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Theological education in southern Africa: the challenge of turning rhetoric into reality By Josh Hooker
Theological giants and the evangelistic dimension of mission By Thorsten Prill
The Battle for truth in Namibia By Basilius M. Kasera
Globalisation and mission: what do missiologists mean when
they speakof globalisation? By Thorsten Prill
Established in 1991, the mission of the Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary (NETS) is to equip Christians with knowledge and skills to live godly lives and serve the Church and the wider community. The purpose of this book is to contribute to the accomplishment of this mission. It is the first volume of essays by NETS faculty members. Each essay is a sustained reflection on a particular aspect of God’s mission in southern Africa and beyond. Josh Hooker gives a reflection upon the role of theological education in the southern African context. For him the crucial question is: Are we truly equipping Christians for ministry? Basilius Kasera examines the impact of ‘modern heresies’, such as prosperity gospel and open theism, on the church in Namibia in the light of Genesis 3:1-5. Thorsten Prill tests the claim that evangelism has never been popular both as a concept and a ministry. For this he investigates four 20th century theologians (Barth, Bonhoeffer, Tillich and Moltmann) who have had a significant influence on theological thinking both in European and North American mainstream Protestant denominations and in mission initiated churches in southern Africa. In a second essay he explores the relationship between globalisation and mission.
Dr Thorsten Prill
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John Stott maintains that the theological college or seminary is ‘the key institution in the church’ (Steer 2009:154). His reason is that ‘all the church’s future clergy pass through the seminaries, and it is there that they are either made or marred, either equipped for ministry or ruined through loss of faith and vision.’
It is certainly not the intention of those of us who work in evangelical institutions to obscure the Christian vision and impair the faith in Christ of those we teach, quite the reverse, but the question we need to return to on a regular basis is: are we truly equipping Christians for ministry ? I’m sure that intention is expressed in our prospectuses and on our notice boards, but have we turned the rhetoric into reality? I ask this because I believe that theological institutions can drift away from their roots and take on a life of their own that is somehow remote or even divorced from the churches they want to serve. Maybe the college has clear and appropriate academic goals, but if the overriding purpose of equipping our students for ministry is forgotten or sidelined then we forget our raison d’etre. The seminary exists to serve and strengthen the church of Jesus Christ. And if John Stott is right that the seminary is ‘the key institution in the church’ then theological education is indeed a privileged and important ministry to engage in.
This is the challenge we are grappling with at Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary (NETS). In the space of a few years we have seen a massive turnover of staff, which has brought many challenges, but has also brought fresh vision about how we can serve and strengthen the churches of Namibia. Here are some of the ways that we are seeking to turn our ‘we are here to serve the church’ rhetoric into reality.
Our new staff team quickly realised that NETS needed to have regular input at a grassroots level into the local church. Amongst our staff we had a wealth of biblical training and church experience that could benefit not only our residential students, but also local Christians, and one aching need we identified in the churches was the need to help others to preach and teach God’s Word faithfully. So Word Alive was born.
Word Alive is a Saturday workshop from 9am-4pm where we unpack the background to a book of the Bible and expose local Christians to text-based preaching, with the explicit purpose of equipping them to teach this material to others. So far we have tackled John, 1 Peter, Philippians and Habakkuk. As well as hearing ‘model’ sermons from that book and important basic background information (the who, why, when, what etc.) we also run a number of seminars (e.g. teaching Habakkuk in the Namibian context, or teaching Philippians to children and youth). Our aim has been not simply to attract local preachers, but actually anyone who is involved in a Bible teaching ministry (Sunday School teachers, youth groups leaders etc.) Each participant goes away with handouts that will help them in teaching this material to others, but our hope is also that they will leave with a new understanding and a new excitement about that biblical book.
This workshop has also become a mandatory part of our residential students’ education. The challenge for them, having attended this workshop at NETS, is that they need to replicate it at another Word Alive event. Later in the Semester staff-student teams take this same material and run their own regional Word Alive workshops in various parts of Namibia, often using local languages rather than English. In preparation for this event the lecturers make their preaching notes and lecture notes available to the students so that they can prepare their own material based on these resources. The teams meet up every week to plan the practicalities of the weekend’s events (e.g. accommodation, venue, transport etc.) and pray together for its success. In this way Word Alive has become an important training platform for the students.
We have also found Word Alive to be a good recruiting tool. Apart from the obvious spiritual benefit this material provides for local Christians, it is a great way to ‘showcase’ the sorts of things we teach at NETS. We now have students in our residential and distance programmes who have been attracted to NETS through Word Alive.
Another new addition to our annual calendar has been the introduction of a 3 day Pastors’ Retreat. Most of our full time lecturers were pastors for many years before getting involved in theological education, which means they have a natural concern for the spiritual health of local Pastors and an understanding of the challenges that Pastors face in their ministry. The Pastors’ Retreat is an opportunity to minister to the ministers. Its key features are helpful Bible teaching, workshops on spiritual health, and lectures aimed to equip church leaders to teach the Bible better and grapple with important theological issues. We are aware that a number of pastors who come have had little, if any, theological training. We want to encourage, equip, challenge, and stimulate. We want to give busy pastors the opportunity to rest, pray, fellowship with other pastors, talk to NETS staff, use the library, and enjoy good food. We also hope in time this will become a place where we can make contact with former students who are now in Christian ministry.
Evening classes have been a feature at NETS for a number of years but in the past they were generally not well attended. At the beginning of 2009 we re-launched our evening programme calling it NETS@night. This has been well received by local Christians. Each semester we offer one or two of our Certificate in Christian Ministry courses. This allows participants to either take the courses for credit and get a recognised qualification, or simply audit them to learn more about their faith. Offerings have included an overview of the Old Testament, a simple course on hermeneutics called ‘Reading the Bible to teach it to others’, a course on Christian marriage, and a Systematic Theology course called ‘The Church, the Spirit and the Last Things’.
It is tempting to put practical ministry at the periphery in our theological institutions. It does not fit neatly with the academic side of our training, not least because it is difficult to assess, but to do so would be a great mistake. We need to help our students to hone their skills as service leaders, preachers, Sunday school teachers, small group Bible study facilitators etc. Our students need to know how to conduct a funeral, how to make a pastoral visit, how to lead a prayer meeting etc. We must not assume that they will simply pick up these skills in passing. In reality if we don’t prepare them for these tasks they will either not have any training at all or they will unthinkingly pick up the bad habits of those they observe.
What is needed is not only regular exposure to different types of practical ministry, but also the chance to observe good practice and the opportunity to reflect on the practical ministry they do. This realisation caused the staff at NETS to rethink our practical ministry. In the past students were simply required to ‘notch up’ a certain number of hours in various types of practical ministry. There was no formal opportunity for reflection. Local church leaders sometimes felt threatened by the theological student in their midst and therefore did not take on the task of helping them to improve their skills. This caused us to bring much of our practical ministry training ‘in house’. The students were given a practical ministry journal each semester to help them to reflect on the various aspects of practical ministry in which they were involved in at NETS or in their local church.
Each semester every student at NETS is required to lead a Bible study, and a prayer time, make a pastoral visit, get involved with Word Alive, plan with a small group of students to lead college devotions, and personally lead a service or preach a sermon in our preaching class. Even helping practically around the grounds at NETS on our ‘work afternoon’ is recorded and reflected upon in the practical journal. All of these activities occur within our timetable.
No system of monitoring practical ministry is perfect, and we are still ironing out the wrinkles. We are beginning to realise that some students reflect better verbally rather than filling in a ministry journal, so we are trialling the idea of regular student interviews to discuss practical ministry. But whatever system we finally settle upon our aim is to equip the students to be better practitioners because of constructive feedback from staff and students, and opportunities for self-reflection.
Some other initiatives
In my last few lines let me list some of the other new ideas we are exploring in an attempt to strengthen our links with local churches. Part of our vision for our newly built library is that it will become a resource centre not only for our own students but also for pastors across Namibia. We want it to be a place where pastors (often with meagre theological resources of their own) can come and prepare sermons and read for their own enrichment. We have also introduced an ‘Information Afternoon’ where we invite local church leaders to come and hear what is happening at NETS, and where we seek to listen to them to hear if we are succeeding in serving their needs effectively. Finally, we have also made significant changes to our curriculum to make it both ministry-focused and academically credible.
We still have much to learn, and I would be pleased to hear from others about their experiences, but these are some of the ways at NETS that we are taking up the challenge of turning our rhetoric into reality. We want the things we teach to transform lives and churches. Theological education at its best is playing a small part in our Father’s grand plan ‘to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…’ (Eph.4:12).
Steer, R 2009. Inside story: the life of John Stott. Nottingham: IVP.
Accrediting Council for Theological Education in Africa
- Centre for Theological Education, Belfast
- European Evangelical Accrediting Association
- International Council for Evangelical Theological Education
- Theology in Africa
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Over the last twenty years evangelism has seen a revival in some mainstream Western European churches. During the 1990s churches in Britain declared a Decade of Evangelism and at the end of the last century the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) started to have a fresh look at the evangelistic task of the church. In Germany a church sponsored research institute for evangelism was founded at the University of Greifswald, while in Britain a variety of new evangelistic methods were developed and initiatives launched to reach out to people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a postmodern post-Christian age. Among these are not only process evangelism courses, such as Alpha, Emmaus or Christianity Explored, but also the planting of new forms of church. In southern African countries, such as Namibia, churches of Pentecostal or Charismatic types, are at the forefront of evangelism. The main methods employed by these churches include tent crusades and Gospel concerts.
However, Malan Nel (2007:98) from the Centre of Contextual Ministry at the University of Pretoria is also right when he writes that in many parts of the Christian Church evangelism has never been popular both as a concept and a ministry. Nel suggests two reasons for this: Firstly, the way evangelism is conducted; and secondly, a ‘lack of real theological reflection on Evangelism from a holistic missional perspective’. The purpose of this paper is to test Nel’s second claim by investigating four 20th century theologians and their understanding of mission and evangelism. All of them have had a significant influence on theological thinking both in European and North American mainstream Protestant denominations and in mission initiated churches in Southern Africa. These theological giants are: Karl Barth (1886-1968), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Paul Tillich (1886-1965), and Jürgen Moltmann (b. 1926).
Karl Barth: the missionary church
The South African missiologist David Bosch (1991:373) rightly argues that Karl Barth’s ecclesiology is consistent missionary. Thus Barth (CD III,3:64-65) writes that ‘the church is either a missionary church or it is no church at all.’ Barth understands the missionary task of the church in the sense of self-renewal. The church renews itself by winning new members from outside. It does so by calling them to faith, obedience, and cooperation in the service of the church (CD III,4:504). While Barth stresses the missionary character of the Christian church, he also makes clear that the mission of the church is God's mission. God, he writes ‘is the primary and proper Preacher, Teacher, Evangelist, Pastor and Theologian’ (CD IV,3:892).
Evangelisation and the nominal Christian
In his Church Dogmatics Barth (CD IV,3:865-879) identifies six basic forms of the church’s ministry: the praise of God, the proclamation of the gospel to the assembled Christian community, and the teaching of the bible and of Christian theology to all church members, as well as the ministries of evangelisation, mission and academic theology. According to Barth (:872), evangelisation is a special form of the ministry of proclamation and teaching the Christian gospel. While mission is aimed at those outside the church, the task of evangelisation is to invite nominal Christians to believe and to obey the God who has called them. Evangelisation tries to reach those, ‘who are within in theory but not in practice’, in other words it wants ‘to awaken this sleeping church’ (:873). Barth finds support for this understanding of evangelisation in the New Testament letters. For him these letters, with the exception of the pastoral letters, are records of an evangelistic activity which proclaims ‘the Gospel on this shifting frontier between true and merely nominal Christians’ (:873).
Barth (CD IV,3:873-874) goes on to say that there are different ways and methods of communicating the gospel to nominal Christians: preaching and teaching or a combination of both. He also stresses that one needs to be flexible with the approaches one uses. Besides this flexibility, he argues, evangelisation must be connected with other ministries of the church, but especially with the diaconical ministry, which must have an evangelistic character, too (:874). Furthermore, he emphasizes that evangelization has to convey a positive, non-threatening message. Barth writes: ‘What is vital is that the evangelising community should say what it has to say to those around in a glad and spirited and peaceful way...What is vital is that it should really say this, i.e. the Gospel, and not something else. What is vital is that concern for spurious results should not cause it to make the proclamation of freedom into propagation of law, the promise of life...into threatening with the terrors of hell’ (:874).
Critique: a theology of proclamation and election
In the same way, as Barth stresses the importance of mission, he makes it undoubtedly clear, that evangelism is central to the life of the church: ‘Certainly a Church which is not as such an evangelising Church is either not yet or no longer the Church, or only a dead Church, itself standing in supreme need of renewal by evangelisation’ (CD IV,3:874). Though Barth takes this positive and clear stand in favour of evangelism, William Abraham (2001:190) is right when he writes that Barth's theology has not been helpful in revitalizing evangelism.
Firstly, Barth clearly sees the importance of spiritual gifts and the church’s teaching ministry. Regarding the latter, Barth (CD IV,3:871) underlines that every Christian needs to have knowledge about the bible and the history of the church. The teaching of these things must take place outside the worship service, and it must give room for questions and answers. Barth is also aware that being a Christian is more than having a certain intellectual knowledge. He clearly points out that the Christian church as a whole as well as every individual Christian is pneumatic. The Holy Spirit, Barth (CD IV,2:321) writes, distributes different gifts of grace to Christian believers according to his free will. The purpose of this distribution is to broaden and to deepen the life of the church, and to help it to fulfil its mission in the world (:825-826). While Barth considers Christian instruction and the distribution of spiritual gifts as essential for the life of the church, he fails to incorporate them into the evangelism process. The reason for this is that first and foremost Barth understands evangelism as verbal proclamation within a Constantinian society. This narrow understanding of evangelism may not be surprising in view of the fact that his whole theology can be designated ‘a theology of proclamation’, as Trevor Hart (1999:28) writes. The basic assumption of Barth’s theology is ‘that God has spoken, that he has proclaimed his Word to humankind, that he has revealed himself’ (:28). This proclamation theology clearly dominates his view on evangelism.
Secondly, as Nigel Biggar (2000:219) shows, Barth stresses the importance of kingdom values and their ethical implications. At the same time the necessity of repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ seem to be weak in his theology. The reason for this lies in Barth’s doctrines of election and salvation. Barth holds that every human being is already part of God’s Kingdom even if he or she lacks awareness of this fact. Barth (CD IV,1:100) notes: ‘...man has already been put in the place and kingdom of peace with God. His decision and act, therefore can consist only in obedience to the fact that he begins and does not cease to breathe in this place and kingdom, that he follows the decision already made and the act already accomplished by God, confirming them in his own human decision and act: that he, for his part, chooses what has already chosen and actualized for him.’ Consequently, there is no real need of initiation into the kingdom nor is there any real human choice. It is God who acts and makes the decision, even against human will. Berkouwer (1956:362) points out that such a teaching eliminates ‘the seriousness of calling, of responsibility, and of the human decision of faith.’ While it is true that the triune God is the main agent in evangelism, Barth is in danger of seeing evangelism as a solo performance. He not only neglects the responsibility of the person evangelised, but also tends to undercut the role of the other agents of evangelism, i.e. the church and the church’s evangelists. The church, Barth argues, cannot make a Christian. No human being can ‘in any way advance...that work’. This is, as he puts it, ‘God's own act’ (CD III,4:505). In view of this, one wonders how Jesus’ command ‘to make disciples’ is to be understood.
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