True to the idea that we sit on the shoulder’s of those who’ve gone before us, this Tanzanian proverb captures the sentiments of this post:
“Kama ukikataa la mkubwa, utatembea kutwa nzima.” (Translated from Ngoreme)
It basically holds the idea that if one fails to hear the elders (although they are just as human), one can walk for a long time, without insight. There have been countless teachers, uncles/aunts, guardians and mentors who have shaped me beyond these ones, but I wanted to pay special tribute to these people and their work that has formed me:
My Parents – James & Angela Ndereba
I have spoken about them too much probably, written about them in my first book and they also feature more directly in my second book (forthcoming). They have been my first practical theologians, nurturing me in the faith despite all my energy – more than an energizer bunny. They have always been cool, calm and loving (well besides the mwikos that were broken during the disciplining years) throughout my life. Understanding has defined them as they have walked with me in the discernment of my purpose in life, and now as a Father, I can only hope to do fractions of what they have managed. They teach me to be practical in my faith and work, and to be honorable in the society.
Edward Buri & Prof. Peter Njoroge Kariuki
These men have been in my life for some time now, being involved in our family occasions in ways that have made them part of the nucleus. I however got to know them when I embraced the faith personally – Buri as my youth pastor and mentor in ministry, and “Prof.” as my lecturer in family life, marriage and pastoral work. Both are outstanding family men, husbands and fathers. Both are men who love books and ideas as much as they love people, openly and genuinely. They taught me compassion and a love for others, characters that are a core to their pastoral calling. What a blessing to be part of their faithful teaching, writing, counselling, mentoring and above all, friendship – even with their wonderful wives (great blessings to Jessica and I). I think someone should seriously consider writing their biography (wink!).
In my first year of becoming a believer, I came across John Piper and his book Doctrine Matters opened me up to the world of theology, and more specifically reformed theology. A passionate preacher with a pastor’s heart, his work has been archived in the Desiring God website. His book and writings expounded on the kind of theology that I had grown up with in my Presbyterian background, a doctrinally-rich theology that is also espoused by R. C. Sproul. Soon after I would get to know of Timothy Keller, the influential pastor-theologian, church planter and cultural apologist in New York City as well as D. A. Carson, a great Biblical scholar and Professor and their work at the Gospel Coalition. Piper’s engagements with the New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, have continued to remind me that theology is “queen of the sciences” and helps us to worship God with our minds and hearts. These guys have helped me to be more cautious about my biblical diet.
Augustine was a 4th Century African orator, theologian and bishop who is hailed as one of the “Fathers of the Church”, the early Christians who stood up for the faith. He was involved in youth debauchery and worldly philosophy, an ardent follower of Manicheanism, before coming to the faith. It is well known that his mother was faithful in prayer, even in his wayward years. His book Confessions is close to the Psalms in terms of its openness and authenticity. In it, Augustine recounts his journey to faith and it shows the agonizing journey of one who strives to follow God wholeheartedly. He taught me honesty and depth in my faith and spirituality.
Kwame Bediako, the Presbyterian theologian and mission-scholar who held doctorates in literature and later in theology, the latter which he was awarded at the University of Aberdeen, was rector of Akrofi-Christaller Institute. The institute is named after two Twi (a Ghanian dialect) language scholars influential in the translation of the Bible in Ghana. I got acquainted with him through reading his tome Theology and Identity (and his numerous articles) whereby he sort to show that the Church fathers engaged the gospel with their cultural background to make the case that Africans could be Christians and vice versa. Especially pertinent for me in our post-colonial setting, in a way, he allowed me to celebrate my African-ness as a believer. His work, led me to the work of the theologian and Methodist minister Thomas Oden who founded the Center for Early African Christianity which was born out of the idea that Africa contributed much to the intellectual and theological development of the Church. Their works combined have given me an African-centered perspective, which I will explore in a forthcoming book. Together with the Womanist theologian Mercy Amba Oduyoye, they have bequeathed to me the idea of African context, which I hope I can progress in developing. The latter’s work has helped me to appreciate the story of origins in African traditional religions, which at the very least, make the case for theism – thereby challenging conceptions of African atheism. Here is an extended biography I’ve written about him.
Jean Marc Ela was a Catholic priest, missionary and sociologist who after studying Philosophy and theology at the Universities of Sorbonne and Strasbourg, went to do mission work with the Kirdi, a Cameroonian community. In his dialogue and practice of theology and sociology in his influential work My Faith as An African, he taught me that my life should be concerned with the needs of those at the margins of the society. The contemporary setting might mean not only the poor but also those who are ignored by the Church.
In our time, Lewis is amongst the well-known “reasonable Christians” :) He was an English professor and writer of the wonderful Narnia series as well as many other essays, including Mere Christianity which was my first acquaintance with him. I read it when I had questions about the faith although I fully understood his depth when I embraced the faith (or rather when the faith embraced me? “I dunno!”) Apart from reading On Miracles, I voraciously consumed his autobiography Surprised by Joy and reveled at his journey to faith. Recently, I read The Boy and his Horse and then I got to see the landmark imagination that my favorite essayist espoused. He has had a profound impact on my apologetics, writing and service, in engaging my whole self to incarnate the gospel, and its huge ramifications.
William Lane Craig
William Lane Craig is a contemporary theologian and towering philosopher, together with Ravi Zacharias, one of the foremost Christian Apologists in the West. I came across his website Reasonable Faith in my university years, when I was searching for the truth. He has debated the biggest proponents of Atheism such as Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss and Antony Flew (who later denounced his atheism). Especially after coming to the faith, I learnt that my faith could be reasonable. He opened up my eyes and passion for the field of Christian apologetics especially for evangelism and integration of faith and reason in a rigorous and critical way.
Annie Dillard is an American author who has written several best-sellers in the area of narrative prose besides being awarded a Pulitzer prize for her writing. I read her The Writing Life which was in itself an exercise in the best of descriptive writing. Although her religious background is listed as “none”, from reading her book, I got to see the role of the writer as bringing to life what happens in the world and even, what lies deeper within. As such she brought to my consciousness the necessity of using descriptive writing, even for someone like me who prefers the straight-shooting approach of essays. Three other writers who have influenced my ideas and practice of writing are the African writer-extraordinaire, Chinua Achebe (I read Things Fall Apart as a teenager, I’ve severally read his Home and Exile and have his There was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra on my reading list – and another million books *sigh*), the pastor and theologian Frederick Buechner as well as the American novelist Marilynne Robinson in her book Gilead. They have revealed to me the place of writing as an art, an art that I hope can spring forth beauty, truth, and grace.
A formidable Christian philosopher (and not in any way related to Annie Dillard, BTW), Willard’s writings combine the field of Christian spiritual formation and the areas of theology, philosophy and apologetics in a way that commends both the mind and heart as important ways to experience the Kingdom of God. When you hear him speak (see this interview) or write, a grace of humility seems to permeate his work. He taught me intellectual humility in my engagement with those who believe differently from me.