December 17, 2009
The statement, released online this month by Christianity Today, declares that “it is our overall view that the teachings of those who most vigorously promote the 'prosperity gospel' are false and gravely distorting of the Bible, that their practice is often unethical and unChristlike, and that the impact on many churches is pastorally damaging, spiritually unhealthy, and not only offers no lasting hope, but may even deflect people from the message and means of eternal salvation. In such dimensions, it can be soberly described as a false gospel.”
The statement offers a detailed, and fairly comprehensive, series of affirmations and rejections focusing on the major defects of this neopentecostal theology and the widespread damage it causes. We commend it to everyone who has an interest in the future of Christianity in Africa.
December 11, 2009
November 23, 2009
What a timely and timeless blessing ACFAR is to the malnourished church in East Africa! There could be no better moment than this for such assistance.
As floods of western relativistic tendencies and postmodern idealism sweep the region, the church finds itself ill-equipped to sustain its relevance in an unpredictable, constantly changing society.
The most subtle and venomous enemy of the church is the invasion of cults—pseudo-Christian and aberrant groups, both foreign and traditional—now arising to challenge orthodox beliefs. Syncretism, unsound theological trends, widespread ignorance of God’s Word, a lack of discernment, social benefits promised by the cults, the unpreparedness of pastors, and other factors heighten the predicament in which the church finds itself.
The African church needs to stand in defense of the Gospel. It must emphasize both formative education and corrective discipline. It must seek to win cultists to the truth rather than simply brand them as its enemies. And it must teach the absolute truth of God’s Word, defending it from misinterpretations and corrupting influences. This will require biblically informed leaders, theologically knowledgeable men and those passionate for the defense and preservation of the Christian faith.
Will you commit to praying with us from now until the conferences? We realize that in planning these training events we are about to enter a season of spiritual warfare, and every prayer, every petition, from the saints of God matters greatly!
November 16, 2009
He writes: “With over ten and a half million members worldwide in over 72,000 congregations, the NAC is a church to be reckoned with. Nearly three-fourths of its membership is in Africa, making it one of the largest single denominations in the entire continent....with nearly sixteen times more members in Africa than in Europe. From the surface, the NAC appears to be just another Protestant denomination, but a deeper investigation yields some disturbing theology and practices in this church.”
In conclusion, Dr. Kuligin states that “we can conclude that the NAC is not simply another church or denomination but is in fact a cult.” He adds: “Whereas often we find ourselves concentrating on the ‘classic’ cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, neither of these compare to the NAC in terms of membership numbers and influence on the continent. In the next decade, the membership of the NAC will approach ten million Africans. Teaching concerning this cult should play a more prominent role in the education of evangelical church leaders and pastors, and subsequently of evangelical believers continent-wide.”
November 9, 2009
Excerpt: “The gospel of Jesus Christ—with its promise of liberation, deliverance, forgiveness, grace, and restoration—can never be a gospel of poverty. But just as the Bible does not glorify poverty, neither does it glorify greed. Scripture consistently warns that the pursuit of worldly interests can lead us to neglect the deeper values of the kingdom of God. Yet this is exactly what happens in the biblical interpretations favored by prosperity teachers.”
August 31, 2009
As a trained minister, and as a former victim of the above, I believe it’s my mandate to go out and teach the centrality and essentiality of Scripture—the Christ-centered Christian worldview and the integration of faith with the rest of life”
Rodgers Atwebembeire, new Ugandan Coordinator for ACFAR
After the deadline of my family moving to East Africa by the end of May came and went, I wondered about the future of ACFAR. As it turns out, God was about to answer our prayers in a wonderful and unexpected way.
But before I explain, consider how much Christ has already blessed our ministry! Thanks to your support…
- We’ve developed a strong network of strategic partnerships with ministries here and in Africa
- We’ve taught in various venues—including over 200 pastors at last month’s conference in Kampala
- We’ve conducted substantial research into a wide range of cults and false teachings in East Africa
- We’ve built a blog and web site—both of which will serve as a growing and ongoing resource
- We’ve begun distributing tracts, pamphlets, books, CDs, and DVDs to Christian workers and organizations across Uganda
- We’ve laid the foundation for long-term outreach in the region, including training events for pastors and Christian workers
But one meeting in particular has enabled us to finalize our transition period and launch a revised strategy for equipping Christians across East Africa...
When we met with Pastor Gerald Sseruwagi of New City Church in Kampala, he strongly recommended Rodgers Atwebembeire, one of his personal disciples, as a candidate to coordinate ACFAR’s work in East Africa.
Who is Rodgers? A Ugandan minister who just graduated from Africa Bible University at the top of his class. He comes highly recommended by everyone with whom we’ve spoken, from his professors to his pastor. And he has a heart for apologetics, having already done live question-and-answer radio programs in English and other languages to help Ugandan believers, along with many other ministry opportunities.
With Rogers as ACFAR’s new coordinator, the future is bright. Our strategy for the next phase of ministry includes:
- Literature—including all-new tracts in English and local languages, and a practical quarterly newsletter on discernment for evangelical pastors
- Electronic resources—including the multilingual apologetics resource collection
- Conferences for pastors and university campus workers in 2010
- Monitoring cultic movements via group-specific research and mass media sources
- In-depth interviews with denominational and parachurch leaders, as well as Christian educators, on how to address the challenge of the cults and false teaching
I’m grateful for all that God has done over the last several years. And while this may be a time of uncertainty for me, I continue to trust in the One in whom I live and serve. Now we have a local African willing to continue our vision. I can’t wait to see what will happen in the upcoming years through Rodgers’ faithful service to Christ.
ACFAR is moving forward—and it needs your support now more than ever! I ask you to continue praying for our ministry and for Rodgers. And I humbly request that you join Jennifer and me in supporting ACFAR in every way possible in the months and years ahead.
Because of His grace,
John Divito, Director
Africa Center for Apologetics Research (ACFAR)
August 28, 2009
Last week I wrote to thank you for your prayers, and about the tremendous response to our ministry at the Calvary Chapel pastors’ conference in Kampala, Uganda.
Here’s the rest of the story.
Our final three days in Uganda focused on strategy meetings with Christian leaders. And here’s what stands out.
They didn’t just ask us to help them; they offered their facilities, their manpower, and other resources to get the job done. A large-scale training event in early 2010, focusing on cults and false teaching, now appears very likely. Two highly placed leaders made a startling offer to use radio and other mass media to give us a national platform for exposing error. We also interviewed two gifted nationals who could serve as ACFAR’s “feet on the ground” in the months ahead.
Even though my family isn’t moving to East Africa, God’s hand on ACFAR is plain to see. We now have a strong basis for developing a new ministry strategy in these last days of our transitional period.
I’ve never seen so much hunger from African church leaders who want to grow in biblical discernment.
We must help them.
God has used your prayers and support to bring us this far! Please continue standing with us as we lay the groundwork for the future of ACFAR.
Because of His grace,
John Divito, Director
Africa Center for Apologetics Research (ACFAR)
August 19, 2009
I’m sending you this quick note to let you know that the Lord is hearing your prayers! Our ministry has had a wonderful response at the Calvary Chapel pastors’ conference here in Kampala. Yesterday I taught two workshops. The first session was on how to practice biblical discernment using the five “Solas” of the Reformation: Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, God’s Glory Alone. The second session applied these five principles to the widely popular “health-and-wealth gospel.”
How were our workshops received? Well over half of the pastors and Christian workers at the conference chose our sessions from among the various topics offered. We ran out of ALL of our tracts and booklets by the end of the first session, and we could have easily distributed double or even triple the amount we brought. The reason? A deep hunger for resources on the cults.
So far, the most frustrating—yet exciting—moment was when a pastor came up to me after the second session and asked, “What is this grace thing you’re talking about?” I was amazed—a pastor was asking me this question! So I shared the Gospel with him. He seemed to be “getting it” for the first time. Praise God!
Another conference speaker told me about a pastor who expressed his gratitude for my message on the “prosperity gospel.” Apparently, some of his family members are involved in churches that proclaim this false gospel, and he hasn’t been able to respond to them well from the Scriptures. Now he feels that he can. It’s humbling to know that God has used our ministry here to help hundreds of church leaders in such ways.
Today is the last day of the conference. After it ends, we’ll remain busy by meeting with Christian leaders and defining a future strategy for ACFAR. Please pray that Christ continues to bless our efforts here. We have so much to accomplish in the brief time remaining. Nevertheless, we’ll continue to trust in our sufficient and gracious Savior here in East Africa.
Thank you again for your prayers—keep them coming!
Because of His grace,
John Divito, Director
Africa Center for Apologetics Research (ACFAR)
July 23, 2009
Tomorrow I will finally be flying out to return to Uganda! Paul Carden (the Executive Director of our parent ministry) and I will be in Kampala from July 25th through August 3rd—and we're asking for your prayers!
I’m to lead workshops at a major pastors’ conference, training hundreds of Christian leaders in biblical discernment and teaching them how to respond to the many errors in their midst. I’ll even have the chance to confront the errors of the “prosperity gospel” among pastors who sympathize with this corruption of God’s truth. (Benny Hinn brought his false teachings to adoring crowds in Kampala last month, and the need for a thoroughly biblical response is great.)
We also plan to continue developing a revised strategy for ACFAR. By meeting with a number of our East African partners, our transitional plans will progress into a more concrete strategy for the future.
Will you lift us up before the Lord daily during our time in Uganda? There’s so much to accomplish—but as always, we want above all else to glorify Christ in His strength. Thank you for your encouragement and support!
June 5, 2009
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Over two years ago, we established a vision and set goals to advance biblical discernment in East Africa. I’ve been devoted to making that vision a reality ever since. However, we’ve now passed our prayerfully determined goal of launching our ministry. The end of May has come, and we have less than 1/3 of our needed monthly financial support.
What does this mean? My family will not be moving to East Africa in the foreseeable future. In His providence—and in the midst of a global recession—our Lord hasn’t opened this door to us. I’ve found it unproductive to ask “Why?” and accept full responsibility for any shortcomings. As in all things, my only hope is in clinging to the cross of Christ, knowing that it’s by staying close to my Savior that I can serve and glorify Him.
At the same time, we’re just as committed to the vision for ACFAR. Our African brothers and sisters in Christ continue to ask us to come and help them defend our common faith. As a result, we’re beginning a 90-day transitional period to re-assess our approach to ACFAR.
During this time we’re exploring a number of options to move ACFAR forward —and even flourish! So we need your prayers just as much as ever. And if you financially support our ministry, we need you to keep doing so. Every dollar will go toward the cause of equipping pastors and other believers to defend the Gospel and win cultists to Christ in East Africa.
I still have a heart for East Africa and a deep desire to see African church leaders grow in their devotion to Christ and their ability to counter corruption and error. With this in mind, we’ve begun planning a strategic short-term trip to Uganda later this summer. Please pray as I prepare for this important trip!
You’re a tremendous blessing to my family and me, and we’re grateful for your ongoing prayers and support. I look forward to seeing what God shapes in the coming months!
Because of His grace,
John Divito, Director
Africa Center for Apologetics Research (ACFAR)
May 30, 2009
1) Barbara Among, "Finish Kony threat, Obama told" in the Sunday Vision newspaper (Uganda). There is a growing desire in America to help Uganda end the reign of terror from Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). This is a report on a US bill helping to launch a second military offensive against the LRA.
2) "Oyedepo lit the candle of truth" in the Sunday Vision newspaper (Uganda). Now that the Nigerian health-and-wealth gospel peddler David Oyedepo has visited Uganda, here is a piece suggesting "he brought the truth that crushed the deception in many Uganda churches." A sad commentary demonstrating the need to advance biblical discernment in East Africa and beyond!
3) HE Baber, "The pull of conviction: New religious movements hold more attraction for young people than churches that have jettisoned their fundamental theology for fear of offending" in the Guardian newspaper (UK). This is a fascinating commentary on the success of cults, including the writer's own experiences with the Unification Church.
May 27, 2009
Allan H. Anderson, African Reformation: African Initiated Christianity in the 20th Century (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, Inc., 2001), 282 pp.
The twentieth century witnessed the rapid expansion of Christianity throughout Africa. One of the main avenues of growth was in African Initiated Churches (AICs). These churches began in Africa and were started by Africans (not missionaries). What can we learn about their origins and development? How should we understand their place in global Christianity? Allan Anderson answers these questions in African Reformation. A white South African who is involved with AICs, Anderson combines his experience and knowledge with thorough research in this work.
The result is a book that is broken into three parts: context, history, and lessons. The author begins by seeking to characterize AICs and then moves to examining their causes. Next, he devotes a chapter to each region of Africa, summarizing the formation and progression of AICs through the twentieth century. Finally, Anderson concludes by providing an analysis of AICs in light of contemporary questions and issues.
I am amazed at how much information is packed into African Reformation. It is a veritable treasure trove of data on AICs. I will regularly consult this book as I conduct research on African Christianity. It will be an invaluable resource in understanding numerous churches and denominations in Africa.
At the same time, I found Anderson's third section lacking. As an "insider," he dismisses theological challenges far too easily and goes out of his way to minimize charges of syncretism. He essentially submerges Christianity into cultures, leaving us with numerous contextual theologies rather than with an overarching revealed Theology. As a result, he denigrates theology and philosophy while emphasizing experience and the dynamic, ever-changing nature of "spiritual" Christianity.
Anderson's treatment of salvation and the gospel is especially troubling. He writes:
"Salvation" in Africa needs to be related to more than an esoteric idea of the "salvation of the soul" and the life hereafter. It must be oriented to the whole of life's problems as experienced by people in their cities and villages. . . . Many AICs see "salvation" not exclusively in terms of salvation of sinful acts and from eternal condemnation in the life hereafter (the salvation of the soul), but also in terms of salvation from sickness (healing), from evil spirits (exorcism), and from other forms of misfortune" (233).While Paul Hiebert and other missionaries today are correct in pointing out Western Christianity's unbiblical segregation of the natural and supernatural worlds leaving an excluded middle, expanding salvation itself into deliverance in this world easily corrupts the gospel. The fundamental problem in this world is our rebellion against God, not poverty, sickness, or evil spirits. Far from being esoteric, salvation from God's just wrath gives us true joy and hope. This does not mean that the gospel has nothing to do with the many challenges in our world, but they must be seen in light of our relationship to our Creator. We must distinguish between salvation in Christ and the many other ways that God works in this world.
In any case, there is a lot to like about Anderson's book. He has done all of us who are involved in African ministry a great service by providing so much material in one place. At the same time, his analysis must be read critically. For the discerning reader, African Reformation will prove tremendously useful.
May 26, 2009
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”This text shows us the seriousness of spiritual deception. Deceivers aren’t just dangerous, they’re damned—and I don’t use the word lightly. Jesus takes us to the final judgment to expose these false prophets for who they really are.
First, notice how strong their confession is: “Lord, Lord.” This isn’t merely a casual profession; the false workers are adamant in calling Jesus their Lord, and they appeal repeatedly to His lordship for emphasis. Yet they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because they haven’t done the Father’s will. True believers must live in submission to the Father.
What do you mean, they haven’t done the Father’s will? Haven’t they prophesied, cast out demons, and done “many mighty works?” And don’t forget, Jesus doesn’t even suggest that these supernatural acts didn’t occur as claimed; evidently the false workers really did accomplish these things. Shouldn’t prophecy, exorcism, and miracles prove beyond a doubt that the one doing them truly speaks for God?
No. Jesus says that in the last days, “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). The signs many so often seek today are not what our Savior teaches us is important; in fact, false prophets and deceivers can accomplish many amazing things in Jesus’ name.
But Jesus declares: “I never knew you.” It’s not as though He once knew them and later they fell away through disobedience; they were never Christ’s disciples. As He says elsewhere, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In Jesus we become the healthy tree that bears good fruit by doing the Father’s will (see John 15:1–11).
So Jesus quotes Psalm 6:8 and pronounces judgment: “Depart from me.” What awful words! Matthew Henry expresses the horror of these words well:
When he came in the flesh, he called sinners to him, but when he shall come again in glory, he will drive sinners from him. They that would not come to him to be saved, must depart from him to be damned. To depart from Christ is the very hell of hell; it is the foundation of all the misery of the damned, to be cut off from all hope of benefit from Christ and his mediation. See from what a height of hope men may fall into the depth of misery! How they may go to hell, by the gates of heaven!Spiritual deception has eternal consequences. Can we take it lightly? Is it safe to disregard Christ’s command to beware of this ever-present deception? Of course not. You and I must always be on guard—and we must help equip our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world to follow our Savior’s warning.
May 23, 2009
1) Dan Harris and Almin Karamehmedovic, "Child Witches: Accused in the Name of Jesus" on the Nightline television program. While witchcraft in Africa is very real, there is a growing danger throughout the continent of Christians accusing children of witchcraft and submitting them to extremely violent exorcisms. You'll want to make thew time to watch and/or read this report.
2) Patrick Jaramogi, "Hindu spiritual leader Swami visits" in the New Vision newspaper (Uganda). When people think about religions in Africa, most will not point to Hinduism. But here we see the status of Hinduism in Uganda, with the Hindu spiritual leader His Holiness Swami Sri Satyamitranand Giriji Maharaj coming for a five-day visit.
3) Jason Swensen, "Full joy found in principles of the gospel" in the Church News. I have previously mentioned Mormonism's first black African general authority. Here is a follow-up piece, covering his background in Africa and history with the LDS church.
May 20, 2009
There are many different ways that individuals can study African Traditional Religion (ATR): historical, psychological, sociological, etc. But one approach is often overlooked, the theological. When examined in this manner, many important questions are raised. What is the ATR worldview--its framework for understanding the world in which we live? What are ATR's basic beliefs? How does ATR compare to the Christian faith?
Yusufu Turaki seeks to answer these questions in his book Foundations of African Traditional Religion and Worldview. A Nigerian theologian and scholar, Turaki is certainly qualified to address these essential religious issues. He begins by defining religion and placing ATR within its religious context. Next he turns to explaining its fundamental theological, philosophical, and ethical beliefs. After laying this groundwork, the author continues to examine ATR's beliefs regarding the Supreme Being as well as the gods and spirits. Then he looks at how humans interact with the spirit world, from communication to the acquisition and use of power. Finally, he analyzes what it means to be human and the meaning of life according to ATR.
I learned a great deal from Turaki's book. To begin with, I appreciate his approach--laying out the fundamentals of ATR as a whole while showing how these foundational beliefs relate to each other. Understanding ATR as a worldview has been tremendously informative. I am amazed that he was able to include so much in such a few pages! This work will definitely be a convenient reference.
At the same time, I also find this book's brevity to be a limitation. When reading it, I regularly found myself wanting to dig deeper and learn more. At times, I almost felt as if I was reading through a beefed-up outline. While this may have been the author's intent, his book would be more useful with additional expansion and analysis.
Turaki also seems somewhat overly dependent on the work of Philip M. Steyne. He admits his dependence in the first chapter, but his citations and quotations from Steyne were so frequent that I occasionally wondered if I should simply read Steyne instead.
In any case, I'd still suggest that those interested in an introduction to ATR should read Turaki's book. It is a helpful starting point to further study. I hope that more theologians, philosophers, missionaries, and others will build off of the foundations of a work like this to further equip the body of Christ.
May 19, 2009
I’ll never forget what happened next.
A man came up to me and said, “Let me give you some advice. I’ve been going to church for many years and heard a lot of missionary presentations. You were far too negative in what you talked about. Who cares about cults? I want to hear something more positive, about the gospel being shared and Africans coming to know the Lord.”
Now, in all fairness, maybe I wasn’t as balanced as I could have been. And I certainly want to see the conversion of many Africans through the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ! Nevertheless, I think that his critique ultimately lacked biblical support. Jesus Himself warns us against those who seek to overthrow our faith in the Sermon on the Mount. So for the next couple of weeks, I want to briefly look at Christ’s words in Matthew 7:15–23.
In these verses, Jesus warns us that we must guard against spiritual deception. Why? As Jesus explains in verses 15–20, deceivers are dangerous:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.Here we recognize a hidden danger. Jesus begins with the word “beware,” a command. This is not optional, not a suggestion, not a merely good idea. Our Savior requires us to beware of false prophets. And notice that He portrays these false prophets as an active concern, not a rare or occasional challenge. We’re to constantly be on guard against them because they’re always among us.
So who are these false prophets? They claim to speak for God but entrap others through their lies. In the New Testament, we see that they are greedy, arrogant, immoral, and ungodly. But they also impersonate true Christians—they do their work in “sheep’s clothing.” False prophets seldom tell you that they reject the faith; instead, they’re ravenous wolves who actively seek to destroy Christians.
If this is true, how can we recognize them? Jesus provides us with an exposing test: Recognize them by their fruits. Most directly, these fruits are what Jesus has laid out throughout His sermon. Here we find two foundational kinds of fruit—(1) belief in Jesus, and (2) following Jesus’ teaching—in other words, belief and behavior. Both kinds of fruit need to be tested.
To underscore His point, Jesus states the obvious. Grapes can’t come from thornbushes, and figs can’t come from thistles. Plants only produce what is in their nature to produce. Only a healthy tree that bears good fruit; a diseased tree will produce bad fruit. And in this comparison we see that there’s no neutrality. All trees are bearing fruit; the question is, what kind? If you know the fruit, then you can tell the tree. Again, we see Jesus’ seriousness: All of the trees that do not bear good fruit are condemned (“thrown into the fire”). This is the same warning that John the Baptist gives earlier to the Pharisees in 3:7–10.
Finally, in verse 20 Christ repeats Himself: “you will recognize them by their fruits.” All Christians are commanded to be “fruit testers” by the very Lord of Glory.
Which leads me to ask: How seriously do we take spiritual deception? Do we recognize the danger? Are we prepared to test the fruit of those who claim to speak for God, either in what they teach or in how they live?
Let’s not forget that Christ’s command applies to His followers everywhere. How can you and I help our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world to recognize and resist deceivers? False prophets aren’t just a danger only here in America or the West; such people are seeking to overturn the revealed truth of Christ globally.
Next week, we’ll examine Jesus’ second reason for warning us against spiritual deception.
May 15, 2009
1) Francis Kagolo, "Bishop Oyedepo to preach at Africana" in the New Vision newspaper and Malita Wamala, "Let us make good use of Oyadepo's visit" in the Observer newspaper (Uganda). One of Africa's most well-known and successful prosperity gospel preachers, David Oyedepo, is coming to Uganda for a three-day gospel conference. If you'd like to know more about Oyedepo, his Winners Chapels, or the corrupted health-and-wealth preaching that is spreading throughout Africa, then also be sure to check out Paul Gifford's article from the Christian Century, "Expecting miracles: the prosperity gospel in Africa."
2) Dismus Buregyeya, "Masaka cult approved" in the New Vision newspaper (Uganda). It looks like yet another Catholic cult is growing in Uganda, led by Barnabas Kazibwe. As you can see, the need to research and respond to cults in East Africa is never-ending.
May 13, 2009
May 11, 2009
Having served as a missionary in Japan for twelve years, Hesselgrave certainly has the experience and insight to address the question: What role do reason and apologetics have in missions? Many answer by saying that reason and apologetics are simply a byproduct of our Western approach to knowledge and are therefore irrelevant to those who have an Eastern or other non-Western way of thinking. But Hesselgrave knows better, and he points us to the trinary approach of conceptual/postulational, concrete-relational/pictorial, and psychical/intuitional ways of thinking rather than the Eastern vs. Western binary approach.
What does this mean? Hesselgrave explains that, instead of there being just two opposite and irreconcilable approaches to knowledge, people in all cultures approach their pursuit of truth in varying combinations of these three ways of thinking. As he summarizes:
“[This] proposal is especially helpful to Western Christian apologists and missionaries because we can anticipate that, as a result of the Imago Dei [i.e., image of God in man], the employment of cogent, coherent and consistent reasoning will be both appropriate and effective in Eastern cultures. At the same time we can anticipate that due to our fallen nature, God-given rationality will be rather easily transmuted into rationalism and irrationalism in both Eastern and Western cultures. Divine revelation will serve both to complement and complete, and to compensate and correct, ways of thinking and knowing in all cultures.”In other words, reason and apologetics are both needed as we proclaim the gospel to all cultures. But if this is true, what does it mean for cross-cultural missions? Hesselgrave concludes by summarizing four avenues for reappropriating apologetics in our missionary task, namely:
1) Ronald Nash’s tests for truth as rooted in the nature of God,One need not agree with (or even understand!) all of these applications to approve of Hesselgrave’s conclusion:
2) Harold Netland’s defense of our objective propositional faith over fideistic subjectivism,
3) Norman Geisler’s three kinds of essentials of the Christian faith, and
4) Paul Hiebert’s view of the local church as a hermeneutical community.
“After my experiences in Japan and a half century of subsequent involvement in evangelical missions worldwide I suggest that evangelical apologists and missionaries ‘renew their vows.’ . . . Currently missionary efforts to evangelize the world stand in need of the contributions of evangelical theologians and philosophers. Of course, the converse is also true. Apologists and theologians stand to benefit from the contributions of evangelical anthropologists and cross-culturalists.”To which I reply with a hearty “Amen!” Hesselgrave’s principles can be used to powerful effect in Africa, and I commend his incisive article to everyone who is committed to our Savior’s missionary task.
May 9, 2009
1) Paul Fauvet, "Saboteurs Or New Age Fanatics?" on AllAfrica.com and "Mozambique dam was New-Age cleansing ritual - not sabotage" in the Sowetan newspaper (South Africa). In Mozambique, four people belonging to "Orgonise Africa" were arrested as they sought to add "orgon" to the lake. They are a New Age sect which follow the teachings of Austrian psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich.
2) "Expansion for Scientology in South Africa" in Scientology Today. The Church of Scientology recently made a massive purchase in South Africa, the Johannesburg landmark Kyalami Castle. They are continuing to aggressively expand their presence throughout Africa.
3) Latayne C. Scott, "Can't We All Just Get Along?," "Understanding Representational Research," "Agreeing with Spurgeon," "'It's All About the Story'," and "'Can You Un-Cult a Cult?'" on the Koinonia blog. Latayne Scott has been busy, releasing her novel Latter-day Cipher (which I reviewed on this blog) as well as an extensively revised third edition of The Mormon Mirage (which I hope to review soon!). These five posts are on the Zondervan Academic blog, with the series titled "A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today." Be sure to check it out!
May 6, 2009
I enjoyed your article and appreciate that you presented the Bahá’í beliefs accurately from your viewpoint. I just want to testify to you that good Christians can and do become Bahá’ís without losing Christ. The early, and modern, Jews were also accused of abandoning the Jewish faith when they embraced Christ. They in fact were embracing the purpose of the Jewish Faith as you know. This example shows how “traditional” views and doctrines may become a barrier to accepting God’s Messiah or Manifestation. One has to return to the Bible itself and understand God’s methods in the past.
Why did the Jews reject Christ? They knew their scriptures, prophecies and promises very well. Their Messiah was expected to “sit on the throne of David,” vanquish the enemies of the Jews, be a descendent of David and bring world peace. The prophet Elijah was also expected to return and prepare the way. By taking these prophecies “literally,” they missed their Messiah. Was John the Baptist the return of Elijah? Jesus said that he was.
The return of Christ in the Person of Bahá’u’lláh can be understood using the same analogy. This alone doesn’t prove that He was Christ returned, but it opens the door to a new way of investigating the Bible concerning this most important subject. I am from a Christian background and am a first generation American Bahá’í. I would be happy to dialogue with you concerning the Biblical evidence that Bahá’u’lláh is genuine.
Harlan, I want to thank you for your kind words as well as your interest in discussing the question “Who is Christ?” A more important question cannot be asked!
However, you’ve already shown your guiding authority in interpreting Scripture: Bahá’u’lláh. How do you know that we should see as symbolic the biblical teaching of Christ as God incarnate? How do you know that Christ’s return was fulfilled in Bahá’u’lláh? It’s by first accepting Bahá’u’lláh’s claim to be a true prophet of God. You must read Scripture with him as an already existing authority to understand the Bible in a way that fits with your beliefs. You’ve “stacked the deck,” finding Bahá’u’lláh where you expect and want him to be.
Christians interpret the Bible differently. We seek to understand the Scriptures in their grammatical and historical context to determine the original meaning of the text. This isn’t a question of Jew (OT literal) vs. Christian (OT symbolic/NT literal) vs. Bahá’í (OT and NT symbolic) way of understanding Scripture as you suggest. Rather, it’s a question of how we properly interpret the Bible. In theological terms, it’s the study of hermeneutics. Until you and I can come to an agreement on how we’re supposed to interpret the Bible, a discussion of specific texts would yield little fruit.
It’s exactly at this point that you’re merely making an assertion about interpreting Scripture symbolically because of your commitment to Bahá’u’lláh. I ask you to come to the Bible asking what God has revealed through what the writers of Scripture themselves intended to say. If you do so, then you will open yourself to God’s truth that directs us to the God-man, Jesus Christ, and His redeeming work.
Good Christians cannot and will not become Bahá’ís without losing Christ. Christ cannot be demoted to the level of human prophets. He is the prophet, as well as priest and king. All other true prophets direct us to Him. Bahá’u’lláh was a false prophet. I pray that you will recognize this fact and believe in the One who reconciles us with our Creator.
May 4, 2009
First, we met with a number of African seminary students at SES. I was so encouraged to talk with those who came all the way from Kenya, Congo, Liberia, and South Africa to study apologetics! Their passion for defending our common faith was both edifying and challenging. All of them wanted to bring biblical discernment and the defense of the faith to Africa. May the Lord bless their cause and increase their number!
Second, we met with several missionaries who are actively engaged in various ministries within Uganda. They also have a heart for protecting Christians in East Africa and reaching out to those trapped in error with the true hope of Jesus Christ. We discussed how we could work together, building on each other’s strengths to serve the church in Uganda and beyond.
Third, we spent extensive time with Simon Brace, the director of TEAM, and his wife Nel. Simon is a gracious and humble man who’s aflame for the defense of the Gospel worldwide. I instantly knew that we were kindred spirits (including our great appreciation for Ravi Zacharias and Indiana Jones). I’m confident that we’ll accomplish great things for Christ as we continue building our relationship and working with Simon and TEAM.
Fourth, I was given the opportunity to preach and present our ministry’s vision at Community Fellowship Church. The church’s interest and enthusiasm for our future was remarkable—the congregation nearly cleaned us out of ministry brochures, DVDs, and bookmarks! They’re clearly committed to upholding the truth of God’s Word and exposing error both locally and globally. Worshiping with them was truly a time of joy.
Nevertheless, all good things must come to an end (as they say), and I headed home late Sunday evening. How the Lord blessed our time in Charlotte! Strategic partnerships were developed, new friendships were made, and Christ was glorified. May we continue to faithfully serve Him as we defend His truth in East Africa!
April 29, 2009
What happens when you take a fictional suspense-thriller and place it in Utah, the center of Mormonism? Latayne C. Scott gives us an example in her novel Latter-day Cipher. A former Mormon who converted to evangelical Christianity, Scott helps readers understand Mormonism through a murder mystery.
The main character is Selonnah Zee, who winds up in Utah when the murders begin taking place. As a journalist, she is quickly assigned to cover the growing number of deaths which are connected by Mormonism and its history. In reporting on these complex cases, she finds herself embarking on a crash course in Mormonism, from her LDS cousin Roger to her newfound local reporter friend Anne. Can Selonnah wrap her mind around Mormonism enough to solve these crimes? And what will these crimes expose about the Mormon church? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
I admit up front that I don’t read a lot of fiction, so I’m not evaluating the book’s literary merits from a position of strength. I can see reviewers critiquing Scott’s work as being somewhat underdeveloped, with the plot serving primarily as a vehicle for teaching readers about Mormonism. With this in mind, the book may fall short for someone who’s simply looking for a good thriller.
At the same time, I really appreciate Scott in her attempt to creatively educate people about Mormonism. Many Christians and others may never pick up a book summarizing and evaluating LDS teaching. But they would likely be drawn to a contemporary murder mystery novel which is filled with information on Mormonism’s history and beliefs. Consequently, as a teaching tool, I really like her book. I would definitely give it to a Christian friend who enjoys this kind of fictional work. It even has questions for discussion in the back to think through some of the concerns and issues that she raises.
Nevertheless, I should offer a few disclaimers. First, given the nature of the crimes, the storytelling can be graphic and may be inappropriate for some readers. Second, Selonnah’s friend Anne is a Christian who explains the Trinity by using the analogy of three states of water (ice, water, and steam)—a common illustration that’s fundamentally flawed and can lead to a misunderstanding of the nature of God. Third, I don’t think the ending provides sufficient closure to the story. I can only assume that this book is meant to be the first of a series, but I felt like the book just kind of abruptly ended.
In any case, I don’t believe that these caveats should necessarily prevent Christians from reading an entertaining page-turner which will also inform them a great deal about Mormonism. I pray that the Lord will use Latter-day Cipher to better prepare His people to lovingly respond to the errors of Mormonism with the truth of biblical Christianity.
April 28, 2009
Last week I wrote about attending the annual conference of the International Society of Christian Apologetics (ISCA). While in the Chicago area, Paul Carden (the executive director of our parent ministry) and I also visited the Bahá’í House of Worship. This House of Worship is the only one on the North American continent, and one of just seven in the world.
As a side note before I move on, guess where one of the other Bahá’í Houses of Worship is? You guessed it: in Uganda, where I plan to launch our ministry.
I have to admit that I was amazed by the architecture of the House of Worship in Wilmette, Ill. It’s truly a sight to behold, with a seating capacity of nearly 1,200 and a dome that’s 90 feet in diameter. Quotations like these from the Prophet Bahá’u’lláh appear over all the entrances and alcoves:
- “All of the Prophets of God proclaim the same faith.”
- “Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent.”
- “So powerful is unity’s light that it can illumine the whole earth.”
But what is the Bahá’í faith? For most people in America, it’s still a fairly unknown and mysterious religion. An offshoot of Islam, its central theme is: “Bahá’ís believe that there is one God, that all humanity is one family, and that there is a fundamental unity underlying religion.” Thus, God has sent a series of “manifestations” or divine messengers, namely: Adam, Noah, Zoroaster, Krishna, Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb, and Bahá’u’lláh. Each messenger builds off the truths taught by preceding prophets, thus opening new vistas of spiritual insight as humanity becomes ready for them. The latest manifestation was Bahá’u’lláh (1817–1892), who provides the fullest and most thorough understanding of God and our purpose in the world.
Bahá’ís do not see Jesus as God incarnate, but as simply one of the nine messengers. They generally interpret the Bible as symbolic instead of accepting its literal meaning. Bahá’u’lláh is said to fulfill Jesus’ Second Coming and complete His teachings. Essentially, Bahá’ís force Jesus to fit into their mold of religious history in order to claim him as their own. In so doing they deny who He is and the redemption He has accomplished.
Consequently, I left the Bahá’í House of Worship more committed than ever to respond to such falsehoods with the true gospel of Jesus Christ. By counterfeiting Jesus, Bahá’ís are keeping others from knowing the genuine Savior who brings true hope and peace with God.
Pray with me that the Lord will use us to equip our African brothers and sisters in Christ to meet this challenge!
April 25, 2009
1) Mwangi Muiruri, "Gang now takes war to the church" and "Mungiki: Victims tell of their ordeal in hands of sect" in The Standard newspaper (Kenya). Mungiki is a growing, violent sect which has been gaining ground for years in Kenya. Here are two reports that demonstrate the serious challenge it presents to Christians in East Africa.
2) Robert Kalumba, "Ugandan pastors and their lifestyles" in the Sunday Monitor newspaper (Uganda). The subtitle summarizes this article well: "If it wasn’t for their job titles, some of our pastors would be mistaken for CEOs of multinational companies." While I would not consider some of those included in this list Ugandan pastors, it nevertheless provides insight into the success of the false prosperity gospel in Uganda.
3) Michael J. Ssali, "The healing powers of Mutume" in the Sunday Monitor newspaper (Uganda). This news story introduces us to a Ugandan Catholic miracle worker who has an increasing number of followers even as the Catholic church is trying to rein him in. The report notes that Mutume (which in Luganda means Apostle) "has attracted a considerable following and could soon be the leader of a new break-away sect from the Catholic Church."
April 22, 2009
Though Mormons have always zealously sought to convert others to their faith, in many ways their “last frontier” has been Africa. Given its long history of racism toward Africans, the LDS church’s early missionary efforts generally steered clear of black Africa. All of this changed when the LDS church released “Official Declaration—2” in 1978, allowing “worthy” Mormon males of African descent to hold the priesthood. Today the church reports amazing success over much of the continent, and with the recent announcement of the first black African general authority, Mormonism seems poised for even greater expansion—and confrontation with evangelical Christians.
Alexander B. Morrison, now an emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, recalls his church’s transformation from outsider to “contender” in Africa in The Dawning of a Brighter Day. Even though the book is now out of print, the fact that it was released by the official LDS publishing house testifies to its importance in understanding the changing face of Mormonism in Africa.
At the church’s October 1987 general conference, Morrison declared that “our humble African brothers and sisters are well prepared to receive and obey the fulness of the gospel of Christ”—that is, the message of Joseph Smith. Let us pray that the Body of Christ will prepare itself and resist.
From the inside cover:
“In some ways establishing the gospel in Africa represents the most difficult challenge the Church has ever had to face....We will succeed in Africa only as we learn and come to understand the oftentimes confusing social, political, historical, and economic realities of that vast continent and base what we do on real knowledge.”
So writes Alexander B. Morrison....In The Dawning of a Brighter Day, Elder Morrison describes some of the “confusing realities” of Black Africa, particularly as they pertain to proselyting efforts of the Church there.
“The golden key that unlocked the door to bringing the fullness of the gospel to Black Africa was the revelation on priesthood, received in June 1978,” he explains. Since then, missions and stakes have been established in several countries, and many faithful individuals have been converted and are ass uming leadership roles among the members.
Today, “the clouds if a long night’s darkness are beginning to roll away from Africa as a new day dawns,” Elder Morrison concludes. “It is a day whose light is the Son of God, a day made brighter by the glow of the glorious gospel of Christ.”
April 20, 2009
What a blessing! Reflecting on my weekend, I thank God for so many things. Here are a few:
I met lots of brothers and sisters in Christ committed to defending His truth, including several scholars which have been very influential in my spiritual growth and service. This included men such as Rob Bowman, Winfried Corduan, Norman Geisler, Wayne House, Chad Meister, and Phil Roberts. I am honored to have met and talked with these experienced apologists.
I learned how to better defend my faith through several incredibly informative workshops and sessions. Obviously I cannot give my thoughts of each one, but I must mention one session that I found especially important—"The Ethics of Apologetics" by David Cook of Wheaton College. Cook spoke from his heart and experience, listing several key considerations apologists must keep in mind as we counter error. I only wish that they recorded the session!
I was able to strategize with Paul Carden on the future of ACFAR. While I cannot say too much about our discussions yet, we were able to accomplish a great deal. You should be hearing about some wonderful developments over the next several weeks, so be sure to stay tuned!
I worshiped on the Lord's Day at Village Bible Church. I greatly enjoyed my time there, praising God with fellow believers and hearing His Word faithfully proclaimed. Pastor Ray Gurunian's sermon was a deeply edifying message on a very hard passage of Scripture (have you ever heard a sermon on Matthew 7:6?!?).
I may have come home tired, but by God's grace we accomplished so much. With so many challenges facing the church today, it is easy to lose heart. But last weekend reminded me that the church of Christ will not fail—the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Praise God!
April 17, 2009
1) Peggy Fletcher Stack, "Africa's 'Mormon superstar' is first black African LDS general authority" in the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. Three decades after worthy African males were allowed to hold the Mormon priesthood, the LDS church's first black African general authority has been named. Joseph W. Sitati is a Kenyan and former President of the Nigeria Calabar mission. His appointment is evidence of the LDS church's growing commitment and missionary success in Africa.
2) Peggy Fletcher Stack, "LDS Swahili Branch unites African Mormons" in the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. As Mormonism continues to spread throughout Africa, it is also seeking to convert Africans here in America. This article reports on a branch in Utah that conducts its meetings in Swahili.
3) John MacArthur, "Doctrine IS Practical" in Pulpit Magazine. As only MacArthur can, he gives a compelling demonstration of the importance of doctrinal truth for Christians today.
April 15, 2009
April 13, 2009
1 Corinthians 15:1-2
In the afterglow of Easter I’m reminded of how the Apostle Paul opens his well-known chapter on the resurrection. He grounds the life-changing message of the Gospel in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And by holding fast to Christ’s redeeming work, you and I are saved—what amazing Good News!
Yet many in Africa are corrupting this glorious truth, leading multitudes of unsuspecting people to destruction:
• The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus wasn’t God, that he rose from the grave as a spirit-being, and that God the Father simply discarded his physical body.
• The Branhamites, by contrast, teach that Jesus was literally God the Father who died on the cross.
• The Bahá’ís deny Christ’s bodily resurrection, calling it “a spiritual and divine fact, not a material reality.”
• The abaikiriza of Ugandan “god-man” Owobusobozi Bisaka, like other indigenous cults, have no use for Christ or Easter at all. Bisaka even claims that Jesus “was not a saviour, and never existed.”
• Missionary Islam is on the march across the region, denying the resurrection of Jesus outright, teaching instead that He was merely a prophet of God who was taken up into heaven, while someone else—possibly Judas Iscariot—perished on the cross in His place.
• Peddlers of the prosperity gospel exploit the cross of Christ as a path to personal enrichment, as if our Lord and Savior were a genie in a bottle. In East Africa there are thousands of churches with pastors who preach this distorted message.
Where can African pastors turn for help? Who will help Christians refute these false claims and faithfully proclaim the good news of Christ’s resurrection to a world starving for redemption?
For the past two years, we’ve been prayerfully working toward launching a center in East Africa to meet this very need. And today our ministry faces some critical challenges. While we’ve gained a handful of faithful new supporters since the first of the year, ACFAR’s support has essentially stalled.
To reach our goal of launching the ministry “on the ground” in Kampala by the end of May, we still need 275 prayer partners, $5,000 in new monthly commitments, and $30,000 in startup support.
Unless God does something drastic and wonderful in the next 60 days, our ministry goal will remain out of reach, and we’ll have to rethink the future of the Africa Center.
So we must pray! Please join with me in prayer and fasting this month, asking God to advance His kingdom through the defense of His truth in East Africa.
Our ministry’s future is in the Lord’s capable and all-powerful hands.
And I can’t imagine being in a better place.
Because of His grace,
John Divito, Director
Africa Center for Apologetics Research
P.S. If God is leading you to support CFAR, please join us today! Your partnership can help us change the spiritual equation in East Africa for generations to come.
April 10, 2009
1) Paul Kiwuuwa, "Christians to mark Jesus’ suffering in Friday walk" in the New Vision newspaper (Uganda). How are many Ugandan Christians celebrating Good Friday and Easter? You can read more about their united plans here.
2) Andrew Rice, "Mission From Africa" in the New York Times magazine. This is a long but extremely important piece in the latest issue of the New York Times magazine. Here we learn more about the growth of Pentecostalism in Africa and their spreading influence throughout the world, mainly as reported through the Redeemed Christian Church of God. A Nigerian based denomination, this group is rapidly expanding globally and has ambitious plans here in the US. Also, be sure to listen to this excerpt of Pastor Daniel Ajayi-Adeniran preaching.
April 8, 2009
"This paper is divided into two major parts: (1) the first examines modern Western worldviews, philosophies and religions; and (2) the second part analyzes traditional African worldviews and religious beliefs, syncretism, and religious cults.
"In the first part of the paper, I will consider the socio-political context and the environment which gave rise to both the modern philosophies and religions that are opposed to Christianity. In the second section of the paper, in which I analyze traditional African worldviews and religious beliefs and practices, a major focus will be on the ways in which African Christians often lapse into syncretism and religious cults in the expressions of their Christianity."
April 7, 2009
Just ask and I'll try to answer it. The easiest way to submit a question for tomorrow is simply to post it as a comment below. I can't wait to see what you come up with!
April 6, 2009
This week, Paul Carden (executive director of our parent ministry) is scheduled to discuss ACFAR on...
- Wednesday, April 8 on The Allan Dempsey Show, WTLN Orlando (time TBA)
- Thursday, April 9 on The Morning Show, KFUO St. Louis (9:30 am Eastern, 6:30 am Pacific)