Author Archives: Florence Kang


November 2018 Credo

Even the most casual reader of the Gospels will be struck by the many stories of miracles they tell.

On page after page, the Gospel writers describe Jesus cleansing the leper, opening the ears of the deaf, giving sight to the blind and even raising the dead. There are stories of Jesus turning water into wine, multiplying loaves of bread and fish to feed the hungry multitudes and calming the raging storm.

Should Christians today take these stories of miracles seriously? Can Christians who inhabit a world that is so vastly different from the writers of the Gospels – informed and shaped as they are by the scientific worldview – still believe in miracles?

Many have replied these questions with an emphatic ‘No’.

The 19th century Scottish philosopher and essayist, David Hume, is an example of a modern skeptic whose vision of reality is shaped by the natural sciences. Defining miracle as ‘a violation of the laws of nature’ or ‘a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity’, Hume argues that it is unreasonable to believe that miracles are possible because they fly in the face our standard notions of how the world works.

Thus, in his celebrated An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Hume writes: ‘as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws [of nature], the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined’.

The positivists in that century, influenced by the reductionisms of modern science, argued that belief in miracles belonged to a stage of human development in which the dominant vision of reality was shot through with the supernatural. Describing this phase as ‘theological’ these positivist philosophers went on to assert that humankind has now entered a new phase in which knowledge of the world is established on empirical facts obtained by the scientific method, not superstition.

Consequently, Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) famously postulated that belief in God and the supernatural are simply objectified (and personified) projections of basic human desires. And Levi Strauss (1808-1874) suggested that the Incarnation and miracles are just mythological images conjured by primitive people.

In his attempt to reconcile Christianity with science F. D. E. Schleiermacher, who is christened as the ‘father of modern theology’, maintains that the only miracle is the act of God in sustaining the world he has created. All other lesser ‘miracles’, according to Schleiermacher, are just extraordinary events that science will eventually be able to explain.

Bewitched by the explanatory power of the natural sciences, many modern thinkers accuse Christians who believe in miracles of fabricating a ‘god of the gaps’. Christians attribute to divine agency the extraordinary phenomena or occurrences for which science has yet to provide satisfactory explanations. But the ‘god of the gaps’ will shrink – and perhaps one day he may even disappear – as science narrows the gap, so to speak, by providing ever more comprehensive accounts of natural phenomenon.

It is crucial to note, however, that the rejection of miracles is based on a certain view of science and a certain power that we have given to it, a power that it does not in fact possess. We have placed our hope in science’s omnicompetence – its ability to penetrate the depths of reality, and its ability to explain everything.

This hope is misplaced. In his book entitled, The Limits of Science Sir Peter Medawar, the Nobel Prize winner (and atheist) offers a sober (and sobering) estimate of science, its possibilities and its limits. ‘That there is indeed a limit upon science’, writes Medawar, ‘is made very likely by the existence of questions that science cannot answer and that no conceivable advance of science would empower it to answer’.

Theologian and scientist John Polkinghorne has perceptively pointed out that ‘no one lives as if science is enough’. This means that everyone knows that reality has a depth and breath that science is simply unable to reach. It has a profundity that science simply cannot fathom. Positivists, secularists, and atheists (including the new atheists) would all agree to this, if only they chose to be honest to themselves.

Miracles not only point to those depths inaccessible to science, they point more significantly to the God who is at work in this world.

The New Testament describes miracles as ‘a wonder’ (Gk: teras), an ‘act of power’ (Gk: dunamis) and a ‘sign’ (Gk: semeion). Theologian James Oliver Buswell offers this concise but comprehensive definition of a miracle in the biblical sense. A miracle is (1) an extraordinary event that cannot be explained on the basis of natural laws, (2) an event that causes the observers to conclude that God is at work, and (3) an event that points to a reality much greater than itself.

Even Christians who believe in miracles sometimes miss their true significative purpose. In the Bible, miracles, signs and wonders are never ends in themselves, but point to a greater reality.

Miracles in the Bible signals the presence of the kingdom of God that Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, came to inaugurate. In Matthew 12:28, Jesus said: ‘But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you’.

In sending the twelve apostles to preach the good news, Jesus instructed them thus: ‘And proclaim as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons’ (Matthew 10:7-8).

Miracles are a sign that the kingdom of God has come into our world through the incarnate Son. They are a pledge and foretaste of the blessings to come when God’s inaugurated kingdom will be fully consummated when the risen and ascended Christ returns.


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.

On Sound Bites and Silence

November 2018 Feature

During the mid-autumn festival, my sister-in-law received a box of mooncakes from a property developer who was constructing a sky-scrapper office building right beside her apartment complex. Instead of going over the moon with the gift, she filed a complaint to the developer for noise pollution. The reason: work on the project has been going on into the wee hours of the morning almost daily, bringing with it an incessant humdrum of construction activity and noise pollution.

The problem of noise pollution has, in fact, become a major global concern. A report by the World Economic Forum in March, 2017, lists cities with the worst noise pollution. Among them are Guangzhou, Delhi, Cairo, Mumbai, Istanbul and Beijing. The problem is so bad in these cities that it is affecting their hearing. Singapore received a Worldwide Hearing Index rating of 1.08, putting us in the middle of the scale of fifty cities tested for noise pollution.

While you may not have to deal with a construction project right beside your home, the probability that you are regularly confronted with excessive noise of one form or another is quite high. It can be noise from the traffic, road works, your own television set and radio or, if you live near an airbase, the sound of military fighter jets booming over your home. Whatever the source, it is not too far-fetched to say that we are daily inundated by noise.

Unfortunately, some have gotten so used to living with noise that they seem not to be able to live without it! The common sight of people walking with headphones or earpieces is testimony to it. Yet, being constantly exposed to noise has dire consequences. A brochure by the National Addictions Management Service in Singapore lists noise as a major contributor to stress-related illnesses such as anxiety and insomnia. Prolonged exposure to noise is detrimental to our health. Over time, we lose the ability to hear not only sound but also our own thoughts and emotions. We lose touch with ourselves.

Sadly, many do not know how to be quiet despite knowing the benefits of silence. They dare not retreat into it, for sheer silence seem deafening to them. Yet, the practice of silence is not only good for our physical, emotional and mental health, it is especially important to our relationship with God.

I wish to highlight some benefits that the practice of silence brings to our relationship with God–and with others.

The Greek word for silence we wish to consider is hésychia. It describes that God-produced calm which includes an inner tranquillity that supports appropriate action (J. Thayer). We notice two aspects here. First, the calm that comes through the practice of silence is produced by God. It is an inner tranquillity. In other words, it is a peace that is much deeper than just the absence of noise. It is the inner assurance of God’s control over the chaos of life which sets us at peace–that which the psalmist echoes in Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God.”

This understanding of silence is primarily God-focused. Going into silence, we learn to wait, to watch and to listen to God. As such, the practice of silence revolves around the Word and the works of God. The Word, as we find it in Scripture, both precedes and follows our practice of silence. We enter into silence aware that we come before God (Hab. 2:20). We read the Word and ponder over it; we sit quietly to listen to it as to God (Ps 119: 15-16).

As we do, the Word of God searches our minds and hearts. Through the Holy Spirit, God works to clarify our thoughts and align them with his. We become more aware of our anxieties. We ask God to address them and remind us of his promises. We also begin to be more aware of our heart’s desires and motivations. We ask God to purify and guide them, to align them with his purposes. In silence, God begins to deliver us from the harassment of our anxious thoughts and devious hearts and guides us into life in Jesus Christ.

As theologian Gordon Smith affirms, “It is in the silence that we meet and hear Christ and attend to the inner witness of his Spirit through the Word of God–not only the inscripturated Word in the Bible, but also the specific Word of God speaking into the particular circumstances of our lives.”

This brings us to the second aspect of Thayer’s definition: the appropriate action that stems from inner tranquillity. Silence is not the same as passivity; rather, it is the depth from which arises an appropriate word or action. We become less reactive to external stimuli but more able to respond from an inner solitude forged by God. We are more alert to what God is doing—and wants us to do. God purifies our minds and hearts and enables us to relate better to others. This is a fruit of silence.

As the desert fathers say, silence is both the first duty of life and the first duty of love. As the first duty of love, it is the first requirement for survival within community. In other words, silence reaps not only the fruit of greater ability to hear God–and ourselves—it also enables us to better hear and respond to others.

The desert father, Abba Poemen said, “Someone may seem to be silent, but if in the heart one is condemning others, then one is babbling ceaselessly. And there may be another who talks from morning till evening, and yet in the heart that person is truly silent. That person says nothing that is not profitable.”

The practice of silence is sorely needed in a world polluted by noise. It not only rescues us from the destructiveness of excessive noise but releases us into the serenity of life in God. It helps us not only to hear and follow God but also to hear and love our neighbour.

Rev Dr Jimmy Tan is lecturer of Pastoral and Practical Theology at Trinity Theological College and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in Singapore.

Normalizing Homosexuality: How Should Christians Respond?

November 2018 Pulse

Reader’s Question: How should Christians respond to the attempts to normalize same-sex relationships?

Without a doubt, the LGBT advocacy movement may be said to be one of the most successful in modern history. Within a short space of fifty to sixty years (slightly beyond one generation), we have seen the seismic shift in cultural sensibilities, from viewing homosexual behaviour as a reprehensible taboo to legalizing same-sex marriage.

These winds of change are not only blowing in liberal societies in the West, but are also felt in more conservative countries in Asia. The ruling of the Taiwanese Constitutional Court on 24 May 2017 that same-sex couples have the right to marry is a case in point.

LGBT advocates have exerted influence in different sectors of society – education, business, media and even religion – taking full advantage of the internet and social media to advance their agenda. Some have tried to repeal prohibitive laws against homosexual conduct by challenging the constitutionality of such legislations.

The main strategy of these advocates is to convince the world that homosexuality is normal, that people who are same-sex attracted are born that way. Many have appealed to the modern concept of sexual orientation and insist that the genetic and neurological basis for homosexuality is well supported by science.

If homosexual orientation has a biological basis, then discrimination against people with same-sex attraction amounts to bigotry and the infringement of their fundamental rights and liberties – so goes the argument.

How should Christians respond to the obvious agenda of LGBT activists to normalize homosexuality in society? Because of the multi-faceted nature of the LGBT strategy, the Christian response must take different forms and be made at various levels of society.


 We begin with the Church. A recent study conducted by the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity revealed that the majority of church leaders and young adults think that not enough is being done to educate Christians on the LGBT issue.

Pastors and leaders could do more to help members appreciate what the Bible and the Christian tradition teach about sexuality, marriage and family through sermons, seminars and discussion groups. They must also be aware of the work of revisionist scholars who try to show that the Bible only prohibits certain forms of homosexual acts but not faithful homosexual relationships. And they must be able to show how these arguments are fundamentally flawed.

In addition, the church must also engage members who are struggling with same-sex attraction, and create an environment of trust where they can receive prayer, support and encouragement to choose obedience.

The National Council of Churches of Singapore has also played an important role in addressing this issue, and will continue to do so. In 2003, the Council issued a statement that clearly articulates its position on homosexual behavior and current legislations (377A) against such behavior. It also urged the government not to put in place liberal policies that would promote the homosexual lifestyle.

The Council has continued to intermittently address the issue since its 2003 statement whenever it has been necessary to do so.


Parents have a special responsibility to nurture their children in such a way that they would take the teaching of the Bible and the Church on human sexuality seriously. A number of studies have shown that the home environment and parental guidance play an important role children’s understanding of sexuality.

Parents should be willing to discuss with their children the liberal notions about sexuality that they may encounter in social media and in popular TV networks such as Netflix. They should also take an interest in the books and website articles that their children might be reading.


One of the strategies that LGBT activists employ to normalize homosexuality is to influence public education – its curriculum, policies of inclusivity and ethos. Here, Christians involved in public education at various levels – from ministers to policy makers to principals and teachers – must be especially vigilant.

Parents should also take a special interest in what their children are being taught and the books they are required to read, especially on topics like sexuality and the family.

In Singapore, vendors are engaged by the school or the Ministry of Education to provide sexuality education in public schools. Christian principals and teachers should be aware of the background of the vendors and their views on human sexuality. Parents must likewise be aware of the assumptions and values of the vendors engaged by their children’s schools.

Social Policies

Christians involved in shaping policies should try to prevent the promotion of radical views on sexuality or the gay lifestyle. This includes, for example, granting licenses to operate explicitly gay bars or clubs or to organize big public events that promote the LGBT cause.

Much of the rhetoric for allowing LGBT to organize themselves in ways that make their presence more prominent in society revolves around cherished ideals and values such as inclusivity, equality and rights. For Christians, these values are important, but they must always be tempered by other considerations that are of no less importance, such as morality and the well-being of society.

Here, Christian politicians and civil servants can also play a crucial role in checking the information posted on government websites. For example, in 2014 the Health Promotion Board of Singapore posted its ‘FAQs on Sexuality’ that encourages readers (mostly youths and young adults) to explore their own sexuality.

The FAQs used the Kinsey Scale that originated from Alfred Kinsey, a controversial sex researcher who argued that human sexuality is fluid and therefore cannot be neatly classified as either heterosexual or homosexual. This theory has been refuted by a number of studies that show that human sexuality is not as fluid as Kinsey would have us believe. They indicate that the majority of adults are distinctly heterosexual while a small minority has homosexual or bisexual tendencies.

The National Council of Churches of Singapore flagged this with the authorities. Unfortunately, the reference to the Kinsey Scale has not been removed from the FAQs and the document still promotes a version of the Kinseyan theory of sexuality.

Christian civil servants should try to prevent the publication of materials for public consumption if there is cause to believe that they are either based on dubious science or promoting liberal theories about sexuality.


Christian politicians play an important role in preventing the normalization of homosexuality in society. For example, in 2007 when the status of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalizes male homosexual sex was discussed in Parliament, a number of Christian (and some non-Christian) MPs argued against its repeal.

In his speech in Parliament Christopher de Souza argued that a ‘repeal of 377A will not merely remove an offence. It is much more significant than that. Because of the concept of negative liberty, the removal of section 377A puts homosexual lifestyle on par with heterosexual life. It is to accord both lifestyles a sense of parity’.

De Souza goes on to show the undesirable consequences that the promotion of this lifestyle would have on marriage, spousal rights, adoption, and education. Christian politicians must have the courage to make such arguments even in the face of domestic pressures and global trends.


Much more could of course be said on this important subject. What is offered here is merely a sketch of how Christians at various levels and playing different roles can respond to this threat.

However, Christians must always assert their influence in a civil and respectful manner. Ours is a religiously and ideologically plural society that is subjected to numerous influences. In this multicultural and multi-religious context, the Christian position on this issue (on any issue for that matter) is often reduced to one viewpoint amidst many conflicting and competing opinions.

The church, however, must never be cowered by this. She must always speak the truth clearly, courageously and without compromise. But she must always do so with gentleness and love. But above all, the church must pray for those in authority so that they may always seek the welfare of the nation and not simply act for the sake of political and economic expediency.

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.


Loving Obedience

October 2018 Pulse

At the beginning of the 19th century, the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley declared that obedience is the “bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth, “for it makes slaves of men, and of the human frame a mechanised automation.”

A child of the European Enlightenment, Shelley waxed eloquent in echoing the disdain of many of his contemporaries over the suffocating authoritarianism that obedience sardonically implies.

As the late Roman Catholic theologian and indefatigable essayist Fr Richard Neuhaus puts it: “… obedience became a dirty word already in the 18th century Enlightenment, when it was frequently construed as meaning ‘blind obedience’ – a stifling and unthinking conformity to authority.”

This attitude still holds sway for many in our society today.

Obedience, however, is one of the most important themes in the Bible. In Scripture as well as in the theological and spiritual tradition of the Church, obedience is understood as the most appropriate attitude and response of the believer to God.

Now, it is imperative that we achieve a clear understanding of what the Bible has to say about this important virtue. This is because the biblical concept of obedience is radically different from secular accounts and the doctrines of other religions, such as Islam.

In the Bible, faith and obedience are intricately interwoven with each other. The obedience of the Christian flows out of his faith (trust) in the God whose extravagant love is demonstrated in the giving of His Son for the salvation of the world. Paul highlights the relationship between faith and obedience in the expression “the obedience that comes from faith” in his letter to the Christians in Rome (Romans 1:5, NIV).

So inseparable is faith and obedience in the Bible that the German Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, could aver that “only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”

In the Bible, obedience is not only joined with faith; it is also joined with love. Christian obedience should never be understood as a contractual transaction or as slavish adherence to a set of rules and regulations. Rather, obedience is always an expression of responsive love on the part of one who has received the undeserved but generous love of God.

The profound relationship between love and obedience is portrayed repeatedly in Scripture. Jesus said to His disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And John, the Apostle of Love, wrote to the Christians in his community: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3).

The Christian obeys not because he is forced or coerced. The Christian obeys because he loves. He loves because he knows that he is being loved.

Christian obedience, therefore, can never be reduced to crass legalism. It is rather the sure and concrete proof of our love for God.

Understood in this way, Christian obedience is never a chore or a burden. “His commandments”, wrote John crisply and incisively, “are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3b). The Spanish theologian Ignatius of Loyola has put it plainly: “It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey.”

As an expression of gratitude and love, obedience brings exceedingly great joy to the Christian. The obedient Christian lives a doxological life – a life that reverberates with praise, a joyful life that honours God.

Finally, it is by obeying the Word of God and by bending our wills to His that we become truly free. It is by yielding to the will of the Creator that we are gradually being transformed from inauthenticity to authenticity.

Secular thinkers like Shelley often mistakenly regard this paradox as some pious mumbo jumbo at best, or a silly contradiction at worst. For them, we are truly free only when we are not bound by the fetters of dogma or morality that are imposed from outside.

Only the sovereign individual, they insist, is truly free.

But the sovereign individual is a myth. So is the freedom that he purportedly enjoys. In truth, the person who rejects God in the name of freedom and self-determination is in the state of delusion and ‘un-freedom’.

To put it forthrightly, as the Bible does, the person who chooses disobedience instead of obedience is in bondage. He is “a slave to sin” (John 8:34).


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.

Was Jesus Mistaken?

October 2018 Credo

Jesus’ statements concerning the timing of the consummation of the kingdom of God, recorded in the Gospels, have generated considerable debate among some scholars.

For instance, in Mark 9:1, Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power’.

Another example is found in Matthew. Weaved into his instructions to his disciples, as he sent them off on a preaching mission to Galilee, is this statement: ‘I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes’ (Matthew 10:23).

Yet another example is found in the Olivet Discourse, where after providing a list of the harrowing signs of the end-times, Jesus said: ‘Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place’.

Two millennia have passed since these predictions were made. Yet, the kingdom of God has not been consummated, the Son of Man has not returned, and the world continues to be in the grip of sin and evil.

Was Jesus mistaken? Some modern scholars of the Bible certainly thought that he was.

Dale Allison is one such scholar. Echoing a widely accepted view, Allison firmly believes that Jesus’ message was infused with a robust apocalyptic vision.

In Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History (2010) Allison writes: ‘I wish I could believe that Jesus, as one theologian from the nineteenth century put it, “thrust aside apocalyptic questions, or gave them an ideal turn, and floated them away on the current of spiritual religion”. But I do not’.

Allison argued that Jesus taught an apocalyptic eschatology – in concert with others in the Second Temple period – that envisioned that God would overcome evil, restore Israel, raise the dead, and establish his divine kingdom, within his lifetime.

‘Like the historical Zoroaster’, writes Allison, ‘the historical Jesus foretold a resurrection of the dead, a universal judgement, and a new, idyllic world with evil undone, all coming soon’. The fact that none of these things occurred during his Jesus’ lifetime makes him either a failed or a false prophet, Allison opines.

In some sense, Allison’s view reprises that of Albert Schweitzer in the last century. Schweitzer challenged the liberal view of Jesus as a charismatic rabbi who did nothing more than preach the ethic of God’s kingdom.

In his The Quest of the Historical Jesus Schweitzer famously writes: ‘The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence. He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in a historical garb’.

In contrast, Schweitzer’s Jesus – the Jesus he believed the Gospel writers were at pains to portray – bore an urgent message concerning God’s eschatological kingdom. He devoted his whole life to this eschatological vision and hope, in the conviction that he was called not just to be its messenger but also its catalyst.

But Jesus was wrong, according to Schweitzer. The wheel of the world that Jesus tried to set in motion that would lead to the realisation of his eschatological vision turned in a different direction and crushed him.

Here is Schweitzer’s famous account: ‘Jesus lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn … Then it does turn; and crushes him’.

‘The wheel rolls onward, and the mangled body of the one immeasurably great Man, who was strong enough to think of Himself as the spiritual ruler of mankind and to bend history to his purpose, is hanging upon it still. That is His victory and His reign’.

How, then, should we interpret the enigmatic sayings of Jesus about the time of the kingdom? Space does not allow us to go into all the exegetical details, but many scholars have not understood them quite in the same ways that Allison and Schweitzer have done.

With regard to Mark 9:1, many scholars are of the view that careful attention must be given to the context if we are not to misconstrue its meaning.

In both Mark and Matthew, Jesus’ statement is placed just before the account of the transfiguration. This means that expressions like coming of the kingdom in power  (Mark) and the coming of the Son of Man in his kingdom (Matthew), understood in context, do not refer to Jesus’ return. Rather, they point to the epiphany of the glory of the Son during the transfiguration.

As William Lane has quite convincingly shown, given the context, ‘Mark understood Jesus’ statement to refer to this moment of transcendent glory conceived as an enthronement and an anticipation of the glory which is to come’.

Schweitzer has argued that Matthew 10:23 refers exclusively to the mission of the first disciples of Jesus. However, more recent scholarship has shown that the periscope of the passage suggests that the mission of future disciples – not just that of the original twelve – is also included. Thus understood, many scholars would agree with G. E. Ladd that Matthew 10:23 ‘says no more than that the mission of Jesus’ disciples to Israel will last until the coming of the Son of Man’.

What about Jesus’ statement in the Olivet Discourse that his generation will witness the things that he had predicted? A careful reading of the passage would show that Jesus’ second coming and the kingdom’s consummation are not included in the list.

The things that Jesus’ generation will witness are merely ‘birth pangs’ (Matthew 24:8) – ‘the beginnings of travail’ – that must take place, but ‘the end is still to come’ (Mark 13:7).

In addition, Jesus repeatedly exhorted his hearers to watch and pray, ‘for ye know not when the lord of the house cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning, lest he find you sleeping’ (Mark 13:35-6).

Considered together, these passages do not indicate the timing of the return of Christ and the consummation of God’s kingdom. They only stress the certainty that these events will occur.

As William Lane has succinctly put it: ‘The time of the appearance of the Son of Man in glory is unknown, but the fact that he will come is certain. The Church is called to live vigilantly in the certainty of that coming’.

When these critical passages are understood properly, the conclusions of scholars like Allison and Schweitzer are untenable, and must therefore be rejected. Jesus is neither a false prophet (Allison) nor a tragic figure who sacrificed his life for his false beliefs (Schweitzer).

Jesus is the incarnate Son of God who came ‘for us and for our salvation’, and whose return will transform this sin-marred world into the new heavens and new earth.

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.

罪恶还是犯罪? – 论道德立法



许教授在他的文章中讨论了一系列广泛的问题。 它们包括了与同性性行为的罪恶与犯罪的概念、性取向的科学证据、法院的角色以及宗教在法律辩论中的地位。

然而,在我看来,许教授的文章中充斥着许多扭曲的泛泛之论和以偏盖全的陈述,这些陈述有可能造成误导。所以, 我希望在这篇简短的文章中讨论其中一些问题。


许教授认为,对于同性恋行为,人们必须区分罪恶与犯罪。 他与前司法部长(Walter Woon)都认为,鸡奸或许被某些宗教视为罪,但却不应被国家视为犯罪行为。

从表面上看,这一论点似乎非常具说服力。 但是,仔细审查的话,这种构建课题的方式可能具有误导性,因为它无法带出道德与法律之间的深刻关系。 虽然道德与法律之间存在着区别,但彼此间也存在着一种错综复杂的关系,不应该被如此轻描淡写的带过。

首先必须说的是,一个社会的法律体系是建基于该社会的道德观。 因此,我们可以说没有道德观就没有法律。

这种道德观念部分表达于地方的法律中,对任何社会的福祉都至关重要。 正如Lord Patrick Devlin在其题为“道德与刑法”的文章中所说:“社会意味着一个思想共同体; 如果没有政治,道德和伦理上的共同意念,任何社会都不可能存在。”

法律的制定就是因为它们具体表达了一个社会的道德观念,即它对是与非的理解。 这个命题是不言而喻的,并不需要额外的补充和辩护。


杀人被视为是一种犯罪行为,因为社会认为执意夺走另一个人的生命是错误的。 同样的,强奸是一种犯罪行为,因为社会认为对妇女或男人的性暴力是一种在道德上应受严厉谴责的可恶罪行。


换句话说,它们是为了反映我们社会所应建基的共同道德信念和承担而制定的。Lord Devlin会说这些法律是为了表达“社会的构成道德”。



在2014年IPS进行的一项调查中,78.2%的受访者表示反对同性恋生活方式,72.9%反对同性婚姻。 在最近的IPSOS(2018年)有关377A条文调查中,55%的受访者不赞成废除这条法律,只有12%希望将其删除。

李总理在2014年接受BBC的采访中说,377A条文的存在与否是“社会价值观的问题”时,正是表达了这点。 若借用Lord Devlin的说法,这条文在刑法中的存在是对“社会的构成道德”的阐释。

但是,必须强调的是,法律与道德之间的关系是相互关联的。 这意味着社会价值观纵然能够塑造法律体系,立法者也同样可以对社群的社会习惯施加影响。

这对377A条文来说也是一样。 正如Christopher de Souza在2007年国会辩论中简明扼要地指出:



新加坡基督教全国教会理事会(NCCS)非常了解这一点。 它最近的声明表示其所关注的,是废除377A条文“将鼓吹并导致这种同性恋生活方式的正常化,这将进而带来不良的道德和社会后果。”

罗马天主教会大主教William Goh也理解维持现状的重要性。 在他的牧函中,他写道:

我认为在目前情况下不应废除S377A。 这是因为,接受同性恋行为为一种社会规范,对于我们家庭的稳定,子女的福祉以及对共同利益的风险所带来的可怕后果将是长期性且不可逆转的。

道德与法律之间的关系是复杂的。 它拒绝许教授在他的文章中所提出的简单二分法。


在他的文章中,许教授略略提到了美国最高法院在Lawrence v. Texas的标志性的裁决,认为对鸡奸的定罪是违宪的。 他引用法官Anthony Kennedy的话说:“请愿者有权要求他人尊重他们的私生活。 国家不能通过将私人性行定为犯罪来贬低或控制他们的命运。”

我们无需被现代法学中有关法律在公共和私人道德领域的角色的辩论所阻碍。 然而,许教授似乎与Kennedy法官一致建议,成年人的私人性行为应该是不受法律约束的。

即便一般情况是如此,但也有一些明显的例外。成人乱伦就是一个令人信服的例子。 正如新加坡刑事法典376G条文所明确规定的,成年人之间的乱伦性关系,即使是双方同意并且是私下进行的,仍算为一种罪行,并可判处监禁。

2012年,“海峡时报”就报道,有一名24岁的女子就因与父亲发生自愿性行为被判处12个月的缓刑,并被令去看精神科医生。 她的父亲则因乱伦被判处三年徒刑。

这意味着并非成年人之间的每一种私人性活动都超出了法律的管辖范围。 因此,许教授有责任说明为什么他认为法律不该侵犯私人性关系的论点只适用于刑事法典377A条文而非376G条文。

在著名的Hart-Devlin辩论中,Lord Devlin有力地辩称,如果私人行为对社会的道德构成威胁的话,就不能免于公共制裁。 英格兰和美国原先的鸡奸法就是基于这个道理。


在他的文章中,许教授声称虽然科学家不知道什么决定了性取向,但他们“倾向于根据生物学理论,接受基因因素”。 他坚持科学家并不将性取向视为一种选择,给予人一种科学界已就此问题达成共识的印象。


从20世纪90年代开始,已进行了大量的科学研究,尝试寻找同性恋的生物学基础。 但是这些研究未能确凿的表明同性恋取向是由基因因素决定的。

事实上,这些研究恰恰指向相反的结论。 例如,最初由John Michael Bailey和Richard Pillard于1991年进行的双胞胎研究,随后被许多其他科学家复制就显示了,生物学并不能决定同性恋倾向。

在《科学人》杂志的一篇文章中,William Byrne得出结论,认为Bailey和Pillard的研究“显然挑战了一个简单的基因假设,并强烈暗示环境对性取向有显着贡献。”

这一结论得到了Peter S. Bearman和Hannah Brückner于2002年以及Niklas Långström在2010年进行的关于双胞胎的广泛研究的支持。

在他们于2016年发表在新亚特兰蒂斯期刊(The New Atlantis)题为“性与性别:生物,心理和社会科学的调查结果”,Lawrence S. Mayer和Paul R. McHugh得出以下的结论:

有关性取向其中一些最普遍的观点,如“天生如此”的假设,根本没有科学根据。 的确,该领域的文献描述了非异性恋者和异性恋者之间一小部分生物学上的差异,但这些差异不足以预测性取向。

Jeffrey Satinover在他的著作《同性恋与真理政治》一书中就写道,“硬科学远无法对同性恋提出完整的解释,更不用说将其简化为基因决定论了。”

即便科学迄今仍未能证明同性恋存在着生物学决定性的因素,同性恋游说者还是不断的使用“科学”来推动他们声称同性恋取向是天生且不可改变的主张。 许教授似乎是不加批判的接受并传递这类的表述。


1974年,美国精神医学学会(APA)从DSM(II)中公布的病理性精神病清单中删除了同性恋。 修订后的判决书指出,“……同性恋本身就是性行为的一种形式,就像其他形式的性行为本身并非精神失常一样,因此并不列在失常的术语中。”

然而,这种改变并不是由于同性恋取向的基因或神经学基础有任何新的科学证据的结果。 正如Ronald Bayer在其题为《同性恋和美国精神病学:诊断政治》(1987)一书中清楚地表明,这一修订乃是APA里头的同性恋游说者的政治压力。

Bayer写道:“最终的结果不是基于理性所带出的接近科学真理的结论,而是一种被时代的意识形态所推演的行动。” 因此,Albert Dean Byrd和Stony Olsen能宣称“基于政治原因,疾病的耻辱已经完全消失”。

Charles W. Socarides在其1992年题为“性政治与科学知识”的文章中警告说,APA的决定:





“我会恭敬地提醒他们[基督教和回教领袖们],”许教授写道,“新加坡是一个世俗国家。 它不是基督教国家或回教国家。 实施这些宗教的教条并不是国家的事情。” 他继续强调新加坡乃是政教分离,“教会领袖和回教领导人应尊重这种分离”。

许教授的语调是傲慢和大家长式的。 他认为新加坡的宗教领袖们都必须接受他关于宗教与国家之间正确关系的指导。

认为像NCCS这样的宗教团体发表声明,就因为他们希望国家强制执行他们的教条是一种荒谬的看法。 当NCCS就一个问题发表声明时,它并不是试图将其世界观强加于社会,或将新加坡转变为基督教神权国家。 其目的仅仅是帮助其成员教会理解其组织在该特定问题上的立场。




在过去的几十年里,NCCS就各种问题发表了一系列声明,包括安乐死,器官交易和同性恋。 理事会之所以发表这些声明,是为了教育和指导基督徒,及谋求共同利益,而不是将其观点强加于他人。

理事会了解新加坡是一个多元宗教的社会,没有一个宗教可以在社会和道德问题上独断独行。 但同样地,也没有个人或少数群体可以向大多数人强加他们对性行的看法。

有关公共道德问题的辩论,如377A条文,宗教的立场尤为重要。正如李总理所说,这与“社会价值观”有关。 只要宗教人士及其社体是我们社会的一部分并致力于后者的蓬勃发展的话,他们就有权提供对这个问题的观点。

在这种对话中排除信仰团体就是否认他们在我们多元宗教社会中的合法地位。 事实上,我们甚至可以这么说,在这种辩论中查封宗教声音是对协商民主精神的侮辱。 它与我们一直在努力建设的包容性社会是背道而驰的。



例如,在最近刑法典的审查中,内政部和律政部安排了特别会议会见了宗教领袖,以征求他们的意见。 事实上,内政部和律政部长尚穆根甚至分别与不同的宗教团体会面以解释审查的必须并征求他们的意见。

与许教授不同,新加坡政府承认世俗社会不应在公共道德问题上行使霸权。 它认识到,在这些问题上,必须寻求并认真对待宗教团体的观点。 这与多元宗教的新加坡特别相关,因我国有80%以上的人口都信奉宗教信仰。


谢正金博士是新加坡三一神学院周福兴基督教教义教授,并“思潮” 基督教公共研究所的神学与研究顾问。




A Sin Or A Crime? – On Legislating Morality

(Click here for Chinese version)

October 2018 Pulse

On September 24 (2018), The Straits Times published an article by Professor Tommy Koh entitled ‘Section 377A: There is a difference between a sin and a crime’. This article was written in the wake of renewed debate in Singapore on Section 377A, sparked by the recent decision by the Indian apex court to repeal Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

Both the ‘repeal’ and ‘retain’ parties have organised online petitions to garner support for their positions. Several prominent public figures, including Koh, have jumped into the fray and expressed their support for its repeal. The National Council of Churches, the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church and the Islamic Authorities have issued official statements arguing against the repeal.

In his article, Koh discusses a wide range of issues. They include the concepts of sin and crime in relation to homosexual sex, the scientific evidence for sexual orientation, the role of the courts and the place of religion in debates on the law.

However, Koh’s article, in my view, is riddled with a number of distorting generalisations and sweeping statements that have the potential to mislead. I hope to address some of them in this brief article.


Koh argues that with respect to homosexual acts a distinction must be made between a sin and a crime. Sodomy, he asserts – in agreement with former attorney-general Walter Woon – may be seen as a sin by some religions, but it should not be regarded as a crime by the state.

On the surface, this argument may seem quite compelling. But upon closer scrutiny, this way of framing the issue can be misleading because it fails to capture the profound relationship between morality and the law. Although there are distinctions between morality and the law, there is also an intricate relationship between them that should never be trivialised or ignored.

It must be said at the outset that the entire legal system is in some profound sense based on the moral vision of a particular society. Thus we can say that there can be no law without morality.

This moral vision, expressed in part in the laws of the land, is absolutely vital for the well-being of any society. As Lord Patrick Devlin has famously put it in his essay entitled ‘Morals and Criminal Law’: ‘Society means a community of ideas; without shared ideas of politics, morality and ethics, no society can exist’.

Laws are made because they bring to concrete expression the moral sensibilities of a society, that is, its understanding of right and wrong. This proposition is so self-evident that it requires very little elaboration or defence.

A few examples would be sufficient to illustrate this.

Homicide is a crime because it is wrong to intentionally take the life of another human being. Rape is a crime because society deems sexual violence on a woman or a man as a morally reprehensible offence that should never be countenanced.

The recent review of the Penal Code also brings this out very clearly. New laws pertaining to marital rape, the protection of minors from sexual predators and crimes against the vulnerable are made because they uphold the moral vision of our society.

In other words, they are put in place to reflect the shared moral convictions and commitments on the basis of which we want to order our society. Lord Devlin would say that these laws are there to give voice to ‘society’s constitutive morality’.

Incidentally, in all of the examples cited above, what religion (in this case, Christianity) calls sins, the state also regards as crimes punishable under the law.

In relation to section 377A, we must therefore ask what is the moral stance of the Singapore public on the issue of homosexual intercourse and lifestyle.

In a survey conducted by IPS in 2014, 78.2 per cent of the respondents said that they were against the homosexual lifestyle, and 72.9 per cent were against same-sex marriage. In the recent IPSOS survey (2018) on section 377A, 55 per cent of the respondents were not in favour of the repeal of the law, while only 12 per cent wanted it removed.

PM Lee is surely right when he said in a 2014 BBC interview that the status of section 377A is a ‘matter of society’s values’. To use Lord Devlin’s expression, its presence in the Penal Code is an articulation of ‘society’s constitutive morality’.

However, it must be stressed that the relationship between the law and morality is a reciprocal one. This means that while societal values can shape the legal system, the lawmaker can also exert influence on the social habits of society.

This applies to section 377A. As Christopher de Souza has succinctly put it in the 2007 debate in Parliament:

A repeal of section 377A will not merely remove the offence. It is much more significant than that. Because of the concept of negative liberty, the removal of section 377A puts homosexual lifestyle on par with heterosexual lifestyle. It is to accord both lifestyles a sense of parity.

In other words, the repeal of this piece of legislation can gradually result in significant changes in the ‘constitutive morality’ of our society (Devlin).

The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) understands this very well. Its recent statement expresses its concern that the repeal of section 377A ‘would result in the normalisation and promotion of this [i.e., homosexual] lifestyle, which in turn would lead to undesirable moral and social consequences’.

The Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church, William Goh, also understands the importance of maintaining the status quo. In his pastoral letter, he writes:

I am of the view that S377A should not be repealed under the present circumstances. This is because, by accepting homosexual acts as a social norm, the dreadful consequences for the stability of our families, the well-being of our children, and the risks to the common good will be long-term and irreversible.

The relationship between morality and the law is complex. It defies the simplistic dichotomies suggested by Koh in his article.


In his article, Koh briefly alluded to the landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas that the criminalisation of sodomy was unconstitutional. He cited Justice Anthony Kennedy, who said that: ‘The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The state cannot demean or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime’.

The debate concerning the role of the law in the spheres of public and private morality in modern jurisprudence need not detain us. However, Koh seems to suggest, in concert with Justice Kennedy, that private sexual conduct of consenting adults should be off limits to the law.

While this may generally be the case, there are notable exceptions, adult incest being a compelling example. As section 376G of Singapore’s Penal Code makes clear, an incestuous sexual relationship between adults, even if it is consensual and conducted in private, is an offence punishable by imprisonment.

In 2012, The Straits Times reported that a 24-year-old woman was sentenced to 12 months’ probation for having consensual sex with her father and ordered to see a psychiatrist. Her father was sentenced to three years imprisonment for incest.

This means that not every private sexual activity between consenting adults is beyond the reach of the law. The onus is therefore on Koh to show why the argument that the law should not intrude on private sexual relations applies to section 377A and not to section 376G of the Penal Code.

In the famous Hart-Devlin debate, Lord Devlin argued persuasively that private acts should not be free from public sanction if they pose a threat to society’s morality. The sodomy laws of England and America were originally made in part on the basis of this reasoning.


In his article, Koh asserts that while scientists do not know what determines sexual orientation, they ‘favour biologically based theories, which point to genetic factors’. He maintains that scientists do not view sexual orientation as a choice, giving the impression that the scientific community has achieved consensus on the matter.

This, however, is not the case at all, and to make such sweeping and unqualified statements is surely to mislead.

From the 1990s onwards, a slew of scientific studies have been conducted to find a biological basis for homosexuality. These studies have failed to show conclusively that homosexual orientation is determined by genetic factors.

In fact, these studies suggest the contrary. For example, the twin studies, originally conducted in 1991 by John Michael Bailey and Richard Pillard and subsequently replicated by many other scientists, show quite conclusively that biology does not determine homosexuality.

In an article in Scientific America, William Byrne concludes that the Bailey and Pillard study ‘clearly challenges a simple genetic hypothesis and strongly suggests that environment contributes significantly to sexual orientation’.

This conclusion is supported by the extensive studies on twins conducted by Peter S. Bearman and Hannah Brückner in 2002 and Niklas Långström in 2010.

In their wide-ranging report on sexuality published in 2016 by The New Atlantis entitled Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences, Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh conclude:

Some of the most widely held views about sexual orientation, such as the “born that way” hypothesis, simply are not supported by science. The literature in this area does describe a small ensemble of biological differences between non-heterosexuals and heterosexuals, but those biological differences are not sufficient to predict sexual orientation.

‘[H]ard science’ writes Jeffrey Satinover in his book Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, ‘is far from providing an explanation of homosexuality, let alone one that reduces it to genetic determinism’.

Although science has hitherto failed to demonstrate that there is a biological determinant for homosexuality, gay lobbyists have repeatedly used ‘science’ to advance their claim that homosexual orientation is innate and immutable. Koh appears to be uncritically parroting that narrative.

In his article, Koh also mentioned the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

In 1974, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality from the list of pathological psychiatric conditions published in DSM (II). The revised verdict states that ‘… homosexuality per se is one form of sexual behaviour and, like other forms of sexual behaviour which are not themselves psychiatric disorders, is not listed in the nomenclature of disorders’.

This change of status, however, was not the result of new scientific evidence for the genetic or neurological basis for homosexual orientation. As Ronald Bayer has clearly shown in his book entitled Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis (1987), this revision was made due to political pressure by the gay lobbyists within APA.

‘The result’, writes Bayer, ‘was not a conclusion based upon an approximation of the scientific truth as dictated by reason, but was instead an action demanded by the ideological temper of the times’. Albert Dean Byrd and Stony Olsen could therefore declare that ‘The stigma of a disease was gone due to politics’.

In his 1992 article entitled ‘Sexual Politics and Scientific Knowledge’, Charles W. Socarides warns that the APA decision

… remains a chilling reminder that if scientific principles are not fought for, they can be lost – a disillusioning warning that unless we make no exceptions to science, we are subject to the snares of political factionalism and the propagation of untruths to an unsuspecting and uninformed public, to the rest of the medical profession and to the behavioural science.

This is a story that is not widely known and needs to be told.


We turn finally to Koh’s remarks on the role of religious communities in the debate on section 377A.

‘I would respectfully remind them [Christian and Islamic authorities]’, Koh writes, ‘that Singapore is a secular state. It is not a Christian country or a Muslim country. It is not the business of the state to enforce the dogmas of those religions’. He goes on to stress that in Singapore, there is a separation between religion and the state and that ‘Church leaders and Islamic leaders should respect that separation’.

Koh’s tone is condescending and paternalistic. He assumes that the religious leaders in Singapore need to be tutored by him on the proper relationship between religion and the state.

To suggest that religious bodies like NCCS issue statements because they want the state to enforce their dogmas is ludicrous. When NCCS makes a statement on an issue, it is not trying to impose its worldview on society or to transform Singapore into a Christian theocratic state. Its purpose is merely to help its member churches to understand its position on that particular issue.

It is therefore extremely unhelpful for a public figure like Koh to politicise the statements that the Council issues for the purpose of guiding Christians on social and moral issues in this melodramatic fashion. In fact, such a suggestion coming from him may sow the seeds of suspicion and distrust that can compromise the fragile social harmony and cohesion that we have worked so hard to achieve.

In reminding the religious authorities that in Singapore there is a separation between religion and politics, Koh is implying that they have no right to comment on section 377A.

But the institutional separation between religion and the state, enshrined in the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act of 1990, does not banish religion altogether from the public square. Neither does it prohibit faith communities from commenting on moral and social issues that affect their members.

In the past few decades, NCCS has issued a number of statements on a variety of issues including euthanasia, organ trading and homosexuality. The Council made these statements to educate and guide Christians, and for the sake of the common good – not to impose its views on others.

The Council understands that Singapore is a multi-religious society and no single religion can pontificate on social and moral issues. But in similar vein, no individual or minority group can impose their views on sexuality on the majority.

Religion’s input is especially important in debates on issues pertaining to public morality, like section 377A, which as PM Lee has so clearly said, has to do with ‘society’s values’. Insofar as religious people and their communities are part of our society and are committed to the latter’s flourishing, their views have a right to be heard on this issue.

To exclude faith communities in such conversations is to deny them of their rightful place in our multi-religious society. In fact, we can go so far as to say that censoring religious voices from such debates is an affront to the spirit of deliberative democracy. It flies in the face of the inclusive society that we have been trying so hard to build.

To steer public discourse by silencing religious voices instead of encouraging an ever-greater inclusivity is to fuel a new and insidious form of intolerance.

Thankfully, the Singapore government does not share Koh’s perspective. Instead of excluding religious communities, it has made every effort to seek their views and feedbacks on important issues.

For example, in the recent Penal Code review, the Ministries of Home Affairs and Law organised special meetings with religious leaders to obtain their comments. In fact, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam even took the trouble to meet up with the different religious communities separately to explain the reviews and solicit their views.

Unlike Koh, the Singapore government recognises the secular state should not exercise hegemony on matters of public morality. It recognises that in such matters, the view of religious communities must be sought and taken seriously. This is especially pertinent to multi-religious Singapore, where more than 80 per cent of the population professes religious affiliation.

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.

Populism and Democracy

October  2018 Pulse

In his op-ed article published in The Straits Times (11 October 2017), Jonathan Eyal examines the problem with referendums in the wake of the one conducted in Catalonia, Spain. While some have hailed referendums as the highest form of democracy, others see it only as an instantiation of mob rule.

One of the practical problems with referendums, Eyal correctly points out, is that ‘it tends to reduce highly complex matters to a binary “yes” or “no” answer’. The reductive aspect of referendums makes them a valuable tool for the rising political trend that we have been witnessing in America and Europe, namely Populism.

Numerous articles have been written to warn of the dangers of populist rhetoric and the tendentious political culture it engenders. Appealing to base instincts and social angst, populist rhetoric sacrifices intellectual rigour and careful deliberation on complex issues for the sake of quick solutions and instant gratification.

Populism jettisons public-spirited dialogue and compromise the common good. It creates the naïve but harmful division between the ‘virtuous people’ (those who stand with the majority) and ‘the dangerous other’ (those who hold a contrarian view), thereby forcibly polarising society.

Populism also polarises by arousing prejudices and encouraging misconceptions through the epistemic silos it creates that ignore those facts and arguments that may serve as counterbalances to the visceral fervour or ideological vision of the masses. Populism therefore is in this sense not interested in arriving at the truth.

Eschewing the subtleties of a truly democratic culture, populism promotes a superficial and anaemic version of majoritarian politics, which can easily become a form of tyranny. Populism subverts democracy in the name of democracy.

I have argued elsewhere that Christianity does not favour or commend any one political system, not even democracy. However, Christianity upholds rationality, justice, compassion and the dignity and value of every human being. Thus, Christianity would deem a particular version or practice of democracy laudable if it promotes these values.

In his famous social encyclical of 1991, Centesimus Annus (‘Hundredth Year’) Pope John Paul II, who played a pivotal role in the collapse of Communism in Poland, discussed democracy at length. ‘Authentic democracy’, he writes, ‘is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of a human person’. The Roman Catholic Church, John Paul II maintains – and here Protestants can readily agree with the pontiff – values democracy because it fosters citizens’ participation in public life.

But the democratic process must be guided by truth, especially moral truth, the pope insists. ‘[I]f there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity’, he argues, ‘then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power’. Events in the twentieth century, he notes, have shown that ‘a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly-disguised totalitarianism’.

The rise of populism has engendered a political culture that is especially susceptible to the dangers that John Paul II warns about – if not a ‘thinly-disguised totalitarianism’, then different shades of demagogy and irrationality. Perhaps this is the reason why deliberative democracy, which was once dismissed as being a touch too idealistic, is making a comeback.

Deliberative democracy, championed by conservative philosophers and politicians like Edmund Burke and more recently Roger Scruton – is a political philosophy that is primarily concerned with improving collective decision-making, especially on important issues that affect society at large. It insists that the democratic process must be rational and that it must involve as many citizens as possible.

Deliberative democracy is a form of participatory democracy where participation in collective decision-making goes beyond the mere casting of votes. It is a political system or culture that recognises the rights of anyone who is subjected to a collective decision to participate in what some writers have called ‘consequential deliberation’ about that decision.

Consequential deliberation’ suggests that the viewpoints of the participants – especially those of the ‘common man’ (i.e., non-expert) and those of minority groups – are taken seriously. Furthermore, it implies that their viewpoints will in one way or another shape the deliberative process and possibly influence the decision itself.

Deliberative democracy (or argumentative democracy, as Rowan Williams termed it in a recent lecture in the Netherlands) requires participants in the conversation to engage with the arguments and viewpoints presented with an open mind. It requires a willingness to listen to and engage with alternative views. It requires participants to be fair-minded and to recognise the merits of the arguments of fellow citizens whose views are different from their own.

In other words, deliberative democracy urges the electorate to take a more matured approach to decision-making, one that requires patience, fairness, understanding and even mutual accommodation. It is a stark contrast from the kind of politics where protagonists simply refuse to budge from their position, regardless how persuasive and sensible the alternative view might be.

Deliberative democracy insists that the complex issues that we face cannot be resolved by the ballot box. Neither should the results of the vote be seen as the final word on a particular issue.  Deliberative democracy insists that these issues can and should be revisited when necessary and our position on them can be changed or modified as a result of the deliberation.

Critics of deliberative democracy have pointed out its shortcomings ranging from its epistemological assumptions to its practicality. For example, while the democratic virtues of the mini-publics are generally acknowledged, how deliberation can be scaled up so that these mini-publics can be properly linked to broader discourses remains a practical problem.

Despite these weaknesses deliberative democracy is a better approach to decision-making than populism.

The Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw once said, ‘Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve’. Deliberative democracy, while by no means perfect, will in some ways prevent modern society from short-changing itself.

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.

Between Death and Resurrection

October 2018 Credo

One of the most important themes in Christian eschatology (the doctrine of the last things) is the intermediate state, that is, the continued existence of the person between his death and final resurrection. But the concept of the intermediate state is also riddled with problems as a result of which many different theories have been proposed.

One of the reasons why it is difficult to conceive of the intermediate state is the dearth of biblical material on this subject. While both the Old and New Testaments do allude to the continued existence of the deceased, they do not supply enough information that would enable us to construct a clear picture. In addition, the incidental way in which the Bible treats this topic has led some Christians to think – mistakenly, in my view – that it does not regard it as important.

While the first reason why the idea of the intermediate state has to do with the Biblical text itself, the second reason is philosophical and theological. There has been a significant shift in both philosophical and theological anthropology from the dualisms of Plato (4 century BC) and Rene Descartes (17th century) to a physicalism that eschews the distinction between body and mind (soul).

According to this understanding, nothing ‘survives’ the biological death of a human being. Put differently, when a human being dies, that human being simply ceases to exist. It is not difficult to see why the concept of the intermediate state, which postulates the continual existence of the human being who is biologically dead, is at odds with this materialist view.

Several theories have been proposed by theologians throughout the history of the church on the intermediate state.

Some of these theories work on the dualism of body and soul that the Bible itself purportedly upholds, and try to speculatively join the dots suggested by the sketchy biblical data. Others, in embracing the modern physicalist view of the human being, effectively dismiss the need to even think about an intermediate state.

One of the more prominent theories about the intermediate state is soul-sleep. Theologians and groups from diverse backgrounds and of different convictions – Luther, the Anabaptists, the Socinians, and the Seventh-Day Adventists – have proposed different versions of this theory.

Martin Luther famously described the intermediate state as ‘a deep and dreamless sleep without consciousness or feeling’. In a 1533 sermon Luther wrote: ‘We are to sleep until he comes and knocks on the grave and says, “Dr Martin, get up”. Then I will arise in a moment and will be eternally happy with him’.

Theologians are quick to point out that this view of the intermediate state presents serious problems and difficulties. While Scripture does use ‘sleep’ to describe death (e.g., John 11:11), surely this expression must not be understood literally. Rather it should be seen as a figure of speech, a euphemism.

Additionally, Scripture seems to depict the intermediate state as a personal and conscious existence. Although the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) is not purposed to teach us about the nature of the intermediate state, it is nonetheless a reliable depiction. As Millard Erickson has rightly pointed out, in telling this parable, it is unlikely that Jesus would ‘mislead us on this subject’.

A most curious proposal came from the pen of Lewis Sperry Chafer, who was the president of Dallas Theological Seminary from 1936 to his death in 1952. A dispensationalist theologian, Chafer posited that the dead is given ‘an intermediate body’ while awaiting the resurrection. At the resurrection, they will receive the final spiritual body that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15.

Needless to say, there is no scriptural basis whatsoever for this theory.

A theory that is gaining ascendency is total death. This theory – which aligns itself with the modern physicalist anthropologies alluded above – maintains that nothing survives the physical death of an individual. The proponents of this view are therefore effectively saying that there is no intermediate state.

According to a version of this theory, at the resurrection, God will ‘re-assemble’ this individual who had died in a way that guarantees the identity of that individual. The Lutheran theologian Jürgen Moltmann maintains that God is able to do this because he has in his mind the form (German: Gestalt) of the individual which serves as the basis for his re-constitution of that individual at the resurrection.

The problem with this theory is that it is does not square with the witness of Scripture. For example, if death is the total annihilation of the individual, what could Paul have meant when he suggested that the deceased believer is in the presence of Christ (Philippians 2:3)? How could we make sense of Jesus’ promise to the repentant thief that he will be with him in paradise on the very day of their deaths (Luke 23:43)?

Finally, some scholars have argued that there is no need to envision an intermediate state because the dead will be instantaneously resurrected. W.D. Davies expounded this view in Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (1970).

According to Davies, by the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians he had already distanced himself from rabbinic Judaism’s idea of disembodiment at death. ‘[The dead] would on the contrary, be embodied’, writes Davies, ‘and there is no room in Paul’s theology for an intermediate state of the dead’.

Davies has however ignored a large body of Pauline texts which indicates quite clearly that the apostle believed in the disembodied ‘survival’ of the deceased (Phil 3:20-21; 1 Thess 4:16-17; Rom 2:3-16; 1 Cor 4:5).

The evangelical theologian Anthony Hoekema has argued that there are simply too many passages in the NT that point to the intermediate state for the concept to be ignored: Luke 23:42-43; Philippians 1:21-23; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8. In the same way, there are too many passages that speak of the separation of the soul from the body at death in Scripture for Christians to uncritically embrace a merely physicalist anthropology.

To be sure, the Bible does present a unitary concept of the human being. But it also indicates that at death, this unity is temporarily dissolved due to the separation of body and soul.

In addition, there can be no denying that Scripture teaches that the soul (however one may wish to describe it) continues in personal, conscious existence after the physical death of the individual. It is only at the resurrection that body and soul are brought together once again.

The Bible does speak of an intermediate state between death and resurrection. But the scarcity of biblical material cautions us against being too dogmatic in our conception of the nature of this mode of existence.

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.

More an Onion Than an Apple

October 2018 Feature

There is a strong call coming from Christian leaders to make a stand against those who call upon our legislators to review Section 377A of the Penal Code that criminalises homosexual acts.  Emotions are running high on both sides of the divide.  Some of us received requests to sign petitions from those who want homosexual acts to be decriminalised as well as from those who insist that Section 377A should remain as it is.

There are persuasive arguments on both sides.  It is not my purpose to rehash the arguments and to persuade on behalf of one side or the other.  It appears to me that the majority of the Christians are for Section 377A to remain undisturbed.  There is of course a minority of Christians who are for the repeal of the section.

My purpose is to highlight the need to be mature enough to persuade one another without ending up making wrong judgments against each other.  This is what I mean by “more an onion than an apple”.  The danger is that we may end up rejecting those who share the same faith but not the same position on this issue.  That would not be gracious nor kind.

For instance, it is easy to conclude that those among us who want the law to remain as it is are simply homophobic.  When we do that, we descend into name-calling.  It is also easy to conclude that those who are against criminalisation of homosexual acts are in support of the act.  In both situations, a judgment has been made against a fellow believer – and the judgment could be wrong and therefore unjust.

This hastiness to judge could well be the function of looking at the issues like an apple.  It is one whole.  You cannot separate the apple like you can with an onion by peeling off the layers.  In the latter, one can be against criminalisation without being for homosexual acts.  Like an onion, you peel each layer and you deal with the issues layer by layer.  In the former, the apple is one unpeelable whole, so if you are against criminalisation, you must be for the act itself.

As I read the arguments for and against the repeal of Section 377A, I am both optimistic and pessimistic.  Optimistic when we can pray and think through the issues and make a decision for ourselves according to our Christian conscience and understanding of the Word and respect others who, on their own conscience and understanding, make a different decision.  I am pessimistic when one is pressured to think that there is only one right decision and when one is quickly judged when one makes a decision that contradicts the “right” decision, whatever that may be.

There are two texts in the Scriptures that I feel should help us at this time towards a gracious and kind debate.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6).

According to Vincent’s Word Studies, both words are found only here in Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  The function of salt is both in preserving and in rendering something palatable.  In the context of speech, both in Greek and Latin authors, salt was used to express the pungency and wittiness of speech.  Horace speaks of having praised a poet for rubbing the city with abundant salt, i.e., for having wittily satirised certain parties so as to make them smart as if rubbed with salt.

Lightfoot gives some interesting citations from Plutarch, in which, as here, grace and salt are combined.  Thus: “The many call salt χάριτας graces, because, mingled with most things, it makes them agreeable and pleasant to the taste.”  Seasoned is, literally, prepared.  It is not likely that the fact has any connection with this expression, but it is interesting to recall Herodotus’ story of a salt lake in the neighborhood of Colossae, which has been identified, and which still supplies the whole surrounding country with salt (vii., 30).  The exhortation to well-seasoned and becoming speech is expanded in Ephesians 4:29; Ephesians 5:4, in a warning against corrupt communication.

Matthew Poole adds, “Let your speech be always with grace: because discourse is the tenderest part of our converse with men, especially those without, and ought to be managed with the greatest circumspection, upon occasions in every fit season, in imitation of Christ, who entertained those that did converse with him with gracious words, you should endeavour so to speak when called, that the hearers may conceive your discourse doth proceed from a gracious spirit, or grace in the heart, with meekness of wisdom, using knowledge aright, being in its tendency gracious, not ungrateful, (as tinctured with gall or venom), but ministering grace to the hearers.”

And “seasoned with salt”, “even as meat duly powdered with salt becomes acceptable to the discerning palate, so to the ear that heard the speech, fitly spoken words are of a grateful savour, cleansed from corruption.”

Paul also urges “…speaking the truth in love…” in Eph 4:15.  According to the Pulpit Commentary, the phrase “is hardly translatable in English.  It implies being true as well as speaking the truth and following the truth.  Truth is the element in which we are to live, move, and have our being; fidelity to truth is the backbone of the Christian ministry.  But truth must be inseparably married to love; good tidings spoken harshly are no good tidings; the charm of the message is destroyed by the discordant spirit of the messenger.  The more painful the first impression which a truth is fitted to produce (e.g., Ephesians 2:1-3), the more need is there for dealing with it in love – a much-needed and much-neglected exhortation.”

Of course, everyone on both sides of the divide believes that he is speaking the truth.  But the question is whether it is spoken in love.  I suggest that in peeling the onion, there are different layers of truth and we should be humble enough to accept that even when we have a common reference to the same Bible and the common illuminator in the Holy Spirit, we still end up having different theological positions locked up in different denominations and expressed in so many diverse Christian communities.  Clearly, like a diamond, we reflect different facets of the truth and we should be gracious and kind enough to respect one another’s position even when we are on different sides of the divide.

Dr. William Wan is the General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement. He is also a winner of the Active Ager Award (Council of the Third Age) 2011. Prior to taking on this role as General Secretary, he was practising law and managing a psychometric company. Dr Wan also sits on the advisory panel of The Bible Society of Singapore.