Academic journal article International Review of Mission

God's Mission in Practice: The Struggle for Liberation, Dignity and Justice in African Societie

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

God's Mission in Practice: The Struggle for Liberation, Dignity and Justice in African Societie

Article excerpt

Missio Dei: from above or below?

God's word hits human history vertically from above like a bomb: unpredictable, unmanageable and with cataclysmic effects. The Father sends the Son, who sends the Spirit, who sends us, to tell an unsuspecting world that God is God and thus the master of the human race. These are impressive statements of half a century ago!

The fact is that never and nowhere has the word of God dropped ready-made from heaven. As can easily be shown from the biblical witness, the word of God emerged and evolved in human history as the divine response to human needs, and was formulated and enacted by human beings who have been involved in its dynamics. (1) It is only in this way that the word of God has ever gained relevance and the power of conviction.

It is to the extent that the word of God constitutes a redemptive response to human need through human involvement that it captures the imagination of sub-Saharan Africa. To the extent that the word of God fails to do so, sub-Saharan Africa is tempted to turn away in search of other sources of redemption. Christianity, though still growing in numbers, is in danger of ending up on the scrap yard of European imports, alongside colonial administration, development projects, structural adjustment programmes, empty Coca Cola cans and postmodernism.

If the word of God is God's response to human need through human agency, we have to begin with an analysis of the specific constellation of needs in every new and concrete situation. There are tangible or immanent needs (physical, psychological, communal, social, economic, political, ecological) and there are spiritual or transcendent needs (the need for meaning, acceptability and authority). It is because the African Initiated Churches can relate to a large number of these needs that church growth is found mainly in these churches.

Transcendent needs emerge as the depth dimension, as Tillich would have put it, of immanent needs and not apart from the latter. It is when people starve, suffer from oppression, disease, rejection or failure that they wonder whether God is for them and with them, or whether God has turned against them, or indeed, whether there is such a God. Of course, we refer to genuine needs, not to wants. Genuine needs are deficiencies in wellbeing as defined by God's vision of what our world and we ought to be. The need of an addict is not an ample supply of drugs but liberation from his addiction.

Sub-Saharan Africa's needs are multi-dimensional, vast and deep-rooted. Therefore, the response of the word of God must follow multiple leads, assume bold proportions, and go to the roots. All I can offer is a general overview of the constellations of needs which we are confronted with when we think of God's mission on the African continent. (2) The main thrust of the paper is, however, the development of a soteriology which would make a difference to the calamities found on the African continent.

I accepted the invitation to prepare such a paper reluctantly and only after all attempts to find a black African speaker had failed. I am unmistakably a Westerner and cannot hide that fact. But I am also a third generation Southern African and I have invested my entire career in the attempt to come to terms with the problems of our sub-continent. To avoid wrong expectations, let me emphasize that my brief is not to depict past or current struggles for independence, human rights and democracy, but to analyse the factors that the church needs to take into consideration when it tries to define its mission in the socio-political sphere.

Traditionalism versus modernity: the colonial impact

As is customary, I shall begin with the impact of the West on sub-Saharan Africa. This is indeed where Africa's contemporary predicaments have their roots. It is not as if there were no problems before Western trade and power began to change the African continent, but then they were of a different nature. …

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