7—13 April 2008

Issue No. 14          

Dr Aquila Lee reviews…


Adolf Schlatter: A Biography of Germany's Premier Biblical Theologian written by Werner Neuer (trans. Robert W. Yarbrough). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995, pp.229. 


Written by a scholar at the Institute for the Study of Missions and Ecumenical Theology at Tübingen University, this book is an easy-to-read, fast-paced biography with lots of photos of "one of the greatest biblical theologians of the twentieth century." Adolf Schlatter (1852-1938) was a theological professor, writer, pastor, and speaker whose vision was for a more intellectually vigorous and orthodox German Protestant theology. He was a New Testament exegete first and foremost, but  was also extremely adept in Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Philosophy, and Ethics. He has over 400 publications to his credit, including his famous volumes on New Testament theology and dogmatics.


Adolf Schlatter — Life of a Great Theologian

The seventh of nine children, Adolf Schlatter was born into a venerable family in St. Gallen, Switzerland. After completing his theological studies in Basel and Tübingen (1871-1875), he served as pastor in several Swiss state churches (1875–1880), before he took up his teaching position in Bern, and subsequently in Griefwald, and Tübingen. Throughout his teaching career he lectured regularly on NT exegesis, Dogmatics, the History of Philosophy, Metaphysics, and Ethics, demonstrating an ability to practice the interdisciplinary synthesis of Biblical and Theological studies.


In the biography  the writer specifically chose to focus more on Schlatter as a person and a Christian, rather than a theologian. The writer’s intention in this book was to produce “a story that conveys to both theologians and non-theologians a graphic impression of Schlatter’s life and work” (14). In this book the reader is given the chance to peep into a theologian's childhood, the influence of his parents, his education and sense of calling to the life of the mind and the life experiences that predisposed him to his particular views and opinions.


Personally, I could identify very much with the young Schlatter as he wrestled with the relation between Christian faith and scientific knowledge. His first encounter with liberal theology and the idealist philosophy of Hegel and Kant took place during his secondary school years. As he recalled it, his liberal religion teacher showed no trace of sympathy for the spiritual content of the New Testament. At one point, despite his mother's secret desire for him to study theology, Schlatter came to think that "theological study is dangerous and could easily shake one's faith," but in a discussion with his oldest sister, he came to the conclusion that fleeing from theological study is truly cowardly and faithless. In fact, during his college days in Basel he did experience a crisis of faith which was overcome, according to his own testimony, by "steady exposure to Holy Scripture."


The greatest effect on the development of his religious and theological thinking, however, came from Johann Tobias Beck, a theological professor in Tübingen, in whom Schlatter found a unity between his spiritual experience and scientific work. Schlatter remembers his teacher in this way:


"In the lecture hall he was confessor and researcher simultaneously. . . . He spoke therefore of God not as an absentee; he rather resembled Paul in speaking as one who was subject to Christ 'before God.' For me as for many others it was a tremendous experience to find myself in a classroom where what was honored was not godlessness as the precondition for being scientific. We rather found ourselves being addressed by a man moved by God."


Although this is a biography of Schlatter written by someone else, at times one gets the impression of reading his autobiography because the writer makes frequent use of quotations from Schlatter's own letters.


Schlatter was a dedicated man of the church and captivated audiences with his expository sermons. For those who wish to taste for themselves some of his actual writings, there are four appendixes at the end of the book. There is an excellent 8-page essay on prayer, which I strongly recommend. Here is a short quote from it.


"Faith is God's gift; so too is that prayer that proceeds from faith. Precisely through believing prayer we overcome that arrogance that would gladly place itself above God. And humility becomes a possibility, for we receive with thanks all good things from his hand, as we derive with supplication our actions from his will. As faith brings about deliverance from the self, prayer brings about repudiation of our selfish will – not so that we will become will-less, but so that our will might be founded on God's rule and reign" (162).


Indeed, Schlatter remained prolific until the end. During the final eight years of his life he wrote his nine big scholarly New Testament commentaries.

I would like to end this review with the formative influence Schlatter received from his parents during his childhood and formative years. His parents’ living faith, a “life lived in God’s presence” must have made a profound impact on him. I will let Schlatter himself recount a sad, but inspiring experience he had as a thirteen-year old boy. He remembers the death of his sister Monika in this way:


"We children were called into the bedroom. We stood encircling the bed of our deceased sister. Then our parents accompanied us to the living room, where Bibles were opened and we read Revelation 21 and 22. Our sister was dead: the first gap torn in our little family circle. Our pain was profound. But instead of lament our parents placed before us that word which sheds a ray of light on God's ultimate purposes. They did not just look back on a lost past, nor again gaze questioningly into an unknown future, but rather set their gaze and ours on God's eternal city. I encountered the incomparable hope that the New Testament mediates. Such hope detaches us from our pain and personal possessions, situates our lives in God's grand scheme, and shows us our place as members of the great fellowship he creates, a fellowship that is eternal because it is God's" (30).

Text Box: Announcements


New Course Commencing

Rev Dr David Wong begins a 4-session course on “The Christian Mind” on 7 April.


Chapel Last Week

Our speaker last week was Dr David Huntley, retired from OMF. He had worked in broadcasting for the organization and is presently in Singapore going through the old archives to retrieve the story of China Inland Mission, which was the precursor of OMF.


Dr Huntley spoke to us from 2 Cor 4.6-7 which tell us that we have “the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ” but in “jars of clay” such being the weak vessels we are. He emphasized the second Advent, when Christ will return in a literal, visible way. The implications of this are that we have a promise that we will see Christ again; nature will be re-created and there will be redistribution with justice for right and punishment for wrong. This makes philosophical sense of things because in our present state we have a mixture of good and evil in our world – there is beauty in earthen jars as it were. 


Chapel & Lunch This Week

We will hear from Rev Dr David Wong at Chapel on Wednesday. After that we  will share a simple lunch together, the first of of our monthly lunch-in fellowship.


Our featured personality this week is Dr Philip Satterthwaite who will share with us his passion outside BGST. If you don’t know what it is and are curious, or you simply want to know him better, there’s no better opportunity than this. So come along and have lunch with us. We would appreciate advance notice for catering though, so let Kok Wee know if you haven’t indicated your attendance yet.


Prayer Request

Student, Amy Ong, recently underwent a heart bypass. She would appreciate prayer for the following concerns:

· The ability to drink water without choking and coughing;

· Improvement to her breathing;

· The healing of the wound on her left where a tube was inserted to assist her breathing.


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