updated on 9 Jul 2001 (best view with netscape communicator 4.77)

ike ‘postmodern’, ‘New Age’ is a term you will have encountered. As with ‘postmodern’, you may have a general idea of what it refers to, without being able to pin it down to anything 
very specific. According to John Drane, who teaches practical theology at the University of Aberdeen, if your ideas about the ‘New Age’ are a little vague and fuzzy (and probably also negative), that would hardly be surprising, as the New Age is itself an astonishingly diverse phenomenon. At one point in his book What is the New Age still saying to the Church? (London: Marshall Pickering, 1999) he states: ‘Understanding the New Age can feel like trying to wrestle with a jelly. No sooner does it seem 
to be in control than the shape of the whole thing changes and it becomes necessary to start again’ (p. 23). Yet, as Drane emphasises throughout 
the book, the phenomenon is undoubtedly here to stay. Its origins are in the West, and its 
‘cutting edge’ (‘wackiest’?) manifestations are still in California, but its influence can be felt in other parts of the world as well. This book 
came out in an earlier edition, with the title 
What is the New Age saying to the Church? This edition is a thorough revision of the earlier book, and, as the addition of ‘still’ to the title shows, the church has in Drane’s view yet to take the New Age seriously.

The New Age can assume a bewildering variety of forms: ‘spiritual channeling’, in which spirit beings are believed to offer guidance to humans; esoteric healing techniques; psycho-therapeutic practices; belief that crystals can be sources of positive energy; the quest for personal fulfilment; interest in Gnostic texts from the early Christian era; environmental concerns; beliefs of Eastern origin, such as reincarnation and karma
business and management techniques; and much more. It is wrong to think of the New Age as a coherent theological system. Drane suggests it is more like an intellectual vacuum-cleaner, which has simply absorbed ideas from all over the place, without much concern for how they fit together. It is easier, Drane argues, to define what the New Age is reacting against: in short, the Enlightenment or ‘modernism’, with its excessive emphasis on human reason and its downplaying of the emotional and intuitive. The collapse of the Enlightenment worldview during the latter part of the 20th Century has left
 

 a gap in many people’s souls, and they are turning to New Age beliefs and practices and not the church to fill it. For Christians, then, the New Age can be seen as both challenge and opportunity.

Drane has read widely, and has talked to large numbers of New Agers in the course of researching for this book. As a committed Christian he is of course critical of much New Age thinking, but his first concern is sympathetic understanding. That alone makes this book valuable. When he turns to criticism, he makes many interesting points: I was particularly struck by his comment that, for all that the New Age draws on Eastern religions and ancient texts such as those of Gnosticism, it is often very selective in its use of these non-Western traditions; on closer analysis the New Age may be another form of Western ideological imperialism, promoting yet another version of Western individualism under the guise of rediscovering ancient wisdom.

But the chapter that will be of most interest to readers of BTW will be the last, in which Drane asks how the church is to respond. A series of questions he asks towards the end of seem particularly apt: ‘Why is it that when people need healing – whether personal, emotional or physical – they never think of the church? … that when they have a need to belong to a meaningful community, the church is the last place they would go? … that when they are looking for ministry to their emotions they prefer altered states of consciousness? … that when they want someone to stand alongside them … they steer clear of Christians?’ (p. 202). Why indeed? (PES)
 

FRANCIS of SALES 
on ANXIETY OF MIND

ANXIETY of mind is not so much an abstract temptation, as the source whence various temptations arise. Sadness, when defined, is the mental grief we feel because of our involuntary ailments;--whether the evil be exterior, such as poverty, sickness or contempt; or interior, such as ignorance, dryness, depression or temptation. Directly that the soul is conscious of some such trouble, it is downcast, and so trouble sets in. Then we at once begin to try to get rid of it, and find means to shake it off; and so far rightly enough, for it is natural to us all to desire good, and shun that which we hold to be evil. 

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If any one strives to be delivered from his troubles out of love of God, he will strive patiently, gently, humbly and calmly, looking for deliverance rather to God's Goodness and Providence than to his own industry or efforts; but if self-love is the prevailing object he will grow hot and eager in seeking relief, as though 
all depended more upon himself than upon God. I do not say that the person thinks so, but he 
acts eagerly as though he did think it. Then if he does not find what he wants at once, he 
becomes exceedingly impatient and troubled, which does not mend matters, but on the contrary makes them worse, and so he gets into an unreasonable state of anxiety and distress, till he begins to fancy that there is no cure for his trouble. Thus you see how a disturbance, which was right at the outset, begets anxiety, and anxiety goes on into an excessive distress, which is exceedingly dangerous. 

This unresting anxiety is the greatest evil which can happen to the soul, sin only excepted. 
Just as internal commotions and seditions ruin 
a commonwealth, and make it incapable of resisting its foreign enemies, so if our heart be disturbed and anxious, it loses power to retain such graces as it has, as well as strength to resist the temptations of the Evil One, who is all the more ready to fish (according to an old proverb) in troubled waters. 

Anxiety arises from an unregulated desire to be delivered from any pressing evil, or to obtain some hoped-for good. Nevertheless nothing tends so greatly to enhance the one or retard 
the other as over-eagerness and anxiety. Birds that are captured in nets and snares become inextricably entangled therein, because they flutter and struggle so much. Therefore, whensoever you urgently desire to be delivered from any evil, or to attain some good thing, 
strive above all else to keep a calm, restful spirit,--steady your judgment and will, and then go quietly and easily after your object, taking all fitting means to attain thereto. 
 
 


Chapel last week (Wednesday 4th July) was led by Dr Philip Satterthwaite, who spoke briefly on Daniel 5. He highlighted Daniel’s confidence in his God, the God of Israel, in the midst of a polytheistic society and the forthrightness with which he spoke of this God even in the presence of a proud pagan king. This might be a model for how we should conduct ourselves in the midst of a pluralist society. The rest of the time was given over to prayer for individual needs and the needs of BGST.

Public Lecture

We remind BTW readers of the public lecture to be given by Dr. Douglas Milne, Professor of Theology and Ethics at the Presbyterian Theological College, Melbourne. His topic will be ‘Who Do You Say That I Am? - The Truth about Jesus Christ’, a presentation of the Christian doctrine of the person and work of Christ, based on Matthew 16. The Lecture will take place at BGST on Saturday 14th July, 7.30-9.00 p.m.

Guest Lectures on Christian Faith
Dr Milne will be lecturing on Theology and Ethics during the following sessions:
9 July, Monday, 6-7pm, BGST Conference Rm 12 July, Thursday, 6:30-9pm, Room 302
These are not just open to Christian Faith students but to anyone who is interested.

Research Tools Courses
Calling all MCS students! Just a reminder to you that two of your required courses are the Basic Research Tools courses in NT Greek and Biblical Hebrew. BH 214 (1.5 credits) is being offered this term, so if you can fit it into your schedule we encourage you to join this class which meets on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Call Mrs. Peck to arrange for a "make-up" session.

Library Announcement
Members and students are to take note that we will now apply the rule to allow a maximum of 5 renewals via email, fax and telephone and a maximum of 5 renewals when the loan items are renewed at the Library Counter. This is to enable a healthy turnover of these resources and minimize the need to recall loan items thereby reducing unnecessary delay. Thank you for your understanding. Please email: lib@bgst.edu.sg or call 3538073 for further clarification.
 

By easily I do not mean carelessly, but without eagerness, disquietude or anxiety; otherwise, so far from bringing about what you wish, you will hinder it, and add more and more to your perplexities. "My soul is alway in my hand, yet do I not forget Thy Law," 1 David says.

(For more of Francis of Sales’ delightful use of natural imagery in his reflections check him out at ccel.com)

We wish these who celebrate their birthdays this week God’s richest blessings

Mr Ho Chee Kiong 10/7 
Mr Jamir Peter 10/7
Mrs Jerusha Ang Ai Choo 12/7 
Mr Kok Kar Wing 13/7 
Mrs Lee Siang Ju 13/7 
Mr Tan Eng Beng 15/7

 


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