Contextualizing Theology in Africa
Section 4B--Page 116
The Context of African Theology
1. It must be seen as part of African intellectual life, which is in turn part of what might be
called modern Africa:
2. We must ask, "What is Africa"?
a. "Africa" as a term is not "African"--it is a Western import! “First of all, Africa appears
as a puzzle made up of fifty-five countries, thousands of ethnic groups and dialects,
and arbitrary boundaries inherited from the period of colonization. Despite twenty-six
years of independence, Africa is still a pure product of European colonization."
("African Report" in Third World Theologies , p. 29)
i. Traditionally, people tended not to think in terms of a continent-wide identity
ii. Though the term technically does not have a "history", it most certainly does
have a "future".
The unifying concept of "Africa" cannot be considered as:
i. Common culture;
ii. Common language;
iii. Common race (note that Africa includes arabs as well as blacks); or
iv. Common religion.
Section 4B--Page 117
c. What is the point of commonality? A sense of having "shared" in a modern,
historical, and traumatic experience T. Okere writes:
Hence the peculiar originality of African culture. It means the common
experience of the trauma of the slave trade, of the humiliation that was colonization, of
assault on traditional religion, of new won political independence, of present economic
exploitation, of the ambivalent status of standing hesitatingly on the threshold of the
age of industry. (Okere, "The Assumptions of African Values as Christian Values",
Civilisation noire et église catholique; cited by Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa , p.
The elements, then, of that shared experience include:
i. The trauma of slavery (which pitted brother against brother in the indignity of
treating people as property);
ii. The humiliation of colonialism (which severely wounded the spirit of Africans--
their natural dignity was deeply offended, and they began to feel like strangers in
their own land (see Irele quote of Tevoedjre in "Negritude", p. 392), and were
forced to learn Western "history", "literature", and "philosophy" as the only
material worth mastering).
iii. An assault on traditional religion and culture (which were condemned and/or
classified as superstitious, devilish, primitive, etc. by early missionaries,
anthropologists, and colonialists; see especially Mudimbe's analysis, The
Invention of Africa , pp. 44-97);
iv. The winning of political independence (both the anticipation and excitement of
the initial victory AND the frustration that the post-independence experience has
not lived up to the expectations engendered--compare Achebe's Things Fall
Apart with Anthills on the Savannah; also Hadjor, On Transforming Africa, pp.
The misuse of power is another aspect of political challenge in Africa.
Almost everywhere in Africa, we hear the groanings of common people who say
that independence is worse than colonization. In some countries, there is
practically no limit to the excesses of certain tyrants wild with power. Human
rights, legal processes, and justice are trampled underfoot with fanatical
arrogance." ("African Report" in Third World Theologies , p. 30).
v. The continuing neo-colonialism, seen in economic exploitation (and the feeling
of powerlessness in contrast to the "first-world" nations; see Hadjor, On
Transforming Africa, pp. 47-52) and political frustration (new coups no longer
Section 4B--Page 118
give hope--people realize that the same old story will only be relived):
Neocolonialism mostly walks under the guise of economic assistance and
the mask of cooperation. It forges bonds of economic dependence, the heaviest
of which is the debt system imposed on the Third World. In short,
neocolonialism develops and puts in place a complete dependence machinery for
the effective control of all areas of political, economic, and cultural life.
An absurd totalitarianism manipulated by the foreign hegemonic blocs
prevails over nearly all the continent. It matters little that this totalitarianism is
Jacobinic here and Marzist-Leninist there. Having no means for either its
psuedo-ideologies, its defense, or its cultural social, or economic development,
the state in Africa finally and totally handed itself over to its new masters. These
masters assist it, protect it, guide it, tame it, exploit it, get it into debt,
indoctrinate and rule it much more than during colonial times. ("African Report"
in Third World Theologies , pp. 29-30).
(1) A shared looking toward the age of industry (or 'development').
vi. Today, two movements dominate the scene: authenticity and development.
1. Modern African Intellectual Life and Development
a. Its well-spring: the educated elite, who, because they belong to neither Africa nor
west, have been engaged in a search for an African identity to which they may all lay
hold. In fact, they are in the process of molding modern African thought as they
proceed on this quest. Their quest is to discover what it means to be a "modern
Modern: NOT traditional
African: NOT Western
b. Historical patterns: there are two streams of development (political and cultural) in this
century built on a single philosophical core:
Section 4B--Page 119
* Began with the "negritude" movement, which arose * Started with the Pan-African Congress in London
among French speaking Africans in Paris in the (1900)
1930s. France's colonial policy was to take the * Up to WWII, the emphasis was on the struggle for
cream of their colonies, make them French citizens, equality rather than actual independence.
and bring them into French life (see Molyneux, "Af- * The call for independence was first formally
rican Christian Theology", pp. 17, 20-22). declared at the 5th Pan-African Congress of
* As a symbol of their struggle for cultural identity, Manchester in 1945.
presence Africaine was started in the 1947. * Political independence came from 1950s on. Last
* The French cultural congresses were launched with outpost remaining is RSA.
the First International Congress of Black Writers * Since political independence, the focus has changed
and Artists (1956, Sorbonne). The term "African to economic independence, where the West still
Theology" comes to prominence at this Congress controls.
(e.g., Ibid., p. 48).
" In the 1940s to the 60s, "the African was challenging 'the weaknesses' of the West, trying 'to
gain recognition as a subject of history,' and, paradoxically, demanding 'the attention of a
world which has become more curious about his destiny.' This period was for him a
moment of an aggressive 'self-expression,' 'after having long been an object of exchange or
an instrument in the hands of foreigners.' He was defining his rights to succession and
dedicating himself to a possible new beginning. It was the era of Negritude and African
Personality, in brief, the period of the African event as described by Claude Wauthier in his
overview of the Africa of African intellectuals (1964)." (Mudimbe,The Invention of Africa ,
" Some Africans after the negritude generation have been forcibly domesticated, intellectually
speaking. In principle, they should easily function in an orthodox manner within the
consecrated field of normative discourse, sophisticated intelligence, and scientific textuality.
But rather than reinforcing in the normative manner their own competence, most of them, in
a kind of instinctual reflex, began to question its significance, interrogate the credibility of
their own prise de parole, and challenge the evaluative scale of both scientific processes of
examination and ideological presuppositions of tasks in social sciences. (Ibid., p. 39)
" These men are currently the intellectuals "in power", "and no one doubts their mission in the
process of modernization. Through different lenses, they all more or less define and explain
conditions and possibilities of setting in motion principles of modernization and defining the
meaning of being African today. . . . There is no doubt that a study of their works would
locate weaknesses. However, it would also emphasize the complexity and ambiguity of
propositions for creative capacities and multiple and nonrestrictive ways to truth. Indeed,
the general ambition of these propositions for spiritual and intellectual autonomy silently
assumes a severe political and ideological confrontation. . . .
With the problem of truth, we are confronted with one of the most paradoxical forms
of amplification [of Foucault] and with the promotion of African alternatives. Indeed, it is
Section 4B--Page 120
on this particular question that African academics and scholars violently interrogate the
European tradition. (Ibid., pp. 40-1)
" The African postulation . . . critically jumps the "bavardages of colonial discourses and its
'anthropological' applications, and centers on the system of signification that allowed the
'colonial propositions' and their inferences. . . . Concretely, the path to truth still seems, so
far, an external model accomplished in the West, imposing rules for the renunciation of the
African will to be self, and, simultaneously, defining the principles for the abolition of
regional histories (Ibid., p. 41).
2. Nationalism in modern Africa
a. There are three levels of nationalism seen in Africa (see Paden and Soja, The African
Experience, 1:405-8, 2:211-4):
i. Micronationalism or subnationalism (ethnocentrism, such as tribalism)
ii. Nationalism as 'nation-state' (the classical Western use of the term)
iii. Macronationalism or supranationalism, seen in several forms (adapted from Ibid.,
(1) Euro-Africanism (e.g., France and her colonies, the Commonwealth)
(2) Working class socialism or Marxism (in which members of the working
class unite across national boundaries)
(3) Negritude (nationalism with a racial parameter)
(4) Regionalism (in which selected African countries in a given region unite)
(5) Pan-Africanism (uniting all African countries into a "United States of
(6) Third-Worldism (in which all "third-world" countries unite in a global
b. Ideological nationalism is the central focus of intellectual life (seen in literature,
politics, economics, etc.). Sources of nationalism include (from Paden and Soja, The
African Experience, 2:233):
i. Traditional precepts and values
ii. Islamic jurisprudence and ideology (mainly north of the Sahara)
Section 4B--Page 121
iii. Western political thought
Five major categories of African Nationalist Ideologies include (descriptions,
except for Apartheid and Islamic Fundamentalism, adapted from Paden and Soja, The
African Experience, 2:234):
Category Examples Brief Description
Leupold Senghor A reaction to the assimilationist policy of France, it
(Senegal) asserted that "black is beautiful" and that African
Negritude culture cannot be assimilated by Western culture (for an
expanded view, see Irele, "Negritude").
Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) Asserted that the emergent African ideology should be a
synthesis of Euro-Christian, African traditional, and
Consciencism Islamic heritages. Argued for a Pan-Africanism based
on converging values found all over the continent.
Julius Nyerere (Ujamaa, Tanza- Asserts the values of egalitarian society, and the need
nia), Tom Mboya (African
African Personality, Kenya), Sekou Toure
for just distribution of economic wealth. Currently there
(Communaucracy French are a variety of interpretations (for descriptions, see
Socialism Guinea), Kenneth Kaunda (Hu- Shorter, African Culture, pp. 31-33).
Afrikaner Nationalist Party "Separate development", the idea of keeping racial
(South Africa) purity and allowing each race to pursue its own agenda.
Apartheid Used as an ideology (actually, a theology) of oppression
to help maintain minority rule in RSA.
Qadaffi (Jammahirya, [for Islamic states in which there is no separation of religion
the people]) and state. Rule is by divine authority, and Islamic law
Fundamentalism becomes political law.
c. There are at least two levels of nationalism seen:
i. Spoken: a negative reaction against the West in which autonomy is asserted.
ii. Acted: a positive reaction towards the West, in which the benefits of
"development" are stressed.
d. The two main streams of nationalistic ideology are the cultural and political:
Section 4B--Page 122
"Negritude" Marxism and/or Socialism
The mainspring of our heartbeat; Traditional culture also oppressed
the source of our identity people, and we must move on to face
the modern world
Resulting African cultural theology; theol- Liberation or other political theology,
Theological ogies of cultural identity and especially as seen in the southern end of
Reflection dignity (e.g., Mbiti) the continent
1. Does not deal with the 1. Deals with modern realities, but
realities of modern scene does not address the issues of the
2. If we move in the direction of soul.
traditional culture, we will get 2. If we move in the direction of mod-
trampled. ern world, we are turning our back
on our hearts.
3. Preliminary critique of nationalism:
a. If it does not match reality, then it is not ultimately healthy for the context.
b. The cultural version addresses an inner need, satisfies intellectually and emotionally,
but it does not match the reality of the African scene. Further, it also fails to deal with
the realities of the world scene.
c. It tends to blind us to the evils both in tradition and the West.
d. In the historical experience, it has made many false claims and promises empty of
fulfillment. As a result, it nurtures the tendency to bitterness and resentment, allowing
old wounds to fester rather than heal.
e. It gives rise to repeated incongruities and situations in which it is impossible to do
A call to remain in the A call to shift toward
traditional framework the West is rejected be-
is rejected because it ¹¹ ¸¸ cause it would destroy
holds us back. culture.
4. Is there a link between African Nationalism and African Theology? Muzorewa posits:
African nationalism is another major source for African theology. The latter's
concerns about Africanization and indigenization had been articulated by nationalists and
Pan-Africanists decades before the inception of African theology.
In the struggle to set Africa free from foreign political, economic, social, and spiritual
Section 4B--Page 123
domination, a truly African theology can give expression to nationalism. African
nationalism is, in fact, one of the forerunners of African theology, especially in its emphasis
on culture, human dignity, liberation, and solidarity. (Muzorewa, Origins and
Development , p. 46)
Summary of African nationalism and its effect on African theology:
African theology's concern for Africanization can be developed against this
political background, which is based on the concern for human dignity and
survival. African nationalism has always been concerned with the preservation
of the African cultural heritage. Theologically speaking, this means a search for
a theology that is relevant to the African cultural belief systems.
The definitions that we have examined recognize the importance of
political independence and cultural heritage, and they explain why African
theology is developing concepts that tend to reinforce political power and
cultural validity. African theology's claim to set the African at liberty to be who
God created the African to be is a theological articulation endorsing what has
been pointed out by African nationalists in the struggle for political
independence on the continent. (Ibid., p. 50)
What Do We Mean by "African Theology"?
1. The problem with seeking a single understanding of African theology
"'African Theology' is a household expression today in theological circles all over
Africa. Yet, when we get down to defining what is really is, it is sometimes not easy to
get a clear answer. For some, it is liberation theology, for others it is Black theology, for
others still, it is simply theology for Africans." (Ukpong, African Theologies Now: A
Profile, p. 4)
"African Christian Theology, . . . will correspond to a culturally fragmented Africa,
albeit with many chains of possible comparison and actual, historical interaction. It will
be a theology suited to modern national cultures which are essentially poly-ethnic in
character, striving to weld together into unity a variety of traditions. These national
cultures are each developing in their own way as heirs of differing sets of interacting tribal
cultures, and the theology which caters for these differing and complex experiences
cannot be expected to be other than pluriform." (Shorter, African Christian Theology,
2. What then is African Theology?
a. In regard to the term "African Theology", Turner points out:
Section 4B--Page 124
i. African "refers to the attempt to find points of similarity between Christian
notions and those drawn from the traditional religions of Africa." (Turner, "The
Wisdom of the Fathers", p. 55)
ii. Theology refers to the hope that the systematic theology expressed in the
language and concepts of traditional religion and culture, may one day be written
. . ." (Ibid.)
b. Several definitions have been proposed (cited in Muzorewa, Origins, pp. 95-7):
i. John Kurewa: "African theology [is] the study that seeks to reflect upon and
express the Christian faith in African thought-forms and idiom as it is
experienced in African Christian communities, and always in dialogue with the
rest of Christendom ("The Meaning of African Theology," Journal of Theology
for Southern Africa, 11:36).
ii. The AACC: "By African Theology we mean a theology which is based on the
Biblical faith and speaks to the African 'soul' (or is relevant to Africa). It is
expressed in categories of thought which arise out of the philosophy of the
African people." (AACC, Engagement: Abidjan 1969, p. 114).
iii. John Mbiti: "I will use the term 'African Theology' . . . without apology or
embarrassment, to mean theological reflection and expression by African
Christians" (Mbiti, "The Biblical Basis for Present Trends in African Theology",
in African Theology En Route , p. 83).
iv. Muzorewa, after looking at these definitions, concludes: "All these definitions
attempt to respond to a mandate to construct a biblically-based and relevant
theology that speaks to the spiritual needs of the African people. The
implication is obvious. Imported theologies did not touch the hearts of the
African believers because they were couched in a religious language foreign to
them. Hence the quest for a relevant African theology. Furthermore, the
cultural factor means that it is best that only African theologians undertake the
task." (Muzorewa, Origins, pp. 96-7).
A Sketch of the History of the Rise of Theology in the African Context
(this entire section is a summary of Mudimbe,The Invention of Africa , p. 44-63).
1. Until the present century, the efforts of the missionaries and explorers dominated the scene.
a. From the 15th to the end of the 19th centuries, three major figures played significant
roles in exploring and “taming” what was then called the “Dark Continent.”:
Section 4B--Page 125
The explorer: who mapped the continent and provided early pictures of “African
life” (albeit through non-African eyes)
The soldier: enforced the colonial empires’ needs for peace and security of their
citizens (traders) seeking wealth in the African arena
The missionary, whose objective has been, throughout the centuries, the most
consistent: to expand 'the absoluteness of Christianity' and its virtues.
b. Of all these, the missionary "devoted himself sincerely to the ideals of colonialism: the
expansion of Civilization, the dissemination of Christianity, and the advance of
Progress. Pringle's 1820 vision sums it up nicely:
Let us enter upon a new and nobler career of conquest. Let us subdue Savage Africa by
justice, by kindness, by the talisman of Christian truth. Let us thus go forth, in the name
and under the blessing of God, gradually to extend the moral influence . . . the territorial
boundary also of our colony, until it shall become an Empire (Hammond and Jablow,
c. Following the cultural landscape in terms of addressing African issues, the inhabitants
were labeled as primitive, savage, pagan, naked, and, occasionally, noble. To
accomplish the goals of the missionary efforts as then conceived (Christian
Civilization), it was necessary to convert, educate, and otherwise “raise up” the
African from his/her dark state.
d. The missionary's language presents three major approaches:
i. Derision of so-called primitive religions and their gods,
ii. Refutation and demonstration to convince the evolving Africans, and
iii. Imposition of rules of orthodoxy and conformity for converts. (Mudimbe,
Invention, pp. 52-3)
2. From the 1950s onward "official policies shifted from the initial step of adaptation, one that
insisted on the Africanization of some external aspects (music, hymns, etc.), to an
examination of the content of Christianity in an African setting.
a. New thinking in missionary circles was founded on different perspectives. Now the
'pagan culture' is considered and analyzed as an abandoned field in which God's signs
already exist. Even though the aim is still to Christianize, it is now recognized that the
methods are arbitrary and should be adapted to the culture. In this light, African
intellectuals appealed 'to the church to "come to grips" with traditional practices, and
with the world view that these beliefs and practices imply' (Hastings, 1979:119; see
Section 4B--Page 126
also Kalu, 1977)." (Ibid., p. 56)
b. Historically, one can refer to De Prêtres noirs s'interrogent(1956), a collection of
black priests' articles and a solidly nationalist reflection on Christianity, as the first
explicit manifestation of a new radical current. (Ibid., p. 56)
c. In the contributions to this that came in the 60s and 70s, "A new vocabulary arises,
and, in principle, covers new forms of evangelization: Africanization, indigenization,
naturalization, adaptation of Christianity. Some theorists even speak of 'indigenizing
the Gospel' and 'the Message' (Bimwenyi, 1981a:231).
d. The fact is that even at the time of the manifesto of black priests (1956), the search for
an African Christianity was already enveloped by the themes of cultural authenticity
and independence. It clearly implied a relative rejection of both anthropologist's and
missionaries' interpretations of African traditions and religions as well as the colonial
The search had two major aspects: a nationalist reading and the introduction of
an intellectual rupture in colonial history. (Ibid., p. 57)
e. During the 1959 International Meeting of Black Writers and Artists in Rome, a call
was raised for another Christianity in Africa. "A theology of incarnation was
promoted with particular emphasis on new premises: negritude and black personality
as expressions of an African civilization, African history with its own symbols as a
preparation for Christianity, and finally the experience of slavery, exploitation, and
colonization as signs of the suffering of God's chosen ones (figure 5). The most
striking feature of these intellectual positions resides in the theoretical distinction
between the program of political liberation which should permit a transformation of
the traditional civilization and that of rethinking Christianity as an integral part of the
local culture (Idowu, 1965; Hebga, 1963; Tchidimbo, 1963).
The major trends which contributed to the progressive construction of a theology of
i. A strong interest in the Africanization of Christianity insofar as it would permit a
divorce between Christianity and Western history and culture and would
introduce African features into the Church.
ii. A search for an African element in the field of theology and religious activities,
which might keep pace with the ideological objectives for political and cultural
autonomy. This trend mainly characterized Roman Catholic African theologians.
iii. A vigorous interest in traditional religions, leading to the supposition that in
general anthropologists' and missionaries' works are neither dependable nor
acceptable. This encourages new programs and projects which will be the
Section 4B--Page 127
responsibility of African scholars.
f. By the mid-1960s, the initiative became African and, generally speaking, integrated the
essential theses of a new model of conversion (in terms of a cultural integration into
Christianity) with emphasis put on different starting points: negritude, blackness,
African heritage and experience.
g. Two major phenomena occurred:
i. A strong emphasis on history and a new anthropology as a means for better
understanding both African tradition and identity. This led, in 1966, to the
creation of centers of African religions. In pastoral institutes . . . it generally
gave birth to realistic programs taking into account native languages, local
customs, and the social relations of production.
ii. A striking ideological convergence became obvious: African theologians'
interests blend with local nationalisms and the orientations of the African Society
of Culture (ASC) with the Presence Africaine (Paris) on the significance of
African religions. . . . Further, a succession of scholarly meetings in the 1960s
redefined the concept of conversion and the purposes of studying African
religions, while at the same time broadening the scope of the criticism of
anthropology and the philosophy of Christian missions in Africa. . . .
In the 1970s the reconsideration of classical grids was widespread among
African scholars . . . . At scholarly conferences, no one really cared any longer
about the scientific evidence of the past. African scholars now preferred to deal
directly with the issues that involve African responsibility in theology and social
sciences, as well as in the humanities. . . . (Ibid., pp. 60-61)
3. The concern of the 80s (Ibid., p. 62):
a. "an analysis of the complementarity existing between Christianity and African
b. an African theology of incarnation, considered the responsibility of African
c. and finally, a permanent search for an identity from a positive anthropological
It may be said that what is at stake for Africans is simply the appropriation of an
initiative which is based on what paradoxically founded the power and the knowledge
of the colonial system (see, e.g., Mazrui, 1974).
4. The main characteristic of the new discourse: its own self-definition as a discourse of
Section 4B--Page 128
succession. It can be divided into two complimentary genres, and in both "one sees that the
new discourse on African difference conveys an ambitious and explicit will to truth. As
such, it generates and explicates its own presence in both history and the present knowledge
about African realities" (Ibid., p. 63). Concerning the two genres:
a. One bears carefully on the techniques of interpreting and reworking the signs of what
was called paganism and primitiveness yesterday and which today, is qualified as
religion and God's symbolic discretion. Studies evaluate the values of the past in terms
of present exigencies and the future of African communities, thus inverting the order
of anthropology's classical description.
b. The second genre tends to focus on the right of being Other and thus on the
epistemological demands of the enterprise. Ideological or philosophical discussion
concentrates upon the diversity of human experience.
5. A third trend is clearly political: the black theology of South Africa. . . . Its formulation is
based on three principles:
a. The importance of taking into account the sociopolitical context in which humans live,
i. the obligation of espousing human dignity as the major concern (thus theological
practice meets political praxis) and
ii. the belief that Christian faith does not transcend ideologies (Boesak, 1977:99-
b. Such a radical understanding of theology can only clash with the two preceding types
of discourse, particularly the first. (Ibid., p. 63)
c. De facto, this trend sees itself as applied theology and explicitly submits to the politics
of those who would become princes of a new organization of power. In doing so, it
joins in the service of new political chauvinisms and idols, repeating the missionary's
dream of conciliating God's glory and Caesar's power. (Ibid.)
Where Does Modern African Intellectual Christian Life and Theology Fit In?
(Adapted in part from Paul Bowers.)
1. Essentially, it comes out of the roots of the modern African (non-Christian) intellectual
scene, where the core issue has been that of identity.
a. The well-spring: Just as the intelligentsia of Africa is the source of modern African
intellectual thought, the source for written African Christian thought is the Christian
intelligentsia. They face the same problem as the non-Christian intelligentsia, with one
addition: they seek to know and express what it means to be a modern African
Section 4B--Page 129
Modern: NOT traditional
African: NOT Western
Christian: NOT traditional (pagan) or Western (Christian) "product".
b. The core problem: the Christian in the African context needs to be equipped with an
ideology that allows him to cope with this triple identity problem.
2. The general consensus is that modern discussion seems to have emerged in the mid-1950s as
a direct "spin-off" of African intellectual development (especially the Francophone 1956 Pan
African Cultural Festivals). English discussion arose in 1962, when Bengt Sundkler wrote
on the topic, and debates sprang up in IRM and books, etc.
3. Actually, however, the roots of indigenization of the church started as early the 1864, when
Samuel Crowther (of Nigeria) was named bishop of the Niger territories under Henry Venn.
Edward Wilmot Blyden was the first to articulate on Africanization. He is seen as a
baseline for African nationalism (especially negritude), but he was thoroughly saturated with
a Christian outlook (see Mudimbe's extended analysis, The Invention of Africa , pp. 98-
134). In fact, he used the term "African Theology" in the early 1900s (Bowers, personal
4. Evangelical theological discussion begins with Kato in the early 1970s. Today his legacies
still stand (including AEAM, NEGST, BEST, and AJET). His primary concern was
clearing out the underbrush, and dealing with the wrong elements and foundations of
African theology as it was being proclaimed in his time. His theology is reactive rather than
proactive. Today, Tokunboh Adeyemo follows the same agenda as in the larger debate, but
gives a positive evangelical picture for the issues that Kato had to address negatively.
Section 4B--Page 130
African Theological Reflection: an Overview of the Three Streams of African Theology
1. Stream One: Early "Christian" apologists who utilize African traditional religious concepts
and deities as proof of Christianity's validity (in reaction to previous anthropologists claims
to the contrary).
E. E. Evans-Pritchard (Theories of Primitive Religion )
Geoffrey Parrinder (African Traditional Religion)
2. Stream Two: "Contextualizers" attempting to form a relevant Christian approach to
theology in Africa. Generally, the Bible is seen as at least a primary source of theological
thought. There are three substreams of this stream (see, for example, Justin S. Ukpong,
African Theologies Now: A Profile ). It is within this stream that most of the current
theological work in Africa is currently being done. We note here that the first two sub-
streams see the Bible as one (of possibly several) primary sources for theological reflection,
while the last sub-stream sees it as the only authoritative and normative source for theology.
a. AFRICAN IDENTITY theologies focus on rediscovering and maintaining identity in
light of socio-cultural upheaval. These seek to establish an understanding of that
identity through the study of ATR's, Christianity, and the current complex scene.
These include some of the less radical black theologies.
Section 4B--Page 131
Christopher Mwoleka ("Trinity and Community")
Placide Tempels (Bantu Philosophy)
Patrick Kililombe ("The Salvific Value of African Religions,")
Gwinya H. Muzorewa (The Origin and Development of African Theology )
John Mbiti (Concepts of God in Africa , Bible and Theology in African Christianity )
b. AFRICAN POLITICAL theologies also use traditional understandings, Christianity
and the current scene, but focus their attention on politics. There are two major
i. Church/State theologies, which examine the relation between church and state
and engage actively in criticism of the state when they consider it important.
Henry Okullu Church and State in East Africa, Church and Politics in East Africa
David Gitari, Let the Bishop Speak
Timothy Njoya, Out of Silence , Human Dignity and National Identity
ii. Liberation theologies, in which the themes of liberation are developed with the
particularities of the current African context as the starting point. The particular
liberation theologian may direct his/her attention to any area of oppression
(including racial, political, economic, sexual, social, etc.). Examples include:
(1) Those of a more moderate persuasion, who advocate change in the system
but not necessarily armed revolution. These theologies often focus on one
particular issue (apartheid, feminism, economic dependence, etc.)
Allan Boesak "Liberation Theology in South Africa"
The Finger of God
A Call for an End to Unjust Rule
If This Is Treason, I am Guilty
John W. deGruchy, The Church Struggle in South Africa
The Kairos Document: Challenge to the Church, a Theological Comment on the
Political Crisis in South Africa
Desmond Tutu, Hope and Suffering; "The Theology of Liberation in Africa"
Rose Zoe'-Obianga, "The Role of Women in Present-Day Africa"
(2) Those which are more radical, especially in regard to the use of Marxist
analysis and the advocacy of armed violence.
Canaan Banana, Theology of Promise: The Dynamics of Self-Reliance
Section 4B--Page 132
c. AFRICAN EVANGELICAL theologies are more conservative in their approach and
desire to understand ATR's in such a way as to be able to develop contextualized
approaches either to evangelism or to letting African Christians develop their own
systematic theology. Followers in this stream see the Bible as the only authoritative
source in determining theology. The context may to help set the agenda, but the Bible
alone provides the answers to the African situation.
Osadolor Imasogie, Guidelines for Christian Theology in Africa
Tokunboh Adeyemo, Salvation in African Tradition
Byang H. Kato, Theological Pitfalls in Africa
Pius Wakatama, The Third World Church
3. Stream Three: "Traditionalists" (of which there are two approaches):
a. ATR apologists who take traditional understandings as a primary foundation. They
defend ATR approaches by seeking to show that ATR's are as "civilized" and
sophisticated as Christianity in their understanding of God. They use traditional
categories to understand "universal" theological truths, not denying either traditional
understandings or the Bible (though they may strongly attack Western theological
thought and method). Muzorewa refers to these as "African Traditional Theologies".
E. Bolaji Idowu, African Traditional Religion: A Definition
Janheinz Jahn, Muntu
Jomo Kenyatta, Facing Mount Kenya
Gabriel M. Setiloane, "Where Are We in African Theology?" in African Theology en Route
John V. Taylor, Primal Vision
Placide Tempels, Bantu Philosophy
ATR revivalists, who seek to disengage ATR's from Christianity and understand them
as valid in their own right. Example:
Okot p'Bitek, Religions of the Central Luo
African Religions in Western Christian Scholarship
Ngugi waThiango, The River Between
4. Types of theology (a summary chart):
Section 4B--Page 133
Universities Study of ATRs
Ecumenists Liberation theology, humanization, and some identity
Missiologists African traditional culture
Catholics African philosophy
Evangelical theological colleges Traditional theology in African context
5. The basic framework of operation
a. We must deal with the core problem: what does it mean to be African, Christian, and
modern at the same time?
b. In trying to answer this, we must note that, for many Africans, Christianity has been
identified with the West. How are we to deal with this?
i. Some simple answers include:
(1) Christianity has been here so long that it may be legitimately called an
"African traditional religion" (e.g., Mbiti and Kato both note this)
(2) Note that the West is certainly not "Christian" at this point in time.
(3) Point out that the missionaries are only returning to Africa what Africa
originally gave to the West (e.g., both Luther and Calvin were both heavily
influenced by Augustine).
ii. However, more complex answers are needed. Suggestions for thought include:
(1) We can praise God that He has made us African and rejoice in that we are
Africans under His sovereign hand.
(2) The is almost no 'traditional' Africa anymore--even the rural pockets have
been affected by the fact of radio.
(3) We should acknowledge that there is both good and bad in Africa--just as
there is in the West.
iii. What should the modern African Christian do? Seek to get his or her feet
down on God's Word and his or her head above the cultural contextual tidal
currents, but all the while remaining under the Lordship of Christ. We note
that this is not just a struggle for Africans, but for Christians of every culture.
Section 4B--Page 134
iv. The African Christian needs to focus the identity needs in positive terms, not just
a denial of non-Christian realities. The African Christian should search out and
embody what it means to be both African and Christian (see Osei-Mensah, "The
v. The question the African church should be willing to face is not "How big will
the African church be?", but "What kind of church will it be?" (e.g., it may be
one hundred kilometers wide but only 1 centimeter deep!).
6. What are the tasks for theology in the African context?
a. Paul Bowers proposes 10 elements in an agenda for evangelical theological reflection
in the African context:
i. Emphasize the mandatory nature of theology for the life of the church.
ii. Deal with the African theological agenda (and do not merely baptize a Western
iii. Deal with the fundamental issues of modern African agenda, and not just the
iv. Create a viable African evangelical agenda that will take into account the full
scope of revelational truth and the modern contextual realities.
v. Promote a sense OF evangelical identity--what does it mean to be an African
vi. Develop not only an apologetic towards false views (Kato), but a positive
African evangelical theological contribution (as Adeyemo is seeking to do).
vii. Develop an internal critique (not just an external one).
viii. Develop not only a product, but a process (i.e., for African theological thinking).
ix. Promote the emergence of multiple modes for theological life in the African
x. Work for an impact at the highest level of expression, but include all levels in the
discussion towards the development of an African Christian mind.
b. Muzorewa notes:
Section 4B--Page 135
i. The quest for liberation: "Who is to determine our history, theology, and culture
ii. The quest for integrity: "Who are we as Africans?"
(1) Reclaiming African heritage, at times to the exclusion of new ways
(2) Integrating new ideas (Christianity) with old traditions: the Independent
"The African independent church movement may be regarded by
most African theologians as one of the few major sources of an African
theology. What draws the attention and interest of the African theologians
toward the African independent churches is the latter's tendency to
indigenize the Christian faith. In two important respects the independent
churches provide African scholars with material for an African theology:
their emphasis on spirituality and faith-healing practices, and indigenization
of the Christian doctrines and liturgies." (Muzorewa, Origins, p. 35).
(3) Utilizing old traditions as a framework to introduce new ideas through
(4) Demanding scripturally validated rights of all human beings
"Regarding the doctrine of human dignity and equality, there is an
interesting sequence. Following the Scriptures, missionaries in Africa
taught the equality of all people before God. Consequently, African
nationalists (most of whom are Christians) have demanded the implemen-
tation of this Christian doctrine in Africa." (Muzorewa, Origins, p. 52)
c. The AACC and the task of African theology
i. The AACC's program has five major emphases (Muzorewa, Origins, p. 60):
(1) The selfhood of the church in Africa;
(2) The Church and the churches;
(3) Christian concerns in the community;
(4) Economic development and Christian responsibility;
(5) A theology of nationalism
Section 4B--Page 136
ii. Since Kampala, African scholars have been motivated to engage in reflective
theological exercises on issues lifted up at the first assembly. Since the Kampala
mandate, the major sources used in doing African theology are the Bible and
African traditional religion. The implication here is that the real concern of the
AACC is to establish a way to indigenize the Christian faith and Christianize
certain African traditional religious beliefs with the hope of discovering
something uniquely relevant to Africans. Thus the AACC works toward a
definite African identity. (Muzorewa, Origins, p. 63)
d. Problems confronting the African church today (identified by Muzorewa, Origins, p.
98; explained on pp. 98-100):
i. The Christian faith has remained largely alien to African believers in spite of the
increasing number of Christians in Africa. A relevant African theology is needed
to establish continuity between African traditional life and the new faith.
ii. Having been colonized for several decades, many African people have lost their
sense of identity and human dignity. The task of African theology is to help
fulfill their African sense of humanity. This has not been accomplished.
iii. The church in Africa constantly finds itself in changing sociopolitical situations.
A theology of the church's responses and involvements is needed. The AACC
has sponsored consultations, hoping that an African theology will provide a more
meaningful interpretation of the times.
iv. The African church needs to establish its own theology of mission . But first it
has to be weaned from the missionary-sending churches of Europe and America.
The problem is that the so-called parent churches find it difficult to let go. At
the same time, an African theology is expected to articulate the moratorium issue
and attempt to discover the present mission in Africa."