by Tokunboh Adeyemo
In his article, the new head of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar describes both external and internal crises facing the churches of Africa.
Dr. Dick France, author of the preceding article in this issue, "Critical Needs of the Fast-Growing African Churches," commented to the editor: "My article needs African comment, It protects an unfairly negative image of African evangelicalism when read as a whole. That was not my intention and I would be glad to see it corrected."
In his article, the new head of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar describes both external and internal crises facing the churches of Africa. He examines various current ideas from many sources, especially "New A an Theology." At the same time, he outlines reasons for being hopeful about the future of evangelicals.
"For one hundred years now," remarks David Barrett, "the most massive influx into the churches in history has been taking place on the African continent." The World Christian Handbook reveals that there were about 10 million Christians in Africa in 1900. Today, there are over 130 million, and the projection for the end of the century is 395 million.
Many expert authorities on church growth have estimated that by the year 2000 A.D. Africa may become a Christian continent. During the past two decades churches in Eastern Africa have experienced spiritual awakening resulting in greater commitment and dedication of many of the believers.
The local churches of AIC (African Inland Church) denomination in Kenya alone number over 3,000 with an estimated church membership of over one million. Currently plans are underway by churches of evangelical faith and commitment in Nairobi, Kenya, to saturate the whole city with the Gospel of Jesus Christ under a program named "Nairobi Mission 1978."
Growth is not limited to Eastern Africa only. The Evangelical Churches of West Africa (ECWA) in Nigeria chronicled over 50,000 members in 1,400 churches in 1972. Panya Baba, the general secretary of the Evangelical Missionary Society of ECWA, reports that the EMS has 130 couples working in five countries. If statistics are reliable, only 10 percent of Christians in Africa formally belong to an evangelical fellowship, while the rest spread from Roman Catholic (about 50 percent), Independent Churches (about 20 percent), to other Protestant denominations (about 20 percent).
As Dick France has warned, African Christianity needs more than numbers. As a matter of fact, one curiously asks: "Has the growth been a story of steady advance through storm, or does it not rather, if examined carefully, appear as one of many missed opportunities?" Viewed in proper perspective, the latter may be the case.
One recalls that Christianity entered Africa in the apostolic age. Long before the start of Islam in the seventh century, the church was well established all over North Africa, Egypt, parts of the Sudan and Ethiopia. It was a dynamic form of Christianity producing great scholars and theologians like Tertullian, Origen, Clement of Alexandria and Augustine. African Christianity made a great contribution to Christendom through scholarship, participation in church councils, a defence of the faith, movements like monasticism, theology, translation and preservation of the Scriptures, martyrdom, the famous catechetical school of Alexandria, liturgy and even heresies and controversies.
By the fourth century there were two great Christian communities in Africa: one, that of Egypt, centered in Alexandria; and the second, that of Africa Proconsularies and Namidia, the churches grouped around Carthage, strong in Cyprian tradition. As today’s, this fourth-century African Christianity was numerous. The hundreds of dioceses both in Egypt and to the West are proof of numbers.
Its vitality was demonstrated not only by its quarrels, such as Arianism in Egypt, Donatism, in Numidia, but by its creation of new forms of Christian life in monasticism, and in its episcopal and intellectual leadership. In the West, Carthage offered a nonRoman contribution to the church before Gaul came into the scene, while Egypt provided, in the East, a counterpart to Constantinople. The disturbing question is: What went wrong with these two vigorous and brilliant centers of Christianity? Adrian Hastings, a veteran missionary and historian on African Christianity remarks:
In a story that remains obscure much seems to hang on the growing identification of Church and Empire, Latin in the West, Greek in the East. Donatism was, in part at least, a nationalist protest of native Africans, of the peasantry of Numidia against a Church which was too Roman, identified with the unpopular imperial government; still more clearly, Egyptian nationalism in its protest against the domination of Greece and Constantinople took religious shape in Monophysitism. The imperial pattern for the Church, accepted by its more central communities, proved stultifying to those further away, but their reaction of schism was no solution; it merely accentuated decay (Church and Mission, 1967, p. 5 3).
Has history changed too much? Aren’t the churches in Africa confronted with similar problems today?
CHURCH IN CRISIS
The crisis facing Christianity in Africa can be broadly grouped under two categories: external and internal. Externally, the church has been called to justify her presence culturally. Simultaneously, with the rise of independent nations in Africa came a strong tide of cultural awareness. What used to be a symbol of inferiority to the colonialists became a symbol of identity and pride to the nationals. Many have wondered if the traditional mission -oriented churches are not a relic of the colonial period kept to serve covertly the ancient imperialistic purposes.
Reactions have been diverse and varied. They have ranged from a nationalistic call to spew out Christianity, as in Mozambique, to an open persecution and martyrdom of believers who failed to compromise, as in Chad. Within the church a number of groups has broken away in protest against foreign cultural hangovers in search of authentically African expression of faith and practice . While some of these groups confess Jesus Christ as Lord and genuinely seek to be indigenous, others are purely heretical.
Furthermore, the cultural renaissance has also resulted in the resurgence of African traditional religion. Many political leaders have exploited traditional religion for political ends . But the greater problem lies in the academic and philosophical attention that African religion is given in our universities today. Many of the old departments of divinity do not only study traditional religion alongside with other religions but give the former the prominence.
There is not anything bad in a genuine study of African traditional religion. The unfortunate thing is that some of the scholars have equated it with the Christian faith, asserting that the traditional religionists can be saved by keeping the tenets and observing rituals.
Corollary to this is the push for academic and theological dialogue. "Since all roads lead to the same place," the advocates argue, "what difference does it make which one you take?" Thus, under the disguise of our pluralistic societies, the dose of such false teachings as universalism is being pushed down the throat of the public.
Moreover, the church is strongly confronted by various political ideologies, including Marxism, Socialism and Mao-style Communism. The prohibition of Christianity by government decree in Mozambique last December is not unconnected with the country’s new political ideology. Under the new regime, many missionaries have been kicked out of Ethiopia. The Islamic regime of Uganda recently nationalized Friday as the public holiday concurrently with Sunday. Equally, the knotty problem of land tenure and ownership underlying such issues as racial tension, socioeconomic struggles, tribalism and nepotism continues to plague the church.
Internally, the church is not at rest. The theological struggle continues. John Mbiti has compared the church in Africa to a toothless child which eats prechewed, tasteless food from its mother’s mouth (The Crisis of Mission in Africa, 1971, p. 2). just as an adolescent comes of age and must define himself in relation to a given social environment, so the church in Africa is seeking to come of age in the new world of the twentieth century, the age of universal history. Our thinkers and scholars have aired various expectations including:
1. Pastoral Theology. Pastoral theology normally comes orally in form of sermons, teaching, discussion, prayers and counseling. Groups have held meetings to discuss such issues as the Christian home; marriage; polygamy, etc.
2. Political Theology. Under this heading falls such titles as Theology of Liberation, Black Theology and Ethiopic Theology. Issues like moratorium, church and politics, and social involvement feature prominently here.
3. Cultural Theology. This discipline, dealing with the relationship of African culture and the Christian faith, arises partly as a reaction to the ancient attitude to African culture, and partly as a sincere attempt to illuminate the culture with the light of the gospel.
4. Theology of Dialogue. Based on the pluralistic nature of our society and the feeling that Christianity is one among other religions, some educators have strongly advocated dialogue. Many consultations have been held in Ibadan, "Nigeria. Actually, this is the philosophy of the Religions Department of the University of Ibadan and its publication called ORITA ("a road junction"). The implication of this expression is that all roads lead to the same place. The Bible discredits such theory saying: "There is a way which seems good to man, but the end thereof is the way of death."
5. African Theology. According to the latest working hypothesis, this should be classified as Theology of Contextualization. On this, we shall step aside and spend some time. For clarification purpose, I call it "New African Theology." It is new in that it departs from the earlier debates regarding its source and methodology. It will be too soon to say categorically the end result of this new venture; however, we can attempt an anatomy from the little material at our disposal.
In December, 1977, over 90 ecumenical educators and theologians from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Pacific and the black community of the United States met in Accra, Ghana to discuss the future of African Theology. Their presupposition clearly states:
We believe that African Theology must be understood in the context of African life and culture and the creative attempt of African peoples to shape a new future that is different from the colonial past and the neo-colonial present. The African situation requires a new theological methodology that is different from the dominant theologies of the West. African theology must reject, therefore, the prefabricated ideas of North Atlantic theology by defining itself according to the struggles of the people in their resistance against the structures of domination (Ecumenical Press Service, No. 1, January 5, 1978).
Lamenting the disaster of churches trying to exist without a theology, these theologians resolved to commit themselves to the task of creating a theology for Africa that will be characterized by three elements: (1) Contextualization — accountable in the context of the life and culture in which African people live; (2) Liberation — in the face of racism, economic exploitation and the oppression of the peoples through national and multinational institutions; (3) Sexism — recognizing that African women have taken an active role in the church and in the shaping of history and that they have shown themselves to be a coherent part of the liberation struggle.
Crucial to any theological formulation are the three issues of: (1) Presupposition; (2) source; (3) methodology.
The Presupposition of the New African Theology. According to the Accra conference of the ecumenical theologians, the presupposition sounds like a historical dialectics. The statement reads: " . . . African Theology must be understood in the context of African life and culture and the creative attempt of African peoples to shape a new future that is different from the colonial past and the neo-colonial present."
According to the Hegelian theory, the struggle of thesis and antithesis always results in synthesis which becomes another thesis, and goes on and on in a vicious circle. It is on this theory that such great movements like Marxism and Mao Socialism are based. In the African setting, as in Latin America, this new presupposition will be against the background of struggle for liberation.
Another part of the statement reads: "African Theology must reject, therefore, the prefabricated ideas of North Atlantic theology by defining itself according to the struggles of the people in their resistance against the structures of domination." The question arises: What are struggles of the people? Aren’t they Socio-political and economic?
This is a point of departure from the former "Aghenti School" which presupposes the authenticity and validity of African traditional religion. The new historical dialectical approach aligns itself with the contemporary social, economic and political fad for decision and action. It cries by the roadside: "Let us throw off their shackles!" It is also a revolutionary consciousness. Revolution in this case does not necessarily coincide with bloodshed and destruction. However, it is disruptive. It cries paradoxically: "Let us forget the past and the present and construct the future in a vacuum!"
The presupposition also implies a qualitative change: that is a deliberate rational and psychological attempt to ignore existing theologies which are modified as I I prefabricated ideas of North Atlantic theology." In other words, for theology to be meaningful in this dialectical tension, it has to be mediated through historical and political participation. Consciously or unconsciously, these men are seeking for verification of Christian truth in historico-political praxis. Theirs is a complete departure from the Propositional revelation cherished by the conservatives.
The Source of the new African theology. Looking at the threefold characteristics of the new theology, one is astonished to find that the Bible does not play a predominant role. Two source areas are explicitly stated: culture and life-situation; while a third one may be implied: conglomeration of religions, including the Christian faith.
The question of source implies a deep epistemological cleavage. The North Atlantic theologians had to wrestle with philosophical questions in their interpretations of such doctrines as anthropology, soteriology, eschatology and even Christology. According to the source text of new African theology, truth, it appears, can be conceived at the existential level of what history and politics dictate.
The Methodology of the new African theology. The new approach can be labelled as "contextual." In an earlier paper I have described "contextual theology" as relativistic, existential and situational. Undertaking the discipline, the craftsman does not look at his own situation from the standpoint of propositional revelation, but rather, the reverse. The Bible is used selectively to support and buttress the craftman’s viewpoint.
While it may be too soon to predict the future of the new task, some comments deserve a mention. The historical dialectical approach to theology seems to be revolutionary, militant, situational relativistic, and humanistic. It appears more anthropocentric than theocentric. It looks like a slogan of vindication.
Three major problems confront the new African theology. First is the question of epistemology (i.e., theory of knowing). Neither culture nor life-situation is permanent. They all change like the chameleon. If knowing is based on the subjective, relative, fallible and constantly changing human experience, its suicide is in sight. Empires rise and fall. Fad comes and goes. So will be any ideology or theology constructed on the variables.
The second major problem is that of hermeneutics (i.e., principle of interpretation). What is the norm for interpreting the data? Where the Bible is consulted, how can one guarantee the freedom of the text?
The third major problem concerns the history of the church in Africa. How can we understand the struggle for indigenization if the past, and even the present are disregarded? How can the generations to come assess our maturity if there is no temporal balance? These issues have to be faced by the advocates of the new African theology. judged by the words of John Mbiti, the new effort cannot be called Christian Theology. He says:
Strictly speaking, theology has to do primarily with God, and all other things must spring from that. If African theology starts with, or even concentrates upon, anthropology, it loses its perspectives, and can no longer be regarded as theology (New Testament Eschatology in an African Background, 1971, p.186).
Among other problems that plague the church from within are tribalism, sectionalism, nominalism, disunity, and deficency of trained national leaders. While the struggle continues it is comforting to know that the Lord of the church is still in control, and the evangelicals are committed to biblical obedience and submission.
THE EVANGELICALS OF THE FUTURE
It is recognized that there are more evangelical Christians in Africa than those who have formally pledged their memberships through the various national fellowships, missions and parachurch organizations with the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar (AEAM) which is the continental voice of African evangelicals. However, our case study is based on this formal body. Committed to the inspiration, validity, and absolute authority of the Word of God in all that it speaks, and burdened with the task of the great commission which is central to the heart of God, to this group of believers the future is not bleak.
Regionally, corporate evangelization continues. The Lausanne Continuation Committee is based in Nairobi and provides added encouragement, motivation and assistance for evangelization congresses held in countries like Nigeria and Ghana. Earlier, mention was made of the city-wide campaign for in-depthevangelism in Nairobi for the year 1978. This is being organized by evangelical churches of vision, with the cooperation and assistance of para-church groups like Life Ministries (name for Campus Crusade for Christ in Africa), and the Navigators. It is also expected that in the not too distant future, African churches will be strong enough to support and send missionaries to both the West and the East.
Teaching continues. Theological ignorance has been one of the major weaknesses of the evangelical churches. While the freedom of religion guarantees the inclusion of biblical studies in the curriculum of public schools, even up to the university level, the shallowness of the content, coupled with the need for pastoral training, has compelled the evangelicals to set up the Accrediting Council for Theological Education in Africa under the auspices of AEAM. This will not only provide guidelines for high academic standards, but also recommend ways and means for improvement on a continental basis.
Last year the Bangui Evangelical School of Theology in Central African Empire went into operation. A graduate level evangelical seminary in a Francophone country is surely a step in the right direction. As the Lord provides the means and the personnel two more are anticipated, one in Kenya and the other in Nigeria.
Many of the evangelical schools at the undergraduate level boast of quality faculty members, staff, and students. These schools will produce undershepherds who will feed the flock. Superficial theological training is spurned. Africa needs (a) godly servants; (b) practical servants; (c) knowledgeable servants. Such men, like the apostles of old, will make the Bible live and culturally relevant.
Theologically, the African evangelicals do not have the time to engage in idle speculation. In the words of Kwane Bediako, they do believe that, "to protect the search for cultural relevance from losing its Biblical perspectives, the basic ingredients of devotion to Jesus Christ and commitment to the Scriptures must be fully appreciated and given a pivotal position" (Study Paper for London Bible College, February 1, 1975, p. 3).
While it is true that no modern African evangelical theologian has written a theological treatise yet, this does not mean that no efforts are being made. The old anti-intellectualism among the evangelicals is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. In addition to the individual efforts being made presently on a small scale, the AEAM formally launched last year an Evangelical Theological Society for Africa under its Theological Commission, which also coordinates Theological Education by Extension. Through such a corporate effort, the young evangelicals will be challenged and stimulated to think theologically and come to grips with applying the unchanging biblical truth to the contemporary African scene.
Ecumenically, the evangelicals believe in true unity that is based on spiritual regeneration and a recognition of the lordship of Christ and his purpose in history. This is why AEAM exists. Its purposes are:
1. To provide spiritual fellowship as a means of united action among Christians of like precious faith.
2. To manifest before the world true biblical unity (one that cuts across the barriers of race, sex, ethnics and locality).
3. To promote evangelism and church growth.
4. To alert Christians to theological trends that undermine the scriptural foundation of the gospel.
5. To render special services for all men, but especially for those of the household of faith.
From its Nairobi headquarters AEAM publishes and distributes three periodicals: Perception, which deals with theological issues; Afroscope, which deals with church news across the continent; and Edification, covering the educational materials under the auspices of the Christian Education Commission. In all their efforts, the African evangelicals are committed to biblical theology applied to their African context. This may sound unpopular and unspectacular; but it is Christological; it is biblical. We cannot afford to repeat the errors of the fourth-century African Christianity. We have to learn from history. In the words of Bediako let me close: "Every assertion and evidence must be tested and judged by the teaching of Christ and of the Scriptures."
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