theologizing

«Εἰ θεολόγος εἶ, προσεύξῃ ἀληθῶς,
καὶ εἰ άληθῶς προσεύξῃ, θεολόγος εἶ
— Εὐάγριος ὁ Ποντικός
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“If you are a theologian, you will pray truly.
And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” 
Evagrios of Pontus (345–399)
On Prayer 61 (the translation in The Philokalia, vol. 1)
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I’m forever grateful to Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428) for introducing me to this text of Evagrios.  Too often “Theology” (Θεολογία / Theologia) means, in practice, “academic language about God which is hard to understand.”  But Theodore and Evagrios were among the first to teach me that a theologian is one who speaks (or writes) well about God BECAUSE he or she is in the habit of speaking well WITH God.  Our theology, our God-talk, should proceed from our talks with God.  Our theorizing should rather be contemplation (θεωρία / theoria; Latin:  contemplatio) of whom God has reveled Godself to be in our own stories and (crucially) in the stories handed down to us in the Scriptures.
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(On that last point, just so no one misses it:  if not grounded in the texts of Scripture, our contemplation is not Christian contemplation, our prayer is not Christian prayer, and our theology is not Christian theology.)  
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“Theology” (or at least, good theology) is never academic speculation clothed in what Ruth calls “Emperor’s New Clothes” language. Theology is speaking well about God which arises out of our having well-spent time speaking with God. 
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It is worth noting that the Church has only granted the title “Theologian” to three individuals.  In the first two centuries of the Church, only one person ranked the title “The Theologian” — John the Evangelist (the Apostle who wrote the Gospel and the Letters).  It wasn’t until the Nicene period that anyone else ranked the title:  Gregory Nazianzen (Γρηγόριος ὁ Ναζιανζηνός; c. 329-390), the writer of hymns and theological poetry.  Next was Symeon the New Theologian (Συμεὼν ὁ Νέος Θεολόγος; 949–1022).  Each of these men spoke well about God because they had spoken well with God, and their discourses fleshed out their conversions to Christ within their particular cultural contexts.
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Theologizing is the attempt — by individuals or communities — to make sense of the conversion (turning to Christ) of social life, family life, and intellectual life, within a given cultural and linguistic context.  Andrew F. Walls notes that “Theology does not arise from the study or the library even if it can be prosecuted there.  It arises from Christian life and activity, from the need to make Christian choices, to think in a Christian way.”*
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As christians, we are not proselytes but converts; the harsh words of Jesus about proselytization (Matthew 23.15) are not for nothing. The Jerusalem Council made it clear that Gentiles don’t have to become Jewish to follow Jesus (nor do Jews have to become Goyim who eat pork to follow Jesus; Africans don’t have to become American, etc.). Christian conversion is the “turning to Christ what is already there.”**
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Conversion has at least three categories in which we must turn to Christ what is there:  family life, social life, and intellectual life.  In this process, of course some new things will be picked up as necessary and some old things will be dropped as incompatible with the Gospel — but many things will be retained. Those things which are retained are reoriented and redirected toward Jesus.
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Theologizing is the natural result of processing conversion of these areas — family life, social life, and intellectual life — and arises out of time spent with God. Fancy academic jargon is not theology, even if it is often (mistakenly) called that. “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” 
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I will add a corollary for my preacher friends: “and if you become a theologian, you will preach truly.”
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* Andrew F. Walls, Crossing Cultural Frontiers:  Studies in the History of World Christianity (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2017), 74.
** Another phrase of Professor Walls, whose writings I highly recommend
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It makes the verb happy

We are always continuing to learn and study the Maa language and culture of the Maasai.  And so back in September, I was very happy to learn a new proverb — 

Ekébikóo intókitin póoki náaramát ilóopêny

It means all things which their owners carefully tend last a long time.  I was very happy to find this proverb to add to our lessons on stewardship.  Whereas typical American teaching says “that stuff you think you own?  Well, it is not really yours, it is only God’s, only God is the owner, and that is why you should take especial care of it,” we teach that ownership is what makes stewardship possible.  (Of course, each of these approaches represent part of the Biblical teaching on stewardship — in one sense everything IS God’s and we are only his stewards, but in another sense because we are God’s children, God has given us resources that we manage as our own property — just like Maasai parents give animals even to their young children.)  So when we use the proverb that says, “the cow says, don’t give me, lend me,” we can reinforce the meaning of the teaching by next reminding that the Maasai also say, “Ekébikóo intókitin póoki náaramát ilóopêny.”  (To read more on how we teach Christian stewardship, read our My Father Is Alive post.)

But with this proverb I had a question about a bit of the language I didn’t quite understand.  I knew that <ekébikóo> comes from the verb <ABIKÓO>, “to endure, to last a long time, to remain a long time, to last forever” (coming in turn from <ABIK>, “to remain, to abide, to stay”).  But Maa verbal prefixes are tricky, and I wasn’t sure what the eké- prefix was doing.  So I asked our good friend and colleague Ntinga Sam Tome, who is trilingual in Maa, kiSwahili, and English.

It makes the verb happy and brings out the meaning.

“It makes the verb happy.”  Of course it does!  But why?  We laughed together.

requiem

It is perhaps not unfitting that it was on Epiphany (6 January 2019) that the great Lamin Sanneh breathed his last in this life. In his life and scholarship the light of Christ was revealed to many. He passed on only yesterday, yet already he is 

We grieve, but we do not grieve as those without hope.

Born in The Gambia in West Africa, raised as a Muslim, after his conversion to Christ he became a preeminent Christian scholar and missiologist.  If you haven’t read his books or articles or heard him speak, you should. His books are widely available and you can still find him on youtube.  Here are two of my favorite of his quotes:

“People receive new ideas only in terms of the ideas they already have.”

“Conversion is the turning of ourselves to God, and that means all of ourselves without leaving anything thing behind or outside.  But that also means not replacing what is there with something else. Conversion is a refocusing of the mental life and its cultural/social underpinning and of our feelings, affections, and instincts, in the light of what God has done in Jesus.”

~ Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion Is Christianity?  The Gospel beyond the West (2003).

If you’re a buyer and reader of books, that text is worth acquiring.  But if you only buy or read one of his books, I recommend that you start with Translating the Message:  The Missionary Impact on Culture (1st edition, 1989; 2nd edition, revised, 2009).  Though you’ll run across a lot of books before you find anything that would surpass his Disciples of All Nations:  Pillars of World Christianity (2008).

Professor Lamin Sanneh (24 May 1942 — 6 January 6 2019), may your memory be eternal and may you rest in peace until you rise again in the Resurrection.


Update (15 January 2019):  Christianity Today has just published a collection of tributes, “Remembering Lamin Sanneh, the World’s Leading Expert on Christianity and Islam in Africa.” This article would be a great place to start to learn more about this great man.  Also … anyone interested in World Christianity should read not only Prof. Sanneh’s works, but also should listen to the voices of those who give him tribute here.

first graduation! (Ewaso Ng’iro)

On 30 November we reported the beginning of our CCBTI graduation season in Maasai Land, as the first cohort of pastors from Kajiado County celebrated completion of the CCBTI program. This past weekend saw the graduations of the smaller cohort from Narok County at CCC’s training center in Ewaso Ng’iro, on 8 December.

Join us in celebrating with Peter Otuma Nanteya, Walton Tumate Nkowua, Peter Lerionka Pion, Wilson Ntinana Kuyoni, Maina ole Salenoi, Peter Talata Parkesui, and their congregations!  Ntinga Sam Tome (on the right in the first picture) attended both graduations.

 

first graduation! (CCBTI – Kajiado)

Sometimes you plant carrots.  In two to four months, you get a harvest.  Sometimes you plant avocado trees.  Tend it diligently, and you’ll start to get repeated harvests each year — but not right away.  There will be a few years with nothing to show for your labors.  But slow, steady growth will be occurring nonetheless.

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Ministry & discipleship is often more like growing trees than growing carrots.  Results don’t always come overnight.  Patience is required.  Some of you may remember that we returned from our first home assignment for our second term in 2010 to discover that the Maasai Discipleship Training School had not had any sessions while we in the States.  It had a five year drought before we were able to help Francis Yenko and the CCC relaunch it in 2014 at a new campus, during our third term.  Then in 2016 the newly rechristened Discipleship Training Institute (DTI) went mobile, reaching new areas of Maasai land.  Since we began in 2010 to work to reestablish this ministry, the harvest has been tremendous.  But we had to wait longer than for carrots.
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There was a similar story of a slow wait and long work for the establishment of and harvest from the Community Christian Bible Training Institute (CCBTI).  First the Turkana Bible Training Institute (TBTI) was transformed into the initial campus of CCBTI.  Then in 2016 we were able to help the Community Christian Churches (CCC) to successfully establish two branch campuses of CCBTI in Maasai Land.  This year sees the first graduations of the Maasai branches of CCBTI.  Today, 30 November 2018, believers gathered from miles around in Ng’atataek in Kajiado County to celebrate the CCBTI graduation of a group of Kenyan and Tanzania Maasai pastors.  The CCBTI graduation for the Ewaso Ng’iro campus is scheduled for 8 December 2018.

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Here are some pictures from today’s graduation in Ng’atataek.  Those who are kneeling are the graduating pastor-students being ordained.  The washing of feet was a public demonstration of the nature of servant leadership.  As we are still abroad in America, Ntinga Sam Tome, our colleague and the administrator of the two Maasai CCBTI campuses, sent us these pictures.

EDIT (28 January 2019):  I just realized that I forgot to include the names of the ten graduates.  They are:  Joshua Papa Kimeshwa, Joshua Sinkira Lekoke, Nchoke Kakeu Naipenyu, Jackson Moikan Laisa, Moses Ntete Laisa, Leimaduk ole Solonka, Philipo Naisango koole, Jackson Kapaito Mayiasek, Noah Ikayo Nkoye, and Musanka Sakaya Korema.

2013–2017: An Overview

Successes and failures and ongoing challenges. During our first eleven years in Kenya, we’ve seen our share in each of these categories. In this update, we want to share with you some of our key successes from our third term (2014-2017) as we continue to work with our support partners in the work of expanding Christ’s Kingdom in Kenya.

To learn more, read our August 2018 update here.

new church plant: Oltarakwai CCC

new church plant:  Oltarakwai CCC — 2018 June 10th
photo credit: Thomas ole Pesi

expanding influence

Most of you know that our Eating the Word of God curriculum has been published in three languages:

Enkinosata Ororei le Nkai (in Maa)
Kujilisha kwa Neno La Mungu (in KiSwahili)
Akinyam Akiroit a Akuj (in NgaTurkana)

(Maa, the language of the Maasai, is spoken in Kenya and Tanzania.  KiSwahili is the primary second language of most Kenyans and Tanzanians, and is spoken across East Africa.  NgaTurkana is the language of the Turkana people, who live primarily in Kenya’s northwest, between Lake Turkana and Uganda.)

Just to remind you, this is the textbook for the Eating the Word of God course of the Community Christian Bible Training Institute (CCBTI; there are three branch campuses).  The highfalutin academic title would be “Equipping Congregations for Biblical Understanding,” but we keep it simple.  The books are also used for teaching grass-roots level seminars.

Today some missionaries to the Tonga in Zambia (in Southern Africa) have asked if they can adapt our materials for the Tonga churches.  (We said “yes,” of course.)

CCBTI update

We may be in America, but we continue to be engaged with our ministry in Kenya, mostly behind the scenes.  The two CCBTI branch campuses in Maasai Land are still going well.  Last month (June 2018), Sam Ntinga Tome was in Ewaso Ng’iro to teach Life of Christ and Gospel of Mark.  Here are a couple of pictures.