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Amahoro: modernity fights back

16 June 2009

amahoroI came across this critique of the Amahoro gathering, parts of which I attended last week. I was going to say that it was an “interesting” critique, and then realised that I hadn’t found it interesting at all, but too much bother to read. Posting extracts of some of the things that were said at Amahoro, and interspersing them with incomprehensible comments is not an interesting critique; it’s dead boring.

Chris Rosebrough Speaks Out Against Amahoro as He Fights For The Faith: Discerning The World:

Chris Rosebrough gallantly devoted 2h40min on his program Fighting for the Faith on Pirate Christian Radio critiqing and comparing the teachings given at the Amahoro conference, to what Maitreya has supposedly channeled through Benjamin Cr�me. Many thanks to him for his service to the Body of Christ.

I don’t know of any Dutch Reformed theologian in South Africa that will have the backbone to think this through, let alone rebuke our young emerging enthusiasts or warning the flock. The sheep will simply have to spread Chris’s warning themselves and then preach repentance and the forgiveness of sin in the name of Jesus Christ.

And then there’s another post on Amahoro in the same blog:

Opening Address at The Gathering: South Africa

Gathering from (8-15 June, 2009) – Posted by Claude Nikondeha on June 08, 2009 at 2:59 PM

[Bold Emphasis and notes in green added by DTW]

We are, many of us, on a trajectory of transformation in our communities and countries.  [Trajectory, a rocket of sorts. Transformation is progressing at the speed of a rocket] We are working for something more than the salvation of the soul, [Really????] we are investing in the restoration of all things. [Creating the ‘Kingdom of the False Christ on earth’, sorry I mean ‘Kingdom of God on earth’]. All things – creation in its entirety, all things created in Heaven and on Earth – are being restored, reconciled, transformed into God’s dream for His world. [God is in all, all is in God – through Christ consciousness we, the entire world will become gods]

The “green” bits look blue to me, but that’s a minor quibble.

I wasn’t there for that particular address, but the comments on the post have some detailed criticism from Roger (Saner?), which I couldn’t improve on.  I will note, however, <Language pedant mode>that a “trajectory” is not a rocket of any sort, but the path taken by a rocket or a projectile (which may be a bullet, a thrown stone etc). It is usually a parabolic arc — it goes up, then it reaches a peak, and it comes down again. You can have a steep trajectory or a flat one, but not a speedy one. I’m not sure that it is the best image to use in conjunction with transformation — it suggests that transformation will eventually lose momentum and come back to earth with a bump</language pedant mode>.

Monk Nektarius, Nic Paton, Claude Nikondeha

Monk Nektarius, Nic Paton, Claude Nikondeha

What makes the critique so boring is that it reflects the very worst of modernity.

John Ralston Saul, in his book Voltaire’s bastards: the dictatorship of reason in the West, writes:

The Inquisitors were the first to formalize the idea that to every question there is a right answer. The answer is known but the question must be asked and correctly answered. Relativism, humanism, commonsense and moral beliefs were all irrelevant to this process because they assume doubt. Since the Inquisitors knew the answer, doubt was impossible. Process, however, was essential for efficient governance and process required that questions be asked in order to produce the correct answer.

The writer of the critique on Claude Nikondeha’s paper seems to have a similar attitude. Because there is a right answer to every question, and the answers are known, there is no need to explain “where he is coming from”. Anyone who disagrees with him/her is ipso facto a heretic. And of course if he/she did say where he/she was coming from, and stated his/her unstated assumptions, he/she might reveal himself/herself as a heretic.

And it is this kind of oracular authority that represents the worst that modernity has to offer. Read the tale of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s The brothers Karamazov to see where this kind of thinking can lead to.

Another interesting thought: Can university subjects reveal terrorists in the making? – opinion – 15 June 2009 – New Scientist:

We reckon that something else is going on, something at the individual level, that is, relating to cognitive traits. According to polling data, engineering professors in the US are seven times as likely to be right-wing and religious as other academics, and similar biases apply to students. In 16 other countries we investigated, engineers seem to be no more right-wing or religious than the rest of the population, but the number of engineers combining both traits is unusually high. A lot of piecemeal evidence suggests that characteristics such as greater intolerance of ambiguity, a belief that society can be made to work like clockwork, and dislike of democratic politics which involves compromise, are more common among engineers (Hat-tip to Nouslife: Figures … profiling potential terrorists.)

Some years ago, when I was training people for self-supporting ministry in Zululand, several occupations were represented among the trainees. And it was an engineer who found the transition to studying theology the most difficult. His previous studies had been in exact science, and theology (like the humanities) is a very inexact science. His engineering training had led to an intolerence of ambiguity. Theology’s “but on the other hand” gave him the willies.

Modernity gave us many of the wonders of engineering and technology, but these things do have a down side, and postmodernity is perhaps the recognition of that.

As an Orthodox Christian I don’t agree with a number of theological views expressed or held by people who spoke at Amahoro. I didn’t go there expecting to agree with them, nor did I go there in order to disagree with them, though I’m quite happy to discuss them if anyone is interested in doing so. But the importance of Amahoro is not that it had all the right answers, but that it was asking some of the right questions.

The problem with the mindset of modernity is that it sometimes encourages us to give splendidly accurate (and sometimes wildly inaccurate) answers to questions that no one is asking.

Other blog posts on the Amahoro Gathering

If you have posted a blog post about the Amahoro Gathering and would like to add it to this list, please click here to see how to do it. You are welcome to copy this list to the end of your post.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 June 2009 7:06 am

    I find that particularly in the area of exegesis, ancient Christianity- and medieval Christianity, East and West, as well as many stream of exegesis in Islam and Judaism- showed an incredible willingness to not only allow but embrace a strong pluriform dimension to sacred scripture. There is the famous four-fold scheme of the Western Middle Ages which encompasses some of this pluriform nature, but the actual practice ‘on the ground’ tended towards an even deeper and broader scope of scripture interpretation. The Fathers, and exegetes after them (and in Judaism and Islam), generally did not assume that there was one fixed meaning to a given text that obliterated all other possibilities; rather, the text, when interpreted within the proper frame and under the direction of the proper ‘grammar,’ revealed an almost endless stream of possibilities. Of course, the question of what the proper frame and the correct grammar were involved more rigid boundaries and lots of struggle and contest (in Christianity the Christological councils for the most part).

    This sort of an approach to a sacred text doesn’t really cohere with any contemporary approach, modernist or post-modernist, since it rejects the rigid enforcement of the text into one exclusive ‘meaning’; yet it also denies that the sacred text is entirely free-floating, but that it is in fact sacred (which gives its plurality and its singularity at once) and operates within certain fixed boundaries of interpretation- but within those boundaries the interpretative possibilities of the text are next to endless. No doubt this sort of approach would make many contemporary people nervous: either an interpretation is right or wrong! But it has the effect of making sacred scripture continually relevant and rich, as it is read and assimilated in a lived, community-based faith with a shared grammar and understanding.

    • 16 June 2009 8:54 am

      Yes.

      Once our priest invited his colleagues in the church history department at the university where he taught to come to the baptism of his son. One of them was a Baptist who said to me afterwards “We Baptists like to think that we are scriptural, but I’ve never been to a service as scriptural as that”.

      I think he was fascinated by by the way the hymns and prayers wove the scriptures together, jumping from the Old Testament to the New Testament and back again linking and making associations more quickly than the mind can follow, in what Marshall McLuhan called an “all-at-onceness” rather than in a linear fashion.

  2. 16 June 2009 9:53 am

    I found these critiques of Amahoro terribly dissapointing after the energy and desire for really living out the gospel of Jesus Christ that was so present at Amahoro. Thanks for giving some meaning to them by placing them in a broader context, Steve, which saved me from complete disilusionment!

    The saddest thing about these critiques are that they are of such a poor level of thought, from the use of language and grammar through to the clarity and logic of argument. And yet so many in the Church seem to latch onto this kind of thinking, poor of quality as it may be, because they themselves know no better. Is this a lack in our education system?!

    • 16 June 2009 9:02 pm

      Cori,

      It helps to keep us humble, perhaps. I’ve come to expect that level of criticism from Americans (obviously not all, but there’s plenty of it from there). But it seems we have it here too, we we can’t point fingers.

  3. 16 June 2009 4:29 pm

    I saw you commented a bit there, Cori – which means you’ve probably placed yourself on the “heretics of South Africa” list. Steve said it best when he says that “Because there is a right answer to every question, and the answers are known, there is no need to explain “where he is coming from”. Anyone who disagrees with him/her is ipso facto a heretic.”

    The critique is very poor, and ridiculous at times (Amahoro = witchcraft?!?!) – I found myself strangely fascinated, and wondering how I could be participating in worshipping the false Christ, which of course Amahoro is all about.

    But ridiculous notions aside, I wonder if this backlash from modernism is going to grow in its intensity, and if Christianity is going to be split amongst those who believe the one true Gospel of Jesus (which is about repenting from your sins so that you’ll be saved from the coming judgement) and those who believe that G-d is at work restoring all of creation.

    Well, there are enough other splits – I hope this isn’t another one.

    What amazes me is that this “critique” ignores all possible points of similarity, and focuses only on the differences. Come on, anybody can do that. Critical thinking is not merely black hat thinking (hat tip (haha): Ed de Bono), but also looking for the points of commonality.

    I’m more willing to listen to a critique if the other person understands what they’re critiquing: the sources Steve mentions here do not, and so miss any sort of value they could be bringing. That’s a pity.

    • 16 June 2009 9:25 pm

      … if Christianity is going to be split amongst those who believe the one true Gospel of Jesus (which is about repenting from your sins so that you’ll be saved from the coming judgement) and those who believe that G-d is at work restoring all of creation.

      Roger,

      I may be wrong, but I don’t think that’s the split. But one of the problems of our modernist friend is that he seems to keep re-laying the foundation of repentance from dead works etc, exactly as Hebrews 6 tells us not to do. At least that’s what he seems to be doing in his responses to you over on his blog. He seems to be doomed to repeat the first steps over and over again, and never get any further. St Paul talks about finishing the race, but our modernist friend keeps calling us back to start over, and over, and over.

  4. 16 June 2009 4:51 pm

    “But the importance of Amahoro is not that it had all the right answers, but that it was asking some of the right questions.” You’re so right, Steve – I don’t expect to agree theologically with the speakers or even the worship for that matter, but that’s not the point.

    I’m less interested in getting doctrine and theology right (as important as they are) as I am in how that doctrine and theology gets lived out. I’m also interested in what went wrong in the first place with the Christian message as it was brought to Africa, and how that impacts our hermeneutics.

    In that respect, Amahoro is asking the right questions.

    • 16 June 2009 9:31 pm

      It might be good if someone were to post the questions that people were asked to discuss in small groups. In most of the groups I was in we never finished discussing them. They aren’t the only questions, of course, but they were a pretty good start, and the speakers gave a good introduction to the discussions, which I think was the main point.

      • 17 June 2009 12:48 am

        These are the questions as I had them up on the screen:

        In what ways have you been able to transform your own painful memories so that you will not transmit that pain?

        What doors could you open in your church (or community or home) as part of our love quest?

        Share with your group how you have experienced being in a power-over or power-under situation.

        What continues to give you hope as you live in these stories?

  5. 20 June 2009 1:53 am

    Roger

    >> Grew up Baptist, went Anglican, now post-church

    What went wrong?

    • 21 June 2009 2:01 pm

      @Discerning The World: a few things went wrong in my journey, and a few things went right. This is true for my part in the Baptist denomination (of which I was a member of a well-known (to Baptist’s, at least) conservative, evangelical Baptist church), of which I’m grateful for the heritage they have given to me. I still have many friends who are Baptists, and people close to me who work for Baptist churches.

      At a time of turmoil in my own faith, I accompanied a friend to an Episcopal Church in the States to hear a professor of New Testament studies speak. I was a bit wary of going to an Anglican church, since I knew they prayed out of a book, which meant they were simply repeating rote prayers to God, and therefore had no concept of what a personal relationship with the saviour meant.

      My first point of confusion on entering the church was reading the order of service. Firstly, they had an order of service, and secondly, there were a few parts in that service which were scheduled as “silence.” That was weird. In my church experience to date, any sort of silence in church was accidental and awkward, a “oops, someone has forgotten something, what’s gone wrong?” Now, why would anyone want to schedule an awkward moment?

      So it was to my deep surprise that when these times of silence came (typically after a scripture reading), the entire church sat quietly before God, and for the first time I discovered what the Psalms mean when they say, “Be still and know that I am God.”

      I found an incredible sense of freedom in that service, and discovered that Anglicans have an appreciation for many things which were glossed over in my Baptist experience (like silence, and the spiritual disciplines) – and do, indeed, have a relationship with God. As I met more Christians from other traditions, I found that they too had things which were helpful in my own spiritual formation.

      So I became part of an Anglican Church in Joburg for 5 years or so (and please note, I’m not saying, “Baptists bad, Anglicans good.” It’s just that at a particular point for me, I needed something deeper – and I happened to find that in an Anglican church). And it was great!

      6 months before I decided to leave that church, I was in a pretty good place. Church was going well, I was involved in many things there, and I considered it my spiritual home. Which is why I was quite confused as to why God seemed to be shifting me out of there. I was comfortable, and growing, and in community – all good things! Why was God insisting that I move on?

      As I grappled with this sense for some time, running it past friends and mentors, it became clear to me that God wasn’t suggesting I join another church. He seemed to be saying, “Leave this church, and don’t join another.” Again, this confused me – it didn’t make a lot of sense and I didn’t want to, yet again, be in a place of discomfort and uncertainty.

      But I remain convinced that this is what God was saying to me, and as I’ve looked at my own Christian heritage, I’ve noticed the huge influence from the European/American church on it. And unfortunately, the church in Europe has almost died out. It’s died out not because the Gospel isn’t relevant or powerful or needed any more, but because the people entrusted with that Gospel chose to stick unflinchingly to what they saw as the God-ordained way of doing community – the Church itself.

      Some people believe that God has ordained the message and the medium, and that we cannot change the way we do church because that’s going against God. I’m not one of those people. I see God as a missionary God, sending himself out and meeting people where they were at. For, “In the beginning, the Word became flesh, and moved into the neighbourhood.”

      And so when I say I’m “post-church”, that’s a little tongue in cheek, for as a Christian, I cannot help but be part of the Church Universal. “post-church” means that the local church, the local expression of ecclesia, is allowed to change (and *must* change!) and so demonstrate what the Kingdom of God looks like when it’s lived out amongst a group of people, and in a way which doesn’t have to be “Baptist/Anglican/Methodist/Catholic/etc”.

      Many will disagree, and often I wrestle with this choice of mine. I believe that over my lifetime it will bear fruit, as God has led me into this, and He will sustain me, and bring things out of this which I cannot forsee.

      I love the church and hope it to be the thing which God wants it to be. In my way, I hope I’m contributing to this.

      So, to answer your question, “What went wrong?” Well, I listened to God.

      • 21 June 2009 6:09 pm

        Roger

        >> and often I wrestle with this choice of mine..

        2 Timothy 1:7

        1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

        Regarding your comment as a whole, I completely understand what you are saying…and but that I completely mean I understand. But I am not sure why you think the church is confined to a name/denomination when the church is spiritual and made up of born again Christians filled with the Holy Spirit. You can have an entire Baptist church and no one can be a Christian. By name yes….that’s what they call themselves…hmmm….

        This is why I did not say what church I attend for I do not. I’ve been there, I’ve done that. Until I realised that Jesus Christ lives in you (and not in the ‘I can move to god level’) I pray where I am, I speak with God sitting on the couch, I read terrible things on the internet and books and I weep. I don’t need to create silence in order to speak to God. I just need to get on my knees and say I am sorry for being sinful and every moment of my life is in His hands for I am actually not worthy to be saved. But He sent His Son Jesus Christ which God bruised and shed his blood for us that when can come before God spotless.

        God can not tolerate sin. This is why He is called Holy! He can not be in the presence of evil, wickedness and sin. And because everything He does He does to Glorifty Himself. He punishes those who refuse to listen to Him. Yes, shocking. I don’t blame Him quite frankly.

        This is why we have Jesus Christ, the ONLY ONE who can present us before God. Without Jesus, man has nothing, except his pride in thinking he can create his kindgom on earth…why bow before God when you can bow before your own creation and when you are interconnected with creation then you are in effect bowing to yourself.

        I fellowship with bible believing, God fearing, born again Christians.

  6. 20 June 2009 1:57 am

    >> if Christianity is going to be split amongst those who believe the one true Gospel of Jesus (which is about repenting from your sins so that you’ll be saved from the coming judgement) and those who believe that G-d is at work restoring all of creation.

    That’s it…and we’ll (those who believe the true gospel of Jesus Christ) will get wrapped over the knuckles very hard for that one I can tell ja.

  7. 20 June 2009 2:14 am

    Steve

    >> that he seems to keep re-laying the foundation of repentance from dead works etc, exactly as Hebrews 6 tells us not to do.

    Um…ok I gotta chuckle here at bit…hold on lets go get hebrews 6….ok, we have a problem. I can’t find what you are speaking about regarding ‘repentance of SIN being something we are NOT to do???’

    Oh do you think ‘dead works’ is another word for sin? um…no!

    Dead works are man-made laws, beliefs and good works that dominate our frame of thought and actions concerning God (works of the flesh!).

    Sin….nooooow that’s another story…and obviously one you don’t repent of.

  8. 20 June 2009 2:22 am

    Cori

    >> The saddest thing about these critiques are that they are of such a poor level of thought, from the use of language and grammar through to the clarity and logic of argument. And yet so many in the Church seem to latch onto this kind of thinking, poor of quality as it may be, because they themselves know no better. Is this a lack in our education system?!

    So you attacked my grammar and education instead? LOL. Hmmmmm well I suppose that means you could not find a good argument to back up your New Age beliefs.

    You said that the way you will know where Christ is, is where the fruits are. I quoted some verses for you regarding the Fig Tree and Thorn tree…which I was hoping you read. If not please go read it, it’s actually very important.

    Do you have a bible? If you do then can I ask that you at least try study it…it’s for your own good.

    Thanks

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