He didn’t know any African theologians even though he was an African Christian. How ironic. I watched him talk about DA Carson, John Piper, Timothy Keller and many other Western theologians. But no African theologians.
“Do you know any African theologian?” I asked. And added, “Have you ever read a book by an African Christian?” I shouldn’t have asked the second question.
“I don’t read books by African Christians. They’re a sick combination of poor writing and horrible publishing,” he argued. “The problem with Christian authors in Africa is they take the reader for granted.”
It was hard to argue against that. After sipping his soda, he continued, “Just because you’re writing Christian stuff doesn’t mean I’m obligated to read it. Your book should be at least comparable to this.” He showed me a book by Joyce Meyer.
I agreed but I had another question. “Do you think you can learn something from an African theologian that you can’t from Western theologians?” He thought the question was stupid and laughed. But I meant what I said; I did not flinch.
“Have you not read Ephesians 4? Paul makes it clear that we should not worry about that stuff. Listen to this.” He took out his phone and opened a Bible app, “We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
I wish my friend had read the whole chapter. He would have seen the importance of contextualization. African culture may influence the Christian faith inconspicuously. Sadly, most Western theologians are oblivious to this. Hence, the need for African Christians to read African theologians.
Here are some five reasons you should read African theologians.
1. Christianity is not a white man’s religion
There’s an unspoken belief that Western theologians are better than Latin American, Asian or African theologians. They are extensively published and well-read across the world. Hence, Western theologians are considered chief custodians of the Christian faith. Thus, reducing Christianity to a white man’s religion.
The Ethiopian eunuch was the first non-Jewish Christian. History suggests that the sons of Simon of Cyrene might have contributed to the spread of Christianity into Alexandria, Egypt. Through this community came several of the prominent church fathers; Augustine, Origen, and Athanasius.
Above all, the canonicity of New Testament was first approved in Africa at the Synod of Hippo. When you read your New Testament, you need to remember God used Africans as custodians of his Word. African theologians helped in studying, practicing and teaching God’s Word.
2. Western theologians may not teach you cultural navigation
Christians in Africa are Christians who are African. However, our Africanness is often reduced as demonic in Western Christian thought. For example, many churches in Africa do not play maracas, drums, horns or thumb pianos. Because these instruments are played at traditional ceremonies.
African theologians understand better the cultural dynamics through personal experience. Can a Western theologian answer a question on whether lobola is biblical? What about on women returning to their birth families after they give birth to their first child? Or on attending a funeral of an unbeliever?
3. African theologians went through what you’re going through
African Christians have questions about AIDS, institutional corruption, tribalism, miracles and infectious diseases. They’re looking for practical answers not theoretical. Such questions are best answered by people who have experienced these things.
On several occasions, Paul reminded believers across Asia that the suffering he went through was for him to be able to minister to them better. Many African theologians know the pain of losing a loved one to AIDS, Ebola or Cholera. For example, Emmanuel Katongole lost relatives in the Rwandan genocide.
4. African Christians are affected by African Traditional worldviews
A worldview is a lens that you use to view the world. It creates a framework that you use to understand the world around you. Worldviews are a product of past experiences, background, and media. African worldviews are unique in that they dissolve the dividing line between the spiritual and the physical realm.
Until recently, when I sinned before God, I asked for forgiveness and prayed against evil spirits. If I lied, I would pray against the spirit of lying. In African Traditional worldviews, evil spirits are responsible for sin, the sinner is a mere victim. I learned I was wrong from an African theologian, Yusuf Turaki.
5. African Christians can understand the Bible too
Western Christian organization such as The Gospel Coalition have branches devoted to fighting theological famines in Africa. With such an attitude, one is made to believe Africans are daft and unable to read and understand the Bible on their own. Hence, they need a white savior to donate theological books to them.
Recently, the Africa Study Bible was launched. In 2010, the Africa Bible Commentary was published with commentaries written by 70 African theologians. Importantly, in the last two decades, several seminaries and Christian universities have been opened across Africa. Hence, Africans are making great contributions to evangelical scholarship.
A Final Warning
When I discovered that Africans can write sound theological works, I got excited. I began to see some cultural practices I thought were unbiblical in a new light. My excitement led me to look for the redemptive value of every cultural tradition. I began justifying practices that didn’t glorify God.
Byang Kato offered a great advice regarding that:
It is God’s will that Africans, on accepting Christ as their Savior, become Christian Africans. Africans who become Christians should therefore remain Africans wherever their culture does not conflict with the Bible. It is the Bible that must judge the culture. Where a conflict results, the cultural element must give way.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash