Review of Networked Theology

2018-02-02 01.35.06

Review of Networked Theology: Negotiating faith in digital culture

Heidi A. Campbell and Stephen Garner (2016), Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic


Heidi A. Campbell is associate professor of communication at Texas A&M University. Stephen Garner is head of school in the School of Theology at Laidlaw College in Auckland, New Zealand. This book, one in a series by Baker Academics in Engaging Culture, edited by William A. Dyrness and Robert K. Johnson, is an attempt to discover how religion, specifically Christianity interacts with the New Media.

The book started with a good overview of the technology and how a networked world came into being. The crash course to explain the New Media is particularly interesting. The new media is basically the digital technologies as compared to the old one which is analogy. Being digital enabled the media to be transformed in ways that are continually evolving. One way to describe the new media is Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0.  Web 1.0 describes the early stages in the 1990s of the internet and the “world wide web” (www) and email were the most popular means of communication. Along came Web 2.0 in the early 2000s with the rise of blogs, websites which allowed more interactivity. These platforms expanded to Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, and YouTube. In the last few years, Web 3.0 appears with cloud computing, mobile multipurpose smart devices and smartphones. Already, there are signs that Web 4.0 has already arrived. Web 4.0 deals with augmented reality (VR) technologies. It is amazing how fast these new technologies have been adopted by communities worldwide. What is even more amazing is how rapidly these technologies became embedded into their cultures. These technologies enable connectivity and networking on a level that never existed before. Hence a networked society.

In these networked societies, Christian communities have been interacting, adapting and using it in their daily and religious lives. The authors suggest that what these communities need now is a ‘networked theology’.

This networked theology involves a gripping of faith that seeks to understand our technology and media world and asks how we should live faithfully in the world as the people of God, the body of Christ, and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit…A networked theology requires that Christians think deeply about technology and media, and not just as tools to be used or put aside. We are, rather to think about the values, inherent character, and environments created by technology and media as wider socio-economic systems (pp.146-147)

The Church has the means to come to terms with the existing technologies of its era and appropriate it for her use: written books, printing press, telephones and the internet. At times the technology became the means to shake the Church or reform it. One example is the printing press and the Reformation.

The authors have argued persuasively that a networked theology should be based on the biblical foundations of seeking and loving our neighbours. However, their arguments are often on how to use the technologies as a means to live in the networked world than as means to know God. Technology is not God and one has to be careful in the discussion as to not mistake the means for ends. In a similar vein, perhaps we should have motorcar theology or a theology of reading if we are too focused on the technology. More explanation should be given in what is networked theology rather than what it can do. Both authors are distinguished scholars and have contributed significantly to the Digital Religion studies. This book attempted to merge the results of their years of research and study: Campbell’s media studies and Garner’s theological studies. With respect to both authors, I felt that they have not proven that there is such a concept as Networked Theology. Theology is according to their definition ‘teaching or study of god (p.10). What they has postulated is a nuanced interaction of Christianity in a networked society. The book is not without its merits. It provides an overview landscape of the New Media in which the church as to navigate.

Indonesian Balinese Artist Nyoman Nuarta


STRESS (1988)

Balinese artist Nyoman Nuarta who is based in Bandung, Indonesia expouses a deep Balinese Hindu spirituality in his art. Yet the themes of his art are contemporary and political. He deals with the disharmony of man with man, with nature and with the cosmos. He highlights the exploitation of nature, the poor, injustice, and man’s inhumanity with man. Nuarta works with copper and with bricks and mortar. His works range from monuments to smaller artworks.  His monumental statues include the massive Patung Garuda Wisnu Kencana (Badung, Bali), 60 meter tall Monumen Jalesveva Jayamahe (Surabaya), and  Monumen Proklamasi Indonesia (Jakarta). His smaller artworks are displayed at the NuArt Sculpture Park in Bandung which contains his gallery and workshop.

Well known in Indonesia because of his outspokenness and his art, Nuarta is relatively unknown outside Indonesia. He is regarded as a major contributor to the Indonesia New Art Movement. However, he is often verified for his provocative political views and his view of the destruction of natural resources, poverty and injustice in his beloved Indonesia.

Personally, I find his mastery use of space in the sculptures displayed in Bandung as refreshing as Rembrandt’s use of light. His sculptures have multiple layers of meanings. Though an extract art, its realism is horrifying as it reveals the true human condition. Each layer brings us deeper into the horrors and wickedness of the human tradition. I came away shaken by his commentaries on what is happening in Indonesia and the rest of the world.


two orang utan huddled in fear as a forest fire destroy their jungle



SIN (1994)

a woman netted in mesh wire, the hollow spread out body becoming one with the copper-mesh




The rush to nowhere. The hurried and the busy.




The 1998 Jakarta Tragedy during the collapse of government system called ‘Orde Baru’, many women were raped during the chaos. Nuarta presented a sad story about a Chinese woman who was one of the rape victims. The tragedy ended with many of the women committing suicide.



John Sung and Mental Illness

john sung01

I am fascinated by how God uses people with mental illnesses. One of the persons I am studying is John Sung, a famous Chinese evangelist in South East Asia and China during the Twentieth Century. I have written a paper on John Sung and his mental illness and had presented it at The Society of the Study of Christian Spirituality Conference in the University of Notre Dame a few years ago. I have been meaning to rewrite the paper for publication but have not got around to it yet.

I came across some new insights at “The Biographical Dictionary of CHINESE Christianity.

John Sung’s life story is interesting

According to his testimony, he continued to read broadly; translated the Dao De Jing into English, and exploring philosophy and history on his own. He was at first influenced by his theologically liberal teachers, but everything changed – again, according to his testimony – when he underwent a dramatic conversion while attending evangelistic meetings in January, 1927. He also said he was born again on February 10 of that year.

Fully transformed, Song zealously evangelized his professors, warning them of eternal punishment if they did not repent. They were not amused, and had him locked up in an insane asylum, where he proceeded to read the Bible through at forty times in seven months. He was released through the efforts of an American pastor, and returned to China in 1927.
That is the story which has come down from Song and his biographers, especially Leslie Lyall.


Recent research, based partly on reliable archival materials from Union Theological Seminary, paint a different picture. It seems that Song really did suffer some sort of psychological breakdown, leading to hallucinations, strange dreams, visions, and bizarre behavior, including impenetrable letters and diagrams. Having been diagnosed as psychotic by three psychiatrists, he signed the self-admittance form to Bloomingdale Hospital in White Plains, New York.

My personal diagnosis is that John Sung suffers from Manic Depressive Psychosis.

While in the mental hospital, he became obsessed with a female goddess, “Shenmu, the Queen Mother,” whom he variously called, “Mary, Mother of Jesus, Queen of Queens,” “Mary Magdelen, Mother of Christ,” or simply, “Goddess.” On April 4, 1927, he “married” her in a ceremony that included a “holy kill and holy union.” His diaries contain messages that he purportedly received from her. Later, he ceased writing and filled his diaries with complicated digrams and graphs that supposedly showed the correlation between the Gospels and radio waves….Song returned to China instead of resuming classes at Union. One of the first things he did was to visit the temple of Guanyin, a Buddhist figure sometimes merged with the Taoist Queeen Mother of the West.

This part about his mental illness seemed to suggest that he had schizophrenia. The material about his association with Quan Yin, the Daoist Goddess of Mercy was new to me.

However, this does not deter me from believing that God uses people with mental illness for His purpose. My thesis is that not only use God uses people with mental illness, He uses the mental illness itself. Otherwise, how do we explain how in his short 12 years of active ministry, John Sung did more for Christianity than most people did in a lifetime.

In that 12 years, John Sung empowered the churches in South East Asia by visiting them in at least three tours, and also laid the foundation for the churches in China in his travels around the country that enable the churches to survive the Communist takeover. This could be the manic energy from his mental illness that allowed him to preach three times a day and five times on Sunday for months at a time!



Today’s guest post is by Dr Tang U-Liang

One less talked about heritage of the Reformation is perhaps on the topic of assurance. It follows naturally from Luther’s (re)discovery that justification is by faith alone. But the connection is perhaps not as straightforward as one might think.
It is perhaps been supposed in Christian circles that we can have assurance of salvation because we are not saved on the basis of our good works or good behaviour. Instead, since we only need to believe, we can be assured of our salvation. If salvation had been by works, so the argument goes, then our success in works is not certain, for we may fail. We are after all merely human. So therefore, since salvation is not by works (but by faith), we have full assurance.
But I don’t think it follows, logically speaking, that one’s assurance of salvation as a Christian is obtained on the basis of our faith alone. After all, in 2 Peter 1:3-11, Peter talks about the effort to attain to godliness, virtue and love in addition to faith as a way to “confirm your calling and election.” The assurance of salvation therefore cannot be just obtained from mere introspection of our confession in absence of evidence. On the contrary, we see here that Peter recognises that “for in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” There is no entrance through the pearly gates without evidence of a changed life.
It could seem like a “betrayal” to some Christians to discover that Christianity isn’t just about believing, but that it demands some thing from us. But what then of assurance? How can we still say that we can go to heaven if we die tomorrow but yet need to “confirm our election”. It does seem like a contradiction in terms.
The thinking that salvation is tied to the success or failure of our good works is so hard wired into our human psyche that assurance is often mistakenly interpreted in terms of a basic opposition between what we need to do for ourselves versus what we cannot do for ourselves (i.e. for which matters does God have intervene).
Instead, assurance rightly understood in the context of God’s covenant with us upon our putting our trust in him. After conversion, to be assured of salvation is to believe first and foremost that God is no longer angry with us because of sin, but have forgiven us completely. It is His convenant with us that He will never abandon us after conversion but will continually be with us until the day we die and see Him again. This is what assurance is. In assurance the question is not so much “Will I go to heaven?” as it is “Does God still love me?” to which the answer (to both questions) is a resounding “YES!”
So often in discussions of assurance and in the debate between Calvinists and Arminians on the correctness of “once saved always saved” what is often an unspoken assumption on both sides is that salvation is tied to the sincerity or genuineness of faith. Well, then we ask, how do we know that our faith is genuine? The assumption here is that a Christian can finally fall away by just finally denying Christ.
But I contend that nobody, once making a profession for Christ, will suddenly one day just say “ I no longer believe” for no good reason at all. Indeed, a Christian may renounce the faith, but usually under extreme persecution and even so, I very doubt that that counts as apostasy. And because true apostasy is final (c.f. Hebrews 6:1-8), mere public denunciations of the faith does not necessarily mean apostasy. If so, people like Peter (who denied Christ) and Wang Ming Dao were irrevocably “unsaved”. Instead, the great danger for all Christians is not renunciation of belief, but an abandoning of their walk with God. Merely maintaining the outward forms of a religion while the inner man does not love God anymore.
How then does assurance fit in into this? There is at least three aspects of assurance that I can think of that relate to the life of a Christian in the body: The assurance of justification, the assurance of perseverance (or sanctification) and the assurance that we will see God again (the second coming of Christ). It is in that we know that we are justified, that we can draw near to God. The Father is no longer angry with us and loves us, so we have that assurance that He will never cast us out (from our proverbial Eden) ever again. The assurance of justification is our rainbow in the sky, for when evil befalls us, it is not a punishment for sins, but the discipline of a loving Father. It is through this assurance that we need not put barriers between us and God (Hebrews 4:16). No longer any need to pray to the saints, or Mary or have a priest intercede on our behalf because we have Christ to do all these for us. We do not need to worship from afar – the curtain rent from top to bottom.
There is at least three aspects of assurance that I can think of that relate to the life of a Christian in the body: The assurance of justification, the assurance of perseverance (or sanctification) and the assurance that we will see God again (the second coming of Christ).
The assurance of perseverance is the assurance that we will never lack in the energy to godliness throughout our entire lives. We are promised a “new heart” (Ezekiel 36:26) and so while there is striving, and effort and much denying of self, it is not exhausting, nor a burdensome and empty ritual we perform. It done out of love, and therefore its place in our salvation becomes less a matter of earning marks, as it is to please our Father in heaven. We can see that even though God demands works of us, he does not demand it as exchange for a place in heaven, but because he is a holy God and we are to be like him.
And finally we have assurance that our salvation will be completed. God is the author and perfecter of our faith. If we have been called, we will be assured that God will finish the job. Once again, we will meet him on the beautiful shore, where every tear will be wiped from our eyes and death, the final enemy is no more. All the warnings about falling away, all the cajoling and the encouragement to live a god fearing life are fulfilled in the second coming of Christ. Once it was a warning, and when Christ comes again, we see how it was used to turn our stubborn hearts around. Once we felt that God was far away, but when we finally see his face, we realise that he never left us. Month after month, we ate the bread and drank the wine of his presence, waiting for the day when we will feast with him in heaven, that day is now, when Christ comes again.


It is a bare cold rock, far from the warmth that heaven brings. But come it will, borne on a chariot and peals of trumpet song. Bright sound, He comes announced and To all who hear him cry, “At last!”

Taking your spiritual temperature

What is your spiritual temperature?


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of Darkness”, writes Charles Dickens in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities. The two cities, Dickens has in mind are Paris and London. We, Christians are also living in a Tale of Two Cities. The Bible refers to the two cities as Jerusalem and Babylon. We are part of an epic drama that involves our eternal souls.


We are fast approaching the new millenium, a time of great happenings, a time when our Lord may come again in glory. We are told to be alert to His Coming, be ready for His Coming. “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ” (Mark13:37)

Wang Ming Tao, a famous Chinese Christian taught us to always check our life with a spiritual thermometer so that we will be spiritually healthy when the Lord comes.


 [place a ‘x’ at the area where you feel are in spiritually at this moment]

Healthy Spiritual Life           Unhealthy Spiritual Life


Fervent in prayer           Lethargic in prayer


Bible reading tasteful


          Bible reading insipid
Fully trusting           Anxious and doubting


Loving God more than everything           Loving worldly things more than God


Resisting and hating sin           Compromising with sin


Giving God the glory in all things           Seeking self glory in everything


Fully at peace           Much worrying


Giving thanks in all           Much murmuring


Always happy and singing           Always sad and sighing


Peaceful and patient in trouble           Easily provoked to anger


Much consideration of others           Much consideration of self


Seeking God’s in all things           Seeking men’s pleasure in all things


Yearning for spiritual things in the heart           Coveting earthly things in the heart


Speaking words that edify others           Speaking words that criticise others


Happy to witness for Christ           No power to witness


Cheerful to give to God’s work           Stingy and unwilling to give


Rejoicing in other’s good success           Jealous of others’ good success


A helping hand to those in trouble           Nonchalant at other’s misfortune


Willing to forgive others           Not willing to forgive others


Character first           Clothing first


Happy to keep close to devout Christians           Happy in the company of worldly friends


Happy to hear faithful admonitions           Happy to hear words of flattery


Eagerly hoping for the Lord’s return           No thought of things touching on the Lord’s return



The shaded boxes gives a visual aid to the state of our spiritual life, our spiritual temperature. Are we on fire for the Lord and are we stone cold?

Are we spiritually healthy? Can we with confidence say, “ Come, Lord Jesus, Come”


Into the Depths of Living Water

my new book


Recommended Books on Bioethics – an annotated list

This is my personal annotated list


Beauchamp, T. and J. Childress (2009). Principles of Biomedical Ethics. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Tom Beaucamp is from the Kennedy of Ethics and Department of Philosophy, Georgetown University, Washington D.C. and James Childress, Department of religious Studies of the University of Virginia. This book is essential reading for students of bioethics in many universities. It is ‘supposedly secular’ in that it draws its foundational principles of moral norms from the philosophies of utilitarianism, Kantianism, rights theory and communitarianism. The principles of biomedical ethics are distilled into four principles:

(1) Respect for Autonomy

(2) Nonmaleficence

(3) Beneficence

(4) Justice.

They recognised that there are two way to do biomedical ethics. One is using top-down models (theory and application) and the other is bottom-up models (cases and analogy). They suggest an integrated model using reflective equilibrium.


Elliot, John., Ho, Calvin., and Lim, Sylvia. (eds.) (2010). Bioethics in Singapore: The Ethical Microcosm. Singapore, World Scientific.

This book featured different chapters by various members who were involved in the Bioethics Advisory Committee (BAC) which was established to establish a framework and guide for bioethical research following the launch of the Biomedical Sciences Initiative by the Singapore Government. It documents the ‘institutionalisation of biomedical research ethics’ in Singapore. Bioethics and politics makes strange bed fellows.


Kuhse, H. and P. Singer, Eds. (2001). A Companion to Bioethics. Blackwell Companions to Philosophy. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.

Kuhse, H. and P. Singer, Eds. (2006). Bioethics: An Anthology. Blackwell Philosophy Anthologies. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.

Helga Kuhse was the Director of the Centre for Human Bioethics at Monash University and Peter Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University. Peter Singer is a man with ‘a dangerous mind’ which is what a television documentary on him and his work was entitled. I would like to meet him. I have never met anyone with a ‘dangerous mind.’ Most people I have met have ‘harmless minds.’ The 81 contributors which include individuals and organisations are mainly philosophers, ethicists, and counsellors. I am only able to identify one doctor and one medical organisation (American Medical Association). The articles are written from a distinctly non-Judaeo-Christian viewpoint and offer an interesting contrast to the following book, On Moral Medicine. Many articles have raised many points that Christian theologians have yet to identify, let alone address them.


Lammers, S. E. and A. Verley (1998). On Moral Medicine: Theological Perspectives in Medical Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

This massive tome of 1004 pages is a collection of essays written by Christian theologians and philosophers concerning the issues of biomedical ethics. This is an excellent selection with contributions from leading bioethicists for the last 30 years. Bioethics is a new science. The writing is mixed as some wrote as theologians and philosophers who are Christians while few wrote as Christians who are theologians and philosophers. What is surprising is the absence of medical doctors writing. One would have thought that Christian medical doctors will have more to contribute in this area. There is also a noticeable absence of Orthodox theologians and philosophers’ contribution. It is still a good book to give a broad Christian perspective on biomedical ethics.


Lovin, R. W. (2000). Christian Ethics: An Essential Guide. Nashville, TN, Abingdon Press.

Robin Lovin is Dean of Perkins School of Theology, Southern Baptist University in Dallas, Texas. This is a short and concise book on Christian ethics. It is a useful introductory text because Lovin shows from the Scripture and church history how the principles of Christian ethics are being developed as it interacts with the times and culture of each age. Christian ethic is a living developing discipline as it is being called upon by Christians to face new issues produced by science, technology and culture in every era.


Majeed, A. B. A., Ed. (2002). Bioethics: Ethics in the Biotechnology Century. Kuala Lumpur, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia.

The contributors to this book offer ideas and perspectives on the rise and challenges of biotechnology in the 21st century. The contributors include philosophers, ethicists, scientists, doctors, religious scholars and policy makers from Malaysia, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Philippines, and Indonesia.


Meilaender, G. (1996, 2005). Bioethics: A Prime for Christians. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Gilbert Meilander is the Phyllis and Richard Dussenberg Professor of Christian Ethics at Valparaiso University in Indiana and a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. The first edition of this book (1996) was chosen by World magazine as one of the top 100 books of the twentieth century. Where Lovin’s book was on the principles of Christian bioethics, Meileander’s book focused on issues of biomedical ethics. He writes on procreation versus reproduction, abortion, genetic advance, prenatal screening, suicide and euthanasia, refusing treatment, organ donations and human experimentation. As in theology and applied theology (how theology is to be lived out in daily lives, not in the ivory towers of the academia), there is bioethics and applied bioethics. Meilander is dealing with applied bioethics. Things are often different in conceptualisation, and in what happens in the daily life of Christians living in a fallen world. As Martin Luther once commented on theology, theology is living out our troubles and sinfulness in our daily lives (my paraphrase). Meilander has expanded our understanding of bioethics but my personal opinion is that he was too dogmatic in too many things. Many things are so not black and white in our daily lives.



Pence, G. E. (2008). Classic Cases in Medical Ethics: accounts of the cases and issues that define medical ethics. New York, McGraw-Hill.

Professor Pence is the professor of Philosophy, School of Medicine and Department of Philosophy, University of Alabama at Birmingham, United States of America. This is an excellent book because it documents the various cases that produced the court decisions that are affecting biomedical ethics today in the United States. Written in an easy non academic style, it nevertheless give a background to the who, why and what to the various thinking on death and dying, beginnings of human life, ethical theory, research, and individual versus public good.


Shelly, J. A. (1980). Dilemma: A Nurse’s Guide for Making Ethical Decisions. Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press.

Judith Allen Shelly was a nurse and was with the Nurses Christian Fellowship. In this book, she outlines a step-by-step Christian decision making process that is very useful.


Singapore, National Council of Churches (2002). A Christian Response to the Life Sciences. Singapore, Genesis Books.

Bishop Dr Robert Solomon was asked by the National Council of Churches of Singapore to form a Life Sciences Study Group to study the rapid development of life sciences in 2000. There were 14 members in the Study Group; comprising of doctors, scientists, theologians, ethicists and pastors. The Study Group identified three areas of study:

(1) the human genome project

(2) cloning and stem cell

(3) genetically modifed food

This book is good reading with contributions from members of the Study Group (Dr Roland Chia, Rev Dr Tom Harvey, Dr Mark Chan, Rev Dr Daniel Koh, Dr Anthony Ang, Prof Kon Oi Lian and Dr Soong Tuck Wah). It shows a high level of scholarship and engagement with current issues. However IMHO there should be a more contextualised approach. I am interested to know what Singaporeans Christians will do.




MacIntyre, A. (1998). A Short History of Ethics. Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge.

It will be difficult to understand bioethics if one does not have any idea about the development of ethics. Bioethics is a new branch of ethics, barely thirty years old. It is also known as applied ethics to differentiate it from the theological ethics. In this book, which is highly recommended, MacIntyre has managed to condense the often dense history of ethics into one small volume (only 264 pages).


Singer, P. (1994). Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of our Traditional Ethics. New York, St. Martin’s Griffin.

This book, together with his earlier Practical Ethics is his best works. Here Singer outlines his consequentialist theories about human life and death. His theories stand only if one is a true atheist and a fully detached human person living outside of human society.


Preece, G., Ed. (2002). Rethinking Peter Singer: A Christian Critique. Downers Groove, IL, InterVarsity Press.

Four fellow Australians of Peter Singer set out to critique his theories and work. They are Gordon Preece, director of the Centre for Applied Christian Ethics, Ridley College in Australia; Graham Cole, principal of Ridley College and teaches theology and ethics; Lindsay Wilson, vice principal of Ridley College and has degrees in law and Old Testament studies; and Andrew Sloane is a medical doctor and teaches Old Testament, theology and ethics at Ridley College. They claim to be the first group of Christians to publicly critique Peter Singer’s theories. Looking from a Christian perspective, I agree fully with their critique on Singer’s views on abortion, animal experimentation, euthanasia, allocation of healthcare resources and Christianity. Peter Singer is a non-practicing Jew and an atheist. However I am uncomfortable in the way these Christians do their critique. Peter Singer was liken to Herod, killer of children in the New Testament. And they question why Singer did not euthanize his mother when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Along the way, their critique of Peter Singer has become personal attacks and lack grace. The greatest lesson I learned form this book is how to be graceful with people who holds different viewpoints from me.


Kuhse, H., Ed. (2002). Peter Singer: Unsanctifying Human Life, Essays on Ethics. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.

Peter Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp professor of bioethics at the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University. Helga Kuhse is Honorary Research Fellow at Monash University and Senior Visiting Fellow at the University of Melbourne. Peter Singer is regarded as one of the world’s most famous or infamous philosophers with huge followings of people who loved his teachings or hated them. He advocates animal rights, infanticide, euthanasia, fair allocation of scarce healthcare resources, embryo experimentation, environmental responsibilities, and reflections on how we should live. This book is a collection some of Singer’s best and most challenging articles from 1971-2002. As the man is a prolific writer and speaker, I find it helpful to have some of his more diverse work in one volume.





Rodnick, P. A. (2007). Person, Grace, and God. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans.

This is a book that need to be slowly chewed, meditate upon and digested. Philip Rolnick is professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota. This is not an easy book to read but a great book to understand. Rolnick takes on the tremendous task of investigating the concept of personhood. Rolnick started his investigation from the etymological and historical development of the concept of personhood. Then he takes on the challenges to the concept of personhood from neo-Darwinism, polemical deconstruction and from the critical stance. He concludes “(u)ltimately, to be a human person means that the totality of who we are is open-textured to the presence and power of God.”

This is a remarkable work of scholarship of a theologian and philosopher whose methodical use of exegesis and analysis gives us a good idea of the concept of what it means to be a person.


Lazareth, W. H., Ed. (2004). Persons in Community: Theological Voices from the Pastorate. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

While Philip Rolnick in Person, Grace and God deals with the theological and philosophical concept of personhood, this book deals with the pastoral aspects of persons. Its main thesis is that persons can only be understood in community. This community is God’s people who are faithful stewards and prudent managers of the world. William Lazareth, the editor is the Jerald C. Brauer Distinguished Professor of Lutheran Studies at Carthage College, Kenosha in Wisconsin. He is also a program associate of the Pastor-Theologian Program at the Center of Theological Inquiry. This program is supported by an endowment by the Lilly Foundation. The program is set up because some Christians have perceived that there is a separation of theology and the church. “A significant part of the current crisis in the church is the hiatus between academic theology as an intellectual discipline and ecclesial theology as a confessional stance” notes Wallace M. Aston, Jr. the director of the Center of theological Inquiry (p.ix). The Pastor-Theologian Program “would seek to focus attention on the ordained ministry as a theological vocation and on the church as a theological community’ (p.xiii). Sixty pastors were involved in the program and discussion. Twenty of these contributed articles to this volume. The articles are easy to read and give a significant pastoral perspective on many of the issues dealing with personhood. It is a ground up theological investigation on what it means to be human.


Waters, B. and R. Cole-Turner (2003). God and the Embryo: Religious Voices on Stem Cells and Cloning. Washington D.C., Georgetown University Press.

Brent Waters is director of the center for Ethics and Values and assistant professor of Christian Social Ethics at Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Ronald Cole-Turner is the H. Parker Sharp Professor of theology and ethics at Pittsburgh Theological seminary and an ordained minister in the united Church of Christ. These two collected and edited various denominational positional statements on embryonic cell research. These statements included those from the Pontifical Academy for Life, The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, United Methodist Church, Southern Baptist Convention, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA), Union of the Orthodox Congregations of America and Rabbinical Council of America and The President’s Council on Bioethics. With statements from such august committees, one will expect a consensus among Christians and Jews about stem cell research and cloning. Unfortunately, what came out is not a symphony but a confusing bubble of voices. While most feel that embryonic stem cell research should not be allowed, very few statements gave convincing evidence for this conclusion. Most appeal to emotions and a sort of pseudo-social theology that involves imputing more into the Bible that what the Bible actually says. One gets the impression that the various denomination study committees are more political and socio-cultural bound than theological.


Cahill, L. S., Ed. (2005). Genetics, theology, and Ethics. New York, The Crossroad Publishing Company.

This book represents the findings of a group of Catholic theologians and bioethicists from America, Europe and the developing countries who met annually for five years (1996-2001) to study the questions of “Genetics, Theology, and Ethics.” A highly readable book, it represents the interactions of Catholic theology and contemporary science.


Hauerwas, S. (1994). God, Medicine and Suffering. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Stanley Hauerwas, 1990, 1994 , God, Medicine, and Suffering, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans. First published in 1990 as Naming the Silences: God, medicine and the Problem of Pain. Stanley Hauerwas is professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina. In this book which has become a classic, Hauerwas engaged the question of suffering. Drawing from stories of sick and dying children to clarify his discussion of theological issues, Hauerwas shows that medicine is not the answer to the silence cry of suffering and pain. Instead he shows that a God and his caring community “can give a voice to that pain in a manner that at least gives us a way to go on.”



Gorman, M. J. (1982). Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish and Pagan attitudes in the Greco-Roman World. Downers Groove, IL, InterVarsity Press.

Gorman did an interesting study of how Christians, Jews and the Greco-Roman world viewed abortion in the first four hundred years of church history. Abortion was a common practice in the Greco-Roman world; the fetus was not regarded as human and hence not murder. The Jewish community also allowed abortion as the fetus were not considered human until he/she was born. The early Christians however held a consistent stand against abortion. Gorman believed that while greatly influenced by Greek philosophy, the church nevertheless heeled Jesus’ teaching in loving their neighbours and the unborn fetus were regarded as a neighbour. The church fathers such as Tertullian, Augustine, Basil the Great, Jerome and Ambrose were all against abortion.

Brown, H. O. J. (1977). Death before Birth. New York, Thomas Nelson Inc, Publishers.

Harold Brown was professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He was one of the few Christians who sounded the alarm and called attention to the increasing rate of abortion in the United States. I remember reading this book and the impact it has on me. It must have been horrifying to Professor Brown to know that in the years to come since his book, abortion was legalised and has become a right in his country. And millions have died before birth.


Hoffmeier, J. K., Ed. (1987). Abortion: A Christian Understanding and Response. Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House.

James Hoffmeier who teaches the Old Testament at Wheaton College has collected an interesting mix of articles on abortion. There is a section on historical, biblical and theological aspects such as “abortion in the ancient near east,” “abortion and the Old Testament law,” another on ethical aspect, and one on practical concerns.

The section on practical concerns is good with articles on psychological consequences of abortion, crisis-pregnancy ministry and after abortion (“What does a Christian-especially a pastor- say to someone who has had an abortion?).



Reproductive Issues

Hui, E. C. (2002). At the Beginning of Life: Dilemmas in Theological Bioethics. Downes Groove, IL, InterVarsity Press.

Edwin C. Hui is professor of biomedical ethics and Christianity and Chinese culture at Regent College, Vancouver and adjunct professor of philosophy and religious studies at Peking, Fudan and Sichuen Universities. Hui’s original training was as a medical doctor. Hui approach to theological bioethics was through the Christian understanding of personhood and how that applies to the beginning of human life dilemmas.

George, R. P. and C. Tollefsen (2008). Embryo: A Defence of Human Life. New York, Doubleday.

Robert George is Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University and a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. Christopher Tollefsen is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. Questions about abortion and stem-cell research have created seemingly unbridgeable gaps between Americans. Should faith-based views be considered when deciding public policy? Using up-to-date research, George and Tollefsen show that embryos are humans beings from conception; and argue against “moral dualism” and the utilitarian worldview that places society’s “greater good” above the life of the fetus. This books differs from others in the sense that the authors argue from the perspective of public policy making in the United States. They argued against embryonic stem cell research and remind the public that the state has an “ethical and moral obligation to protect embryonic human beings in just the same manner that it protects every other human beings…” This is an irony when there is a call by some Americans for the separation of church and state. However, it seems that when it suits some people’s purposes, the state should fight for their causes. The King in the musical The King and I would throw his hands up in despair, “It’s a puzzlement!” I agree with you, dear king.



Gula, R. M. (1994). Euthanasia: Moral and Pastoral Perspectives. Mahwah, NJ, Paulist Press.

Richard M. Gula, S.S. is professor of moral theology at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California. He gave the Catholic tradition’s reasoning and motivations for opposing physician-assisted suicide. It is interesting to read their well reasoned objections. In Declaration on Euthanasia issued by Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 26, 1980, there is a section on suffering. “According to Christian teaching, however, suffering especially suffering during the last moments of life, has a special place in God’s saving plan; it is in fact a sharing in Christ’s passion and a union with the redeeming sacrifice which he offered in obedience to the Father’s will.” Gula outlines his pastoral response as “a call for the personal virtues of humility, courage, hope, within a community or parish committed to caring, hospitality, and interdependence.”

Chia, Roland. (2009). The Right to Die? A Christian Response to Euthanasia.

Singapore, Genesis Books.

Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College, Singapore. This book is the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) statement in their stand against euthanasia. I am unable to discern how much of it is Roland’s view and which is the consensus statement.


Larson, E. J. and D. W. Amundsen (1998). A Different death: Euthanasia and the Christian Tradition. Downers Groove, IL, InterVarsity Press.

Edward Larson is professor of history and law at the University of Georgia. Darrel Amundsen is professor of classics and chair of the department of modern and classical languages at Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington. This is one of the books that influenced my thinking on euthanasia. These two authors did a historical survey of euthanasia or mercy killing from the early church period until today. Since mercy killing is closely associated to suicide, they also included suicide in their survey. I was fascinated to learn that the ancient Greeks and Romans favoured suicide which they think were honourable. The early church however was counter-cultural and was against suicide in any form. It was Christians who started the hospice movement in the last century. Highly recommended.


Tang, A. (2005). A Good Day to Die: A Christian Perspective on Mercy Killing. Singapore, Genesis Books.

Euthanasia or mercy killing is an emotive and controversial subject. Tremendous advances in medical sciences and biomechanical technologies have prolonged our lives. Unfortunately, these same knowledge and technologies have prolonged our dying. Many today struggle with the issue of euthanasia or mercy killing, either for themselves or for their loved ones. Alex Tang approaches this issue from different perspectives. He uses examples from patient case histories to illustrate his points. This book will help those who struggle with euthanasia or mercy killing to come to some resolution of death with dignity. God in His sovereignty determines the times of our birth and of our death. If He has chosen that day for us to die, then it is a good day to die. When we bring about our own death, however, the day of dying is not of God’s choosing but of ours. Do we have the right to choose when we die? Do we have the right to determine the way we are to die? And do we have the right to ask someone to kill us?


Peck, M. S. (1997). Denial of the Soul: Spiritual and Medical Perspectives on Euthanasia and Morality. London, Simon and Schuster.

Psychiatrist Scott Peck examines the issues of euthanasia and the culture of fear of our mortality. He makes some interesting points which he illustrates from his medical experience. He writes,” While it is not necessarily our lot in this age that we should suffer physically to the end of our endurance, it is still our lot that we should so suffer emotionally. The denial of this fact of life is the central defect of the age.” Death is not just the dead of the physical body. Peck argues that we need to prepare for our deaths emotionally and spiritually. He thinks that euthanasia is not justified. However he pointed out two issues related with the euthanasia debate that need to be resolved: (1) the need for better pain management, and (2) secularism (Americans claim to be religious but are not committed spiritually). Peck provides a different perspective in our dialogue on euthanasia.


Humphry, D. (1991, 1996). Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying. New York, Dell Publishing.2nd ed.

Derek Humphry, 1992, Dying with Dignity: Understanding Euthanasia,

Secaucas, NJ: Carol Publishing Group.

Derek Humphry caused a national sensation in the United States when he published Final Exit in which he argues that everyone has a right to die and has a right to ask others to help them to die. Humphry’s personal experience when his first wife, Jean, who was suffering from terminal breast cancer and asked him to help her die affected him deeply. After her death in 1975, he started the National Hemlock Society in 1980 which lobbies for legalisation of euthanasia and a ‘right to die’ movement. Humphry’s second book, Dying with Dignity serves as a companion to Final Exit in which he presented a ‘systematic’ consideration for the right-to-die movement.

Humphry writes a blog, Assisted-Suicide Blog


Koop, C. E. (1976). The Right to Live; The Right to Die. Wheaton, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Dr Koop was surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and professor of paediatric surgery at the University of Pennysylvania. He became famous in 1974 when he and his team successfully separated Siamese twin girls in a pioneering operation. This book was important as Koop looked at the Supreme Court Ruling on abortion and Karen Quinlan from a personal, social, medical, and theological point of view. Though the facts of the cases are dated, his astute observations and predictions on how these two key events will affect our lives are timeless.


Blocher, M. (1999). The Right to Die? Caring Alternatives to Euthanasia. Chicago, Moody Press.

Mark B. Blocher is Director for the Center for Biblical Ethics. There are a few approaches to bioethics. In 1982 psychologist Carol Gilligan suggests that women and men approach moral issues differently. This is taken up by feminist thinking (I do not mean it in a negative sense). Women are more emphatic and intuitive which Gilligan call the ‘ethic of care.’ Men on the other other hand, then to follow rules and principles which was named ‘ethic of right and justice.’ However, these approaches are not strictly gender restrictive. Blocher took on the ethic of care in relationship to his work on the dying. However, being a Baptist pastor and bioethicist, he wants to offer more than just what the “death with dignity” movement is offering. “Killing is not caring,” he writes,” It may look compassion…even merciful but it is not.” In the ethic of care, he finds that he can offer more. Blocher suggests that Christians must be proactive in providing alternatives to assisted suicide and euthanasia while offering at least three promises to the terminally ill:

  1. To the best of our ability, we will not allow you to die in pain
  2. We will not allow you to be alone
  3. You will not be a burden to anyone

Caring for the dying need commitment, sacrifice, and personal involvement.


Organ Transplant

Lock, M. (2002). Twice dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death. Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press.

One of the key debates in organ transplantation is the definition of death. The mostly held definition is the Harvard definition which is brain dead- no EEG, no brain stem activity. There is a need for organs for transplantation and the medical profession is tinkering with the definition of death so as to get more viable organs for transplantation. The definition of death has been modified to either brain dead or cardiac death. Cardiac death occurs if there is proof that when a heart stops, it is irreversible and unlike to resume beating again. The National Institute of Medicine suggests 5 minutes but hospitals have been reducing the time to 2 minutes and even 90 seconds. This means that a potential organ donor is pronounced dead when he or her heart stops for 90 seconds and is prepared for organ harvesting. In 90 seconds, the brain will still be alive. In some hospitals, such patients are given large dose of morphine in case the potential donor feels ‘pain’. This is a funny argument because if someone feels pain, that person must still be alive. I suspect the reason is that if allowing the heart to stop doesn’t cause brain death, the morphine will, thus sparing the doctors, hospital, and ethics committees the embarrassment of being sued because the heart restarts during organ harvesting.  Margaret Lock did a good job of documenting the shifting definition of death. The interesting title is because an organ donor may die twice. His or her heart stops (cardiac death), then the body is kept living by a machine, the heart restarted and then allowed to stop when the organ harvesting has been done. This is a very thought provoking and frightening book about organs transplantation.


Chia, Roland. (2009). The Ethics of Human Organ Trading. Singapore,

Genesis Books.

This is the National Council of Churches Singapore (NCCS) statement of their stand against organ trading written by Roland.



Peters, T. (2007). The Stem Cell Debate. Minneapolis, MI, Fortress Press.

Ted Peters teaches systematic theology at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He is an associate of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences and is the co-editor of the center’s journal Theology and Science. Peters gives a good overview of the stem cell debate by framing the discussion into three frameworks:

(1) The embryo protection framework. The moral status of the ex vivo embryo (not implanted) and the principle of non-maleficience are central

(2) The nature protection framework. The fear that we may cross the line to manipulate genetics as in ‘playing God’

(3) The medical benefits framework. Beneficience that puts relief of human suffering as the core of its reasoning

It is out of these three frameworks that a fourth will arise-The research standards framework which will essentially be government policies informed by the other three frameworks.


Wilmut, I., K. Campbell, et al. (2000). The Second creation: Dolly and the Age of Biological Control. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

Ian Wilmut was with Roslin Institute in Scotland when he successfully cloned Dolly. I believe he is working in Biopolis in Singapore now; nope he left. Keith Campbell is a cell biologist and embryologist with the University of Nottingham. Colin Tudge is a science writer. The first part of the book was an account of their work with cloning Dolly from the cell of an adult sheep in 1996. The second part was interesting as they reflected on their breakthrough in genetic engineering, genomics, and cloning using adult cells. They believed there will be tremendous ramification from their experiments and predict great changes in biological experimentation. Biology will the the next area of scientific development. It was interesting that they entitled their book, The Second Creation. An interesting insight into how scientists work, think and behave.

Tang, A. (2006). Live and Let Live: A Christian Perspective on Biotechnology. Petaling Jaya, Kairos Research Centre Sdn Bhd.

This is the age of cutting edge biotechnology. With the completion of the mapping of the human genome in 2000, we are poised for a great leap in life-changing biotechnological discoveries and innovations. The Bible does not give specific answers to these questions. Using biblical principles, this book seeks to help Christians to understand and be informed about these issues. Some of these questions may sound like science fiction. We have seen the way the silicon revolution of computers; mobile phones and the Internet have changed our lives within a decade. The biotechnology revolution has already begun. We are just beginning to experience its effect. We are living in ‘interesting times’.



Tada, J. E. and N. M. d. D. Cameron (2006). How to be a Christian in a Brave New World. Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan.

Joni is a quadriplegic who has spent three decades advocating for the disability community. Nigel M. de Cameron is research professor of bioethics at the Illinois Institute of Technology and president of the Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future. The book is targeted at the general informed reading public and deals with human cloning, designer babies, redefining human nature and human harvesting. Though they do not offer new arguments, the recommended reading list and the Internet links are worth looking at.

Peters, T. (1996). For the Love of Children: Genetic Technology and the Future of the Family. Louisville, KN, Westminster John Knox Press.

Ted Peters is professor of systematic theology at pacific Lutheran Seminary. His writing is very precise and logical. In this book he takes on the challenge of looking at biotechnology and molecular genetics from the children’s viewpoint. This is a unique approach and Peters’ thesis is that all children have claims on their parents and in turn their families. This places the responsibility of guarding the morality and placing boundaries on genetic research and application on the parents and indirectly on society and the church. He proposes an ethic “for the love of children.”

Fukuyama, F. (2002). Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. London, Profile Books.

Francis Fukuyama is Bernard L Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at the Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University. A social scientist, Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man in 1989 which which he proclaimed that due to the exhaustion of alternatives to liberal democracy, history as we know it has come to an end. Ten years later and we are still here; he revised his theories to that history has not ended yet because we have not reached the end of science. Fukuyama asks an important question: How does the ability to modify human nature affect liberal democracy? Fukuyama examines how the changing understanding of human nature -from Plato and Aristotle to the present- has affected society. Then he extrapolates into the future on how the consequences of genetic manipulation will affect society especially liberal democracy. The foundation of liberal democracy is based on the concept that all humans are created equal.


A Christ Centered Doctor: The Call to be a Holy Testimony (8)

As Christian doctors, we have excellent opportunities to share about our Lord Jesus Christ. Today’s devotional verses stated ‘in work or deed’. Yes, we are to share about Jesus in words if circumstances allow, being mindful about professionalism. In deed always, as we serve our patients in the way of love. The key to the verses is on the ‘you’ rather than on what you say or do. Our life and character is the best testimony about our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to be witnesses for the expansion of the Kingdom of God. A witness is one who speaks or reveals what she has seen and experienced. Who we are, not just what we do that reveals Christ. It is important that we are credible and reliable witnesses, bearing the fruit of the Spirit. The testimony of our witness is to be full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal.5:22-23).

Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


In addition to our characters, our attitude counts. Our attitude should be one of gratitude. Being gratefully and always giving thanks changes us in profound ways. Gratitude is a choice. Like the metaphor of seeing a glass half full or half empty, gratitude is choosing to see the positive in all things, even when everything has fallen apart. Why? This is because our God is a sovereign God. He is in control. As doctors, we have been trained to believe that we are in control of our patient care. In reality as we discovered later, that is a delusion; that we are in control. Our treatment protocols are mere statistical probabilities that the treatment will work. In spite of our large armament of medicines and latest high tech-equipment, our patients often do not respond as we expected. It is important that we realize that healing comes from the Lord. We treat our patients and prays that it works. And we are grateful that most of the time it does.

Prayer: Lord, let us be your witness through our character and attitude. Amen

A Christ Centered Doctor: The Call to a Holy Purpose (7)

As doctors, there are good days and bad days. Good days are when everything goes well; patients are recovering, the waiting room is not overcrowded, the medical team worked well together, nobody died, and you have time to enjoy your second cup of coffee. When patients crashed, treatment protocols failed, your clinic outpatients are overflowing into the corridors, a few ire patients’ relatives are waiting to rant on you, and that is before you have your coffee yet; these are bad days. We all have our share of good and bad days. We are called to walk in the ‘way of love’. This is easy on good days but very challenging on bad ones. So what does this way of love entails for us doctors? What it means is that we do the best we can, all we can within our limitations, and leave the rest up to God.

Ephesians 5:1–2 (NIV)

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The best we can for our patients is when we are focused on them as persons instead of problems. We see our patients holistically; as persons precious in the eyes of God. We treat the whole person, not just the dysfunctional part. And we do it with love, the same love we show to our families. We act in love. Not all patients respond to our loving acts. Some patients are incorrigible and unlovable. Yet, we are called to act in the way of love.

We are called to love because of God’s example. Jesus Christ, God incarnate faced similar good and bad days like us. The Great Physician healed ten persons with leprosy but only one came back to thank him (Luke 17:11-19). He was mobbed in the marketplace and a woman trying to steal his healing by touching him- she was healed. (Mark 5:25–34, Matthew 9:20–22, Luke 8:43–48). Jesus’ life is a prime example of an offering his life as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. And we are called to do the same.



Dear God, help us to walk in the way of love for our patients’ and your sake.


Those who say Eugene Peterson was motivated by money or reputation know neither the man nor his work.

“It is probably for the best that he is refusing all further interviews because, for the good of the church he loves, it is important that his legacy remains intact. That some people were even asking “can we still read him?”; or that others were suggesting that there should be some doubt about this, is pathetic and portrays an ignorance of church history and the reality that all of our heroes are jars of clay. In a wonderful blog that is valuable for its insights into wider issues, not just this particular one, Scott Sauls writes that when we drain away the bathwater of this interview, the baby (his writings and insights) still has a beautiful face.”



When a religious news site carried an interview with Eugene Peterson in which he was pushed on his views on homosexuality and during which he said that under some circumstances he might officiate at a same-sex wedding, Christian cyberspace went into overdrive.

I stayed quiet because, as a friend, I wanted to process the implications of such a statement and perhaps have the chance to contact him directly; but mainly because, knowing the man and trying to discern the context of the original interview, I fully expected a clarification or retraction to follow, as indeed it did.

Predictably, after his retraction, certain groups and individuals were as quick to prejudge his motives and insult him, as other people had been to denounce and condemn him a few days previously. But far and away the most ludicrous accusation is that Peterson was motivated by the threat of Christian publishers to…

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