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.