Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Triangulation Approach to Theology & Other Issues

I have been applying a “triangulation approach” to a lot of my thinking about theology and ministry. This approach has been very helpful to clarify my thoughts - both to myself and to my students. When considered in the light of the Trinitarian God, this “triangulation approach” seems very complementary to our fundamental conception of God. In fact, it seems almost like a corollary drawn from Ultimate Reality - to help us understand all reality.

Triangulation is used in both physical and social sciences. I was first introduced to it when I was working in a contracting firm as an accountant. Part of my responsibility was to check the calculations in tender documents. The quantity survey technicians explained to me how the quantities were arrived at by on-site land surveyors. They used triangulation to measure distances – both horizontal and vertical. This technique to measure distances has been in use since ancient times. The term is now used also in social science research where a third dimension is introduced into a two-dimensional spectrum. For example, in politics we can talk about a “third” position that is neither “left” nor “right.”

We often think that Asians, with their thinking patterns conditioned by their monistic worldview, are more suited to deal with issues using a “triangulation approach.” While that may be so, I think we tend to think of ONLY TWO worldviews: monistic and dualistic. The slide on this blog entry is taken from my lectures. It shows that we can take a third "triangulating" position: holistic. We will be talking some more about this slide. I will also demonstrate how I have used this “triangulation approach” on specific areas of theology and ministry.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Inter-Generational IS Cross-Cultural

While teaching missions in APTS, I have been developing a model for missions that includes more than just the traditional "horizontal" and "synchronic" understanding. We often think of missions in terms of how "far" and "wide" we can spread the Gospel. We also talk about being responsible for reaching only our generation. That limits our vision of missions in spatial terms. What about the "vertical" side of missions? How about thinking of missions beyond the "foreign" and "home" missions categories? Can we not talk about missions in "diachronic," "inter-generational" terms?

I think we must give serious thought to reaching the next generation for the Lord. Youth ministry should not be merely a department in the church to be handled by a younger minister. It should be a crucial missionary enterprise for the church. In fact, every parent in church should be taught to think of himself/herself as a missionary, reaching into an unfamiliar culture (which is what youth culture is to many of us!!). Just as a missionary needs to be trained to contextualize for the target culture, we all need to contextualize to reach the next generation - raising godly off-springs for the Lord.

Monday, October 13, 2008

China, Theological Education & Missions

Watching the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, I cannot help but think about China as a world superpower. I kept suggesting to people that they should think about moving to China - not so much because of the immense wealth that will keep building up over the next few decades there but more because of the potential China has in terms of

For years, we have been treating China only as a mission field where we send laborers TO. The time has come for us to think of China as a place where we can send laborers FROM. To truly make the transition from being a missions receiving nation to a missions sending nation, the Chinese church needs to have a new missions mindset. This new missions mindset needs to be supported by a corresponding education infrastructure as well. In the past, the “training centers” in China were developing workers to evangelise mainland China but they now need to
develop missionaries that can function effectively in cross-cultural settings. To do that, they will need the partnership of the Church outside China.

We want to be bridge-builders to help establish the networking for this new infrastructure to take place. Our roles as Malaysian Chinese missionaries to APTS will be very helpful for that. Being our partner, you are also partnering with the Chinese Church.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Pecking Order" in World Missions

In world missions today, it seems like we are only expected to reach out to those poorer than us. If God were to call us to a richer country like America, Australia or Europe, it will be close to impossible to convince our supporters that our call is genuine. I doubt if our missions sending agency will approve our application for appointment to these richer countries. There seems to be some unconscious trickle-down strategy where the richer countries will reach the poorer countries while these poorer countries are expected to reach even poorer countries. This gives rise to a kind of pecking order in missions partnerships, where the wealthiest nations are on the top of this pecking order.

I think it is important for us not to confuse the missionary enterprise with the work NGO agencies do today. Our agenda is primarily not socio-economic. Our motivation is not mere human compassion but divine commission. We are all given the same commission and we should all come together as equal partners. No one should need to feel that they are at the bottom of some pecking order.

However, socio-economic realities remain. So, if indeed you are called to a richer country, do not expect many people to share your enthusiasm. It may be just as well that you cannot rely on human support. After all, it should NOT be by might, nor by power . . . but by the Spirit of God! I have a brother and a couple of Malaysian friends who are ministering in Melbourne. Almost no one considers them as missionaries. They are looked upon as economic emigrants. But, the spiritual needs in Melbourne are just as great as - if not greater than - in Malaysia. Moon Tee and I have seen the ministry that my brother and our Malaysian friends in Melbourne are doing. It is difficult to imagine that God has NOT called them there.

Let us at least have an open-mind on this issue. Must mainland Chinese Christians ALWAYS be called back to mainland China, Vietnamese Christians ALWAYS be called back to Vietnam, etc.? Let us begin to consider the possibility that God may want to release the immense potential (at least in terms of numbers, in the case of China) of the church in these countries into the mission field. We want to welcome them as equal partners in the missionary enterprise. They should not need to start at the bottom of the "pecking order."

Sunday, March 23, 2008


By Dr. Wayne Cagle (President of Asia Pacific Theological Seminary)

I've been thinking about the topic of "unfulfilled expectations". How easy it is for me to expect more of others than they can give or do. Then when our friends or colleagues do not meet our expectations, we are disappointed which can be displayed in our attitudes towards them. Sometimes our expectations are unrealistic. Sometimes people are just incapable or unwilling or just don't care about the issues we care about. When expectations go unfulfilled our behavior and/or our attitude towards that person can be affected. Even as Believers, we often fail to meet the expectations of non-believers who look at Christians and expect more than they observe.

The other side of it is that we should expect a lot of ourselves and we have a right to expect righteous conduct and good examples of those who make certain claims about their lives and beliefs. The danger zone for believers is the fine line between judging others harder than we judge ourselves and rightful expectations of ourselves to live up to the standards we say we hold as well as expecting the same of others. The Biblical statement that comes to mind here is found in 2 Corinthians 4:7:

"If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusion God's incomparable power with us. As it is, there's not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we're not much to look at." The Message