The Suffering of Job: From Tragedy to Triumph

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27).

We secretly relish in schadenfreude when misfortune strikes a wicked man, but we can only be bewildered by the disproportionate suffering that afflicts a righteous and blameless man, like Job. To be sure, we are given a glimpse of divine mystery when the prologue of the book of Job explains that Job’s sufferings are due to a wager between God and Satan. Satan sneers at God and insinuates that his kingdom is based on expediency since Job’s loyalty to God is gained through the blessings of God. God allows Satan to hurt Job, confident that the outcome will conclusively prove Satan wrong. Continue reading “The Suffering of Job: From Tragedy to Triumph”

Trusting God in Times of (Covid) Crisis

It seems that my blog post, “God Has Answered our Coronavirus Lament. Contra. N.T. Wright” has caused offence among some ardent admirers of N.T. Wright. It has been suggested in the social media that I was small-minded and most uncharitable in trying to discredit someone just because of theological disagreement. It was alleged that my response betrayed vanity and presumptuousness as I tried in vain to discredit a world class scholar who is unquestionably way far more accomplished than I am. One critic concluded that I have been so caught up with abstract theologizing that I have lost the ability to empathize and  offer pertinent pastoral counsel to people who are struggling with their faith in times of crisis.

I re-read my response to NTW to see if indeed I have been guilty of the charges levelled at me. To be honest, I am still puzzled in trying to identify the grounds on which these defenders of NTW drew these awful conclusions about me when other readers responded positively to the same post. Continue reading “Trusting God in Times of (Covid) Crisis”

Finding God’s Peace in Times of Afflictive Providence (Covid-19 Crisis)

The doctrine of the providence of God assures believers that the Lord is sovereign over the circumstances of their lives. Indeed, “The Church is His special care and charge. He rules the world for its good, as a head consulting the welfare of the body.” (John Flavel)

Meditation on God’s providence will foster both gratitude and fortitude in believers. Flavel in his classic book, The Mystery of Providence demonstrates how the Reformed doctrine of providence provides practical advice on how believers may grow in sanctification and enjoy the peace of God through times of affliction (excerpts given below).

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APPLICATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF PROVIDENCE

How may a Christian discover the will of God and his own duty under dark and doubtful providences?
In order to answer this question we must consider what is meant by the will of God and what by those doubtful providences that make the discovery of His will difficult and what rules are to be observed for ascertaining God’s will for us under such difficult and puzzling providences.

How may a Christian be supported in waiting upon God, while Providence delays the performance of the mercies to him for which he has long prayed and waited?
It is supposed in this case that Providence may linger and delay the performance of those mercies to us that we have long waited and prayed for, and that during that delay and suspense our hearts and hopes may be very low and ready to fail. Continue reading “Finding God’s Peace in Times of Afflictive Providence (Covid-19 Crisis)”

N.T. Wright Almost Took Away My Christmas Joy.


Christmas Sharing

 NT Wright almost took away my simple Christmas joy in his article: The Revolutionary Politics of the First Christmas. He writes,
The Christmas story in Luke’s gospel climaxes with Jesus in a feeding-trough because everywhere else was full. Matthew’s version ends with Joseph and Mary whisking the baby off to a foreign country because the authorities wanted to kill him. Putting these together, the heart of the story is precisely Jesus the homeless asylum seeker.

The original, historic Christmas stories are about power. They are about the kingdom of God breaking in, dangerously and unexpectedly, into the kingdoms of the world. [I read it that NTW here has in mind political systems in contrast to the kingdom preached by Jesus in his ministry]

As usual, NTW is refreshing as he tries to highlight ‘neglected’ truths – but these truths sometimes become ‘neglected’ precisely because they are secondary truths in the good news of God’s salvation. Continue reading “N.T. Wright Almost Took Away My Christmas Joy.”

“Old Wine” Spirituality Remains the Best

Protestant devotional literature was once well-served by popular writers like E. Stanley Jones, Eugene Peterson, Philip Yancey, Gordon MacDonald & J Oswald Sanders  but today they are fading from the scene. The writers who are taking their place are eclectic in their approach to “spirituality.” Some are inspired by writers like  Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen  and Jean Vanier who wrote from the tradition of Roman Catholic spiritual theology while others betray traces of New Age spirituality. Not surprisingly, the word “spirituality” has also proven to be an amorphous catch-all word.  Nowadays, a lot of what goes as Christian spirituality is actually some form of syncretism mixed with disturbing and unorthodox theology (e.g. Richard Rohr). But to be fair we need to judge modern spirituality writers on a case by case basis. For example, the rediscovery of “spiritual disciplines” (c.f. Roger Forster & Dallas Willard) has been helpful to Protestants looking for “handles” as well as a map of spiritual progress in their devotional exercises & spiritual formation. Continue reading ““Old Wine” Spirituality Remains the Best”

Pigs and Prayers & Epistle of Barnabas

Believers who insist on observing the dietary laws given by Moses in the Book of Leviticus recoil at the idea of eating pork since they regard the pig to be ritually unclean. Abstinence from pork becomes a paramount symbol of religious commitment as their strong and instinctive sense of revulsion is accepted as the “feeling … Continue reading “Pigs and Prayers & Epistle of Barnabas”

Believers who insist on observing the dietary laws given by Moses in the Book of Leviticus recoil at the idea of eating pork since they regard the pig to be ritually unclean. Abstinence from pork becomes a paramount symbol of religious commitment as their strong and instinctive sense of revulsion is accepted as the “feeling of rightness” that confirms a trustworthy “doctrine felt as fact.” Their friends may be bewildered as they wonder whether such an ancient scruple could serve as a benchmark of spirituality in modern society. However, it is advisable for these friends to approach this matter gingerly as their casual remarks could become a cause of offence.

But what if the set of scruples is based on a misunderstanding of Moses? This was the contention of the anonymous writer of the Epistle of Barnabas (70-135 AD). Continue reading “Pigs and Prayers & Epistle of Barnabas”

What is Biblical Celebration-Worship?

Celebration in Contemporary WorshipThese days it is not uncommon to come across worship meetings where song leaders vigorously urge the congregation to freely give praise to God in the name of celebration. The songs chosen in these meetings seem to engender a euphoric, if not jubilant mood. Emotional spontaneity becomes palpable with lines of bodies … Continue reading “What is Biblical Celebration-Worship?”

Celebration in Contemporary Worship
These days it is not uncommon to come across worship meetings where song leaders vigorously urge the congregation to freely give praise to God in the name of celebration. The songs chosen in these meetings seem to engender a euphoric, if not jubilant mood. Emotional spontaneity becomes palpable with lines of bodies swaying along to the loud beat of the drum. The high point of celebration-worship comes when members are urged to ‘sing in the spirit’ as they follow cues from the musical team giving notes of ‘chords progression’. The crescendo is rounded off with a flourish of ‘clap offering’.

It would be churlish to doubt the appropriateness of celebration-worship today. Christians who have been battered throughout the week need to be emotionally and spiritually recharged, and what better way to recharge them than through celebration in church worship? Indeed, many visitors to church testify that they come because they are attracted by the celebrative spirit of our services. Who can resist the contagion of joy?

Celebration is evidence of the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. Continue reading “What is Biblical Celebration-Worship?”

A Live Dog is Better than a Dead Lion? (Ecclesiastes 9: 4) – Enjoying Life between Misery and Mystery

Dog-Thoughts as we enter into the Year of the Dog: Part 1 Better to be  a Live Dog than a Dead Lion There are times when life disappoints us even to the point of despair. Ecclesiastes 9: 3 confirms our fears: “This is the miserable thing in all that is done under the sun: One … Continue reading “A Live Dog is Better than a Dead Lion? (Ecclesiastes 9: 4) – Enjoying Life between Misery and Mystery”

Dog-Thoughts as we enter into the Year of the Dog: Part 1

Better to be  a Live Dog than a Dead Lion
There are times when life disappoints us even to the point of despair. Ecclesiastes 9: 3 confirms our fears: “This is the miserable thing in all that is done under the sun: One fate comes upon all. Moreover, the human heart knows its full measure of misery and folly during life—and after it, they join the dead.”

It is good at such times to take heart the counsel given by Qoheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes.

9:4 But whoever is among the living has hope;
a live dog is better than a dead lion.
9:5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead do not know anything;
they have no further reward—and even the memory of them disappears
9:6 What they loved, as well as what they hated and envied, perished long ago,
and they no longer have a part in anything that happens on earth.

For Qoheleth, “a live dog is better than a dead lion”! Like most proverbs, the verse delivers truth with a punch. The despised, scavenging dog fares better than the King of the beasts? How can it be? Continue reading “A Live Dog is Better than a Dead Lion? (Ecclesiastes 9: 4) – Enjoying Life between Misery and Mystery”

Are We Saved by Believing in Right Doctrine?

I received a question from a reader of my previous post, “Only Saving Faith Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience.” Question: “I would like to humbly request for further clarification with regards to the idea that “only right doctrine promotes saving faith”. “Does the statement imply that those who don’t have right doctrine are not saved.” … Continue reading “Are We Saved by Believing in Right Doctrine?”

I received a question from a reader of my previous post, “Only Saving Faith Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience.”

Question: “I would like to humbly request for further clarification with regards to the idea that “only right doctrine promotes saving faith”. “Does the statement imply that those who don’t have right doctrine are not saved.” The reason I ask is because this is the argument raised by church X that salvation is based on doctrine rather than on a belief in the person of Christ…However my concern is more for those who have a simple child-like faith and who are ignorant either because they happen to be unknowingly stuck in a church that deprives them of sound doctrine or because they happen to be uneducated. Do these people have saving faith without “right doctrine”?

Answer:

Many church leaders have the impression that doctrine entails argument over abstract propositions that distracts Christians from focusing on more important spiritual exercises which build faith and relationships. To correct this false impression I pointed out MLJ’s insistence that doctrine is practical and that “there is an inseparable link between doctrine, spiritual experience and Christian obedience.” I was hoping that MLJ would add weight to my post which was written in a “rah-rah” spirit to get church leaders excited about doctrine.

I am aware of the possibility that the title of the post could be misread. Hence, your question, “Does the statement imply that those who don’t have right doctrine are not saved” does not come as a surprise to me. May I suggest that we read the title for what it affirms positively, “Right doctrine promotes saving faith” without implying the negative possibility, “No right doctrine means no saving faith”?

Some clarifications is in order:

First, while it is our duty to defend right doctrine, nevertheless, we should refrain from drawing definitive conclusions about someone’s salvation simply because of doctrinal difference. That is to say, our focus should be on critiquing wrong doctrine and not on judging people. Ultimately, to judge whether someone is saved or not is the business of God alone. We should humbly leave this matter to the holy God who is not only a God of truth and justice, but who is also a God of mercy. Continue reading “Are We Saved by Believing in Right Doctrine?”

Only Right Doctrine Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience

Nowadays, doctrine is not much mentioned in churches. Words like “creeds” and “catechism” are foreign to the vocabulary of church leaders. In the absence of doctrinal teaching, it is not surprising that most Christians no longer understand what they are supposed to believe. Unfortunately, nature abhors vacuum – the consequence is not just doctrinal indifference, … Continue reading “Only Right Doctrine Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience”

Nowadays, doctrine is not much mentioned in churches. Words like “creeds” and “catechism” are foreign to the vocabulary of church leaders. In the absence of doctrinal teaching, it is not surprising that most Christians no longer understand what they are supposed to believe. Unfortunately, nature abhors vacuum – the consequence is not just doctrinal indifference, but doctrinal perversion. Liberal theology which was vanquished and banished from the Malaysian churches in the early 1980s now finds a ready audience among younger Christians who are not properly taught the faith of their forefathers. It is indeed what the Apostle Paul foresaw when he wrote, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2Timothy 4:3)

Rather than giving an exhaustive list of new heresy that will one day become new orthodoxy in the Malaysian church, I shall just share the so-called “Apostate’s Creed’. Continue reading “Only Right Doctrine Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience”