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(ii): The "Négritude" Movement and "African Philosophy"(3: The Third Phase)


3: The Third Phase


(i): Cultural Setting
By the early 1980s it was apparent to some African scholars that out of the process of revaluation of ATR a certain tension arises. Some have begun to voice concern that much of the work is being done in a vacuum, for it does not fit the every-day context in which most Africans now live. The modern African reality is one in which many traditions and customs have died out to the extent that they cannot now be properly recovered, while "modern" and western ways have not been fully established. In a context neither wholly modern nor wholly ancient, a majority of Africans live with a daily reality of grinding poverty in which clean water, food and the basic
necessities of life are increasingly difficult to obtain. Additionally, Africa is now much more urbanized and educated than it was in 1960, a point I shall further elaborate in chapter 2.


The burden of Liberation theologians such as Jean-Marc Éla has been to expose this reality and direct the attention of the African church to it as a matter of primary concern. While he shares the critique of anthropology and many of the concerns of John Mbiti, Bolaji Idowu, Kwesi Dickson and others working within an "Incarnational" paradigm, Éla is concerned that a preoccupation with the past should not be used to obscure the causes of poverty and oppression in the present. His voice is the clearest and sharpest theological critique of négritude philosophy in Francophone Africa and several of his works, translated into English in the eighties, are beginning to have an impact in Anglophone Africa as well. Concern for the poor and for human liberation is also found in the works of Bénézet Bujo of Zaïre and Fabien Eboussi-Boulaga. These concerns have been echoed in a different way in Anglophone Africa by John Pobee, Mercy Amba Oduyoye of Ghana, Laurenti Magesa, J.N.K. Mugambi and bishop David Gitari of Kenya, but because négritude as a distinctive philosophy had never been wholeheartedly adopted there, the critique of it is muted and peripheral.


The theological literature written by African scholars today is usually not in the highly refined modes of discourse one finds in the academic theology of the European university. They are writing to a more general audience whose primary concerns are often very different from those of Europeans and Americans. Furthermore, communications and travel within Africa are very difficult and books and journals are often much more difficult to obtain than in the developed countries of the west. Consequently theological conferences and oral exchanges between African scholars have a greater importance. Mbiti states (1986) that most theology in Africa today is oral theology. One of the developments to watch in African theology is the attention given to oral theology. Mbiti's 1978 article entitled "Cattle Are Born With Ears, Their Horns Grow Later; Towards an Appreciation of African Oral Theology" is a start; this, and Pobee's 1989 work are indicators of what I expect to be a very fruitful line of inquiry. Pobee goes further than Mbiti in endorsing oral theology, appropriating the term "preferential option for the poor" in regard to the need to give value to the stories of those peoples without writing. This is a significant insight, which I shall be exploring further in the chapter on African orality.


(ii): Key Distinctives of the Third Phase
Probably the most exciting phase of African theology has begun in the decade of the eighties. Theological discourse in this decade is marked by several developments:


1) The introduction of the Liberation paradigm into a wider context of debate with the translation of Jean-Marc Éla's works into English. In some cases this follows lines familiar to Liberation theology from other parts of the world such as South Africa and Latin America. In other cases, such as Bujo and Kolié, there is a mixing of paradigms of Liberation and Incarnation, bringing a mixture uniquely African.


2) A widening of the definition of liberation to include physical and spiritual forms of oppression. I shall explore this expansion in several parts of this work, particularly my chapters on healing and Christology.


3) The development of a greater refinement of various debates concerning the role of ATR and a general reduction of emotional heat in the conduct of these debates due to a lessening of polemical exaggerations and over-generalizations. For example, Kwesi Dickson's research reported in Theology in Africa (1984, 55ff.) indicates that the role of subordinate deities in various traditional religions is more complex than had previously been allowed. Also note his work concerning trajectories in theological education. The fresh and finely imaginative work of Osadolor Imasogie can be noted here as well.


Another example of this sharpening process is the increasing insistence upon the term African Christian Theology as opposed to the oft used term "African Theology". Although Shorter had made this distinction clear in one of his works (1975) it has not been until the 1980s that numbers of leading African theologians have started to insist upon this designation. One factor contributing to confusion and overheated polemics in the mid-seventies was Byang Kato's misunderstanding of what was meant by "African Theology" as that term had been used by Agbeti and by Turner (see Kato 1975, 54); a confusion which Kato passed on to Adeyemo and  many others in the "evangelical" wing of the church in Africa. Kato had taken that term to mean the advocacy of a full return to ATR by African Christians, or a type of syncretism. The definition of African Theology proposed by Agbeti and Turner had perhaps left room for that interpretation, but they were not the only persons, nor even the leading persons, in the movement. Some confusion remained, due not only to Kato's misunderstanding, but also (says Dickson 1984, 121ff.) to the sometimes unclear expression of the goals of African theology by its proponents. Clarification of this point by Dickson (1984) and by Mugambi (1989c) has led the way to a less polemicized atmosphere and greater understanding. Thus, Osadolor Imasogie and Kwame Bediako continue in an evangelical mode of discourse in the 1980s, and '90s but they repeat none of the errors and "straw man" arguments of Kato, thereby bringing a more irenic character to the discussions.


4) A Deeper outworking of the implications of a truly African Christian theology. This trend has many facets, one of which is a stronger and more finely honed criticism of the agenda of the earlier phases of African Christian theology. Kwesi Dickson (1984) criticises the theology of "indigenisation" for its methodology, which, he says, must always suffer from limitations because it seeks to "translate" beliefs and concepts from traditional Christianity into African categories, without reference to the shape of African thought in general.


We also note the work of J.N.K. Mugambi of Kenya, who, with others, rejects such terms as "indigenisation", "inculturation" as categories because no matter how well motivated, to "indigenise" or "inculturate" something implies a starting point from outside of Africa. The starting point of Christian theology, for Africans, is now seen to be from within African culture (Mugambi, personal communication 1992). At the same time, however, I must add that one sees a greater volume of new material on "inculturation" in the 1980s and '90s than ever before, with much of the material being written by African Catholic priests. Those who pursue this line of development hold that inculturation has never yet been fully articulated or accepted in the African church.


5) A noticeable trend away from exclusive attention to ATR, back to themes considered more a part of the usual domain of a theologian, such as Christology, Ecclesiology and biblical exposition. An example is John Pobee's development: his first three books, written in the 1970s, dealt with ATR and integration of ATR into theology. By the late 'eighties he had written or co-edited four books centred on biblical themes such as martyrdom in St. Paul's thought and the Beatitudes. J.S. Mbiti's four earliest published books were on ATR but his articles and books in the 1980s dealt with themes such as Bible and Theology in the Church (1986), a work which includes a good survey of African biblical publications up to its publication date. Mercy Oduyoye's 1979 essay is on ATR while many of her 1980s projects have been biblical e.g. Hearing and Knowing.


V. Mulago's work of 1973 was on the traditional religion and worldview of the Bantu, while by 1981 he was writing on evangelisation and «authenticité». Fr. Justin Ukpong dealt with ATR in two of his first published articles (1982, 1983). He then moved on to deal with African Theologies Now in 1984 and Gospel Parables and The Acts of the Apostles in 1988 (a and b). He criticises the process leading to the African Synod in his 1992 work.


In the 1970s Leonidas Kalugila compiled a collection of Swahili proverbs, which he published in 1977. By 1980 his attention had turned to a study of the "wise king" in the Old Testament, and by 1985, to an inquiry into the ministry of women in the priesthood of the early church. The works of Kofi Opoku of Ghana and Emefie Ikenga-Metuh of Nigeria show similar shift in emphasis from the 'seventies to the 'eighties.


Gwinyai Muzorewa's work completed in 1981 (published 1985) dwelt largely on the influence of ATR in the origin and growth of African theology, while in his work of 1990 he has moved on to deal with An African Theology of Mission, a work much more explicitly biblical and evangelical in nature than his earlier work.


Bolaji Idowu, a leader in the debates of the early 'seventies, became absorbed in church politics and had dropped out of scholarly writing completely by the late seventies. However, in the field of Yoruba traditional religion studies he had cleared a path which many were walking by that time. One such scholar was Osadolor Imasogie, whose work began to appear in the eighties. One of his first published works was African Traditional Religion, published in 1982, but based on research done in the seventies. While it retained a great respect and empathy for ATR, it was less polemical than Idowu's work, introducing needed refinements to Idowu's contentions regarding Yoruba religion. His work is scholarly and careful, eschewing polemics, yet building upon the work on Yoruba religion which Idowu did so much to advance. He does not attack Idowu's work so much as suggest more fruitful new directions. For example, in place of Idowu's description of Yoruba traditional religion as "diffused monotheism", Imasogie posits a "bureaucratic monotheism", an image at once much more colourful, dynamic and three-dimensional. It also has a slightly comical air to it, as anyone who is familiar with Nigerian (or any other) bureaucracy will attest. The thought of a heavenly civil service shuffling one's petitions and requests from one department to another with all the potential for delays, getting lost or even trashed (as sometimes happens accidentally or when there is a backlog) is hardly a comforting one. This ironic humour is charming and disarms the potential conflict in an area of scholarship which is still controversial and potentially explosive. It is also a sign of a maturing theology which can reflect in a more relaxed atmosphere of good will, one more conducive to the mutual sharpening process characteristic of the search for truth. This, I propose, is one of the most valuable characteristics of the new phase of African theology.


Works published by Imasogie since 1982 have concentrated more upon biblical themes and pastoral issues. Dr. Imasogie's wife, Yewande, stated the new mood well at the conference of the West African Association of Theological Institutions (WAATI) in August 1984. She stood in for her husband who could not be present, and read his keynote address, adding her own, very significant comments and emphasis:


What is the result of all of our scholarly conferences, colloquia and forums on African Traditional Religion over the last twenty years? We have talked and talked and talked and written books and researched and come back and argued and debated. We have hundreds of churches and tremendous resources in a town such as this [Ogbomosho -ed]. There ought to have been a revolution by now! But instead we see that the church is shallow and has little or no impact upon the lives of the people it is meant to serve. Is it really because our church is not traditional enough? Is it really because we have not done enough research into ATR, and that if we just do more and deeper study into it we will start to "get it right"? I do not think so. I think it is because we leaders in our pride are not in touch with the people, with their everyday needs. We love the best seats in the churches and wearing long academic robes and being saluted by men, and making long erudite speeches in language our countrymen cannot understand. I submit that this is the real reason why our churches are superficial.


The audience was electrified. In the auditorium one could have heard a pin drop. The silence was eventually broken by the most senior academic in the assembly who proposed a motion that her words should be included verbatim in the proceedings of the conference, unedited. Her words had struck a very deep chord in all present. This speech would not have been made in the 1970s, as the interest in ATR was still too new at that time.


Associated with the shift back to biblical studies is an increasing interest in Christology. In 1979 Pobee posited a Christ as ruler or chief Christology, and Christ as ancestor has been proposed in several variant forms. Since 1981 published works on Christology have multiplied  rapidly. Several African theologians have proposed a Christ as Healer model, while one has posited a Christ as Guest model as most appropriate for the African context. In the 1980s the Christ as Liberator model has reached a wider audience than previously. Meanwhile, the Christus Victor model seems to enjoy a de facto popularity in the churches, particularly in the Independent churches, where emphasis is upon the Christ as liberator from all the various forces which oppress humanity, such as illness, spiritual oppression, and poverty.


Mercy Oduyoye points out that the Independents gravitate towards this Christological model, and therein lies a challenge to the established mainstream churches. But to her, this Christus Victor model is not the same as the lordly ruler Christology she sees in Pobee's 1979 work. It is rather a Christ as liberator from all oppressive forces, and therefore is more akin to a liberative and egalitarian model which she, as an African feminist, advocates. To her, Pobee's ruler Christology is too static and hierarchical, and fits traditional patriarchal patterns too easily. But the type of Christus Victor she envisions is more dynamic, not based on inherited authority, but on life-giving power. Pobee more recently has stated that he would not articulate his Christology the same way now. He says that in 1979 he started from a "construct", which he would not do today (Pobee, personal communication 1991).


The trend I describe could also be traced through an examination of articles appearing in some of the leading journals of African theology, such as the Africa Theological Journal, which first appeared in 1968, the Africa Bulletin of Theology which commenced publication in 1979, and the Ogbomosho Journal of Theology which began publishing in 1986.


The above evidence should be adequate to suggest the existence of the trend. Associated with this trend is a noticeable cooling of the great "Moratorium" debate. In the early 1970s there were calls for a moratorium on all missionary activity from the west. The AACC requested a moratorium in 1974. This received much publicity at the time and coincided with a general heightening of the critique of imperialism and neo-colonialism in the first half of the seventies. The late seventies and early eighties saw some reduction in the frequency of such calls, although the goal which motivated them remains. Muzorewa's 1990 work on mission gives an extra dimension or refinement to his earlier advocacy of moratorium. He stops short of a retraction, but his redefinition softens it, a refinement perhaps influenced by his own very successful period of several years of being a missionary to an American Lutheran congregation in the mid eighties. His personal experience is parallel to the phenomenal growth of missions from Africa by Africans in the 1980s, in spite of the serious financial hurdles.


Parallel to the theological trend I have been describing is the shift in the themes explored by African novelists. In the 1960s the themes most often developed by African writers were that of cultural conflict resulting from the colonization of Africa by Europe. In the late seventies and eighties they shifted more towards cultural reaffirmation, and cultural recovery: a revaluing of African tradition with a view to its reintegration into the modern African context. The element which this shift shares most strongly with the shift in African theology in the same time period is the sense of "getting on with the job", of moving on from the arguments of the '70s with a new sense of purpose. Workers in other fields, such as international development and even ethnomusicology, have noted parallel trends in African studies in their  respective disciplines (Harold Miller, personal communication 1992).


One logical extension of the interest in ATR is to incorporate important elements from it into African Christianity: this is sometimes called "syncretism". "Syncretism" however, is a word which has pejorative connotations and is usually used to denote a style of religion which the user considers to be overly compromised and/or lacking in the non-negotiable essentials of Christian faith. The missionary theologian Hendrik Kraemer warned of the influence of "syncretism" in his widely influential work The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World in 1938, and this warning rang in the minds of most missionaries since that time, whether they had actually read the book or not. While fear of "syncretism" still remains in African missionary discourse, most now prefer to speak of the positive aspects of "contextualization" as the proper designation for their work, which signifies a proper recognition of social context and an incorporation of one's life into that context, while at the same time retaining the essential(s) of the Christian faith. I should add that most often the AICs do not understand themselves as syncretistic in any sense whatsoever. Rather, they hold that they have tried to be more biblical than the mission churches, whom they claim have withheld crucial parts of the biblical message, particularly those having to do with healing.


Whether or not "syncretism" is the appropriate term in any given case, the path of incorporating significant elements from ATR has proved to be the most popular option for African theologians today, and it is strongly held that unless the African church has the freedom to experiment at the edges of what the western church would consider "orthodoxy" then it is not truly free. African theologians generally speak favourably of the Independent churches as one genuine expression of an African Christianity, and hold that the mainstream churches must have this freedom as well, while also maintaining that there are indeed limits to the procedure. Fasholé-Luke says (1981, 38):


However, we must recognise the fact that Christian experience in Africa is not confined to the Independent Churches: the ideas, structures, sermons, (oral theologies) and halting innovations of mission founded Churches must not be neglected in the creation of African Christian theologies. Nor are they less African, because they have resisted the dangers of syncretism; even if it is at the flashpoint between syncretism and orthodoxy, that genuine African theologies will emerge.


While theologians have embraced ATR in their theological proposals, popular support for radical changes (polygyny excepted) at the grassroots level of church congregations has not been as great as one might imagine. Most Nigerian pastors have actually rejected any radical changes. Nigeria has been a leader in the movement to indigenize music and even dance in many churches. These changes are widely popular, and have been widely accepted in the Protestant, Catholic and Evangelical churches of Africa. But the pouring of libations to ancestors, clitoridectomy and certain healing practices with alleged occult overtones have not generally been accepted. The most consistently cited reason for the growth of African independent churches is their strong emphasis upon healing. Generally, while African theologians have spoken positively, and even longingly, of the independent churches in this regard, the discussion has tended to stay at the level of question-asking rather than implementation, for the mainstream churches have resisted most moves towards a greater healing emphasis in practice. To date, most exceptions to this rule have been dealt with severely; the case of Roman Catholic bishop Milingo being a notorious one (Milingo 1984), another being the excommunication of charismatic youth movements within the Anglican church in Benin State, Nigeria (Barrett 1982, 527).


Suggestions of using Eucharistic elements more culturally familiar to Africans, such as millet cakes or pounded yam instead of wheat bread, and palm wine instead of wine from the grape, have been often voiced by scholars, such as Éla, and by some pastors, but the churches have been slow to implement such changes.


The Anglican church took what many people considered to be a major step forward in the acceptance of African culture when it agreed in 1988 to accept polgynous men into full communion. The 1988 Lambeth Conference of the bishops of the world wide Anglican communion agreed to this change, largely due to pressure of the Ugandan bishops. Prior to this, the only mainline church to adopt such a policy was the Lutheran church in Liberia in the 1970s. However, there is also a growing number of articulate African women theologians (see my chapter entitled "African Family in Transition" below) who viewed the Lambeth decision critically, because they were not permitted even to voice their opinion on the matter (Mercy Oduyoye and Musimbi Kanyoro, 1992, 1). There seems to be an emerging recognition that any significant changes in church order (such as the admittance of polygamists) are going to have to be shown to have a firmly biblical rationale.


It would be a mistake to understand the three phases I outline as self-contained wholly separate streams having mutually exclusive concerns. It is not clear-cut and there are no neat divisions in time. It does seem, however, that by the late 'seventies the "Adaptation" mode had been reduced to a more or less peripheral status in African scholarship, at least if one is to judge by the number of books and articles published. Tshibangu, whose thought had seemed radical in 1960, was still saying the same things in 1980, a consequence, according to Bujo, of his being appointed bishop soon after completing his doctorate, thereafter being consumed with administrational chores, the chairing of conferences and the writing of forewords in other people's books. Bujo (1992, 66) borrows the words of Thomas Kramm who says that Tshibangu had become a theologian "manqué". Nyamiti is one scholar who still uses the term "adaptation" but in his hands it seems to have more depth and maturity than in the earlier formulations, and thus his work is still spoken of respectfully by other African theologians.


African scholars by 1979 were pointing out that the time for debate over the possibility or appropriateness of an African theology was long past (Pobee 1979, 9). It was, by that time an established fact which could not be denied. Mudimbe even goes so far as to say (1988, 61):


At scholarly conferences, [in the seventies] no one really cared any longer about the scientific evidence of the past. African scholars now preferred to deal directly with the issues that involve African responsibility in theology and social sciences, as well as in the humanities (Glele, 1981; Ngindu, 1985).


Research into ATR continues up to the present unabated. In fact, there may be at present more African scholars in the field doing studies on the ATR of their own ethnic groups than ever before in history. But if one is to judge by the concerns of articles and books published by the leaders (e.g. Mbiti, Pobee, Oduyoye, Dickson et. al.) there is a very noticeable shift from broad works on ATR in the seventies to biblical themes and pastoral issues by the mid-eighties and nineties. The Africa section of the EATWOT General Assembly in Nairobi 1992 reported that the years 1986 to 1992 have seen an increasing number of African theologians writing works critical of ATR in one respect or another. This development could be seen either as a necessary correction or refining impulse, or as a conservative pulling back to the "safety" of orthodoxy, or yet again as a consequence of a move towards the theology of Liberation, which has generally been more sceptical of the use of the African past in the construction of a relevant theology and praxis today. All three possibilities are open, and we may find that the answer varies from one case to another, or in some cases may be a combination.


I have observed certain trends or currents, and these have become more dominant in certain places at certain times. There was nothing that one might call a "paradigm shift" in African theology in the '80s. However, this is a term which is overused in reference to arts subjects in  general, and certainly is inappropriate in the realm of theology, where there hasn't been any consensus for at least one thousand years, and one cannot speak of any one theology ever becoming the one new paradigm. Even in the early '70s Mbiti was warning us that we should be looking not for one African theology but for African theologies.


What we can say is that there is a sense of the "preliminaries" having been finished with by 1979. Pobee's work of that year very strongly creates that impression: one finds in this work that there is no longer a need to rehash the rationale for an African theology, rather, he gets right to work in the first chapter actually to write one. There is a refreshing sense of "getting on with the job" and a welcome absence of jargon. This sense persists in the work of O. Imasogie, Bujo, Éla, Mugambi and others in the 'eighties.


The trends developing since 1980 should not be thought of as a "reaction" in the same sense as the reaction against missionary thought in the 'sixties and 'seventies is often depicted. It could more accurately be described as a change in "mood" or tone and generally is thought to be a building upon the foundation of the 1970s rather than a negation of that work. This is clearly evident in the articles devoted to pastoral problems in the African context in the Africa Theological Journal and the Ogbomosho Journal of Theology. Many articles deal with the unique situations facing African families, such as divorce in polygamous families, the role of ancestors, witchcraft and occultism, secret societies and curses. These problems are dealt with increasingly from a pastoral point of view which takes into account the vast amount of knowledge and sensitivity which African scholars have gained in the past thirty years from the study of African traditional religion. Thus, while the concerns are increasingly familiar to traditional Christian theology, the focus is different, and the background knowledge necessary as a base is entirely different.


The second phase of African theology saw works like Mbiti's Concepts of God In Africa present a compendium of the ideas of God in the vast panoply of African religions. This field is so vast and the religions so variegated that many critics question whether such a study can really be accurate or helpful. Other critics have wondered whether Mbiti was trying to give us a kind of "Systematic Theology" of all of African religions, in which case, of course, it could only fail. This was never Mbiti's intention however. He sought only to give us a slice of the traditional religions of Africa and to present it in a favourable light, so that it could be received as the backdrop and ground upon which any African Christian activity today must build, recognizing and seeking to relate respectfully to it. In a sense, ATR was to be understood as the African's Old Testament. To Mbiti, rather than a "Systematic Theology", the discourse on ATR could be seen as a kind of "Prolegomena to any future African Christian Theology". If we see the work which African theologians have been doing in the second phase as "prolegomena" then we may expect to see a more developed body of written African Christian theology emerging now, in the third phase. The phrase "prolegomena", however, is more familiar to scholarly theologians of the west, who expect literate treatises of a highly erudite (and often irrelevant) nature. To recall Mudimbe's analysis the terms ought to originate from within Africa, thus it would be more appropriate to refer to ATR as the "ground" upon which future African Christian Theology must build.


In connection with the priority of African categories we may say that Mbiti's own comment that most African theology is currently oral theology is apposite, for the revaluation of Africa and of all oral societies will necessarily give greater weight now than it has in the past to oral modes of discourse (see Mbiti, 1978a, Fasholé-Luke 1981, 38 and Pobee 1989d). When African theologies are understood in this manner, I think we are closer to helpful insight.


A number of significant events happened in the period between 1975 and 1980, each of which may be considered "pivotal" by a given scholar. J.N.K. Mugambi, head of Religious Studies Dept. at University of Nairobi, now Associate Registrar of the university, and one of the founding members of EATWOT and of African theology generally, opines that the real watershed for him was in 1975 when the Fifth General Assembly of the World Council of Churches was held in Nairobi, the first to be held in Africa (Mugambi, personal communication 1992). Before that time he had not found it possible either to convince western theologians that African theology existed or that it should exist. The WCC General Assembly of 1975 symbolized, to him, the acceptance of African Christianity by the world church, and he has noted a much greater level of acceptance since that time. He also notes that 1985 marked a major event for the Roman Catholic church, when the 33rd Eucharistic Conference was held in Nairobi, the first to be held in Africa.


The First Pan African Conference of Third World Theologians was held in Accra, Ghana in December 1977.(2) This event was taken as a major turning point by those African theologians who adhered to EATWOT. Indeed, while the English collection of the papers presented there was entitled African Theology En Route, its French translation was entitled Libération ou Adaptation? La Théologie Africaine s'interroge. Thérèse Souga goes so far as to say "In Accra, in December 1977, African theology opted to be a theology of liberation and not of adaptation" (Souga 1986, 26). But it is not necessarily as simple as that. If the choice made by the 1974 SECAM conference had meant anything, then one would have thought that the choice was not between liberation and adaptation, but between liberation and incarnation. Had no shift taken hold in those years? Furthermore, the picture portrayed in African Theology En Route is actually one of theological diversity and shows that consensus was not in sight (cf. Bediako 1980, 158-9). The most prolific of all African theologians, John Mbiti, wrote an article in this very volume which criticizes liberation theology for its lack of biblical reference (Mbiti 1979, 88). The statements made by theologians in ecumenical meetings of like-minded individuals from many denominations can create the impression of unanimity when the substance is lacking. Another factor to consider is that inevitably the statements made by denominational synods, which must set the official policy of a given church structure,  are more socially conservative than ecumenical meetings which have no officially binding status for any group. This remains true even when a considerable number of the actors are participants in both the ecumenical and the denominational gatherings.


Even if the quality of the offerings in African Theology En Route was somewhat uneven, and the points of view diverse, yet the volume stands as probably the most important collection of essays on African theology up to that time, and served as an indication that the Africa section of EATWOT would play an active and prominent role in the development of African theology.


The papers from the Accra conference of Dec. 1977 were published in 1979. This year was also significant in that it marked the appearance of J.S. Pobee's book Towards an African Theology. In that work I read for the first time in African theology the words which start from a position of acceptance and confidence. The opening sentence of the Preface begins thus: "The case for translating Christianity into authentic African categories hardly needs to be argued. That need has long been recognized in both Africa and Europe."(Pobee 1979, 9). Although quite a number of appeals and arguments for an African theology had appeared before 1975, no one at that time could have said with confidence that the case "hardly needs to be argued." Pobee's words, then, indicate that between 1975 and 1979 a "sea-change" had indeed taken place. Now Pobee can say that the time has come for a more positive and constructive African theology to be done.


In the Roman Catholic church, the visit of Pope John Paul II to Africa in 1980 marked another important moment, for he reaffirmed the approval of African culture made by Pope Paul VI in Uganda eleven years previously and further encouraged African theological exploration and indigenous liturgies. The effect of these affirmations was to further increase African thelogical confidence.


The position of confidence, which assumes at the base the freedom to be African, is a major hallmark of the new "explosion" in African theology, which may be characterised neither as "adaptation", nor "indigenisation" nor "incarnation" nor even "inculturation." Pobee prefers the two terms "aggiornamento" and "skenosis" to any of the above (Pobee, personal communication 1991). Mugambi also rejects the terms proffered by Shorter (Mugambi, personal communication, 1992). He prefers multiple models and says the labels are too reductionist. One may see many of those categories, in Mudimbe's terms, as categories which still assume the priority of the western pole in discourse, for no matter how well-intentioned is the motive behind "adaptation" or "inculturation" or "indigenisation" the starting point is still outside of Africa, somewhere in the western world, therefore it cannot produce a Christianity which is authentically African. Mugambi believes that Africa possesses the categories for its own theology, beginning from its own starting point.(3) The priority of the African pole in theological discourse, then, is a hallmark of the new phase of African Christian theology.


1. I credit here Dr. John Pobee (personal communication 1991) for reminding me of this fact.


2. The term "third world" refers to the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America which are neither part of the industrialized western world, nor part of the "second world" (communist bloc), but are non-aligned. Many people from this later group of countries resent the term "third world" because it seems to give top priority to the industrial west, once again. So some prefer the term "two-thirds world" (see Samuel and Sugden eds, 1982 Sharing Jesus in the Two Thirds World which contains contributions by Kwame Bediako and David Gitari). Others, such as Pobee, now prefer to speak rather of the countries of "the North" and the countries of "the South," a designation which he and others began using in the 1980s and which has even greater relevance since the collapse of the Soviet Union.


3. This latter thought raises the question of Mudimbe's summary of the development of African theology. Mudimbe's work is clearly the most erudite work by an African scholar yet to appear in English on the subject of African philosophy. His is a highly erudite and subtle synthesis of the development of African theology, but one may be confused by his treatment of the terms "adaptation", "incarnation" and "indigenization" because he seems not to delineate these terms with quite the same boundaries as the theologians about whom he is writing. This may be because Mudimbe rejects those categories as they assume a western starting point (so Miller, personal communication 1992).

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