Chapel last Wednesday (5 Dec) was taken by Dr. Satterthwaite. This was the last Chapel at which he will be speaking before he departs for his sabbatical with his wife Eileen (NB: his last day at work is 14th December); and so, after a brief treatment of Ps. 67, he devoted his talk to some reflections on his first 3½ years at BGST.
He began by giving his impressions of the church scene in Singapore, based on his limited experience. The churches in Singapore are very diverse: they differ in the level of Bible knowledge and theological understanding, in their theological positions (e.g., on the question of how literal one must be in interpreting Scripture) and in their worship styles. Nonetheless some common features can be noted. There are many encouraging aspects: the churches in general seem to be growing; they are active in evangelism and committed in their support of missionary endeavours. Theological liberalism seems to have very little influence, the majority of Christians in Singapore being conservative in belief and practice. Dr. Satterthwaite also noted some points for concern. (1) Singapore is a very 'pragmatic' country, but pragmatism (a concern with what 'works' rather than with underlying principles) can take unhealthy forms of church life: an excessive emphasis on activities and attendance figures; a 'market-led' approach, in which congregations are only offered the kinds of worship and teaching which it is felt they will like. (2) In some circles there is a danger of over-emphasising personal spiritual experience so that it becomes the main focus of our Christian life, the main theme of our testimony, and the main criterion of what we will accept as true. This is an unbiblical distortion. (3) Singapore is a prosperous land, and also one in which it doesn't always cost a person a great deal to become a Christian. In these circumstances 'easy-believism' (a superficial conversion which produces no real transformation of heart) is a danger. Do the churches always make the cost of discipleship plain in their preaching? Are there perhaps some in our churches who are in reality unconverted? (Christians in general need to develop a more adequate theology of conversion: what it involves and what its fruits should be.)
Certainly a place like BGST has an important role to play in Singapore. This led Dr. Satterthwaite to reflect on his experiences at BGST. He had found BGST a congenial place of work, one whose vision he wholeheartedly shared. He had enjoyed learning from colleagues and students, and had found BGST's emphasis on practical application entirely healthy. He felt that his first 3½ years at BGST had been no more than a 'sighting shot': his courses needed to be improved and refined, without diluting academic standards, and he hoped to teach more widely in Singapore and in the region generally on his return.
Dr. Satterthwaite reflected upon his hopes for the future, and particularly for his sabbatical. A phrase which had lived with him for the past 3 years (he first heard it from Paul Stevens) is: 'the danger of frequently handling the outside of holy things'. It is easy for theological lecturers to 'deal with' a large number of biblical texts and 'work through' many theological principles without adequately reflecting on everything they've talked about; still less living out what has been 'worked through'. Dr. Satterthwaite felt that his teaching at BGST had given him an agenda of things to meditate on and pray over more deeply.
He spoke briefly about the book he will be writing while on sabbatical. It will be an introduction to the OT Historical Books (jointly written with Gordon McConville, another British scholar), which will aim to present a clear guide to contemporary scholarship on these books. It will involve a lot of work, and it will have to be planned with the utmost care. If successful, it could be a real help to students embarking upon biblical studies. His wife Eileen will be revising her thesis (on the social world of 1 Peter) for publication.
Dr. Satterthwaite concluded by saying how much he looked forward to spending time with friends and family in UK; and how much he looked forward to further fruitful involvement in the work of BGST from July onwards.
Chapel speaker for this week (12 Dec) will be our Council Chairman, Mr Paul Yap. Do join us at 12 noon in room 302.