An African Moral Theology of Inculturation: Methodological Considerations

By Odozor, Paulinus Ikechukwu | Theological Studies, September 2008 | Go to article overview

An African Moral Theology of Inculturation: Methodological Considerations


Odozor, Paulinus Ikechukwu, Theological Studies


INCULTURATION IS A MAJOR CONCERN in contemporary African Catholic theology. In fact, Ecclesia in Africa, John Paul II's exhortation on the church in Africa, considers inculturation "one of the greatest challenges for the church on the Continent on the eve of the Third Millennium." (1) The insistence on inculturation is to a considerable extent motivated by what Africans perceive to be a situation of imbalance in the contact between Africa and the Christianity introduced into Africa by Western missionaries. In the words of one prominent African theologian, "contact between Christianity and African religion has historically been predominantly a monologue, bedeviled by assumptions prejudicial to the latter, with Christianity culturally more vocal and ideologically more aggressive." (2) The insistent call for inculturation is therefore also a call for dialogue among the African worldview, the gospel, and other forms of Christianity from the Northern Hemisphere, Catholic and non-Catholic, that make up the world church.

All branches of theology in Africa have done and will continue doing work on inculturation in general. My focus here is on moral theology, especially the methodological aspect of the discipline. Although considerable work is being done in Africa in the area of social and sexual ethics, (3) few scholars treat fundamental moral theology. This article is, therefore, a modest contribution on how theologians interested in the foundational questions in moral theology can go about the task of inculturating the Christian/Catholic faith in this aspect of moral discourse in Africa. I divide the article into four parts. Part 1 sketches the notion of inculturation. Part 2 presents an appreciation of the work of Benezet Bujo, one of the few African moral theologians who have worked extensively on the method and foundations of an African moral theology. Throughout the rest of the article I dialogue with Bujo on other aspects of his work pertinent to foundational and methodological issues. As a result I hope that a more comprehensive picture of this distinguished pioneer in African theology will emerge.

Inculturation is an ongoing concern for the whole church. Born into a Jewish world, the church soon found itself in non-Jewish environments; it has therefore always had to deal with the question of its relationship to the cultures in which it was taking root. This concern persists today and is being addressed by Christians throughout the world. Thus, in the enterprise of inculturating Christianity in Africa, theology--in this case moral theology-must not ignore pertinent insights from other parts of the world church. In part 3, therefore, I present some benchmarks from Richard McCormick on methodology. In the final part I offer concrete proposals on how to go about the search for an ethics that is both truly Christian and truly African.

INCULTURATION

Inculturation, in its most basic sense, implies the attempt to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in any human situation. I am referring here to the situation in which the gospel is addressed for the first time to "peoples, groups, and sociocultural contexts in which Christ and his gospel are not known." (4) In this sense, inculturation is synonymous with first evangelization. Whenever the gospel is preached for the first time in any context a summons is issued to the context in question to accept the salvation God offers in and through Jesus Christ, an acceptance that must bring about change in the people's perception of reality and in their value system. This summons becomes the basis for the dialogue that often ensues between the gospel and the new host context. The second sense of inculturation follows closely from the first: a process in which the faith embodied in one culture encounters another culture and becomes embodied in it. (5) Inculturation in this sense implies an effort by Christians in a particular place and time "to understand and celebrate their Christian faith in a way peculiar to their situation and context" while still sharing in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. …

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