FROM THE DIRECTOR:
DISPATCHES FROM CHURCH LAND: Indonesia and Singapore
Philip Jenkins observes that 'Britain offers a singularly clear example of an emerging post-Christian society' (The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (OUP, 2002) p95). Amidst our hard secularism it is difficult to imagine Christianity being of great economic, political and societal importance. Indeed, it is hard for us to understand that not only is Christianity the most persecuted religion in the world today but also the fastest growing one. Secularism predicted the demise of religion but we live amidst a global resurgence of religion and especially of Islam and Christianity.
It is especially in Asia and in the southern hemisphere that Christianity is growing at a terrific rate, so that sub-Saharan Africa is now the new centre of Christianity. However, as Jenkins
puts it, 'Southern churches remain almost invisible to Northern observers' (p4). My wake up call came when I went on a speaking tour of South Korea a few years ago. Nothing had prepared me for the rich culture, its technological advancement, and the vitality of the Christian church. Christianity is now the dominant religion in Korea. A few decades ago Western seminaries were full of Koreans but now they have all their own institutions and train students from across Asia. Some one hundred years ago the missionaries had the wisdom to found Christian universities and these now stand as part of the university sector. I discovered biblical commentaries and research that I was simply unaware of us a Westerner.
In April this year I went on a two week visit to Indonesia and Singapore, as a guest of the
Reformed Evangelical Church of Indonesia. As with Korea, this provided me with a taste of the new Christianity emerging outside of the West.
The founding figure behind the Reformed Evangelical Church is the lead pastor Dr Stephen Tong. Chinese by birth, he felt called to work in Indonesia and the results are astonishing. Dr Tong is an architect and he designed the mother church in Jakarta which is beautiful and enormous.
The main auditorium seats some 5000, and is connected to a tower office block of eighteen floors. The building houses a television studio that broadcasts continually, the International Reformed Evangelical Seminary which trains their church leaders and others seeking seminary education, a multi-storey museum, etc. The church is also home to the finest orchestra in Indonesia, directed by Dr Tong’s daughter, who trained in New York.
I flew into Jakarta on the day after the national election. That weekend was Easter weekend and I attended the mother church in Jakarta with a full audience and translation into Chinese and English. On Holy Saturday the orchestra performed Bach’s Mass in B Minor. On the Sunday evening after the service I gave the first of my talks, 'Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story: The Drama of Scripture', to a packed hall of some 500.
The lecture focused on how to read the Bible as a whole and how the Bible as a whole helps us understand what it means to be human. I also gave this lecture on a Friday evening in Singapore and on a Sunday after preaching at the evening service in Bandung, each time to a packed audience full of young people, and always followed by excellent questions.
It is hard to imagine a church in the UK where such a lecture would attract a full attendance for two hours after the evening service, but such is the vitality of this Reformed evangelicalism.
In the week after Easter I taught a one week intensive course on the Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition - the title of a recent book of mine - to all the seminary students. The 'Kuyperian Tradition' stems from the Dutch theologian, journalist, politician, and Prime Minister, Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), and his colleagues. This was a wonderful experience with students from across South-East Asia. The seminary is training its own church leaders and several of the pastors I met trained at the seminary.
I am told that one of Dr. Tong’s principles is that for the church to eschew evangelism is suicidal. And Dr. Tong practices what he preaches. After the Easter weekend he embarked on evangelistic meetings across multiple cities in Indonesia and Singapore with crowds of some 2000 regularly attending.
The hospitality of my guests was remarkable. My main host, Pastor Hendra, looked after me very well, and virtually every evening a different person or group hosted me at a restaurant for a meal, and I got good exposure to the range of wonderful Indonesian cuisine, including their delicious coffee. It is a remarkable and beautiful thing to go around the world and find oneself among brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Reformed Evangelical Church of Indonesia is part of the global resurgence of Christianity, and long gone are the days when traffic between the West and these new centres of Christianity can be one way. We in the West need to become aware of these new centres and learn from them. Far too much Western evangelicalism, for example, has embraced the Western privatisation of religion,
a heresy that most of the new Christianity rejects. As Jenkins says of the new Christianity, 'The greatest change is likely to involve our Enlightenment-derived assumption that religion should be segregated into a separate sphere of life, distinct from everyday reality' (The Next Christendom, p141). One can see this in the Reformed Evangelical Church’s commitment to music, its hosting a museum, and its engagement with social and political ethics. Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, and Christians are having to learn how to negotiate their faith and life amidst a predominantly Muslim context. Singapore, by contrast, is largely Buddhist. The relationship between Islam and Christianity is shaping up to be one of the major issues of our day and as Jenkins observes, 'However much this would have surprised political analysts a generation or two ago, the critical political
frontiers around the world are not decided by attitudes toward class or dialectical materialism but by rival concepts of God' (The Next Christendom, p163). Here again Indonesians are doing crucial work. The published doctorate of the Head of the Seminary, Dr Benyamin Intan, is entitled Public Religion and the Pancasila-based State of Indonesia: An Ethical and Sociological Analysis. Ben gave the Annual Gaffin Lecture at Westminster Theological Seminary on this topic in 2018 and has an article about it in the latest edition of Calvin Theological Journal. Ben and Dr. Tong have also established the Reformed Center for Religion and Society.
Pancasila (five principles) is the fascinating official foundation of Indonesian
1. Belief in the one God.
2. A civilized and just humanity.
3. A unified Indonesia.
5. Social justice for all Indonesians.
The founding fathers of Indonesia, colonized by the Dutch and then the Japanese, sought an approach that would embrace the whole of Indonesian society. This involved compromise and despite its predominant Muslim population, Indonesia neither adopted political Islam nor made Islam its official religion. Pancasila provides a basis for a healthy pluralism, although doubtless this will continue to be tested in years to come. As the West struggles to take religion seriously, it can learn from places like Indonesia.
As a South African, whose country was colonized by the Dutch and then the British, being in Indonesia and Singapore made me reflect upon the colonial legacy. This is a volatile issue in South Africa today and, of course, far too much about colonialism was exploitative and simply bad. However, I was intrigued to read in
Elizabeth Pisani, Indonesia Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation (Lontar, 2014), a book given to me by the seminary students, that at the beginning of the 20th century some Dutch politicians pushed through legislation on 'Ethical Policy' towards Indonesia whereby the colonizers bore responsibility for the welfare of Indonesians, including setting up schools. For the first time young men were brought together in these schools from across Indonesia and they became the future leaders of Indonesia. What Pisani does not mention is that it was Abraham Kuyper, about whom I was teaching, who developed and launched this 'Ethical Policy'.
One might expect that the end
of colonialism would have signalled the end of Christianity in such countries. In fact, as Jenkins points out, “It was precisely as Western colonialism ended that Christianity began a period of explosive growth that still continues unchecked, above all in Africa” (The Next Christendom, 3rd ed., 2011, p70). One in every thirty humans lives in Indonesia, and it shares in the vibrant economic growth of Asia, albeit with skyscrapers juxtaposed with poverty. It is hard to imagine the Apostle Paul not taking such urban centres seriously in mission, and we do well to do the same. It may well be that from centres like that of the vibrant Reformed evangelicals I visited, that hope for and renewal of the diminishing church in the secular West might come.
Rev. Dr Craig Bartholomew
FROM THE DEVELOPMENT OFFICER:
On 2nd May I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast meeting at the Natural Kitchen in East London with David McIlroy, introducing me to the new Executive Director of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship (LCF), Mark Bainbridge.
Mark joined the LCF in January this year and is very impressive. He qualified as a solicitor in 1997, specialising in employment and disability, sex and race discrimination cases. He also studied Theology at Union School of Theology, Wales. He has a real heart for the gospel and, specifically in his role at LCF, a desire to see Christian lawyers resourced and supported throughout their careers. We’re hoping KLICE can help.
The meeting was primarily to discuss the Norman Anderson Law Award, which is now open for applications. What is most important is finding a
candidate who will really benefit from the award, like our first award-holder, James Gould, who now holds a lecturing post in the Law department at Plymouth University. The next award-holder will also be invited to join the KLICE Research Institute. We have recently welcomed our first legal scholar to the KRI and hope to develop a legal hub, which will form part of the KRI's current objective of examining our culture today, but from a legal perspective. This important research will feed back in to the LCF community through our publications and events; we are very excited about working with the LCF more closely.
If you would like to become a donor for the Sir Norman Anderson Law Award we would be delighted to hear for you. Please contact me on email@example.com or telephone
01223 566 620 on Tuesdays or Thursdays for more information.
NORMAN ANDERSON LAW AWARD
Applications are now open for the Norman Anderson Law Award, which supports the doctoral research of an early career Christian legal scholar. For further details see here.
David McIlroy - a barrister and Visiting Professor at the Centre for Commercial Law Studies, with a long standing association with KLICE - has recently published The End of Law: How Law’s Claims Relate to Law’s Aims, in which he applies Augustine’s questions about the nature of Law to modern legal philosophy, as well as offering a critical theory of natural law that draws on Augustine’s ideas.
James Skillen is a top Christian political theorist who takes the Bible seriously in his academic work. In his new book, God's Sabbath with Creation: Vocations Fulfilled, the Glory Unveiled, he articulates a rich vision of the Creator's purposes in creation, that goes beyond individualistic narratives of sin and salvation.
NEWS FROM THE KLICE COMMUNITY
Jenny Taylor reviewed Chris Roche's 'Devotion' photographic exhibition for Religion Unplugged: read it here.
Nigel Halliday will be giving two talks on Edvard Munch's The Scream, considering why it continues to have such impact. The first is at Widcombe Baptist Church, Pulteney Road, Bath, on Sunday 23rd June at 7pm. The second is at L’Abri, The Manor House, Farnham Rd, Greatham, Liss, at 8pm on Friday 12th July
(refreshments from 7:30). Entry to both events is free.
On 23rd May Craig Bartholomew gave the Annual ICBI Lecture at the University of Gloucestershire, speaking on 'The View from the Sinai: Sinai and Public Theology'.
The name “Sibylline Leaves” has various connotations; we derive it from a description of the writings of J.G.Hamann (1730-88), one of the greatest but least known Christian thinkers. Hamann recognized the significance of the challenges presented in his day by the Enlightenment, and sought to produce a corpus of writings responding accordingly. Our hope is that our “leaves” will contribute towards understanding and responding to the challenges of our own day.
The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics (KLICE) is part of Tyndale House. Where a writer is named, views and opinions expressed in this bulletin are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of KLICE or Tyndale House.
Photos used by permission.