Rev Dr Quek Swee Hwa and a group of visionary pioneers, united in their conviction that all reputable work is God’s work, felt that theological training should be extended not only to pastors and missionaries but also to the laity. Singapore was blessed with a good number of theological institutions and Church growth was at its height. Younger students fresh from secondary schooling answered God’s call and flocked to the various Bible schools of their choice. They prepared themselves for both pastoral and missionary careers. We felt the need for a school of a different kind. Christian leaders in mid-careers as teachers, engineers, homemakers, civil servants, bankers, lawyers, accountants, doctors, counsellors and people in all other professions and callings were seriously contemplating a switch to a role they could play as lay persons. They could assist their pastors in teaching, preaching and in supportive ministries in the church and in mission work. A good number of lay persons were earnestly answering God’s call to full-time service as pastors and missionaries. Through solid, biblical teaching, the school we envisioned would help lay persons engage boldly and faithfully with the issues of everyday life, and actively integrate their faith with work and life issues.
On 19 November, 1988, we invited the general public to a “Presentation Evening” at the Sanctuary of the Clementi Bible Centre at 152 West Coast Road. We presented the syllabus and requirements for the first two courses: “New Testament Greek”, taught by Dr Quek at the Ling Kwang Home for Senior Citizens and “New Testament Foundations”, taught by Rev David Wong at the Clementi Bible Centre. Thirteen students registered for NT Greek and fourteen registered for NT Foundations.
Thus, the Biblical School of Theology, which later changed its name to “Biblical Graduate School of Theology” (BGST), was born in 1989. The vision had become a reality. Our first Faculty comprised Dr Quek Swee Hwa (Dean), Rev David Wong (Deputy Dean), and other lecturers and tutors. Our Board of Directors played an equally important role: they were Dr Teo Choo Soo (Chairman), Dr Lee Soon Tai (Vice-Chairman), Dr Chua Choon Lan (Secretary), and other members.
We thank God that we were able to secure the use of the premises of the Chin Lien Bible Seminary on Green Lane. By God’s grace, as more courses were introduced, BGST’s enrolment attracted nearly 40 students. The majority were part-time. At that point they could enrol in one of BGST’s two post-graduate programmes: the Diploma in Christian Studies (DipCS) or the Master of Divinity (MDiv). The Master in Christian Studies programme (MCS) was added in 1997. These three programmes were all accredited by the Asia Theological Association in 2002, and are regularly re-accredited every five years.
In the first five years, God was actively strengthening BGST’s foundation. We needed a credible theological library. Mr Albert Ong, our Librarian, contacted James F. Stitzinger of the Master’s College and Seminary in California. We prayed and God sent financial provision, enabling us to purchase a 30,000-volume library. We were also able to launch Bible Lands Study Tours led by Dr Quek and Mrs Peck Siat Mui, and to collect a modest BGST Artefact Collection. By 1994, BGST had celebrated its first Convocation and Thanksgiving Service (1991), at which four students graduated, established the BGST Newsletter, and relocated to Zion Bishan Bible-Presbyterian Church.
BGST entered into a partnership with the Discipleship Training Centre (DTC), broadening our offering through a jointly offered programme: “Tentmakers Equipping ’N’ Training” (TENT). Through this programme, which ran until 2011, BGST and DTC succeeded in preparing close to 100 professionals to minister in cross-cultural contexts.
By the grace of God, BGST purchased its first property on Tanjong Pagar Road. Over the next five years, BGST offered a number of public lectures and conferences. A notable event was a public lecture given by Dr Toh See Kiat in 2008, entitled “The Christian as Salt and Light in Politics.”
BGST celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 2009. In its first twenty years, BGST had taught over 2,000 students plus many others who benefitted from the public lectures and conferences. BGST’s graduates during this period comprised 80% Singaporeans and 20% foreign students. Nearly 90 students went on to pursue higher degrees. All of this was made possible only through God’s love and faithfulness, along with the labour and contributions of many.
In the same year, 2009, BGST held its first conference on “Tending the Shepherds.” BGST continues to offer quality conferences and public lectures to this day, impacting the lives of hundreds each year.
A change of leadership took place in 2011 when Dr Philip E Satterthwaite succeeded Rev Dr Quek Swee Hwa as Principal. Rev Dr Quek was appointed Founding Principal Emeritus. Two years later, BGST moved to a newly purchased property at Kallang Pudding Road. Since the move to this property, BGST has undergone strategic transformation, reinventing itself in various ways.
Academically, BGST became the first theological school in Singapore to offer extensive online education and “flipped classroom” (blended learning) options. The “flipped classroom” format enables students to listen to lectures at their convenience and consolidate what they have learnt in classroom discussions. BGST launched two short (12-credit) certificate programmes, the Certificate in Biblical Studies (CBS) and the Certificate in Theological Studies (CTS). The first Church History Tour to Italy also took place in this year.
Relationships have always been crucial in the life of BGST, and the school is continually exploring how it can develop and nurture them. One such initiative was started in 2014, when BGST formed the Alumni Resource Network (ARN). ARN, guided by the Alumni Resource Team (ART), helps BGST alumni stay in touch with each other and the School. Also in 2014, BGST sought actively to develop partnerships with particular churches across Singapore. Since then, BGST has been increasing the numbers of public lectures, conferences and workshops it brings to churches.
BGST launched the “Leadership in Christian Enterprise” lecture series in 2016 with Far East Organization (FEO). Through these lectures, BGST participates firsthand in helping people contextualize the Christian faith in the workplace.
BGST partnered with Trinity Theological College to offer a joint Diploma of Theological Studies (DipTS). Graduates of this programme can transfer their credits to any BGST or TTC Masters programme. This augurs well for the future as BGST and TTC combine their strengths, together with other theological institutions in Singapore, to bring forward a robust, substantial, compelling and exciting movement of theological training ahead.