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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Built To Be Excluded

Written by: on June 9, 2017

My research topic in the doctoral program at Portland Seminary centers on the idea of cultural intelligent and its influence on corporate worship. In my research, I learned through Genesis 10:6-20 that the kingdoms were founded by families of the founders of Ethiopia, which I alluded in one of my previous blog posts. If these kingdoms have a connection to Africa, this would most certainly suggest that the Christian mind was influenced (or shaped) by ‘African imagination’ and traditions. Since the Bible offers such vivid connection, it’s difficult to ignore the marriage between Christian theology and Africa that dates back to the early years of the church.

The book Christian Theology and African Traditions is a great complement to Oden’s book How Africa Shaped The Christian Mind. In Oden’s book, he suggested that “Africa played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture.”[1] Using the word ‘decisive’ is a bold claim regarding Africa’s role. However, he spent a great deal of time helping us to understand the influences through traditional practices with the intent of bridging cultural diversity. Africa’s population shows a mixture of diverse race that does not include internally homogeneous. Michael’s role in with his work is somewhat different as he sets out to bridge the gap between African traditions and theology. “Thus in talking about the Christian faith in this book we are engaging these basic teachings in dialogue with African traditions.”[2] Michael’s book has dedicated chapters that point to Christian theology and tries to integrate traditional influences. However, I would’ve loved to see that same balance for African traditions. The title of the chapters does not suggest balance, which could influence readers like me, away from investing in this great book.

 

The Western church seems to pride itself as a pioneer in Christianity and make it their responsibility to introduce religion around the globe. The challenge with that ideology is that young African scholars may have a different interpretation after reading this book and researching the history of African theology. Numidia, Nubia, and Abyssinia (replaced by Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Sudan) were “great” Christian kingdoms that “practiced Christianity and provided theology for the universal church when Europe was still roaming in barbarism and the Western church was merely a footnote in theological debates of those times.”[3] According to the author, Africa was more advanced and the source of theology for many nations. Whether this is true or not, the fact that Africa was involved with theology since the beginning is enough to warrant the respect of the Western church.

The author suggests two important roles of Christian theology. First, “Christian theology must seek to understand the various cultural and religious forms” that shares a defining continuity over a superficial discontinuity (Michael, 141, Kindle). Second, “Christian theology must also seek to understand the force of the so-called superficial discontinuity in order to create a lasting home for Christianity” in Africa (Michael, 141, Kindle). It’s amazing that Michael is suggesting that Christianity doesn’t have a ‘lasting’ home in Africa. This tells me that nations outside of Africa still lack the imagination to affirm Africa as a seedbed with our ‘precious’ theology.

Unfortunately, we often view economic crisis as the central theme of Africa and miss the theological framework. Dr. Michael Badriaki, a graduate of Portland Seminary, told a story of how students were shocked at the beauty and history of Cape Town when they visited as a cohort. They were expecting to see shacks and anything that mirrored the need for help. However, Michael and others like Thomas Oden tells us that after apartheid, Africa is experiencing a revival in its churches and that young African scholars are becoming inquisitive on Africa’s role in Christian theology. Our Western worldview lends itself to the idea that we bring the Christian faith to Africa, when in fact, they brought it to us. “Thus in talking about the Christian faith in this book we are engaging these basic teachings in dialogue with African traditions.”[4] The basic teachings being referred is the idea that we don’t always appreciate the Christian doctrine because we choose to ignore ‘claims of truth.’ The author believes that “unfortunately, the Christian faith in Africa has refused to seriously engage African traditions at a deeper level of engagement, but has merely scratched the surface of the African cultural consciousness.”[5]

In 2004, when finally decided to enroll in Berklee College of Music, there was no doubt I’d lose elements of the relationship with my family. Everyone in my family plays an instrument or sing but no one envisioned music as a career. The majority of my family were accustomed to working two or three jobs but I envisioned something different. Through homelessness and other challenges, I pursued the necessary career and education to become a professional musician. The author revealed that Africa has traditions that have been “handed down from one generation to the other” but like my story, unless young African scholars are willing to ignore cultural norms, they will always fight for a seat at the theological table when they helped to build the table itself (Michael, 268).

 

 

[1] Welsh, The Rise and Fall of Apartheid

[2] Michael, Christian Theology and African Traditions, 232, Kindle.

[3] Ibid., 178.

[4] Ibid., 228.

[5] Ibid., 257.

About the Author

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Garfield Harvey

Garfield O. Harvey devotes himself to studies in cultural intelligence (CQ), global leadership and cultural anthropology. During his doctoral studies at George Fox University, he developed CQ Worship to help ministry leaders manage the tension of leading corporate worship with cultural intelligence. His research on worship brings a fresh perspective that suggests corporate worship begins the moment a church engages a community.

2 responses to “Built To Be Excluded”

  1. “They brought it to us.” Yes Garfield! Love it. Thank you for this. I agree with you here.
    Do you see a benefit from moving away from saying things like the church in the West and the African church? I’m thinking about when Paul says there is neither Jew or Greek.

  2. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Garfield,

    Your life-experience has given you such a rich and diverse experience with culture. I suddenly think that your life is a fascinating mosaic. (I thought about this after reading about your family’s response to your decision to attend Berklee.)

    In the complexity of the life you had in Jamaica, what would you identify as the primary worldview that begs for conversation with theology: that is to say, what aspect of the worldview you experienced in Jamaica needs to be affected by Christian worldview?

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