God’s mission in Namibia: the situation of the church and the strategic role of para-church organisations
Money, poverty and the church: the danger of the prosperity
gospel in Namibia
Basilius M. Kasera
The quest for appropriate models of theological education for Africa
Training leaders like Paul did: church leadership training in Namibia
Faith that works: a study of James 2:14-26 with some insights for the
Namibian church context
Theological controversies on the mission field in southern Africa:
reasons, implications and responses
African names for God and the biblical concept of YAHWEH
Basilius M. Kasera
Carl Hugo Hahn and the spiritual condition of the Herero-Mbanderu people
Tuundjakuye Spencer Tjijenda
Simon GillhamMA, BTh, DipMin, ProfCertChrMin
Simon Gillham studied theology at Moore Theological College in Australia and is ordained as a minister within the Anglican Church. At NETS he teaches Old Testament studies and practical theology. He is the author of a number of articles in theological magazines and books. He is currently studying for a Doctor of Theology degree with South African Theological Seminary (SATS).
Basilius M. KaseraMA, BTS, DipMin
Basilius Kasera is the academic dean of NETS. He lectures in systematic theology and Old Testament studies. Before joining the NETS faculty he served as academic dean at Gospel Outreach Christian Leadership School, Namibia. He holds a Master of Theology degree from South African Theological Seminary (SATS). (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Victor KuliginDTh, MTh, MBA, MA, BS
Victor Kuligin is the academic dean of the Bible Institute of South Africa (Cape Town) where he lectures in systematic theology, hermeneutics and church history. He served for fourteen years in Namibia as lecturer and academic dean at NETS. He is the author of several journal articles and one book, Ten Things I Wish Jesus Never Said (2006). (Email: email@example.com).
Thorsten PrillDTh, MTh, PgDipLRM, CThM, Dipl.-Volksw.
Thorsten Prill lectures in missiology, practical theology and systematic theology at NETS. He is the author of German Protestantism and the Spirit of God (2010) and Global Mission on our Doorstep (2008). He has published articles in various journals, such as Evangelical Review of Theology, Foundations, Evangel and Evangelical Missions Quarterly. He serves as an associate pastor at Inner-City Lutheran Congregation, Windhoek. (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Achim Rieger trained at Freie Theologische Akademie (Giessen School of Theology) in Germany. Before coming to NETS he worked as lecturer and academic dean at Gospel Outreach Christian Leadership School, Namibia and was involved in youth and children’s ministry in Axminster, England. He teaches church history, Biblical studies and practical theology.
Tuundjakuye Spencer TjijendaBTh
Spencer Tjijenda is pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Windhoek. He was a part-time lecturer and coordinator of the NETS Distance Department from 2004 to 2012. He is involved in a church planting project in the Omaheke region of Namibia. (Email: email@example.com)
The mission of the Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary (NETS) is to equip Christians to serve the Church and the wider community. The purpose of this book is to contribute to the accomplishment of this mission. It contains essays by present and former NETS faculty members who bring with them a rich ministry experience in churches and para-church organisations in Namibia and other countries. Each essay is a sustained reflection on a particular aspect of Christian mission and ministry in Namibia and beyond.
Thorsten Prill looks at both the challenges and opportunities for the Church in Namibia. He argues that para-church organisations with their focus on evangelism, church-planting and theological training have a significant role to play. In a second essay he identifies key issues in mission today and challenges churches, mission organisations and mission partners to be caught up in a missionary movement with God.
Basilius Kasera demonstrates that the use of traditional African names for God as representatives of the God of the Bible is problematic as it leads to a distorted understanding of the biblical revelation. Such an approach fails to distinguish clearly between the revelation of Yahweh and the idols Africans have always worshipped. In a further article Basilius Kasera discusses the dangers of prosperity gospel teaching for the Namibian Church.
Simon Gillham argues that the models and assumptions behind theological education in Africa have been largely imported from the west. Using the biblical metaphor of a tree representing spiritual maturity, he explores what roots, what fruits and what species of theological education might be most appropriate for the African context.
Victor Kuligin examines the general state of the Namibian Church in light of the well-known statement that ‘faith without deeds is dead’. He argues that there is a discrepancy between the claim of being a Christian country and the lifestyle and conduct of many Namibian church members. He finds an answer for this disconnect in the second chapter of the New Testament letter of James.
Achim Rieger believes that local church leadership should be, first and foremost, trained in the local church – given the socio-economic conditions in Namibia. He shows that the training strategy used by the apostle Paul can be a viable option for the Namibian Church.
Spencer Tjijenda examines the spiritual condition of the Herero-Banderu people before and during the missionary period. He argues that the evaluation of pioneer missionary Carl Hugo Hahn was not only true but was also motivated by deep concern and love for this Namibian people group – an attitude that is still relevant for God’s mission in Namibia today.
role of para-church organisations
The first missionaries arrived in Namibia, formerly known as South West Africa, at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1806 two brothers, Christian and Abraham Albrecht of the London Missionary Society founded a mission station in the south of the country (Buys & Nambala 2003:9-10). Many more missionaries, mostly Lutherans from Germany and Finland but also Methodists from England and South Africa, followed in subsequent years. Their efforts and those of indigenous pastors and evangelists bore much fruit. A hundred years after the arrival of the Albrecht brothers the church was still growing. Buys and Nambala write:
After WW-I the Church in Namibia experienced a prolonged period of growth. The growth culminated in the jubilant ‘Year of the Churches’ (1957), when various independent Namibian synods were formed. Until 1922 foreign missionary societies…maintained full authority in all existing denominations in Namibia. As from 1922 the training of pastors started as a major step towards church independence and by 1957 these denominations reached maturity when independent Namibian synods were established (:115).
During Namibia’s liberation struggle which started in the 1960s, the independent Namibian Church played a key role. The Evangelical Lutheran Ovambo-Kavango Church, which grew out of the work of Lutheran missionaries from Finland, ‘was the first black mainline Church which took a strong stand against apartheid and its application such as violation of human rights’ (Tötemeyer 2010:47). In 1971 Bishop Leonard Auala and Pastor Paulus Gowaseb of the two black Lutheran churches sent their famous Open Letter to John Vorster, the South Africa prime minister, in which they told him that the South Africa’s presence in Namibia was illegal (cf. Grohs 1983:273). ‘The reaction’, writes Kjeseth (1989:10) ‘was electrifying and nationwide.’ The Open Letter helped to mobilise the black majority population, especially the younger generation, against the South African presence in the country (Wallace 2011:275).
Today, between 80 and 95 per cent of Namibia’s multicultural population of 2.1 million is affiliated to a church (cf. Gray 1999:60; Tötemeyer 2010:17). The majority of them belong to churches in the Lutheran tradition. However, there are also other denominational groups, such as Anglicans, Baptists, African Methodist Episcopalians, Pentecostals and Roman Catholics. The Church is a visible and important part of Namibian society, or as Ejikeme (2011:43) puts it: ‘Christianity has deeply affected all strata of contemporary Namibian life, whether in rural or urban areas, in elite suburbs or poor neighbourhoods.’ The Church is considered to be a cooperative partner of the government ‘in its efforts to improve the wellbeing of society’ (Tötemeyer 2010:122-123). As such it faces many challenges: the biggest gap between rich and poor in the world (Central Bureau of Statistics 2008:37), a HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 15.3 (UNAIDS 2008:215), an official unemployment rate of 51 per cent (The Economist 2011), and one of the highest suicide rates in the world (cf. The Namibian 2006), as well as alcoholism and domestic violence which affect almost every class and ethnic group (cf. The Namibian 2004). Wallace (2011:312) writes about the effects of the AIDS epidemic:
Children have been disproportionately affected, many losing one or both parents. The disease has been catastrophic not only for individuals and families, but for all areas of Namibian society, as mortality rates have been increased, development gains lost and labour, production and education severely affected.
In addition, there is still a degree of distrust between the various ethnic groups - a legacy of the apartheid system that was in place during the time of South African rule. Tötemeyer (2010:180) speaks of ‘still existing barriers and divisions between Blacks and Whites, between Blacks and Blacks, between Whites and Whites, between ethnicities, between tribes, between classes and between victims and perpetrators of justice.’
Theological challenge no. 1: prosperity gospel
The Church is also confronted with theological challenges, some of which are closely related to the social challenges discussed above. Prosperity gospel preaching and teaching is wide spread, especially in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles which have been influenced by the Word of Faith movement. P. and L. Beale (2011:17) comment: ‘Some 80% of Namibians claim to be Christian, but there is a great deal of nominalism, and also sadly many are taken in by the excess of those proclaiming a “prosperity gospel”, so there is great need for clear evangelical teaching to gain influence in the churches.’ It is also true, as Kasera (2011:7) writes, that ‘the presence of the prosperity gospel is a wake-up call for the church to give serious attention to the issues of poverty…and come up with practical ways of helping to alleviate poverty’ in Namibia .
Most of the Namibian prosperity churches are Nigerian and Ghanaian imports. Others originate from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and even Brazil. Freston (2005:38) writes about the motivation of the Brazilian Universal Church of the Kingdom of God to come to Namibia and other southern African countries:
What then motivates the UCKG in its choice of countries? Given the importance of money in its prosperity theology and the financial success of the church, one possible answer would be the perceived profitability of each country. However, while it is reasonable to suppose that monetary calculations are always present, they rarely operate alone…Like many churches the UCKG seems also to seek some recompense. One of these is numerical success...This is clearly plausible motivation for a church that enjoys organizing huge events and whose newspapers are full of photographs showing packed auditoria.
Sometimes the preaching of such a wrong gospel happens very openly, at other times the approach is more subtle. Kasera (2011:7) speaks of the militant form and the diffused form ‘which overlap each other in many ways’. The message, however, is always the same: The more money you give to the church the more God will bless you materially and heal you from any diseases, or as Kasera puts it: ‘Regardless of their apparent differences, they both teach that true Christianity is marked by wealth, health, happiness and unlimited victorious living’ (:7). Prosperity gospel theology, as Dickson Chilogani (2007:51) has pointed out, is based on two assumptions: sin and a lack of faith will lead to poverty and suffering while faith and a righteous life will lead to prosperity and good health.
This doctrine is problematic as it not only misinterprets biblical texts but also adds more pain to those who already suffer from exploitation, poverty, or physical and emotional illness. Unsurprisingly, there are people who leave prosperity gospel churches after a while feeling totally disillusioned. Some of them return to their traditional beliefs others join non-Christians groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. There are also those who return to their mainstream denominations or join one of the so called African Initiated Churches. While there are many believers in both church groupings there is no guarantee that they will hear the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
Theological challenge no. 2: syncretism
Many African Initiated Churches (AICs), which are pre-Christendom in their theologies and pre-enlightenment in their worldviews (Bonk 2010:3), are very successful in reaching out to their Namibian country men and women. They take traditional African worldviews seriously and avoid the mistakes of some missionaries who imposed Western culture onto Namibians. AICs recognise the importance of dreams and visions in the life of Africans and do not shy away from dealing with issues such as ancestor worship and witchcraft (cf. Odure et. al. 2008:21-27). For AICs life and faith belong together, they cannot be separated from each other. They stress not only the necessity of individual salvation but also the importance of community. While this is laudable it must also be said that in a number of Namibian AICs a blend of Christianity and traditional beliefs can be found. Thus, the use of salt, vinegar or coffee for cleansing and healing rituals is very common (Tjijenda 2010). Sometimes goats or sheep are sacrificed to remove a curse or to improve one’s chances on the job market. These practices are usually justified by referring to the Old Testament sacrificial system. Finally, there are AIC pastors who do not mind their church members consulting witchdoctors in case of serious illness or after a series of deaths in the family.
Practical syncretism, however, can also be found among members of mainstream churches. When facing a personal crisis many people consult the local witchdoctor but not their pastor. Tite Tienou (1990:22) not only identifies the reason for this phenomenon but also suggests a remedy:
[S]yncretism is practiced by many Christians in our churches because they have not been given clear scriptural teaching which has grappled with the realities of everyday living in Africa. Missionaries and pastors need to have a right attitude towards culture and a sympathetic understanding of it, if they are to help Christians out of this devastatingly syncretistic way of living. Practical syncretism will weaken Christianity even if our official theology remains orthodox.
Theological challenge no. 3: liberation theology
Twenty-two years after Namibia’s independence liberation theology is still domineering the pulpits in some of the mainstream churches. Liberation theologians argue that the gospel is to be understood in socio-political terms. They define it as the good news that God wants to liberate people from political oppression and social injustice (e.g. Isaak 2010). For some of them the mission of the church is ‘to create a world that is more humane, more stable, more just – a world that is people centred’ (Isaak 2000:80). ‘That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures’ as the apostle Paul writes in 1 Cor. 15:3-4, seems to be at best of secondary importance to them. And while it is true that the church has the office of a political guardian it is the church’s main task to preach this gospel to her members and to a lost world (Prill 2010a:38). Namibian liberation theologians seem to ignore the fact that ‘[w]hile New Testament Christianity respects human dignity and calls for justice liberation in terms of what Christ came to do must be understood as meaning liberation primarily from man’s fundamental dilemma, which is sin’ (Kato 1985:51). Preaching and teaching in these churches have a strong moral emphasis: worshippers are mainly encouraged to be good Christians and citizens. There is a clear focus on God’s law. The gospel of grace is hardly heard.
Theological challenge no. 4: clericalism
While the priesthood of all believers is strongly affirmed by the majority of Namibia’s Protestant mainstream denominations (cf. Kameeta & Baumgarten 2006:110) clericalism is nonetheless still alive. Clericalism is the practice of giving theologically trained clergy ‘the responsibility of leading the church in all aspects’ (Tienou 1990:35). This is even the case in churches which officially have congregational church government in place. As a result churches are often governed by a small elite who makes all the decisions for its flock. Clericalism is supported by the traditional African concern for status and a lack of commitment and interest on the side of many Namibian church members.
A new variant of clericalism can be found in many Neo-Pentecostal churches in Namibia. These churches are usually led by a senior pastor or bishop, while other leadership positions are filled by family members. In such ‘family churches’ the wife of the pastor or bishop serves, for example, as assistant pastor, the daughters are in charge of the youth work and the sons look after the worship team or the finances. Once the senior leader dies or is ready to retire he passes on the baton to a family member. There are clearly parallels between this practice and the way traditional Namibian leaders are chosen.
Theological challenge no. 5: missionaries and new theologies
Finally, there are challenges from an unexpected corner: Western missionaries. Missionaries from North America and Europe have undoubtedly played an important part in the spread of the gospel, the formation of Namibian churches, and the practical support of the poor and marginalised, and many of them still do so. There are, however, also missionaries who bring with them some unhealthy theological baggage, such as Open Theism and certain Emerging Church philosophies. While the former with its denial of God’s full foreknowledge is surely still an exception the impact of the latter is more visible.
One of the main features of the Emerging Church is a deep distrust of the institutionalised church (Ebeling 2009:152). In Namibia this view manifests itself in such a way that missionaries work independently of indigenous churches. While in the past missionaries were involved in the planting of churches, the training of church leaders and the education of children and young people in church schools, there is an increasing number of missionaries who serve in hospitals, schools or projects for orphans and vulnerable children which have no or little church connection. As a result the sustainability of these projects is not always guaranteed. Often this approach goes hand in hand with a view of mission which considers evangelism and verbal communication of the gospel at best as optional extras but no longer as the heart beat of mission. It seems that mission is first and foremost understood in terms of community development but no longer as Great Commission mission (cf. Hesselgrave 2005:324-326).
Practical challenge: lack of funding
These are the conditions in which evangelical para-church organisations, such as Scripture Union, Campus Crusade for Christ and the Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary, minister. An additional challenge is the fact that many of their supporters and members come from the poorer groups in society. As a result, they often cannot pay their staff workers and lecturers adequate salaries or fund the training of full-time workers. To keep up their work they often depend on foreign missionaries and donor organisations. However, for the future of gospel ministry in Namibia the role of these para-church organisations is of strategic importance.
Opportunity no. 1: evangelism, church planting and discipleship
Namibia is a very young country, not only in political terms. Thirty-six per cent of Namibia’s population is under the age of 14, the median age being 21 years (CIA 2011). To reach children and young people with the gospel and to help them to lead Christ-like lives is the main mission of Namibia’s Scripture Union (SU) which started in 1984 (Aldom 2010).To fulfil this mission SU staff workers and volunteers help to establish SU groups at primary and secondary schools. There are currently eighty of these groups whose focus is on Bible study, worship and evangelistic outreach. SU groups are led either by Christian teachers or students who both receive training and practical support from Scripture Union. Namibian headmasters and teachers are generally very sympathetic towards this ministry. However, there is still a huge potential for growth at Namibia’s 1,000 primary and 700 secondary schools. Another important aspect of the work of Scripture Union in Namibia are the various camps which are attended by over 1,000 children and young people each year. Here, the focus is on the teaching of life skills and Christian HIV/Aids education.
While Namibia’s Scripture Union ministers to primary and secondary school children, the Namibian branch of Campus Crusade for Christ concentrates on the country’s college and university students (Shave 2010). Namibia’s centre of tertiary education lies in Windhoek, the country’s capital. The largest institutions here are the University of Namibia and the Polytechnic of Namibia with a combined student population of 18,000. Campus Crusade has a strong presence at both universities, as well as at other institutions within and outside the capital. Countrywide there are currently 25 student led action groups whose main goal is to make disciples of Jesus. The Campus Crusade leaders hope to increase that number to 50 within a year’s time.
Another pillar of Campus Crusade’s work in Namibia is the Jesus Video Project. There are currently two teams, each with three full-time staff-workers, who distribute the Jesus video, which is available in most Namibian languages. This happens in cooperation with local churches. The goal here is not only to make committed followers of Jesus but also to help local Christians to plant new churches.
The third area of involvement is Campus Crusade’s executive and professional ministry. The vision is to develop dynamic Christian leaders in business, government and sports who live and act visibly as Christians and encourage others to do the same. To reach that goal Campus Crusade has started the Workplace Initiative Namibia (WIN), which seeks to establish an alumni network for evangelism and leadership training and mutual support of its members.
Opportunity no 2: leadership training and theological education
Training Christian leaders is also the focus of the Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary (NETS). NETS was founded in 1991 as the only evangelical theological college in the country. Today there are thirty full-time residential students, mostly from Namibia but also from other parts of southern Africa. They represent various ethnic groups and church traditions. Among them are Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, and Pentecostals, as well as members of Reformed churches.
Approximately fifty part-time students attend the weekly evening classes at the Windhoek campus. In addition, there are about 400 students enrolled in the Distance Education programmes. These students live all over the country. Among them are 100 inmates of Namibian prisons who have come to faith in Christ during their time in prison and who use the NETS programmes to gain a better foundation of the Christian faith. There is clearly a strong desire among Christians in Namibia to get to know God better and to serve him faithfully.
NETS sees itself as a Christ-centred and Bible-centred community which is united in diversity. The mission of NETS is ‘to equip Christians with knowledge and skills to live godly lives and serve the Church and the wider community’ (NETS undated). In other words, the overriding purpose of the college is to prepare God’s people for gospel ministry (cf. Hooker 2010:3). NETS strives hard to put this mission into practice. This happens through its study programmes which provide students not only with a good Bible knowledge but also with practical ministry skills such as expository preaching, pastoral care, evangelism and leadership skills. In addition, NETS runs seminars in community development, HIV/AIDS ministries and children’s and youth work; organises retreats for pastors, and Word Alive conferences for all those involved in teaching the Bible, i.e. preachers, house group leaders, youth workers and Sunday school teachers. These conferences take place in Windhoek and in the various regions of Namibia and are attended by 300 to 400 people each year.
The NETS curriculum is more contextually relevant than many European, North-American, or South African theological study programmes. NETS ‘has moved from a traditional approach which separates history, biblical studies, systematic theology and practical training from one another as isolated disciplines’ (Gillham 2010:2). Instead, most subjects are holistic and integrated. Simon Gillham, the academic dean writes:
As a pastor in a church deals with a grieving family he will use his understanding of systematic theology, biblical studies, and the process of grief, together with his skills as a carer, counsellor, preacher and leader of God’s people. Our course on Death and Dying will teach these things as a whole. And so it goes for all the other courses in the stream (:2).
Finally, NETS also offers a junior lecturer programme for young southern African theologians who have a calling and passion to equip future church leaders but lack teaching experience and skills (cf. NETS Newsletter 2009:9). For a period of two years these young lecturers have experienced senior lecturers at their side who mentor and supervise them. In addition, they take part in seminars and workshops on theological education and general pedagogy. All junior lecturers are given the opportunity to study for a higher degree at a university or theological seminary in South Africa.
The work of these para-church organisations has been blessed in many ways. At NETS, for example, the student numbers have increased in recent years and while the seminary still struggles financially there has been generous financial support from abroad for student scholarships, the training of Namibian lecturers, and a new library and resource centre. However, the challenge remains for NETS and their partners: to convince not only foreign supporters but also Namibian churches and individuals to invest in the lives and training of Christians who are driven by the same mission as the first European and Namibian missionaries, i.e. to share the good news of Jesus Christ, the gospel of salvation, with all the people of Namibia and beyond.
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I need to state at the beginning that because the prosperity gospel is not a creedal theological system, it is difficult to pin it down as its proponents interpret and advocate it differently. Therefore, my definition here is a broad one but one that focus on the issues of wealth, health and success. It is not new to many Namibians that there are churches that make extreme financial requirements on their members with the promise that God will in turn give them a hundred fold back or catapult them into wealth.
The forms of the prosperity gospel
The prosperity gospel comes in two forms: 1) the militant form (radical); 2) the diffused form (subtle). The former advocates that God’s will for every Christian is wealth, health, happiness and success. The latter is more motivational, creates the impression of a world with limitless possibilities and victories and without suffering. These two forms overlap each other in many ways. Regardless of their apparent differences, they both teach thattrue Christianity is marked by wealth, health, happiness and unlimited victorious living.
A critique of prosperity gospel teaching
With these triumphalist promises people are manipulated into giving their money so that situations might turn out to their advantage. This brand of theology started in America when tele-evangelists were in search of funds to pay for their programs. They employed these manipulative methods to get crowds to give and later this developed into a fully-fledged prosperity preaching movement which came to Africa in the late 1970s and to Namibia in the early 1990s. ‘The extent of the teaching in Africa is remarkable’ (Piper 2010:19).
What is dangerous about this theology? Here is my brief critique: First, it makes material blessing the primary goal of the Christian faith. While I do not deny that God, out of his goodness, may manifest his goodness by giving Christians health and riches, these things are secondary. Secondly, it ignores Jesus’ warning about the dangers of wealth. While many prosperity preachers rightly claim that Jesus spoke more about money and material possessions than he spoke of heaven, they fail to realize that Jesus’ message was mainly a warning against them rather than an encouragement to pursue after them (cf. Matt. 6: 19-24). Jesus said: ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ His disciples were astonished, as many in the ‘prosperity movement’ should be. So Jesus went on to raise their astonishment even higher by saying, ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ They responded in disbelief: ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus says, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.’ (Mark 10:23–27). Thirdly, it teaches that God is obligated to bless us because of our faith. This theology at its best undermines God’s sovereignty and sees God as existing for our benefit, rather than us existing for his glory. John Piper (2010:31) writes:
My biggest concern about the effects of the prosperity movement is that it diminishes Christ by making him less central and less satisfying than his gifts. Christ is not magnified most by being the giver of wealth. He is magnified most by satisfying the soul of those who sacrifice to love others in the ministry of the gospel. When we commend Christ as the one who makes us rich, we glorify riches, and Christ becomes a means to the end of what we really want—namely, health, wealth, and prosperity. But when we commend Christ as the one who satisfies our soul forever—even when there is no health, wealth, and prosperity—then Christ is magnified as more precious than all those gifts.
Fourthly, it holds to a false view of ‘blessedness.’ It defines ‘blessedness’ in terms of material things and health, it teaches that God is bound to bless all who have faith in him with these things. But this view ignores the Scriptures that speak of the sufferings of the followers of Christ as a badge of honour, and a means of producing endurance and testing genuine faith (Phil. 1:29; Rom. 5:3-5).
Fifthly, it teaches a false theology of giving. It teaches that when people give to the service of God they will have riches, health, happiness and success in return. In this way it has erected a superstructure similar to that of many gambling houses. Sixthly, it is representative of ‘pyramid schemes.’ Those who teach this theology are becoming rich at the expense of their audiences. They drive better and bigger cars. They live in wealthy neighbourhoods and can afford the luxuries of life, while often their members are struggling to put bread on their own tables and afford basic transportation. Finally, it undermines the efforts of the church, government and non-governmental organisations engaged in the fight against poverty. By providing simplistic principles of faith and giving which are unbiblical and defy both reason and the principles of economics they exploit people’s ignorance.
Moreover, this theology, besides being unbiblical, is an unjust system that oppresses the poor, who give away their money to these churches at the expense of their families and in the hope that they will receive thousands or even millions of dollars in a couple of months. It should be clear that this theology is irresponsible in the manner in which it deals with the rampant issue of poverty in Namibian society. It is ungodly in the way it makes false claims about the limitless possibilities of miracles that could happen to anyone that follows it. This theology appeals to the greedy.
Because the majority of the proponents of this teaching are theologically untrained, they give authority to their teachings by claiming that they have received a supernatural calling – directly from God. They give to themselves titles such as apostle, bishop, prophet(ess) etc. Their influence through psychological manipulation is so strong that people who do not know the Bible well enough to examine these claims will follow them as if they are true interpreters of Scripture. This theology poses serious dangers for the Christian faith both in the present and the future, in that it is contributing to the rise of atheism as many will lose their faith because of disappointment.
Prosperity gospel on our doorstep: a wake-up call for the church
The fact that this issue has been discussed on national television in Namibia is an indication that it is no longer something happening somewhere in America or Nigeria, it is right here in our backyards. The victims of it are our friends and families. I call upon pastors and church leaders who are serious about teaching people God’s Word to start to speak out against this ‘spiritualized’ and ‘Christianized’ evil and teach people God’s truth.
Moreover, the presence of the prosperity gospel is a wake-up call for the church to give serious attention to the issues of poverty in our society and come up with practical ways of helping to alleviate poverty. We should be engaged in caring for the poor (Keller 2008b:7) as this is an outward ‘evidence of true heart commitment to God’ (:14). ‘The good news of Jesus Christ will never allow us to be smug and other-worldly in the face of suffering and evil’ (Carson 1996:83). However, unlike the prosperity preachers “we do so from the centre out, i.e. beginning with full-orbed gospel proclamation and witness and passion, and then, while acknowledging that no one can do everything, doing our ‘‘significant something’ to address the wretched entailments of sin in our world’ (Carson 1996:83).
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For many years now the need for appropriate theological education and training of pastors in Africa has been well recognised. Whilst there are some elements of the situation in Africa that are unique to that continent (and further issues that are specific to various countries and regions within Africa), the need for appropriate models of theological education and training for Christian pastors is a universal one. Indeed any study of theological education which dealt with the African situation in isolation from the rest of the world would necessarily end up focussing on the specifics of implementation rather than on the underlying models and assumptions. These models and assumptions in large part have been imported wholesale from other parts of the world. In some cases they are given ‘national dress’, but all too often even this simplest attempt at contextualisation is neglected (Bowen & Bowen 1989:270). The result is that many African pastors have been trained in western academic institutions that were transplanted into their countries. Those who best come to terms with the philosophy and style of education they find there, may well be the least able to return to minister effectively in their own communities (Mtetemela).
There is much that can and should be done to more adequately ‘contextualise’ the models of theological education that western missionaries experience at home and take with them to Africa. Rather than focus on this re-dressing of models however, this essay will concern itself with the more fundamental question ‘what are the appropriate models of theological education for Africa?’
Borrowing (and ‘reapplying’) the biblical metaphor of a tree representing spiritual maturity (cf. Matt.7:15-20; Ps.1:3; Jer.17:7-8), this essay will explore the roots, the fruits, and the species of the tree that is theological education. The goal of the essay will be to identify the kind of fruit that an African species of theological education ought to produce, and what roots are most likely to produce that fruit.
Educators have competing standards of excellence controlled by implicit values which are not open to dialogue. Concerns for renewal in theological education will be fruitless if we merely discuss standards of accreditation or innovations in educational technology. We must first consider educational values. Otherwise we will debate renewal in theological education like five blind men would debate the renewal of a sick elephant (Plueddemann 2007:2).
In order to properly understand, assess and make recommendations about models of theological education, we must first consider the implicit values and often unstated ideals (or roots) that undergird those models (cf. Plueddemann 2007:1). Although Greek philosophy, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment are all European historical influences that have had little or no impact on African culture, they all profoundly impact the models of theological education on offer in Africa. Furthermore, these historical influences are pivotal in considering the implicit values or the roots of the various models of theological education.
David Kelsey’s (1983) seminal work Between Athens and Berlin: The Theological Education Debate provides us with an insightful metaphor as a tool for understanding the roots of theological education. Kelsey uses the metaphor of the two cities, Athens and Berlin, as a way of gathering together the formative assumptions, values, influences and ideals of the two main divergent root systems of theological education. Athens represents that root system which grew out of the Greek philosophical tradition of training, paideia. Berlin represents that root system which grew out of the world’s first ‘research university’ (Berlin University), and particularly out of the School of Theology, established by Friedrich Schleiermacher within that University.
From very early on in Christian history, the paideia understanding of education exercised a profound influence over the models of theological education that developed. An acceptance of paideia as a model of education necessarily involves an acceptance of at least some of the assumptions which undergirded that model in the Greek world. Assumptions about the goal of education, the approach to authoritative texts, and the roles of teachers and students were especially important. In each of these areas, the Department of Theology at Berlin University pioneered an approach to theological education which rested on significantly different assumptions and values.
Assumptions and values of the two root systems (Kelsey 1983:19-25).
Theological education is geared toward the transformation of all involved
Theological is a ‘movement from source to personal appropriation of the source, from revealed wisdom to the appropriation of revealed wisdom.’
Theological education is to be identity forming personally transforming.
Theological education is inherently communal.
Theological education is geared toward the training of people for ministry and the pursuit of knowledge.
Theological education is ‘a movement from data to theory to application of theory to practice.
Theological education has a bipolar focus: The Wissenschaft pole for critical rigor in theorizing; and the ‘professional’ education pole.
The Bible is revered as the source of revealed wisdom. Enquiry is geared toward understanding the Bible, and integrating its teaching into one’s life and world view.
‘Biblical texts, church institutions, practices of worship, moral standards, and the like are all equally to be studied to discover their origins, how and why they changed through time, what their influences have been etc.’
‘Teachers themselves are also seeking personally to appropriate wisdom about God and about themselves in relationship to God.’
Teachers exist for their students.
Teachers teach indirectly, in that they point the students to the authoritative text.
A teacher is qualified for the task by two things. One is extraordinary learning in regard to the relevant texts and practices. The other is a set of personal gifts for the indirect ‘teaching’ that, ‘as a midwife, helps another come to personal appropriation of revealed wisdom.’
‘The teacher does not exist for the student, as is the case in paideia. Instead, the teacher is basically a researcher who needs the student to help achieve the goal of research in a cooperative enterprise.’
A teacher is qualified for the task not simply because they process great learning in already established knowledge, but they are able to demonstrate capacity to engage in scholarly research. Rather than act as a ‘mid-wife’, they are to cultivate capacities for scholarly research in others.
The student is on a path of personal growth.
The student is on a path to professional ministry (professional education pole) or further academic study (Wissenschaft pole)
It is Kelsey’s thesis that these two fundamentally divergent root systems issue in models of theological education which are in the end irreconcilably different. Furthermore, Kelsey contends that there are short-comings and dangers intrinsic in both systems, which need to be addressed to some extent by the strengths of the other.
The great strengths of the Athens model lie in the way that the authority of the Bible is preserved, and that students and teachers alike seek to be transformed by their knowledge of God. The inherent weakness of the Athens model (where a high degree of conservatism is guaranteed by the stress placed on receiving and appropriating wisdom and revelation) is that there is no place for critical evaluation or improvement. The roots of this model can choke off fresh insights into Scripture and stifle the development of fresh approaches to ministry. Worse still, if something heretical was taught in such a context, there would be no obvious path of correction available within the community.
The great strengths of the Berlin model lie in its readiness to engage with fresh insights and ideas, and the important place it gives to the training of ministers for the work they will do. The inherent weakness of the Berlin Model, where stress is laid on critical (and even sceptical) evaluation of everything that has gone before, is that the authority of the Bible is replaced by the authority of the scholar. The gathering of abstract knowledge can become an end in itself. Whilst the ‘professional education’ pole attends to instruction in conforming to the outward patterns of church life, there can be a tendency for this (more conservative) exterior to become more and more profoundly separated from the beliefs and character of the student. In the drive for ‘research’ the system has an inbuilt tendency to reward and encourage innovation, and to discourage the promotion of established beliefs.
Over the last two centuries Christian theological education has been influenced (often unwittingly) by both of these root systems (Kelsey 1983:91). The standards of ‘Athens’ impose themselves because the picture of Christianity as itself a kind of paideia is historically so deeply rooted. The standards of ‘Berlin’ are imposed, if in no other way, by the decision to meet the accepted standards for accreditation of graduate professional schools. ‘These include criteria that the academic program be at a ‘post-graduate’ level – that is, that students have completed an undergraduate degree; that there be a certain level of library holdings; that faculty members themselves hold graduate ‘research’ degrees; that there be provisions protecting academic freedom such as academic tenure; and so forth.’ (:93).
There are very few examples of theological colleges or Bible schools today that could claim to represent either root system in a pure form. Generally institutions come to some form of compromise between the two systems which are rooted in such very different assumptions about what is meant to be going on in theological education. For some it is worked out as different faculty choose to draw from different root systems (e.g. Church history – Berlin model; Biblical studies – Athens model). Others utilize the Berlin model for academic studies issuing degrees, but supplement this with some kind of vocational training or residential community focus more akin to the Athens model (Kelsey 1983:93).
Not only have these two root systems been blended, but naturally enough they have developed in different ways over the course of time as well. Robert L Kelly’s Theological Education in America in 1924 and William Adams Brown and Mark A May’s The Education of American Ministers in 1935 were both comprehensive surveys of the current state of Protestant theological training in America at their time. The authors made impassioned pleas for more rigorous academic standards along the lines of the ‘Berlin’ model (Kelsey 1989:54). Both of these studies had a formative influence on theological education within America and beyond (:56). Behind Kelly, Brown and May’s anxiety about the state of theological training is an acute concern that the esteem in which Christian ministry was held would slip if the educational standards did not keep pace with the emerging research standards of law and medicine faculties (:57). Schleiermacher had conceived of law, medicine and ministry as the three professions, on the basis that those in each field provided leadership and contributed to the well being of the whole community.
Schleiermacher proposed a field of ‘practical theology’ that identified what the accepted Christian practices were in the church and taught them. ‘Practical theology’ now tends to be understood as the training of individuals to perform a vast array of ministerial functions. ‘Professional’ education for ministerial leadership has been reconceived in a functionalist and individualistic way’ (Kelsey 1989:50). Again this is in line with the recommendations of both Kelly and Brown that courses be introduced to directly develop ‘those skills that students need in order to fulfil the functions of ministry’ (:59).
Theological educators in America largely took on board the recommendations of Kelly and Brown. In 1956 and 1957 the American Association of Theological Schools (which was established as a result of Kelly and Brown’s work) published a two volume study of the state of theological education in America at that time. Written by H. Richard Niebuhr, Daniel Day Williams and James M. Gustafson The Advancement of Theological Education offers a report and interpretation of what theological education had become. What they found in short was that a transformation had occurred such that ‘there were four times as many graduate schools of theology in the United States and Canada in 1955 as there were in 1923 [the time of the Kelly study] and that such schools enroll [sic] almost eight times as many students as they did thirty two years previously’ (Niebuhr, Williams and Gustafson as cited by Kesley 1989:65-66).
What was also obvious however was that theological courses had become so cluttered, overloaded and fragmented, that urgent attention was required. So serious was the lack of coherence and unity within theological education that Niebuhr sought to elucidate the basis of the kind of unity needed in the companion volume, The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry. He saw that clarity about the nature of theological education rested on clarity about the nature of ministry, which in turn rested on clarity about the purpose of the church.
Without exploring the details of Niebuhr’s answers, it is worth noting that the descriptor he chose for the Christian minister was ‘pastoral director’, and that he saw the most important activity of the pastoral director to be the ‘edification of a community’. This conception of Christian ministry then directs the course of theological education that Niebuhr espouses.
Kelsey’s analysis is that Niebuhr’s view of theological education sits squarely in the tradition of Schleiermacher’s Berlin University, including its stress on professional ministerial training. It is also probable that the views articulated in the study ‘are still the theological views that mainline Protestant theological educators are most likely to offer as a theological account of their enterprise’’ (Kelsey 1989:90). Although there are various blends, it would be true to say that theological education today owes far more to the roots of Schleiermacher’s Berlin model, than it does to the paideia of Athens.
The fruit of theological education
With some understanding of the root systems on which theological education has come to depend, it is important to begin to make observations of the fruit which these systems have borne. That is, to make an assessment of the value of what theological education of various types produces. We are hampered in this assessment because there is no consensus about what fruit we are looking for from theological education.
What fruit are we looking for?
Confusion over the aims of theological education causes all sorts of practical problems. Different ‘stake holders’ in the process are often looking for different fruit. Denominational leaders tend not to be overly concerned that their pastors be at the cutting edge of academic scholarship. They want to know if these pastors can make churches grow. Students may have some concern about mastering the details of biblical languages, but they may be much more interested in getting a good job. Scholars may feel that the emphasis on mere professionalism tends to ‘water down’ the building blocks of knowledge (Plueddemann 2007:8). Theological education is often beset by competing aims, and as the proverbial truism goes, ‘if you aim at nothing in particular, you’ll hit it every time.’
At this stage, it may be enough for us to simply take some note of the kind of fruit that theological education is producing. Having done that, we will turn our attention to the African scene and ask again in that particular context, ‘What fruit are we looking for?’
The fruit of Berlin roots
John Leith (1997:5) has written out of a decidedly North American Presbyterian context, but his critique of their models of theological education has relevance for the vast bulk of western style theological education:
The seminaries are deeply involved in the crisis of the church. The crisis itself is sufficient indication that the seminaries are not graduating ministers who are effective leaders in the life of the church. Why should it be otherwise, when seminary faculties no longer include persons who have been effective pastors themselves?
Leith goes on to specifically identify the role that Friedrich Schleiermacher’s methodology has played in the shaping of these seminaries. He laments the fact that although Schleiermacher and Wesley were contemporaries who were both trying to address the gospel to an enlightenment society, theological education has been shaped by the man whose theology eroded rather than built up the church (:37). His argument is that even amongst theologians who strongly reject Schleiermacher’s theology, there has been a wholesale acceptance of his methodology in theological education. And further, that this methodology is the thing which is contributing to the ‘crisis in the church’ (:38).
The heart of Leith’s critique is that seminaries are producing graduates with academic qualifications rather than trained ministers of the gospel (1997:43). He points to the method of selecting faculty by virtue of research degree qualifications rather than proven ministry experience and gospel conviction as a major contributing factor in the production of this fruit. He notes that courses have overcrowded curriculum which appear to be designed to accommodate special interests of faculty/denomination rather than covering the basics. He asks, ‘Is the seminary a catechetical institution or is it a graduate institution for critical study of religion? These options are not necessarily exclusive, but it is critically important for the church that they are put together in such a way that the life of a theological institution whose purpose is to train pastors is not undermined’ (:43).
Of course for Schleiermacher and the department of Theology at Berlin University, the training of pastors was of critical importance. This training however was separated from theological study (Wissenschaft) and accommodated in the school of professional ministry education. This separation has led to another important fruit of theological education to note. It has become common place for practical ministry training to be regarded as a separate enterprise to theological study. The seminaries that Leith critiques may legitimately reply that responsibility for that kind of training has been passed on to others (perhaps post-ordination training centres). Archbishop Mtetemela’s lament regarding those who have been ‘trained in the west’ and are just unable to minister in Africa ought to be seen in this light. It is just a more exaggerated form of the problem that any minister has when theology and practical training are separated. It requires a much higher level of sophisticated reflection to bring the two elements together later on, than it would to learn the two simultaneously.
The overwhelming bulk of complaints that have been written regarding the state of theological education in the west can be sheeted home to the root system that the Berlin University provided. The irony of these complaints is that they tend to be presented in the detached logic, and contain the theological precision, that only graduates of such a system could produce. The contribution that the rigour of research dominated scholarly enterprise has made to the Christian ‘body of knowledge’ has been immense. The willingness of ministers of the gospel to consistently explore new and innovative ways of doing things; to constantly evaluate and improve, can also be sheeted home to the impact of the Berlin roots.
The fruit of Athens roots
The fruit of Athens is more difficult to see. If one of the dangers of the Athens roots is that the concern to simply preserve and pass on the gospel also extends to ‘clothing’ in which the gospel was first seen, perhaps we see some of that fruit in African churches. If so, this may partially explain why Anglican Diocese in Tanzania which have been very effective in preserving and passing on the gospel, have also preserved and passed on very English church dress and practice. It should also be noted too that many cults that develop out of Christianity, tend to rely on the paideia of Athens roots. In such cases the relationship between teacher and student is distorted so that an unhealthy dependence and an unquestioning obedience are produced.
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