Posted by: reformedmusings | January 5, 2009

Africa needs God

That wouldn’t be a surprising headline on a Reformed theology blog, but it caught my attention when I saw this title on an article in the Times Online: As an atheist, I truly believe Africe needs God. Indeed, it is written by an atheist, Mr. Matthew Parris. His observation doesn’t surprise me, only its source.

Mr. Parris’ conclusion isn’t based on philosophical notions or theoretical considerations. He based it on a lifetime of personal observations on the plight of people in Africa. He sees real, fundamental differences in African Christians that clearly separates them from non-Christians in their demeanor, the way they deal with people, and their initiative. Even as a confirmed atheist, Mr. Parris must acknowledge the difference.

His bottom line observation is that post-Reformation/Protestant Christianity changes people in a fundamental and observable way. More precisely, God replaces our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19), filling us with His Holy Spirit. We fully trust that Jesus Christ has done it all – saved us by grace alone through faith alone, and solely to God’s glory. We contribute nothing to our salvation but our need for it – we can never add to it nor lose it. We have a sure hope based solely in God’s unchanging faithfulness.

As a result, we see the world in a whole new light. We don’t need earthly mediators, because we have direct access to God (Hebrews 4:16). With our eternity secure, why would we lower our eyes or fear man? The tribal system’s inherent oppression falls by the wayside as our focus moves to Christ alone as our Lord. If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?

The alternative in Africa, Mr. Parris points out, is an oppressive tribalism where bullies rule the roost and no one dares challenge them. Personal initiative doesn’t exist. “Loyal opposition” doesn’t exist because it has no meaning in their tribal context. Corruption is accepted as a way of life – just the way things are. Hope is something that ordinary Africans lack. I would go further, as some of the commenters below the article have, and say that’s true everywhere, not just in Africa.

Mr. Parris notes that throwing money and resources at Africa will not, in and of themselves, change things:

Now a confirmed atheist, 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.

Matthew Parris isn’t alone in his observations. In Dr. David Aikman’s excellent book, Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Changing the Global Balance of Power, he says that young Chinese are coming to an interesting conclusion. They studied the West in order to attempt to understand our tremendous success as a civilization, thinking that they could somehow adapt or modify capitalism to exist within Chinese communism. In the end, they concluded that it wasn’t capitalism or even democracy that made the West successful, but it was Christianity.

Christianity (or more precisely, Jesus Christ) changes men and women at their very core. We become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). We do our absolute best at every task because we are, in reality, serving our Lord and Savior even in our daily work (1 Corinthians 10:31). We live our lives Coram Deo, before the face of God. So, even though our terrestrial context may be under oppressive communism, socialism, or tribalism, we live with both an inner and eternal hope based in our sure salvation in Jesus Christ. As Paul said in Romans 8:18:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Hope is the key to overcoming our earthly circumstances. And true hope only comes through trusting in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, solely to the glory of God. Even an honest atheist can see the difference.

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