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Sacred Pathways

Author: Gary Thomas (2000)
Publisher:  Zondervan (232pp)

Review by Rev Ng Seng Chuan


This is truly a “good book”.  Seldom have I been so impressed with a book’s value as to buy extra copies to give away as gifts.  It is one of those books I consider “liberating”.

Essentially, the book is about different ways of access to God or spirituality.  Most of Christendom, for a long time now, has been a text-bound entity.  We encourage people to follow the Scripture text as the sermon is being preached.  Spiritual growth is measure by how devoutly one was able to maintain “quiet time”.

An interesting question arises.  How might a person reach God if words and text do not appeal to him or her?  Some sermons are so solid in theological content that they give headaches to even ardent believers!  And some Christians have difficulty maintaining a culture of disciplined Bible reading.  Many do lose their way spiritually.  For them, Christianity is just too cerebral an affair.

And this is where the wonder of Sacred Pathways lies.  Gary Thomas identifies nine temperaments or personal traits, and shows how each might craft a pathway to God.  What are the nine sacred pathways?  The following is but a sampling.

First, there is the naturalist.  She feels an incredible closeness to God when surrounded by nature.  Might not such a person pray more effectively in a park than at a church?

Then there is the sensate, and this is someone most alert to the physical senses.  For those so wired, liturgical colours and incense (as used in Eastern Orthodox churches) will do wonders.  For these Christians, aesthetics matter, and they revel in the “beauty of holiness”.  Rich harmonies and haunting melodies in religious music delight them no end.  That the Lord of the universe accepts such worship we know from Christ’s endorsement of Mary’s anointing with her “costly perfume.”

Next, there are those to whom church traditions are almost sacrosanct.  Stately rituals, ecclesiastical calendars and iconic symbols are wonderful aids to worship.  But what is so supremely edifying is the fact that such believers often define faith in terms of what they might offer to God (e.g., in fasting), in contrast to the definition in contemporary Christianity of faith as believing what God might give to us!

In the fourth place, there are the ascetics.  These are the “solo” types – believers who value solitude over fellowship in their quest of discipleship and for godliness.  The one thing ascetics will not grudge, the one thing they delight to give God is the one commodity some Christians have difficulty offering to God in modern Singapore – time.  Those of us who are often late for services, and who look at our watches when the sermon goes on slightly longer, have much to learn from ascetics.

I could go on to describe the care-givers, the activists, the enthusiasts, the  contemplatives, and the intellectuals.  But you get the drift.  There is much we could learn from each pathway.  But more important than even that, we need to follow whichever style works best for us, so that we might pursue a path that helps us draw closer to God.

To help us achieve this, Gary Thomas sets a series of questions at the end of each chapter so as to enable us to gauge our innate tendencies or latent worship styles.  At the end of the book itself, in the final chapter, he helps the reader put together the evidence and data for interpreting what works best for her or him.

Throughout the book, he offers useful tips for meaningful individual worship.  One such useful tip for gauging your preferred style: try picking out leaders you admire and identifying their prominent traits.  Are they contemplatives or activists, naturalists or sensates?  We admire people who most reflect our own values!

Other useful observations the book offers pertain to the unique weaknesses or temptations of each chosen path.  For example, intellectuals are prone to arrogance; and activists possibly to violence.  We also tend to idolize the path itself – so that naturalists might end up adoring “Mother Nature” instead of the God of nature!

This is one of the most perceptive books I have read.  It has helped me understand both myself and others better.  In the process, I learn to bow before God’s awesome wisdom – the God who accepts worship from all His children with one as different as chalk from cheese as another!

At a more private or personal level, it has also helped me to accept myself as an ascetic who craves solitude, one who has at times been castigated by others as a “selfish loner” who disdains fellowship or teamwork.  I could almost weep as I finished reading that chapter on “Ascetics”, and utter a prayer of thanksgiving to Almighty God for that incredible sense of solace.

A Blessed Birthday to…

Ms Lindy Tan  19/9

Mr Loh Mun Fei  19/9

Mr Francis Soh  19/9

Dr Philip Satterthwaite  20/9

Mr Chan Wan Yhim  21/9

Pastor Chin Lee Poh  22/9

Dr Oswald Goh  22/9

Mr Michael Chay  23/9

Dr Richard Hui  23/9

Mrs Susan Foo  23/9

Mr S.N. Seneviratne  23/9

Ms Lydia Tan  24/9

Mr Lu Thiam Seng  25/9

Ms Eunice Lim  25/9

Dr Chan Chee Kai  25/9

Ms Niki Wong  25/9

Chapel Notes

The chapel speaker for the day (Sep 7) was Chen Lei, a full-time student at BGST who hails from China . The message was centred upon a familiar story – that of the “Good Samaritan”.  Chen Lei began with what is now common usage of the term, “Samaritan”.  Today, it carries a rather positive connotation, that of someone who does something good.

The speaker pointed out, however, that its origins were far from flattering.  He traced the history of its negative associations from the post-exilic era.  By the time of Jesus, it had become a perjorative term, viz., in abusive language.  Chen Lei drew a parallel with the word “Japanese” and all its associations in the post-WWII era in Singapore . The focus of the message was less in the parable than in the confrontation between the lawyer and Jesus.  The speaker drew attention to Jesus’ being merciful rather than triumphalist.  By contrast, the lawyer, had been concerned only with manipulating the argument.

The speaker closed with an invitation and challenge to us to rethink the attitudes and values we bring into theological education.  The danger is for us to twist issues to personal advantage.  Like the lawyer, it is possible for us, too, to end up defending indefensible propositions. The ultimate question is how one uses knowledge – like the lawyer?  Or like Jesus?

(Summary by Ng Seng Chuan)

News Bits

  1. Dr. Augustine Pagolu has joined the teaching Faculty of BGST in September, as a fulltime Lecturer in Hebrew, Old Testament and Biblical Hermeneutics. He will also coordinate the Missions courses. He fills an important gap in our Faculty Development, Together with Dr Philip Satterthwaite we should have a strong Old Testament team and with our New Testament lecturers we are poised to  offer our students a good training in Biblical studies.
    We are delighted to welcome him and his family to
    Singapore . Dr. Pagolu is married to Sumathi. They have two children. Their son Adarsh is currently an undergraduate in India and their daughter Amitha is looking forward to  commencing studies in a junior college in Singapore . We thank God that for the provision of an apartment at Tanjong Pagar Plaza within walking distance of BGST.
    Dr. Pagolu is an Indian citizen and a seasoned theological educator. He studied at Union Biblical Seminary, Yavatmal (B.D.), United Theological College , Bangalore (M.Th), and the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (Ph.D). He was staff worker and later State General Secretary with the Union of Evangelical Students of India, where he served for 10 years. He lectured for one year at South India Bible Seminary, Bangarapet, and for 8 years at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies, Bangalore , where he became Academic Dean and Professor in Biblical Studies. Most recently, he has been a Research Fellow at Tyndale House, Cambridge , and Visiting Scholar at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge . Dr. Pagolu's doctoral thesis, which has been published by Sheffield Academic Press, was on the religion of the Patriarchs. He is currently completing a book entitled 'Biblical Hermeneutics in the Context of the Sacred Traditions of India'. He has published articles on the Patriarchs and on the issues raised by religious pluralism.

  2. Mr Song Cheng Hock has been discharged from hospital and is on medical leave till 19 Sep. Praise God his wife is recovering well from dengue. We wish to thank all who have prayed for them.

  3. Paul Vrolijk sends greetings from Bristol , UK . He was an expatriate from the Netherlands working in Singapore when he first came to us and he  completed two years and 12 credits of Greek at BGST. The Lord led him and his wife to answer the call to the pastoral ministry. They left for Bristol , UK , with the blessing of their church in Singapore , St George’s . After completing his MA in Theological Studies there he was ordained to the Anglican ministry. Paul  writes to Dr Quek: “Janine and I continue to be thankful for our lives and ministries in Bradley Stoke. We are expecting our third child (in December), which gives us great joy. Hannah & Davita are back at school ... and I am back at work in the parish, and at work on my research.  The scope of my [doctoral] research has narrowed substantially....  I was working on 'A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions', with supervisor Revd Dr Ernest Lucas and external advisor Prof Gordon Wenham. I am now concentrating on the 'Material Possessions in the Jacob Narrative(s)' ... a very interesting topic.  I hope everything is well at BGST. I am still grateful for my time with you! ... Because I am doing this part-time, my earliest submission is Sept 2008...and that is what I am aiming for ... Good to hear about your new lecturer [Dr Augustine Pagolu]....” I hope to read his work at some point. May the Lord continue to bless you and the ministry of BGST.

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This page was updated on 15 Sep 2005. 
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