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Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Muzungu is the word for white man in Luganda, the primary language in Uganda.  I do not suppose there are any places left where a white man has never been seen.  But I have been to places remote enough where I was the first one to be seen in the living memory of the younger children.  One young man was translated to me as having asked his father, “What’s wrong with that man?  He looks like a ghost!”  To be a white man in an African village is to be an instant celebrity with the children.  And so this little poem makes a good introduction to some of my experiences doing theological education by extension (pastoral training) in remote villages of Uganda and Kenya.  We’ll look a bit more closely at some of the actual ministry next week.

Children’s Choir

Celebrity

Muzungu!” cry the children,

And all then run to see

The ghost who walks in perfect health

Although this cannot be.

 

“Ooh!  Ooh!  Muzungu!  How ah you?”

“I’m fine,” I smile and say.

And then they giggle, hide their faces,

Grin, and run away.

Remember: for more poetry like this, order Dr. Williams’s collected poetry, Stars through the Clouds, 2nd edition (Lantern Hollow Press, 2020) at https://smile.amazon.com/dp/173286800X?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Hermeneutics in Bhawanipatna

MISSION REPORT 2014

From June 6-17, 2014, I traveled to Bhawanipatna, Kalahandi, Odisha, India, for Church Planting International. I was there to teach a seminar on Hermeneutics to thirty evangelists and church-planting pastors associated with Reformed Gospel Fellowship of India. I arrived in Bhuhaneshwar, the regional capital, on Saturday evening, June 7. Sunday, June 8, I preached to a house church in Bhubaneshwar and then traveled thirteen hours by train to Bhawanipatna, where the seminar began Monday morning. I taught six hours a day Monday through Saturday in a very intensive course. Then on Sunday, June 15, we concluded with a joint worship service with the local house church and the thirty students, where I preached on the Lucan Great Commission. Then began the long trek home: thirteen hours by train, and then three planes and four airports over two days to get back to Atlanta on the 17th.

India2014Banner
Kalahandi is the western portion of the Indian state of Odisha. It is a place where the Gospel has not penetrated very deeply, and the few Christians there have been known to experience persecution at the hands of militant Hindus. Reformed Gospel Fellowship is led by Rev. Kartik Pal (M.Div.), who teaches at the Protestant seminary in Bhubaneshwar and travels to Kalahandi when school is not in session for evangelism. My students were former students of his and others he has recruited to do evangelism and plant churches across that region. Most of them have a good high-school education but lack formal training in theology and ministry. They can’t go to Bible School, so I take a little Bible School to them.

As they are gathering small flocks of believers and starting house churches with them and thus finding themselves in the role of pastors as well as Evangelists, they are finding the need for more training particularly critical. So I addressed Hermeneutics (how soundly to interpret the Scriptures) from the standpoint of how it practically relates to Theology (how we understand the Scriptures’ teaching) and Homiletics (the craft of sermon construction). My experience doing this kind of work with rural pastors in Africa tells me that with men like this who are on the front lines of spiritual warfare, a little sound teaching goes a long way. They know their need and they are ready and eager to take what you give them and “put it on the ground.”

House Church Worship in Bhubaneshwar
House Church Worship in Bhubaneshwar

So we talked about some basic principles of Hermeneutics. We saw the importance of context—immediate context, canonical context, linguistic context, historical context, etc. Context is from two Latin words meaning “with” (con) and “text” (textus). So context is what comes “with” the text, or what the text comes with. Every text comes with the words that are before and after it (immediate context), with a position in the canon of Scripture (canonical context), with a historical setting and an original audience (historical context), with a particular language with its grammar, etc. (linguistic context).To the extent that we ignore these things we are not reading the text as it was written to be read. To the extent that we read in the light of them, we can recover the original meaning, the meaning the text would have had for the audience to whom it was actually written. Everything flows from that. Any personal meaning or contemporary application we derive from the text must be compatible with its original meaning, or it has to be rejected as spurious.

Teaching; Rev. Kartik Pal interprets into local language.
Teaching; Rev. Kartik Pal interprets into local language.

Then we moved on to principles such as the Analogia Fidei (Analogy of Faith): No passage of Scripture should ever be interpreted in such a way as to make it contradict another passage of Scripture. We saw that there is safety in numbers: No doctrine should ever be based on only one text, but rather on the themes that resonate throughout the biblical text. And I hit two critical motifs that are often neglected in academic discussions of Hermeneutics. First is Paul’s teaching on the practicality of Scripture: All of it is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, etc. (1 Tim. 3:16); the goal of our teaching it is love, not fruitless discussion (1 Tim. 1:5-6); therefore, any interpretation that is merely speculative or ends only in wrangling about words (1 Tim. 6:4) is by that very fact to be rejected as, at least, incomplete. We know there is something wrong with it! Second, I stressed the Christocentric nature of the biblical text: Christ is the key to all. As Martin Luther said, “The whole Scripture is about Christ only, everywhere.” The Old Testament prepares for His coming and predicts it; the New Testament narrates it and explains and applies it. Therefore we must always ask, “How does this passage teach us to love Jesus, to trust him, to glorify his Name, to proclaim his Gospel, to advance his Kingdom, to edify his Church, or to please him by doing his Will?” If you can consistently answer those questions for your people in your teaching and exemplify those answers in your life, I told the men, you will be a good reader and teacher of Scripture and a good servant of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Teacher’s-Eye View of the Class

All of this was supported by many examples of texts to which these principles apply, texts often supplied by the students themselves in their questions. Then we shifted more into workshop mode, with the students themselves constructing potential sermon outlines out of Ephesians guided by my Socratic questions: What would you choose as your preaching portion? Why? Maybe you should ignore the verse divisions and pick a portion that starts with a capital letter and ends with a period! OK, what is the main idea of this passage? What points would you derive in support of it? What applications would you make of it? And, bottom line, how do the principles of interpretation we’ve been learning enable the Text itself to give you the answers to these questions? Pay attention to the process, I stressed. I am not here to give you answers so much as to give you a process, a methodology that can let you find answers yourself after I am gone, with confidence that you can question the text yourself and know when it is answering you and when you are just reading your own ideas into it instead. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking: There are a lot of American preachers who could use this kind of instruction!)

Group Portrait
Group Portrait

My heartfelt thanks to those who gave and those who prayed to make this trip possible. Rev. Kartik and the men in the class particularly asked me to thank you for them. They want you to know that they are anxious to get home and start applying what they have learned. May God grant them to do so, for the glory of his exalted Son. Amen.

What One Wears to Preach in India
What One Wears to Preach in India

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Check out Dr. Williams’ books in the Lantern Hollow E-Store!

Meditations with C. S. Lewis: The Power of Existence

C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word “darkness” on the walls of his cell.
–The Problem of Pain

There are times when, as Andrew Peterson puts it, “the crying fields are frozen, by the silence of God.”  In those times, pain and doubt can be overwhelming.  Then the world piles on it’s hate, it’s screaming denunciation of God’s very existence, and we feel as if we should simply fade away into the nothingness of the dark night of the soul.  It may seem a relief to give in, to agree with the cacophony of voices shouting down both reason and belief in favor of the deification of humanity itself through scientism.*  

There is more than one level of irony in this.  To give in and reject God (as Lewis once did himself) would be to betray the very foundation of science and human thought in exchange for a momentary reprieve from despair and the hard work associated with belief.  We turn off our reason and refuse to think through certain issues–like the ultimate foundation of thought or the difficulties of naturalistic macro evolution–in order to accept a naturalistic universe that we suppose will mean both freedom and comfort at once.  In that acceptance, we also doom ourselves to a life that, by definition, can have no transcendent meaning.  Only those who simply turn off their brains and refuse to accept the logical consequences can look into that abyss and not despair.  We can delay that moment, but we can never entirely avoid it.

The good news is that God is God:  “I AM who I AM,” the first and the last, the greatest creative power of the multiverse.  His existence is established far beyond either the fleeting emotional states or weak intellectual machinations of feeble creatures whose entire lives are less than a proverbial blink of His eye.

It is on that existence that our faith, our reason, and our ultimate meaning rests.  There could be no stronger foundation.

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*As I’ve mentioned before, I define “scientism” as something very different from “science.” The latter is the intelligent, reasonable pursuit of knowledge of the natural world through experimentation.  The former is a philosophical position dedicated to the worship of humanity by using “science” to award it god-like power and authority.

Meditations with C. S. Lewis: Bearing a Bore

C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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It’s so much easier to pray for a bore than to go and see one.
–Letters to Malcom

In this quote, Lewis is hitting on another universal tendency:  it is always easier to do the “right” thing by proxy than in person.  It is always easier to bear a burden, speak the truth, or even offer forgiveness at a distance than it is up close and personal, where it might cost you something.

For Lewis, as for us, it is infinitely easier to kneel (or sit, or stand, or even wave our arms around) in prayer than it is to actually reach out and touch someone else.  I myself understand this all too well–I have to force myself to be extroverted in most situations. For all but the most dedicated (and also the most effective) of prayer warriors, prayer is easy, simple, and quick.  It requires little emotional investment and even less risk.  (Which makes me wonder at the fact that we all don’t do more of it, given how well we know it works!)

Of course, I’m not trying to suggest that we stop praying or that prayer is a bad thing.  I am agreeing with Lewis, though, that we often use it to insulate us from harder responsibilities.  There were other ways available to Lewis and his contemporaries to accomplish the same–a telephone call or letter provide a similar separation.  As time as passed, we’ve gotten even better at it.  The internet, while drawing us so close together, let’s us throw up walls between ourselves and literally millions of people.  We can say what we like, to whom we like, with no risk and few consequences.  Just look at the comments section of the average article or video.

In the American church, this couples with denial to make a perfect storm of detachment from a dangerous world dying on our very doorstep.  Most Christians still blindly refuse to accept the plain fact that we have become a post-Christian nation.  Many churches remain stuck in the older patterns of mission work–“missions” happens “over there.”  We write letters, send money, fill up shoe boxes, and, of course, pray, all the while remaining comfortably insulated from people who need help, spiritually and physically, literally across the street.  We don’t know how to engage them and, if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit that we’re afraid what engagement might mean.  There, even with the grace of God, go I all too often.

I hope that we will pray–as we never have before.  But I also hope that we’ll make the harder choices too.