Friday, December 02, 2005

Globalization and the Church

By Tan Kang San

What is Globalization?

The term “globalization” was coined about three decades ago, but the word has mushroomed in the 21st Century. It is a slippery buzzword that is variously defined and differently understood. In its broadest sense, globalization refers to the rapid growth of inter-linkages between nations and social communities, which make up the present world system. The world is not only becoming more interconnected, but people are also becoming more aware of the interconnection. The spread of modern technology, transportation and communication to the entire world has compressed the world in time and space. All of these phenomena make up the concept of globalization.

Thomas Friedman, in his excellent book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, offers the following key elements towards a definition of globalization:

Democratization of technology, finance and information'
Free market capitalism as the organizing principle of world economics;
Homogenizing of cultures (Friedman 1999, 8).
Friedman describes a label on a computer part that reads, “This part was made in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, China, Mexico, Germany, the U.S., Thailand, Canada, and Japan. It was made in so many different places that we cannot specify a country of origin.” One of the presuppositions that we need in our understanding of globalization is that, in some form, it is here to stay. It is an inescapable reality. Yet, while globalization itself is an inescapable reality, Christian must critique and work against some of the evil consequences of a global free market. Our generation will experience an increasingly explosive social, economic, and political situation that globalization brings to the ASEAN region. Such rapid movement of people, money, culture, information, and technology offers both peril and promise.

The Relationship Between Evangelism and Discipleship

In this section, we explore a biblical understanding of evangelism and discipleship. The church has one constitutive mark: its being apostolic or sent into the world (John 17). This is a fundamental nature of the church as a witnessing and discipling community.

The Greek verb euangelizasthai means “to announce the good news” and is found 52 times in the New Testament. The noun euangelion means “good news” and occurs 72 times mostly in Pauline epistles. Evangelism, then, is to share or announce the good news. The biblical emphasis is the message of the gospel must be proclaimed faithfully (2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2 and 5). It should not be defined in terms of successful results.

The New Testament shows that wherever the gospel is being proclaimed, some will respond in repentance and faith while others will reject the gospel.

Traditionally, evangelism was addressed to individuals and exclusively concerned with the forgiveness of sins. However, when set in the context of the theology of the kingdom of God, evangelism encompasses a broader concern for the establishment of a new community, which must lead to the transformation of society (e.g. Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:18-20). Therefore, although “evangelism” is strictly to be judged by its “proclamation” element of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it must lead to repentance and faith, belonging to a community of faith and eventual service in the world.

The interrelationship between evangelism and discipleship is well summarized in the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (1974) statement:

To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord, he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe…. In issuing the Gospel invitation we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship. Jesus calls all who would follow him to deny themselves, take up their cross and identify themselves with his new community. The results of evangelism include obedience to Christ, Incorporation into his church and responsible service to the world (LC 4).

Therefore, evangelism and discipleship are inseparable tasks of the whole church. Although they are distinct activities of the individual Christians, no church can dichotomize evangelism from discipleship or say they focus on one at the expense of the other. Neither should a church be content with transferred membership, focusing on discipleship, without regular addition of new believers into the body of Christ.

A Translatable or Imported Gospel?

The gospel is summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:2-5: “By this gospel you are save… That Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to scriptures, and that he appeared.” The event of Christ, rooted in history and recorded in scriptures, is now translated into many contexts and cultures.

First, the church must be willing to adapt to modern culture and thinking. The gospel is translated into foreign cultures, including modern and youth cultures. The late theologian, Helmut Thielicke reminds us:

The gospel must be preached afresh and told in new ways to every generation, since every generation has its own unique questions. This is why gospel must constantly be forwarded to a new address, because the recipient is repeatedly changing his place of residence. (quoted in Kuzmic, 1990, 202)

While the content of the gospel is unchanging, the methodologies used to communicate the gospel may need revision. Some of our churches received the gospel from previous generation of missionaries and have presented it without any change ever since. The “come rather than go structure”, long evangelistic addresses, the use of ancient liturgies and hymns of old (though doctrinally sound but unintelligible to non-Christians), evangelism centred upon evangelists instead of laity are examples of outmoded evangelistic paradigms.

Second, the translatability of the gospel means on going and critical contextualization is needed. We must always be self-critical of our own cultural presuppositions influencing our evangelism and discipleship approaches to others. Globalization and its tendency toward the homogenization of all cultures can only be met with a strong challenge through the contextualization of the gospel. Neo-colonialism, whether coming from North America to Asia, South Korea to North Korea or West Malaysia to East Malaysia takes place when Christians export their gospel without any regard to uniqueness of local cultures or situation. Likewise, no church program or mission endeavors must be undertaken without giving dignity to the local and indigenous culture. The church needs to play a prophetic role when it listens to Scripture and makes Christian truth accessible in languages understood in modern and local contexts. Just as we do not want to import a foreign gospel, so we must not export a Christianity that is foreign to other cultures.

II. Is Globalization a Friend or Foe to Evangelization and Discipleship?

Should the church endorse or resist the developments brought about by globalization? In the first section, I begin by affirming the positive role that globalization plays in facilitating the functions of evangelism and discipleship in the church. In the second section, I will raise issues of concerns whereby globalization challenges the Christian disciples’ loyalty to Christ’s Lordship, promotes a materialistic culture, pluralizes truth-claims, and reduces the missionary task to a pragmatic venture.

Globalization: Friend of Mission?

Globalization and its processes of rapid transmission of information, knowledge and people contact represent a "kairos" moment for the evangelization of the world. First, just as the earlier Christians used the printing press and radio broadcasting, so have Christians in this century taken full advantage of the internet revolution and increased relationship between peoples for the spread of the gospel. Second, the opening of trade and blurring of national boundaries have contributed toward greater openness to Christianity in many Asian and Muslim centuries. For example, China’s entry into World Trade Organization means reduction of trade barriers, openness to foreign workers, including Christian professionals, and eventual influence of foreign ideas, including Christianity. Third, the Internet revolution allows non-Christians to explore Christianity anonymously without social restrictions. The vast array of information regarding other religions can no longer be censored by protective religious authorities. Globalization shatters the worldviews of traditional societies and leaves them open to new ideas and ways of living. Fourth, the vast array of non-Christian websites offering education and understanding of other religious beliefs are valuable tools to prepare Christians for apologetics and evangelism. Christians can engage in the study of religious and inter-religious dialogue without leaving their home. Fifth, globalization has contributed to shedding away the notion that Christianity is primarily a Western religion. As the church declines in the Western world but grows rapidly in the Two-Third world, the new global dimension of Christianity is best shown when churches from alternate centers proclaim Christ in rich diversities (Samuel Escobar 2000, 28). Last but not least, the most important result of global world is the increasing collaboration between Christian individuals and organizations are coming to realize that strategic partnerships, alignments and cooperative endeavors can be more effective for ministry, an may also represent better stewardship of resources. However, while these efforts bring greater unity and focus on a common task, they also bring greater complexity and difficulty in administration. New attitudes and skills must be developed for working in this team and networking oriented environment.

Though not exhaustive, the above observations serve to illustrate the unprecedented opportunities for evangelism in our world today. We must avoid the danger of treating globalization as all evil. Instead, we should view the aspects of globalization (for example, increasingly connected economic systems, efficient communication system globally) as neutral factors from which Christian mission can benefit from.

Anna Peterson, Manuel Vasquez, and Phillip Williams, the editors of Christianity, Social Change, and Globalization in the Americas, look at how Protestants and Catholics in Central and South America navigate a world influenced by globalization. They find that, contrary to some people’s fears, globalization has not meant secularization: “Religion is changing but not disappearing.” In fact, “if anything, religion has become more central to struggles around collective and individual identity and to the re-articulation of damaged civil societies.” (quoted from Jeremy Lott, Books and Culture, January/February 2001).

Discipleship and the Powers

Discipleship is submission to Jesus Christ as Lord, evidenced in a life of Christ-likeness and willingness to suffer for the gospel’s sake. Direct challenges to biblical Christianity are becoming increasingly persistent. Militant Hinduism and Islam are on the march. In some parts of the world, there is a revival of Buddhism and other traditional religions. Continuing attacks come from modern atheism and secularism. Governmental and educational establishments often join in the opposition. Both official and informal persecutions are on the rise all over the world. Historically, the church counted the cost of discipleship in terms of the persecution inflicted by hostile governments.

However, the process of globalization displaces the state itself making way for multinational companies to operate unhindered by state authority. The state is pushed to renounce its functions to guarantee equity, social justice and security for the people. Jacques Attali said, “The central organizing principle of the future, whatever happens on the margins, will be economic….. The rule of military might that characterized the Cold war is being replaced by the reign of the market.” (Attali 1991, 8-9) Christian disciples today face the powers of globalization that marginalize truth, extol the pursuit of pleasures, promote materialism and new age ideologies, and perpetuate unequal distribution of resources. Escobar notes that “the culture of globalization….creates attitudes and mental frame that may be the opposite of what the gospel teaches about human life under God’s design.” (2000,30)

Apostle Paul's plea to the Romans Christian fits our contemporary struggles: "I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice-the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." (Romans 12:1-2) the Lordship of Jesus Christ demands that we live for Christ, not for ourselves; that our minds must he held captive in Christ and every aspect of our lives must be submitted to the will of God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Colossians 1:15-17)

Powers are not only personal but also political. A political culture of participation is an essential prerequisite of transformation of Malaysian society. The present forms of representation which are merely confined to communal political parties do not guarantee participatory representations. New forms of participation including rural and local participation need to be developed and given constitutional recognition. Non-government and religious bodies need to play a more active role in representing the needs of the poor marginalized by market forces. Christians, particularly those in legal and media should be encourage to play their role to enhance greater participation of people in decision making and achieving greater transparency. Good governance should not merely mean purely formal democracy of a limited nature as it exists now. The administration should be open and conducive to constant consultation with people. We are grateful that the Malaysian government had, in recent times, increased consultation with religious leaders.

In recent years greater attention has been focused on the importance of intercessory prayer and spiritual warfare for the advance of the gospel. Movements of prayer and meetings for prayer continue to multiply at the community, national and international levels. The emphasis of church growth strategy is shifting from sociological analysis and managerial technique to a focus on spiritual dynamics and mobilization for prayer.

Discipleship and Materialistic Culture

The age we live in today extols choice and change as virtues. The world is watching carefully whether Christian dance to a different drumbeat. The increase in personal choices leads to a decrease in commitment. It seems clear that successive generations of Christians have been enculturated to uncritical redefinition of “personal material needs” in accordance with continuing escalating notions of upper middle class lifestyles. But even more disturbing questions remain. What effect does upper middle class churches have upon Christianity as communicators of good news for the poor? One fact is clear. Our relatively strong economic power has not made us more effective in our primary tasks – evangelism and discipleship.

For Christians to be true and credible disciples of Jesus Christ, we need in our day to rethink profoundly the prevailing theologies with their diversities of expression, spirituality and approach towards modern world of mass consumption. The message of Jesus presents God as love, creation as good, and earth and its resources as means for all humans. Unless we do so urgently, effectively and globally, we Christians may find ourselves once again substantially on the side of oppressors and not of the justice that God in Jesus desires and has promised.

Competing Truths in the Global Market

We face an intellectual crisis with the “modern eclipse of God” in a global village where all faiths must be acknowledge as having rightful co-existence. Leslie Newbigin has helpfully highlighted for us the need to accept plurality of religions as a reality (1989). However, we need to distinguish the plural features of society from pluralism as ideology. In an age of agnosticism and denial of absolute truth, the validity of the gospel is strongly denied or mostly ignored. How has the church responded to such growing agnosticism and relativism? At one end, more and more church leaders are tempted to become minimalists with regard toe essential truth claims about Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, radical discipleship, the role of theology in the church, justice and church discipline. The only test is the test of personal experience and preferences. At the other spectrum is the fundamentalist approach of insisting upon the truth of scripture without any attempt to provide an apologia for Christian belief in God to non-Christians (Stackhouse 1988). Within the church, members practice a blind faith that operates on “naïve realism”, where little scriptural groundings are given and little discussion on church life or beliefs are attempted. Members are often asked to trust the leaders. Those, especially younger generation, who questioned are perceived as being critical and therefore, sidelined. However, the global reality with its democratization of knowledge means that questions largely unanswered or ignored in the church will naturally find its ways elsewhere. This led to a situation where many Christians who attend church mix and match their concepts about God, faith and solutions to life with diverse and plural interpretations.

III. Theological Explorations

The Future Church

The church of the must root itself firmly “in this globalized world” and not operate out of celestial dreamland. It should not be an isolated community that sporadically ventures into the world to evangelize, only to retreat into safe communities. On the other hand, in embracing globalization with all its attendant benefits, the church cannot abandon its counter-cultural character as a “pilgrim community.”

The paramount direction for the foreseeable future will center on issues relating to the definition of the church: fellowship between conservative churches with charismatic churches; relationship between the Evangelical with the Catholic churches in Christian Federation of Malaysia, relationship between the local church and parachurch agencies. Is the goal of evangelism in the church to add numerically to denominations, or church groups or the extension of the kingdom of God? What kind of church would thrive in a globalized world? Is it a church marked by rapid growth in numbers or a church of faithful disciples? A homogeneous church or a multicultural church? Should denominational church structures be decentralized into house churches, where each local church is given greater autonomy to decide on styles of worship, government and use of resources? We need humility, and willingness to listen to each other as we seek to build together a church of Jesus Christ in Malaysia.

The Incarnation

The incarnation of Jesus Christ is at the very heart of the gospel. “The Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). For many of us, the incarnation is an archaic doctrine of the church rather than a living model. More than ever, the incarnation teaches us that power, speed, mobility, efficiency, success-those elements extolled by globalization forces-cannot be the modus operandi of any truly Christian church. Jesus’ incarnation to enter the world as a baby born in the backwaters of Bethlehem, from a carpenter’s family, was neither a missiological mistake nor a historical accident. “As you have sent me into the world, so send I you” (John 17:16). At the very least, incarnation means giving up the power, privilege, social position to which we feel naturally inclined. There is no room for ego-inflating, career-generating, power-hungry, and self-protecting approach to planting churches so characteristic of much that is called progressive Christianity. No matter how enlightened the technique, how sophisticated the technology, how successful the numerical results, nothing will prevail against the spiritual forces of darkness, except the power of the gospel (cf. Ephesians 6:10-20; Romans 1:16-17).

The Cross

For Christ’s followers, the Cross is the guarantee of persecution and suffering. In the eyes of the world, there is nothing humanly attractive about the cross or the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). The church needs to be vigilant against those who call themselves followers of Christ but a frauds and imposters. Encountering such believers in Philippi, Paul tearfully acknowledged that “many lived as enemies of the cross of Christ….for their mind is on earthly things…Their destiny is a destruction” (Phil. 3:18,19). Likewise, contemporary methods of evangelism that do not operate on the principle of the cross-the unappealing, death-denying cross-need careful scrutiny. Many will believe in Christ but many will also fall away. The danger then is we introduce young babes to a culture of Christianity but immunize them against the claims of Christ. Those who succumbed to the virus of carnal Christianity are lulled into thinking that they have the real Christ. They have no desires for serious study of scriptures, for costly discipleship and at best, are only interested in a religion that gratifies their immediate needs. Sects and cults will flourish whenever young Christians are allowed to remain addicted to milk, without solid food.

Dialogue with the World

Christian dialogue is neither a denial of the uniqueness of Christ nor a compromise of our Evangelical faith. We need to accept the reality that our modern world demands deeper engagements with both secular and other religious belief systems. Majority of our future leaders in the seminaries and church leaders are merely equipped with a superficial understanding of the religious belief systems of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. The challenge of raising a new generation of scholars in Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism is an urgent task within the evangelizing church in a multicultural setting. Christians can no longer do theology within the safe confines of the church. Our belief in God, in Christ and the reality of our faith need fresh articulations in direct apologetics toward Muslim and Buddhist’s views about God, about Christ and about faiths.

Concluding Reflections: The Missionary Task of the Church

In a globalized world, where there are so many unreached peoples, how necessary it is for the Malaysian church to recover a practical missionary ecclesiology, the missionary character of the believing community. (Newbigin 1989, quoted in Kuzmic 1993:159) Our primary motivations for missions must be a sense of gratitude, a sense of responsibility and a sense of concern. (Green 1970, 286-309) According to the 2000 Population Census, there are 2 million Christians, of which more than 1 million belong to the Protestant faith in Malaysia. My generous estimate of long term cross cultural missionaries from Malaysian to other countries is well belong. It means that we have sent only 0.0005%, or 5 missionaries out of 10,000 Malaysian Christians to serve the Lord on the mission fields. In a globalized world, the church can no longer ignore the problems facing nations in a global village.

In Malaysia, where there are more than 10,000 mainland Chinese students, over 10,000 Japanese expatriate workers, and thousands of Bangladeshi and Indonesian laborers, how needed it is for the Malaysian church to actively serve these sojourners and strangers of our land with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those preparing themselves for ministry in the 21st Century should become aware that serving God’s Kingdom will require diverse preparation. Some will minister as pastors, others as pastoral counselors, many will serve the multitude of international students as campus ministers, or social workers assisting refugees, teach English as a second language, or guide our foreign friends in cultural, economics, and religious adaptation. The world has come to our doorstep. Thus, we can no longer ignore our responsibility to world evangelization.

The globalization of missions means that efforts packaged in the West are exported to Asia and many churches join the adoption of unreached peoples, of national churches, or short term programmes. Missions are now guided by market-driven values such as “least sacrifice, cheapest possible, fastest result, and greatest return on investment”. Locally, we face similar currents toward pragmatism and managerial framework when evangelism is packaged to manufacture as many new babes as possible.


Douglas, J. D. ed 1990. Proclaim Christ until he comes. Minneapolis: World Wide Publications.

Escobar, Samuel. 2000. “The Global scenario at the turn of the century” In William D. Taylor, Global Missiology for the 21st Century. Grand Rapids: WEF Books. 25-46

Friedman, T.L. 1999. The Lexus and the olive tree. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Green, Michael. 1970. Evangelism in the early church. Crowborough: Highland Books,

Kuzmic, Peter. 1990. “How to teach the truth of the gospel? In J.D. Douglas, Proclaim Christ until he comes: Calling the Whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world. Minneapolis: World Wide Publications. (197-203)

Lot, Jeremy, 2001. “Is Globalization Christian?” Books and Culture, January/February 2001

Newbigin, Leslie. 1989. The Gospel in a pluralist society. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Stackhouse, Maz. L. 1988. Apologia: Contextualization, globalization, and mission in theological education. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Christian Intellectual Witness

By Dr Ng Kam Weng


Adolf Hernack observed that the early church gained ascendancy because they not only out-loved their competitors; they also out-thought their critics. The early Christians reveled in the intellectual truth and lucidity of Christian revelation.

J.G. Machen who wrote, "We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here or there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the relentless force of logic, prevents Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion."

We must address the challenge of the cultured despisers of Christianity if Christian witness is to gain credibility:

Secure a thorough understanding of the modern world.

Identify crucial issues that must be addressed if we are to follow J.H. Bavinck to annex culture, to take every though captive in Christ.

Re-conceptualize the framework for Christian reflection and set priorities for the theological education. So often activism replace serious theological reflection when we act under the tyranny of the urgent. But in the absence of a distinct intellectual framework and with our inability to ferret out the critique the presuppositions of dominant thought patterns of the world, we end up merely responding to the agenda set by non-Christian elites and eventually conform to the spirit of the age.

Ensure that theology is both grounded in Biblical tradition and critically correlated with contextual realities. This demands, a fresh look at theological education and how we train Christian thinkers and pastors.

The authority of an intellectual is based on his ability to undertake objective, well-informed decisions. Likewise Christian intellectual witness demands competence. Given the narrow scope of education today and the non-Christian ethos in which it is proffered, Christians must go the third mile if they are to fulfill their vocation of thinking God's thoughts after him. It will do us well to remember the Christian ideals of attaining moral and intellectual virtues in higher education, "To open the mind, to correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know and to digest, master, and use its knowledge, to give it power over its own faculties, application, flexibility, method, critical exactness, sagacity, resource, address, eloquent expression, is an object…. As intelligible as the cultivation of moral virtue"

(J.H. Newman, The Idea of a University, p. 92-93).


1. Modernity's Subversion of Religion

Some preliminary questions concerning Modernity come to mind:

What is the ideology and worldview under girding Modernity that constitutes a challenge to the legitimization of religious faith and truth claims?
What are the institutional carriers which propel those social changes that generate tension between earthly concerns and a life oriented to transcendence? How can religious practice be integrative in the light of differentiation of institutions of modern societies?

How can religion encourage a political process that affirms recognition of cultural identity and difference of diverse social groupings while at the same time promote national harmony? How may the media play a responsible role in the moral and cultural development of society?

Modernity is a broad concept. For the purpose of this paper it is assumed to be a social and philosophical movement with the following characteristics:

Epistemology; The autonomous self in judgment.

Ethics: The imperial self that bows only to its self-created ethical standards,
Social structures: Differentiated and specialized institutions,
Economics: Rationalization based on calculatibility, efficiency

Bureaucracy: An iron-cage administration,
Politics: Progress in democracy and social justice.

2. Processes of Modernity

Secularization - Secularization is the process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols. Here is the process whereby the church is losing its influence as a shaper of life and thought in the wider social order,

Privatization - Berger defines as follows:
Privatized religion is a matter of the "choice... or "preference of the individual or the nuclear family

Pluralization is the "process by which the number of options in the private sphere of modern society rapidly multiplies at all levels, especially at the level of world views, faith and ideologies.

3. Four Marks of Modernity

Moral Relativism
Autonomous Individualism
Narcissistic Hedonism
Reductive Naturalism

4. Religious Counter-currents to Modernity - Jihad Versus MacWorld

Samuel Huntington in his book, The clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order envisages future conflicts as occurring along fault lines dividing civilizations in general, and along the 'bloody border' of Islam in particular. He asserts that Islam prosecutes international aggression given its persistent belief in universal mission.

Huntington's brutally realistic reading of history suggest that leaders of countries that have widespread economic inequality and an overwhelming surplus of youth – what Huntington refer as, "youth bulge' – will cynically exploit widespread discontent by channeling youth towards aggression against other nations. In particular, international conflicts will arise from a confrontation with the West on one side and an alliance between Islamic and Sino Civilizations on the other. This bare theses is backed by an impressive array of historical evidence and socio-political analyses.

Critics have pointed out that Huntington failed to recognize other modes of encounter that range from peaceful co-existence to interpenetration of cultures. Other critics argue that conflict actually result from geo-political interests and that it is only subsequently that religious and civilization sentiments are co-opted to legitimize the conflicts. Huntington's rhetoric about the 'Clash of Civilizations' therefore put the cart before the horse. That is to say, it is geopolitical conflicts that exploit religion rather than civilizational differences that thrust communities into conflict.

5. Civilization Dialog

The challenge for all the religious communities, especially Islam, is to demonstrate that it has within itself the ethical resources to achieve a genuine common vision. Several implications arise in terms of how dialogue may be achieved in this country. First, dialogue is impossible if any one party (be it traditional Islam or Christianity) maintains an unquestioned absolutism about its position. The Christians is nevertheless encouraged by new openness among those Muslims who have courageously suggested that the Syariah is historically contingent and that the 'Gates to knowledge' be reopened through Ijtihad. There is then room for discussion. However, some caution is in place since openness to Ijtihad is not itself is not itself sufficient. The reason is that unless a procedure for Ijtihad is concretely outlined, Ijtihad merely means that you listen to my interpretation. How Islam will overcome this is a matter that should be resolved internally by its leaders.

We refer to case studies by Leslie Browne (The Eclipse of Christianity in Asia) and William G. Young (Patriarch, Shah and Caliph). In particular, Young pointed out how the internal divisions within the Church under Islam in Persia resulted in the Christian antagonists appealing to the state leaders to arbitrate their internal disputes. In the process they became beholden to the sate and opened themselves to manipulation. Of course, this was consistent with the Persian Church's acceptance of itself as a protected minority, a millet. But in the process the Church gained short-term peace only to be decimated by an inexorable process of long-term assimilation. The church leaders had become small in fighting over parochial matters. Needless to say, the Great Commission was lost in the process. Finally, the church should resolve to act regardless of the presence or absence of backing from the state. That way it will not expect favors from the government nor will it become beholden to it. On the contrary, the credibility of our witness is proportional to our ability to contribute sacrificially to social life out of goodwill.

This leads to the need for the creation of social space that will lend plausibility to the moral discourse of the church. How should the life of the Church as a community take shape such that it can sustain an independent moral discourse? What moral culture does it express as an alternative that unmasks the distorted values of hegemony? Can the Church delay in setting up its own information channels to ensure that its members are correctly informed on issues of human rights, freedom and social responsibility. How can the church be the "responsible society"?

6. Resurgence of Asian Religions

Islamic and Buddhist intellectuals have gone beyond the defensive posture forced upon them for the last two centuries. Their scholars have regained confidence after retrieving their intellectual heritage, which ironically was made possible by Christian missionary-scholars who undertook the laborious task of translating the classical religious texts. Their apologetics have assumed new sophistication with a new breed of scholars who are at home with both Western and Eastern philosophies. Buddhist scholars offer sharp critiques of the personal theism of Christianity. Islamic apologists have been quick to exploit the results of destructive liberal critical scholarship to undermine the credibility of the Christian message. The confidence of these scholars must surely be strengthened by awareness that karma-cola and Buddhist Nirvana have found enthusiastic response from spiritually famished Americans in Western USA.

Christian scholars should not overlook the long-term programs which are implemented by strategic Islamic intellectual enterprise such as the World Conference on Islamic Education in Mecca in 1977. among the significant decisions adopted at the Conference were: Systematic initiatives to islamicize the National Education Systems. The fundamental framework for this program to re-orientate education around Islamic values is found in the work plan. The International Institute of Islamic Thought (Philadelphia) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) Kuala Lumpur coordinated the implementation of this decision,. New international Islamicize the academic disciplines and the eventual production of Islamic oriented university texts suggest works of high academic quality. We have no such equivalent from Christian scholars in the Third World.

The point is, Islam approaches inter-religious encounters as a contestation of worldviews backed by forceful political power. In a move to gain the initiative in this debate, Islamic writers frequently suggest that while Islam is a comprehensive and well thought out way of life, Christianity is merely a perverse form of Western individualism that can only undermine the cohesion of Asian societies. (As a side remark I need to suggest that the Christian answer to Islamic da'wah must be a mission that emphasizes the centrality of the Kingdom of God. We find numerous publications which seek to portray Islam as a comprehensive and integrated way of life centred around the one God (tawhid) and the establishment of public institutions to project Islamic practices. Da'wah is nothing less than the re-orientation of the whole of society around God. As Syed H. Nasr explains, it is not divine laws that must be revised to suit changing societies.

If Islam has not hesitated to project political power in its struggle for dominance in a pluralistic society, Buddhism (with the exception of Sri Lanka) often attracts people who are disillusioned with the empty promises of politics as well as the abuse of power in bureaucratic tyranny. In reaction to the historical pattern of exploitation of institutionalized religion by politicians, many Buddhists argue that truth is personal rather than social. Truth is a personal construct built on a series of one's psychic experiences (often in the context of meditation). Truth and reality in the final analysis are impersonal, reflecting an ever-changing universal flux. Authentic existence or liberation from the world of illusion is individual centred.

The consequence is a rejection of prepositional truth so dearly beloved by Evangelicals. In common with post-modem nihilism, Buddhism precludes truth claims of realism. The psychic self and the body function as one's own private aesthetic project. Truth is processed experientially, form the heart, which is experientially and emotionally. Spiritual truth is not so much analyzed in abstraction. It should be embodied in concrete role models often exemplified by gurus.

The challenge then to Christian mission is how ensure that prepositional and realistic truth claims are concretized and personally embodied. To be sure, Christians question the ideals of salvation that are based on the isolated individual with its subjective, if not nihilistic, tendencies. One doubts too whether the tendency among followers of experiential and mystical spirituality to abandon responsibilities in the public square will not lead to choose between the individual and the community. On the one hand, communities of truth and inclusive justice emerge from 'enlarged authentic selves'. Conversely, without authentic relationships in a community there can be no flourishing of the individual.

7. Apologetic and Modern Knowledge

Recent years have seen the emergence of many scientists who straddle comfortable between The Two Cultures (C.P. Snow). I have in mind Paul Davis, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkings, Stephen J. Gould and Daniel Dennett amongst others. Their writings demonstrate modern science as a comprehensive and self-sufficient explanatory paradigm of life and the universe that does not need to appeal to the creator.

Quantum cosmology has dominated public interest, but one should not miss the fact that the real scientific challenge confronting Christian faith is in the field of evolutionary sociobiology and cognitive science. The absence of Christian participation is sadly evident. Hopefully this lacuna will be addressed by new initiatives from Templeton Foundation and new centers of science and theology established in Berkeley University and Chicago University.

Philosophy has become an exciting discipline nowadays with active participants from a new breed of philosophers whose analytical expertise is recognized by their professional peers. One thinks of Richard Swinburne, William Alston, Alvin Plantinga and the Society of Christian Philosophers, and Catholic schools of Thomism and Phenomenology.

However, the renewed vigor of philosophy has triggered old tensions between theologians and philosophers. New disputes have emerged in debates over Open Theism, Omniscience and middle knowledge, divine eternity and temporality and dualism/monism of the human soul and the mergence of mind. The disputes can be both disconcerting and exciting.


The above discussion represents only a preliminary engagement with the challenge of resurgent Islam and Buddhism. Further long-term engagement address includes the following concerns.

1. Mission and Intellectual Competence

Given the sophistication of polemics mounted against Christianity we can no longer rest content on the simple preaching of the gospel. This calls for a systematic and sustained effort to train Christian thinkers and activists who can defend the integrity of the Bible, the plausibility of the Christian worldview, and demonstrate Christianity as a holistic way of life in cross-cultural apologetics.

2. Mission and the Personal Fulfillment

The goal of personal fulfillment has always been paramount among many religious seekers in Asia. The validity of such a quest is not in question. After all, Christ promised abundant life to his disciples. The issue is the context for the quest of fulfillment. Fulfillment in Buddhism is attainment of freedom from the wheel of life (Samsara). In contrast to, Christianity insists that personal fulfillment arises from the context of meaningful relationships. Christianity demands personal salvation being worked out in the context of loving service in a community. In Christ's words, "By this all men shall know you are my disciples, if you have love one for another."

3. Mission and Building Consensus in Community

There have been increasing conflicts following the post-cold war due to resurgent ethnic-nationalism. In the past, many Christian missions have chosen to ignore the imperative to be peacemakers and to promote peace and harmony for fear that it would detract them from the paramount task of evangelism. We ought to recall the balance declaration of Laussanne that evangelism are good works collectively constitute holistic mission.


1. Enhancing Resources

Existing seminaries are correct in concentrating on training of pastors. But we need to set up Research Institutes and centres for Advanced Mission Studies that specialize in inter-religious encounters and cross-cultural studies. We need to develop doctoral programs at three regional levels. E.g., North East Asia, Sub-continent Asia. Teaching should be done primarily by thinkers from the respective regions although doctoral candidates are encouraged to spend a year in an established Western university. The absence of adequate libraries is still keenly felt. More theological resources need to be made available through the Internet.

2. Develop Scholars' Network To Work On Areas Of Cultural And Religious Apologetics

The end product of such scholar' networks and consultations will be seminal works and resource handbooks for seminary teachers. The availability of theological materials that are rooted in cultural contexts has been a desideratum for a long time. We need to bring together leaders to formulate strategies for social engagement and Christian annexation and repossession of culture of Christ. Christian scholars must develop in-depth cultural analysis and sophisticated critiques of Asian philosophies

3. Leadership Development

It is true that many Christian leaders in the third world do not have enough time to acquire the pre-requisite skills and knowledge adequate to confront the best scholars from the other religions. Hence, it is vital that we begin early to equip younger Christians for such a demanding task. In fact, young Christians are often put on the defensive while undergoing the indoctrination process under their national education system. Christian youths are themselves increasingly vulnerable to conversion to resurgent Asian spirituality.

Unlike their Western counterparts who benefit from the liberal arts program in their general education. Asian Christians are often denied opportunities to reflect on their Christian intellectual heritage, especially if the national education system favours another religion. Consequently many Christian begin serious reflection on their philosophical and theological heritage only when they go to the seminaries. Ironically, they learn about the Asian religion form 'experienced missionaries' who have returned to the West. Asian churches that seek to produce Christian thinkers who can match their local religious counterparts are obviously handicapped by such late academic beginnings. It is urgent that we identify promising young leaders and nurture them with supplementary education while they are still in colleges. Long-term programs must be devised to enhance their competence in Asian philosophies and religions.

Evangelical Futures In Malaysia

Dave: I heard a Malaysian leader defined an evangelical is "someone who loves Jesus", which comfortably includes Muslim apologist Shah Kirit into the fold. Find this article quite helpful from Graduate Christian fellowship

Evangelical Futures in Malaysia
By Tan Kang San

Evangelicals are the fastest growing segment in Christianity. Patrick Johnstone estimated that, by 2025, 83% of the world's Evangelicals could be in the non-Western world. In Malaysia, Evangelicals probably constitute more than 65% of the 2 million
Christian populations. We have different types of Evangelicals. Some are members of congregational churches such as Brethren, Baptist or Free Churches. Others are associated with mainline denominations such as Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches.

Today, rapid growth among Evangelical communities comes from Charismatic groupings such as Assembly of God and other independent Charismatic churches. We need to note that the emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit, healing and celebrative worship are no longer a denominational feature but permeates many churches in Malaysia.

Who is an Evangelical?

There are six fundamental convictions which define an Evangelical.
They are set as follows:

1. The supreme authority of Scripture as the source of knowledge of God and a guide to Christian living.

2. The majesty of Jesus Christ, both as incarnate God and Lord, and as Saviour of sinful humanity.

3. The Lordship of the Holy Spirit.

4. The need for personal conversion.

5. The priority of evangelism for both individual Christians and the church as a whole.

6. The importance of Christian community for spiritual nourishment, fellowship and growth. (Kantzer, K.S and Carl Henry, 1990, 56-72)

Are you an Evangelical?

An Evangelical is characterised by his or her commitment to follow teachings of the Bible. The bible is not only a theological sourcebook but a guide for spiritual and ethical behaviour. An Evangelical worships Jesus, attracted to his Majesty, and is sensitive to the voice of the Spirit. Evangelicals acknowledge the nature of the fall, that humanity, left to ourselves, cannot find redemption from sin. Thus, we are in need of Jesus as Saviour. Many Christians recognize the need for evangelism but not all would regard it as important or essential. Such a passion for the lost and long term commitment for the spread of the Gospel to other people groups must characterise Evangelicals. Finally, Evangelicals are not lone rangers, or empire builders with no accountability or sense of belonging to the local church.

Evangelicals are not just members of "semi-fictional communities"; professing love for the universal church but bear no responsibility toward loving service for God's people locally. One's Evangelical identity is define through these apostolic beliefs (on bible, Jesus, Holy Spirit, sin and church) held by Christians over time and space.

The Future of Evangelicalism in Malaysia

1. Orthodoxy

There are three threats within Evangelicalism which historically wiped out the church: secularism, fundamentalism and disunity. The church was never defeated by external persecutions but often through internal divisions. Secularism occurs when Christians imbibe the values of the world rather than being a counter-cultural community. Extreme reactions against secularism in the church gave rise to fundamentalist movements. Fundamentalism cannot be equated with
orthodoxy. James Hunter explains:

Orthodoxy as a cultural system represents what could be called a 'consensus through time' - more specifically, a consensus based upon ancient rules and precepts derived from divine revelation.. Fundamentalism is orthodoxy in confrontation with modernity. (Hunter 1990, 57)

Shades of fundamentalism occur when Christians adopt a separatist mentality called the Elijah's syndrome, "I am the only One left" that is true to God. In contrast, orthodoxy is fuelled through the devotional reading of scriptures, namely, reading the bible with a plan to obey His personal word.

2. Engagement

Evangelism is essential to the future of the church. Evangelism, defined as the proclamation of the gospel message, is a subset of mission. Mission is broader, for it includes social concern, cross cultural witness and apologetics. Church history has shown that whenever the church turns inward- preoccupied with self-preservation or self-needs, the lamp-stand will be taken away (Revelation 2:5).

Churches in Yemen, Iraq, Turkey, and Europe disappeared when mission is not central to the life of the church. Evangelism without discipleship leads to shallow Christianity; while local witness without equal concern for cross cultural mission will also result in the disappearance of the church from the pages of salvation history.

Today, about 300 Malaysians are sent by churches or mission agencies serving cross culturally in other lands. This figure represents about 0.0003% of the 1 million Evangelicals. By Asian standards, the Malaysian church is lagging behind in her contribution to world missions. Professor Andrew Walls drew the lesson that "Christianity lives through the crossing of cultural boundaries."

Whenever the church only works only for her members, the church will disappear.

Another aspect of engagement is the church's willingness to change with changing contexts. We must recognise that 21st Century Malaysians have changed in their needs, habits and mindsets. Where the bible does not prescribe the length of sermons, type of songs or music, and church governments, the church must change with the times. How can the church be more responsive to the secular world without compromising the gospel? That is a much needed skill for future leaders. The
criteria for godly leadership is unquestionable, however, we also need leaders who are attuned to the changing culture.

3. Contextual Theology

The future of the Evangelical church in Malaysia will eventually be decided by her theology, defined as "thinking clearly about God in order to love Him." Majority of Christians in Malaysia has an indifferent attitude to theology, a result of anti-intellectualism mindset dominant in some circles of Evangelicalism in Malaysia. Part of the causes of this anti-theology is contributed when Asian seminaries do not contextualize theology. Theology becomes ivory tower stuff, with no relevance to present day and local issues. The church pastor then decides theology is unimportant, and discourages potential candidates for pastoral ministry from theological training.

However, when leaders do not think clearly about how to be God's people in this land; when leaders are ill prepared to encounter the philosophical challenges of Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, then the future of the Malaysian church is at stake.

Likewise, when the church is unable to offer an indigenous sense of identity to her young people and when the church continues to offer simplistic answers to complex problems, the next generation of believers will become nominal Christians.

David F. Wells comments on the task of theology today:

It is the task of theology, then, to discover what God has said in and through Scripture and clothe that in a conceptuality which is native to our own age Scripture, at its terminus a quo, needs to be de-contextualize in order to grasp its transcultural content, and it needs to be re-contextualized in order that its content may be meshed with the cognitive assumptions and social patterns of our time. (Wells 1993, 128)

What is the future of Evangelicalism in Malaysia?

The future is bright when we reaffirm and live out Evangelical essentials, when there are genuine engagements with society's problems and needs, and when contextual theologies are thriving and alive! At the same time, we must be concern when the church loses her world denying faith in orthodoxy, or world affirming faith in engagement. These two polarities are best inter-sected when theology is contextualized to local situations; resulting in a scripturally based and context sensitive faith.

References and Suggested Readings

Hunter, James D. 1990. "Fundamentalism in its global contours," in N.J. Cohen, The Fundamentalist phenomenon. (Grand Rapids: Eerdsman ).

Kantzer, K.S. and C.F. H. Henry, Evangelical Affirmations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).

McGrath, Alister. 1994. Evangelicalism and the future of Christianity.
(London: Hodder & Stoughton).

McGrath, Alister E. 2002. The future of Christianity. (London: Blackwell Publishers)

Walls, Andrew F. 1996. The missionary movement in Christian history: Studies in the transmission of faith. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books)

Wells, David F. 1993. No place for truth, or, Whatever happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: Eerdsman)

Graduates' Christian Fellowship
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Damansara Utama
47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
Tel: 03-77272962 Fax: 03-77267250