August 29, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Witchcraft in East Africa, Wright on the Olympics, and an Interview with Sills

Here's this week's round-up:

1) Caroline Njung'e, "You’ll be mine forever" in the Saturday Nation newspaper (Kenya). This article exposes the sad but growing popularity of witchdoctors who are being consulted by desperate Kenyan women looking for help.

2) "My rendezvous with a 'cultural consultant'" in the Daily Monitor newspaper (Uganda). Another report from Uganda on witchcraft, where a woman explains her visit to a local witchdoctor. As can be seen from these first two articles, witchcraft and sorcery are alive and well in East Africa.

3) Christopher J. H. Wright, "The Olympics, Lausanne III, and the New Creation" on the Koinonia blog. Wright reflects upon the recent Olympics and relates what was seen to the beauty of the global body of Christ. What wonderful joy we have as God's kingdom expands around the world through the gospel of Christ!

4) Terry Delaney, "Interview with Dr. Sills," Part I and Part II, on the Said at Southern blog. Dr. Sills was my missions teacher while at seminary and I always find what he has to say to be insightful. This interview is no exception. Now I just need to get a hold of a copy of his new book, The Missionary Call!

August 27, 2008

Ask Anything Wednesday: Christian Musicians in False Churches

Welcome to Ask Anything Wednesday. This month I am answering another great question. Please keep them rolling in! Just submit your question--on anything!--in the comments section below and I'll consider responding to it in our monthly feature.

"Is it ok if Christian Music Artists perform at the churches of false teachers?"

To arrive at a biblical and wise answer to this question, additional questions must be asked first. Three questions to help think through an answer are:

1) How severe is the false teaching of this church?
2) In what context will I be performing?
3) What is the purpose of my performance?

Let us briefly look at these questions in order.

First, how severe is the false teaching of this church? While all doctrinal error is bad and harmful, there are degrees of falsehood. Christians may disagree over many issues, but some truths are so foundational to our faith that they cannot be rejected without denying Christianity itself. If a false teacher and his or her congregation spurns our Triune God, the God-man Jesus Christ, or His gospel, then they are not a true church at all.

Second, in what context will I be performing? If it is in a worship service of a false church, then the Christian artist needs to decline. A follower of Christ must never participate in idol worship. However, if the performance is simply a concert that is taking place in the building of a false church, then this could be acceptable.

Third, what is the purpose of my performance? Is it to worship God? Is it to evangelize? Or is it to glorify God through playing creative and beautiful music? Again, leading corporate worship with a false church is not an option. At the same time, singing about God and His redemption through Jesus Christ may be a means through which God saves people. But two conditions should be met in this case: 1) I must be upfront about my intentions with the church's leadership. While this would likely end any opportunity to perform in a false church, it is the only way to remain above reproach. 2) I must be clear enough in my proclamation of God's truth that those attending understand their need to repent and turn to Christ. Of course, I do not believe that Christian musicians always need to perform as a ministry. In this situation, it would be best to refrain from singing in any church building so as not to confuse people with my intentions.

Answering questions like these should help a Christian artist wisely assess where it is appropriate to perform.

August 26, 2008

Ask Anything Wednesday Tomorrow

Ask Anything Wednesday is tomorrow! 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 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!

August 25, 2008

Scientology in Africa

Scientology in HollywoodChances are that when most people think about the Church of Scientology, they picture an American religion that’s especially popular in Hollywood. Founded by controversial science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology has major administrative centers in both Los Angeles, California and Clearwater, Florida. The movement counts Kirstie Alley, Tom Cruise, and John Travolta among its celebrity followers.

But did you realize that Scientology is expanding in Africa? The latest Scientology Today News Flash (8/20/2008) reports that “New Scientology churches are on the horizon for Durban, Cape Town, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg in South Africa and Bulawayo and Harare in Zimbabwe—part of an international Scientology strategy to increase service to Scientologists and the community.”

But Scientology isn’t only advancing in southern Africa. On August 16, Nairobi’s Daily Nation newspaper ran a news story headlined “Scientology comes to Kenya.” It states (not altogether accurately) that:
There is a new religion in town. It recognises no sin, pays homage to no one, has neither angels in heaven nor fire and brimstone in hell and whose members say they can create miracles at will.... A year ago, it was introduced quietly in Nairobi. Its offices are tucked away on the third floor of an unremarkable building along Ngong Road between two Christian churches; a far cry from the mother church.
The movement’s progress in East Africa is further underscored by an article in the current edition of International Scientology News. It extols Peter Mageri—the “Christian minister” who is leading the cult’s recruiting efforts in Gesonso, Kenya—explaining that
DianeticsTo meet the demand, Peter erected Kenya’s first Dianetics School—funded by selling a portion of his cattle—and located it on a patch of land he calls “L. Ron Hubbard Avenue.”

Then talk about grassroots wildfire across the African veldt, there are now 400 Book One [i.e., Dianetics] co-auditors in Gesonso, with another 250 in the town of Kisii proper. In the neighboring Rosaiga village there are an additionally 120 people co-auditing Dianetics, and 180 more throughout the villages of the famed Maasai Lion Hunters. Add to that 100 across the Islamic Kuria villages, and there now stands a Dianetics movement that’s at least 1,000 strong and delivered no less than 245,440 Book One co-audit hours for the year.
From Lagos to Lusaka, the Church of Scientology is increasing its missionary thrust across Africa. An ongoing Scientology Ministers “Goodwill Tour” has taken Hubbard’s volunteers to Ghana, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique. And, as I wrote in May, “Dianetics and assorted companion works by Hubbard are already available in every public library in Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, and Sierra Leone.”

Lord willing, the Africa Center for Apologetics Research will soon be able to respond with materials and training to counter Hubbard’s teachings. And, by God’s grace, we will equip believers to share the good news of Jesus Christ with Scientologists.

August 22, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Conning African Christians, Free Apologetics Audio, Frame on Evil, and Budziszewski on Nihilism

Here's this week's round-up:

1) Kevin Kadipo, "Preying on the prayerful" in Eastern Standard newspaper (Kenya). Another example of how Africans are conned out of their money and possessions.

2) Rob Bowman, "Introduction to Apologetics Course" on the Parchment and Pen blog. I mentioned this course when it was originally offered, but now the folks at Reclaiming the Mind Ministries are making the audio of the entire course free to download. If you weren't able to be a part of the class, then don't miss listening to this excellent evangelical scholar teach about defending our faith. And make sure to sign-up for Bowman's next class: Christian Apologetic Methods.

3) Andy Naselli, "Interview with John Frame on the Problem of Evil" on the Between Two Worlds blog. Take one of my favorite living apologists/theologians and ask him questions on one of the most difficult challenges of the Christian faith, and the result is this brief interview. If you or someone you know is struggling with the problem of evil, then you'll want to read this discussion.

4) J. Budziszewski, "Escape from Nihilism" on Leadership University. This link is a little different for me to include, but I just came across it and found it fascinating. Budziszewski writes about his conversion from nihilism to Christ. In reading it, I couldn't help but think of Romans 1:18ff.

August 20, 2008

Book Review: Alice Lakwena and the Holy Spirits

Alice Lakwena and the Holy SpiritsHeike Behrend, Alice Lakwena and the Holy Spirits: War in Northern Uganda, 1986-1997 (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1999), 210 pp.

When most people think of cults in Uganda, three groups come to mind: Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kibweteere and Credonia Mwerinde's Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, and Alice Lakwena's Holy Spirit Movement. This book seeks to chronicle the formation, growing success, and ultimate failure of Lakwena's movement. As an anthropologist, Heike Behrend seeks not only to describe this cult, but also to set it in its historical and social context.

The author begins by struggling through the issues of writing an anthropological study on Alice Lakwena and the Holy Spirit Movement. Then she recounts the history and development of the ethnic identity of the Acholi people from Northern Uganda. Next, she writes about Alice Auma as she becomes the medium for the (male) spirit Lakwena and begins to form a military mobile force to purify the land from evil in the midst of political and military turmoil. This history continues to unfold from the humble beginnings in Paraa and Opit to the several thousand member army marching toward Uganda's capital. Finally, the downfall and final defeat of the Holy Spirit Mobile Forces is summarized. The remainder of the book is given over to further analysis of what happened, as well as briefly looking at developments since the fall of the Holy Spirit Movement.

As one who is in the process of becoming a missionary in Uganda, I found this book to be exceptionally informative. I've learned a lot about the history of Northern Uganda generally and of the notorious Lakwena's Holy Spirit Movement specifically. And by reading about the context in which these events took place, I was able to better understand the traditional beliefs and practices of East Africans as well as the syncretism that forms from combining these traditions with elements of Christianity.

At the same time, this work is an academic tome and can be hard to read. The author assumes a certain amount of previous knowledge of anthropological and sociological concepts and issues. She also regularly points to and interacts with various scholarly theories. Thus, this book is not an accessible treatment of the history of Lakwena and the Holy Spirit Movement.

As a result, one may or may not find reading this book to be beneficial. Anthropologists, missionaries, and others looking to learn more about this important sect in Ugandan history will surely want to read Behrend's study. But more casual readers will likely find themselves lost in the scholarly discussions and analysis. For those willing to dive in and develop their understanding of these key events, I recommend consulting this work.

August 18, 2008

Thomas Oden on Apologetics in Africa

How Africa Shaped the Christian MindAs I continue preparing to serve Christ in Uganda, I have been trying to learn as much as possible about the history of Christianity throughout the region and the continent. One book that I recently read was by Thomas C. Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity. Since most Christian histories begin with Western missionaries bringing the gospel into Africa, this work was a breath of fresh air. More a call to action than a thorough laying out of historical research, Oden desires to see much more work done to trace the roots of Christianity in Africa back to the earliest years of Christian history.

Needless to say, it was an informative read. Seeing Africa's place in the historical formation of our faith was enlightening. Many of my favorite heroes of the faith are African: Tertullian, Augustine, Athanasius, etc. Assuming Oden's vision for further research catches on, I look forward to learning more about the ancient roots of Christianity in Africa.

Interestingly, one paragraph in his book was especially relevant in light of our ministry in East Africa. I pray that ACFAR will be used by Christ to meet the challenge Oden wisely identifies:
"The rising charismatic and Pentecostal energies in Africa are stronger emotively than intellectually. They may not sufficiently sustain African Christians through the Islamic challenge unless fortified by rigorous apologetics. The challenge must be met with intellectual integrity grounded in historical consciousness. Christians of sub-Saharan Africa are being required to learn how to think in response to the religious ideology that overwhelmed by force so much of African Christianity in the seventh century. This is a 'must learn' challenge" (99).

August 15, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Predicting the Return of Christ, and Testing Revivals

Here's this week's round-up:

1) Manasseh Zindo, "Kenyan lawyer announces 'the return' of Jesus" on the Religious Intelligence web site. While this report is now a couple weeks old, it is nevertheless important. We read about a lawyer-turned-prophet who proclaims that the rapture will occur and Jesus will manifest himself to his people on July 18, 2010. As the article concludes, it warns against taking such predictions lightly, pointing to the Kanungu Massacre in Uganda, when hundreds of followers were killed.

2) John Piper, "Test Revival with Doctrine" on the Desiring God blog. Piper provides much-needed biblical insight in the wake of the unraveling of the Lakeland "revival." As he wisely points out:
Discernment is not created in God’s people by brokenness, humility, reverence, and repentance. It is created by biblical truth and the application of truth by the power of the Holy Spirit to our hearts and minds. When that happens, then the brokenness, humility, reverence, and repentance will have the strong fiber of the full counsel of God in them. They will be profoundly Christian and not merely religious and emotional and psychological.

August 13, 2008

Book Notice: Unveiling Witchcraft

Anatoli Wasswa and Henry Ford Miirima, Unveiling Witchcraft (Kisubi, Uganda: Marianum Press, 2006), 361 pp. Illustrated.

Though witchcraft is often mentioned in East Africa, it is more widely feared than subjected to critical study. Nevertheless, one recent book by Ugandans offers first-person research on witchcraft throughout the region. Wasswa is a Catholic priest and herbalist, while Miirima is a veteran local journalist. Together they have produced the only detailed examination of witchcraft currently available in Kampala’s general-interest bookstores. While I have not yet read it and thus cannot assess its level of scholarship, Unveiling Witchcraft is a noteworthy study of an important but much-neglected topic.

From the back cover:
Unveiling Witchcraft is a very provocative book about witchcraft, a hitherto taboo subject. The publication is important in exposing witchcraft as practised by the witch-doctors.

Witch-craft, which is considered a religion by different peoples worldwide, is the veneration or worshiping (okusamira) of ancestral spirits (bajjajja). Over 1000 years ago witchcraft became a culture or a lifestyle of peoples mostly in Africa. Ancestral spirits in Buganda and Bunyoro-Kitara mean a host of things, such as, lubaale, emizimu, amayeme, emisambwa, ebyookola, etc. In the English language all these are called "Spirits."

By making a bold venture into unveiling witchcraft’s lies and tricks by witch-doctors, the co-authors have opened a new chapter in Uganda particularly and in Africa generally with penetrating insights into traditional religions.

Publisher contact:
Marianum Press

August 11, 2008

Working Together With Stand to Reason

In East Africa, we often have Christians asking us for more resources to help equip them to defend our faith. While the development and translation of new materials is something that will have to wait until our ministry begins full-time in Uganda, we have been blessed to find other apologetics ministries with a global vision willing to help Africans now.

One ministry that has been very helpful is Stand to Reason (STR). Founded by Greg Koukl, STR is an organization dedicated to training Christians to think more clearly about their faith and to make an even-handed, incisive, yet gracious defense for classical Christianity and classical Christian values in the public square. On a personal note, I would like to point out how important this ministry has been in my own spiritual growth. I still have old cassette tapes from Koukl on the Trinity, the relationship between grace and works, and decision making and the will of God. I have also read Solid Ground for years. STR has been a blessing to thousands of believers throughout America.

STR Resource CDSo you can imagine my excitement when I heard of their willingness to partner with us as we seek to advance biblical discernment in Africa. Over the last several months, we have been working together to make a CD-ROM that will help Ugandans to grow in their knowledge of God's Word and to defend Christianity against falsehood. The result is a self-contained CD, including all of the contents of their web site in PDF format, MP3s of some of their most critical audio resources, and even QuickTime videos answering fundamental questions about Jesus.

The STR Resource CD—developed specifically for ministry distribution outside the U.S.—is an efficient and inexpensive way of placing a large amount of solid information into the hands of the many Christians in East Africa who have some access to a computer but little or none to the Internet. As you can see, this is one example of how we can work together to help our African brothers and sisters in Christ.

September EventI appreciate STR's willingness to produce such a wonderful resource. And I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in the future. Koukl himself has been very gracious and supportive. As a matter of fact, he has agreed to speak at our upcoming event "Awakening Africa: Guarding the Gospel" next month at the historic Bowers Museum in Southern California. If you will be in the area on September 27th and would like to know more, please let me know.

God is truly blessing the Africa Center for Apologetics Research. Momentum is growing. Churches, ministries, and individuals are coming together to make a difference. I can't wait to see what God will do next!

August 8, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Prosperity Gospel, "Prophet" Kakande, and Two New Blogs

Here's this week's round-up:

1) Rachel Kabejja, "Prosperity Gospel" in the Sunday Monitor newspaper (Uganda). Here is yet another editorial on this false gospel. Rachel Kabejja laments, “Today’s gospel has taken an amazing twist. There is little or no more preaching about sin and its consequences but rather what somebody can do to be rich, healthy or retain a blessing.... In Uganda, some churches discourage tithing coins and in such churches is where you will find believers standing in queues according to how much they are tithing, which determines the amount of blessing they will get.”

2) Michael Mubangizi, "Inside ‘Prophet’ Kakande’s Church" in the Weekly Observer newspaper (Uganda). This report is an introductory look at Kakande (think of an African Benny Hinn) and his church. Having visited this church before, I can say that it is a good example of people in East Africa misled by a "prophet" promising health and wealth.

3) Mark Cares Weblog. I often recommend Mark Cares' book Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons. Now he has left a comment to let me know that he has started blogging! Be sure to check it out.

4) Koinonia blog. Since I am introducing new blogs that have come to my attention, here is one started by Zondervan Academic. With evangelical leaders Ajith Fernando, Bill Mounce, Bruce Waltke, Chris Wright, Clint Arnold, Craig Blomberg, Daniel Wallace, Darrell Bock, Gary Burge, John Walton, Lynn Cohick, Mark Strauss, Miles Van Pelt, Tremper Longman, and Walt Kaiser contributing, this will definitely be a must-read blog.

August 4, 2008

Biblical Literacy vs. Apologetics: Responding to Kobusingye (Pea)

Last week, I was made aware of a blog post written by Kobusingye (also known as Pea) on our YouTube video series "The Challenge of Cults in East Africa." Unfortunately, the entire WordPress blog site has been taken down, but you can still find Pea's post here. In any case, I wanted to take the opportunity to interact with Pea's critique of ACFAR (and since I don't know whether Pea is a man or a woman, I will use the generic "he" when referring to this blogger).

First, I appreciate Pea's willingness to think through the role of apologetics in the Christian life. He correctly points out the common problem of biblical illiteracy in Africa and is looking for a God glorifying solution. Thus, it is with respect to my co-laborer in Christ that I must disagree with his reasoning and conclusion.

The center of Pea's argument is maintaining that biblical literacy rather than apologetics is the solution to Africa's cult problem. However, in doing so he has misunderstood the relationship between biblical literacy and apologetics. Defending the faith comes out of biblical literacy. So, to learn apologetics is to become biblically literate. Christians cannot defend God's truth unless they first know God's truth.

Additionally, Pea says that we must devote ourselves to God's truth without bothering to learn about error. But this conclusion is simply unbiblical. The Apostle Paul wrote to Titus that church leaders must "be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (Titus 1:9). How can church leaders rebuke those who contradict God's truth without knowing what these false teachers are claiming? As a matter of fact, Pea has learned some Jehovah's Witnesses doctrine since in his article he points out their denial of the deity of Jesus Christ.

Pea also seems to adopt a "me-and-my-Bible-are-enough" approach to our faith. But we must not forget that Christ never intended for us to live out our spiritual lives by ourselves or to fight for our faith alone. He has given us His body, the church, with brothers and sisters in Christ to work together in advancing His kingdom. This is where books and resources can be helpful. Believers are able to share their God-given insights with others in these materials, allowing many followers of Christ to grow in their faith and to avoid error. Can books lead to forgetfulness of the Main Book? Sure. But this is due to the sinful tendencies in one's heart, not the result of simply learning through books themselves.

Pea closes his critique by asserting that East Africa does not need a center for apologetics research. He writes, "To tell me Biblical Literacy is impossible without a Research Centre is the same as Juanita Bynum saying she cannot pray for the nations until and unless the church donates $200,000 for her to build a threshing floor to pray on. It's a little too ridiculous for me." While I would never claim that biblical literacy is impossible in Africa without ACFAR, I nevertheless hope that African believers will see the value of having a place to go where they can learn more about responding to the cults and false teachings that regularly challenge their faith. May God use our ministry to further biblical literacy and to defend His truth!

August 1, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Healers, Seventh-day Adventists, and Religious Competition

Here's this week's round-up:

1) Frank Mugabi and Richard Adrama, "Bishop warns on healers" in New Vision newspaper (Uganda). This article shows the problem of African Christians continuing to use traditional healers, with an Anglican bishop suggesting that they go to doctors for medical help.

2) Jack Nduri, "Seventh Day Adventist now braves evangelical wave" in Eastern Standard newspaper (Kenya). The Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) in East Africa are continuing to be imaginative in their efforts to grow. The last paragraph is sobering: "Under the East Africa Union, the Seventh Day Adventist Church has a population of more than 42,422,000."

3) Harold Ayodo, "Scramble for faithful" in Eastern Standard newspaper (Kenya). Here is an interesting report from Kenya on religious competition where churches are "scrambling for souls."