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Africa Bible Commentary: A Review

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

The Africa Bible Commentary (ABC), a first of its kind, was produced by 69 African scholars in Africa for Africa, and launched in Nairobi, Kenya, on July 5, 2006. The general editor is Dr. Tokunboh Adeyemo, a former general secretary for the Association of Evangelicals in Africa. This one-volume commentary was published by Word Alive Publishers of Kenya for distribution in Africa, and by The Zondervan Corporation for distribution in the rest of the world.

Apart from concise interpretative comments on all Bible books the commentary also includes a wide range of topical articles which explain the relevance of biblical principles in various fields of African societies and cultures. The contributors belong to about twenty Protestant denominations, which account for differences of opinion on various matters. However, the work was ably edited by Dr. T. Adeyemo, assisted by four theological editors and three theological advisors. Scripture quotations in the Commentary are from the New International Version.

Paragraphs marked “Remarks” contain my own comments on the ABC, which go beyond the short remarks that I make when referring to statements of various authors in the text. Excerpts from the ABC are indicated by quotation marks and accompanied by the page numbers(s) from where they were derived.

Origin and objectives

The origin and objectives of the ABC is explained as follows in the editor’s General Introduction: “In September 1994, representatives of Protestant churches, both ecumenical and evangelical, gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, for the Second Pan African Christian Leadership Assembly (PACLA II). At this historic meeting, Christian leaders identified deficient knowledge of the Bible and faulty application of its teaching as the primary weakness of the church in Africa. They recognized that the church in Africa was a mile long in terms of quantity, but only an inch deep in terms of quality. The Bible needed to be interpreted and explained to the people in familiar language, using colloquial metaphors, African thought-forms and nuances, and practical applications that fitted the African context... The ABC should be African in terms of its authorship and its content, which must reflect its African context. While remaining true to the biblical text, it must apply biblical teachings and truths to African realities... The application is both bold and faithful. Thus the ABC does not speak of a Black Jesus. To do so would be a travesty of the Bible story and cheap scholarship” (p. viii-ix).

Divine inspiration of the Bible

In their vision statement, the editors of the ABC say, among others, that they firmly believe in the divine inspiration and authority of the Holy Scripture (p. x).

Yusufu Turaki says, “When reading the Bible, it is important to remember that it is not a merely human book but is God’s revelation of Himself through the record of what He has said and done. He supervised its growth, development and completion, and thus the Bible is authoritative, reliable and truthful. The human authors... [were] guided by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16). This means that the words of the Bible are actually God’s own words and the final written document is inspired in its entirety. As the authoritative Word of God, the Bible is to be the sole authority for what we believe and how we act, governing how we live and the way we respond to events around us” (p. 725). Musibi says that the Bible “will be the book by which God will ultimately judge all human thoughts, actions and institutions” (p. 79).

Exegetical principles

Doctrinal differences among the many contributors to the ABC account for the application of different interpretative (exegetical) principles. The literal, grammatical-historical method of interpretation is mostly followed but, mainly in eschatological literature, the allegorical method is preferred.

Remarks: Christians should be aware of the consequences of applying different principles of interpretation as that would greatly affect their spiritual orientation. McDonald (Dictionary of the Christian Church) defines an allegory as “the use of language to convey a deeper and a different meaning from that which appears on the surface.” An allegorical interpretation must be clearly distinguished from a symbolic interpretation. The Bible often makes use of symbolic language – also in the prophecies. A symbol always has a literal anti-type as it is used to explain something about a specific person or event. From the way in which it is used, it is clear that a symbol means something else. Examples of symbols to describe certain characteristics of Christ are the Lamb, the Lion, the light of the world, the bright and morning star, the true vine, etc. In cases of allegorical interpretation, the relevant Scripture has a clear and obvious meaning, but the reader decides that he wishes to read something else into it, thereby assigning a figurative meaning to the Scripture. The allegorical interpretation, therefore, does not subject itself to the authority of the Bible by deriving its meaning from it, but approaches Scripture with a preconceived idea by reading something else into the Bible.

Remarks: There is a growing group of evangelical scholars, also among the authors of the ABC, who practice sound principles of interpreting the inspired and inerrant Word of God. Dwight Pentecost (Things to Come) gives the following definition of the literal method of interpretation: “The literal method of interpretation is that method that gives to each word the same basic meaning it would have in normal ordinary customary usage, whether employed in writing, speaking or thinking. It is called the grammatical-historical method to emphasise the fact that the meaning is to be determined by both grammatical and historical considerations.” The strongest proof of the literal interpretation is the way in which the New Testament makes use of the Old Testament. Good examples are the many prophecies about the birth, life, work and death of Jesus Christ that were all literally fulfilled in the New Testament. If the plain sense of the Word makes common sense, then seek no other sense!

The Genesis account

The Genesis account of creation, as well as the Flood, is literally interpreted. Care is taken not to interpret Gen. 1:26,28 in a dominionist way: “It is important to note that men and women were permitted to rule only over other living creatures, not over other human beings. Nor were men given authority to dominate women (or vice versa). Our fellow human beings bear the image of the Creator and thus are not to be dominated but to be served (John 13:13-14; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 5:21)” (p. 11).

The outpouring of God’s wrath during the Flood is explained as follows: “God hates evil and acts to deal with it. That is why we, in Africa, cannot take our plight lightly. Could it be that God’s heart is grieved... due to our corruption and wickedness? If so, we are under the curse of God... This does not mean that there is no escape from the curse. God is a loving Father who gave His Son Jesus Christ to carry the curse for us (Gal. 3:13). But He is also a God of justice and righteousness (Mic. 6:8), and we are called upon to make right what may be wrong. There are plenty of wrongs to correct in Africa – just as there are elsewhere in the world... Thus when we preach we should never emphasize God’s grace at the expense of His justice. His love and His holiness must be kept in balance, for He maintains both” (p. 21,22).

The deity of Christ

The Christology of the ABC is biblically sound. The deity of Jesus Christ is consistently emphasized, and also His miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit and His virgin birth. During a time of widespread theological and doctrinal decline in the world, ABC does Africa a great service by portraying Jesus Christ in His eternal self-existence as Lord and God, Creator of the universe, and the only Savior of lost humanity (p. 1207,1252,1283,1443-5). The concept of the Holy Trinity is first stated in the exegesis of Gen. 1:26: “The plural ‘let us’ also suggests the community of the Godhead, which involves three Persons – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (p.11).

Soteriology

The doctrine of salvation (soteriology) in the ABC makes adequate provision for repentance from a sinful state in which all sinners are under the condemnation of a just God. It is clearly stated that “human beings are completely depraved in speech and conduct and need a savior (Rom. 3:13-18; Ps. 5:9; 10:2-8; 36:1; 140:3; Isa. 59:7-8). The whole world is guilty before God; no one is righteous” (p. 1357). The reality of human sinfulness and the need of blotting out our iniquities are also explained in the comments on Psalm 51 (p. 655-7).

All sins and traditional beliefs that are at variance with the Bible must be confessed and forsaken: “We have heard the voice of God in our day proclaiming the gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ... We must not harden our hearts by refusing to believe in the Word of God and preferring to cling to our traditional beliefs. We must hold to the teaching of Christ and cultivate our confidence in Him. The Word of God should take precedence over every traditional or cultural requirement... African believers must hold to their heavenly calling and keep living for Christ despite the temptations posed by African traditional worship, the culture in which we live, the troubles that come to us, and our own desires... If we stand firm in Christ, we will survive victoriously” (p. 1494-5).

Adeyemo (p. 1335) defines salvation as follows, emphasizing the atoning work of Jesus on the cross: “The critical component in Christianity is the cross, where the sin factor was dealt with. God made Jesus to be sin though He was sinless so that anyone who believes in Him can receive God’s forgiveness and be saved, ‘might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor. 5:21). Salvation in biblical Christianity is a free offer of a new life of joy, peace, love and hope in Christ (John 3:16). ‘Salvation means the old has passed away; the new is come!’ (2 Cor. 5:17). Some accept this offer by faith, others reject it. And Jesus gives those who accept the offer ‘the right to become the children of God’ (John 1:10-13).”

Calvinistic tenets

The privilege and obligation of all lost sinners to respond to God’s call for salvation is sometimes marred by the Calvinistic tenet of election: “God is merciful, but He has the right to choose to whom He wants to show this mercy (Rom. 9:15-16,18; Ex. 33:19). The ultimate purpose of God’s sovereign choice, or ‘election’, is not to elevate some people and destroy others, but to display His power and to make His name known throughout the earth” (p. 1365). Turaki says, “What an honor, to be specially chosen by God to receive His gift of salvation! This was no impulsive decision, but was made before the creation of the world” (p. 1426).

Turaki refuted his own statement that God has chosen us to receive His gift of salvation, when He says, “The two great purposes for which believers are chosen is firstly to be holy and secondly to be blameless” (p. 1426). God has foreknowledge of all who will be saved by taking a free decision to accept Christ as Savior – He then chooses, elects, or ordains them to live holy before Him.

Remarks: The doctrine of predestination is a direct assault on God’s attribute of love for all people. God “wants all men to be saved... for... Christ gave Himself as a ransom for all men” (1 Tim. 2:3-6). Peter says that God does “not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Nobody is excluded. The critical factor is faith in the Lord Jesus: “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish.” John also says, “Whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17). The mandate for Paul’s mission to the Gentile world is that “God commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

Remarks: All people have to respond to God’s offer of salvation, and therefore all of us are accountable to Him for our decision (Acts 17:31). How can God judge and condemn people for refusing to accept Christ as their Savior if He purposely excluded them from the elect? The wicked will not die because they were not among the elect but because they refused the offer of salvation. “God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil” (A.W. Tozer: The Knowledge of the Holy).

Remarks: Because we are dealing with the inerrant Word of God and it is expedient that we present ourselves approved to God as workmen “who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The ABC has gone a long way in doing just that, and the authors should commit themselves to further pursue this course without using the following statement by Okorocha as an excuse for a lack of greater clarity on biblical doctrine: “This lack of tolerance of ambiguity may also lead Western believers to try to pin down the exact meaning of what the Bible teaches about topics such as predestination and free will, or the exact chronology of the gospels. Africans can happily live with unresolved ambiguity” (p. 1467-8). The many false teachings in the world call for more diligence in studying and understanding biblical doctrines.

Perseverance and spiritual growth

It is appreciated that the ABC calls followers of Christ to perseverance and holiness. Some of the authors do not hide behind the Calvinistic assumption of eternal security and clearly indicate our obligation to abide in Christ. We cannot afford to become careless and stop bearing fruit (p. 1285). Heb. 3:6 refers to believers as the house of God. The Commentary says, “We must not take our membership in His house for granted. Our membership is conditional on faith in Christ. So the writer exhorts the Jewish believers to hold on to the faith and hope in Christ Jesus which they courageously confess. We, too, need to hold on to our courage and hope if we are to live a practical and victorious Christian life” (p. 1494).

Christians should not remain in a carnal state as infants in Christ but grow up to spiritual maturity (p. 1381). “Lack of maturity leads to stunted growth (Eph. 4:14). A lack of sound doctrine and teaching will result in a fragmented church with a weak faith and inadequate knowledge of Christ. Such a church is vulnerable to the influence of false teachers. Immature Christians accept whatever they are told by teachers who may be motivated by greed or who rely on purely human wisdom. With no stable rock to stand on, weak Christians are tossed around and become unstable” (p. 1434).

Discipleship

In his article on Discipleship, (p. 1223) Adeyemo explains the cost of a disciple as a person wholly committed to following the Lord Jesus and proclaiming the gospel of salvation. He says that true discipleship has become rare today because of the preaching of cheap grace. Believers no longer know what it is to abandon earthly comforts, to deny themselves and bear their cross, put Christ above all other relationships and to boldly take a stand for Him. He calls believers back to discipleship: “To make an impact on African society today, the church must return to the Bible and rediscover the NT concept and practice of discipleship. Becoming a disciple of Jesus must bring about a transformation of a person’s lifestyle and priorities.”

In the comments on Luke 16:13 it is stated that “discipleship means single-minded devotion to serving God with our earthly possessions, while not neglecting to share our wealth with the community to meet needs” (p. 1236).

Disciples must die to the world (p. 1455). Gal. 6:14 is interpreted as follows: “Through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul has been crucified to the world (he has no dealings with it) and the world has been crucified to him (it has no effect on him). He is no longer concerned about the impression he makes” (p. 1424).

The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 was entrusted to disciples and should be heeded by al who strive to be disciples of Christ. The ABC comments as follows: “This is a message that the African church needs to hear loudly and clearly. For too long we have been recipients of the benefits of the gospel, and with few exceptions most of our church communities do not anticipate, let alone participate in, mission. We do not see it as our duty to go and spread the good news to people within our own countries, or to people beyond the borders of our own countries. This is disobedience to the words of the Lord of heaven and earth. We must repent of this sin and take up His call to make disciples of all nations” (p. 1170).

Persecution

The following comments are made on John 15:18: “While His disciples are to love each other, they would be hated and treated as enemies by the world. The world is that evil system whose head is Satan and whose agents are in opposition to Jesus and His cause. Three reasons are given for the hostility of the world: the disciples don’t belong to the world, the world hated and persecuted Jesus their master, and the world lacked knowledge of the Father and of Jesus” (p. 1286). This message is reiterated in John 16:33. “Outside of Jesus, there is no peace. That is why He added, ‘In this world you will have trouble’. The world was their enemy. It would not treat them well. However, there was hope, for Jesus finished with the words, ‘But take heart! I have overcome the world!’ They were not expected to take heart on the basis of favorable circumstances, but on the basis of a historical fact, namely, Jesus’ victory” (p. 1288). We are in a hostile kingdom and must put on the full armor of God to stand against the wiles of Satan.

Signs

Very clear and sound teaching is given on the significance and dangers of signs in a life of faith. Ouedraogo says, among others, “Many Africans have an avid interest in signs. Signs are the foundations for traditional beliefs and for many new movements that claim to represent an African Christianity... Is it normal to look for signs from God, or are there dangers in doing so? ... Scripture warns us to be suspicious of signs. Faced with the proliferation of prophets and prophetesses who claim to work miracles, it is important that we discern whether they are indeed faithful to God and His Word (Deut. 13:1-5). After all, Christ warns us that certain signs are deceptive and serve only to turn us away from true faith and to enslave us (Matt. 24:24)... The purpose of signs [in biblical times] was to lead people towards God and His Word, not to glorify one individual and set him or her above others... Signs are neither necessary for faith nor able to create it. Pharaoh saw many signs and yet did not believe (Ex. 7:9-13). Similarly, in Jesus’ time many people did not believe in Him in spite of His many miracles (John 12:37). On several occasions Jesus even refused to respond to requests for signs because He knew that signs alone are ineffective in producing a change of heart (Matt. 12:38-39; 16:1-4)... Signs cannot be taken as a proof of strong faith and should not be sought as evidence of faith” (p. 303).

In the comment on Mark 16:17-18 it is reiterated that “the accompanying signs that God may choose to give are not the focus; Christ Jesus is” (1202).

Syncretism

The ABC devotes a special article to syncretism, written by Lawrence Lasisi (p. 900). The author follows a narrow line between Christo-pagan syncretism on the one hand, and, on the other hand, integrating culture and the gospel in a way which will not jeopardize the supremacy of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior by sacrificing it on the altar of multicultural relativism. The author refers to the view of the German theologian, Wolfhart Pannenberg, who rejected the sharp divide between God’s special revelation in Scripture and His general revelation in nature and also in the cultures and religions of various peoples.

Remarks: Stanley Grenz confirms the fact that Pannenberg relied much on revelations of God in other cultures and religions: “Pannenberg views the rivalry of religions as the location of the revelation of truth... The religion that best illumes all reality will in the end prevail and thereby demonstrate its truth value” (Wolfhart Pannenberg’s quest for ultimate truth: The Christian Century, Sept. 14-21, 1988). Evangelical believers can clearly not share this view.

Lasisi says, “Careful examination of some of the motives behind the integration of African traditional themes and elements with the Christian faith reveals that it is misleading to label every indigenous movement as syncretistic, although some undoubtedly are.” No examples are given, but he does refer to syncretism in the Greco-Roman world: “Examples of this include the pagan roots of Christian festivals such as Easter and Christmas, the design of our church buildings and the forms of our funeral and marriage rites” (p. 900).

Remarks: Syncretism may occur in many religious practices all over the world and always constitutes a serious form of compromise. The following remarks were made by Anton Bosch, a South African preacher who now ministers to a congregation in Los Angeles: “Few people are willing to make a total break with unbiblical family traditions and cultural practices after coming to Christ. I know the pain of those who have to break family ties because so much of family and culture is tied up with religious practices. Half our church in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, are converted Hindus who can no longer attend any family functions because such functions (funerals, weddings, anniversaries, children coming of age, etc.) are all tied in with idolatry. Here in LA, I share the pain of those who turn their backs on Romanism and thus lose their family connections. Also much Mexican culture is steeped in demonic rituals such as the “Dia de Muertos” (Day of the Dead) and once-again, folk have to turn their backs on those festivals and practices, if they choose to follow Christ. We have lost a number of folk because of our stand against the pagan aspects of Easter and, especially, Halloween, and have been accused of trying to change American culture... but that is not what it is. These are serious biblical issues and there is absolutely no room for syncretism, whether it be an effort to synchronize Christianity with African traditions, Roman practices or any other pagan practice.”

The using of indigenous African names for the Creator is one of the areas where great caution should be exercised to avoid syncretism. In an article, Yahweh and other gods, Ndjerareou (p. 861) mentions various foreign deities and belief systems of heathen nations in Europe and the Middle East, and says, “There are many similarities between these ancient beliefs and traditional African systems of belief, where many gods and spirits are invoked. But Africans would also recognize the God to who Paul pointed the Athenians, the God who made the world and everything in it (Acts 17:24). Many African people have a concept of a Supreme Being who has created all things... This God is known by different names, but His identity never changes... We can use the name of the Supreme Being of African peoples to refer to God. But we need to remember that the key point here is not what the Creator God is called, but how He is represented and how His relationship with His creation is understood.”

Remarks: The fact is that in traditional African religions the Creator is a far-away God who is in most cases not directly worshipped. He is seen to have empowered other deities and ancestral spirits to actively intervene in human affairs. So, if His name is used to represent the Creator God of the Bible, extensive biblical teaching is needed to discount the traditional connotations that are associated with Him and to teach people what His real nature, identity and attributes are. Yahweh is the only living God and should be correctly portrayed and proclaimed.

Ancestors

In his article, The role of the ancestors, Turaki (p. 480) moves dangerously close to a position of outright syncretism when he suggests that Jesus has actually fulfilled and replaced the system of ancestor worship as though it was something good during the period before the Christian faith was accepted:

“Given the power and influence wielded by the ancestors, some African theologies have proposed that Jesus be presented as an African ancestor. This idea is not without merit, for Jesus is like the ancestors in that people can take their problems to Him and He does guarantee a better future... But there is a danger that making Him an ancestor may be tantamount to reducing His post-resurrection elevation as Lord of lords (Phil. 2:9-12) and may cause people to lose sight of His status as God. The best approach may be modeled on the one taken in the book of Hebrews... Taking this approach, it can be said that Jesus has come to fulfill our African ancestral cult and has taken the place of our ancestors, replacing them with Himself. He has become the Mediator between God and African society... And just as He fulfilled, transformed and supplanted the Jewish religious system, so He has fulfilled, transformed and supplanted the ancestral cult and traditional religions of Africa.”

Remarks: Jesus did indeed fulfill the traditional Jewish religion as all the sacrifices foreshadowed the once for all sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God (Heb. 9:11-15; 10:5-10). The OT sacrifices were directed to Yahweh and were provisional pending the coming of the Messiah. But the same cannot be said of the sacrifices made to ancestral spirits in Africa. They did not foreshadow the Messiah and the sins that were confessed to the spirits were not committed against God. If people regard the ancestral service as something that was fulfilled by Christ they will keep on condoning it and fail to confess it as a sin against God. Such people must repent and “turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9).

Sacrifices

In the comments on 1 Cor. 10:18-22, the following explanation of pagan sacrifices is given: “When Jews had a feast associated with a sacrifice, all those who ate were regarded as participants in the sacrifice, identifying themselves with what is symbolized (1 Cor. 10:18). The same applies when one take part in a pagan sacrificial feast. While Paul agrees with the Corinthians that the idols themselves have neither divine power nor any real existence (8:4), he also believes that the devil, or demons, encourages idol worship in opposition to the true God. Consequently, sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God (10:19-20). To participate in a pagan feast is thus to go along with the plans of demons” (p. 1389).

It is obvious that the people who sacrifice to ancestral spirits or family gods would strongly deny that they are actually dealing with demons. But, according to Nkansah-Obrempong (Angels, demons and powers), that is exactly what happens: “Demons are created spiritual beings... Some people think that demons are the spirits of deceased people. However, it would be more accurate to say that demons can impersonate deceased people by appearing in a form that resembles them. Many people in Africa claim to have received messages from deceased family members, delivered either physically or in a dream. Many such incidents actually involve impersonation by demons” (p. 1454).

Remarks: There is very obviously not even a remote possibility of regarding the worship of ancestors as an elementary or preparatory form of worship to God, and to compare the sacrifices to them with OT Jewish sacrifices to Yahweh (cf. Yusufu Turaki: The role of the ancestors, p. 480). The view taken by the author of this article is in conflict with the general approach of a non-compromised form of Christianity which is a characteristic of most of the ABC.

Witchcraft

Kunhiyop (Witchcraft, p. 374) explains the wide prevalence of this wicked practice: “Belief in witchcraft is approaching epidemic proportions in Africa. While it is easy to understand how nominal Christians can cling to this deep-seated belief, it is disturbing that it is widespread among Christians too. Christian rituals are sometimes seen as little more than a form of protection against witchcraft. Thus mothers ‘cover’ the beds of their children with the blood of Jesus to ward off witches and evil spirits before putting them to bed... In most African societies, witchcraft is the traditional way of explaining any untimely death... Believers also need to understand that evil is always a result of sin for which we all share responsibility (Rom. 5:12)... The Christian does not live as if there are no evil spirits and witches, but lives with the full conviction that the devil and his forces have been conquered. The joy of being a Christian is that our God is sovereign over all evil forces. The clear teaching of the Scriptures is that the Christian has victory in Christ over witchcraft in all its forms (1 John 4:4; 5:4).

Other culturally-related issues

Many other aspects of African culture are discussed and biblical solutions to problems proposed. These include initiation rites (p. 101), blood sacrifices (p. 139), taboos (p. 159), generosity and solidarity (p. 231), worship and praise (p. 251), widow inheritance (p. 323), polygamy (p. 429-430), healing (p. 447), leadership (p. 546), conflict management (p. 551), suffering (p. 585), relationship with the environment (p. 616), HIV and Aids (p. 667), wealth and poverty (p. 762), democracy (p. 785), weddings and lobola (p. 799), idolatry (p. 840), war (p. 967), marriage, divorce and remarriage (p. 1149), funeral and burial (p. 1462), and religious pluralism (p. 1532).

False teachers

In Africa, like the rest of the world, false teachers are proliferating and are deceiving large crowds. The following remarks are made with reference tot 2 Pet. 2: “Peter warns his readers about the inevitable rise of false teachers... What might start as a difference of opinion regarding Christ would quietly turn into a deviation and, eventually, into a denial of Christ as Savior and Lord (2:1). We have seen this happen in Nigeria, where a certain professor started teaching that Christ is not the only way to reach God. Such a position is contrary to the teaching of Christ (John 14:6)... As this man gained disciples and became the head of his denomination, liberal theology took over a denomination that had once had a strong evangelical heritage...

“Like Balaam, a prophet who ignored God’s warnings because of his love for money, these false teachers have forsaken the straight and narrow way of truth for the broad road of greed, sex and pride (2:15-16; cf. Matt 7:13-16). Many of those who preach a prosperity gospel in our day easily fall into Balaam’s error and make a travesty of the gospel. They live as enemies of the cross of Christ... Apparently the false teachers had once professed Jesus as their Savior and Lord... But tragically they have renounced their allegiance to Christ and gone back to their former state” (p. 1526-7).

Apostasy increases markedly in the end-time: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). The ABC says, “Paul warns the Christians that the end-times will be characterized by much false teaching, which will be inspired by the devil, who always seeks to undermine the work of the church in every possible way... Paul claims to have received a revelation from God, so that he can say, the Spirit clearly says. Others have latched onto this phrase and used it themselves, arguing in support of their own special revelations from the Spirit, so that we have a profusion of prophecies in the churches in Africa. These prophecies tend to result in a neglect of reading of the Word, which is the means by which God normally reveals Himself to us today. We need to remember the difference between the apostles and us. They had been directly entrusted with the faith by Jesus Himself, and had later put it in writing (2 Tim. 1:14)” (p. 1473).

The interpretation of false prophets described in Matt. 7:21-23 is as follows: “False prophets may we very gifted people who claim the name of Jesus, and are able to utter prophecies and perform miracles such as driving out demons. We must have discernment and look at the character of such people if we are to avoid being led astray” (p. 1125).

Heresy

In his article, Theological heresy, Nkansah-Obrempong says, “Today, in our African context, common heresies include the teaching that all humans will be saved, the elevation of African traditional religion as equivalent to OT faith, ancestor worship, and the mixing of African traditional religion and Christianity. Theological heresy was seen by the apostles and the early church fathers as a serious and rebellious departure from established doctrine... The early church responded strongly to those who deviated from the truth and claimed to have special knowledge outside the biblical text... It barred heretics from its fellowship and prayed for their salvation” (p. 1553).

We cannot select only certain portions of Scripture, fit them into humanly-driven schemes for church growth, success and personal motivation, and try to conquer the world with disciples who are spiritually poorly equipped. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The ABC abides by this Scripture and says, “Timothy must use [the Scriptures] to teach believers, to refute false doctrines, to correct errors and to train believers so that they will be equipped to do good works” (p. 1481).

Remarks: A positive feature of the ABC is that it does not promote popular forms of deception such as extreme pentecostal and charismatic manifestations, Word of Faith doctrines based on prosperity preaching, signs and wonders, strategic spiritual warfare practiced by C. Peter Wagner, George Otis jr. and others, dominionism (kingdom-now), a social gospel which is basically intent on socio-economic upliftment, poverty relief and education, various fallacies of the church growth movement, e.g. psychological methods to promote self-esteem, and liberal theology with its denial of the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible and the deity of Christ. It is strange, however, that the editors decided to ask Rick Warren’s endorsement of their Commentary. They do not promote his non-offensive gospel in which the cross is shunned and God’s judgment upon sinners is not explicitly mentioned as it might offend the unsaved. He also avoids “negative” subjects such as the Antichrist, false prophets and false teachers.

Eschatology

A conspicuous weakness of the ABC is the lack of consistency in interpreting eschatological literature. Some books are literally interpreted and others allegorically. It is very obvious that two quite incompatible approaches were allowed to be presented without discussing their merits and justifying the one or the other. The result is that much confusion will be sown among readers who wish to gain more clarity on end-time events. This is a pity, since we are living in the last days when pastors need to proclaim the message of Christ’s second coming, as well as the accompanying signs of the times, with great confidence and clarity. Our future expectation should be securely anchored to Christ’s coming for His church (John 14:2-3; 1 Thess. 4:16-17). “Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). There is a great falling away in the world and we need to hold out the hope of Christ’s imminent return.

Israel’s present and future position is not indicated clearly enough (cf. p. 207, 248, 974-7, 1367-8). Dispensational distinctions are also vague, particularly with regard to the restored kingdom of Israel during the reign of the Messiah. It is obvious that knowledge about this subject was freely available since the general editor holds a PhD from Dallas Theological Seminary, where premillennialism and dispensationalism are foundational doctrines. Onesimus Ngundu, who was responsible for the commentary on Revelation, also obtained a post-graduation qualification at the Dallas Seminary.

In Revelation and most other eschatological sections that are discussed, a preterist (historical) interpretation is followed, accompanied by allegorical explanations for many statements which do not fit into the historical contexts imposed upon them, or which are simply regarded to be unlikely scenarios for literal fulfillment. The comments on Christ’s Olivet Discourse (cf. Matt. 24 and Luke 21) are very sketchy, while end-time prophecies on the great tribulation are presented as having been fulfilled in the first century.

The prophecy of Daniel’s 70 years weeks (Dan. 9:24-27) is also regarded as having expired in the first century AD, despite the fact that the Bible clearly states that at the end of the 70 weeks Israel’s transgressions will be finished, an end will have been put to sin, everlasting righteousness will prevail, and all prophecies with regard to Israel’s physical and spiritual restoration will be fulfilled (Dan. 9:24). In the first century, Israel rejected their Messiah and were dispersed among the nations. Only after their end-time restoration from international exile, after having passed through the time of trouble for Jacob (Jer. 30:7), the remnant of Israel will be established in their land and reconciled to the Messiah (Zech. 8:23, 12:10, 13:1,9; Ezek. 36:22-28, 37:21-22; Rom. 11:25-29).

Since Israel is literally restored to their land, there will also be a literal, thousand-year reign of the Messiah from the throne of David in Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-4; Jer. 3:17; Zech. 8:20-22; Acts 15:16-17; Rev. 20:6). However, the ABC takes a strong stand against the literal fulfillment of these prophecies. In its exegesis of the harmonious conditions that will prevail during the millennium (Isa. 11:6-8; cf. p. 818 in the ABC) the Commentary refers to Scriptures which apply to the church dispensation and the coming new world, thereby completely negating Christ’s millennial reign of peace.

This is also the approach that Ngundu follows in interpreting the book of Revelation. To him, descriptions of the beast refer to Nero and the Roman Empire, or the embodiment of evil in different persons throughout history. The number 666 that the Antichrist will impose is not taken literally (p. 1565-7). The author also refutes a literal battle of Armageddon: “It seems likely that John is not predicting a literal battle at this place, but is using it as a symbol of the final attempt by the forces of evil to defeat God’s supremacy” (p. 1569). Likewise, the thousand-year reign of Christ is not taken literally (p. 1574).

The serious matter that arises from amillennial thinking in which the coming of a future kingdom on earth after the second coming of Christ is rejected, is how such a commentator accounts for the revelation of God’s kingdom which is not physically part of this evil world. The inevitable trap into which such persons land is the advancing of the idea of a physical manifestation of the kingdom during the church age, i.e. dominionism or kingdom-now teachings. Ngundu fell prey to this unbiblical view:

“While the central thesis of many popular eschatological positions is that in the future there will be a kingdom lasting a thousand years, this passage does not mention any such kingdom. In the gospels, Jesus taught that the kingdom of God was inaugurated with His coming and was now present though not yet fulfilled (Matt. 12:28). The presence of Christ is in one sense the kingdom of God invading and transforming human history” (p. 1574).

Remarks: The question is, how will Christ’s kingdom be fulfilled and publicly revealed before He returns as the King of kings to do so Himself? How can the church establish kingdom conditions on this evil world which is controlled by the evil one? (cf. 1 John 5:19). Christ “gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4), but His physical kingdom will only be realized at His second coming: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). John also says that at His coming Christ will rule the nations with an iron scepter (Rev. 19:15). Believers will share in this rule (Rev. 2:26-27), which will definitely be on earth.

Remarks: At present we are not kings and rulers, but soldiers for the cross in an evil world. We are strangers and sojourners because our citizenship is in heaven, from where we expect the coming of the King to destroy His enemies at the battle of Armageddon, condemn the Antichrist and the false prophets to the lake of fire and have Satan incarcerated in the bottomless where he will be bound for 1000 years in chains of darkness (Rev. 19:19–20:3).

Despite the questionable presentation of Revelation and many other prophecies, the editor did allow Yoilah Yilpet to advance the literal fulfillment of end-time prophecies: “Zechariah describes the final battle in which the enemies of God’s people are defeated and destroyed, after which the Messiah can finally establish His everlasting kingdom... Jesus, the Messiah, will come as a mighty warrior to put an end to all God’s enemies... On that day, the Lord will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it. The coalition of ‘all the nations’ suggests that there will be a one world political system at that time... The battle being described here is the same one that Joel speaks of as taking place in the Valley of Jehoshaphat and that John foresees as happening at a place called Armageddon... The Messiah will physically stand on the Mount of Olives... The Lord Himself will then come with His holy ones, that is, His saints and angels, to destroy His enemies... During the millennial reign of Christ, those who refuse to acknowledge and worship Him will have no rain... Every knee should bow and every tongue must confess that He is Lord... Believers must take the worship of Christ seriously in our present generation. Unfortunately, there is negligence in our present worship of our Lord. We must change and become serious and consistent for God’s glory. We are to acknowledge Him as our Lord and Savior daily wherever we find ourselves. For He alone is worthy of praise and worship as the King of kings and Lord of lords. God’s holiness is the supreme attribute of His being and is the foundation of His eternal existence. Everything God does bears the imprint of His holiness, which never diminishes. Since He is holy, God is completely set apart from sin. In the coming kingdom everything will be characterized by the Lord’s holiness” (p. 1088-92).

This exegesis is consistent with a large number of other books in the commentary and offers a worthy alternative to allegoric interpretations which are unfortunately also quite prevalent.

Conclusion

As a retired professor of anthropology and son of a former missionary in Swaziland and South Africa, I have experienced a few decades of growth in various African congregations. I have a personal ministry, mainly through the internet and publications, but was also privileged to be involved in outreaches to various African communities – including lecturing on eschatology during a training course for lay preachers in Nairobi, Kenya. It is, therefore, as a fellow laborer in the Lord’s vineyard in Africa that I have reviewed the ABC – not as a critical academic who observes the situation from the seclusion of his ivory tower.

I heartily welcome this pioneering work by African theologians for African communities. Clear, easily comprehensible guidance is urgently needed on how to understand the Bible and give expression to Christian principles within the context of African cultures. The increase of religious deception in the world, heresies of different sorts through which many believers are led astray and even depart from the faith, as well as alarming doctrinal decline in a number of evangelical seminaries, certainly necessitate a bold stand by evangelical leaders in Africa.

I fully endorse the clear testimony about Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of a lost and sinful humanity. Jesus said to theologians who refused to recognize Him as the only Savior, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life” (John 5:39). I can confidently say that the ABC made Jesus Christ alive as the Word that became flesh. In this regard it has great practical value. The emphasis on discipleship, spiritual growth and the promotion of a mission-oriented church are highly commendable aspects of the Commentary.

However, there are also a few serious concerns. As an author myself, I realize the value of peer review and public responses to books – it helps us to reconsider certain statements or approaches and to correct them for future editions, thereby improving the publication. I humbly suggest that the ABC again looks into its eschatology and the inevitable openness to dominionism which the present approach fosters. But much as I don’t like amillennial and Calvinist views, I do accept them as different theological perspectives and hence not as grounds for breaking fellowship. A major objection against the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination is that it is in conflict with the strong biblical appeal to sinners everywhere to respond to Christ’s invitation for salvation.

My most serious concern is the legitimizing of African blood sacrifices and the worship of ancestors, even if only before Christ (cf. p. 480). This is a serious heresy and one that attacks some of the essentials of the faith. Pagan institutions should be fully relinquished, confessed and forsaken. They are not doorways to Christ’s atoning work, but obstacles that blind the minds of people to the convictions of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 4:4).

May the ABC further develop into an evangelical tool that will be greatly used on this continent and elsewhere. To God be the glory!

Richard Baxter 07