Archive for September, 2017

(D)evangelism & Healing after the Rwandan Genocide

by   |  09.26.17  |  ACU, Bible, Ministry, Mission

missionary familyMy name is Caleb Beck. I, along with my wife and two children, live in Kigali, Rwanda. My son Adin is ten, and my daughter Caris is seven. We moved to Rwanda in 2007 as missionaries hoping to work with those struggling to heal the wounds of genocide, and to be a part of the rediscovery of Christianity after its failure in the form of a thin Christendom version of faith in 1994.

We are a part of a team of missionaries and Rwandans who founded a Non-profit organization that works with a number of different holistic ministries with the vision of seeing “Kingdom communities of obedient disciples transforming and redeeming Rwanda”.

We live just outside of the capital city in a small rural community called Gahanga. Jenny home schools our children because we live just far enough outside of the capital that the commute through urban African traffic isn’t realistic. Our community is a mix of animism and cultural Christianity, of survivors of the genocide living next to perpetrators of the genocide, and of a modern city set right next to an ancient village. We are living in the midst of the tensions of village and urban, rich and poor, wounded but healing. However, God is becoming even more alive to us as we grow closer with this community.

Rwanda scenery

A couple of years ago, I found myself sitting amidst 5000 or so Rwandans singing hymns in cohesion without a songbook to be seen. It was not at a church Christmas vigil, but rather at a government sanctioned memorial of genocide remembrance.

This was in a section of Rwanda that had no electricity or running water, but where everyone knew the lyrics of “Come Thou Fount” in Kinyarwanda.

Rwanda was welcomed into the Christendom club last century; and they came willingly. The statistics say that 88% of Rwanda was “Christian” before the genocide of ’94.

Unfortunately, Rwanda’s evangelistic ‘success’ was also its failure.

Evangelism, as it was done, utterly failed Rwanda. It ungraciously exposed our misunderstanding and malpractice of what we thought our mission was.

To be clear, the modern English word ‘evangelism’ does not occur in the Bible and I believe that Jesus did not send his disciples out to do ‘evangelism’ as we understand it.

A disclaimer before we continue. I do believe in evangelism. The word gospel is ‘evangelion’.  I believe we have a new narrative to announce to the world which is GOOD. However, I don’t believe in (d)evangelism, the kind that campaigns and crusades for converts. The kind that idolizes “personal salvation transactions” belittling said narrative above. From here on out we will differentiate accordingly.

Jesus could be considered the worst (d)evangelist in history. In the gospels, instead of just laying it straight, he frequently chose to tell stories that required decoding. Of all the questions he was asked, he gave a straight forward answer for only two of the questions, often responding in parable or with another question.

Evidently, the practice of giving information about a particular doctrine or set of beliefs to others with the intention of converting them to the Christian faith wasn’t very high up on Jesus’ list.

Jesus did not practice (d)evangelism as we know it and did not make converts. Jesus made disciples and sent his followers to do likewise.

(d)evangelism as we know it is wrought with problems:

1.)  (d)evangelism can be done in the absence of relationship, discipleship absolutely cannot.

2.)  (d)evangelism is about converting ‘believers’, discipleship is about becoming followers.

3.)  (d)evangelism is about transaction where as discipleship is about transformation.

4.)  (d)evangelism makes “faith” about the head, discipleship makes it about the heart and body.

5.)  (d)evangelism leads to separateness, discipleship leads to union. It rejects the idea that our faith is about the transmission of correct ideas or doctrines rather than authentic life and love.

6.)  (d)evangelism distorts our gospel into a commodity.  It makes our gospel competitive instead of cosmic, something that can be sold and bought instead of a story to be lived into; making our gospel small.

7.)  (d)evangelism over emphasizes the spiritual as separate and above, discipleship integrates the spiritual and physical.

8.) and ultimately (d)evangelism has confused our soteriology (beliefs about salvation) and our mission (missiology).

(d)evangelism is not our mission, however discipleship is.

…and that starts with us, because what happened in Rwanda is not just an embarrassment for Rwanda, it is also a reflection of the inadequate conversion of the western mind, too.

It is a failure of our “references”, a failure of our “metrics”, and in some ways a failure of our “missiology”.

And, it is an invitation to once again think about these things. And maybe, if we are lucky, rediscover them for the first time.

 

About the Author: Caleb Beck is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Global Service through Abilene Christian University’s Graduate School of Theology. Beck & his family are living in Rwanda & serve as missionaries through Africa Transformation Network.

Discovering My Vocation: The Fanning of the Flames

by   |  09.05.17  |  ACU, Ancient Languages, Bible, CSART, College of Biblical Studies, Students, Theology

Recently I was browsing my TimeHop (which, for those who are blissfully unaware, is a cell phone app that mercilessly displays your unfiltered social media posts from today’s date in years past) when I came across a Tweet from four years ago that read something like this: “Is it weird that I’m actually really excited to learn Greek???” If I could talk to this four-years-in-the-past Ryne, I’d tell him that although it is quite weird for you to have shared such an arbitrary thought with the entire Internet, you will be delighted to know that your desire to learn Greek is not weird at all but will in fact be quite fruitful.

That naïve version of me couldn’t have really understood how rewarding the study of this ancient language would be. Indeed, only now in retrospect am I able to fathom the many doors that were opened to me through my study of Greek (and, eventually, other ancient languages) at ACU.

At the outset of my undergrad time at ACU I had only a vague sense of vocation. Something to do with the Bible, something to do with ministry. I was sure that the arc of my career would involve these two aspects, but I had no clearer direction than that.

The story of how my vocational understanding eventually crystallized is long and multifaceted, but for the purposes of this post, you only need to know the primary catalyst and the new ministerial yearning that it sparked within me. The catalyst was Greek; the yearning was for a ministry conducted not in a church building, but in a classroom.

The long and short of it was that I absolutely loved learning Greek. Before college, I had no particular interest in language learning, but Greek opened my eyes not only to a new skillset that I possessed, but also to new doorways through which to study the biblical text that I held so dear. My first taste of Greek was sort of like a baby’s first bite of chocolate cake at their first birthday party—I wasn’t quite sure what this new thing was, but I was absolutely sure that I wanted more.

Luckily for me, I happened to choose a university with a faculty that was uniquely and diversely equipped to give me more. Languages were a huge part of what brought me to the Graduate School of Theology for my master’s work. I had drank deeply from the well of Greek in undergrad and had dipped my toe in the waters of Hebrew, and the GST offered an opportunity for more of the same as well as an expansion of my linguistic horizons.

In my first year at the GST I got involved with CSART—The Center for the Study of Ancient Religious Texts. I’ve spoken above about the doors that language learning at ACU has opened for me, and this has been one of the biggest. In CSART, students (undergrad and grad) have the opportunity to partner with experts in textual scholarship in the study of primary biblical and early Christian texts. The project that I’m currently on, for example, is working with a seventh century monastic text called The Ladder of Divine Ascent.

studying ancient artifacts

Ryne examining books & artifacts at the Matthew Parker Library in Cambridge.

My involvement in this project, as well as in another one during my time in undergrad, opened two very tangible doors for my academic career: two summer trips to a conference in Oxford, England. The Logos Conference is hosted by the Museum of the Bible Scholars Initiative, with which CSART partners in its projects. Because of the generosity of the Green family (the owners of Hobby Lobby, who founded the Museum of the Bible and the Scholars initiative) as well as the work that CSART does, I was able to spend a couple of weeks each of the past two summers in Oxford with other students from all around the world listening to and learning from internationally renowned biblical scholars.

Those experiences in Oxford were especially formative for me, not just because of the academic interest they held for me but for the way they affirmed my sense of vocation. I’ve spent most of this post spotlighting the way language learning at ACU has opened doors for me, but now I want to turn briefly to that ministerial yearning I mentioned before. My affinity for ancient biblically related languages has not only been fruitful in scholarly opportunities, it has also instilled in me a deep appreciation and passion for the importance of these ancient languages in studying the Scriptures.

At those conferences in Oxford I was able to look around and see professional scholars engaged in an academic sort of ministry as well as many students like myself aspiring to do the same. My paradigm for ministry had been shifting and I was beginning to wonder if teaching the Bible and its languages in a higher education context could actually be considered ministry. For my whole life I had thought of ministry as something that was done in either a church building or a mission field, so this idea that it might also be done in a classroom was foreign and frankly a little difficult to wrap my head around. But it was in Oxford that I finally settled into this vision of ministry and fully accepted that my passion for the biblical text and its languages could and should be leveraged into a teaching ministry conducted in the classrooms of a university.

So now as I reflect back on that tweet from four years ago and I think about the excitement that preceded my first day of Greek class, I realize that that enthusiasm was pregnant with something much weightier than academic curiosity. It was dripping with divine purpose, and though I couldn’t see it yet, that purpose would dramatically reorient my world. It would open academic doors that I didn’t know existed, it would deepen my connection with the biblical text that I loved, and it would define the shape of my ministerial vocation.

I had a déjà vu experience a few days ago that helped put this all in perspective for me. As I walked into my last class of the week, I realized that it was next door to an old familiar room. I glanced inside at the handful of youthful faces—a few of which were fresh with the excitement of a new academic challenge. I recognized that look in their eyes. And I recognized the voice of the professor, introducing another batch of students to the wide world of New Testament Greek. I remembered fondly the first time I had sat in that room, excited for the challenge but naïve to the opportunity.

And then I walked through another door. With the voice of my first-year Greek professor still barely audible, I sat down in the midst of that old familiar anticipation. And with thankfulness for the way that spark of intrigue in Greek had been fanned into a full-fledged flame of passion for ancient languages, I pulled out my syllabus for Elementary Syriac. Another new door that will undoubtedly lead to more opportunities—academic, spiritual, and ministerial all.