Authored by Hwa Yung

Bribery and Corruption consists of three sections. It starts and builds upon a biblical reflection on the subject by Bishop Hwa Yung, followed by five brief theological responses and three case studies by authors wearing various lenses, such as academia, ministry and, quite extensively, business practice (spanning a few sectors). It has been written and compiled primarily for the Malaysian and Southeast Asian audience.

In Chapter 1 Bishop Hwa Yung first highlights the challenge posed by the twin factors of external pressures of “money, sex and power” faced by believers in the marketplace, as well as our inner inadequacies stemming from a lack of spiritual resources, a dualistic worldview (sacred-secular divide, individual salvation vs social holiness/restoration) and an alien theology (mostly from a Western perspective and not contextualised to Asia).

In Chapter 2, he then goes on to introduce Webber’s Separational, Identificational and Transformational Models of engagement with the world, integrating the three under the Incarnational Model. The latter suggests that believers should apply each model wisely under different sets of circumstances, actively taking part in transforming the world’s unjust systems while recognising the tension and difficulties.

I personally find Chapter 3 — how to apply the Incarnational Model in practice — the most insightful, though the first two lay the necessary foundations for this. There are two key learning points that I would like to highlight below.

Firstly, Bishop Hwa Yung’s distinction of active vs passive corruption is helpful. He suggests that we are to avoid the former at all cost while avoiding the latter as much as possible. He supports this exhortation with some comments. I especially like his second comment (under Guideline 2, p. 25) where he recognises that while God’s moral demands are absolute, there is a certain degree of accommodation for human weakness in real-life applications, citing the examples of the Old Testament’s apparent silence on polygamy, New Testament’s only implied critique against slavery and Jesus’ attitude towards the Roman taxation system, although in time, people’s moral standards finally catch up with God’s.

This quote sums it up, “God appears to be prepared to wait hundreds of years to allow His word to have its leavening effect on a culture and a people (p. 25).”

Secondly, under Guideline 3 — how passive acceptance or the identificational model is to be practiced only to the extent that it allows us to work for transformation — he introduced Geisler’s concept of “graded absolutism” to inform our ethical thinking (p. 29). It suggests that while God’s various moral commands are absolute, they have different degrees of importance in different circumstances. The example given is “to tell a lie in order to save a life in certain circumstances”, recognising that “life-saving is more important than truth-telling in God’s hierarchy of values” (bringing to mind Rahab’s account in Joshua 2 and later on commended in James 2:25).

Below are two helpful questions from the book to guide our reflection on the above (from p. 30):

  • “Does our Christian responsibility to the wider public take precedence over the acceptance of a relatively low level of passive acceptance of corruption in the system?”
  • “Does it allow me to work in the longer term to effect some genuine transformation in society, along the lines of the values of the kingdom of God?”
  • I realised that many cases found in Section 3 of this book resonate with the above questions, often in the form of a Christian business leader forced to practice passive acceptance of corruption that had been so entrenched in the system (government, industry, other business players) in order to ensure the livelihood of many employees as seen in Case 2 of Chapter 9 (pp. 74–77), Dr H’s dilemma in Chapter 10 (p. 83) and Mr C’s case in Chapter 11 (p. 86).

    Overall, the book was well-organised, flowing from biblical reflections to real-life applications; from the main author to other writers’ responses and concluding with case studies. In terms of readability, as a final-year student at a business school in Singapore, I had to discipline myself to read the more “theoretical” Chapters 1 and 2 of Section 1 as well as almost the entirety of Section 2, while I found myself joyfully devouring the more ‘practical’ chapters (Chapter 3 of Section 1 and Section 3’s case studies). I personally would prefer more case studies and personal testimonies because the real test of these theories and models is when the rubber hits the road.

    While I am thankful that this book has adequately touched on the “head” and “hand” part of the subject, I wish in future works more attention will be given to the “heart” which might take the form of spiritual disciplines like prayer, worship, Word and relying on the Spirit’s leading on a daily basis, including seeking out like-minded believers in one’s company or network to start prayer and discussion groups (with testimonies of victories and struggles). I believe the latter, coupled with the helpful frameworks presented in this book, will build the necessary spiritual resource to tackle many other cases that this nor any other book will ever adequately capture.

    You can view a sample of Bribery & Corruption here.

    This review is written by Fernaldy Sutandyo who is a final year NUS Business School Student. He is passionate about and seeks to grow in Worship, Youth and Marketplace Ministries.