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With the banner of Christ unfurled

25 July 2014

Jesse Zink on African mission and migration


Snapshot of a Tanzanian diocese: the cover image fromMara! Africa bridges the gap between church and life, in which Bill Jones describes (with photos) the many practical areas of life in which the Church is active (£10.99 plus £1.40 p&p from the author, 57 Shirley Avenue, Gomersal, West Yorks BD19 4NA)

Snapshot of a Tanzanian diocese: the cover image fromMara! Africa bridges the gap between church and life, in which Bill Jones describes (with photo...

Christian Theology and African Traditions

Matthew Michael

Lutterworth Press £18.50


The African Christian Diaspora: New currents and emerging trends in world Christianity

Afe Adogame

Bloomsbury £22.99


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£20.70 (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 parts.

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 further study.

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

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