BIBLICAL INSIGHTS ON EQUIPPING “A MAN OF GOD” FOR AFRICA
A Paper Presented at African Theological CURRICULUM CONSULTATION AND Conference at
Mukhanyo Theological College
By Ronald M. Munyithya
Brothers and sisters, you will agree with me that it has been a great week: a week of fellowship and learning.
I want to thank the organizing committee of both the Consultation and Conference and especially Dr. DeVries for the invitation. It is quite a privilege to be here with all of you.
I was asked to speak on Biblical Insights On Equipping ‘A Man Of God’ For Africa.
I am going to try to do that but please forgive me if I veer off that road. I was given 75 minutes but don’t think am going to take that long.
When I saw the title of the topic assigned to me, I was immediately reminded of two portions of scripture: all in Paul’s correspondence to Timothy: First of all: 2 Tim. 3:16-17 – words that speak of that grand doctrine of scripture – the plenary inspiration:
All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and TRAINING in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The second text is the apostle’s charge still to Timothy his faithful partner in the ministry of the Gospel: 2 Tim. 2: 2
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses
Entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
The question of training and equipping men for the gospel ministry in our continent cannot be over-emphasized. This is why, I think, the timing of this conference could not be better.
As most of us know, in the 19th century the growth of the church was concentrated in the West especially in North America. In the 20th century it was in the East especially in South Korea. We are now told that from mid 20th century and into 21st century, the church is growing in the Southern hemisphere especially in Africa. The late Dr. Tokunboh Adeyemo, one of the renowned African Bible scholars corroborates this fact when he says:
God has done a mighty work in Africa, and in our own days we see His church growing at a rate that is beyond imagination….About 16,000 people are added to the church each day, a phenomenon that started in the 2nd half of the 20th century.
As of now growth figures have gone up. As many as 25,000 people are added to the church each single day.
At this juncture I would like to pose a question to all of us present: Do you think this phenomenal growth poses a challenge to our African Church? The answer is emphatic Yes! That challenge is whether we are feeding that church adequately or not. I know religious pluralism, to a certain extent, is a real threat to the church globally, but brothers and sisters, I want to believe that the greatest challenge of African Church growing at this rate is shortage of soundly equipped ministers of the word. Remember the greatest defense against false teaching fed by postmodernism is the word of God. Sound and adequate training of Gospel teachers and preachers must be a priority agenda of the church in Africa. It is encouraging to know that the need for educated ministry in the continent has been felt hence the convening of consultations and conferences such as this one.
In this presentation I want to give few insights on how we go about equipping men for the church in Africa.
1. We must look for men with a True Call:
The departure point for equipping a man of God is a tested divine call to the ministry. This, of course, presupposes salvation of the one called. It is unfortunate that sometimes men and women are put in the ministry by other men. This explains why many of our pastors exit the ministry prematurely or do it as a mere profession and not vocation. I, therefore, propose that a tested call to the gospel ministry whether in the pulpit or to seminary lecture hall be a pre-requisite for those enrolling in our theological colleges and seminaries. This logically leads to the second main thing that needs to be done:
2. We Must Offer a training that is Sound and Rigorous
One of the problems in our rapidly growing continental church is her spiritual shallowness. I cannot help but think that poor or inadequate training is the main contributor to this shallowness. No wonder the African church is said to be thousands of miles wide but one inch deep. This calls for a rigorous intellectual and faithful biblical engagement with scripture. Let me emphasize: a solid training that will take us to reasonable depth of God’s word is a must for those entrusted with the feeding of the Lord’s sheep in our continent. Ladies and gentlemen, there is no short cut to the calling we have received. We need to realize that we live in a world where the absolute truth of scripture is increasingly being questioned even among the evangelicals. The fact that it is not open in the continent does not mean that it is not there or it is not coming. The unerring word of God is the anchor of Christ’s church in a situation like that.
Having said this let me give a caution: in our engagement with this kind of training, we must move beyond the arena of the intellectual, noetic and cognitive to avoid the mistake of Western Evangelicalism in the 20th century. Some of you know how Western evangelical theological institutions of the last century, reacting to liberalism of the day elevated the academy and the academic above community and spirituality. Theological institutions then tried to repulse liberalism with philosophical weapons. This indeed was due to platonic influence. The church stands or falls on its doctrinal position. The church either stands on the solid rock of scripture or on the humanistic sand which is easily washed away. Without underestimating the intellectual, (for intellect is part of our imago Dei), it is true that the decisive weapons of our warfare as Christians is spiritual and not philosophical.
In this regard our theological training in Africa should aim at taking our souls and minds beyond the academy, to the very presence of heaven itself; to the spiritual dining-room of the Spirit where our whole being will be fed with God’s Word producing holy emotions in us. And here I am not thinking of those human exhilarations that thrill us, whose source and goal is man himself. I am thinking of our students, teachers and even ministers of the gospel being brought into personal conference with the Holy Spirit, hence producing in them and those around them the necessary, perfect fruit of the spirit; yes, that which Jonathan Edwards called “Holy Tempers”.
It is very unfortunate that most of our reformed theologians and theological books place more emphasis on orthodoxy (right doctrine) but very little on orthopraxis (application to life) and almost none on orthopathos (commitment of our emotions and affections to God and his service).These three, as primary goals of theology, are reciprocally interdependent . Avoidance of linear prioritizing helps us to avoid extremes of intellectualism, legalism and emotionalism (McLaughlin). Neo-platonic thought which, among other things, demotes emotions to the Hades should not be given place of dominance in doing theology and “curriculation” in Africa.
In a word, the intellectual rigor and spirituality in our theological institutions should be brought into a deliberate and permanent happy marriage. This will result in personal and ecclesiastical sanctification which will revitalize the church for her pulpit and missional callings.
Brothers and sisters to offer this kind of training several things must be considered seriously. Allow me to mention three of these things. I will number them with letters: abc:
a. Relevant Biblical Curriculum
The key words here are biblical and relevant. We are not calling for blind relevance, mere pragmatism, but for relevance that is based on scripture; a biblically contextualized curriculum; a curriculum that addresses the ministerial/church needs in Africa from sound biblical view-point. Quite often Bible colleges and seminaries are considered as irrelevant to the competencies the church needs. While this might present some misconception, there is a big truth in it.
Many of you will agree with me that most of our curricula are carbon copies of those in the West. While I do respect these Western curricula, I am not fully persuaded that Africa should import them wholesale. For example, I do not think that we need to offer a course on Herman Dooyeweerd’s philosophy in our theological seminaries! The African church-related courses should be given pride of place in curriculum design process. The warning by one Dr. Scott Cunningham addressing one of the African seminaries last year is appropriate here:
Some seminaries don’t feel a need to respond to the context. They have inherited a curriculum and a pedagogical system which has been given the same status as the Ten Commandments, given by God and written in stone.
What Cunningham is saying here is that curricula are dynamic documents that need to be regularly and strategically revised for the benefit of the church. Simply put, they are not inspired.
Ladies and gentlemen allow me now to propose, by way of example, some of the courses that need to be contextually either introduced, or emphasized in our theological colleges as preparation for effective church ministry:
i. Bible Doctrines/Systematic Theology
As we have stated above, the church stands or falls on its theological position.
African Church is generally very weak in theology. Any new teaching goes. This is probably due to our traditional world view of holism. Again let me remind ourselves that good theology is the anchor of the church. This reality is born out by the historical fact of Reformation. Gripped by the word of God through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Reformers took the derailed church back to the right track of Scripture. Our theological colleges in Africa must know this if they are to survive the theological gravy and pitfalls we hear and see around us today.
The five alones and their blood-sister TULIP were the summary of the Reformers’ theology and teaching. I propose, therefore, that all loci of systematic theology be properly taught in our Bible colleges and seminaries. But I also caution that the approach be biblical and not philosophical; applicational and not theoretical; contextual and not irrelevant. Theology is not taught for information or enlargement of knowledge but for life and practice. Theology must be demonstrated by the drama of life. Needless to say, the study of the confessional documents such as Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter and Larger Catechisms must be offered as a core course to our students. These inspire a man of God not only with good theology but with the heritage of faithful witness of those who have gone before us. In short they are statements of reformed faith. We of reformed family should realize that we stand on the shoulders of many witnesses of faithful preaching and teaching of God’s word. We cannot afford not to do the same. We must practically be proud of that heritage.
ii. Biographical History
This is another area of study that need find a priority of space in our curriculum. I must give credit here to Dr. Jack Whytock of Haddington House in Canada for opening this to me three or so years ago. Many church ministers in Africa have no idea of men and women who have contributed to the formulation of reformed evangelical dogma and tradition we cherish today. Many of us know something about John Calvin, Martin Luther and Zwingli but I wonder how many of us have heard of Jan Huss, Martin Bucer, Henry Bullinger, Melanchton and Oeclompadius? To some, the latter sounds like a place name picked from Gulliver’s Travels. For fuller, picturesque knowledge of our reformed heritage and sometimes its opposite, this course is a must. But allow me to add: we should not look only to those classical reformation fathers but to African men and women who, in different ways, contributed toward church establishment and nurture in Africa after those fathers. I am here randomly thinking of men like Bishop Crowther of West Africa (19th century); John Gatu of Kenya; the late Benedicto Kivengere of Uganda; the late Byang Kato of Nigeria to mention just a few.
iii. African Christian Musicology
Ladies and gentlemen, I am neither a musician nor a singer! But I make a joyful noise to the Lord. From my own observation, however, I can say: one of the most effective means of retention is learning something by singing it. People easily forget what they either hear or memorize. But it takes a very long time to forget what they sing. No wonder one of the longest books of the OT is a hymnal. It is also true that music is the most doxological language of the soul. Think of the spontaneous chiastic song of Adam on receiving the beautiful wife from God! Genesis 2:23
This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called ‘woman,
For she was taken out of my body.
Friends, while music is universal there is way in which Africans can be said to be full of music, a bundle of music, the stuff they are made of! We sing everywhere and almost all the time. Most of the time underlining and aiding retention by repetition! We sing on the bus, we sing when we are working on our farms, we sing when walking and even when mourning. Sometimes with a song we court and propose for marriage!
But this is not all about Africans and music. It is also true we sing with our whole being: with our mouth, our body and soul. Who, in South Africa, is not moved by Soweto Gospel Choir? And who in the United States of America is not moved by Negro Spirituals! It is sad that African Christian Musicology rarely appears in our Bible colleges curricula. In fact I know only one such school, and that is a Christian liberal arts college but even there it is taught merely as African Musicology and not as African Christian Musicology.
What is the point of saying all this? This is the point: Since music and singing have these very rich attributes to Africans, in their contextualized form, they would be a great vehicle for storing, teaching and communicating biblical truths to African audience especially the illiterate or semi-illiterate. I, therefore, call upon Christian musicians and theologians to Reform African music. This will not only afford our African church a Bible teaching tool but the joy of expressing her worship of God in her cultural idiom.
Mr. Principal and honors, I do humbly propose to the congregation of scholars present to consider African Christian Musicology for inclusion in their curricula.
iv. African Traditional Religions; Spiritual Formation Courses.
Like Systematic Theology these courses are taught in quite a number of our Bible Colleges. The only problem is the approach. Take for example the course: African Traditional Religions.: The course is taught for information with little relation to the scripture and homiletics. I am not here suggesting that ATR be taught as an end in itself. All I am thinking of is its value in understanding the religious perversion of the people God has sent us to. It, therefore, helps us to know how best to communicate the gospel cross-culturally. Here I am thinking of cases like that of one Don Richardson, one time a missionary to the Sawi people of South East Asia (then Irian Jaya). Remember the book “The Peace Child.
Regarding the Spiritual Formation Courses , I feel these are not given due emphasis and yet they are so practical and necessary for all of us. For example, who can spiritually survive without the disciplines of prayer, reading God’s word etc.
b. Partnership with the Church
There has been a tendency over the years for both theological institutions and the church to take parallel lines. Needless to say, this has weakened both. The theological school needs the church not only for students and finances but for curriculum advice while the church needs theological school for its teaching and preaching ministry. John Calvin eloquently spoke about this in the dedication section to the Institutes:
But as God did not entrust the ancient folk to angels but raised up teachers from the earth truly to perform the angelic office, so also today it is his will to teach us through human means. As he was of old not content with the law alone, but added priests and interpreters from whose lips the people might ask its true meaning, so today he not only desires us to be attentive to its reading, but also appoints instructors to help us by their effort (Calvin).
Brothers and sisters I propose that the Church and the Bible Colleges begin to see each other as partners in the ministry of the gospel. There should, therefore, be a living ministerial relationship between the two if men of God are to be adequately and effectively trained.The seminary should know it doest not exist for its own sake. Rather itis both the servant of the church as well as a partner, both are involved in training and missional ministries of the church.
c. Change Training Methodology
It is rather interesting that many theological institutions continue to operate under the old training approaches. As I said earlier, a lot of emphasis is put on academic performance. Papers in the morning; Papers in noon time and Papers when the sun goes down! The result is that the students in our schools develop big heads and brains but their hearts shrink. These men know how to preach well but cannot preach well! This becomes very disappointing and ironic in comparison to the expectation of the students and the sending churches. One Dr. Griffiths speaking on this says:
Students arrive (to the seminary) eagerly asking for spiritual bread, fish and eggs, and instead so often they are given the stones and scorpion of desert experience.
To equip men of God for Africa we should make a big paradigm shift from traditional way of training with its emphasis on head knowledge to practical. We must avoid fortress type of training and introduce continuing practicums in real church situation as integral part of our training. Frankly I do not see why we should not have a scattered curriculum – where students alternate class work with church ministry and all for credit. I do not see why we should not try to introduce the idea of seamless integration of our courses such that each course is woven to the other.
We need to remember, our Bible colleges/seminaries are not out to train academic theologians, specialists with ‘library credibility’ only. We are training workers of the Kingdom. This fact is underscored by Dr. Michael Griffiths when he says:
Somehow we should insist that gifted young…academic theologians …should serve apprenticeships in full time ministry in a local church….to throw themselves to the practice of theology in the street, at the bedside, by the grave, in the pew, in the home – as well as in the pulpit. Such men and women will be able to demonstrate relevance and gain “classroom-credibility”… (and so) be able to feed their students with bread and not stones (Michael Griffiths – Paper)
Ladies and gentleman, this is equipping a man of God for Africa!
Let me conclude with that great priestly blessing found in Numbers 6: 24-25
The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn His face towards you and give you peace
For when the Lord does this we shall be able to equip men and women of God for God’s Work in Africa.
THANKS FOR LISTENING
Adeyemo, Tokunboh; Theological Pitfalls in Africa (in the Introduction).
Calvin, John; The Institutes: in the dedication of the book to King Francis I
Cunningham, Scott; A Paper Presented before the Nairobi International School of Theology in May 2010, entitled: Re-envisioning Seminary Church Relationships: Thoughts about our Journey.
Griffiths, Michael C. in an article entitled: Theological Education Need Not Be Irrelevant
Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, Zondervan, 2011 (pp 35-36).
McLaughlin, Ra. Building Your Theology: What is Theology? Third Millenium Ministries.