"Get Up ... Take the Child ... and Escape to Egypt": Transforming Christianity into a Non-Western Religion in Africa

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article examines some of the changes that have taken place within world Christianity in the last century, particularly in Africa, and as reflected in various articles of the International Review of Mission (IRM) over the past 100 years. These changes include a shift in the demographic centre of Christianity from the North to the South, and the rise and development of Pentecostalism. This relates to Africans becoming disenchanted with aspects of mission Christianity that were unable to work with indigenous enchanted worldviews.

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In Africa, pneumatic forms of Christian expression like Pentecostalism and the various African Independent/Initiated Churches (AICs) have been enjoying considerable appeal, with their emphases on the reality of supernatural evil and the power of the Holy Spirit. This has been evident not only in the rise of independent churches outside the control of mission societies but also the formation of African immigrant churches in former heartlands of Christianity in the West.

For African Christianity, the past century has been one of religious innovations. Mission endeavours that translated the Bible into various vernacular languages helped to facilitate the process of the expansion, leading to what some have called "Africa's Christian century." These developments, it is important to say, did not escape the editors and contributors to the IRM. For interpreting Christianity in Africa from the viewpoint of mission, the IRM remains unparalleled. The journal used a combination of African and non-African voices in the discussion. Additionally, IRM has given space for both academics and practitioners in interpreting Christianity and mission in Africa. There have been articles on the encounter between Western mission Christianity and African culture, African initiated Christianity, translations of the Bible and its import for Christian mission, and more recently, important articles on Pentecostalism (1986) and on African immigrant Christianity in the West (2000).

Africa in world Christianity today

The articles that have appeared in IRM over the last century are best appreciated with the context of developments in world Christianity. In his book, The Next Christendom, Philip Jenkins makes it dear that we are currently living through one of the most transforming moments of religion worldwide:

   Whatever Europeans or North Americans may believe, Christianity is
   doing very well indeed in the global south not just surviving but
   expanding.... The era of Western Christianity has passed within our
   lifetimes, and the day of Southern Christianity is dawning. (1)

The recession of Christianity in the global North, as Jenkins notes here, has coincided with its accession in the global South, with Africa emerging as one of its major heartlands. This 20th-century development defied the fears of Edinburgh 1910 that Africa was going to turn Islamic by the end of that century. That the continent emerged instead as a major Christian stronghold makes it important, as Kwame Bediako argues, that "one should seek to understand what this might mean for Africa and the world." (2) To this end Bediako very aptly titled one of his works, Christianity in Africa: The Renewal of a Non- Western Religion. (3) He did with the understanding that the prospects for Christian expansion and innovation in Africa were going to continue on a high note through the 21st century. In his book he goes on to identify some of the challenges a postmissionary Christian Africa may need to face, as "an important flag-bearer of Christianity in the new century." (4)

At the dawn of the 21st century, we could say that although Africa remains a religiously pluralistic continent, indeed, it has emerged as a major Christian heartland. This is at a time when the faith is clearly under siege, and in some cases, even being deliberately hounded out of public life in parts of the West. …