Film / Book Reviews

TTC book paints changing face of Christianity in Singapore

Jan 2007    

At the Crossroads The History of Trinity Theological College 1948-2005
Publisher: Trinity Theological College , $35

 

IF I could only buy one book this year to display in my living room, At the Crossroads would be it. This book proves that history is not soporific or irrelevant!

At the Crossroads is a record not only of the growth of just one particular theological college, it also shows the changing face of Christianity in Singapore through the ages. Struggles, controversies, expansion, unity, community, it’s all there, propelled onwards by fallible but earnestly faithful humans wrapped in the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Who wouldn’t want to read about (in my humble opinion) the leading theological college in South-east Asia? Conceived in war, born of unity, nurtured by “foreign talent”, maturing still in love and mission, Trinity Theological College (TTC) has had a massive impact on Christians throughout Asia. It trains most of the pastors in the mainline denominations in Singapore, and since Day One has attracted students from all over this region.

And what colourful students these have been! In between juggling classes and community living, TTC students made time to tour in Evangelistic Caravans, serve in hospitals and welfare homes, organise workers in Jurong and even once staged an uprising!

In 1969-1970, TTC students fought for greater “voice and vote” in college matters. The entire Student Council resigned and there is a glorious photograph of the bilingual letter of resignation written on a singlet! (You may recognise some of the signatures.)

Although this episode is presented in the book as an interruption of growth, as an “aberration”, it was clearly an attempt to move the college forward in many areas: teaching methodology, integration of theology and daily life, training in evangelism, student representation. All this was made in the face of opposition from those in authority. The lesson for all of us is that paternalism will only go so far; champion race horses will chafe at the bit. If conventional means yield no fruit, radicalism becomes a viable alternative. The student uprising was about improving the quality of education at TTC, a process which continues unabated today, albeit with less confrontation! TTC has moved from offering courses in Home Economics to advanced degrees in Bible Exegesis and Theology, in Worship and Liturgy and in Church Music, besides the popular Masters in Divinity. TTC also offers its own Doctor of Theology programme now.

In addition to upgrading the level of teaching, TTC has developed a truly interdenominational faculty drawn not only from its denominational partners, but also from non-mainline and independent churches. There is less reliance now on foreign missionary lecturers, most valuable and loved though they are. Asianisation and indigenisation of the college was an understandable aim. The contrast between early dependence on part-time lecturers and the modern faculty is seen in the establishment of two endowed professorships in New Testament and Systematic Theology.

The move of TTC from Mount Sophia is also well-documented. There are ample photographs of the removal of the old Communion Table and the Long Walk to the new premises. TTC now has upgraded, purpose-built facilities at Upper Bukit Timah Road. It has a modern library with an expanded collection. It has what it needs to carry on its mission of training servants of the Lord.

Yet, TTC is not parochial in mentality or effect. By the 1980s, TTC had become “an institution of national relevance” by training Singapore teachers to teach Bible knowledge in schools. It has developed strong ties with churches all over the world. Today, the international stature of TTC is recognised by it being asked to host the 2005 International Meeting of the 125-year old Society of Biblical Literature, the foremost association of Bible scholars in the world.

This continual growth from an idea conceived in a prison to a strider on the world’s stage is carefully charted. Very little is omitted, with discontent and unhappiness also included in a tapestry of joyful servanthood.

The bottom line? This book is a fascinating read, well-peppered with photographs. The students you read of in the book became (are becoming) church pastors and leaders. They brought with them into ministry the same passion you read of in this book. Is it any wonder then that the church in Singapore continues to expand?

At the Crossroads demonstrates that TTC is ever positioned not only to point people to the One True Light, but to be itself a light in this world in fulfilment of the school’s motto: Lux Mundi!

The Rev Chiang Ming Shun is the Pastor-in-Charge of Aldersgate Methodist Church.

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