A Book Indispensable for Christian Survival!
Os Guinness, The Call (Word Publishing: 1998), 249pp.

Those who know me will know that I am not terribly generous with

compliments.  But Os Guinness' book is not just a "good book."  It is the best book I have read in a long while.  If I had my way, all that this review needs is a simple imperative: READ IT!  But since the conventions of a book review require me to say more, here is the verbiage (I mean, summary!).
     The book has a subtitle: Finding and fulfilling the central purpose of your life.  Essentially it is a book on Christian discipleship.  What in the world does it mean to be a Christian?  Os Guinness defines it simply as "being called."  Why so?
     In Os Guinness' own words: "calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is vested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service." 
     Guinness spells it out in more detail as a move beyond success to significance, not because we seek Him (would a mouse seek out a cat?!), but because He has found us out.  And in being found, we know who we are.  In Bonhoeffer's terms, "Whoever I am, Thou knowest O God, I am Thine."
     This helps us avoid the "Catholic distortion" that only the religious professional is worthy of being "called."  It will also help us avoid the "Protestant distortion" that all work is sacred.  Work is not sacred in itself (because it can be a drudgery); it is sacred only as we do it as for Christ.
     How might we know if what we do we are "called" to do?  The secret lies in doing what we are: where our gifts lie, for the service of God and men.  An example is the Apostle who is known as a missionary to the Gentiles, never as a tentmaker - though it was the tent-making that freed him to be the Christian he wanted to be!
     One of Guinness' contentions is that Christians are not what we ought to be.  We no longer turn the world upside down as the first Christians did.  Could it be that our religious faith has become part of our comfort zone, with an expectation of God doing our bidding (via praying!) as opposed to our bowing before the awesome majesty of God each day?
     One clue to this state of affairs lies in our value system.  We do things to look good before the person or persons we serve (be it the boss or the public), but no longer for what Guinness calls "the audience of One" (God Himself).  And yet until we are consumed by this passion that we live in imitation of Christ, life's ultimate purpose will always elude us.  And the litmus test of this is whether we see all of life, all that we do, as a responsibility lived to God, and God alone.
     This does not mean, however, that we live to God alone in disregard of the structures and institutions of society.  We are called in community, and no matter how corrupt or inept the institution or the church may be, it is before this community that our witness to the reality of God stands.  The irony, of course, is that institutions (including both the church and Christian organizations) often pretend that they alone embody the absoluteness or purity of the Gospel.  It is precisely that illusion that often leads to a deadening of life and spirit within that community.  Guinness contends that discipleship is an "unfinished journey."  In a sense, we should never be too sure of ourselves; the illusion of certainty leads invariably to what he calls "sins of the noble mind."  The more sincere we are, the more vicious we can be in the pursuit of our own validation.
     Of course, not only does the church stand precarious in the face of the possibility of self-destruction.  All of society is heading towards this annihilation in the insatiable quest for greater speed and never-ending acquisitiveness.  Along the way, we practise the "revenge of failure" (preventing others from getting what we cannot achieve), and accumulate to ourselves the "corrosive boredom" of not knowing what to do with all the time we have saved with all that speed!  While we have more choices than ever before, we are a generation with less gratitude than previous aeons!
     What is the Christian response to all this?  In Guinness' frame of mind, it is only in being "fools for Christ" that we hope to recover our sanity in a world gone mad, and finish well at the end of life's pilgrimage.
     The Call is a book that is at the same time profound and provocative.  It makes you think about your Christian faith in a way you've never done before.  Together with a breadth of knowledge (Guinness quotes extensively from the works of scientists, historians, sociologists, economists, novelists, poets and dramatists) and an incredible skill at weaving stories into the structure of his argument, Guinness' book is at once edifying and enlightening.  Its unique value lies in challenging us to move beyond thinking of faith in terms of individual salvation, to thinking of how we might be God's agents for the transformation of life and society, and the fulfilling of His designs.
     If there is only one book you need to read to help you begin living meaningfully as a Christian in the plethora of challenges that the complexity of life in the 21st century presents, this would be it.

(Review by Ng Seng Chuan)

Last week's chapel (23 Jan) was taken by a team from Operation Mobilization.  The team members were Mr Chacko Thomas (a member of Zion BP Church), Dr Shankar and his wife Pauline.  The session consisted in testimonies from each of the team members, as well as a brief question-and-answer period.
     Chacko Thomas began with a brief overview of OM's work, which is focussed mostly in India, the Middle East and North Africa.  OM's mission is defined in terms of "going where the Gospel is not heard."  To-date, more than a hundred thousand people have gone through the missionary internship programme which can last anything from three months to three years.
     What are the opportunities for serving with OM?  The opportunities are tremendous as any and every skill can be useful.  OMers normally go as "tentmakers," since it is their professional or vocational skills that will help them gain access any-where, but particularly where the area is closed to the traditional preaching of the Gospel.  In more open situations, overt evangelistic work may be done, such as the distribution of tracts, pamphlets, or Bibles, and this is where young people find short-term stints with OM an attractive option for missionary exposure.
     OM's unique to the missionary enterprise lies in its use of ships (MV Logos and MV Doulos) that carry educational material.  This has attracted invitations from government agencies around the world to hold book exhibitions at ports of call, and the Gospel is thus disseminated through the sale and distribution of Christian literature at these exhibitions.
     Pauline (Mrs Shankar) next shared about her involvement with OM.  Hailing from Northern Ireland, she attended a summer programme that landed her in India for the next twenty years.  In spite of her initial apprehensions (the worst being her idea of India as a land of snakes!), she now saw India as a land of tremendous opportunity. In a candid moment, she revealed how she had asked George Verwer (head of OM) at a conference (anonymously through a question-slip) if she could go home if she did not like it on the mission field.  She got her answer in the form of a counter-question couched in Verwer's inimitable candour: "Can a soldier decide to go home if he did not like it at the war front?"
     Shankar spoke next, and talked about how he had been turned off by the rampant idolatry of his ancestral faith.  At college, he remembered studying Milton's Paradise Lost, and being impressed by the wisdom of God, and was encouraged to read the Bible from where Milton got his ideas.  He found Christ, joined OM in 1977, and "got stuck" ever since!
     Shankar ended the session with what he saw were some challenges presented to OM in India.  Millions bathe each year in the River Ganges in the hopes of finding salvation.  There are more Muslims in India than the whole of Pakistan.  And then, together with massive poverty, is the equally massive exploitation of women and children that violates their dignity and integrity.
     We were exhorted to continue to pray for the land of India, and chapel ended with a time of prayer for both the work of OM and the needs of India.
Chapel speaker for this week (30 Jan) will be Dr Quek Swee Hwa. Come & join us this Wednesay at Room 302 at 12 noon.

  1. We want to express our heartfelt appreciation and thanks to Mrs Esther Quek and those who helped her for the funds raised through the BGST Garage Sale. The Garage Sale will be extended for one more week. Please come to 40 Bloxhome Drive from 1-9pm on weekdays and 9am to 9pm on Saturday (2 Feb).

  2. This week marks the beginning of many courses and if you have registered for any of the following, please note the respective commencement dates:

  • NT Foundations I - 28 Jan, Monday, 7.30-10.30 pm
  • The Gospel According to Paul: Romans - 2 Feb, Saturday, 8.30-10am
  • Biblical Hebrew I - 5 Feb (Clementi Bible Centre)
  1.   Recommendations from the Library:

  • McKnight, Roger. Fallen Towers - Fallen World : how to respond prayerfully to the events of September11, 2001, Missions & You, Dec 2001, No. 27, p. 2-4.
  • World : Islam & terrorism - our role in the new cold war (special issue)
  • Church and society : a periodical concerned with the Church's ministry and mission in modern society. (New arrival!)
  • BibleWorks 5 : software for Biblical Exegesis and Research - (see library staff).
  1. Renovation works will be carried out at the former BGST office. We apologise for the noise generated and hope we can have the understanding of all library patrons.

Wishing you God's blessings on your Birthday!
Mr Paul Chua Kheng Nee  01/29
Mr Raymond Wong Weng Yin  02/02
Mr Siew Kim Siang  02/03
Mr Tan Keng Lak  02/03
Mr Tan Kim Tian  02/03
Mr Wilson Tan Teck Hian  02/03

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This page is updated on 29 Jan 2002.
Oct 2000