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Archive for the category “missiology”

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.


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.

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.

The real origins of Christmas

At this time of the year one finds all sorts of fluff pieces in newspapers and in the blogosphere and on the web about the origins of Christmas. Most of them are not worth the effort to read, because they are so full of vague speculations and over generalisations as to be almost completely worthless.

Adventus evidently feels the same way as I do about them, and writes:

If you wade through that (as you should, if you want to know something verifiable about history), you reach this conclusion:

The present writer in inclined to think that, be the origin of the feast in East or West, and though the abundance of analogous midwinter festivals may indefinitely have helped the choice of the December date, the same instinct which set Natalis Invicti at the winter solstice will have sufficed, apart from deliberate adaptation or curious calculation, to set the Christian feast there too.

Some years ago I had the job of marking some student assignments on this very topic. The assignment was part of a missiology course at the University of South Africa. It had not been set by me, so I had to read everything on the reading list to make sure I knew where the students would be coming from. Most of the reading was articles in various respectable (peer-reviewed) theological journals. I was rather surprised to see how many unsubstantiated assertions there were in these articles, and decided to do a bit of research on my own and tried to find out when Christians began to observe the Feast of the Nativity of Christ from contemporary sources, and why they did so. And what struck me was the remarkable absence of contemporary sources.

nativitySome of the assertions were based on wild assumptions and speculations made by 19th century scholars. Or, more often, some historian had made a tentative hypothesis, and those who cited him did so as if it had become and absolute certainty.

Eventually, in marking the assignment, I found that most of my comments to students were simply urging the students to use their sources critically. It appeared that many missiologists are given to speculation, and are not familiar with church history, or even secular history. And church historians are very often not aware of the missiological implications of the matter they deal with. In the matter of Christmas, many of the assertions are based on huge anachronisms, which even an elementary knowledge of history would enable people to see through.

Anyway, Adventus also seems to have got sick of these muddled speculations and has taken some pains to set the record straight, or at least straighter. It’s worth reading.

And, since everyone seems happy to put forward their own speculations on the origins of Christmas, here are mine: The origin of Christmas. In that article I put forward the hypothesis that the popularity of the celebration of Christmas grew in the 4th century as a means to counter Arianism. I think that is as as valid as most of the other speculations.

See also: Urban legends about Christmas.

Persecution and tradition

Protestants often denounce “tradition” as something evil, and yet tradition is what keeps the church going in times of persecution.

Hat tip to A conservative blog for peace

In effect, among the victims of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, two thirds of the small but vibrant Japanese Catholic community disappeared in a single day. It was a community that was nearly wiped out twice in three centuries.
In 1945, this was done through an act of war that was mysteriously focused on this city. Three centuries before, it was by a terrible persecution very similar to that of the Roman empire against the first Christians, with Nagasaki and its “hill of martyrs” again the epicenter.

And yet, the Japanese Catholic community was able to recover from both of these tragedies. After the persecution in the seventeenth century, Christians kept their faith alive by passing it on from parents to children for two centuries, in the absence of bishops, priests, and sacraments.

blog it

In the Orthodox Church one saw the same thing in the same country, though in the far north. Fr Nikolai Kasatkin went to Japan in 1861, officially as chapl;ain to the Russian consulate at Hakodate, but in his heart as a missionary to proclaim the gospel of Christ to the Japanese people.

He learnt the Japanese language, and gave lessons in Russian language and culture to Japanese who wanted to learn. As part of the lessons on Russian culture, he talked about the role of the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Christian faith in Russian history, culture and society.

Some samurai (members of the military class) heard of this and one of them, Sawabe by name, went to see the Russian priest, accused him of “destroying Japanese culture”, and threatened to kill him if he did not stop. Father Nikolai said, You have not heard what I have said to people. Should you not hear first, before making such accusations?

Sawabe agreed to hear, and, having heard, brought two fellow samurai to hear, and became the first to ask to be baptised. But then the Japanese government began to clamp down on Christianity, and so the three scattered to their homes in the country, but as they went they told friends and family about what they heard, and soon there was a flourishing Japanese Orthodox Church. Father Nikolai returned to Russia where he was consecrated bishop and by his death in 1914 there were more than 20000 Orthodox Christians in Japan. He is now known as St Nicholas of Japan.

His method of evangelism was simple, and was the same as that advocated by St Paul: “what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who wil be able to teach others” (II Tim 2:2). That is the essence of tradition (paradosis), and that is how the Church has been able to withstand and survive through persecution at many different times and places.

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