We are collaborating with the Ecole Supérieure Baptiste de Théologie de L'Afrique de l’Ouest (ESBTAO), translated West African Baptist Advanced School of Theology. They are an African led seminary training students for pastoral ministry, missionary service, teaching in Bible Institutes, and assisting Bible translation projects throughout Western Africa.
Follow along as teachers in the field offer their experiences as they share theological training with local church leaders.
Has some great Christian love spells...so I've heard (Princeton Press).
One of the fun things about teaching overseas instead of
North America, is that you get to teach fun things that you skip in North
America because they are irrelevant to the context. So, for example, here in Togo I had a class
session on “Christian” magical practices.
In boring old science obsessed America I would guess few to no Christian
has ever been tempted to engage in magic for healing. But in the ancient world, thanks to sermons
and archaeology, we know that some Christians would engage in some shady stuff
which would be familiar to many Christians in Togo (and elsewhere, but since I’m
in Togo I’ll call them out).
So my class played a fun game: Magic or Miracle? I would give a real-life historical examples from the time period our class covers
(many from Africa) and the class would discuss whether they are valid Christian responses or invalid
(magical) responses. I’ve reproduced the
examples so you can play along with this fun for the whole family game.
- Christians would take a
coin with an image of a powerful person on it and wear it around their necks
(full disclosure, in this historical case it was an image of Alexander the
Great, but the divide among the students was whether it would matter if the
image on the coin was Jesus or a saint.
If you don’t know why that would matter think of the student’s Catholic
- Christians would wear a
piece of paper with a verse from Scripture written on it (for example Matthew
12:15) around their wrist. They believed
this would keep them from getting sick and help to heal them if they did get
- This written “prayer”: “Christ!
I adjure you, O Lord, almighty, first-begotten, self-begotten, begotten without
semen as well as all-seeing are you and Yao, Sabao, Brinthao: Keep me as a son,
protect me from every evil spirit, and subject me every spirit of impure
destroying demons- on the earth, under the earth of the water and of the land-
and every phantom. Christ!”
- A picture of the
archangel Michael carved into a house along with the words “St. Michael protect
Bonus: If you thought that some/all of these examples are
magic and/or syncretistic, what is the difference between these practices and
Biblical miracles (say Jesus using spit and dirt to heal the blind man) or anointing
with oil and praying over the sick?
Bonus 2: How would you respond to Celsus’ claim that Jesus
was a magician and his miracles no different from the magic practices by a
whole host of ancient people?
The earliest known painting of that African troublemaker Augustine, Lateran, Rome
I am not responsible for any church splits caused by debates
over predestination, election, grace, sin, or efficacy of the sacraments. I was only teaching Augustine.
John Chrysostom mosaic from the Hagia Sofia
Still such is the wretched disposition of the many, that after so much
reading, they do not even know the names of the Books, and are not ashamed nor
tremble at entering so carelessly into a place where they may hear God's word.
Yet if a harper, or dancer, or stage-player call the city, they all run eagerly,
and feel obliged to him for the call, and spend the half of an entire day in
attending to him alone; but when God speaks to us by Prophets and Apostles, we
yawn, we scratch ourselves, we are drowsy. And in summer, the heat seems too
great, and we betake ourselves to the market place; and again, in winter, the
rain and mire are a hindrance, and we sit at home; yet at horse races, though
there is no roof over them to keep off the wet, the greater number, while heavy
rains are falling, and the wind is dashing the water into their faces, stand
like madmen, caring not for cold, and wet, and mud, and length of way, and
nothing either keeps them at home, or prevents their going there. But here,
where there are roofs over head, and where the warmth is admirable, they hold
back instead of running together; and this too, when the gain is that of their
own souls. How is this tolerable, tell me...If you ask them who was Amos or
Obadiah, or what is the number of the Prophets or Apostles, they cannot even
open their mouth but for horses and charioteers, they compose excuses more
cleverly than sophists or rhetoricians. -John Chrysostom, Homily 58 on the
Gospel of John
Today (Sunday) we had an opportunity to preach at two local churches.
Now I self-confess I am not a pastor. And it wouldn't bother me any if I
never preached another sermon in America again. But when I am teaching
overseas, I like preaching in Sundays. Now there are a lot of reasons for
that: It is a chance to see worship in another culture; if you are in a
student's church it lets you model what you've been teaching. For
me, however, one of the benefits is that I get to be reminded of the goal of my
John Chrysostom, no slouch when it came to crafting a sermon, complained
bitterly about the biblical illiteracy of his congregation. Ask them about Amos, and you feel like you
are talking to mutes, ask them about Manchester United (or the Vikings for the
Americans) and you will think he is a professional public speaker. Why did this bother Chrysostom so much? Being one of the greatest living theologians,
couldn’t he just stick to worrying about his fellow ivory tower citizens? Chrysostom understood that a trained pastor
is a bullet without a gun, it has potential but it is not doing anything. To completely mix up my metaphors, Christian
education should be like rain, falling ever downwards, past pastors, past
elders, to the lay men, women, and even children.
If I spent all this time and effort training a pastor and found out that he
never passed it along to help build up the people in his congregation I would
feel like I wasted my time. So it is
good for us to get into the churches around the world to see face-to-face the
people we are really trying to help with our training.
Oct 13th, 2016Creed
Nicene Creed By Unknown
Creed (no not the film nor the band)
My class has been discussing various heresies in early
Christianity. On Wednesday we discussed
how the church responded to these heresies.
The students were unimpressed with some of the responses (I think we
probably spent ten minutes on the proper French translation for “bishop” (á¼πισκοπος) and “presbyter” (πρεσβυτερος), bless their little
But the church’s development of creeds as tools to combat
heresy struck a chord with many of them.
Creeds are short, summaries of what Christians believe. Historically, they were used to teach new
believers about their new faith.
Depending on the church they were recited at baptisms (sometimes as a
call/response between the officiant and the baptized) or before every Eucharist/Communion/Lord’s
Supper. So when a Docetist in a suit and
tie knocked on their door and said, “Hey, we’re both Christians, why don’t you
come over to my church” even the newest Christian could reply “No, words have
meaning and you can prattle on about how ‘Jesus is my Savior’ and ‘Jesus lives
in my heart’ and ‘I read the Bible too’ all you want but Christians believe in
one Jesus who ‘Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was
incarnate and was made man.’” And then
the Apostle John bursts through the wall and high fives the new Christian. At least I’m pretty sure that’s how it went.
Anyway, as I was saying, several of the students got excited
about the potential for using creeds in their churches. According to the students, the people in
their churches are vulnerable to heresies.
There is little discernment, so if someone puts their heresy in Christian
language, they can fool many. So the
students challenged each other to disciple their people (perhaps using creeds)
in order to strengthen them in the face of the challenges to their faith which
An African preaching to other Africans as imagined by a
European AKA Sermon of St Mark in Alexandria by
Why do Africans need Church History?
be honest with ourselves. We have a minimalistic
view of Majority World Christian education.
Old Testament, of course; New Testament, obviously; Theology, probably;
Practical Theology (to differentiate from the regular impractical Theology I
guess), sure, though some will probably argue over the usefulness of American
Practical Theology outside of America.
But even though every Christian Seminary in the west teaches some form
of Christian history, there is a slight befuddlement to the idea of teaching
Christian history overseas. Sure you
can teach Christian history if you want, but wouldn’t it be a better use of
your money to go over and paint an orphanage instead?
always like to start my classes with justification, here is why it is worth your
time and money to learn this material.
Or, to put it to my western audience: here is why I am actually doing
important work and not just taking a two-week vacation.
- Christianity is NOT a white
man’s religion. I’ve heard the claim that Christianity is a white man's religion and therefore incompatiable with Africans come
from African Traditional Religionists and even Muslims(!). Christianity came to Africa via white people,
ergo it is a white man religion. BUT as
my students will learn over the next two weeks, not only has African
Christianity been around for over 1950 years but to oversimplify and be
intentionally provocative, what we call “Western Christianity” is really just a
bunch of white dudes writing a commentary on African theology.
allows us to know
God better. Don’t believe me, just ask
God. After all, there is a reason why so
much of the Bible is written in what we only somewhat misleadingly call
(or historical narrative if you want to be fancy). Today my students
read Nehemiah 9. If, like basically every Christian, you have
no idea what Nehemiah 9 says off the top of your head, read it (you can
it now, what I have to say isn’t so important that it can’t wait). Two
rapid fire observations: 1) How does
Israel bless God (v. 5): by recounting how he has worked in history; 2)
How do the
Israelites know about the character of God (v 31-33): because of how he
shown himself to be, not by words but by deeds.
Do you know who doesn’t think God works in history? Deists. Deists are
heretics. Don’t be a heretic.
- The Holy Spirit was working
before you were born. Pick up any book
on Majority World Christianity and I can almost guarantee at some point it will
mention its “communal” or “corporate” character. However, one area that many African
Christians are hyper-individualistic about is the work of the Holy Spirit. I’ve personally talked with pastors who do
not preach from the Bible, the communally available words of God, in favor of
prophets who tell the congregation how the Holy Spirit has talked with them
alone. There is a little bit of
spiritual arrogance to the proverbial locking yourself in the room with the
Bible and expecting the Holy Spirit to give you all the answers. Indeed, one of the main points in Paul’s
Christians-as-body metaphors is to highlight our dependency upon each
other. Yet when it comes to reading the
Bible, we abandon the need for dependency and proclaim our independence. History is important because we are
dependent, not just on our church, but global Christianity, and not just global
Christianity, but all Christians both living and dead.
As G.K. Chesterton (my obligatory dead guy
quote for the day) once said “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of
all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses
to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be
walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident
of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of
death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is
our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is
There is a time when we were young where we
ignored everything our parents said, they were old fuddy duddies who knew
nothing compared to our genius teenage selves.
But eventually we grew up and realized, “Hey my parents are pretty smart
dudes, maybe I should ask their advice and *gasp* actually listen to them.” Christians have been in our teenage
rebellious phase for too long. It’s time
to grow up and start listening to our spiritual parents again.
I feel like TLI would appreciate it if I remind people that they are not responsible for the content of my posts.