Title: From the Pulpit to the Heart
Author: George E. Wanjau
Publisher: Arba Publications Ltd, 2021
Reviewed by: Dorothy Kweyu
A spiritual treasure trove! That, for me, aptly summarises Presbyterian cleric George Ernest Wanjau’s hot-off-the-press 452-pager of an A4 hardcover book. The launch was streamed online only on Friday last week with a select few physically present at PCEA St Andrew’s Church, Nairobi.
The book’s content is well captured in the subtitle: Sermons, Teachings and Reflections. At 23 pages, the prelims are elaborate and include the title and copyright pages despite the editors’ bold assertion that, “The work is not copyrighted”. At the time of filing this review, I had not reconciled the copyright statement, which is standard, with the editors’ claim that the author “has indicated that everything he has or acquired or done was “freely given” and he will also “freely give”…”
But I digress. Books like From the Pulpit to the Heart don’t happen every day, hence the need to minimise nit-picking. Even then, criticism should serve the best interests of the reviewer’s professional calling to appreciate the good without glossing over missteps in pursuit of editorial excellence.
I shall, therefore, strive to balance the strengths and weaknesses of the book, bearing in mind that at 89, the Very Reverend Doctor George E. Wanjau’s book cannot be anything but a treasure from Kenya’s first African Presbyterian Church Minister.
On the cusp of his 10th decade, with 38-plus years in the ordained ministry, Wanjau, a student of Carey Francis of Alliance High School fame, has written a book that is a minefield of information on a vast array of topics. Mutava Musyimi, a former secretary-general of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) and Party of National Unity (PNU) politician puts it succinctly in the book’s blurb. Some of the sermons in the book under review, he notes, “were given at times of grave social and political uncertainty in our nation.”
The problem of war
Needless to say, the book addresses the highly topical — even controversial — issue of the relationship between Church and State, the lead topic under Section 6 on Citizenship.
Over and above the theoretical, whose comprehension would tax the lay person, not just Wanjiku, the citizenship section tackles the subjects of “The Christian and Force – The problem of war”. This is Wanjau’s explanation of why interstate war is necessary. War, says the author, “becomes necessary to protect the rights of the community under national identity.” He continues: “Conflict between the nations will last, as long as men are sinners.”
So, if you have been wondering why innocent lives have had to be lost in what appears to be a senseless war in Somalia, the good minister’s explanation should disabuse you of your misgivings.
The citizenship section also addresses ‘The Christian and the Penal Law’, and here, the author is explicit: “So long as there are human beings who will not leave their neighbours in peace, that is, to the end of history, society will be obliged to use force to protect itself against the violence of the lawbreaker.” But even as the author considers the unquestionable right of society to protect itself by means of criminal law, he raises the pertinent issue of improving the offender.
“Our present manner of dealing with lawbreakers does very little to ‘improve’ their character. It very often has the very opposite effect of habitual criminals.”
And in what might be regarded as a masterstroke by the author, he turns the argument on its head, stating that, “In every crime the first and chief criminal is society. It breeds crime by its brutality of its economic order, by the harshness with which it throws upon the street all those who are less talented and successful in life, by the lovelessness (sic) with which it meets those who are least adapted to its requirements.”
The reader may wish to know that the author and Catholic missionaries Joseph Donders and Arnold Grol (the latter have since died) spearheaded the concept of rehabilitating street families in Kenya. This is an increasingly thorny issue in a society that is priming itself for an almighty class war as the gap between the haves and the have-notes widens inexorably.
In addressing topics such as Industrial Sunday in Kenya, Jesus’ encounter with those in the establishment, Joseph — that famous son of Jacob, who became Egyptian prime minister, Servanthood for development and Prayers on the State Opening (of) Parliament, the author broadens the concept of Church and State. He goes beyond the familiar subjects of whether or not clergy should dabble in politics. A question arises: in the Covid-19 era, should the clergy allow politicians to circumvent the pandemic containment measures as they slaver for politicians’ ‘goodies’ oblivious of the greater good, and indeed their conscience?
I promised to be lean of criticism of the good minister’s book, and so I shall confine myself to the cover, which the author rarely has a say on, seeing publishers engage their own designers.
Other than Wanjau’s ever-radiant smile on the front cover, the designer could have done a better job of photograph choice. There is no shortage of photographers even within the PCEA fraternity, and I’m sure the front cover deserved high resolution visual appeal.
I take issue with the atrocious manner in which the back cover was edited, letting pass monstrosities such as “Trial Braziers” for Trail-blazers, “Travellor” instead of traveller/traveler (since the book uses UK and US English interchangeably, for which I fault the editor(s) “painstacking” for painstaking…and so on.
These may be minor slips but they detract from an otherwise gem of a timeless book, which, as Rev Dr Nyambura Njoroge — one of the authors of the back-page blurb summarises as a goldmine for theological educators, students, researchers, preachers, and ministers of the word and sacrament.
Ms Kweyu is a consultant revise editor with the ‘Daily Nation’