Sunday, January 28, 2007

Field Report: God's Glory in Kenya?

Mosque in Nairobi

Western Christians often long for their marginal faith to become predominant in society, both in the number of souls that would profess Christ as Saviour, and in the influence and reach of the local and national church.

A friend of mine is in Nairobi, Kenya, a country where it is claimed that there are "13 million bible-believing Christians" (from a total population of approximately 35 million.)

He recently blogged thus:

In the UK, some people yearn for a faith that is constantly present and visible and active in society, but seeing it in Kenya I am pleased we have moved past that...Overly established Christianity leaves itself so open to arrogance, superiority, abuse, corruption, rigidity and intolerance of difference. This is a constant problem of a religion that was originally inspired by a man who came to challenge the arrogance of an established order of his day.

He goes on to say that he was somewhat alarmed at a prayer in a local church which asked god to "protect us from the wave of Islam that is threatening the country." (Islam is a minority religion in Kenya but is apparently growing. According to one source, Christians are being increasingly persecuted and attacked.)

He goes on to bemoan the incessant blaring of Western Christian contemporary music, often in public space such as buses and supermarkets.

Much for us to chew on...Two immediate issues come to mind here (feel free to comment on others!).

1 - its a crying shame that the Christian mission in Nairobi has been somewhat mixed up with neo-colonialism. I love the fact that so many Kenyans love Jesus, but as my friend laments, what has happened to the indigenous African culture? Where are the African songs and dances to Jesus? Obviously not "being on the ground", I cannot say whether my friend's assessment accurately sums up Christian worship and music, but it does clearly point to the failure of contemporary church to authentically engage with the culture. This is not just a problem for Nairobi, this is a problem everywhere, including where I live, Edinburgh.,

2 - Islam. First, don't they worship the same God anyway? What's all the fuss about? Reported killing, torture and persecution aside (!) N T Wright, the renowned Anglican Bishop of Durham, has some theological and historical thoughts on a similar subject, namely Do Christians and Jews worship the same god? [same link as last]. Secondly, if Christians believe in Habakkuk's prophecy (see below), isn't it meant to be a good thing that we all come to know God? Does it matter if we know him through a non-Christian religion?

Ultimately, it comes down to (surprise surprise) the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth. According to Wright:

The New Testament writers claim that, though there is only one god, all human beings of themselves cherish wrong ideas about this one god. In worshipping the gos thus wrongly conceived, they worship an idol. Pagans worship gods of wood and stone, distorting the creator by worshipping the creature. Jews, Paul argues in parallel with this, have made an idol of their own national identity and security, and so have failed to see what the covenant faithfulness of their god, the god of Abraham, had always entailed. Christians, as the addressees of the New Testament writings, are not exempt from idolatry, of using the words 'Jesus' and 'Christ' while in fact worshipping a different god. Our study of the history of Judaism and Christianity in the first century leads us inexorably to the conclusion that both cannot be right in their claims about the true god.
[The New Testament and the People of God; see link above for full context and discussion]

Whatever we think about Christian Mission, or indeed Islam, we must always focus on the person of Jesus, whom according to the writers of the New Testament, uniquely revealed in himself, and in all that he did, the person and love of the One True God.

For as the waters fill the sea,
the earth will be filled with an awareness
of the glory of the Lord.

Habakkuk 2:14 (New Living Translation)


paul said...

It's an interesting point about Islam... maybe, as mclaren suggests in a NKOC that islam acts as a tutor for the culture until the gosepl can enter it - a bit like the way the law is described by Paul in galatians?

kamau4780 said...

The photograph used in your article is not an Islamic Mosque. It is an monument in Central Park in honor of Kenya's second president, Daniel Arap Moi.

Alastair said...

Thanks for clarifying what the picture is.

Anonymous said...

The writer lamented that Christianity is mixed with neo-colonialism and he would have liked the Africans to practice their authentic indigenous culture. I think the writer should not lament that, because when his people first came to purpotedly spread Christianity, they said that African ways were barbaric and evil, even their languages. It is understandable that there is almost no Christianity in the British isles and atheism has almost taken over. But it is worrisome that despite the end of British colonialism in Kenya, the writer would want to tell Kenyans to worship Jesus Christ in authentic indigenous culture. Where does this power come from - of telling Kenyans to use their African culture in worship? At least the Kenyans kept their indigenous languages, but what about those the British enslaved in the Caribbean whom they ensured lost their languages and even names? Perhaps the writer can go and tell those in Carribean to worship in their culture and languages as descendants of Africans. Perhaps Britain should pay reparations for enslaving Africans in their plantations growing sugar to sweeten their wives' tea.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of the accuracy of the photo, or the opinion of Islamic infiltration, I am keen on the idea of idolatry. I've long believed that Christians, Jews and other high-powered brands of religion get tangled up in their own self importance and misdirect their energy and devotion. As the author mentioned, Jews are so enamored with their race, culture and "chosen" status, that they often overlook the fact that God is the reason they exist. Christians, likewise have idolized Jesus to the point of Rock Star status. Certainly a man worthy of a following, and even emulation, however the claim of Jesus is Lord, is pure and simple Idolatry under the auspices of faithful reverence. God IS God.

Anonymous said...

Jesus said, "Follow Me", not worship me. Christians are just as guilty of idolatry as any pagan faith. Jesus is a worthy way-shower, but he's not God.

Alastair said...

"anonymous" - thanks for your comments. However I must point out that for Christians to focus so much on Jesus is not idolatry, as Christians believe that Jesus not only revealed and demonstrated the love of God, but that he was to be identified with the One God. Its clear from the early days of the church (30AD onwards) that the testimony of that emerging Jewish sect, followers of the Way (this was before such people were identified with the word "Christians"), believed in the divinity of Jesus.

I would agree with you, however, that for people of God to put all their energy and devotion and prayer into nationalism, or church, or work of any kind, is idolatry. God comes first.