Unbelievers Have No Free Will to Reject the Gospel

Evangelism without a correct perspective can lead to wrong ways of thinking about  those who believe and those who reject the gospel. When one comes to faith in Christ, it is often said that he gave his life to Christ. Those who fail to believe are said to be choosing not to believe. Another way of putting this is to say that people exercise their free will when they hear the gospel, and they can chose either to believe or reject it. It is true that the gospel calls for real individual choice, but the gospel preacher must impart the correct view to those who believe and develop correct insight when people fail to believe. Paul had a perspective on evangelism that is very helpful.

He says in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

A reality in Paul’s preaching of the gospel was the fact that he knew not everyone would accept his message. There is a question from this passage that can cast light on evangelism: Why do people reject the gospel?

Why do people reject the gospel? 

Paul says in verse 3 that if the gospel is veiled; it is only veiled to those who are perishing. This statement brings to mind more questions: Who is veiling the gospel and for what purpose? Can the gospel be veiled? These are answered in verse 4. The god of this world (Satan) is the one veiling the gospel. Yet, the gospel cannot be veiled (in it is the glory of Christ). Therefore, the veiling discussed here is the blinding of the mind of unbelievers. The gospel is powerful and glorious, and the devil does not have the power to veil it. So, his best move is to blind the minds of those who do not believe. Why would he do that? Again in verse 4, his purpose is stated: “…to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” We can conclude that if the unbeliever were to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, he or she would necessarily believe. Consequently, the devil works to keep the mind from seeing.

To answer the question, people reject the gospel because their minds are blinded by Satan in order to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel. Therefore, those rejecting the gospel are not making a choice but are being kept from believing by a force outside of themselves. They are under the power of darkness. When someone says that the gospel makes no sense or is not true or cannot be trusted, etc. they are not speaking of their own. They are speaking from darkened minds that are blinded by the devil. They are not in control and therefore cannot see to believe.

Knowing this about unbelievers, we ought then to proclaim the gospel freely and in boldness, knowing that God will work to accomplish his purpose, even if there are those who reject it.

How then does one go from a blinded mind to a believing heart? Stay tuned for the next post.

Should a Woman Take the Name of Her Husband?

This is a question around the world: Should a woman take the name of her husband when she gets married? It is argued that when a woman takes her husband’s name, she gives up her own identity. It is also argued that the tradition reflects a hierarchical society in which women have few rights, and that there is really no biblical foundation for a woman to take her husband’s name. Is that true?Is there any reasonable biblical argument for a wife to take her husband’s name?

In Genesis 2:18-23, we note the following: God declared that it was not good for the man to be alone. Until that point in creation, God said it was good/very good. Only here does he say “it is not good” (v. 18a). He resolved to make “a helper fit for him” (v. 18b). The word helper here does not mean one who serves, but one who complements the man and completes him. After this observation, God brought the created animals and birds to Adam to see what he would name them (2:19). As Adam was in the process of naming the animals and birds, the words, “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him,” (going back to 2:18b) are repeated. It would appear that when God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone, Adam did not even know that he had a need. In the naming process, Adam came to see his lack of a “helper fit for him.” The animals had corresponding counterparts but Adam did not. Adam came to see his loneliness. God created a situation to show Adam his need for a helper.

Then, God proceeded to create exactly the right helper out of Adam’s own rib. Just as God brought the animals to Adam to see what he would name them, he brought the woman to Adam, probably to see how he would respond and what he would name her (v. 22). Following are the first human words in the Bible. We read in verse 23,

“Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (Isha), because she was taken out of Man (Ish).

There is a word play in the naming of the woman by Adam. In naming her, he imbedded his own name in her name. This is significant in several ways: 1) Adam was joyful in the presence of the woman, for he saw that she was the helper fit for him, one who would meet his need for a companion, one who was like him but different. 2) Verse 23 shows that Adam saw equality with the woman. She was his own flesh. 3) By including his own name in the name of the woman, he was anticipating a relationship of deepest intimacy. It is no wonder that immediately following in 2:24-25, we see what amounts to an institution of marriage.

By naming his wife, Adam communicated the deepest intimate feeling he had for her.

So, what is there in the name? As believers, if we agree that the woman is a helper fit for the man, that the two are equal, that there is joy in this union of marriage, that the two are indeed one flesh, we most certainly should complete the thought, and capture that intimacy in the name that results from the union. The issue is not whether one should avoid male control or whether a woman will lose her identity The issue is what is involved in the name. That is worth preserving.

Adam, Eve, Noah and Abraham Were Real People: Overcoming Some Pitfalls in Oral Cultures

Oral cultures preserve and pass on information verbally, often through stories. Growing up as a child in Cameroon, in the tribe of Kom, my parents would teach us many things through stories. There were stories that taught us to be kind to strangers, that showed the consequences of disobedience, that explained how our tribe came to exist, etc. In those stories, there are always characters playing specific roles, and we were to learn from those characters. On another level, without anything written, those of my generation and earlier could recount the history of the tribe and other events in story form.  As children, we knew the difference between these two types of stories. When it was a time for a story, we knew in the first instance that the characters were not real people but that they were in the story to teach certain things to society. In contrast, when family members who have gone before us were talked about, there was no doubt that they were real people who lived and made a difference in society, people who struggled to relate to their Creator in different ways, etc. Thus, we always knew the difference between a story that taught morals and stories that explained our history through our ancestors.

I love this aspect of my culture, but I also see a serious pitfall here for those who are not aware. I only realized this pitfall and its seriousness a few months ago when I was teaching in Cameroon. Here’s the problem: church was also full of stories. Stories about a man called Adam and a woman named Eve. Stories about Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the amazing things that they did. Throughout our time in the village church, these individuals were either put forth as people who disobeyed God (therefore we should not sin) or as people who obeyed God (therefore we should strive for obedience.) They were not portrayed as real people who lived in a real culture and made real differences.

When I started Bible school, I learned a lot about these individuals, but looking back, all my teachers (missionaries) assumed that I believed in the historicity of these biblical figures. So, my classmates and I would hear their accounts and go home thinking about the lessons to be learned from these characters. It was only as I progressed in my education that I came to see that I must believe in the historicity of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the other men and women of the Bible.  They were real people.

The pitfall of oral story-telling contexts like the one I grew up in is that it leaves people assuming that even the stories of the Bible do not describe real people. When this point is missed, there arises a legalistic approach to Christianity, because people begin to think that if they learn from the examples of the biblical characters and follow the good ones while rejecting the bad, then heaven is a certainty.

A few months ago, while teaching Biblical Theology to a class of men who have been pastors for years, I was shocked when one man asked me why I was talking about Adam and Abraham as if they were real people. Suddenly, I saw that what I had struggled with was also a struggle for others.

What is the solution to this pitfall? In cross-cultural education, particularly in an oral context, the missionary’s task is to find out how people come to accept what is truth, help them see how the accounts of the Bible are accounts of real people, and how they, as believers in Christ, fit into this history of redemption in which God has always worked and is working to bring the nations to saving knowledge in Christ.

Yes, we may need to begin a class very basically by saying, “I am going to be talking about Adam, Eve, Noah, and Abraham . . . and they were real people.”

What Role is there for Women in the African Church?

My last three posts were reflections on theological education of women in the African context. I pointed out that this education is needed and must be encouraged more than it has been. I also pointed out some reasons why it is necessary and why some pastors are against women pursuing theological education. In this post, my question is, “With a theological education in hand, what role is there for women in the African church?”

Several things are clear in Scripture. For example:

1) God has given gifts both to men and women for the building up of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:1-11). This means that both men and women need to be obedient in using the gifts as intended by the giver. Thus, no one, man or woman, should ever be kept from exercising their gift in the body of Christ.

2) Contrary to the beliefs of some, women are not supposed to be quiet in the church. Scripture does not contradict itself. When Paul says that women should be silent (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11) and then in other places indicates that women should speak in church (1 Cor. 11:5, 13; cf. Eph. 5:18-21), one cannot say that women are not to speak in the church. Rather, when confronted with this, we seek to understand the apostle better. The fault is not with him but with the interpreter. Thus, women should and must contribute to the growth of the body of Christ by speaking in the body.

3) It is clear from Scripture that women were deacons and served in the body (Rom. 16:1). These are just a few examples. Thus, in seeking to understand the role of women in the church, we must begin with what is explicit and build on that.

Yet, we recognize that the Bible is the word of God to the church and therefore authoritative. To obey its teachings is to obey God and to disobey is to disobey God. Therefore, any decision on the role of women should be taken with trembling, seeking to do only that which is in obedience to what the Word teaches. In this light, each church should answer whether a woman can be a pastor or an elder in a local church only after a serious and careful study of the Bible. It is easy to give answers as to what a woman can or cannot do, but those who do not like those answers easily dismiss them. Any church, out of faithfulness to the word of God, must wrestle with certain texts in Scripture before arriving at an answer. Here are some examples.

Every pastor and all elders should have a position on 1 Timothy 2:12 where Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” What is he saying here? How does verse 12 relate to the verses before it (vv. 8-11) and the verses after (vv. 13-15)? Why does Paul, immediately after giving this prohibition, continue by explaining the roles and qualifications of elders and deacons in the church (1 Tim. 3:1-13)? Is there any significance to the fact that Paul says that an elder must be able to teach (3:2) but does not give this qualification to the deacons?

For me, 1 Timothy 2:12, interpreted in its full context, is key to determining any role for women in the church. Once this text is treated and understood, it becomes the guide for what women can or cannot do.

So, what role should women play in the African church? My answer is, “What does the Bible say?” The response to my answer depends on whether the church has been taught about what the Bible says, and the position of the church is known to all. The exegetical foundations for women’s role in the church needs to be established such that one can see whether the conclusions flow from the text or not. Being argumentative about the matter does not help anyone and hurts the church.

The way forward? The women of our church, in their desire to serve the body effectively through their gifts, should in humility ask their pastors and elders to help them understand what the Bible says about the role of women in the local church.