Monday, January 19, 2009

"Christianity Benefits Africa," Declares an Atheist

I will return to the "God and Evil" series in the near future. I found the subject of today's post a fascinating twist on the neo-atheism debates. I invite your comments.

It is popular among today’s secularists to portray Western Christian missionaries as damaging to native populations and their indigenous cultures. No one would argue that missionary activities have at times been misguided. The Western church model, typically inappropriate to other cultures, has too often been forcibly applied together with the gospel of Jesus. This needless exporting of Western cultural trappings has resulted in great harm in many places. But is it fair to paint all missionary efforts with the broad brush of condemnation because of these mistakes of the past? Or to put the question another way, has the net effect of the preaching of the gospel been positive for those populations that embraced Christianity, despite the failings of some missionaries? And is it possible that such positive effects could be noted even by a skeptic, one who doubts the gospel message itself?

Matthew Parris is a British journalist who writes for The Times (aka Times of London). In the December 27, 2008 edition, he penned a column which he titled, “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God”. You can read his full essay here. Below are some excerpts:
“Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset.”

“... I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

... only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it”
Fascinating declarations coming from such a well-known atheist. Of course, he throws a bone to his follow-secularists when he writes, “It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package.” Say what? Salvation is the very heart of the package, not just a “part”. Nevertheless, Parris’s admission that the God of the missionary is just the medicine Africa needs is all the more remarkable in light of his stated aversion to the message of salvation!

Parris is very clear. The missionary message, and the deeds inspired by it, get more mileage than relief funds, secular NGOs, the U.N., education, etc.

I have a Canadian friend who has long maintained that the best thing a Christian can do for Africa is to go there, even if only for a short time.  Wayne leads teams of North Americans into Liberia, and Sierra Leone two and three times a year. The teams sometimes number 20 or 30 or more. The airfare for those teams could feed thousands of orphans, maybe build a school or two, or staff a small hospital for a year. When practical folks like myself point this out, Wayne objects vehemently. Our “ministry of presence” is simply invaluable, he contends, and Matthew Parris offers his own unique “Amen!”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Personal notes and links of interest

There has been a precipitous decline in Christians commenting on this site. While a number of atheists join in the discussion, it seems that Christians are either 1) offended by my manner (e.g. my rejection of many standard Christian answers to the problem of evil may offend some) or 2) fail to see that the problem of evil has never been adequately answered, or 3) just don't care. (And some readers simply do not engage in posting comments.) Since my primary purpose here is to engage believers in considering the impact scientific discoveries have upon Christian theology (though atheists are welcome and helpful in the process!), the almost total lack of engagement by believers has been a source of discouragement for me. So, a few weeks ago I posted this comment and chose to take a break from posting.

Since that time, I have been encouraged to continue to write. My monitoring of the site tells me that many of you are still coming by to read. Some fellow believers have assured me that they read the posts with interest, but have for various reasons chosen not to offer comments. So, very soon I will resume this series, and continue to develop my thoughts in this venue. I may at some point chose to disable comments if they prove to be unhelpful. 

Blogging takes a toll. Two of my blogging friends
Tom and Steve are taking indefinite breaks from blogging, and perhaps trying a different approach. Tom offers very insightful posts and comments from his perspective as a former YEC Christian, and now an atheist/evolutionist, and I hope he finds time to continue blogging in some form. Steve has developed what may be the premier site on the web discussing the theological implications of evolution for evangelical believers. I hope his hiatus is short-lived.

Two additional notes on the more positive side: Beyond the Firmament author, 
Gordon Glover continues to post his excellent video series on Christian education, evolution and folk science. Earlier today he released Lesson 10. I highly recommend this video series to believers who still question the validity of evolution and common descent. And another blogging friend, Mike Beidler, recently appeared in a BBC radio broadcast, Beyond Belief, in which he recounts his own personal pilgrimage from a staunch YEC special creationist to a Christian who accepts evolution. Follow the links to the program, and give it a listen.

Stay tuned. In my next post, I will tackle this question: Does the universe offer any evidence indicating whether this Creation was ever pristine, edenic, unspoiled? and does this matter?