AFRICANS HAVE IT RIGHT
* Thanks for Tim Stafford's article on the hope he found in Kenya ["Finding Hope in Africa," July 17]. I have just returned from northern Tanzania, on the other side of Mount Kiliminjaro from Nairobi, and I can confirm that the many Masai and Chaga Christians and their pastors with whom I visited as a guest of the Northern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, had hope. But there was more. There was laughter and singing and joy in the face of hunger, poverty, and almost nonexistent medical care.
How can this be when we in America with, as Stafford pointed out, all the blessings of the comparatively very rich seem to have such little hope, such little joy? Why is there no more laughing and singing among us? The question was answered by Johnson Lyimo, pastor of the kia Lutheran Parish not far from Moshi, when he told me, "In my country, the people have nothing, so we depend upon God for everything. He is with us every day caring for the people. In your country, the people have everything, so they think that they don't need God." Johnson has it exactly right.
- Rev. Dwayne J. Westermann
College Evangelical Lutheran Church
I am fearful of Stafford's use of the word love, Christian love, for hope.
Love is many things. There is the love that endures all things, without murmuring and complaint. It accepts both the changeable and the unchangeable as the fates of God. But there is also the love that hurts to correct, pains to solve, struggles to improve the lot of all people, Christian and non-Christian alike. This is what I am looking for from the enormous believing church in Africa.
Show me the Christians of Africa who lay down their lives to bring about family planning, so that every mouth can be fed and every child tutored and every family can find the place of contentment and rest and a measure of fulfillment. Show me the Christian who agonizes in social and political life to bring about an end to corruption, a justice system for all, an opportunity for people to find work-where the creative and enterprising are rewarded for their labors. Show me Africa's army of teachers, medical workers, pastors, writers, farmers whose faith is in God and whose life is poured out for family and neighbors. I know they are there, motivated by Christ's love and hidden by the jungle trees.
African Christians dreamed as far back as the 1960s about education for every child, economic growth that all might be clothed, fed, and housed, freedom to choose leaders, death to tribalism, and on and on. Instead, we see a patient church feeding on hopes that will not come in their lifetime. We are saddened at the overwhelming evidence that they are moving backward in history. Surely we need to get our theology right, as the hymnist wrote over a century ago: "Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne, / Yet that scaffold sways the future, And behind the dim unknown, / Standeth God within the shadows, keeping watch above his own."
Indeed, Stafford, in spite of Africa's bleeding wound, found the Lord, keeping watch above his own.
- Rev. Richard Shumaker
Glendale Heights, Ill.
Did you really mean to publish Howard Snyder's article, "Is God's Love Unconditional?" [July 17]? Did Professor Snyder really mean to write, "But God's love has conditions"? Or did he mean to write that God's forgiveness, not his love, has conditions, which it does? If the answers to the first two questions are yes, would you and/or Professor Snyder show me where in God's Word this fresh truth comes from?
- Tim Wilkins
* Snyder's article was unconvincing at best. Almost each of his arguments could be seen as an argument for the unconditional love of God. Further, he writes that following the commandments of God is a condition of his love. Doesn't the Bible teach that God continued to love the Israelites even as they sinned? Isn't unconditional, irrevocable love what makes God's contract a covenant between himself and his people? Last, what Snyder calls "logically incoherent" all parents know in their hearts: no matter what your kids do, you can never stop loving them.
- Neil MacQueen
CHRISTIAN WRITERS AND BOOKS & CULTURE
* I'm delighted that managing editor Michael Maudlin has joined the crowd of Susan Howatch enthusiasts [Inside CT, July 17]. As a demonstration of the power of redemptive grace, he should read a few of her pre-Christian novels and contrast them with the Starbridge series. As one eager to see Christian writing infiltrate the secular world, I have long been encouraging aspiring writers to emulate Christians like Howatch, Katherine Paterson, and John Grisham, to name a few, and get their stuff into the publishing mainstream.
When I read your announcement on "Books & Culture," I immediately began to look for subscription information. Not finding any, I assume that notice will arrive in due course. I read every word of the sample, and if you keep that sort of stuff going, you'll have me for life.
- Dick Sleeper
William Willimon's critique of Thomas Oden's "Requiem" ["Books & Culture" preview, CT, July 17] hits at the very root of the problem, not only in the United Methodist theological education but in mainline Protestantism in general. Homosexuality, goddess worship, denominational quota mentality, and other such nonsensical theological pursuits are the direct result of the failure of the church and its seminaries to train its leaders (pastors or otherwise) in the tradition of classical Christianity—a tradition rooted in "the demanding, countercultural authority of Scripture," to use Willimon's words.
Oden, from my reading, is not naming feminists and homosexuals as the chief culprits, as Willimon suggests. He is merely pointing to two very visible (and vocal) examples of liberal theology run amok. However, as a United Methodist minister struggling prayerfully to steer my denomination toward a more evangelical future, I appreciate the works of both Willimon and Oden. Not only are they among the prophetic voices calling us back to our roots, they also keep each other from taking things too far.
- Associate Pastor James A. Gibson III
First United Methodist Church
CHRIST IN TOLSTOY AND DOSTOEVSKY
* I was thrilled to read Philip Yancey's article about the writings of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky [B&C preview, July 17]. I began reading these authors so that I would have a better understanding of Russian history and culture since I occasionally travel there on short-term mission projects. But now I read them more for my own inspiration and enjoyment. They include vivid portrayals of people searching for spiritual truth in the midst of sin and human misery. Despite the sometimes dreary settings, Christ's light shines through.
- Rev. David Farbishel
* I've never been a fan of Russian literature, but I'll have to give those two another look.
- Anna Kathryn Hardin
I would like to add a personal note: my father's unforgettable visit with Tolstoy on his estate "Yasnaya Polyana" two years before Tolstoy's death in 1910.
My father, a young pastor, arrived at the Tolstoy estate on a summer morning and was graciously welcomed by the count, who suggested a walk in his magnificent park. Soon they were involved in a deep conversation about God and religion. Finally, my father asked: "Lev Nikolayevich, have you found the Truth you have been seeking?" Tolstoy stopped, crossed his arms, looked deeply into my father's eyes, and said slowly and humbly three words: "Ya yeshcho ishchu," "I am still seeking."
It is interesting that Tolstoy's last words before dying in the railroad station Astapovo as he was fleeing from his home were, "To seek, always to seek."
- Arlington, Va.
SEARCHING HEART, AUTHENTIC GOD
It was worth reading "Memories of God," by Roberta Bondi [B&C preview, July 17]. It reminded me of my own struggle in life. Here is a warm, searching heart for an authentic God completely separated from the very culture that has muddied the crystal clear call of God to love one another. It is sad that she had to find hope outside our "type of Christianity."
- Ralph H. Scott
In comparing the risk taken by organizations in placing funds with New Era with that taken by pioneering missionaries, David Neff has gone to a new level of evangelical rationalization ["How Shall We Then Give?" Editorial, July 17]. The pioneers were aware of the cost of their ministry and made personal sacrifice with fear and conviction (as do those who labor today). New Era offered risk-free opportunity—place money with us and it will be doubled in six months by a matching gift. The risk taken was in believing that the primary consideration in Christian fundraising is that the money must be given.
Being unencumbered by our piety, the "Wall Street Journal" has stacked evangelicals on the heap with others who have been fast and loose in an effort to accumulate wealth. Climbing off that heap will not be as easy as it was getting on.
- Michael Taetzsch
You gave more than the benefit of the doubt to the boards and executives of Christian organizations who risked the financial resources of their ministries by investing in New Era. To compare what they did to the "risk" of faith is extremely misleading. What they did was to take a gamble on a very risky investment. To compare this scheme with the typical matching grant approach is grossly misleading.
Furthermore, many organizations used trust money or endowment funds to provide New Era with the money requested, an action that was certainly unethical and, in some cases, illegal.
Not least of the sins committed was the failure to investigate New Era carefully. Had they looked critically at the membership of the board of New Era, they would have found that several of the cardinal rules of nonprofit board membership were broken. Furthermore, up-to-date, audited financial statements were not available; all the proper documentation had not been filed with either the Internal Revenue Service or the state of Pennsylvania; there was no evidence that the money given to New Era was held "in trust" (as promised); there was no evidence Bennett had ever held a position of senior leadership in the business or nonprofit world that would suggest confidence in his abilities to work at the level at which he now seemed to be working.
The executives of Christian organizations were simply too eager to get their hands on the much-needed money to support their various good causes that they failed in their fiduciary responsibility to their constituencies. Would that the one CEO quoted as accepting full responsibility for his failure to exercise due diligence were typical of other presidents and boards! Most of the published documents I have seen are anything but honest confessions.
- W. Ward Gasque, Dean
Ontario Theological Seminary
North York, Ont., Canada
I have read a lot of commentary on New Era, and I believe Neff's perspective is as balanced as any published to date.
New Era is a bad thing for the entire Christian community. In fact, it's bad for America if it diminishes the public's confidence in the work of charities. I trust your call for rebuilding of trust will play a significant role in a healing process.
- Paul D. Nelson, President
Evangelical Council for
STRANGELY SILENT CHURCH
I loved Philip Yancey's column "Angel Envy" [July 17], in which he does take notice of the many books about angels. Over 300 have been published in the past two years. No other area of theology has received such attention. Yet Yancey, like most pastors, has not read one of them!
The people in the pew, as well as the unchurched, are reading the New Age books. These take angel envy to its logical conclusion by teaching we are all angels in the making, the most popular heresy of our day. Many of the Christian books on angels not only present the biblical theology about the heavenly hosts but are also filled with exciting testimonies of how angels are ministering to God's people today—just as Hebrews 1:14 promises. Why is the church so strangely silent about angels?
- William Webber
Author, A Rustle of Angels
HAPPY CHANGES AT LAM
In the story on fundraising techniques at the Latin America Mission [World Scene, July 17], I was embarrassed to be identified as a "veteran missionary and staff member." Retired would have been a better word, as others still active have logged many more years than I. As to my giving to the general fund: with happy changes in the offing, I have again contributed to that fund.
- Lois S. Thiessen
Orange City, Fla.
THE POPE'S EFFORTS AT UNITY
The article "Pope Issues Call for Christian Unity" [News, July 17] stayed in my mind all day. I give the pope credit for at least making the effort to open a dialogue. He's not "calling his flock to Rome." Rather, he is asking for a chance to discuss mutual interests. Even the Arabs and Jews opened up to each other. Usually adversaries can't talk and fight at the same time.
- William Case
THAT "WARFARE RHETORIC"
Thank you for inviting James Dobson to respond to John Woodbridge's article "Culture War Casualties" ["Why I Use Fighting Words," June 19]. Woodbridge's subsequent response suggests that he seems not to have understood that Dobson's use of "warfare rhetoric" is not meant to inflame society, but is largely aimed at Christians, especially those who currently suffer from complacency and blindness regarding vital events/forces which are affecting their/our youth and families ["Why Words Matter," June 19]. I thank God for James Dobson and his ministry, which literally burns the blinding fog from our eyes to see that which we must battle, through prayer and through lovingly standing up for the kingdom.
- V. Sluzar
Mississauga, Ont., Canada
Dobson is right when he calls for Christians to stand firm in the faith while living in a fallen world. However, I take issue with the final paragraph of his article. Dobson characterized Christians who opt to stand firm in a less confrontational manner than he has adopted as "those who choose not to help fight the civil war of values" and prefer to be "on the sidelines." He fails to acknowledge that many Christians are fully engaged in the same battle on other fronts and in other ways. Dobson pleads for me to extend him charity while slapping me in the face.
- Beverly Beckendorf
* I was shocked to read that, according to John Woodbridge, I am "seeking to destroy" or "exhibiting explosive reactions to anyone who criticized" me. I tend to agree with Dobson in that we are at war against sin. I use "fighting words" because Jesus commissioned us to go out and fight against sin, in any form. If we are going to impact this world for Christ, we need to stop worrying about being politically correct or stepping on a few toes.
- Victoria Savard
Saranac Lake, N.Y.
References to the Salvation Army in the recent debate between John Woodbridge and James Dobson are of particular interest to the Army's officers and soldiers. Salvationists are fully aware of the opportunities and challenges of spiritual warfare. Our uniforms and terminology are specifically designed to reinforce the scriptural principle that, while we all share in Christ's victory over sin, believers must also involve themselves in the battle.
But, in the end, the Army is not simply a unique methodology but rather a philosophy of aggressive Christian compassion, and that is what makes the difference. The Army believes that citizens who are motivated to take part in wars on poverty, hunger, and other social ills can also be won to a campaign against the equally devastating effects of loneliness, cruelty, and despair. When your primary weapon is the unconditional love of Christ, there is nothing you cannot accomplish.
The challenge for every part of the body of Christ is the same. It's not the words that matter, but the commitment to act.
- Capt. Kenneth G. Hodder
Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO REPENTANCE?
Alister McGrath points out that, as modernism falls, the Me Generation no longer asks "What is truth?" but "What's in it for me?" ["Why Evangelicalism Is the Future of Protestantism," July 17]. He believes that an evangelistic emphasis on "the needs of individuals" can show the attractiveness of the faith while remaining faithful to the gospel. I am not so sure. While any apologetic strategy must take into account currents in the Zeitgeist, it is disastrous if it accommodates negative currents and compromises gospel essentials. I believe this has been done in the me-centered approach. What is lost is the idea of repentance.
When Christianity becomes a competing product in the crowded marketplace, it must discover or create a need. The need is usually described in psychological terms—for self-esteem, comfort, and healing. One drawback is that the posture of the convert remains childish, helpless, and self-pitying. A strategy that treats converts as consumers produces passive Christians who remain focused on their own needs, not on changing the world. And a strategy that does not produce a confrontation with one's own responsibility for sin may not-let me be blunt-save. The task of presenting a gospel for our age that includes the alien ideas of sin and repentance is admittedly difficult. But can "person-centered apologetics … remain faithful to the gospel"? The question is too serious to dismiss.
- Frederica Mathewes-Green
OLSEN'S DENOMINATIONAL AFFILIATION
[In the June 19 News article] "Guns and Bibles," Norm Olsen was referred to as a former pastor in the General Association of General Baptists. We have no record of him ever being part of our denomination. His doctrinal sentiments rather put him in line with the General Association of Regular Baptists.
- Dwight Chapman, Executive Director
General Association of General Baptists
Poplar Bluff, Mo.
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