09 16, 2012

Christianity Today's 'Second Coming Christ Controversy' Collapses

A Response to Christian Media Publication by Olivet's Journalism Director

By Jonathan Park

Olivet University's journalism program director, Jonathan Park, responds to a recent article by Christianity Today.

CT's Source Edmond Chua Testifies Jang's Orthodoxy, Perplexes Accusers

In his interview with Christianity Today Edmond Chua raised questions about Jang's past eschatological beliefs, while at the same time affirming Jang's orthodoxy when it comes to Christology and soteriology. Edmond said "Jang is unsurpassed in preaching the theology of the sacrifice and atonement of the Cross. He had successfully taken what many pastors would just say as a one-liner, expositing how God loves us, and paints this relationship between Jesus and his disciples in such a way that would put any movie to shame."

Edmond similarly attested to Jang's orthodoxy on Christology and soteriology three weeks ago in a personal testimony published August 23 on the Singapore Christian Post, where he served as the manager. His testimony titled "David Jang's Orthodoxy: An Ex-Insider's Perspective," also vouched for the orthodoxy of the Jang-founded Olivet University.

"I can attest that Jang preaches and teaches a full-bodied view of the atonement," wrote Edmond. He said he listened to Jang preach at Olivet's main campus in San Francisco and read notes of his sermons. "Contrary to what has been claimed [in CT's first article]," Edmond clarified, "[Jang] does not view the cross as a failure; the victory and efficacy of the atonement figure in his sermons and notes of his teaching."

Edmond, like all of the sources (named or anonymous) that have spoken to CT, also wrote in his testimony that Jang has never taught or implied that he was the "Second Coming Christ," saying, "In my exposure to Jang's preaching and teaching, I have never heard him proclaim himself Christ or Messiah or in any way imply that he believed he was."

Edmond added, "[I]t must be pointed out that the real reason I joined Jang's denomination in the first place was only because of his tremendous and life-changing teaching emphasis on the glory of the crucified and resurrected Christ."

Edmond's assertions in his Aug. 23 article may well have perplexed CT at first, along with many of Jang's accusers, most of whom are based in East Asia, because of the strong defense he provides of Dr. Jang's orthodoxy in Christology and soteriology, thereby totally debunking the allegation that people associated with Jang believe that the ministry of Jesus and his work on the Cross failed.

Edmond Coins New Term: "Non-Parousia Postmillennialism"

In the same August 23 article, Edmond assumed that a few individuals at the EAPCA denomination had believed or taught what Edmond called "non-Parousia Postmillenialism," or NPP. Edmond alleged that even those few individuals who had taught NPP had only done so prior to 2006 and that Dr. Jang stopped people from teaching that same year. NPP, a term that seems to have been created by Edmond, interprets the Second Coming of Christ as a symbolic event rather than a literal event.

But NPP is an inaccurate view of EAPCA's eschatology, according to this writer.

This writer has personally attended an EAPCA church since 2005, but he does not recall any teaching or preaching on premillennialism, postmillennialism, or amillennialism in the church. At Olivet University, the overview of the three dominant eschatological views was taught in both Systematic Theology and (very briefly) in New Testament courses, but the professors did not endorse any one view over the other.

Rev. Anthony Chiu, stated clerk of EAPCA, said NPP was never an official view of the denomination.

"The term NPP, 'non-Parousia Postmillenialism', was coined by Edmond Chua to describe our beliefs," said Rev. Chiu to this writer. "A Google search of the term produces unrelated results, apparently because Chua coined the term himself."

By his own admission, Edmond said he "never heard such teaching in [Dr.Jang's] actual preaching."

Chiu also said that there were never any lessons that taught or encouraged Edmond's NPP theory, nor the belief in David Jang as Christ. The denomination said its statement of faith has always affirmed the "personal" return of Jesus Christ "in power and glory."

EAPCA's official statement of faith reads in part: "We believe…in…our Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, His virgin birth, His sinless human life, His divine miracles, His vicarious and atoning death, His bodily resurrection, His ascension, His mediatorial work, and His Personal return in power and glory."

Edmond Claim about EAPCA's Eschatology Changes Drastically

Edmond stood by his claims about EAPCA's theology and supported the denomination's orthodoxy up until late August, only questioning its eschatology.

However, only a few days after he penned the article on "David Jang's Orthodoxy," he contradicted his previous statements in a follow-up article on Singapore CP. That article was removed shortly thereafter from the website for violating the editorial guidelines of The Christian Post. (Edmond's first article remains on Singapore CP's website).

Many of Edmond's controversial claims were reprinted in CT's Sept. 12 article, however. Edmond told CT he had once "believed that Jang was a new Christ, a messianic figure establishing the kingdom of God on earth" and he "prayed in [Dr. Jang's] name instead of Jesus."

These claims are puzzling in light of Edmond's previous assertions about the centrality of Jesus Christ in the prayers and sermons of Dr. Jang.

"[Dr. Jang] glorifies all Three Persons of the Godhead in his prayers and offers every prayer to God in the name of Jesus Christ. It would be irrational for Jang, if he indeed believed himself to be Christ, to pray in that name," wrote Edmond on August 23.

Such apparent contradictions and flawed logic in Edmond's subsequent articles and writings convinced some readers that his later writings were written by a different person altogether.

Dr. Donald Tinder, dean of Olivet Theological College and Seminary, found some of Edmond's explanations in his first article to be "helpful," but thought that a later email and article were either fabricated, or that Chua was somehow pressured into writing them. In an email, Tinder voiced these concerns to Ted Olsen, CT's "Second Coming Christ Controversy" author. Tinder told Olsen that if Edmond was in fact the author of these contradictory accounts then he "is gravely disoriented or extremely pressured as there are too many internal contradictions."

Dr. Tinder, who was also a former editor at Christianity Today for 10 years, noted to CT's Olsen "how similar some of [Chua's] extreme comments are to other baseless charges against Jang or the movement."

"But [Edmond Chua's] emails do have the virtue of substantiating a major claim of ours, that the attacks against us could be based on misunderstandings, misrepresentation, outright fabrications, and possible hostility from some concerned just with sowing discord rather than maintaining sound doctrine," Dr. Tinder added.

This writer's own testimony, also been sent to Olsen, pointed out the impossibility of simultaneously believing in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross (sound soteriology) while also believing that a Second Coming Christ (Jang) needs to complete the "unfinished" work of Jesus (a matter of eschatology). The work cannot be both finished and unfinished at the same time. Like Edmond, the writer of this article had been taught the efficacy and completeness of the cross of Jesus, and this writer continues to hold firmly to that belief.

From personal interactions with Edmond, this writer is convinced that Edmond affirms the victory of the cross. The writer believes that Edmond's later writings do not reflect his true belief and are likely a result of pressure to change his original testimony.

Who Taught the Lesson? Not Borah Lin, but His Wife Susan

According to CT's report, it was on September 6, 2005 that Edmond completed a series of "crucial final" so-called history lessons taught to him by his wife Susan that led him to confess that David Jang is the Second Coming Christ. CT's article also features excerpts of these so-called history lessons that were allegedly delivered by a Bible lecturer named Borah Lin in 2002.

Edmond's account described Lin as Jang's "chief teaching associate," and alleged she is responsible for the eschatological teachings used by Susan to "encourage" Edmond to believe Jang is the Second Coming Christ.

An Aug. 15 article by Christianity Today noted there were 40 so-called "History Lessons." The Sept. 12 article, however, was only able to name a handful of sources supporting this claim. And even the authenticity of a few lessons have been disputed, especially by Borah Lin, wife of Olivet University's chairman and a mother of three, who denied that she ever taught the lessons mentioned by Edmond and his wife in CT's article.

Lin pointed out that the transcripts referenced by Edmond were allegedly delivered years prior to the date that he claimed to have joined the denomination. "There are no lessons designed to lead new members to a confession that Dr. Jang is the 'Second Coming Christ,'" said Lin. "I could never teach a Bible study with this intent because I have never believed nor confessed that David Jang is the 'Second Coming Christ.'"

Lin responded to Edmond, saying, "Like many other evangelicals, I affirm the Second Advent is the literal and personal return of Jesus Christ," she said. Lin also cited a verse in the Book of Acts stating, "This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

"I am awaiting the Second Coming of Jesus Christ of Nazareth," she said.

Lin said she's not sure why Edmond thinks of her as "Jang's chief teaching associate." In her lifetime, Lin said she only met Edmond once during a fellowship's mission training program in the summer of 2006. Lin added that she has been busy raising her children and has not been very active in mission since 2004.

Lin concluded, "If Christianity Today had contacted me, I would have simply asked them, shouldn't [CT] be scrutinizing Susan, not me, since Edmond says his wife is the one who taught him this? Even though I have never met Susan, I will pray for her and her family and I will also pray for CT to stop exploiting people's misunderstandings."

Susan's Teacher Speaks Out, Calls Susan's Story 'Inaccurate' and 'Exaggerated'

Susan Chua's account in CT described her faith journey beginning from her conversion to Christianity, and includes a description of her confusion about matters of soteriology and eschatology.

"I was baptized but did not know the meaning of baptism, sin, or have a clear understanding of salvation," she told CT. "I was only a bit scared of the end—Judgment Day."

This writer attempted to verify Susan's account in an interview with Li Zhihong, whom CT referred to as "Susan's teacher" in the article. Li said the story Susan told to CT had some truthful elements but many were greatly "exaggerated" and "distorted."

Before Susan came to know Li, she was said to be a member of a radical Christian group in China. "As Susan indicated to CT, she had extreme fundamental view of eschatology," remarked Li. "I remember Susan also told me her ex-Bible teacher would practice 40 days of fasting."

Li confirmed that the two had studied the Bible together but denies she taught Susan the message "New Israel" or that she ever asked Susan who she thought Jang was. Li also said she has never heard a confession from Susan that David Jang was "the Second Christ."

"I don't hold that belief myself and I never taught a message that encouraged Susan to make any confession of the sort. I'm actually very disappointed she would say that about me," said Li.

Nevertheless, Susan told CT she confessed David Jang as the "Second Christ" after she was taught a lesson called "New Israel" by Li. Susan also claimed the message originated from a July 20, 2002 sermon delivered by Borah Lin at a church retreat in Berkeley, California.

But Li said she is not aware of that message, which Susan attributed to Lin.

"We were in China so it would have been impossible for us to have listened to Borah's lectures in Berkeley, if there were any. Even if I had Borah's sermons, I couldn't have understood them anyway since neither of us could understand English or Korean."

Borah Lin told this reporter that she didn't give any of the lectures referenced by CT. She said that she wasn't even in Berkeley on July 20, 2002 but "was living in New York at that time."

"Susan said I taught these messages but they're not mine," she said. Lin said she never met Susan but suspects that the messages Susan referenced in CT's article were falsified by enemies of the Gospel message.

"There are people who've been attacking me and other evangelicals for years, including a blogger and a cult-fabricator who are basically spreading lies and fake documents with my name on them on the Internet to confuse young believers," she said.

Susan's Bible study teacher Li Zhihong commented on other parts of Susan's story to CT, saying Susan exaggerated many details of her life. Li said Susan was not sent to Singapore as a "missionary" but that she went there as a student studying abroad.

"And saying she was escorted there by Dr. Jang is just not accurate," she said.

"Susan went to Singapore to study at FTMS Global Academy," recalled Li. "She told me she was thinking about immigrating to Australia, but she then changed her mind to go study in Singapore."

Li said she doesn't understand why Susan told CT that she had lied to her parents for "money to support her mission." Li said Susan had asked her parents for money to support her studies.

"I'm really worried that Susan might have gone back to her former extreme fundamentalist eschatology group," reflected Li. "I sincerely pray that her faith would go well."

Additional Distortions Discovered

This writer was also able to get in contact with Nga Wai Cheung, a pastor in Hong Kong who attended a 2004 meeting in Hong Kong referenced by CT. Cheung said Susan's claim that Dr. Jang taught an eschatology lecture using a whiteboard to illustrate in Hong Kong is not true.

"There wasn't even a whiteboard in the facility," she said.

Several claims made by Edmond about his role and positions have also drawn scrutiny from Cheung, who says these were greatly exaggerated in CT's article.

For instance, CT called Edmond one of the "movement's top leaders" who led church services in Singapore while serving as a representative of "Southeast Asia on the World General Assembly (WGA)."

"I'm not sure how they came to the conclusion he was tapped as a 'top' representative of Singapore and Southeast Asia," said Cheung. "There were just the two of them (Edmond and Susan) there in all of Singapore for six years," said Cheung.

"It's also outrageous to me that Edmond and Susan would give the impression to anyone that the misunderstandings they're sharing with CT represent the beliefs of church and fellowship members all across Southeast Asia."

Cheung said it is inaccurate for Edmond to say he is part of EAPCA, which is a denomination in America. Cheung remarked that Edmond should have used the term "fellowship" instead of "EAPCA."

"EAPCA is the name of a U.S.-based denomination...and Edmond must have known it was inappropriate to associate himself with the name EAPCA. The fact that he brought out that name suggests to me that he wants to make this controversy sound more international and larger than it is," said Cheung.

In addition, their claims about the "restricted" chat has also been challenged. Olivet University's Dean of Administration, Nathanael Tran, refuted the authenticity and content of the chat, especially the idea that it could be "very dangerous" if the school hires "people and professors from the world."

"Most of Olivet University's professors do not belong to the EAPCA denomination," said Tran. "And we would never call our current situation 'dangerous.'"

CT's Articles Synced for Theological Review Meetings

CT published its two "Controversy" articles on or near the dates of meetings of a committee tasked with performing a theological review of Olivet as part of a deal between the school and the Southern Baptist Convention's Lifeway Resources to sell the Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico to the university. The deal is contingent on the review. CT's second article was published on September 12, the day of the meeting.

No Such Doctrine of 'Righteous Lying'

In his interview with CT, Edmond claimed he was taught about "righteous lying" by Borah Lin at a summer mission training program he attended in New York six years ago. But Lin said that this charge is "completely made up" in an attempt to discredit her, especially her confession of faith in Jesus Christ.

"I have never taught about 'righteous lying' or that lies can be righteous," said Lin.

As a participant of the summer program, this writer can attest to Lin's statement that denies Edmond's claim.

There was also no such "private session" where Lin taught about the "45-year work of Christ." CT reported that Edmond and "seven others" had been singled out for the "private sessions." But there were only seven or eight participants altogether for the summer program. (Edmond had emailed several people that there were eight attendees, but this writer personally remembers only seven). If all eight people (including Edmond) were invited, then the event in question could no longer be called "private."

This writer recalled that when Lin gave her guest lectures at the training, she taught about the life of Jesus, from his virgin birth to the victory of the Cross. This writer's personal faith in Jesus Christ as his personal Savior was immensely strengthened after hearing about Jesus' victory on the cross as preached by Lin.

In the CT article, Carver Yu, a member of the Hong Kong-based Independent Enquiry Committee examining Young Disciples of Jesus, accused the fellowship of teaching "righteous lies." In 2008, the committee issued a report that charged YD with teaching that the first coming of Jesus to earth was a failure and that it taught about righteous lies. Yu told CT that he's convinced YD teaches its members to lie.

A YD representative called Yu's statements about "righteous lies" untrue. She said that accusing people of "righteous lying" is actually a tactic used by groups engaging in witch hunts in East Asia.

"When their arguments logically fall apart, they usually turn to personal character attacks, such as accusing people of lying. The accusation that we, although we are Christians, are teaching a doctrine of 'righteous lying' is an example of this," she wrote. "When we give a clear confession of faith that we believe in the total victory of Jesus Christ on the cross, they cannot refute it with verifiable evidence, so they try to win the argument by saying we're lying about our faith. The right thing to do would be to examine the issue logically. But instead people who use this tactic just cut off any dialogue when they lose. This is a typical method used by anti-Christian groups in Asia to attack Christians."

"It seems like there is no limit how far some accusers will go to use this righteous lie theory to accuse us of lying, whether about our faith, the ministry or anything that is not in line with their allegations," she continued. "Who has the right to dispute our sincere confession of faith regarding Jesus Christ? Our conscience is clear about our confession to Jesus. It's wicked to attempt to crumble that with this theory of 'righteous lie.' Aren't the people who are accusing us of lying actually the ones who are lying?"

Faith & Family Service, Not Wedding

CT also stated that Susan and Edmond were married in a church wedding along with 69 additional couples in 2006. (A Faith & Family Foundation official confirmed that there were a total of 69 couples, not 70 as CT reported.)

What actually occurred was not a wedding ceremony, as CT describes, but a service, according to China's Faith & Family Foundation. The organization helps to counsel and care for young Christian couples and families.

The foundation said the event is a Christian service for couples who desire to dedicate their family to God in front of other believers before marriage. There were over 500 people in attendance, including the 69 couples, at the Faith & Family service that the Chuas participated in.

This service arose from the unique family dynamics in East Asia, where many parents belong to Buddhist or non-Christian faiths. For couples whose parents or relatives expect to hold a traditional wedding ceremony, the Faith & Family Service allows them to first publicly declare at church their intention to make a family centered on Jesus Christ while respecting their family's marriage traditions.

According to Faith & Family personnel member Minghuan Jin, participants typically sign a statement that the Faith & Family Service is not a marriage but a Christian worship service. Couples do not have arranged marriages, but instead apply to participate after a period of courtship, said Jin.

CT's article also incorrectly drew a relationship between Dr. Jang and the Faith & Family Foundation. CT reported that the service took place on October 30, 2006 and claimed that it coincided with Dr. Jang's birthday. However, Bart Cheng, another participant of the service, said the date was in fact on October 29, not October 30. He also confirmed that it was not a wedding ceremony, but rather a service.

Another important note: Dr. Jang celebrates his birthday according to its lunar calendar date (not October 30), which is typical practice among older Korean persons.

From this writer's knowledge, it is not the first time accusers falsified dates or facts to support their claims.

The Biblical Way of Handling Disputes

CT inaccurately paints the efforts of those seeking Biblical resolutions to disputes as "intimidation," according to groups implicated in CT's articles.

"The worst thing about it is, these few named and anonymous people have chosen to air their grievances in media as a first recourse, instead of resolving these in a Biblical manner," noted Hokuto Ide, a reporter for Christian Today in Japan, another organization listed by CT.

He continued, "Instead of being encouraged to resolve differences through dialogue in a church setting, genuinely troubled believers have fallen victim to the predatory efforts by those with commercial and other interests who seek to sensationalize their stories with unethical motivations - namely trying to break Olivet's deal to purchase Glorieta."

According to Rev. Anthony Chiu, if there is a genuine misunderstanding on an issue, it would be right for Christians to try to resolve it with church leaders.

"If someone has a misunderstanding about teachings or beliefs, they should have first opened up a dialogue at church. Instead, it seems the misunderstandings of people are being exploited by the press and others. This is the real tragedy here," said Chiu.

"The Bible clearly explains in Matthew 18 the process by which differences among believers should be resolved: first with an in-person, one-on-one meeting with an offending brother or sister; then a face-to-face meeting in the presence of two or three witnesses, and finally in front of the church. If these efforts fail, then mediation should be brought into the secular realm," he said.

Controversy Falls Apart

CT presented the Second Coming Christ "controversy" as a big global issue. The second part of the series, however, has narrowed the issues it raises from those concerning Christology and soteriology, to alleged teachings from 10 years ago on eschatology. Since the eschatological issues raised in CT's latest article by two newly named sources in East Asia arose from Bible lectures of unsubstantiated authenticity, it seems that the controversy has come down to a few voices in Asia, rather than many around the world.

Jonathan Park is the director of Olivet College of Journalism. He received two degrees from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and a Master of Divinity degree from Olivet University (San Francisco, CA). While he was a student at Northwestern, Park also wrote for The Christian Post as a contributor. Raised in a Christian family, Park attended church all his life and currently attends an EAPCA church. He has also served as a volunteer minister for several years, leading Bible studies and preaching occasionally.

Olivet University is a warm and friendly place to pursue a serious Christian education. Olivet University students come from a wide range of age groups, geographical areas, educational backgrounds, and cultural heritages, creating a rich and challenging educational environment.