Sorry for the random nature of this post but I think you will enjoy it. I wanted to share with you some interesting topics and conversations we had in my classes throughout the last semester that did not make it in to any of the other blog posts. And just to break up all the reading in this post, I'll intersperse some videos and pictures from the recent graduation we had here at the college right in front of our house. The students who were graduating had finished their studies last May before we came. College choir:
- One of the best assignments I gave last semester, was that for my New Testament introduction class each student had to read the entire New Testament over the term and answer a few questions about what they were reading. I made them write out a promise and put their signature beneath it saying that they actually read every word. Although we've caught some students cheating on exams here at the college (which was extremely discouraging to me), I do believe that each New Testament student faithfully completed this whole assignment. And they loved it. Some of them told me that most Christians here don't really think it's reasonable to think of reading the whole Bible, but now they know that they can do it, and so now some students are getting started on reading through the Old Testament on their own initiative.
- In systematic theology as well as in church history, we had difficult discussions about the Trinity and what a hard doctrine it is to understand. It doesn't matter what culture you are in, it's a hard doctrine to accept by faith when we can't understand it fully. My students deal with Muslims attacking their belief in the Trinity all the time, telling them that they are foolish to believe it when it doesn't make sense.
- We talked about the Donatist controversy in church history in which some church leaders suggested that if you were baptized by a priest who later denied Christ during times of persecution, that you should be baptized again now that you know the priest was a fraud. In response, Augustine argued that the power and efficacy of the baptism depends on Christ, not on the person officiating, and so people should not be baptized again. This was interestingly a really relevant discussion for today in Kenya. I was told many church members do not want to take communion at church because they know their pastor is corrupt. But the application would be that we can still take communion without trying to judge the holiness of the priest. (Though I also insisted that they should put such pastors under church discipline).
- In systematic theology, we had a discussion about African Christian theology. There is a great emphasis on what God can do for me now, about God as healer, God as provider, and God as the conqueror of Satan and witchcraft, our protector. But there is little emphasis on the cross in general. I think the opposite is true for many of us Americans. We look at the cross a lot, but we don't see the relevance of God in our current lives now, that he is living and active and can actually heal our diseases and actually work in our lives. We should all be more balanced, though I do think the cross is the most important, as it is the central message of each Gospel story in the Bible.
- Also in systematic theology, we had a discussion about work. Some of the students, like so many I have come across in East Africa, view work itself as a curse, not a gift. I then teach that work is a gift from God, part of what it means to be human, but it has been cursed and become more difficult, but it is not a curse in itself. This greatly transforms the way you think about your daily work and how to get out of poverty.
- I had a private discussion with a student who has been getting pressure to get married yet who does not want to get married, and perhaps even feels called to celibacy. But it is extremely difficult in this culture, just like in Uganda, to not get married, especially if you want to be a church leader.
The library at the college:
Graduation tents on the lawn right in front of our house:
College student choir:
People love to get up close to take photos:
- In systematic theology, we had a very important discussion about justification, how we are saved completely by faith, not by works. That Jesus took our punishment completely, and gave us his righteousness, so that we can be declared righteous before God. African theologian Matthew Michael claims that justification is one of the least preached doctrines in Africa. In my experience, this is true. Pastors fear that preaching this will cause people to have an excuse to sin. If we are saved even if we sin, then we can go out and sin! So instead people don't believe in justification and live in fear, not knowing whether they will be saved or not. They trust in Christ. But they believe on judgment day God will examine us to see whether we've done more good than bad, and they are not sure if they will be let into heaven. Some also believe if you happen to die before confessing a sin from that week, that you will go to Hell. It was a privilege to be able to teach about this and help my students to make sure first for themselves that they are accepting God's grace fully and living without fear. I now think they are doing so. They are really getting it. I know they are getting it when I get bombarded with questions continually. They are a good class, eager to learn. They now understand that those who are truly born again, will want to live for God and please him, and while we won't be perfect, we will try to fight against sin, and live a life characterized by repentance and confession.
- In church history we talked about simony, the buying and selling of church positions. Several of the students were worried that such things still happen behind the scenes today in Kenya. There is rampant corruption in the Kenyan government, but it appears it affects the Church as well. You should know that this is one of the most discouraging and depressing things getting me down lately, seeing how much corruption is in the Church, and seeing that even some of the students at the college act dishonestly. Please pray for me about this that I can help such students to grow in Christ and become more honest. In our development class also, we talked long about the issue of corruption in Kenya. It was discouraging to see that the students' conclusion is that there is nothing that they can do to get rid of corruption in Kenya, and they don't want to suffer or die by trying to change things. But by the end, they decided at the very least that they can set a good example by doing things right themselves and keep their own integrity.
- In church history, we were talking about icons and images. This led into an interesting discussion about pictures of Jesus being a mzungu (white person). Some of the students lamented about Sunday School materials and pictures they had seen as kids that showed Satan as a black man, and Jesus as a white man.
- In a special session outside of class, the students led a discussion among themselves about homosexuality. I attended to listen, but also gave some comments at the end. I was really surprised because it could have been in any American classroom. Just as back at home, here some were having difficulty seeing homosexual relations as sinful. Others advocated giving love and compassion to homosexuals while still calling them out of a sinful life of giving in to homosexuality. One of the big problems they saw was that to call homosexuals out of sin, or to give unrepentant homosexuals church discipline, is seen as a hypocritical activity because they don't do much church discipline for other sins anymore. This is the same problem we have back in the US. We don't want to put homosexuals under church discipline because we also don't put people under church discipline for adultery, divorce, fornication, or pornography. Naturally, we don't want to be hypocrites. So it seems churches worldwide are instead going in the direction of tolerating all sexual sin, instead of being hypocritical.. I wish we took the third choice, of being serious about all sin and trying to help each other live for Christ.
- We had a discussion about pluralism (all religions being equal and all leading to salvation). This was another surprise for me. As rampant as pluralism is in the US, it is rampant here as well, and I was shocked to hear that the way some of the students thought of their faith was very pluralistic. They fully trust in Christ and the Bible, but think other religions can still be saved by being good people in their religions. You can see how much this is connected to other issues, such as not understanding the doctrine of justification, that we are saved completely by faith in Christ, and not by works, not by being a good person.
- I'm excited to teach preaching next year (homiletics). 75% of sermons I've heard since being in Kenya are inspirational messages - "People will discourage you from being a leader, but you can do it!" There is urgent need for teaching about really preaching what a biblical passage says, and focusing on God and his grace.
Some of the college's teachers - next to Sara is our good friend Charles. He has definitely been our best friend here so far, but we are really sad because he took a new job at another school and so he moved away at the end of December. We will keep in touch, but we are losing not only our good friend to talk to, but my jogging partner, ping pong partner, our Swahili teacher, animal sitter, and our colleague.
This is our bishop of Nakuru Diocese, also a friend.