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I’ve read exactly two articles by the British columnist Matthew Parris. An avowed atheist, I find Mr. Parris refreshingly honest and genuinely insightful. Having read two columns (here’s the first), I’m pretty sure I comprehend his body of work. Not really. But I like what I’ve read.

His latest (second) piece to catch my attention–“As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God“–makes the bold (for an atheist) and undeniable (for a Christian) claim that Africa needs God! He means Christ, not pagan, tribal witchcraft. That, too, staggers the imagination given the more strident anti-Christian atheism en vogue these days. What can I say? This man is worth the read.

Anyway, back to Africa and God. Here’s how Parris begins his piece:

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

Read the entire article. (HT: Paul Reynolds) It’s a very fine piece of reflection. He effectively illustrates how a Christian worldview may be the only thing weighty enough to crush traditional pagan worldviews that stifle and stunt. The last sentence alone is worth clicking over to the article.

One has to chuckle at the juicy irony that Parris’ opinion piece lauding God appears on the website of The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. It just may be the most reasonable thing posted there.

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14 thoughts on “Matthew Parris Goes to Africa and “Gets” Religion… Sort Of”

  1. Mike says:

    Wow. That is encouraging.

  2. Thanks for pointing this out Thabiti, the comments that go with Paris post are also quite interesting. This post and the comments remind me of something, now what was that I was reading the other day. OH YEA! Romans 1:19-22. Again thanks!

  3. Dan Phillips says:

    But isn’t it a bit of the ultimate condescending snobbery? “Those benighted heathen really need this… but I don’t”?

  4. This is indeed encouraging, but let us not lose sight of the truth in the process:

    Parris’s applause and appreciation of Christianity turns upon a misconception: “I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.”

    Matthew Parris applauds orthopraxy (the help) while at the same time bemoaning orthodoxy (the faith). As believers, we are privy to knowledge that Parris doesn’t possess: that these actions being carried out by Christians are an outworking of their faith; that good works are products of the faith, not an additional category aside from faith. So, even as we applaud his insights, let us remember that he does not (because he cannot) provide an accurate diagnosis of what it is that “works” in Christianity. Faith in Christ. Take “the faith” out, and you might as well forget about “the help.” What counts before God is the faith, not the help.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Cornell,

      Thanks for stopping by and for contributing, bro! Grateful you would take the time to do that.

      I completely agree with you. In addition, even in saying as much as he has, Parris points to your conclusion: The decisive matter is faith which expresses itself in love. He implicitly draws the contrast between aid organization and faith-motivated efforts. The difference? As you point out, genuine faith which, in the end, changes the very worldview that so stifles development.

      thanks for joining in. The Lord bless you and keep you!

    2. ROGER FINCH says:

      Excellent Cornell and I appreciate your faith PLUS your understanding!

  5. The Onesimus Programme says:

    I hesitate, but I should begin by saying how interesting it is that Thabiti Anyabwile, however he may have been raised, would think it sufficient to include this piece as a contribution. What man has continuously failed to realize is this, and especially for those who lay claim to faith, we do nothing that ultimately causes another to come to God. The very attempt to upstage the Creator is what leads us into false righteouness. The one great fallacy, and it is actually laughable, is that the caucasian has lied to himself into believing that witchcraft does not exist in his community because he has made all his wicked schemes intellectually sophisticated. And to then credit the account of a professed God-hater who suddenly finds reason to condemn the state of a people while prescribing Christianity as remedy is a revelation of the human heart. Shameful. In my own experience, some have proudly proclaimed that the Caucasian brought God, and I mean the Creator, to Africa without which…, well help the Africans. Anyone who cares to recognize the might of God, will confess that nothing about the good of life happens without the very Creator generating it. How long has the war to eradicate poverty and other human conditions in parts of the world been going on? The wealthy leave their own poor, and I mean poor neighbours, for areas where they may become prominent and in the process help turn the very ones they claim to help away from the very God they supposedly need. The Bible has declared the condition of the human heart and so the Pharises have widen their teritory.

  6. sakura sena says:

    Major thankies for the article post.Thanks Again. Really Great.

  7. Jewish says:

    I really enjoy the post.Much thanks again. Great.

  8. De Benny says:

    Seems like the article is no more online. The Richard Dawkins Foundation might have fond out what he published on their site…

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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