Your Vote Will be Counted; But it Likely Won’t Count


“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

— Emma Goldman.

Unlike Emma Goldman I am not an anarchist. I believe in government. My vision of a good society includes a picture of order that cannot be sustained without formal administrative control of the people, as long as it is also by the people. And yet I hear a clear note of truth in the quote above, which is commonly attributed to the famous anarchist activist. Yes, it reflects an underlying cynicism about what our votes are truly worth, but without being cynical at all we can – I believe should – pause and ask ourselves, “What indeed?”


We’re always accusing our politicians of being shrewd with us. Our frequent refrain is that they come to us each election years, buy us, persuade us, deceive us, and then forget us. They are politricktians, no? We feel intellectually insulted. How can they think that they can take us for granted so easily?

And yet it seems that each year their knavery brings success. It is not the fact that they come every four years that bothers me; it is the fact that they are able to so easily ignore the people in the intervening period; that we so easily allow it.

The reality is that for a long time in Ghana votes have been counted without counting much in the long run.

The reality is that for a long time in Ghana votes have been counted without counting much in the long run. We are fed with a single-sided version of democracy: that every time we come out to vote, we express and exercise our greatest powers of citizenship. We are told that voting is the epitome of democratic expression. It is not.

At the very heart of democracy is its philosophical essence, and it is this: that people will always exercise power over other people, and so it had better be exercised aright, and the way to achieve this is to make the powerful accountable to the ones they govern. Accountability is the true essence of democracy, not voting. At its most useful, voting is one forum for this accountability. It is an important one, but – and here’s the important thing – it is insufficient.

After Voting, Go Home (and Sleep)

We are always implored after the polls to go home and watch the counting. The idea is that we should not hunker idly around the polling stations at risk of participating in any spontaneous outbreaks of violence. Well, that’s all well and good. I won’t make too much right now of Tom Stoppard’s insightful observation that “It’s not the voting that’s democracy; it’s the counting” otherwise we might get off track from the point.

The sad reality is that we might as well be told, “Go home and sleep… for the next four years”, for sadly that is exactly what the vast majority of Ghanaians vote. Going home after voting on polling day for most voters is the beginning of a four-year walk away from the task of holding elected officials accountable. And yet if anything is at the root of Africa’s governance issues (and their many derivatives), it is a lack of real accountability on the part of governments.

We go home, we watch the counting, and then we go to sleep on our country. In four years the canvassing sirens will wake us up again. Thomas Jefferson has said – and I’m sure he’s not the only one – that we deserve the governments we elect. This is true not merely because we voted for them; it is true more so because we let them alone to do as they pleased. By voting them into powers we said like Mark Anthony, “Mischief, thou art afoot; take thou what course thou wilt.” And it did.

There is Nothing We Can Do?

Abraham Lincoln“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
― Abraham Lincoln

Consider these words from a much-admired democrat. They echo the very same notion that we deserve the governments we elect into office. They add, however, the untruth that we must live with the consequences of our voting decisions, powerless to change anything. We must bear the pain until the next election cycle runs its course.

But it is an untruth. Government comes packaged with a whole raft of institutions intended and designed to check and balance the exercise of power. While I concede that there is a limit to how much one can actually influence day to day governance in a country, we must realize that we are not living up to our true capacity to hold governments accountable on very important issues, and yes, even to point the way they should go.

Keep Voting

A final thought before I release you to your voting duties. As you vote tomorrow (or today), I invite you to consider voting more than once. Yes, you heard me. Of course I do not mean at the polls themselves, but everyday after that, in active engagement with political leaders on the issues that are important you, your local community, your region, your country, and the larger world. Vote for change everyday, on every issue. How?

  1. Share positive ideas for resolving the challenges faced by the nation; make sure they reach your elected leaders
  2. Propose and sponsor bills and policy initiatives you believe are necessary or helpful to national development
  3. Write open letters to government officials at local and national levels on the issues that are important to you
  4. Hold town hall meetings with your elected officials
  5. Mobilize support for the issues you care about through petitions
  6. Sue government institutions for specific, indictable failings and wrongdoing

Of course, there is much else you can do. It is a long road, certainly, but it must be trod, and there are some good starting points. One of them is the Right to Information Bill, which we must all insist gets passed as soon as all this noisemaking is over.

A Final Word

Very likely you will fall into the same old routine of minding “your own business” until we are at this again in 2020. Prove me wrong.

So why the sore note of cynicism? Well, the sad reality is that many of us will not heed this advice. We will think “Hmm, that’s true”, or “interesting”, or whatever else. Some of us might actually make a year-end resolution to do more. But very likely you will fall into the same old routine of minding “your own business” until we are at this again in 2020. Prove me wrong.

The only way to avowing growing cynicism is to demonstrate that beyond merely being counted successfully at these elections, your vote really does count in terms of the success our nation enjoys over the next four years, and the contribution you make to that success.

I recently made the case on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show that many floating voters never really land. At every election there is a significant faction of good-minded citizens who get lumped in with the apathetic in the “didn’t turn out” bracket. Why do they not vote? I don’t know. Perhaps they are frightened off by old axioms that say you are as culpable for the mess of the nation if you vote for its bad officials. Perhaps they are put off by Plato: “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” They know they are not indifferent. A few of them, I am sure, have been let in on a well-kept secret: holding leaders accountable everyday is more useful than having your vote counted every four years. Voting is important. But following up on your vote is even more so. And while there are many apathetic voters, there are no apathetic activists.

In the end, Emma Goldman is probably right. The politicians know that your vote truly won’t count beyond determining who is to ignore you for the next four years. But I feel we have a chance to prove her wrong… to prove that we don’t just vote; we care.



Preaching: Language and Delivery – A Review

A Primer for Preachers, by Ian Pitt-Watson, pp. 83 – 104 Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1986


Ian Pitt-Watson’s chapter on Language and delivery is a toure-de-force through the peculiarities and intricacies of the speech medium. He presents language and the delivery of it as a precise art that can yield great dividend.

Language and Delivery

His basic argument hinges on the fact that speech is heard rather than read, and this channel of information reception is given to very specific nuances that set it apart from reading. Particularly, hearing relies on intonation and inflections of voice rather than sentence construction and punctuation. The eye and the ear work very differently to produce meaning. The preacher needs to be aware of this, and to plan his sermons more according to the demands of the ear than of the eye.

For example, one may decide on any of four ways of using a manuscript, but the focus must be to reduce reliance on the text and to increase opportunity for spontaneity and the extempore. Positioning the manuscript well can help sustain eye contact, and one-sided sheets will reduce obstructions from page turns.

Pitt-Watson is well aware of the trade-off between structure and word economy on the one hand, and immediacy and spontaneity on the other. He suggests that as long as we know exactly what we are going to say, the how of what “the Spirit has conceived within us” can and should be left to the moment of delivery.

On delivery, he dispenses useful advice: be yourself, trust your reflexes, don’t be afraid to pause, use your voice. The preaching must be, as he put it in the beginning of the chapter, oral, but also aural.

Biblical Truth and Biblical Preaching

The chapter on Biblical Truth and Biblical Preaching is a fascinating juxtaposition of two thought systems that converge in the modern Christian mind. The practical world of Jewish categories of truth and the esoteric intellectualism of Greek philosophy can wage war in us. Most times, he argues, Greek philosophy wins, and our preaching is marked by an emphasis on what we should think truth is, separate form what we should do or will to do.

He argues that the biblical paradigm is all encompassing: truth is what is thought, what is felt and what is done, not in separate instances, but all at the same time. This should come through if our preaching is to be biblical.


Pitt-Watson’s explanation of the differences in the Greek and Jewish thought paradigms raises interesting questions. One of them is: does the fact that the Bible has a composite view of truth mean it denies its separate constituents of thought, feeling and will as separate categories? Another, and on the other side, is, does Greek philosophical thought deny the simultaneous interplay of the three categories even as it outlines their individual features? I am not too sure if a necessary tension exists between the two thought systems, apart perhaps from a difference in emphasis.

Finally, I find his admonition that we must not bypass the propositional and emotional and go straight to “the truth done” to be extremely important. Especially in an Adventist tradition that emphasizes the evidentiary nature of faith through works, it would be all too easy to fall into this trap if we neglected this caution.


Christological Attributes

Pre-Existence of Christ

Most Christological scholarship agrees that the gospels portray Christ as pre-existing his earthly incarnation. John famously makes this claim by referring to Jesus as the Word (John 1:1), and subsequently asserting that the Word became flesh while still manifesting divine glory (v 14).

Jesus himself upset the Pharisees by claiming to have existed before Abraham (John 8:58). Not only this, but in the same statement He claimed equality with God, who designated Himself the I AM in early Old Testament discourse with Moses (Exodus 3:14).

The idea however raises difficult Christological questions pertaining to the ontology of the pre-incarnate Christ, and His heavenly identity. Theologically, however, it is essential to the validity of the message of the gospel; only God could be an efficacious substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of humankind.


The Nativity of Christ

Christ is pictured as having been born of a woman (Matthew 1:16), as all humans are. The nativity concerns His conception, birth and the circumstances surrounding both. His conceptions is shown to have been or spiritual cause. In Luke 1: 28 – 31 angel Gabriel relates this to Mary. As for the means of the conception, Gabriel reveals that it will be the result of the activity (overshadowing, KJV) of the Holy Spirit (v 35).

The birth of Jesus Christ is presented as a natural, biological parturition. Mary comes to term in due time, and gives birth naturally to baby Jesus. The circumstances surrounding the birth, however, retain a supernatural aspect. A star guides the Magi (Matthew 1:9), angels heralded the event (Luke 2:8 – 14) and the birth event itself is circumstantially compelled to occur in Bethlehem in fulfilment of prophecy (Micah 5:2).


Divine Enfleshment – The Incarnation

The incarnation of Christ refers to the specific ontological and existential reality into which Christ is conceived and born as a human being. Its concerns are the ontology of His being: He was flesh and blood (John 1:14, Romans 8:3, Philippians 2:6 – 8), He was capable of yielding to temptation (Matthew 4:1 – 3), of experiencing physical pain and suffering (Luke 22:15, 44, Matthew 27:46) and death (Mark 15:37).

The incarnation literally refers then to the taking up by Christ of human attributes. It derives form the etymological Latin root carnus meaning flesh. It is the enfleshing of Christ.

Again, the concept of Christ’s incarnation raises Christological difficulties. What was the nature of the flesh? Was it wholly human? If so must it not have had the full complement of male and female genotypes? Was it predisposed to sin as all other human flesh is, as a result of the fall of Adam? Or did Christ have an unfallen nature though human? Indeed it has presented extreme Docetist views that Christ may only have had the appearance of humanity, and that his flesh body was actually a phantasm, a spiritual substance resembling human flesh. Questions also emerge on several divine attributes. Did Christ retain omniscience or at least ready access to it? Did He retain a memory of His heavenly glory or did He merely learn of it from Scripture?

Soteorologially, though, and perhaps more importantly, the incarnation of Christ is pivotal to the efficacy of His substitutionary sacrifice. Just as only God could sufficiently atone for sin, only a man could sufficiently demonstrate that the law is “keepable”, and thereby exonerate the charges of tyranny against God in the context of the Great Controversy.


Servant-King – The Condescension

That God became a man is the most extreme form of condescension possible in the universe. When understood as a title, “God” entails a position of command, ownership and respect unmatched in any other role of the Universe. “God” is the apex of supremacy attainable by any being. Lucifer coveted this station, but Christ had it.

The condescension, then, is Christ’s desceinding (Latin descendere), to be with (Latin com) us, as revealed in His name Immanuel. Yet the condescenscion is not only one of company or association (John 1:11), but also of nature and stature.


In John 4:6 Jesus is seen to have become tired. In His former glory this would not have been possible (Isaiah 40:28, Psalm 121:4). He is shown to have had become hungry in Matthew 4:2.


Jesus is pictured as a servant (Luke 22:27) to his disciples. He is shown to be subservient, even in distress, to the abuse of men, verbal (John 8:41, Luke 7:34) and physical (Matthew 27:27 – 31).



Whatever philosophical difficulties are posed by the pre-existence, nativity, incarnation and condescension of Christ, none is more difficult than the task of bringing a legitimately won salvation to a fallen, degenerate race. This is the great achievement of Jesus; the great accomplishment of the Son of man, which must above all other questions, be our wonder and our study.


The Postmodern Problem – A Review

Preaching With Conviction, by Kenton C. Anderson, pp 9 – 56

Kenton C. Anderson, in his Preaching with Conviction takes a story approach to the deeply philosophical problem of how to approach postmodern-era preaching. The approach is useful for bringing out in very identifiable terms, the challenges that today’s preachers face in communicating divine truth to an increasingly sceptical, secularist and pluralistic audience.

Anderson’s story centres on Jack Newman, an evangelical minister who is losing confidence in the absoluteness and even the truth of the message he has been preaching for twenty years. He is contemplating resignation, but has the wisdom to confide first in his brother, and then in Henry Ellis, a retired, senior minister.

Defining the Problem

In both conversations, Newman clearly defines his challenge. Society has moved on from the days of quiet obedience and reverence for the religious claims of the Bible ad its preachers. Myriad cultures have changed the philosophical landscape from a predominantly protestant Christian one to a hodgepodge of religious and non-religious thought.

Additionally, the growing social consensus is that all views are as sound and each other, and that there is no single objective truth that can be known and communicated, since all knowledge is subjective. Postmodernism has created a congregation which is wealthier and gives more, but which is also more sceptical and believes less. It was making the same kind of pastor out of Jack Newman.

A Theological Solution

It is Henry, who in a stroke of brilliance helps resolve a large part of Newman’s trouble. In a cooperative dialogue, the two men establish that all objective truth finds its source in the creative acts of God. They called this initiation. Second they determined that the clearest revelation of this truth was made in the person and life of Christ, the incarnation. Third, they agreed that Christ, the Word, is also expressed in the Bible, through inspiration. Finally, God reveals truth through the direction of His Holy Spirit. They called this illumination.

The beauty of this system of perceiving truth is that it removes the burden of objectivity from the person, and places it on an external source, God. The preacher’s role, then, is merely in “helping people hear from God.” This way, the preacher needs only open up the channels in his hearers that let the voice of God in, and “let God do the rest.” He may even then be able to use the subjectivity of the hearer to his advantage, by appealing to subjective authority, as well as to apprehension; the hearer tainting the message with their subjectivity and therefore making it their own.


The postmodern philosophical problem is indeed complex. Does objective truth exist? Can it be known? Can it be told? I may add a fourth: Can it be heard? My view is that even if we can find, understand and communicate objective reality, the hearer is likely to taint it with his or her own interpretations of our words. Part of the beauty of Newman’s and Ellis’ approach for me, lies in the fact that rather than ignoring this, they make use of it for the benefit of the preaching of the gospel of truth.

On the Importance of Preaching: A Review


Preaching is more than merely spewing out fine words; it is, as H.E. Fosdick has put it, “drenching a congregation with one’s life-blood.” The preacher invests himself in the work of preaching, by making it a conduit for the expression of his own life, and experience of faith. It calls for discipline and wisdom in planning, execution, and sometimes delegation.

A Planned Approach

Jones is categorical that the preaching work cannot be done with quality without a methodical, systematic approach to the allocation and use of the minister’s time. In modern ministry, duties are many, and therefore the minister must be vigilant with time. Jones suggests six things to help preachers: accept that it is hard work, have regular study hours, systematize work with a view to automation, eschew procrastination, delegate tasks to laymen, and be assertive and focus on essentials.

While achieving these habits is difficult, it is the task the preacher has been called to, and no shortcut will avail success. As Samuel Johnson observed, “The man who tries to make it easy is always distraught.”

Health in Body and Mind

The preacher must likewise invest in his body instrument so as to allow it to be used efficiently for God’s glory. He must train his whole body and mind to prevent imbalances in the physical, mental and emotional states. Jones reflects that many preachers have neglected to do this while themselves preaching the virtues of such psychosomatic disciplines to their hearers. Many a time they have done the gospel the disservice of appearing, as Oliver Wendell Holmes has remarked, as undertakers. The experience of Robert Louis Stevenson should not be the lot of today’s congregations; church should provide inspiration, not depression. The minister’s attitude to his health with determine, in large part, which of these two effects is transmitted.

Personal Life and Christian Experience

The preacher’s life should be a source of credence and power to the message. It must show evidence of the kind of faith that takes hold of – possesses – one. Broadus calls this “vital Christian experience.” While congregations are often ready to forgive the trifles and foibles of human fallibility in their preachers, actual insincerity will hardly be forgiven or forgotten. The preacher’s life must seek to give an example of morality and holiness to which others may aspire. The tendency to indulge in base practices in the name of evangelistic condescension must be avoided.

Work and Happiness

The preacher must not be distracted by the allurements of other professions. Indeed, for Jones, this constitutes a test of calling. A truly called minister will work in the settled peace, satisfaction and joy of having been conscripted by the Lord Himself.

My Reaction

Ilion T. Jones is quite forthright in asserting that every preacher experiences, in his or her own way, a certain certainty of having been called. His categorical tone may seem to leave no room for the self-doubt that may, under the right circumstances, serve as a check on human pride. While this is not the necessary outcome of his argument, it may well by an unintended impression left on some readers.

Broadus, however, brings balance by stressing that “homiletical skills” cannot provide a replacement for “complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit.” This, I think, leaves us free to doubt ourselves while trusting unfailingly in the God Who called us.


Towards a More Truly Scientific Method

Science opens new wonders to our view; she soars high and explores new depths; but she brings nothing from her research those conflicts with divine revelation. Ignorance may seek to support false views of God by appeals to science; but the book of nature and the written Word do not disagree; each sheds light on the other.”

  • Ellen White, Signs of the Times, March 20, 1884

Science is carried out largely as a systematic approach to the establishment of facts. These facts, considered as constituents of a larger reality, lead to the knowledge of truth. In this way science reaches out from the level of the empirically factual to the philosophically true.

As a systematic approach, it relies on a well-known methodology, the scientific method. This methodology aims at the confirmation or refutation of a testable hypothesis. The hypothesis is testable in that it is falsifiable, meaning that it can be shown by observation or experimentation to be false if indeed it is. The specific approach of observation or experimentation must be a replicable one, such that there is a consistency of outcome under the same conditions across multiple experimental instances.

It goes without saying that this approach has led to decades of valuable scientific discovery. It also goes without saying that it has produced a scientific practice that seldom agrees with the religious thought world. Particularly as relates to the Bible, science and scripture have become rather estranged to each other. The happy union suggested by Ellen White as shown above has proven an elusive dream, by and large.

The Root of the Problem

It will not be disputed that the reason why science is set at variance with scripture from the outset lies in a difference in philosophy. Both make initial assumptions about the search for truth that are incompatible with each other. Science assumes on the one hand that natural observation alone is sufficient to explain natural phenomena. The Bible maintains that it is not, that non-naturalistic or supernatural agents and factors are involved in the creation and persistence of reality.

On the surface of things, the scientific position seems reasonable. Why appeal to factors that are not accountable or observable to explain facts that are fully observable and natural? Why assume there is a supernatural, when all that is ever empirically observed is the natural? Yet is it indeed scientific to exclude the possibility of the supernatural as an explanation for natural phenomena?

The Two Wizards

The idea that supernatural explanations are not necessary in the pursuit of science is not a naturalistic observation. Nothing in nature suggests that there is nothing beyond. Nature is, empirically speaking, silent on the matter. Therefore we have to accept that science premises itself precariously on a non-naturalistic, even metaphysical assertion. In running away from the supernatural it unwittingly embraces it.

Methodological Naturalism

Methodological naturalism is the idea that in all steps of the scientific process, inferences and conclusions should always remain in keeping with what is empirically observed, and that the methods themselves should be naturally derived and driven. Indeed, all scientific work should be limited to the study of natural causes.

It is instructive that in itself methodological naturalism does not claim that there are no natural causes. It only claims that it cannot investigate them, or be intelligently aided by them, if they exist.

A Harmonizing Step

The two worldviews, as Ellen White has suggested, need not be mutually exclusive of each other. Unlike Stephen Jay Gould has argued, science and religion must not necessarily constitute Nonoverlapping Magisteria. Similarly, Theodosius Dobhzansky, the eminent evolutionary biologist, is not necessarily correct in his assertion that biology can only make sense in light of evolution.

In order to more closely harmonize scientific practice with the Bible, we must seriously question the place of both philosophical and methodological naturalism in the scientific method. We may want to approach the naturalistic evidence with an open mind. This is not only sound, but it is indeed more faithful to nature, which never decides in favour of or against supernatural causes.

Open Now the Floodgates?

The scientific method, then, can be helped by a toning down of the metaphysical dogmatism of unbelief. Yet are we to utterly destroy the wall of methodological naturalism? No. I believe that any such modification of the scientific method be carried out wisely. Methodological naturalism has kept out many a nonsensical fantasy from the body of human knowledge. If we suddenly admitted that all causes, natural or supernatural, are as likely as each other, we would have a deluge of irresolvable conflict from various religious claims on every investigable subject. This would be chaos, and possibly the very suicide of science.

So how are we to go about it? My personal proposition is that it may be more faithful to nature to follow the lead of natural probability. Things that are of higher probability tend to occur, and be observed, more frequently. As a result it is not out of place to insist that since natural things occur more frequently, then they are more probable than supernatural ones. We should only look for supernatural causes when either:

  • Observations in nature suggest them (hence the need for a persistently open-minded interpreter), or
  • Naturalistic explanations are exhausted without a solution to the problem.

Additionally, any such admittance of non-naturalistic explanations must be religiously neutral, and such explanations must be derived from scientific research rather than from any specific religious, cultic or denominational theologies. In the end, the Bible will not need the developed theologies of the church to be borne out and justified by the science. Truth will out without their help.

One may object that there is no science to figure out the supernatural. This is to be expected, as we have spent centuries developing and perfecting a naturalistic science. Once we embrace an open-minded approach, the systems and rudiments of science will grow to accommodate it in time.


Galileo was right: if there is any book that philosophers need to read (scientists and theologians alike), it is the book of nature. Yet while in his day it was heretical to extend naturalistic observation into the realm of interpretation of scripture, Ellen White is wholly accepting of its role in precisely that regard. Science can tell us what scripture means in many instances, and scripture can tell us what nature means. In the modern – and post-modern – pursuit of truth, each should be allowed, as she has said, to “sheds light on the other.”


Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” The American Biology Teacher, March 1973

Stephen Jay Gould, “Nonoverlapping Magisteria,” Natural History 106 (March 1997): 16-22; Reprinted here with permission from Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms, New York: Harmony Books, 1998, pp. 269-283. Accessed form

John Perry. 10 Christians Everyone Should Know. Thomas Nelson Inc. 2012.


The Development of the Gospel as a Genre

The word “gospel” comes from the Greek ευαγγελιον (you-angelion). It literally means “good news”. During the intertestamental period it was widely used across the Greco-Roman world in several different cultural and religious contexts. It later became associated with the message of Christ, and has come to represent a well-defined genre of New Testament writing.

Pre-Christian Use of the Word

War Triumphs

Between 60 BC and 30BC Diodorus of Sicily produced his Bibliotheca Historica, in which he gives an account of a man who sails from Athens to Syracuse to give Dionisus news of a military victory at the Lenaea. Diodorus calls this ευαγγελια.

Great military heroes were often referred to as ‘saviours’. This of course is a related concept to the gospel. Their military exploits, which often won territories and established lasting peace, were seen as fulfillments of oracular messianic pronouncements. A Proconsul Paulus Fabius Maximus lauds Caesar Augustus, for example, in this regard, as the beginning of “good tidings” or ευαγγελιον for wresting Rome from the Brutus and the conspirators. Josephus uses the term in reference to Vespasian’s exploits in the East.

Ancient Repression and Saviour Cults

Political repression also fueled various legends and narratives about saviours. Their military and spiritual intervention were prophecied to bring liberation and prosperity, and this was often termed as good news. The Cabirus cult in ancient Thessalonica is one such cult.

Older References

It appears that older writers such as Menander, Aeschenes and Homer also treated the good news as a unitary idea. Aeschenes in the 4th Century describes the assasination of Phillip of Macedon, as ευαγγελιων.

Biblical Infusion

The first infusions of the terms into Biblical text come from the Septuagint, which used the greek word in describing Old Testament passages such as 2 Samuel 4:10, where a man brings ‘ευαγγελια’ about Saul’s death to David.

Later the apostles used the term in reference to the salvific message of Jesus. Jesus himself may have used a cognate expression in the Aramaic, because passages such as Matthew 11:15 indicate that He was aware of the concept of the proclamation of ‘good news’.

A Case for Cultural Linguistic Influence

It is well known that culture affects language, and more so other languages affect one’s own expression. The term ‘good news’ may well be the cultural linguistic bequethal of the Greco-Roman influences of the New Testament era.

Rather than its isolated and random application within the body of New Testament Texts, whole volumes came to be known or seen as single statements of ‘good news’. Irenaeus of Lugdunum and other 2nd Century scholars may well have popularized this singular reference. Irenneus is said to have identified the tetra-morph gospel and suggested apostolic attribution, but many believe the associations predate this era.

Either way, by the end of the 2nd Century, these four books came to be known and accepted as ‘Gospels’. The came to define a genre whose main features were, among others:

  • Historical prose on the life of Christ
  • Narrative monologues on His teaching
  • Theological deductions and applications on His life and Teaching
  • Philosophical discussions on the ideas of His person

This, in brief, is an account of how the New Testament came to be dominated by a genre we can isolate, and describe according to its central theme: the good news that Christ came, died and rose again to save sinful men.


The Two Outings of Revelation

PART ONE: Chief of Sinners; A Reflection

Leaving is rarely pleasant. From the moment of first contemplation through to the final execution of it, it is often a process fraught with pain and reticence. Sometimes leaving is unforced and perfectly voluntary. At other times is necessary, or even mandatory. Whether under necessary circumstances, such as the need to travel away from family and loved ones, or under literal force and compulsion; eviction form a cherished home, arrest or banishing, it is rarely pleasant.

The great call to God’s people to leave Babylon, then, cannot be an easy call to heed. To think so would be to betray a lack of appreciation for the nature of their bonds to this ancient, albeit metaphorical city. It would be to discount the near-perfect assimilation of their persons, lives and work, with the spirit of the place. This is the first great outing of Revelation. Hear the angel.

With a mighty voice he shouted: “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’ She has become a dwelling for demons and a haunt for every impure spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal. For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “‘Come out of her, my people,’ so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
– Revelation 18:4 (NIV)

It is clear from the text that Babylon is a metaphor for sin in its two egregious forms: first the rejection of truth, and second the unrestrained indulgence it permits and fosters in the life. It is also a metaphor for the institutions of church (the woman) and state (the kings) that prop it up. What would it be then to come out of Babylon, this dwelling place of every impure spirit? What would it be to reject the offer of her intoxicating wine?

Most of us read the book of Revelation with the most sober of attitudes. This is a good thing. The words of the book give us a sense of the ultimate. It is a superlative book. Satan is at his strongest in the book of Revelation, Christ is at His most fearsome and majestic, angels are at their most serious and urgent business, righteousness is at its purest and most exalted form, and sin is at its wickedest and most desperate state. The metaphor of Babylon is a case in point.

It is easy – indeed natural – to read these words then with a subconscious distancing of ourselves from the idea of it. We do not easily read ourselves in as belonging to this wicked city, as living within her walls, as trading in her markets, as eating of her produce, as playing on her streets or as bearing her very name. That is for the wicked people, the worst of sinners in the world, the Babylonians.

It is at this realization exactly that we must pause and reflect. We are not always aware of this subconscious gradation of evil, in which we place ourselves near the most benign of sinners. Indeed we are very seldom aware of it. We must pause and think about it then. Babylon indeed is the worst of cities, but are we truly the worst of sinners? Are the veritable Babylonians of the world, or do we find our home in some distant suburb?

Consider the famous universalization that Paul applies to the dominion of sin in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Just how short do you think we have come of it? What is the extent of our sin? How much of His image do we retain in us? We rarely seen ourselves as completely bereft of the glory of God after reading this. In our minds we have never been entirely ‘gloryless’. We’ve only been vaguely short of the full measure of it. My contention is not that this is a wrong way to see the text, but merely that realizing this should invite us to see our true condition before God with perhaps greater humility that we have been able to in the past. We must also then be prepared to see the ugliest reflection of ourselves in the mirror of Christ’s face.

Paul’s words to Timothy are useful in this process of introspection: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” – 1 Timothy 1:15. Paul makes this evaluation in the context of his past life (see vs 12 – 14), but makes present tense expression of it. There is a sense in which Paul sees himself as still unworthy, because of the person he has been. This is a very humble posture. It is not the persistence of the guilt of past sin, but it is an enduring awareness of where one stands in relation to a holy God.

Isaiah’s self abnegation in the face of God’s throne is likewise instructive: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” – Isaiah 6:5.

In both cases, it is after seeing God in His holiness that the contrast of the human condition becomes its clearest and most vivid. This is hardly possible without such privileged vision. One cannot, I think, own their sin fully until they have seen God fully, and experienced Him on some level. It will probably not be on the road to Damascus, or in heavenly vision, but it is always nevertheless the full force of the entrance of light into a dark room.

There is a second dimension, which we will consider only briefly. Babylon has its citizens, but it also has its rulers and institutions of leadership. Here is where sin reaches its roots of false teaching. When government (often uniting with religion) establishes, promotes or imposes idolatry (the abandonment of God for the principles of other powers), then it becomes Babylonian in its spirit.

By this I do not have in sight such principles as freedom of speech and religion; rather I have in sight the tyranny that comes in embracing a worldview that is opposed to the revealed will of God, his commandments included (perhaps paramount) and them imposing this worldview through the vehicles of culture, media, law, and participation in the civic sphere.

The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.
Error has a way of spreading. The sin it engenders is often linked with mankind’s basic pleasures, and the spectrum is broad, encompassing our necessary food and our wildest of hedonistic enjoyments. Babylon spreads her wares by cultural conditioning and seductive marketing, yes, but also by political alliance and international influence.

The line of prophecy flows down to a second outing, a forceful ejection which your will as a Christian will have little to do with. It is an outing that the kings decree, and will be the focus of our next reflection.

This first coming out of Babylon, though, is first both in terms of prophetic chronology and importance, as relates to our salvation. It is a lifelong process, but it is one in which the first step, all clichés aside, is literally the most important one. It is at the point of realization, confession and surrender that we are justified. At that very point, like the thief on the cross, like the lip-scorched Isaiah, and like the blinded, prostrate Paul, we are justified before God. It is at the point where there spirit is poorest, as with the confessing publican of Luke 18, beating his chest with all the weight of his guilt of sin, that the releasing verdict of justification is pronounced, and all the riches of the Kingdom of God are bestowed. But it starts with a realization of our sin.

Jesus said in Luke 7:47 that “Whoever has been forgiven little loves little”. This is to say that those who feel their debt to God (which is another biblical metaphor for sin) is only a small one have a correspondingly small appreciation of the value of His grace and salvation. It is those, then, who see themselves as owing the greater debt, that are most thankful for the gift of forgiveness and justification. Reflecting on the blessing Jesus bestows on the poor in spirit one writer put it this way:

“Those who are rich and honorable in their own eyes do not ask in faith, and receive the blessing of God. They feel that they are full, therefore they go away empty. Those who know that they cannot possibly save themselves, or of themselves do any righteous action, are the ones who appreciate the help that Christ can bestow. They are the poor in spirit, whom He declares to be blessed… All who have a sense of their deep soul poverty, who feel that they have nothing good in themselves, may find righteousness and strength by looking unto Jesus.
– Ellen White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pages 7,8

The point is made, and I am reminded of the words of a famous hymn:

Chief of sinners though I be,
Jesus shed His blood for me…
-SDAH 295

Examining the Popular Mizpah Greeting

The popular Ghanaian Adventist greeting Mizpah is spoken at the end of meetings of the saints. It is used as an expression of brotherly love and belief in God’s protection between meetings. It is a statement of faith that God will bring together again those who are parting, at the next meeting. The greeting is derived from Genesis 31. In the passage, Laban and Jacob name a heap of stones Mizpah, because, as Laban said, it symbolised that God would watch between them when they were absent from each other.

Genesis 31:48, 49:
48 And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;  49 And Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.

I have for a long time wondered curiously why people would choose this word for a greeting. On the face of it, it sounds like a positive word with a positive meaning. My own study over the last three or four years (for I have come back to this study many times in the period) reveals otherwise.

The declaration is made in the context of a serious disagreement between the two men. Without recounting all the (well-known) details, there is suspicion, anger, and distrust involved.

Cease Fire or I Love You?
To many readers, it appears as though there is a reconciliation because the two “did eat there upon the heap” vs 46. However, when one considers the ensuing dialogue, as well as the customs of the ancient Near-Easterners, the meal was at best a covenant of peace (and in this case the cessation of intended hostilities), rather than a testament of affection.

For early Jews and much of the Near-Eastern civilisation, eating together was and still is a symbol of peace. It does, as well, symbolise love between the parties, but this cannot always be assumed, as the activity may be employed for either or both purposes depending on the prevailing circumstances. In the New Testament, eating the body of Christ (John 6:49 – 51) symbolises believing in Jesus, by which means we end our war with Him through sin  (Ephesians 2:14, Colossians 1:20) and enter the covenant of Peace (Isaiah 54:5 – 10, Ezekiel 37:26, Romans 5:1, etc.). Obedience to the law reveals the love which keeps us in good standing in the covenant (John 14:15, 1 John 5:3, Romans 13:10, Galatians 5:14, etc.).

Before the meal, Laban had been given a dream (v 24) in which he was told simply to neither accuse nor excuse Jacob. Did he arrive at Jacob’s camp with a change of heart towards him? Mark his words:

Genesis 31:29: “It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.

Clearly, Laban does not say that God cleared up the matter for him. The dream did not explain that Jacob was innocent of his uncle’s accusations. Laban was not convinced that his pursuit of Jacob was morally unjustified. He was simply told to leave it alone. Without explanation, and with peremptory force, he was essentially told “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” (1 Chronicles 16:22). Laban’s suspicions were not ended by the dream. They were overruled by Divine fiat.

Indeed, it appears that while Laban heeded the warning by not directly condemning Jacob, he could not be restrained from accusing him still. From vs 26 to 28, and 36 to 42, the two men engage in what the New Bible Commentary has described as “charge and counter charge” before their amicable parting.

After their meal his words are telling of the exact sentiment in his heart. Indeed, in the same monologue in which he names the heap of their meal Mizpah, he explains the intent behind the christening:

49 And Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another. 50 If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.  51 And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee;  52 This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm. 

In vs 49, Laban asks God to watch between them while they are absent one form another. This is an important phrase. He is concerned with the uncertainty about what each party, particularly Jacob, whom he feels has tricked him, may be up to when the other is not watching. He is hoping that God will keep Jacob faithful to the terms, not safe from evil per se. Essentially, Laban declares: “Let’s call this a watchtower,” (which is what the word means:  an observatory, especially for military purposes:—watch tower. Strong’s Concordance 4707), “because God will watch from here between us, and ensure we both honour this agreement.”

Why must God watch?
1. You may harm my daughters: After their altercation, Laban could not be sure that Jacob would not mette his fury out on his wives, Laban’s daughters, as indirect retribution. This was a common practice in those days, where the family members of one’s enemy were fair game when direct revenge was not possible or adequate.

2. You may marry other wives: Apparently, part of Laban’s strict marriage agreement with Jacob was not only that he would work seven years each for Leah and Rachael, but also that he would marry no others. If Jacob fell out of love with them because of this family feud, then marrying other wives became more likely, and Laban was not convinced that Jacob would be faithful without a strong oath.

3. The pillar: In vs 46, Jacob asks his servants to build the heap of stones. In vs 52 Laban erects his own pillar. Why did he do this? Monuments were often erected to claim ownership or rulership of territory. The Patriarchs did so to define the territories of their sojourn and of the Promised Land on behalf of God (as in Bethel) and kings did so to declare their dominion after conquests.

For Laban, it was not enough that Jacob had a heap there – indeed, it was dangerous – for it could be mistaken as the centre of a dominion stretching outwards from it and possibly into Laban’s territory. Laban erected his own pillar, likely some space from Jacob’s heap, to define a sort of no-man’s-land, and thereby protect his own territory from a future invasion he clearly thought possible, if not likely.

4. For harm: This phrase says it all. It can be understood in a number of ways. It could mean, “To cause harm” or “At risk of harm/at one’s own peril”. Either way, the sentiment is not very reassuring of trust. The first says, “I don’t trust you” and the second, “I am warning you.” Neither declares, “I love you dearly”.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that the two men parted amicably, one might even say as allies, but certainly not as friends. They made a peace treaty with their heap and pillar, declared a military buffer zone and erected a guard post for the Lord, Who was to be the sentinel soldier to guard agains a breach of the agreement. At least Laban was very clear with his continued distrust of his nephew, and relied only on the God Whom he knew Jacob believed in to stay his nephew’s hand from future provocation and keep his daughters safe.

Mizpah, then, is a symbol of God’s watching between, not over the two men. There is a big difference. In our greetings, we clearly imply the latter, but in my view this is not the spirit of the word’s original purpose. Mizpah makes God a perpetual ombudsman of a life-long conflict. It makes Him the arbiter of unending distrust and suspicion.

May we want to reconsider our use of this term, or do we rather intend to reclaim it for our more friendly 21st Century purposes? I personally never make a big fuss of it. I do not respond to the greeting, as many are aware, because I have my doubts about this application of a Biblically derived (but in my view misconstrued) word. I do not prevent or judge those who do, because clearly the intent is pure, and God is invited to watch over, for peace, rather than between, for harm.

A Precarious Affair

Early in Exodus 30 we are given wonderful words indeed. They are words, to be sure, that sound much like the rest of their lot: what I mean is that they repeat much of the measurements and material specifications that are used to describe the sanctuary Moses is to build. I do not mean to show that they are different in tone or import from this large body of text. No; it is a wonderful body of text. God in precise detail outlines the means and modalities of His communion with the Israelites, in a way that is both reminiscent and prophetic of his meticulous plan for the redemption of fallen humankind.

In these first verses of Exodus 30, the instructions concern the altar of incense. Mark the words:

Ex. 30:1   And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it.  2 A cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: and two cubits shall be the height thereof: the horns thereof shall be of the same.  3 And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof; and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about.  4 And two golden rings shalt thou make to it under the crown of it, by the two corners thereof, upon the two sides of it shalt thou make it; and they shall be for places for the staves to bear it withal.  5 And thou shalt make the staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold.  6 And thou shalt put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee.

We will not belabour the much-repeated significance of the parts and their dimensions and materials. We will not even exhaust the symbolic significance buried in them. All I mean to do is touch on the special place that God has in His heart for prayer, for communion, and for meeting with us.

Thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon. If the incense is our prayer then our prayer is sweet in the ears of God, for such is the fragrance of incense. The Hebrew economy would have supported the making of incense with sweet spices, and God picked them Himself: frankincense, stacte and onycha and galbanum (v 34). It would have been a sweet smoke to smell, but it was the smoke of sinful men. Marvelous thought, that God counts our communication so dear, given our fallen – and indeed often unsanctified – lips and hearts.

Where Art Thou?

When God came walking in the garden six thousand years ago, that terrible day when man ceded his dominion over to wickedness itself, God was likely to have come to the place where time after time, day after day, he came to meet with them. It is reasonable to expect this. God is a God of special things, and loves to give places and beings and times and things special significance. I can easily see Him say to Adam and Eve, I will meet with you here each day. Possibly more than once. Let’s make it nice and keep it clean. Perhaps a special grove of the loveliest trees, perhaps a cool and sparkling stream running by the side, perhaps the tree of life close-by or in the view. It may have been here that Adam was born; for God loves to continue where special things begin. It may have been here where God formed every beast of the field and “brought them to Adam to see what he would call them.” They must have shared many a laugh, for I wonder at what Adam would have named some of the animals. The giraffe and sloth would have been particularly interesting.

It may well have been the place where God anaesthetised Adam with a deep sleep, and formed from his rib the woman of his dreams, if dreamed, and “brought her to the man.” If so then it is here that Adam named her, for his declaration was swift upon the encounter. “She shall be called Woman, because she was taken our of Man.”

Here dreams came true, prayers were answered, and perfect love enveloped the human-divine family. But one day, God came into the garden, walking in His usual manner on His usual paths, “in the cool of the day”, and Adam and Eve were not to be found.

The timeless call belongs not just to Adam. “Where art thou, O reader?” Where are you when God comes to meet with you? In the breaking of the dawn, in the cool of the day, or in the dim of twilight? The Jewish prayer pattern of thrice daily is an old mirror not of when man chooses to meet God, but of when God appoints to meet him. The divine schedule has space blocked out for us, and not only these three times, but continually. But where are we?

Before The Veil

Prayer is the master key, we sing. If it is a key, then it is the key to a very important door. Moses and Aaron offered up the prayer of the people with clouds of incense, and by that means gained access to the most sacred chamber on Earth. They may not have entered themselves, but their hearts, and the hearts of the people, were admitted in their daily contrition.

The veil did not hide the Lord from them so much as it shielded sinful man from the consuming presence of a holy God. And the veil went across the arc of the Testimony, and stood before the mercy seat, the covering of grace, that was over the Testimony. You see the picture is beautiful. God sits upon His throne, which is called the mercy seat because He rules in the spirit of restoration, forgiveness and grace. His mercy endureth forever, as the Psalmist declares. This is so because His throne in turn is seated above the Testimony, the law, the “Ten Commandments” of God. The government of God is founded upon the tenets of divine law and order. Without the law, there is no lawgiver, no authority, no government, no throne, no God. Those who teach that the law has vanished from the equation of salvation will reach a wrong sum, for they eliminate from it the denominator of mercy and grace. These two are only ever meaningful in the context of transgressed law, and punishable guilt.


Prayer is needful because such a state is a precarious one, and yields precarious others. How many sorrows, calamities and confusions bedevil us today because of sin! Few realise that the two words “prayer” and “precarious” share a linguistic stem. They both derive from an old Latin stem, “precaria”, the feminine form of “precarius” meaning “obtained by prayer”. That stem in turn derives from “precari“, meaning, “to ask or beg”.

When Peter shouted on his way down the depths “Lord, save me!” that was precari. When Nehemiah shot up a silent prayer before presenting his momentous intentions before a heathen king that was precari. When Daniel inquired about the end of a seventy-year long bondage of Israel that was precari. Of prayer, William Cowper has penned the couplet:

“Satan trembles when he sees

 The weakest saint upon his knees.”

When we pray, speaking with God “as friend to friend”, it is a precarious situation for our enemy.

I Will Meet With Thee. Better Believe It!

The promise is certain and sure. God declared that his presence was assured when the priest came to the altar. The veil may separate us that you are not consumed, but I will meet you still in prayer. How is this to be? Paul tells of a supernatural transference of meaning that is worked out for us by God through His Holy Spirit: “or we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Romans 8:26.

God’s promise is that He will meet us in our prayer. If we believe it, we believe Him. We must pray “believing that we receive the things we ask for” Mark 11:24, and it shall be. Nothing is more displeasing to the Lord than that we doubt His promises. Do doubt His word is to doubt Him. “Hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” Numbers 23:19.

One old man was taught a signal lesson in this regard. He was a man who ought to have known better. Not only was he a priest in the temple of God, standing at the altar and bearing the people’s prayers up with sweet incense, but he also had a prayer of his own, a longing of his heart. His name was Zacharias. It was his turn to serve in the temple, according to the calendar of priestly ministration. Even if God would not meet Him in person, He would meet him another way.

Luke 1:

10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.


18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

God has often sent angels in answer to prayer. To Daniel, to Lot, to John, to Zacharias, and indeed, if you will believe it, to you and to me. For Hebrews 13:2 declares that some have entertained angels without knowing it. But the divine condescension is beyond angelic. Of united prayer the Lord Himself declares: “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matthew 18:20. In our preaching of the gospel of peace He promises: “I am with you always.” Matthew 28:20. And of our secret and silent prayers, His commitment is to reward you for what is done in secret (Matthew 6:6), no doubt with and answer to the prayer. Well did Luke sum up the Lesson of Christ’s parable of the persistent widow: “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”