The Church and Development in Paraguay’s “Green Hell”

How can a people prosper in the midst of hardship and poverty? To a large degree, the answer has to do with the connection between the church and development. If we understand the power of God’s intentions we will not be surprised that the church and development go hand in hand.

The story of the Mennonite colonies that settled in the “Green Hell” of Paraguay’s Gran Chaco is an illustration of how God can work through a people to heal the land and help build a nation. In his book, Like a Mustard Seed, Mennonite author Edgar Stoesz tells just such a fascinating story. Stoesz answers the question “How did they prosper?” by examining nine principles that created the success of these colonies. The first principle is the preeminence of the church in the development process.

The Disciple Nations Alliance promotes Seven Foundational Truths. Four of these truths relate to the local church:

  • His key agent in this task [of discipling nations] is the local church (Ephesians 3:9-11)
  • The ministry of the church must be wholistic (Colossians 1:19-20)
  • The ministry of the church must be incarnational (John 17:15-19)
  • The local church must operate intentionally from the biblical worldview (Colossians 1:15-18)

church2.jpgEvery healthy society has two primary institutions: the family and the church. And the health of each is important for the health of a society. The DNA’s conviction is that the local church is God’s primary instrument for social transformation. The church and development go hand in hand.

Edgar Stoesz agrees. In Like a Mustard Seed Stoesz states that the Mennonite colonies that transformed the wilderness into a garden were usually sponsored or founded by a church. The earlier settlers in the Chaco suffered hardship from lack of food, limited water, and poor shelter. They often lived in tents, suffering extreme heat, drought, and major diseases. In the early decades of the settlements, hundreds of these pioneers died from disease and starvation. The hardships to tame this land were immense. It was the church and the Mennonites’ faith in God and his call upon their lives to settle this land which enabled the colonies to persist through the hardships.

Stoesz lists seven reasons[1] the church was so critical in the transformation of the land:

  1. The church is a unifying force that contributes to group solidarity.
  2. The church lays an ethical foundation for the larger community by teaching biblical values such as honesty, hard work, and above all, love of neighbor.
  3. The church serves as the conscience of the colony and helps bring balance to the materialistic and secular tendencies inherent in all human institutions.
  4. The church teaches and practices mutual aid, whereby the strong help the weak, making it possible for all to survive.
  5. The church serves as a social coordinator where friends meet each other.
  6. The church brings a transcendental dimension to the harsh realities of pioneer living and invokes a divine blessing on the effort.

Each of these helps to create a community of people who have the ability to live beyond their circumstances, a people with a vision for the kingdom of God that can call them forward even in the most dire circumstances.

No wonder the church and development go together.

  • Darrow Miller

[1] Stoesz, Edgar; Like a Mustard Seed: Mennonites in Paraguay; 2008; Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa. pg. 121.


This post is second in a series of ten on the transformation of the Gran Chaco in Paraguay.

First in the series: A Wasteland Transformed to a Garden 

Related posts:

13 Differences In Serving With a Kingdom Perspective

Toowoomba: Churches Together Transforming a City

Haiti and Israel: A Study in Contrasts

Posted in Church, Development, Economic Development | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Wasteland Transformed to a Garden

People often ask us, “Can you really disciple a nation? Is it really true that nations can be transformed, desolate lands can become gardens?”

Our answer is a resounding “Yes!” But there’s a vital piece that must be in place, a key, if you will: God is the primary worker and he acts in response to the obedience of his people. 2 Chronicles 7:14 places the emphasis where it belongs: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” It is God that heals the land and builds nations. But his work is in response to the faithful obedience of his children.

We have sought to chronicle how God has used individuals and groups to transform the land and their nation in a relatively short period of time. We have posted some of these examples on the Disciple Nations Alliance website:

Gran Chaco transformedNow we want to draw attention to a remote part of Paraguay, the Gran Chaco, known as “The Green Hell” because of its inhospitable nature. In the 1920’s a group of impoverished refugees settled here and, in less than 100 years, transformed a wasteland into a garden. We began to tell this story in an earlier post. Now, in a new series of blog posts we want to tell the story of how God used a group of poor refugees, with virtually no natural resources to create a flourishing land that supplies food and commodities not only to their nation of Paraguay, but also exports the same to Europe.

The Gran Chaco spans 400,000 square miles in four South American nations—Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil. The Chaco is the largest dry forest in South America. Its hot and semi-arid lowland, intermixed with marshland, is sparsely populated. This inhospitable area has the descriptive title of “The Green Hell.”

Before the Mennonites arrived the Chaco was an uninhabited wasteland. The soil was infertile and the water had a high saline content. European settlers to Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina found the land unwelcoming. They chose not to settle there. About 500 indigenous people eked out an existence that could be more accurately described as near starvation.

In 1536, Menno Simons, an Anabaptist reformer, founded the Mennonite Church. The rallying cry of the Mennonites was, “ For true evangelical faith … cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it … clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it.”

The Mennonites were often mistreated. Their persecutions drove them from Germany and Holland to immigrate to Russia, Canada, and the United States. During subsequent persecutions, wave upon wave of Mennonites moved to the barren lands of the Paraguayan Chaco. The first wave arrived from Canada in 1927. The second wave traveled from the Soviet Union in 1930, fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution.  A third wave from Russia arrived in 1947, following the displacement of World War II.  In 1948 more Canadian Mennonites immigrated.  Finally in the 1960’s small numbers of Mennonites moved from Mexico and Switzerland.

land transformed by five mennonite communitiesThey founded five colonies in the heart of the vast Chaco: Menno, Fernheim, Neuland, Friesland, and Volendam. See the graphic.

After eighty years of Mennonite faith and labor the Chaco had been transformed. That’s the report from researcher, and food & resource economist Kate Pankowska. In June 2014, Ms. Pankowska wrote an article, “Paraguayan Chaco- The Story of Thorn Forest or Cattle Ranchers?” She describes how the Mennonites transformed a desert into a garden.

In March 2012, I visited Paraguayan Chaco and had a chance to see it all with my own eyes. I managed to talk to some Mennonites living there and to see what they had built over these last eighty years since they started to settle in the region. Frankly, I was quite impressed by how they had organized their lives in the middle of nowhere with a desert-like climate (it was above 40 degrees Celsius at that time, so I know how the “green hell” can be). During my stay in the area of Filadelfia I visited a dairy farm with state of the art equipment for milk storage. Children were running barefoot around a well maintained farm house that had a very ordered and clean front and backyard. I talked to a dairy farmer, who owned the farm. With pride he told me about his cooperation with dairy scientists from Quebec to improve genetic material of his Holstein cows.

In the city, in Filadelfia I saw many things, including a Mennonite-run hospital that was just about to gain a new wing for an intensive care unit, the booming service industry in the city, Mennonite-run museums, impressive schools, restaurants, and clean streets, a rare find for Paraguay. I went through an impressive milk processing facility in Loma Plata, visited a highly mechanized processing factory of maní, and drunk [sic] water from the reverse osmosis system installed by the Mennonite cooperative in Filadelfia. As I found out later, it was all maintained internally by Mennonites, without any help from the Paraguayan government. The local people that I talked to told me the following: “the government comes here only to collect taxes and doesn’t do anything else”.

Pankowska  shares her concern that not everything the Mennonites are doing is good. (Go here to read more.)

How did the descendants of German and Dutch followers of Menno Simons  transform the Green Hell into a garden?

Edgar Stoesz’ book Like a Mustard Seed tells the story of the Mennonites’ effort to heal the land. Stoesz identifies nine principles that, when applied, transformed the wasteland into a garden that exports food and products throughout Paraguay and as far as Europe.

We will explore Stoesz’s nine principles:

  • The Church – providing the spiritual foundation for the society
  • Community – cooperatives provided the economic engines for the flourishing
  • Road – connected the colonies to the larger world
  • Banking – leveraging the hard work of the people
  • Scientific Agriculture – appling science to food production
  • The dignity of women – it would not have happened without women
  • Health – addressing the practical need to stay alive
  • Education – preparing the next generation for life and work
  • Connection to a capital city

We will endeavor to follow Stoesz’s book in order to highlight another model for how God can work through a faithful people to transform the land, to make it flourish, to reach its full potential. If you work among the poor, or come from a poor community and want to see your community transformed, come and explore with us the Mennonite model to see what you might appropriate for your situation.

  • Darrow Miller

This post is first in a series on the transformation of the Gran Chaco in Paraguay.

Related posts:

Husband and Husbandry: Preserving and Protecting

Why Cities Should Reflect the New Jerusalem

Great Commission Utilitarianism

Posted in Cultural Mandate, Development, Economic Development, Resources | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

“Disabled”: An Unhelpful Misnomer for Imago Dei Humans

I recently received a letter from a friend in Brazil who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis.

I have a M.S diagnosis for almost 16 years, I´m in contact with many people with all kind of disabilities.

Jesus healed many people but now how the society accepts them knowing that some are seen like a burden, a poor person who received a curse and many other things.

Sorry to ask you this but I can´t find someone who can give me the beginning of an answer. You are a person with an opened mind who help others to think. We have to see the world as God see so I have one question: How the Lord see disabled people?

Thanks for your time to read this, hoping to receive the beginning of reflections.

I do not have the complete answer this question deserves, but as my friend suggested, I may have the “beginning of an answer.”

How does God see disabled people?

As she mentioned, some cultures see a person who is disabled as a curse put on the family and community by the gods or fates. In her beloved homeland some cultures kill disabled children in order to remove the curse.

In our utilitarian West, people who are born disabled or become disabled are considered not “normal.” And our modern culture’s pursuit of the perfect seeks to eliminate the imperfect.

But the Judeo-Christian worldview has a high view of all human beings. God sees each person as a unique individual made imago Dei (in God’s image). Be they old or young … African, Asian, Brazilian, French or English … healthy or “disabled,” their individual situation does not change their actual nature as the very image of God. God makes each human being an image of himself. His intention is that each person be in relationship with Him. He wants them to flourish and to glorify Him through their life.

I remember bowling with a group of young missionary trainees. While at the bowling alley, a group of friends came in, some of whom were disabled. One was a young quadriplegic. His friends had made a stand for him to support the bowling ball in front of his face, so he could use a stick in his mouth to push the ball down the ramp to roll down the alley and strike the pins. One of the missionaries in training was from Thailand. Surprised at what she was seeing, she commented that in America, people treat “handicapped people as if they were human!” This young lady professed Christ, but her mindset had not yet recovered from the lies of her native Thai culture. People who were handicapped were less than human.

Perhaps “disabled” is not the correct term.

Perhaps “disabled” is not the correct term. Perhaps “differently-abled” or “uniquely-abled” would be more accurate. One of North American’s national heroines, whose life has been an inspiration to millions, was the blind and deaf Helen Keller. Obviously she had limitations; she could not see or hear and for years was trapped in the darkness of her mind. Yet at the same time Ms. Keller was incredibly gifted. When she learned to communicate she became an articulate, visionary, and life-inspiring woman.

disabled Temple Grandin has unique abilities

“TempleGrandin” by Jonathunder – Own work. Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons

Another differently-abled woman is Temple Grandin. Born with severe autism, Ms. Grandin was written off by society. But she was uniquely-abled with rare abilities. Because of her autism, these unique gifts were drawn out of her life. She earned a PhD in Animal Husbandry and has redefined the cattle industry in the United States.

Joni Eareckson Tada disabled yet powerful life and ministryAnother example is Joni Eareckson Tada. At 17, Ms. Tada dived into a pond, struck the bottom and broke her neck. She has been a quadriplegic ever since. In the despondency and depression that followed, she could have given up hope. But instead, she allowed the God who created her to reveal her ability to come forth and bless generations of people like herself who are differently-abled. Joni became the founder and leader of an international non-profit organization, a writer, public speaker and gifted painter.

How do we view “disabled” people? Do we discriminate because they are different from us, or do we see and celebrate their uniqueness? Do we recognize the inherent worth in each individual and celebrate their different abilities? Do we create a space in our relationships and communities to support their flourishing?

The Paralympic Movement is an example of an organization that supports the lives of people who are uniquely abled.

How diminished the world would be without the lives of Hellen Keller, Temple Grandin, and Joni Erickson. The differently-abled have a great contribution to make to our lives.

– Darrow Miller

Related posts:

Is it Immoral to Have Children?

 On My Birth There Was No Singing: Gendercide in India

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Conceived in Rape and Worthy of Life: The Rebecca Kiessling Story

“I’m pro-life except in cases of rape.”

Who hasn’t heard that sentiment? You may have expressed it yourself. Here’s another story that powerfully contradicts the idea that abortion should be tolerated in cases of rape.

A few weeks ago we told the story of Valerie Gatto, who was conceived in rape and has grown to become a compassionate, talented, and beautiful young woman recently crowned Miss Pennsylvania 2014.

Should Valerie have been aborted? Would that have been better?

A child conceived in rape does not deserve to live?

How about a restatement for clarity? Instead of “I’m pro-life except in cases of rape” try this: “A child conceived in rape does not deserve to live.” There’s no substantive difference between the two, and the second clears much of the fog.

Nazi Germany used the term lebensunwertes leben (“life unworthy of life”) as a designation for people the Third Reich deemed had no right to live. By this concept Hitler justified the death camps where 11 million people, including 6 million Jews, were murdered. Their lives were judged not worthy. We look back at that and say, “Never Again!” Our words are empty.

Today in the United States and other Western countries we use lebensunwertes leben as the standard for children who are mentally or physically handicapped, for the elderly who are no longer “productive members of society,” or the Valerie Gattos who were conceived in rape.

Rebecca Kiessling conceived in rape

Recently we learned of another woman whose story parallels that of Ms. Gatto. I speak of Rebecca Kiessling. She has defiantly stood against the culture of death that assumes that a child conceived in rape is a life unworthy of life.

Rebecca was conceived when her mother was raped at knife point. She survived the pro-abortion culture. Today Ms. Kiessling is a family law attorney, blogger, and pro-life speaker. She actively speaks out against the rape exception in Obama care (as well as other legislation, including some “pro-life” measures that grant a rape exception).

For obvious reasons, Ms. Kiessling staunchly opposes the rape exception that directly impugns her life and the lives of 32,000 babies conceived from rape every year.

“It’s very frustrating to just be summarily dismissed like this,” she writes. “[This] is my life that you’re talking about.”

At her blog Kiessling writes personally and passionately about her fight to save the lives of children conceived in rape. In her DVD, What Rape Exceptions Really Mean, Rebecca says,

Have you ever considered how really insulting it is to say to someone, “I think your mother should have been able to abort you.”? It’s like saying, “If I had my way, you’d be dead right now.” And that is the reality with which I live every time someone says they are pro-choice or pro-life “except in cases of rape” because I absolutely would have been aborted if it had been legal in Michigan when I was an unborn child, and I can tell you that it hurts. But I know that most people don’t put a face to this issue — for them abortion is just a concept — with a quick cliché, they sweep it under the rug and forget about it. I do hope that, as a child conceived in rape, I can help to put a face, a voice, and a story to this issue.

In reply, some have said to me, “So does that mean you’re pro-rape?” Though ludicrous, I’ll address it because I understand that they aren’t thinking things through. There is a huge moral difference because I did exist, and my life would have been ended because I would have been killed by a brutal abortion. You can only be killed and your life can only be devalued once you exist. Being thankful that my life was protected in no way makes me pro-rape.

Thank you to my 100% pro-life heroes!

Go here for more on this story. See more at Rebecca Kiessling’s website.

If you are inclined to support a rape-exclusion clause to pro-life legislation, please think about Rebecca Kiessling and Valerie Gatto and what they are telling us about the thousands of children conceived in rape every year.

– Darrow Miller

Related posts:

Elizabeth Joice: The Mother Who Gave Her Life For Her Baby

Rape, Abortion, and the Miss USA Contest

Abortion Doesn’t Contribute to Women’s Health

Posted in Ethics, Morality, Women | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

SEMINARY: Education or Religious Schooling? part 3

Seminary training, for the most part, has failed to integrate the study of the Bible with the study of God’s works and God’s reason.

Vishal Mangalwadi writes about the place of revelationThat is the premise of a recent paper by our friend, Vishal Mangalwadi, founder and president of The Revelation Movement. A scholar, author, and speaker, Vishal is one of DNA’s Idea Shapers

Vishal’s paper was presented to a faculty forum at The Gospel and Plow School of Theology where he serves as Honorary Professor of Applied Theology. GPST is part of the Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences in Allahabad, India.

We are happy to publish Vishal’s paper, edited for length, in three installments. Go here to read it in its entirety.


Fragmentation of Knowledge: From Modernism to Postmodernism

Medieval as well as modern universities saw Theology as the queen of all sciences. When Isaac Newton (1642–1726/7) came to Cambridge, there was no department of science. What we call science was, for Newton, a study of the book of God’s works. It was called ‘Natural Philosophy,’ meaning wisdom and revelation concealed in God’s creation but available to all.

The current fragmentation of knowledge began when Europe’s Protestant philosophers surrendered to a Roman Catholic heresy that gave to the book of reason the controlling authority over the books of God’s words and works. Reason is necessary to understand scriptures, nature, and culture. However, reason’s job is to understand, receive, interpret, synthesize, apply, and articulate revelation, not to judge it.

Enlightenment Rationalism began as a Roman Catholic heresy. The Catholic theology affirmed the ultimate authority of the Scriptures and the Church. The Church’s interpretation of the Scriptures was infallible.  It did not grant final authority to individual reason because it believed in Original Sin. Therefore, it was not traditional Catholicism but a heresy to think that Adam and Eve’s “Fall” affected the heart but not the mind. Therefore, the mind (reason, logic) could discover truth without grace, without revelation or inspiration.

Rene Descartes’s rationalism ignored Total Depravity and exalted the book of reason above the books of God’s words and works: this was beginning of humanist hubris. For revelation is the only reason a section of the Roman Catholic Church had trusted reason. The Orthodox Church failed to develop universities because it did not fully embrace Augustine’s biblical perspective on human reason as God’s image.

The Protestant reformers were theologians. Through thinkers such as Luther and Calvin Protestantism inherited the best of Catholic thought. European thinkers built upon that foundation. Tragically, however, some their European followers, mainstream Protestant philosophers, theologians, and apologists, surrendered to rationalist arrogance. They too put reason above revelation and undermined the authority of Scriptures, Logos (become-flesh), and quickly of reason itself.

Modernism failed to give us the knowledge of truth because it destroyed revelation – the only available ground of our confidence in reason. Its overconfidence in reason quickly degenerated into skepticism, ignorance, unbelief, immorality and defiance of God’s authority. Western rationalism (including theological “modernism” or liberalism) undermined confidence in the Scriptures because it was oblivious to the fact that it was sawing off the very branch upon which it sat.  That, however, was a lesser tragedy.

More disastrous was Christian “Fundamentalist” (i.e., evangelical) reaction to “liberal” modernism.  During the 20th century it abandoned the university in favor of Bible institutes/seminaries. That means: evangelicalism threw the baby out with the bathwater. In reacting against rationalism, Fundamentalism abandoned studying the books of God’s works and reason. The reformer’s slogan Sola Scriptura (Scriptures alone) began to be misunderstood to mean “Study only the Scriptures.” A theologian may learn Greek, but he does so to study the Bible, not Plato.

Why Seminaries Plunged Universities into Intellectual-Moral Darkness

In 1944, the Socratic Club in Oxford invited C. S. Lewis to speak on the theme, “Is Theology Poetry?” No one writes theology in verse. So the question was not whether theology should be classified as poetry. The issue was whether Christians believe the creeds because those propositions are true or because they satisfy poetic imagination.

Lewis concluded his magnificent speech with a statement that has become classic: “I believe in Christianity as I believe in the rising sun. Not simply because I see the sun, but because through it I see everything else.” Lewis’ argument was that theology was the university’s queen of sciences because the Bible was the sun that gave light to every branch of inquiry. God’s word gave confidence in (humble) reason. Together, Scriptures and reason made sense of everything else. That epistemology of rational revelation enabled the university to develop a coherent life-and-world-view. Without the Bible, the university is without a central or common source of light (a sun) through which each department can comprehend its subject and connect it with other branches of knowledge and with life outside the academy.

Postmodernism completed the fragmentation or silofication of knowledge. Without the sun, without revelation, it had to discard the very notion of truth – VERITAS. Education ceased being the pursuit of truth. It became merely the acquisition of information, skills, and degrees in the quest for employment and power (sometimes, mainly an opportunity for sports, fun and networking). This turned every university faculty into a silo. Deprived of the sun every silo had to invent its own light, which took the form of a distinct vocabulary; creeds and initiation rituals that could not be questioned by novices or non-initiates. The Bible seminary started the problem. Two illustrations may help bring clarity:

  • Can God turn water into wine in an instant? Can He make Eve a fully grown woman at the moment of her creation? If so, He can also create in an instant, a fully developed universe. But did He? How is that question to be investigated? A Young-Earth Creationist may maintain that about 4000 years before Christ, God created the universe in six days, each of 24 hours. Did he arrive at that conclusion because he carefully synthesized all the information gleaned from the books of God’s word, works, and reason? Or, does he hold his belief as a dogma, because he believes that we know truth by reading only the Scriptures? Is it biblical to not study God’s works (science) objectively?
  • Why does an evolutionist believe that a professor of law, logic, or mathematics cannot understand or question the evidence for macro-evolution? It is because Evolution – a great theory – has become a dogma. Evolutionists do not allow non-specialists to scrutinize their dogma because postmodern biology, geology, and paleontology are silos – dogmatic, occult sciences accessible only to the initiated, not accessible to outsiders.

Why is the postmodern university sinking into intellectual and moral darkness?

The sad answer is: because of Bible institute/school/seminary movement. This movement put university’s sun – the Bible – into an academic silo. Instead of seeking truth by synthesizing knowledge revealed in the books of God’s words, works, and reason, the Bible seminary isolated God’s words from his works and reason. Silofication of the sun pushed other departments into darkness.

The Gospel and Plough School of Theology is uniquely placed to begin reversing the destructive epistemology of previous centuries. GPST can chart a new path for global theology if it takes seriously the Vice Chancellor’s call to equip and enable theology students to go to other departments to study books of God’s works and reason. Likewise the theology faculty must equip itself to welcome students of agriculture, science, technology, and humanities to take courses in the book of God’s words. The day must come when Professors of physics, anthropology, and medicine will pursue post-doctoral research in theology, not to become pastors, but in order to synthesize information gleaned from God’s three books.

– Vishal Mangalwadi




On Sam Higginbottom

  1. The Gospel and the Plough: Or, The Old Gospel and Modern Farming in Ancient India (Sam Higginbottom, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1921)
  2. Sam Higginbottom, Farmer: An Autobiography (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1949)
  3. Sam Higginbottom of Allahabad: Pioneer of Point Four to India (Gary R. Hess, The University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1967)

On William Carey

  1. The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture (Vishal & Ruth Mangalwadi, (Good Books, Mussoorie, UA, 1993 & 1999)

On Why Christianity Lost  America

  1. Fundamentalism and American Culture (George M. Marseden, Oxford University Press, 2006)
  2. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Mark A. Noll, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994)


On the Place of Reason in Christian Education

  1. God and Reason in the Middle Ages (Edward Grant, Cambridge University Press, 2001)
  2. Christianity and Classical Culture (Charles Norris Cochrane, Oxford University Press, 1940)
  3. David Scott’s paper “A Vision of Veritas: What Christian Scholarship Can Learn from the Puritans’ ‘Technology’ of Integrating Truth” at:

On Biblical Theology and the Making of the Modern World

  1. The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Vishal Mangalwadi, Thomas Nelson, 2011)


Other posts on this topic:

School is Not the Same as Education

ENCYCLOPEDIA: Whole Education for a Whole Life

EUPRAXIA: Education for Skills is Not Enough

The HARVARD WALL that Exposes the Modernist Rewrite of History

Posted in Education, Ideas Shapers, Theology, Training | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

SEMINARY: Education or Religious Schooling? part 2

Seminary training, for the most part, has failed to integrate the study of the Bible with the study of God’s works and God’s reason.

Vishal Mangalwadi on danger of studying only one bookThat is the premise of a recent paper by our friend, Vishal Mangalwadi, founder and president of The Revelation Movement. A scholar, author, and speaker, Vishal is one of DNA’s Idea Shapers

Vishal’s paper was presented to a faculty forum at The Gospel and Plow School of Theology where he serves as Honorary Professor of Applied Theology. GPST is part of the Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences in Allahabad, India.

We are happy to publish Vishal’s paper, edited for length, in three installments. Go here to read it in its entirety.


Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk and a professor in the Augustinian university of Wittenberg. For a thousand years, his theological tradition had believed that in order to know truth, one had to study God’s two books: the book of God’s words and the book of God’s reason, reflected in His image – the human mind. The first book (Scriptures) is understood through the second (Reason).

Luther’s iconic declaration at the Diet of Worms in 1522 articulated this worldview.

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.

The Book of God’s words – Scriptures

Jesus confirmed the Old Testament view that truth and falsehood are both communicated in words, and God’s word is a source of our knowledge of truth.

  • The Sidonian widow of Zarephath said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17: 24).
  • The Lord Jesus said, Thy word is truth (John 17:17); Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35); If you abide in my words . . . you will know the truth (John 8: 32) etc.

The apostles reinforced the Lord’s teaching:

  • Paul affirmed: All Scriptures in breathed out by God . . . (2 Timothy 3:16).
  • Peter taught: No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).

The book of God’s Reason

Luther taught Aristotle and considered parts of his writings to be a corrupting influence upon Europe’s intellectual life. Yet Luther – one of history’s most important champions of God’s word – agreed with Aristotle that learning truth requires studying and using reason, including logic and mathematics. This aspect of medieval education came via Augustine. He considered Reason to be God’s distinctive gift to man. That is why Augustinian tradition believed that the mind must be developed, just as we multiply other talents given to us:

Augustine’s theology of reason was grounded in the Apostle John, who presented God as a rational person. For very good reason, Reformed theologian Gordon Clark translated John 1:1 as “In the beginning was reason [logos, word], reason was with God, and reason was God.”

What makes word different from mantra? A word is a sound with sense. A proposition makes sense only because it is a logical arrangement of words and sentences.

Many Bible schools no longer teach logic. Traditionally however, theology required the study of logic. Timothy’s pastoral role required him to study to show himself approved unto God, one who exegetes the word logically (2 Timothy 2:15).

Paul did not ask Timothy to memorize his words, for the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are not mantras to be memorized and enunciated correctly. God’s word is His wisdom. Therefore, Paul commands Timothy to “think” over his words (2 Tim 2:7). To do theology is to think and interpret revealed data logically. It calls one to cultivate a logical mind.

The book of God’s works

William Carey taught astronomy and botany, Sam Higginbottom taught agriculture, science, and technology because by their time Protestant theology had improved on Luther. Luther studied the books of God’s words and reason, but these could not teach him the truth about the solar system. In his usual bombastic style, Luther (1483–1546) wrote a pamphlet denouncing Copernicus’ (1473–1543) theory that the earth revolves around the sun, not the sun around the earth. Soon afterwards, Galileo’s (1564–1642) careful observations of God’s works – the actual motions of the planets – confirmed Copernicus’ theoretical model.

Galileo took pains to exegete the Bible and argue that his sun-centered view of the solar-system was consistent with the Bible. Yet, his discovery challenged Luther’s epistemology as much as it challenged the Pope’s infallibility. Protestants and Catholics had to come to terms with the fact that it was not enough to study God’s word and reason. God asks us to study his works also. That study is necessary to rule over the earth (Psalm 8:6; 64:9; 72:12; 92:5 etc.). It was Francis Bacon (1561–1626) – often called the father of modern science – who forcefully championed the necessity of studying God’s works.

The Scriptures say that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). In Romans 1:19–20, Paul says that God’s works reveal the truth about God and His attributes, including His power, wisdom, and glory (See also John 9:3; 11:40). The Lord Jesus said to the Jews: ‘You search the scriptures and they point to me; you sent inquirers to John the Baptist and he testified about me; but I have greater witness than John: this is the works that I do. Believe in me because of my works’ (John 5:39).

Bacon’s exposition of the Bible was the reason why Cambridge University inscribed Psalm 111:2 at the entrance of Cavendish Laboratory – history’s first scientific lab: Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. The Psalm celebrates God’s work both in nature as well as in culture. The Old and New Testaments record God’s works so that we might study them in our quest for truth and then teach them to others. God’s works reveal His love as much as His words. That is why the church established research universities.

Christian scholars researched all three books of God: the book of God’s words; the book of God’s works; and the book of God’s reason (including logic and mathematics) because, as Bacon reminded Christian scholars, God reveals as well as conceals truth. “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Proverbs 25:2). The rising and setting sun conceals the fact that day and night are caused by the earth’s revolution, not the sun’s.

Evangelicalism was America’s dominant force during much of the 20th century. Yet it did not build a single research university during its heyday. Why? One reason was its truncated epistemology that in order to know truth Christians should study only the Scriptures.  Another factor was the belief that revelation means that God is in the business of revealing, not concealing matters.  Research universities and labs were built on the knowledge that God’s words and works conceal matters; we are endowed with reason in order to discover hidden treasures.

  • Vishal Mangalwadi


… to be continued


Other posts on this topic:

SEMINARY: Education or Religious Schooling? part 1

Freedom Comes From Religious Education, But Not Just Any Religion

VERITAS – The Puritan Pursuit of Truth

Is God Making India a Great Nation?

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SEMINARY: Education or Religious Schooling? part 1

Seminary training, for the most part, has failed to integrate the study of the Bible with the study of God’s works and God’s reason.

VishalThat is the premise of a recent paper by our friend, Vishal Mangalwadi, founder and president of The Revelation Movement. A scholar, author, and speaker, Vishal is one of DNA’s Idea Shapers

Vishal’s paper was presented to a faculty forum at The Gospel and Plow School of Theology where he serves as Honorary Professor of Applied Theology. GPST is part of the Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences in Allahabad, India.

We are happy to publish Vishal’s paper, edited for length, in three installments. Go here to read it in its entirety.



The pioneers of the modern missionary movement did not establish a Bible seminary/institute or school. In order to bless India, those Calvinist-Baptists founded Serampore College in 1818. Their leader, William Carey, was one of the greatest Bible translators/publishers of all times. Yet, along with teaching the Bible, that cobbler-turned-linguist taught botany, horticulture, astronomy, forestry, and agriculture. He founded India’s Agri-Horticultural Society, built up India’s second best botanical garden in Serampore College, published scientific books, and pioneered Indian journalism. The college rapidly grew to become Serampore University in 1827.

The Serampore University Senate handed over the departments of liberal arts and science to the secular government and confined itself to teaching theology. Did their theology separate the “sacred” subject of divinity from “secular” studies?

This paper is a big-picture critique of the modern movement of theological seminaries/Bible institutes/Bible Schools.

Troubling Questions

  • William Carey’s generation triggered India’s renaissance. Has our fragmented worldview made theological education relevant for heaven, but irrelevant for earth?
  • As of today one cannot find a single copy of Sam Higginbottom’s book, The Gospel and the Plow (1921) in the library of the Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (SHIATS). Is it because our theological education has no genuine interest in integrating theology with the “plow.” That is, with the science, sociology, economics, law, politics, and technology needed to bless India?
  • Why did 20th century theology cease making the church the light of the world? Did the corruption of Western theology inflict this disease upon India?
  • More importantly: Is this separation of theology from the rest of the academy responsible for marginalizing Christianity in the world’s premier Protestant nation – the United States of America?

Why Christianity Lost America

“Liberal theology” has self-destructed. From the outset, the idea was foolish that the Bible is man’s word, not God’s, yet human reason can systematize the “science of God” (theology). Today, hardly anyone studies Liberal theology to try to know God. Therefore, in this paper, the ‘Bible Institute/School/Seminary movement’ generally means evangelical theological institutions. The theological ethos that established these institutions was radically different from the worldview of the Puritans who founded Harvard (1636), Yale (1701), and Princeton (1746). These universities were created to train men and women to serve the Church and the world that God loves.

According to its motto adopted in 1692, America’s first college, Harvard, was started by Puritans for “Christ and the Church” (Christo et Ecclesiae). Harvard, which arguably wrote America’s DNA, is still the world’s number one university. It continues to shape America. Christianity lost America for several reasons, principally because it gave up its best Christian colleges and retreated into the Bible Seminary movement.

The Heart of the Matter: University vs. Seminary

Harvard’s iconic crest was adopted in December 1643. It made the pursuit of truth (VERITAS in Latin) the purpose of the university’s existence, because God wants “all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

How do we discover truth? The Harvard Crest inscribed VERITAS on three books: 1) God’s words, 2) God’s works, and 3) God’s reason, reflected in His image – Man.

In order to discover truth, a student had to study all three and connect the dots discovered through them. The Bible Institute/Seminary movement departed from this holistic epistemology in an attempt to derive truth exclusively from the Scriptures – the book of God’s words.

The immediate intellectual force behind the Harvard crest was John Amos Comenius, (1592–1670) the last bishop of The Unity of the Brethren church. His ninety books on education made him the father of modern education. He also helped shape the modern  Protestant theology of “Nation” that forged the 1648 “Peace of Westphalia.” That theology created nations such as the United States of America and India.

Samuel Hartlib and John Milton invited Comenius to England in the early 1640s to launch what would have been the world’s first “modern” college in Chelsea, London. The Civil War prevented the establishment of that college but two significant things came out of his time in London:

  • Comenius laid the intellectual foundations of the Royal Society of Science. A majority (62 percent) of its founders were Puritans. At that time Thomas Hobbes was the only atheist thinker in England and that disqualified him to be a member of history’s most influential scientific society.
  • New England’s Governor, John Winthrop, interacted with Comenius and brought his philosophy of Christian education to America.

Besides Comenius, Christian thinkers who shaped Harvard’s educational philosophy included Francis Bacon (1561–1626), Alexander Richardson (d. in or before 1629), William Ames (1576–1633), and John Alsted (1588–1638). They believed that truth is known through rational revelation.

– Vishal Mangalwadi

… to be continued

Shaping the Generation of the Future

What Happened to Education in America

School vs. Education: The Difference Matters

TECHNOLOGIA: The Most Powerful Concept of Education You Never Heard Of!

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Climate Change: The Atheists’ Denial

Climate change is settled? Really?

Have you noticed how many things are “settled” today?

  • The discussion on so-called same-sex marriage: “settled”
  • Darwinism as science: “settled”
  • Abortion as social policy: “settled”
  • Global warming (or is it global climate change) as science: “settled”

When something is “settled” it means that “everyone agrees” or “the experts agree” or “there’s nothing to discuss.”

But these matters are “settled” only in the minds of fundamentalist atheists. That is, atheists who no longer want a level playing field for discussion. Atheists who want to dominate the discourse and leave no room for debate, intellectual inquiry, or free thinking.

“Global warming” became “climate change”

The “settled” global warming discussion is a good case study of this phenomenon. In the 1970s we were hearing predictions of global cooling and the coming of a new Ice Age. Time Magazine ran a number of cover stories on this coming Ice Age. Then at the turn of the century, scientists abandoned the global ice age for global warming. And again Time magazine did a number of cover stories on global warming. Confusion reigned. The Time cover in 2010 shows the coming confusion that a blizzard is a sign of global warming. Got it!

These three Time magazine covers tell it all. The latest scientific prediction of the New Ice Age came in 1977. In 2001, scientists changed their minds and predicted Global Warming instead. The good news? No need to worry about too cold. The bad news? Now we needed to fret about too hot. (Go here to see this confusion displayed in other TIME covers.)

Then in 2010, in the midst of the onslaught of “settled” science, cold spells somehow became signs of global warming. Needing to dig out of their rhetorical holes, scientists shifted from the language of “global warming” to “global climate change.” I guess that covers all the bases.

If you consider yourself a free thinker … if you refuse to accept “it’s settled” simply because a politician or expert says so … please read on. Let’s hear from thinking people who want to speak on the subject and may have a different opinion.

Global warming is certainly not settled science.

The language shift to “global climate change” was not without intention. Of course the climate changes. That fact is obvious. Thus this terminology becomes a cover for a fundamentalist scientific community that wants to control the debate by pretending, and stating, that the debate is over. Medical science has a term for this: denial. To pretend the debate is over is to be in denial. Why? Because plenty of credentialed and published scientists continue to dissent.

Moving from the science debate, let’s consider another dimension of this discussion. In 2000 a group of over 1500 clergy and theologians from Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Evangelical traditions came together to sign the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship. They were concerned for the environment and wanted to bring a faith conscience to the discussion of creation stewardship. This document sets forth a biblically grounded set of principles. It calls human beings to “care wisely and humbly for all creatures, first and foremost for their fellow human beings, recognizing their proper place in the created order.” It aspires to “widespread economic freedom … [which] makes sound ecological stewardship available to ever greater numbers.”

Signers of the declaration include Charles Colson, James Dobson, Rabbi Jacob Neusner, R. C. Sproul, Richard John Neuhaus, and D. James Kennedy. Go here to see the other signers. The gateway to the Cornwall Alliance can be found here.

On December 2, 2009, the Cornwall Alliance issued a statement called “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.” Signers included “climate scientist Roy Spencer, former climatologist David Legates, economist Ross McKitrick, meteorologist Joseph D’Aleo, television meteorologist James Spann, and Neil Frank, former director of the National Hurricane Center.”

In 2014 the Cornwall Alliance developed a declaration on the relationship between stewardship of creation and help for the poor titled “A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor 2014: The Case against Harmful Climate Policies Gets Stronger.”

One of the scientists engaged with Cornwall Alliance is James Wanliss. Dr. Wanliss earned his PhD in Space Physics at the University of Alberta. Wanliss describes the scope of his work as “my activities encompass the physics of solar wind turbulence and propagation and the interaction of the solar wind with the non-magnetized bodies.” In addition to his scientific research, Dr. Wanliss is a professor, author and speaker. His contributions include a recent lecture on environmental science, A Brief History of Global Warming: The Science, and the Myth.

To those who think that the debate is “settled”, we need to remember the colloquialism: It ain’t over till the fat lady sings!

–          Darrow Miller


Check on this post on a related topic: Even Darwin Had His Doubts


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Christian Artists: Imitators of the Grand Creator

Darrow Miller and Friends is a big fan of Christian artists. That flows from the Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:15. Darrow writes about this concept in his book, LifeWork.

What God made in Genesis chapter 1 was perfect, but it was not finished yet. God is the primary Creator; humankind, to use J.R.R. Tolkien’s word’s, is a “sub creator.” God makes primary creation. Humankind is to make a secondary creation–culture–that reveals and glorifies the primary Creator and the primary creation. Human beings were made to be active in creation, as God’s stewards. They are to fill the earth with the image bearers of God who will, in turn, develop the earth. Like an acorn that is nurtured into a mighty oak tree, creation from the hand of God was perfect and complete in itself, but the potential had to be released by men and women” (p. 91).

Stefan Eicher, who lives and works in New Delhi, is one of those Christian artists. Stefan encourages the appreciation of art, and teaches budding artists to create. He combines those activities with another dimension of kingdom work, i.e. loving service toward marginalized people in his community.

The following excerpt from one of Stefan’s recent reports will give you a picture of the heart of this servant. We are happy to introduce him to any of our readers not yet aware of Stefan’s work.


Eicher Earful 1Made to Create.
That’s what we are—made in the image of a Creator God with a mandate to be creative and fill the earth with culture. Filling the earth with culture can look as simple as three at-risk adolescent girls, rescued from difficult situations in the slums of Delhi, starting their new lives by painting the cupboard they sleep next to.

Eicher Earful 2Or Abdul participating in a Made to Create art workshop for the very first time last month. Abdul spent his afternoon with us learning not to fear while creating, imagining what the color of water is, learning how to draw a fish, and after having learnt to fold a paper boat, putting it all together in a collage. Simple tasks yet profound, echoes of the earliest act of creation. Simple tasks yet striking, against the backdrop of Abdul’s life in a bleak 12’x12′ slum home he recently moved into, his parents having just migrated to the city as illiterate laborers to earn a dollar a day for back-breaking work.


To read more about Stefan’s work, visit his Reflection Art Gallery website.


Other posts on this topic:

Artists Speaking to the Culture

The Create Commission: Artists Serving the Kingdom

BEAUTY Will Save the World

Why Cities Should Reflect the New Jerusalem

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Poverty: It’s Not Too Late to Win the War

Poverty often results from the natural human tendency to respond to incentives. That’s true, by the way, not only for those who receive money from government programs but also for those whose livelihood depends on managing government programs.

poverty is less likely in a two-parent familyOne example is the breakdown of the family. Research has shown that intact, two-parent households have a higher standard of living than single-parent households. Many government welfare programs pay single mothers more as they have more babies. This has the consequences of separating the parents. The man loses much of the incentive to father the children he has created. The mother bears more children to increase her income. A well-intentioned program has the unintended consequence of increasing poverty. Single mothers are incentivized to bring more children into poverty rather than to make the changes necessary to escape poverty.

My wife tells a related story from her role as a nurse doing postpartum visits to a young mother and her baby. On entering the darkened home of this young mother, in a poor neighborhood, she found four generations of the family sitting on a couch in the middle of the day watching TV. The new mother with her baby, and her mother and grandmother sat “amusing themselves to death,” to borrow from Neil Postman.

That’s what life on welfare often looks like: no husband, no work, increasing poverty, enough government assistance to survive. Without some dramatic changes, the baby would grow up in this environment, assuming such a life to be normal. In 15 years the same couch might hold another newborn and four women watching soaps on (a new) TV. What a tragedy.

“There is a strong connection between the breakdown in marriage and child poverty.”

Rachel Sheffield is a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. She recently wrote an article, “Marriage Won’t End Poverty. But It Will Help (A Lot).”

There is a strong connection between the breakdown in marriage and child poverty. Living with two working parents raises household income. Children in single-parent homes are more than five times as likely to be poor, regardless of parental education level. They also are more likely to drop out of high school, spend time in prison, abuse drugs and alcohol, and have an unwed birth.

As the message spreads throughout Central America that if you get to the USA “Obama will take care of you,” more and more people will seek to cross the border. What would I do in similar circumstances? Quite likely, I would try to get my children across the border.

What mentality do we encourage and support? Do we reward work or idleness? Living within our means or excessive spending? Responsibility or imprudence? Family formation or divorce and single-parent households? Michael Tanner, a senior research fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, writes:

The vast majority of current programs are focused on making poverty more comfortable — giving poor people more food, better shelter, health care, and so forth — rather than giving people the tools that will help them escape poverty. … And we know that the best way to create wealth is not through government action, but through the power of the free market.[1]

Is it compassionate to spend more money on programs that are failing, programs that create dependency, that engender a whole class of chronically dependent people? An objective analysis of results and a heart of compassion compel us to stop what we are doing and transition to new programs that actually change people’s minds and circumstances. Sheffield writes of some of the factors that need to change.

Multiple factors … contribute to opportunity: a strong economy, a thriving work ethic, access to quality education, as well as strong families. These factors work together, not independently of each other.

A sound anti-poverty strategy must include: self-sufficiency through work, implementing policies to encourage job creation, improving access to quality education, and taking steps to restore a culture of marriage. Combining these efforts will help create a society where more individuals have the opportunity to succeed and flourish.[2]

We need the courage to recognize the failure of current welfare programs. We must acknowledge that the failure is a direct result of faulty policies derived from faulty principles and paradigms. We need to begin to work from the biblical worldview. We must articulate biblical principles that directly relate to the causes of poverty and to the creation of free and flourishing people, communities, and nations. We need to develop policies and their corresponding programmatic application that will lift people out of poverty. We need to invest money in programs that will reduce poverty by preparing people to flourish in their home and in the workplace, to be wealth creators, not simply wealth consumers.

We follow the One who “preached good news to the poor.” Surely we can be more effective servants to them in his name.

–          Darrow Miller




Other posts in this series:

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