There’s no colour bar to Bible scholarship. That has always been true in theory, but after forty years work, a new wave of detailed Bible Commentaries are now appearing in Africa and Asia shows it is now true in practise. This marks a major shift in those who serve the church as experts on the Bible: because the new commentaries are entirely the work of well-qualified local scholars.
“Not only is church growth centred on Africa, Latin America and some parts of Asia says Chris Wright, International Ministries Director of Langham Partnership International.
“But we also should expect that where the church grows the church theologises. So the liveliest theology, the best theology is coming from where the church is most alive.”
“The day when the western academy dominated the world church is over. In some sense they still do dominate because they have so many resources in both money and publishing houses.”
But we are at a tipping point.
“Increasingly scholarship is to be found in places like Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, in Asia and China itself. And certainly in Latin America.”
Wright points to a wave of large “one volume” Bible Commentaries being published around the world, as evidence.
First came the 1600-page Africa Bible Commentary, produced by 70 African Scholars, and published in 2006. It has sold more that 100,000 copies in Africa in English and is also available in French, Portuguese, Swahili, Malagasy and other major African languages.
“It has also spawned, in the sense that Langham is involved in all of them, The Latin American Bible Commentary (entirely produced by Latin American Evangelical scholars); in South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal) they are in the final stages of producing a one-volume Bible commentary for that part of the world; in the Middle East, its amazing to know we have an Arabic Bible Commentary on the way.”
These are major books, similar to the New Bible Commentary that many Eternity readers use.
Wrighttells the story of visiting Egypt for the launch of a systematic theology book and asked why it people were so excited.
“It’s the first theological book, written in Arabic, by an Arab for about 1,000 years!” he was told.
Eternity asked Wright if he thought the standard of commentary in these new books matches, say , the New Bible Commentary (produced by the best Western brains). “The answer I would say is ‘yes’. The proof is in the pudding. People can actually purchase these commentaries if they want. The Africa Bible Commentary is co-published by Zondervan and is available in Australia.”
“These books are up to international standards there’s no doubt about that.”
“Biblical theology is in the majority world, not just in the academies of the west.”
Eternity asked Wright a cheeky question ‘If the Church in the minority white world dissapeared overnight, could the evangelical Church in the majority world just carry on?”
“Yes, the church is alive and well in the rest of the world and is surviving in the midst of much greater suffering and persecution than the Church in the western world is aware of.”
“There would be a great loss of resources in the West. Especially resources in the English Language going back hundreds of years. We should be stewarding them and aware of our responsibility to use them well and make them available to the non-western world. But we should stop thinking that the non-western church is sitting there with a begging bowl waiting for whatever scraps fall from the minority churches table.
“They are already writing, theologising and doing their own theological training to the doctoral level.”
This is due to forty years of providing scholarships to majority world scholars to study the Bible. When John Stott (sometimes called the UK evangelical pope) started the Langham Partnership, the only place to do theological doctorates was in the UK or USA. Now, thirty per cent of the scholars supported can stay in the majority world.
“The days are over when you had to go to the west to do an evangelicaldoctorate. They’re very fine programmes in the rest of the world,” says Wright.
Langham supports 70 to 80 doctoral students at the present time. It has produced about 350 scholars in 40 years, of which Australia has trained four. Last month, Dr Alfred Olwa returned from Uganda to visit the College where he trained – Moore College in Sydney.
Ma’afu Palu, who also received a PhD through Moore College and the University of Western Sydney, is Lecturer in Biblical Studies and Homiletics at Sia’atoutai Theological College in Tonga. He is a street evangelist and student worker on the side! He told Langham, “Undergoing a PhD was always a stepping stone for me, a means to be equipped for ministering to the Tongans but also to proclaim the gospel in any possible way that I can. I will always be ﬁrst and foremost a servant of Christ, burdened with love for Tongans. I can do nothing else but preach and teach them the love of Christ.”
Two scholars are currently studying in Melbourne. Ronald Lal Din Suah is the Dean of Students and Old Testament lecturer at the Myanmar Graduate School of Theology,in Yangon. His research will address the eighth century prophet Hosea, with a view to applying biblical principles of socio-political criticism to the situation in Myanmar. He is studying for his doctorate through Ridley Melbourne and the Australian College of Theology.
Rev. Qaiser Julius is an emerging leader in the Pakistani church. Since 2003, he has been Director of the Open Theological Seminary in Lahore which provides much-needed distance education throughout Pakistan.He is undertaking postgraduate studies at the Melbourne School of Theology, applying the New Testament to the situation of persecution in Pakistan. Qaiser will possibly be the ﬁrst person in Pakistan with a PhD in Theology.
Langham scholar Dr Alfred Olwa returned to the scene of his doctoral study, Moore College, last month to preach at the 2013 graduation ceremony. “There is an apostolic faith: we should not add to it, we should not take from it, it has been ‘once for all delivered to the saints’,” said Olwa. “Last week I was in Kenya attending a meeting of the GAFCON (Conservative Anglicans) Theological Commission as a delegate for Uganda. It was heartbreaking for me to learn that there continue to be … people who sugarcoat the Gospel, who remove parts of the Bible.
“The Gospel is the gospel. It makes the same demands on Africans like me, the same demands on Britons, the same demands on Aussies.
“The faith once delivered for all puts the same claim on everyone, everywhere in God’s world. Contending for the faith once delivered for all is not open to cultural adjustments.”
Olwa researched Bishop Festo Kivengere, the Ugandan evangelist who confronted Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. He has put his Doctorate to use at the Uganda Christian University which Chris Wright from Langham describes as a growing and strategic institution. “The scholarship has opened wider opportunities for me to serve the Church and the Academy in Uganda,” Olwa told Eternity.
“It means I can now serve Uganda Christian University in many capacities–as a Senior Lecturer, author, preacher and Head of Practical Studies Department. I am quite involved with the university chaplaincy, the practical activities of my theological College and the wider Church in Uganda.”