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Togo Oct 2016, ESBTAO School

Lome, Togo October 7-22, 2016

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.

Oct  19th,  2016Christian Magic


Has some great Christian love 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.


  1. 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 context).
  2. 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 sick.
  3. 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!”
  4. A picture of the archangel Michael carved into a house along with the words “St. Michael protect this dwelling.”


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?


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Oct  17th,  2016Dear Togo


The earliest known painting of that African troublemaker Augustine, Lateran, Rome


Dear Togo,


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.





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Oct  16th,  2016The Goal of Teaching


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 teachingFor me, however, one of the benefits is that I get to be reminded of the goal of my teaching.


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.

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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” (ἐπισκοπος) and “presbyter” (πρεσβυτερος), bless their little anti-Catholic souls). 


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 they face.

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Oct  10th,  2016Why do Africans need Church History?


An African preaching to other Africans as imagined by a European AKA Sermon of St Mark in Alexandria by Bellini


Why do Africans need Church History?


So let’s 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?


I 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.


  1. 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.
  2. History 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 “history” (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 even read 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 has 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.
  3. 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 our father.” 


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.

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