Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Music and Theology in the African Church

Written by: on October 11, 2012

Africa theologizes through music. The songs reflect the theological trends that are prevalent in society. Africans love music and every event, ideology, personality is celebrated in song. Songs are part and parcel of everyday life. Since theology in the academia is not so prevalent, music and song are the foundation of the theology of the people. Theology is mainly confession and practiced in the church. Theology provides answers to the questions of life. Every generation throughout history has turned to their understating of who God is in order to respond to any new phenomenon. Man tends to pursue the meaning of life by careful study of the events and the experiences that have been and are being lived out in time. For example, in Africa, the concept of the future lacks in the language and is hardly conceptualized. In Swahali, a common language used in eastern and central Africa and closely related to many bantu languages in southern Africa, the  term for the future is most ‘kesho’ meaning tomorrow, or ‘karibu/hivi karibuni’ meaning the time closest to the moment I am living now. Questions about the future are not discussed hence a very fatalistic world view in a sense. Therefore the songs about the premillennial, amillennial or post-millennial theologies are hard to fathom for many Africa and meanings from the translations from hymns that carry this message are lost in the language. The best they can do is sing the songs at funerals. When Christianity was introduced in many parts of Africa, it was embraced because it aligned itself to the concepts that were already in existence, such as God as creator, God as sustainer and God as ruler. In the last decade, due to the influence of technology and media, the influence of the western thought patterns are being adapted in the theology of the church. It is therefore easier to find an authentic African theology that is rooted in ‘questions of meaning truth, beauty and practice’ in the church rather than in academia, seminaries or in churches.

Africa has adopted the heritage of the western church. The challenge of the African church is to see the rise of African theologians in academia who will respond to the issues of hunger, war and tribalism. A few of them in the last fifty years have begun to write on African theology such as John Mbiti a Kenyan published ‘African Religions and Philosophy’ in 1969, Kwame Bediako (Ghana), Kwesi Dickson ‘Theology in Africa’ published in 1984, Lamin Sanneh published ‘Encountering the West: Christianity & the Global Cultural Process: The African Dimension’ in 1993 and Emmanual Katongole, a Uganda Catholic priest in his book ‘African Theology Today’ published in 2002. Recently, the mouth piece of the church has been the National Council of Churches, in Kenya it is known as National Council of Churches Kenya, NCCK. The leadership recently responded to the report that was circuited globally that Jesus may have had a wife. The press conference they held was aired in all major news stations in the country.

There is no doubt that theology has shaped African society. It permeates every aspect of the life in contemporary culture. This can be seen by the way people name their businesses and in the names of the public transport vehicles. Prayer is part and parcel of every event, be it opening of parliament session or at national day celebrations on independence. Every foreign dignitary of high ranking is welcomed with song and dancing right from the airport. Another way to explore African Theology is to study the trends of its music. The expression of the African church is always carried by its songs, hymns and choruses. Songs that are sung in Nigeria are also sung in Kenya as well as in South Africa. Songs also carry a message of change in the church. For example, the song ‘Mwamba’ sang by Solly Mahlangu of South Africa, won the best Christian song in South Africa in 2011, but it is a Swahili song written by a Kenyan (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4l6ts_ZMocU).

‘The richest theological engagements are between those who acknowledge where they are coming from then patiently study, communicate and discuss with others about matters of importance’ (page 48). What has been my personal journey? I grew up in the Presbyterian Church; there was a church right next to our house. I was discipled in the village by a lady who belonged to the Africa independent churches; there was a thin line between many African traditional practices and Christianity especially concerning who God is, and worship. In High school I met the navigators who discipled us on systematic theology using their model books ‘to know Christ and to make him known’. In college I met the Pentecostal movement. I was a missionary with a church that had an emphasis on Wesleyan/ holiness movement (Methodist missionaries) and I served as a pastor in a Baptist church. The songs that I have sung in every step of my Christian experience have reflected on season of theological encounter I was in. These mosaics of experiences across different theological expression of the church have enriched my knowledge of the weaving of many African Christians in their search for God. My recent encounter with the emerging church movement in Africa has exposed me to the influence of the emerging church movement in the USA in the models that are developing especially in the cities.

The theological moral and ethical issues of contention in my context are homosexuality, corruption, women in leadership, adoption of children, fertility treatments, and disability. There are many songs that are being sung to address these issues. For example, a song that has won accolades in Kenya concerns the plight of the disabled in the country titled ‘Mbona’ meaning why (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMvqSjdSJJw) featuring Christian celebrities and media personalities. This is significant because disabled members of the communities have been neglected but their rights are being elevated in society.

Follow the music and the song and you will know the theological trend of the African Christian.

About the Author

Joy Mindo

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