Gold Coast Bereans

Out of Ghana, West Africa; Christian hearts and critical minds seeking, speaking and writing the truth with love. This is a conversation of a group of friends, now living in the USA and the UK, who have known each other for more than 20 years.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Our God is Great

"For this reason, You are great, O Lord GOD; for there is none like You, and there is no God besides You, according to all that we have heard with our ears." (New American Standard Bible)

Reading the most recent post and the news item , I am struck by the fact that many of the mentioned deities are new names to me. I remember Tigare, Akonedi and Katakumbe used to strike fear into people's hearts, but not these names. It is interesting that years ago, the big names in that part of the country were the deities named after the rivers- Densu, Ankobra, Pra, Ayensu were all very fearful spirits. People who swore by Densu meant business. Since the droughts and silt problems converted all these huge rivers to seasonal streams, their popularity as spirits and deities has waned. Some might even say that it is because the spirits left them that those rivers dried up

I remember when I was a kid there was a huge silk cotton onyinaa tree in Kaneshie, which many revered as the habitat of a god. They poured libation there every year and it was indeed an awesome tree, which defied many attempts to bulldoze it down with all sorts of equipment. Then one day some contractors managed to root it out and the Kaneshie Sports Complex was built there. Suddenly, gone were the rumors of the spirit that inhabited the tree. Just like that. Here one day, gone the next. The same thing has happened to many of these deities as happened to the oracle at Delphi. At one time, that oracle advised kings and queens. I am Sir Oracle, and when I open my lips let no dog bark.

My point is that all these things come and go. Only God's Word lives for ever.

Another think struck me about these so-called deities. They are all so limited that they need some additional identification by geography; this-and-that deity of so-and-so location. You often have to travel to them to gain their help. There is absolutely no comparison, but I'm glad that our God is eternal and everywhere as well.

Back in the day, I remember Mrs. Selassie Williams used to tell a story about being on a bus one day, when a man suddenly started screaming, panicky and terrified. Why? He had misplaced his god! All his spiritual hope was invested in a talisman that he kept on a string around his neck and it had snapped and dropped somewhere a couple of stops earlier. Or maybe someone had stolen it. Can you imagine how panicked that man must have been? Not only did he no longer have his god, but also, anyone who found it would now become the protectorate of that god.

Our God reigns indeed. - Calorius

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Challenges We Face

Idolatry, compromise and syncretism.

My attention was recently drawn to the following news story from Ghana excerpted below.

Nkoranza (B/A), June 16, GNA - Nana Yaa Dudaa Kani, queenmother of Nkoranza Traditional Area, has cautioned the youth, especially girls, to desist from calling the names of gods and water bodies to curse their neighbours. Nana Yaa Dudaa Kani noted with regret that it was a common practice for females in the area to call on the gods to curse their partners and husbands over misunderstandings and if the gods were not immediately pacified it could result in the death of the offenders. She said the youth and the women have been calling on gods including Bourtwerewa of Techiman, Antoa Nyamaa of Kumasi, Sessiman of Nkoranza and Fa Kwasi Abura river of Dromankese.

She said, "People who are ready to call on the gods and rivers to curse anyone should also be ready to pay the full cost involved in the customary rites for the pacification since I cannot sacrifice my life for the offenders", she said. She expressed regret that the proliferation of churches had not deterred people from cursing their neighbours .

….. At Kranka in Nkoranza North District Nana Owusu Agyeman, fetish priest in charge of the powerful Brakune Shrine, has also warned that he would not tolerate anyone who would call on the god Brakune to curse anyone. He urged religious leaders to educate their congregations against the practice ---Source: Ghana News Agency (GNA)

The sad thing about this news item is the acknowledged syncretism between Christianity and idolatry in Ghana. When I went home in April, there were several analogous reports of pastors consulting juju men. In one case, a fetish priest famously and colorfully called Kweku Bonsam (literally, Kweku Satan) is said to have "outed" a pastor who had defaulted on payments owed for a miracle-performing idol. In another case, Kweku Bonsam is alleged to have challenged to a miracle-performing duel, another pastor who had dared to denounce him in public. I am told the build-up to the showdown was highly talked about. Unfortunately, the pastor got cold feet and chickened out at the very last moment, spoiling the spectacular rumble in the jungle.

Yet another story is told of a Ghanaian who on his death bed is instructed by his Pastor to denounce Satan so he can be assured of entering heaven. He demurs, telling his gathered friends that in his humble opinion the time of one's death is hardly the time to start picking fights with the spirits since one simply does not know what one might find waiting on the other side. Now, we Ghanaians tell these stories with clear amusement, yet one cannot escape the impression that many only half mean these as jokes. Instead, as this news item illustrates, there seems to be a tendency toward holding out judgment when it comes to the forces of good and evil, with many considering them to be equally powerful. Thus, it comes as no surprise that when people have needs and wants that the church seems unable or powerless to meet, they just as easily turn to oracles and fetishes.

Interestingly, this mixing of darkness with light, with the resultant watering down of Christianity is evident not only in Ghana but also in many cultures, including those of the West. We ought to hesitate, therefore, before we level criticism from our perches in supposedly mature or sophisticated cultures. This mixing of Christianity with pagan elements of culture is universal and appears in all countries to which the gospel has been preached, without the full rejection by its inhabitants of those deeply embedded customs that directly contradict scripture.

A book I have just read--written by Lesslie Newbigin --makes this point well. In India, where he was a missionary for many years, he notes that Jesus is considered by most Hindus to be merely one among many sages to be listened to, even worshiped. This ethic of "live and let live" is widely accepted and the mixing and matching of light with darkness, the very essence of paganism, is widely accepted and promoted. Men in these cultures expect not to follow one way to the Father but rather many ways, all co-equal. To boldly claim one way over others is not expected or accepted within this worldview.

To Pastor Newbigin's surprise he found, when he finally retired and returned home, that a fundamentally similar phenomenon--one to which he had been previously blind--was operative in the West. Specifically, within the Western pluralist tradition, he found that Christianity was no longer what the apostles claimed it to be--a public truth based on verifiable historical fact--but mere myth. The gospel, the theological interpretation of well-attested historical facts, had been relegated to the realm of sheer opinion, viewed as merely one of several highly personal ways to approach God. As a consequence, he found the gospel, Christ's exclusive message about God's kingdom, to be diluted, co-opted in a way that no longer challenged men's lives.

Unfortunately, it was also his observation that most Christians in the West were not only blind to this co-opting of their faith, but also had become quite content with this sorry state of affairs. Today, we too, who live in a post-modernist Western culture, are seduced by the offer of peaceful co-existence that is our reward for ceasing to proclaim Christ as exclusive Lord and the only way to the Father. This seductive status quo allows us to practice our faith without confrontation--an ethos of live and let live no different from that observed by Newbigin in a Hindu culture--that helps us to avoid the persecution that becomes unavoidable once we start to tell people that their various personal paths to utopia and to self-fulfillment unless subjected to Christ's Lordship are not only wrong-headed but also bound to fail. By ceasing to proclaim this message, however, we have bought ourselves social acceptance at the expense of robbing Christianity of its life-saving power.

If we are to reclaim our vocation as the salt of the earth, we have to buck this trend towards meaningless co-existence, and to begin again to proclaim boldly the gospel of the Kingdom for what it is--a highly subversive message that is meant to challenge men and nations to turn away from the disastrous paths that they find themselves on, and onto a revolutionary new path through submission to Christ. We are able to do this boldly and without embarrassment when we realize how firmly grounded our faith is in historical fact and internally consistent within the entire story told in Scripture. This message, Christ as Lord and Savior, is bound to meet resistance because it draws unmistakable distinctions between the truth and all other claims, and demands from men and women an allegiance that is all encompassing. – G Dissentus.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bible Versions (and Ghana’s democracy)

Here in the UK, the coverage of the Ghana elections made me proud too. Quite a number of my colleagues have been congratulating me for it, as if it has something to do with me! It was also good of the opposition to have eventually accepted the results and even turned up at the inauguration, though grudgingly. Another positive sign is the increasing numbers of "elderly" statesmen in Ghana, from the former UN boss Kofi Annan to ex-Presidents Rawlings and Kuffour. If these people continue to play "neutral" or even positive roles in the country, I think we are in for a stable civilian democracy, a West African Bostwana.

About Bible versions: I think that with the "waning power" of the USA, the NIV, which two decades ago reigned supreme, is gradually losing ground to others. Robbo might like the New King James Version (NKJV); it does not have the ye and thou, but it tries to stick to the poetic nature of Biblical language, which in my opinion is a very important requirement for an effective Bible version. A poetic structure helps in the memorization of the verses, and that is the style with which of the Bible is written in the original languages, even for the intellectual books such as Romans.

All said, using two versions, one old and the other more recent is the best advice for any Bible Study. I think postmodern versions, such as the Green Bible and Gender Neutral versions etc go too far in their translations, or rather interpretations and the TNIV is not really an improvement on the NIV, hence the increasing popularity of ESV. The Amplified Bible is good for preachers and my wife is a great fan. With Amplified, who needs a hard Bible study!

As more and more versions come out, the whole theory of Bible translation has come under severe scrutiny. The big question is, "What should a translation aim for?”

I think those versions which try to interpret or even apply the Bible, though very useful, should not really be called translations. Unfortunately, in the technical sense, every translation from one language to another involves a degree of interpretation. As soon as a word can be translated into more than one equivalent word, the choice of the translator as to which of the alternatives best suits the sentence turns the process of translation into some sort of interpretation.

So the issue is how much interpretation has gone into the translation and is this is often a source of contention. Who decides how much is interpretation and how much is translation? The way the democratization of translation is going, I will not be surprised if people soon demand a new Authorized Version. The question then is who will authorize it today, interesting. - Annang

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

BIBLE VERSIONS

President John Atta Mills takes oath of office.

The moment I saw this picture on the BBC website yesterday, I wanted to post it on this blog, mainly because the version of the Bible that new President of Ghana,Professor Atta Mills, is holding in his hand is clearly visible as the English Standard Version (ESV). I have heard a lot about this version, or rather read a lot about it on the Christian blogs and I get the impression that it is the favored version for the Reformed Christian community- Reformed Christians as in the tradition of the Reformation, Luther, Calvin; I might add that they are very vocal in the portion of the Christian blogosphere where I often lurk.

I read the New International Version (NIV) and also the Good News Bible (Today’s English Version) - I particular like the latter because of the skilful cartoon illustrations on almost every page. These two versions and the Revised Standard Version (RSV) were very common in Ghana when we were growing up in our Scripture Union days. I also remember a time, during the Charismatic wave of the 1980s, when the King James Version (KJV) was touted as the real and only deal for the Ghanaian Christian. I think that had more to do with the verily, ye, thee and thou words found in the KJV being considered to have some kind of inherent spirituality compared to words like truly and you found in newer translation.

I was never a KJV guy because, verily, I found it difficult to understand. I often wonder about why some would insist on “KJV only” when you consider the fact that many Christians all over the world have the luxury of only one translation of the Bible in their local language, which is most likely not a translation of the KJV.

Back to the ESV, I have not actually seen or for that matter read one before but I think Gaius Dissentus probably has one. I think the only Bible version that he does not have is the New World Translation of the JWs, for good reason too. But it looks like the ESV may now be in fairly common use in Ghana, seeing that the President took his oath on it. Do any of you guys have any experience with it?

The ESV website proudly published the picture of Ghana's new President taking the oath on their Bible today- I followed the link to this from another blog that I read often- and seeing it there made me smile too with some pride; pride for the Ghanaian democracy and the peaceful transition of power to the previous opposition party in such a close election. By the way President Mills apparently fluffed some of his lines as he took the oath and some are speculating that he did it intentionally because he knows what the Bible says about oaths; i.e., just let your yea be yea etc (KJV) and he may be scared of the consequences if he fails to keep his promises. ;) - Robbo

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Calorius returns

Hey, I'm back. (Thanks to Robbo)

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Post-Election Reflections. I

The Inharmonious Quartet.

In the field of Medicine, specifically Pediatrics, there is a phenomenon called atopy in which certain allergy-based diseases tend to co-exist in certain families. Thus, children with asthma tend themselves to suffer from eczema or seasonal allergies, or else have siblings or close family members who also have asthma, eczema or seasonal allergies.

A similar phenomenon appears to happen in the social/cultural lives of some Americans who live in certain regions of the country. On admittedly thin personal experience, there appears to exist a link between bigotry, fierce nationalism, guns and religion. We all remember Obama's now infamous remark about people "clinging to guns and religion", a remark that first Hilary Clinton, then Sarah Palin attempted unsuccessfully to use to political advantage. In the heat of the political campaign it was impossible to discuss this issue rationally.

Now that the election is over, it perhaps is time for political operatives to more fully and seriously examine this issue. But not political types only--Christians too need to examine this relationship. The recent well documented increase in the sales of firearms coupled with the doomsday laments in some Christian circles in the aftermath of the election results is troubling indeed.

I have three questions:

1) Is there really a linkage between bigotry (racism), fierce nationalism, love of guns and religion in America or is this a misrepresentation pushed by the media?
2) If a linkage truly exists, what, from the historical standpoint, is the basis of this linkage?
3) Finally, why is this linkage supposedly concentrated in certain regions of the country?

The most disquieting component of this inharmonious quartet, for me, is religion. How did religion or, for that matter, Christianity come to keep company with such sorry bedfellows?

Interesting is the fact that bigotry, in particular, once interred in an individual, tends in many cases to stay resistant to the influences of increasing education and wealth. Case in point: the perpetrators of the hateful acts of noose hanging on the campuses of a few reputable Universities in the election aftermath; thankfully these examples are uncommon.

Far more disheartening, however, is the fact that organized religion--not to be equated, necessarily, with, but often conflated with the fellowship of Christ's followers--too appears not to be much of a modifier. One does not have to look far to find support for this assertion: places with the greatest outwardly show of religion, places where people go to church regularly and boldly declare their faith in God--also tend to be places where the worst kinds of bigotry/racism thrive. We may argue that these people are unregenerate Christians, Christians in name only, but still, what a poor witness this represents for the body of Christ as a whole.

Are we quickly--because of the poor testimony of a vocal fringe--in danger of becoming salt devoid of saltiness? If so, are we--the larger body--about to be discarded with the rest? We, who know what the Scriptures declare, of necessity and of alarm, need to avoid such a fate for the larger Christian body by boldly speaking about these issues and by challenging the standard but misguided orthodoxy of the “religious right”. It has been pointed out that Jesus reserved his harshest words for Pharisees. Perhaps, it is because we need to be most vigilant about those misguided doctrines that are closest to the truth. These, unlike those that are patently false (e.g., the teachings of the Sadducees), have the power to do the greatest amount of harm to the truth of the Gospel. - Gaius Dissentus.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

The Politics of God

I visited a Church a few weeks ago and the Pastor preached on the topic, "Is God a Republican?" and he made some points which I believe are useful and relevant for us to ponder as Christians, especially with the impending elections in the USA and also in Ghana. Briefly, here are some of his preaching points,

1. The Spirit of God is moving and continues to move in every land, irrespective of the type of government or who the President is. The growth of the church in communist China attests to this.

2. God does not endorse any political party. He added that God's preferred type of government is a theocracy, not a democracy.

3. Abraham Lincoln made a comment like this during the Civil War, "Both the North and the South read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invoke His aid against the other."

4. We need to avoid overzealousness in our support of any person or party because, no human system has the ability to change the human heart"

5. Our government and President is a reflection of the state of the people and if we are dissatisfied, then we need pray and to evangelize to change the spiritual state of the people.

6. The Gospel is more powerful than any government or politician and God's plan transcends all other agendas

7. We need to avoid fear of a particular government or persons eroding our religious freedom because, "God's plan and the Gospel message have outlived some of the worst political environments". He added that we name our children after the Peter, John etc., but our dogs after Nero, Caesar etc.

8. Finally, what should be the Christian's role in politics?
- vote and act on principles, not party
- strive for unity not polarization
- pray for those in power.

I liked the message and I hope you all benefit for this summary- KOO

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