When I am asked what field of theology I would like to study one of the first things that comes to mind is African Theology. If I say that though, I am often met with surprise or suppressed dismay (that I have become liberal): “Why should African Theology be any different from any other theology?” they wonder. Surely theology is not geographically constrained? Surely…
I was recently in KwaZulu-Natal where I attended a lecture on Sanctification at the United Bible Institute (UBI). UBI caters for African pastors and while the lecture itself did not offer anything new or surprising (which is probably a good thing), the questions afterwards provide a useful case study. The lecture was sound and simple on the work of God in sanctification: It refuted sinless perfection but upheld holiness as the Christian’s goal. Afterwards a lady put up her hand (yes, like it or not, women are often the local preachers) to ask a question which I think brilliantly illustrates the need for African Theology.
The question was built on the following premise: “There was a person in our village who became a Christian but a witch came and stole her sanctification.” I am not sure about Asian Christians nor do I know much about South America or Indonesia all of which may well have similar issues but I am certain that in our Western theology such a question has never occurred to you. The possibility of sanctification being ‘stolen’ by forces of evil was a totally foreign notion to me and yet there was nodding of approval at the question.
The fact that Western Christians have dealt with many of their own issues does not mean that all the issues of Christianity have been thrashed out and we would probably never be so arrogant as to think so but pat answers from our Western framework will generally not suffice. Thankfully, the question was brilliantly answered but that question is not the only one that stems from an African context nor is it the most difficult to deal with. African Christianity is supposedly growing enormously but African Theology is not and so the church is already riddled with syncretism and false gospels. If the Gospel is to have an impact on Africa it must be the true Gospel, not a gospel cooked up and mixed together with traditional religions and prosperity preaching. That’s why we need African Theology. So that, African Christianity may be authentically Christian and authentically African. In the words of Byang Kato, “Let African Christians be Christian Africans”