I've been teaching a course called Theology and Society to six MDiv students and tonight I am invigilating their final exam. Darkness is falling over Nairobi where we are sitting in a small classroom in the high-rise building that functions as the downtown campus of my university. We are situated directly across the street from the Memorial Garden, the site of the former United States Embassy that was blown up in 1998 by al-Qaeda in a massive truck bomb blast that killed more than 230 and injured more than 5000. Tonight, as I watch my students write their essays, it's just the normal rush hour Nairobi traffic sounds that I hear through our open windows.
I had to construct this course from scratch. The reading that I came across tended to be much too abstract than useful, and I found that almost nothing was written with an African urban context in mind. So I led the class in seminar mode, telling provocative stories or describing realities which I then used to jumpstart a discussion on how to think Christianly about the particular issue of the evening. Amongst the issues we tackled included corruption, domestic violence, sex and Kenyan youth, money and the churches, racism and ethnic violence, among other things. Let's just say our discussions were usually rather lively.
So tonight they are having to choose four questions from the following six and then write essays in good form to answer them:
1. Describe the similarities and differences between rural and urban societies in Kenya. Demonstrate how Christian theology engages the concerns of each kind of Kenyan society. What, if anything, should local churches be doing differently to better engage the society of which they find themselves a part?
2. Bus and matatu drivers and their assistants form a well-known part of Kenyan society. Describe the context and challenges faced by these people. How might Christians and Christian theology more effectively engage them with Christian hope and new life?
3. Prostitutes and other sex-workers are shunned by most Christians as reflecting a lifestyle that is considered sinful, even though very few of these people would pursue this way of living if a better option were available to them. Examine Kenyan Christian's attitude towards prostitution. How might churches more effectively reach out to these people?
4. Examine the evidence for materialism that exists in Kenyan society. What is a realistic Kenyan response to materialism?
5. Imagine that you are part of a new church being started in Kibera [a notorious and vast Nairobi slum]. What should the ministry priorities be? What steps, if any, should be taken to address and engage the Kibera context? What might Christian-inspired transformation look like in a context like this?
6. The Christians living in Lamu face the challenges of being a minority living in a Muslim majority community. There have also been several al-Shabaab-inspired violent attacks against Christians and churches in recent years. How should the Christians there respond to the threats against them? What guidance does the Bible give Christians living in minority or threatening situations? How should Christians live in the midst of the Muslim neighbours?
The purpose of these questions is not just to gauge what my students learned this past term, but by the act of answering them to get them to unabstract their theological thinking and stretch their minds to encompass realities that exist all around them but which they have never brought a Christian perspective to bear on before.
So if you were to take an exam like this, how might you do?