The Concept of Heresy Arises from the Fellowship of the Church and not From a Lack of Love (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Dog-Thoughts as we enter into the Year of the Dog: Part 4

If ‘sex’ was the impolite word which should not be raised in Victorian cocktail conversations, ‘heresy’ is the unmentionable word among ‘progressive’ Christians today. [Re: Post on ‘Progressive’ Christianity Beware*] Perhaps this is a reaction to the spirit of dogmatism, authoritarian and legalism found among leaders who are defensive about their faith when they perceive the Christian community to be a besieged and embattled minority. Doctrinal defensiveness is the outcome of a “Christ Against Culture” manifestation of Christianity. It is easy for these leaders to become unnecessarily alarmist as there could be genuine doctrinal disagreements which should not be stigmatized as departures from orthodoxy. Not every doctrinal or theological error is a heresy. Continue reading “The Concept of Heresy Arises from the Fellowship of the Church and not From a Lack of Love (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)”

Class on Christology by Malaysia Bible Seminary and Kairos Research Centre

CLASS ON CHRISTOLOGY – 19 March-23 March 2018
The Person and Work of Christ: Classical and Contemporary Christology
Lecturer: Dr. Ng Kam Weng

Course Description
This course begins with an examination of the foundations of Christology found in the portrayal of the Jesus Christ as the God-Man in the gospels, and as the crucified but risen Lord in the Pauline epistles. It then analyses how the doctrine of Christ developed as the early church responded to heresies like Gnosticism and Arianism which culminated in the formulation of the Nicene Creed. Further attention is given to the subsequent Christological controversies that include Apollinarism and Nestorianism and the doctrinal resolution at the Council of Chalcedon. Continue reading “Class on Christology by Malaysia Bible Seminary and Kairos Research Centre”

Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ (Print Edition)

In response to many requests, I am posting the print edition of an article written when I was much younger, “Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ,” Transformation (1998), pp. 10-15. Ah, how time flies and I don’t seem to have grown wiser.

To download the pdf version of this print edition:

Pluralism Particularity Salvation Christ Transformation1998

Throughout this paper, it is my assumption that Christianity promotes and practices social tolerance and affirms plurality. What I dispute is the contention that social tolerance is possible only if Christians embrace a prescriptive form of religious pluralism. I shall further address the issue of prescriptive pluralism, henceforth referred to as religious pluralism within the framework of Christian discourse, and analyze the logic under-girding religious pluralism. In particular, I shall argue that religious pluralism is not only internally incoherent but that in seeking the least common denominator, pluralism offers a religious faith that is too dilute to meet religious needs. Finally, religious pluralism entails the abandonment of the central beliefs that historically define Christian identity such as normative revelational truths and the historical particularity of the incarnation of God in Christ. As such religious pluralists represented by major thinkers like John Hick and Paul Knitter have no basis to speak on behalf of Christianity….

 

…But why should God need to intervene in the human predicament in the first place? How does the Christian teaching of the Incarnation of Christ fit in? Following White I would like to propose the “Criterion of Moral Authenticity” as a means to shed light on this issue. To begin with, estrangement between God and man is overcome not by special knowledge but by a demonstration of perfect love. Given the magnitude of the human predicament, surely such a revelation demands a costly love which does not compromise God’s holiness. It has to be costly love to win over human sin and rebelliousness. But as White asserts, “Unless and until God himself has experienced suffering, death, and the temptation to sin, and overcome them, as a human individual, he has no moral authority to overcome them in and with the rest of humanity.”[Vernon White, Atonement and Incarnation (CUP 1991), p. 38] Continue reading “Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ (Print Edition)”

Going Beyond Evangelical-Liberal Debates on Models of Atonement?

Question from an old friend:

“Is it not possible to accept that penal substitution is only one Pauline model of the atonement and that those of us who find it fails to communicate the Gospel in many cultural contexts prefer to use other models/metaphors (whether Pauline or non-Pauline)- without us all being denounced us “liberals”? Isn’t it also high time we moved away from such misleading and irrelevant theological labels as “liberal” or “evangelical” which are largely Anglo-American cultural imports?…there is no way Stott’s and Morris’s insistence that this [hilasterion] means “propitiation” can be defended in the light of both Jewish and recent Christian scholarship. In any case, you well know that words don’t derive their meanings from dictionaries but from usage in larger literary contexts.”

Answer:

1) Regarding atonement models – Of course I agree with you that there are many valid models of the atonement. Notice I mentioned that the classical Confessions did not ‘canonize’ any one model? I further argued that because of PSA, I can believe in CV? But that doesn’t mean that I cannot argue that PSA is foundational for the other models. Whether one agrees with me or not is a matter of theological exegesis. Everyone is free to take a position on this matter. Continue reading “Going Beyond Evangelical-Liberal Debates on Models of Atonement?”

Erasing The Wrath of God from the Cross (in two parts)

In this present climate of social and religious tolerance in the West, one would not have expected a major Christian denomination to ban books, much less delete a popular song from its hymnal. But in 2013, the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Songs for the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) decided to delete the song, “In Christ Alone” from its hymnal. It judged a line in the song to be problematic: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.”

Apparently, the committee considered the line to be offensive to modern sensibilities twice over – it not only refers to the “wrath” of God, but suggests that the cross is the place where divine wrath is “satisfied.” The committee overruled what has been for centuries the prevailing Christian understanding of Christ death. This incident confirms the prophetic insight of J.G, Machen who declared in 1923 that theological liberalism is not just another form of Christianity; it is “a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category.” Continue reading “Erasing The Wrath of God from the Cross (in two parts)”

Christ’s Victory Through Penal Substitutionary Death

In this post, I shall compare Penal Substitution Atonement (PSA) and Christus Victor (CV).

Definitions:
Christus Victor (CV): Gustav Aulén gives a summary of CV in his classic work, Christus Victor:  “The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil…the victory of Christ creates a new situation, bringing their rule to an end, and setting men free from their dominion” [Gustaf Aulen, Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, (MacMillan, 1969), p. 20]

Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA): Martin Luther whose sympathies for CV is well known, offers a succinct description of PSA, “[Jesus Christ] became a substitute for us all, and took upon Himself our sins, that he might bear Gods terrible wrath against sin and expiate our guilt, he necessarily felt the sin of the whole world together with the entire wrath of God, and afterwards the agony of death on account of this sin” [Martin Luther, Sermons on the Passion of Christ (Rock Island, 1871), p. 29]. See related posts on PSA given below**

Following Luther’s example, Christians should welcome the diversity of models of atonement as they seek to understand the full significance of Christ’s death on the cross. This being said, I would still like to explain why Penal Substitution Atonement (PSA) is foundational for other models of the atonement. Continue reading “Christ’s Victory Through Penal Substitutionary Death”

God, Christ & Humanity: Christian & Muslim Perspectives (Part 2)

Part 2: Jesus Christ-Eschatological [Final] Prophet And Incarnate Savior: A Christian Proposal To Muslims

Muslims assert the utter transcendence of God. Divine revelation therefore takes the form of revealed commandments rather than a revealed person. The issue that separates Christians and Muslims is whether or not the claim that Jesus Christ as the decisive revelation of God compromises the utter transcendence of God. Resolving this issue requires an inquiry into the prophetic calling of Jesus. We need to ask whether Jesus ministry went beyond mere proclamation and constituted an adequate, if not decisive, act of divine salvation for humankind. Continue reading “God, Christ & Humanity: Christian & Muslim Perspectives (Part 2)”

Christology and Sociality in Bonhoeffer (Part 2/2)

Bonhoeffer never conducted theology merely as an academic exercise. He insisted that acquired knowledge cannot be divorced from the existence in which it is acquired. Theology is an expression of belief since “only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes�? (CD 69). For Bonhoeffer, there can be no abstract Christology.

Christology and Sociality in Bonhoeffer

II. Participation in Christ: An individual response

Bonhoeffer never conducted theology merely as an academic exercise. He insisted that acquired knowledge cannot be divorced from the existence in which it is acquired. Theology is an expression of belief since “only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes” (CD 69). For Bonhoeffer, there can be no abstract Christology.

“An abstract Christology, a doctrinal system… renders discipleship superfluous, and in fact they positively exclude any idea of discipleship whatever, and are essentially inimical to the whole conception of following Christ… Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ” (CD 64).

The question of how Christ takes form among the disciples here and now becomes decisive. Continue reading “Christology and Sociality in Bonhoeffer (Part 2/2)”

Christology and Sociality in Bonhoeffer (Part 1/2)

In their protests against established religion, many youths today cry aloud the slogan, “Hostile to the church, but friendly to Jesus.�? The question, however, is, which Jesus are they friendly with? Is it the Jesus of the liberal theologian, the liberationist, the Gnostic or even perhaps the Jesus of Hollywood? Bonhoeffer would certainly approve of their insistence on the centrality of Christ, unclouded by traditional religious trappings. We must, however, be fully aware of the great temptation to substitute the Christ of tradition with a Christ who is constructed out of some current concerns or personal fancies.

Christology and Sociality in Bonhoeffer

I. Concrete-relational Christology

In their protests against established religion, many youths today cry aloud the slogan, “Hostile to the church, but friendly to Jesus.” The question, however, is, which Jesus are they friendly with? Is it the Jesus of the liberal theologian, the liberationist, the Gnostic or even perhaps the Jesus of Hollywood? Bonhoeffer would certainly approve of their insistence on the centrality of Christ, unclouded by traditional religious trappings. We must, however, be fully aware of the great temptation to substitute the Christ of tradition with a Christ who is constructed out of some current concerns or personal fancies.

We must approach Christology as a divine given. Our integrity as faithful Christians stands or falls by the belief that in Christ we are given divine revelation that has become tangible and visible in history. Continue reading “Christology and Sociality in Bonhoeffer (Part 1/2)”

JESUS CHRIST – ESCHATOLOGICAL PROPHET AND INCARNATE SAVIOR (Part 4/4)

The Gospels make clear that Jesus was not only bringing a special message. He personified what God reveals. He was not only an ‘emissary’ but the personality in and through whom God is known. Whereas in Islam the Quran is the very ‘text’ of divine truth, the New Testament is the access to the Christ-expression of God. The Scripture has its being by derivation from the prior and primarily reality of ‘the Word made flesh’

JESUS CHRIST – ESCHATOLOGICAL PROPHET AND INCARNATE SAVIOR
A CHRISTIAN PROPOSAL TO MUSLIMS (PART 4/4)

The Gospels make clear that Jesus was not only bringing a special message. He personified what God reveals. He was not only an ‘emissary’ but the personality in and through whom God is known. Whereas in Islam the Quran is the very ‘text’ of divine truth, the New Testament is the access to the Christ-expression of God. The Scripture has its being by derivation from the prior and primarily reality of ‘the Word made flesh’

Indeed, the life of Christ confirms a prophethood that is deepened, if not climaxed, in a one-for-all incarnate revelation of God. Continue reading “JESUS CHRIST – ESCHATOLOGICAL PROPHET AND INCARNATE SAVIOR (Part 4/4)”