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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Introduction (African background)

In the period since 1960 independent Africa has seen the rapid growth of a new group of African Christian theologians developing a new discourse within the churches planted by European and American missions. It has been established for some time that the theology of this group has gone through a first phase, which is generally called the theology of "Adaptation." This mode of theology was superseded in the early 1970s by a second phase, commonly referred to as the theology of "Incarnation."

My initial reflexion upon works published by the African theologians that I examined During my undergraduate studies. thesis at Ambrose Ali University in 2004, followed by further reflexion upon my own experience of years in Nigeria, led to a growing sense that African theology since 1960 has developed in three phases, the third of which is unfolding in the 1980s and '90s. However, after collection of a massive amount of data from the already vast African theological literature, I came to the conclusion that my original hypothesis of a third phase marked by a single paradigm was untenable. The current phase, if one may call it that, is in reality an explosion of African theological creativity and maturity marked by a serious wrestling with all of the issues posed by modern African life. then it seemed that I should document this explosion of paradigmatic diversity, and the plural concerns. Having observed quite a number of new theological developments after 1980, I asked the question, "what social conditions had shifted at that time?" There were many such changes: increased urbanization, increased educational levels, changing religious affiliations, etc. I discovered that it was not possible to understand the plural theologies of Africa without relating them to the concrete historical conditions in which they arose. Despite a common heritage, there is so much diversity in Africa that most generalizations are almost impossible. Theology in Africa is thus, regionally located.

This book brings together for the first time the theological literature of both anglophone and francophone Africa, and perhaps its most important contribution to scholarship is a methodological thesis: that theology is inevitably contextual - by showing the light which this approach sheds on African intellectual developments. The same method could be applied to European and American theology.

Part I traces the theological evolution, the phases of "Adaptation" and "Incarnation" and the new phase. Here, the exposition of what I have called the "third phase" demonstrates that the new developments transcend a single paradigm. Therefore it might be argued that there is no distinct "third phase", for as rapid social change engulfs Africa and the rest of the world no one can know what the outcome will be, or how Africa will appear several decades hence.

Part II deals with several concrete issues of African life today that have particularly challenged African Christians, especially in the 1980s and 90s. Here, I explore the various developments of the theological explosion by relating them to the concrete conditions which gave rise to them. Implicit in this methodology is a critique of theological studies that analyse the ideas theologians propose without realizing that these ideas cannot be properly understood unless they are related to their social base.

While several surveys of African theology are available, each of them suffers from one or several lacunae. Gwinyai Muzorewa has written an introductory survey entitled The Origins and Development of African Theology (1985) which is helpful but limited. First, it covers only the period up to 1980, and I shall argue that some of the most significant developments have taken place in the years since, 1980 being a watershed year; second, it does not treat francophone Africa; and third, perhaps partly because of that omission, it deals only superficially with the fundamental tension between the liberationists paradigm and the predominating inculturationist paradigm (see Tutu, 1975).

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