Conrad Mbewe is frequently described in the United States as the “African Spurgeon.” But as you’ll see in the following interview, he’s not sure how he acquired the moniker. Nevertheless, it stuck. The pastor of Kabwata Reformed Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, Mbewe plans to deliver a plenary address at The Gospel Coalition’s national conference on ‘The Righteous Branch” from Jeremiah 23:1-8. I asked him to offer a preview of how he’ll model Christ-centered preaching from the Old Testament during this sermon.
I also asked Mbewe to tell us more about his church’s work to plant other congregations in Zambia and Botswana, and to explain how he trains teachers to interpret the Old Testament in a Christ-centered fashion. Hopefully this interview will help you get to know Mbewe a little better before you hear him preach on Wednesday, April 13, at 7 p.m.
How did you come to be known as the “African Spurgeon”?
How did you come to be known as the “African Spurgeon”?
Frankly, your guess is as good as mine. Back home in Zambia I am known as Conrad Mbewe. The “African Spurgeon” thing is largely an American fascination, and since I do not live in the United States, I neither know where it came from nor am I conscious of it. Thankfully, there is nothing about Spurgeon that I would be embarrassed to be associated with, and so I do not mind it. However, due to my own sinfulness and ordinary gifts, I am painfully conscious of the fact that I cannot fit into Spurgeon’s shoes. Believe me, I am under no delusion that I am Spurgeon back from the dead in a chocolate skin!
Describe the vision behind your church-planting efforts in Zambia and Botswana.
Our aim has been to plant a solid church after the New Testament pattern in every provincial capital of Zambia. We have largely achieved that in the last 15 years. Then from there we want to see these churches replicate themselves in the satellite towns around them. This is slowly beginning to happen. Our prayer is that we shall soon see these churches go even further and begin to plant solid churches where expository preaching is the norm, and where the true gospel is being preached, even in the villages. We would like to see this begin to take place in neighboring countries and further afield in Africa. So far we are planting churches in a number of our neighbouring countries. We long to see this also taking root in the Arab north. This is our prayer and vision.
How do you train men to preach Jesus and the gospel from the Old Testament at the Reformed Baptist Preachers College in Zambia?
Let me begin by saying that our Reformed Baptist Preachers College was swallowed up by the Sovereign Grace Theological Seminary in December 2009, and we have also started a Lusaka Ministerial College in 2010. These two institutions train two economically different classes of students. In both of these institutions I lecture in pastoral theology, which includes homiletics. We teach our students the disciplines of biblical hermeneutics and exegesis. This gives them the tools to properly arrive at what God intended the original hearers of his Word to understand as he communicated with them in their language, culture, and time. Then we also train them in homiletics so that they can transfer the application of God’s Word from its original hearers to the present-day hearers. This is particularly important for Old Testament passages, whose divine light must be brought into New Testament times through the prism of Christ and him crucified. Certainly, passages such as Galatians 3:24 and 1 Peter 1:10-11 are pivotal in this matter. They save us from a straight-jacket form of literalism, which deprives us of a view of the Savior in many Old Testament passages, and also from allegorizing, which often sees Jesus where he is not!
You’re speaking at The Gospel Coalition’s national conference on “The Righteous Branch” from Jeremiah 23:1-8. How does this passage anticipate the person and work of Jesus Christ?
You do not want me to preach my sermon before the conference even begins, do you? There are many ways in which this passage anticipates the person and work of Christ. For now, let me give you two (you will have to wait for the full meal at the conference to hear the rest). First, the context of unfaithful shepherds contrasts very well with what God was promising in Jesus, who says, “I am the good shepherd.” Second, God’s promise to raise up to David a king who would reign wisely fits in very well with the announcement by the angels to the shepherds when Jesus was born. They said, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord [or King]” (Luke 2:11). I can go on. There is no doubt that this passage anticipates the coming of Christ. But you have to wait until I am in the pulpit to hear the rest of the story. I hope that this whets your appetite for the full meal.
What difference do you see it make in the lives of other Christians when they read the Bible in a Christ-centered fashion?
The whole Bible ought to be read in a Christ-centered fashion. That is what Jesus meant when he said to the Pharisees in his days on earth, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). Of course, that does not mean we should go back to the allegorical form of interpretation that sees Jesus under every nook and cranny in the Old Testament. We must have sound principles of biblical interpretation.
Yet even with this caution, I must say that the Old Testament is full of Christ. We need to have our eyes opened the way in which Jesus opened the eyes of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. The Bible says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). No doubt that was a most revolutionising experience for them. Suddenly, the whole of the Bible (as they had it then) was full of Jesus. No wonder they returned to Jerusalem totally changed men!