Cultural observations on coming back to America (Myhre)

I’ve been enjoying and relating to the re-entry reflections of Jennifer Myhre on ParadoxUganda. Here is her latests.

Some things about America remain constant, only I have forgotten them somewhat in 17 years.  Friendliness, for instance.  Africans are very friendly too, of course, but in Africa relationships like all of life are spiritually/physically/emotionally integrated…

Other things about America, however, have changed.  The penchant for safety and paranoia about liability, manifested in warnings on any and every thing, has escalated.  Cereal boxes warn you that the strawberries and milk pictured on the front are not included.  Ice cream bars warn you not to consume the paper wrapping or stick.  Really.  Again at the beach, a warning sign, that in case of an earthquake a tsunami could occur so one should move AWAY from the ocean towards higher ground.  As if no one would have otherwise known which direction to go.  There must be tens of thousands of these signs on the coast.  Last week I read about a woman suing google maps because she took a route that indicated crossing a road, and was hit by a car, and felt that google should have warned her.  I am not making this up.

All of this strikes us more as we come from a place of few rules and the assumption that risk is part of life.  Of course it means…keep reading.

potential social fallout of changing your thinking

We live in times of social upheaval (how’s that for an opening line ;-)—haven’t we always? As I’ve grown over the years, I’ve found students like me tend to wrestle with some fundamental questions, and sometimes shifts in our thinking have significant social implications.   As we learn, we become more self-consciously aware of our own identity within our social networks and institutions. I thought I’d throw out a few of the questions I have discussed with friends, particularly related to church denominations or theological perspectives we’ve grown up with and either left or stayed in as our own thinking has evolved.

  1. What are the similarities and differences between my changing values and those of my communities?
    • Which values are core and which are more peripheral?
    • How much do I value the similarities over the differences? (or visa-versa)
  2. How likely are the areas of difference to change in the direction I would like them to?
    • Is there anything I can do to help reform or change my social group in a more positive (acceptable to me) direction? How?
    • Are there others within my social group that think the same way I do?
      If so how many? Who? (Are any of these leaders or power brokers?)
    • What are the major barriers to change within my social group?
    • Are there other factors that might lead to change?
  3. If changes are not likely (at least not any time soon):
    • Is there room within my community for people that think in significantly different ways?
    • If not, will I be able to “put up and shut up”—toe the party line?
    • Do other social institutions more in line with my views exist?
    • What is the likelihood of starting a new movement (however small)?
    • What are the relational (or economic) implications of leaving my current social circles?
    • Are there other (social) factors that are more important than sharing certain worldview ideals?

“Should I stay or should I go?” If I start shifting away, what kind of ties do I want to maintain with my old community? Are these not the types of questions new believers and converts have had to ask throughout the ages?

These are still raw reflections in light of some of the social identity reading I’ve been doing (related to developments in the early church)—thinking of past trajectories in terms of identity questions. I’m curious how much this line of questioning resonates with some of your experiences. What other big questions have I forgotten? Does the transition between different religious communities (or the development of new groups, sects, denominations) tend to happen in a slow drift or result from a more cataclysmic events? What are  other key factors?

I. Howard Marshall – A Pocket Guide to New Testament Theology (Free E-Book)

Biblical is offering a Pocket Guide to New Testament Theology by I. Howard Marshall as a free e-book (also available for your ipad or epub reader).

Check out other resources at Biblical while you are there. One of our favorites is the 10 hour Spiritual Formation (mp3 downloads) by Dr. John Coe. (It can be a bit slow going at the very beginning, but the implications of his ultimate point can be lifechanging.) [The link on their homepage appears to be broken right now, hopefully, it will be back up soon.]

For other great links, scroll down my Links of the Day on the left hand side of this blog.

An ode to the vuvuzela

In honor of tonight’s big game and the ending of the world cup, I paste here a few paragraphs from Africa is a Country’s Vuvuzelas for everyone. It is a translation by Tom Devriendt of an article by Laurent Dubois (author of the new book, “Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France,” and editor of the Soccer Politics blog) and cultural theorist Achille Mbembe (see also his earlier essay). It was originally published in French at Mediapart.

….As always when dealing with ‘things African’, people were made to believe that this ‘trumpet of the poor’ would be an example of primitive absurdity and mass hysteria. It doesn’t emit sounds let alone melodies, but a mechanical and infernal noise, a wild cacophony as monotonous as devoid of any content and meaning. The predominance of the vuvuzela would have contributed to the disappearance of other animated traditions of the football games. Folk songs, for example, would have been replaced by pure noise.

It was time to ban it – as one does with the burqa or the minarets in many European countries – some have gone so far as to demand its abolition.

The most important fact of this tournament is nevertheless clear. Against the predictions of many prophets of doom, South Africa has organized one of the most successful world cups in the history of this competition…Of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who have flocked into the country, none, at least so far, has died at the hands of criminals. On the contrary, to varying degrees, all have experienced a hospitality that many say they haven’t received in Korea nor in Japan (2002), and even less in France (1998) and Germany (2006).

They thus had to be found elsewhere, those signs of chaos and ‘African violence’ heralded by the false diviners. And so the vuvuzela has become the metaphor of disorder and mass trance which the most stubborn think are the essential characteristics of the continent.


….In South Africa, and perhaps elsewhere too, a game of football first of all is a liturgical event…[description follows]

…Football is neither an ecstatic cult nor a possession cult. It is an act of communion that offers its members the opportunity to share, with countless pilgrims from around the world, the moments of a unique intensity.

In South Africa, the sound of the vuvuzela offers these pilgrims who share neither language nor songs the possibility to participate in the production of a sonic geography of the stadium. Newcomers in South Africa for the World Cup understood it quickly. They quickly embraced it…

Keep reading: Vuvuzelas for everyone.

Theological discourse: tiptoeing through minefields or gallivanting across expansive prairies?

It’s hard to be an “in process” person when the stakes can be so high. Raw, unfiltered thoughts risk ostracizing you from the community you know and love or risk compromising credibility—both to potential opponents and present friends who have stricter boundaries. Sometimes, I feel like the more I learn, the less I can say publicly. There’s always the potential for a concerned citizen or a policing “bulldog” to latch on to something I’ve said or posted on a blog in the past and effectively minimize or jeopardizes everything else I am about.

We all have our “heresies.” If you are having trouble recognizing yours, I’m fairly confident that within about 15 minutes, I could help you become aware of some majorly inconsistent core belief you have which is likely rooted in a cultural idea or a church tradition over a neglected Scriptural principle…or where you deny equally prominent church traditions simply because they don’t fit what you want to believe. (And that’s probably okay.)

Every community has their litmus tests—conservative evangelicals and liberals alike—buzzwords that carry deep meanings and ideas that help differentiate “who’s in and who’s out.” In my own life that set of boundaries has shifted in almost every place I’ve lived: from Continue reading

John Mbiti: The Dialogue between African Religion and Christianity (lecture notes)

John Mbiti The  Spontaneous Dialogue between African Religion and Christianity Through Evangelization and Bible Translation

Tangaza College, Nairobi, Kenya: Thursday, May 20, 2010

Following are my typed notes from Professor Mbiti’s lecture at nearby Tangaza College. The lecture was hosted by Prof. Jesse Mugambi (Wiki bio) and sponsored by the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of Nairobi in honour of their 40th anniversary.  [The lecture was moved to Tangaza College as the result of “student unrest” at the University of Nairobi.]

Everything on the left margin comes directly from his handout though I’ve reinserted words—eg. articles and verbs—he omitted in the handout to save space. I’m not a terribly fast typist, so I might have captured the general gist of one out of every four or five sentences. I’ve bolded a couple of especially memorable quotes.)

My summary of his basic points:

  1. Christianity in African has expanded at historically unprecedented extraordinary rates.
  2. The causes of this rapid expansion are missionaries, African Christians, Bible translation, and the nature of African Religion.
  3. African Religion was very receptive to Christianity, which was consistent with African religious values; Jesus Christ was the new element.
  4. There has been significant awareness of the dialogue between Christianity and African Religion.
  5. Bible translation was a significant facilitator of the encounter and dialogue between Christianity and African religion.
  6. Prayer and Christology are two of the areas of greatest interaction between African religion and Christianity.

[Mbiti believes that there is enough commonality among the different expressions of African religion to speak of it in the singular.]


There has been a silent statistical explosion of Christian expansion in Africa.

  • 1900 Christians were 9.2% of the population (Mainly Egypt, Ethiopia, and Southern Africa.)
  • 1984 45%,
  • 2025 49% (cf. 40% Muslims, 11% African Religion, 0.2 other religions and atheists.)

[Projections by David Barrett—Encyclopaedia of Christianity; Encyclopaedia Britannica.]

This is a very big expansion of Christianity. Never in history has it expanded as rapidly anywhere. Naturally, one would raise the question: “what has brought about this expansion?”


1. Modern missionary work—through western countries, recently Korea and India

2. African converts—evangelists, priests, pastors, teachers, lay persons

African converts were much more mobile than missionaries. I remember how when I was growing up in a Christian home, we used to tell other people about the Bible—then only the NT in Kikamba. We used to tell them about prayer and heaven. We used to teach them church hymns. This spontaneous sharing of the gospel is at the core. Formal ways of doing evangelism—through employed catechists, etc. add support to evangelization which is still at work—explaining the faith and giving spiritual nourishment. The vast majority of churches and parishes today are being led by Africans.

Africans opened, not only their arms to welcome the missionaries, but they also opened their eyes and ears to the faith. Selecting elements that are acceptable and rejecting others. Conversion takes place at different levels.

3. Bible Translations into African languages—in full or in part:

  • 113 translations in 1900, 500 by 1984, 718 in 2008
  • Translations repeat Acts 2:6, 11 Pentecost: “In our own tongues”.
  • Informal dialogue in local languages loaded with African Religion.

Translation was a high priority by early missionaries. We note that there were already ancient translations—Boharic and Sahidic Egypt.

Now, Bible translations have landed the Scriptures into more and more local languages. This enables the people to hear the word of God, to discuss, teach and dispatch it to the whole people. Inevitably, it enables formal dialogue to take place in the minds of those that experience it. Each translation is like a repeat of Pentecost (Acts 2:16)—Each one hears the terms in their own language–the mighty works of God. That sparks dialogue. We hear dialogue in our own tongues telling us the gospel. In may cases, the publication of a Bible is the first book in a given language. Through the translation of the Bible, the Christian message sings. It is a revolutionary event with powerful ripples throughout the ethnic groups. Christians go out with the Bible in their own language to nourish others. In many homes, the Bible and the hymnbook are the entire library, and many people know much of the Bible by heart.

[See additional thoughts on this section by A Bloke in Kenya.]

4. African Religion, evolved gradually, integrated into world-view.

Wide range of beliefs, central belief in God, monotheistic.

Moral and ethical values.

Religious actions—ceremonies, rituals, festivals, prayers initiation, etc.

Sacred places and objects—groves, trees, mountains, etc.

Responsible persons—elders, priests, and priestesses, doctors, etc.

African Religion said “Yes to Christian Faith, simultaneously. Without African Religion, Christianity (Biblical religion) would not have made impact on religious landscape of Africa.

African religious systems are a complete system. There is no section of African life which is not touched by religion. People practice differently in different places, but there is enough commonality to call it singular.

African Religion said “Yes” to Christianity, and the Christian faith said “Yes” to African Religion.


African Religion dominated the religious scene from ancient times. No religious vacuum existed when Christianity (or Islam) arrived.  Thus, African belief in God existed before the arrival of missionaries. Missionaries did not bring God to Africa, rather it is God who brought the missionaries here. African religiosity was very receptive to the Christian message and enabled the message to make sense, to sink into spiritual soil.

The new element was the naming of JESUS CHRIST as messenger of God in whom Africans believed already. Initially, missionaries and early converts rejected despised and condemned African religion.

Eventual appreciation or recognition of African religion by some western scholars and missionaries, e.g. Wilhelm Schmidt (1868-1954).

Edwin W. Smith (1878-1957)

Organized a Continue reading

The wonderful mystery of creation

My friend Simon writes:

Throughout their existence, humans declared that things they did not understand were the work of the divine. The blazing sun, without fail, appeared and disappeared by an unseen eternal locomotion…Then, as our race began to understand complexity, we began to declare we had found the reasons for these things. The sun, who previously could humble and blind us by its own power, was reduced to a dumb mechanical looping ball of hot stone. Our methods invented good vaccinations and movable type, yet bleached the world of its color. A thing’s value suddenly was established by its utility. Wordsworth saw this, lowered his eyes and muttered, “We murder to dissect.”

We have not ended the place of wonder but pushed it. The boundary where we are delighted by what we do not understand has been relegated by our scientific arrogance away from life’s center. Yet it can appear if we take enough time to stare with an open heart. This is because, thankfully, there is no end to anything. Small things are made of smaller things, tiny weaved of the tinier. Down and down the composition goes….

I want to pull the place of wonder back to where it was, back to the exhilaration of dipping my finger in the lake, back to stories of aflame angels appearing over flocks at night, back until it collapses over everything. We were right all along. The world is steeped in unknowns, and by extension is thick with miracles. This roiling race of hominids may seek to find stability by exhuming the world’s mechanism, but when will they learn that peace is found in wonder? When will we see that love of creation and Creator, the path to the planet’s health, is less a math equation than a romance?…

Read Simon’s full reflection (20 May 2010).

The dilemma of the African missionary (part 2)

Patrick Nabwera ended part 1 by framing the dilemma: the African missionary comes from a background of the “have-nots to the have-nots”, yet he being pressed into the established blueprint of “the standard missionary”. And then he asked, “What should the African missionary do in such a case?”

Today, he offers a few suggestions:

For one, the African missionary must understand and accept his home/background context. This would stop him from trying to fit into the shoes of “the standard missionary”.  He has to learn to appreciate the fact that God has called him from a different background-the background of “have-nots” to the “have-nots” (often faith in Christ is the only asset which the African missionary may have above the host community-oh, that great eternal life of immeasurable value). David’s humility in choosing to use the five stones in the place of what Saul had given him forms a good model for the African missionary in this context. The testimony of this missionary from a poor context helps show the struggles.

Lotje Pelealu, an Indonesian nurse serving on a multicultural team in Gambia, reflected on her inner struggles as a missionary from a poorer country than the Western teammates…she admitted that it did get under her skin that she couldn’t afford as much as her colleagues. She had to pray and wait longer for the motorcycle for her ministry while they were able to buy a car immediately (Roembke 1998, 145).

Second, the African missionary can have the perspective of one coming from the kingdom of God to those outside the same kingdom and not as one coming from “the have-nots” to “the have-nots”. This means that he considers the possibility of partnering with all in the kingdom of God to bring the holistic Gospel to those outside God’s kingdom.  To him (and not only him but the entire body of Christ) then, it becomes clear that God can still avail the resources of the kingdom to him for ministry in that community. This view calls for kingdom partnerships (however, it is not just so that he may fit in the “standard missionary” model but so that he would bring the holistic Gospel to the target people).

Finally, his senders need to understand that the community expects the missionary to help in their social needs.  The fact that the missionary has another family which he has to care for should factor into his senders’ thinking. Then they will avail all that they can to have their missionary who has inherited the “old rich title” of the “standard missionary” present the holistic Gospel to the target people groups.


Roembke, Lianne. 1998. Building credible multicultural teams. Bonn: VKW.

The dilemma of the African missionary (Nabwera)

This is a guest post from Patrick Nabwera, Kenyan missionary to Mozambique:

The missionary in Africa stereotypically comes from a “better” background and context than their host community.  Missionaries generally comes with more wealth, more knowledge, and better technology from “the haves to the have-nots”. Because of this, the host community often sees him as a development worker, the source of new technology and knowledge in the community, or help in the hour of need and emergency.  Typically, the missionary comes to the community with much more to offer than just “preaching”; she comes with knowledge, technology, or wealth. In short, the missionary is associated with help for the community’s needs.

Based on this, the host communities expect African missionaries to fit into this model of “the standard missionary” with all the attached stereotypes. But the African missionary often does not have enough to keep him on the mission field.  The paradox of the “missionary” title without the stereotypical resources creates a lot of  pressure and stress. I have come across some African missionaries who always ask, “What project will I do when I get there?” (The model set by “the standard missionary”).

This is the dilemma: the African missionary comes from a background of the “have-nots to the have-nots”, yet he is being pressed into the established blueprint of “the standard missionary”.

Given this dynamic, what should the African missionary do?

Other missions posts by Patrick:

And his series on why missionaries quit:

  1. lack of financial support,
  2. difficulties in interpersonal relationships,
  3. marriage for singles,
  4. culture shock,
  5. resistance and hostility of radical Muslims,
  6. lack of quick conversion of the Muslims,
  7. a sense of God’s will for leaving,
  8. loss of vision, and
  9. lack of pastoral care.

Islam and Christianity in Africa (Pew Study)

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has just released a study on Religion in Africa

Download the full preface (5-page PDF, <1MB); Download the full executive summary (18-page PDF, 1MB) (in  French or Portugues)

In little more than a century, the religious landscape of sub-Saharan Africa has changed dramatically. As of 1900, both Muslims and Christians were relatively small minorities in the region. The vast majority of people practiced traditional African religions, while adherents of Christianity and Islam combined made up less than a quarter of the population, according to historical estimates from the World Religion Database.

Since then, however, the number of Muslims living between the Sahara Desert and the Cape of Good Hope has increased more than 20-fold, rising from an estimated 11 million in 1900 to approximately 234 million in 2010. The number of Christians has grown even faster, soaring almost 70-fold from about 7 million to 470 million. Sub-Saharan Africa now is home to about one-in-five of all the Christians in the world (21%) and more than one-in-seven of the world’s Muslims (15%).1

….While sub-Saharan Africa has almost twice as many Christians as Muslims, on the African continent as a whole the two faiths are roughly balanced, with 400 million to 500 million followers each. Since northern Africa is heavily Muslim and southern Africa is heavily Christian, the great meeting place is in the middle, a 4,000-mile swath from Somalia in the east to Senegal in the west.

….Despite the dominance of Christianity and Islam, traditional African religious beliefs and practices have not disappeared. Rather, they coexist with Islam and Christianity. Whether or not this entails some theological tension, it is a reality in people’s lives: Large numbers of Africans actively participate in Christianity or Islam yet also believe in witchcraft, evil spirits, sacrifices to ancestors, traditional religious healers, reincarnation and other elements of traditional African religions.2

Other Findings

In addition, the 19-nation survey finds:

  • Africans generally rank unemployment, crime and corruption as bigger problems than religious conflict. However, substantial numbers of people (including nearly six-in-ten Nigerians and Rwandans) say religious conflict is a very big problem in their country.
  • The degree of concern about religious conflict varies from country to country but tracks closely with the degree of concern about ethnic conflict in many countries, suggesting that they are often related.
  • Many Africans are concerned about religious extremism, including within their own faith. Indeed, many Muslims say they are more concerned about Muslim extremism than about Christian extremism, and Christians in four countries say they are more concerned about Christian extremism than about Muslim extremism.
  • Neither Christianity nor Islam is growing significantly in sub-Saharan Africa at the expense of the other; there is virtually no net change in either direction through religious switching.
  • At least half of all Christians in every country surveyed expect that Jesus will return to earth in their lifetime, while roughly 30% or more of Muslims expect to live to see the re-establishment of the caliphate, the golden age of Islamic rule.
  • People who say violence against civilians in defense of one’s religion is rarely or never justified vastly outnumber those who say it is sometimes or often justified. But substantial minorities (20% or more) in many countries say violence against civilians in defense of one’s religion is sometimes or often justified.
  • In most countries, at least half of Muslims say that women should not have the right to decide whether to wear a veil, saying instead that the decision should be up to society as a whole.
  • Circumcision of girls (female genital cutting) is highest in the predominantly Muslim countries of Mali and Djibouti but is more common among Christians than among Muslims in Uganda.
  • Majorities in almost every country say that Western music, movies and television have harmed morality in their nation. Yet majorities in most countries also say they personally like Western entertainment.
  • In most countries, more than half of Christians believe in the prosperity gospel – that God will grant wealth and good health to people who have enough faith.
  • By comparison with people in many other regions of the world, sub-Saharan Africans are much more optimistic that their lives will change for the better.

About the Report

These and other findings are discussed in more detail in the remainder of this report, which is divided into five main sections:

This report also includes a glossary of key terms, a description of the methods used for this survey, and a topline including full question wording and survey results.

HT: Roving Bandit — “Probably the best economics blog in Southern Sudan”

A tribute to Tokunboh Adeyemo (1944-March 18, 2010)

Dr. Tokunboh Adeyemo passed away last night.  Among many other accomplishments, Dr. Adeyemo was the editor of the Africa Bible Commentary. He had also served as general secretary of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa.  Moses Owojaiye, a Nigerian student here at NEGST, has written a very nice tribute on his blog – Christianity in Africa. You can read more about Dr. Adeyemo in his post,  The fall of an Iroko Tree.

UPDATE: A memorial service for Dr. Adeyemo will take place in Nairobi on Tuesday, 23rd March, at 10:00 am at Nairobi Pentecostal Church, Valley Road.  The family will accompany his body to Nigeria on Wednesday 24th, and the burial will take place on Friday 26th in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Other Links:

Memorial Service:  The Memorial Service will take place on Tuesday 23rd March, at 10:00 am at NPC, Valley Road.

3. The family will travel with the corpse on Wednesday 24th to Nigeria, leaving on the 7:00 am Kenya Airways flight.

4. Burial:  Burial will be on Friday 26th in Ibadan, Nigeria

Only two approaches to the biblical text are coherent (Schenck)

Ken Schenck has started writing a paper in which he states that

…in the end, only two approaches to the biblical text are coherent: 1) a historical-contextual approach and 2) reader-centered approaches that locate meaning (or “experience” of the text) in relation to specific readers and communities of readers. The spectrum of hermeneutical models currently in play are all varied combinations of these two broad categories, however they might self-describe.

I’m still chewing on this, but my first reaction is that it resonates with what I’ve been discerning recently as far as categorizing hermeneutical approaches. However, I’m not sure that I would try to argue that any reader-centered approach can claim to be fully “coherent,” unless you want to say that it is trying to making some kind of attempt at internal coherence (perceived coherence?).   Not that anyone will necessarily agree on the results of the historical-contextual approach, but we can probably admit that anything we do after that–any other approach or tradition that we subscribe to–is in reality some form of a “reader-centered” approach.   Any way you look at it, the big questions still remain:

….Are some reader vantage points more appropriate than others? Is there a specifically Christian vantage point from which to read Scripture as a whole? How proximate are the “original” meanings of individual biblical texts to the most appropriate holistic vantage points? To what extent does this paradigm cohere with evangelical fundamentals?…

Read more of Ken Schenck’s Bridging Lessings Ditch.

Bottom line: if you want your theological reading to “represents the current pinnacle of progress,” you’d better subscribe to my approach ;-).

Paul believes in BOTH predestination AND freewill (Kirk and Sanders)

Tucked in his ongoing series of blog thoughts on Douglas A. Campbell’s, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul, my favorite New Testament scholar says,

…Now I know that on many of these issues you don’t think Ed Sanders has gotten things as straight as needs be. Fair enough. But one thing he said around the seminar table has stuck with me and resonated as true to much of early Jewish literature: “Paul believed both in predestination and free will, and so did the other Jews of the first century. Do you know what the Qumran community called themselves? The elect. You know what else they called themselves? The volunteers!”

It seems more than a little likely to me that what we consider theological contradiction a first century Jew might consider paradox or mystery. This is one reason I’m less than eager to base my assessment of Paul on an idealized reconstruction of theories. I’m not persuaded that our only other option is to relegate Paul to the realm of contradiction and confusion.

Both/and might be an alternative to either/or…

JRD Kirk, More on the Reformed Traditions in Campbell

I’ll just add that my African colleagues tend to have an easier time handling these BOTH/AND paradoxes than my linear Western EITHER/OR friends do. That’s just one more benefit of doing biblical studies in the African context.

Enjoying Africa, football, art, and beauty

I know this is an ad, but I enjoyed watching it, and I thought some of you with West Africa in your blood might enjoy watching it and feeling nostalgic too: 6:43mins./34.8MB (so only a privilege for those with enough bandwidth). Special thanks to Emeka Okafor, Africa Unchained for alerting me to it. I also enjoyed hearing American artist Kehinde Wiley describe his encounter with Africa. As far as football goes, I prefer playing the game for exercise to watching (mostly due to time constraints), but now I find myself chasing guys half my age in informal half-field games with chipped stone blocks as mini goal posts.

Before I embed the video, I want to mention that every day I get to enjoy a special treat of beautiful (and professional) images of everyday African life from Africa Knows. I subscribe to their RSS feed in my Google Reader, and always enjoy clicking through.

More reasons not to do a PhD

The Big Lie about the “Life of the Mind” (Chronicle of Higher Education)

…The ranks of new Ph.D.’s and adjuncts these days are mainly composed of people from below the upper-middle class: people who believe from infancy that more education equals more opportunity. They see the professions as a path to security and status…

…The myth of the academic meritocracy powerfully affects students from families that believe in education, that may or may not have attained a few undergraduate degrees, but do not have a lot of experience with how access to the professions is controlled. Their daughter goes to graduate school, earns a doctorate in comparative literature from an Ivy League university, everyone is proud of her, and then they are shocked when she struggles for years to earn more than the minimumwage. (Meanwhile, her brother—who was never very good at school—makes a decent living fixing HVAC systems with a six-month certificate from a for-profit school near the Interstate.)…

William Pannapacker (“Thomas Benton”), associate professor of English at Hope College, in Holland, Mich.

The Big Lie about the “Life of the Mind” (Chronicle of Higher Education).

See also: “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go,” and the follow-up essay. HT: Storied Theology

BTW, I came very close to pursuing my own HVAC certificate the year after I graduated with my Masters of Divinity.

Land and ethnic tension

I haven’t flown over the Ituri forest in Congo since I was a child over thirty years ago; Google Earth tells me that it is still there but shrinking.  In my recent travels to the US, I couldn’t help feeling like I was seeing far more trees and forests than I see in fertile Kenya (I have the same recollection of my time in more densly populated Europe—though Africa is supposed to surpass Europe in population density this year.). In my recent flight from Lilongwe and over Tanzania to Nairobi, I looked out over a vast patchwork of farms. Boundaries of a national forests and game parks were clearly demarcated;  they are practically the only uncultivated land anywhere.

In several conversations with my Kenyan friends about the ethnic violence they experience after the last election, I’ve taken out a napkin and sketched out a big square: “This was your grandfather’s plot of land. Let’s say he had eight sons. [“twelve,”—or more—I’m occasionally corrected. I divide the plot up into equal subplots]. Now lets say that each of your uncles had four sons. [I further sub-divide each subplot.] Given the serious Kenyan cultural value of owning your own plot of land (contrasted with West African communal ownership), how do you think you and your cousins are going to feel about each other—not to mention the people from a different ethnic group that arrived generations ago when there was plenty of land to go around?” The imagery is striking.  At independence, Kenya had approximately six million citizens; today (less than 50 years later) it’s pushing forty million! (We are still awaiting the results of last year’s census.)

The following article describes some of the complexities of land, population growth, and ethnicity throughout Africa.

Africa’s continental divide: land disputes

Christian Science Monitor, January 30, 2010

…Land, at the very heart of security and survival, looms behind most of the African conflicts we’ve all heard of and dozens of others we have not. The Rwandan genocide, some argue, was as much about the dwindling land availability in Africa’s most densely populated country as it was about enmity between ethnic groups. The wars recounted in the movie “Blood Diamond” in Sierra Leone and Liberia saw land grabs by warlords eager to exploit commodities like diamonds and timber. The violence following Kenya’s 2007 election reflected generations of dissatisfaction with land policy that favored different ethnic groups over time. Beneath the genocide in Darfur is a broken land tenure system, full of fights over soil that climate change is making increasingly unproductive. Somalia’s infamous pirates gain cover for plundering from political chaos in the country, whose warring clans fight not only for power but primacy on disputed lands, full of resources to fuel ongoing violence. And beneath last week’s Muslim-Christian riots, which killed at least 260 people in Jos, Nigeria, are decades-old grievances about political rights and the land they are tied to.

Africa’s most famous disasters, many argue, could have been prevented with changes in national land laws or better local conflict resolution but for one problem: Prevention doesn’t sell.

What does sell – what gets airtime, aid dollars, and military or other attention – is the violent chaos the world fails to prevent [this last phrase made me uncomfortable; local solutions would probably be better]. By the time land conflict gets an international audience, land is an afterthought; talk turns to tribe and ethnicity or local politics and corruption. News coverage and nonprofits focus on the worst symptoms – refugees, rapes, massacres. Distracted by suffering, they miss the structural problem that can, it turns out, be solved.

Fixing the land problem may lay the foundation for fixing so many others, from poverty to famine to ethnic conflict. If farmers feel their claims to plots are sound, if social groups feel land policies are impartial and just, and if women and men have equal rights to the soil, experts say Africa’s other ills will be easier to treat.

In communities across the continent, that hypothesis is bearing out…

The end of land conflict might just mark the ascent of Africa.

It’s too much to say that land is the cause of all of Africa’s wars. But…

…The stubborn fact, says Brady, is that something must give. Liberia, and the rest of Africa, can acknowledge the importance of custom, or admit that previous power structures have given some groups unfair economic privilege, or argue that everyone with a piece of paper has a right to his plot, even when the papers conflict. But none of that helps solve the problem.

“Some people must make sacrifices. …

Read more.

For Christian leaders, this might highlight how attention to these root (economic) causes (systemic justice) might be far more effective than focusing on individual attitudes about ethnicity—though these are important too.

Thanks for the heads-up: Texas in Africa. Her regular “this & that” posts are probably my best source of good articles on Africa.

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Refuting the “Global Christianity” paradigm? (Wuthnow)

Raise your hand if you believe the following statements are true.

1) In 1970, Christianity was a predominantly Western movement, but by 2000, surging growth in Africa, Asia, and Latin America meant that the majority of Christians lived outside the West.

2) While Christianity in the United States was declining notably in the 1990s in numerical terms, in African countries like Ghana it was growing rapidly to majority status.

3) The number of career missionaries from the West is declining as the church of the “Global South” takes up the mantle of leadership in mission.

For the answers to these questions and some discussion on America and shifts in “Global Christianity”, see World Christianity and the American Churches by Andy Crouch (Books and Culture)

The Western Captivity of African Christianity (Black)

UPDATE: Onesimus Online no longer exists.

Yesterday I introduced Bill Black’s blog, Onesimus Online, but I thought his posts related to The Western Captivity of African Christianity deserved a little more attention (especially for those of you that are skimming titles; I see Eddie beat me to it ;-).

… however well-intentioned our motives, we Western missionaries in general, and Western theological educators in particular, are engaged in nothing less than the colonization of the African church on a massive scale.

When the British sent out their surveyors across the savannahs and forests of Africa to map out their newly claimed territories, their apologists sold it in part as a vast humanitarian project to bring the ‘Three Cs’ of Christianity, Civilization and Commerce, as David Livingstone put it, to the poor benighted negroes of Africa. Of course the unquestioned assumption was…The resulting mess has completely warped African reality at every level and in every direction and will likely never be undone.

We missionary types don’t seem to have learned very much from the past two centuries of experience, because we are insisting on doing the very same things in our own spheres of influence. Oh, but we have the best of motives (for the Lord and the advance of his kingdom!). And who could ever accuse us of racism? We are all about partnership, all about taking into consideration the [fill in the blank with Kenyan, Ethiopian, Nigerian, etc] context, all about project sustainability, all about reducing dependency, all about working ourselves out of a job, raising up African leaders, etc, etc. We are up on the latest trends in globalization, we go to all the international conferences on servant leadership (whatever that means)…

…. my job is to teach Africans what the Evangelical [and thus ‘right’] position is for whatever the Bible addresses. But in doing so, I’m forced to make my African students into proper North American Evangelicals [one could just as easily insert ‘Presbyterian’ or ‘Reformed Baptist’ or ‘Pentecostal’ or ‘Methodist’].

…Not only are we forcing Western Evangelical categories on African students as the measure of all that’s true in the world, but we have simply assumed that our model of theological education itself is the baseline for all subsequent thinking on the matter…

…We theological educators in Africa are doing a bang-up job of reproducing North American Evangelicals for Africa, replete with our ways of thinking about and practicing Christianity. But in doing so, I’m not at all certain that we are either being true to New Testament Christianity or engaging effectively with the people of this continent as they really are…

Read the whole post: The Western Captivity of African Christianity

And again, (The Erosion of Inerrancy?)

…the fights (theological and hermeneutical) that have set the boundaries assumed sacrosanct by our best North American Evangelicals (or even British, though there is a huge difference even here) seem increasingly irrelevant over here.

…with the explosion of Christianity in Africa, Latin America and Asia, these presuppositions are increasingly exposed for what they are – presuppositions that unnaturally and unnecessarily limit what is understood as appropriate, to what is understood as appropriate if you have grown up in the West and been trained at one of its leading theological institutions. For that reason, systematic theology, for example, is difficult to teach in my present context as anything more than what certain Evangelicals understood at a particular time given their particular intellectual and religious contexts. To attempt to dress up Kenyan Christians in Evangelical clothes is attempt what the British did by insisting that Kenyans must adopt trousers, shirt and tie in order to appear civilized (never mind that…

…Africans can certainly wear western-style clothes, but we got to this point as a result of a certain amount of cultural imperialism that did violence to already existing cultures and perspectives. Anyway, the idea that the traditional Evangelical doctrine is eroding amongst Evangelicals may be true in the West, or at least a more or less valid observation. Our needs and concerns on this side of the world make such word play seem like yet another Western game. Playing ‘your’ game is a luxury ‘we’ can no longer afford. Anyone interested in playing our game?

And yesterday, What is your Game?

…Salvation too often means getting Africans to accept that our problems are their problems and that our solutions must be their solutions. For example, most Western missionaries assume that Christ has come to save us from our legal problem before a holy God; namely…

…while Western missionary Christianity misses the mark in terms of addressing African realities, the New Testament itself, along with the earliest expressions of Christianity as it spread throughout the Roman world, engages the pre-modern world view with dramatic and life-changing answers.

Eddie Arthur, Wycliffe Bible Translators, has a nice 14 minute video on the topic of missions, culture, contextualization, and African theologies (see also this post for more links).

Eddie Arthur of Wycliffe Bible translators talks about the importance and implications of contextualising the Gospel.