African Christian Theology Thrives
Name one important lesson from Joseph’s life. Individualistic Western Christians might say, “He resisted sinning with Potiphar’s wife”. A typically family-oriented African answer would be: “Joseph never forgot his family”. Both are true but different because both readers contextualize the Bible.
The Bible is the Word of God, and theology is our contextualized words about God. When Western missionaries went to Africa, they translated the Bible into African languages and taught the only theology they had, but even the best Western theology wasn’t contextualized. It couldn’t teach African Christians how to handle fear of their ancestors, why female genital mutilation was wrong, and how Jesus was both God and Son of God, because sons are always of lesser status than their fathers — even in death. African theologians of all stripes still strive for Christian solutions to these and many other African pastoral issues so that believers’ operating theology can become more fully Christian and authentically African. For evangelicals, the Bible is the source of God’s solutions, and African theology expresses these solutions.
As a separate genre, African Christian Theology began in the late 1950s and 1960s among ecumenical and Roman Catholic Africans. Evangelicals, led by Byang Kato, began writing in the 1970s. Part of his continuing influence is Scott’s Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology (founded in 1982), which I now edit. Google the Africa Study Bible (2017), the Africa Bible Commentary, ed. Adeyemo (2009), African Christian Theology (2012) and African Christian Ethics (2008) by Kunhiyop to find examples of Africa’s thriving evangelical theology.
— Andrew Wildsmith is a Fellowship International missionary serving at Scott Theological Seminary in Kenya, Africa.