Issue No. 03 February 2014
The Yin-Yang of Christian Spirituality

In his autobiography, From Pagan to Christian, Chinese intellectual, Lin Yu-Tang (林语堂, 1895-1976), reminisced that it was in his university days when he discovered that his early Christian upbringing had actually uprooted the learning and influence of rich Chinese traditions from his life. Disillusioned by such ‘colonisation’ of his ethnic identity, Lin went on to study these traditions feverishly, become one of the most famous intellectuals in modern China and, in the process, give up his childhood faith. It was only much later, when in his 50s and at New York City, Lin embraced Christianity again, though in a form that may not be entirely acceptable to some evangelicals (read his book to find out more).

In many ways, Lin’s experience epitomizes the struggles of many Chinese (or non-Western) converts, i.e., how do we reconcile the Chinese (non-western) cultural beliefs that we were brought up in with the faith we now embrace, a faith that is often taught using paradigms and categories drawn from Western philosophy? Take, for example, the Chinese notion of Yin-Yang (阴阳). For most western theologians, this category would be quite foreign to Christian theology as they would have learnt it. Is it not surprising then that some Christian quarters have thus concluded that Yin-Yang is a theory exclusive to the Daoists (well, just look at how often the Yin-Yang fish pictogram is featured on Daoist and ritualistic vessels) and that everything associated with the theory must hence be pagan and unchristian. Yet for those familiar with Chinese culture, they would recognize how much dissonance such a conclusion will cause for Chinese believers, since the notion of Yin-Yang is prevalent in every field of Chinese knowledge: poetry, literature, science, philosophy, religion and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Must we therefore abandon most, if not all, of our cultural heritage to we become a Christian?

Thankfully, answers to these questions can be found when we turn to the findings in sinological studies (the scholarly study of all things Chinese). For today’s purposes, let me just discuss briefly the notion of Yin-Yang. Contrary to popular belief, Yin-Yang theory did not originate from religious Daoism (itself a 2nd – 3rd century AD development). Rather, it arose at least 600 years earlier and was soon adopted by most Chinese philosophical traditions (Confucians, Daoists, etc) by the early Han Dynasty (2nd century BC) as a philosophical category for describing all reality without recourse to Chinese mythology. As they see it then, the world was not created by the gods but the result of the ebb and flow of Yin-Yang. In other words, the category of Yin-Yang is a demythologising and scientific term. This is not unlike the separate project conducted by the Pre-Socratic philosophers in Ancient Greece. In their attempts to understand the world in more objective ways, rather than the creations of temperamental (and often naughty) gods, these philosophers developed a theory of elements instead (i.e., all things were made from air, water, fire and earth).

Interestingly, this demythologising process is well-illustrated in the historical development of TCM. By the late Han dynasty (2nd century AD), Yin-Yang aetiology was more or less taken for granted in the Yellow Emperor Inner Canon (黄帝内经) – the definitive text for TCM, and the more ancient notions of demonic aetiologies are all but abandoned. Henceforth, when one falls ill, it is not so much the fault of dead ancestors (or demons) but the systemic imbalances between the functions of the organs or the temperatures in the different parts of the body (for a modern analogy, think petrochemical plant).

By now, some readers would surely be thinking, “all these are well and good, but what do they got to do with Christian spirituality?” Well, if Yin-Yang is first and foremost a Chinese epistemological category (that is, it is a neutral way by which one categorise, reflect on and relate things in reality) applicable to all sorts of subjects, may it not be possible to use it for theological and spiritual reflection? To explore further, let us dwell with a principle derived from Yin-Yang theory: 以柔制刚 (yirouzhigang, Yielding as way of overcoming the strong). When applied to Tai Chi Boxing (Tai ji Quan), it calls for the yielding of one’s body to an attacking force and not attacking the blow head-on (Yin). In this way, one can then absorb the force of the blow without harm and turn the force against the attacker (Yang) instead. In popular discourse, the phrase is often used as metaphor to remind us not to use harsh but gentle words to oppose those who are harsh against us. As I see it, such a notion of yirouzhigang seems prevalent throughout Christian teaching. The idea of overcoming harsh words with gentle ones is, of course, one fully endorsed in Proverbs 15:1. More importantly, God Himself seems to adopt this stance with humanity most of the time, by his continual attempts to woo us, sinful humanity, with His love and sacrifice, rather than ‘whipping us to shape’ with sheer force and punishment. Indeed, God would yield so much that He became a mere man, Jesus Christ, to suffer our misunderstandings, our abuses, our tortures, so that by His final yielding – His death on the cross, He triumphantly overcame the devil and human sin, and can now bring healing to all who believe (Phil 2:7).

As we review the classics of Christian spirituality, this idea of yielding is again present in these traditions. For example, it is through our humility, not our self-defence or assertion, that we overcome pride and cultivate the God-desired virtue of patience. Further, it is through our not speaking that we actually learn how to control our tongue. Again, it is through the giving up of our rights and self-justification, that we often bring harmony to a home or an office. Indeed, we never become more Christian, by attacking, by imposing, by asserting, but only through yielding in humility to God in all circumstances. Just this week, I have been reading up on Bernard of Clairvaux, in preparation of the Ancient Wisdom (CS211) course. Again, this notion of ‘yielding to bring life’ presents itself in, of all places, Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Songs of Songs. For it is here that Bernard reminds us again that God’s primary means of sanctification is not by terrorising us to submission (a kind of Yang attack posture), but always cultivating our desire for Him by showing His generous for us. So then, it is through divine yielding, that is, to forgive, not to punish, to love, not to tyrannise that God draws us deeper into the mystery of His love.

Thus far then, are some of my reflections on the spiritual classics that will be discussed in Ancient Wisdom for Every Spirituality (CS211). I look forward to doing more in class with fellow students, even as we explore the writings of Lin Yu-Tang, Bernard and many other giants of Christian spirituality. Would you join us then?

The Editor
Dr Lai Pak Wah


Our Wednesday Chapel  at noon are as follows:

  • 19th February 2014, at BGST Chapel, by Dr. Philip E Satterthwaite (Fruit of the Spirit — Peace)
  • 26th February 2014, at BGST Chapel, by Dr. Philip E Satterthwaite (Fruit of the Spirit — Patience)

Friends and visitors are welcome to join us for fellowship and devotion together at our school.

Note: There is no chapel on 12th February 2014. The school is closed from 12 noon - 2 pm for a staff prayer session led by Mr John Chong Ser Choon.

2014 BGST Convocation

scrollclass of 2014Our 23rd Convocation & Thanksgiving Service is on Sat, May 24th, 2014. If you intend to graduate, please kindly submit the Application to Graduate Form before 31st March 2014.

In order to graduate you need to hand in all your assignments for the courses that you need to complete your program by 30th April 2014.


Starting this year, BGST will be offering scholarships to the top 3 Grad DipCS graduates. Graduates who are awarded these scholarships will be required to complete the MCS programme within 3 years. We hope that these scholarships will serve as incentives for all existing Grad DipCS graduands to do their best.

From the Admin Office

With effect from 1st January 2014, there will be an administrative fee of $50 for any request to change from the MCS to MDiv programme or vice versa. This is in view of any administrative effort involved when processing such request. We appreciate your understanding.

BGST Church History Tour

ruinsIn response to customer enquiries and interest, we have decided to postpone the above tour to 30th September - 10th October 2014. To launch the tour successfully, we need to form a tour group of minimum 15 participants by 15th March 2014. We request, therefore, that interested parties register with Dr Lai Pak Wah at laipw@bgst.edu.sg by the above date.

We are in the midst of finalising the new price for the tour. Details should be ready by mid February 2014. If the tour group grows to 20 and above, the first 15 registrants should be able to enjoy some rebates on their fees.

For details on the tour and the lectures that will be covered, please refer to the tour brochure in the web link: http://bgst.edu.sg/424-2014-church-history-tour . For any further enquiries, please do not hesitate to contact Dr Lai. Thank you.

Launch of Semester 2 of AY 2013/14 Course Schedule

For the course offerings in Semester 2 of Academic Year 2013-2014, please visit our webpage at http://www.bgst.edu.sg/media/files/courses/2013-2014-sem2.pdf.

For course inquiries, please email us at inquiry@bgst.edu.sg.

Courses in February 2014

Dr Tan Soo InnVOCATION, WORK AND MINISTRY, MM101, 3 credits
[Required course for MCS, MDiv]

Lecturer: Rev Dr Tan Soo-Inn
Venue: Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church (Wesley Hall 2), 235 Telok Ayer Street
Days, Dates & Timings: Tuesdays, Feb 4, 11, 18, 25, Mar 4, 11, 18, 25 Apr 1, 22, 29, May 6 ( 7:15 - 10:00pm)

This course aims to help students answer three key questions:

What is God doing in the world?
What am I called to do to be part of His work?
How am I to go about discerning my calling?

Through lectures, small group interaction and personal reflection, this course will help the participant better understand the context of the world of work today, the Bible’s teaching on work and vocation, what one has been called to do to be part of God’s purposes.

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Mr Tan Kok ChoonDr Douglas MilneTHEOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS I, TS211, 3 credits [Blended Learning]
[Required course for MCS, MDiv]

Lecturer: Dr Douglas Milne,
Tutor: Mr Tan Kok Choon
Venue: BGST @ 50 Kallang Pudding Road, #07-01
Days, Dates & Timings: Saturdays, Feb 8 (9:30 - 12pm) / Mar 8, Apr 5, May 10 (9:30am - 12 noon; 1 - 3:30pm)

Nothing is more foundational in theology than a right understanding of God. “The doctrine of God one espouses largely controls countless other areas of life and thought” (Don Carson). But we can only know God in His revelation of Himself to us. And when we do this, we discover that He has revealed fundamental truth about ourselves.

This course examines the great truths about God and Humankind that make up the prelude to the Gospel of Redemption in Jesus Christ.

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[Required course for Grad DipCS, MCS, MDiv]

Lecturer: Mr John Chong Ser Choon
Venue: Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church, 77 Prinsep Street
Days, Dates & Timings: Tuesdays, Feb 11, 18, 25, Mar 4, 11, 18, 25, Apr 1, 8, 15 ,22, 29 (7:15 - 10pm)

This is an introductory course to provide a broad understanding to Christian Spirituality. The undergirding conviction and thrust of this course is that to be a Christian is to grow to more Christlike.

The course aims to be both academic and practical. Besides lectures, students will be in small groups for both class discussions and spiritual formation practicum throughout the course. They will be writing weekly journals, and meeting with the lecturer for personal spiritual conversations. There will be in-depth discussions dealing with how can we grow deeper in our spiritual life in a busy world e.g. finding the rhythm between work and rest, cultivating the spiritual disciplines to keep one's spiritual life vibrant.

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Mr Tan Kok ChoonDr Edwin TayTHE CHRISTIAN FAITH, TS101, 3 credits [Blended Learning]
[Required course for Grad DipCS, MCS, MDiv]
TS101 will NOT be offered in Semester 1, Jul-Dec 2014

Lecturer: Dr Edwin Tay
Tutor: Mr Tan Kok Choon
Venue: Amazing Grace Presbyterian Church, 408B, Upper East Coast Road
Days, Dates & Timings: Wednesdays, Feb 12, 26, Mar 12, 26, Apr 9, 23 (7:15 - 9:45pm)

This is an introductory course to Christian theology and therefore assumes no prior technical knowledge of theology. Nevertheless, it takes for granted that students have a saving knowledge of God. In this course, theology will be taught from the standpoint of faith in the context of “the one, holy, catholic (i.e. universal), and apostolic church” as confessed in the Nicene Creed (A.D. 381). The lectures are divided according to the Trinitarian structure of the Creed with the aim of introducing students to the basic content of orthodox Christian doctrine. A conscious attempt will be made to demonstrate the necessity and relevance of theological reflection for Christian living.

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CS211, 3 credits

[Required course for MCS, MDiv]

Lecturer: Dr Lai Pak Wah
Venue: St John's-St Margaret's Church, 30 Dover Avenue
Days, Dates & Timings: Thursdays, Feb 13, 27, Mar 13, 27, May 8, 15 (7:15 - 10pm)
[1 day Retreat on either Apr 26 or May 3, additional S$60]

Since Pentecost, the Spirit of God has been at work in the Church, teaching Christians His Word, leading them in paths less travelled and enabling them to grow and mature in Christ. While partaking in the one and the same Spirit of Christ, Christians have often experienced the teachings and guidance of God in diverse ways. For the desert fathers, it was spiritual progress through ascetic practice; for the medieval pilgrims, it was the sensory of experience of their journey and their encounter with God at the holy sites; for the English Puritans, it was through their faithful preaching and practice of the Word, just to name a few. The objective of this course then, is to survey the history of Christian spirituality, that is, the diverse writings and experience of Christian men and women over the last 2,000 years, so that their spiritual insights, this ancient wisdom, may still be used by God to guide us in our everyday spirituality.

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Intensive Course in February 2014

AT247, 3 credits
[Equivalent to MDiv Core AT246]

Lecturer: Dr Vincent Ooi
Venue: BGST @ 50 Kallang Pudding Road, #07-01
Days, Dates & Timings: Saturdays, Feb 8 & Apr 26 (9:30 am - 4:30pm) / Weekdays, Feb 10, 11, 13 (7:15 - 10:15pm)

This is an introductory course on preaching, which focuses primarily on the theology of preaching and the art of sermon preparation and delivery. While recognising that there are many valid forms of preaching, this course will focus mainly on expository preaching.

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  1. reflect theological about preaching
  2. appreciate the strengths and limitations of expository sermons
  3. identify characteristics of a good expository sermon
  4. discern sermon outlines from a range of scriptural texts
  5. compose expository sermons that are contextually sensitive and relevant
  6. use appropriate and creative means to communicate scriptural messages
  7. compose sermons for special occasions such as baptism, wedding and funeral
  8. Show appreciation for practical aspects of preaching

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Bruce Winter's Public Lecture & Intensive Courses

Venue : St. John’s-St. Margaret’s Church, 30 Dover Road
Day, Date & Timing: Monday, Apr 7 (7:45 - 10pm)
Speaker: Rev Dr. Bruce Winter, PhD (Ancient History), Macquarie University

"God does nothing but first of all He reveals His secrets to His Servants the Prophets" [Amos 3:7]. According to Jesus God is the great Promise Keeper [Acts 1:4]. To see how Luke unfolds this great theme of the word of the Lord that binds together the five phases of gospel expansion helps us to understand the relevance of the book of Acts today.

“So the word of the Lord Grew Mightily”: Gospel Expansion in Acts
NT263, 1.5 credits
Dates & Timings : 7, 8, 10 Apr (7:15–10pm), 12 Apr (9:30am–5pm)
Venue : St John’s-St Margaret’s Church, 30 Dover Road

1 & 2 Peter: Living as Temporary Residents
NT264, 1.5 credits
Dates & Timings : 14 – 16 Apr (7:15–10 pm), 19 Apr (9:30am–4:30pm)
Venue : Grace Baptist Church, 17 Mattar Road

50 Kallang Pudding Road, #07-01, Golden Wheel Industrial Building, S(349326).
Tel: 6227-6815 Fax: 6743-6847 Email: inquiry@bgst.edu.sg
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