (compensation, reparation) was first used by Anselm (1033-1109) to stress that the death of Christ was a satisfaction rendered to God’s justice and honor. Subsequently, 17th century Reformed theologians taught that Christ (1) satisfies the demands of the law by his active obedience or perfect obedience to the full requirements of the law (2) satisfies the curse and condemnation of the law by his passive obedience or submission to the penalty of death on the cross].

A.A. Hodge draws out the deeper dimensions of Christ’s  work of atonement by setting it in the context of the covenant God made with Adam in which God promised them blessedness contingent upon their obedience to His command:  [The word “satisfaction”] accurately and adequately expresses what Christ did. As the Second Adam he satisfied all the conditions of the broken covenant of works, as left by the first Adam. (a.) He suffered the penalty of transgression. (b.) He rendered that obedience which was the condition of “life.”

5. State the true doctrine of Christ’s Satisfaction
1st. Negatively. (1.) The sufferings of Christ were not a substitute for the infliction of the penalty of the law upon sinners in person, but they are the penalty itself executed on their Substitute. (2.) It was not of the nature of a pecuniary payment, an exact quid pro quo. But it was a strict penal satisfaction, the person suffering being a substitute. (3.) It was not a mere example of a punishment. (4.) It was not a mere exhibition of love, or of heroic consecration. Continue reading “Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement as God’s Act of Righteousness and Grace”

B.B. Warfield: Use of Evidence in Apologetics Not Necessarily Rationalistic

B.B. Warfield has been accused of being influenced by the rationalism of the Enlightenment, mediated by the Scottish Common Sense of Philosophy. It is further claimed that Warfield’s apologetics is premised on a person-neutral view of reason and criteria of truth. This accusation is incorrect. Warfield stresses that evidence by itself is not sufficient to bring a person to faith in Christ. Nevertheless, the presentation of objective evidence and argument is necessary precisely because the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing saving understanding and saving faith includes opening the eyes of the blind to information which is conducive towards faith.

The passages given below confirm that Warfield’s apologetics is cognizant of the noetic effects of sin and as such, saving faith is the gift of God through the Holy Spirit. Warfield’s dialectical balance between evidence and the necessity of the Holy Spirit in bringing faith should give pause to critics who claim that his apologetics is rationalistic.

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I. No one is in danger of believing that “the evidences” can produce “faith”: but neither can the presentation of Christ in the gospel produce “faith.” “Faith” is the gift of God. But it does not follow that the “faith” that God gives is not grounded in “the evidences.” Of course it is only the prepared heart that can fitly respond to the force of the “evidences,” or “ receive ” the proclamation : just as it is only the eye that can see, as Dr. Bavinck explains, to which the sun can reveal itself. But this faith that the prepared heart yields,—is it yielded blindly and without reason, or is it yielded rationally and on the ground of sufficient reason? Does God the Holy Spirit work a blind and ungrounded faith in the heart? What is supplied by the Holy Spirit in working faith in the heart surely is not a ready-made faith, rooted in nothing and clinging without reason to its object; nor yet new grounds of belief in the object presented; but just a new power to the heart to respond to the grounds of faith, sufficient in themselves, already present to the mind. Our Reformed fathers did not overlook this: they always posited the presence, in the production of faith, of the “argumentum, propter quod credo” [the argument for what I believe], as well as the “principium seu causa efficiens a quo ad credendum adducor” [the principle or efficient cause by which I am led to believe]. From this point of view, the presence to the mind of the “grounds” of faith is just as essential as the creative operation of the Giver of faith itself. Continue reading “B.B. Warfield: Use of Evidence in Apologetics Not Necessarily Rationalistic”

Bertrand Russell’s Pointless Universe versus John Calvin’s Purposeful Providence

 

Bertrand Russell: Unyielding Grimace Against a Pointless Universe
Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no provision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built (p. 39). Continue reading “Bertrand Russell’s Pointless Universe versus John Calvin’s Purposeful Providence”

Judicial review power for Selangor Shariah High Court ‘unconstitutional’

Free Malaysia Today 21 Feb 2022

PUTRAJAYA: A nine-member bench of the Federal Court today unanimously declared that it is unconstitutional for the Selangor legislative assembly to pass a provision to confer judicial review power to the Shariah High Court in the state.

Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat said Section 66A of the Administration of the Religion of Islam (State of Selangor) Enactment 2003, as it stands, is also unconstitutional.

“I find Section 66A, as it stands, is unconstitutional and void as it is a provision the legislative assembly has no power to make,” she said of the unanimous ruling.

As such, she said, the petition filed by SIS Forum Malaysia is allowed and the declaration is granted, pursuant to the Courts of Judicature Act.

SIS filed the application in the Federal Court on Jan 21, 2020 after the High Court in Kuala Lumpur dismissed its judicial review application against the Selangor religious authority’s fatwa labelling the group “deviant”. Continue reading “Judicial review power for Selangor Shariah High Court ‘unconstitutional’”

Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude 1872-1921. Book Review

 

Remember those sixth-form days when some of us were first thrilled by newly awakened intellectual abilities? We were quick to challenge traditional beliefs and the status quo, and eager to show off our acquaintance with the works of Bertrand Russell. The name Bertrand Russell was whispered with hush awe and quiet reverence. Russell represented to us the ideal of a socially engaged intellectual. Never mind that we couldn’t really understand his more technical papers on mathematical logic. His more popular written books such as Why I Am Not a Christian, Principles of Social Reconstruction and A Free Man’s Worship were sufficient to persuade us to adopt him as an inspiring icon for rebellion. His status as a Nobel Prize laureate decisively clinched an unquestioned hearing from skeptical students.

However, when I actually got down to read Russell for myself, particularly his book Why I Am Not a Christian, I found myself in for a great disappointment. Russell, who was arguably the most outstanding mathematical logician of his day, turned out to be illogical in his analysis of Christianity. He relied on a shoddy knowledge of Christianity. His analysis was full of non-sequitur and question-begging arguments with much scorn and rhetoric thrown in. I concluded that a more fitting title for the book would be Why I am too Prejudiced to Become a Stereotyped Christian. Continue reading “Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude 1872-1921. Book Review”