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September 26, 2021
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Understanding African Theology in the 20th century – The Gospel Coalition

The grassroots and widespread experiences of African christians continually demonstrate that a feature of intercultural translatability of the christian faith was unleashed in the processes of Scripture translation into vernacular languages of Africa. This means that “the central categories of Christian theology – God, Jesus Christ, creation, history – were transposed into their local equivalents, suggesting that Christianity had been adequately anticipated” in indigenous languages with a force that resonated far beyond the ideological limitations imposed by missionary transmission strategies. African christian leaders need to take guidance from this fact, if they wish to midwife an African Christianity responsive to the African peoples and the African context.

It has become well known that two distinct trends have emerged in African Christian thought in the post-independent and post-missionary era, from the late 1950s to the late 1980s. One has been the theological dimension to the struggle for the social and political transformation of the conditions of inequality and oppression in South Africa. This is what produced Black Theology, a theology of liberation in the African setting, in response to the particular circumstances of southern Africa. The other has been the theological exploration into the indigenous cultures of African peoples, with particular stress on their pre-Christian (and also pre-Islamic) religious traditions. This trend has been more closely associated with the rest of tropical Africa, where political independence seemed to have taken away a direct regular experience of the kind of socio-political pressures which produced Black Theology in South Africa. In this second trend, the broad aim has been to achieve some integration between the African pre-Christian religious experience and African Christian commitment in ways that would ensure the integrity of African Christian identity and selfhood.

This article will focus on the second of these ‘trends’, which is what is generally meant by the designation ‘African Theology’. It needs to be pointed out, though, that the two are by no means to be regarded as mutually exclusive. Rather, they may be described as ‘a series of concentric circles of which Black Theology is the inner and smaller circle’.1 Nonetheless it will be more helpful to make ‘Black Theology’ the subject of a separate discussion.

Read the full article titled, Understanding African Theology in the 20th centuryThe Gospel Coalition’s Journal, Themelios vol. 20, No. 1

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