Did you catch “Amazing Grace—The Movie”?

If you are an exceptional Christian who is not too busy to go to the cinema you might have caught Amazing Grace recently. The story of William Wilberforce, a committed evangelical Christian, and his life-long campaign for the abolition of the slave trade, and eventually, the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire, is an inspiration to all followers of Jesus Christ.

Ever since reading about Wilberforce in Os Guiness' book, The Call. I have been impressed by his significance. Guinesss holds him up as a supreme example of a man who received a Call from a personal Caller and he implies that we should be similarly called. Wilberforce responded to God with a life-time commitment to champion the liberty of the oppressed as a member of the British Parliament. He wrote in his journal in 1788: “My walk is a public one. My business is the world; and I must mix in the assemblies of men, or quit the post which Providence seems to have assigned me.” (Os Guiness, The Call, p. 29)

I have to admit being troubled by Os Guiness’ insistence that we are all personally called. Of course I accept that in a general way, as believers, we are all called to live to the glory of God but on contemplating Wilberforce, the model par excellence, I am settled with an uneasy fear that my own life is distinctly lacking in a higher purpose.

Watching the movie made me think it all seems very well for Wilberforce. He chose a political life for himself right from the start. He knew what mattered to him and what he wanted to live for. In making his life's purpose the “reformation” of society he gave himself to a cause of gigantic proportions, affecting countless lives. And more significantly, he accomplished what he set out to do – at great personal sacrifice and with determined perseverance. He knew his calling. It was confirmed to him, not only by God, but also by friends near and dear. He had the resources to undertake the task and he stuck with it to the end.

It was an inspiring story. So why did the movie leave me with no stronger a sentiment than, “That was lovely. So well done”? One possible reason is that Wilberforce is played by too good-looking an actor. By all accounts Wilberforce was a small and sickly man. It would be unfair to hold the handsome Ioan Gruffudd culpable of romanticising his character but there we have it – the inescapable fantasy that movies are apt to weave. So we may never get to know the real man; never really identify with him as another ordinary mortal, and, therefore, be stirred to believe that we ourselves may be capable of doing more than we can imagine.

James Boswell, the official biographer of that famous man of letters, Samuel Johnson, said this of Wilberforce after witnessing his eloquence in the House of Commons: “I saw what seemed a mere shrimp mount a table, but as I listened he grew and grew until the shrimp became a whale.” (courtesy of Wikipedia) Now if only the movie had been able to capture this transformation of shrimp to whale for us. That would surely have been Oscar deserving, not to mention monumentally inspiring!

Another thing that I had expected Amazing Grace to deliver which it didn't was the full force of the horror of the slave trade. It is hard to account for the lack of impact except to say that the presentation is more academic than graphic. What images there are of human suffering are given as caricatures (as in Wilberforce's dreams) and instruments (chains and slave ship conditions). We are spared the ordeal of confronting the human face of slavery for ourselves. 

When we remember that the backdrop to Amazing Grace is an especially sordid period of history where “man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn” (Robert Burns) we may be ashamed to catch ourselves leaving the cinema enamoured of the life of Wilberforce but unshaken by the brutality of slavery. We are tempted to wonder, “What am I compared with Wilberforce?” but our conscience may not be driven to ask, “How have I enslaved another?” 

I enjoyed Amazing Grace for its artistry and competence. As a Christian I appreciated the references to Wilberforce's generosity and love for his fellowmen, his tender moments with God, the fervour of John Newton's repentance as a former slave trader and the sweet triumph of good over evil with the passing of Bill that ended the slave trade. But on reflection I realised how little moved I was by the big picture which was surely the hideous reality that a supposedly superior Christian nation had systematically traded in human beings made in God's image, subjecting them to horrors beyond imagination just so that they could have sugar for their tea. And to think it took Wilberforce almost 20 years to have the slave trade abolished, and some 50 years before slaves were emancipated in the British Empire. This led me to ponder all sorts of things – how slow and painful a process overcoming evil is, the difference a single man can make to reform an unjust condition, the significance of answering a Call. And not least, the danger of being lured by the silver screen to see and understand only what it chooses to show you.

I hope this little response will not mar your enjoyment of Amazing Grace. It is, after all, a well-made movie. However, when it comes to the real issues, there is more to think about than any movie can provide answers for.

(Pauline Koe) 


We recommend ...

BGST Bookshop is pleased to offer from its stock of goodies directly imported from Israel two unique mousepads. 

  1. A facsimile of a page from Albert Einstein's original 1912 manuscript on the Special Theory of Relativity. 

  2. A facsimile of part of the Temple Scroll from the Dead Sea Manuscripts which describes ancient Jewish floor plans for the rebuilding of the temple referred to in Ezekiel chapters 40-47. 

Cost: $9.50 each. Hurry! The stock is limited.

Chapel Notes

The chapel speaker last week (Jun 6) was Mrs Soh Hiang Jamir, a missionary in Hyderabad, India. She is presently visiting Singapore on the invitation of  Zion Bible Presbyterian Church to participate, along with her husband Peter Jamir, in the Golden Jubilee celebrations of  the church for which the couple has been missionaries at large in India.

Mrs Soh Hiang spoke on the parable of the 'Prodigal Son' (Lk.15:11-32) with special reference to her own ministry of counseling in India.

We wish them God's blessings on their ministry!

Mr Cecil Peters (Grad. DipCS, 2001) & Mr Peter Jamir (Grad. DipCS, 2001) will be sharing at chapel on Jun 20. You are welcome to join us at chapel, time: 12noon-12.45pm.


Visiting Lecturer: Prof. Alan Millard
Here is rare chance to catch an eminent authority on biblical archaeology. Prof. Alan Millard studied in the universities of Oxford and London. He recently retired as Rankin Profe ssor of Hebrew and Ancient Semitic Languages in the University of Liverpool (UK). He combines a detailed knowledge of the ancient Near East (including participation in a number of archaeological digs) with considerable experience in presenting his ideas in both scholarly and popular settings. Among the books he has written are: Treasures from Bible Times (1985); Discoveries from the Time of Jesus (1990); Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus (2000).

His two courses would appeal to both the serious (you’re really into historical background and want to know if the truth of the Bible can be proven!) and the curious (is the Da Vinci Code for real?):

  • The Old Testament and Archaeology: 3 credits, starting June 25

  • The Bible: Fantasies or Facts?: 1.5 credits, starting July 3. 

For further details about the courses, please enquire at inquiry@bgst.edu.sg 

NEWS BITS

  1. Away from Office. 
     
    • Dr Satterthwaite (14-18 Jun)
    • Serene Woon (15-19 Jun)
    • Daisy Sim (21-22 Jun)
        
  2. Change of Commencement Date.
  • Communication Skills for Speakers & Church Leaders (AT232) has been rescheduled to Aug 2007. The new dates are Aug 8, 15, 22, 29, Sep 5, 12, 19; time: 7.30-10.00pm.

A Blessed 
Birthday to ...

Mr Daniel Ng 18/6
Mr Yong Pin Yoon 18/6
Mdm Eva Fong 18/6
Mr Gordon Goh 18/6
Mr Loke Mun Tai 18/6
Mr Sia Boon Leong 22/6
Mr Choo Kok Weng 22/6
Ms Mak Moo Theng 22/6
Ms Sherlene Wan 22/6
Mr Lawrence Ng 22/6
Dr John Lim 23/6
Mr Ng Ming Yang 23/6
Mr Charlie Yeo 23/6
Mdm Tricia Yeo 23/6
Ms Lim Wee Kuan 23/6
Mr David Yap 24/6

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