We are really looking forward to getting back to church in Dar es Salaam, and once again listening to Tanzanian Christian teaching regularly.
Here is a recent Facebook post from our church, with the summary of Pastor Dondo’s sermon from Sunday.
My first instinct on reading this is to think, “That is wrong! This is an over-realised eschatology, pushing into the ‘now’ the kind of shalom of the ‘not yet’. Where is the place for suffering in the Christian life? Where is the place for a life modelled on a crucified Saviour? …”
Then I take a breath, I try to delay my judgements and think flexibly. I look again and here is what I notice:
1. The list of “spiritually, intellectually and physically” is a way of speaking of people in a holistic sense. I am much more likely to make distinctions here, something like, ‘God wants us to be spiritually healthy, but this is not relevant to physical health.’ I separate out the person. Tanzanians don’t do this, so it’s a nonsense to talk about prospering spiritually without physical prosperity. But the other way around is true also: physical prosperity is bankrupt without spiritual ardour and discipline. My separation comes from passages in the New Testament that point us beyond suffering now, or suggest that suffering now has a good spiritual purpose, but I wonder how I might read those passages if I wasn’t already used to separating one part of the self from another.
2. There is good biblical reason to believe that God wants good things for his children. After all, Jesus himself asked, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish would give him a snake? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?” (Matt 7:9-11)
3. God is Patron in this understanding. We in the west have a hard time getting our heads around patronage cultures, but perhaps the ambassador language is useful. If an important person sends you their messenger and that person is in rags or poor health, what does it tell you about their employer? That they don’t look after their employees! They are not to be trusted. If God does not provide for his own people, what does that say about him? Why should people listen to them, and hear God’s message? It’s so interesting to me that prosperity in this little Facebook post is put in the context of mission.
This post on Facebook is in English, but perhaps you can get a sense of the non-western thinking going on in it!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.