Christianity

Early African Christianity: Nubia

Multiethnic Roots of Christianity Part II

By: Dr. Vince Bantu

The sentiment that Christianity is the “white man’s religion” is a perception that does not find resonance in biblical or historical reality. Christianity is not “becoming” a global religion; it has always been a global religion. At every point, the Christian faith has found Afrocentric expression and it is God’s heart that the Gospel take firm root among every nation, tribe and tongue. The proclamation of the psalter that “Kush will soon stretch out her hands to God,” (Ps. 68:31) finds unique application in the reality that the descendants of the Kushites—the Nubians—not only embraced Christianity as the national religion as early as the fifth century CE, but fought off Arab Muslim invasion in order to maintain an indigenous, black Christian kingdom that would flourish for a thousand years. The late antique Kushite kingdom centered at Meroë fell away in the late fourth century. While there is not much evidence to suggest a significant Christian presence in the Sudan during its Meroitic Kushite period, it is noteworthy that the “Ethiopian” eunuch mentioned in Acts 8 was likely from Kush, rather than the southern Axumite kingdom of Ethiopia. The queens of Kush were commonly called Candace (or Kandake) and “Ethiopia” (or Greek Aithopia) was often used to refer to black inhabitants south of Egypt conflating both the Nubian kingdoms of the Sudan and the Axumite empire of Ethiopia. However, the earliest detailed account of the introduction of Christianity into Nubia came in the sixth century through the historical account of the Syrian bishop John of Ephesus. According to John, Byzantine Roman empress Theodora sent missionaries to Nubia through Egypt who led the Nubian royal court to Christ resulting in the Christianization of northern Nubia (Nobatia). A century before this Roman intervention, however, one of the earliest Nubian kings to consolidate the Nobatian Empire—king Silko—declared in a victory inscription belief in one God who granted him military victory in Nubia. This could indicate a gradual progression of monotheistic transformation in the previously polytheistic Nubian religious landscape. There is also fifth-century evidence of Nubian refugees taking shelter in the Coptic monasteries of Upper Egypt. Whenever Christianity entered Nubia, it is likely to have done so through contact with Egyptian Christians with whom the Nubians maintained close ecclesiastical affiliation throughout the entirety of their Christian history. In solidarity with the other major African churches of Egypt and Ethiopia, Nubian Christianity maintained an anti-Chalcedonian—or, Miaphysite—nature, indicating a belief in the essential unity of the human and divine natures of Christ. Not long after Christianity took firm root in Nubia, the Islamic Conquest presented new challenges for Christians in Africa. Egypt was swiftly conquered in the mid-seventh century and the Arab Muslims quickly turned their attention to the Nubians south of Egypt. The Arab Muslim attempt at conquering Nubia was historically significant in that the Nubians were one of the only people groups to successfully fight off Muslim invaders. Several Arab Muslim historians who recount the Nubian victory credit the Nubian warriors’ skill with the bow and arrow—a skill long associated with Nubians and ancient Kushites since Pharaonic times. The Christian Nubians and Arab Muslim rulers of Egypt created a peace treaty stipulating the exchange of goods and a mutual understanding that Egypt would remain under Muslim control and Nubia remain Christian. Almost everywhere the early Muslim armies went during the seventh century fell under Muslim control (Persia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Libya). Nubia was unique in its ability to fight off the Muslims and create an unprecedented peace treaty that would last for centuries. This historical background also significantly complicates the assumption among some African-descended people that Christianity is the white man’s religion and Islam is the black man’s religion. In the case of Nubia, we see an autonomous black Christian kingdom successfully fighting off would-be Arab Muslim invaders. While Christianity’s introduction into Africa during the first millennium was freely adopted and accepted as the state religion of many of the earliest African kingdoms, Islam’s first introduction into the continent was by force and was resisted by the indigenous African nations whose identity was synonymous with being followers of Christ. Although Christianity eventually died out in Nubia by the beginning of the sixteenth century due to increasing migrations of Islamic ethnic groups, the Christian autonomy initiated by the Nubian-Muslim peace treaty, or baqt, paved the way for a golden era of Nubian Christian culture from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries. Nubian Christianity flourished during this period largely because the central kingdoms of the Sudan—Nobatia, Makouria and Alodia—were all predominately Christian and consolidated as one united kingdom no later than the early ninth century. Some examples of the many unique features of Nubian Christianity include a distinctive ecclesiastical and diplomatic leader known as the eparch, a distinguished form of church architecture including a specific passageway unique only to Nubian churches and indigenous religious vestments depicted in Nubian iconography. The language of medieval Sudan—Old Nubian—survives in a small collection of texts that are overwhelmingly religious (i.e. Christian) in nature. This fact further illustrates the degree to which the ancient African civilization of Nubia was intricately imbedded in and held together by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

ICYMI: Multiethnic Roots of Christianity Part I - Early African Christianity: Eygpt

Also, check out our interview with Dr. Vince Bantu below:


Dr. Vince L. Bantu joined Covenant Theological Seminary in 2016 as Visiting Professor of Missiology. He holds a PhD in Semitic and Egyptian languages from the Catholic University of America and serves as co-chair of the Theology Committee of the Christian Community Development Association. Dr. Bantu is an MDiv graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education in Boston, and served the Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a church-planting apprentice of Dr. Soong-Chan Rah. He also served as a program coordinator for the Emmanuel Gospel Center.

Dr. Bantu also holds a ThM in church history from Princeton Seminary and a BA in theology from Wheaton College. His primary interests include racial reconciliation, non-Western Christianity, and theological education in under-resourced communities. He has served as an adjunct faculty member for several institutions, including Nyack College, New York Theological Seminary, North Park Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, the Center for Early African Christianity, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Bantu is happy to be back in his native St Louis, where he is a teaching pastor at Jubilee Community Church. Dr. Bantu, his wife, Diana, and their two daughters enjoy traveling, parks, games, and are huge movie fans.

3 Reasons Why We Do Apologetics

BY: JOSEPH TORRES

If we love Jesus and take what he said seriously we’ll listen to his spokesmen, the apostles. And the passion of the apostles was twofold. First, they wanted Christians to know the riches of God’s grace.  Grasping the gospel was of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15). Second, they wanted Christians fueled by the grace of the gospel to go out and tell people about it.  King Jesus, welding his unique authority as the risen and rightful ruler of creation, commanded his people to spread out and fill the earth with disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Jude 3 urges us to contend for the once-all-all delivered faith. Paul modeled for us what it looks like to tear down strongholds and every lofty opinion raised up in opposition to God (2 Cor. 10:4-5). And lastly, Peter provided God’s kingdom people with the directive to always be ready to give an account for the hope they have within (1 Pet. 3:15).

Taking these words seriously, both in theory and practice, gets to the heart of Christian apologetics. But is there any motive greater than mere duty in defending the faith against all would-be contenders? Let me suggest three benefits to studying and practicing apologetics.

First, apologetics encourages the believer to develop a distinctively Christian theory of knowledge. Apologetics deals with defending and commending the Christian faith. As a result, it deals with knowledge claims. We claim to know multiple things, things like God exists, that he is a trinity, that humans are his fallen image-bearers, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, and that this Jesus rose from the dead, etc. We don’t have faith in faith. Apologists are commending a concrete faith arising from a concrete source (the Bible).

When we’re talking about knowledge claims (religious or otherwise) we’re dealing with issues in the field of epistemology. Epistemology is the subdivision in philosophy that explores knowledge and the questions that come along with exploring what that means. These are some epistemological questions: How do we know things? How we determine true knowledge from opinion? How do we know truth? In the history of philosophy many schools of thought have put forward their epistemologies, but the Christian apologists shouldn’t be tossed back and forth with each passing philosophical fad.  We can only embrace an approach to knowledge that conforms to the Bible.

Apologetics should ask the standard epistemological questions (how do I know? etc.) and look for their answers with an open Bible. By doing this we demonstrate a submission to God’s word as our ultimate standard not only for so-called “religious” knowledge, but for all knowledge. Likewise, in doing this we “love the Lord our God with all… our minds” (Lk. 10:27). Scripture is filled with passages that address our thought-life. We are to “take every thought captive” (2 Cor. 10:4-5) to Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). It also speaks of the saving knowledge of God that Christians have, as well as the paradoxical nature of the unbeliever’s knowledge of God.

Second, apologetics strengthens, confirms, and emboldens Christians in their faith. When Christians follow the 1 Pet. 3:15 command to defend their faith several things happen. First, their faith is confirmed. Those who have professed Christ for any length of time know that doubt occasionally creeps in and can cause them to second guess the truth of Christianity. The careful study of apologetics brings encouragement to the believer, reassuring them that their commitment to Jesus is not based on myth, speculation, or fairy tale, but instead is grounded in real history. Furthermore, when we see that only Christianity provides a true understanding of the world we come to trust our Creator and Lord with renewed vigor and strengthened faith.

Finally, the study of apologetics emboldens us for engagement with non-Christians. Here I’m not simply referring to apologetic debate, but also for personal evangelism and other venues of Christian/non-Christian dialogue. If the message of creation-fall-redemption in Christ is true, and the goal of apologetics is to demonstrate the truth of the Christian worldview, then pouring time into knowing how to handle objections, unbelieving philosophies, and various other unchristian ways of thinking is a vital means the Holy Spirit may use in communicating the gospel in a sin-sick world.

Third, apologetics serves as a vital aid in the work of missions, evangelism, and cultural engagement. How is this different from what was written in the paragraph above? There I was addressing the emboldening Christian confidence in encounters with non-Christians. Now we’re switching our emphasis a bit and focusing on the help apologetic provides in Christian understanding.

Evangelism. In the course of familiarizing oneself with the case for the Christian worldview we must familiarize ourselves to common misunderstanding, misrepresentations, and objections to the faith. This is a matter of love, since knowing what weighs most heavily on the minds and hearts of unbelievers demonstrates that we take them seriously. More often than you’d imagine, you’ll encounter the same objections and questions repeatedly. We should take stock of such common objections. Knowing these objections greatly reduces the chances of being caught off guard. It will also communicate that we’ve put some serious thought into our faith commitment. Many unbelievers haven’t ever heard an informed, rational defense of biblical faith. Here are some more specifics on how knowledge of apologetics aids relating to non-Christians. We should know why we believe the Bible is God’s book, why Christianity is different from other religions, and what practical difference does it make for the potential convert.

Missions. Apologetics also helps in the work of missions. Those to whom we commend the faith may be under serious social pressure to remain as they are, whether in intensely religious countries or secular nations. They need to know why they should risk persecution for committing their life to Christ. Are they committing social suicide? Are they committing intellectual suicide? Another major issue for a theology of missions is the question of religious pluralism. Are all religions the same? Are they all legit pathways to God?[1]

Cultural engagement and the final apologetic. Christians are to be “in” the world, yet not “of” the world (Jn 17:14–19). We live among unbelievers as spiritual ambassadors for Christ’s kingdom. We shouldn’t live in step with the agenda of unbelief. Apologists must be counter-cultural, developing a distinctively Christian critique of cultural trends as well as positively commending biblical alternatives. This takes a lot of study, effort, and prayer. Lastly, non-Christians need to see how we love one another. They need to see and experience for themselves that we, like the Master, come not to be served, but to serve (cf. Mk. 10:45). The manner with which we speak, both to other Christians as well as to non-Christians, conveys a lot. The church is Christ’s body on this earth. Do we reflect His character? Non-Christians aren’t naive. They notice insincerity and pride. But both are reasoned responses as well as our observed behavior we convey a powerful message: This is what God is like.

Let’s not give false testimony.

 

 

 

 

[1] Of course, the answer to this question is “no.” It’s both philosophically wrong (because so many religions make contradictory claims), and biblically dangerous (Jesus is the only way to God, cf. John 14:6, Acts 4:12). But the point is that as we study apologetics we learn both how to develop this claim (so the unbeliever sees the Biblical rationale for it), as well as how to persuasively communicate it.


10646624_10154591817760440_6642437560778530242_n.jpg

Joseph E.Torres is the editor and co-author with John M. Frame of Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief (P&R Publishing, 2015). He has served as professor for Adult Studies at Belhaven University in Orlando, Florida, as well as an adjunct in the department of Biblical and Theological studies at Nyack College (in his home town of New York City). He earned an M.A. in Christian Thought at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida and his B.A. in Biblical and Theological studies. He has been blogging at KINGDOMVIEW (apolojet.wordpress.com) since 2007.