How To Do A Endnote Or Footnote For Chicago Style Sources of Theology in Africa

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Sources of Theology in Africa

Africa with its diverse cultures and unique worldviews has its own sources for speaking about God. Any guide to the search for an African theology in the Christian tradition must be examined from the perspective of God with an underlying African worldview.

Biblical Christian theology has its basis in the Bible, and to some extent systematic theology takes some of its influence from accepted church traditions during the immediate post-resurrection age. The Bible and the tradition of the church constitute the two main sources of the Christian theologies accepted in the different sects and denominations.

The discourse about God in the African tradition has long been a mixture of oral tradition and experience passed down through the ages. In addition the influence of the two main religions of the world plus cultural factors also contribute to this discourse and of great influence is the traditional religion itself.

The lack of documentation of any form of religious literary corpus has meant that traditional African religion has been subject to much criticism, doubt and description. Some refer to traditional religious practices such as animism or paganism. But it must be borne in mind that the religious practices of pre-Christian Africa must be accepted as a reflection of past experiences, which were inherited.

The call for an African theology should ignore these factors. In addition, the sources; from which Africans experienced the phenomenon of divinity will contribute greatly to the expression of any theology that may be derived. There is always the impossibility of a theology “out of nothing” because Christianity in its essence is a historical religion. The sources of African theology although not acceptable in some Christian quarters are very important for doing theology.


Omasogie says that, before and including the medieval period, when Christianity came into its own in Europe, there was no serious problem in accepting the reality of the spiritual realm. Under such an atmosphere it was easy to feel the presence of God in nature and to symbolize that presence in the use of material elements, which were considered as concrete examples of his presence.1

In simple terms, nature served as a revealing factor to understand the Supreme being to some extent. There is no different thinking in this perspective regarding pre-Christian Africa. Whatever discussions or evaluations were made about the Supreme Being, they were by virtue of observing nature and its activities in the absence of any written scriptures about God and creation. So there are a variety of stories in traditional African religion about God, creation, man, etc.

For example, rain is considered one of God’s greatest blessings. While the Bantu-speaking groups of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Ewe of Togo, Ghana, and Benin regard thunder as the voice of God, the Gikuyu of Kenya regard thunder as the movement of God. On the other hand, Yoruba people in Nigeria consider thunder as a sign of God’s wrath.2

The general belief about deities is that they were created by God to fulfill specific functions. As creatures, some West African societies regard them as children rowing messengers of God. These deities can look like male or female beings and receive places of residence such as hills, rivers, trees, rocks, seas or even certain animals.3

Accordingly, some of these natural elements in some African communities are revered and esteemed as factors, which are inhabited by spirits that relate to the Supreme Being in one way or another. For example, in some communities, women may not go to a village either with slippers on or with their heads uncovered.

Traditional Cultures

Religion and culture in Africa are intertwined and sometimes it becomes very difficult to distinguish between what is purely religious and what is just part of the cultural complex. Most cultural activities have some religious activities. They may involve pouring libations to the ancestral spirits or performing some incantation to one or another spirit.

Byang Kato says that religion is the heart of culture. A change of religion requires a readjustment of culture.4 There are some cultural activities that have no religious relationship. For example, polygamy in Africa is more of a cultural value than a religious one. The aspect of kinship, which controls the social relationship between people in a given community, is very significant in African culture. It determines the behavior of one individual to another.5 So a crime of adultery in a typical Mende culture in Sierra Leone is more a sin against the community than against God.

But it is very clear that even though there may not be a connection between culture and religion, in some; Many examples of cultural performances provide the basis from which truths about God can be deduced. In this case, sacrifices to the Spirits are cultural practices with a religious meaning.

The influence of Islam

Islam has had more influence on traditional religion and culture in Africa than Christianity. To some extent, Islam has accommodated many traditional practices influenced or ignored in contrast to what Christianity has been with traditional practices. Consequently, many; a discourse on God in African theology may have a taint of Islamic theology. According to Islamic teaching, everything that happens in this world is within God’s will because that particular event has God’s stamp of approval. Thus, fatalistic belief of this type is held by a large percentage of Muslims and Christians.

Traditional African religion

African traditional religion constitutes the greatest source from which African theology is drawn. Since it is a religion without written codes or special revelations, all its teachings about God and creation are drawn largely from observations in nature and assumptions. Consequently, although most African traditionalists suggest that the religion proposes monotheism, the multiplicity of objects of worship and veneration may suggest a shift from the monotheistic position strongly held by both Christians and Muslims.

Traditional African religion has a powerful influence and a large number of nationalist Africans would like to maintain the cultural value of most practices without regard to religious implications. For example, some African theologians; they tried to design a Christian theology based on the traditional mode of African religion. Harry Sawyerr and E. Fashole-Luke, former professors at the University of Sierra Leone, argue that African ancestors have a role in the doctrine of the communion of saints as presented in the church.6

Nyamiti and Bujo, both African Christian theologians are cited by John Parrat, in using the concept of African ancestry to elucidate Christology. In Nyamity’s view, Christ can be considered an ancestor because he is the same human ancestor; establishes a link between the world of spirits and the living, so Jesus through his crucifixion establishes a mystical link between God and the Christian community. Bujo, on the other hand, believes that Jesus is the first ancestor, but he transcends all the others.7


Society as a source of theology includes all forms of human activity and interaction: political, economic, social, ethnic, etc. These factors have become complex every day to the point that certain features in them are easily addressed by any religion. These aspects or characteristics have become points of debate and argument from which theologies are built.


In conclusion, I must reiterate here that all these sources of theology seek to present concepts of God based on what has been delivered or experienced. It can be argued that they are not sufficient to arrive at a universally accepted African Christian theology since there are so many features in them that are totally unacceptable to orthodox and even evangelical Christianity. But African theology away from Christian rule draws much inspiration from these sources and these are certainly questions that need to be addressed as we move forward to see how far we can do theology in Africa.


1 Osadolor Imasogie. Guidelines for Christian Theology in Africa (Accra: Africa

Christian Press, 1983) p. 56.

2 Tokunboh Adeyemo. Salvation in the African Tradition (Nairobi: Evangel Publishing

House, 1977) p. 21.

3 Kofi Asare Opoku. West African Traditional Religion (Singapore: PEP, 1978) p. 54.

4 Byang H. Kato. The African Cultural Revolution and the Christian Faith (Jos:

Challenge Publications, 1976) p11

5 John S. Mbiti. African Religions and Philosophy (London: Heinemann, 1969) p. 104.

6 John Parratt. A guide to Doing Theology (London: SPCK, 1996) p. 52.

7 Ibid, p. 53.

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