Recently, the social media team for Heritage Christian College Foundation sat down with Dr. James Thompson, professor in the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University, in Abilene, Texas, for a conversation about HCC and its place in the world. For more about Dr. Thompson’s early acquaintance with HCC founder Dr. Samuel Twumasi-Ankrah, see this post.
HCCF: Why is Heritage Christian College important?
Dr. Thompson: Well, I think it can serve the kind of function, perhaps, that ACU [Abilene Christian University] served in the early 20th century. Our movement really never specialized in narrow Bible colleges. We wanted to educate not only preachers and ministers, but we wanted to educate the larger membership. And so with the infrastructure that you do have in Ghana, Heritage has a real potential in reaching out to the larger public, and not with a narrow discipline. And there is a surplus of prepared people whom the [existing] system cannot adequately serve. Because there are not that many places in the [higher education] institutions in Ghana. So Heritage plays a really important role in the larger populace. It can serve members of Churches of Christ as well as others who want to come and get a degree in business or whatever disciplines they develop.
HCCF: We’re hearing statistics about population growth in Africa, like the prospect of it doubling in 30 years. And we’re also hearing that job creation must keep pace with that…
Dr. Thompson: Right, right. That’s one part of it. There is a need for an educated middle class. And Ghana has a good start on an educated middle class. But [the presence of HCC] will make a big difference in creating a spot, particularly for entrepreneurial activity, for small business, where it can emerge in this climate. So with the growing population there is also a growing need for higher education.
HCCF: What makes Africa a fertile field for education or for the Christian message?
Dr. Thompson: There’s a book by Philip Jenkins called The Next Christendom and in it the author talks about the fact that Christendom has moved south. Christendom has always been in the Northern Hemisphere and it is declining in the Northern Hemisphere. But it is increasing in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, the missionaries are coming from the Southern Hemisphere to the north. I have been in several congregations in Europe, and those are probably majority Southern Hemisphere people, Africans mainly. The church in Stuttgart, the church in Graz, Austria… the majority there are economic refugees who have settled in. And so they’ve become the missionaries. There’s very explosive growth…
HCCF: The Africans have become the missionaries…
Dr. Thompson: That’s right. The Africans have become the missionaries—not sent by churches so much, but rather as economic refugees. They have settled in and they’ve brought skills. In England, too. Some of the churches in England are heavily African.
HCCF: Wow. That’s quite a change.
Dr. Thompson: That is quite a change.
HCCF: Why Africa? Why the Southern Hemisphere?
Dr. Thompson: That’s a good question. And I don’t know that I have the answers as to why. Churches of Christ, of course, in Africa outnumber [Church of Christ] membership in the United States. We went to a celebration about 15 years ago in Fort Worth, celebrating the fact that the African Church of Christ has outnumbered the U.S. Church of Christ. My memory is that Accra may have as many as 50 congregations. And I preached in one that has over 1,000 members. And it has a very stable leadership. That’s why Heritage has some potential. It’s not just a Bible college. In the church there I’ve met lawyers and professional people who can provide expertise. It’s not only American expertise that’s going to come in, but it’s the Ghanaians themselves who can provide the expertise to develop a college.
HCCF: Can the spread of Christianity in Africa and elsewhere—what maybe we used to think of as the Third World—can the spread of Christianity in those regions elevate the larger society?
Dr. Thompson: Oh, no doubt that it does—because Christianity always promotes literacy. And always promotes stable living, disciplined living. And so with its growth there would be communities of support for their own people.
HCCF: Would you say that, in history, where Christianity has gone, there’s been a flourishing of the arts, the sciences… all these things?
Dr. Thompson: Yes, yes. Well, learning was preserved in the Middle Ages in monasteries and literacy was preserved there. An interesting line was made, I think in the 19th century, that Protestantism has had a major role in the economic development [of societies] because it taught discipline, delayed gratification, and all of those things. If you put those together, the disciplined life tends to elevate people… elevates their education and then their capacity to do well in society.
HCCF: Thanks for your time and your thoughts. You’ve been wonderful.
Dr. Thompson: You’re welcome!