Tag Archives: Discipleship

Growing Old in Christ

March 2018 Credo

Reader’s Question: How should Christians understand and respond to aging? What resources does the Christian faith have to enable Christians to age well?

In recent years, there has been much discussion in the media here about what has sometimes been anxiously described as the ‘silver tsunami’.

By 2030, it is estimated that one in five people in Singapore will be over 60. And with the third-highest life expectancy in the world (currently at 82.7 years), the government has been pro-active in introducing a slew of initiatives to cater to the diverse needs of our ageing population.

The Bible has much to say about the elderly.

There are passages that make the closest connection between living an upright life and longevity. For example, Proverbs 16:31 clearly depicts longevity as the reward of the righteous when it declares that ‘Grey hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life’. And Psalm 92:12-14 promises that even in old age the righteous will continue to flourish and bear fruit.

But the Bible also captures vividly the anxieties that accompany ageing which even faithful believers experience. Thus, in Psalm 71 the psalmist prays movingly: ‘In you, O Lord, I take refuge … Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent’ (vv1, 9).

Christian reflection on what it means to grow old must surely also be guided by the realism of the Bible and acknowledge the ambiguities that accompany ageing. It must avoid the two opposing and extreme approaches in modern culture to ageing that have brought about untold confusion and frustration.

The first extreme is ‘ageism’, that mindset and perspective that sees ageing only in a negative light, that is, in terms of what it is not: not young, not productively employed, not energetic, not independent, and not fully engaged with the present.

Our therapeutic culture also presents ageing as something that must be strenuously forestalled (if that were possible) or cleverly camouflaged (if postponement fails). This anti-ageing message is spread through various means, not least in commercials that promise to remove the signs of ageing either by cosmetics or laser therapy.

Modern culture also glorifies the young, the powerful and the energetic. This subtly but powerfully conditions society to think of older people in generally negative and distorting ways – as useless, unattractive and burdensome.

The other extreme is the virulent reaction against ageism that seeks to demolish the harmful stereotypes it conjures by ignoring the real limitations that come with ageing. We see this in the portrayals of older people performing heroic and incredible feats that would put to shame people half their age, like doing chin-ups, jet skiing and skydiving.

Such an approach is as distorting and harmful as the myth it seeks to debunk.

As G.D. Bouma and B. R. Dixon have perceptively pointed out, the message that it sends ‘show no more tolerance for the intractable vicissitudes of old age than the older stereotypes; older people are now (or should be) healthy, sexually very active, engaged, productive and self-reliant – in other words, young’.

A Christian theology and spirituality of ageing must avoid the Scylla of ageism and the Charybdis of triumphalism: it must neither deny the limitations and suffering that older people experience nor denigrate the elderly and dismiss the contributions they can make in the community.

Following the delicate balance of Scripture, a Christian perspective to ageing must acknowledge and embrace its inherent ambiguities. As Canon Stephen Ames explains, ‘The ambiguity of ageing is the tension between old age as a time of fruition and decay, and fulfilment and loss’.

Christian writers have pointed out that the elderly have specific spiritual concerns and needs. They include questions relating to the meaning of life, anxieties about being self-sufficient, a sense of being vulnerable and issues pertaining to isolation and death.

To this list, Stanley Hauerwas adds the threat of ‘dementia, deafness, blindness, arthritis, helplessness, even repulsiveness; and worst of all the loneliness of outliving one’s contemporaries’.

The Church must be aware of the needs of her elderly members and offer special ministry and support that would enable them to flourish despite these anxieties.

While old age is often accompanied by suffering, it is important to remember that being old has to do with much more than suffering. The elderly in Christ must continue to acknowledge that the life he possesses is a gift from God, which by God’s grace still holds many surprises and possibilities. It is a life that can and should be lived for the glory of God.

This brings us to the heart of the matter: ageing and discipleship. As Christians grow old, they remain called to follow Christ and to be his witnesses in the Church and in the world.

As theologian M. Theresa Lysaught puts it, the elderly ‘remain called equally to the practices of the corporal and spiritual ministry, to sharing the faith with the young, and to the promotion of social justice’.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, who have traversed far along the road of obedience, the elderly are able to contribute to the life of the Church in ways that both complement and supplement the contributions of younger Christians.

The elderly bring with them their rich historical memories. They bring with them experience and wisdom. And by their exemplary virtue, the godly elderly can be both model and inspiration to many Christians, encouraging them to pursue godliness and spurring them to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The elderly who live for the glory of Christ will discover that the vicissitudes of old age – ill health and frailty – can never rob them of the peace and joy that comes from God. They will again and again discover the wonderful truth in the words of the 4th century bishop and theologian, Ambrose: ‘Every age is perfect in Christ. Every age is full of God’.

A Christian theology and spirituality of ageing must explore the depths of Ambrose’s vision. Nancy Baxter is surely right when she writes that ‘The church’s theological task is to understand the gift of life in old age in the light of the whole story, remembered and celebrated through all seasons of Christian living’.

The Church must therefore never see the elderly in a negative light: as passive members, unable to contribute much and are mostly in need of the ministrations of others. Instead the Church must be a community that affirms and celebrates the call and vocation of the elderly, welcoming them and giving thanks to God for their presence, their gifts and their participation.

The Church must recognise that without its elderly members she is incomplete and thus in many ways profoundly impoverished.

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.

Bonhoeffer and Discipleship

November 2017 Pulse

“Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” These words eloquently summarise the central message of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s influential book, The Cost of Discipleship, first published in 1937.

This book began life as a series of lectures about the Sermon on the Mount, delivered by Bonhoeffer at Finkenwalde, a seminary that trained ministers for the “Confessing Church” during the Nazi period. Bonhoeffer later joined the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler, a crime for which he was arrested and executed at the age of 39.

In this book, Bonhoeffer tried to disabuse his readers of the idea that they could take God’s grace for granted just because they have received it freely and unconditionally. Hence, in the pages of The Cost of Discipleship we find the oft-repeated refrain that although grace is free, it is never cheap.

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church,” Bonhoeffer insists. “We are fighting today for costly grace.”

By “cheap grace” Bonhoeffer is referring to a religion that makes no demands on its adherents, a religiosity that gives a polite nod at commitment but refuses to pay the price it exacts.

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate,” he writes.

The free grace of God is costly because it is made available through the sacrificial death of Christ on Calvary’s cross. But this grace is also costly for Christians because it “calls us to follow Jesus Christ”.

For Bonhoeffer, then, at the heart of Christian discipleship is obedience to Christ. No one can claim to be a Christian – a believer – if he is not also a disciple, that is, if obedience does not characterise his life: “… only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”

The obedience demanded of the believer is also not something open to negotiation or bargain, but absolute, without reservation or hesitation. For if you are only partially obedient – which means that you occasionally acquiesce to sin – “you are trying to keep some part of your life under your own control”.

True obedience therefore requires self-denial, the resolve to remove the self with its ambitions, passions and wants from the centre of one’s life so that Christ may take His rightful place there. To obey is to smash the idol of the “sovereign self” and to bring the self into humble submission to the true Sovereign.

Only when we are determined to deny our selves can we embrace the suffering that comes with discipleship. Bonhoeffer writes movingly: “To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us.”

In this book, Bonhoeffer also explores the profound relationship between discipleship and the moral law of God by drawing creatively from the Lutheran tradition that shaped his theology.

To be obedient is to live our lives according to the purposes for which God created us; it is to bend our wills to God’s. And since God’s will is revealed in His moral law, the disciple must order his life according to it.

But the divine law points to the holy God who, in giving it, invites His people to commune with Him. This means that the divine law, which is purposed to usher us into an intimate covenant relationship with God, can never be reduced to rules – the dos and don’ts – that govern external behaviour.

The Christian can never be an antinomian (who regards the moral law of God as unimportant) or a legalist (who thinks that the Christian life is only about rule-keeping). In other words, discipleship is not just about doing what is required by the law; but if one ignores God’s law one ceases to be a disciple.

Discipleship therefore has to do with obedient love.

“If you love me,” Jesus said to His disciples, “you will keep my commandments … Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” (John 14:15, 21)


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.

The Two Kingdoms: A Christian Perspective on Church and State in Singapore

October 2015 Feature Article

From the “culture wars” and heated debates over casinos, abortion, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issues, to evangelistic efforts and charitable works, many wonder what the proper relationship between religion and state should be.

Aggressive secularists argue that Christians should not “impose” our religion on others in a multi-religious society like Singapore and “keep religion separate from politics”. Some Christians think that we should not be concerned about “politics”, but should focus on “preaching the Gospel”. Others think that we should be deeply concerned about laws like Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises sodomy.

How should Christians understand the relationship between Church and State?

It is well-known that Jesus did not come as a political Messiah to establish an earthly kingdom. As then-Minister for National Development S. Dhanabalan once said, “one of the reasons why Jesus Christ disillusioned the Jews of His time was… that He refused to become a political leader to help the Jews throw off the Roman yoke. And He was interested in changing individuals, not the society directly, but change society by changing individuals.”[1]

Nevertheless, we can learn much about the roles of Church and State in Jesus’ response when the Pharisees asked whether they ought to pay taxes to Caesar. Referring to the image of Caesar on a denarius, Jesus replied them, “render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21, KJV)

During the Protestant Reformation, German reformer Martin Luther saw in Jesus’ profound statement a distinction between Two Kingdoms which God has ordained: first, the Kingdom of God (the Church) which He rules through His Gospel and, second, the Kingdom of the World (the State) which He rules through His Law.

This became known as the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, the basis for much of our modern understanding of the Separation of Church and State.

The Doctrine emphasises that the Church should focus on preaching the Gospel for the salvation of all. As a result, it is not the role of the Church to govern matters of life and property, which are matters for the State.

On the other hand, the State should devote its full time to governing temporal matters, as servants sent by God “to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:14ff). Just as the Church should respect the political independence of the State, the State should also respect the autonomy of the Church in its religious affairs. For example, the State has no right to dictate how the Church should preach the Gospel, choose its clergy, or conduct itself in worship.

The Protestant emphasis on justification by faith led to a third principle – freedom of religion – which is now recognised as a fundamental human right. Since faith is the work of the Holy Spirit and “a free work, to which no man can or should be forced”, human authority should not try to coerce religious belief.

Because human authority is delegated by God, there are limits to human government. Hence, if any human authority commands things that are contrary to God’s Laws, we should “obey God rather than men”, as the apostles did when the Sanhedrin commanded them to stop preaching in Jesus’ name (Acts 5:29ff). In a modern context, Christians should exercise conscientious objection by refusing to participate in abortions or same-sex marriages, even when threatened with punishment.

The final principle is that of vocation (i.e. God’s calling). Implicit in Jesus’ teaching to “render unto Caesar” and “render unto God” is a call to discipleship; if the denarius belonged to Caesar because it bore his image, then we ought to render ourselves to God because we bear His image (cf. Genesis 1:27)! It is a call to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:29).

Thus, each of us is called to live out the Gospel in full wherever God has called us, whether as pastors, politicians, teachers, doctors, lawyers, or any other vocation. Given that disciples of Jesus Christ are ‘in’ but not ‘of’ the world (John 17:6-19), we cannot ignore political developments around us. Instead, a faithful preaching of the Gospel will always minister holistically to people at all levels of their being, i.e. heart, soul, mind and strength (emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and physically).

Taken holistically, the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms has several important implications for the Church in Singapore.

Firstly, the Church and pastors should always focus on preaching the full counsel of the Gospel both in season and out of season, including on “controversial issues” such as the sanctity of human life from conception and the sanctity of marriage, and to equip believers for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). We should never compromise our calling to speak the truth in love, however politically-incorrect certain parts of the Gospel may be for the season.

Secondly, while it is not the vocation of pastors to advocate for political causes, it falls to individual Christians to minister the Gospel at our workplaces, schools or in the public square where God has placed us. Furthermore, in a democratic society like Singapore, each individual Christian can and should exercise his or her rights to freedom of speech and religion to speak truth to power.

Thirdly, in the midst of an increasingly complicated world, we should remember that politics is not salvation. While a godless world has to rely on human politics to build its Tower of Babel – its own idea of utopia here on earth – we look to Christ our true salvation, whose kingdom “is not of this world” but “from another place” (John 18:36).

Ultimately, as citizens of Two Kingdoms and “aliens” in this world, we know that God’s kingdom is both here and not yet. Meanwhile, we are each called to remain faithful with all that God has entrusted to us as we look to the day that Jesus will return as King to manifest His kingdom in full.


Darius Lee is a lawyer in private practice and a member of the Global Young Reformers Network Steering Committee of the Lutheran World Federation. Darius holds religious freedom, marriage and the sanctity of human life in high regard, and has defended these important values and rights on various platforms. He has written about his journey of discipleship and passion for matters of justice and righteousness in his book, ‘Like a Fire in My Bones: A Journey of Discipleship’.



[1] Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill, Singapore Parliament Reports (23 February 1990) at col. 1170

The State

What should be the Christian perspective on the secular State?

Perhaps the best place to begin one’s reflection on what might be called a Christian theology of the state is Romans 13:1-7. Paul begins with a categorical injunction that ‘everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities’. The reason offered for this bold injunction is equally startling: ‘for there is no authority except that which God has established’ (Rom 13:1). The first thing to be said, therefore, about the Christian conception of the state is that the secular state is established by God. This implies that God is sovereign over the state, however powerful the latter may be. Commenting on this passage, C.E.B. Cranfield writes: ‘it is God that sets up (and overthrows) rulers, and … no one actually exercises ruling authority unless God has, at least for the time being, set him up’.

Romans 13 tell us further that God has set up the state for a purpose. The ruler is God’s servant, and the primary purpose of the state is to punish the wrongdoer and to commend those who do the right thing (Rom 13:3-4). Put differently, the state is responsible for creating a legal system that would enable, and indeed encourage human flourishing. Without the state and the justice it is tasked to implement, all forms of creative cultural activities would not be possible. The state is given the right to wield the sword in order to bring about law, order and peace to human society (Rom 13:4). As long as the state carries out its duty in ensuring that justice and peace prevail in human society, it is God’s servant because it is fulfilling the divine will. Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way: ‘The mission of government consists in serving the dominion of Christ on earth by the exercise of the worldly power of the sword which is given to it, and to it alone, in deputyship for God’. Romans 13 urge everyone to submit to such a servant state, because in doing so they are submitting to God himself.

Christians have the duty to pray for those in government so that they will fulfil the task that God has given to them. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul writes: ‘I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that they may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness’. The Swiss German theologian, Karl Barth is surely right when he said that prayer is the Church’s most important service to the state. In praying for the state, the Church hopes that it will always be faithful to the task that God has entrusted to it. In addition, Christians are commanded to submit themselves to the authority of the state that seeks to do the will of God by promoting justice and peace: ‘Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are set by him to punish those who do right’ (1 Peter 2:13-14).  Civil obedience is part of Christian discipleship.

It is, however, absolutely crucial to point out that the Christian’s submission to the state is never unconditional or unqualified. The state, it must be remembered, is a creature that belongs to this world. As such it is a fallen creature. The reading of Romans 13:1-7 must therefore always be accompanied by a ‘nevertheless’. The state that is obedient to the will of God can become the idolatrous state that tries to usurp the place of God. The servant state of Romans 13 can become the totalitarian and demonic state of Revelation13. The injunction for the Church to pray for the state and for rulers serves as a clear warning of this possibility. It is precisely because the state is a fallen creature that can easily lose its way that the Church is asked to pray for it.

How then should Christians respond to the idolatrous and totalitarian state that is no longer concerned for justice and human welfare? Are Christians still required to submit to such a state? The concept of civil disobedience has a long history in the Christian Church dating back to the early martyrs of the early centuries. Civil disobedience is implied by the great medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas, who taught that ‘if the emperor order one thing and God another, it is God who is to be obeyed’. The implicit allusion to civil disobedience in this statement is made explicit in a later section in his dogmatic work, Summa Theologiae in which he wrote: ‘when a regime holds its power not by right but by usurpation, or commands what is wrong, subjects have no duty to obey’. When confronted with the demonic state, civil disobedience becomes part of Christian discipleship.

This means that while Christians can indeed be patriotic, their patriotism can never be undiscerning or unqualified. Christians can never chant the mantra, ‘My Country, Right or Wrong!’, which expresses a naïve but dangerous sentimentalism regarding the state. Such idealism is not confined to totalitarian or Marxist accounts, but is found even in modern democracy. The proper attitude of the Christian to the secular state can be best expressed by the concept critical patriotism. As the term suggests critical patriotism implies that while the patriotism of the Christian is authentic and sincere, it is never undiscerning and triumphalistic. It implies that what is right or wrong is not determined by the state, but by a higher power. It further implies that the state is not infallible and thus never above criticism. Critical patriotism is in fact the truest and most earnest form of patriotism because it wishes and hopes that the state would be what it is meant to be, what God intends it to be: the servant state which stands on the side of justice and peace.

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. 
This article was first published in The Bible Speaks Today (August 2013).

Discipleship of the Mind

Many Christians are familiar with the Great Commandment recorded in Luke 10:27: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with your entire mind. Love your neighbour as yourself’. This Commandment urges believers to love God with their whole being. Believers are commanded to love God not only with their hearts and souls; they must do so also with their minds. As James Sire has pointed out in his provocative book, Habits of the Mind, this means that ‘thinking is integral to our call to be what God wants us to be’. As Christians we are called to think, and to do so as well as we can with our God-given intelligence. When we apply our intellect in this way, we express our love for God and we glorify him.

Some Christians, however, fail to see this. They have adopted an anti-intellectualism, which, at first blush, may even sound pious. After all, was it not the Apostle Paul who wrote, ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God … For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength’ (1 Cor 1:18, 25)? Such piety, however, is fallacious. The message of the cross is folly to those who are perishing because they approach it with distorted perspectives and from erroneous vantage points. Thus, when Paul speaks of the gospel as ‘folly’, he is being ironic. As Os Guinness has put it so eloquently, ‘Only in relation to a genuine folly foolish enough to pretend it is wise does true wisdom come to be seen and treated as folly’. The gospel, for Paul, is not folly but true wisdom!

Anti-intellectualism is the spiritual corrosion that will cripple the Church and compromise her witness in society. Writing primarily about the subtle but alarming changes in American evangelicalism that took place from the 1970s, theologian David Wells observes the disturbing shifts in emphasis from doctrine to life and from theology to spirituality. Wells laments that evangelical Christians in America have generally ‘lost interest … in what the doctrines of creation, common grace, and providence once meant for Christian believers’. He adds, somewhat despairingly, that ‘it is enough for them simply to know that Christ somehow died for people’. It would be a mistake to think that this observation has little to do with Christians in Singapore. A simple survey of the titles on display at some of our Christian bookshops would give a rough but not inaccurate indication of the theological literacy of Christians here. The displacement of theology in the life of the Church brought about by anti-intellectualism will severely weaken the Church.

Anti-intellectualism will also severely compromise Christian witness in society. The Church is commissioned to proclaim the Gospel to the world and part of this has to do with the Church’s prophetic engagement with society. Christians believe that the Gospel is public truth and as such it is not just relevant to a select group of people. The Christian faith therefore refuses to be privatized and shut off from the public square. A public Gospel therefore requires a public theology. Anti-intellectualism in the Church, however, can prevent Christians from engaging faithfully and meaningfully in public discourse. In fact, anti-intellectualism will severely cripple the Church’s confidence in participating in such engagements. And this will in turn seriously compromise the witness and influence of Christians in the public square.

On the basis of the first of Jesus’ commandments, we must say, quite simply and directly that anti-intellectualism is a sin. In refusing to use the minds that God has given to us as part of our praise to him, we have disobeyed this commandment. We have simply failed to love God fully, with our whole being. Beyond all excuses, evasions and rationalizations, Christians must recognize anti-intellectualism for what it truly is. Only then will Christians be able to address the problem. But even here, an important qualification must be made. In rejecting anti-intellectualism our goal is not academic or intellectual respectability, but faithfulness to the commands of Jesus. The discipleship of the mind is not about intellectualism (the sin on the other extreme end of the spectrum!) or intellectual snobbery. It is about loving God with our minds by allowing God’s Word to govern our thinking.

The command to love God with our minds, then, presents a two-fold challenge for Christians. In the first place, it emphasizes the importance of the intellect. Put differently and quite simply, the command challenges Christians to think. But more importantly, this command challenges Christians to think Christianly, that is to think theologically, to allow Scripture and the tradition of the Church to inform and shape their thinking. This is what the discipleship of the mind is all about! It is about being so immersed in the worship, life and doctrines of the Church that our perspectives, our worldviews and our values are entirely molded by the Gospel. It is about not conforming to the ‘pattern of this world’ but being transformed through the renewal of the mind (Rom 12:2). It is about developing a habit of mind that sees the world through the lens of the Gospel.

To think Christianly therefore requires the Christian to be grounded in Scripture and in the doctrines of the church. But thinking Christianly does not only mean thinking about Christian topics. It has to do with allowing the Word of God to govern our thoughts on every possible aspect of life – education, career, raising children, politics, medicine, science, the arts, entertainment, leisure. Thinking Christianly therefore engages the whole person in the whole of life. As such, it is more than just an intellectual activity.

In addition, to think Christianly is to conduct our lives in obedience to God. The Christian doctor who knows that the Bible teaches the sanctity of human life would refuse to perform an abortion or euthanize his patient. The Christian politician who understands the biblical demand for justice would oppose policies that would marginalize certain sectors of society. There is a profound relationship between thought and life, thinking and doing, worldview and ethics. The challenge for Christians to think Christianly is therefore always a challenge to radical discipleship. This is because thinking Christianly is always premised on the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom.

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. 
This article was first published in Trumpet (TTC).

Having Faith in Faith?

“And Jesus answered them: ‘Have faith in God’” (Mark 11:22).

One of the most troubling aspects of the so-called Word-Faith movement is that its self-styled teachers often employ biblical concepts and idioms in ways that pervert their original meaning. An example of such an adulteration is a concept that is central to the movement: faith. In one of his best-selling books, the late Kenneth Hagin, whom Charisma magazine once called the ‘Father of the Faith Movement’, famously wrote: ‘Did you ever stop to think about having faith in your own faith? Evidently, God had faith in his faith, because he spoke words of faith and they came to pass … In other words, having faith in your words is having faith in your faith. That’s what you’ve got to learn to do to get things from God: Have faith in your faith’.

Hagin was of the view that God had faith in his faith when he spoke the world into being. He insisted that this divine faith is in the possession of believers in his book, New Thresholds when he wrote that ‘the kind of faith that spoke the world into existence is dealt in our hearts’. Thus, if we would only have faith in our faith, we could, like God himself, make possible the impossible. Based on this conviction, Hagin took liberties to edit Mark 11:22 to read as follows: ‘Have the faith of God’. In this Hagin followed his secret mentor, Essek William Kenyon, whom writers like William De Arteaga regard as the ‘pioneer theologian and true father of the contemporary Word-Faith movement’. The great New Testament scholar C.E.B. Cranfield plainly calls such mutilations of the text ‘a monstrosity of exegesis’.

For Word-Faith teachers like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn, such faith is exercised through what they call ‘positive confession’. The origins of this doctrine can be traced to Kenyon, who stated it succinctly and memorably in this way: ‘What I confess, I possess’. Although Kenyon’s initial association with Pentecostalism is undisputed, he was also influenced by syncretistic, pseudo-Christian cults such as Religious Science, Christian Science and the Unity School of Christianity. Most significantly, Kenyon drew heavily from New Thought Metaphysics, a religious cult associated with Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866). In New Thought Metaphysics, positive confession is often accompanied by visualisation. Thus, in his book In Tune with the Infinite, New Thought proponent Ralph Waldo Trine writes: ‘Suggest prosperity to yourself. See yourself in a prosperous condition … You thus make yourself a magnet to attract the things that you desire’. The family-resemblances of the teachings of the apostles of the prosperity gospel like Kenneth Copeland with the tenets of New Thought are unmistakable.

Needless to say, the ‘theologians’ of the Word-Faith movement have perverted what the Bible means by faith, which always has to do with the believer’s trusting and obedient relationship with God, by turning it into a technique that can be used to manipulate God, or, as some of them prefer, the spiritual laws, to get what they want. At best, this idea of faith as a manipulative instrument reduces God to some kind of genii that can be summoned at will to pander to our selfish and superficial desires for wealth and prosperity. Or, we could even say that given this dogma – ‘have faith in your faith’ – God is no longer necessary. Faith has become an occult technique that is guaranteed to work once the principles are correctly understood and the proper method is used. Hagin taught this quite clearly when he insisted that even unbelievers could get results by operating according to these spiritual laws: ‘God has a certain law of prosperity and when you get into contact with that law and those rules, it just works for you – whoever you are. When you come into contact with God’s laws, they work’.

Properly understood, faith is always a theocentric (God-centred) concept: we have faith in God, who is the object of our faith. When Hagin and his followers exhorted their audience and readers to have faith in their own faith, they have corrupted the biblical concept of faith by turning it into an anthropocentric (man-centred) idea. For to claim to be able to enjoy health, wealth and success by putting faith in one’s own faith, that is, by the sheer positivity of one’s attitude and will, is surely the ultimate expression of man’s confidence in his own ability to fashion his own future. This recalls Charles Farah’s perceptive characterisation of the Word-Faith and Prosperity Gospel movement as a form of ‘charismatic humanism’. For underneath all the highfalutin religious jargon is the banal celebration of the omni-competence of the human self, the idea that we have the capacity to create our own worlds and shape our own destiny.

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. 
This article was published in The Bible Speaks Today (April 2014).

Hating One’s Parents

There are at least two reasons why many Christians would find the statement of Jesus recorded in Luke 14:26 difficult, even off-putting. The first is that this saying is simply difficult to accept. The second is that it appears to contradict the teachings of Jesus recorded elsewhere in the Gospels. For example, in Mark 7:9-13, Jesus censured the Pharisees for introducing a law which prohibits people from using the money they have vowed to give to God to meet a need of their parents. This ‘human commandment’, according to Jesus, is a direct violation of the fifth commandment to honour one’s father and mother.

Furthermore, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exhorted his disciples to love not just their friends, but also their enemies (Matt 5:43-48), thereby radicalising what it means to love one’s neighbour. If ‘neighbour’ is stretched to include one’s enemies, it surely must also include the members of one’s family. How, then, could Jesus insist that his disciples must hate those whom are nearest and dearest to them if they were to follow him? This statement, it seems, not only goes against nature, but it is also against the very law of love that Jesus came to teach and embody.

Many people are perturbed by the word ‘hate’ which Jesus used in this passage. Did Jesus really mean that a person must dislike, detest, loathe, abhor, his father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters in order to be his disciple? Commentators and theologians argue that when Jesus used ‘hate’ in this passage, he meant ‘to love less’. This same expression is used in Genesis 29:31: ‘When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb’. The explanation of this statement is given in the immediate context in verse 30 where we are told that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. Put differently, Jacob loved Leah less than Rachel, and it was in this sense that Leah was ‘hated’.

When Jesus said that his disciples must hate their family, he was speaking hyperbolically in order to emphasise that their love for him must be wholehearted, and that they must always put him first. This becomes clear when Luke 14:26 is compared with a parallel passage in Matthew 10:37-38; ‘Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me’. The exaggerated demand to hate one’s family in the Lucan passage is toned down in the Matthean passage in which the disciples are admonished not to love members of their family more than they love their Master.

The hyperbolic language in Luke is purposed to drive home the message that citizens of the kingdom of God must show unconditional loyalty to God. This means that God must be given first place and nothing must be allowed to usurp the place of God. Jesus warns that just as wealth and personal ambition can come between his disciples and the kingdom, so can family ties. Without in any way trivialising his disciples’ responsibilities towards their family, Jesus reminds them that God and his kingdom must take priority, and that everything else must take second place. In fact the Matthean passage suggests that giving one’s family second place to the kingdom is one way in which the disciple of Christ takes up the cross.

Even when understood in this way, Jesus’ statement ceases to be radical. Many Christians would no doubt agree that one should never let wealth, career, and personal happiness prevent them from obeying the Lord. But the proper care of one’s family is always seen as something that is profoundly more noble and humane. Is this not a legitimate reason for postponing obedience? In insisting that it is not, Jesus warns against what some theologians and commentators have called the ‘idolatry of the family’, where loyalty to one’s family is deemed more important that one’s loyalty to God.

Here Jesus must not be seen as contradicting Paul, who in 1 Tim 5:8 insists that ‘If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever’. It must be emphasised yet again that Jesus did not ask his disciples to shirk their responsibilities towards their families. Rather he reminds them that the kingdom of God is nearer and dearer than even their families, and that they must take their responsibilities as citizens of that kingdom with utter seriousness.

In his commentary on this passage, New Testament scholar William Hendricksen uses this analogy:

When an alien wishes to become a citizen of the United States of America he must renounce allegiance to his native land and take an oath of loyalty to the country of his choice. This does not mean that he cannot continue to think highly of the nation to which he said ‘Farewell,’ but it does mean that from now on he must serve ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’. Even far more absolute and unconditional must be the loyalty which citizens of the kingdom of God sustain toward their heavenly country and its ‘Lord of lords and King of kings’. If a person is unwilling to tender that unconditional devotion, then, says Jesus, ‘he cannot be my disciple’.

Thus, in exhorting his disciples to ‘hate’ their families, Jesus is simply urging them to love God more than anyone and anything.

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. 
This article was published in The Bible Speaks Today (May 2014).

Easy Believism

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

A growing number of evangelical Christians seem to be suffering from a chronic theological malady that some have described as ‘easy believism’, the view that all that is needed for someone to be a Christian is to put one’s faith in Jesus Christ as one’s Saviour.

Whether it is instantiated by an intellectual assent to the four spiritual laws or by repeating the sinners’ prayer, this ‘act of faith’ is enough for salvation.

Many Christian writers, however, have been justifiably critical of this theology of salvation. They see in ‘easy believism’ a dangerously truncated and watered down account of what it means to be a Christian.

Easy believism emphasises justification, but not sanctification. It places special accent on accepting Jesus Christ as Saviour, but not on submitting to him as Lord. It mistakenly separates salvation from discipleship, and suggests that it is possible for a person to be a Christian without also being a disciple of Christ.

Ironically, evangelical Christianity is especially susceptible to this erroneous view of salvation and the Christian life because of its roots in Reformation theology.

In the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation, theologians like Martin Luther and John Calvin taught that salvation is by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide), and categorically rejected the theology of works righteousness of the Roman Catholic Church of their day.

However, such emphases can be very easily misunderstood and misapplied, especially when they are undergirded by the doctrine of predestination that asserts that God has from all eternity irrevocably decreed salvation for a portion of humanity.

The easy believism found in modern evangelicalism, especially in its fundamentalist and dispensationalist expressions, may be said to be the result of a serious misconstrual and thus misapplication of the teaching of the Reformers.

The twentieth century Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, coined the term ‘cheap grace’ in an attempt to address a similar problem in the churches in his native Germany.

‘Cheap grace’, writes Bonhoeffer in his celebrated book, The Cost of Discipleship ‘is the grace that we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate’.

Bonhoeffer argues emphatically that the concept of cheap grace has no basis whatsoever in Scripture. As ‘grace that we bestow on ourselves’, cheap grace is an insidious distortion of God’s Word.

Two hundred years before Bonhoeffer wrote these words, John Wesley saw the same problem among the satiated members of the Church of England of his day, who considered their salvation secure because of the fact that they were baptised as infants and were respected members of their local parishes.

Suffering from the same spiritual disease, they sought to justify their passivity and complacency towards the demands of the Gospel by an erroneous theology of grace, salvation and the Christian life.

‘We must beware of that mock humility’, Wesley warns perceptively and forcefully in response, ‘which teacheth us to say, in excuse for our wilful disobedience, “Oh, I can do nothing”, and stops there’.

In his famous sermon entitled, ‘On Working Out Our Salvation’ (1785), Wesley addressed this issue head-on. He argues that the sanctifying grace of God that is at work in the believer not only enables him to obey God’s Word, but also obliges him to do so.

Thus Wesley famously writes: ‘God worketh in you; therefore you can work – otherwise it would be impossible.’ Then he adds: ‘God worketh in you; therefore you must work; you must be “workers together with him”’.

One of the most moving hymns composed in the early years of the 18th century is surely Isaac Watts’ ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’. An entire article can be written on the ‘thick theology’ of this beautiful hymn.

The hymn ends with these remarkable words: ‘Love so amazing, so divine, / Demands my soul, my life, my all’. God’s love and grace are indeed always unconditional and free. But they are never cheap! They demand our all!

Easy believism and cheap grace introduce dangerous perversions to our understanding of salvation and the Christian life. They are corruptions of the Gospel and harmful to the Church.

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. 
This article was published in The Bible Speaks Today (July 2014).