Latest issue of Christian Trends released!

Christian Trends

Issue: Dec-Jan 2015

I just received my copy of the “latest” Christian Trends magazine, dated December-January 2015. And the cover theme “Celebrate the Season” seems a little dated, since it features articles about “Christmas” and also about New Year resolutions.

However, that I received the copy on Ash Wednesday, the day to start the period of Lent (during which we remember Good Friday and the inevitable Easter), the call to “Celebrate the season” was perfectly timed!

Traditionally, we Christians do not celebrate Easter as much as we should. In fact, we spend more time, during these Easter celebrations, to “remember” the crucifixion of our Lord, by fasting for a whole 40 days!!! There is surely great value in fasting and sorrow and repentance in Christianity. But at the cost of Easter, it is a heavy price to pay. We are ultimately children of a living God, servants of a resurrected King! Today is the day to rejoice! Happy Easter!!!

Nevertheless, fasting and repentance are needed in a time of opulence and consumerism, even in the Church. The negative impact of materialism and corruption in some churches today, is hardly known to its full extent. Yet it is probably true that we as a church need to recover the gospel message for the poor, but also ask ourselves whether we the rich (urban church elite) are moving away from the kingdom of heaven. So let’s not take away from the more sombre “celebration” of Lent either. May sacrifice and self-denial be the mark of the true disciple of Jesus!

Back to the Christian Trends issue. It’s a good edition, featuring an article by a certain Nigel Ajay Kumar (yes, that’s me!) :). I basically talked to several pastors and church leaders to see how they celebrated Christmas in their regions and the results were presented in an article format. It was a fun piece to write, to find out the “trends” in Christianity so to speak. I also think the suggestion, that we should be more intentional about the way we celebrate Christmas as both joy and mission, is a good one.

However, that article is certainly not the best one in the mag. The article I liked best was Akshay Rajkumar’s movie review. He writes about PK, the recent Hindi movie blockbuster. I only just saw PK and felt the urgent need that Christians respond to it. In fact, I had felt that PK had more valid points against religion and Christianity than the current Hindutva brigade, and the Church must more intentionally respond to its critique. So, when I saw Akshay’s article, I let out a spiritual “hurray”! It was an astute and fair movie review (though I don’t agree with everything he said, especially about the depiction about the heroine). But more importantly, he highlighted the key issues that as Christians we should address. Namely, false religiosity, justice and the search for God. (Good job, Askhay! May your tribe increase!)

There is also a box within the review about the other “religious” movies that have been coming at us, Son of God, Noah, and Exodus. However, none of those movies are half as interesting as PK and even half as effective in raising issues for Christians in India to think about.

An interesting move by Christian Trends was to include a satirical article by a supposed Hindutvavadi (a person who subscribes to Hindutva) “Saraansh Patel”. When I read that article, I wondered whether this person was actually real, and was relieved that it was satire. I felt that the ideas expressed were quite extreme and it would be rare to find a Hindu who would actually express all of those views publically (in print). I think however, it was a brave move for Christian Trends to address political issues through alternative styles.

Which brings me back to PK, which I think has a more realistic “ideology” that represents a majority of India, and one that must be brought to the fore even more. Hindus today, I think, care less about Hindu extremism or mindless Christianity. They want a practical religion. To them, both Hindutva ideologues and Christian fundamentalist missionaries are extreme. And we need to be clear how we distinguish ourselves in this milieu.

So, I must say, even though this issue feels a little “late”, this was one of the better issues from the Christian Trends stable. And I would urge again, that if you haven’t yet subscribed to it, please do so. Support Christian publishing; support the godly exchange of ideas and views.

Can we ban Religious Conversions? A Response to Jaideep Prabhu


Here’s a friend of mine, making an important “point”.

Originally posted on Thought Fragments:

I couldn’t help but notice the irony in Jaideep A Prabhu’s strong critique of Nehru’s political imagination, when my quick search informs me that he is the Jawaharlal Nehru Professor of Business and Enterprise at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge. His article, [ ] Is Religious Conversion really a Fundamental Right, or Can We Ban it? is undoubtedly argued with a certain flair. And given that its primary appeal is the political incorrectness of the Abrahamic religious nuances, his argument would appear quite persuasive to many. However, his assumptions and rationale beg several questions.

Prabhu’s principle argument is that religious liberty as imagined within the Nehruvian secular framework of the Indian Constitution a) neither originates from the Dharmic faiths nor is compatible with it, and b) does not provide a level playing ground for Dharmic systems vis-à-vis Abrahamic faiths. Given these, Prabhu argues for “a complete ban…

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A Skit About Jesus, Today

old-television-clip-art_414415(An adapted form of this skit was performed at the Gospel Church thanksgiving service (29 June 2014), in Bangalore. The target audience was mainly people who did not take Jesus seriously enough in their lives).


One: Has the football match started yet?

Two: Put it on, let’s check.

 (TV has some people playing football)

One: Hey it’s football!

Two: Don’t get too excited. It’s not live, it’s a recording. Put it off.

One: Let’s just check what else is there.

Two: (changing channel)Music video?

(TV has a dance scene)

One: Naah.

Two: (changing channel) Movie?

(TV has a fight scene)

One: Naah.

Two: (changing channel) Documentary?

One: Oh, not at all.

Two: Hey I’m not able to change the channel. Battery must be dead.

One: Please not a documentary, anything but a documentary.

Two: I can’t change the channel.

One: Try the button on the TV.

Two: It’s a special TV. The buttons only work through the remote.

One: What documentary is it…

Two: It’s about Jesus.

One: Oh, please, no, switch it off. GOD please switch it off.

Two: That’s funny.
One: What’s funny?

Two: You said, “God please switch it off”… and Jesus is God. So you’re telling Jesus to put off the TV programme about Jesus.

One: Jesus, God? Well, that’s what you believe. I don’t believe such things.

Two: Anyway… since there’s nothing else to watch, let’s just watch this.

One: No, please… let’s just leave the TV on and go out and watch a movie or something…

Two: Look, look… here’s an interesting story…

ON TV: (on tv the story of the adulterous woman is enacted)

Jews: Master… this woman was caught in adultery. The law says that we must stone her. What do you say?

One: Adultery… what’s adultery?

Two: When a married man or woman get involved with another married man or woman.

One: What’s the big deal… this happens all the time.

Two: Yes, but God doesn’t like it.

One: Oh, since Jesus is God… is he going to punish the woman?

Two: Let’s see…


Jesus says, “Let the person who has not sinned cast the first stone.”

And everyone leaves.

Jesus: (to the woman) Go and sin no more.

 One: So is Jesus saying that adultery is ok?

Two: No, I think he’s saying that we should not condemn other people… and I think he is also saying that he can forgive.

One: Oh, big deal! What does this have to do with real life. What does this have to do with me? Please, check if the battery is working… change the channel.

Two: It’s still not working. Hey look, the next scene.

ON TV: Story of the paralytic man… where Jesus says, your sins are forgiven.

One: This story is funny. I’m sure that the man wanted to be healed and when Jesus said “your sins are forgiven” he must have said, “What! I want to be healed, not forgiven!” So weird.

Two: You don’t think YOU need to be forgiven?

One: Me, forgiven? Not at all.

Two: Meaning you’re perfect.

One: Me, perfect? Of course not. Are you?

Two: Well, not exactly.

One: So, see! We all have problems, I don’t think I need to be forgiven. All this sin business is bakwass (nonsense). It has nothing to do with me.

Two: Hey look another part of the story.

ON TV: Crucifixion… the two murders on the cross beside Jesus.

Jesus (ends with): Today you will be with me in paradise.

One: Do you think that man would go to heaven just because Jesus said so.

Two: I guess so, and I’m sure that it helped that Jesus told him that before he died.

One: See, that’s what religion is all about. It’s something to make us feel better when we’re going through a difficult time.

Two: So which is better?

One: What?

Two: Which is better? To die while making fun of Jesus, or dying while recognising that Jesus is better than you and admitting that you need God.

One: Hmm… I guess the other thief/murderer is better because cursing someone on the cross… especially a person like Jesus… isn’t really a nice thing. Anyway this has nothing to do with me. Is the story over already?

Two: Hey what happened to the TV?

One: Oh good, its working? You’ve changed the channel?

Two: No no, it’s on, but the story of Jesus has suddenly stopped showing on TV. There’s no picture.

One: What, it must be the remote, check it. (they hit the remote to test it)

TV: (is blank). Suddenly Jesus (the character who played Jesus) appears in the room.

Jesus: Hi guys.

Both: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

One: This is a dream, this is a dream. One horrible dream.

Two: How could you come out of the TV. This is like a horror movie.

Jesus: You asked, what does this mean to you… So I wanted to tell you that I’m alive.

One: I can see that. Now please go away, so I can wake up. You’re freaking me out.

Two: Are you really, here, Jesus?

Jesus: Yes, I’m here. I am really here, with you, right now. I want to tell you that I’m the same Jesus who can heal the sick, I’m the same Jesus who can forgive sins, and I’m the same Jesus who died for you.

One: Go away, go away, leave me alone.

Two: (speaking to One) Why are you telling Jesus to go away?
One: Because it’s freaking me out. He should not be here.

Two: Do you know that if Jesus is truly God, then he is here, whether you can see him or not.

One: Ya ok, but I’d rather not see him right now. Please tell him to go away.

Two: But why? Do you have anything to be afraid of? You said you don’t need to be forgiven.

Jesus: (speaking to One)You don’t need to be forgiven?

One: No, no… that’s not what I meant. I meant that we have all done bad things, so I’m no worse than anyone else.

Jesus: You’re right.

One: I am.

Two: He is?

Jesus: Yes, all have sinned and fallen short of God.

One: So that means you’re ok with me, I don’t need to be forgiven?

Jesus: That’s not what the Bible says, it says that while all men have sinned and fallen short of God… we can all be forgiven because of what I did on the cross. I died for you.

One: You died for me.

Jesus: Yes, I died for you, so that you can be forgiven.

Two: You still feel you don’t need to be forgiven?

One: (speaking to Two) Shut up.

Jesus: What?

One: Not you, Jesus. Sorry… I mean… I mean… I actually need to be forgiven. I was scared to ask.

Jesus: Ask and you will receive, my friend, ask for forgiveness and you will receive it.

Lights go out. When the lights come on… the two are sleeping. And suddenly One wakes up.

One: What, what, what… what happened?

(It was a dream)

One: Huh, what’s happening? Oh, phew! It was a dream.

Two: (waking up)What was a dream?
One: I was dreaming that I saw Jesus on TV and he came to life. I mean he was alive and he was saying that he wanted to forgive me.

Two: Oh be quiet and go back to sleep, otherwise I will not forgive you!

(Two goes back to sleep, while One thinks for a while and then goes back to sleep. Lights out). End.


World Cup dreams (football)

footballThe following is a true story… well actually, it is true that I dreamed this dream last night.

As Brazil was losing to Netherlands in the World Cup third place match (they were 2-0 down at that time) , I fell asleep and I dreamed that I was in the Brazilian team, as a defender (no joke, I really dreamed this! I don’t even like football that much, and so it was all the more crazy.)

Anyway… I was a Brazilian defender… and another team (not necessary Netherlands) was on the attack. A foul led to a free kick near the goal box. And I was marked to stand in the defensive line on the far left of the line. The kicker kicked and the ball flew past me on my left… the kick was not that fast… but I just missed it… and the ball rolled pass the goal line. Interestingly, even as I was dreaming… before the kicker kicked… I remember thinking that the kicker will try to kick past me on the left… even before it happened. However, when it happened, I was still unable to stop it.

Then… goal number two… another attack on the Brazilian goal… this time… as a defender I stood at the goal line, to the left of the goal-keeper to cover the goal as the attackers grew close enough to shoot. I remember thinking that they will probably kick straight towards my right and that’s exactly what happened… and even though I knew what was going to happen, again I saw the ball go past me, and to another goal. I missed.

When I woke up… Brazil had lost 3-0… but it really felt like I was “living” the moment of Brazil’s loss. I had seen the 7-1 humiliation to Germany. And now this 3-0 loss was just more pain. So dreaming this dream was probably expected… I had taken the loss a little personally… and had empathised with the Brazilian defenders.

But I also remember thinking that failure sometimes happens even when you know the answers… when you know what to do. In my dream… I could pre-empt the attackers… I knew what would happen… and yet I was not fast enough to execute that defence… I was not able to stop the ball. I obviously felt sympathy for the actual Brazilian defenders.

But this also reminded me about how (in theology) we aim to know/speak the right answers, but that is so very different (even hard) to actually perfectly follow the right answers. We may know what to do, but so often we are unable to do what we know we should do.

Anyway… that’s enough world cup theology for now. At least I had another sport to talk about other than cricket! :)

Wake up, Congress: my wishlist for a fallen giant

Congress PartyThe year is 2014 and we all, Indians, know the story. The Congress party has been defeated in the polls by BJP, and by defeated we mean almost obliterated. Yet, just the other day, a member of this defeated Congress party criticised, even “mocked”, the qualifications of some of the BJP cabinet ministers. Obviously the ruling party, BJP, hit back. But I can’t help but feel that if the Congress wants to redefine itself as a party, then this kind of criticism, personal attack, must stop. Of course politicians will attack their opponents, but attacks of this kind of are insensible especially when the Congress itself had chosen several non-qualified people for its Ministerial berths.

I had been silent during most of the elections, hating to read every news report that dug another nail in the Congress coffin. But now, that the results are out, and the new party and PM and proxy government (RSS) are installed, it’s time for some reflection. And the above issue makes me fear that change may be impossible for the Congress. And I really fear that. So I want to draft a wishlist for what Congress needs to do, to change. Obviously, no significant Congress party worker will be reading this post, but if I (and millions of Indians) can comment about inconsequential things like the Indian cricket team, about what they must do to win, why can’t I put down my thoughts on what Congress can do to win (at least win my support back)?! So here’s my wishlist for a Congress resurrection…

What do I wish from the congress?

I wish, I hope, that the Congress can redefine itself as a clean party that cares for the nation.

I wish that it will get back to their roots of nationalism, secularism, development of the poor…

I wish it will continue its push for young leadership.

I wish it will show that it is more than a single-family run unit, which means that there needs to be clear political leaders agreeing to the larger party ideology… rather than being defined by their Gandhi-loyalty.

Relatedly, I wish the Congress party will allow at least three non-Gandhi related leaders to rise as spokesmen, workers and the new face of the Congress party.  (I don’t mind the Gandhi family being in Congress, and in fact the biggest recent contribution Sonia Gandhi made for India, was to sacrifice her position to be PM. She could have easily become Prime Minister 10 years ago, but she said no. Thus, that mentality, that service attitude, for the betterment of the nation, can remain where the Gandhi’s can be seen as allowing others to rise).

I wish the Congress will apologise for its corruption.

I wish the Congress will apologise for being negligent during the Anti-Sikh riots.

I wish the Congress will reject votebank politics… where it panders to the minorities during elections, and does nothing to instil in us all a vision of a nation.

While I wish that the Congress will rightly critique the connection between BJP and the proxy government RSS, I still hope that Congress will have more intelligent things to say against this current government than argue that it is “communal”. BJP is communal, yes, but they are good at hiding it (and in this election they have hardly talked about it), so I hope that there will be more to say to critique the government, a better fight from the Congress.

I wish the Congress will spend time wooing middle class voters, taking their criticism, and listening to their suggestions.

I wish the Congress will learn from the AAP, especially from its grass roots and lower-middle class method of campaigning. I even like Arvind Kejriwal’s speak when he become Chief Ministry. It struck, I think, the right notes of an ideal vision for nation building.

I wish the Congress will not rely only on past accomplishments but actually have a vision for the future of the nation.

I wish the Congress will learn better marketing skills. Even as I hope it will rebuild its vision, I hope it will let us all (ALL) know about it.

And so, yes, I support a transformation of the Congress party. I hope Congress share in the above vision and transform itself.

Facebook theology – On preaching, teaching and the Church

ImageI posted something the other day on Facebook (on Google+ actually, but it was also shared to Facebook). A few “likes” and “comments” followed and I found myself writing/posting comments about theological issues. I want to post the comments here… not because anything earth-shattering was being said, but because, for the sake of posterity, it’s an interesting case on how theology (conversation) can develop in today’s age. And thus, keeping the focus on dialogue, the emphasis is that talking, responding AND WRITING, is a good foundation for growing in theology and becoming mature theologians.

(nb. In most cases, I’m not correcting the grammar/spelling of comments, and keeping it as is, unless it distracts too much from the central message. I’m also keeping the names hidden for privacy reasons.)

NAyK Original post: John Stott once wrote that Jesus never “retreated behind the safety of a pulpit” rather he “spoke in settings where people were bold enough to talk back.” Would be interesting if more of us teachers would not retreat behind the safety of the lectern, so that our students would become bold enough to talk back. (bold enough to disagree/provide alternatives/and sometimes even ask questions that they would not dare ask authority figures)

BC Comment: Not using lectern or pulpit would be a good start, I think.

DA Comment: But its helpful to also remember that John Stott fervently believed in preaching…..which is different from dialogue and discussion. the pulpit only serves that end. The pulpit is not the issue, its the content of our preaching is. there are lots of speakers on God tv and youtube you don’t use pulpits but terribly misuse the scriptures…..there is a time for preaching there is a time for discussion. both are important and needed. Pulpit is sometimes just symbolic of the fact that the written word of God proclaimed and imparted to us by his Spirit is of supreme importance. This is why some traditional churches have pulpits up in front and sometimes high up. I think that’s great. But sadly the content of the preaching in many (not all) mainline churches is scriptural. There are few things more powerfully than a preacher who preaches the word of God accurately from a pulpit.

DA next comment: Sorry my point may seem a bit scrambled up, but its facebook after all…….and one more point- this is why house churches have thrown out the baby with the bath water….

NAyK (my) response: To DA, Wow, that was a big dismissal of “house churches”… perhaps you mean a certain type of “house churches” or even just one particular type ;) . (There are many models of house churches).

About preaching + pulpit, the issue is “power” and while the content ideally should be the word of God, as you noted, it is not always. And so… there seems to be a need for the congregation to “correct”, or at least “test” the preacher—Berean example, whether during or after the service. But instead, the pulpit has become a sacred fortress that legitimizes/authorizes the speaker… regardless of content (or character). Thus, the “safety” comment by Stott.

Nevertheless, my note is about education/teaching… and there hopefully you would appreciate a more open model… where the teacher does not simply deliver lecture notes (hence the lectern) but actually engages with students allowing dialogue/discussion, even disagreement.

SD Comment: I agree NAyK, although the teacher or preacher should not let the dialogue go off topic or disrupt the class/service, so that the whole group may benefit from the teaching. Although, come to think of it, Jesus several times turned a ‘distraction’ into an important teaching. Wish I could attend one of your classes!

DA Comment: Hi NAyK, first of all i admit i didn’t read carefully that you were talking about teachers and students in a classroom setting right?…about the “power” problem that’s exactly why i believe in plurality of leaders – elder-led churches….and secondly why I also [believe that] individual churches should have autonomy in functioning as opposed to the typical episcopal form of government….so this whole thing relates to all the wider topic of church government.

NAyK (my) response: Hi DA. Wow, from where to where. :) Yes, elder-led churches does help address the issue of [power by] keeping fellow elders in check, so that even if the congregation does not correct the pastor, the fellow elders can. The only problem is that if there emerges a (natural/common) hierarchy within the elders and then we’re back to square one, where one individual again exerts greater power and sometimes prevents others from disagreeing with him.

Speaking on Church government… it’s a really practical thing, and much needed. However, I tend to prefer a more “spirtualistic” (theological) approach when talking about Church governance (shows that I’m not, and hopefully will never be, a pastor in the formal sense). I feel that fellowship of elders is important, nevertheless, the Church must always insist on the priority of God, and the priority of Word, above the pastoring/preaching team so that whenever they speak, they remind the congregation that they speak as interpreters of the Word, rather than as equal to the Word. Too often, we have made our pastors as equal to prophets, who are saying the very words of God. On one sense, this is true, “by faith” (as John Stott, again, would emphasise),

Nevertheless, I feel, the pastor himself must constantly remind the congregation that he is but an interpreter, and thus he must call on the congregation to improve their own interpretation (even if it means that eventually members of the congregation will exceed the pastor). The pastor/elders must invite the congregation to learn to interpret (and improve), then I think the leadership is truly accountable to the Word, and the correct governing structure is in place.

Otherwise, the congregation simply comes to the pastor as the equal to God’s voice, without consciously recognising that they [too] are responsible to interpret God’s word. The congregation must be allowed to see that the pastor, along with the fellowship of elders, are fellow interpreters, though of course by calling, gifting, training, … perhaps more advanced. The congregation must see itself as participating through the listening, the recalling and even their own eventual witnessing/preaching/communicating through that very model of interpretation that the pastor/elders have expressed. Sometimes that will mean, even disagreeing.

(More comments may follow. This is not a closed post)

Child’s faith

Few days ago, my faith was tested. There was a student (his family are our friends) whom we found out needed a lot of money (and we mean a lot!) to be able to finish his theological education.  The situation was so dire that if he was not able to raise the amount by the deadline, which was in one week, then he would not be able to graduate. I knew that family and I knew that they just did not have the resources to raise that amount. As we (my wife and I) talked about the situation, we were grim and talked seriously about what could be done.

Without hesitation, our (6-year-old) daughter, who we didn’t realise was listening to our conversation, said, “I have money (for that family).” She promptly went to her purse and took out some of the money she got during her Christmas holidays, money that she was saving for something really special that she wanted. From that purse she took out about half of it and gave it to us to give it to that family.

I was stunned. And hugely moved. While we had tried to encourage generosity in our family, we never expected “sacrificial” giving from our daughter.

The money, which amounted to about Rs. 125, was obviously way short of what was needed. But we put it in an envelop and straightaway went to that family, gave it to them, and prayed with them. Later that night, we prayed once again for that family, wondering again where the huge amount would come from. Our daughter said, “If God wants them to graduate, he’ll help them get the money.”

Honestly. No matter how “cute” or moving her words were, I was still skeptical. I just didn’t know where the money would come from.

Then suddenly, on the final day of the deadline, I talked to the accounts office and it turned out that all the money had to been raised for that student… from various sources (meaning not just one generous benefactor).

We rejoiced. We told our daughter too. And she didn’t seem too surprised that the money came through and just went about her play.

Through this I learned something about faith. My daughter was right. If it’s part of God’s plan, he will make a way. My daughter was also right to put her faith into action and give sacrificially, even if it didn’t seem to make a difference. And through the providentially happy ending of the story I learned that God will make the impossible, possible. To believe that, to trust that, and to act accordingly, was faith.


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Passage for this Season

Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.


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