Leader-shift in the context of World Christianity

Professor Andrew F. Walls is not only a towering figure in the study of the contemporary World Christianity; he is undoubtedly one of the most prolific scholars of the nature, history and the future of African Christianity today. Long before the recent numerical shift in the center of gravity of world Christianity from the  to the global South and East took place, Walls has been prophetic in calling the attention of Western academy and the world church to that impending drama.[1] Now the reality is dawning!

Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko

Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko

The gradual fulfillment of Walls ‘prophecies’ is the geist of this post.  In one of his writings, Walls pointed out that when the shift in the heartlands of the contemporary world Christianity will eventually dawn on the world, ‘Africa, Asia and Latin America will increasingly become the powerhouses of Christian though and significant amount of the next leaders of the world church will emerge from those contexts.’[2] The election of Pope Francis on 13 March, 2013 as the first Roman Catholic Pope in recent church history from the global South makes a significant statement of the new leader-shift that the world church now witnessing.  In similar vein, the recent appointment and commissioning of Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) Nigeria on 9 June 2013 at the chapel of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary as the first African international director of SIM is yet another confirmation of Walls prediction. See  the Commissioning Service of the new SIM International Director Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko; SIM Names Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko next International Director; and Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko nominated for next SIM International Director on SIM Website for more details.


                [1]Kwame Bediako, Christianity in Africa: The Renewal of a Non-Western Religion (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1995), viii.

                [2]Andrew F. Walls, “World Christianity, Theological Education and Scholarship,” Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies, Vol. 28, No. 4 (October 2011), 238.

Powerful Preaching: A Guest Post By Abram Kidd*

 

A few years ago, I discovered that when some Tanzanians say someone “really preached” (Swahili – alihubiri sana), they refer more to the preacher’s profuse sweating, theatrics, and authoritative roar than the sermon content.  This illustrated to me the important point that cultural understandings affect the delivery of Christian messages as well as the content.  This needs more discussion in the African Church today.  In the African context, it appears to me that there are important cultural or even psychological links between power, and a person’s energetic movement, loud voice, and social position.  If what people like Yusuf Turaki[1] say about the prominence of power and its acquisition in African Traditional Religion (ATR) is true, it is significant for Christian ministers in areas where ATR informs local cultural understandings.  Against this background, I would like to throw a rock into the bush about potential understandings of preachers’ movement, voice, and social position and then briefly contrast with Biblical teaching.

First, a preacher’s physical vigor may be perceived as demonstrating a kind of power in two related ways.  One, the physical constitution and virility of the preacher may show he/she is the recipient of divine favor.  Good health is a blessing.  Two, a more animated preacher may be regarded as one more filled or possessed by the Spirit.  In either case, liveliness is an attractive power.[2]  A preacher’s sweaty brow may be interpreted as a sign of godly work.

Second, with respect to vocal communication, many seem to believe that powerful preaching is demonstrated solely by thunderous volume and unwavering, authoritative tone.  In ATR, a spiritual leader may communicate spiritual power by accentuating and repeating magical ‘power’ words.  It is conceivable that a listener from this background may judge a preacher’s sermon delivery more efficacious than the understanding the sermon content itself.  They may also gain a sense of security that they are under the leadership and protection of a powerful person when they hear his commanding, confident voice.

Third, a preacher is often perceived as being in a position of superior spiritual power.  I have observed this mainly in two areas.  One, a preacher’s prayer is felt to be more powerful than a ‘regular’ Christian, especially in matters of healing and confronting demons.  Two, some believe that preachers are so filled with the Holy Spirit when preaching that no false word can pass their lips.  From an ATR perspective, a preacher in some ways occupies the role of a traditional healer, medium, or expert in spiritual affairs.[3]

Let us now examine these three main areas briefly in light of the Bible’s teaching.

With respect to a preacher’s movement, I see no clear examples or direct teachings from scripture on the subject, so would assume that a variety of movements is acceptable.  However, physical health and vigor are not reliable indicators of spiritual maturity or power.  The righteous Job, and the apostle Paul experienced physical suffering and matured spiritually through it.  They gained a sort of spiritual power over others in terms of gaining respect and credibility amongst Christians, but this does not necessarily qualify them for greater access to God’s power.  In fact, God often chooses the weak to demonstrate His power (1Co 1:26-2:5).

I cannot find anywhere in the Bible that a loud voice is a requirement for good preaching.  God may speak in a thunderous voice (Dt 5:22) or in a “gentle whisper” (1Ki 19:11-13).  Jesus, the apostles and prophets must have raised their voices to address crowds, but this was to be heard rather than to add power to their messages.  Furthermore, I see no indication that Jesus had to shout to drive out demons or to be heard by his Father.[4]  Christians must realize that a preacher’s real power comes from truthfulness not volume.  Liars can be loud too.  Furthermore, emphasizing a point is a different thing than believing that people will only understand if they are shouted at.  Biblical instruction should be marked by gentleness and love (Heb 5:2, 1Pe 3:15).

Finally, in terms of a preacher’s position, Christians differ on whether or not some have more access to God’s power or not.  My own position is that access to spiritual power has more to do with personal relationship to God than socially recognized position.  Remembering Balaam (Num 22-24) and Moses, both recognized spiritual experts, one may see that God cannot be manipulated but may be persuaded based on relationship.  This means that a preacher’s prayer is not necessarily more powerful than another Christian’s, nor should a sermon assumed to be faultless (cf. Ac 17:11).  Furthermore, whereas some religious leaders in ATR are secretive with their knowledge and use it for personal profit, Christian leaders are called to be servants and shepherds unhindered by selfish gain and who empower their people with the truth (1Pe 5:1-3).  It should be obvious they love people more than money.

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*Abram Kidd is a Canadian who has served with Africa Inland Mission as a Bible teacher at Nassa Theological College, Tanzania for seven years. He has a heart for the growth of the Church in Africa. Currently, Abram is in his second year of doctoral studies at Africa International University in the Intercultural Studies program, Missions track. 


References:

[1] Yusuf Turaki, Foundations of African Traditional Religion and Worldview (Nairobi: WorldAlive Publishers Limited, 2006)

[2] For purposes of comparison and specific example, consider the similar attractiveness of Africa Inland Church (AIC) choirs in Tanzania to many Sukuma people.  According to some Sukuma friends, special village dancing groups used to be an important part of Sukuma culture.  They were mainly comprised of young men and women, and would periodically hold dance competitions.  These functioned, among other things, as forums for those eligible for marriage to show off their physical fitness.  Although these Sukuma friends did not mention it, association with ancestral spirits in the traditional dances seems fairly likely as well.  Church choirs are ready substitutes for these groups, and likely have retained some of the traditional Sukuma roles and meanings.

[3] On a related note, it is my understanding that those in spiritually powerful positions in ATR do not command much moral authority.  If this is the case, it may also contribute to the increasing popular criticism of the moral failings of Christian preachers as portrayed in some African movies.

[4] In 1Ki 18:26-29 it is the prophets of Baal, rather than Elijah, the prophet of God, who shout in prayer.

 

 

Spread the virus! A guest post by Maggie Gitau*

As I scribble down this blog, I’m sitting by a window in the fifth floor of a building, overlooking the newly constructed, eight-lane Thika Super Highway (Nairobi, Kenya). As I watch cars zoom past each other with ease that has not been dreamt before in Kenya I think of the three times now I have lost my way on feeder roads that connect from parts of the city to this highway.   This road is one of the flagship projects of vision 2030, Kenya’s development blue-print. Vision 2030 is Kenya’s twenty years strategy to grow into a middle-income country by the year 2030. The blue print also includes a technology center that is being touted as Africa’s first Silicon Valley, a major sea port on the far north coast and massive infrastructural projects all over the country. It is backed by the recently promulgated constitution aimed at a wide range of political reforms.

I’m like most Kenyans. At this point, I’m excited by the ease with which I can cruise on Thika Highway. I’m excited by the prospect of other development projects. Apart from the hard infrastructure, I think of ease of access to basic services like healthcare, water. I dream of the end of the ubiquitous power blackouts. Like most Kenyans, I want those things. It is what we have clamored for. It is what we Africans and our church fathers have had in mind every time they have castigated non-performing governments. It’s what compassionate Christians have wanted when they have started community empowerment initiatives, like orphanages, schools, and feeding programs. We want a future in which these things are such an integral part of our existence, that sadness will be removed from the face of every ordinary African.

When I look again at the flight of cars on Thika highway, I believe that such things are now in sight, not just for Kenya, but also for war-torn-pirate-ridden Somalia; conflict splintered Congo, genocide traumatized Rwanda; indeed, good things are in sight for every country in Africa regardless of its dark past. So for once, I choose NOT to be depressed by pessimistic opinions of how things have been wrong, how mediocre our leaders are, how ethnic strife is a cauldron waiting to erupt. Yes I’m aware of those things, the shadows if you like. It’s like one of our African church fathers, John Pobee said it thirty years ago, ‘it is a though in our attempt to describe the light we have focused too much on the shadows’. Negativities have been the staple of our news airwaves for too long. Far too long that they have immobilized us to inaction. Far too long have blinded from goodness surrounds us, not just of the touristy pristine nature, but also the goodness born of the sweat and muscle of the African people. While we focus too much on the shadows we fail to see how much good we have accomplished. So we have become a continent of complainers and cynics. No wonder the rest world thinks we in Africa falling apart while our day to day reality is much closer to that new coca cola advert, ‘A billion Africans are sharing a coke’.

I like that coca cola advert. I chose to I believe that up ahead, life holds out more for every African, not less. Life holds out more, not less. Which is why on my part, I’m not just doing away with cynicism and negativity concerning our African realities, I have also chosen to actively engage my mind and all of my faculties in actions rooted in hope. In a quote in Life At Its Best, my book-friend, Eugene Peterson puts it this way,

“Hope is a projection of the imagination, so is despair. Despair all too easily embraces the ills it foresees. Hope is an energy and arouses the mind to explore every possibility to combat them… In response to hope, the imagination is aroused to picture every possible issue, to try every door, to fit together even the most heterogeneous pieces of the puzzle”

Let me call you to discard despair-ridden talk. Speak for a new Africa, for better prospects in our age and in the youth of our children. Let’s speak into a world of less misery, better justice in whatever forest paths remain and down the town streets we are paving. Let’s look for clean rain and more grain in the granary. I can tell you, if we wake up in hope each day, we will discover a new spring in our steps, the very energy we need to build the bright future we so yearn for. And hope is like a virus; all it needs to spread is a smile on the face and twinkle in the eye. H-O-P-E. If you’ve caught it, it’s safe to spread too!

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*Maggie Gitau is a researcher and leader in Mavuno Church, Nairobi. She is currently working on a PhD in Intercultural Studies – World Christianity at Africa International University, Nairobi, Kenya.

WHAT A GENUINE PROPHET OF CHRIST IS NOT!

The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language defines a Prophet as “One who foretells the future”. In other words, a prophet is a seer of the future. The Old Testament speaks comprehensively about the important place that the prophetic ministry maintains in the life of the Jewish people and religion. The prophetic ministry is not just important to the religious life of the Israelites; it is equally strategic in the cultural, social and political life of Israel. Furthermore, the importance of the prophetic ministry is not confined to the Old Testament. As a matter of fact, the New Testament teaches that the prophetic ministry is one of the gifts necessary for the growth of the Church. Ephesians 4:11 reads: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers.”

The Bible does not teach that one ministry gift is more important that the others. In Ephesians 4:11, the prophetic ministry is not in any way more important than that of the apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers. But the inherent quest of human beings to know what the future holds in the midst of life’s uncertainties places the prophetic ministry in high demand. Because of this high demand, many have become practitioners in the prophetic ministry without being called by God. Besides, some who were genuinely called by God have allowed themselves to be distracted by ordinary things of this world. As a result of wanting to know what the future holds, many Christians have unwittingly fallen prey to these pseudo-prophets. While it is true that there is never a time in history that the Church is short of genuine prophets, they may not be as many as we see being paraded in the Church today. From a biblical perspective, here are some of the marks of a genuine prophet of Christ:

  • S/he does not brag about his/her ability to foretell the future. S/he recognizes that it is a gift from God and not a man-made ability (Ephesians 4:11).
  • S/he does not claim to foretell the future automatically and constantly (remember Elisha and the Shunammite’s son? Read 2 Kings 4:8-37. Emphasis is on 4:27).
  • S/he does not necessarily fully comprehend the mind of God (Deuteronomy 28:28).
  • S/he is not a sycophant, seeking to please human beings (remember Nathan in 2 Samuel 12; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).
  • S/he is not motivated by money or material possessions (remember Elisha and Naaman – 2 Kings 5:13).
  • S/he does not play tricks on those who come to God through him/her for direction (1 Thessalonians 2:3).
  • S/he is not an idol to be worshiped, neither is s/he seeking to be a celebrity (remember Paul and Barnabas’ experience at Lystra – Acts 14: 8-18).
  • S/he is not merely religious but one who has a personal and deep relationship with Christ (Galatians 1:1-2).
  • S/he is not carried away by the praises of men or cheap popularity (1 Thessalonians 2:6).
  • S/he does not negate the lordship of Jesus Christ; neither does s/he reject the direction of the Holy Spirit at any point in his/her ministry (1 John 4:1-3).

The warnings of Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:23-25 are proper for our conclusion: “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. See, I have warned you about this ahead of time.” Beware!

Once Upon a Time in NEGST- AIU

Some faculty, staff and students of Africa International University (formerly Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology). This photograph was taken shortly after NEGST Recognition Awards Ceremony in June, 2010.

Githeri 027: The Passing of a Wise Elder

The passing of a wise elder is more than the burning of a huge library. Our condolences to the entire people of Ghana over the demise of Professor John Atta Mills yesterday, 24th July, 2012. The death of President Mills in not only a loss to the people of Ghana but to the entire people of Africa. May the Lord grant our Ghanaian brothers and sisters the fortitude to bear the loss. Though painful, the death of a brother in Christ is not a loss, rather it is a transition unto glory (1 Thessalonians 4: 16-18)! Sovereign Lord, may you grant wisdom, godliness and a deep sense of direction to the acting President of Ghana, Mr. John Dramani Mahama. Our prayers are with the people and nation of Ghana!

Githeri 026: Beware of “Achan”!

“If one finger brings oil it soils the others” (Chinua Achebe).  “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character””  (1 Corinthians 15: 33; Cf. Matthew 7: 15-16). Remember Achan “who brought disaster on Israel by taking plunder that had been set apart for the Lord” (1 Chronicles 2:7; Cf. Joshua 7).  Beware brethren! A word is enough…!

 

“Job Vacancies”: More Publishing Christian Authors Needed in Africa Urgently!

In his 2011 convocation address, the President of Asbury Theological Seminary, Professor Timothy Tennent said to his largely American audience that, “in the 19th century, God commanded us to Christianize Africa. In the 21st century, He may well be calling us to Africanize Christianity.”[1] In similar vein, Professor Andrew Walls predicted that “it is inevitable that the religio-cultural transformation of the 20th century will place Africans and Asians more and more in positions of leadership in world Christianity.”[2]

If majority of Christians now live outside Europe and North America; and if Africa as widely recognized by observers of African Christianity is a major block in world Christianity; the question then arises: what will the church in Africa contribute to enhance the growth of the wider church?  I believe God’s decision to shift the center of numeric gravity of the contemporary world Christianity to the global south is not a call to competition rather it’s a call to a higher and a more intentional collaborative ministry. According to Walls “that Africa will bring gifts to the church is widely recognized, and many see those gifts as including a zeal for Christ, unembarrassed witness to him, energy and delight in worship, and fervency in prayer, all of which will bless the wider church.”[3] Walls however adds that Africa must bring intellectual and theological leadership to the wider church too.[4]

One significant way to contribute is to be intentional in writing and publishing – contributing to the wider Church issues that have not yet been known especially those coming from its cultural context.  It is high time that Christian writing and publishing are treated as part of holistic ministry of the church. Timothy Tennent rightly points it out that the recent development in world Christianity “cannot be approached by a “business-as-usual approach”; it cannot be approached by a “pastor-as-comfortable-career-option approach; it also cannot be approached by a, “I’m going to spend my time preoccupied with my salary, my pension plan and parsonage” mentality; neither can it be approached by a “climb the denominational ladder” strategy.”[5] It is a call to the ministry of writing and publishing by all stakeholders within our faith community!


[1]Timothy Tennent, “The Translatability of the Christian Gospel”  A Convocation Address delivered at Asbury Theological Seminary in 2011.

[2] Andrew Walls, “World Christianity, Theological Education and Scholarship” in Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies: http://trn.sagepub.com/content/28/4/235, posted on September 12, 2011 and accessed on October 10, 2011, 238.

[3] Andrew Walls.

[4] Andrew Walls.

[5] Timothy Tennent.

Otabil Mensah on Tokunboh Adeyemo and the Transformation of Africa

This lecture was delivered by Rev. Dr. Otabil Mensah at the 2nd Tokunboh Adeyemo Memorial Lectures on March 31, 2012 at the Jubilee Ministry Centre of NPC Valley Road, Nairobi, Kenya. The lecture was originally entitled, “Transforming Nations, Beyond Changing Leaders and Constitutions: The Case of Africa.” The lecture was organized by the Centre for Biblical Transformation (CBT) in partnership with Christ Is the Answer Ministries (CITAM), Pan Africa Christian University (PACU), Africa International University (AIU), Nairobi International School of Theology (NIST), and International Central Gospel Church. I guarantee that listening to this lecture will be worth your while. In the meantime, I need to let you know that if you have not already signed up for SOUNDCLOUD, you will need to do so. So, if upon clicking you see something like: “Oops, looks like we can’t find that page,” just sign up with your FACEBOOK OR EMAIL AD.  Click on this link to listen. Enjoy!

Christianity and Culture: Enemies or Friends? A Lesson from the Church in Nigeria

It is no more news that the center of gravity of the contemporary world Christianity has shifted from the global North to the global South. The Nigerian Church especially its Evangelical/Pentecostal brand is a major contributor to this shift. Besides the will of God, scholars have argued that American evangelicalism/revival, missionary enterprise, indigenization, vernacular Bible Translation, contextualization, and globalization are some of the factors responsible for this unprecedented growth.[1] Post-independence cultural awakening is an additional factor to consider in the phenomenal growth of Christianity in Nigeria.

Right from its beginning, Christianity has been a faith rooted in specific cultural contexts traceable in history. That explains why Christianity and its theologies are contextual in nature. Our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles ministered within particular cultural contexts. A big part of Jesus’ teachings as well as those of his Apostles are responses to the cultural questions of their days.

We must always appreciate the unfathomable contributions of Western missionaries to the growth of Christianity in Nigeria. However, unlike Jesus and his Apostles, many of these missionaries failed by not taking advantage of the cultures they found on ground to transmit the gospel.

The modern Nigerian Church has learned that the gospel cannot be isolated from peoples’ cultures. People’s identities are rooted not only in their faith but also in their cultures. The late Nigerian historian and theologian, Ogbu Kalu echoes similar sentiment when he said, “African Pentecostalism has grown because of its cultural fit into indigenous worldviews and its response to the questions that are raised within the interior of the worldviews.”[2] While it is a fact that not all aspects of any culture is good; the good parts could be a vehicle for transmitting the gospel when used complementarilly.


[1]Mark Shaw, Global Awakening: How 20thCentury Revivals Triggered a Christian Revolution (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010), 11.

[2] Ogbu Kalu, African Pentecostalism: An Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2008), 170.