Letters of Faith Through the Seasons
by James M. Houston (editor)
David C. Cook Publishing (2007)
The small print on the front cover in scribal fonts reads “A Treasury of Great Christian Correspondence.” Houston quoted Sir Walter Raleigh, in the introduction to Volume Two.
“The chief interest of study of the great letter writers is that it introduces us not to literary works, but to persons. This is the triumph of letter writing, that it keeps a more delicate image alive and presents us with a subtler likeness of the writer than we can find in the more formal achievements of authorship.”
Indeed this is a treasure trove of “daily doses of wisdom from the greatest minds in Christian history” (from the back cover). But it is not just that. For apart from the famous great minds (Augustine, Athanasius, Bernard of Clairvaux, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Owen, Blaise Pascal, Fyodor Dostoevsky, C S Lewis, Karl Barth), Houston includes many other writers as well. Houston draws from his vast knowledge of the saints in the last 20 centuries to give us letters written from the 1st to the 21st centuries, by Christians from all over the world, from the Bible land touching Africa, across Europe to Russia, China, Asia and the Americas and the lands down under.
Before each letter, he provides the background and context of the writer to help us better appreciate the spirit of the letter. So we read of the homely and deep wisdom of Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985), “a married Russian Catholic woman living in North America” a spiritual director (or staretza, spiritual mother) ruminating on the Sermon on the Mount. Or the anonymous author of the 14th century classic The Cloud of Unknowing on the life of contemplation.
Two other designs in this devotional reading strike me as brilliant. First, we are not reading just the letters of saints of the past. Houston included letters from several Christians still alive today. Thus the story of God in the lives of His children told in writing to each other reinforces the alive-ness of the Christian faith, a phenomenon which Houston acknowledges as “a wonderful experience of the communion of saints.” Yes, indeed!
Since BGST is a theological institution, let us consider two letters in some details. Julie Canlis while completing her doctoral studies at the University of St Andrew wrote about her struggles in theological training:
“For four years now, I have been in rigorous training to atomize everything, to turn things, people, and Scriptures into corpses, to write a complex defence of a concept of ‘participation in God’ as I myself cease to participate.”
And in the next paragraph she added,
“Yet this reflection has come about ironically, because my studies are flowing so well: in publishing articles, being asked to conferences and weighty meetings on ‘The Importance of Spirituality for Theology.’”
Or Mark Davis, associate professor of pastoral studies at Carey Theological College, Vancouver, Canada, writing about teaching in a Christian institution:
“In my position of teaching in a Christian institution I am struck by how much we as Christians put our faith into our own devices, cleverness, and brilliance. Academic achievement supersedes the fruit of the Spirit, cleverness eclipses humility and programs replace relationship… As I look back over the year, I am convicted by how much of my ministry was born out of my own ego needs.”
In his introduction, Houston remarked that David “expressed courageously what others may feel but dare not express.” The sensitive and honest self examination certainly should cause us to pause and ponder of these two scholars about our own approach in theological studies.
The second design that is excellent is his creative arrangement of these letters using the Christian Year calendar (see the article in BTW Issue No. 36). In particular, the period of the Ordinary Time were sectioned into several themes e.g. the Seasons of Evil and Violence, of Persecution and Judgment, of Spiritual Guidance and Direction. There was one poignant letter in the Season of Evil and Violence by a Japanese convicted of war crime but who had become a Christian before his execution. The tone and spirit of his last letter was of peace and hope, other-focused rather than self-pitying.
Another arrangement makes use of the letters of the apostle John to the seven churches as daily reading. These letters were alternated with another set of letters by seven living Christians from different continents each making their response to a particular letter. This juxtaposes the Word of God (in letter form in the Book of Revelation) with the words of Christians today in a contemporary dialogue with God’s Word in the present world context. Word and response, then and now, God and humankind are engaged wonderfully through these letters.
Daily Bible devotional reading for 365 days are very common today. Variations of these include devotional materials that draw on the works and thoughts of renowned Christians. Thus you can spend a year with C. S. Lewis or Henri Nouwen or John Stott or some contemporary Christians or early Church Fathers.
But none of these can compare with this unique compendium of letters. I have followed the readings since Advent last year and intend to begin again when the Ordinary Time ends and Advent comes around again. These two volumes deserve to be repeatedly read and savoured. There is no devotional writing published in the Christian book market today that comes close to the scope and richness of these two volumes. I could not recommend it highly enough.
BGST Bookshop has a few copies left. But you can place your orders with us, and the books should arrive in time for you to start observing the Christian year at Advent.
For Chapel on 23 Sep, we will be praying for Missions & Christians in Africa. Dr Ng Peh Cheng will be leading the prayer time. Chapel begins at 12 pm every Wednesday. You are welcome to join us.
Biblical Graduate School of Theology
presents a public lecture by Dr Gordon T. Smith
Date : 24 Sept (Thu) 2009
Time : 7.30 - 9.00pm
Venue : Zion BP Church (Sanctuary)
No. 4 Bishan Street 13, Singapore 579792
For further details, please go to: http://bgst.edu.sg/smith-lecture/sea_of_change.pdf
For online registration, please go to: http://bgst.edu.sg/smith-lecture/gsmith.html
The Library will be closed at 5.30 pm on Thursday, 24 September due to the Public Lecture. It will resume operations on Friday, 25 September.
BGST 2nd Fundraising Golf Tournament is drawing near – it will be held next Friday, 25 Sep 2009! The Organising Committee requests the BGST Community to intercede and pray for journey mercies, good weather, congenial time of safe golfing, dining, and bonding of the golfing community through this one-day charity event.
May all glory, honour, power and praise be to God the Highest.
~ Shalom, Kim Siang (Chairman, Golf Tournament Organizing Committee 2009).
BUSINESS & ETHICS, MM257, 1.5 CR
Lecturer : Mr Benjamin Pwee
Dates : Sep 23 (Wed), Oct 1 (Thu), 5 (Mon), 14 (Wed); (New dates)
Time : 7.15 - 10.15pm
Mr Benjamin Pwee is Managing Director of Christian business consultancy firm I-deo Asia Ltd. He was a former Singapore Government scholar and senior political diplomat in charge of Greater China. He has a BA (Hons) and MA from Cambridge University (UK), a Masters in Christian Studies from China Graduate School of Theology (Hong Kong), and has done further training at Harvard Business School (USA). He has provided business development strategies, corporate training and executive coaching services to Fortune 500 companies like Philips, AIG, AXA, Ericsson, etc, as well as to government and non-profit charitable welfare organisations around the Asia-Pacific region. He was formerly an OMF missionary, Special Assistant to the Anglican Bishop of Singapore, and writes periodically for the Straits Times. He is married to a school teacher and they have three children.
This course explains the theological and religious background of ethics, and the range of different types of ethics. It then goes on to explore the implications of ethics on business and the corporate marketplace.
Please note that this is not a course on business ethics, but a course on ethics and its implications and applications to business.
The course also requires students to do a live fieldwork project and classroom presentations, to explore and study how ethics is being practiced in reality in the corporate marketplace today.
For full course description, click on this link http://bgst.edu.sg/courses/pdf/mm257-09.pdf