At the invitation of the Lutherische Kirchenmission (Bleckmarer Mission) and Edition Ruprecht, publisher of the German translation of Whose Religion is Christianity? The Gospel Beyond the West (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003; in German: Kontinentalverschiebung des Glaubens, Die Entdeckung des Christentums in Afrika, translated by Christine Kubic [Göttingen: Edition Ruprecht, 2013]) by the Yale Divinity School missiologist Lamin Sanneh, Robert Kolb, missions professor emeritus of Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, lectured on the topic, “The Shifting of the Continents for Lutheranism, the Holy Spirit at Work in the Twenty-first Century, at the Mariengemeinde of the Selbstständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche (SELK) in Deutschland in Zehlendorf, a part of Berlin, on July 16, 2014. Kolb here reflects on the topic of the lecture:
The work of Lamin Sanneh first came to my attention when my friend James Nestingen used the approach of Sanneh’s Translating the Message, The Missionary Impact on Culture (2. ed., Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2009) to highlight the full significance of what Martin Luther was doing in his composition of the Small Catechism: he was not only placing the fundamentals of the Biblical faith into the German language but also translating the Mediterranean heritage of the church into Northern European categories and transplanting it into a worldview shared by Germans, Nordic, and Baltic populations as well as the Slavs to the east of Wittenberg (James A. Nestingen, “Luther’s Cultural Translation of the Catechism,” Lutheran Quarterly 15 , 440-452.). Sanneh’s perception that God presents Himself in Scripture as a translator made a number of things much clearer to me as I worked both with the text of the Scriptures and with the writings of the Reformation. For God translated Himself into human flesh (John 1:14), and He translated the words of the incarnate Jesus from Aramaic into Greek in the inspired Scriptures. His emissaries learn languages quickly when they come to new cultures in order to make the gospel of our Savior clear to the people in the language of the heart. Sanneh was able to see how important this factor of His nature as translator is to the biblical presentation of our God with particular clarity because he grew up in the Gambia in West Africa as a Moslem.
That background he shares with my colleague at Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, John Loum, director of the Ethnic Institute for Theology. They grew up in proximity in the Gambia, both as Moslems, and later had contact as they worked in West Africa in outreach to Moslems. John’s recollections gave a personal touch to my lecture.
Sanneh’s work reminds us U.S. Americans that we live at the threshold of an exciting new era for Christians, an era in which, to use Luther’s expression, the “Platzregen” – the local shower – of the gospel is moving into new territories. The “Majority World” is becoming the home of the majority of Christians: African, Asian, and Latin American churches have left behind their status as “infant” and even “teen-age” mission churches and are claiming their place as adult children who need to take care of the aging parents in Europe and North America. The arrogance that we from the “North” have shown over our children from the “South” quickly wears thin. The experiences of the blessings of the Holy Spirit demonstrate with increasing clarity that we have more to learn than to teach in our conversations with mission churches become partner churches.
Luther spent his entire life experimenting with the best ways of expressing the gospel of Jesus Christ as he had formulated it by about 1520. The next quarter century saw little change in his fundamental views, but he was always trying new expressions and even casting away some old ones. We live in an era where experimentation with the language that conveys the faith as the instrument of the Holy Spirit is the order of the day. In that conversation European and North American Christians, also in the Lutheran tradition, are called to clear witness of the essentials of our confession of the faith, as we have it in the Book of Concord as the dynamic expression of the teachings of the prophets and apostles, of the proclamation of God’s law and gospel that flows from the fountains of Israel.
That makes ours a most exciting and satisfying time in which to live and practice the confession of the faith. We know that the Holy Spirit is Lord of the church and that our best efforts are often detrimental to spread of the gospel. Therefore, we practice our witnessing to the message of our Lord Jesus Christ with modesty and respect for those with whom we disagree, in a ready spirit of repentance, knowing that only our faithfulness to His Word, and not our strenuous exertions to defend the weak and foolish Word from the cross (1 Cor. 1:17-2:16), will give glory to our Lord and bring His chosen to faith.
Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel
The eighth Sunday after Pentecost 2014
My colleague Lepoldo Sanchez appreciates my usual reminder that citizens of the United States are not the only “Americans”.
- Please pray for the further work of The Lutherische Kirchen Mission (Lutheran Church Mission) of our partner church body, the SELK.
- Pray for safe continued travels for Dr. Kolb and his family.
- Pray that as missionaries are sent all over the world, the Gospel message would be translated into different languages, but always and ever the same message of hope, resurrection, forgiveness, and life in Christ Jesus.
- A special thanks goes to Reinhild Ruprecht for assistance with the pictures!