Worshipping in Pretoria
My only Sunday in Pretoria took us to the Lynwood Baptist Church where my parents are worshipping, a small Calvinist evangelical congregation located just east of the busy N1. Its pastor – a friend of mine and also the son-in-law of Dr. Wayne Mack – preached a very bold sermon against the plague of church-hopping and lack of commitment so prevalent in the life of the church today. I thought: “Wow, you are brave my friend!” Then the pastor told me his own story in the parking lot. As we drove away, I thought by myself: “Is there no end to this? Here is a man so gifted, so balanced, so warm and humble, and yet…” These are for sure no easy times for faithful pastors and elders around the globe.
Nonetheless in the foyer of the same church I talked with a sweet lady from Kenya (she’s with my mother on the photo). She told me how the Chinese are squeezing the very life out of Kenya’s economy due its inability to pay off lavish loans China granted to the Kenyan government for all the good things we take for granted in the West, but which they so desperately need or want. This story underscored something I learned from a video that went viral, called The Chinese Money Trap. The Chinese – hungry for Africa’s raw materials and to create job opportunities for its own people – is now turning Africa into its bond slave. And then we have not even touched on the sore topic of how shady rich people from Vietnam and elsewhere are looting Southern Africa’s Rhino’s horns. There is no end to this sad tale. And of course, there is always help from corrupt folks “on the inside”. For those interested in this important topic, check out a new book called The Looting Machine by Tom Burgis. It was was named The Financial Times’ book of the year.
And yet, as I listened with one ear yesterday morning to President Trump’s speech in Osaka, after the G20, and to all the many questions put to him by reporters from everywhere, the word “Africa” was not mentioned even once by anyone. Every place under the sun came up, but Africa was not mentioned. This is nothing new. When I once attended an ICRC meeting in Seoul in 1997, we were so privileged to stay in the Seoul Park Tel, an exclusive hotel by the city’s Olympic Park. The opulent foyer of the hotel sported a very large map against its marble wall. On the map were clocks telling you what time it was on every continent. Some continents even had two clocks, but Africa had none! Africa, it seems, did not matter. But as German-Ethiopian entrepreneur Dr. Asfan-Wosse Asserate says in his book African Exodus: Migration and the Future of Europe: “Ignoring Africa and its people will come at a very great cost to us all!”
Teaching at Logos
And so I arrived in Malawi on a sunny Monday afternoon. This part of my trip is sponsored by Word and Deed, who is doing a pile of good work in this wonderful country with its stunning lake and warm-hearted people. I am staying at Madidi Lodge, a wonderful place that makes you feel you go back into history when Nyasaland was still a British colony. It is a peaceful haven and serves excellent meals, where you also meet tourists from Europe all the time. A whole bunch of Dutchmen arrived just two days ago. A couple from Norway – just married 30 years! – told me they are here to build a brand-new hospital, and that definitely not on a high-interest loan that the poor Malawians can’t pay back! So Africans are learning anew that the West (their former colonial masters) are not all that bad! I was proud to tell this couple that my last name Heiberg is most common of all places in Norway!
On Tuesday and Wednesday, I taught worldview at the Logos Centre. I was assisted by Dr. Leonard Katundu, a local pastor and alumni from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids. I so appreciated his humble manner, sound theology and fine insights into the topics we covered. After looking at what a worldview is, and why one’s worldview is so important, we looked at the world-views of secularism and materialism, Marxism, Islam, New Spirituality and then African Traditional Religion.
With regards to the latter I left it to my 25 plus students to divide into five groups, and to report back on how Africa traditionally viewed the world. Their feedback was something else. I hope to write another post on this topic alone a bit later. At this stage I can only mention that I was impressed with their honesty and insight into the dark side of their traditional worldview (for there is also much positive in it!) and why it is diametrically opposed to the worldview of the Bible.
How Africa views the relation between the living and the dead is the most devastating factor crippling spiritual progress and stifling economic growth. Very few experts will ever mention it though, either due to pure ignorance or to their political correctness. We also talked about the mistake that was often made by well-meaning missionaries in the past, positing their Western worldview against the African worldview, identifying the former with Christianity, and the latter almost entirely with paganism (ignoring all the harmless positives in the African worldview). As believers we may not promote a Western worldview, not even an old one, but a consistent Judeo-Christian worldview, which is that of Jesus and his apostles, and the only true, liberating and coherent one in all the world.
The unseen realm
At the end of the week I showed my students several short videos from The Bible Project (which my son Marcel downloaded for me just before departure!) pertaining to the Bible’s view of “the unseen realm”. These video’s neatly fill the gap in the makeup of African Christianity. For if their own African worldview on these things is so wrong, what does the Bible tell us about the spiritual world? After watching these videos, I asked my students on which side they would place their ancestral spirits, mediums, and every attempt to receive guidance or power from the other side. Their response was unanimous: “On the wrong side of Yahweh Elohim, his holy angels and all his redeemed!”
I also dared to illustrate the crucial importance of one’s worldview for politics with the recent histories of Zimbabwe and South Africa. In both cases a flawed and inconsistent Christian worldview was replaced by an Afro-Marxist and thoroughly humanist worldview, regardless of any other worthy cause and concern the revolutionaries might have had. The result for both countries was simply disastrous, perhaps not immediately but as the years went by. Being somewhat hesitant to use these examples, lest I’d be seen as defending colonialism or apartheid, I was surprised by my students’ wholehearted agreement. Political correctness does not thrive here it seems!
A video of Tucker Carlson of Fox News – showing the impact of fatherlessness on men in America, and how it led to the disintegration of the entire social fabric of society – powerfully illustrated the impact of secularism on politics and the social wellbeing of our world. Years of downgrading the family, and of denigrating faith-based moral values, are now corroding our Western society form its core. Secularism is an experiment that failed gloriously. My students could not agree more.
But it was another video, of Africa’s own cardinal Robert Sarah that deeply touched their hearts. This soft-spoken and wise man said in words that any evangelical could echo, how crucial the battle for Africa now is, to resist the influence from secular Europe. Africa was left orphaned as its “mother” abandoned her in her love for this present world. And though Africa has been described as “the spiritual lungs of humanity”, due to the high number of Christians found in her (one out of four today, and two out of five by 2030) she has an awesome uphill battle on her hands. She will be up against a militant Islam; her own mother’s materialism and relativism (often foisted upon her through politics and the media); a resurgent Marxism ever looking fertile soil to make a comeback; not to forget the appeal of Africa’s traditional ways.
I went on to show them the vital importance of two dates in history to understand our times: 1789 and 1989, the French Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall respectively. The first eventually led to the fall of Europe, as the values of the French Revolution slowly but surely eroded Europe’s Christian foundations. This process was made easy by the impotence of spiritually dead state churches all over Europe.
After 1989 some thought that liberal globalism was now going to win the day in a unipolar world, since its only two 20th century rivals, Communism and Fascism, had both met their demise during the century. Reality turned out to be totally different though. It now seems that the end of the Cold War sparked the rise of conflicting worldviews in a multipolar world, and a frantic effort by nations and peoples to rediscover their ancient roots, instead of embracing globalism’s many empty liberal values. This is seen from China, Russia and India in the East, to the Muslim world in the Middle East, to the rise of populism in the West, and also in Africa.
I was wondering whether these history lessons would make any sense to my Malawian students. Surprisingly they listened attentively and asked very good questions. It seemed to me they desperately wanted to understand the brave new world they are living in and how to face it with faith and fortitude.
And so my last lessons focused on the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Christian worldview. What is the Gospel I asked them? Is it about having your sins forgiven and going to heaven? No. That is a tragic reduction of the Gospel. The word “Good News” (from which we derive “Gospel”) first appears in Isaiah as God’s amazing message of hope to a defeated and humiliated remnant of Judah in exile. It meant for them: “Your King is coming! He has not forgotten you”.
That’s why Mark 1:14 tells us how Jesus began preaching: “The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel”. Jesus is the promised King who has not forgotten us. He has come… It was John the Baptist’s task to announce his arrival, after centuries of eager expectation. And now He has come! And He will come again! Believing is simply swearing total allegiance to him, embracing Him as our only God, and forsaking all for Him. It is to embrace everything he stands for and never to be ashamed of it, for He is our only comfort in life and death, having purchased us with his own blood. Believing is ever staying close to Jesus the Messiah, His Word and people, in full dependence on His Holy Spirit. We don’t need to conquer the evil forces. He will do that through his loyal and faithful servants by His mighty Spirit working through us. The battle belongs to the Lord! All we need to do every day, is to put on that armour of God (Ephesians. 6) and follow Him obediently. Repenting on the other hand means to leave everything behind that grieves Him, and which we can’t take along on our journey with him to His new creation… Trying to accommodate that which He hates comes down to a betrayal of his Father’s love and grace, and a denial of our eternal inheritance.
In fact, it was Jesus that understood “worldview” better than anyone else centuries before the word was coined in Germany in the 19th century. Our Lord said: “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy your whole body will be full of light, but when it is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. Therefore, be careful lest the light in you be darkness” (Luke 11:34-35). Coupled with Proverbs 4:18-19 one can clearly “see” how profound the Biblical teaching on the topic is. What is more, Christ is able to open the eyes of the blind and He has been doing so for ages. A Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Rosalind Picard) recently told her story in Christianity Today, how reading the Bible and meeting Christ changed her view of everything from black-and-white to full bright colour! That was certainly my experience too in 1982.
And so, let us not fear. We all need to take heart and lift up our heads! Jesus will soon crush Satan under our feet. The Sun will rise for us with healing in its wings! And we will break forth like calves from the stall (Malachi 4). And then Babylon the Great will fall in a single day. And her smoke will ascend for ever and ever. I am writing this, having just returned from church and hearing the Muslim call to prayer in the background…
May God bless you all.
Pictures: Madidi Lodge (with my room in the top corner), my mother with Esther from Kenya, and some of my students at Logos.