The film ‘Out of Africa’ begins with Karen Blixen’s words, “I have a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills”. Well, I work at what used to be three farms at the foot of the Ngong Hills: Africa International University has a beautiful 50 acre campus some 15 miles from the centre of Nairobi, Kenya.
It was started 40 years ago as the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (partly because of John Stott’s vision for a better trained African pulpit), but recently became a Christian University, offering many courses apart from theological ones.
My role is teaching theology. For the last few years, I’ve been in the wonderful “rut” of teaching all five theology courses to the Bachelor in Theology students: Theology of ‘God’, ‘Man and Sin’, ‘Christ and Salvation’, ‘the Holy Spirit’, and ‘Church and End Times’. For each course, I am in the classroom with the students for 40 hours, so by the time they graduate, some have been in class with me for 200 hours; and I’ve given them endless assignments, which occupy them for around 150 hours. This is, of course, an absolutely superb opportunity to mould their thinking; to dismantle wrong ideas and replace them with good biblical ones.
What am I aiming at when teaching? Obviously when teaching the Theology of the Holy Spirit course, I have to discuss fully what the Bible teaches about the person and work of the Holy Spirit! That can mean very lively classes, as many are passionate Pentecostals. But at the same time, whatever the subject, I’m trying to expose and correct various false teachings that are so very widespread. The basic aim is always to get the students to think biblically. So, we are always asking, “What does the Bible say?” And that means working hard to discover what passages meant when they were first written (looking at them in their literary and historical context and in the wider context of the whole Bible) and then asking how these truths apply to us now: to us as individuals, and to our families and churches.
And since many of the students are pastors, youth workers, Sunday School superintendents and so on, it’s not just about trying to influence individual lives, but to shape the churches where they minister as well.
Gaining knowledge, growing spiritually
Some of the students do find the courses hard at first. This is because the standard of the work required is high, compared with High School – which some of them completed two years ago, but many finished 20 years ago. They also find it hard because of the amount of work they are required to do: many students have a spouse, children and a full-time job; and they are just coming to the university to study one day a week. But perhaps, above all, many find the courses difficult, because the ideas they are meeting are so strange; they are hearing teaching they have never heard before in their churches. One man said, “Ah, when you began to teach on God’s sovereignty and election, it gave me a big headache. But I went away, read my Bible and now realise what you are teaching is correct.”
What we talk about in the classes are not just academic ideas. I do want to stretch their minds. I want them to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. But through understanding more, the hope is that they are being built up spiritually; that at the end of the course, they don’t just know theology better, but they know God better.
And as they are coming to know God better, they are also coming to be more like him – more like Christ.
Sometimes spiritual growth can be painful. One thoughtful young woman wrote, “This course has really been disturbing me. I realise I have not been taking God seriously enough. And I have had to repent of that.” Then a while back I got this email, “I just had to email and say how much good this assignment has been doing me. I had to pause in the middle and start praying and thanking the Lord for his grace; and the margins of the book are now filled with prayers which I’ve prayed during the study.”
Increasingly I get requests from former students for theology notes. So currently I’m trying to turn my course notes into a series of small theology books. This is daunting – not least because there is always the feeling that by waiting a week or two or six, and doing just a little bit more reading, it might just be better than if it’s written today!
So, I’m teaching theology: to change lives and to change churches for the glory of God and the joy and well-being of his people.