Learnings from an Interview with Prof. Lawrence Chia

Interview of Prof. Lawrence Chia, by Joshua Sim // 9 September 2020

OCF alumni Joshua Sim and John Kiew made a little trip down to visit Prof. Lawrence Chia’s home on 2 September 2020. Joshua Sim was from OCF Perth (known as OCF UWA now) in 2006 to 2010. John Kiew was from OCF AU 2012 to 2016.

In this mini-series, they share their learnings from their conversation with Prof. Lawrence. Here’s Part 1 of Joshua’s learning points.

Moderation and plurality in the founding of OCF, not narrowness and rigidity

One of the key findings of the interview was Prof. Lawrence Chia’s (LC) account of the formation of the working committee during the ‘unofficial’ Cowes Philip Island convention to discuss the establishment of OCF Australia. Chia explained that it was likely that he was asked to come in as the ‘neutral’ chairman of the committee because of the differences among the eight chairpersons of the OCF/AF centres from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide. While he thought the Edward Chia (EC), the President of OCF Melbourne, who was hosting the convention, would have been the natural choice to chair that working committee, EC decided that LC should chair the meeting, because (according to LC’s thinking) LC (1) was the current President of Evangelical Union in Sydney University and therefore an experienced hand; (2) had no real stake in OCF as he only attended OCF Sydney as a participant/member and not a leader; and (3) was a better choice for chair than EC or the OCF Sydney President then who was not keen on Western involvement in OCF. In this sense, EC set the tone of OCF by choosing a more moderate approach in order to allow the new Australia-wide body to be founded on a footing that was evangelical but also plural—that is, firm on their theological beliefs but broad enough to welcome Christians of different persuasions.

In the interview, he also mentioned that while the ‘reach out’ and ‘build up’ part of the OCF vision easily attained consensus due to the evangelistic nature of the Fellowship, the ‘send back’ part was more contested. Some students believed that Asia was the place in need (as many [English-speaking] churches there were liberal in theological orientation and in need of revival, as well as because many were un-evangelised in Asia), while others argued that with the founding of OCF and the increase in number of Asian students, the need lay in Australia. LC chose not to take sides but to affirm the validity of both views, opining that a multiplicity of views should be accommodated in this part of the vision and it was not necessary to take a hard position on it. From his perspective, taking a hard view would lead to narrowness and there was no need to fall into such a position.

I found LC to be a candid, but also sharp and nuanced interviewee who could give very insightful accounts of his time in OCF and linked it to broader trends in his historical time. I believe that someone should also interview him on other aspects of his life—his Colombo Plan Scholarship experience, his career path in Australia and Singapore, his time as the President of Evangelical Union in Sydney University, and his leadership of Christian institutions in Singapore and across the world.