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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
BGST Bookshop is pleased to offer from its stock of
goodies directly imported from Israel two unique
A facsimile of a page from Albert Einstein's original
1912 manuscript on the Special Theory of Relativity.
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
Cost: $9.50 each. Hurry! The stock is
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
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.
wish them God's blessings on their ministry!
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,
Visiting Lecturer: Prof. Alan
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Away from Office.
- Dr Satterthwaite (14-18 Jun)
- Serene Woon (15-19 Jun)
- Daisy Sim (21-22
- 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.
Birthday to ...
Mr Daniel Ng 18/6
Mr Yong Pin
Mdm Eva Fong 18/6
Mr Gordon Goh 18/6
Mr Loke Mun Tai
Mr Sia Boon Leong 22/6
Mr Choo Kok Weng 22/6
Ms Mak Moo
Ms Sherlene Wan 22/6
Mr Lawrence Ng 22/6
Mr Ng Ming Yang 23/6
Mr Charlie Yeo 23/6
Mdm Tricia Yeo
Ms Lim Wee Kuan 23/6
Mr David Yap 24/6