The purpose of considering our ways is not to be more centered or enlightened; it is to turn our feet toward God’s testimonies. As Christians, our self-examination should not be self-centered because our ultimate focus is upon God and His Word. We simply examine ourselves in order to be aware of how we fail to walk in obedience to Him so that we might repent and turn our steps toward Him.
When I think on my ways,
I turn my feet to your testimonies;
Psalm 119:59 ESV
Thus far, in our present stanza, the psalmist has confessed that the LORD is his portion and promised to keep His word; however, knowing his sinfulness, he also entreated the LORD’s favor, not according to his good works but according to the God’s own promised graciousness. Now the psalmist turns again to his resolve to keep God’s Word. In this verse, we see a twofold movement toward obedience. First, he gives thought to his ways. Second, he turns his feet toward God’s testimonies. We would do well to consider both actions ourselves.
When I think on my way… This, of course, implies that the psalmist had a regular habit of thinking upon his ways, of considering the course of his life and upon what path he was walking. Scripture repeatedly gives paralleling imagery to the two paths that each person must choose to walk upon.
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By Tom Sullivan — 1 month ago
Let us never go beyond what is written, but with child-like faith, take God at His Word. When God tells us he is displeased, pleased, angry, reconciled, and so on, He is speaking truth. We also have feelings because we are made in God’s image, and are thus able to understand what He is communicating to us. That is sufficient.
The Holy Bible often speaks of God’s emotions (feelings), usually in response to some human behavior. However, some theologians have claimed that since God cannot change, He does not have “real” emotions. For example, supposedly our sin cannot make Him “really” angry because that would be change in God. “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6 ESV). Instead, they say that Scriptural language referring to God’s emotional responses to events on earth is anthropomorphic, meaning human-shaped. Others, such as Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology disagree. This monograph does not present new theology, but a helpful mental perspective on the question. For example, XXVII ÷ IX = III is the same truth as 27 ÷ 9 = 3, but one is easier and clearer than the other. With the right perspective, we can take God at His word without resorting to explaining away parts of Scripture.
We encounter anthropomorphism all the time. Mickey Mouse is an anthropomorphic mouse. When a product claims to make your automobile “happy,” that is anthropomorphism. But now consider the compound eye of the fly. If we were to insist on defining eye on the basis of the structure of the human eye, then we would be using anthropomorphism by calling the means by which a fly sees an eye. But when we say that a fly has eyes, we are not referring to structure, but to function; the compound eye is the fly’s faculty of vision.
By Scott D. MacDonald — 4 months ago
Written by Scott D. MacDonald |
Friday, August 19, 2022
People in the church who dabble with witchdoctors and occultism are ultimately deceived; they find no true, lasting solution. “To believe ‘Ukwimba kati kusansha na Lesa’ is to believe a lie. We must choose to trust and wait on God in every circumstance, and His Word must be our final authority as we encounter conflict with our African traditional proverbs and beliefs.”40 Jesus alone is our savior, and as Paul demonstrates in Philippi, the Christ did not come to work with the ng’anga. He came to set us free.
Syncretism—the blending of two or more religious paradigms—threatens Christian witness around the world. And the church in Africa continues to struggle with the popularity of local religious practices. In many locales, the ng’anga (an African religious diviner) prominently features in the lives of many church-going people. In response, Paul’s mission to Philippi, recounted in Acts 16:16–18, provides needed clarity concerning Christianity’s relationship to other religious powers and to syncretism. This article outlines the religious backdrop of Philippi, Paul’s missionary method in the Greek religious context, and the consequences that arise from Paul’s exorcism of the πύθων. In sum, Paul’s reaction to the divining spirit of Philippi leaves no room for syncretistic behavior among Christians today. Accommodation and any reliance upon other religious powers compromises the quality of the gospel and the reputation of the savior.
As servants of Christ deliver the good news of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection both near and far, ancient spiritual actors and religious competitors abound. In sub-Saharan Africa, every other urban street corner bears a sign promoting the abilities of some traditional power man from a rural or distant location, a place with charms difficult to undo by an average local witchdoctor.1 Even in supposedly secular cities in other parts of the world, vestiges of ancient paganism remain as astrologers and diviners offer their services in the public sphere without shame. Spiritual power is seemingly never beyond a human’s reach.
Depending on our cultural upbringing, such spiritual resources are our first or last resource in a time of need—an accepted and trusted form of support or a desperation-induced “last ditch” option. Occult practitioners claim to provide the knowledge we need, repair the relationships we crave, hinder the people we hate, and empower the economic endeavors on which we rely. They are the so-called “way-makers” and “problem-solvers” of the spiritually attuned.
How should the Christian relate to the ng’anga (i.e., the sangoma, the witchdoctor)?2 Sadly, the testimony from too many Christians in many places is mixed. In a moment of need, one might recite the Bemba proverb “Ukwimba kati kusansha na Lesa,” meaning “Charms are mixed with God for them to work.”3 Believers may easily justify a quick visit to the witchdoctor or use charms if they believe that God works in and through them!
Martin Mwamba, a pastor and talk show host with Faith Radio in Kitwe, Zambia, recounts an experience:
One day a woman texted me during the program. She said she had been working, and after retiring she had gotten her pension money, and now when going back home she was robbed. She continued, “I will take off my church uniform as a Christian and go kuli shi in’anga (‘to the witchdoctor’) and bewitch them.” Then her question was, “Is it right for a Christian to visit the witchdoctor?” The phone response from other listeners was interesting and shocking. Some suggested that she should go because God takes too much time to respond, and others said it was fine because witchdoctors give fast solutions, adding that they (witchdoctors) are also used by the same God.4
Hearing this kind of urgency-based decision making, Mwamba’s assertion is reasonable: “Even people in churches today in Africa would prefer to consult diviners and witchdoctors … to receive a quick solution to their daily problems.”5 After all, no one wants to wait for God!6
Occultists easily capture Christian customers. Surprisingly enough, many “witchdoctor shrines” are veritable havens of Christian objects like Bibles and practices like singing praise songs.7 And witchdoctors readily play along with the cultural idea that God empowers their work, offering to pray to God for effectiveness with charms and reciting a Scripture verse or two.8 Confusion abounds, and Christians readily step into the confusion by seeking their desired results despite the syncretism.
Syncretism is the “blending of one idea, practice, or attitude with another. Traditionally among Christians it has been used of the replacement or dilution of the essential truths of the gospel through the incorporation of non-Christian elements.”9 The ng’anga has played a central role in the African’s religious life throughout Africans’ collective memories. Despite Christianity’s inroads throughout Africa over the past century, the role and importance of the ng’anga has not evaporated. Many Christians sadly still find a need for them, and witchdoctors adjust and modify their practices to suit the Christian environment. Syncretism, the blending of African and Christian religious concepts, persists.
The irony is that many pulpits resound with sermons against syncretism. Preachers unflinchingly expound Jesus’s statement from John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” “Jesus alone” is declared, yet the cultural norm remains firm: witchdoctors have a place in the life of Christians.
Many an African Christian still feels the draw of the ng’anga. The appeal of animism is not unique to Africa. While the African Christian visits the ng’anga, a European Christian convert dabbles in astrology, and an American teenager consults a Ouija board. The pull of spiritual knowledge and power is strong in Africa, but do not think that the rest of the world is immune! Thus, syncretism arises in every culture where Christianity enters, and “church history is filled with the struggle against syncretism from political, social, religious, and economic sources.”10 And the best response to our syncretistic attachments is a fidelity to Scripture, which both rebukes and affirms aspects of our church traditions and cultural norms.
One underutilized text in countering syncretism is Acts 16:16–18. Luke records the following account from the second missionary journey:
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.11
While we could look to other missional encounters with spiritual power persons throughout Acts (e.g., Simon the Sorcerer, Elymus, the Sons of Sceva), the Philippian confrontation serves as an example to Christians throughout the world today. We must reject all forms of syncretism. Our missional testimony to non-Christians only heightens this necessity.
1. The Background of Acts 16:16–18
As we consider Acts 16:16–18, let us first locate where this episode occurs in Paul’s missional endeavors. Between leaving Antioch in Acts 15:36 and returning in 18:22, Paul’s work broke considerable new ground as the Lord turned the missionary team toward Greece.12 “Following his vision at Troas (Acts 16:8–10), the apostle Paul started the first church in ancient Greece at Philippi (c. AD 49–50, Acts 16:11–40).”13 Like Paul’s earlier ministry, which led to a confrontation with the sorcerer Elymus on the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:6–12), this journey involves another spiritual challenge in the city of Philippi.
Lest we mistakenly brand Paul as a troublemaker, Paul’s missionary method does not call for the immediate confrontation of any religious figures in a particular region. On Cyprus, Barnabas and Paul are not looking for Elymus. Instead, they proclaim the word of God to those who wish to hear it, such as Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7). In Philippi, again, Paul’s priority is preaching, even after his initial meeting with the slave girl (Acts 16:16–18)! Creating religious conflict (which would ultimately result in his imprisonment) and exorcising a πύθων are not Paul’s primary objectives. Only when the situation proves intolerable, hindering his proclamation ministry in a new mission field, does Paul confront the slave girl and the spirit within her.
The Greek religious context is evident upon Paul and Silas’s entry into Philippi. As the slave girl attaches herself to their ministry, it is as if the current religious powers greet Paul at the gate and refuse to let go. While a casual reader of an English translation (e.g., “a spirit of divination” in the ESV, “a spirit by which she predicted the future” in the CSB) might mentally divorce this spirit-inhabited girl from the broader religious climate, the Greek text πνεῦμα πύθωνα at least indirectly ties the girl and her owners to the Greek oracular system.14 Keener explains that this spirit is “the same sort of spirit that stood behind the most famous of all Greek oracles, the Delphic oracle of Apollo whose priestess was called a pythoness.”15 And Herodotus confirms that oracles, inspired by a πύθων, were not limited to Delphi.16
By David Withun — 2 months ago
With the increase in attention to classical education comes a return to the ancient debate. Although we are now separated from their battle by a century, we are not far from the argument between Du Bois and Washington. The recent resurgence of interest in classical education has the potential to open to underserved communities and young people the door to an opportunity that liberal arts education has offered for centuries.
In an 1891 essay penned as a student at Harvard, future civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois asked a provocative question: “Does education pay?”
Anticipating the rivalry with Booker T. Washington that would define much of his early career, Du Bois writes true education is more than just practical job training. Genuine education, Du Bois argues, aims at the higher ends of human life, the “Truth, Beauty, and Virtue” of the tradition that includes Aristotle, Socrates, Michelangelo, Goethe, Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Christ—a few of the denizens of the realm that Du Bois calls “the kingdom of culture.” One enters this kingdom through an education grounded in the liberal arts—the great works of literature, history, philosophy, and science that have explored the nature and meaning of human life.
Today, a liberal arts education continues to have both detractors and defenders. One hotspot for the conflict between the two is the increasing national interest in returning to classical education.
While this movement has been on the rise in charter schools, homeschooling, and private schools for several decades, it has grown even more prevalent during the last few years as the recent pandemic drew attention to the problems in America’s public schools. Just as in the days of W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, much of the conflict over classical education is focused on questions of access, particularly for people of color and children from underserved communities.
In the early 20th century, opponents of classical education favored a vocational focus for the education of black Americans, the white working class, and the masses of new Americans immigrating from across the globe. Their efforts led to the current situation, in which classical schooling has far too often been a privilege available to a select few. With the increasing interest in classical education among diverse communities, many of the old arguments against it have resurfaced.
Opponents of classical education, for example, have argued that its focus on canonical works of literature, history, art, and music is outdated and is not culturally relevant to the current generation of children — the most racially and culturally diverse in the nation’s history. If these critics fear that Greek mythology, Renaissance art, and Roman political intrigues will not capture the short attention spans and inspire the imaginations of today’s youth, a step inside a classical classroom will quickly dispel such notions. When taught with expertise and enthusiasm, the ancient works of Homer, Virgil, and Sophocles have as much ability to capture hearts and minds now as they did thousands of years ago. More than that, young people, through the skillful guidance of a teacher, can pick up and build upon the themes of these works to apply them to their own lives and contemporary circumstances. The rage of Achilles and the homesickness of Odysseus are easily relatable to the lives of today’s high school freshmen, despite the time and cultural distance. The issues of war and displacement, immigration, law enforcement, and justice raised in works like Virgil’s “Aeneid” and Sophocles’ “Antigone” speak readily to the contemporary concerns of young people.