Christian Theology and African Traditions
Lutterworth Press £18.50
The African Christian Diaspora: New currents and
emerging trends in world Christianity
(use code CT550)
MAX WARREN, general secretary of the Church Missionary Societyin
the mid-20th century, is credited with saying, "It takes the whole
world to know the whole gospel." In Warren's time, this mostly
involved people traveling from the North Atlantic world to distant
The flow has reversed. Particularly in urban areas, butright
across Great Britain, there is an ever greater variety of
Christians, churches, and denominations, many of which originate
outside Europe. Like it or not, the "whole world" is coming here.
Each in their own way, these two books address this reality, and
ask how we might move towards knowledge of the "whole gospel".
Matthew Michael, academic dean of ECWA Theological Seminary in
Kagoro, Nigeria, is interested in how the emphases of the Christian
faith change when understood in an African context. Although
Christianity is growing quickly in many parts of sub-Saharan
Africa, theological knowledge remains weak: "we have a great number
of Christians trooping into the church but little is seen by way of
Christianlife in the private and public domains." In order truly to
transform society, he writes, Christian faith must engage in
dialogue with African traditions so that it can address the
problems of African society.
Michael alternates between summarising historical approaches to
a wide array of theological topics and exploring African
traditions. For instance, in a chapter on theological anthropology,
he shows how the idea of autonomous person-hood that is dominant in
the West (and in Western theology) doesnot always apply in many
African cultures, and so has implicationsfor theology. The
diversity of the theological topics that Michael considers in this
book offers an implicit rebuke to the too-seductive idea that all
African theology canbe boiled down to a position on homosexuality.
Michael helpfully reminds us that there is much more to consider as
we respond to God's love in our lives.
Afe Adogame takes a different approach to the "whole world".
Adogame is a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and the
author of several previous books about diasporic Christianity -
that is, Christian faith among those who have settled in the North
Atlantic world in recent decades. In this book, he offers a single
textbookto survey the existing literatureand offer the outlines for
To understand Christianity inthe diaspora, he argues, we must
first understand the nature of the migration: it is not simply
"movement from poor, less-developed, war-stricken, crisis-prone,
overpopulated contexts to affluent, developed ones." Rather, the
movement now includes students, businesspeople, missionaries, anda
host of others. Diasporic reli-gious communities have important
parts to play in the lives of recent arrivals, orientating them to
lifein a new country, and serving as engines for the formation
ofsocial, religious, and even financial capital.
Adogame documents how some of these non-Western churches
explicitly see themselves as evangelists to a secular and
post-Christian West. Using almost identical rhetoric to that used
by European missionaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
these Christians are interested in bring-ing light to a dark
continent. Such movement is deconstructing the "ecclesiastical
paternalism" that has characterised many previous relationships in
the world Church.
The African Christian Diasporais a useful survey of an
important theme, but lacks good editing, which could shorten some
of Adogame's sentences and force him to come to the point more
quickly. It is easy to get lost in the academic jargon and lose
sight of the essential importance of the message of this book.
On a visit to Nigeria not long ago, I was overwhelmed by the
number of biblical commentaries, works of theology, and collected
sermons that were being published by local publishers for local
markets. Few, if any, of those ever make it to the UK. Michael's
book, therefore, is the tip of an iceberg, and Adogame's is a
helpful reminder of the Christian world that exists outside our
cathedrals, parishes, and chapels.As Christians everywhere are
brought closer and closer together, these two books help us as we
continue to understand the "whole gospel".
The Revd Jesse Zink is Assistant Chaplain at Emmanuel
College, Cambridge. His book
Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A search for
unity is reviewed here