Monday, July 20, 2009

Call for Ethno-theologians

The first day of our classes in Kenya this past week produced an interesting discussion and thought. I made the statement that one of the real needs of Kenya, as indeed of every nation and region, is for ethno-theologians. The comment was made in the context that all theology is biased and, because much of the church throughout the world is still dominated by western theologians, much of our theology is produced with a western biased interpretation. My appeal was that Kenya and Christians from other nations be more engaged in developing theology from their own ethnic perspective and worldview.

From the back of the classroom a woman, who is not only a student but also a teacher in the public school, made this statement. “Perhaps one reason Africans do not have more theologians is because of western missionaries.” I conceded, that in the climate of colonialism and post-colonialism and among some missionaries and mission agencies today, the promotion of national theologians has been slow if non-existent. My knowledge of what seminaries are doing throughout the world in promoting national theologians is limited, nevertheless, I am assuming there are noted national theologians from Africa, Latin America and sending countries like Korea and Philippines. But when I asked my class if they knew of any Kenyan theologian the only name that came up was John Mbitii.

On further reflection of the classroom discussion I had an emotional knee-jerk reaction to the comment that “it’s the missionaries fault,” that there are not more Kenyan theologians. One of the easiest things to do is to blame the ills of the world on the western missionary and, in some parts of the world, just about all the evils of the world can be traced to our short-comings. There was a time when it was fashionable in mission classes to beat up on our early missionary fathers, and gathering from the comments in the classroom it’s still a popular past time.

The day before the class I was reading a brief biography of a Ghanaian theologian by the name of Carl Christian Reindorf (why he took on such a western name I don’t know). Reindorf lived between 1834 and 1917 and worked with the Basal Mission in Ghana until he died at the age of 83. In relation to my classroom discussion I thought of how that there were some African Christians who did make their mark in mission history, though they are not well known. In the brief account I read on Reindorf’s life I learned that he was sanctioned by the Basal Mission for his radical practices (using a drum in church services) three months before his death; another example of colonial heavy-handedness.

Through the reading and the discussion in the classroom I realize that the history of missions is a mixed bad. The truth is that, while western missionaries were and still are obstacles to growth and national leadership, not all that they/we did was wrong and because of their/our efforts the Gospel has made some remarkable accomplishments. Like all lessons of history, we should continue to take to heart our failings and strive not to repeat the mistakes of the past while at the same time recognize God’s work through history for His honor and glory.