The last couple weeks have been a blur. On April 5-6 we had Alistair Begg at our church for a conference. On April 7, after preaching in the morning, I flew to Orlando for The Gospel Coalition conference. I got home on Wednesday and then turned around on Thursday, April 11 to fly to Johannesburg. I returned home yesterday afternoon. The trip to South Africa was 12 days, 9 flights, 10 panels, and 14 sermons (plus the world’s longest commercial flight).

Here are a few reflections, observations, and highlights.

1. I had a great time in South Africa with the rest of the guys from the States: Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, CJ Mahaney, Bob Kauflin, and Brad Wheeler. Despite very different personalities, every single one of these men was funny, friendly, and easy to get along with. It was a joy to sit under their teaching, pray with them, share meals with them, and watch Brian Regan clips with them. These guys made this trip one I’ll never forget.

2. As with any international trip, receiving is just as important as giving. Although I did a lot of teaching, I also did a lot of learning. It was great to see the reformed churches in South Africa, though small, yet growing. I left the country with a great deal of respect for the pastors I met: Tim, Al, Dez, Clint, Grant, Doug, Ken and many others. These are sharp men, committed to sound doctrine and expository preaching, and committed to seeing the gospel advance in South Africa. The “gospel-centered” movement in the country is, in many ways, still the size of a man’s fist, but I sensed clouds of blessing gathering overhead.

3. I understand the good news of Revelation 21:25 better than ever. Violent crime is rampant in South Africa. Almost everyone I talked to had been robbed, broken into, or threatened at some point in recent memory. One church we preached at had a sign saying they were not responsible for injury, theft, or death on the premises. Many South Africans shared with me that the most surprising thing about America is the absence of security walls, fences, and guards around our homes. You simply don’t find many buildings in the city without some serious security in South Africa. What good news that the New Jerusalem will be so gloriously safe that “its gates will never be shut by day.”

4. Although tensions still remain, I was encouraged to see the gospel bringing together whites and blacks in a way that would have been impossible (and illegal) twenty years ago. Our contacts were with white churches, but in each of them we saw more racial diversity than you find in most American churches (which is not entirely surprising since whites are less than 10% of the population in South Africa). At the pastors conference in Joburg it looked to me like the split between whites and blacks was roughly fifty-fifty. And at the same gathering there were dozens of first languages other than English. Isn’t it remarkable that the gospel does more for diversity than diversity for its own sake can ever do by itself?

On a related note, we were privileged to have Conrad Mbewe travel from Zambia to host the events in Joburg for us. What a wise, capable, and godly man. I’d gladly have him for my pastor.

5. Bad theology destroys and keeps the gospel from people. South Africa, like most of sub-Saharan Africa, is overwhelmingly Christian. The state of the church can seem impressive, but mature Christians in South Africa will tell you a different story. The Dutch Reformed Church is weak and getting weaker, awash in theological liberalism and secular agendas. The black church is beholden to the false gospel of health, wealth, and prosperity and the worst kinds of syncretistic charismania. South Africa is “reached” with the gospel in a technical sense, but the need for good teaching and sound doctrine is tremendous. If you want to serve the Lord in a Bible-starved location in the English speaking world, there are many places in South Africa for you to go.

6. There is a great need for theological education in South African and in the Global South. We came across a number of evangelical institutions working hard to train pastors, but not nearly enough for a country of 50 million. While the first priority in the missionary endeavor is, in many places, for pioneering church planters and evangelists, in many places the church is weak for want of solid teachers and educators. If there is anything we take for granted in the American church more than money it’s our easy access to the best books, training, and theological education. Let’s pray for the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his field, and to help make sure the seed that is sown is good seed and the crops that have been planted are strong enough to endure.

7. Christian publishers should consider what they are doing to further or frustrate the Great Commission. Everywhere we went we saw pastors and churches influenced by books coming out of America. Without much (that I could tell) in the way of indigenous theological writing and with (often) a great theological vacuum to fill, many South African leaders look to U.S. authors to fill the gap. When they get hold of Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, or some pragmatic book about ministry methods, the results can be disastrous for generations. To my surprise, even the influence of the emergent church is still significant in South Africa.

Conversely, when good books get in the hands of good pastors, healthy churches can be established and grow. I was particularly thankful for the legacy of John MacArthur in South Africa. With his radio programs airing for decades in the country, many Christians have been introduced to expository preaching and good theology. A number of pastors have gone to The Master’s Seminary for training. Invariably, the “MacArthur men” were leading some of the strongest churches. Newer resources from the YRR movement seem to be having a salutary effect as well. If only publishers would consider more than profits and furthering “conversations” when they send their books out into the world.

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35 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Trip to South Africa”

  1. Ryan Rudolph says:

    Hi Kev,

    Thanks so much for this helpful, and very timely piece.

    I am South African, but have lived in the UK for 10years, and was introduced to the reformed understanding of the Bible here, studied here, and am currently finishing up my last day in a church here as their children’s and youth worker.

    I am moving back to SA next month to do Youth and Student’s work for a church. I couldn’t agree with your assessments more, and I hope and pray that the reformed faith will continue to grow in SA.

  2. Wynand says:

    Hi Kevin

    You have been a massive blessing to South Africa in the short time you spent here, and I think I speak for everybody who had any contact with you!

    Thanks again for what you did for us, and we hope to see you soon again!

    Wynand.

  3. MC62 says:

    Kevin, thanks for your insightful analysis and for your willingness to make the arduous journey to our part of the vineyard. Because I live and minister in Cape Town we did not get to hear you in the Cape Town conference. As a 20 year missionary veteran, from Grace Community Church, I whole heartedly agree with your assessment of the situation on the ground here. It is nice to have an outsider give an objective evaluation on the state of the church here.I pray your visit did much to help awaken more to a Christ-centered, Christ-exalting ministry. Thanks again, and I pray jet-lag doesn’t drag you down too much!

  4. Tim Cantrell says:

    Thanks, Kevin. Your visit was a great blessing to many of us here, and will bear fruit for a long time to come. Tim

  5. Thanks for coming. Durban (and I) was very much the better for having sat under your and Pastor Mark’s teaching for two days. Come back anytime

  6. Des Venter says:

    Thank you for your faithfulness, your life and teaching were an example and encouragement to many.

  7. Thank you for the report brother. I am very grateful for your ministry having just sat under your teaching at TGC. I just wanted to comment that your take on the status of the SA church is quite similar to what we experience in Latin America only to a larger scale. We are encouraged by what God is starting to do in terms of a Gospel-centered; Expository Preaching, Sound-Doctrine reformation movement (as in the DR, Cuba, Argentina & Mexico) but as you say it is still a small percentage of the church. Please consider joining other men as they help us by coming to Latin America. We need you also!!!

  8. Thomas Johnson says:

    Kevin, did you get a chance to see any satellite Christian TV while in South Africa? There are over 80 (possibly more) full time 24-hour Christian satellite (free-to-air) channels that broadcast to Africa. Most of them are the health and wealth gospel types. Because of their ubiquity on satellite TV, they’re influencing every African pastor and Christian that has a TV and receiver. To my knowledge, there’s very little Reformed broadcasting as an alternative. Getting Reformed preaching and teaching on those stations would be a worthy ministry and use of funds and could have a huge impact.

  9. Nafe Immanuel Nyanda says:

    Pastor Kevin, it was a blessing to have you in Africa thanks for your insightful analysis and Gospel-centered; Expository Preaching. One thing I have learnt from you,Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, CJ Mahaney, Bob Kauflin, and Brad Wheeler its your oneness, love towards the Gospel. May the Lord bless your ministry. Looking forward to see you again in Africa Lord willing.

  10. Todd Wilhelm says:

    “If only publishers would consider more than profits and furthering “conversations” when they send their books out into the world.”

    Agreed, and if only authors would do the same.

  11. Gustav Pritchard says:

    Many thanks for your ministry among the people of the Republic:)
    And for these kind, wise words. May the Lord of Harvest bring forth much Gospel-fruit. GP

  12. Nathanael Johnston says:

    I have a practical question: are there any seminaries in South Africa or elsewhere in Africa that would pay money for a professor to come over and teach there full time (rather than having to raise support)?

  13. FuzzyWuzzy says:

    If only publishers would consider more than profits and furthering “conversations” when they send their books out into the world.

    Pot… this is the kettle calling

  14. Laurette says:

    So sorry to have missed this. Can’t believe I wasn’t in the country when you guys were.

    Nathanael: I think the problem is reversed. We have capable theology schools, but the church needs financial support to enable more students to study, to train up enough pastors to reach 50 million people. The salary of one American professor would be better spent in bursaries for local students.

  15. Nathanael Johnston says:

    Laurette, I believe you misunderstood the intent of my question, so let me clarify. Lord willing (that is, if I can get funding) I will be getting a Ph.D. in historical theology. I keep hearing about the need for good theological training in Africa so my question is this: if I wanted to teach theology to the folks in Africa are there schools that would actually hire me or would I have to raise support in order to teach over there?

  16. Lee Furney says:

    Thanks very much for these helpful observations Kevin. As well as the need for the wider availability of solid theological training; I think that there is a little recognized – but corresponding – need to win more pulpits in order to model an expository preaching ministry. We learn by observation as well as by instruction. Whilst I sense that there is an improving standard and accessibility of good training across Southern Africa, there is often an appreciable lack of good practice because of the absence of any commendable pattern to follow. In my experience, this is less the case in the larger cities of South Africa, but it get’s pretty thin on the ground after that and more so heading further north. It is strategic to serve in a theological institution, but it’s also strategic to serve as a pastor that raises up disciples, capable of greatly benefiting from quality further training, who’ve already developed good habits and instincts. Keep going in grace brother.

  17. Christo says:

    Hi Kevin, thanks so much for your fair and insightful comments. I hail from SA and served there in the DRC and after that in a small Dutch immigrant church for a total of ten years. We fought the influx of liberal teachings in the DRC theological faculty as young restless and reformed students back in the late 1980’s. I heard you for the first time at this year’s GCC in Orlando and was really blessed. Please go visit SA again. I believe, just from what I have heard and seen developing over the last ten years, that the Lord is beginning to do a mighty work in that wonderful country. The prosperity “gospel” has however done a great deal of damage, as did politically tainted theologies. God bless your ministry in Lansing.

  18. Thomas Johnson says:

    Nathanael, there might be a few seminaries/theological training schools in South Africa that could afford a Westerner, but generally, most African schools prefer to hire nationals with their discretionary income, as they’re much cheaper for a variety of reasons (such as $10,000 or more is needed just to fly a family to the U.S.). In some African countries, you even have to demonstrate to the government WHY a qualified national wasn’t chosen for the post and they may refuse the Westerner a visa to come and work in their country if they believe a local should have gotten the job. The rules, though, change for missionary teachers who come with support, i.e. those who are sent by a mission agency and/or raise funds to come.

    If God is calling you to teach in Africa, he will provide for you and your family’s needs. The late Dr. Ralph Winter, of the U.S. Center for World Missions–and arguably the most important missionary thinker in the 20th Century– was passionate about the support-raising missionary as the best model for evangelistic outreach. Many of us out in the field notice how “salaried” missionaries behave quite differently than those who rely on the support and prayers of others.

    While the initial work of raising funds can be intimidating in the beginning, forming a support network can provide many blessings in the succeeding years. I’ve been in West Africa at a Bible School for 12 years and have endured many challenges. I credit praying churches and church members for why I’m still on the field and in one piece!

  19. Johannes says:

    As an Afrikaner Christian, I can confirm that your remarks about the prevalent violance and the tragic state of the church in South Africa are quite on the spot. We need a deep work of God’s Spirit and a return to the Scriptures in the whole of Southern Africa. I am privileged to preach the gospel in the Dutch Reformed Church (in Namibia). There are still many dear children of God and fine ministers in this denomination, but the liberal influence from the theological faculties is devastating (and increasing).

    By the way. As for the gospel, bringing together Black and White – well that was happening even fifty, sixty years ago – I know it – I grew up as a missionary child in the Dorothea Mission. This mission, many others, and yes, the DRC itself was used in a wonderfull way by God even in the apartheid years. The outside world was largely ignorant about this, because of a biased media.

  20. Alien & stranger says:

    As a South African, I agree with much of your assessment in point 5. I have visited a number of churches when networking, and find a prevalence of the prosperity gospel/ Word of Faith teaching on one hand, and legalism on the other, also a tendency for people to be “under their circumstances” – religious but little evidence of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
    However, I must emphasise that sound doctrine isn’t only found in churches that are labelled “Reformed”!
    A friend has studied through the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) – there is a lot of information on their website at http://www.satsonline.org/. This is an accredited institution. With studies being done by correspondence (on-line), it costs a lot less than studying full-time at a tertiary institution.
    I have gained the impression that the schools of theology at our secular universities tend to teach spiritual compromise.

  21. Christo says:

    At my first reading I kind of glossed over something you said about it “not being possible” for the Gospel to bring white and black together in SA twenty years ago. In an otherwise fine article this stands out as just one of those many ill-informed notions by folks in North America of what things were like in the old SA. We South Africans have become so used to it that we kind of shrug it off with smile, but a friend to whom I passed this article along said they were worshipping with blacks fifty years ago. I worshipped with Black brothers many times as well. My parents reached out to Black people with the Gospel and the love of Christ as long as I can remember, and three of my ancestors were missionaries among them. Black people attended our weddings and funerals for as long as I can remember. The Dutch Reformed Church of SA’s missionary activities reached deep into the hart of Africa, as far as Sudan and Nigeria. And so we can go on. Nonetheless, we do hope that go again Kevin, our country needs your clear voice, and down to earth Gospel message. God bless your labours.

  22. Chris Thwala says:

    Dear Kevin

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on South Africa. I’m a young black man, studying theology at a reformed church of England College (GWC). I just wanted to say I appreciate what you guys are doing, you are our source of encouragement here in South Africa. This is great, but we are westernized and loosing to pitch the gospel to South Africans. I’m not sure what is the solution to this.
    But above all, I just want to appreciate your guys work in the gospel, in this you are indeed making disciples of many nations.

  23. Michael says:

    One correction: South Africa is not a “Bible-starved location”

    South Africa is actually awash with Bibles. The Bible society has done a fantastic job over many decades in publishing and distributing Bibles. If I am not mistaken it has been members of the Dutch Reformed Church that have given the bulk of the financial support for their distribution. I remember an Afrikaans missionary distributing many Tswana Bibles over fifty years ago in and around Kuruman where Moffat translated the first Bible in Southern Africa.

    You are correct in identifying the desperate need for clear teaching and sound doctrine. Perhaps the best analogy is to compare many South Africans to the Ethiopian eunuch. He read the Scriptures knowing that they were vitally important. However, he did not understand their message till God sent Philip to explain them to him. This is what is most necessary: explaining and helping many South Africans to follow the plain sense of the Scriptures,

  24. Simon says:

    “If you want to serve the Lord in a Bible-starved location in the English speaking world, there are many places in South Africa for you to go.”
    Equally, if you hunger to proclaim Christ to the biblically illiterate, if you are reformed, if you have a high view of scripture, think about Australia as an option. It may be difficult to get here but God is in the business of opening doors AND hearts!

  25. Sameer Sathar says:

    Dear Kevin

    Thank you for making the trip to SA and posting your comments.
    Have you read Pagan Christianity, Church in the Wilderness and Revolution, among others? Is it possible that church as the modern world understands it, whether reformed or not, is deeply flawed and unbiblical,from church buildings, to tithes and offerings and pastors being the head of churches. There is also, a move in SA of more and more christians(approx.5-10% according to Joy mag) to move outside of institutional church. Structures as history in SA and around the world indicate, will shackle you and ultimately move you away from a Christ centred faith to a Church centred faith.
    Take care.

  26. Kobus vd Merwe says:

    Dear Pastor Kevin

    I read your assessment of your trip to South Africa with great trepidation. The comments of some of the other bloggers above states some of the reasons for a different interpretation of the same evidence. These coming from people living all their lives in this country.

    To me it is a shame that the liberal experiment called “social democracy” has had such a strong influence and is so far reaching as to taint sincere appraisal.

    As Dereck Dearth of Zambia points out, it is not the spreading of the Gospel that is required, but rather the confirmation of what the Gospel is about. (http://dearthtodelight.com/2013/05/05/why-are-we-in-zambia/)

    SA has been receiving the Gospel for more than 300 years and has moved from missionary position to go-with-the-wind position. The complete and devastating influence of the liberal has brought this country to its knees, and looking the other way by being politically correct is not going to help.

    Some of the presuppositions with which the assessment was done is unfortunate, but not at all destructive should the sober interpretation be sought.

    Unfortunately the concerned individual in this country has lived through the whole shebang and can see the same happening in a strong a mighty country like the USA. The same rhetoric of 20 years ago is ringing out again, albeit with a slight adjustment to align it with the present circumstances. And like most other moral conflicts of the past, the first line of attack is on religion, not openly, but molded upon the very first lie. “Surely God did not mean …”

    Most theologians of the Reformed persuasion agree that Christian Britain has already been won over and that most of Europe is already fully secular. Would the last bastion be invincible or has it already compromised enough?

    It is time to dig in the heels and fight for home base, globally. What would greatly help is to look at the world around us with objectivity and see it for what it really is.

    More diplomacy leads to reduced resolve.

  27. Sechaba X says:

    THE JESUS JIVE, MUHAMMAD MOONWALK, JEHOVAH JIG & ALL THAT JAZZ
    So who’s in charge? I mean, here on earth, who’s running the show?
    “Will the real “God” please stand up”! But not all at once please, one at a time. I think for now we’ll deal with Jesus, Muhammad & Jehovah, they seemingly create the most hype, mayhem & money making schemes virtually all over the world, by consent or conquest.
    Depending on whom you speak to concerning the above characters of theses respective religious doctrine & dogma, “God” will either be Christian, Muslim or Jewish. However, ask anyone concerned with either of these persuasions to prove to you that “God”, whatever they call “him”, really exits!, don’t hold your breath! Instead, you’ll more than likely be called either, “anti-Christ”, “infidel” or “gentile”, & condemned in the most vivid & bone chilling manner, & told of your certain demise for even questioning the existence of their particular deity & their stupendous claims to glory. All of the texts or so called “holy scriptures” of these religions are so thin on evidence, if they at all have such evidence on the existence of their principal figures, that they require their subjects to believe only by faith i.e. non-existent evidence. Adherence to the precepts of these belief systems is rewarded with hollow promises of mansions on street of gold, seven virgin girls & untold riches, but there is a catch, you must first die. Conditions for these rewards, to name a few, include 10% of your purse or property-monthly, praying 3 times a day or killing on command & refraining from eating swine or the practicing of morbid piety.
    The idea & purpose of religion is not the promotion of ethics & morality, love or peace amongst humanity, it’s about control! All religion wants is total authority over all the affairs of humanity in the name of some distant unknowable deity whose will must be done, or else face his fury. All the “Gods” of religion operate on a fear based thesis of doom & damnation of anyone who would dare reject the authority of that deity, ironically known as a “God” of love & mercy. Religion is the most disempowering institution next to the institution of government. Religion requires that one surrender their freewill, (which is the power that is inside everyone to make a choice, or not, & determine ones experience in this 3D reality), & instead be subject to the whim & will of an outside & obscure pseudo-entity.
    The leaders of all the religions listed above are nothing but charlatans who prey on the unsuspecting & gullible masses, who have become victims of their own circumstances. Every week, all over the world, these religious franchises, be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish, “collect” literally bags & bags of money from their masses. Religion makes more money in a year than any known corporation on the planet, tax-free & unregulated. The leaders of these respective religions amass enormous fortunes at the detriment of their flock, which have been lead to believe that blessed are the hands that give, than the hands that receive. Unfortunately for the masses who give up their currency, nothing could be further from the truth.
    Authority is inside one’s self & not outside the self. The Law Is One: FREEWILL, & is governed by Balance. As it is on the inside so it is on the outside. The effects of the relative appearance of all seeming light-matter in “two way wave motion” that our senses perceive physically, are caused by unseen light-space in stillness perceived spiritually. In an attempt to explain, quantitatively & qualitatively the spiritual aspect of our existence & its source, manmade “God” was created & deviously credited with the creation of all things physical. Spirituality is real but mysterious to one still inept in the science of spirituality in this our physical realm of our existence; particular to our known universe/s. Religious-spirituality takes advantage of the misapprehension of our spiritual selves. The mysteries of spiritual sciences are kept from humanity, lest they become aware of the authority that is inside each and every one of us, the Light of Love & Life.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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