new book!

While I (Joshua) have had several peer-reviewed articles published, I am very happy that my first book chapter, “Connections and Collaborations among the Nubian, Coptic, and Ethiopian Churches,” has just been published in:

Gitau, Wanjiru M., and Mark A. Lamport, eds. Globalizing Legacies:  The Intermingling Story of Christianity in AfricaPreface by Gina Zurlo and Mark A. Lamport.  Introduction by Mark Shaw.  The Global Story of Christianity Series:  History, Context, and Communities 3.  Cascade Books, 2023.
The book can be ordered directly from the publisher here, or from wherever you prefer to buy books.

This multi-author text discusses the story of Christianity in Africa from three perspectives:  “Narrated in Historical Context,” “Expressed in a Grand Church Family Mosaic,” and “Encounters Twenty-First Century Issues.”

After the series introduction by Dana L. Robert, the preface co-written by Gina Zurlo and Mark A. Lamport, and Introduction by Mark Shaw, Kyama Mugambi and Rudolf K. Gaisie begin with “Antiquity: Connections among African Church Fathers in North Africa and the Mediterranean.”  Then Stanislau Paulau examines “The Beginnings of Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa: Kingdom of Aksum and the Christian World of Late Antiquity.”  Next Fohle Lygunda li-M jumps forward several centuries to explore the contributions of “European Pioneers to Tropical Africa” without neglecting the importance of African agency and the many contributions of Africans who are too often “ignored pioneers” in narratives of Christian history on the continent.  Akintunde E. Akinade then explores “Christianity and the Slave Trade” while Uchenna D. Anyanywu covers “The African-Black American Missionary during the Missionary Era.”

Often histories are told from a limited perspective.  Protestant and Roman Catholic and Orthodox and Pentecostal history texts often ignore contributions of the other traditions.  The second section offers four chapters looking at the whole of Christian history on the continent as the stories of an extended family.  My (Joshua’s) chapter starts by exploring “Connections and Collaborations among the Nubian, Coptic, and Ethiopian Churches” in the ancient and medieval periods.  (Nubia was in the area now known as Sudan, and Nubian and Ethiopian Christianity are ancient examples of indigenous African Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa.)  Moving ahead to the modern period, Stan Chu Ilo tells the story of “The Catholic Church and Networks of Evangelism,” Modisa Mzondi explores “Protestants Working Together,” and Joseph Bosco Bangura examines “Salvation in African Pentecostalism.”

The third section brings us to the twenty-first century.  Harvey Kwyani explores “New Kinships: Christianity and the Formation of New Identities among Convert Communities” and Tharcisse Gatwa discusses “Christianity and Nation-State Formation.”  Next, Georges Pirwoth Atido writes on “Christianity, Wars, and Ethnic Challenges.”  Sampson M. Tieku turns to the influence of the prosperity gospel in “Christianity Encounters the Gospel of Health and Wealth: A Ghanian Case Study.”  Finally Wanjiru M. Gitau closes with “Transtemporal Connections: African Christian History as Intellectual History.”  The book also includes a timeline, provided by Brett Knowles, as an appendix.

Along the way in her chapter, Wanjiru observes that “there exists a continuous history of Christian presence on the African continent. Beginning with its foundations in Alexandria, the church flourished in North Africa, as well as Ethiopia, for some six hundred years. When Carthage, the last Christian stronghold [in North Africa], fell to Arabs in 697, King Mecurios of Nubia built up a Christian kingdom that stretched from the Aswan to the Blue Nile” — I will add that there was a Nubian Christian presence as far inland as the shores of Lake Chad. “After that kingdom succumbed to Turkish-Islamic attacks in 1270, the nine-hundred-year-old Ethiopian church was revived in the mountains of Ethiopia under Yikunno Amlak and Takla Haymanot. By the 1520s, Afonso, king of Kongo, in tropical Africa, had embraced Christianity and established a Christian kingdom that sustained links with Rome for three hundred years. By 1792, Moravian Protestants established a mission station in South Africa, while repatriated slaves established a church in Sierra Leone with intent to evangelize the interior. From there the flow of modern missions established Christianity throughout the continent” (244).


There is one notable error that made into print, albeit only in the timeline.  On p. 258 for the year 231, Knowles writes:

«The church of Caesarea ordains Origen as a presbyter, but this ordination is held to be invalid because he had made himself a eunuch (based on his literal interpretation of Matt 19:12); consequently, he is excommunicated by his home church of Alexandria. [Greco-Roman World, Middle East: Egypt]».

However, there is no evidence that Origen castrated himself.  There is evidence, however, that this was a slander against him.  It should be well-noted that Origen consistently valued allegorical interpretation over literal interpretation (except in matters of straightforward historical narrative) and in his commentating on Matthew 19:12 he explicitly states that the text should not be taken literally.  Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, did excommunicate Origen, but did so on the grounds that as Origen was from Egypt, he could only be ordained by the bishop of Alexandria.  (It should also be noted that Demetrius was jealous of Origen’s popularity, which was the result of Origen’s greater ability as both a preacher and a scholar.)  But though Demetrius excommunicated Origen, no one who was not under Demetrius’s ecclesial authority recognized that excommunication.  The bishop of Caesarea-Maritima certainly did not, nor did the patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch, or Rome (this was, of course, before the rise in importance of Constantinople).  Thus when Origen died, he died as a Confessor of the Church — that is, he faithfully endured torture for his faith but was not killed outright, because the Roman authorities were hoping for a recantation on the part of such a universally revered church leader and had thus commanded the torturers to ensure that Origen was not made a martyr.  His body and health were broken, however, and he died some months after his release.

The issue is confused because later “Origenism” was explicitly condemned.  But Origen himself was not an “Origenist” and no Council condemned him or his work.  But of course a pall of suspicion was cast upon Origen and his body of work because of the heresies of the so-called Origenists, but this was well after his own day.  As Origen died several years after the passing of Demetrius, Origen was in full communion with the Church universal at the time of his death.

The interpretation that Knowles has given is very common, and has been repeated in untold numbers of “standard” Church History texts.  An examination of the primary sources, however, does not bear this out.  Other than that, he has done a masterful job on the timeline and I am grateful to whomever proposed including it.

There are a few key dates that Knowles did not include which I would have added:

  • Before 450  King Silko of Nobadia becomes the first Nubian ruler to convert to Christianity.  [Sudan]
  • ca. 530–70  Yared the Melodious (501 – ca. 571–76) develops the music and hymnody that is used to this day in the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox liturgies.  [Aksum:  EthiopiaEritrea]
  • ca. 1331–35 Ibn al-Dawādārī writes a text (in Arabic) that provides contemporary evidence of the existence of well-established Christian communities within the (Islamic) empire of Mali during the reign Mansa Musa (reigned c. 1312 – c. 1337).  These are sub-Saharan African Christian communities in West Africa before the age of European exploration.  [MaliNigerBurkina FasoGuineaSenegalThe GambiaMauritaniaCôte d’Ivoire]
  • ca. 1400–50  Abba Estifanos (1380 – c. 1450) led a reformation movement in Ethiopia that in many ways presaged the later Protestant Reformation in Europe.  The Stefanite movement was persecuted by emperor Zara’ Ya’eqob (reigned 1434–1468).  [Ethiopia]
  • 1534 Abba Mika’el [aka Michael the Deacon], an Ethiopian Christian, meets with Martin Luther and his colleagues in Wittenberg.  [EthiopiaGermany]
  • 1991 On 29 December, President Frederick Chiluba declares Zambia to be a Christian nation.  [Zambia]

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?”
(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)