Privatization of the Christian Faith: Mission, Social Ethics, and the South African Baptists

Article excerpt

Privatization of the Christian Faith: Mission, Social Ethics, and the South African Baptists.

By Louise Kretzschmar. Legon, Ghana: Asempa Publishers, 1998. (Legon Theological Studies Series.) Pp. xiv, 431. Paperback $25, 15.

This book is an auspicious beginning for a theological series published in Africa that addresses African concerns. Kretzschmar, a South African-born author and senior lecturer at the University of South Africa, provides a carefully researched historical and theological analysis of the Baptists in her country that reveals the difficulties facing them as they seek reconciliation in the postapartheid era.

Her thesis is that members of the predominately white Baptist Union had a .privatized" faith, that is, the Christian Gospel was limited to the private or spiritual concerns of the individual. Thus they either deliberately avoided the public sphere or responded to it in an uncritical and ineffective manner. Privatization occurred at two levels-the formulation of theology and policies by the denomination's leaders, and the day-today activities and beliefs of local congregants. This factor explains why, in a country filled with churches, white South Africans developed and conformed to a political system that made them a pariah nation. Kretzschmar begins by defining privatized religion and relating it to the larger process of secularization and shows that it enabled individuals to withdraw from the pressures and problems of society. Separating personal and social ethics, their religion was dualistic. It spiritualized the Gospel, avoided contextualizing the message, and reinforced rampant individualism.

The book focuses mainly on the historical development of the South African Baptists and maintains that they ignored radical elements in their tradition that could have enabled a more holistic message. …