DMINLGP

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

The Heart of The Matter

Written by: on June 8, 2017

What is the view from our heart? The heart’s view is what we perceive to be reality. In Christian Theology and African Traditions Matthew Michael encourages us that theology must engage at this level: at the level of worldview.

Michael’s book is a good companion volume to How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind by Thomas Oden. [1] Oden shows theology’s roots in Africa and Michael tells us that therein also is its future. Africa is at the heart of theology and theology must now keep the heart of Africa in mind. As Christendom moves to the Global South, theology must engage Africa at the level of traditions and worldview. The heart of the matter is the heart of Africa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worldview functions in the heart at the level of “what goes without being said:”

“Without being said…” is an often repeated phrase in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien, and is a helpful way of understanding the realities of seeing with the heart, or through cultural lenses. “Without being said” points to unconscious assumptions as to the nature of reality. Richards and O’Brien write, “…the most powerful cultural values are those that go without being said. [2]

I observed different worldviews while visiting an orphanage in Uganda. The phenomenon of lightning was discussed in this cross-cultural setting. The question posed was, “What do people think when a person is struck by lightning?” A Ugandan replied that the belief was likely to be that this person had committed some evil, so spiritual forces were punishing them. An American thought someone from our culture could respond either with a technical discussion of lightning or with a more fatalistic comment that the person was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Such phenomena are often not critically analyzed, but regarded at a worldview level.

“Without being said…” is a phrase that points us towards what is “taken-for-granted” in culture and lies in our unconscious mind and is built into us by the cultural conditioning of our families and societies. Many of us believe that it is taken-for-granted that parents provide for and protect children. Therefore, when we read of God as “Father” in the Bible, we take provision and protection for granted. (With this we hear echos of Martyn Percy and Shaping the Church: The Promise of Implicit Theology, [3] when we realize how much our life-context affects our theology.)

In A Secular Age, Charles Taylor writes, “…all beliefs are held within a context or framework of the taken-for-granted, which usually remains tacit, and may even be as yet unacknowledged by the agent, because never formulated.” [4]

Such is the nature of worldview. A metaphor likens worldview to an iceberg: the bulk of our beliefs are underwater while tradition above water. What really matters is out of sight.

Matthew Michael asks, “…Black Americans have black skin color, but their worldview or way of life is practically Western…Is there anything like an ‘African way of thinking’ or ‘worldview’? The answer to the last question is yes, there is a particular way the African people look at the world…Thus despite modernization of the African people in terms of modern and Western advancement such as planes, internet…yet in their thinking or worldview Africans have always remained African…It is such worldview that gives the tradition its force or vitality.” [5]

 

 

 

 

 

In large measure Matthew Michael wrote this book as a call for Christian Theology truly to engage African tradition at a deep worldview, life-changing level. He says, “…African traditions have remained strong on the continent despite the onslaught of colonization, civilization, and even Christianity because these antecedents have merely scratched the surface or externality of the African way of life. They have not readily engaged the African people at the level of their worldview.” [6] He says that Theology must clearly keep God in the center of focus. But it “…must engage the worldviews of the African people especially in terms of the beliefs, values and traditional orientations of the African people.” [7]

His thesis is that to see real whole-life change theology must engage at the level of worldview. If worldview is not changed to a Biblical worldview, lives will not ultimately be changed. “Unfortunately, it is at this level that Christianity has failed to change the African people.” [8]

Michael supports this statement by stating, “In the African church, despite its supposedly Christian influence, many church members still patronize [witchdoctors] as agents of spiritual guidance. The reasons for their popularity…the missionary churches refused to provide its members with an adequate replacement for the services provided by these institutions of guidance in traditional African society…Secondly, the efficacy of the solutions provided by these traditional mediums often overshadows the ministry of the church among Africans. The African people are always vulnerable to a show or manifestation of spiritual powers…” [9]

Two examples of how this problem may be addressed: Like Paul in Acts 17, we may study worldview as he did with the altar to the unknown god on Mars Hill. Even though these Greeks were polytheistic Paul engaged them at that level, in their world, and showed them how God-in-Christ answers their deepest heart-quest. From there Paul could declare and demonstrate that the Biblical worldview is superior.

Second, when missionary and professor Chuck Kraft arrived in Africa, with his systematic theology prepared, the people with whom he worked stopped him and said (in essence), “Bottom line: is your god more powerful than ours?” The fear-power world view common in Africa must be satisfied at this level.

Michael states,“…the present work is also the study of the Bible in close dialogue with African traditions. In this sense, Christian theology is primarily tailored to speak or engage the different traditions that have now become synonymous with the African people.” [10] He challenges theology and African traditions to be in dialogue. [11]

1. Thomas C. Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2007).
2. E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders To Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2012), 12.
3. Martyn Percy, Shaping the Church: The Promise of Implicit Theology (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2010).
4. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 13.
5. Matthew Michael, Christian Theology and African Traditions (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2013), 10-11.
6. Ibid.,11.
7. Ibid., xvi.
8. Ibid., 11.
9. Ibid., 43-44.
10. Ibid., xv.
11. Ibid., 224.

About the Author

mm

Marc Andresen

I have a B. A. in Music from San Diego State University and received an M. Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1977. July 1 2015 I retired after 38 years in pastoral ministry. The passion and calling that developed in the last 20 years is leadership training in cross-cultural contexts, as my wife and I have had many opportunities to teach in Eastern Europe and Africa. I have been married for 38 years and have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and a beautiful granddaughter. My hobbies are photography and British sports cars.

41 responses to “The Heart of The Matter”

  1. Pablo Morales says:

    Marc, I found Michael’s book very insightful in how he depicts the African worldview. As you pointed out, I like how he focuses on the need to develop a theology that targets worldview at the core. Even though the context of his observation is primarily Africa, I realize that the same issue is faced in any cultural context. From the pulpit we can address behavioral issues, but there will be little transformation if we do not address the core issues of worldview that produce those behaviors in first place. Based on your experience in Uganda, did you experience any of the worldview issues described in the book?
    Pablo

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Pablo,

      Yes. One instance I did not sight in the blog is the teaching goal of Ugandan pastor Arthur Magezi. Arthur realizes the huge problem with Ugandan Christians who still engage in ancestor worship. (The chart pictured in the blog is his, which he used when I was with him in Uganda last year.) He meets this problem head-on and teaches pastors that this practice is basically satanic, and must be stopped. He teaches theologically about why this is a bad practice and where the Christian’s focus and worship needs to be. We do not worship spirits of the dead, we worship the risen and living Christ.

  2. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Marc for a great blog,
    It was rather interesting how you structure your blog from the book. There was a statement about “His thesis is that to see real whole-life change theology must engage at the level of worldview. If worldview is not changed to a Biblical worldview”.Do you think the worldview of the western world is biblical?
    Thanks! Rose Maria

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Rose Maria,

      Great question – thanks. My first response is ‘no,’ but I need also to say that this is far from an easy, clear-cut issue.

      There is much of Western worldview that is not Biblical, primarily in the area of individualism. Because The Trinity lives eternally as community, so should we as we are created in His image. But our society does not reinforce this. Even in the arena of team sports, there are so many “individual” statistics that are constantly quoted. So our value system tends to exalt the individual. I read somewhere that in the story of the Prodigal Son Americans will identify with that young man because our nation was born of rebellion and because he has the “right” to do what he wants. (The parable is mis-named. It is not about the son, it is about the father. Who named it “Prodigal Son?”) Many non-Western worldviews read this parable far more from the perspective of the father and the family.

      Many television adds push “you’re worth it” regarding their product. So the worldview in our culture pushes self-worth outside the understanding of our value lying in being created in God’s image and being in relationship with Him.

      There are a couple of ways in which Western worldview is not Biblical.

  3. Claire Appiah says:

    Marc,
    You quote Michael as saying, “Theology must clearly keep God in the center of focus. But it must engage the worldview of the African people especially in terms of the beliefs, values and traditional orientations of the African people.” I believe Michael has personified “theology.” But, theology does not exist in a vacuum and is not organic, so how is theology going to accomplish these things? By what agency? In view of your response to Rose, the West does not particularly have a biblical worldview. What is the means by which you perceive the African worldview being transformed into a biblical worldview?

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Claire,

      I hadn’t picked up on the personification of “theology” but that is an interesting view of what he’s written. It’s really kind of interesting.

      How will theology act? I love the idea of “agency.” We humans, given agency by our Sovereign, are charged and allowed to act on behalf of our King. That is really quite stunning. I think we are to be the agents of “doing theology.” He delegates this responsibility to us, and it is a significant responsibility.

      Because all worldviews are flawed, we need each other, and our agency on behalf of theology must be as global community/body. We truly need one another to bring balance to each other’s less-than-perfect worldviews. As an example, the work we did in Uganda last year was with a three-nation team: Ugandans, Nigerians, and Americans. I have talked with Ugandan pastors about going with me to Latvia, and Latvian pastors about joining in the work in Uganda.

      Last term my research paper was on cross-cultural hermeneutics and I came to the conclusion that we exegete Scripture and one another’s cultures at the same time, and that in that process our theological skill is improved. This is because every worldview has some strength and some weakness relative to Biblical worldview.

      Sounds like Leadership and Global Perspectives.

  4. kevin says:

    Marc,

    Do you believe that the African mindset is so different from everywhere else? I understand the spiritual nature of it but isn’t that part of the world? Thanks for your insight.

    Kevin

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Kevin,

      Jayson Georges wrote a book called 3-D Gospel. In it he identifies three primary worldviews: guilt/innocence – found in the West, shame/honor – largely in Asia, and fear/power – primarily in Africa and tribal cultures. These three deal with how worldview perceives bad things happening in the world and how people deal with wrong-doing.

      This one approach alone demonstrates that African mindset is massively different from the West. The truth is, there is an element of truth in all three, and all three can be found in Scripture.

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