My latest book, Following Jesus: An Illustrated Guide to the Places of the Holy Land according to the Gospel of Mark, will be released soon by Armour Publishing under the STM Series.
There will be a launch for the book on September 21 at Luther Centre. More information will follow soon.
Tentative selling price is RM75 per copy during the launch for Malaysian market only. The retail price is SGD$36 or RM110.
For those of you who would like to have a preview of the book, please click here.
Over the past few months, I have been busy conducting several Christian education seminars in a number of churches. A few things amazed and surprised me.
First of all, the response to these seminars had been overwhelming. For example, more than 200 people filled the hall at the Klang Chinese Methodist Church for the session on the the History of the Bible held on March 6, 2019.
Secondly, there is great hunger in wanting to delve into reading the Bible. There were many great questions raised in all the sessions, and some of them I do not even have any answer. Through these questions, I was able to reflect further and think through many issues as well.
Finally, the level of commitment shown by those who came for the classes is very commendable. I taught a consecutive 5-nightly sessions from 730-1030pm in early April at Sidang Injil Borneo Kuala Lumpur. About 90 people signed up for the class and they braved the massive traffic jam to the classes every night after a long day at work. This level of dedication brought much encouragement to me.
Below are some photographs taken at some of the sessions I taught over the past couple of months.
March 8, 2019: Klang Chinese Methodist Church. Session: History of the Bible
March 16: St Paul's Church, Petaling Jaya. Session on the Origins of the New Testament.
April 1-5: Sidang Injil Borneo Kuala Lumpur (SIBKL). Session: The Gospel of John
On February 22, 2019, I will be delivering a public lecture on "The Corinth St Paul Saw: Insights from Archaeology" at St Thomas' Cathedral, Jalan McDoughall, Kuching, Sarawak.
All are welcome, and details of the public lecture can be found in the flyer below.
Just before Christmas, our latest publication, Sermons on the Psalms, arrived from the publisher. Together with my colleagues from the Centre for Bible Engagement of Seminari Theoloji Malaysia - Dr Peter Lau, and Dr Elaine Goh, we jointly edited this volume as our special publication celebrating the 40th anniversary of the seminary. STM was founded on the Feast of Epiphany, Jan 6, 1979.
The Story Behind the Book
The Selection of Psalms
The first sermon was on Psalm 139, which was the psalm for the Second Sunday after Epiphany. The last sermon was on Psalm 98, which was for the Sixth Sunday of Easter. The RCL Sunday readings are organised around the two major seasons of the Christian church year, Advent-Christmas-Epiphany, and Lent-Easter-Pentecost. The psalms in this book thus straddle both major Christian seasons. However, for the purpose of easy reading, the psalms in this book are arranged according to their numerical order, first according to chapters written in English and then followed by Chinese. A brief abstract is also provided for the Psalms preached in Chinese. A bibliography containing selected commentaries for further reading is also included at the end of the book.
Celebration of our Diversity
Reading through this book, one would certainly notice the different approaches taken by the faculty members in preaching the psalms. This diversity within STM is indicative of the richness of the seminary. The faculty draws from different ethnic backgrounds and denominations. They received their theological education from around the world; the diversity of theology within the faculty is reflective of this, and this is reflected in the preaching of the psalms. Thank God that he can use this diversity to build up his Church.
We pray that you may be encouraged in your journey of faith and moved to praise our great God as you read and reflect on the Psalms, just as we did on first hearing them and putting them into publication.
Please contact the seminary if you are interested in purchasing a copy of this book.
Anglican: Huh? No Way? What Took You So Long?
A number of people have asked me about my journey to the Anglican church. Some are rather surprised by my decision while some expected it. Still others are amazed that it has taken me so long! Indeed, it has been a long journey for me. This journey to the Anglican church has taken more than 10 years. As I prepare for my ordination as a Deacon on Oct 31, 2018, I thought it would be good for me to pen down some of my reflections on my personal journey of faith.
Some have asked why I walked away from my Evangelical roots. Let me clarify. I did not run away from my Evangelical roots. It was not some strong push factors that tipped me over the other side. Rather, I was being drawn to something else.
Over the last 10 years or so, there has been a greater desire drawing me towards the ancient practices and teachings rooted in the rich history and tradition of the church. As I began to explore the various strands of Christian spirituality, formation, and worship, I was drawn to Anglicanism with its immense value and richness in its history, theology, and practice.
This journey of discovery continued for many years. It was not until the beginning of 2015 that I decided to make St Paul’s Church, Petaling Jaya, my spiritual home, after a period of prayers, discernment, and consultation with my mentors and spiritual directors. I was confirmed as an Anglican at St Mark’s Church, Seremban, on January 14, 2018.
I think it is important to state that I did not run, and I am not running from my former church. In fact, the church I left is a great church that places strong emphasis on worship, preaching, and mission. I love that church and the people there. Many friendships have been forged and we remain good and close friends until today. I am so indebted to many people there who care for me. Many invested in me and helped me become a more Christ-like person. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the church and the people for more than 20 years as a Pastor, leader, and Board Member.
Here are some reasons why I am an Anglican.
1. Liturgical Worship
I have grown to love liturgy in worship. While some may find liturgy to be rigid, I discover it to be beautiful, meaningful, and moving. I learn to worship with my whole body that engages with all my senses – standing, kneeling, crossing myself, taking in the smell of incense (if incense is used), exchanging the Peace, receiving the Eucharist, and being sent out to love and serve the Lord. In liturgical spaces, all that I do become meaningful and symbolic.
The liturgical calendar also reminds me of the various seasons of the year, moving from Advent to Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Christ the King. In between, we commemorate other important Holy Days. As a community, we move through the seasons of the liturgical year together. We fast and feast together. There is a deep sense of celebrating and commemorating the different seasons of the liturgical calendar.
2. The Book of Common Prayer & The Daily Office
3. Theological Breadth
The theological formulations found in the Thirty-nine Articles clearly express what the gospel of Jesus Christ is. Together with the Book of Homilies, the Book of Common Prayer, and the historic creeds, I find the declarations of the great doctrines the Anglicans hold on to. God is worshipped in all his grandeur as creator. The work of Christ in his death and resurrection for the salvation of humanity is central. The Spirit in convicting sin and dwells in the lives of his people is emphasised. The truth of the Scripture is expressed with clarity.
All these works never replace the Bible. At the heart of Anglican theology is the Bible. There is a well-known collect used by Anglicans for many centuries, reminding us that the Bible is the revelation of God through the words of human beings:
Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that, by patience and comfort of your holy word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
4. The Anglican Communion
One of the beautiful expressions of the Anglican Church is that we are never alone. We are not an independent church in a particular town or city. We are part of a large, historical, diverse, and global community.
Whenever we gather to worship - whether we belong to a cathedral, a parish in a large metropolis or a small church in a tiny rural village that is cut off from the rest of the world - we are still engaging with a common faith, reading the same Scripture passages, praying the same prayers, confessing alongside one another, and participating in the Eucharist, despite our differences in ethnicity, culture, and language.
Yet at the same time, we also recognise that all of us are shaped and formed by the culture of the communities we belong to. With this regards, there is respect for different areas of involvement in the church based on our unique local expressions, actions, issues.
I have shared some primary reasons that draw me into a way of life and a way of being a Christian in the Anglican Church. Of course, there are more reasons than what I have stated. There are personal reasons too: Teaching in an ecumenical seminary where the Anglican Church is one of the founding denominations; students whom I had taught in the past are now colleagues in the ministry; and many others. However, I have come to believe that this is where I belong, and for me, it is good to have a sense of coming home. I do understand this is a personal journey - what works for me may not necessary work for others. As long as we find a home where we worship God, serve the people, and grow in maturity with the community, that is the best place to belong.
As a minister of the gospel since 2009 with the Evangelical Free Church of Malaysia, it is only natural that I seek for ordination in the Diocese of West Malaysia. With the encouragement of the Bishop and fellow colleagues, I have decided to offer myself as a candidate for the Holy Office. Having gone through the process of interview and fulfilling the requirements stipulated by the Diocese, the first reading of Si Quis was done on September 16, 2018 at my home church, St Paul’s Church, paving the way for my ordination as a Deacon, God willing, on Reformation Day, October 31, 2018.
“What’s the point of learning Greek language in the seminary and we don’t actually use them once we enter the pastoral ministry?”
“What’s the point of memorising all the paradigms where we will surely forget them?”
“We memorise the vocabulary, but only to pass the quizzes and exams.”
I have heard all these before, and I must confess I am also a product of learning Greek by memorising all the vocabulary, all the different paradigms for the different parts of speech, the various unusual verbal forms, and the numerous grammar rules. This was expected as I attended a seminary that places heavy emphasis on biblical languages. Since my area of concentration was in the New Testament, I took Basic Greek, Intermediate Greek, and also Advanced Greek. In addition, I also took an additional course working the different literary styles in the Greek language. Although I wish I could read Greek fluently and able to do parsing on the spot, sadly I must confess this has not always been the case for me.
When an opportunity arose last year for me to consider teaching Greek, I pondered hard. I had never taught Greek before as this course has always been taught by my other colleagues in the seminary. (When you have a colleague who married a Greek wife, you just have to let him teach Greek as he would have known the language better, right!) I struggled how I could approach the subject and teach it well so that the students would be able to appreciate the language and continue to use it even after graduating from seminary.
Should I make them memorise all the vocabulary, paradigms, and rules? If not, how can they pick up their NA28 and read it fluently and well? If they could get all the memorisation right, and could even score an A, does this mean that they have a full grasp of the language? With the availability of excellent Bible software such as Accordance and BibleWorks, do we still need to memorise all the parsing? Shouldn’t we just let the software do the job?
After considering all options, I decided to do something rather radical – at least radical in the sense that this has not been done here. My premise is this: since the advent of a calculator, one does not really need to memorise all the mathematical table anymore. Worse, who remembers how to use an abacus these days? (Well, I learned how to use the abacus when I was in primary school and treated it as a little “angklung” when I could not get my mathematical calculation right. Might as well make some music out of it, much to the despair of my teacher).
So with the availability of software, can we not let the software guide us in our reading of the Greek New Testament, let the software do the parsing for us, and then we do what the software cannot do, i.e., the analysis and exegesis of the Greek language? In other words, do we still need to memorise all the different paradigms?
I know that by doing this, I could imagine my own seminary professors and other friends screaming at me disapprovingly. Many would argue that one won’t be able to learn a language properly by using software. One won’t be able to master the language as one is not even familiar with the vocabulary!
After carefully considering all these, I decided to give this approach a try: What I did was to require all the students to purchase Accordance software (and I hope Accordance would have something special for a small seminary with limited resources from the Majority World, even when the bulk purchase means that there are less than 10) or use whatever software they are currently using. Then I would go through all the usual lectures based on Mounce’s grammar. The only different is that I don’t require the students to memorise all the paradigms except the full paradigm for the articles (since the case endings of the articles would almost be similar to all the case endings for nouns and adjectives). I would still go through the usual functions of the different parts of speech. The only difference is that I started the students reading New Testament Greek early by using Accordance.
As we read parts of 1 John and sample of writings from the Gospels and Paul’s letters, I would ask the students all the usual questions: how to identity the subject, object, prepositional phrase, relative clauses, the antecedent of the pronouns, etc, and then we will carry out the exegesis on the text. I would often highlight questions like why the verb is placed at the end of the sentence or why there is an unusual word order and its significance. In other words, we are still doing what we would usually do in a typical Greek class, minus all the memorisation. The key difference is that we begin to read the New Testament early on in the class rather than wait till much later, which is quite typical in most Greek language courses. By doing so, I could highlight some other difficult issues of the grammar along the way (and with the hope that I would not confuse the students). Then we would compare the various English, Chinese and Malay language translations. That’s the benefit of teaching in a multi-cultural setting where we have students who know a number of languages and we could see the difficulties in Bible translations immediately where often times, the nuances in Greek would be almost impossible to be translated into other languages.
Does this work? Well, it is almost the end of the first semester for our students. Today, they are having their Greek exam. I really do not know what the outcome would be. Would they have a better grasp of the language? Have they learned well? Would this method be more beneficial for the students? I guess only time will tell.
I wish all the students well in their exam. Most of them will not continue to take Greek in the next semester as it is no longer required for some of them. I hope you all would have appreciated Greek, and continue to use it in your ministry and life later on, of course, with the assistance from Accordance.
Finally, Porter believes that my book "will undoubtedly provoke further investigation of metaphor use in identity formation in the Corinthian correspondence and elsewhere. This work is a valuable resource for anyone considering the social-scientific analysis of metaphors and their use in the Corinthian correspondence."
Overall, the review by Porter on my work is generous and encouraging, his critique on the weaknesses of the book is fair and courteous, and his comment on my methodological framework for analysis on metaphor is positive and welcoming.
Please click on the file below to read the review.
More than 90 people filled the hall at Bangunan Yin, the venue for the course on the Parables of Jesus organised by Sidang Borneo Injil Kuala Lumpur, one of the fastest growing churches in the Klang Valley.
Held nightly from 7.30-9.30pm over a period of 5 days (9th to 13th April 2018), this course was part of the well-executed Christian Education programme of the church.
Committing themselves to a total of 15 hours of lectures and discussion for 5 consecutive evenings clearly demonstrated the dedication of all who registered for the course. As an instructor, I was humbled by their deep desire to learn and understand the Bible, and the efforts they put in to dig deeper into the Scripture.
This is probably the 6th year I have been privileged to teach at this church. I am constantly amazed at the response of the people and their commitment to their continuous Christian development and growth. A number of those who have taken some of these classes have gone on to further theological studies at local seminaries. As an instructor, it was truly my joy to see the positive growth of the people in the church.
The annual Biblical Studies Seminar is an interdisciplinary seminar organised by the Centre for Bible Engagement, a research centre of Seminari Theoloji Malaysia, where we focus on a particular contemporary theme from a biblical perspective with insights drawn from other related academic disciplines.
This year, our theme is Bible and Ethnicity and the seminar will be jointly organised with the Centre for Theological Education by Extension to be held at Luther Centre, Petaling Jaya.
What does the Bible say about ethnic relations, ethnic identities, and ethnic boundaries in nation building? Are there workable arrangements for peace and harmony among various ethnic groups living together as a community?
This seminar contributes to the wider conversation by examining the construction and contestation of ethnic identities both within the Bible itself and in biblical interpretation drawn from other related disciplines.
We invite you to come and join us in our conversation.
For further information and registration, please click on this link.
Image: Associated Press. The newly renovated library
After 3 years of renovations, the ancient library of St Catherine Monastery located at Sinai has reopened its doors to the public. This is good news indeed as the library houses the world's second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts. It is claimed that the collection of ancient manuscripts at St Catherine Monastery is outnumbered only by the Vatican Library!
One of the highlights of the collection is Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest complete New Testament dated back to the 4th Century.
I hope to visit St Catherine Monastery again in the future!
I am a Lecturer in New Testament Studies, Director of Postgraduate Studies, and the founding Director of the Centre of Bible Engagement at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia. You can find out more about me by clicking here.
My engagement in conversation with issues, reflections, and concerns related to my vocation as a seminary lecturer and theological education in general. Opinions expressed in this blog are strictly my personal views and do not represent the official position of the seminary