Black is Nothing

abstract African art

abstract African art

Artwork from the website gb-abstract.

It’s been a busy week and I haven’t been able to blog as near as I’ve wanted to. But it’s Friday night and I’ve spent the evening watching some NFL (which for some reason I have taken a liking to) and scouring the Internets.

One issue (of the many) that has been niggling in my thoughts for the last few weeks, or even months, revolves around African theology. My thoughts might be scattered but let me explain.

A few experiences and interactions with Africans have brought me to something of a conundrum. It really has to do with the fact that I’m a white guy in a (mostly) black country trying to figure out not only where he belongs but how he can contribute to the (mostly) black country that he belongs to.

Recently an acquientance of mine who has very deep links in the SA government has asked me how deeply I want to get involved in transformation of this country. He is a black guy but he likes my writing and attitude. However, I am a Christian and he is not. Or, he may very well be as he occasionally goes to church, but at the same time I know he venerates his ancestors.

Where the challenge for me lies is that I am convinced that the number one thing that can change any country and any society is in fact the Gospel and how does one present this Gospel to the (Black) African frame of mind without wondering how much of what they believe and are presenting about this gospel isn’t really the gospel but is just a western worldview or a promotion of western culture. I’m keenly aware of post-colonialism and all the rest. I’m also keenly aware that a response to this problem is often to embrace syncretism. But I’m keenly aware, and I’m convinced, that the Bible is not a fan of syncretism.

A key verse I think is in Galatians 3:28:

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

I think that a modern day translation of this verse could amount to something like this:

“There is no longer black or white… for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In our post-modern world the average person might say that “black is beautiful and white is beautiful.” Sounds fair enough and a beautiful statement. But it doesn’t seem like the Bible says that. Rather, it appears to be saying that Black is nothing and White is nothing, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. Rather than affirming my whiteness it denies my whiteness actually holds any value any more. This would go hand in hand with my white culture. Whatever my white culture is (and I struggle to see if I even have one because I’m not a beer-drinking rugby-watching rock-music listening kinda guy) it actually is nothing before the Gospel. Rather than affirming my culture the Gospel says my culture actually holds no value any longer. Rather, I’m adopted into a new culture, a new identity, a new skin, namely Jesus and the Kingdom.

But I’ve been struggling to see if this is a fact of the Gospel or not just an influence of white American evangelicalism. Yet, there it is in the Bible.

So I’ve been on a search to see who the heck the (Black) African evangelical theologians actually are. Is it only whites that are concerned about syncretism, as it almost seems I’m told through my public TV channels and the radio and the newspapers — who want to punt an African everything in an effort to get back to Africa’s roots and shake off the colonial influences? (This post showcases a kind of prevailing worldview I am hearing more and more from black Africans on the street that worries me. But does it worry me because of so-called western education? Who the heck knows?)

I see though that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve discovered a few names of black African theologians who agree that the Gospel is largely acultural. And despite the colour of their skin they were still criticised just as I would be (and am), that somehow this view is actually western. I’m thinking particulary of the work of Byang Kato here. This is one guy I need to do more research on.

The Africa Bible Commentary

Furthermore, I’ve discovered what looks like it may be a gem in my future library: The Africa Bible Commentary. Here’s a commentary from 70 African men and women who discuss particularly African themes with a more conservative / evangelical background. Now this may be interesting.

But what strikes me in that book is that there are NO South African theologians involved. What the heck? Is it because our ‘black’ churches, denominations includes, ARE syncretistic? (A fact that to me seems to be the case). While our white churches are, well, too western? This may exactly be the case. Although I’ve seen Pan-Africans level criticism at Kenya for being to influenced by Western thought, and this commentary is published by a Kenyan publisher.

Or is this all just white guilt nonsense? I hope not. And what the heck do I do about that then anyway?

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