Introducing … African Christian Theology (a new journal)

It’s finally here!  Click on the cover image (below) to open the PDF of the journal.

The theme of the inaugural journal is “African Christian Theology:  Retrospect and Prospect.”  Contributors include Jesse Mugambi, Jehu Hanciles, and Mercy Amba Oduyoye (among others).  The editorial was written by me (Joshua) and Martin Munyao.  It is published in English, in French, and in Portuguese.  There are seven articles in English and one in French; each of them has a trilingual abstract in each of those three languages.  There are seven essay-length book reviews and four ‘book note’ short reviews.  Not counting the introductory pages up through the table of contents, the body of the journal is 207 pages.

The managing editors are myself, Wanjiru M. Gitau, Martin Munyao, and Tom Joel Obengo.  The regional editors are Ezekiel A. Ajibade, Chammah J. Kaunda, Fohle Lygunda Li-M, and Marilyn Naidoo.  The members of the editorial board are listed inside.  Tolle lege!

For Whom Will the Church Be Safe?

When we were in the States last year for Dad’s funeral, Ruth preached a sermon that was so good it was published in an academic journal, in the same issue with renowned biblical scholars Craig S. Keener and Havilah Dharamraj.

If you didn’t get to hear it the first time, now you can read it:
“For Whom Will the Church Be Safe?” Priscilla Papers 37, no. 2 (Spring 2023): 18–21.

Click here for a pdf of the sermon, or download the entire issue, or read the issue as a flipbook in your browser, or read the sermon in html format here.

March 2023 Update

Due to the vicissitudes of life (an app rebooting itself and loosing a completed update, a few bouts of family illness, etc.), we are overdue on sharing an update, for which we apologize.  But we are still here in Kenya and still following our calling as faithfully as we can.  Each month we receive new thanks from those with whom we are working — sometimes from the Maasai community with which we began our ministries here, last week from one of our Turkana colleagues, and with increasing frequency from around the continent as well.  Our lives remain full and we remain fully engaged in the work we are called to do.  To read specifics and to see some pictures, read our latest newsletter here

Also allow us to say publicly that the Penrod family (Christian & Jenny and children) are amazing.  Thank you for your ministry to us on your recent visit!

 

 

Hosanna !

The Hebrew phrase הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא <hoshi’ah na> (more technically <hôšî’â(-n)nā’>) means “save us, now!” The phrase occurs in the Psalms. In later usage, the phrase developed a celebratory sense, in effect thanking God in advance for rescuing the petitioners or thanking God now for rescuing the petitioners now. I think both senses were operable on Palm Sunday. In the New Testament this was transliterated as ὡσαννά <hōsanná>.

As the Church celebrates singing “hosanna in the highest!” let us do so in celebration and thanksgiving — but let us also make room for those who are still crying out “save us, now!” and who are still asking “how long, O Lord?”
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(The palm leaves in the background are on a tree beside our house.)

 

Doubting Thomas?

We too often dismiss this Apostle as “Doubting Thomas.” But what else do we know about him? When Jesus said “let’s return to Jerusalem,” the other disciples said, “Jesus, that’s crazy talk! The last time we were there, they tried to kill you!” But Thomas? Thomas said, “Guys, be quiet . If Jesus says ‘let’s go,’ then let’s go with him — even if it means we die with him.” That there is faith. That’s allegiance.

One of the key New Testament words for doubt/doubting (διακρίνω / diakrínō) can convey the sense of sitting on a fence in a moment of deliberation or judgment, not yet deciding on which side of the fence you’re going to come down. As such, doubt is not the opposite of faith but can be a function of faith, the exercise of discernment. Eventually we need to come down off the fence, of course. But we should never disparage those who are still on the fence, who are still deciding. Let’s also remember (or learn, if we haven’t known this already), that the New Testament idea of “faith” (the term is πίστις / pístis) is not a matter of mere intellectual assent to a proposition (e.g., “2+2=4” or “God exists”) but includes trust and, perhaps especially, allegiance.

I think Thomas may have been on that fence because he had perhaps been more deeply hurt. If he were more deeply hurt, it would have been because he had been more deeply committed (even if he wasn’t in the inner-inner circle with Peter, James, & John). His heart had been broken as were his dreams and his hope. That’s why he said “I gotta see for myself before I can believe again.” He was sitting on the fence weighing the evidence — he had seen Jesus’s battered and broken and breathless body, and this was a powerful testimony which disagreed with the report which he had received that Jesus had returned to life. But what happened next? When Jesus appeared to Thomas and said “here, place your hand in my wounds,” Thomas didn’t need to do that. Hearing Jesus’s voice was enough. And then he fell at Jesus’s feet and declared, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas caught on to who Jesus is faster than the others did at that point — Thomas’s Confession is just as great, and is arguably more explicit, than Peter’s “Great Confession.”

Now of course, I’m not claiming that Thomas was always only faultless and perfect. He was a fallen human on the path of redemption. Consistently, the biblical texts give fair, rather than glorified, portrayals of their characters, warts and all. For example, to borrow the words of my friend David Valentine,

“Peter is far from a rock in the Gospels: he is the opposite, impetuous and rash. But by the time he gets to his letters and his later ministry, he has become what Christ saw in him, like Michelangelo’s David waiting inside the block of marble. John is also impetuous, ambitious and angry …:  he is frustrated, but he matures and becomes a ‘son of thunder’ at the deeper level of his Gospel.”

Naturally we can assume a similar trajectory for Thomas. We know from Paul’s letter to the Galatians that even well after Pentecost, Peter slipped up and needed to be corrected. Likewise, according to extrabiblical accounts, Thomas really wasn’t interested in going further afield from Jerusalem than Judea and Galilee and initially refused to go as an apostle/missionary/evangelist to other people groups. Though fallen, Thomas, like Peter and John, ultimately will come to vindicate his calling in Christ. It is important to remember that even the Apostles were ordinary humans like us.  But so frequently the memory of Thomas has been subjected to a consistently unfair treatment — “Don’t be a doubter like Thomas!” has been the theme of far too many sermons.

Thomas Didymus — Disciple, Follower, Apostle, Missionary, Evangelist, and Martyr — needs a better moniker than “doubting” or “doubter.” He was off that fence and his allegiance to Jesus was greater than the fear and doubt of the other disciples when Jesus chose to return to Jerusalem. He was on that fence, briefly, when most of us would have jumped down on to the side of unbelief. And he got off that fence fast as soon as he saw Jesus. Peter and Paul travelled from Jerusalem to Rome for the sake of the Gospel, 1434 miles (2308 km) as the crow flies. Thomas? He travelled from Jerusalem to Chennai (Madras) in South India for the sake of the Gospel, 3124 miles (5028 km). Like Peter and Paul, he was executed for his faith in Christ. I’m not going to call Thomas “the Doubter.” I’m going to call him Thomas the Faithful.

ACTEA e-news

Regular readers will remember that I (Joshua) have joined the staff of Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa (ACTEA). (Reminder:  this is still in a missionary capacity and doesn’t come with a salary.)  Even though we’re still Stateside following Dad’s funeral, a lot is going on.  This week alone I’ve virtually spent a few hours in Kigali, Rwanda 🇷🇼 (providing training for ACTEA-accredited school Africa College of Theology staff) and several hours in the ACTEA office in Nairobi, Kenya 🇰🇪.  

I’ve also been working on the latest edition of ACTEA e-news (along with my colleague and ACTEA office administrator Flo Kagwamba), which I’ve just published.  Check it out the pdf here.  This is sent out to all ACTEA-accredited and affiliated institutions.

Message from ACTEA Director
Greetings to you all in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Thank you for your continued support and prayers to the ministry of ACTEA.  We are because you are.  We exist for each other.  I hope and pray that you have continued to flourish as you serve the Lord through theological education and other ministries.  The health of the church depends on what you do.  … (read more) 

resurrection

Νυνὶ δὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμημένων.
(Greek)
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Kake esipa tukul nchere eitopiwuoki Kristo too lootuata. Olng’anayioi le dukuya te lelo ootuata.
(Maa)
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Lakini ukweli ni kwamba Kristo amefufuliwa kutoka kwa wafu, wa kwanza wa wale waliolala katika kifo.
(Swahili)
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Mais, en réalité, le Christ est ressuscité d’entre les morts, en donnant ainsi la garantie que ceux qui sont morts ressusciteront également.
(French)
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But now Christ has risen from the dead, the first fruit of those who have fallen asleep.
(English)
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Greek is for NT study; Maa is for communication with the Maasai community; Swahili is an important lingua franca in East Africa; French is for correspondence with church leaders and theological educators in francophone Africa; English is our mother-tongue.