Issue No. 40 11 - 17 Oct 2010
Book Review by Dr Edwin Tay

Soli Deo Gloria Soli Deo Gloria. Edited by Angela Teo & Ong Bee Eng. Singapore: Fellowship of Evangelical Students. 2010, 152pp.

Some personalities are well-known in the history of missions within Protestant Christianity. Few would deny the patriarchal stature of William Carey in the history of modern missions or the pioneering labors of James Hudson Taylor for the evangelization of China. The lives of famous missionaries such as these are often invoked to illustrate key lessons in Christian discipleship, fan the flame of missionary passion, and awaken the spiritually apathetic. Soli Deo Gloria does not boast of such illustrious stories. Rather, it consists of thirteen narratives of the lives of local, tertiary-educated Christians (polytechnics and Universities) who are on a journey with God in the area of Christian missions. Unlike the big names mentioned above, these Christians are, apart from their own local churches, relatively unknown to the local Christian community. None of them have established themselves sufficiently in their field of work to boast of a legacy of faith and ministry. They are “ordinary” Christians seeking to obey our Lord’s command to make disciples of all nations as best they can. Why then should anyone read their stories, one may legitimately ask? In addition to the understandable bias that one of the editors is my wife, I have three reasons to offer.

First, we should read this book because the stories give insight into one small but significant part of the development of Christian missions in our nation. All thirteen stories are closely intertwined with the history and ministry of the Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES). Since its establishment in 1959, FES has been instrumental in promoting Christian witness among students in local tertiary institutions. When I was an undergraduate in the early 1990s, it was rumored that Campus Crusade for Christ majored in evangelism while the Navigators specialized in Christian discipleship, and FES, the development of the Christian mind. Having gone through the portals of Varsity Christian Fellowship, and later, FES as a staffworker, I must say that the rumor is a caricature. Certainly, FES was and still is concerned with the Christian mind. Something is seriously amiss if Christian ministries among the top echelons of our local students are careless about the discipleship of the mind. But there was more.

Increasing interest in short-term missions among FES-affiliated campus groups led to the birth of the Missions Education and Exposure Training program, or MEET, in 1985 (it is now superceded by the missions program, God’s Global Glory). Participants of MEET were rigorously screened and put through serious training over a period of ten months. They had to complete set readings, engage in serious Bible studies, attend lectures and team-building activities, prepare testimonies and sermonettes, all of which culminated in mission exposure trips outside Singapore. Some of the participants went on to become supervisors of subsequent student groups in the MEET program. Soli Deo Gloria is a compilation of stories that testify to God’s work in the lives of former MEET participants over the course of the last fifteen to twenty years. Taken together, they contribute to the larger narrative of what God is doing among local Christians in the area of Christian missions.

Second, we should read this book because they contain plain, honest, no-holds-barred accounts of Christians who struggle with obeying the will of God in our local context. I was sobered by the reality conveyed in these stories that one can be a Christian, be actively serving in church, achieve success in the corporate world, and have yet to face the question of allegiance to God seriously. The lure of materialism and the overwhelming pressure to conform to the norm of Singaporean life in career and lifestyle choices are two of a variety of temptations that could blur the vision of our Master’s appointment in life. However, once the call of God to be His chosen people is fully embraced, almost unanimously, the consistent testimony that runs through the book is that of allegiance to God. The following responses are typical: “As I waited upon the Lord, I sensed God saying that He had shown me sufficient leads to the next phase, and should I choose not to follow, it would be disobedience on my part” (41); “I have come to the conclusion that it is not whether going or staying/sending is the ‘ideal’ for every believer, but obedience to what He has called us to do that is the crux of it all” (50); “I had experienced the work of my Redeemer in my life and now I want to trust Him with my life because there was no greater thing” (80).

Finally, we should read this book precisely because it does not contain the stories of great missionaries. If it did, it might tempt us to romanticize Christian missions. On the whole, the book is quite free from hagiograhical tendencies. Honest realism was what I found in its pages. In it, we encounter the pain of losing one’s spouse, the sense of helplessness in the midst of family crisis, deep seated anger against one’s own kin, the fear of parental objection to the choice of vocation, feelings of insecurity, and the ongoing sanctification of weak and imperfect saints. Despite these experiences of a humanity gone wrong, every story testifies to the redeeming work of God’s grace in fragile lives. God has chosen vulnerable and easily breakable “jars of clay” to deposit the treasure of His Gospel so that the glory might be His (2 Cor 4.7). This book is thus appropriately entitled, Soli Deo Gloria – glory to God alone.

Note: Soli Deo Gloria [BGST library catalogue (LC266 TEO)] is obtainable from BGST Book Corner (62276815) and the Fellowship of Evangelical Students (63383665).

Chapel Notes by Dr Lai Pak Wah

This week’s chapel coincided with Dr Lai’s first week with BGST, as its lecturer in Church History and Historical Theology. He took this opportunity to reflect on the ‘hazards’ of theological education so that he, and hopefully others too, may be reminded afresh about the responsibility of theological education and teaching. To begin, Pak Wah drew parallels between Singaporeans and theological students. Both, as he sees it, are susceptible to giving advice and critical judgments without being asked for. This tendency to give unsolicited advice or criticism, may have arisen through a presumption that theological students sometimes assume when “we engage in the business of knowing God.” However, this should not be the case in the first place. Texts, such as James 3.1, have cautioned teachers about their grave responsibilities and not to misuse their knowledge. Indeed, knowing God is a hazardous business, since those who approach God presumptuously, as Scripture warns us, are never far from divine judgment (1 Sam. 6.9, Acts 5, 8:20-21, 1Cor. 11.29-30). Nonetheless, this presumption is the first of the common mistakes that Christians make in their journey of theological learning.

The second hazard of knowing God is the confusion of equating one’s knowledge about God to knowing God Himself. This weakness, is probably due to the influence of Enlightenment philosophy on theological education. Like the Enlightenment philosophers, many theologians have also, consciously or unconsciously, privileged cognitive knowledge in their theological discourse, and neglected the importance of spiritual knowledge or experience, in one’s theological development. For this reason, Dr Lai drew attention to the advice that given by a prominent fourth century Desert Father, that Theology is none other than prayer and prayer is essentially theology. Indeed, cognitive and spiritual knowledge are intimately linked each other. This is best illustrated in the example of Abba Arsenius, who despite his academic learning, humbled himself to learn from an uneducated monk, who had a spiritual knowledge, i.e., an ethical perfection, that Arsenius has yet to learn.

The third hazard of theological learning is the problem of theological positivism. In our introductory classes to systematic theology, we acquire much knowledge about God, such as that He is immortal, infinite and invisible. Although such descriptive statements are perfectly correct, they can also create a false sense of knowledge among theological students. Note that these statements are essentially negative statements, highlighting to us what we don’t know about God rather than what we do know. When one fails to grasp this principle, he may short-change the mystery of God and His salvation that is manifested by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For this reason, true theological education should lead a student to greater humility, to a greater awe and worship of the mystery of God, rather than presumptuous pride.

In conclusion, the speaker commended for the audience’s reflection the words of Gregory of Nyssa, one of the Cappadocian defenders of orthodox Trinitarian faith, in his Life of Moses. Here, Gregory likens our knowledge of God to Moses’ ascent of Mt. Sinai. Like Moses, one begins his theological journey with the illumination of the Holy Spirit and enjoys an actual improvement in his knowledge of God. Yet, as one progresses up the mountain of theological knowledge, into the dark clouds of Sinai, a clear knowledge of God gradually gives way to darkness, to uncertainty. And we discover, to our surprise, God is much greater and more incomprehensible than what our weak words or our weak reason can ever describe. Likewise, Dr Lai’s prayer is that as all of us grow in our knowledge of the infinite God and in our intimacy with Him, we may also discover increasingly that our God is far greater than what our words or theology can describe. This process, may then develop in us a deeper awe and wonder for the salvation that God has wrought in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Chapel on 20 October 2010.
Mr John Chong Ser Choon will be speaking on, “ A Sense of Place & Christian Community”. An Inquiry into the Importance of Space to Cultivate Christian Community & Attentiveness to the Presence of God. Chapel begins at 12 pm. You are most welcome to join us.

Faculty News
Mr Quek Tze-Ming will be preaching (with interpreter) at Faith BP Church at the 10.45 am service on 17 October 2010.
Courses commencing this week TENT making Modules

New Testament Textual Criticism (BG253, 1.5cr) (Group Tutorial)
Oct 11 (new commencement date), 18; Nov 1, 15; (Mon 7.30-9.45pm)
Venue: Zion Bishan BP Church (4 Bishan St 13, Level 3)
Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa
Tutor: Mr Quek Tze-Ming (PhD candidate, Uni of Cambridge);

Spiritual Retreat Experience: Nature, Purpose & Dynamics (ECF504, 3cr)
Oct 12, 19, 26; Nov 2, 9; (Tue 7.15-9.45pm)
Venue: Bethesda Chapel (27 Lor Melayu)
Lecturer: Mr John Chong Ser Choon;
#Residential Retreat Nov 11-14 (Additional Cost, Compulsory for all students)

Introduction to Church History: From Jerusalem to Chang’an (CH101, 3cr);
Oct 14, 21, 28; Nov 4, 11, 18, 25; Dec 2; 7.15-10.15pm
Venue: Union Industrial Building
Lecturer: Dr Lai Pak Wah
[Required for MDiv]

For more information on courses for 2011 visit our website: http://bgst.edu.sg/courses-and-events

Personal Ministry Skills (Tent Module)
Oct 26; Nov 2, 9; (Tue 7.20 - 10.00pm) Venue: Union Industrial Building
Facilitator: Mr Toh Kai Hua
For more information on courses visit our website: http://bgst.edu.sg/courses-and-events
37 Jalan Pemimpin, #06-05 Block B, Union Industrial Building S(577177).
Tel: 6227-6815 Fax: 6255-3686 Email: bgst@pacific.net.sg
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