Localising the Gospel: An important endeavour

Oct 2019    
The Rev Dr Lim Teck Peng gives his inaugural lecture after his appointment to the Lee Huai Kwang Chair of Religious Education.

On 29 Aug 2019, Trinity Theological College (TTC) held its induction service for the Lee Huai Kwang Chair of Religious Education, the fifth endowed professorial chair of the college.

The Rev Dr Lim Teck Peng, Associate Dean of the College, was appointed to the chair.  This is also the first at TTC for a lecturer teaching predominantly in Chinese to hold an endowed professorial chair. With this appointment, TTC reaffirms the importance of Christian scholarship and her long-term commitment to the growing ministry of the Chinese-speaking churches in this part of the world.

The Rev Dr Lim’s inaugural lecture revolved around Christian religious education, language and national language policy to which he said: “It is not too abstract, but still requires us to do some hard thinking.”

The lecture was divided into three parts.  The first part began with Acts 2.  Recalling how the descent of the Holy Spirit led to the apostles preaching the Gospel in various local or vernacular languages, the Rev Dr Lim expounded how such vernacularisation of the Gospel at the inaugural moment of the Church throws light on the significance of vernacular language or mother tongue in Christian religious education.

At the personal level, the vernacularisation of the Gospel implies that Christians should strive to help others to know the Gospel in his or her heart language, and to encounter Christ therein.  In Church history, such vernacularisation of the Gospel has been the conviction of many Christian teachers over the centuries.  Their endeavours create the unique space of encounter in which people will hear the Gospel in a heart-felt and liberating manner.

Shifting the attention from the first-century Jerusalem to the twenty-first century Singapore, the second part of the lecture focused on the social dimension of language and its implication for both the nation and the church.  Quoting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s words: “Knowing MTL (Mother Tongue Language) helps to centre us as an Asian society and retain our Asian roots and values,” the Rev Dr Lim highlighted how bilingual policy enables Singapore to become a member of modern states while retaining her Asian identity.

Singapore’s bilingual policy has added significance for Christians in the light of Acts 2.  The Church therefore needs to think fundamentally and to discern her role, situated between the state and individuals, in matters concerning the maintenance of mother tongue.

Despite ongoing debate among the academicians over the effectiveness of Singapore’s bilingual policy, the Church, through a biblical lens, should engage bilingualism in such a way than brings blessings to both the church members and the public.

The English-speaking churches, for example, may want to engage the bilingual policy by finding ways to intentionally encourage children of different ethnic background to appreciate their own and others’ mother tongues.

Citing the idea of “Mother Tongue Languages (MTL) fortnight” in schools as an example, the Rev Dr Lim mentioned that besides Chinese and Tamil members, there are also members of many other ethnic groups in the church.

It is therefore meaningful and significant if the Church can find ways to remember and celebrate the stories of encounter between different ethnic groups and the Gospel.  As a Christian community that places great emphasis on cross-cultural missions, sorting out the relationship between the Gospel and mother tongue, and that which is between the Church and the national language policy is thus, no trivial matter.  To sort out these matters, there is no better place to start than one’s own turf.

The last part of the lecture focuses on the plausibility of mother tongue-based religious education in Singapore where MTL is the second language.  The lecture was brought to a close by the prayer that “the recipients of this Chair will be found faithful in the eyes of God and His people as teacher and servant.”

The Rev Dr Lim Teck Peng is the Associate Dean of Trinity Thelogical College and a member of the ATESEA Theological Union (ATU) Senate. He is an ordained Baptist minister and worships with his family at Queenstown Baptist Church.

Photos courtesy of Trinity Theological College


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