What should the church in Africa be ultimately concerned with?
This is a question that consumes me. The reason is that I think because the Church is the Steward of the gospel, true transformation in the lives of Africans depends on it.
Today, this exploration was deepened through a public lecture at the Hekima Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations (HIPSIR) in Nairobi whose guest lecturers were engaging the topic of African Christianity on January 8th, 2019. The Ghanaian professor Rev. Prof. Philip Laryea from the Akrofi-Christaller Institute (a Ghanaian graduate school focusing on the intersection of gospel and culture, and founded by the late Kwame Bediako) presented an insightful paper on the place of biblical translations in mother tongue language and how this has helped the majority African population who think or live in these indigenous forms. Apart from helping them to engage the Bible deeper, the scholar proposed that translating the Bible in mother tongue languages can also serve the double task of preserving African culture and thought forms. What stood out for me is how translation can help people from the “majority world” to be genuine Christians in their own unique way.
The second presentation was from Dr. Harvey Kwiyani, a Malawian theologian affiliated with the Andrew Walls center for the Study of World Christianity. Looking at African Christianity in the diaspora, he noted the increasing presence of black churches. From engagement with the audience, many noted that although the Africanizing of churches in Europe is positive, it falls short on two accounts. The first is that black and white churches are still “separate” further challenging the issue of Christian unity. Second, African youths in these places are unchurched or de-churched as they can not fit within the cultural sphere of their parents’ church neither can they attend the “white churches”. A stark contrast presented was that most murder cases in London on black youth are as a result of black-on-black violence.
My take-aways from the lecture were:
- There is a need for youth workers to engage in deep discipleship. By deep discipleship, I mean that youth workers must engage the complexities of the cultural identities of young people – navigating postmodern, indigenous and secular contexts.
- The place of cross-cultural understanding. In a globalized world, the Church must strive for a cross-cultural DNA that is in line with the New Testament picture of the church. In a time of reverse missions, that is, Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans going to North America and Europe to evangelize, there is a need for collaboration and partnership across these regions – in terms of knowledge production and dissemination, as well as resources, financial or otherwise. When you consider the reality of adulthood as a transitory period and given the reality of migration, young people are a formidable resource in gospel mission.
I think that we are living in a transitory period in terms of culture. I am deeply convicted that the gospel has it’s transformative impact even today, it is the only hope for humanity after all. And I think Africa, as well as other majority world nations, have a unique opportunity to live up to God’s mission in our world today.
As I conclude, of worthy mention is the passing of the great historian and Christian scholar Lamin Sanneh, most recently who held a teaching position at Yale Divinity School. In seminary, I engaged with his book Whose Religion is Christianity that transformed my understanding of African Christianity. Although some Africans have posited that Christianity is a white man’s religion, Sanneh’s thesis was that Christianity is a “missionary religion” in the sense that no one culture can lay ultimate claim to the Christian gospel. The gospel speaks to each person and culture wherever they are, and this gives each of us legitimacy to follow Christ genuinely.
May Christ use his Church to compel the emerging generations in Africa and beyond to follow Him.