Joyfully Christian and Truly African

Professor James Amanze of Malawi and Botswana

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and the covid times have made us often absent from one another. With Malawi’s borders open again and covid numbers low, we can enjoy having visitors again. A particular pleasure for me has been to welcome Professor James Amanze, visiting his home in Zomba from his base in Botswana.

It is very good timing since the two of us are writing an article together for a Handbook on Christianity and Culture that is being prepared on a global basis. Our job is to look at the interplay of Christianity and culture in the African context.

This is by no means an original theme. In fact, there has been a whole industry occupied by the question of how Christianity could be expressed in a truly African way. It got off to a false start since very often Christianity arrived packaged in Western culture. While many Africans were attracted by the faith, they were alienated by its foreign dress. 

It became an acute question of identity: how could you be both Christian and African at the same time? Thankfully in the past generation or two, many have found ways to answer the question. Like John Gatu of Kenya they can say that they are “joyfully Christian and truly African.”

Culture does not stand still, however. Today globalization poses new questions. Many are trying to navigate a path that is true to both their African heritage and the global culture of which they are now a part. This might be one explanation for the phenomenal growth of the Pentecostal movement. 

On the one hand, it addresses the subconscious fears of many in Africa about witchcraft and evil spirits – confronting them head-on in a way reminiscent of some of the incidents in the Gospels. On the other hand, it is entirely at home in the world of smartphones, internet, keyboard etc, offering a highly contemporary feel. This “double inculturation” is hitting the spot for millions. Indications are that the new wave of cultural change is resulting in a reinvigoration of faith.

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