One of the challenges in working cross-culturally is the human tendency to naturally assume that everyone else thinks the same way as we do. We presume that others have the same problems, the same goals and aspirations, the same fears, that they value what we value, and that they see the world just as we see it.

In Christian mission this can mean that we naturally assume that when we move into a different culture, we know what people’s needs are, what the solutions are to those needs, and how to get from the problems to the solutions.

Onesimus has posted the transcript of a fascinating discussion between mainly African Christians, on the subject of African theology. What does theology look like in Africa?

Do have a read through the discussion, as it touches on how an African understanding of God through the Bible is different from the way that many western Christians read scripture, and the vital importance of having an African theology if Christianity is really going to impact the day to day lives of Africans.

GO: Why in churches where there are dealing with issues of barrenness and poverty, these are the churches that are thronged with people? Because they are addressing the felt needs of the people.

TJ: It’s because the African people are asking these questions. And they are asking, ‘Where is God in this situation?’ No one is asking about the virgin birth or the nature of Christ. They are more concerned about action rather than theological concepts. In my home area, there is an active volcano, and when the mountain shakes, the people go up on the mountain to offer sacrifice to calm the mountain spirits down. This is the real need of the people, and the churches are not meeting the need, and they don’t stop the mountain from shaking. The geologist don’t understand nor can they stop the situation. But the traditional practitioners deal with the actual situation and provide a solution.

MM: When the gospel came to Africa, it was foreign to the way of life of the people. It provided answers to questions nobody was asking. When crisis came, they had a fallback plan, which was to go back to the traditional answers to the pressing questions of the culture. Especially in the issue of marriage, naming of children, initiation, there was nothing in the imported Christianity that dealt with the felt needs of the people. What is the implication of the gospel for me who is an African and a Christian? read more

To borrow an idea from a Qom pastor from Argentina (quoted by David Smith in Mission after Christendom), there is no longer a need for westerners to go and teach the Bible to those in Africa, Asia or South America, so much as to read the Bible together with people in these places, each in his own language and culture, with each person bringing his own unique perspective on the glory of God.

I think that seeing more of God through different cultures and languages is something that should be at the heart of our theology of mission. Ultimately knowing God in our own language and culture isn’t just for our own benefit, or even for the benefit of the global church. The apostle Paul explains that God’s purpose in bringing the diversity of all the nations into his kingdom is to bear witness to his great wisdom.

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:10)

  1. Brian Russell says:

    Excellent post. The West has much to learn by listening to our brothers and sisters. I had the opportunity in January of leading a doctoral seminar on biblical interpretation. The class was entirely non-Western (except for me). I approached the course as an opportunity to engage in a close reading of parts of Exodus and the book of Philippians. It was a profoundly enriching experience from my perspective. I was hoping to serve the class well. I know for certain that my own thinking about missional hermeneutics was enhanced by the conversations.

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