Monday, December 22, 2008

John Sung & Cultural Mandate

John Sung is no doubt one of the greatest Asian evangelist, but is his approach to vocation a model for subsequent generations?

Timothy Tow wrote a short biography of John Sung. He recorded the incident when John Sung, while on his way back to China from America, dumped all his academic degrees into the sea.

Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong has often announced his great admiration of John Sung and mentioned this incident as some sort of highlight or an honorable Christian act.

This is rather puzzling as Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong himself is a Reformed theologian who adheres the great tradition of the Cultural Mandate. Cultural Mandate is the belief in the ordained vocation to engage with external-church issues such as in the academia, parliament, or factory. And those who believe in Cultural Mandate place significant emphasis on academic achievements or at least the extensive exercise of the mind. Thus throwing academic degrees away is anything but a symbol that overturns of the aspiration of Cultural Mandate.

My own opinion is that John Sung remains a great evangelist. His approach to Christian vocation and calling should not be a norm or model for Christians. In fact, I am surprised that John Sung, who earned a doctorate in Chemistry, failed to grasp the bigger divine vision mediated through the Bible to us.

Karl Barth was living in the same era and bombarded by the academia in one way or another in the same way as John Sung. But he did not think it necessary to throw away his degrees. Barth was not only a preacher, he was served in the army at the age of 50+ to defy the Nazi, drafted the Barmen declaration to counter liberal theology, continue to serve as a Christian educator all his life. And Barth does not have a doctorate in natural sciences.

Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong and those who adhere to the Cultural Mandate have another more sympathetic option to pick.