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good books iconA (not totally) Good Book

Review by Dr Philip Satterthwaite

This week’s Good Book is In God’s Time. The Bible and the Future, by Craig C. Hill. It comes with recommendations from all sorts of distinguished people on its back and inside front cover: Rowan Williams, Eugene Peterson, Tony Campolo, Jürgen Moltmann, Walter Brueggemann – you name them, they think it’s a great book!

I was actually a bit disappointed. Hill’s subject is that hot topic, biblical prophecy and the end-times, and his aim is to inject a bit of much needed common sense into the discussion. (Nothing wrong with that, in my view.) He has interesting things to say on principles of biblical hermeneutics, on the nature of biblical prophecy, and on biblical apocalyptic books (chiefly Daniel and Revelation). He rightly notes that there are many other Jewish apocalyptic texts dating from around the last centuries BC and the first century AD, and he aims to show how knowledge of these extra-biblical texts (which most Christians know nothing about) can help us read biblical apocalyptic with greater understanding. He has good things to say about recent scholarship on the historical Jesus, and about Jesus’ views of the future. He insists, rightly in my view, that the first stage in the interpretation of Revelation must be to see it against its original historical context, the 1st century AD. The book ends with what I found a convincing chapter entitled ‘Not Left Behind’, subjecting the Left Behind novels of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins to a much-needed critique. Hill has clearly read widely and, just as important, has considerable experience of speaking on his chosen topics in a variety of church circles. This book is not the work of a scholar who is out of touch with what church-goers are saying: on the contrary, it is because he is so alarmed by what he hears in North American church circles that he has written the book.

The trouble is that those who most need to reflect on the issues Hill raises will probably not have the patience to follow his argument through to the end, because they will already have been put off by some of the things he has said. Most notably, he ties much of what he says to a rejection of biblical inerrancy. He raises this topic early on (in ch. 2) and it colours much of what he has to say in later chapters, including a number of what I found rather ill-judged ‘humorous’ asides. His arguments in ch. 2 are not actually that convincing: a discussion of some gospel parallels which he claims cannot be reconciled (and which I don’t think they are as hard to reconcile as he believes). Was it actually necessary to say these things? And if it was necessary, shouldn’t the case have been argued at greater length? No-one can deny that there is an issue here: there are differences between the gospel accounts and we should not ignore them. Similarly, Daniel 11–12 does raise genuine problems of interpretation: most of Daniel 11 describes events in the Near East and Mediterranean world in a way which closely matches what we learn of the history of those regions in the 4th to 2nd centuries BC from extra-biblical sources; but 11:40–12:4 give a series of predictions which were not all fulfilled in the 2nd century BC and do not seem to have been literally fulfilled even to this day. To put it mildly, there is a issue here that needs pondering: what is happening in Daniel 11–12? But I don’t think Hill’s approach (which is essentially ‘Daniel got it wrong, but that is not the real point’) is the most helpful way of handling it – not by a long way.  

So in the end the lesson to me from this book was a different one from that which Hill intended, and it is one which I think BGST students should reflect on seriously: if, in the course of your studies here it becomes apparent to you that there are some Christians in the church circles you frequent who would benefit from some of the insights of biblical or theological scholarship, please be careful how you set about the task of ‘enlightening’ them! If all you do is give offence because what you say sounds unbiblical, how does that help anyone? Jesus wasn’t thinking about communicating the results of biblical scholarship to others when he spoke about being ‘as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves’, but his words are applicable to this question: be cautious!

 Such, at least, were my thoughts on having read this book through.

CHAPEL NOTES

At Chapel on 23rd February Dr Aquila Lee gave us a gospel message based on the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. This story is well known to all of us and for many children it is one of their favorite stories in the Bible. However, if we still read this story merely as a children’s story we will fail to see many important points it wants to teach us. Our story is not about one main character, but two, and it is about two different kinds of collectors: Zacchaeus the tax collector and Jesus the collector of lost souls. An important thing to see in our story is that while Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, it was Jesus who was searching for him. Zacchaeus heard about Jesus because Jesus made the first move when he entered Jericho to pass through (v.1). Whether Zacchaeus intended to remain hidden from view up the tree we are not told, but Jesus knew that he was up there and knew him by his name. Although he made all these efforts to see Jesus, it was Jesus who stopped, looked up, spoke and offered him to become his friend (v.5). Jesus knew that he had his pockets full, but his heart was still empty. Jesus knew that he was seeking for something else. Although Zacchaeus was not aware of it, Jesus even saw Zacchaeus running ahead of the crowd, climbing a sycamore-fig tree and waiting for him to see. Jesus is truly the collector of lost souls.

After the message (in fact, it was a slightly revised version of the sermon he preached to the English congregation at the Korean Church in Singapore) Dr Lee shared with us how God did all the planning to bring one of his unsaved souls (more specifically, a non-Christian husband who has never been to a church) to that particular service and have him listen to the gospel message. Praised the Lord for His work and love for lost souls!

Chapel Speaker on 9th March will be Dr Chris Peppler.

NEWS BITS

  1. Erratum. In last week BTW, the last paragraph should read “Mr & Mrs Daniel & Melissa Tay will be presenting ‘Christians in Conservation’ at Chapel on 2 March”. We are sorry for the error.

  2. Part-time Faculty. We welcome Mr Song Cheng Hock as our new part-time Faculty member in Applied Theology. His experience in pastoral ministry and counselling will contribute significantly to his role as teacher and coordinator for the counselling programme at BGST.

  3. Register now for Term 2 courses.

  • Ruth and Esther (OT354, 1.5 credits), starting Mar 21. Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

  • Learning the Craft of Teaching (CE255, 1.5 credits), starting Mar 22. Lecturer: Dr Ng Peh Cheng.

  • Counselling Skills: Dealing with Pre-marital Counselling (CO233, 1.5 credits), starting Apr 27. Lecturer: Mr Song Cheng Hock.

  • The Parables of Jesus (NT216, 1.5 credits), starting  Apr 1. Lecturer: Dr Aquila Lee.

  • Theology of Work (Tent module), starting May 3 at DTC, 33A Chancery Lane. Lecturer: Rev John Ting.

  • Counselling Skills: Grief-Work. (CO237. 1.5 credits), starting May 6. Lecturer: Mr Song Cheng Hock.

Lecture Outlines for The Parables of Jesus, Learning the Craft of Teaching, Pre-marital counselling and Grief-Work are now available on our website.

  1. Bereavement. Our heartfelt condolences to Mr Song Cheng Hock for the demise of his beloved mother.

A Blessed Birthday to ...

Ms Grace Tan  7/3

Mr Liew Cheng San  7/3

Mr Benedict Cheng  8/3

Mr Sonny Tan  8/3

Mr Winston Chong  8/3

Ms Loh Hong Hong  9/3

Mr Ng Kai Seng  9/3

Mr Christopher Loh  9/3

Mr Neo Eng Chye  9/3

Prof Lim Kian Guan  10/3

Ms Yap Foon Lyn  10/3

Ms Yvonne Heng  10/3

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