Conrad Mbewe has pastored Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, since 1987. He earned his Ph.D. in missions from the University of Pretoria in South Africa, and he was the founding chancellor of Zambia’s African Christian University. He shared the insights below in an interview with American Family Studios’ M. D. Perkins, director of the documentary The God Who Speaks. These remarks reflect or extend beyond the video’s content. Part 2 will dig deeper into Mbewe’s analysis of biblical illiteracy and its impact on the church’s outreach. (http://www.conradmbewe.com/)
M. D. Perkins: What does it mean for God to speak to humanity?
Conrad Mbewe: God has been communicating with us right across history. … through prophets over the years, through the Lord Jesus Christ, through creation, and invariably through His written Word.
MDP: Speak about natural revelation. How is it different than Scripture?
CM: Part of His self-revelation has been through the things that He has made. In many ways, that’s the way it is with us as human beings. For instance, you can admire the artistic ability of an individual from the things He has made. You look at some piece of pottery, you look at some carving. In Africa, we’d be speaking in terms of a lot of wood carvings. When you see all that, you stand back and say, “Wow! Here is somebody who is very talented.”
God has revealed something of His power, something of His own sense of aesthetics through the things that He has made – the universe, the planets, the birds, the beauty that is in flowers, and so on. The thunderstorms that we often experience, the hurricanes, something like that is constantly communicating to us something of who God is.
We need to realize that it’s not by accident. This is not just things happening haphazardly. There is a divine being behind all this who is communicating to us through nature – natural revelation. That’s obviously quite distinct from God revealing Himself through the prophets, through His son, through the apostles, and ultimately through the Scriptures.
MDP: What is the role of preaching related to the authority of the Bible?
CM: Preaching is an all-important activity. God communicates with us not to entertain us, but primarily because He has a major agenda. It is to glorify Himself. What the Lord does ultimately is to use the vehicle of preaching .... to bring it to a present-day listenership, but in such a way that we can see the principles that were being dealt with then are still relevant to us today, because God doesn’t change.
That’s the primary role that preaching has. It seeks to communicate the written Word of God in real-time to a people who are listening today, that we may turn from sin, trust in Him, and seek to live for Him.
MDP: How does a preacher apply the Scriptures to his hearers?
CM: The way in which we apply the Scriptures to those who are hearing our messages, is that while we are preparing God’s Word, we study the Word of God. At that state, we need to be conscious of what God was saying to the original hearers because as He was speaking through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and [others], He was also speaking to a people concerning how they ought to live in the light of who He is. We need to respect that.
We don’t just make the Bible to be applied as we want. We begin with, “How was this message to be applied then?” Then we transition to the current world and answer the question, “How is it to be applied today?” Once a preacher learns to do that, then he’s truly applying what God Himself has said to the people who are before him.
MDP: What does it mean when we say the Bible has authority?
CM: The Bible is the Word of God. Therefore, the authority is not so much in the black and white letters that we’re seeing in that book, but in the God who has communicated with us. It is that authority. A good parallel is what takes place in a nation when word comes from the ruler, the president, or prime minister depending on which country you’re in. The moment you know what you’re reading is from the head of state, invariably you realize there is authority here. There is authority because it is the head of state who has spoken.
God has given us an entire library. We don’t go to the Bible wanting to judge the Scriptures. We go to the Bible with a sense of submission, wanting to hear what the living God has to say to us. And that’s crucial.
We’re living in a day and age when the vast majority of people feel as though the Bible is just an ancient book put together by people who didn’t quite know how to explain the world.
They then go to the Bible as they go to any other book, wanting to criticize it and judge it, and see perhaps what they should take for themselves because it makes sense to them. See what they should throw away because it doesn’t make sense to them. That’s committing spiritual suicide. We have no right to take and leave what we want in that book. Genesis to Revelation – that’s God speaking to us.
MDP: What is the role of the Holy Spirit in our understanding of the Bible?
CM: The Holy Spirit is crucial, especially in His work of regeneration, which means being born again … which is an absolute sovereign work of God. He removes the scales from our eyes and enables us to understand spiritual reality.
That’s why it is crucial for us to approach the Bible prayerfully, knowing that we need the Spirit’s immediate help. It was David who said, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy laws” (Psalm 119:18, KJV).
MDP: What does it mean when we say the Scripture is powerful?
CM: The Word of God is powerful in a number of ways, but I think first of all, as a preacher preaching God’s Word, you are really not alone. You are working with God the Holy Spirit. You’re not so much conscious of the Spirit as you are conscious of the Word itself that has impacted you. It’s in that sense that God’s Word is powerful.
Where the preacher is totally dependent on God, we should expect the Lord Himself to put a blessing upon that Word and often bring about salvation, sanctify His people, deal with issues in their lives they would not have even thought about as they were coming to worship.
Every so often, that also happens with one just reading the Bible. An individual at home, poring over the Scriptures may find himself gripped by what he has read until the Lord deals with him.
The Word of God is powerful in many ways [both corporately and personally], and it is the Spirit of God who brings about that power.
Editor’s Note: The God Who Speaks Special Limited Edition and an accompanying Sunday School Kit are available at thegodwhospeaks.org.