Christianity in South Africa: A Political, Social and Cultural History

Article excerpt

Christianity in South Africa: A Political, Social and Cultural History. Edited by Richard Elphick and Rodney Davenport. Berkeley: University of California, 1998, xxxii + 480 pp., $50.00/$19.95.

This 25-chapter volume consists of five parts: the transplanting of Christianity (1652-1910); the churches of modern South Africa; Christianity in South Africa subcultures; Christianity and the creative arts; Christianity, power and race. Thirty contributors, chosen because of their scholarship and inside knowledge of the area under study, have written heavily documented and most interesting accounts of early and modern development of Christianity in this history-making part of Africa. There are 1,833 endnotes that point the reader to sources.

I wished for a glossary and an historical time line as an aid to understanding. I found myself looking for definitions and searching back and forth seeking answers to my questions. Citizens of South Africa probably would have little need for this information. The maps were helpful, as was the key to abbreviations used in the text. The photographs contributed.

At times sadness overcame me as I learned of some church-member slaveholders who preferred that their slaves convert to Islam so they could sell them and separate the children from their parents. Baptized slaves posed a problem since covenant theology was patterned in part after Israel as the people of God who should not enslave a fellow Israelite.

The southern African field opened to hundreds of missionaries from scores of mission agencies. The diversity and competition seemed to accelerate Christian conversion and church planting. There was massive Christian growth among Africans in the current century. Settlers and their descendants represent many rooms in the Father's house. Today the African Initiated Churches account for about half of all black Christians in South Africa. Here the sometimes untrained pastors have built small to very large congregations and networks of churches that incorporate Biblical Christianity into an African environment. Women ministers preach and teach in many of the AIC fellowships, while in the historical continental or American missionary-initiated churches women are engaged in fund-raising and diaconate ministries while male leadership is most visible. …