May Ling Tan-Chow, TCA College, SingaporeSeries : Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies
In our post 9/11 world where there is a growing religious fundamentalism, and when both exclusion and easy tolerance are inadequate options, this book offers a creative alternative arguing that Pentecostalism has the potential to be a peaceful harbinger of plurality. The potential lies in its spirituality – a lively pneumatology and eschatology. The eschatological Spirit is seen as orientated towards the other, crossing boundaries in redemptive embrace, transcending exclusion and easy tolerance. This book’s non-Western perspective and the empirical contextual study of Singapore’s multicultural and multi-faith context are unique contributions to religion and society.
This is a book for students, pastors, teachers, and theologians concerned for an approach to mission that is sensitive to their context, who want to learn from a creative theological voice from what has been perhaps the largest religious movement in history, and who see the immense potential in lively theology by Christians of the Chinese diaspora who can speak to the many millions of ethnic Chinese Christians. This book will also appeal to those outside Christianity who are interested in its attempts to engage with a complex multi-ethnic and multi-religious situation such as that in Singapore.
Contents: Foreword; Introduction; Part I Descriptive: A hermeneutic of Singapore culture; Christianity in Singapore; Pentecost revisited. Part II Constructive: Interrogating Pentecostalism: a biblical challenge to Lovesingapore; An alternative way: re-conceiving the spirit in Pentecostalism; A Pentecostal theological contribution: pneumatological eschatology; Conclusion; Bibliography; Indexes.
About the Author: Tan-Chow May Ling is Dean of the School of Divinity (English Department) at TCA College, Singapore
Reviews: ‘… a rare book, probably the only one that provides a critical analysis of a transdenominational Pentecostal charismatic movement in Singapore.’ Society of Asian North American Christian Studies
‘There is much in this book for a variety of readers. Some will no doubt find the detailed theological work helpful as they think through the kind of issues that Tan-Chow raises and the challenges that an apparently increasingly religiously polarised world brings. Others will probably find the book even more helpful in the context of what it has to say about the particular matrix of religious belief in Singapore and how Pentecostalism is seeking to find its own place and mission within that diverse society.’ Theological Book Review
‘… students of Pentecostalism are sure to find many profound insights in this well-researched and well-written monograph.’ Missiology
‘This work is a good reference for anyone interested in contemporary Asian Christianity.’ Mission Studies
Chilling violence and conflicts characterised by an “exterministic mentality”, to use
John Polkinghorne’s words, are becoming a global phenomenon in our contemporary
society. Many of these conflicts are not just economic or political; they are also
social, ethnic and religious in a shrinking global space. Ethnic and religious conflicts
are becoming particularly acute. In fact, religions in our global age are often key
players in these conflicts.1 That religions are capable of such exterministic violence
exposes the disjunction between the religions ideally and empirically. Clearly,
religions are not unambiguous; they have a dual potential, “combustibility” or hope
and peace. The issue of religious toleration is intensified by global implications. But
peace seems elusive in the presence of exterministic determination. Perhaps this
intransigent reluctance towards peace is because it profoundly threatens one’s sense
of identity and disturbs the boundaries of the self, other, friend and foe. Negotiating
one’s identity is not a simple adjustment of boundaries. It involves a knotty complex
of fundamentals. Thus, peacemaking compounded by contemporary realities is an
extremely daunting task. It can easily lead to despair or nihilism – an atrophy of
hope. Quite clearly, our contemporary age suffers from a crisis of hope. On the
one hand, secular versions of hope are insipid. Socio-political resolutions predicated
upon predictions, projections and management are limiting. Utopian optimism is
bankrupt. On the other hand, Christian eschatomania is more a hindrance than a
hope. A wholly futurist eschatology, “pie in the sky” hope is at best a “deadening
opiate”, a flight from reality; at worst it distorts the dynamism of biblical hope.
Religious plurality with its accompanying “difference” and “otherness” often
gives rise to violent conflicts threatening human flourishing. Religious volatility and
violence raise the disturbing question whether religions are capable of negotiating
their identities, making space for difference, for otherness, for redrawing boundaries.
However disturbing and threatening this question is to one’s identity, religious
communities have a moral obligation and responsibility to reflect deeply on this
issue and learn to renegotiate the space we share. This is particularly urgent in the
context of a resurgence of religious fundamentalism and traditional cultures in Asia.
The cultural and ethnic conflicts that plague our times are reflective of a larger
problem of identity and otherness. Christian discipleship mandates taking up this
responsibility. At stake here is human flourishing. Human flourishing is more than
tolerance, socio-political peace and well-being; shalom is ultimately theological.
This book does not directly engage the inter-religious other or add formally to
the theology of inter-faith dialogue. It is an argument of this book that given the
explosive potential of this global resurgence of religion, it is critical that the violence
within oneself or one’s religious tradition must first be addressed and judged. In
brief, religious traditions need to be self-reflexive in this regard. Hence, the crux of the book is an intra-Pentecostal engagement. Pentecostalism is much misunderstood
by outsiders and insiders alike. Aberrations notwithstanding, Pentecostalism can be
interpreted as having a unique potential to be “a peaceful harbinger of pluralism”.2 It
is my contention that Pentecostalism with its strong pneumatology and eschatology
and its inherent ecumenical thrust is at a pivotal juncture when it might contribute
modestly and transformatively to the hope of human flourishing and peace. Thus,
the central concern of the book is to explore how Pentecostalism in Singapore may
contribute positively to human flourishing in the context of religious plurality and
to construct a sustainable theology to negotiate the fundamentally complex issue of
the religious other.
Christian faith is deeply rooted in events. The primary events of the life, death,
resurrection of Christ and Pentecost have all formed and informed the Christian
community’s life and practice. I am retrieving the event of Pentecost as the key
theological theme of this book. The book is contextual, Pentecostal and theological.
The structure of the book is developed in two major parts, descriptive (contextual
and Pentecostal) and constructive (theological).
Part I: Descriptive
Chapter 1 attends to contextual issues of Singapore. The first part of the book is a
contextual engagement that interprets the culture of Singapore. I shall begin with a brief
sketch of Singapore’s history, culture and political ideology. Next, I shall highlight
the effects of the political ideology on both plurality and religion in Singapore and the
theological issues raised by the contextual realities. Singapore’s social, political and
religious harmony and order is achieved by a policy of control, which at core works
by “exclusionary” mechanisms; it has been effective but ultimately inadequate. The
event of 9/11 and the subsequent events globally and locally accentuate the volatility
of difference and otherness and expose the inadequacy of such a management of
harmony. This is an inadequacy that the government in Singapore is beginning to
concede, as evidenced by its encouragement for greater inter-religious dialogue
and contact among religions. The Singapore government’s push for understanding
and “reconciliation” is a step forward; however, its underlying motivation is largely
dictated by secular imperatives – economic, political and security considerations.
Peace and human flourishing are more than social, economic and political wellbeing.
Human flourishing is fundamentally theological, requiring more than socialpolitical
Chapter 2 explores whether Christianity in Singapore is capable of offering a
theological response to its contextual challenges. The chapter begins with a brief
history of Christianity and a sociological profile of the Christian community
in Singapore. Conservative evangelicalism is the dominant Christian tradition
in Singapore. It is largely the religion of the upwardly mobile, middle-class and
English-speaking Singaporeans. Its conservative piety, eschatological understanding and a largely exclusive view of the religious other militate against a positive
engagement with contextual challenges, particularly the religious other. Here I shall
make a tentative appraisal of the ability of Pentecostalism in Singapore to respond
prophetically to contextual challenges. For a long time, Pentecostalism has regarded
itself as a kind of “evangelical plus” and inevitably adopted the conservative
evangelical’s exclusivist position with regard to the religious other in its rhetoric.
But its practice is more amicable. Its eschatological understanding and piety is more
robust than conservative evangelicalism. Given these and its inherent ecumenical
thrust, I shall argue that Pentecostalism can offer a more hospitable negotiation of
otherness. In order to do this, I concur with Hollenweger that Pentecostalism needs
to retrieve its deeper roots and larger openness.
Chapter 3 comprises a development of the argument, by revisiting three Pentecost
events: the first Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, the event of Azusa Street at the
beginning of the twentieth century, and especially the LoveSingapore movement in
the last decade of the twentieth century. The revisit traces both their tragic and hopeful
dimensions. The common thread among them is the strong ecumenical thrust of the
Spirit, which enabled them to dismantle entrenched exclusionary mechanisms and to
negotiate and renegotiate boundaries in their times. The first outpouring of Pentecost
achieved after much struggle, a reconfiguration of boundaries, the greatest of which
was ethnic identity, the Jew/Gentile divide. In the Azusa outpouring of Pentecost,
the “colour line was washed away by the blood of the cross”, the dismantling of
entrenched segregation. The primarily black/white racial divide was transcended
by an embracive koinonia. The triumphs of both the first and second Pentecost
were soon overshadowed by tragic temptations, human attempts to tame the Spirit.
However, I shall argue that there are hopeful signs because the eschatological
Spirit is freedom and blows where it wills. The Memphis Miracle ’94 and the
LoveSingapore movement are hopeful signs. The LoveSingapore movement is both
dynamic and audacious in its vision, “Antioch of Asia” and “Bridge of Blessing”. It
has transcended denominational divides and succeeded to a large extent in drawing
the churches in Singapore from suspicious isolation to genuine cooperation. It has the
ability not only to contextualise itself by a “redemptive appropriation” of Singapore’s
political vision and agenda, but also the ability to instantiate the positive potentials
of Pentecostalism. Each of these three events provides a window in negotiating life
and faith in the complex contexts of plurality and otherness.
Part II: Constructive
Chapter 4 is a test case. To test my hypothesis that Pentecostalism is at a pivotal
juncture as regards contributing positively to human flourishing and its contextual
challenges, I shall submit Pentecostalism in general and LoveSingapore in particular
to a biblical challenge. The interrogation begins with a descriptive analysis of the
key rhetoric and the four strategic practices of the LoveSingapore movement. Next,
I shall provide a diagnosis of the problems with its four strategic practices. The
aim of the whole interrogation is to show that, despite its vulnerability, as a whole,
Pentecostalism offers a promising hope to be a peaceful harbinger of pluralism and to contribute creatively to human flourishing. Its promise lies in its dynamic
pneumatology and eschatology, but it must be reconceived more robustly to better
align with Scripture.
Chapter 5 argues for an alternative way of conceiving the Spirit in Pentecostalism
in a way that will better reflect the ideal type of Pentecostalism. This alternative
way of conceiving the Spirit in Pentecostalism involves the biblical, historical and
theological. First, I shall engage empirical Pentecostalism in dialogue with three
New Testament writers: John, Luke and Paul, who deal with the Spirit. I shall show
that John, Luke and Paul both singly and together provide an understanding of the
Spirit with which early Pentecostalism is more in line. Second, seeking to retrieve
the defining distinctive of early Pentecostalism, I suggest that it is eschatology.
Third, this richer and robust understanding of the Spirit provides the measure
that is both helpful in critiquing empirical Pentecostalism, and transcending the
dichotomies between Christomonism and “Pneumatomonism”, cynicism/pessimism
and triumphalism, love and power. The objective of this present chapter is not merely
to retrieve the theology of the Spirit in Scripture and Pentecostal history, but also to
reassess and to reconceive the theology of the Spirit for present contextual realities.
Secondarily, it is to rehabilitate the strategic practices of LoveSingapore. The intent
in this reconceiving or rethinking is not for the purpose of simple application,
imitation or replication, but its embodiment in the present. In reconceiving the
Spirit and constructing this pneumatological eschatology (Chapter 6), I shall bring
Pentecostalism into dialogue with a diverse range of Christian traditions from
Evangelical, Catholic to Orthodox.
Chapter 6 comprises the constructive task of articulating a sustainable theology
of negotiation from a Pentecostal perspective. I am proposing pneumatological
eschatology as a viable and robust Pentecostal contribution. The pneumatological
orientation to openness and otherness transcends exclusion and easy tolerance.
Pneumatological eschatology offers a radical possibility because it is non-constrictive
as it takes seriously both the freedom and the mystery of the Spirit (the freedom of
the Spirit “blowing where He wills”) within a Trinitarian framework.
The explication of pneumatological eschatology is developed in two movements:
remembering and embodying.3 Worship is the unitive thread connecting the two
movements and pivoting on the eschatological Spirit. Remembering culminates in
worship and embodying overflows from worship. Put in another way, remembering
is the word dimension of worship and embodying is the sacramental dimension of
worship. Remembering, I suggest, is foundational to embodying. Embodying as a
way of acting or doing flows from this way of being and seeing. This is to avoid
thinking of pneumatological eschatology in a formulaic way (an instrumentalisingtendency of contemporary Pentecostalism). Participating in the activity of God in
bringing transformative blessing to the world does not depend on finding the most
effective methodology or employing social engineering. Rather, it demands the
costly obedience of discipleship nurtured in worship. In other words, transformation
of the world is not possible without a people transformed by worship. They are
inseparable. And worship is what Pentecostals do best.
The first section of this chapter is anamnesis – remembering. First, the
remembering is historical. It is remembering the significance of the complex of
eschatology and pneumatology in both the Early Church and Pentecostalism.
Second, the remembering has to do with the “new” thing that the eschatological
Spirit is doing. Here, I am suggesting the “new” thing that the Spirit is doing is
orientating the Church to radical otherness and openness, vis-à-vis God and God’s
Kingdom. Orientation to God’s otherness (a way of being) coincides with orientation
to the radical openness of God’s Kingdom (a way of seeing). In relation to this,
I shall make an excursus into the Memphis Miracle ’94. Third, I shall attend to
worship. Remembering culminates in worship, which is the foundational locus for
nurturing the twin orientation of the Spirit that informs and forms us. Contemporary
challenges require that the Church remembers together and rightly discerns the
purposes and activities of God in worship in order to respond creatively and faithfully.
Remembering this complex is key to retrieving a way of being and seeing that is
deeply rooted in Scripture and in Pentecostalism. Remembering has doxological,
relational, ethical and missional import.
The second part of this chapter is embodying. Embodying has to do with the
formation and empowerment of the social agent as “a worshipping self” through
worship. This section attends specifically to the implications of pneumatological
eschatology for negotiating otherness. Embodying the eschatological reality in the
multiple contexts of “dividedness,” “otherness” and difference, both ecclesially and
societally, involves deep engagement with contexts and a rethinking of identity,
boundaries, and mission/evangelism. First, I shall discuss embodiment as living in
the Spirit. Second, I shall attend to the praxis of the Spirit. Third, I shall underscore
the radical possibility of pneumatological eschatology. Lastly, doxological joy is the
heart of remembering and embodying.
In this concluding chapter I shall offer an embryonic description of an ethic of
negotiation. It is not possible to fully develop an ethic of negotiation within the
scope of this chapter. It is an ethic of negotiation that seeks to transcend exclusionary
logic or easy tolerance. Such an ethic of negotiation demands an expansive vision,
rooted in the mystery of God and the overflow of “facing” God in worship. I shall
describe this ethic of negotiation in terms of vision and then offer some guidelines
and maxims for negotiation.