Francois Ntone

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Francois Ntone

Presents the past, reveals the present, and creates the future

Currently, in the United States, evangelicals are under scrutiny because of their behavior and their adherence to “Christian nationalist” views.

 

Tell us about yourself and your work.

I am, by profession, an engineer who recently retired after a 33-year career.  I earned a PhD degree in Mechanical Engineering from Clemson University, with a specialty in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), a field of knowledge that was a novelty at the time.  I subsequently joined Cummins, Inc., a fortune 500 company that manufactures internal combustion engines and associated components for use in trucks and other industrial applications.  At Cummins, I pioneered the use of CFD as a means of providing insights, through computer simulations, into the various processes associated with fluid flow in an engine.

Before the introduction of computer simulations, engine components were designed and developed using experimental testing: numerous variations of a part were fabricated and tested at a substantial cost, and the ones yielding the best performance were selected for production.  With the availability of increasingly powerful computers and the development of mathematical models to simulate increasingly complex physical phenomena, it became possible to analyze the performance of parts before actually making them.  Such a capability offered the potential to considerably reduce development costs, but while some of the physical processes involved could be handled effectively early on, others were extremely complex and required sustained research in collaboration with universities and government agencies.

I became a company leader in these efforts, and over time, my team demonstrated the ability not only to help solve perennial product problems that had cost the company millions of dollars in warranty, but also to help develop new, more reliable products faster and at a lower cost.  The company adopted a new philosophy called Analysis-Led Design, to be applied to the entire product development process.  To help with its implementation, in 2004, I spent 6 months in India where I contributed to the creation of a research center focusing on computer simulation.  In 2009, I was a recipient of the company’s prestigious Julius Perr Award on innovation for my contributions to the combustion system development process.  In 2020, at the time I retired, I received a national award, the Black Engineer of the Year Award, in the Principal Investigator category.

My professional background, which is highly analytical, has also been useful to me in an area I have been strongly interested in: religious studies.  I grew up as a Christian and I have been involved in Church leadership activities for three decades, including teaching about the Bible.  I am aware of the positive contributions made by Christianity throughout its history.  I am also aware of its shortcomings, and particularly its ethical failures.  As a Bible study teacher, I know that many Christians do not have a good understanding of the flow of ideas in the Bible, as related to matters of theology and ethics.  In fact, there is a serious gap between churchgoers and Bible scholars in that respect.  Many Christians still believe that God himself wrote the Bible and that the kingdom of God, Jesus’ primary emphasis, is in heaven.  In order to help reduce the gap, I wrote and published a book titled Grace and Truth: How the Biblical Narrative Affirms that Christ Is Supreme and Parts of the Bible Are Obsolete.

Is the kingdom of God not in heaven?

In the Bible, Jesus focuses on the kingdom of God as a way of life on earth which is consistent with God’s will.  Even though it has promises for the afterlife, it puts a great deal of emphasis on human conduct on earth, which must be guided by the ideas of love, peace, justice and forgiveness.  These ideas are a reflection of God’s true nature.

Does Christianity not live up to those expectations?

There is no doubt that overall, Christianity has had a positive impact on human history in that regard.  However, it has also condoned violence, wars, social inequalities, witch hunts, inquisitions.  In some cases, it has even been an obstacle to intellectual progress.           

Today, some Christian leaders seem surprised that many churchgoers are far from projecting the “salt of the world” image envisioned by Jesus.  Currently, in the United States, evangelicals are under scrutiny because of their behavior and their adherence to “Christian nationalist” views.  In a 2017 article, the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, an evangelical Christian, asked the question: “What is wrong with these evangelicals? Who’s teaching them these unmerciful attitudes?” This is because evangelicals lead the way in opposing efforts towards diversity and are driven by strong tribal attitudes.  They oppose efforts towards gun control and do not seem to care about gun violence. They support political candidates with questionable morals who promise to restore to them political and economic privileges they think they lost. They take the lead in supporting wars abroad, and they oppose efforts to help the poor and the disadvantaged.  The attack on the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionists, which occurred on January 6, was recognized as the work of Christian nationalists by thoughtful Christian leaders who were quick to denounce it and distance themselves from it.

How can your book help with this situation?

There is, currently, a renewed awareness that a Christian must be “Christ-like,” and there are books being written on that.  But many Christians also believe that the Bible is God’s Inerrant Word, and that does not necessarily lead to “Christ-centered” beliefs.  Indeed, the biblical narrative, which is lengthy and intricate, presents theological and ethical beliefs that change in time.  Unfortunately, influential Christians often attempt to harmonize all aspects of the Bible, thereby creating the false impression that all pronouncements in it are equally divine and relevant.  The assumption that the Old Testament and the New Testament are equal is very common among conservative Christians.  If it is true, then they can go back and forth between the two testaments and select statements that support their own agenda.

But that amounts to a rewriting of the Bible.  As an example, I explain in my book that the book of Exodus presents Moses, the Israelite lawgiver, as a student of the divine rather than God’s mouthpiece.  Moses encounters an unknown God at Horeb, and struggles to understand him for the rest of his life.  In fact, the revelation he receives about God’s compassionate nature comes to him at a time he is seeking divine guidance, well after he has presented the Ten Commandments to his people.  At that time, he is also told that he will never grasp the fullness of God’s nature.  This has to be contrasted with the declaration in the New Testament that those who have seen Christ have seen God (John 14:9).  The title of my book, Grace and Truth, comes from a succinct statement of that evolution: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:17-18)

There are implications associated with only having partial knowledge of God’s character.  Bible readers will notice that Moses gives many commands that do not reflect God’s love and compassion as seen in Christ.  Therefore, Christians who understand that, in the final analysis, Christ is the one who really matters, will no longer turn to ideas in the Law of Moses that are inconsistent with the teaching of Jesus.  My book is the result of an effort to rigorously track theological and ethical changes throughout the Bible, to help Christians and other Bible readers understand the full story which, in the end, is about the supremacy of Christ.  From that perspective, ideas of universal love replace the notion of a chosen nation that must separate itself from others.  God is no longer a Warrior-God, but one whose true children are peacemakers.  Wealth is no longer a divine reward for righteousness, but a distraction to those who seek the kingdom of God.  Sickness is no longer punishment for sin, etc.      

How did you get started in this endeavor, which is a departure from your professional background?

I was raised by Christian parents.  During my college years, I did not attend church services regularly, even though I still had reverence for the person of Christ.  My interest in the Bible was renewed after my mother passed away.  I was 32 years old at that time, and I was looking for answers to questions about the meaning of life and life after death.  My brief experience with a very conservative church was short-lived and left me very disappointed, with the feeling that the church leaders were trying to feed me a narrative inconsistent with my own reading of the Bible.  

I later joined a congregation with a worldview closer to mine.  I became a member of the Church Council and was even made chairman of the Mutual Ministry Committee, which was in charge of supporting the staff and deal with conflicts.  At that time, I participated in various Bible studies and became a teacher.  I also began to seriously study scholarly material on Bible-related topics.  My studies confirmed views that I already had, while also broadening my knowledge of historical, theological and ethical aspects of Christianity.  

As a Sunday School teacher, I began to raise an awareness among fellow Christians on the fact that the teaching material commonly used made assumptions that led to inappropriate conclusions.  I was dealing with open-minded Christians, and I was successful in changing their perspectives simply because I could show them, in a rigorous manner, what the Bible really says, especially in passages that are not commonly discussed in Bible studies or Sunday sermons.  My book is a result of decades of reflection on such matters.

Have you been impacted by the Covid-19 Pandemic?

Like most people, I have been impacted by the pandemic.  I was fortunate that it started right after my retirement.  My wife and I moved to our Florida house and were able to follow the guidance on social distancing fairly easily.  However, we lived in isolation, and that takes a toll after a while.  In particular, the inability to directly participate in church activities has been an unwelcome change.  

On the other hand, living in isolation enabled me to focus on the book I was writing.  I published it myself and, in addition to finalizing the manuscript, I had to learn many aspects of ebook publishing to complete the project.  I had plenty of time to do that.  I was also able to spend more time on maintaining my website.

How do you advertise your book?          

This is an area to which I am currently directing my efforts.  My website, k-of-g.com, has been in existence for some time and is my starting point.  I am issuing press releases, and I am pursuing opportunities to introduce the book contents to the public through direct interactions with audiences and through mass media.  It is work in progress.

To what do you attribute what you have achieved so far?

I think it is fair to say that my involvement in teaching about the Bible has been driven by my passion for it.  Also, as I look at the constant turmoil in the world, I strongly believe that Christ remains the best hope for humanity.  For that reason, I have dedicated a great deal of my time to studying, teaching and writing.  My professional background helps me in my endeavor because I am trained to sort out complex sets of data and draw meaningful conclusions from them.

What are your goals for the near future? 

My main goal is to do what I can to promote the idea that Christians should focus on the teaching of Christ and not return to the parts of the Old Testament that conflict with it.  I am also currently writing a book that refutes ideas promoted on this matter by John Calvin, one of the influential theologians of the Reformation.