January 26, 2009

Theology in Africa

Evangelical Review of TheologyLast week I mentioned coming across an issue of the Evangelical Review of Theology (ERT) that’s been valuable to my preparations for serving Christ in East Africa. One especially noteworthy article is “The Contemporary Theological Situation in Africa: An Overview” by Dr. James Nkansah-Obrempong, a Ghanaian theologian who teaches at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology.

First, Nkansah-Obrempong describes efforts by Christians to regain their identity as the continent emerged from the colonial era. Next he moves through the interaction of African theologies with culture and explains how Africans have engaged in theological reflection. Finally he examines the fruit, achievements, and future of African theological reflection today.

I’m gaining much by listening to the voices of African Christian leaders, and Nkansah-Obrempong is no exception; his overview has helped me to better understand the current state of theology in Africa. I especially appreciate his desire to balance the need to contextualize God’s truth with the need to remain faithful to His revealed Word.

This balance can be hard to achieve—and it’s here that I admit to having a degree of hesitation with this article. (I want to resist drawing hasty conclusions, as my exposure to African Christianity is admittedly limited.) Nkansah-Obrempong’s treatment of African liberation theology and Christianity’s interaction with various socio-political issues seems to lean toward an overemphasis on this-worldly concerns at the expense of our relationship with God. And while I don’t suggest that he’s actually gone down this path, at times his article suggests tendencies in that direction.

Where Nkansah-Obrempong truly excels is in pointing to the future of African theology. He stresses the need for greater engagement with African Independent Churches and the danger of syncretizing the historic Christian faith with traditional beliefs:
The theological climate in the African Independent Churches (AICs) is one that needs serious attention. By ignoring this area, evangelical communities have neglected the theology of some of the fastest-growing churches in Africa. Since most of the leaders of these communities are not theologically trained, there is a greater risk of syncretism developing among them. However, these groups are making a frantic effort to relate theology and religious experience to the African culture.
He also mentions the serious challenge posed by cultic groups in Africa:
The current cults, such as the House of Yahweh with all their heretic tendencies and theological heresies, are alleged to be hatched from the west. These theologies have the potential to destroy the purity of the Christian faith in Africa. The African church must guard against such infiltration of religious and heretical influences from the west.
Nkansah-Obrempong also laments the growing spiritual cancer of the Word-Faith movement:
In addition, the theology of prosperity that has come from the west is leading the church into a philosophy of materialism, which, if not checked, could have devastating effects upon Christianity in Africa. This theology is undermining the teaching of Scripture at many critical levels, and this can lead to rejection or at least undermining of certain teachings of the Christian faith on suffering and persecution, which are central to the Christian faith.
Let us join Dr. Nkansah-Obrempong in praying that authentically evangelical theology will flourish in Africa. As global Christianity continues to shift away from the West and toward the South, our African brothers and sisters in Christ will have an increasingly important role in the future of our faith. May Christianity continue to grow in Africa—and may it remain faithful to Scripture.

January 24, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

Here's the latest for this week's round-up:

1) Madinah Tebajjukira, "500 Muslim Sheiks Convict Mubajje" in the New Vision newspaper (Uganda). The ongoing controversy among Muslims in Uganda has just escalated with the latest development among their leaders. An international gathering of clerics came together and concluded: "The court prohibited Mubajje from going to any mosque anywhere in the world. It also condemned him to hell for reportedly committing Haram (sins) against the Muslim community. "

2) Fredrick Nzwili, "Church leaders want action on ritual killings of children" in Episcopal Life Online. I have largely tried to avoid mentioning the growing child sacrifices occurring in Uganda and throughout East Africa. Nevertheless, Ugandan Anglicans and others are coming together to put an end to this horrible practice. I pray that the gospel of Jesus Christ will overcome witchcraft in the country!

3) Colin Smith, "A Brief Introduction to the Qur'an: The Qur'an and the Old Testament" on the Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog. Last month, I mentioned that Colin Smith began a series to introduce Islam's sacred book. He's just posted the second post in the series. Don't forget to check it out.

4) Rob Bowman, "Who Wants to Be an Apologist?" on the Religious Researcher blog. For those of us who defend the Christian faith, Bowman provides an excellent reminder of what it means to be a good apologist. Like him, I pray that the Lord will continue to show me where I fall short as well as raise up many good apologists globally in these days of confusion.

January 21, 2009

Ask Anything Wednesday

Welcome to our monthly feature Ask Anything Wednesday. Last week I received a question in a comment thread that I love answering, so I'll respond in today's post. At the same time, please keep the questions rolling in! Just submit your question--on anything!--in the comments section below and I'll consider answering it next month.

"Let me know how I can be praying for you."

Thank you for asking (OK, this was technically not a question. But you obviously wanted to hear back from me, so I am going to bend the rules on this one!).

You can pray that my family will glorify God. Pray that my wife and I will grow in Christ, trusting and depending on Him completely. Pray that our children will receive the gift of salvation. And pray that He will prepare all of us to faithfully serve Him in Uganda.

You can pray for East Africa. Our brothers and sisters in Christ face many challenges daily. From syncretism to cults, from the prosperity gospel to missionary Islam, they need our daily intercession. Only our Savior can prosper our ministry in Africa. Let us pray that He will do so!

You can pray for more opportunities to raise awareness about our ministry. ACFAR is a unique ministry and very few believers know that we exist. More Christians need to hear about our vision to help fellow African believers stand firmly in the gospel. Pray that many more will not only learn about the need, but they will also get involved.

You can pray that God will provide for our financial needs. We still need many new monthly commitments as well as more initial support to begin. And to reach our goal we only have five months left! Nevertheless, we leave our needs in the Lord's hands. If He wants our ministry to move forward, then He will draw enough of His people together to advance His truth in Uganda. I look forward to seeing this happen!

Again, thank you for asking. And in case you do not know, the best way to keep up with our ministry as well as receive our latest prayer requests is by subscribing to our ministry updates. Simply sign up and let us know of your commitment to pray for us. I am always encouraged by the involvement of so many in our work. May Christ be glorified through the defense of His truth!

January 19, 2009

Global Challenges Facing African Christianity

Evangelical Review of TheologyAs I prepare to serve Christ in East Africa, my research can turn up some interesting resources. Recently I came across an issue of the Evangelical Review of Theology (ERT), published by the World Evangelical Alliance, that has tremendously relevance to our ministry. The theme of its April 2007 edition is “Revival and the Global Context.” Consequently, over the next few weeks I plan to interact with several of these essays.

Yusufu TurakiOne especially important article is “African Christianity in Global Religious and Cultural Conflict” by Yusufu Turaki, a noted evangelical theologian from Nigeria. Turaki seeks to address several of the most pressing global issues and challenges facing African Christianity today. These include the escalating conflict between the West (i.e., North America and Europe) and militant Islam; the growing rift between Western Christianity and African Christianity; the historical ties between Islam and African Christianity; and the tension between traditional religions/cultures and African Christianity.

While Turaki’s entire article was informative, two elements stood out.

First, his discussion of Islam and Christianity in Africa was especially enlightening. From the different levels with which Islam has historically confronted African Christianity to the need for correcting the Muslim misperception of Christianity as merely an imported Western religion, Turaki succinctly summarizes the longstanding tensions between these two religions throughout the continent.

Second, he reminds us of the ongoing danger of cults and false teaching in Africa:
Besides western neo-paganism, there are new forms of Christianity coming out of the West that have serious theological implications for Christianity world-wide. There are Christian cults and syncretism that are coming out from the West into Africa.
Does this sound familiar? Yes, I’ve often emphasized this point, but it’s helpful when a well-known African theologian underscores the same challenges. Turaki goes on to say:
. . . Africa also has its own home-grown revived neo-paganism, religious cults and syncretism. These contemporary religious movements are being boosted by (1) pagan revival in the West; and (2) the religious vibrancy and fervour of American Prosperity Pentecostalism.
And in contrast to the relativistic attitudes one often finds in the wider missions community, Turaki concludes this section with this ringing call to action:
. . . [N]ot every form of Christian expression is authentic, biblical and culturally relevant in an African setting. Not every theological experiment, teaching and model is acceptable and relevant. The believing Christian community has the duty of ascertaining what is acceptable or not. Not every cultural understanding, interpretation and expression is valid, as this has to be authenticated by the believing Christian community. In its own self and spiritual understanding of the Scriptures and apostolic Christianity, the believing Christian community can set guidelines as to what forms of Christian expressions are valid or not. Only sound biblical hermeneutics or exegesis and theological methods can help guard against possible errors, heresies and syncretism which may tend towards the emergence of new cults and neo-paganism.
What does Turaki see as the solution? Churches and believers who practice biblical discernment. (And all I can say is a hearty “Amen!”)

I praise God for my African brothers and sisters in Christ, for He is truly at work throughout the continent. At the same time, Turaki illustrates us the need for further theological reflection and refinement in light of difficult global issues.

Let us press on, glorifying our Savior as we equip Christians in Africa to face these challenges!

January 17, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

This week's round-up is a little late since my wife and I were able to go on a date last night (a rare opportunity when you have a diabetic child!). In any case, I still wanted to bring your attention to some new material on the web:

Proclamation magazine1) Paul Carden, "False teachings addressed in Africa" in Proclamation! magazine (November/December 2008). The Executive Director of our parent ministry has an article on African apologetics in the latest issue of Proclamation! Published by former Seventh-day Adventists, this magazine is an incredibly informative resource. I appreciate the opportunity to expose their readers to the challenges facing Christians and others in East Africa.

2) John Arube-Wani, "We musn't forget the Kanungu tragedy" in the New Vision newspaper (Uganda). Here is another editorial piece on the Sserulanda Spiritual Foundation. This researcher is worried that Uganda could be facing another Kanungu. Regardless, more study definitely needs to be done on this group.

3) Massimo Introvigne, "'The Black Jews of Africa': A Review" on the Center for Studies on New Religions web site. I find book reviews to be helpful overviews and quick snapshots of more substantive works. This review was very helpful in opening my eyes toward Black Jews in Africa. Now I'll have to add The Black Jews of Africa to my Amazon wish list!

4) "Theology in Black and White?" on the (Anglican) Church Mission Society web site. This link includes an audio dialogue between an emerging church, postmodern Englishman and a Pentecostal Nigerian. I found their discussion to be fascinating. This is a good MP3 to download and listen to for those interested in African vs. Western Christianity. As one blogger titled this conversation: "Postmodern Doubt and African Certainty."

January 14, 2009

Book Review: Free Indeed From Sorcery Bondage

Marvin S. Wolford, Free Indeed from Sorcery Bondage. San Rafael, CA: Pathway Press, 1999.

Free Indeed From Sorcery Bondage
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21). The Apostle Paul warns followers of Christ about the works of the flesh. In the West, we are familiar with most of these sins. But sorcery? What should we think of this evil?
For people living throughout Africa, this is not an abstract question. Sorcery is a part of their daily lives, and it does not simply disappear when one becomes a Christian. Marvin S. Wolford should know--he served as a missionary for 42 years in the Republic of Congo. And he brings the light of Scripture to bear on his experience and ministry in Free Indeed from Sorcery Bondage.
His book is divided into three parts. To begin, Wolford explains the reality of sorcery in Africa. For many throughout the continent, sorcery is more than a reality. It is a way of life. Next, the author turns to the Word of God. What does the Bible have to say about sorcery? Quite a bit, actually. But too many of us have never really taken the time to recognize the numerous passages dealing with sorcery or connected beliefs and practices. Wolford leaves no stone unturned, thoroughly explaining what God's truth has to say about this overlooked issue. Finally, he seeks to bring his insights down to a practical level. How can believers minister to sorcery-bound people? Practical steps and guidance is given to those seeking to work with individuals involved in sorcery.
I really appreciate Wolford's work. His explanation of sorcery in animistic contexts was enlightening. He also includes numerous examples of people throughout Africa, showing how central the sorcery cycle is to different cultures and people groups. Most importantly, he turns to Scripture for a true assessment of sorcery. This is the book's key strength. One may consult various anthropological or sociological materials to learn about sorcery. But only the Bible provides the examination necessary for faithful and fruitful ministry among those who live with sorcery. I enthusiastically agree with the author when he observes:
Preaching based on the scriptural facts, plus teaching the meaning and pertinence of the Scriptures, are the means of delivering people bound by sorcery. There is no human strength nor human wisdom that can deal with the situation. Spirit filled evangelistic preaching from the Bible, which regards sorcery as a sin, but a forgiveable sin, should direct people to a definite time of confession and repentance that will make a definite break with their past beliefs and practices. This is precisely the first work of the Holy Spirit in those who are in bondage (81).
At the same time, I must admit that Wolford and I come from different perspectives. He is a Wesleyan Arminian. Hence, in his rejection of fatalism, I have difficulties with his defense of personal free choices. He says, "Consequently, it is God's will for everyone to choose life; but the choice is up to each person" (134). Or, "When Jesus urges: 'Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,' he is admonishing his hearers to make the choice to seek God's kingdom first before all other things, but he leaves that decision up to them" (137). Biblically, we simply do not have this kind of freedom. Our hearts, our minds, our wills, every part of us is depraved. We would never choose God if left to ourselves. It is only through God's sovereign work of grace that we repent, believe, and obey Him.
Additionally, I would disagree with his belief in a second work of grace. Wolford writes "there is a distinct experience of filling that is separate from the initial salvation which Christ accomplishes in the repentant sinner's heart. The Holy Spirit is sent by Christ himself (see John 15:26), and his work in the believer is to glorify Christ (see v. 14), to guide him into all truth, and to give power to his life" (179). Thus, he divides Christians into two groups: victorious Christians and nominal Christians. However, this is an artificial separation. All believers are filled with the Holy Spirit when we are saved. Our lives are a slow process of spiritual maturity as we become more like Christ.
Regardless, I would not let these differences stop a Christian from being richly blessed through the reading of Free Indeed From Sorcery Bondage. Wolford provides such a wealth of insight and biblical application that I believe all missionaries serving where sorcery is a challenge should read this book. As I prepare to serve my Savior in Africa, I am sure that I will be regularly referring back to Wolford's work.
Unfortunately, his book is no longer in print. However, you can still purchase copies through sending a check for $10 each plus $2 shipping per book to:
Jean Wolford
125 Lowry Lane
Wilmore, KY 40390
For those desiring to learn more about this vital subject, make sure to pick up a copy while you can.

January 12, 2009

Depending on God Through Prayer

I admit it—I have a hard time depending on God. I know that I’m supposed to trust in Him for ACFAR’s success. I will even write and talk about our ministry’s dependence on Him. Nevertheless, all too often I try to handle establishing ACFAR in my own strength. I think: “What else can I do to raise awareness and support for our ministry?” “Have I done enough?” or “How can I be more productive?” I tend to keep busy, believing that the launch of ACFAR will only happen if I can get enough done.

Now you can see my problem plainly: There are far too many “I”s in the above paragraph. Where is Christ in my thinking and planning? Instead of placing my confidence and trust in Him, I can too easily succumb to worry and doubt. Maybe you’re even surprised to read a missionary writing this way. But I’m not a perfect Christian—I continue to struggle with sin. And sin is exactly what to call my lack of focus and trust in God.

PrayerAs 2009 begins, this truth has become all too evident to me. How is my Savior calling me to respond? Not by sitting back and doing nothing. No! What I need to do is keep what I’m doing in perspective. I am serving Christ, and I should not get so caught up in my work that I loose sight of my purpose in working. I seek to glorify Christ through the defense of His truth!

With this realization in mind, by God’s grace I intend to devote far more time this year to prayer, to communing with my Lord. I’m struck by the words of Jonathan Edwards:
“[P]rayer is but a sensible acknowledgment of our dependence on him to his glory. As he hath made all things for his own glory, so he will be glorified and acknowledged by his creatures; and it is fit that he should require this of those who would be the subjects of his mercy. That we, when we desire to receive any mercy from him, should humbly supplicate the Divine Being for the bestowment of that mercy, is but a suitable acknowledgment of our dependence on the power and mercy of God for that which we need, and but a suitable honour paid to the great Author and Fountain of all good.”
The future of ACFAR is not in my hands; it’s in God’s. What a wonderful truth! And by being united with Christ, I’m able to ask God to bless our ministry with confidence: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Will you join with me in prayer? If so, then please sign up to receive our e-mail ministry updates. I treasure every fellow believer who has come together with us to strengthen the church against error and win cultists to Christ in East Africa!

With just five months to go, we still have a long way to reach our required goals, and the challenges facing African believers are far more numerous and difficult than I can summarize here. But I can confidently say that only God can provide what’s needed for us to move to Uganda and launch the Center’s work there.

It may not be easy to depend on Him during the coming months, but it’s not hard to see that this process will bring me closer to Christ. And for this I praise God!

January 9, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

Since I have been away for a couple of weeks, I'm going to play catch up with a few new articles:

1) Matthew Parris, "As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God" in the Times Online (Britain). A fascinating opinion piece with the subtitle "Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset." I pray that the freeing gospel of Jesus Christ will continue to spread throughout Africa!

2) "A look at the church in Uganda in 2008" in the Sunday Vision newspaper (Uganda). Here is a brief report on the good, the bad, and the ugly of Christianity in Uganda. It is a helpful summary of where I will begin serving this year (Lord willing!).

3) Rob Crilly, "Escaping from a cult-like army" in the Irish Times newspaper (Ireland). Don't pass up this opportunity to read the account of a high-ranking leader in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA continues to wreak havoc in Uganda, Sudan, and Congo. May God bring an end to this horrible situation soon!

January 7, 2009

Book Notice: Truth About Adventist "Truth"

Dale Ratzlaff, Truth About Adventist “Truth.” Glendale, AZ: LAM Publications, 2007; 88 pp.

Truth About Adventist TruthThough many people don’t realize it, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is growing quickly around the world—especially in Africa. With this in mind, I’ve undertaken a detailed study of SDA history, beliefs, and practices.

One especially helpful resource is Dale Ratzlaff’s recently revised Truth About Adventist “Truth.” Ratzlaff, a former SDA pastor, has packed this booklet with solid summaries of the movement’s most troubling doctrinal distinctives, along with references and quotations from SDA leaders. CFAR’s executive director contributed the foreword and explains that “The time for a reassessment among evangelicals is long overdue, because for too many inattentive Christians, Adventism represents a profound danger hidden in plain sight. As Dale Ratzlaff amply demonstrates in the following pages, the movement is founded not on the infallible Word of God, but on such an extraordinary mass of error and calculated deception that it must be seen to be believed.”

From the Back Cover:
Many Christians believe the Seventh-day Adventist Church is simply another evangelical church that worships on Saturday (Sabbath). They do not perceive the organization’s cultic nature nor understand the spiritual bondage that results from following Adventist teachings.

In this book you will learn about:
• Adventism’s emergence from the date-setting heresy of the Millerite movement in the 1840s.
• The church’s foundation in Arianism.
• Ellen White, the “messenger” who is a “continuing and authoritative source of truth.”
• The gospel-denying investigative judgment.
• Sabbath as the “seal of God” and Sunday-worship as the “mark of the beast.”
• The doctrine that the dead do not exist; they do not go to be with the Lord.
• The printing and continuing promotion of The Clear Word, a Bible paraphrase containing Ellen White’s theology inserted into the texts.
• Deceptive practices, including misleading Walter Martin, concealing their identity in public evangelism, proselytizing Christians, pastors and administrators who privately disbelieve many Adventist doctrines yet must present a public image of complete loyalty for fear of losing their influence and livelihood and creating a crisis among the laity.

This book will help Evangelical pastors in knowing how to better minister to transitioning Adventists who may visit their church and help pastors to keep their own members from being caught in the enticing net of Adventist evangelism.

Table of Contents:
Foreword, 11
Preface, 13
Ellen White, a Source of Truth, 15
Founded on Error and Deception, 21
Remnant Church of Bible Prophecy, 29
Sabbath Observance, the Seal of God, 33
Sabbath Observance, the Mark of the Beast, 39
Judgment Started, October 22, 1844, 43
Promote The Clear Word, 51
Dead Persons No Longer Exist, 61
Gospel Additions, 65
Deceptive Practices Still Used, 69
Author’s Summary Remarks, 75
The Good News of Christ, 79
Suggested Resources, 85

January 5, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy 2009As promised, I’m back! And as you can tell, we’ve entered 2009 with some changes.

The Africa Center for Apologetics Research now has a thoroughly updated web site. Not only does it have a fresh look, but you’ll also find some special new features. One exciting addition is the section on Cultic Groups in East Africa. You can now search through a growing list of cultic and controversial religious movements by both their names and by the countries where they’re active. Be sure to check it out!

As you can see, this blog has also undergone a major facelift, and we’ve given it a more descriptive title: African Apologetics. We hope that many more people will learn about ACFAR and join us in advancing biblical discernment in East Africa. Please feel free to link to this blog so that others can become aware of the many cross-cultural challenges to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (And for those of you who already have us listed in your blogroll, don’t forget to change our name in your link!)

Before I forget, I also want to let you know that my popular series on Christ Gospel Church (CGC) has been slightly edited and uploaded to Google’s Knol:What Does Christ Gospel Church Teach? Analyzing the Teaching of Bernice R. Hicks.” Those who are interested in the CGC can now easily read and refer others to this introduction to the basic beliefs of this international sect, which has its headquarters in my hometown.

These updates are just a taste of what’s to come. As the Divito family prepares to serve Christ in Uganda this year, a lot more will be happening.

Stay tuned for more—and keep praying for ACFAR!