Archive for the ‘Animism’ Category

return christ

What really struck me from the last few days of the ministry training course last week was the emphasis that came out on the future, eternity, our great Hope.

I’d never noticed what Fidel brought home so powerfully from 2 Tim. 4:1-2 that the number one reason to preach the word is the return of Christ. We are preaching in the last days a gospel of eternal life in view of the coming Day (cf. 2 Tim. 1:1, 10, 18; 2:10; 3:1; 4:8).

We found that the reason to put to death our ungodly desires (Col. 3:5) is because Christ, who is our life, is about to appear and we will be glorified with him (Col. 3:4).

Sammy reminded us from Job that the end comes at the end, and in the same session one of the apprentices very movingly shared how she had been through times when she desired to depart and be with Christ more than cling to this life. This in turn resonated very strongly with the account we read from John Paton’s autobiography:

At last the child literally longed to be away, not for rest, or freedom from pain — for of that he had very little — but, as he himself always put it, “to see Jesus.”

How badly do we need this powerful injection of eternity into our Christian lives and churches?


Notes and resources:

Intro to Expository Preaching – Context

Christ-centred youth ministry

Being pro-active in mentoring

Preaching Christ from the Gospels (esp Matt)

How to manage email with filters and folders

2nd year programme:

The church as mission agency

Lessons from the life of John Paton

Doctrine of Salvation (2) – Predestination, Justification and the glory of God

Preaching from OT narratives

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“Not only are there many ‘Preachers of A Different Gospel’ (Femi Adeleye, IFES-EPSA), but even from the pulpits of authentic and faithful preachers, “The gospel heard is different from the Gospel preached”, said Walter Freytag. How do our listeners understand key terms such as God, Spirit, Sin, Grace, Redemption etc.  As we preach and teach, we must keep asking ourselves how the Christian key words and phrases are understood by our African listeners. At all levels of teaching and preaching we should bring into confrontation the authentic Biblical meaning and the possible local re-interpretation. This will help our listeners filter out pagan and animistic concepts which many Africans sitting in our pews still hold very firmly.” (Steven Musa-Kormayea, ‘The Challenges of Biblical Preaching in Today’s Africa’, paper presented at the NIFES EBTC August 2009)

It’s not only an African issue. As Mark Simpson put it (speaking in a UK context):

“What so often happens is that people take Bible words, and give them meanings they never have in the Bible.”

A few examples with their non-biblical meanings:

  • God – distant impersonal supreme policeman
  • Spirit – impersonal power/force
  • Sin – discrete things that I do willfully against God’s law
  • Grace – a spiritual boost
  • Faith – having a such a powerful belief that something will happen that it actually does
  • Getting born again – praying a salvation prayer and giving your life to Christ
  • Testimony – talking about my personal experience
  • Blood – liquid containing powerful life force
  • What others could we add?

What we need to do is go back to the Bible and look for the Bible meanings.  And there may be more than one for each word.  How one Bible author uses a word may be different to another Bible author (e.g. Paul and John use ‘flesh’ in very different ways; Paul and James are talking about slightly different things when they say ‘faith’).  And even just looking within one book or letter we may find that a word is used in more than one way (e.g. ‘law’ in Romans 8:2-3). It’s hard work but it’s essential if we’re wanting God’s words to transform our thinking rather than to pour our thinking into the Bible’s words.

Some helpful sites and free software to make word studies a lot easier:

You might even find you enjoy word studies!

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Be thinking

The titles to John Piper’s books are so good you almost don’t need to read them.  Take ‘Desiring God’, ‘Future Grace’, ‘This Momentary Marriage’, ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’ (I just want to frame that one and put it on my wall) or one his most recent title, ‘Think’.

What a helpful imperative.  Like a reviving bucket of cold water over the head.  “Think!” 

The great conspiracy is this: The world, the flesh and the devil don’t want us to think.  The cults and the false teachers effectively say, ‘Don’t think, trust me, I’ll think for you, just believe.’  In contrast, true faith involves not blind belief but the opening of the eyes to Reality.  We are called not so much to ‘Believe, believe, believe’ but to ‘Look, look, look – the Lamb of God’, to ‘Think over these things’ (2 Tim. 2:7).  In our perversity we shut our eyes and suppress the truth and our thinking becomes futile (Rom. 1:21 cf. Eph. 4:7). 

As we were discussing in this blog recently, anti-thinking is an important aspect of animism – in which we include Western secular societies just as much as traditional religions.  As Darrow Miller, in Discipling Nations, helps us see, cultures might have well-developed education systems but not ones that encourage deep critical thinking, certainly not concerning issues of ultimate importance.  They might have impressive communications technology but still a myopic focus on me, my family, my group, my horizon.  The members of animistic cultures (traditional and postmodern) might work very long hours but not actually achieve very much that will last more than a year, let alone into eternity.  Why?  At the very bottom of its worldview:

Animism… sees the universe as mysterious, unknowable, and irrational, a cosmic lottery driven by randomness, luck, or fate.  In animism, ignorance is a virtue…  In Thai Buddist culture… Ya kit mak, is a popular phrase.  It means, “Don’t think too much!”

This anti-thinking is in the church – both North and South.  Even in churches dominated by middle-class educated professionals there is a resistance to meaty doctrinal sermons and to Bible studies which push us to really ‘think over these things.’  

But conversion and transformation are in large part a matter of our thinking.  Ephesians 4:

17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

This is not to turn Christianity into intellectualism or scholasticism or Gnosticism as if we can think our way to God – No, this knowledge and transformed thinking is a gift of grace – the Father has hidden these things from the ‘wise’ and revealed them to children – but the call of grace is still clear: Think!

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It is not uncommon for us to hear something like this: “I take power and authority over the spirit of infirmity and decree that Jesus sets you free and the healing is permanent.”  This raises a few questions. 

First, who is in charge?  It looks worryingly like I am ‘the commander while God is the slave’ (Adeleye, Preachers of a Different Gospel). 

Second, are we making the mistake of jumping into Jesus’ shoes?  Looking at Luke in our staff devotions the other day we were struck again by Jesus’ power to rebuke a fever (Luke 4:39).  The amazing thing here is Jesus talks to blood vessels, to cells, to a virus… and they obey him!  The same thing happens when Jesus rebukes the wind and waves (Luke 8:24).  Surely we’re not meant to think, ‘I can do that.’  Surely we’re meant to gasp, ‘Who is this man?’  The attention is all on Jesus, the Creator talking to his creation.  When faced with illness we are not to jump into Jesus’ shoes but into those of the disciples who simply and humbly ask Jesus to help (Luke 4:38).  In contrast to animism which sees each illness as the work of a spirit of infirmity which must be overcome by invoking a greater spirit, this is about a Creator completely sovereign over his creation and incredibly merciful and good to his creatures. 

The third question is deeper still: Am I willing to see the illness as an opportunity for Jesus to be glorified whether he heals me now or later or at his coming?  I know many of us have found John Piper’s ‘Don’t Waste Your Cancer’ absolutely revolutionary (you can replace ‘cancer’ with any form of suffering).  If you haven’t read it you must – it’s here.  I just came across another example of this in practice in the lives of David and Becky Black who are working with the church in Ethiopia.  You can read their story here and here.  They are praying not only for a miracle of healing for Becky’s cancer but also for the even greater miracle of obedience, trust and joy in Christ even in the darkness of the valley.

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It can be helpful to distinguish between different worldviews (ways of seeing the world) held by different cultures – secular materialism, monotheism, polytheism, pantheism etc.  There are certainly very major differences between the way someone in an urban, (post)modern, (post)industrial community might typically understand life and the worldview of the majority someone in rural India or the Amazon basin.  However, it can also be helpful to see similarities – particularly this one: we are all animists at heart.  Once you dig down into our very different cultures and once you peel away the layers of our very different personal psychologies, you find that we are all naturally inclined towards animism.  As someone has put it, ‘Animism is our default setting.’  As Christians we pray that our minds are being renewed and reprogrammed with a True view of Reality but naturally speaking we are all born animists and that is where we are all inclined to fall back. 

But can we really say that the Western CEO is an animist as much as the devotee of African Traditional Religion?  Romans 1:25 describes the condition of the whole human race, North and South, East and West: ‘They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator’. 

How do we see this in practice?  I think there are a number of ways in which you can see animism bubbling up underneath ‘Western’ secular materialist humanist culture:

  • Traditional folk religion persists in the form of little superstitions and rituals that even educated professionals observe.  Many will not walk under a ladder or stay in room 13 at a hotel.  Flowers are placed on graves out of ‘respect’ or ‘in remembrance’.
  • There is a great openness to Eastern mysticism, occult, reincarnation and ‘alternative’ or ‘complementary’ medical therapies.  In fact I just heard that the National Health Service in the UK is beginning to fund Reiki (Japanese originated energy channeling technique). 
  • Vast numbers of people in the West look at horoscopes.  In fact it has been said that newspapers would go out of business if they didn’t contain star readings.  Large numbers also believe in various conspiracy theories – what David Aaronovitch has telling called Voodoo Histories.
  • It is very common to find secular humanists who talk of ‘living on’ through their children and grandchildren.  It is not at all far from the traditional beliefs in some groups here in Kenya that a grandparent’s spirit is reborn in a grandchild.

But more importantly, animism isn’t just underneath secular materialism – secular materialism IS animism.  They basically end up amounting to the same thing.  At the very least there is a lot of convergence between the two:

  • At a heart level western culture worships and serves created things rather than the Creator – money, education, freedom, tolerance, popularity, celebrity, football, youth, technology, music.
  • At a philosophical level John Lennox has pointed out that Stephen Hawking ends up treating physical laws as gods by ascribing agency and creative power to them (laws can’t create matter out of nothing but having dismissed God that’s what Hawkings has to argue). 
  • Because both animism and secular materialism reject a Creator God and the concept of revelation, both inevitably end up believing that Truth is unknowable.
  • As a result both Western cultures and animist cultures privilege ‘experience’ and emotional sensation over knowledge, wisdom and understanding.  So many times before we left the UK for Kenya were we told, ‘Well it’ll be a great experience’ or ‘As long as you’re happy – that’s the main thing.’
  • Again, because they reject the reality of Creator and creation, neither secular materialism nor animism have a concept of sin (certainly not in the sense of hell-deserving rebellion against your Maker) and so they have no place for salvation either (certainly not in the sense of a propitiation of that deserved wrath).  Instead there are ‘problems’ that require pragmatic solutions.  Life is lived according to ‘if it works for you’.  The education system and almost all other government policies are geared towards the needs of The Economy.  I recently heard that the UK government had issued guidelines for good parenting.  Each one was based on ‘expert advice’ and ‘sound research’ – i.e. it works.

What do you think?  Can you see the animism in our hearts and cultures… and churches?

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