Thursday, May 16, 2013

Biblical Christianity in African Perspective - O'Donovan

I'm (re)reading an excellent book by Wilbur O'Donovan, Biblical Christianity in African Perspective (Paternoster Press, 1996).  It has been a while so I feel like I'm reading it for the first time and I can only wonder if I was as excited reading it then as I am now.

In the introduction, O'Donovan lists five questions we need to answer if we are to build a Christian theology from an African perspective.  Here are the questions and my summaries of his answers.

A.  What is the meaning of world-view?
      A world-view is basically the way in which a person understands and interprets life.  This view is dependent on the people group a person belongs to, how they grew up, and what they learned as they were growing up.  A world-view can divide people in spite of other similarities such as language or geography.

B.  Is there really a traditional African world-view?
      The simple answer is, yes there is.  O'Donovan lists seven common elements.
      1.  An emphasis on communal life - being part of a group, tribe, and family.  There is a strong bond that
           shares a "common participation in life, a common history, and a common destiny" (4).
      2.  Part of this belonging includes those members of the group that are deceased.
      3.  A belief in a direct relationship between the spirit world and the physical world.
      4.  People and relationships mean more than material or technological things.
      5.  A history of colonialism and an experience of independence.
      6.  A more holistic view of life in which all things in life are interrelated.
      7.  A greater value on life events than on time or schedules.

C.  How do we build a theology that is biblical?
      O'Donovan outline three basic steps.
      1.  Observe and understand all the Bible has to say about a certain subject.
      2.  Understand what these statements mean through grammatical and historical situation analyses.
      3.  Apply this biblical view to every day life.

D.  What problems have been encountered in the past in trying to build a theology which is both biblical and also African?
      O'Donovan says what so many missiologists are saying today.  In the past, there were very few efforts to relate Christian theology to the African context in spite of the fact that Christianity came to Africa before it went out to the rest of the world (Acts 8:27-39).  The need is obviously to cast biblical truth in such a way that it is both "truly Christian and truly African". (5)

E.  How can we overcome the problems of the past and build a theology which is truly biblical and also truly African?
     O'Donovan says this is a three step process.
     1.  You have to make sure you understand what the (whole) Bible says about any given subject.
     2.  You have to make sure you understand how African culture relates to that particular subject.
     3.  You have to wrestle with the manner in which this biblical truth can be expressed in a way that make it
          culturally relevant so that it can be applied in daily life as something indigenous and not foreign.

#3 is called contextualization.  O'Donovan lists 9 steps needed to achieve contextualization.
1.  A clear understanding and definition of the problem of the issue at hand.
2.  A clear understanding of what the Bible says about this problem or issue.
3.  A clear understanding of what the specific culture has to say about the problem or issue.
4.  A clear understanding regarding similarities and dissimilarities between the two.
5.  A clear understanding of how what the Bible says can be applied to the particular culture.
6.  A clear understanding of how people within that culture will have to change their world-view to accept
     what the Bible teaches.
7.  A clear understanding on how people within that culture will have to change their behavior and their
     practices in order to adopt and apply what the Bible teaches.
8.  A clear understanding of what must be done to help bring about those changes.
9.  A clear understanding of what strategy needs to be used by the local church in order to bring about the
     necessary changes to deal with the problem or issue at hand.

The first chapter is entitled "Who And What Are We To Believe?" Can't wait...


  1. Hi, I just found this book recently as well, and find it helpful preparing for teaching theology in africa. Do you have any idea where to find more copies...?

    1. Yikes! The only one I could find when searching on the web was at amazon...but the price is through the roof.

      Where are you planning to teach?

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