February 28, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

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

1) Robert Kalumba, "Digging into the juju world" in the Sunday Monitor newspaper (Uganda). I always hesitate to post these stories, but this article is the latest report on the growing popularity of witchdoctors and human sacrifice.

2) Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, "We must crusade against human sacrifice" in the Weekly Observer newspaper (Uganda). With the increasing attention on witchcraft and human sacrifice in Uganda, church leaders are stepping forward to confront this challenge. This letter was released by Anglican Archbishop Orombi and several other key Christian leaders in the country. May God bless their efforts!

3) Marshall Rabil, "Delicious peace: A story from across the world in Africa" in the Tidewater News newspaper. Here is an account of a recent visit to Uganda where the writer met and stayed with a local member of a Jewish splinter group—the Kulanu: "This is a unique sect of Judaism that began in 1919 by Shimei Kakungula because of his interpretations of the Bible. J.J.’s grandfather was a friend of Shimei’s and converted to Judaism with him, and he and his family remain in the minority in Mbale."

4) Tim Keel, "An Invitation to Amahoro Africa" on the Emergent Village Weblog. The Emergent movement in Africa? Yes. While I have pointed out their involvement in Africa before, this blog post is an unfortunate reminder of their goals among our African brothers and sisters in Christ.

February 24, 2009

Visiting Voice of God Headquarters

Front SignI recently had the opportunity to tour the international headquarters of William Branham Ministries (also known as Voice of God Recordings, or VGR). While most Americans have never heard of William Marrion Branham (1909–1965), the message of this American “prophet” is rapidly spreading throughout the world. And given his cult’s special focus on Africa, it cannot be ignored.

Who was William Branham? His followers believe that he was God’s unique end-time prophet sent to prepare the church for Christ’s return. Branham is considered the promised Elijah to the Gentiles (Mal. 4:5), the “angel of the Laodicean church” (Rev. 3:14), and the mighty angel with the rainbow on his head (Rev. 10:1). Branham fiercely denied the Trinity and taught that Christians need to become part of “the Bride” (i.e., those who follow his teachings). Branham’s messages are seen as Scripture, and the printed books and booklets include verse numbers for easy reference. His ministry is the key to being ready for the Second Coming, so his followers zealously seek to spread his message as widely as possible in these last days.

Printing WarehouseEverybody at Branham headquarters was very friendly and open about their ministry, and I was surprised to see how involved they are internationally. My tour guide proudly gave the following statistics:
  • 65 offices around the world (with 5 offices in South Africa alone!)
  • Active in 177 countries
  • Printed materials in 77 languages
  • Audio translations in 40 languages
VGR’s outreach efforts are focused and aggressive. Their immense printing warehouse can produce 64,000 32-page Branham booklets per hour. VGR also has high-tech audio editing and duplication capabilities. A worker in their audio department told me that they can average 2,000 cassettes a day between their two main machines. Since I know a little about how difficult it would be to translate and record audio messages into other languages, I was shocked to learn that they’re also currently translating about five of Branham’s messages a week.

Branham's DeskTheir hard work is paying off. My tour guide estimated that VGR produced and shipped ten million booklets last year alone. They can deliver an oceangoing container filled with material to South Africa in just four weeks (less time than they can get material to parts of Europe!). Branham is estimated to have followers numbering in the hundreds of thousands in Uganda alone, yet most evangelical Christians I ask have no idea who he was.

My tour was eye opening and sobering. I left more certain than ever of how important it is for us to counter Branham’s false message with the true gospel of Jesus Christ!

Next week I plan to share more of my reflections. Until then, be sure to join the new ACFAR cause on Facebook. I just uploaded a photo album of my visit, so you can see many more photos of my time at VGR headquarters.

February 21, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

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

1) Rachel Kabejja, "What’s with men of God and titles lately?" in the Sunday Monitor newspaper (Uganda). This writer looks into the frequent lack of theological knowledge and training among the pastors and church leaders in Uganda. She also researches several options available for educating church leaders.

2) Hamadou Tidiane Sy, "Senegalese president admits he was a Freemason and causes controversy" in the Daily Nation newspaper (Kenya). The title pretty much says it all, but the story becomes even more interesting when one recognizes that Senegal is a predominantly Muslim country.

3) "The Pygmies Of Yeyimbo" Part 1 and Part 2 in the Catch the Vision Update. Earlier this month, the Branhamites put out a two part update on their ministry among the Pygmy believers in Africa. In these articles, you can read firsthand about this cult's success in the continent.

4) Erich Bridges, "Healing Africa's wounded urban heart" in Baptist Press. Last Thursday, Baptist Press devoted their stories to mission work in Nairobi, Kenya. All of the reports are worth reading. But this article includes an important quote from a missionary serving there: "Nairobi has every religion you can find in the world: Hindu, Buddhist, animist, African traditional religions, Christianity, hundreds of cults." May Christ advance biblical discernment and the defense of our faith in East Africa!

February 18, 2009

Book Review: Who are the Living-Dead?

Richard Gehman, Who are the Living-Dead? A Theology of Death, Life After Death and the Living-Dead. Nairobi: Evangel Publishing House, 1999.

Who are the Living-Dead?While preparing to become a missionary in East Africa, I am seeking to better understand the cultural beliefs and worldviews of those living in this region of the world. The latest book I have completed is Who are the Living-Dead? A Theology of Death, Life After Death and the Living-Dead by Richard Gehman. Gehman is an American missionary who served for years with the Africa Inland Mission at Scott Theological College in Kenya. He is also editor of the Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology.

The living-dead may not be much of an issue for Christians and others in North America, but they are very real for many Africans. As an experienced missionary teaching African pastors, Gehman recognized the need to address ancestors, death, and the living-dead biblically. He summarizes his purpose with three goals:

This book has three objectives:
(1) to provide theological and pastoral help for the Christian pastors and church leaders in Africa so that they can teach and strengthen Christians to face sickness and death with courage without returning to African Traditional Religion.
(2) to provide the educated, thinking lay Christian in Africa with an understanding of death according to the Bible so that he can develop a Christian world view and stand strong in his faith.
(3) to help the church in Africa develop a biblical theology of death, life after death and the living-dead so that she will continue to grow strong in the knowledge of the gospel and resist teaching contrary to the truth of the gospel (x).

His book is broken down into five parts. The author begins by explaining and summarizing the African Traditional Religion's beliefs and practices regarding death, life after death and the living-dead. Then he examines how Christians are to relate to God and to our parents, including the tension between the first and the fifth commandments concerning worship and honor. Next, he turns to different solutions Christians have offered to these issues in Africa, assessing their truthfulness in light of Scripture. The rest of his work is devoted to building a biblical understanding of the living-dead, death, and the afterlife.

Overall, Gehman's book is excellent. I found it very informative. He tackles many questions, such as the difference between veneration and worship, whether the living can speak and relate to the dead, and the powers of darkness. His work is theologically rich while remaining clear for the average believer. Additionally, I am grateful to his continual commitment to the centrality of Scripture in his study. He exegetes numerous biblical texts to see how they relate to the important issues under consideration.

One section of this work that really stands out is his consideration of the intermediate state (as well as his appendix on Hades and Sheol). What happens to believers and unbelievers between their deaths and the time when Christ returns? Gehman's treatment is one of the best overviews surrounding this complex question that I have read. Easy to understand and biblically compelling, I am especially thankful for the clarity he brings to this difficult issue.

However, I do have a couple of disagreements. First, Gehman seems to believe that Christians can be demonized (demon possessed). He writes:

Christians who are walking in obedience to God, filled by His Spirit and washed in the blood, have nothing to fear from the powers of darkness, as we shall see. But the Christian who lowers his guard and falls away from God by living in sin, may open himself up to various forms of oppression from the unclean spirits. There are various degrees of demonic control, ranging from milder forms of demonic oppression to a complete spirit possession (170).
While demons are real and can bring severe external oppression upon Christians, a true follower of Christ cannot be demonized. For more information and an excellent refutation of this view, see the article "Can a Christian Be 'Demonized'?" by Brent Grimsley and Elliot Miller in the Summer 2003 issue of the Christian Research Journal.

Second, when dealing with the destiny of the unevangelized, Gehman leaves open the possibility of salvation apart from the gospel. Following Reformers such as Zwingli and others, he says:

General revelation does not offer any hope of salvation. Only by a special revelation from God Himself can anyone understand his own sinful condition, repent of his sin, and turn to the Lord for forgiveness. Normally this comes through preaching the gospel. But there may be some individuals whom God draws to Himself apart from such proclamation, as He did with Job, Melchizedek and others. But this is the exception, not the rule (282).

In his analysis, the author simply does not sufficiently take into account the progression of redemption. We do not live in the era of Job and Melchizedek. Jesus Christ has come, establishing the reality of the new covenant. No hope exists apart from gospel proclamation.

Nevertheless, I cannot stress enough the importance of this book for Africans and missionaries serving our Lord in Africa. The church is indebted to Gehman for his taking the time to provide a theology of death, life after death, and the living-dead. I am sure that this book will continue to be essential reading for years to come.

One last note: this book was published by Evangel Publishing House in Nairobi, Kenya. While their distribution reaches Britain, this book may not be easy to find and purchase. Do not let this challenge deter you—it is well worth the money.

February 16, 2009

eBooks and Mission Work

Last week, Amazon.com made an announcement that sent shock waves through the Internet. They are finally releasing their second-generation eBook reader, the Kindle 2. Zondervan also recently mentioned that they gave away two free Sony Readers, preloaded with several leading Christian books and a Bible, at last year’s ETS and SBL annual meetings. I’ll let others debate whether we’re witnessing a transition away from printed books to electric reading, but I want to take a few moments to discuss what eBooks could mean for missions work.

The potential advantages are exciting. Imagine carrying an entire library in an object smaller than a single book! Missionaries often have very limited space to move items with them overseas, and books must usually be kept to a minimum. Those of us with ministries focused on theological education and defending the faith find this challenge especially daunting. Could eBook readers give us the flexibility we need to effectively serve Christ without losing essential information and resources? We wouldn’t have to figure out how to ship dozens of heavy boxes of books halfway around the world; our research collections could travel in our carry-on luggage.

But issues remain. While Zondervan, Crossway, and others have made electronic versions of their books available, many more evangelical publishers haven’t joined the eBook bandwagon. I’d guesstimate that under ten percent of my library is currently available in some electronic form, so devices like the Kindle and Sony Reader aren’t workable replacements—yet.

Electronic reading also has some limitations which I’m not sure can be easily overcome. As an avid Mortimer Adler devotee (and if you don’t know who I’m talking about, read this book!), I frequently mark my books with various lines and notations. How can I do this in an electronic reader and easily refer back to my thoughts in the future?

And one final concern: While this technological step may be a great leap forward in global ministry, most of the world is nowhere close to taking advantage of it. I first realized this fact as I started serving Christ overseas. Since I’m something of a tech-geek, I figured that the efficient and inexpensive way to get relevant, updated, and translated resources into the hands of the most church leaders and other believers was to establish an elaborate Internet presence. We could create a web site with articles that can be viewed and printed, plus a database offering the latest research. But when I actually went to East Africa I quickly discovered that such assistance can only go so far. Most Africans have only limited Internet access, if any—and they seldom have computers. We can’t assume that church leaders can access our information online, however badly they may need it. So we’ve had to focus our near-term strategies on using more traditional media like printed tracts, newsletters, and DVDs.

Now perhaps you can see a little better how a Kindle or Sony Reader would mainly be of value to missionaries. I could have hundreds or even thousands of books at my fingertips—but the vast majority of my African friends could not. And until technological initiatives like Ubuntunet take hold, they’ll still need theological libraries with lots of printed books, journals, magazines, newsletters, and other periodicals. Most fundamentally, they’ll need the Bible; too few African Christians own so much as a single copy of God’s Word, even when it’s been printed in their own language.

So you can see why I’m both enthusiastic and cautious about electronic readers. I may be able to use one to effectively serve Christ someday. At the same time, technology alone can’t equip our African brothers and sisters in Christ. May the Lord guide our efforts as we navigate through these complex waters!

February 13, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

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

1) Ben Okiror and Cyprian Musoke, "Mubajje warns of bloodshed" in the New Vision newspaper (Uganda). The split among Uganda's Muslims continues to escalate. While controversial Mufti Sheikh Ramathan Mubajje seeks to remain in his leadership seat, his support continues to dwindle. Hopefully, this situation can be resolved soon and peacefully.

2) Robert Kalumba, "Will only 144,000 people go to heaven?" in the Sunday Monitor newspaper (Uganda). This writer tries to give an overview of several religions (including the Jehovah's Witnesses), but he fumbles when arguing for religious pluralism. We must not believe that different religions have their own ways to God. Instead, we should seek to understand our Creator and who He has revealed Himself to be. Knowing Christ will not result in hatred and superiority but humility and love. I pray that Kalumba will understand this essential truth!

3) Max Delany, "Brutal retreat of LRA rebels in Congo" in The Christian Science Monitor newspaper. This prestigious newspaper gives a grim update on the renewed advance against the Lord's Resistance Army. May peace come quickly to East Africa.

4) Malita Wamala, "How ready are you for ministry?" in the Weekly Observer newspaper (Uganda). In answering this question, Wamala has found insight and inspiration from Benny Hinn. Once again, we see the need for biblical discernment in Uganda and beyond.

February 11, 2009

Book Notice: New Religious Movements in Africa

Aylward Shorter and Joseph N. Njiru, New Religious Movements in Africa. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2001; 112 pp.

New Religious Movements in AfricaChristianity is rapidly growing throughout Africa—sadly, accompanied by many new religious groups, most of which corrupt the gospel and God’s Word. In New Religious Movements in Africa, two Catholic scholars seek to better understand these groups through case studies conducted in Nairobi, Kenya. While their book has notable shortcomings, it is one of the few works available which even addresses this vital topic.

From the back cover:
During the last ten to fifteen years, there has been a bewildering explosion of new religious movements in Africa: open-air rallies, crusades, revival gatherings, miracle centers, healing ministries and so on. Kenya, a country which had already experienced a proliferation of sects and independent churches, was a propitious ground for these new religious movements. More and more, this is the form that Christianity is taking, outside the confines of the mainline churches. Many observers are wondering about this phenomenon. Why is it happening? What does it mean? What is its impact on the mainline denominations?

This book is an examination of new religious movements as they are appearing and operating in the city of Nairobi. New religious movements are essentially an urban phenomenon, and Nairobi City is therefore an ideal environment in which to observe them. But the study can be applied to new religious movements all over Africa.

Table of Contents:
Introduction, 7
Religious Movements New and Old, 11
Pentecostals and Neo-Pentecostals, 25
Bible and Salvation in New Religious Movements, 39
New Religious Movements and the Catholic Church, 54
Women and Youth in the New Religious Movements, 68
External Relationship of New Religious Movements, 85
Apparitions and Cults, 99

February 9, 2009

Christ in Word-Faith Teaching

Evangelical Review of TheologyAs I prepare to serve Christ in Africa, I'm thankful to have discovered a remarkably relevant issue of the Evangelical Review of Theology (ERT). This week I'll focus on one more essay from this collection: "The Nature of the Crucified Christ in Word-Faith Teaching" by William P. Atkinson. As most of you already know, the Word-Faith movement (and its notorious "prosperity gospel") poses a tragic and ever-growing challenge to Christianity throughout Africa.

William AtkinsonAtkinson specifically examines the widespread Word-Faith belief that Jesus died spiritually on the cross and in the grave (also known as the JDS teaching). E.W. Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin, and Kenneth Copeland have all taught some form of this view, which maintains that Jesus partook of a sinful and satanic nature in His death. After summarizing their positions, the author moves to the critiques commonly made of JDS teaching and assesses their validity. Finally, focusing on the claim that JDS teaching is based on Scripture, Atkinson turns to the Bible itself to refute this problematic error.

I learned much from Atkinson's analysis. While I've read other materials on Word-Faith theology, his article was a fresh reminder of just how dangerous this teaching can be—its proponents are compromising the very nature of our Savior Himself! As Atkinson concludes:
"... the greatest weakness ... of JDS teaching is its inability to offer satisfactory answers to questions that are demanded by tensions between these teachers' superficial allegiance to traditional incarnational Christology and substitutionary atonement theory, and their actual delineation of the events of the cross" (184).
—which is a scholarly way of saying that holding to JDS teaching is incompatible with the truth of who Christ is and what He accomplished in His death. Such deception cannot be tolerated by followers of Jesus!

Another challenging feature of this article is Atkinson's assessment of typical polemics against the JDS view. A thorough and thoughtful critic, Atkinson takes great care to properly represent the views of those with whom he disagrees. He demonstrates the inadequacy of efforts by some evangelical apologists, who take the easy route by attacking unjustifiable caricatures they've set up just to score theological points. How easy it is to settle for straw-man arguments and not invest the time required to correctly understand, and engage with, the real views of one's opponent.

Thanks to the ongoing parade of Word-Faith celebrities and their imitators in Africa, such harmful teachings have been spreading almost unchecked for years and must be addressed. May ACFAR be greatly used by God to model sound apologetic approaches to these errors and help the Body of Christ to rightly handle God's Word.

February 6, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

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

1) "Anti-Christian Gaddafi Takes Over as AU Chair" in Catholic Information Services for Africa. I have previously mentioned the controversy surrounding Muammar Gaddafi in East Africa. Now he has been elected chairman of the African Union. His new position could impact the Christian-Muslim relationship in Africa. We'll have to see.

2) "Christians in Africa Face Persecution" on CBN News. Here is an important news story about the persecution facing our brothers and sisters in Christ. The report even mentions Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Let us pray for Christians in Africa!

3) "City Opens For Missionary Work In the DR Congo" on the LDS Church Growth Blog. Mormons continue to have success in Africa. Here is a blog post celebrating their latest advance in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their false claims need to be countered with the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

4) Michael Oh, "Missions as Fasting: The Forsaking of Things Present for the Global Exaltation of Christ" on the Desiring God web site. Would you like to be challenged and convicted? Then listen to or watch Oh's message from the Desiring God 2009 Conference for Pastors. And if you would like to join me in fasting and prayer for our East African ministry, then please let me know.

February 4, 2009

Bio Disc: Healing Miracle or Deception?

We recently received a request from an African church leader who wanted more information on the Amezcua Bio Disc. Though it’s not well-known in America, the Bio Disc is being sold across Asia and the Middle East as a miraculous solution to common health-related problems. Now Christians in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania are being invited to not only purchase and use the Bio Disc and related “Harmonised Energy” items, but to sell it themselves as well.

What is the Bio Disc? Does it actually work? Should Christians join QuestNet (or “The V”) and engage in “network marketing” so they can profit from selling this expensive object to their families and friends? These important questions demonstrate how practical apologetics can be in Africa. As with other New Age products, the Bio Disc's promoters do much more than promise “wellness,” because the device actually promotes a deceptive Eastern worldview.

We compiled a basic one-page overview of the Bio Disc that summarizes our research and succinctly addresses the main theological and ethical concerns of relevance to African Christians. You can read it yourself (in PDF format). And if you’d like to learn more, here’s a video featuring a man identified as Dr. Ian Lyons (who is said to be one of the Bio Disc’s inventors):

Sadly, such problems aren’t confined to the West; in our shrinking world, hucksters can easily find an ignorant and sometimes desperate audience in developing countries. May our Lord bring more discernment to His people in East Africa!

February 2, 2009

Learning to be Content

Louisville Ice StormHave you missed me? I know that it’s been a week since my last post, but last Tuesday night our area went through what’s been reported as the worst ice storm for our region in modern history. Maybe you heard about what happened in the news. The latest report is that National Guard troops are going door to door to make sure everyone is OK and provided for.

My home was without power (and heat!) from early Wednesday morning until late Friday evening. And due to the amount of ice frozen to the trees, we had plenty of branches fall down. Nevertheless, God provided for us during this difficult time. A friend’s family generously opened up their house to us until power was restored. A coworker with a 4-wheel Jeep and a winch helped move a huge branch out of our driveway. A flexible work environment has allowed me to modify my schedule as needed. Amazingly, our house sustained minimal damage considering the amount of branches and debris that fell.

If nothing else, I’ve quickly realized how important something can be which we normally take for granted. Without electricity, life as we know it simply grinds to a halt. I wish I could say that I relied on Christ and took everything in stride, but frustration and fear quickly set in. Thankfully, God uses times like these to show me how much I have to grow in my contentment in Him. The fact of the matter is that God took wonderful care of us. Far better than I deserve!

Now our lives have begun to return to normal. I’ve returned to work. I’ll begin blogging again. And I’m slowly cleaning up what remains from the storm. At the same time, I pray that I will continue to grow in my contentment in Christ. These words from the Apostle Paul keep coming to mind:
“...for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11–13)