April 29, 2009

Book Review: Latter-day Cipher

Latayne C. Scott, Latter-day Cipher. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009.

Latter-day CipherWhat happens when you take a fictional suspense-thriller and place it in Utah, the center of Mormonism? Latayne C. Scott gives us an example in her novel Latter-day Cipher. A former Mormon who converted to evangelical Christianity, Scott helps readers understand Mormonism through a murder mystery.

The main character is Selonnah Zee, who winds up in Utah when the murders begin taking place. As a journalist, she is quickly assigned to cover the growing number of deaths which are connected by Mormonism and its history. In reporting on these complex cases, she finds herself embarking on a crash course in Mormonism, from her LDS cousin Roger to her newfound local reporter friend Anne. Can Selonnah wrap her mind around Mormonism enough to solve these crimes? And what will these crimes expose about the Mormon church? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

I admit up front that I don’t read a lot of fiction, so I’m not evaluating the book’s literary merits from a position of strength. I can see reviewers critiquing Scott’s work as being somewhat underdeveloped, with the plot serving primarily as a vehicle for teaching readers about Mormonism. With this in mind, the book may fall short for someone who’s simply looking for a good thriller.

At the same time, I really appreciate Scott in her attempt to creatively educate people about Mormonism. Many Christians and others may never pick up a book summarizing and evaluating LDS teaching. But they would likely be drawn to a contemporary murder mystery novel which is filled with information on Mormonism’s history and beliefs. Consequently, as a teaching tool, I really like her book. I would definitely give it to a Christian friend who enjoys this kind of fictional work. It even has questions for discussion in the back to think through some of the concerns and issues that she raises.

Nevertheless, I should offer a few disclaimers. First, given the nature of the crimes, the storytelling can be graphic and may be inappropriate for some readers. Second, Selonnah’s friend Anne is a Christian who explains the Trinity by using the analogy of three states of water (ice, water, and steam)—a common illustration that’s fundamentally flawed and can lead to a misunderstanding of the nature of God. Third, I don’t think the ending provides sufficient closure to the story. I can only assume that this book is meant to be the first of a series, but I felt like the book just kind of abruptly ended.

In any case, I don’t believe that these caveats should necessarily prevent Christians from reading an entertaining page-turner which will also inform them a great deal about Mormonism. I pray that the Lord will use Latter-day Cipher to better prepare His people to lovingly respond to the errors of Mormonism with the truth of biblical Christianity.

April 28, 2009

Visiting the Baha'i House of Worship

Last week I wrote about attending the annual conference of the International Society of Christian Apologetics (ISCA). While in the Chicago area, Paul Carden (the executive director of our parent ministry) and I also visited the Bahá’í House of Worship. This House of Worship is the only one on the North American continent, and one of just seven in the world.

As a side note before I move on, guess where one of the other Bahá’í Houses of Worship is? You guessed it: in Uganda, where I plan to launch our ministry.

I have to admit that I was amazed by the architecture of the House of Worship in Wilmette, Ill. It’s truly a sight to behold, with a seating capacity of nearly 1,200 and a dome that’s 90 feet in diameter. Quotations like these from the Prophet Bahá’u’lláh appear over all the entrances and alcoves:
  • “All of the Prophets of God proclaim the same faith.”
  • “Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent.”
  • “So powerful is unity’s light that it can illumine the whole earth.”
After we finished looking at the building, we spent an hour and a half or so with a tour guide, who was a fifth-generation Bahá’í and very friendly. We asked her lots of questions to better understand the faith, learn why she’s a follower, and politely challenge her misperceptions (and misrepresentations) of Christianity and the Gospel. Our time together was very educational, and I can easily see why it appeals to so many Westerners today.

But what is the Bahá’í faith? For most people in America, it’s still a fairly unknown and mysterious religion. An offshoot of Islam, its central theme is: “Bahá’ís believe that there is one God, that all humanity is one family, and that there is a fundamental unity underlying religion.” Thus, God has sent a series of “manifestations” or divine messengers, namely: Adam, Noah, Zoroaster, Krishna, Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb, and Bahá’u’lláh. Each messenger builds off the truths taught by preceding prophets, thus opening new vistas of spiritual insight as humanity becomes ready for them. The latest manifestation was Bahá’u’lláh (1817–1892), who provides the fullest and most thorough understanding of God and our purpose in the world.

Bahá’ís do not see Jesus as God incarnate, but as simply one of the nine messengers. They generally interpret the Bible as symbolic instead of accepting its literal meaning. Bahá’u’lláh is said to fulfill Jesus’ Second Coming and complete His teachings. Essentially, Bahá’ís force Jesus to fit into their mold of religious history in order to claim him as their own. In so doing they deny who He is and the redemption He has accomplished.

Consequently, I left the Bahá’í House of Worship more committed than ever to respond to such falsehoods with the true gospel of Jesus Christ. By counterfeiting Jesus, Bahá’ís are keeping others from knowing the genuine Savior who brings true hope and peace with God.

Pray with me that the Lord will use us to equip our African brothers and sisters in Christ to meet this challenge!

April 25, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

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

1) Mwangi Muiruri, "Gang now takes war to the church" and "Mungiki: Victims tell of their ordeal in hands of sect" in The Standard newspaper (Kenya). Mungiki is a growing, violent sect which has been gaining ground for years in Kenya. Here are two reports that demonstrate the serious challenge it presents to Christians in East Africa.

2) Robert Kalumba, "Ugandan pastors and their lifestyles" in the Sunday Monitor newspaper (Uganda). The subtitle summarizes this article well: "If it wasn’t for their job titles, some of our pastors would be mistaken for CEOs of multinational companies." While I would not consider some of those included in this list Ugandan pastors, it nevertheless provides insight into the success of the false prosperity gospel in Uganda.

3) Michael J. Ssali, "The healing powers of Mutume" in the Sunday Monitor newspaper (Uganda). This news story introduces us to a Ugandan Catholic miracle worker who has an increasing number of followers even as the Catholic church is trying to rein him in. The report notes that Mutume (which in Luganda means Apostle) "has attracted a considerable following and could soon be the leader of a new break-away sect from the Catholic Church."

April 22, 2009

Book Notice: The Dawning of a Brighter Day

Alexander B. Morrison, The Dawning of a Brighter Day: The Church in Black Africa. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1990; 149 pp.

The Dawning of a Brighter DayThough Mormons have always zealously sought to convert others to their faith, in many ways their “last frontier” has been Africa. Given its long history of racism toward Africans, the LDS church’s early missionary efforts generally steered clear of black Africa. All of this changed when the LDS church released “Official Declaration—2” in 1978, allowing “worthy” Mormon males of African descent to hold the priesthood. Today the church reports amazing success over much of the continent, and with the recent announcement of the first black African general authority, Mormonism seems poised for even greater expansion—and confrontation with evangelical Christians.

Alexander B. Morrison, now an emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, recalls his church’s transformation from outsider to “contender” in Africa in The Dawning of a Brighter Day. Even though the book is now out of print, the fact that it was released by the official LDS publishing house testifies to its importance in understanding the changing face of Mormonism in Africa.

At the church’s October 1987 general conference, Morrison declared that “our humble African brothers and sisters are well prepared to receive and obey the fulness of the gospel of Christ”—that is, the message of Joseph Smith. Let us pray that the Body of Christ will prepare itself and resist.

From the inside cover:
“In some ways establishing the gospel in Africa represents the most difficult challenge the Church has ever had to face....We will succeed in Africa only as we learn and come to understand the oftentimes confusing social, political, historical, and economic realities of that vast continent and base what we do on real knowledge.”

So writes Alexander B. Morrison....In The Dawning of a Brighter Day, Elder Morrison describes some of the “confusing realities” of Black Africa, particularly as they pertain to proselyting efforts of the Church there.

“The golden key that unlocked the door to bringing the fullness of the gospel to Black Africa was the revelation on priesthood, received in June 1978,” he explains. Since then, missions and stakes have been established in several countries, and many faithful individuals have been converted and are ass uming leadership roles among the members.

Today, “the clouds if a long night’s darkness are beginning to roll away from Africa as a new day dawns,” Elder Morrison concludes. “It is a day whose light is the Son of God, a day made brighter by the glow of the glorious gospel of Christ.”

April 20, 2009

Iron Sharpening Iron in Chicago

International Society of Christian ApologeticsLate last night I returned from the fourth annual conference of the International Society of Christian Apologetics (ISCA). This year it was on the campus of Trinity International University, which houses the well-known Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. It was my first time to the Chicago area (unless you count brief layovers in the O'Hare airport) as well as my first time to be a part of this conference.

What a blessing! Reflecting on my weekend, I thank God for so many things. Here are a few:

I met lots of brothers and sisters in Christ committed to defending His truth, including several scholars which have been very influential in my spiritual growth and service. This included men such as Rob Bowman, Winfried Corduan, Norman Geisler, Wayne House, Chad Meister, and Phil Roberts. I am honored to have met and talked with these experienced apologists.

I learned how to better defend my faith through several incredibly informative workshops and sessions. Obviously I cannot give my thoughts of each one, but I must mention one session that I found especially important—"The Ethics of Apologetics" by David Cook of Wheaton College. Cook spoke from his heart and experience, listing several key considerations apologists must keep in mind as we counter error. I only wish that they recorded the session!

I was able to strategize with Paul Carden on the future of ACFAR. While I cannot say too much about our discussions yet, we were able to accomplish a great deal. You should be hearing about some wonderful developments over the next several weeks, so be sure to stay tuned!

I worshiped on the Lord's Day at Village Bible Church. I greatly enjoyed my time there, praising God with fellow believers and hearing His Word faithfully proclaimed. Pastor Ray Gurunian's sermon was a deeply edifying message on a very hard passage of Scripture (have you ever heard a sermon on Matthew 7:6?!?).

I may have come home tired, but by God's grace we accomplished so much. With so many challenges facing the church today, it is easy to lose heart. But last weekend reminded me that the church of Christ will not fail—the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Praise God!

April 17, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

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

Joseph Sitati1) Peggy Fletcher Stack, "Africa's 'Mormon superstar' is first black African LDS general authority" in the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. Three decades after worthy African males were allowed to hold the Mormon priesthood, the LDS church's first black African general authority has been named. Joseph W. Sitati is a Kenyan and former President of the Nigeria Calabar mission. His appointment is evidence of the LDS church's growing commitment and missionary success in Africa.

2) Peggy Fletcher Stack, "LDS Swahili Branch unites African Mormons" in the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. As Mormonism continues to spread throughout Africa, it is also seeking to convert Africans here in America. This article reports on a branch in Utah that conducts its meetings in Swahili.

3) John MacArthur, "Doctrine IS Practical" in Pulpit Magazine. As only MacArthur can, he gives a compelling demonstration of the importance of doctrinal truth for Christians today.

April 15, 2009

Viral Video: The Lausanne Movement and its History

As an avid supporter of the Lausanne Movement, I am thrilled that they have established a YouTube channel to post videos on their movement and modern missions work. However, I realize that many people are not very familiar with one of evangelicalism's most important global efforts. To do my small part, I am turning over today's Viral Video post to a series of videos explaining the Lausanne Movement and its history. Enjoy!

April 13, 2009

Your Prayers Can Open the Door to Africa

Today I sent out our ministry's latest update to our prayer partners. While I normally do not post these updates to our blog, I wanted to share this month's letter with you. If you would like to become a prayer partner and automatically receive our updates in your e-mail inbox, then be sure to sign up today!

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:1-2

Dear Friend,

Jesus is risen indeedIn the afterglow of Easter I’m reminded of how the Apostle Paul opens his well-known chapter on the resurrection. He grounds the life-changing message of the Gospel in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And by holding fast to Christ’s redeeming work, you and I are saved—what amazing Good News!

Yet many in Africa are corrupting this glorious truth, leading multitudes of unsuspecting people to destruction:

The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus wasn’t God, that he rose from the grave as a spirit-being, and that God the Father simply discarded his physical body.

The Branhamites, by contrast, teach that Jesus was literally God the Father who died on the cross.

The Bahá’ís deny Christ’s bodily resurrection, calling it “a spiritual and divine fact, not a material reality.”

The abaikiriza of Ugandan “god-man” Owobusobozi Bisaka, like other indigenous cults, have no use for Christ or Easter at all. Bisaka even claims that Jesus “was not a saviour, and never existed.”

Missionary Islam is on the march across the region, denying the resurrection of Jesus outright, teaching instead that He was merely a prophet of God who was taken up into heaven, while someone else—possibly Judas Iscariot—perished on the cross in His place.

Peddlers of the prosperity gospel exploit the cross of Christ as a path to personal enrichment, as if our Lord and Savior were a genie in a bottle. In East Africa there are thousands of churches with pastors who preach this distorted message.

Where can African pastors turn for help? Who will help Christians refute these false claims and faithfully proclaim the good news of Christ’s resurrection to a world starving for redemption?

African pastors learn from God's Word at a CFAR trainingFor the past two years, we’ve been prayerfully working toward launching a center in East Africa to meet this very need. And today our ministry faces some critical challenges. While we’ve gained a handful of faithful new supporters since the first of the year, ACFAR’s support has essentially stalled.

To reach our goal of launching the ministry “on the ground” in Kampala by the end of May, we still need 275 prayer partners, $5,000 in new monthly commitments, and $30,000 in startup support.

Unless God does something drastic and wonderful in the next 60 days, our ministry goal will remain out of reach, and we’ll have to rethink the future of the Africa Center.

So we must pray! Please join with me in prayer and fasting this month, asking God to advance His kingdom through the defense of His truth in East Africa.

Our ministry’s future is in the Lord’s capable and all-powerful hands.

And I can’t imagine being in a better place.

Because of His grace,
John Divito, Director
Africa Center for Apologetics Research

P.S. If God is leading you to support CFAR, please join us today! Your partnership can help us change the spiritual equation in East Africa for generations to come.

April 10, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

On this Good Friday when we remember the sacrificial death of our Savior, I want to provide a couple of important articles for this week's round-up:

1) Paul Kiwuuwa, "Christians to mark Jesus’ suffering in Friday walk" in the New Vision newspaper (Uganda). How are many Ugandan Christians celebrating Good Friday and Easter? You can read more about their united plans here.

2) Andrew Rice, "Mission From Africa" in the New York Times magazine. This is a long but extremely important piece in the latest issue of the New York Times magazine. Here we learn more about the growth of Pentecostalism in Africa and their spreading influence throughout the world, mainly as reported through the Redeemed Christian Church of God. A Nigerian based denomination, this group is rapidly expanding globally and has ambitious plans here in the US. Also, be sure to listen to this excerpt of Pastor Daniel Ajayi-Adeniran preaching.

April 8, 2009

Yusufu Turaki on Western and African Worldviews

Yusufu TurakiSince no one submitted a question for Ask Anything Wednesday, I thought it would be a good opportunity to point out an important article analyzing Western and African worldviews. "Sharing the Burden of Defending the Gospel" was written by Yusufu Turaki, a Nigerian theologian at Jos Theological Seminary. Turaki's paper is essential reading to understand African Christianity today, especially as it so often mixes with traditional beliefs and practices or leads to cultic groups. Here is the introduction to whet your appetite:
"This paper is divided into two major parts: (1) the first examines modern Western worldviews, philosophies and religions; and (2) the second part analyzes traditional African worldviews and religious beliefs, syncretism, and religious cults.

"In the first part of the paper, I will consider the socio-political context and the environment which gave rise to both the modern philosophies and religions that are opposed to Christianity. In the second section of the paper, in which I analyze traditional African worldviews and religious beliefs and practices, a major focus will be on the ways in which African Christians often lapse into syncretism and religious cults in the expressions of their Christianity."

April 7, 2009

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!

April 6, 2009

Stay Tuned!

While my family continues to recover from a very busy but productive weekend, I want to ask my friends and readers to pray for upcoming opportunities to spread the vision of ACFAR via radio.

This week, Paul Carden (executive director of our parent ministry) is scheduled to discuss ACFAR on...
  • Wednesday, April 8 on The Allan Dempsey Show, WTLN Orlando (time TBA)
  • Thursday, April 9 on The Morning Show, KFUO St. Louis (9:30 am Eastern, 6:30 am Pacific)
Also scheduled:
Our Lord has truly blessed us in raising awareness of our ministry through the radio! Please pray that He will be glorified as we make the case for ACFAR across the United States and Canada. And pray that many more will join with us to advance biblical discernment in East Africa.

April 1, 2009

Blog Break

Indiana Convention Center
Since my family is going to the annual Indiana Home Educators Convention this week, African Apologetics will be "on hold" until we return. If any of you happen to be attending the convention and spot me in the crowd, feel free to stop by and say "Hi!"

Meanwhile, please be sure to pray for our ongoing efforts to raise awareness (and support) for ACFAR via radio! The next interview is scheduled for next Thursday, April 9, on KFUO (St. Louis).

More on this next week!