Christianity in South Africa: An Annotated Bibliography

By David Chidester; Judy Tobler et al. | Go to book overview

3 Christian Denominations

During the second half of the twentieth century, the history of Christian denominations in South Africa has been written under the shadow of apartheid. While both theological legitimation and resistance have been advanced, attempts at historical analysis have insistently returned to the political positions adopted by churches. The titles of general overviews of church history-- John de Gruchy's Church Struggle in South Africa ( 1979), James Cochrane Servants of Power ( 1987), Charles Villa-Vicencio Trapped in Apartheid ( 1988), Martin Prozesky's Christianity Amidst Apartheid ( 1990)--suggest this emphasis on situating Christian denominations in their specific political context. For the most part, church history in South Africa has been informed by theological interests as well as by political commitments. In a useful discussion, Nicholas Southey has criticized the expectation that "the church historian must be an honest theologian with a clear Christian witness." Instead of advancing the historical analysis of church leadership, church organization, and especially church membership, with careful attention to developing a "history from below," this requirement has produced a vast literature in historical theology that might reflect certain religious concerns but is of "extremely limited historical value" ( Southey, 1989).

With some significant exceptions, studies of Christian denominations in South Africa have been conducted within a branch of theological studies that has been isolated from theory and method in the broader discipline of historical studies. As a result, research on Christian denominations has tended to be pursued with the purpose of deriving theological, moral, or political lessons for "the Church." However, while positing this idealized Christian community, the best literature has also explored the material conditions within which specific denominations have operated, including the racial, class, and gender contradic

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