Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Review- Theology in the Context of World Christianity

I was down this week with back issues and decided to use the time to plow through a book that has been staring at me from my shelf for the past few months. The subtitle of the book is what really grabbed my attention: how the global church is influencing the way we think about and discuss theology- WOW.

Timothy Tennent does not disappoint in the least. Tennet recognizes that modern theology is dominated by western reflection on theology and to find publication outside of a western context is quite a rarity. This is disheartening in the context of a growing world Christianity that has seen what he calls the new "Majority World Christians" as coming from the non-western world. Africa, South America, Korea, India and China are all seeing incredible growth of the church. It is the unique context of the growth of these churches that is forcing the churches in various localities to wrestle with theological questions and issues in a way that the west does not face, the result being a richer and deeper theological reflection in specific areas.

The book raises various topics in theology from the differing world contexts, like the following: Theology- Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad; Anthropology- Human Identity in Shame-based Cultures of the Far East; Christology- Christ as Healer and Ancestor in Africa; and Ecclesiology- Followers of Jesus in Islamic Mosques (just to list a few).

I found his critiques and evaluations of the various topics to be VERY insightful. Tennent writes with a sharp theological understanding and provides good insights into the impact on not just theology, but the life and health of the church in a global context.

Living in Uganda and working with orphans, I have already been forced to think about God in ways that my natural western context did not provide. The Fatherhood of God, the doctrine of adoption, the church and community (among other topics) have been deepened and enriched as a result of living in another cultural context. I long to see the Western church glean from what God is doing in this specific context. Tennent goes a long way in providing the foundation and vision to make this much needed global discourse more of a reality.

I highly recommend the book to any who desire to think outside of their own cultural contexts and desire to be impacted by the global discourse that is arising. Of course, that discourse is coming into the West more than ever before (indeed, it can't be stopped)- let's just hope that we have ears to hear before it's in our face and we've missed out on the discussion.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Heart of an Orphan- Part 3

Here is the second half of some of the various characteristics of the heart of an orphan. I am so thankful for my friend Mark Stibbe (author of an amazing book called From Orphans to Heirs) who gave us the idea of describing some of these characteristics through his own list of characteristics. Mark is a humble brother who speaks on the doctrine of adoption out of personal conviction since he himself has been adopted by an earthly father as well as his heavenly Father. He has recently moved into full-time ministry of sharing the message of the Father's love to God's people all over the world. He has a special place in his heart for Africa's orphans. Check out his organization (The Father's House Trust) and website at You will find New Hope Uganda listed there as one of their ministry partners.

INSECURITY: Tied into fear. A sense of feeling unprotected all the time and therefore feeling unsafe. The result is great care given to make sure that the heart is protected. A defence mechanism is constantly employed where one is quick to interpret what people say and do, whether in trouble or safe. One often reads intentions into statements and actions that were not there. Offence is easily taken where none was intended.

POVERTY: A feeling of constant scarcity that says there will never be enough even in the midst of plenty. The goal is therefore to get what is needed NOW, because what will happen the next day is unknown. The now becomes the focus without thought or hope for the future. Decisions are made based upon what seems temporarily best for needs in the moment. Hoarding becomes a lifestyle.

GREED: Tied into poverty. The constant need for more and more whereby the heart is never satisfied but is driven to be. Care is not given to whether others have what they need so long as individual needs are met. There is no consideration of others, or if there is it is only in what can gotten at their expense.

ANGER: Anger is always present in the heart because of what has been experienced in the past and comes out over even a small thing. It often seems like an eruption that has come out of nowhere, but it has always been there, only suppressed. Fighting at a moment's notice among children is a very common outflow of this anger that is constantly present in the heart. Another aspect is that there is always someone to blame for anything bad that happens.

INDEPENDENCE: The heart posture of doing what is desired without being questioned. If questioning comes, then rebellion will follow. Things have to be done “my way” and anyone who gets in the way of that is an enemy. Accountability is rejected and life is lived according to what is best in one's own eyes.

STRIVING: This defines life. Since there is no one that cares, one has to do what it takes to make sure that things will work out for good. One will try at all costs to do anything possible to make life better, even overworking, yet without finding satisfaction in it. Often, identity is tied into what is being strived after. The need for success can even be with an attitude of revenge- “After I have succeeded then those who have rejected me will turn back to me and I’ll get them back!” One's value is attached to the accumulation of what he or she has.

ESCAPE: Pain in the heart leaves it continually unsatisfied. Therefore the heart seeks satisfaction in things that give it temporary value or identity- things like sports, drugs, sex, and alcohol. At times the false world created by the heart can be more real than the painful one that is a reality, and thus the false reality is sought after at all costs and at all times. In the West, entertainment, video games, pornography and the internet become some of the favorite modes of escaping reality in addition to the ones listed above.

The picture above is the family that we work with here at New Hope called Samuel Family.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Heart of an Orphan- Part 2

When I first began working among orphans I was surprised at how different it was from what I expected. The media of the 80's had made me think that all African children had large bellies, suffered badly from malnourishment, and were for the most part quite miserable. Yet when I came to East Africa, I found quite the opposite. Though you can find destitute situations of impoverishment, most of the orphans I was around in the countries of Zambia, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda were incredibly happy children. I was stunned at how children who had known such tragedy could yet have such joy in life. Yet even in this I was quite deceived.

It was only after living among orphans here in Uganda that my eyes were opened up to the reality of the destitute state that many orphans carry around in their hearts. For many, the joyful external is a mask of the deeper pain of the heart, and for others, the joy is only momentary, giving way to a gloom that reveals the isolation of the heart. It was Paul Kusuubira who put flesh on this for me in his description of the heart of an orphan, drawn from his own experience and journey to healing in the Gospel.

I'm going to post half of his description in this post and half in the next. Let me add though, the orphan heart or the orphan "spirit" is simply a description of the human heart that we are all born with but which is drawn out in the specific context that orphans face. You will find many of these descriptions in the Apostle Paul's descriptions of the flesh throughout the New Testament revealing the connection to the sinful human heart, and if you have eyes to see you might see these same things at work in your own heart and life regardless of whether you are a physical or spiritual orphan. These are also helpful to understand why many fatherless children act or respond as they do to your attempts to love them or move into a heart relationship with them. I'd love some feedback here, so please feel free to interact.

ABANDONMENT: The deep feeling of having no one to turn to for answers or help. One has to make his own way because those who would help are not there. Even when people are there, they cannot be trusted because they will probably leave, too.

LONELINESS: The loss of identity in family leaves the feeling of being out of place and isolated, even when surrounded by people. The preference is to be alone in a self made “cocoon” rather than to be involved with people. The feeling of loneliness is often both hated and enjoyed. It is hated because the heart longs to be free to relate and enjoy relationships, but is enjoyed when it is able to gain sympathy from people without the tie of strong relationship. Self-protection is at the heart of this.

REJECTION: The feeling of being unwanted by people. One feels like a misfortune whose presence is a burden for those around you. The thought is, “Why should I even exist if I’m an inconvenience to others?”

HOPELESSNESS: Because the present is so unstable, one cannot even imagine what the future will hold. There are no dreams. Life becomes a puzzle of trying to put pieces together again to make sense out of life. One just exists with no sense of purpose or meaning.

WORTHLESSNESS: A conviction that says I am of no value. If a person comes who seeks to bring value to you or to appreciate you, it is denied and the person rejected.

LOSS OF IDENTITY: Tied into worthlessness. In the African culture people are identified by their fathers. Children are a priority because a man’s name and identity is continued in them. To die without children is to “perish”. On the other side, to lose a father is to lose the one where that identity is found. “Who is his Dad?” is asked of every child. If the father has died the reply is, “He’s just an orphan.” A result of this loss of identity is that one cannot identity himself with anyone (especially male figures who can easily betray). One can not lift his or her head- it stays “down” because the father, the source of identity, has died.

SADNESS: Tied into loneliness and the outflow of the hurt in the heart. Happiness can come for a moment, but it always gives way to the feeling of sadness. Even in the midst of a conversation, one's entire demeanour can suddenly change as the heart reconnects with its deep sadness. It is unexplainable by the person feeling sad, but it is the fruit of pain. It can also be a tool to keep people around to bring comfort, but without the commitment of relationship.

MISTRUST: It is hard to believe and trust what people say and do. Because one is alone, without value, and abandoned, one can have no confidence that people are truly there to help or that they are not trying to use him or her for their own benefit. The heart will ride out the relationship to the point of what one can get, but it is always ready to leave as soon as there is reason to suspect any kind of rejection. The heart is careful to select who it will allow to enter into its sphere. It operates in comfort zones.

HIDING: This is both physical and emotional whereby one does not really want to talk about real things, but it is free to talk about things surrounding the real issue, careful to make sure no access is given to the real issue. Authority figures are suspect and kept away because of the fear of experiencing the pain they might cause. Any correction means rejection and the heart retreats away from the corrector. Accountability is very difficult to accept, as the true problem is never dealt with, only surface problems.

SUPERFICIALITY: Tied into hiding, it becomes the guard of all relationships. One can never know the true heart as it is guarded and protected. Relationship is kept at a distance for fear that the true heart will be revealed. When the heart is pursued intentionally, the person will end it all together.

MANIPULATION: Using the situation one is in to convince people to give you what you want. Emotions, sadness, loneliness, all are used for the advantage of the suffering one. Life is a drama where acting becomes the key to gain.

DECEIT: Constant lies are told to make sure that the heart remains safe and protected. Truth will hurt and pain is to be avoided at all costs. The memory becomes selective and only exposes what will provide safety in the situation.

FEAR: This defines life. Anything that has the potential of causing pain or the memory of pain is to be fearfully avoided. Fear of what “could be” or “could happen” is always on the mind. It pushes the heart to pursue safety at all costs. Obedience does not flow out of what is good for me or out of love for the person asking, but because of the fear of what could happen if I fail to obey.