15—21 October 2007

Issue No. 39

PE Satterthwaite: Another good book on the contemporary church

My second book, complementing the one reviewed two weeks ago, is: D.A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005).


The ‘emerging church’ is a recent development, perhaps ten or twelve years old, particularly strong in North America and the UK, but likely to influence the church world-wide. Probably it has reached Singapore; though I have yet to hear the term used with reference to the church scene here.


Perhaps the most notorious statement associated with this movement is the view expressed by two leading figures within it that the ‘penal substitution’ view of Christ’s death involves a form of ‘cosmic child abuse’; but that is simply one statement, and the ‘emerging church’ as a whole is less easy to define.


As the name suggests, it is a movement still in transition: leading figures within it are fairly clear what they are emerging from (basically, various forms of socially conservative Christianity which fail to engage with modern culture). It is less clear what the movement will finally emerge into; though the general direction is towards a more accepting, less doctrinally hard-edged version of Christianity.


The movement tries to take seriously the rise of post-modernism and is keen that the gospel should be presented in a way that will connect with post-modern culture. But post-modernism is itself hard to define briefly and clearly: a rejection of modernist rationalism? A radical commitment to the claim that all human knowledge is perspectival? You can see the problem!


All of this means that the ‘emerging church’ is hard to generalise about: likely enough, many church leaders are sympathetic towards it, but are not within it; and many who are within it are critical of some aspects. Some prefer to speak of the emerging church as a ‘conversation’ rather than a movement (hence Carson’s title).


It is this movement that Carson attempts to describe and respond to. I don’t know how someone within the emerging church might view this book, but it seems to me that he has done an excellent job. He begins by surveying some of the leading figures within the movement, allowing them to speak in their own words. This helps the reader get some sort of a handle on what is being discussed. He then lists some positive features of the emerging church: it tries to ‘read the times’, to understand contemporary culture; it is committed to authentic Christian living and to creating Christian congregations that will be attractive and above all, interesting to outsiders; it is willing to challenge established church traditions in the name of biblical faithfulness. Carson aims to understand sympathetically before he moves to criticism.


Nonetheless, he has criticisms to offer. To start with: emerging church leaders tend to be shallow in their assessment of modernism; too ready to condemn forms of Christianity which emerged in the ‘modern era’ (c. 1600–1970?); and selectively tolerant, so that they are more ready to find something positive to say about non-Christian religions than about traditional Christianity.


There follows a chapter on post-modernism itself, and the issues it raises for Christians: a somewhat challenging chapter this, as it condenses points that Carson made at  much greater length in his 1996 volume The Gagging of God; but some may find it a useful introduction to the topic. Next comes a more detailed review of two books by leading ‘emerging’ writers: Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy and Steve Chalke’s The Lost Message of Jesus, noting their less-than-adequate understanding of God’s judgment and the atonement.


This leads onto the nub of Carson’s criticism: emerging church leaders are too quick to give ground to post-modernism. All human knowledge is limited, yes, and our ability to grasp the truth is affected by a variety of personal and social factors; but that does not mean that all views are equally ‘valid’ or that we cannot, through repeated engagement with the biblical text, come close to a right understanding of biblical teaching. Carson finds emerging church writers unwilling to engage with the truth claims within Scripture, and the many biblical texts which bluntly denounce false views of God as ‘idolatry’. The last chapter is a meditation on 2 Peter 1, which shows how Peter speaks of the gospel both as truth which is to be believed and as a reality which he and his readers have experienced and must continue to live out. ‘Which shall we choose?’, Carson concludes (p. 234), ‘Experience or truth? The left wing of an airplane or the right?’ The point is: we need both.


I would like to think that a BGST student might one day write a book like this: one which shows an awareness of contemporary culture, which is alert to, and concerned about, developments within the church, and which is able to offer a fair-minded, biblically-informed critique. Isn’t this the kind of thing we ought to be doing more of at BGST? I commend this book: it is not always an easy read, but it is an instructive and challenging one. May its message be heard attentively.


(Editor: To have an idea of what the emerging church is all about you might want to check out www.theooze.com)

Text Box: Chapel Summary: 10th October

Dean, Dr Quek Swee Hwa, took the occasion to give us a taste of BGST’s global ministry which is conducted in partnership with Zion BP Church. To set the tone, the first two hymns sung were “Come Thou Almighty King” and “This is My Father’s World”. They reminded us that the Triune God is the one we worship and His presence is in the created order.


We then turned our focus on the blessings to be enjoyed in the unity of brotherhood as Psalm 133 proclaims. In his characteristic enthusiasm for things Judaica, Dr Quek played the “Nevel Shel David” (David’s harp) and taught a Hebrew song based on the first verse of the psalm. (Hine ma-tov uma-nayim / Shevet achim gam-yachad). 


Through a slide presentation, Dr Quek told of giving some theological reflections on the subject of post-modernism and its dangers to a group of Chinese church leaders in Hong Kong. He then reported on a visit to the Indonesian Theological School of the Servant of God in east Java at which alumnus, Peter Lim is working. It was helpful to see slides of these two areas of ministry. Indeed BGST’s ministry is wider than we often realize, thanks to the untiring efforts of our Dean.


(Pauline Koe)

Text Box: Weekly Highlights
Text Box: New Admission
Grad Dip in Education for Christian Formation 
Mr Seow Teow Seng has retired from the teaching profession and now serves as the Christian Education Coordinator at the Singapore Thomson Road Baptist Church. He is a graduate of the National University of Singapore and the National Institute of Education.

Dr Augustine Pagolu will speak this Wednesday. Next week chapel is on Tue, 23. The ATA accreditation team will be in attendance and you are welcome to a very different format of chapel. 

Library Announcement
Please note that the library will be closed on Sat, 20 October for the school’s SportsNFun Day. 

Final Call
We would appreciate a few more prizes for the SportsNFun Day. So if you can help it’d be very much appreciated.


           BGST Fundraising

         Dinner 2007



(Prayer Request from the Dinner Organising Committee)


Praise be to God who answers prayers. 41 out of the 48 tables have been taken up. Please continue to seek God to fill the other 7 tables. This week we want to focus on the need to intercede for our speakers for the dinner:


i.     Pray for keynote speaker, Prof James Houston. Pray for him to be in good health, to get ready his 2 public lectures on 2 & 3 Nov, and the dinner address. Pray for his safe arrival on 31 Oct, that he will have sufficient rest before his first lecture.

ii.    Pray for BGST Principal-designate Dr Quek and his welcoming address preparation, that it will be God-honouring and will make an impact on the dinner guests.

iii.   Pray for Council Chairman, Dr Toh and his appeal speech, that it will touch the hearts of the guests to see the needs at BGST and be moved to donate generously.



Last call to join us for our Sports N Fun Day on Sat, 20th Oct. We’ll be at Aloha Loyang, Bungalow #1. Activities will kick off  around 11 am, followed by lunch and then the sports and fun begin. Lots of good food, prizes, fellowship and fun. So come along. But please register with the office so that we can cater for you.

31 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088454   Tel: 62276815   Fax: 62276816   Email: bgst@pacific.net.sg


To access previous issues of BTW please click archives