Theological Education in Douala, Cameroon

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Every Training Leaders International (TLI) trip is different. The context, as well as the class composition, makes each trip unique. This trip to Douala, Cameroon is no different. TLI is here to help train French speaking pastors through the Dale Kietzman University of Douala. It has been a unique trip. Most unique about this trip is that we have been invited to provide training for pastors who are all from Pentecostal backgrounds, and we are three Baptists and a Reformed Church pastor. Continue reading

The Blessing of God and its Global Purpose

Scripture gives evidence that God has blessed his people and continues to bless them. These blessings are both material and spiritual. Although it is common to hear of the blessings of God, it is less common to hear about its intended purpose. Christians will often declare that God has blessed them but they fail to explain the intended purpose of that blessing. The theology of blessing in Scripture is one that stipulates both the content of the blessing and its intended purpose. Often, God’s blessing on his people, particularly the blessing of salvation, has a global purpose. The people of God will be better placed to honor him if they understand how he has blessed them and for what purpose. God’s blessings on his people has a global purpose that results in his glory among the nations.

For example:

Genesis 12:1–3

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Abraham was promised a blessing so that (reason) he will be a blessing (to others [implied] verse 2). The way Abraham will be a blessing to others is made clear in verse 3 in the words “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” What we see then is that Abraham was blessed by God for a purpose that extended beyond his own time. Paul makes it clear that the blessing Abraham received in which he will be a blessing to the families of the earth was the gospel itself. In Galatians 3:8, Paul writes,

“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

We conclude that God’s blessing on Abraham was for the purpose of the nations receiving God’s blessing (the gospel). Thus, Abraham was not blessed because of merit but because of God’s grace on him and his concern for the nations. Putting Genesis 12:1-3 together with Galatians 3:8-9, we can see that the purpose of the blessing of Abraham is for the nations to be blessed along with Abraham. This happens through faith in Christ, just as Abraham had faith in God and was made right with him.

Additionally, the way in which Abraham was to be a blessing to the nations was through his offspring (Gen. 22:18; cf. Acts 3:25), whom Paul again identifies as Jesus Christ himself (Gal 3:16). It follows from this that Abraham’s blessing is realized in the lives of people from all nations who come to faith in Christ and thereby share in the blessing of Abraham (Gal 3:9, 13-14).

Psalms 67

1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, 2 that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. 3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. 5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. 7 God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

The pattern of God’s blessings for the sake of the nations is also evident in Psalms 67. In this Psalm, we see a prayer for God’s blessing (v. 1). The purpose for the request is stated in verse 2, “that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations” (v. 2). The blessing that the psalmist requests from God is not stated explicitly but it would seem from the context of verses 1 and 2 that it is a blessing of salvation. What the nations are to know is God’s ways, specifically, how he works to save sinners (v. 2). The psalmist’s theology of blessing is that God blesses for the purpose of the nations knowing him. This is true with both spiritual blessing (salvation [vv. 1-2]) and material blessing (vv. 6-7). Thus, both material and spiritual blessings on God’s people are for the nations to know God’s ways and his saving power for the praise of his name (vv. 3-5).

New Testament

In the NT we begin to see the promise of Genesis 12:3 and even the answer to the prayer of Psalm 67. We see the nations coming to faith in Christ, who is the offspring of Abraham (Gal. 3:16) through whom the promised blessing of Abraham was to come to the nations (Gal. 3:9, 13-14; Acts 3:25-26). We see also that those who received this blessing of salvation were also to be a blessing to others through the proclamation of the gospel (Matt. 28:18-20).

Material blessing in the NT also had the same purpose it did for those in the OT: for the sake of others knowing God through the gospel. For example,

2 Corinthians 9:10-15 

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

According to Paul, God supplies all that his people need (v. 10) for the purpose of generosity (v. 11). When God’s people respond to God’s blessings by being generous, God receives the glory (v. 12-13). The generosity of believers is evidence that they have believed the gospel of Christ (v. 13). The material blessing of God in this passage is “grace” (v. 14) and its purpose is the glory of God.

In light of the above observations, I conclude that a right theology of God’s blessing on his people (material and spiritual blessings) necessarily follows through with the purpose of the blessings. God has blessed us, is blessing us, and will bless us, for the sake of the nations. May the nations be glad in God because God has blessed us.

How has God blessed you and for what purpose? It is up to each individual and congregation to answer this question in view of the teaching of Scripture.

Helping Non-literate Oral People to Hide the Word of God in their Hearts

Psalms 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” It is common understanding that we do this by a daily intake of the word of God in the form of devotions, as well as listening to the word preached, taught, etc. This is good but the idea in Psalms 119:11 includes careful memorization and thinking about what has been memorized. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 also emphasizes this concept of keeping the word in one’s heart and passing it on to others. Seeing Psalms 119:11 and Deuteronomy 6:6-9 as encouraging memorization of the word and storing it in the heart so as to pass it on to others is helpful in knowing how to teach those from oral non-literate cultures to commune with God through his word.

So, how can the words of Psalms 119:11 and Deuteronomy 6:6-9 be applied in an oral non-literate context? In other words, how can people in this context have a daily intake of the word of God so that they will remember it and conduct their lives in a manner worthy of their calling (Eph. 4:1-3)? Before we attempt to answer the question, it is good to look at one such example.

I grew up in a village where my parents as well as many people in the village did not read. The only time they got to hear the word of God in any shape or form was on Sunday when the pastor preached, and sometimes mid-week during the Christian meetings when the pastor or some other person taught. At home, it was my parents’ responsibility to pass on to us kids what we were supposed to know. As the years went by, I started realizing that our pastor himself had minimal training and struggled to interpret the Word for the people. The little that he did give them, they could not really pass on to others. This created a problem. In this setting, Psalms 119 and Deuteronomy 6 is a challenge.

Looking back, I cry knowing how much the people are missing. Without a Bible of their own and without the ability to read even if they had one, what are their options? How can they daily meditate on the Word of God so as to long for the pure milk by which they may grow in their salvation (1 Peter 2:1-3)? How can they daily taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8)?

The answer is not, “give them Bibles” as some have said. The answer is not even “translate the Bible into their heart language” as important as this is. I am not minimizing the importance of these two things. I am simply asking if this is the best way to help people in this kind of setting to have a daily communion with God through his word? You may give them Bibles, but if they do not read, what good is that? You may translate the Bible into their mother tongue, but then they face the same problem of not knowing how to read. You can train people to read their language, but that takes a long time and even then, it does not address the intake of the Bible in each and every home.

Maybe it is better to begin with what is already there and make it work better. What is their situation?

  1. They cannot read and they are from an oral culture.
  2. They depend on their pastors each week to help them know what God wants them to know. To teach them all that Jesus has commanded. To help them see and delight in God.
  3. They have limited opportunities to hear the word preached and taught. Starting with their situation as we see it, we can move forward in a manner that helps them.

Here are some ways we accomplish the goal:

  1. By working to understand how an oral non-literate culture works. How do people gather and pass on information? Knowing this will help us know how to communicate the word of God to them in a way that will impact their lives and in a way that they can pass the word on to others.We find that in this kind of setting, memorization of the word, repetition, and passing on the message of the word are key. Important words and messages in such cultures are often memorized, repeated, and passed on to others.
  2. Showing an interest in their pastors, the men on whom they depend for spiritual nourishment. Even if the people generally are not literate, it so happens that amongst them are some who have gone to schools and could read and write. Some of these men become pastors. A strategic move would be to focus on equipping these pastors with a solid theological education so that they can communicate the word of God more effectively to their people in a culturally relevant way. We focus on the preachers of the word to equip them so that they can reach the thousands in the village with the Word of God through their preaching. Well-trained pastors, who are passionate for God and his word, will provide the people with a better understanding of what God has spoken. The people do not need to be able to read it for themselves to be able to hear, understand and accept. Without an understanding of what Scripture teaches, it will be difficult for cultures to be transformed. So, train the pastors to lead the people and give them the word of God. With a well-trained pastor who is able to help people understand the word of God, every home will hear the word as hundreds and thousands gather each week for worship and for teaching.
  3. Provide more opportunities for teaching the people. Once a week is not sufficient for people to hear God speak to them. In addition to preparing pastors for Sunday and mid-week teaching and preaching, we encourage them to provide other teaching opportunities for the people in the village. This can only be done effectively if pastors are trained in their context of ministry for a period of time. With more opportunities for the people to hear the word of God, they will be more able to memorize it, remember and repeat to others, as well as pass it on orally to their children.

May God help us to be wise in our attempt to reach the nations with the Gospel. May we not only call on people to believe and be saved, but also teach them all that Jesus commanded. May we not only teach but teach to be understood. May we not only seek to do it ourselves, but more so, to equip those God has put there to teach people in their own language and in their own cultures.

Bible Translation, Biblical Interpretation, and Theological Education

The work of Bible translators around the world is to be applauded. The Bible has been translated into many different languages and as a result, people in their tribes have the Bible in their mother tongue. It is a beautiful thing, for a grandmother, who cannot read, to have a book in her house and have someone read it to her in her own dialect. There is no doubt that this brings them closer to the word of God and creates an even greater interest in seeking to hear more of it. So, the work of Bible translation is to be applauded and encouraged at all costs.

There is a lingering question in my mind, though, when I look at the work of Bible translation and consider its impact on the target people group. Here is my questions: What is the goal of Bible translation? Is it (a) to have a Bible in a particular people group’s mother tongue so that they can read it and hear God’s word in their dialect or (b) is it to have the people in that people group actually understand what is said in the Bible (interpretation) and thereby not only hear God’s word read but understand what God, through the authors of the Bible, intended to communicate, or (c) is it both. The answer to this question will impact the direction taken in the process of Bible translation and will determine where resources are poured.

Before I state what I believe a helpful approach or answer to this question, I want to briefly explain the situation in my own tribe, the people of Kom, Cameroon, West Africa. The Kom people have had the Bible translated into their own language and that is a wonderful thing. It is good to have the Word of God read in church in your own dialect. The work of literacy is ongoing, seeking to teach Kom people how to read the Kom Bible. That is a worthy cause as well. So, we have a Bible in the Kom dialect and people who can read it. What is missing? As helpful as this process of Bible translation and literacy is, it is only a small part of the work. Anyone in the Kom tribe will be quick to point to the need for proper Bible interpretation for people to actually understand the word of God and for the need for well-prepared pastors who can proclaim the Word of God to them. It would seem that Bible translation, literacy programs, and the training of church leaders in properly handling the word of truth need to go hand in hand. I know one would object that Bible translators are doing their part and others should do their own part in the preparation of pastors to interpret the Word. Fair objection. Is it happening? Is there a way to use the resources at our disposal to do both? Could we not only translate the Bible but also train national leaders whose job it will be to help their people not just hear but also understand the content of the Bible?

The goal of Bible translation, then, should be twofold: 1) To make the Bible available in a peoples’ mother tongue (translation) and 2) to make God’s word understandable to the particular people group (interpretation). The first goal will require men and women gifted in linguistics to take on the task of Bible translation. The second goal will require a conscious effort to prepare people who can interpret the translated word of God. When these two are combined, the result is powerful: the Bible in a people’s language and a people who do not only hear what the Bible says but understand what God is saying to them through the written word. This second goal involves an interest in theological education.  It means that as the Bible translation progresses, there is at the same time progress in the training of national Bible interpreters. Oh, for the day when the dedication of a Bible translation is done at the same time as the dedication of those who have been prepared to proclaim faithfully the truth of the word of God.

Why is this important? Several reasons:

  1. Having the Bible in one’s own language is not enough. It is at the most the beginning. Those for whom English is their first language still need to have the Word interpreted by those trained to do so. If we need trained Bible interpreters to help us understand our English Bible so that we hear what God intended to communicate, how much more those who have a Bible in their language, do not know how to read it, and do not have our level of education to understand written speech?
  2. Teaching all that Jesus commanded and declaring the whole counsel of God is key for building a healthy church. What Jesus commanded includes all of Scripture since he both fulfills it and it points to him (see Matt. 5:17-20; 1 Cor. 15:3-5 and Luke 24:25-27). The church will be stronger when the whole counsel of God is proclaimed (Acts 20:26-35). This task is enhanced greatly when properly trained teachers and preachers do so in the language of the people.
  3. In most oral settings, the only chance people have to hear the Word of God is from their pastor on Sunday, or what he may teach during the week. Knowing that the pastors are the main sources of transmission of the Word of God to the people, it makes sense to provide them with the tools that they need to properly interpret the Word and preach it, so that the people can understand and trust God and obey him.

The history of missions has been such that Bible translators have done their thing and theological educators have done their thing. It has somehow been assumed that the two will work out in the end. It has not worked. There are theologically educated pastors who cannot even read the Bible in their mother tongue, not to mention preaching from it. There are those without theological education who can read their mother tongue well but cannot interpret the word for their people. These two need to be brought together, so that Bible translation goes hand in hand with the theological education of those who will use that particular translation for their people. This will involve not sending people off to a remote school somewhere removed from their own people groups, but providing them with a solid theological education on site. They can be learning both how to read their mother tongue and receiving training in how to interpret Scripture in their mother tongue.