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Archive for the category “missiology”

Things fall apart

Things Fall ApartThings Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a short novel set in eastern Nigeria in the late 19th century. The protagonist, Okonkwo, is a man of renown in his village, first as a wrestler, and then as a self-made man who has worked hard to attain a position of respect in the community. But he is also hot tempered and something of a domestic tyrant over his family. He despises weakness in others, and in himself.

The traditional way of life of the village is disturbed by the coming of white men — missionaries, traders and colonial rulers. Okonkwo does not like the social changes they bring to the village, and urges others to resist them, but this resistance, and the manner of it, bring about his downfall.

The first half of the story is fairly static. It describes the village and its social life, the seasons of planting and harvesting, in a manner reminiscent of George Eliot. It enables the reader to experience something of the atmosphere of rural life. To readers from elsewhere, the description makes the unfamiliar become familiar. The main crops may be unknown in other places, but we are told enough about the farming methods to become familiar with the rhythms of rainy seasons and dry seasons, seed-time and harvest, and thus to appreciate something of the shock of social change when it comes.

As a missiologist and church historian I found the social change wrought by the missionaries particularly interesting. There are two missionaries in the story, Mr Brown and Mr Smith, The names are generic, deliberately so, I think. They represent two types of missionaries, and two different approaches to Christian mission in the 19th century.

The first, Mr Brown, represents the missionaries who preceded the New Imperialism of the 1870s and later. He is interested in the culture of the local people, and has religious discussions with them. I think this part is worth quoting in full, as it has much to say about Christian mission in general, and is thus of interest to missiologists:

(Mr Brown) made friends with some of the great men of the clan and on his frequent visits to the neighbouring villages he had been presented with a carved elephant tusk, which was a sign of dignity and rank. One of the great men in that village was called Akunna and he had given one of his sons to be taught the white man’s knowledge in Mr Brown’s school.

Whenever Mr Brown went to that village he spent long hours with Akunna in his obi talking through an interpreter about religion. Neither of them succeeded in converting the other, but they learnt more about their different beliefs.

‘You say that there is one supreme God who made heaven and earth,’ said Akunna on one of Mr Brown’s visits. ‘We also believe in him and call him Chukwu. He made all the world and the other gods.’

‘There are no other gods,’ said Mr Brown. ‘Chukwu is the only God and all the others are false. You carve a piece of wood — like that one’ (he pointed at the rafters from which Akunna’s carved Ikenga hung), ‘and you call it a god, but it is still a piece of wood.’

‘Yes,’ said Akunna, ‘It is indeed a piece of wood. The tree from which it came was made by Chukwu, as indeed all minor gods were. But He made them for His messengers so that we could approach him through them. It is like yourself. You are the head of your church.’

‘No,’ protested Mr Brown. ‘The head of my church is God himself.’

‘I know,’ said Akunna, ‘but there must be a head in this world among men. Somebody like yourself must be the head here.’

‘No,’ said Mr Brown. ‘The head of my church in that sense is in England.’

‘That is exactly what I am saying. The head of your church is in your country, He has sent you here as his messenger. And you have also appointed your own messengers and servants. Or let me take another example, the District Commissioner. He is sent by your king.’

‘They have a Queen,’ said the interpreter on his own account.

‘Your queen sends her messenger, the District Commissioner. He finds that he cannot do the work alone and so he appoints kotma to help him. It is the same with God, or Chukwu. He appoints the smaller gods to help him because the work is too great for one person.’

‘You should not think of his as a person,’ said Mr Brown. ‘It is because you do so that you imagine that he must need helpers. And the worst thing about it is that you give all the worship to the false gods you have created.’

‘That is not so. We make sacrifices to the little gods, but when they fail and there is no one else to turn to we go to Chukwu. It is right to do so. We approach a great man through his servants. But when his servants fail to help us, then we go to the last source of hope. We appear to pay greater attention to the little gods but that is not so. We worry them because we are afraid to worry their master. Our fathers knew that Chukwu was the Overlord and that is why many of them gave their children the name Chukwuka — “Chukwu is Supreme.’

‘You said one interesting thing,’ said Mr Brown. ‘You are afraid of Chukwu. In my religion Chukwu is a loving Father and need not be feared by those who do his will.’

‘But we must fear him when we are not doing his will,’ said Akunna. ‘And who is to tell his will? It is too great to be known.’

In Achebe’s report of these discussions, which is probably a condensed report of thousands of such conversations, it strikes me that Mr Brown’s interlocutor, Akunna, had a better grasp of Christian theology than Mr Brown himself had.

Last week I heard someone speaking about Christianity in relation to Graeco-Roman and ancient Egyptian paganism, and some of the issues that arose from that seem remarkably similar. Mr Brown and Akunna represent two different approaches, and in Things fall apart the first approach, that the gods of the pagans are human inventions, is presented as Christian, and the second, that there is a great God, the Creator, who made the little gods, is presented as pagan. That was also the approach of the speaker I heard on Friday. But if we read the Christian holy scriptures, we can find both approaches.

Akunna’s remarks seem to echo Psalm 94/95:3 — For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods; or, in the Septuagint, ὅτι θεὸς μέγας κύριος καὶ βασιλεὺς μέγας ἐπὶ πάντας τοὺς θεούς·.

This is seen even more clearly in Psalm 81/82, which is sung with great jubilation in Orthodox Churches on Holy Saturday, and perhaps indicates the line that Mr Brown should have taken with Akunna — that the little gods have messed up. They have ruled the nations unjustly, and the Psalmist prays “Arise, O God, judge the earth, for to Thee belong all nations.”

And just before his death Jesus announces that he has come in answer to that very prayer: Now is the hour of judgement of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out, and I when I am lifted up, shall draw all men to myself” (John 12:31-32)

That’s not what Akunna said, but it’s not what Mr Brown said either. Mr Brown missed the point.

This can be seen more clearly in Deuteronomy 32, where both approaches can be seen. In verses:8-9:

When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God, for the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.

That implies that while all the nations had their own national spirits (Akunna’s “little gods”), Israel alone could by-pass the middle man, and approach the Almighty directly. The “to Thee belong all nations” cry in Psalm 81/82 is a plea that this will come to an end, and when Jesus says he will draw “all men” to himself, he is saying that the time has come. That is why mission organisations in the Orthodox Church use the slogan “panta ta ethne” — “all nations”.

Also interesting is that Akunna speaks of the little gods as “messengers” of the great King above all gods, and the Septuagint version of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 reads:

ὅτε διεμέριζεν ὁ ὕψιστος ἔθνη, ὡς διέσπειρεν υἱοὺς Αδαμ, ἔστησεν ὅρια ἐθνῶν κατὰ ἀριθμὸν ἀγγέλων θεοῦ, καὶ ἐγενήθη μερὶς κυρίου λαὸς αὐτοῦ Ιακωβ, σχοίνισμα κληρονομίας αὐτ

When the Most High divided the nations, he divided them according to the number of the angels (ie messengers) of God. In other words, the little gods are angels, or messengers of God, which Mr Brown failed to recognise, though Akunna knew it.

And back in the second century St Justin Martyr explained that the pagan gods of ancient Greece and Rome were angels, albeit fallen ones, as the Psalmist laments in Psalm 81/82. But I’ve written more about that here.

Though Mr Brown had his shortcomings, however, he also had his good points. It was missionaries of Mr Brown’s type who, earlier in the century, had consecrated Samuel Adjai Crowther, a freed Yoruba slave, as a bishop in western Nigeria.

Mt Smith, who followed Mr Brown, represents the new-style missionaries who came after the New Imperialism. They were more confident in themselves, more convinced of their own superiority, and less willing to learn anything from the local people. They were generally racist, and denounced their predecessors who had consecrated a native bishop in the person of Samuel Adjai Crowther, saying that it was premature, and the natives “weren’t ready for it”. For the Mr Smiths it would take centuries if not millennia of white tutelage before Africans were ready for a black bishop.

The Mr Smith-type of missionary was dominant until 1914, when the First World War shook European complacency and the tide of the New Imperialism began to recede. Achebe doesn’t take us that far, however. He just shows us the effect that it has on Okonkwo.

Achebe also shows how colonialism introduced or exacerbated corruption in African society, and how Christian mission became entangled with colonialism. If these things were unique to one small part of eastern Nigeria, it would perhaps make the novel less interesting, but in its very particularity, the story is universal. The society may change, its economy may change, but rural societies have often undergone such changes. The detailed descriptions at the beginning enable the reader from a different culture to feel at home in the society, to feel that it is not so strange. I’ve never seen or tasted a yam, but in reading the book I become aware that yams in that society play the same role as mealies in southern Africa, or wheat in England, or oats in Scotland. Achebe does that particularly well.

I find it interesting that one can learn quite a lot of missiology from works of fiction like this book. There are others that come to mind as well. The Poisonwood Bile by Barbara Kingsolver tells of an American missionary in what is now the Democratic Republic of congo, who is a Mr Smith-type missionary, and fails to come to terms with the local culture, and all the members of his family make their own different adaptations. Another that deals with modern mission, this time in South America, is At play in the fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiesen. In all these instances the missionaries have been immersed in modern culture, and come unstuck when they encounter premodern culture.

For a novel that deals with premodern missionaries and premodern people, an interesting one is Credo by Melvin Bragg.

View all my reviews

The witch hunts of Papua New Guinea

Last night I watched a BBC TV programme on The witch hunts of Papua New Guinea – BBC News, and was struck by the similarity with witch hunts that have taken place in South Africa in the last 25 years or so.

The programme had interviews with people who had been accused of witchcraft, and with some of the accusers, and there were many similarities. You can also read more about the Papua New Guinea witch hunts here: Malum Nalu: Papua New Guinea has a witch hunt problem.

I don’t know if there were any attempts by Christian groups to deal with the problem in Papua New Guinea, but in South Africa there was a reluctance to discuss it in missiological circles. The only Christian groups that seemed to have come up with a way of dealing with it were some Zionists, and most Zionists don’t have an academic bent, so not much has been written about it.I did write one journal article, which you can read here: Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery, but there has not been much response to it.

Ironveld and Aughrabies

Continued from Cape Holiday 2015: a lonely Falkenberg grave.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

After breakfast at the Azalea Guest House in Kuruman, we drove up to the historic Moffat Mission, which was the main object of our stay in Kuruman, as a kind of missiological pilgrimage — it marked the start of Christianity in the region, and northwards into Botswana and Zambia, but we found found that it was closed, with a threatening notice saying that treaspassers would be prosecuted.

ZA missiological pilgrimage to the historic Moffat Mission in Kuruman

A missiological pilgrimage to the historic Moffat Mission in Kuruman

We left Kuruman reached Kathu, about 60 km from Kuruman. It was not a place I had been aware of from previous journeys along this road, in 1969 and 1991, but it seemed to be quite big, with lots of new houses, many apparently unoccupied, visible from the road as we passed through, and signs of further expansion. The houses seemed to follow uniform designs, so it looked like a company town, probably something to do with iron mining.

At Sishen, 80 km from Kuruman, where the actual mines were, the vegetation around seemed to be red, as if it was rusting. We stopped for petrol at Olifantshoek, 198 km from Kuruman. It was a much more pleasant town than Kuruman, and we recalled staying here 24 years ago, because we were driving without lights, and so had to stop at sunset. But the most memorable thing from that trip was opening a bottle of 5th Avenue Cold Duck (sparkling wine)and the cork squashing a mosquito on the ceiling.

Even the grass and bushes look rusty round the iron mines at Sishen

Even the grass and bushes look rusty round the iron mines at Sishen

Compare this with the normal veld, once you get away from Sishen with its iron mines

Non-red veld, away from the iron mines of Sishen

Non-red veld, away from the iron mines of Sishen

From there it was a long monotonous haul to Upington, 230 km from Kuruman. We stopped at a sitplekkie along the way and took photos of shaggy birds’ nests in a syringa tree, with last season’s berries, and no leaves. Though there were two rubbish bins, there was rubbish all around them and very little in them, a sharp contrast from our visit to Botswana and Namibia two years ago, where they were all scrupulously clean, except for the ones close to the South African border.

A scruffy birds' nest among the syringa trees

A scruffy birds’ nest among the syringa trees

We reached the Augrabies Falls National Park about 2:30 pm and after paying the entrance fee, R38.00 each, walked down to look at the falls, passing a lot of very tame dassies in the gardens.

A dassie, said to be the closest relative to the elephant

A dassie, said to be the closest relative to the elephant

The place was much changed from our previous visit in 1991, with new viewing platforms built of wooden poles and concrete slabs, which were less of a blot on the landscape than the previous metal ones. The new ones took one much closer to the main fall, and we took lots of photos.

Augrabies Falls -- the whole flow of the Orange River sdqueezed into one narrow channel

Augrabies Falls — the whole flow of the Orange River sdqueezed into one narrow channel

There was less water in the river than on our previous visit, and one could hardly hear the water from the office — perhaps that was because of the three dry years that had immediately preceded this, so more water was being taken from the river for irrigation.

In the old days this was the closest visitors could get to the Augrabies Falls.

In the old days this was the closest visitors could get to the Augrabies Falls.

There were more dassies on the rocks by the falls, and lots of lizards, ordinary ones and multi-coloured ones with blue heads.

Another dassie -- the Augrabis Falls National Park abounds with them, and they are as tame as pet rabbits

Another dassie — the Augrabis Falls National Park abounds with them, and they are as tame as pet rabbits

I thought of Lawrence G. Green, whose description of the Augrabies Falls in “To the river’s end” made me want to visit the place when I first read it in high school. There it sounded remote, a place hardly anyone had ever heard of, but now the road to it is full of farms and very well travelled, and only the park itself looks as it did when Green visitred it. And we probably had a much better view of the falls than he did, with the viewing platforms and paths leading to them, which make it possible even for old crocks like us to have a good view of the falls.

We went to the shop on the way out, and I got an Eskimo Pie, but it was nothing like the Eskimo Pies of my childhood , which were vanilla ice cream covered with a layer of chocolate. This was just some sort of frozen chocolate-flavoured confection on a stick. We went back to the town of Augrabies, to the Quiver Tree guest house, where we spent the night.

Quiver Tree Guest House, Aughrabies

Quiver Tree Guest House, Aughrabies

Continued at Going west through Bushmanland

Star Wars: catching up with pop culture

Over the last few days I’ve been catching up on pop culture by watching all three original episodes of Star Wars.

Of course I knew some of the characters and their roles, because one could not avoid reading about them: Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, R2D2, Darth Vader — all were household names. The films had quite a pronounced influence on the way people talked, and there were all kinds of direct and indirect references to them. What I wasn’t sure of was their roles, or even, in some cases, how their names were pronounced.

VaderOne of the more memorable cultural references was back in 1980 when Gerhardus de Kock, the Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, was appointed “Director of Constellation Affairs”, a title which, the Natal Daily News pointed out in an editorial headed Star Flaws, would be the envy of Darth Vader, the villain of the movie. Other people referred to it more disrespectfully as “De Kock’s Cock-up”. For those too young to remember it, the “constellation of states” was the current euphemism for the government’s apartheid policy in the early 1980s.

The film series provided metaphors for theologians too. The missiologist Ralph Winter referred to the second film in the series (the 5th, once the prequel had been added), The Empire strikes back, and said that in that story it was referring to evil returning, but that in Christian theology one could use the phrase “the Kingdom strikes back” to tell how the good came back. As Winter put it,

,… the Bible consists of a single drama: the entrance of the Kingdom, the power and the glory of the living God in this enemy-occupied territory. From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of “the Kingdom strikes back.” This would make a good title for the Bible itself were it to be printed in modern dress (with Gen 1-11 as the introduction to the whole Bible). In this unfolding drama we see the gradual but irresistible power of God reconquering and redeeming His fallen creation through the giving of His own Son…

So there were all kinds of metaphors that had entered the English language in various fields, and I had only the vaguest idea of where they came from. When the first couple of films came out, we were living in Melmoth, in Zululand. There was no cinema anywhere near, and we didn’t have TV either, so Star Wars passed us by, except for oblique references. So now I’ve learnt something about the roles and the plot, and how to pronounce the names. For 30 years or so I had thought that “Jedi” was pronounced Yay-dee, and not Jed-eye. So now I’ve even got that straight. And it is now also clear to me that, like polar bears and penguins, wookiees and Klingons will never meet in the wild.

Ridiculous beliefs

I came across this when someone retweeted it on Twitter, with the comment “Ridiculous beliefs”.

I agree.

The problem is, though, that I cannot recall ever meeting anyone who actually believes that.

Can you call something a “belief” if no one believes it?

If any member of the Orthodox Church said they believed such things, they would, sooner or later, be told that they were heretical. The whole thing is heretical, and every single clause is heretical.

The Roman Catholic Church, I should think, would have a similar reaction. I don’t know if they still have the Inquisition, but they’d revive it pretty quickly if lots of people started saying that they believed that stuff.

Protestants?

Well, it’s a bit harder to say with Protestants , because there are so many different varieties of Protestantism that it is conceivable that there is some sect, somewhere out there, that might believe one or more of those things. But, as I said, I haven’t actually met anyone who believes them.

But, in one sense, that would be beside the point. It’s obviously a caricature, and it’s not meant to represent any beliefs that anyone actually holds.

So what is it meant to represent?

What is it supposed to communicate, about what, and to whom?

Perhaps we could try to deconstruct it.

Here are some of my attempts at deconstruction. If anyone can come up with other ideas, please add them in the comments.

1. My first thought is that it is a piece of “feel good” propaganda by militant atheists for militant atheists. By caricaturing Christian beliefs, and presenting them as ridiculous, they can feel smug and superior when comparing themselves with Christians. So it enables them to feel good about themselves. Some may be aware that it is a caricature, others may not, but that doesn’t matter much, because the main point is to feel superior.

2. The second one is a little more sinister. This is that it is propaganda by by militant atheists for ordinary don’t care atheists, for agnostics, for anyone who is not a Christian, and who is ignorant about Christianity, with the aim of getting them to reject Christianity because they reject a caricature. It is possibly calculated to stir up hatred for Christians. In other words, it is a caricature verging on “hate speech”.

But in deconstructing it, we need to go a bit deeper than that.

Where did the caricature come from? What is its source?

A friend of mine, now a retired Anglican bishop, once wrote the following about Christian mission:

The Church exists for mission, not merely by words, but by representing Christ. Its work is not to convert, that is the Holy Spirit’s work; ours is to preach (Mark 16:15). `Think not of the harvest, but only of proper sowing.’ We bear witness, whether they hear or whether they forbear’ (Ezekiel 2:5 etc.). Our task, and it is quite sufficient to keep us going without bothering about the consequences, is to make sure that if people reject Christ, they reject Christ and not a caricature of him, and if they accept him, that they accept Christ and not a caricature. If they reject, we remember that Christ got the same treatment – in fact half our problem is that we require something better than the success of Christ. We are not to cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6) – we are not to try to `fix up’ people’s salvation against their will; `to try to force the word on the world by hook or by crook is to make the living word of God into a mere idea, and the world would be perfectly justified in refusing to listen to an idea which did not appeal to it’. This is the way we seek Christ’s success. The Church is not to be like a mighty army, pressing on regardless; it is more like a bloody doormat – a phrase which could even fit the Master of the Church himself, for it is only by the cross and precious blood of Christ that we are what we are, and he himself is the way on which we must tramp and maybe wipe our boots as we come to the Father (John 14:6). This is the kind of Saviour we represent.

And I suggest that in many ways the caricature has come from Christians themselves, from Christians who have done some of the things suggested in the paragraph I quoted — tried to fix up people’s salvation against their will, tried to make the living word of God into a mere idea, tried to present a caricature of Christ rather than Christ himself.

And that is in fact the original sin, because it goes back to the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve presented a caricature of God to the snake.

God said to Adam and Eve that they could eat the fruit of any tree in the garden but one. And the snake asks what God said, and Eve said that God had told them not to eat from that tree, but also not to touch it. That is an extensive exaggeration of what God said. An ogre God sounds more impressive than the true God. And right up till now there have been Christians who have presented an ogre God.

I was once at a church youth group where an evangelist was speaking. At the time there were some popular bumper stickers on cars that had a picture of a smiley face, and the legend, “Smile, God loves you.”

The evangelist denounced these in no uncertain terms.

“That’s wrong,” he said. “God doesn’t love you, he is very angry with you because you’re a sinner. He was so angry that he killed His Son.”

That was presenting an ogre God, a caricature. And one doesn’t have to take the caricature a whole lot further to get to the statement, in the picture above, “I will kill myself as a sacrifice to myself.”

So I would say that if atheists want to reject Christ, then it is better that they reject Christ rather than that they reject a caricature of him, or even accept a caricature of him.

But it is much more important that Christians should not present a caricature in the first place.

The origins of Christmas

I once had to mark a university assignment, set by someone else, on the origins of the celebration of Christ’s nativity. So I read all the literature that had been recommended to the students, and tried to follow it up. All I found was speculations and urban legends (which the students swallowed, hook line and sinker).

So I devised my own scenario.

Bishop: These Arians denying the incarnation of Christ are becoming tiresome. The Council of Nicaea didn’t shut them up, and now they’re propagating their nonsense with advertising jingles. Even the emperor, who subsidised the council, is beginning to waver.

Priest: What say we have a special day to commemorate the Incarnation? I know we do it on 6 January, but the adoptionists have been misinterpreting that. Let’s have one on a different day.

Bishop: Good idea. How about the day that Jesus was born.

All priests: Amen to that.

Bishop: Um, which day WAS Jesus born on?

Silence.

Bishop: Deacon Dionysius, go and research it, and report back at the next clergy meeting.

Later…

Bishop: Well, Deacon, did you find out when Jesus was born?

Deacon: Not exactly, but I did search the scriptures and St Luke says he was conceived in the sixth month, six months after his cousin John the Baptist, and it does imply that it could have been the sixth month of the year.

Bishop: Well, that settles it. The first of April, then. Six months from New Year takes us to 1 July, and nine months after that takes us to the first of April.

Priest: Um, Your Eminence, that’s April Fool’s Day.

Another priest: It’s also the middle of Lent.

Deacon: But it was probably the Jewish New Year, not the imperial one.

Bishop: Right let’s hear it then. When is the Jewish New Year?

Deacon: Well, that’s the problem. It’s usually sometime in September but it changes from year to year.

Bishop: When was it last year?

Deacon: On 25 September.

Bishop: Right, that settles it. Six months from then is 25th March, where we can have the Annunciation. Yes, I know it’s Lent, but let people eat fish for a break. Add nine months to that and we’ll have a bash for our Lord’s birthday on 25 December. Oh, and to balance things up we’ll commemorate St John the Baptist’s birthday on 25 June. No, make that 24th, or people will start thinking 25 is a lucky number or something. Any other business? I declare this meeting cl… Oh, by the way: Deacon Dionysius, go and do some proper research and draw up a decent calendar showing when Jesus was born. No hurry, take your time over it and do a good job. We’ve got the thing we need to counter the Arians’ nonsense for now.

Roses are reddish
Violets are blueish
If it weren’t for Christmas
We’d all be Jewish.

Ungrounded speculation?

Of course.

But so is all the other stuff I’ve read about the origins of Christmas.

___

Note, this was prompted by a discussion on another blog, Winter Soulstice Matariki | Liturgy:

Winter (Summer) Solstice this year is June 22. The Northern Hemisphere Winter Solstice is linked to Christmas and winter has a number of liturgical and folk celebrations. If we want to embody liturgy better into the Southern Hemisphere – how might we celebrate it? Would we link it to the birth of John the Baptist (June 24)? [I’m not sure how we in the Southern Hemisphere can make anything special of a John the Baptist focus]

… and the comments that followed.

Book projects nearing completion

I’ve been trying to get a lot of stuff finished before Holy Week, and going on holiday in Bright (Easter) week.

One of the projects at last nearing completion is the book African initiatives in healing ministry, which I’ve been working on for more than 10 years, and my coauthors have been working on for considerably longer. I’ve just signed off the final page proofs, and the book should be available in the next couple of months.

The core of the book is a study of healing ministry in four churches in Zimbabwe, one Anglican, one Roman Catholic, and two African Independent Churches, each of which has developed a slightly different response to health and healing.

As if to emphasise the urgency of this, someone I knew died of Aids last week. But he would not face up to the fact of his illness, and insisted that someone had been trying to poison him. His mother persuaded him to visit a sangoma, and to stop taking antiretrovirals, and to take traditional medicine instead. A bad decision, but for which he might have been alive today. This is one of the important health and healing issues in Africa today, and to grapple with it we need to understand attitudes to health and healing in Africa, and also the different Christian responses, and the attitudes that lie behind those responses. Hence the need for the research that led to the publication of this book.

Another task was the final indexing and proof-reading of the doctoral thesis of my colleague in ministry, Fr Athanasius Akunda, with whom I’ll be serving at the Good Friday liturgies later today.

(This is a post I tried to post here yesterday, but kept getting “Illegal date/time format” messages, so posted it on my Khanyablog instead).

The Suburban Christian: Typologies of renewal: Three routes, four models, five streams

An interesting post on the changing shape of some varieties of Christianity. The Suburban Christian: Typologies of renewal: Three routes, four models, five streams:

This is something of a follow-up to my previous post on emergents and new Calvinists. In the comments, Claytonius linked to a post he’d written last year about three routes of escape from the pragmatic evangelical church. He observed that many young adults who leave evangelical churches tend to head to three other places

To summarise, the places these restless pragmatic evangelicals tend to head to are:

  • Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches
  • Emerging Churches
  • Reformed Churches

And there are four kinds of Emerging Churches:

  • Deconstructionist
  • Pre-modern/Augustinian Model
  • Emerging Peace Church Model
  • Foundationalist Model

As a language pedant, I find the growing misuse of “typology” a bit annoying. Surely the correct term is “taxonomy”?

My (secular) dictionary (Collins Millennium Edition) gives:

  • typology n Chiefly Christian theol. the doctrine or study of types or of the correspondence between them and the reality they typify.
  • taxonomy 2 n the science or practice of classification.

Typology usually has to do with one event foreshadowing another — for example the Passover and Exodus as types of Christ’s resurrection.

There’s still a language problem, though, because I’m not sure what “pragmatic” evangelicalism is, and I get the impression that “evangelical” means, or has come to mean, something different in the USA from what it means in Southern Africa. For example, in posts such as the one I was referring to, “evangelical” is mentioned in the same breath as “megachurches”.

In South Africa “megachurches” (ie the barn-style “everything under one roof” hypermarket-style super-congregations like Rhema, Christian City, The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God etc) are almost invariably Neopentecostal, rather than “evangelical”.

Evangelicals are spread over a number of different denominations that tend to have normal-sized congregations — Baptists, a few Anglicans and Methodists and the like. Evangelicals are also concentrated in some parachurch organisations like Scripture Union, Youth with a Mission, African Enterprise, and so on, which were regarded as more evangelical if they were anti-charismatic, and less evangelical if they were pro-charismatic or at least tolerant of the charismatic movement.

So where do “pragmatic” evangelicals fit in?

Another observation is that in South Africa these distinctions seem to be far more important to white Christians than to black ones.

I once attended an ecumenical mission conference where my room-mate was a hyper-Calvinist member of the Church of England in South Africa, who kept interrogating me with the TULIP test, and when I failed the test he found my presence unbearable. He kept phoning home to ask for advice on what to do, and must have been advised to “Come out of Babylon” because after a couple of days he left and I never saw him again. Back in those days I was a hands-up and knees-down Anglo-Catholic Evangelical Charismatic Anglican, with bells, smells and singing in tongues, and believing in things like “one man one vote”, which was very politically incorrect in the days of PW Botha, Adriaan Vlok, Magnus Malan and the Total Onslaught, all of which was anathema to the Church of England in South Africa. The Church of England in South Africa (CESA) is changing too, though — as Stephen Murray’s blog shows.

But even today, white Christians in South Africa tend to do the classification thing and create taxonomies. Yet among black Christians the church that is emerging is a kind of generic Protestantism. Anglicans, Assemblies, Baptists, Congregationalists, Full Gospellers, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Zionists are all coming to resemble one another more and more.

White Christians (some of them) are interested in the Emerging Church, but the church that is emerging among the majority is somewhat different.

So I think our taxonomies might be somewhat different from the American ones, and what is emerging isn’t necessarily Emerging.

Prayer and temperament

My friend blogging friend Sue has just posted a review of a book that suggests that people of different temperaments pray in different weys.

Sue’s Book Reviews:

‘Prayer and Temperament’ attempts to reconcile the differences of temperament, as described by David Keirsey, Linda Berens and others, with preferred and most helpful methods of Christian prayer. It’s based mainly on a big survey that was taken, discussing various methods of reading the Bible and praying, and correlating with each person’s personality type in the Myers-Briggs system.

It mainly deals with the four temperaments (Idealist/NF, Artisan/SP, Guardian/SJ and Rational/NT) as proposed by Keirsey, and the different ways people find easiest to relate to God. There are useful broad descriptions of the needs and strengths of each temperament, and explanations of different methods of praying, with specific recommendations.

Has anyone ever done research to find out whether different temperaments are attracted to different Christian traditions? Are Calvinists inclined to be one personality type, Pentecostals another, and Orthodox a third?

Perhaps there’s a doctorate waiting for someone willing to find out!

Juggling with Jelly: A new church

There’s a lot of talk these days about the emerging church. Here’s a story about church growth and the submerging church.

A church building closed for rebuilding, and the congregation split up and scattered, and, as it were, sank out of sight. Then it re-emerged after the building alterations were completed, and found they had added 100 members.

Juggling with Jelly: A new church

Before closing the church building our net annual growth had been an average of one person. Transfers out as people moved away, transfers in as people came to the area, new converts. Balanced. During our nine months without a building the net growth has been over 100 (yes one hundred). And that’s just counting new converts. We have well-known evangelists amongst the congregation. They had little to do with these local converts being off elsewhere in the world.

I discovered this story accidentally in a moribund blog that hasn’t been updated for years. I sometimes want to read something different, and went interest surfing in Blogger profiles. I click on one of my interests, and see who else is interested. In this case I clicked on one of my favourite books, The Greater Trumps. It seemed quite an interesting story and worth sharing.

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