[American] inserted in “Africa”
The small size of Matthew Michael’s, Christian Theology & African Traditions is deceiving because it really is an immense theological textbook that deserves to be in every pastor’s library. This book will serve as a great reference for me. I appreciate and value this work. Maybe it’s because I’ve taught World History for over 20 years and/or because I’ve been involved with church planting in Africa for over twelve years; as much as I appreciate this study regarding Africa, I find that it also applies to California traditions as well. It’s as if each chapter could be applied to pastoring in the States. I thought it would be fun (it is almost summer for me!) to take some quotes from the book and whenever Michael writes, “Africa” I would insert “America.” Let’s see what happens.
“The power of traditions as the origin of worldview cannot be underestimated, thus we must take seriously the challenge that the [American] worldview poses to biblical Christianity in [America].” P11
So many people in the United States have this false idea that America is Christian. The fact is, the American worldview is not aligned with Jesus’ worldview as described in the Gospels. Christians in the USA are increasingly seeing themselves on the sidelines. This is true, and okay. Historically, we do our best work when we are in exile.
“The failure of Christianity to have a formidable impact on the continent is because of the failure of Christianity to engage the worldview of the [American] people.” P12
This reminds me of how the First Nation People living on this continent before European immigrants came and colonized it(just like Africa!), were treated in the name of God. Just like Africa the Christian Europeans did not engage the worldview of those already living here. This resulted in horrible consequences.
“The formidable task before the [American] church is the task to Christianize the [American] people. This Christianizing agenda has unfortunately taken place without adequate understanding of the [American] worldview.” P13
In 2017, there is no such thing as one American worldview. This is complicated and this quote really challenges me. It is also true that there is not one worldview in Africa. Africa is a continent; a really big continent with a complex set of worldviews.
“The struggle often is the parallel observance of the things from the Bible and the [American] worldview, thus leading to dual allegiance of these Christians.” P13
This is the single greatest hurdle for me as a pastor. It seems to me that when I baptize people they symbolically die with Christ while under the water, but as they emerge, they are a new creation in Christ still hanging on to their American-ness. The last time I checked, over 80% of Americans claim Evangelicalism, but their lifestyle is more about making America great at the expense of Christian witness.
“The thought of reaching Christian maturity becomes nearly impossible in the context of this divided loyalty.”P13
This is just a true statement no matter what tradition.
“Christian theology must seek to help these Christians to better engage the traditional [American] worldview by advocating a transformation of the [American] worldview in the light of biblical revelation.”P13
This is my goal as a pastor of a local church. For me, it’s not about building a church wall to keep culture out. I’m with Augustine and Calvin and believe Christ is the transformer of culture.
“The [American] church must discourage the temptation among its members to seek traditional modes of seeking “spiritual guidance” or “direction.” P51
For me, traditional modes in the States are Oprah and various news agencies. I would love to see the American church get back to basing guidance on the Bible.
“However, with the current globalization and the intrusion of modernity, particularly Western secularism and the scientific mindset, it should be expected that these modern contexts will put [American] understandings of God to the test.” P90-91
See Charles Taylor and James K.A. Smith for this one.
“A sound theology, particularly in our [American] setting, must maintain the mysterious and the supernatural without becoming absurd and ridiculous.” P99
I wish my tribe, the Vineyard, would have navigated this a bit better. In our short history we have managed to go through times of eliminating mystery and also times of being absurd and ridiculous. Although there are still wounds from the past, it does seem like our movement is healthier now than in years past.
“In [America], this depersonalized existence is further complicated by the disappearance and collapse of the extending family systems and the falling apart of tribal and ethnic solidarity fronts.” P126
My wife is a certified birthing doula and lactation specialist. Southern California needs people like her because young couples do not have knowledge of how to have a baby and keep her alive. So many new moms and dads around us do not have extended family near by to help young growing families make it.
“In this regard, the [American] materialistic and temporal quest for salvation in the here and now, must be transformed to embrace the divine plan for salvation now in Christ, which though, having a dominant spiritual emphasis now, will have fuller physical realization at the end of time.” P187
One of the hardest concepts to teach today is that there is something bigger than ourselves. Concepts like eternity and being part of the kingdom of Jesus that is not centered in Washington DC are very difficult to explain and live out today.
“For many [American] Christians, such a ‘crossover’ has not yet taken place because Christian life and thought are primarily understood from the vantage point of the traditional [American] worldview, thus rendering their Christian lifestyle incompatible to the expected lifestyle of the Christian believer.” P198
Insert antiwar rant here. American Christians seem addicted to the gods of empire which is completely incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus as explained in the Sermon on the Mount.
“In this regard, some [Americans] joined the church and subsequently seek baptism because they want the church to give them a befitting burial at the time of their death or for the church to identify with them during their moment of crisis or problems.” P207
There is not much I can add here. This quote speaks for itself.
“For the [American] Christian, his loyalty is to the noun rather than the adjective that describes him, thus “[American] Christian” becomes first and foremost committed to the “Christian” in this label, and it is such “Christian” commitment that determines his general attitude to the “[American]” and the adjectival nomenclature that further describes him.” P225
This is the sweet spot that we as leaders hope the people we lead will all hit! I imagine a church where the noun comes before the adjective. I am thankful for this book and learning about theology and African traditions and how they can be applied to American traditions.
6 responses to “[American] inserted in “Africa””
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Thanks Aaron .
An excellent post, I like way you changed the context, by placing “America.” instead of Africa. It shed a bright light on our Christian theology and way we have drafted so far away, instead reaching Christian maturity.
This statement tells it all.“The formidable task before the [American] church is the task to Christianize the [American] people. This Christianizing agenda has unfortunately taken place without adequate understanding of the [American] worldview.”
Thanks for an exception blog. Rose Maria
I was also left thinking that the concept of cultural contextualization of theology applies to any culture whether in Africa or anywhere else in the world. I imagine that no matter where the church is located, the struggle of moving from being worldly to being spiritually mature remains the same (even though the struggle may change its nuances based on culture). We are more affected by our cultural worldview than what we imagine. Your blog brings the parallels in a very clear and clever manner.
I also appreciated how the book summarizes the main themes of systematic theology in a balanced way. As you pointed out, it is a good reference book for any pastor. It gives us a quick summary of theology and the corresponding worldview issues that we need to address. Thank you for a creative and clever blog.
Thank you Pablo. I agree with you that this is a good quick reference.
You wrote, “This is the single greatest hurdle for me as a pastor. It seems to me that when I baptize people they symbolically die with Christ while under the water, but as they emerge, they are a new creation in Christ still hanging on to their American-ness. The last time I checked, over 80% of Americans claim Evangelicalism, but their lifestyle is more about making America great at the expense of Christian witness.”
I totally agree with you, and this drives me mad. What I see in America is a people whose gods are prosperity and security. Tragically, shamefully, I see no difference between those who claim faith and those who don’t. Our worldview is “American first,” which translates to “take care of me first,” both of which are diametrically opposed to the Gospel which says “die to self.”
Would you ever publically say, “The Church has gone whoring after the gods of prosperity and security?” Or what do you recommend we do about this issue?
You always seem to have such creative ways of expounding an author’s thesis that crystallizes the salient points in our minds. Like you, as I was reading Matthew Michael’s book I also saw its relevance to all world traditions and worldviews. And like you, I agree that there is no such thing as a purely “African worldview” or “American worldview.” As Americans coming from privilege and world dominance, we have a tendency to look around us at other cultures and to think that they need us to fix them. You literally brought the message home to look at the spiritual transformations that American culture, traditions, and worldview need to be compatible with orthodox Christian teaching exemplified in the Bible. This book is very thought-provoking and has the potential of transforming its readers focused on and committed to the biblical worldview.