Monthly Archives: May 2018

Hospitable Classrooms, Inclusive Society

 

May 2018 Pulse

The Straits Times reported on 4 Nov 2016 that the government would be extending the Compulsory Education Act, which was passed in Parliament in 2000, to special needs children. This will take effect in 2019.

Minister for Education (Schools) Mr Ng Chee Meng said that this is “an important milestone in Singapore’s continuing drive towards national inclusiveness”. He added that it “is a reaffirmation that every child matters, regardless of his or her learning challenges”.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) also gave the assurance that no special needs child will be denied of education because his or her parents are unable to pay the school fees.

The move by the government to ensure that all special needs children have access to education is a step in the right direction. It must be welcomed and supported by all who are committed to the common good.

In recent decades, there has been a growing acceptance in Western societies of the role that public schools can play in providing special education to children with learning disabilities. According to some commentators, this development is due to the changing attitudes towards disability and the rise of professional and parental advocacy.

Christian writers on special education like Professor David W. Anderson have long argued that special needs children should be given the opportunity to enjoy the full benefits of an education. In addition, they have insisted on the inclusion of such children as equal members of the classroom community.

Some writers have attempted to envision special education within the framework of a Christian theology of reconciliation. Others have allowed the Christian conceptions of inclusion and interdependence to inform and shape their approaches.

However, in thinking about the inclusion of children with special needs in our schools and classrooms, it is the Christian virtue of hospitality that has proved most helpful.

In her book about hospitality in the Christian tradition, Christine Pohl explains that “the distinctive quality of Christian hospitality is that it offers a generous welcome to the ‘least’, without concern for advantage or benefit to the host”.

Amy Oden helpfully adds that “hospitality does not entail feeling sorry for someone and trying to help…” To understand hospitality in this way is to cause it to degenerate into condescension, where the host becomes the hero and the guest the victim.

As a reflection of divine love, Christian hospitality is neither condescending nor coercive. Rather, true hospitality acknowledges the dignity of the other by respecting the other’s freedom and difference.

Applying this virtue to education, Anderson wrote: “Hospitality, seen in the teacher’s approach to students, and as characteristic of the classroom milieu, conveys welcome, acceptance, and belonging to all students.”

The practice of hospitality in the classroom and the school where there are disabled students requires a radical shift in perspective and orientation. It requires a re-visioning of people with disabilities, and an honest interrogation of the way in which we have understood disability itself.

In the hospitable classroom, the primary focus must be the student, not his disabilities as such. Of course, this does not suggest that the student’s disabilities are unimportant. Rather, it acknowledges the fact that the disabilities of the student and the limitations they impose are not the totality of his being, but one aspect only.

It recognises that disabled students share many things with their able-bodied classmates, that they are “more like the other students than different”, as one writer puts it.

In a hospitable classroom, positive attention is given to all students, and necessary accommodations and modifications are made for the disabled so that they can participate in all activities. As Nilsa Thorsos has written, in this welcoming environment, special students are made to see that “they too are included and required to make significant contributions to society”.

Inclusive education disabuses us of the deep-seated assumption that children – as well as adults – must be ‘normal’ if they are to contribute to society. As Norman Kunc points out, inclusive education compels us to “search for and nourish the gifts that are inherent in all people”.

It is only when a society recognises the intrinsic worth of every person (including the disabled), and welcomes and accepts them, that it can be said to be truly inclusive.



Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

James and John (Packer and Wesley on Romans 7)

May 2018 Credo

Some time ago, I read a book on the writings of J. I. Packer. It is Packer on the Christian Life: Knowing God in Christ, Walking by the Spirit  by Sam Storms (Crossway, 2015).

Packer is a writer who has influenced me significantly in my growth as a theologian, pastor and Christian. His deep roots in Anglican theology and liturgy, Puritan spiritual theology, and the evangelical emphasis on the authority of Scripture and the necessity to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ have been greatly helpful to the 20th and 21st century church.

His logical consistency as a systematic theologian, godly way of life and the steadiness of views held over a long period with conviction, together with his wide-ranging writings on the many practical issues related to Christian living have been most useful, and ought to be celebrated by us, especially as Packer has now lost his eyesight and is quite old – he turned 90 on 22 July 2016.

My men’s group was richly blessed when we studied his book Rediscovering Holiness some years ago. In our discussions I mentioned Packer’s interpretation of Romans 7 – that it is a description of Paul’s own personal experience as a saint struggling to overcome sinfulness in his quest to be freed from its influence.

This is in line with the view of St Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Karl Barth, and so on. Packer’s views are discussed in chapter 6 and in the appendix of Packer on the Christian Life. If you have a copy of Packer’s Keep in Step with the Spirit, check out the appendix; it also discusses Rom 7.

Packer is a realist emphasising sin’s stubborn stickiness to the soul, that it takes a lifelong battle against it in our hearts to achieve Christlikeness and holiness. Because of his views, he seems to dismiss Wesleyan teaching on Christian perfection. He rightly understands Wesley’s definition of perfection as not including moral perfection or perfection in making decisions or discernment.

For Wesley, perfection has to do with loving God with all our hearts and loving our neighbours as ourselves. This is an imperative that Wesley argued can be achieved at any given time by the actions of God’s grace through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

For Wesley, this was a growing and dynamic perfection, in the sense that on the basis of our growing knowledge of God and His ways, and the availability of God’s grace, our love for God can also grow in growing perfection, like the way a balloon can grow as a perfect sphere in different degrees.

Wesley’s take on Romans 7 is contrary to that of Packer’s. He follows the Church Fathers before Augustine, and the Arminian position (Jacob Arminius) that Rom 7 describes the experience of a man before conversion. No doubt, one’s theological position affects one interpretation of such difficult biblical texts. One has to fit one’s interpretation to the overall scheme of one’s theological system.

Packer is a Calvinist while Wesley was an Arminian. Wesley emphasised the need to strive towards Christian perfection and victory over sin by cooperating with the grace of God. There was no place for spiritual laziness, procrastination and defeatism in his view. He thus preached often from 1 John 3:6 to emphasise that the Christian must stop deliberately continuing in sin.

On his part, Packer was wary of Wesleyan holiness movements and Keswick teaching on the higher life, that they offered perfection too easily without taking into account the fierce and lifelong battle with our sinfulness. The danger of spiritual daydreams is that they tend to deny the actual reality. This may be seen in the songs we sing in church which speak about loving God or surrendering to Him in ways that do not reflect reality and make us hypocrites or liars.

So who is right, Wesley or Packer?

How can I as a Wesleyan pastor respond to Packer’s view of Rom 7? I think one way to understand this is to establish some facts. Packer is not one for spiritual sloth, and emphasises the importance of spiritual effort and seriousness in pursuing holiness – hence his problems with Keswick teaching which he considers too quietistic and passive for his liking. Wesley who also considered the Moravians later in his life as too quietistic, would agree with Packer on this count.

At the same time, though Wesley urged Christians to seek perfection because God is perfect (Mt 5:48) and holiness because God is holy (1 Pet 1:16), he was only too aware of how difficult this can be. He himself assessed his own life regularly and found faults. In his own sermons he spoke against the lack of seriousness found among some Methodists, and did not hesitate to expel them temporarily from the Methodist societies until they showed serious repentance.

Thus if you assess both Wesley and Packer you may find that there is greater agreement between them than is superficially noted. We need to recognise that Scripture speaks to all conditions and possibilities.

Where there is easy triumphalism and the stubbornness and the devastating effects of sin is not taken seriously, then we need to turn to Packer’s interpretation of Rom 7, that the fierce struggle with inner sin begins with Christian conversion and is the experience of the saint who learns to hate sin and seeks to be free from it.

Where there is sad defeatism that sin will always have the upper hand and that we will never overcome it, or when this idea turns to inner permission and an excuse to remain in sin, bringing with it spiritual sloth, then we need to turn to Wesley’s emphasis on how we need to grow in Christlikeness and “participate in the divine nature” by making every effort to grow from faith to love (2 Peter 1:3-11).

Notice how we need both correctives, lest we face the danger of pushing either position too far, ending in less than helpful Christian deviations. Both Packer and Wesley will vehemently reject such deviations.

I wonder how Wesley and Packer would meet in heaven. I suspect that they would find much agreement (Packer sharing Wesley’s emphasis on holiness and Wesley sharing Packer’s realism), and that the perceived gap between them would narrow to a thin line across which they can heartily shake their hands in mutual respect and brotherly affection


Bishop Emeritus Robert Solomon served as Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore from 2000-2012. He had served previously as a medical doctor, church pastor, principal of Trinity Theological College and president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore. He now has an active itinerant ministry of preaching and teaching in Singapore and abroad.

The Return of Christ

May 2018 Credo

Reader’s Question: How should we understand the second coming of Christ?

In the Apostles’ Creed, the Church declares that the risen and ascended Christ will come to ‘judge the living and the dead’. The return of Christ at the end of time to judge the world and to bring the kingdom of God to consummation is clearly taught in Scripture and firmly grounded in the theological and liturgical traditions of the Church.

But Christ’s second coming has also been a subject of much speculation and controversy throughout the history of the Church. Christians of every stripe have discussed the time of Christ’s return as well as the manner of the parousia (Greek for ‘presence’ or ‘arrival’).

Space does not allow us to examine the many passages in the New Testament that refer to the return of the Lord Jesus. But here are a few passages that will hopefully show that this is a major theme in the Gospels as well as in the other books of the NT.

In his great Oliver Discourse, Jesus in discussing the end times speaks of his return thus: ‘Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory’ (Matthew 24:30).

Paul, in his letter to the Christians at Thessalonica, testifies that ‘The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God’ (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Writing to the Corinthian Christians, Paul assures them that God will ‘also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on that day of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 1:7).

The apostle Paul dealt with this topic in many of his letters (1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; 2:1, 8; 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:1, 8 and Titus 2:13). And in the rest of the NT, references of the second Advent of Christ can be found in Hebrews 9:28; James 5:7-8; 1 Peter 1:7, 13; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:4, 12; 1 John 2:28, and of course in Revelation.

Throughout the history of the Church, attempts were made intermittently to predict the date of Christ’s return. One of the most spectacular examples is the medieval theologian and monk, Joachim of Fiore, who asserted in 1190 that the Antichrist had already come. Joachim prophesied that Christ would return before 1205 to begin his millennial rule.

A number of passages in the NT may give the impression that the return of Christ is imminent when their contexts are ignored. For example, Jesus told his apostles as he sent them on their mission that ‘when they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes’ (Matthew 10:23).

A superficial reading of this passage suggests that the parousia will take place within the lifetimes of Jesus’ disciples. This passage, however, must be read alongside what Matthew has to say about mission to the Gentiles, which will take place at the end of the age (Matthew 21:43; 24:14).

Seen in this way, the passage in fact urges its readers to look beyond the immediate mission of Jesus’ disciples to that of the Church. As the NT scholar G. D. Ladd has rightly argued, properly understood, Matthew 10:23 ‘says no more than the mission of Jesus’ disciples to Israel will last until the coming of the Son of Man’.

A close reading of the NT would reveal that it scrupulously discourages any speculation about the date and time of the return of Christ. In his Olivet Discourse, Jesus said: ‘But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only’ (Matthew 24:36).

Writing to the Christians at Thessalonica who are disposed to think that the parousia would take place in their lifetimes, Paul stresses that ‘that day will surprise you like a thief’ (1 Thessalonians 5:4). Peter echoes this point when he writes: ‘But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar …’ (2 Peter 3:10).

Just as the timing of Christ’s return is a mystery, so is the manner of the Second Advent. Although the NT employs numerous imageries to depict the return of Christ, it unequivocally teaches that the parousia will be personal and physical. This is clearly indicated in passages such as Acts 1:11 where we are told that Jesus will return in the same manner as he had ascended into heaven.

Matthew also depicts the glorious return of Christ as visible, clear and unmistakable: ‘Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and glory’ (24:30).

In his book Is Jesus Coming Soon? Ralph Martin succinctly summarises the NT testimony concerning the manner of Christ’s return thus: ‘Christ’s coming will be personal, clearly manifest, unmistakable, and visible to all. It will not be hidden or invisibly “spiritual”; this will be the incarnate Son coming, not an invisible working of the Holy Spirit’.

The NT does not address the question how it is possible for Christ’s return to be physical (which means that it is confined to a particular location) and yet be visible to the whole world.

The purpose of the return of Christ is to judge the whole world (‘the living and the dead’, as the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds put it) and to bring God’s kingdom to consummation. Concerning this final judgement, the brilliant Roman Catholic theologian of the previous century, Romano Guardini, writes:

Men and things will appear in their true light, as they are, and every deception will vanish. The inner and most hidden nature, both good and evil, will appear plainly, with all trappings stripped away. Every being will attain to what is the truth.



Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

 

An Unholy Alliance

May 2018 Pulse

In one of his epistles, the apostle John exhorts his readers not to believe every spirit, but to ‘test the spirits to see whether they are from God’ (1 John 4:1). John was of course urging his readers to exercise spiritual discernment ‘because many false prophets have gone into the world’.

While John’s exhortation sought to warn Christians of falsehood within the church, it can surely be extended beyond that context. Christians must be cautious and prudentially critical in processing the tsunami of information that comes their way every day.

They must not believe everything they read in the media and embrace every idea that they encounter. Instead they must ‘test them’, that is, subject them to careful and critical evaluation to ascertain their truth or falsehood, and to discern the subtle ideologies and hidden agendas that fuel and shape each perspective.

One of the most politically and socially debilitating phenomena that we witness today, especially in the West, is arguably the curious ‘alliance’ between Islamism and left-wing ideology and politics.

In the context of this article, ‘Islamism’ refers to that ideology that seeks to impose a version of Islam, namely, political Islam over society. ‘Left-wing’ broadly refers to that species of politics that exhibits a radical and socialist bent.

This strange alliance, which is sometimes described by the neologism ‘Islamo-Leftism’, has captured the attention of numerous scholars and social commentators. It has also been subjected to severe criticisms by some leftist thinkers, notably Michael Walzer who offered an interesting analysis of this phenomenon in Dissent.

The circumstances and reasons that led these two quite disparate parties to become bedfellows are intriguing and merit careful study.

One of the reasons why the left wittingly or unwittingly colludes with Islamists is the former’s vociferous anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist attitude. The left vehemently condemns western intervention in Iraq, Libya or Syria, believing that these powers – the United States or Britain – are not acting in good faith but are attempting to increase their wealth and influence at the expense of the people living in these countries.

The left supports the Islamists because they not only see them as victims of ruthless western powers, but also as a resistance movement against imperialism. This has inspired wildly outrageous statements from leftist academics and public intellectuals.

For example, the Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek could declare that Islamic radicalism is ‘the rage of the victims of global capitalism’. And Judith Butler, the American feminist philosopher, opines that ‘understanding Hamas and Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of the global left, is extremely important’.

This has led the left to turn the proverbial blind eye to the atrocities committed by the Islamists.

Deepa Kumar suggests in his book, Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire that even though the left recognises the crimes committed by Islamists, they are slow – almost reluctant – to lay the blame on them because they perceive the Islamists as opponents of western – especially American – imperialism. As Walzer puts it starkly: ‘So “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”’.

Additionally, the leftists have naively conflated the Islamic supremacists with Muslims. Consequently, criticisms of Islamism are equated with criticisms of Muslims, and are swiftly and decisively condemned. But in doing so, the leftists have willy-nilly supported the very narrative that the Islamists are promoting in an attempt to feign representation.

Consequently, the left commandeers ideas like inclusivism, multiculturalism, group rights and Islamophobia – along with many others – to condemn the actions of people with whom they disagree, regardless of whether these actions are justified or not. The Islamists have much to thank the left for providing the rhetorical tools that they can employ to their fullest advantage.

Take ‘Islamophobia’, for instance. Now anti-Muslim sentiment is a real phenomenon in the wake of the current situation, and a potential threat to social peace.

But both leftists and Islamists have used Islamophobia (and racism) as a political and rhetorical devise to scaremonger people to silence. This has led Pascal Bruckner to observe in his book, The Tyranny of Guilt that Islamophobia is ‘a clever invention because it amounts to making Islam a subject that one cannot touch without being accused of racism’.

The same can be said of ‘multiculturalism’. The left has used multiculturalism (again, with racism) to defend the oppressors – the Islamic supremacists – whom, as we saw above, they had regarded as the oppressed. ‘Multiculturalism’ is employed to silence dissenters without even giving them the chance to articulate their views and their reasons for holding them.

As Maryam Namazie puts it, ‘this politics doesn’t merely ignore dissent, in many ways it forbids it. The likes of StWC, Socialist Workers Party, Unite against Fascism, Islamophobia Watch, and Respect Party or Ken Livingstone and George Galloway are there as prefects to silence dissenters and defend Islamism as a defence of “Muslims”’.

Namazie has rightly described the pro-Islamist Left as promoting a ‘politics of betrayal’ that is extremely dangerous and that has and will continue to cause the deaths of innocent people.

In the West, leftist ideologues have made their presence felt in many sectors of society – in academia, media and the law – imposing their vision of the human community, very often with an undercurrent of threat and coercion.

‘Do not believe every spirit’, John writes. Instead, ‘test the spirits’. In our complex world, this call for discernment is something that the Christian simply cannot afford to ignore.



Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Sola Scriptura: Reality or Rhetoric?

May 2018 Feature 

Contrary to what is sometimes taught and believed, the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura doesn’t teach “Scripture good, Tradition bad.” Rejection of church traditions was and is not its goal at all. The Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura arose amidst the noise of competing authoritative voices during the medieval ages. These included the writings of church fathers, ancient creeds, papal declarations, liturgical traditions, and pronouncements by theological faculty.

Some of these authoritative sources for guiding faith and practice unfortunately deviated significantly from scripture. Sola Scriptura was thus a doctrine which affirmed that scripture was the supreme source of authority – not the only source of authority – for Christian faith and practice. Whatever was taught, preached, and practiced needed to have good support from scripture and had to arise from good interpretation and understanding of scripture. This affirmation of a high view of scripture is the Reformation’s legacy for the Protestant church.

Evangelical Christians in Singapore today claim that we affirm the same Reformation Sola Scriptura ideal. But do we really hold on to a high view of scripture? My colleagues and I teaching at the Singapore Bible College (SBC) often have long discussions not just about how biblical illiterate the church in Singapore is. For some of us, the greater concern now has shifted to how the church in Singapore hides behind the rhetoric of supporting a high view of scripture while practicing something else in reality. That is to say, while we tightly guard the idea of making scripture the basis of Christian belief and practices, how we handle scripture in reality falls very short of the Reformation ideals.

I teach a course on Bible Study Methods at SBC.  The course allows me to introduce to my students sensible ways of reading scripture in context.  At the same time, it also allows them to surface examples of bible study discussions, devotional readings, and sermons that they have encountered which violate the principles of sensible reading taught in class. Beyond just being able to point a finger at others, students inevitably also come to a point of self-awareness. This new realization is that their diet of devotionals, sermons, bible studies, and sloppy personal reading habits that often lead them to conclusions which, while not theologically incorrect, miss out the main message of the text.

A classic example is from John 2:1-11 where we find the account of Jesus turning water into wine.  A student pointed me to a daily devotional on this passage which has strong appeal to the modern audience but would not have made sense to John’s readers. In the devotion, the author declared that because the first miracle Jesus performed had to do with small details in the kitchen, it shows that God is interested in the little things of our mundane life. God wants to have an intimate relationship with His people!

Conclusions like these are multiplied in weddings sermons, bible studies, and visits to the Cana church while on Bible lands tours. In those settings, we hear messages that affirm the value of marriage, the legitimacy of drinking wine, the need for motherly interventions, as well as how the Christian life is made so much more complete when the believer opens his/her mind to daily miracles.

But is the big message of John 2:1-11 about marriage, wine, mothers, or looking out for miracles in our lives? There is no denying that all of the above conclusions from John 2:1-11 can bring encouragement to the Christian. What is important to note however is that settling for these conclusions force readers and listeners to miss the key points of bible passages and hence the intention and message of their authors.

When John recorded in his gospel the miracle of Jesus changing water into wine, it was part of a series of miracles that John took pains to document.  Far from existing to serve human need, the signs are focused on the identity of Jesus, the Son of God.

In the final verse of our passage is an important clue which John left for his readers: ‘What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him’ (v 11). The clue hints that more signs will follow the first. Like the first, the subsequent signs will follow a similar pattern of revealing Jesus’ glory and giving reason after reason for the audience to know and believe in Jesus.  When we read them together as a composite whole, they make a compelling case for following Jesus.

Something was at stake in the life of the church that John was concerned about and trying to address. John’s Gospel was crafted for members of the early church at a time when God’s people badly needed to be strengthened in their faith foundations. There was opposition, persecution, and skepticism directed at those who followed Jesus. Whether it was opposition from the local Jewish authorities, persecution from the Roman political machinery, or the lure of Greek philosophies, these words by John were necessary for the survival of the church as members tried to make sense of the claims of Jesus and the costs that came with following Him.

My work in this season of life is very tied to research and ministry amongst youth and youth adults in Singapore churches. One observation I have made is that we are in a season when the next generation is leaving our churches. This is a generation that is encountering deep skepticism about Christian faith. Given the many attractive alternatives, there is no compelling reason for them to stay or to go to church.  Those who remain often do so only because of what Jesus or the church can offer them!

Even more reason, young people today need to encounter Jesus the way he is portrayed in scripture and not to merely incorporate him into their lives as divine ATM, butler, or therapist to serve our pursuits and passions. If the church persistently offers interpretations of scripture which separate our understanding of the gospel from the drama of encountering the Jesus found in the Gospels, how then do we deepen the roots of the next generation and challenge them to follow Jesus? This is Jesus, the Lord of Lord who challenges his followers to follow him on his terms. This is not Jesus, our genie in a bottle who panders to the first world problems and psychological needs that we seem to be so beset by.

There is a beautiful hymn “Ancient Words” by Michael W. Smith, and its chorus goes, “Ancient words ever true, changing me, and changing you. We have come with open hearts, oh let the ancient words impart.”

The reality too often however is that we have changed the meaning and substance of these ancient words. Our hearts are open, but we have changed the meaning and we have not been changed. We have merely steered the discipleship challenge in scripture to support our needs and wants!

By doing this, we shortchange ourselves, our young people, and our congregation members. We also lose our moral authority to challenge cult groups and groups that teach heresy because we play the same interpretive game that they do!

What sort of corrective measures can we undertake to recapture the Reformation ideal of Sola Scriptura where more faithful readings, interpretations, and understandings of scripture can be found? Space only allows me to highlight one simple application, which is to cultivate the habit of reading scripture well.

The reality is that we don’t have the habit of reading Scripture well. When we read novels, examine legal documents, or watch movies, we naturally work out way from beginning to end. The reason why we take pains to do so is because meaning is found in reading or watching a text in its entirety. We do not take a favorite sentence from the book, a favorite clause from the legal document, or a favorite still shot from the movie and make whatever we want out of it.

Yet we do this in our Bible readings and interpretations all the time! We violate all the rules of reading a text or watching a movie sensibly in how we read and apply scripture.

What evangelical Christians thus need to do is to cultivate the habit of reading long portions of biblical texts over and over again. Alternatively, we could cultivate the habit of listening to long portions of biblical texts regularly and repeatedly. It could be listening to whole gospels, epistles, or even books in one session. Or it could be listening to a chapter multiple times over to understand the contours and features of the text or to discern for repeated themes and emphases.

In addition, we also need to realize that the wrong first question to ask any Bible passage we read is “What does this text mean to me?” The right first question to ask is “What does this text mean?” followed by “How does that meaning apply to me?

Habits and disciplines such as these help us to understand key points and main messages of biblical passages. They help us to develop deeper insights into God’s word and grow our commitment to Sola Scriptura from mere rhetoric to reality!


Dr Calvin Chong is Associate Professor, Educational Ministries at the Singapore Bible College. His teaching and research interests include orality studies, hermeneutics, new educational technologies, designing learning experiences, the impact of narratives on worldview and values, conflict resolution/reconciliation, and contemporary urban missions and youth issues.