DIRECTalk: Ting Huat Ung: “Parking your car rightly” is good theology

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Rev. Ting Huat Ung was born in 1971 and was admitted to the Sibu Methodist Theological School (MTS) in 1995. He graduated in 2000, after which he served in various churches. He joined the Trinity Theological College, Singapore to pursue his Master degree in 2010. After graduation, Rev. Ting joined MTS as a lecturer. He is also the Chaplain.

Q: Reverend, please tell us a bit more about yourself and why you take up theological education?

A: I am from Mukah. I went to Sunday school when I was a kid but I eventually stopped going. When I was in secondary school, my aunt shared the gospel with me but I did not believe. She asked me why and I told her: “You say that God is very powerful but He can’t make me believe in Him. So you see, He is not so powerful. Why should I believe in a God who is not so powerful?”

Yes, I was the type who believed in myself to be more powerful than God. I did not need to rely on God, and I even challenged God that I could make self-improvement with my own will. I spent two years doing so. Then everyone said I was well-behaved yet deep down I knew that I was selfish and always envious of others. I even stole money. One night, as I was about to go to bed, I reflected upon my own life in the past two years only to realize that I had not changed a bit. I had then occasionally been attending youth fellowship. I knelt by my bed saying my prayer of obedience to God.

Of course, nothing much changed overnight but after a few months I found myself singing hymns and thirsting for the Word of God. In the past, I used to read the bible to find little faults to insult Christians.

Although I was baptized at childhood, my faith in the Lord only started when I was 21 years old. It was in September 1992 when I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer in front of the Lord. At that time, I did not know about theology but had to read the bible since I have accepted Christ. At first I wanted to enrol in the Lay Preacher course to equip myself so that I could serve the Lord part-time. Later I found that it was not a good arrangement because of my work commitment. So I decided to go full-time. By then, I began to explore theology.

In 1995 I enrolled into MTS. I began to know more about theology. Like many, I used to think that theology was for pastors and theologians, In fact, it was not so. Everyone can even have his own theology.

Regarding my commitment on theological advancement, I would say it has been in my heart after accepting Christ into my life. I have wanted to serve God better and to share the good news with other people. Hence I am affectionately bound to study the bible.

Q: What is theology to you?

A: My definition for theology is that men get to know God through biblical revelation. In the process, they also get to know themselves. This is followed by getting to establish relationship with God. This is my understanding of theology.

Q: Does theology have any direct impact on the believers?

A: Of course, there are direct impacts. Theology is what Christians know about biblical revelation, about God, man, salvation and other aspects. So no matter how much religious knowledge one acquires, each Christian has his set of theological understanding. The only problem is whether his theology is in line with the teachings in the Bible. If it is in line, the positive impact will be getting to know God, know yourself, and know how to establish a relationship with God better. Otherwise, it will bring a negative impact.

Q: In your view how should Christians look at theology?

A: Although every Christian has his own theology, we should work hard to establish a set of theology in line with the biblical teaching; letting the right theology build up our spiritual life. If everyone just holds on to the attitude of “I don’t know the theological concept”, for example, do not really know about God, do not know his own standing, do not know why he has to establish relationship with God, then these will badly affect his spiritual life as a Christian.

Theology that is in line with the biblical teachings includes knowing God, relationship with God, salvation, ecclesiology, ethics, and so on.

Q: Generally most Christians still think that study of theology is the matter of the pastors and preachers, so how can Christians get in line with theology?

A: I think we should start with the basic concept. As our theology affects our spiritual life, then we should establish a set of theology in line with the biblical teachings. There is no other way out. If we do not do so or do not want to learn or unwilling to establish theological perspective according to the biblical teachings, then we may have a set of theological principles that are not in line with the biblical teaching. That will bring about a lot of problems as well as deviated theological concepts.

Q: Other than enrolling into s seminary, what are the other ways that a layman can acquire theological knowledge?

A: Since we get to know God and establish relationship with God through the bible, so the most basic thing to do is to start reading the bible, allowing the bible to shape our thoughts and to inspire us. Of course, when reading the bible we may come across certain texts that are difficult to understand. This is when we need the help of the pastors or through enrolling into classes so that we can study the bible systematically.

Within the framework of biblical revelation

Q: You have repeatedly mentioned about establishing the right theology, do you think the theological education at MTS is legitimate and not deviated?

A: So far as I know, the theological teaching regarding the main theological issues like God, Christology, bible, soteriology and ecclesiology at MTS are all within the framework of the bible.

Q: We all know that different denominations have different theological teachings and often believers are confused. Of course each denomination would claim their theological teachings to be the orthodox school. What is your advice to these believers as they are facing such confusion?

A: Let the old-fashioned saying speak to us, that is, let us get back to the bible. We may have different denominations with different theological views while we read the same bible. Because the bible does not directly provide a set of systematic theological teachings, so some people might include their own understanding when they study and sort out theological principles in the bible.

So we still have to go back to the bible and see what the bible says about these points in their original sense. In preparing my lessons, I also found some new ideas suggested by some theologians but after reading the related bible verses again, the bible does not mean so. These are man-made issues.

Q: You said going back to the bible, what if someone read the bible again and still do not have a very clear answer, then how to deal with it?

A: I follow two guiding principles when dealing with this issue. The first is to refer to the bible again. So even if we have different understandings of what the Bible says, so long as it is a reasonable explanation, then I can accept the dispute basing upon the explanation that we have different opinion.

However, there is a bottom line; we cannot handle the core of theology like trinity God, justification, salvation and so on in this way. For other issues like children’s baptism and predestination, I will use the first principle to deal with it.

Q: Some churches in Europe and the United States have accepted homosexuality. Can we say that they “explain bible differently”?

A: A moment ago I said that we must have reasonable explanation for the Scriptures text. As for the exegetical explanation for homosexuality, my understanding is that they do not have a reasonable explanation. First of all, their order of analysis is wrong. They use human rights as their basis then they explore the bible to say that it is impossible that the bible opposes homosexuality. Finally they reinterpret the bible in their own ways so as to meet their views. Such a sequence is not a reasonable interpretation of the bible.

“Reasonable explanation” to me is that the bible really says so or that there is a reliable hermeneutical explanation and not wanting the bible to meet our view. For example, for predestination, there are basically two kinds of arguments, one is that God predestines that someone will be saved while another person will not be saved. Another argument is that God chose Jesus Christ, so if one is in Christ he will be saved. Such a situation can be accepted as “different opinions”.

Q: The society is currently facing a lot of contemporary challenges, does MTS have any strategy to counter these challenges?

A: I think one of the challenges that MTS is facing is how theology can be applied to everyday living and is connected to life in this world. Therefore MTS, through the Wesley Centre of Research and Practical Theology, has from time to time been organizing interactive forums on popular contemporary topics.

On top of that MTS has been trying to maintain a balance between classroom and practical training in theological education. MTS stresses upon field training on weekends and also requires the students to stay in dormitory with two students per room, so that the students learn to get along with people and good interpersonal relationships. The students are also required to take up group activities like games and gardening.

Q: According to your observation, how can Christians live a sound Christian life? Do the local Christians meet that theological standard?

A: By my observation, in this regard most brothers and sisters are not up to that standard. The main reason is that as theology roots from the bible, and theological understanding comes from reading the bible which most brothers and sisters do not even do well in this most basic thing. However, even if they do not or seldom read the bible, they still have their own theological views which are not built upon the biblical teachings. In this way, they cannot apply the biblical teachings in their life.

To be a qualified Christian, one must thirst for the bible. In my opinion most brothers and sisters do not develop such thirst for bible because they are not clear about born-again and salvation. Lacking that rebirth of life, of course they do not thirst for God’s Word. If we do not know our own identity, we will not want to establish an intimate relationship with God.

Parking your car rightly is theology

Q: Who should be responsible for those Christians who are not clear about born again, salvation and their own identity?

A: I think everyone has to be responsible. I agree that in some respect it is the problem with pastors’ teachings. Some pastors’ understanding of some theological questions may not be really in line with the bible. For example, our understanding of the term “disciple” needs to be rectified. One of the theological ideas is that when we believe in Jesus we become believers and later become disciples and we can choose not to become a disciple. In fact, there is no such concept in the bible. The biblical theological concept is that all followers of Christ are disciples of the Lord.

Of course, the believers are also responsible. Basically they have to decide and work on basic issues like knowing their own identity and whether they have truly and humbly confessed of their sins and repented to follow Christ.

So I think there are many areas where the church needs to pay attention to and improve on, starting with the most basic. The moment a believer accepted Christ he has to deal with the issues of born again and salvation. He can then build up a set of theological concepts in line with the Bible and then apply them to his life. These three steps are fundamental and significant in the core of a Christian’s life. Or else the situation that I often criticize will occur, that is, there are so many Christians in Sibu, yet with minimal compliance with the parking rules.

Why can’t we comply with the parking rules? It is most likely that we want convenience and we think only of oneself. But the bible is teaching us to be self-sacrificial and to love others as we love ourselves. To park one’s car rightly is an act of loving God and loving others and is thus related to theology.

Q: Some churches want to maximise land usage and build the church building big to an extent that the need of parking space is being ignored. Do you think these churches are responsible in certain way?

A: Yes, they are. Planning for magnificent and elegant church building without taking into consideration car park problem already gives rise to theological issues. There are a lot of grey areas when it comes to ethical issues because people are often influenced by secularization and act according to secular behaviour more than the Christian ought to behave. This type of theology is still theology but is distant from theology according to the Bible.

In view of this, there is one thing I will do and have been doing. Through my sermons, I convey the theological concepts that I learn from the Bible to the congregation so that they can grasp the very perspectives of the bible. For example, I have recently focused on the understanding of the identity of a disciple and how that identity affects our behaviour and actions.

Q: What do you think a real Christian should be like?

A: I personally think that a true Christian should confess his sins and repent, and faithfully follow the Lord. If one truthfully believes in the Lord, he will naturally live a holy life. These are the three very important basic points in theology and each Christian needs to grow according to the above three points, otherwise his life as a Christian would be incomplete and unfruitful.

Interviewer: Wong Meng Lei
Interviewee: Rev. Ting Huat Ung
Recorded by April
Translated by KT Chew
Edited by James TC Wong
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