Africa transformed by the gospel
Twelve Studies for Individuals and Groups on The Reign of God
Craig Bartholomew and Gideon Strauss
Gideon and I share a passionate conviction that Christ is the clue to Africa. This does not for a moment mean that we have all the answers but that we firmly believe Christ is more than up to the immense challenges of Africa at the turn of the millennium. We confess this without wanting to downplay the challenges Africa faces or with underestimating the hard work and Christian sweat and thought required to follow that clue which is Christ into all areas of African life.
For some time now we have wanted to write a book on Africa and the Gospel, and the breakthrough has come with Gideon's time at Regent College in Vancouver. In the course of doing a writing course he has written up a substantial part of the book. More importantly he has reconceived the book as a series of conversations between students at a South African university. We cannot begin to follow that clue which is Christ until we realise that he is the clue to Africa. Our prayer is that these chapters will inspire new generations of Africans with a huge vision of Christ and motivate them to follow him into all areas of life in our continent.
Our aim is to publish these chapters as a book in the near future. With this in mind we would welcome critique.
Made in America
The amber beer froths to a perfect one inch foam head as David Khumalo pours it into the slanted glass. A relaxed buzz fills the student tavern. On Friday evenings it is the Jazzmen's gig a popular band with the students.
"Hey, Kiki, bring me one just like the good doctor's!" David looks up. The band has wrapped up their set and Jives has bounced over to David's table.
"Great set, Jives! Here's your beer." Kiki sets the bottle and the glass down on the table and turns to the next customer.
"Yeah . . . It's a great band . . ." Jives frowns. "It's a pity I am going to have to drop out of it."
"What!" David nearly drops his beer. "But Jives, why? You love playing with the Jazzmen!"
"That's not all. I am probably going to drop out of university." David is dumbstruck.
Jives takes a deep breath. "I've been offered a great job in that insurance firm. The one we spoke about the other day. Hey it's just corporate window-dressing. It's a public relations ploy. You know their board of directors is lily-white. So how can they break into the huge market of black consumers with such a conservative public image? They need more black faces at their marketing events. Like me. Of course I hate dropping my studies and the band. But the pay is great! If I don't take up the offer, an opportunity like this may never come my way again."
David recovers his composure. "But Jives, will the money make up for what you are losing? What will all that money give you?"
Jives' face breaks open into his shining smile. "Freedom to do as I please. Control over my life. Great toys. A great car. Girls."
"Ah! The American Dream! Jives, this is Africa, my friend." David chuckles. "You have been deceived by the salesmanship of the modern worldview."
"Oh, I didn't think you would understand or agree, "Jives shrugs. "You're a Marxist aren't you?"
David frowns and sips his beer. "You're right. I was a Marxist. But I do understand. My friends and I were fire-brand Marxists, back in the 1980s. We believed in a world of natural resources which we could understand through science, which we could master with techno-logy, and which we could exploit economically to lift the back-breaking yoke of poverty from the shoulders of our people. Come the revolution, we were going to be on our way to the earthly paradise! And you know what? My friends still believe in that material world. Only now their dream is no longer the revolution. These days they dream of big houses, fast cars, chic clothes and huge salaries. No, Jives what I used to believe as a Marxist and what you believe now are not all that different. Am I right? Is that the kind of reality you believe we live in?"
Jives puts down his glass, smacks his lips, and throws back a flip reply. "Sure. I want to live my own life. I want to be independent. I want to be able to look after myself. I'm smart, I know how the world works, and I want to make it work for me. Listen to me, David. My parents may live in the city, but they are still trapped in superstition: ancestor veneration, scary spirits, chicken sacrifices it's voodoo, man! They still obey my dad's old man as if he were god. They are stuck in the mud. Their culture is dead. Their worldview, as you call it, is a cage of fear. I am breaking out of that life, man. I am a modern person. I have the right to be free and powerful! Isn't that what you struggled for? An end to racism? Equal opportunities for everybody?"
"Well, well." David smiles. "Jives, you're a fully-fledged modernist. Look here, Jives. This is your worldview." He sketches a table on the back of the tavern menu with his ballpoint pen. Jives sceptically lights up a cigarette.
David's table on the tavern menu:
"Jives, you are making a crucial decision about the direction of the rest of your life. And what compass do you use to find that direction? A pragmatic, materialistic worldview thought up by a bunch of dead, white European males! Now packaged invitingly for your consumption by the American media! My friend, you have had your mind colonised. Tell me: do you believe in nothing higher, deeper, more important or more meaningful than what you can touch, taste, see, count or measure?"
"No way, man." Jives stubs his cigarette in the ash tray. "I don't believe in anything I cannot bank!"
"Okay. So you want to be absolutely independent?" Jives nods. "And if you grab this opportunity, you could use your university-trained scientific mind and your management skills to be in complete control of your own life ... right?"
"Sure." Jives leans forward. "Listen, David, this is what I think. I have a pretty good grip on the world. What I don't know yet I can figure out, or read about. The world is like a mathematical equation, if I can figure it out, I can make it give me the right answer. 2 + 2 = 4. Every time. So I can be in total control if I apply my mind and gather the best ... skills ... "
Jives' sentence trails out as he sees David vigorously shaking his head. "Jives, Jives, Jives. Listen to yourself. You have the world boxed, all right. Not a single little bit of reality that is not neatly determined. No aspect of life that cannot be studied, understood, and then controlled. But there is a paradox hidden in your modern worldview, my friend. You say that if you could only gain total control over your world, you would be able to be absolutely free. You can gain that control because the world is like a mathematical equation. But if the world is not like a mathematical equation, then you cannot control it completely - you would not even be able to control your own life completely. And if you are not completely in control of your own life, then you cannot be absolutely free. On the other hand, if this world can be controlled, if it is effectively determined, like a mathematical equation . . . then there is no room left for personal freedom at all. Not for anyone."
"Hey, Jives!" Kiki calls through the smoky haze of the tavern. "You're up for your next set".
"Yeah . . . " Jives slowly stands up and drifts over to the band stand.
Questions for individual reflection or group discussion
1. Many of us want what Jives wants. Designer clothes. A nice car or at least a friend with a nice car! Money. Power. Freedom. Why do you think do we want these things?
2. Think about your favourite television programme. What attracts you to the lifestyle portrayed by its stars?
3. Think about the advertisements you have recently seen in magazines or on television. What values do they try to sell you?
4. Imagine you were Jives. David claims that the modern ideas of absolute personal freedom and total control over the material world require each other, and at the same time make each other impossible? How would you reply?
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Schuurman, Egbert. Perspectives on Technology and Culture. Sioux Center, Iowa: Dordt College Press, 1995.
Sider, Ron. Rich Christians in an age of hunger. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 19--.
The Big Picture Volume 1, Lent 1999 p.9