John Mbiti, a pioneer of both
modern African theology and the study of religion in Anglophone Africa has died
at the age of 88.
Mbiti was part of the pan-African
intellectual movement that influenced nationalist discourse as African
countries gained independence from colonial rule. His books, like African Religion and Philosophy (1969), New Testament Eschatology in an African Background (1971), Introduction of African Religion (1975)
and Bible and Theology (1986), became
best sellers. Mbiti critiqued the international disregard for African religion
and demonstrated the religious literacy of Africans. In his cross-continental
surveys and his classifications of proverbs and religious practice, Mbiti
identified a praeparatio evangelica of Christianity in the African past, with a universal deity at its
centre. For Mbiti the mingling of
Christianity and indigenous religion enriched the lives of African people. He
was not without his critics. Okot p’Bitek, his colleague at Makerere
University, Kampala, Uganda in the 1960s, railed against the making of African
spiritual beings into a God with Christian attributes. For Bitek this
diminished and destroyed indigenous practices. In later life, Mbiti continued to work from
his home in Switzerland – translating the NT from Greek into his native Kikamba
(Kenya). This project allowed him to reflect further on the intrusion of
western concepts into biblical translations. His thought continues to have a
profound influence on the work of African scholars and church leaders.
The following tribute was written by Professor Sanneh’s longtime friend and colleague Professor Andrew F. Walls.
We have learned with sorrow of the passing, after a short illness, of Lamin Sanneh, D Willis James Professor of World Christianity at Yale University, co-founder and joint convener of the Yale-Edinburgh Group on the History of Missions and World Christianity. The Group’s annual conferences, meeting in Yale and Edinburgh alternately, have been an important feature of the life of our Centre.
Professor Brian Stanley, director of the Centre for the Study of World Christianity, was recently interviewed about his new book, Christianity in the Twentieth Century: A World History, by Professor Crawford Gribbon of Queen’s University Belfast. Click here to listen.
It is a truism to state that Christianity has spread across the world as a result of cross-cultural communication. Andrew Walls, who has done so much to set the approach, research questions and tone of World Christianity studies, has highlighted how scripture and Christian thought are translated into new languages and thought-forms as Christianity spreads. Walls, who celebrates his ninetieth birthday this year, has encouraged attention to the historical processes at work in communication that are examined in this edition of Studies in World Christianity. Between them, the articles in this edition illustrate the variety of form and effectiveness of cross-cultural communication in the modern history of encounter with Christianity. They also show familiar patterns. All these articles prioritise textual and oral communication. Reading, writing, preaching and proclaiming are the main modes of communication under scrutiny. (Continue reading Emma Wild-Wood’s introduction here.) Continue reading →