December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas from the Divito family!

During this holiday season, John will be taking a brief hiatus from blogging here at African Apologetics. Don't worry, he'll begin posting again after ringing in the new year. Until then, let us all celebrate the birth of our Savior into this world!

As we focus on the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, we leave you with this insightful quote from John Owen:
His conception in the womb of the Virgin, as unto the integrity of human nature, was a miraculous operation of the divine power. But the prevention of that nature from any subsistence of its own--by its assumption into personal union with the Son of God, in the first instance of its conception--is that which is above all miracles, nor can be designed by that name. A mystery it is, so far above the order of all creating or providential operations, that it wholly transcends the sphere of them that are most miraculous. Herein did God glorify all the properties of the divine nature, acting in a way of infinite wisdom, grace, and condescension. The depths of the mystery hereof are open only unto him whose understanding is infinite, which no created understanding can comprehend. All other things were produced and effected by an outward emanation of power from God. He said, "Let there be light, and there was light." But this assumption of our nature into hypostatical union with the Son of God, this constitution of one and the same individual person in two natures so infinitely distinct as those of God and man--whereby the Eternal was made in time, the Infinite became finite, the Immortal mortal, yet continuing eternal, infinite, immortal--is that singular expression of divine wisdom, goodness, and power, wherein God will be admired and glorified unto all eternity. Herein was that change introduced into the whole first creation, whereby the blessed angels were exalted, Satan and his works ruined, mankind recovered from a dismal apostasy, all things made new, all things in heaven and earth reconciled and gathered into one Head, and a revenue of eternal glory raised unto God, incomparably above what the first constitution of all things in the order of nature could yield unto him.

December 19, 2008

Weekly Round-Up

Here's a couple of new articles for this week's round-up:

1) "3 armies raid rebel camp in eastern Congo" on Armies from Uganda, southern Sudan, and the Congo have come together to begin a new advance against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). As I have written before, the LRA is a terrorist organization led by Joseph Kony, who claims to be a spirit medium. They have been in open rebellion against the Ugandan government for decades, wreaking havoc throughout northern Uganda and beyond. May Christ quickly bring peace and stability to the region!

2) Adam Sparks, "Salvation History, Chronology, and Crisis: A Problem with Inclusivist Theology of Religions, Part 2 of 2" in Themelios Journal. Last month, I linked to the first part of this important essay. Now the second part has been posted. Sparks has given the church an invaluable resource by defending the exclusivity of the gospel and the necessity of faith in Christ. Be sure to read both articles!

December 17, 2008

Book Review: Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists

Dale Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists. Glendale, AZ: Life Assurance Ministries Publications, 2003; 383 pp.

Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day AdventistsSeventh-day Adventism has had amazing success around the world, especially in Africa. (There are some 1.5 million Adventists in East Africa alone.) Since my exposure to Adventism has been limited, due diligence demands that I become well acquainted with the movement’s history and beliefs. In this important book Dale Ratzlaff introduces evangelical Christians to the troubling doctrines of historic Adventism—and confronts Adventists with the seriousness of their error. As a fourth-generation Adventist and former SDA pastor, Ratzlaff has the insight and experience necessary to critically evaluate Adventist doctrine and the personal authority required to call Adventists to repentance.

He begins by taking us back to the Millerite movement, with its failed predictions of Christ’s Second Coming in 1843 and 1844. When the latter date came and went without Jesus’ return, a vision by one disappointed Millerite led many to believe that the prediction had been misunderstood; instead of Christ’s reappearance, it marked when He invisibly entered the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary for the first time, beginning a new phase in his atoning work. Ellen G. White was among those who embraced the new doctrine, and she quickly developed a following as one who had the end-time “spirit of prophecy.” Through her leadership and authority, the Church grew in size and influence, and further defined its distinctive beliefs of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary and the “investigative judgment.”

Having carefully placed these and other central SDA beliefs in their historical context, Ratzlaff provides biblical, theological, experiential, and ethical evaluations. From examining Adventist interpretations of Daniel 8:14 and Revelation 14:6–12 to showing how these errant beliefs weave themselves throughout the SDA doctrinal system, Ratzlaff leaves no stone unturned. He concludes by contrasting the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary and the investigative judgment with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he appeals to SDA leaders to follow God’s truth instead of their traditional beliefs.

The book is amazingly informative. I began Cultic Doctrine with little familiarity with Seventh-day Adventist teachings and ended with a substantial understanding of what makes Adventism “tick.” What’s more, Ratzlaff’s reasoning is well laid out and convincing, documented with numerous extended quotations from Ellen G. White and other major Adventist authorities.

I especially appreciate Ratzlaff’s evenhanded approach to the Seventh-day Adventists themselves. He distinguishes among different streams of Adventism, including contemporary historic Adventism, liberal Adventism, and evangelical Adventism. He admits that evangelical Adventists should, as individuals, not be shunned as cultic, but emphasizes that denominational Adventism fully deserves the label until it repudiates its teachings on the heavenly sanctuary and the investigative judgment—false doctrines that corrupt the gospel of Jesus Christ and demand biblical refutation.

Cultic Doctrine does have the usual problems one sees in independently published works, including typos and formatting issues. It also could have been more concise through robust editing. Nevertheless, these minor points should not detract from the importance of Ratzlaff’s book. Any Christian who wants to better understand Seventh-day Adventists and engage them with the gospel of Christ should read Cultic Doctrine. And Adventists themselves should wrestle through the issues that Ratzlaff raises. May our Lord continue to use this work and Life Assurance Ministries to draw people to Jesus!

December 15, 2008

Our Year in Review

This year will soon be over. But what a year it’s been!

Two themes stand out in my mind as I reflect on ACFAR’s progress in 2008: Prayer and patience.

Divitos in UgandaOne fruit of your prayers for ACFAR—and the highlight of the year—was returning to Uganda with my wife in April. God has given me a deep love for this country, and she also fell in love with the people and the area. While we kept busy with research, planning, and ministry, our days in East Africa were unforgettable and marvelous.

This year the Lord also gave us greater opportunities than ever to raise awareness about the urgent need to advance biblical discernment in East Africa. I’ve spoken and preached in several states. Our web site and blog continue to attract numerous visitors. We even had a special evening in Southern California with Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason as our keynote speaker (feel free to download and listen to his message in MP3), and we produced a video to spread the vision for ACFAR.

So by God’s grace, we gathered a great deal of momentum in 2008. More and more people are catching the vision. Fellow believers, both here and in Africa, are getting excited as we work toward helping our African brothers and sisters in Christ defend our common faith. We’re closer than ever to reaching our goal and launching our ministry.

Now for the part about patience.

This year brought its share of challenges. Our oldest daughter was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes, adding expenses and delaying our target date for departure until May. The global recession is limiting our opportunities to raise awareness and support. As the year closes, we still need at least 28o new prayer partners, $5,800 in additional monthly support commitments, and $30,000 for one-time special support to reach our goal.

We’re trusting in Christ, knowing that he can generously and abundantly provide! And we praise God with the Apostle Paul, who wrote: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Where do we stand as we head into 2009?

If I were to add a theme to carry us into the new year, it would be “persistence.” Because one thing is certain: We can’t slow down.

As you can imagine from reading the “Weekly Round-Up” on this blog each Friday, my spirit is provoked within me (cf. Acts 17:16) as I watch the steady stream of news from across East Africa—cult controversies, charismatic confusion, the surge in occultic practices—all posing a challenge to the Body of Christ and its witness.

Ugandans in PrayerWill we answer the cry from our brothers and sisters in Uganda? They’re asking us to equip them with the tools and the training they need to grow in biblical discernment and to resist and refute the intrusion of cults and false teaching. Will we help them to win cultists to Christ?

With just five months to go, our target date is aggressive. But we’re placing our trust in Jesus and keeping our eyes on the goals set before us.

It’s hard to express my thanks for the many of you who pray. Most of the answered intercession we’ve seen this year began in your hearts. Your continued interest, encouragement, and support are both moving and humbling. Please prayerfully consider how can you help ACFAR in 2009. Let’s serve our Lord together for the sake of His kingdom in Africa next year!

December 12, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Cults and False Teaching in East Africa, New Apologetics Resource, and Historical Background to Islam

Here's this week's round-up:

1) Peter Thatiah, "In God’s name" in the Eastern Standard newspaper (Kenya). A very important news report on several contemporary cults and false teaching that is all too common in East Africa today. If you want to understand better the challenges facing Christians in Africa, then I suggest reading this article.

2) Tim McGrew, "Historical Apologetics: 1697-1893" on the Resurgence blog. This is an excellent annotated bibliography including some great resources on the defense of our faith from an important period of Christian history. McGrew also provides links to download all of these resources for free. What a tremendous resource!

3) Michael A. G. Haykin, "Historical Background to Islam" (MP3) on the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies web site. Haykin's lecture on Islam from a conference earlier this year has finally been posted online. To learn more about the formation and early development of Islam, you'll want to download and listen to this message.

December 10, 2008

Book Notice: African Christianity - Its Public Role

Paul Gifford, African Christianity: Its Public Role. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998; 368 pp.

African Christianity - Its Public RoleAmericans are used to hearing about the separation of church and state. Religion is said to belong in the private sphere, while politics is in the public domain. But what of Africa, where Christianity is rapidly growing and this public/private distinction is not recognized? Paul Gifford provides a survey of the socio-political influence of Christianity in Africa, where the church has had a foundational place in the building and development of many countries. Especially relevant to ACFAR is the chapter on Uganda, which gives special attention to controversial charismatic movements like Robert Kayanja’s Miracle Centre, Simeon Kayiwa’s Namirembe Christian Fellowship, Handel Leslie’s Abundant Life Faith Centre, and Samuel Kakande’s Holy Church of Christ (now Synagogue Church of All Nations).

From the back cover:
“This is by far the most informative book about contemporary African Christianity around; nobody could have written a study as richly detailed and as informed by real insider knowledge as he has done.... It will be the most significant study of African Christianity to appear at a time when its importance for Africa is becoming ever more widely recognized.” —J. D. Y. Peel

“A sophisticated political and social analysis of the various Christian groups is allied to a most original, consistent exploration of their different theological positions and thinking.... An interesting, important critical assessment of the extent to which the churches are playing a major role in the emergence of a civil society.... Gifford’s overall analysis and his four case studies are so fresh and so important that ... they cry out for immediate publication.” —Richard Gray

Paul Gifford analyzes African Christianity in the mid-1990s, against the background of the continent’s current social, economic, and political circumstances. Gifford employs concepts taken from political economy to shed light on the current dynamics of African churches and churchgoers and assesses their different contributions to political developments since 1989. He also evaluates the churches’ role in promoting a civil society in Africa. Four case studies—Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, and Cameroon—cover all strands of Christianity: Catholic, Evangelical, mainline Protestant, Pentecostal, and Independent. These detailed analyses of the state of the churches in each country also suggest more general patterns operating widely across sub-Saharan Africa.

Paul Gifford is Lecturer in African Christianity at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His previous books include Christianity and Politics in Doe’s Liberia and The Christian Churches and the Democratisation of Africa.

Table of Contents:
Preface, iii
The Context: Africa Now, 1
African Churches: Their Global Context, 21
Ghana, 57
Uganda, 112
Zambia, 181
Cameroon, 246
Conclusion, 306
Select Bibliography, 349
Index, 363

December 8, 2008

Working Together With Rose Publishing

As we prepare to launch the ministry of the Africa Center for Apologetics Research, we’re always on the lookout for good material to help East African believers grow in their ability to defend the Christian faith. Thankfully, we’ve developed excellent partnerships with several other ministries, allowing us to bring some of the best material available to Africa. I’ve already described our partnerships with Stand to Reason and the Institute for Religious Research; today I want to focus on Rose Publishing.

Christianity, Cults, and ReligionsYou may have seen Rose’s fine work without realizing it. Chances are good that their Bible charts and maps are being used in your local church. Interestingly, the company was started by a Sunday-school teacher and a public-school teacher who were having trouble finding good visual teaching materials for their classes. They began to create their own, and as time went by more and more people starting requesting them. Today, Rose produces some of the very best Christian books, pamphlets, wall charts, timelines, PowerPoint presentations, and maps available.

A number of Rose’s apologetics-oriented resources (including the “10 Questions and Answers” series) are edited by CFAR’s own Paul Carden. And with Rose’s permission, CFAR has already translated and/or adapted a number of their pamphlets on the cults and apologetics into Russian, Hungarian, Spanish, and other languages. By making such high-quality resources available to CFAR, Rose helps us to put otherwise unavailable discernment tools into the hands of pastors and Christian workers. Whenever pastors and other church leaders receive Rose pamphlets, they’re immediately impressed and want to know how to get more.

And thanks to Rose, we’ve already taken many pamphlets and wall charts on cults, comparative religions, the Trinity, and Islam to East African Bible colleges and seminaries. In the future we plan to create special African editions of the Christianity, Cults and Religions pamphlet and other materials to meet the unique needs of believers there.

As my family moves to Uganda to start ACFAR’s ministry, it’s certain that materials from Rose Publishing will be critical to our success in inoculating and equipping Christians. Rose is a treasured partner in our work, and we praise God for their help in advancing biblical discernment.

Note: A number of the pamphlets we use are gathered in The Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, Time Lines and Rose Bible Basics: Christianity, Cults & Religions.

December 5, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Lord's Resistance Army in Congo, Witchcraft in Tanzania, Basics on Islam, and Missions Reflection

Here's this week's round-up:

1) "Africa's rogue army is reborn" in the Sunday Vision newspaper (Uganda). A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Lord's Resistance Army. This news article points us to the latest horrific development: the LRA is now crossing borders into north Congo. May Christ bring peace to this appalling situation.

2) "Albinos targeted in Tanzania" on CTV (Canada). Here is one of many recent reports on a repugnant practice in Tanzania. Local witchcraft beliefs lead to the slaughter of albinos because their bodies and blood are thought to contain special powers. I know that I have said it before, but witchcraft is a very serious problem in East Africa. Christians must respond in love with the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

3) Colin Smith, "A Brief Introduction to the Qur'an: The Structure of the Qur'an" on the Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog. Would you like to know more about Islam's sacred book? This series should serve as a helpful introduction.

4) Peter Leithart, "Desert Like a Rose" in First Things. With such confusion surrounding missions work today, Leithart provides amazing insight from the Word of God. He writes, "The Bible provides a theology of missions that is neither accommodation to existing culture nor total war that leaves the existing culture in smoking ruins. Mission is more like cultivation, a process of nurturing the hidden but unforeseen potential within a culture."

December 3, 2008

Viral Video: The Doomsday Cult - Uganda

For this month's viral video, I want to direct you to an important documentary on the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God and the resulting Kanungu Massacre. If you want to see the severe challenge of cults in East Africa firsthand, then be sure to watch this twenty minute video.

While I would normally include the video in my post, for some reason the distributor has disabled the embedding feature (why would anyone not allow this option?). Regardless, you can follow the link below to view the documentary.

December 1, 2008

How We Honor Christ in Our Hearts

The most commonly quoted Bible verse on defending the Christian faith becomes even more powerful when we pause to study it in greater depth.

The Apostle Peter writes:
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:14–16).
First Peter notes our status in Christ, plainly stating something that few of us want to hear: We will suffer in Christ. As His followers, we must expect to suffer. Jesus explains that “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18–20).

For believers, suffering isn’t optional; it’s inevitable for everyone who is faithful to Christ. But we should also be encouraged. Why? Because we will also be blessed. Even though we will face suffering, we ultimately have nothing to fear—not humiliation, not physical harm, not even death! When we’re united to Christ and receive His blessing, we have all that we need in Him!

Having established our status in Christ, Peter instructs us regarding our responsibility to the Lord. He first gives a negative requirement: Do not fear or be troubled. This command is drawn from Isaiah 8:11–13, which tells us that we’re not to fear man, but the Lord. Our security and hope rests in Him alone.

The ThinkerHaving set aside our fears and troubles, we must honor Christ as holy in our hearts. The heart is the core of our being, the origin of all our behavior, and the place where Christ must reign supreme. And notice how we’re to do this—by “always being prepared to make a defense” of our faith. The phrase “make a defense” is a translation of the Greek word apologia, from which we get the English word apologetics. Apologetics means simply a defense—in this case, a defense of the Christian faith. So God commands all followers of Christ to engage in apologetics, and we’re to do this with anyone who asks about our hope, with no favoritism or discrimination.

Peter takes us a step further, instructing us in the manner of apologetics. We’re to engage others gently and with reverence before God. How easy it can be to get caught up in winning an argument! In our zeal to prove Christianity true, we can appear rude and demeaning. But we’re not defending our faith for the sake of having intellectual battles; we’re doing it out of love for God and for others. We want nonbelievers to embrace God’s truth, and when we defend our faith kindly and reverently, we’ll keep a good conscience—and those who oppose us will be shamed.

Of course, these truths aren’t just applicable to Christians in the West; African believers are likewise commanded to make a defense before their challengers and opponents. And many of them face much harsher persecution! As obstacles and opposition to biblical faith multiply in Africa, we must stand with them and do all we can to equip them, that they might always be prepared to respond. And that’s the special focus and calling of the Africa Center for Apologetics Research.

Join with me in praying that God will raise up a mighty army of bold and humble apologists to bear witness to Christ throughout all of Africa, beginning in Uganda!