Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New BLOG!!

Hey, so I won't be at NEGST much longer, so I've exported my posts from this blog to a new one: http://davidbawks.wordpress.com/
So please follow my continuing adventures there!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reflections on NEGST

As I am about to graduate from the Nairobi Evangelical School of Theology (recently chartered to become Africa International University, but it will always be NEGST to me), there are so many thoughts that fill my head. It’s hard to even imagine how I was when I first arrived at the airport that August evening in 2008. Each year I’ve been here seems like a whole different experience, mostly due to the various friend groups I’ve had since I’ve been here. An exercise I did after my undergrad was to think over the best, most meaningful or impactful classes I’ve had, and list them out, so for my graduate studies here goes:

1) Contextualization (Rasmussen)
I took this class my very first term, and it’s still the most meaningful class I’ve taken. In a number of aspects, it set the stage for the rest of my education here. The most crucial insight I gained from this class is integrating it with classes I took on scripture and OT cultural backgrounds in my undergrad, and realizing that the Bible itself is a cultural document. After taking this class, I look at ministry, church history, evangelism and exegesis in terms of contextualization, and that has helped in all my other classes here.

2) Power Encounter (Kim)
In many ways I don’t think I really understood the power of the gospel until I took this class. Forgiveness is the key to removing the bitterness in your life, and helps to remove all the garbage that can feed demonic presence in your life. The gospel really is power, and transforms everything in you. And this encounter isn’t some dramatic showdown, but is really a “truth encounter” as the reality of the gospel message is put into action in your life.

3) Matthew (Wood)
To sum up this class in one word: justice. Or maybe dikaiosune. Dr. Chester Wood is one of the heroes of NEGST, and it was an honor to have a class with him. I have never traced the topic of justice through the Bible, or seen what a major theme it is in Matthew, but after taking this class I see it all over. And I learned a lot about using scholarly sources, and exploring some of the more confusing stories in the life of Jesus.

4) Greek 4-6 (S. Black)
For the first time, I really felt like I was able to read and apply Greek. And I also learned a ton about how to write, formulate an argument, and compose an exegesis paper. Textual criticism, word studies, the Septuagint, sentence diagramming, syntactical analysis…so many topics were covered in these classes. Almost everything I know about exegesis I learned here.

5) Contemporary Theology (B. Black)
This class was a great opportunity to get back into what I was more used to from my undergrad, some good old (or rather new) Western theology. I love the seminar style, and got to read a number of theologians I had never read before, such as Moltmann, Niebuhr, Tillich, Rahner and others. My final project was on Miroslav Volf, and it was quite interesting.

6) Hebrew 5 (Mercer)
As far as the most skills and knowledge learned during the briefest time, this class would probably be number one. All the Hebrew reference grammars, how to determine the function of a genitive, a Hebrew word study, how to use Bible words, how to make sense of grammatical concepts...this class continued to build on similar concepts learned in Greek but applied them in rather different to Hebrew. I very strongly doubt I will ever be a Hebrew scholar, but at least my ability progressed in this class.

7) African Christian Theology (Stinton)
I didn’t take this class until my senior year, and there were a number of logistical challenges, such as the fact that I was the only student in the class for a while, but nonetheless I appreciated the chance to read more of John Mbiti and consider the implications of narrative theology. For doing seminary in Africa, I really didn’t read all that much African theology, and I’m glad at least this class allowed me to conduct a survey of the more relevant topics.

8) Church Ministry and Mission (B. Black)
Ecclesiology is a difficult subject, to say the least, and this class is probably the one with the most unresolved questions in my mind. I appreciated the visits to other church traditions, learning more about the Catholic and the Orthodox, and thinking through my own views on the organization and structure of the church. Ordination, women in ministry, the gifts of the Holy Spirit…so many highly relevant topics were covered in this course.

9) Daniel (Evans)
This is a bit early to make an assessment, since we are only one week into the class, but so far I am really impressed and looking forward to the rest of the term. There is a lot in Daniel that I don’t understand, and a lot of the reading I have already done has been really helpful in explaining the historical background and the toughest exegetical questions in the book. The paper topics look very good, so I look forward to delving into them and going through the rest of the course.

10) Cultural World of the Bible (Mercer)
This class was more helpful than I expected, and while there are still many cultural elements in the Bible I do not understand, there are many that make a lot more sense now. For example, the temple at the time of Christ—I did not realize it was that big! Tracing the journeys of Paul was helpful, and the reading for this class was quite good.

Honorable Mention: Hermeneutics (Nyende), Sociology of Language (Gibson)

Most of what I have learned at NEGST, however, took place outside of the classroom. I will always remember those who welcomed me when I first came to Kenya, here alone without knowing anyone within 8,000 miles. Taco night—ah the discussions until late in the evening, NEGST policies, classes, theology, politics, culture, being a mzungu in Kenya, and of course heresies. I love have the experience of living in student house, hanging out with my friends, talking, and finding out a bit of what its like in other parts of Africa and the world. I bet there has never been another student at NEGST who has spent as much time as I have walking from house to house and around the fourplex after midnight.

As far as experiences at NEGST, the most meaningful experience for me overall was being on student council. I loved working with the two distinct teams over the two years I served on student council, one as secretary and the next as treasurer. Being on Senate, the deliberative body composed of the faculty heads of departments, IT director, finance, library, etc., was a fascinating look at the inside story of the way NEGST operates. I especially learned about cross-cultural communication, diplomacy, how to structure a message for difference audiences (again, contextualization), and how to deal with really hard situations, such as when like so many babies on campus were dying. And some random things that you wouldn’t expect from graduate theological studies—numerous discussions of asbestos, the fluoride content of water, implications of multiple venues for the production of food on campus, GPA policy, scholarship procedures, needs of extension students, dairy farming and how to run a Tuck Shop.

Being involved in various churches here also gave me some meaningful ministry experience. Being an “associate pastor” at the Life in Christ Outreach Ministries church in Kibera gave me an entirely different perspective on the prosperity gospel. Suddenly theology had distinct relational implications, it wasn’t just an argument in a paper. Until 2010, I had never really done much as far as youth ministry, but for the last sixteen months that’s what I’ve been doing at Nairobi Chapel, and while a lot of it still isn’t entirely natural for me, it’s gotten quite a bit better.

I enjoyed being in the e-group with Esayas and the Nairobi Chapel guys, especially going through plug-in with them. I won’t soon forget that. And my African adventures—taking the bus straight through to Kigali, wandering into DRC, white water rafting on the Nile in Uganda, exploring Mwanza, camping in Abmoseli, slaughtering a sheep in Naivasha, reaching the bottom of the crater of Longonot, driving overnight in a motorbike to Mombasa, swimming for a few hours and then back, overnight again to arrive in time for a full day of class (well only 2 hours late for systematic theology)… Good times.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Christmas Break Update!

Ok, so much to update on...but let me start with something. My sister came this last December to visit me, which was really awesome, the first family member to visit, and only the second visitor I've had! I showed her around campus, introduced her to my friends, took her to visit a bunch of people, we had a Christmas party at my house, went to visit my friend Zippy's village, had lunch with some friends in Kibera, and relaxed at home and watched the Lord of the Rings.

Some of the people at our Christmas party

Visiting Zippy's village, outside Machakos

We went there along with Shar.

Rachel's first time to have Ethiopian food, injera!

My Kenyan Christmas tree!

Before Rachel came, I went to Mombasa for a few days, traveled to Kisii to preach a few times, went to Meru to visit some friends who are doing a Nairobi Chapel church plant there, and also hung out in Nairobi. It was a pretty good break!

Still to come...some changes, including a new blog, since I won't be at NEGST much longer, and what I'm planning to do after! Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Inspiration of Scripture

This is an assignment I submitted for Vernacular Scripture:

The inspiration of Scripture means that God works through the authors of scripture to ensure the reliability and trustworthiness of scripture. The Bible is both divine and human in its attributes, and inspiration describes the process of how God was able to supervise and oversee the writing of scripture while maintaining genuine humanity in its production.

This concept of inspiration arises primarily from the second letter to Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:14-17, ESV).
Building an entire doctrine of inspiration from this one passage, however, is difficult. Craig Allert notes that the terms theopneustos (God-breathed) and hiera grammata (sacred writings) occur nowhere else in the Bible. He speculates that Paul may have coined the term theopneustos just for this occasion (A High View of Scripture? The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament Canon [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007], 151-155). Since it is difficult to know precisely what theopneustos denotes, building an overly specific doctrine of inspiration from this one text is treading on speculative ground.

While this passage does not specify how God “breathes out” scripture, slightly more clarify is found in 2 Peter 1:20-21: “…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (ESV). This passage is more specific in that it addresses prophecy, and not scripture in general. The mechanism for God’s activity is described as being “carried along by the Holy Spirit”, which could imply some kind of mental suggestion or direction.

The divine versus human paradox of scripture which must be maintained despite its logical challenges. Inspiration is truly an incredible concept, meaning that God is able to ensure that His message is accurately communicated, while allowing the individual authorial qualities of personality and style to remain. God has chosen the weak things of the world, including the potential confusion and ambiguity of language to reveal His holiness and majesty.

The incarnation is a helpful concept in addressing the question of translating the Holy Scriptures. While still maintaining his attributes of perfection and power, Jesus Christ limited Himself and took on the form of a man, even that of a servant (Eph 2). God also limits Himself to speaking to humans in their own language. Human language is finite, while God is infinite, and thus a complete representation of God in human language is impossible. John Calvin speaks of God as “accommodating” Himself to humanity, both through the revelation of scripture and the coming of His Son.

In theology, the most responsible (or orthodox) view is generally that which avoids the potential extremes on either side of the theological aisle. In this case, an extreme conservative position is dictation, meaning that God read the Bible aloud word-for-word and the human “authors” merely wrote down exactly what they heard. This results from an overemphasis on the authority of the Bible.

Ultimate authority does not rest in the Bible, but in God. To elevate anything else, even the scriptures, to the status of God is idolatry. Elements of Karl Barth’s view of revelation are helpful in that the “Word of God” is first and foremost Christ Himself, as described in John 1. The Scriptures become the “Word of God” as they point to Christ and His work. However, this order should not be reversed; Jesus is alive, desiring a relationship to us, and the Scriptures are the written record we have of His life and ministry.

On the other hand, to deny any divine activity of God in the writing and transmission of scripture is to go too far in the opposite extreme. God is active in the writing of the Bible, and the human qualities cannot take precedence. The Bible does not contain merely the whims of musings of religious heroes of old. Rather, it is indeed the message of God.

For translation, this means that care must be taken in accurately representing the meaning of the Bible. While every word is important, the cultural meaning of idioms and phrases take priority over a slavish literalism. Scripture is not ensconced in a veneer of plenary structure which transfers exactly from language to language. It is culturally and linguistic specific, and these nuances must be taken into account when translating.

The guidance of the Holy Spirit must be sought when translating the Bible. Translations today are not inspired in the same way as the original scriptures, but this does not mean that the activity of the Holy Spirit has ceased. God is still active in His church, and still desires His message to reach all people. Translation is an essential component of this endeavor, and continues the process of God coming to us, speaking in the words we understand. What could be a more clear representation of God’s mercy than His care in allowing the message of the Bible to be expressed in any human language? Christianity is not a religious pilgrimage where all those desiring salvation must come to Jerusalem and learn Hebrew or Aramaic.

Inspiration is a beautiful concept meaning that God has spoken through the Bible. Not only has God spoken, but He has done so in the language of earth—not of heaven. The original message came in the specific languages of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, but can be translated into any of the languages spoken under the sun. As the missionary movement continues to reach out and make disciples of all nations, translation is being used of God to replay the divine message of salvation and grace into all the languages of the world.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Snapshot of Year Three

Thus begins my third and final year...it really feels like I am almost done with NEGST. This term started off pretty crazy..since I had a remaining term paper from an independent study last term which basically consumed my first three weeks. The school had issued a new set of financial policies over break, so the student council had to petition those...which I estimate took around 20-30 hours of my time the first few weeks of school. So many meetings...and I also missed several classes. But I do enjoy student council, and although it will be a relief I'm sure I will miss it when I'm done in February. It will have been two full years...so I am constitutionally barred from running again:). It does lead to some random moments...from a few days ago "sir, I'm don't know if you are aware but they are shooting the cows...were they given permission to do that?" (we have a new TV studio set up next to our farm). And I doubt I would have spent quite as much time debating the merits of napier grass if I had gone to seminary in the US. Or "servicing" cows... Or the implications of separating rent from tuition accounts...

This year I am living in block R--meaning I was able to stay in a flat after my stint in block M last year. Thank God for leaking roofs, and thus my upgrade from a single room to full apartment. I have been loving the community in R, and have been able to host many people for meals, tea and conversation.

Talking to Sharday, a new American student, has brought back a lot of memories from two years ago, and also showed me that I have changed a lot since I've come here. I'm not nearly as afraid of Nairobi traffic as I used to be. Cockroaches no longer bother me at all, and I haven't killed any in months (once I fished one out of my water and proceeded to finish the water). I no longer boil water, but drink it straight from the tap. I've been pleasantly surprised to find my body can handle more than I thought, including some food "slightly" past its prime... Its nice knowing most people I see, and not worrying about eating nearly as much as I used to do. Ironically, this comes as I don't have an eating group anymore, its just Teke and I, and Jane only comes two days a week now to cook. I'm not totally sure how I eat, probably about half my meals I eat out of the house, but I almost always get food somehow. I counted once that I had eaten in like 8 different places over the period of a week...

This term has been busy academically, and I am taking 18 hours: vernacular scripture, principles of teaching, African theology, Hebrew IV, and Pentateuch. African theology has been great, and I have learned a lot in Pentateuch as well. Hebrew I've actually mostly enjoyed, and my study group with Solomon and Madut has been awesome. Could not do it without them. On the other two I'll attempt to refrain from comment. After this term I'll only need to take 15 hours for second term and then 11 hours, so that sounds awesome right now, and I can work full-time on planning for next July...

I haven't been as active in church as I would like, but I did join a small group off-campus, something I've desired for a while now. I'm excited for how that will go. I'm still have Swahili a few hours a week, but haven't been putting in the time I need to. I'll have a couple weeks in December to study a lot more intensely, and then should have more time starting in January. Still working in the IT lab, and helping out on occasion with the new registration software that still has not been launched yet. And I finally tracked down my compassion child! A few weeks ago I figure out exactly where her church and school are, and got the number of her pastor from my friend. Take that unhelpful internet form where I have to specify the dates I'm in Kenya, the hotel I'm staying in, and pay like hundreds of dollars to hire a car and translator. So I'll go out there to visit as soon as I can make time, probably beginning of Dec. I'm starting to think about December a lot, can't wait.

Please pray for my future after NEGST. I'd like to stay in Nairobi, serve God in some capacity, pay off my Wheaton debt, and sustain myself. Those are the parameters, and now I need to figure out possible ways to do that. There are many, and the question is which is the best one. So I'd appreciate your prayers (and job offers) in line with the same!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Spiritual Warfare

Being a theology student in Africa, spiritual warfare is something I have often come across since I have been here. It was actually partly my interest in this topic that first brought me to Africa. In my undergraduate studies, I had studied various aspects of healing ministries which address demonic oppression. I wanted to learn more about this topic in a setting where people, as a whole, still attribute many things to spiritual causes (which is not often the case in America).

One of my friends from Burkina-Faso told the story of how his dad went to a witchdoctor. His dad wasn’t a Christian, and he wanted to curse my friend and remove his Christian beliefs. My friend was in another country going to college at the time, and the witchdoctor told his dad that he approached my friend in the spirit, but that there was someone very tall guarding him holding a long sword, and he could not get any closer.

One of the debates I settled pretty early on in my study of spiritual warfare is whether Christians can be affected or influenced by demons. They most certainly can, and I believe that almost all are, to some degree. I have experienced it myself. Ephesians 6:11-12 says, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Spiritual warfare is first and foremost a battle of the mind. Demons operate by feeding you lies and manipulating your emotions. Satan is the father of lies, and this is by far his most effective weapon. We live in a messed up world, and there are so many opportunities to confuse people and destroy their image of God, of themselves, and of others.

I took a class called Power Encounter during my first year studying in Nairobi, and the main thing I learned is that it isn’t really as important to have a “power encounter” as it is to have a “truth encounter.” If someone is demonized, then it may be possible to talk to the demon, have a big confrontation, and cast it out, but this can be dangerous and violent and is often fruitless. More effective ministry is much more mundane. Demonic presence is merely a symptom of a deeper spiritual or emotional problem, as illustrated by the metaphor of flies around garbage. If we only kill the flies, more will come, but if we remove the garbage of the emotional and spiritual baggage from our past, then the flies will no longer find the situation so appealing. They will have nothing to feed on, and will move elsewhere.

Knowing one’s identity in Christ and prayer are essential components to successful spiritual warfare. The most important key to spiritual victory is truly believing the Gospel: that God made you, that He loves you, and that through Christ your sins have been forgiven. They really have been forgiven. For many of us, we don’t really believe that, and we continually relive the failures of our past – and demons love nothing more.

Though I still haven’t completely figured out all there is to discover about spiritual warfare, since coming to Africa, I have realized that the warfare described in Ephesians 6 is literal. I have also realized that the rest of Ephesians 6 is just as literal and applicable to all of us. There is warfare with demonic rulers, but we have all the weapons we need in Christ to overcome. We should be aware of the fight, engaging in spiritual warfare by standing firm against the enemy’s schemes. But we should also realize that the power to stand is not found in dramatic exorcism scenes, but in a diligent trust in God’s word and character.
(I contributed this post to my friend's blog, so I figured why not mine)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mounting Opposition To New York Islamic Center

Claiming the neighborhood where the Twin Towers once stood is sacred ground, radical conservative groups are spearheading opposition to the construction of a nearby Muslim community center, a facility that would include a swimming pool and a 9/11 memorial and be located more than two blocks from the attack site. Here are some other projects currently facing controversy:

New York — New Citibank ATM vestibule just two blocks from site of devastating financial collapse
Elizabeth, NJ — Bed, Bath, and Beyond on sacred IKEA grounds
Pearl Harbor, HI — P.F. Chang's location a reasonable cab ride away from the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial
Philadelphia — British consulate on hard-won U.S. soil
Terre Haute, IN — Frito-Lay display planned for Baesler's Market is an affront to the fact that Terre Haute was the original U.S. test market for Pringles
Culver City, CA — Comedy club built next to the site where that disaster Grown Ups was filmed
Provincetown, MA — Organic artisan cheese stand set up next to raw cashew cheese booth at farmer's market
Lakehurst, NJ — Balloon store only three miles from site of Hindenburg crash
Olathe, KS — Barnes & Noble

From the Onion: