Postcolonial African Theology in Kabasele Lumbala

By Aguilar, Mario I. | Theological Studies, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Postcolonial African Theology in Kabasele Lumbala


Aguilar, Mario I., Theological Studies


THE INITIAL DEVELOPMENT of African theology as a particular body of research and writing coincided with the processes of independence from colonialism by many African nations in the mid-20th century. (1) Further writings were triggered by the missionary churches' reflection on gospel and culture, the influence on the African Catholic Church provided by the Second Vatican Council, and the challenges to Christianity by the growing number of independent churches in the continent.

Within Christianity in Africa three types of theology became recognizable: mission theology, African theology, and black theology (South African theology). Within those theologies, two themes became central: the relation between theology and politics and between theology and African culture. (2) However, the diversity of African theologies provided a commonality of purpose, i.e. the search for an African Christianity that could be expressed through an African liturgy and communal life. Such African Christianity would be the result of an ongoing theological reflection on the biblical text, the African cultural context, and the many African expressions of Christian churches and Christianity in general. As a result, a diversity of African theologies responded to different moments of social life, and developed into a theological rainbow, where the totality clearly provided a visible phenomenon of theological action and reflection, by using multiple methodologies. It is no longer possible to talk about an African theology but African theologies, i.e., theological works that have arisen out of the reflection on African realities provided by well-educated clergy or committed Christians with high levels of literacy and intellectualism.

In this article I examine some contemporary trends and methodological developments in African Christian theology, particularly processes of "ordering" and subsequently "disordering" as a particularly African theological method, so as to assist understanding the historical background to which theologian Francois Kabasele Lumbala is responding. Kabasele Lumbala, a Catholic priest from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), studied in Paris and completed doctorates in liturgy from the Institut Catholique and in religious studies from the Sorbonne. He now teaches at the Catholic Faculty of the University of Kinshasa and at the theological seminary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Following John Mbiti's distinctions, I explore the subject of written African theologies, rather than "oral theology" or "symbolic theology." (3) I suggest that colonialists and theologians shared a common purpose, of ordering. As a result, theology and colonialism developed related methodologies of ordering knowledge. During colonialism, a complex science of ordering territories and peoples was developed. Such ordering included Western education as a system of ordering minds, bodies, and souls according to the models used in Europe.

In challenging such a given theological system with a European cultural background African theologians used an initial process of disordering. The search for new theological concepts within Africa can thus be considered and will be explored here as a process of disordering. Through such a process European-based philosophical and theological ideas were contested and later re-phrased and re-ordered. Theologians such as Charles Nyamiti have suggested a model of adaptation of European theologies and a theology from above based on the possibility of contextualizing theological formulas and the development of European theology within Africa. Kabasele Lumbala on the contrary has suggested that it is through the communal celebration of the liturgy that theologies from below and localized narratives of faith are constructed. Theological truths and contextual assumptions encounter each other in a disorderly manner.

Within that cycle of contemporary order and disorder, clearly African cultural ideas of society and self have been central as methodological tools for the processing of ordering theology in an African context. …

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