December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas from the Divito family!

During this holiday season, John will be taking a brief blogging hiatus from the ACFAR Blog. 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!

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippans 2:5-11).

December 21, 2007

Weekly Round-Up: Baha’i in Uganda, Mormonism

Here is this week's round-up:

1) "Clerics Ask Rebels to Release Kids" in the New Vision newspaper (Uganda). Uganda has many child soldiers with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) abducting numerous little children. Many church leaders have taken a courageous stand in asking the LRA to release them.

2) "Where Do Born Again Churches Put the Sunday Offerings?" in the Sunday Monitor newspaper (Uganda). Another expose from Uganda on its prosperity gospel, "health and wealth" charismatic preachers.

3) "Welcome to our 4th annual youth conference at Mengo Senior School" on the Arising for Christ blog. An announcement of a youth conference in Uganda for those struggling with cults and false teaching. Once again we see the need to develop East African Christians to defend their faith against falsehood as well as engaging cultists with the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

December 19, 2007

Ask Anything Wednesday: Prayer Needs

Welcome to another Ask Anything Wednesday. This week an anonymous commenter asked a great question (honestly, it wasn't me!). Please keep the questions rolling in! Just submit your question--on anything!--in the comments section below and I'll consider responding to it in our weekly feature.

"How should we pray for your family?"

First and foremost, you can pray that my family will glorify God. For my wife and I, this includes our own sanctification. We desire to have a faithful and loving marriage, to be good parents, and to serve our local church. Four our children, our daily prayer is for their salvation and their growth in the gospel.

Second, you can pray for our mission provision and preparation. Obviously, we need many people partnering together with us, giving their prayers and financial support. However, while we are in this time of transition, my family also has a lot to prepare for before moving halfway around the world. In any case, we are trusting in our Lord to continue blessing and equipping us!

Third, you can pray for Uganda and East Africa, where we will be serving. Our hearts are already there!

Thank you again for asking! I hope that you will also consider staying up-to-date with my family and ministry by subscribing to our prayer e-mail list. Simply send me an e-mail letting us know of your commitment to pray for us and I'll gladly add you to our prayer partners.

December 18, 2007

Book Review: The Human Condition

The Human Condition
Joe M. Kapolyo, The Human Condition: Christian Perspectives Through African Eyes (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 169 pp.

Who are we as humans? What is our place in this world? Is there anything wrong with us? If so, can we do anything about it? Christians know that God has answered these questions in the Bible. But answers to these questions are an essential part of any worldview. As a missionary to East Africa, I am keenly interested in how Africans would respond these questions. Thankfully, Zambian theologian Joe M. Kapolyo has written a book on this subject, The Human Condition: Christian Perspectives Through African Eyes. Since he is an evangelical Christian from the Bemba people of Africa, Kapolyo provides a unique and much-needed perspective on humanity.

The author begins by raising the issues surrounding the nature of humanity and our condition. Then he focuses on three common theories: the Darwinist vision, the Marxist vision, and an African vision called Ubuntu. Next, Kapolyo turns to Scripture for a biblical perspective. He examines what it means for humanity to be made in the image of God. He also covers the Fall, looking at sin as well as the spiritual challenges we face in this world. From here the author moves to explain and assess traditional African anthropology in-depth. Finally, he concludes with bringing the light of the gospel to the human condition.

I really enjoyed and greatly benefited from Kapolyo's book. First and foremost, I appreciated his bringing an African perspective to the study of humanity. Throughout this work there were many good examples, illustrations, and applications from Africa, especially from his native country and people group. I am all too aware of my limited perspective in theological study. He has helped me to begin bridging this gap.

Additionally, his final chapter was an excellent treatment of the need for contextualization. Christians simply must find cultural links to properly communicate the gospel. Kapolyo uses the concept of inheritance to provide a practical example of relating the gospel in the African context.

At the same time, I strongly disagree with the author's defense of an egalitarian relationship between men and women. His argument simply lacks solid biblical exposition. He dismisses 1 Timothy 2 far too easily and his reflection on Ephesians 5 leaves much to be desired. Men and women were made by God to complement one another, each having their own place to fulfil in His creation. We cannot ignore this truth in our understanding of humanity.

Another shortcoming is found in his treatment of traditional African anthropology. Kapolyo starts off well, providing the important distinction between surface level and deep level cultural structures (external vs. internal, worldview levels). He writes:

[O]ne of the major weaknesses of Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa, as I will seek to demonstrate in this chapter, is precisely because it is a religion, "a classroom religion" for that matter. It therefore fits not into the inner person--the deep culture that is the locus of the vision of life--where it naturally belongs, but rather (and unfortunately so) into . . . the expressive culture in the area of material and spiritual creations. It is thus not an integrating element in life. For this reason it is more accurate to speak not of African religions but African spirituality, a living faith (120).
With this in mind, the author spends a great deal of time explaining deep level issues in African cultures that are often inadequately addressed (if touched on at all) by most Christians. In many ways, this section was the highlight of his book. Nevertheless, he does not follow it up with developing how we can respond to the cultural issues he raises.

But I do not want to sound too critical. I found this book to be indispensable in my preparation to minister in East Africa. I would recommend it to all missionaries seeking to serve our Lord in Africa. I also suggest those wanting a more globally balanced theology to check it out. I thank my brother in Christ for his fine contribution to building God's kingdom.

December 17, 2007

Join the ACFAR Network

As my family prepares to minister in East Africa, one way that I am equipping myself for missionary service is by reading a lot of helpful books. This is one reason why you're going to be seeing a number of book reviews over the coming months. At the same time, I greatly appreciate the insight that others bring into discussions surrounding the defense our faith and building biblical discernment globally.

The New Faces of ChristianityWhat if I could somehow bring these two together? What if interested and knowledgeable people could slowly read through and analyze a book, discussing the issues it raises and thinking through how to apply them in our East African ministry? Now there is an answer: the ACFAR Network.

The ACFAR Network is a community of evangelical Christians that want to work together toward making a difference in Uganda and throughout the region. We will begin by reading through The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South by Philip Jenkins. Starting in January, the ACFAR Network will read and discuss one chapter a week for two months.

Would you like to be a part of this exciting new group? Join now! All it takes is two months of reading around 20 pages a week and posting your thoughts, comments, questions, and/or critiques. Interested? Simply buy a copy of the book (it should be available online or at most bookstores) and enter your name below. I look forward to seeing how God will use us to impact East Africa with His truth!

December 14, 2007

Weekly Round-Up: Baha’i in Uganda, Mormonism

Here is this week's (brief) weekly round-up:

1) "Spreading oneness" and "Being a Baha’i faithful" in the Sunday Vision newspaper (Uganda). It's true--the Baha'i are in Uganda. Make sure to read these, learning more about their beliefs and local history!

2) Rob Bowman, "Whaddya Mean, Mormons Are Not Christians? Shedding Light on a Hot Topic" on the Parchment and Pen blog. Are Mormons Christians? In answering this question, Bowman brings some much-needed insight.

December 12, 2007

Ask Anything Wednesday: Cults in Uganda and Books

Welcome to another Ask Anything Wednesday. I am thrilled that two visitors this week took the time to write in asking great questions. So I have decided to answer both of them. Hopefully, the questions will keep rolling in!

"What cults are in Uganda?"

Funny you should ask--we are in the process of cataloguing the many cults in Uganda. While our project has just begun and surely will not be complete until I am living in Uganda, we have found several kinds of cults in East Africa.

First, there are most of the well-known cults that you would expect. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are two examples of many that are very active throughout the country.

Second, some lesser-known cults have also had great success in Uganda. The New Apostolic Church and the Branhamites have a surprisingly large presence.

Third, Uganda has its own home-made cults. Error is not simply imported from the West--religious opportunists from within will distort Christian teaching and claim exclusive spiritual insight and authority. Many of these groups are simply unknown at this point. ACFAR hopes to overcome this challenge!

Additionally, one of the biggest challenges Uganda faces right now is the prosperity gospel. Charismatic leaders preach "health and wealth" as promised to all believers who trust in Christ. This teaching is ripe in Uganda, but must be countered with the true hope found in the pure gospel of Jesus Christ!

As you can see, we have our work cut out for us. But I look forward to seeing what God will do as we seek to defend His revealed truth for His glory!

"What books will you review next?"

I am always reading. But I have found that writing book reviews is an easy way to keep me accountable. If I write a book review a week, then that means I have to read a book a week, right? It also forces me to critically interact with what the author has written. I plan on regularly writing reviews as I read various books in preparation for my mission work.

With this in mind, I'll directly answer your question by saying that I'm going to write reviews of the books I am reading now. I am currently working through Joe M. Kapolyo's The Human Condition: Christian Perspectives Through African Eyes. You can expect a review of this book next week.

At the same time, there will be a great deal of variety in my book reviews. I love reading from different areas, so don't be surprised to see reviews of theology books, apologetics books, books on cults (and from cults!), missions books, books on Africa (especially Uganda and East Africa), etc.

If you can't wait, on the ACFAR site I have posted two previous book reviews written before this blog was started: Free Indeed From Sorcery Bondage and Who Are The Living-Dead? Just click on these links to read my reviews.

But my goal is for these reviews to be more than just for my benefit. I pray that they will help believers like yourself become more informed and involved with our ministry.

December 11, 2007

Another Week, Another Question Answered

Tomorrow I will post the latest in our weekly series--Ask Anything Wednesday. Do you have any questions about the Africa Center for Apologetics Research? Do you have a question about witnessing to cult members? Do you want to know what I am reading right now? Anything is fair game!

Just ask and I'll try to answer it. The easiest way to ask a question for tomorrow is simply to post it as a comment below. I can't wait to see what you come up with!

December 10, 2007

Book Review: Theological Pitfalls in Africa

Theological Pitfalls in Africa
Byang H. Kato, Theological Pitfalls in Africa (Nairobi, Kenya: Evangel Publishing House, 1975), 200 pp.

At a small Anglican bookshop in Uganda, my eyes stopped when I came across a book on a crowded shelf. Immediately the title struck me--Theological Pitfalls in Africa. Intrigued, I picked up a copy and purchased it. I had never heard of Byang H. Kato (you can read an informative bio here), but I am always interested in learning more about theological controversies where I will be serving my Lord.

Needless to say, I made a wise investment. Kato responds to two dangerous trends he saw emerging in Africa: the growth of universalism and the danger of syncretism within contemporary African theology. Through the continuing influence of ecumenicism and liberal Christian scholarship, Kato writes about the increasing compromise and even abandonment of biblical Christianity throughout the continent.

In this book the author singles out for critique African theologians John Mbiti and Bolaji Idowu, as well as the ecumenical All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC). Through several chapters, he analyzes and replies to numerous problems that have been produced by these Christian leaders. His primary objective is to demonstrate the uniqueness and exclusivity of biblical Christianity against attempts to find parallels and continuity with African Traditional Religions. Additionally, as he records the progress of the ecumenical movement in Africa, he points to the need for an uncompromising evangelical alternative.

I greatly appreciate Kato's wisdom and doctrinal insightfulness throughout this work. He gave me much to think about. However, I do want to mention two cautionary notes. First, I am not sure that Kato is always properly summarizing the views of those whom he disagrees with. Having read some Mbiti, while a lot of Kato's critique is entirely appropriate, I also wonder if Mbiti is always properly understood. Occasionally, I wonder if Kato has set up a straw man only to quickly tear it back down.

Second, this book is rather dated. Of course, its age is not the author's fault! He actually prematurely died not long after this book was published (1975). Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder about the last 30-plus years. How prevalent is the ecumenical movement in Africa today? Where does African liberalism stand compared to the growth of evangelical scholarship? Are there more pressing theological challenges faced by Christians today? Answers to these questions must be found elsewhere.

In spite of these minor concerns, I still heartily recommend Kato's book for anyone looking to learn more about some theological dangers present in Africa today. While I am not sure how easy this book will be to buy outside of Africa, I assure you that it is worth the effort. May we be ever vigilant in our commitment to the Word of God, refuting all attempts to overthrow God's revealed truth!

December 7, 2007

Weekly Round-Up: Uganda, Romney and His Mormon Faith, and the Future of Evangelical Missions

Another Friday brings another weekly round-up of recent news related to East Africa, Christianity, missions, defending the faith, and cults:

1) "Four epidemics hit Uganda," in the Daily Monitor newspaper (Uganda). Uganda is continuing to struggle with many health challenges. Four problems are addressed in this article: an ebola outbreak, the rise of meningitis and bubonic plague, cholera, and yellow fever. Let us pray for our Lord to help meet the needs of these people!

2) Mitt Romney, "Faith In America." Whatever your view of Republican residential candidate Mitt Romney, you cannot deny the importance of the speech he gave this week. My intent is not to begin a discussion on the relationship between church and state or whether evangelicals can vote for a Mormon. I also do not plan on commenting on or analyzing Romney's address. Such responses are already abundant and can easily be found throughout the internet. Nevertheless, I have linked to the official transcript for those interested to read what he had to say. I pray that Romney's candidacy will not lead evangelicals to cower in fear, but that we can use this opportunity to help others understand the differences and incompatibility of Latter-day Saints doctrine with historic Christian teaching.

3) David Hesselgrave, "Will We Correct the 'Edinburgh Error'?—Future Mission in Historical Perspective" (a paper available online in PDF format). Hesselgrave is a veteran missionary and well-respected scholar who is seeking to keep evangelical missions on a solid doctrinal and biblical footing. Here is his introduction:

No missionary gathering impacted 20th century missions as did the World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1910. No single error was as significant as the “Edinburgh error.” Currently, missionary conferences of various kinds and with a variety of agendas are routine and Edinburgh centennials are slated for Edinburgh (again), Tokyo, Cape Town and elsewhere in 2010. Will organizers of these and numerous other missionary conferences on the drawing boards correct the “error of Edinburgh”? How important is it that they do?

December 5, 2007

Ask Anything Wednesday: Are There Other Ways to Help?

Since no one has asked me any questions for this week's Ask Anything Wednesday, I'm going to cheat and ask a question that I often hear. But there's no need to feel left out; leave a question in the comments section or e-mail me and I'll consider answering it next week.

"I'm glad to hear about your East African ministry. Are there other ways that I can help?"

I love it when people ask questions like this--It shows me that they are interested in getting involved! Obviously, both prayer and financial support are crucial for the success of the Africa Center for Apologetics Research. But the sky's the limit in thinking of other ways to help.

Let me give a couple of examples. First, we can use donated frequent flier miles to keep our costs down. For a businessman that travels often, this is an easy way to help us greatly while costing him very little. My trip to Belize as well as my trip to Uganda were partially possible because of generous people who gave me their extra flier miles.

Second, one way that I am preparing for the mission field is by reading a lot of relevant material. While I recognize that most of my knowledge will come from living and serving in Uganda, I am striving to learn all that I can now. Buying books for me helps immensely. Check out my Amazon Wish List for a small sample of what I hope to read over the next several months.

These are simply two specific and practical ways that others can help my family. Feel free to come up with your own ideas. I'd love to hear about them!

December 4, 2007

Questions? Questions? Do You Have Any Questions?

Tomorrow I will continue a weekly feature on this blog--Ask Anything Wednesday. Do you have any questions about the Africa Center for Apologetics Research? Do you have a question about witnessing to cult members? Do you want to know what I am reading right now? Anything is fair game!

Just ask and I'll try to answer it in this series. The easiest way to ask a question for tomorrow is simply to post it as a comment below. I can't wait to see what you come up with!

December 3, 2007

Welcome to the ACFAR Blog!


Chances are that if you are reading this today, you have found our site through someone that recognizes the importance and need of the Africa Center for Apologetics Research. Would you like to learn more about who we are, our vision, our plan, or how you can help? Be sure to check out the ACFAR links on the right side of this blog.

Our blog is a great place to keep up-to-date on everything related to the Christian faith in East Africa. Whether it is the sociopolitical climate, the presence of cults, or our ministry plans, we will strive to keep you informed. So be sure to come back regularly. Better yet, subscribe to our blog through your feed reader. If that sounds too complicated, you can simply receive these updates through e-mail. Either way, the blog section of the menu will get you started.

Now I want to take the opportunity to recognize all of the friends of ACFAR that have featured our ministry on their blog. Here's the list (and bloggers, feel free to add yourself along with a link to your blog post on ACFAR):

December 2, 2007

Responding to Craig Blomberg

After posting links to a couple of blog entries on last Friday's weekly round-up along with some brief thoughts, Dr. Craig Blomberg wrote a comment:

And hopefully you won't be overly biased by this tantalizing adjective "disturbing," but will actually read the whole chain of interactions and decide for yourself what adjective to use. After fifteen years of Evangelical-LDS conversations, I find "encouraging" to be the better descriptor. Let's pray that some day at least an identifiable wing of the LDS church, if not the whole movement (like happened with the Worldwide Church of God), might turn to orthodoxy. That is a primary motivation behind our involvement. Paul Owen and I have been involved in these meetings; none of our critics on these blogsites has. So filter that in also before you start applying adjectives second-hand and out of context to our efforts. Thanks! :)

To begin my response, I want to state upfront my great respect for Dr. Blomberg. Much of his writing has been greatly informative and deeply edifying to me. I still wholeheartedly reccomend reading his books. They are filled with biblical truth. I want to thank him for his devotion to Christ as well as his excellence in evangelical scholarship.

However, when it comes to Mormons, Blomberg and I do have significant differences in how we understand and relate to Latter-day Saints. To see what I mean more fully, check out an article I recently wrote for the latest issue of Mormonism Researched. In it, I analyze a sermon that Blomberg preached titled "What Would Jesus Say to a Mormon?" (Mormonism Research Ministry has not yet posted the article on their web site, but you can sign up for a free subscription and get it in print).

Of course, I will not recycle my article here. But I do find it relevant in light of the comments made by Blomberg. He writes: "Do Mormons not believe in the deity of Jesus? It no doubt depends on whom you ask. But I’ve heard Bob [Millet] speak so many times on this issue, that I have no question at all that he does. The disagreement remains in terms of what Jesus may have been 'before the beginning' in Genesis 1:1. But there is no question for him that for an awfully long time and certainly today, he is fully God." I simply have no idea how one can make this statement. The LDS concept of divinity and Godhood is entirely different and at odds with historic Christianity.

In my article, I tried to show the importance of the difference between the true Jesus Christ and the LDS Jesus Christ:

First, Blomberg never addressed the identity of Jesus Christ. Is the Jesus Christ that Blomberg is speaking on behalf of the same as the Jesus Christ of Mormonism? Is he the first literal child of a physical Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother? Or is He Himself God—the second person of the Trinity? These two Jesuses stand opposed to one another. Let’s try to grasp the importance of this distinction. A missionary goes over to India so that he can proclaim the gospel to a group of Hindus. After speaking to them about a god-man named Jesus who died for them, they think that the Jesus he is talking about sounds similar to one of their gods. So they rename this Hindu deity "Jesus Christ" and add a story about him dying for them. Everything else about their beliefs stays the same. Their Jesus is one of a number of gods. They believe that his death allows for them to live a better life through which they can be reincarnated to a higher caste in their next life. Would anyone say that this group’s Jesus is the true Jesus that saves? Can they be reconciled to their Creator through this Jesus? Obviously not. This truth is no different for Mormons. Their Jesus is false. Until they recognize the true Jesus, they have no hope. By not clearly addressing this difference in his sermon, Blomberg fails to fully show them the true Jesus Christ in which their only hope lies.

Apparently, he sees no need to. Their Jesus is close enough. Nevertheless, I do not see how an orthodox believer in Christ could draw such a conclusion.

As in his sermon, Blomberg again suggests that he has inside information by pointing to his dialogues with Mormons and other evangelicals. I do not pretend to have any knowledge of these closed-door conversations. But the supposed evidence often marshaled to demonstrate a contemporary shift in Mormon doctrine simply does not stand under scrutiny. All too often, what I read sounds more like concessions from evangelicals rather than true change from Latter-day Saints.

Like Blomberg, and as a former Mormon myself, I desire for Latter-day Saints to turn to orthodoxy. However, I do not share his optimism for the reformation of the Mormon church itself. If the LDS church embraced orthodoxy, it would undermine its very existence! No longer could they believe in a need for their restoration, no longer could they hold to their distinctive foundational doctrines, no longer could they recognize their church's authority. I'll bypass discussing the turnaround of the Worldwide Church of God. But looking at what happened in-depth, its shift is rather unique. A person should not simply superimpose this change to the LDS church, hoping for the same thing to happen. At best, such thinking is far too premature.

Whatever disagreements I may have with Blomberg, I do appreciate his sincere zeal in engaging Mormons. But I also pray that evangelicals will remain committed to proclaiming the true gospel of Jesus Christ to Latter-day Saints. By God's grace, they can be saved--I am one living example!