Christian Theology and African Traditions by Matthew Michael is an insight read into the convergence of Christian history and the cultural and traditional effects of and upon African culture. Michael demonstrates how Western Christianity in particular has imposed its’ culture and tradition upon the African Church and has used theology as a vehicle to do so. Micheal takes the reader upon a theological journey of basic Christian theological doctrine to demonstrate the imposition upon the African Church. The author concludes with how this imposition of Western culture has impacted medical, political, and secular society outside the church.
I find that Micheal’s book is a very fair and realistic assessment of the state of the Christian church in Africa and the tension of Western culture and theology upon both the African Church and culture today. I find the following statement to best frame the tension: “This Christianizing agenda has unfortunately take place without adequate understanding of the African worldview.” (Michael, 13). I find this is the essence of tension that Michael’s book is about.
Theological tension is the most pronounced in the book. Michael argues that a form of Christian theology that is devoid of humanitarian concerns is the flaw in the African Church today. The tension lies in the “inability to articulate a coherent commitment to the context of human experience.” (Michael, 23). I do see Michael’s point and find it valid. However, I think in any human culture or context the tension between theology and culture is never an easy solution. I find it a tension to be managed, rather than a tension to be solved.
On the subject of Revelation, there is a temptation to give a set answer or solution, and I would agree that there are lines to be drawn, especially when attempting to use “witchdoctor” or “sorcerer.” However, even with clear “right and wrong” situations there is always “gray” somewhere. In that “gray” there is the tension, that is to be managed. This is where I find the struggle be it a western missionary’s attempt at cultural integration or the African Church holding some tradition. Who is the person, group, or authority that makes the decision that ultimately will effect the people?
The question and thought of finding solution arises in most of Michael’s writing. From doctrinal views of The Scripture, supernatural forces and activities, mankind, Christ, and most definitely in the doctrine of Salvation. Michael quotes D.A. Carson “we can gain more enlightenment on the subject (Election) if we explore the tension instead of a smooth answer or theology.” (Michael, 174).
In essence, I find much agreement with Michael’s perspective and thoughts on the Western impact on the African Church. I have been to Africa numerous times, and it has always struck me funny how a pastor is wearing a suit and tie in 90 degree temperatures with high humidity and no air conditioning. Who instructed this dress code? Usually a well meaning western missionary decades before. My point is that there is much needless change that has occurred and there should be correction. But is that correction always a pat answered solution? Or could it be that it is best to manage the present tension rather than eradicate or solve it?