Monthly Archives: April 2008

Book Review: Pentecostal Theology for the Twenty-first Century: Engaging with Multi-Faith Singapore

H-NET BOOK REVIEW
Published by H-Pentecostalism@h-net.msu.edu (December, 2007)

May Ling Tan-Chow. Pentecostal Theology for the Twenty-first Century: Engaging with Multi-Faith Singapore. Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology, and Biblical Studies Series. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007. xix + 203 pp. Bibliography, indexes. $99.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7546-5718-7.

Reviewed for H-Pentecostalism by Simon Chan, Trinity Theological College,  Singapore

LoveSingapore–Stone Soup?

Pentecostal Theology for the Twenty-first Century is a rare book, probably the only one that provides a critical analysis of a transdenominational Pentecostal charismatic movement in Singapore. LoveSingapore is linked to the Global Consultation on World Evangelization, which in 1989 launched a global network called AD2000 and Beyond. Started in 1993 at the initiative of former Fuller missiologist Peter Wagner, LoveSingapore is the local expression of this network. What makes LoveSingapore significant is that nothing of its scale has been seen before in Singapore. It involves up to 120 churches and attracts a number of leaders of megachurches as well as key denominational leaders, including the former Anglican bishop of Singapore Moses Tay. Headed by Lawrence Khong, the pastor of the more than ten thousand-member Faith Community Baptist Church, the movement at its height organized “prayer walks” that attracted tens of thousands of Christians.

May Ling Tan-Chow’s book, which began as a Cambridge University PhD dissertation, seeks to develop a Pentecostal theology using the “critical resources” of scripture and Pentecostal history. Using Singapore as a case study, the author believes that Pentecostal theology can adequately address a multi-faith context. Tan-Chow divides the book into two parts. Part 1 (chapters 1-3) is descriptive. Chapter 1 explores the sociopolitical landscape of Singapore–a small state marked by engineering efficiency. Its government plays a critical, if not interventionist, role in practically every aspect of life, setting out clear long-term goals and visions to ensure the country’s continued economic prosperity. The state has “absolute hegemony” and does not permit any rival authority, although it projects a “benevolent paternalism” (p. 7). Chapter 2 locates the church within this context and shows how the political culture has shaped the church. In the following chapter, Tan-Chow examines the historical resource by revisiting three “Pentecost events,” namely Acts, Azusa Street, and LoveSingapore. Each has its glorious and dark side. In Acts, conflicts and exclusion vitiated the ecumenism of Jewish and Gentile unity. The transcending of the racial barrier at Azusa in 1906 was quickly replaced by the raising of the racial divide epitomized in the formation of the all-white Pentecostal Fellowship of North America in 1924. LoveSingapore, too, is seen as potentially “a peaceful harbinger of pluralism” and “human flourishing” (p. xvi). Tan-Chow appreciatively notes its ecumenical outlook, the use of its massive resources to reach out to the needy, and several other positive features. But its grandiose vision (Singapore as “the Antioch of Asia”) and strategies turn out to be almost a mirror image of Singapore’s political culture (p. 15).

Part 2 is constructive. Chapter 4 provides a devastating critique of the LoveSingapore movement. Tan-Chow notes that its effective contextualization of the gospel adopts policies and methods that closely parallel those of the Singapore government. For example, its pursuit of unity and reconciliation is similar to what the government hopes to accomplish for the nation. And, like the government, LoveSingapore pursues unity and reconciliation with the goal of achieving a practical end: the salvation of Singapore that was prophesied to occur in a “Grand Harvest” in 2001. Both the government and the movement are “instrumentalised” (pp. 80, 82). Reconciliation becomes “the strategic practice” to effect unity which is aimed at Christianizing the nation (p. 80). In the words of Khong, “we do not seek unity for unity’s sake. Attaining 100% involvement means little without progress toward our vision of a nation won for the Lord” (p. 80). Tan-Chow has some strong words for this, but they are entirely appropriate: “The destiny of the nation is a God-problem. Taking it out of God’s hands is a real temptation in the efficiency-minded society of Singapore, a theological idolatry” (p. 81). Tan-Chow notes the theological shallowness of LoveSingapore’s “strategic practices,” including “identificational repentance,” where a representative of an aggressor nation, a Japanese, says sorry to a representative of the victims; prayer as a tool to destroy spiritual strongholds; and “acts of kindness,” which are a barely disguised “form of market ‘exploitation’ and materialism” (pp. 86-88, 93). These practices function as a means of control and power hegemony–something similar to what is found in Singapore politics.

One wonders, at the end of chapter 4, whether there is anything left of the LoveSingapore movement for a Pentecostal theology. Tan-Chow, surprisingly, thinks that there is and offers her reasons. First, LoveSingapore has bequeathed to the churches important “deep symbols,” such as love, unity, shalom, the kingdom of God, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, which could be retrieved for a solid Pentecostal theology even if these symbols have become “atrophied” (p. 99). But given the critique that exposes the vacuity of these symbols, one must ask if they could still be regarded as “deep symbols.” Second, Tan-Chow believes that the two “critical resources” of scripture and history could reshape “empirical Pentecostalism” and realize “LoveSingapore’s potential for good” (p. 119, 99). Scripture provides an integrated pneumatology while early Pentecostal history reveals many positive elements (chapter 5 cf. chapter 3). In chapter 6, Tan-Chow offers her own theological proposal for a constructive Pentecostal theology using these resources. The key concept is “pneumatological eschatology,” which involves remembering and embodying the constructive elements of early Pentecostal history and the Spirit’s work of orienting the church to “new” things, including the religious “other” (pp. 125-126). The concluding chapter offers practical suggestions on the “ethic of negotiation,” which operates on the principle of embracing the “other” without compromising one’s own integrity (p. 157). This last proposal will probably stretch Pentecostals to their utmost limits. Pentecostals would be hard put to recall any historical precedents on negotiating with the religious other. The whole Pentecostal tradition has been quite unanimous that the gift of the Spirit is for Christianizing the world rather than dialoging with it.

Although Tan-Chow’s theological construction holds great promise, I am not as optimistic that it would help LoveSingapore effect the necessary transformations, given the fact that its basic operating assumptions are not deeply rooted in scripture or the Christian tradition but in pragmatism. Furthermore, LoveSingapore is very much conditioned by the prevailing culture. LoveSingapore has as much potential for embracive inclusion as stones have the potential of becoming the proverbial “stone soup”–if all the other ingredients for good soup are added. Tan-Chow has provided excellent ingredients, but, then, why bother making stone soup?

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Registration for APARRI 2008 has begun!

The Asian Pacific American Religions Research Initiative is pleased to announce the beginning of registration for:

APARRI 2008
(Re)Defining Religious Studies:  The Next Decade of APARRI
2008.August.7-9
Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA
More information and registration at:  www.pana.psr.edu

2008 celebrates the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Asian Pacific American Religions Research Initiative. Our annual conference this year is an opportunity to look back over the achievements in Asian Pacific American religious studies during the past decade and to look forward to the new opportunities and challenges of the next ten years.

Fumitaka Matsuoka, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Institute for Leadership Development and Study of Pacific and Asian North American Religion (PANA Institute) will give the keynote address at Plenary I on Thursday evening Aug/7. The title of his presentation is “Crossing Boundaries: A Dim Sum Approach to the Question of Peoplehood.” (The Thursday evening events are free and open to the public, but registration is required.)

Plenary II on Friday afternoon Aug/8 will address the state of the field of APA religious studies from various disciplinary angles. And Plenary III on Saturday afternoon Aug/9, offered jointly with the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Pacific School of Religion, will address the voices and visibility of queer communities in APA religious studies. Concurrent sessions will showcase research-in-progress, and structured mentoring will be available for students and junior faculty members.

Call for Papers

Concurrent sessions at APARRI are designed to offer participants occasions for sharing research and works-in-progress in interdisciplinary settings.  Conference attendees are encouraged to propose individual papers and organized panels on their current research.  Concurrent Session Block A on Friday Aug/8 is pre-organized and will echo the main conference theme, while Concurrent Session Blocks B and C on Saturday August/9 are “open call,” and attendees are encouraged to propose presentations on any aspect of Asian Pacific American religion. More information and directions for submitting proposals are available at the main conference Web page at www.pana.psr.edu .

Christopher Chua
Program Director
PANA Institute, Pacific School of Religion
1798 Scenic Avenue
Berkeley, CA  94709
cchua@psr.edu
510/849-8210

UCLA JOBS: Part-Time Lecturers in Asian American Studies

UCLA ASIAN AMERICAN STUDIES DEPARTMENT
OPEN POSITIONS: Part-time Lecturers (Non-Senate)

The Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), invites applications forpart-time Lecturer positions (Non-Senate) with primary responsibility in teaching interdisciplinary courses in Asian American Studies for the 2008-2009 academic year.  Appointments are usually made per course.  Academic appointment dates are Fall (October 1-December 31, 2008); Winter (January 1-March 31, 2009); and Spring (April 1-June 30, 2009).

The Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, offers a major, minor, a graduate concentration, and Master of Arts.

We are looking for applicants who can teach the following courses; however, we also welcome applicants who can offer other special topics courses that complement our curriculum:

Asian American History (lower division, general education, offered Winter 2008 only)
Asian American Contemporary Issues (lower division, general education, offered Spring 2008 only)
Asian American Community Research Methods/Applied Research Methods
Asian American Film
Asian American Theater/Drama
Asian American Popular Culture
Asian American Religion
Pacific Islander Studies
South Asian American Film/Popular Culture
Asian American Studies Ethnic Community Specific Courses
Asian American Gender and Sexuality

Requirements
Applicants with a Ph.D. preferred. Applicants who are advanced to candidacy or who have a M.A., M.F.A., or equivalent will be considered.

Application Procedure
Send materials via e-mail attachment to Stacey Hirose, Department Manager, <stacey@asianam.ucla.edu> followed by a hard copy of your application materials:

Cover letter
Curriculum vitae
Teaching evaluation summaries
Names and contact information of three references
List titles of course(s) you are willing to teach
Quarters that you plan to teach the course in
A paragraph description and syllabus of each proposed course

Applications will be accepted until positions are filled.  However, to ensure fullest consideration, all applications materials should be submitted by MONDAY, MAY 19, 2008 FOR FALL 2008 COURSES and MONDAY, JUNE 30, 2008 FOR WINTER AND SPRING 2009 COURSES to Stacey Hirose (stacey@asianam.ucla.edu) or to:

Dr. Thu-huong Nguyen-vo
C/O Stacey Hirose
UCLA Department of Asian American Studies
3336 Rolfe Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095-7225

The University of California, Los Angeles and the Asian American Studies Department are interested in candidates who are committed to the highest standards of scholarship and professional activities, and to the development of a campus climate that supports equality and diversity. The University of California is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer.

This position is covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Don T. Nakanishi, Ph.D.
Director and Professor
UCLA Asian American Studies Center
3230 Campbell Hall
PO Box 951546
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1546
phone: (310) 825-2974
fax: (310) 206-9844
e-mail: dtn@ucla.edu
Please visit the Center’s web site: www.sscnet.ucla.edu/aasc
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Admin/questions? Send to AAASCommunity-owner@yahoogroups.com