An Invitation to Oddity

liz99-263671

Photo by 童 彤 on Unsplash

“If you want a religion to make you comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” – C. S. Lewis

There is an idea abroad that faith in Christ opens up the doors to abundance, success and all round good health. We have bought into the notion that becoming a Christian is a ticket to peace, comfort, and security. Whatever we might say concerning Biblical references to prosperity, healing, or success, one thing is abundantly clear: the Scriptures portray God’s people as an odd lot.

God’s redemptive covenant, as commenced with Abraham, sets His people apart as God’s chosen family. Along with this wonderful privilege comes the stark reality that they will be a strange tribe in a fallen world. In a world which has declared hostility against God, His covenant people will be seen as enemies.

All through history, God’s elect have borne the cost of being an odd people. Abraham ‘s trust in God was in marked contrast to his nephew Lot and the surrounding cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Joseph was thrown into prison for daring to have integrity. The Israelites were detested by the Egyptians and were an odd community among the idol -worshipping tribes of Canaan. David’s childlike faith in God proved a point of envy to the backslidden King Saul. The godliness of Elijah set him against the false prophets of Baal. On account of their devotion to the God of heaven, Daniel and his friends attracted sufficient hostility from their Babylonian colleagues as to be thrown into both a furnace and a lions’ den. And what shall we say of Peter, James, and Paul, who endured not only opposition, but also imprisonment, suffering,  and death just for being believers?

No one put the issue more pointedly than Jesus:

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!” (Matt. 10:25)

And again,

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34)

The believer is odd because he marches to a different drummer. He seeks to obey God and not merely go along with the views and practices of his neighbours and family. He sees the world differently because he looks at it through God’s eyes. And this can be costly. It will cost him acceptance by society, some comforts, some freedoms, and perhaps his life. Hence the warning by Jesus above. If our message has no place for this conflict, it can hardly be the gospel which Jesus and the apostles preached.

As God calls us to be the odd one out among the peoples of the world, He promises to be our God. While we may endure the scorn of the world, we know we have His smile. The sneer and hatred of a hostile culture are more than offset by the joy we have in Christ. We may be odd, yet it is a positive oddity. To be in union with God, through Christ, is to be above Presidents and Kings.

So we invite you, dear reader, to be odd – to be positively odd.

Why Africa needs the Christian Worldview

annie-spratt-210845

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Recently,  I stated that Africa needs the Christian worldview. Here’s why.

Truth: What is real?

Not a realm of divinized humans and ancestral spirits, but a God who has created a universe in which living creatures dwell. A false view of reality will distort our ethics and affect other facets of our lives. The Christian worldview gives a reliable basis for morality and ethics; it finds the ground for goodness in God’s own character. Sexual purity, honesty, and mercy are right because they are reflections of God’s own nature.

Identity: Who am I?

I am a human, created in the image of the God who created all things. I have value on this account, and not through submission to the will of my community. My allegiance is ultimately to the God who rules over all.

Security: How can I be safe?

Life is not a random sphere; it obeys the will of its Maker. I do not have to fear the threat of a thousand evil spirits, nor should I worry about the influence of divinized ancestors. God rules over the universe, and once I am in a relationship with him through Christ, I am in good hands.

Fear is not an entirely African problem. To quote John Stott, “The ancient world into whuch he [Jesus] came lived in apprehension of the powers which, it was believed, inhabited the stars. Still today the traditonal religion of primitve tribespeople is haunted by malevolent spirits who need to be placated. The lives of modern men and women are also overshadowed by fear.”

The Christ who is at the centre of the Christian story has conquered Satan and his allies, and he reigns with God over all things. Thus the basis for fear is gone.

Ethics: How do I live

I live by the will of God and follow his moral principles as revealed in his word. I do not live by what my community accepts, for this may be wrong. My conscience is nurtured by the truth as revealed by God in his word.

A Present Problem: True Leadership

Many people and thinkers have identified Leadership as the central problem of Africa. Corruption is a failure of leadership. It is what results when those charged with a position or resources abuse it for personal gain. In other words, the scourge of corruption goes against the two themes of Stewardship and Service. And the Christian worldview gives us the clearest example of both in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Christ in Greek society

The coming of Christ turned the world upside down. As the fourth-century Christian bishop and writer Athanasius (296 – 373AD) points out, the impact of Christ upon early Greek society showed clearly that this was no ordinary person.


Athanasius 2

“When did people begin to abandon the worship of idols, unless it were since the very Word of God came among men?

When have oracles ceased and become void of meaning, among the Greeks and everywhere, except since the Savior has revealed Himself on earth?

When did those whom the poets call gods and heroes begin to be adjudged as mere mortals, except when the Lord took the spoils of death and preserved incorruptible the body He had taken, raising it from among the dead?

Or when did the deceitfulness and madness of demons fall under contempt, save when the Word, the Power of God, the Master of all these as well, condescended on account of the weakness of mankind and appeared on earth?

When did the practice and theory of magic begin to be spurned under foot, if not at the manifestation of the Divine Word to men?

In a word, when did the wisdom of the Greeks become foolish, save when the true Wisdom of God revealed Himself on earth? In old times the whole world and every place in it was led astray by the worship of idols, and men thought the idols were the only gods that were. But now all over the world men are forsaking the fear of idols and taking refuge with Christ; and by worshipping Him as God they come through Him to know the Father also, Whom formerly they did not know.”


From The Incarnation of the Word of God by Athanasius of Alexandria (296 – 373AD). Available at <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/athanasius/incarnation.ix.html>

 

The Christian Mind in Modern Nigeria

oluseyi-owolabi-241912

A recent study by the Barna Group highlights how Christians in the US are largely influenced by other worldviews such as Secular Humanism, Marxism, and the New Age. The figures are quite saddening. 26% of Christians surveyed believe that “all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being.” 32% believe the popular notion that “if you do good, you will receive good, and if you do bad, you will receive bad.” And according to the survey, 20% of practicing Christians believe that “meaning and purpose comes from working hard to earn as much as possible so you can make the most of life,”, which comes from a secular or materialist worldview.

Reflecting on these statistics brought to my mind that Christians here in Nigeria, and much of modern Africa, face a similar problem. The Christian is hemmed in by 2 worldviews which, often unconsciously, shape her thoughts, beliefs, and decisions on different aspects of life. These two worldviews, outlooks or perspectives are Secular Humanism and the African Traditional Worldview.

It is necessary to state at the outset that these outlooks are not false in their entirety; like most worldviews, they contain elements which are true. However, as a perspective on life and reality, they distort the truth as revealed by God in both creation and revelation. As a result, they are inadequate in helping us know the truth, appreciate beauty, and live right.

Secular humanism controls our political and educational institutions. It is the viewpoint which largely drives businesses and the corporate world, the workings of the government, Nigeria’s relations with other nations, and public affairs.

This outlook or perspective considers all life from the standpoint of humans and their welfare. While it is praiseworthy and essential to take humanity’s welfare seriously, the problem with Secular humanism is that it sees humans as autonomous. No higher authority, no higher being. In other societies, especially in Europe and North America, it is often allied with Naturalism, the philosophical view that the physical universe is all that exists, or with Materialism, which is the belief that only physical matter exists. Naturalism is not so strong as a cultural force in Africa, however, because we are largely a religious people; we believe deeply in the supernatural world of God, angels, and spirits. However, we still think, act, and make decisions from a secular viewpoint. Even though we do not deny the existence of God or the spirit realm, it plays no factor in the key issues of society or government. Society thinks in terms of the wellbeing of man but hardly considers what God’s will is in any situation. I understand that secularism can seem like a practical way to handle religious diversity in our modern society. But this is far from being a solution. For the true import of secularism is to ultimately eradicate meaning, truth, and values. In a world where man is the ultimate point of reference, there is no true basis for any of these.

Secular humanism emphasizes that one must look at life rationally. But rationality is implied to mean a search for truth based only on reason and experience. There is no place for Revelation. This was precisely the doctrine of the European movement known as the Enlightenment. It did away with tradition, particularly Christian tradition, and has blossomed over the centuries into the social and cultural decay observed and experienced all over the Western world.

The African traditional worldview influences personal and family life. We find it in the entertainment media (Nollywood movies and music). It influences churches and other socio-religious institutions. It also shapes public affairs significantly along with the secular humanist outlook.

As the name implies, it is an outlook common to African societies, so it is quite broad with differences from culture to culture. However, there are common elements. The African worldview is characterized by a strong belief in the spiritual realm. And this, I believe, coupled with the influence of Islam and Christianity, has helped restrain the full-blown adoption of Secularism as a worldview in Africa. Africans believe in God, and they also believe in a world of spiritual beings, both good and evil. God is not approached directly, except through diverse mediating gods who derive their power from him. There is a specialization within this pantheon, as you have different deities attached to various elements or natural features. Among my tribe, you have a god of lightning, one of iron, others over different rivers (e.g. Osun). Though these deities are said to be mediating beings, they actually function in that role of God. The adherent depends on it, calls upon it when in trouble and placates it with a sacrifice when offended. And they all have their devoted priests and priestesses.

Under this outlook, the spiritual world is seen as very real. Incidents considered to be natural by the ‘educated’ or ‘modern’ person could be traced to some activity or influence from the spiritual realm. A road accident, a child suddenly falling ill, business decline, are a sample of cases that could be explained by reference to supernatural forces.

Also, this worldview emphasizes community as against mere individual accomplishment. Life is lived in community. A person finds his purpose and significance by obeying the will of the gods and participating in the life of the community. This is why the role of one’s family and relatives matters tremendously in Nigeria and Africa. You should maintain good relations with your relatives and take good care of them. This principle, while praiseworthy and largely biblical, can also foster moral corruption. We can close our eyes to evil where it is committed by a ‘brother’ or ‘uncle’. This is why a society could honour an ex-convict who embezzled public funds with a chieftaincy title or sing the praises of treasury looters and ritualists simply because they built them a road.

Life under the traditional worldview is one of perpetual fear. There are all kinds of evil forces at work, and one must ever be on guard to protect oneself from them.

Both views dishonour God for they fail to tell the truth about Him or the world he has made. And if we seek to be faithful to Him as our Lord and King, we must steer clear of the influence of these 2 perspectives. Man is not God, and neither is God aloof or distant. Our universe is not autonomous; it is held and sustained by God himself. Our universe is also not subject to the movings of an impersonal fate nor the will of some unpredictable spirits. God reigns and his rule extends over all he has made. We can know him; in fact, He created us into a  relationship of love. And He wants to reestablish this connection. Hence the work of redemption. A universe in which man has no God may look like a free and blessed place; but with much reflection and painful experience, we find that is

A universe in which man has no God may look like a free and blessed place; but with much reflection and painful experience, we find that it is a world without meaning, truth and hope. And that can truly be miserable. On the other hand, a  universe filled with different powerful but limited gods, with a Supreme Being who is distant and aloof, with a universe ever at the mercy of evil spirits, is hardly better. The Christian worldview, with its focus on the good news of redemption of God’s creation, supplies the truth, meaning, and joy which the human heart deeply craves. It comprehensively deals with every fact or experience of life and provides meaning for it within its grand narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.

Therefore, the believer must continually be on her guard for such ideas and beliefs which emanate from a false view of life. She must continually renew her mind and keep it conformed to God’s revelation (cf. Rom. 12:1). As the light of the world and the salt of the earth, we cannot allow ourselves to be swept along by untrue ideas, however popular they currently are.


The Gospel and the Lagos Worker

In his helpful book Mastering Monday, John Beckett identifies five themes which should be considered in our attempt to demonstrate God’s kingdom in the workplace. They are Purpose, Values, People, Stewardship, and Serving. These all are nurtured by the Gospel.

The Gospel gives us a clear purpose for our work; we serve Christ and extend his kingdom through what we do.

The Gospel gives us an ethic centred on love, and this guides all the steps we take and the decisions we make.

The Gospel reveals that people are God’s priority (and should be ours, too). It was for people – sinful, broken people – that Jesus hung on the cross and died.

The Gospel reminds us that our lives, skills, and talents belong to God. We are simply stewards. So as we clock in at the office, apply our minds to a problem, or contribute to a project, we are offering back what God has given to us in trust.

Finally, through Christ’s teaching and his atonement, we are taught to lay down our lives for others through serving (John 15:13).

We will focus on the two themes of People and Serving.

People

The Gospel will lead us to value people above profits. Whether we work in risk management, financial planning, or customer service, it is people ultimately that we are serving. Sadly, the ambition and drive in most workplaces tend towards the opposite. The lust for power and prestige means that people are often trampled upon. In a bid to be seen as ‘performing’, managers will exhaust their subordinates. In a bid to cut costs, organizations will refuse or delay payments to vendors for services rendered. And even employees will offer shoddy service to customers. Likewise, the daily pressure to thrive in a competitive environment often leads us to focus solely on the ‘bottom line’, without regard for the humans who are involved in shaping it. It helps to remember that without people, whether as employees, customers, or vendors, there would be no business.

 Serving

John Chapter 13 is a remarkable chapter of the Bible. We have a stirring message proclaimed not merely in words but through vivid action. Shortly before his crucifixion, as he gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover, Jesus inverted the social pyramid. He took a towel and a bowl of water and washed the feet of each of his disciples. Contrary to social custom, the teacher became a servant to the student. Then he instructed them to do likewise.

We are called to serve others through our skills and talents. As Peter wrote, ‘As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace’ (1 Pet. 4:10).

In the words of John Beckett, ‘Serving is integral to how God wants his kingdom on earth to function.’ And we see this in Jesus’s instruction to the disciples in Mathew 20:26:

 “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant”

In a city like Lagos, with its craze for prestige and lust for wealth, the message of Christ is profoundly counter-cultural. Lagosians seek to be recognized and celebrated. We want to move up the ladder of career success, not pick up a servant’s towel. But that is precisely what the Gospel implies. In light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, to work is to serve.

So how do we go about this? We can start by noting the following:

As an employer, I should serve my employees, helping them to become their best selves. For we both have one master, which is Christ.

As a trader, I should offer goods of high quality to my customers.

As an executive within an organization, I should realize that I am serving the company by offering my skills and talents.

The Gospel leads us to understand that, ultimately, it is not my CEO or the customer whom I am serving, but Christ.


This article was first published on City Church Lagos.

12 Theses on a Christian Understanding of Economics, by Albert Mohler

alvaro-serrano-133380.jpg

Regrettably, many American Christians know little about economics. Furthermore, many Christians assume that the Bible has nothing at all to say about economics. But a biblical worldview actually has a great deal to teach us on economic matters. The meaning of work, the value of labor, and other economic issues are all part of the biblical worldview. At the same time, we must recognize that the Christian worldview does not demand or promote a particular economic system.

Because this is the case, Christians must allow the economic principles found in Scripture to shape our thinking while simultaneously recognizing that we can act in light of those principles in any economic, cultural, or generational setting.

1. A Christian economic understanding has God’s glory as its greatest aim.

For Christians, all economic theory begins with an aim to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). We have a transcendent economic authority.

2. A Christian economic understanding respects human dignity.

No matter the belief system, those who work show God’s glory, whether they know it or not. People may believe they are working for their own reasons, but they are actually working out of an impulse that was put into their hearts by the Creator for his glory.

3. A Christian economic understanding respects private property and ownership.

Some economic systems treat the idea of private property as a problem. But Scripture never considers private property as a problem to be solved (see, for instance, the Ten Commandments). Scripture’s view of private property implies it is the reward of someone’s labor and dominion. The Eighth and Tenth Commandments teach us that we have no right to violate the financial rewards of the diligent.

4. A Christian economic understanding takes into full account the power of sin.

Taking the Bible’s teaching on the pervasive effects of sin into full account means that we expect bad things to happen in every economic system. A Christian economic understanding tries to ameliorate the effects of sin.

5. A Christian economic understanding upholds and rewards righteousness.

Every economic and government system comes with embedded incentives. An example of this is the American tax code which incentivizes desired economic behaviors. Whether they work or not is an issue of endless political recalibration. However, in the Christian worldview, that recalibration must continue upholding and rewarding righteousness.

6. A Christian economic understanding rewards initiative, industry, and investment.

Initiative, industry, and investment are three crucial words for the Christian’s economic and theological vocabulary. Initiative goes beyond action. It is the kind of action that makes a difference. Industry is human work done corporately. Investment is part of the respect for private property found in Scripture.

Investment, as it turns out, is as old as the Garden of Eden. That which accrues value is honorable, and the impulse to accrue that value is honorable. Thus, a Christian economic theory indicts anyone who will not work, not respect private property and not reward investment.

7. A Christian economic understanding seeks to reward and incentivize thrift.

In a fallen world, money and investments can quickly be distorted to idolatrous ends. For that reason, thrift is a very important issue in the Christian worldview. In a fallen world, abundance one day can turn into scarcity the next. Thrift may be what provides survival in times of poverty.

8. A Christian economic understanding upholds the family as the most basic economic unit.

When thinking about economic theory embedded in the beginning of the Bible, the dominion mandate is central, but so is the divine institution of marriage. The pattern of leaving and cleaving described in Genesis 2 is fundamental to our economic understanding.

Adam and Eve were the first economic unit. The result is that the family (biblically defined) is the most basic and essential unit of the economy.

9. A Christian economic understanding must respect community.

Most secular thinkers and economists begin with the community and then move to the family. However, thinking from larger to smaller economic units not only does not work in theory, it also fails in practice. Beginning with the family unit and then working out towards the community is a much smarter option. The doctrine of subsidiarity — which emerged out of natural law theory — teaches that meaning, truth and authority reside in the smallest meaningful unit possible.

If the family unit is deficient, no government can meet the need of its citizens. When the family is strong, government can be small. When the family is weak, however, the government must compensate for the loss. By focusing on the family, we respect and better the community.

10. A Christian economic understanding rewards generosity and proper stewardship.

Christians who are committed to the economics of the Kingdom and to the good of the next generation must live with a future-oriented financial perspective. We each have the responsibility, whether we have a lot or a little, to see that our generosity endures far beyond our lifespan.

Spirited generosity, which is so clear in Scripture, is essential to a Christian economic worldview.

11. A Christian economic understanding respects the priority of the church and its mission.

Christians must embrace economic priorities that the rest of the world simply will not understand. Christians must invest in churches, seminaries and international missions. These are distinctive Christian financial commitments. Our ultimate financial commitment is not to ourselves or to our own investments but to the Kingdom of Christ. Thus, Christians should always be ready to experience upheaval in economic priorities and arrangements because urgent kingdom issues can intervene at any moment.

12. A Christian economic understanding focuses on eschatological judgment and eschatological promise.

This life and its resources cannot deliver ultimate joy. The Christian worldview reminds us that we must live with the recognition that we will give an account to the Lord for our stewardship of our resources. At the same time, Christians must look to the eschatological promise of the New Heavens and New Earth as our ultimate economic hope. We must lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth.


Source: Albert Mohler