BIBLICAL GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY

Issue No. 37

29 Sep - 5 Oct 2008

Word from the Acting Principal

Dear friends, Dr Pagolu Augustine

Greetings in Jesus’ name!

For the last six months I have been officiating as Acting Principal at BGST as our Principal Dr Quek Swee Hwa has been on sabbatical leave. I had carried out this type of responsibility several times before when I was teaching at SAIACS (South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies), Bangalore. However, I found that my responsibilities as Acting Principal at BGST are not as demanding as they were at SAIACS. The main difference lies in the fact that SAIACS is a residential school with over 100 students on campus and about thirty full-time staff (including ten faculty members). Every day, there were matters relating to students, services, staff and public relations to attend to. I realized that even one difficult student could create disturbance and pain for the whole community. Sometimes we had to spend hours on end in counseling and drawing up disciplinary guidelines.

However, at BGST it is smooth-sailing — with an efficient Executive Vice-Principal, committed Council members, cooperative colleagues, and friendly administrative staff. When I was first approached to shoulder this responsibility, I was surprised. I said, ‘why me, there are other better people than me?’ But I was prevailed upon. All in all, I must say it has been a great experience, and I want to thank the council and Dr Quek for giving me this opportunity.

My Sabbatical: Now I want to share a word about my sabbatical. BGST has graciously granted me a six-month sabbatical as I have completed three years of service. I have been granted a fellowship from Global Research Institute of the Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena (California) in order to complete a book which I have been working on for some time now. It has to do with ‘Reading the Bible in the Asian Context’. Let me explain a little more about it.

Towards the last quarter of 20th century, Asian theologians began to feel that the Christianity they inherited from the West has been largely rejected by a majority of native people because it appeared alien to their cultures. One reason for this is that Asia had been the home for all the living religions of the world with their own sacred writings; well defined systems of faith and practice; and living communities of believers in each case. So when Christianity came to Asia, it was not just the religion per se, but there was a huge clash of cultures, customs and worldviews. Although Christianity was born in Asia it bore no traces of ‘Asianness’. On the other hand its language, thinking and even its Scriptures were in a foreign language.

Secondly, Christianity arrived in most cases in the shadow of Western colonialism, which in itself was already humiliating, exploitative and oppressive to the natives, especially to their educated aristocracy. The colonialists built their chapels and huge cathedrals everywhere for their military and bureaucracy and it was hard to miss its association with Christianity. To be sure, the native cultures had no less exploitative or oppressive systems within themselves, but such a thing to be meted out by a foreign regime was unbearable and demoralizing for them. 

Thirdly, Christianity was monotheistic and exclusivist in its message. Added to this, its sacred writings were quickly translated into dozens of native languages and distributed freely to everyone who could read, and their ubiquitous presence was inescapable. Such a thing was alien to Asian cultures. They always lived in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic environment. They all had their sacred writings, but they never thought of translating them into the language of their neighbors because they always thought that all religions teach the same thing and their goal is the same. In fact most of them would not have read their own Scriptures either, so why bother about others’! So the natives saw the monotheistic and exclusivist Christian message as intruding into their religious freedom and its message as imposing over and above their own. To accept Christian faith meant to leave their own and to exchange their age old customs and practices for a foreign one and for a foreign Scripture. Most of the educated and the well to do people stayed away from Christianity, even though many of them could not deny that there was something true and genuine about it.

Thus, for the majority of Asian population Christian encounter was not a happy experience. Christianity has constantly been associated with the West because many institutions continued to be supported by Western funds and personnel long after the colonial rule ended.

It appears from the above that the Asians rejected a Christianity that was presented in its various alien forms but not Christ. My aim is to explore an Asian way of reading the Bible, if there is one, and to see how this translates into formulating a native hermeneutic. 

I would appreciate your prayers for me and my family.

With my very best wishes,
Augustine Pagolu

Introducing our 
Council members ...

Mdm Joyce TanMadam Joyce Tan, a chartered accountant by training, works as a tax consultant in private practice. She has been a member of the BGST Council since 1995. Joyce has been widowed since 1989 and her only son works as an investment analyst in a fund management company. She worships in Zion BP Church, having been a member there since she was 21. She has served at Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) as a children leader, and in church as part of the children ministry. Presently, she is helping in the Sunday school service at Bishan Home for the Intellectually Disabled. 

Joyce, as Treasurer in the BGST Council, helps Council to be a good steward of the money God supplies for the school's ministry. She is a familiar face around the school as she spends many hours there to streamline financial procedures and to assist the staff in keeping sound financial records.

Weekly Highlights

Next Week’s Chapel Speaker
 The Chapel speaker for 8 October is Mr Chou Fang Soong, BGST Provost cum Executive Vice-Principal. As 1 October is Hari Raya Puasa, BGST will be closed for the public holiday.

Chapel Summary (24 Sep). Last week's chapel speaker was Pastor Anil Samuel, Telugu Methodist Church, Short Street. He focused on the story of the Demoniac from the Gospel of Mark 5: 1-20 and highlighted the trauma faced by this man who was feared, rejected, and condemned to live in graveyards. Jesus went all the way to this non-Israelite territory, Decapolis to restore one person. But then, he was asked to leave their territory immediately because their business was under threat. Likewise what is Singapore church's responsibility towards the foreigners living and working among us in far less than Ideal conditions? Is their value just to boost our economy? (Dr Pagolu)

New Programme student 

Graduate Diploma in Christian Studies

  1. Mr Daniel Lee is an Administrative Officer and a graduate of University of Cambridge. Heis a member of Paya Lebar Methodist Church and a lay leader in the Cell Group ministry, Worship & Music ministry and Young Adults Fellowship.
      

  2. Mr James Tan is a Senior Vice President of a company and he is a graduate of the National University of Singapore. He worships at the Covenant Evangelical Free Church and is actively involved in the Watchman Ministry.

Announcements

Dr Augustine Pagolu, who has been the Acting Principal for the last 6 months, will be leaving for his sabbatical from Oct 2008 to Mar 2009. As mentioned in his article, he will be at the Global Research Institute of the Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena (California) to complete his book on “Reading the Bible in the Asian Context”. We take this opportunity to thank him for leading BGST for the past 6 months, as well as wish him a fruitful sabbatical.

Since our Principal, Dr Quek Swee Hwa will still be on sabbatical leave for the rest of the year, Dr Philip Satterthwaite, Dean of Biblical and Theological Studies, will be our next Acting Principal from 1 Oct—31 Dec 2008. 

Dr Satterthwaite has been with BGST since 1998. He is also the other Faculty representative in our BGST Council (since Mar 2007). We shall be introducing him soon.

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