Exploring the Role of Orientalism

There is defensiveness among some of the Asian literati who wax eloquent on the need for cultural planning and censorship to defend national culture against Western influences. These literati often justify their anxieties by claiming that Western powers have historically exploited the intellectual discipline called Orientalism to undermine not only the dignity and self-identity of Orientals but also the will to resist their colonial masters.

Exploring the Role of Orientalism
Ng Kam Weng

Book Review: J.J. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment

Hermann Goering, Hitler’s henchman, once quipped that whenever he hears the word “culture” he reaches for his pistol. The remark is most surprising. After all, culture is synonymous with the high achievements of refined societies. Enrichment, rather than violence, should be associated with culture.

There is defensiveness among some of the Asian literati who wax eloquent on the need for cultural planning and censorship to defend national culture against Western influences. These literati often justify their anxieties by claiming that Western powers have historically exploited the intellectual discipline called Orientalism to undermine not only the dignity and self-identity of Orientals but also the will to resist their colonial masters.

Scholars may be tempted to dismiss such anxieties as paranoia except for the forceful argument mounted by Edward Said in his landmark study, Orientalism. Said’s thesis relies on Michel Foucault’s social epistemology which rejects the possibility of pure knowledge. According to this view, knowledge is a tool to legitimatize power and control. Continue reading “Exploring the Role of Orientalism”

Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 2)

A more succinct discussion on Substance (ousia) and Object (hypostasis) is given by G. L. Prestige in his book Fathers and Heretics.

Notes on Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 2)
Ng Kam Weng

A more succinct discussion on Substance (ousia) and Object (hypostasis) is given by G. L. Prestige in his book Fathers and Heretics.

The terms have a similar meaning but are not identical [cf., etymologically, the Latin substantia is an exact translation of the Greek hypostasis.

“‘Substance’ means an object consisting of some particular stuff; it has an inward reference to the nature of the thing in itself, expressing what logicians call a connotation. ‘Object’ means a substance marked off as an individual specimen by reason of its distinction from all other objects, it bears an outward reference to a reality independent of other individuals, and expresses what logicians call a denotation.” (FH 88)

To clarify further let me give an illustration inspired by Prestige’s discussion. Continue reading “Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 2)”

Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 1)

My earlier essays on the Trinity focused on demonstrating logical coherence rather than conceptual clarification. Admittedly, discussion of logical coherence is appealing, but such discussion can also be beguiling. The discussion maintains an appearance of austere logic, and follows the suggestion that once the logical structure of the argument is unpacked, there will be agreement.

That agreement seldom happens is because the philosophers covertly smuggle in their own meaning of the terms deployed. This in turn results in different criteria of logical coherence. Inevitably, even the best minds fail to resolve the logic of doctrinal agreement.

It is imperative that we should at least be clear about what we mean if we want to use the terms to analyse of the doctrine of Trinity. In this regard, we need to go back to the original formulation of the doctrine in the early Church.

Trinity – “the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence” (BB Warfield)

Substance – That by virtue of ‘what it is’. ‘What it is’, as distinguished from something else [essential characteristic) in contrast to accident.

Accident – \What has no independent and self sufficient existence but exist only in another being. What may change, disappear and be added while substance remains the same.
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The simplest way to determine meaning of technical Greek terms is to refer to standard lexicons such as Liddell & Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, BAGD (Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker) and Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon.

However it soon becomes clear that terms assume wide semantic range over the centuries. It takes considerable lexicographical skills and extensive citation of usage to establish the exact shade of meaning used in a particular context. Continue reading “Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 1)”

Covenant Politics and Pluralist Democracy for a New Asia (Partially Restored Copy)

Covenant Politics and Pluralist Democracy for a New Asia
An Asian Christian Social Vision
By Ng Kam Weng

Asian Politics at the Crossroads
“The Asian way: Regional Thinkers Put Homegrown Ideas before the World.” This was the provocative title for a leading article published in the March 2 1994 issue of Asiaweek. The article described how Asian thinkers are asserting that global issues should not be discussed on terms set by the West alone. The time has come for respectable Asian intellectuals to make contributions from Asian traditions which defend “strong family values, respect for authority, consensus in decision-making, and supremacy of the community over the individual.” Continue reading “Covenant Politics and Pluralist Democracy for a New Asia (Partially Restored Copy)”

Thomas V Morris: The Two-Minds Model of the Incarnation or Possibility of Incarnation (Part 2)

It must be pointed out that the charge of incoherence of the Incarnation assumes we know the exact nature of human and divine properties to be able to assert that there can be no joining together of human and divine properties in an individual.

John Macquarie’s response to such a presupposition is pertinent, “Part of the trouble with the doctrine of incarnation is that we discuss the divinity and even the humanity of Christ in terms of ready-made ideas of God and man that we bring with us, without allowing these ideas to be corrected and even drastically changed by what we learn about God and man in and through the incarnation.�?

Thomas V. Morris’ landmark book, The Logic of God Incarnate suggests the two-minds model as one possible demonstration of the coherence of the incarnation.

For Part 1 – The Possibility of Incarnation LINK
Ng Kam Weng

Ahmad Deedat in one of his debates with carefully chosen pastors – meaning, those who are ill-equipped to match him – retorted that Christ cannot be God since he displayed human characteristics like hunger and need for sleep. At a more sophisticated level, A. D. Smith says: “If Christ is God, then he cannot have begun to exist at a certain point in human history because God (and his Son) are necessarily eternal. But then nothing can count as a man, a creature, which does not have a beginning in time and which is thus coeval with God.”

These objections are of course variations of the common charge that the idea of an incarnate God is incoherent. It must be pointed out that the charge of incoherence assumes we know the exact nature of human and divine properties to be able to assert that there can be no joining together of human and divine properties in an individual.

John Macquarie’s response to such a presupposition is pertinent, “Part of the trouble with the doctrine of incarnation is that we discuss the divinity and even the humanity of Christ in terms of ready-made ideas of God and man that we bring with us, without allowing these ideas to be corrected and even drastically changed by what we learn about God and man in and through the incarnation.”

However, even if one should grant an open mind to resolve the tension between the divine and the human properties, the task of demonstrating the coherence of the incarnation remains. Thomas V. Morris’ landmark book, The Logic of God Incarnate suggests the two-minds model as one possible demonstration of the coherence of the incarnation. Continue reading “Thomas V Morris: The Two-Minds Model of the Incarnation or Possibility of Incarnation (Part 2)”

Divorce and Remarriage in the New Testament (Part 1)

Recent sociological and psychological studies have shed much light on the nature of marriage. The Christian however, bases his view of marriage on the Bible as the sufficient and final authority for all matters of faith and conduct. This paper shall therefore discuss biblical passages that are significant to the subject of divorce and remarriage in order to draw out normative guidelines for the Christian.

DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Ng Kam Weng

Recent sociological and psychological studies have shed much light on the nature of marriage. The Christian however, bases his view of marriage on the Bible as the sufficient and final authority for all matters of faith and conduct. This paper shall therefore discuss biblical passages that are significant to the subject of divorce and remarriage in order to draw out normative guidelines for the Christian.

THE OLD TESTAMENT BACKGROUND

a) Marriage as a Covenant Continue reading “Divorce and Remarriage in the New Testament (Part 1)”

Divorce and Remarriage in the New Testament (Part 2)

Given the onging controversy surrounding remarriage, I shall add some comments, focusing on complicated cases of marital breakdown and divorce. In reality pastors encounter cases that are so complicated (messed up) that it is impossible to give a simple and direct application from specific scriptural verses. Counsel may even include the choice of a lesser evil.

Divorce and Remarriage in the New Testament (Part 2)

Further Theological Reflections
Ng Kam Weng

Given the onging controversy surrounding remarriage, I shall add some comments, focusing on complicated cases of marital breakdown and divorce. In reality pastors encounter cases that are so complicated (messed up) that it is impossible to give a simple and direct application from specific scriptural verses. Counsel may even include the choice of a lesser evil.

This should alert us to the possibility that the verses dealing explicitly with divorce do not provide exhaustive judgment on the matter of divorce and remarriage. Are we then to see these verses as exemplary/paradigmatic teachings instead? This gives rise to the problem of how we can ensure that counseling is in principle consistent with the explicit scriptural teachings. The fundamental question is, how does Scripture function normatively in Christian ethics? My suggestion is that we apply Scripture in a broader theological framework instead of using it in a mechanical and legalistic manner. In this case we need to view marriage in greater theological depth than was attempted by the paper since I was specifically asked to give a biblical study.

I shall begin by calling into question the view of marriage as an unbreakable ‘metaphysical’ union. Its inadequacy becomes apparent under the following considerations: Continue reading “Divorce and Remarriage in the New Testament (Part 2)”

Examining the Fabric of Moral Values

It has become fashionable to talk of moral renewal through “Asian values�?. However, the term “values�? suggests things personal and subjective, traits which are too light-weight to address the brute facts of the outer world and cruel dilemmas of life.

The challenge is to demonstrate in a concrete manner how Asian values can enrich human relationships in contemporary society. In our eagerness to develop concrete models of moral society, we may be tempted to rely exclusively on an idealized Asian moral heritage. Anyway, why not consider a concrete model from outside Asian society? Choosing a “contrast society�? may prove instructive and enlightening.

Review: Gertrude Himmelfarb. The De-Moralization of Society. Vintage Book

Ng Kam Weng

It has become fashionable to talk of moral renewal through “Asian values”. However, the term “values” suggests things personal and subjective, traits which are too light-weight to address the brute facts of the outer world and cruel dilemmas of life.

The challenge is to demonstrate in a concrete manner how Asian values can enrich human relationships in contemporary society. In our eagerness to develop concrete models of moral society, we may be tempted to rely exclusively on an idealized Asian moral heritage. Anyway, why not consider a concrete model from outside Asian society? Choosing a “contrast society” may prove instructive and enlightening.

Gertrude Himmelfarb shares our concerns, as evidenced by her scathing critique of the decay of contemporary Western morality. It is precisely her concerns that make the book The De-moralization of Society engaging, if not acerbic reading. Continue reading “Examining the Fabric of Moral Values”

The Possibility of Incarnation (Part 1)

Assuming that we accept the coherence of the concept of the Incarnation (set out in my earlier article dated 15 April 2006), I now proceed to consider the possibility of the Incarnation and explore how God can become genuinely human and yet remain God.

To begin with, God becoming human (a divine individual) means acquiring a human soul that interacts with the world through its bodily senses and functions as the centre that organizes rational thought processes and exercises will power of choice and action. That such functions are limited is of course a normal but not essential (relating to essence) quality of human existence.

The Possibility of Incarnation (Part 1)
Ng Kam Weng

For Part 2 – Thomas V Morris: The Two-Minds Model of the Incarnation LINK

 

The doctrine of incarnation affirms that God became a man in order bring salvation to mankind. As the Chalcedonian Creed says, “Our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . truly God (qeos) and truly man (anqrwpos) . . . in two natures. . . the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person.”

Assuming that we accept the coherence of the concept of the Incarnation (set out in my earlier article dated 15 April 2006), I now proceed to consider the possibility of the Incarnation and explore how God can become genuinely human and yet remain God. Continue reading “The Possibility of Incarnation (Part 1)”

Moral Formation of the Church: A Socio-Theological Inquiry

It is common place to declare that all religions teach us to be good. As such, protagonists relying on an ethical justification of religion often point to a set of moral values which all religions presumably affirm. . . .Nevertheless, how we are taught such goodness is often not clearly explained. It is not clear how displaying of a set of common moral values would suffice to validate the ethical significance of religion.

The secularity of modern pluralistic societies also means that moral values are not the preserve of religions. The current dominance of rationalistic ethics in moral education is a case in point.


Moral Formation of the Church: A Socio-Theological Inquiry

Ng Kam Weng

I wrote this article more than fifteen years ago. Discerning readers will note that I made good use of Stanley Hauerwas on the subject of moral formation and Christian identity. I must confess that I have since concluded that his work is good only for the preliminary task of social critique and that it lacks resources for constructive social engagement. At the least we need to offer a framework for the Church to contribute to the building of the common good in pluralistic society, in answer to Muslims who charge that Christianity has no social relevance. For this positive task I find more resources from writers of the Amsterdam Reformed Philosophy – Herman Dooyeweerd, Abraham Kuyper and James Skillen. Continue reading “Moral Formation of the Church: A Socio-Theological Inquiry”