JESUS OF AFRICA: Voices of contemporary African Christology

by
02 November 2006

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Orbis £17.99 (1-57075-537-X); Church Times Bookshop £16.20

SECULAR Africa has become identified with corruption, political turmoil, tribal violence, and HIV/Aids. In a continent desperate for signs of hope, mainline African Churches can seem dominated by wrangling about homosexuality in other parts of the world, a vast growth of denominationalism driven from the United States, and increasingly profiled regional conflicts with Islam.

This refreshing study by a Canadian researcher, teaching in Nairobi, who has clearly gained the confidence of Africans at a local and academic level, does not ignore these realities (except, thankfully, the homosexuality debate). Instead, she shows the way in which many African Christians are wrestling with the fundamental question of theology: who is Christ.

She draws on oral interviews with a variety of Christians in Ghana, Uganda and Kenya, and six key theologians. There is a denominational balance — Roman Catholic, Anglican, Protestant and Pentecostal; and women feature strongly: witness the two women theologians studied, Mercy Oduyoye (Methodist) and Anee Nasimiyu Wasike (RC). The men are John Pobee and J. Mugambi (Anglican), Benezet Bujo and Jean-Marc Ela (RC).

Analysis of their writings is balanced with personal interviews, and concentrates on key themes — Jesus as life-giver, mediator, loved one, and leader. These contain the controversial sub-themes of traditional healer, ancestor, mother, and chief.

Stinton explains how biblical rooting, and a fundamental commitment to Jesus as God and human, provide checks on the misuse of these concepts. Pobee is a clear example: he is fully committed to the quest for a Jesus for his Akan Ghanian people within a thoroughly orthodox biblical faith.

Helpfully, in the concluding section, Stinton highlights the theme of Jesus and reconstruction, within the search for renewal in the turmoil of Africa.

The challenge for Westerners is to reflect on what African theologians can offer from what is now the most Christian of continents; and, equally important, the way in which ordinary believers movingly articulate their faith in Jesus in what, for Europeans, seem unbelievably harsh circumstances.

There are similar studies of the Jesus of India, of South America, and of Asia. The concern is how little this richness of understanding is known in the West to our theological students, clergy and lay people, and how much we remain in our own historical groove.

Another challenge is to produce a study of contemporary voices in European Christology, from lay people, clergy and professional theologians. A third is to draw out the theological resources offered by the large number of Africans now part of our churches, particularly in London.

This book contains a wealth of detail, and empirical studies that can, at times, feel repetitive — the marks of the thesis from which it comes. But such testimonies give a strong sense of the authenticity at the heart of African faith. Extensive quotation and analysis of the above six theologians will, it is to be hoped, encourage readers to look to their now accessible writings, which are fully documented in the extensive bibliography.

The Revd Dr Andrew Wingate is Canon Theo-logian, and Director of Inter Faith Relations, in the diocese of Leicester

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