How Is Jesus Christ Lord?

Reading Kwame Bediako from a Postcolonial and Intercontextual Perspective

by Bernhard Dinkelaker (Author)
©2017 Thesis 578 Pages


The centre of gravity of World Christianity has moved to the South. The numerical growth of African Christians however does not manifest itself in academic theology. Kwame Bediako (1945–2008) is a voice from Ghana that claims a space for African contributions in theology. His quest for identity, his analysis of mission, culture and language, and his critique of a ‹Western value setting› raise issues that are relevant beyond his own context. His statement that Africa is a ‹laboratory› for World Christianity challenges theological debates. His Christological approach is the key to critical engagement with church and society. The book analyses Bediako’s work from a postcolonial and intercontextual perspective. His contribution marks an unfinished agenda in African-European encounters.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Titel
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Europe and Africa, the Colonial Legacy and a New Christianity – Writing on an African Theologian from a European Perspective
  • Gospel, Culture and Language from an Intercontextual and Postcolonial Perspective
  • Encountering the Person Kwame Bediako
  • The Significance of Kwame Bediako as a Scholar in African and World Christianity
  • Structure of the Book
  • Chapter 1: Methodological and Epistemological Approach – Presuppositions and Choices
  • 1. ‘Research is not an Innocent or Distant Academic Exercise’: Methodological Approach
  • ‘Decolonizing Methodology’: Kwame Bediako and the ‘West’
  • Interdisciplinary Approach and the Role of Theology in Academic Discourse
  • Multilingualism as Hermeneutical Tool
  • Sources
  • 2. Language Constructs Meaning: Epistemological Challenges and Choices
  • Language, Power, and the Production of Knowledge and Meaning
  • ‘God’, ‘Gods’ and ‘Lesser Deities’
  • ‘Guilt’ and ‘Shame’
  • ‘Witchcraft’ and the Conceptualisation of Evil
  • Responding to the ‘Invisible-Liminal’ and to the ‘Transcendent’
  • The Conceptualisation of the ‘Spirit World’ in the Akan Cosmology
  • Approaches of Representing and Interpreting the ‘Invisible-Liminal’
  • ‘Religion’, ‘Culture’, ‘Identity’, ‘Translation’: Key Categories Employed by Bediako
  • Religion
  • Culture
  • Identity
  • Translation and Mother Tongue
  • 3. Conclusion
  • Chapter 2: Life and Work of Kwame Bediako
  • 1. Bediako’s Life Story: From an Adherent of French Existentialism to an African Christian Scholar
  • Childhood, Youth and Studies in Ghana (1945–1969)
  • Studies in France: Tchicaya U’Tamsi and Bediako’s ‘Damascus Road Experience’ (1969–1973)
  • Scholarship as Vocation: The United Kingdom and Ghana (1973–1984)
  • Ministry in Ghana and Building the Akrofi-Christaller Institute as a ‘Theological Laboratory’ for Africa and the World (1984–2008)
  • 2. Bediako’s Impact on New Initiatives of Cooperation and Networking in Africa and in the Global Church
  • 3. Bediako’s Legacy: The Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture – A New Type of Institution in Theological Scholarship
  • Excursus: The Local Context of ACI, Akropong-Akuapem, and the Two ‘Patrons’ J. G. Christaller and C. A. Akrofi – A Case Study on African Initiatives and African-European Relations
  • Akropong and the Akuapem Traditional State
  • Early History and the Foundation of the Akuapem State
  • From 1733 to the Gold Coast Colony
  • Conclusion
  • The Basel Mission in Akropong-Akuapem
  • Difficult Beginnings and Early Encounters (18th Century – 1840s)
  • Taking Root – West Indian and European Families, Akropong Christians (1840s–1850s)
  • The Christian Community as a Factor of Change, of Conflict, and of Innovation in the Town and the State (1850s–1920s)
  • Conclusion
  • Johann Gottlieb Christaller (1827–1895) and his African Collaborators
  • Clement Anderson Akrofi (1901–1967)
  • Chapter 3: African Christian Thought as Hermeneutic of Identity – Kwame Bediako in the Context of ‘African Theology’
  • 1. Theological Debates in Africa from the 1950s Onwards
  • The Debate on ‘African Theology’
  • A New Beginning and Exploring New Terrains (From the 1950s to the 1980s)
  • Taking up New Challenges (From the 1980s Onwards)
  • ‘African Traditional Religion’ (ATR) in Theological Scholarship in Africa
  • African Expressions of Christianity: African Independent/Instituted Churches (AICs) and Pentecostal Churches from the 1920s to the 1980s
  • Recognising African Initiatives in Christianity: African Independent/Instituted Churches
  • The Rise of Pentecostal Churches in Ghana
  • ‘Ghana’s New Christianity’
  • 2. Bediako’s Place in the Debate on ‘African Theology’
  • Bediako and the Pioneers – Shared Concerns and Insights
  • Characteristics of Bediako’s Distinctive Contribution
  • Chapter 4: Kwame Bediako’s Significance as African Christian Scholar
  • 1. ‘Local Agency’: Mission History as History of African and World Christianity
  • Transmission, Translation, and Appropriation
  • African Missionaries: Empirical and Historical Data
  • European Missionaries and the Concept of the ‘Native Church’
  • Culture, World View and Language as Factors for Local Agency
  • The Fragility of Hegemonic Rule
  • Multiple and Hybrid African Identities
  • A Theological Interpretation of the History of African Christianity
  • Ambiguities and Conflicts in Local Agency: African Pioneers, Freed Slaves, Reformers, Church Leaders, and Women
  • African Pioneers between Christian ‘Salem’ and Traditional Society
  • Agency of West Indians, African-Americans and African Freed Slaves Between ‘Hybrid’ and ‘Traditional’ Cultures
  • African Reformers and African Church Leaders
  • Education between Innovation and Alienation
  • The Silencing of the Agency of Women in Mission History
  • Protagonists of African Agency in Bediako’s Work: T. B. Freeman and Nana Korankye, E. W. Blyton, C. C. Reindorf, W. W. Harris, J. B. Danquah
  • Thomas Birch Freeman and ‘Chief Korinchi’ (Korankye)
  • Edward Wilmot Blyden
  • Carl Christian Reindorf
  • William Wade Harris
  • Joseph Boakye Danquah
  • Conclusion
  • 2. The ‘Lordship of Jesus Christ’: the Central Place of Christology and the Understanding of Scripture in Bediako’s Theology
  • Conversion, Transformation and Salvation: Gospel and Culture Revisited
  • ‘Continuity’ and ‘Discontinuity’
  • Bediako and Niebuhr’s ‘Christ and Culture’
  • Walls’ Concept of Conversion
  • ‘Conversion’, ‘Transformation’ and ‘Salvation’ in Bediako’s Writings
  • ‘Our Story’: Bediako’s Biblical Hermeneutics
  • The Gospel as ‘Our Story’
  • Selected Biblical References and Reflections
  • ‘Nana Yesu’: Christological Images and Bediako’s Ancestor Christology
  • The Debate on African Christologies
  • ‘Ancestor’ – A Multi-faceted and Controversial Christological Image
  • ‘Nana Yesu’, the Great Ancestor, in Bediako’s Writings
  • ‘The Servant Lord’: The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ in Universality and Particularity, Divinity and Humanness
  • Jesus Christ as ‘Lord’: κυριος Ιησους
  • The Unique and Universal Lord: Divine Vulnerability, Redemptive Suffering, Reconciling Love
  • 3. The De-Sacralisation of Power and the Role of the Church in the Public Sphere
  • Society and Political Leadership in Ghana in Transition – Reflections from a Theological Perspective
  • Traditional Authorities and Leadership Roles (‘Chieftaincy’) in Transition
  • Aspects of ‘Modernisation’ and Social Change
  • ‘Christian Witness in the Public Sphere’: Bediako’s Response to Political and Social Change
  • De-Sacralisation of Political Leadership and the Quest for Democracy
  • Serving the Community and the Poor with the ‘Mind of Christ’
  • 4. Theological Scholarship as Ministry
  • ‘Relevant Theology’: The Debate on Theological Education and Formation Since the 1970s
  • The Critique of ‘Western’ Academic Theology
  • The Call for Relevance and Contextuality
  • ‘Faith Seeking Understanding’: An Experiential Approach
  • Theological Scholarship in Pastoral Ministry, in Public Discourse, and in Discipleship: Bediako’s Contribution
  • The Need for Theological Scholarship and Pastoral Ministry in Africa
  • Africa as ‘Laboratory’ for Theological Scholarship
  • Ministerial Training, Discipleship and Spiritual Life
  • 5. Conclusion
  • Chapter 5: Kwame Bediako’s Significance as ‘World Christian’
  • 1. ‘Primal Religion as the Substructure of Christianity’: A Fresh Approach to Gospel, Culture, World View and Religion
  • The Debate on ‘Primal’ Religion(s), World View(s), Imagination in Religious Studies and Studies on World Christianity
  • Terminology and Presuppositions
  • Proponents of the Concept ‘Primal’ from 1963 to the Present
  • ‘Primal Religion(s)’ – A Heuristic Concept?
  • Tracing ‘Primal Religion’ in Different Contexts: The Contributions of Kwame and Gillian Mary Bediako
  • ‘The Primal Imagination and the Opportunity for a New Theological Idiom’
  • The Project ‘Primal Religion as the Substructure of Christianity’
  • Primal Religion and the ‘West’: Gillian Mary Bediako’s Contribution
  • ‘Primal Religion’ and ‘Spirituality’ from European Perspectives
  • Some Comments on Bediako’s Concept of ‘Primal Religion’
  • ‘Popular Religion’, ‘Spirituality’, and ‘Angels’
  • Conclusion
  • 2. The ‘Infinitely Translatable Gospel’: The ‘Vernacular Principle’ in Theology and its Significance for Intercontextual Encounters
  • Translation and the Vernacular in Scholarship and Society
  • Processes of Translation in Local and Global Languages
  • Interpretations of Translation Processes in African History
  • ‘Mother Tongue Theology’: Bediako’s Specific Contribution
  • The Translatable Gospel in Bediako’s Writings
  • ‘Mother Tongue Theology’ in the Akrofi-Christaller Institute
  • ‘Hebrews as OUR Epistle’: A Case Study
  • European and North American Commentaries: Questions, Observations, and Presuppositions
  • Hebrews from a Ghanaian Perspective
  • Conclusion
  • 3. ‘The West and the Rest’: Critical Assessments and the Kairos for a Polycentric Understanding of Christianity and of Christian Witness
  • ‘The West’ and the ‘Non-West’
  • Who and What is ‘the West’?
  • Orientalism and ‘Eastern’ Counter-Claims
  • The ‘West’ and ‘Africa’
  • Enlightenment Critique: Frankfurt School, Michel Foucault, Nikita Dhawan, Karl Barth
  • What Is ‘Enlightenment’?
  • Critiques from Within: Frankfurt School and Michel Foucault
  • A Postcolonial Critique of the Enlightenment: Nikita Dhawan
  • A European Theological Critique of the Enlightenment: Karl Barth
  • The ‘West’, the Enlightenment, ‘Christendom’, and the Missionary Movement
  • The Enlightenment and World Christianity
  • The Evangelical Awakening, the Modern Missionary Movement, and the Enlightenment
  • Bediako’s Contribution: Critique of the ‘West’ and Space for Intercontextual Encounters
  • Bediako’s Critique of the ‘West’, the ‘Enlightenment’, and ‘Christendom’
  • A Space for Intercontextual Theological Encounters
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion – A Call for Fresh Theological Encounters between ‘Africa’ and ‘Europe’
  • Bibliography
  • Publications by Kwame and Gillian Mary Bediako
  • Publications by the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture
  • Other Publications
  • Media
  • Websites
  • Series index

←12 | 13→


Europe and Africa, the Colonial Legacy and a New Christianity – Writing on an African Theologian from a European Perspective

Over the last decades, Christianity has experienced an unprecedented shift in the ‘centre of gravity’ from the Northern to the Southern hemisphere,1 and for the first time has truly become a ‘world religion’. This becomes evident in the vibrancy of churches, notably in South-Saharan Africa. Also in the field of academic theology, a growing number of scholars have raised their voices from a decidedly ‘non-Western’ perspective.2 Yet at universities in Europe, notably in Germany, such voices have remained marginal.3 Kwame Bediako (1945–2008) was a Ghanaian theologian who perceived himself as an African Christian scholar and as a ‘World Christian’4 at the same time. His work is marked by his search for identity as an African and a Christian who claims a substantial place for Africa in World Christianity today. He is a highly recognised theologian on the African continent and, to a significant extent, beyond in the Anglophone world, in the UK and the US, and also in the Netherlands and Norway, whereas in Germany he has so far received only very limited attention. It is the aim of this study to give Bediako ←13 | 14→due recognition and to explore the potentials of his contribution to intercontextual theological debates that take into account changes in the ‘religious landscape’ worldwide with particular reference to the African continent. For this purpose, I consult and analyse the corpus of his work5 in relationship to perspectives and approaches of other scholars in Africa and in the ‘Western World’. Likewise, the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture, a specialised tertiary institution in Akropong, Ghana, is part of this analysis and discussion. It was established by Kwame Bediako and his wife Gillian M. Bediako, and represents a vital aspect of his legacy. Bediako’s work covers a wide range of themes and issues which are centred on questions of identity and agency, of culture and language, of theological scholarship and ministry, both in the context of Ghana and in World Christianity. For the purpose of elaborating his distinct contribution, seven different, yet interlinked aspects will be discussed. The study focuses on the textual analysis of Bediako’s work and his references, and on the reflection of the tools and criteria employed in this analysis.

The history of relations between ‘Europe’ and ‘Africa’ has been a painful one, a ‘melancholy story’.6 The two designations in inverted commas indicate that they signify more than geographically demarcated entities, but worlds of meaning that have undergone numerous changes in history, and that have been constantly re-negotiated up to today with political, cultural, social and economic implications.7 Tracing etymological roots and meanings in antiquity therefore is of little help. The point of departure will rather be the actual self-understanding and the perception of the other both in Europe and Africa, even though both terms defy fixed definitions, allowing rather for multi-faceted codifications.8 Thereby, the ←14 | 15→terms Europe and the West are often used interchangeably, although each term has its own history, and the meaning of ‘the West’ is geographically and semantically wider.9 Many African authors have emphatically described European-African or Western-African relations as one of asymmetry and of hegemonic power: Ali Mazrui has described Africans as ‘the most humiliated in human history’ and ‘the worst victims of contempt’.10 Walter Rodney, in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, has analysed this power relation as one of increasing dependency.11 Among critical European writers, Basil Davidson has called the European connection ‘a tragic one for Africa’,12 and Philip Curtin has illustrated the shift in the European perception during the colonial period with the image ‘from paradise to curse’.13 These examples, all referred to by Kwame Bediako, will suffice to underline that any academic encounter between Europe and Africa cannot escape this interpretative frame in history, irrespective of the question as to whether a more differentiated analysis is required. In fact, overcoming the perspective of ‘victimising’ Africa,14 recovering the role of Africans as agents of their history in spite of the tragic legacy, and identifying examples of alternative narratives in the history of European-African relations, are major concerns raised and pursued in this study. Writing as a European theologian on the work of an African scholar nevertheless necessitates a threefold task: First, to lay open my own motives and interests in his work in a transparent way, thus to self-critically position myself in power relations. Second, to lay open the methodological and epistemological ←15 | 16→presuppositions in order to prevent the re-enactment and perpetuation of asymmetric power relations through ‘epistemic violence’,15 notably by silencing or delegitimising ‘non-Western’ thought under the pretext of ensuring ‘rational’ and ‘scientific’ standards. Third, to explore issues and develop criteria for common ground, on which a process of productive debate and sharing of insights will be possible. The second aspect will be elaborated in Chapter 1, and the quest for meaningful encounters is the subject of Chapters 4 and 5.

The basis and rationale of this quest is expressed in theological terms in the title How Is Jesus Christ Lord?, quoting the heading of an important paper by Kwame Bediako.16 According to him, the universal ‘Lordship of Jesus Christ’ constitutes, in contextual particularities, a common humanity, and provides the critical yardstick for relating to each other as humans and to the world we inhabit. Thereby, the image of Jesus Christ as ‘Lord’, in Greek κυριος, signifies a central Christological title in the Bible, at the same time a polysemous and highly ambiguous term evoking varied and controversial connotations in the light of a history of hegemonic interpretations in European Christian traditions. It definitely speaks of authority over all aspects of life, including academic scholarship in particular. The issue at stake is the underlying understanding of this ‘authority’ as a subduing, excluding and conquering power in a triumphalist spirit, and/or as a liberating, healing, reconciling power in a spirit of servanthood. The simple question How? captures the many intricacies and complexities connected with Bediako’s quest and the ambiguities involved. The decidedly theological frame of reference in Bediako’s work raises two pertinent issues that run through this thesis: a) Africa’s place in and, more specifically, the significance of African theological contributions to World Christianity; b) the relationship between theological scholarship and ‘secular’ sciences, notably cultural studies, religious studies and social science.

Before having a closer look at Kwame Bediako’s significance for these issues, and before entering into discussion of his work, I will reflect on my own life journey engaging in encounters with ‘Africa’ in a variety of contexts in different stages of my life, on learning experiences in crossing borders of culture and ←16 | 17→language, and on my personal encounters with Kwame Bediako. Thus, I wish to give account of the way in which the pertinent issues discussed in this study have accompanied me over several decades, and how my personal experiences, motives and interests connect with these issues.

Ever since my early childhood and youth I have felt personally attracted to the African continent, through books and through reports by former missionaries in my home congregation, and as a high school student through participation in a ‘Third World Committee’. The Civil War in Nigeria from 1967 to 1970 became a matter of concern and of humanitarian engagement. As a student of theology and pedagogics in the early 1970s, I joined student committees in solidarity with liberation movements in the erstwhile Portuguese colonies, and got involved in the West German Anti-Apartheid Movement. This solidarity movement became an important learning experience. A visit to South Africa at the time of the Soweto Uprising in 1976 made a deep impact upon me. South Africa also provided a space for experiences often missed in German churches: ‘struggle and contemplation’, a ‘spirituality of combat’ where prayer and activism went hand in hand. Black Theology in South Africa became a focus of my studies, likewise the controversial and partly polemic debate in the German churches on the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) Programme to Combat Racism (PCR).

After first years in the ministry, through the Association of Churches and Missions in South Western Germany, since 2012 renamed Evangelical Mission in Solidarity (EMS), I served in Ghana as an ecumenical co-worker in the Presbyterian Church of Ghana (PCG), seconded to the ecumenical Tema Industrial Mission (TIM). Four years of service in Ghana became a formative period of learning and sharing life during the challenging time before and after the 31st December Revolution of the PNDC-Government.17 The faith and witness of Ghanaian Christians in difficult times and the experience of ecumenical fellowship in a great diversity made a deep impression.

During subsequent years as a minister in a parish in Württemberg, I assumed responsibility for a direct partnership link between a German church district and ←17 | 18→a Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC), exploring ways of developing a partnership ‘bridge’ in a spirit of learning from each other and of sharing our faith. During the same period, a great number of refugees coming to Germany and the emergence of migrant churches caused me to get involved in joint activities with migrants in churches and in the public sphere. Later I was appointed as EMS Africa Liaison Secretary, followed by the appointment as EMS General Secretary. During these years, the EMS was transformed into a ‘fellowship of 23 churches and five mission societies in ten different countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe’, based on equal rights and responsibilities in common witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in each respective context, and fostering exchange programmes among all members in three continents.18

These learning experiences suggest that writing in the framework of historical relations between ‘Europe’ and ‘Africa’ is not possible from the position of a detached neutral observer, rather of a participant observer with a commitment. This commitment to solidarity is more than an issue of intent and attitude. It affects the methodological and epistemological approach by setting a frame of critical self-reflexion in two ways: It heightens sensitivity to Eurocentric perceptions of ‘Africa’ as the ‘Other’ and for the temptation of universalising patterns of thought developed in Europe. It equally raises awareness of the risks of deconstructing ‘African’ patterns of thought without taking into account historical conditions of dominance, thus immunising a European perspective against critique, and ending up in legitimising a neoliberal marketplace of knowledge dominated by global hegemonic powers.19 For a European theologian writing about the work of an African scholar, this self-reflexive approach means in other words: We need to know ‘the baggage we carry with us, along with the diagnostic instrumentarium (sic) for pattern recognition, assessing the terrain of encounter we engage, feeling the history of its wounds and blessings, as we learn from it for future encounters’.20 Only then it is possible to counter the dangers ←18 | 19→of ‘self-referentiality, of self-interest, the projection of one’s denied shadow onto another, and sheer ignorance’ against a ‘problematic history of comparison as an instrument for colonial denigration of the ethnic and religious other’.21 This will prove to be particularly relevant whenever Kwame Bediako insists that African authors shall be taken seriously on their own terms when interpreted from a European or Western perspective.

Gospel, Culture and Language from an Intercontextual and Postcolonial Perspective

Alongside the dimensions of military, political and economic power structures, the dimensions of culture and language have always played a central role in the literature on European-African relations and the corresponding images, both in the construction of an inferior ‘Africa’ and a superior ‘Europe’ since the 15th century,22 and also in anti-colonial writings.23 In the history of church and mission in Africa, the crucial and ambiguous role of culture and language is self-evident, in both ways, the denigration of indigenous cultures and languages as ‘primitive’, ‘uncivilised’ and ‘pagan/heathenish’, and the promotion of local agency through ‘vernacularization’.24 In the light of this ambiguity, the relationship between the Gospel, culture(s) and language(s), in connection with the crucial role of translation, is the persistent theme in Kwame Bediako’s work and marks ←19 | 20→the significance of the institution of theological scholarship that is his life’s work, the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture.

The term intercontextual signifies that the issue of gospel, culture and language is more than a matter of contextuality, even more so as ‘contextual theology’ in ‘Western’ theology is still generally understood to be of concern primarily to theologies in the ‘Two-Thirds World’, notwithstanding the fact that claims of a universal theology in Europe and North America are no more uncontested.25 The intercontextual perspective of this study is meant to make a contribution towards necessary theological encounters between dialogue partners who are aware of the inevitable contextuality of each side. Thereby, the term intercontextual is more comprehensive than ‘intercultural’. Christopher Duraisingh, advocating Mission towards Reconciled and Inter-Contextual Communities, writes: ‘Fullness of life is promised by God in the context of insidious fragmentation and forces of assimilation. Therefore, fuller life includes non-dominating and non-fragmenting relations across contexts, cultures, race, class and gender. […] I believe that relatively little or no serious work has been done toward an intercontextual theology of mission. Mission theologies hitherto have been monocultural and monologic. Therefore, I submit that intercontextual relations that take identities, differences and plurality seriously can be explored as one of the new paradigms in mission today. […] The urgency of intercontextual relations cannot be overstated. In recent times, the plurality of cultures, identities, values and norms has led to competitive violence. And diversity has been conflictual. […] Behind it all lies a deeper crisis in understanding, and dealing with difference and diversity’.26

Even though the term has not become very common, it is used by Kwame Bediako to signify a polycentric understanding of mission by repeatedly quoting Max Stackhouse: ‘A decisive criterion for a Christian understanding of contextuality is whether or not it leads to inter-contextual understanding of both the “texts” of Christian faith and the interdependence of the contexts of the Church. ←20 | 21→Only inter-contextual views of contextuality could be reflective of the trans-contextual power of God present in each context’.27

Some universities have in recent years introduced programmes of Intercontextual Theology,28 and some dissertations have employed the term.29 These examples indicate that it can serve as a fruitful category for the aim and objectives of this study.

The term post-colonial has been debated extensively during the past twenty years,30 and has been lately introduced into theological scholarship.31 Originating in literary studies and based on linguistic, cultural and social studies, post-colonial studies represent an interdisciplinary approach and an attitude and method of resistance against colonial rule and its consequences, focusing on the frictions and contradictions of processes in history.32 The prefix ‘post’ does not mean to ‘name colonialism as finished business’.33 On the contrary, it indicates that the imperial project ‘Europe’ and the construction of images of colonised people as ‘the Other’ and as negative mirror have deeply impacted the ‘post-colony’ under the present conditions of globalisation.34 Yet the term itself lacks precision and is used in varied ←21 | 22→ways, which makes it susceptible to critique: Despite the claims of protagonists of postcolonial studies to represent perspectives of the Colonised,35 they have been blamed by a number of authors for being part of an English writing intelligentsia based in the UK and the US with a postmodern agenda in an academic ‘theory industry’36 and in a neo-liberal supermarket of diversity.37 Notwithstanding, this study refers to ‘post-coloniality’ as a productive approach for discussing relations of exchange and power that takes the dimensions of culture and language seriously, that offers relevant analyses of the entangled history of colonisers and colonised, and that is able to discern the complexity of local agency and initiative. Thus, this perspective offers a frame of reference for critical self-reflexion on ethnocentric traps and limitations in the commitment to solidarity.

A critical case in point, however, is the relationship between Gospel, culture and language in post-colonial perspective. It is in this respect that Kwame Bediako critically comments on post-coloniality, even though his understanding of this term is in some way different from its use as quoted above:38 Bediako supposes that a post-colonial frame of reference means a reductionist approach with distorting effects when exclusively focusing on sociological and political causes of religious phenomena,39 and ignoring the long pre-colonial history that continues ←22 | 23→to be part of African societies. Thus he raises valid and important questions in view of research in cultural anthropology in the past. He quotes Harold W. Turner: ‘Cultural, anthropological, psychological, sociological, political and other models have proved their value in the elucidation of the interaction between religions and their milieux. Religion, however, cannot be equated with culture, society, morality, psychic processes or political systems, and the distinctive features of religion escape us if we reduce it to any or all of these other categories’.40

Authors who have engaged in post-colonial theory in recent years, however, adopt a more differentiated and non-deterministic approach, particularly with regard to the ambiguities, frictions and contradictions connected with the role of language and representation in the production of knowledge and meaning. The interest in deconstructing ‘Europe’ by authors of post-colonial theory converges with Bediako’s rejection of a ‘Western value-setting’. Bediako nevertheless makes an important point when he observes that in research on Christianity in Africa ‘rarely were religious and properly Christian factors taken into account’,41 and when he insists that theology too has criteria which ‘have their own integrity in intellectual discourse’.42

During my whole life, I have constantly been confronted with these issues in various roles: as an enquiring and rather idealistic youth, as an activist in a German solidarity movement, as a European co-worker in a Ghanaian team, as a minister in a German church, as a person in leadership position in an international mission association, as a citizen of a country where stereotypes and racialist images of ‘Africa’ continue to be entrenched in society. Having been exposed to personal encounters across borders of culture and language since the days of my youth, I very soon experienced the crucial and ambiguous role of language in communication: as the indispensable means of successful dialogue, as the source of potentially limitless misunderstandings, and as a tool of dominance through the power to define. This is particularly relevant where English is employed as common language among partners in dialogue for whom English is a foreign language, similar to Latin as the international means of communication in Europe during ←23 | 24→the time of reformation.43 I equally experienced that speaking of ‘culture’ means having in mind the totality of behaviour, values, images of the other, spoken and unspoken words, emotions, non-verbal signals, whether conscious or subconscious. I came to realise how much intercontextual encounters are determined by the respective cultural environment and upbringing, and by the power connected with the cultural background, the economic position, and the professional role of the participants involved. I came to appreciate insights of hermeneutics, of cultural and linguistic studies for understanding the complex dynamics of these encounters and the risks involved. I deem the following approaches particularly helpful: a practical hermeneutic of the ‘stranger’;44 the production of knowledge and meaning as an issue of power relations and exclusion in discourse analysis;45 the radical questioning of ideas as ‘pure’ reality behind language, the understanding of the inherent dynamic of language and meaning through the concept of différance, the deconstruction of essentialist concepts and definitions;46 the analysis of hegemonic power as unstable, fragile and contradictory,47 and of the spaces opened up for ‘subjects’ in the double sense of being subjected to domination by others, and of being agents of their own history;48 eventually the construction of identities as dynamic, multidimensional and open-ended historical processes.49 Though Bediako does not refer to any of these particular approaches, at least explicitly, they provide insights to a wide range of concerns in Bediako’s work ←24 | 25→in support of his quest for a self-confident African Christian theology, leaving inferiority complexes and syndromes of ‘Western’ dependency behind, and in support of his questioning of dichotomies and compartmentalisations in Western academia in the name of ‘science’.50 These approaches can serve to connect the conversation with Bediako and debates in other areas of research, where conceptions of culture, language and translation are discussed and scrutinised in the context of relations between Europe and Africa.

The dynamics in the relationship of Gospel, culture and language appear to be a particularly complex and contested issue in intercontextual encounters, both practically and in academic debates. In the history of the 19th and far into the 20th century, the lack of understanding and appreciation of indigenous spirituality and of religious movements in Africa by the vast majority of European scholars, philosophers, cultural anthropologists, social scientists and theologians alike, is evident.51 A case in point is the perception of African Instituted Churches (AIC), which for a long period of time were regarded as ‘sects’ and as ‘heretic’, before such judgmental assessments were revised, and these churches and movements became subjects of more sympathetic studies.52 As long as AIC appeared to be regional phenomena limited to Africa, they remained objects of curiosity and perhaps fascination, however without any bearing on European-African encounters, apart from the field of specialised research. This has considerably changed with the emergence of new religious movements characterised as ‘Pentecostal’ and ‘Charismatic’:53 The fact that these movements consider themselves ←25 | 26→as modern, international and global, with branches all over the world, notably in the ‘Western’ world, and the fact that historic, mission-founded churches have become more and more pentecostalised or charismatised as well,54 necessitates churches in Europe to relate to these developments in World Christianity no longer merely as exotic phenomena. Also partnership links between churches in Europe and Africa that have been established since the late 1970s have gone through experiences of ambiguity, where mutual visits and exchange programmes have addressed issues of spirituality and world view: Fascination on the European side about the vibrancy of African sister churches and their lively ways of worship has been coupled with a sense of unease with regard to expressions of faith which seem difficult to reconcile with ‘enlightened’ perceptions of reality.55 The reciprocal perception of the spirituality in European churches by African Christians as rational, subordinating faith under reason, resulting in the ‘loss of transcendence’,56 finds expression in numerous publications of Bediako. Irritations on the European side have increased, the more African churches have put emphasis on healing, on prosperity, and most particularly on deliverance. Such developments at grassroots level are discussed and reflected by Ghanaian theologians, who agree on the need for theological discernment. At this point, the issue at stake is the observation that spirituality and world view appear to be one of the most challenging testing grounds for intercontextual encounters: Whereas in debates on social, political and economic conditions the common ground of ←26 | 27→knowledge systems is levelled, as controversial as interpretations may be, in the area of spirituality and world view the gap seems to be as wide as ever. The crucial issue is expressed in a succinct statement by the Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Gyekye, repeatedly quoted by Bediako: ‘What is primarily real is spiritual’.57 The assessment that the task of engaging in a fresh approach of dialogue is as urgent as difficult, is corroborated by Linda Tuhiwai Smith, writing from the perspective of indigenous peoples: ‘The arguments of different indigenous peoples based on spiritual relationships to the universe, to the landscape and to stones, rocks, insects and other things, seen and unseen, have been difficult arguments for Western systems of knowledge to deal with or accept. These arguments give a partial indication of the different world views and alternative ways of coming to know, and of being, which still endure within the indigenous world. […] The values, attitudes, concepts and language embedded in beliefs about spirituality represent, in many cases, the clearest contrast and mark of difference between indigenous peoples and the West. It is one of the few parts of ourselves which the West cannot decipher, cannot understand and cannot control … yet’.58

This study attempts to make a contribution towards a fresh approach towards mutual understanding and a common language. Two remarks, however, will intimate that the frame of reference requires further exploration and clarification: a) As far as the European scene is concerned, there is the need to distinguish between academic debates and the perception of reality and the production of knowledge at the grassroots in daily life experience. Categories such as ‘scientific world view’ and ‘rationality’ need to be examined in the light of factual beliefs and world views prevalent in European societies. In addition, they require to be critically discussed in the light of current epistemological debates. b) From a theological point of view, the issues of the spiritual and of the transcendent are to be distinguished: Both terms may signify overlapping realities, but are not identical. Their presuppositions and preconceptions will therefore receive further attention.

Encountering the Person Kwame Bediako

In my personal encounters with Kwame Bediako, two factors raised my interest and caused me to follow his work and his legacy as an important contribution with great potential for intercontextual discourses in World Christianity: first, his endearing personality: his enthusiasm when he shared his life experience and ←27 | 28→his theological reflections, his commitment as a Christian deeply rooted in his faith in Jesus Christ, and his optimism when speaking and writing about Africa’s place in history and the world, denouncing any paralysing afropessimism; second, the issues he identified as most relevant and crucial for African Christian scholarship: recovering the past as heritage, taking oral, implicit theology at the grassroots seriously, and regarding academic excellence and service in the ministry as a vocation. I got to know Bediako as a person who integrated his deep commitment and faithfulness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ with intellectual rigour and a wide heart and mind for people as well as for God’s presence and the activity of the Holy Spirit outside the confines of Christianity and the Church in the past, the present and the future.

When I left Ghana in December 1983 after my service in the Tema Industrial Mission, I missed Kwame Bediako by several months before his return to Accra from Aberdeen, after he had completed his doctoral thesis and ended a teaching assignment there. However, I had been aware of the dream of Rev. S. K. Aboa, then PCG Inter-church and Ecumenical Relations Secretary, to establish a research library in honour of C. A. Akrofi for the study of Ghanaian languages in an old former mission house, the ‘coconut house’, in Akropong, Akuapem. As in early 1980 I had received my Twi language course on the same premises in the ancient ‘Basel House’, the former theological seminary in Akropong, I had always felt attached to this place, even more so, as Akropong, the first Basel Mission centre in the interior of the then Gold Coast, is a place where this history is particularly remembered and present.

I met Kwame Bediako in person for the first time in 1993, when the Akrofi-Christaller Memorial Centre for Mission Research and Applied Theology (ACMC), as it was called up to 2006, was taking shape after arduous beginnings in the late 1980s. As my first impression, I recall the enthusiastic way in which he narrated the story of an experience and a discovery in a local Akropong Twi bible study group with participants from all walks of life: When reading the Epistle to the Hebrews in Twi, an elderly lady drew his attention to the fact that in Hebr 1:3, where it is said he had made a purification for sins (NRSV), the Twi Bible uses the words ᴐde n’ankasa ne ho dwiraa yεn bne no. She noted that the verb dwira, meaning ‘to cleanse, to sanctify, to consecrate’,59 is the same word as found in the noun Odwira, the highest annual traditional festival in the Akuapem Traditional ←28 | 29→State,60 the feast to cleanse the state and the people for a new year. To Bediako, this served as an eye-opener to see the close connection between the vernacular biblical text and pre-Christian Akan culture, and to understand the purifying self-sacrifice of Jesus as reflected in Hebrews as the ‘final Odwira’.61 This anecdote illustrates his high esteem for theology expressed by people at the grassroots, and the great potential he finds in the vernacular Bible in the hands of the people. He was equally enthusiastic about the collection of Twi prayers in the style of traditional Akan folkloric praise songs, apae, recorded from an illiterate midwife and member of the Church of Pentecost in Obo, Kwahu, by name Afua Kuma.62 The booklet, published in Ghana in 1980, had not received much attention in theological discussions. Through Bediako however, it has become an important source for reflection on ‘mother tongue theology’.63

This interest in the Akan cultural heritage, the Twi language and oral theology as relevant issues in theology and as opportunities for fresh approaches caught my fascination. In the course of the subsequent 14 years, I was able to meet Bediako repeatedly and to continue our conversation. Further encounters were put an end to by his untimely death in 2008. However, his publications and periods of research at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture (ACI) as a specialised tertiary institution have offered me the opportunity to study his work in depth and to learn more about his significance for Ghana, the African continent and far beyond. In a humble way, this study is a way of paying homage to a great personality, who has left his footprints as an erudite and creative scholar and as a committed Christian in Ghana, on the African continent and beyond.

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The Significance of Kwame Bediako as a Scholar in African and World Christianity

Tributes in memory of Kwame Bediako from all over the world at the time of his funeral on 5 and 6 July 2008 and obituaries illustrate the significance attributed to his personality and work by a wide range of authors and institutions. A selection of few of them will point out some of the achievements that illustrate Bediako’s contribution.

Andrew F. Walls, his mentor during his doctoral studies and close senior partner and colleague during 25 years of service, calls him ‘the outstanding African theologian of his generation’,64 acknowledging that his voice is heard as the authentic voice of African Theology.65 His contribution to the worldwide church is characterised by Walls as follows: ‘He did perhaps more than anyone else to persuade mainstream Western theologians and mainstream Western theological institutions that African Theology was not an exotic minority specialization but an essential component in a developing global discourse’.66

J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu counts him among the ‘most outstanding and accomplished theologians’ in Africa, equally emphasising that Africa’s place in Christian history was a primary concern of Bediako’s scholarship.67 In similar words, Cephas N. Omenyo describes him as ‘one of the most outstanding Christian theologians Africa has given the world’,68 and recognises his concern ‘to promote a Christian scholarship that is rooted in the immediate context of African religious, cultural, social and linguistic realities and to focus on the history and life and thought of African Christians’.69

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The Tribute of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS) quotes C. G. Baëta’s testimonial when Bediako was elected Fellow of the Academy in 1996: ‘He has applied his considerable expertise as a thinker and a scholar in French literature to his latter found vocation as Pastor and Theologian in his very thorough analysis of the central problem of the African Christian, namely his or her cultural identification with biblical theology. His in-depth studies showed that there was no basis for cultural or philosophical incompatibility between the traditional values of the African and his Christian beliefs and precepts’.70

In connection with reviews of his book Christianity in Africa: The Renewal of a Non-Western Religion (1995), which appeared in a wide range of journals,71 Bediako is acknowledged as an important voice among African scholars. Kevin Ward calls Bediako one of a new generation of West African Christian scholars who confidently assert the essential ‘Africanness’ of African Christianity against all inclined to emphasize its foreignness.72 John Parratt acknowledges him as an erudite theologian, involved with the development of African Theology at grassroots level.73 Paul Gifford describes him as an ‘African theologian of considerable standing’74, and as ‘an increasingly significant voice within African Christianity’.75 Tite Tiénou sees in Bediako a ‘welcome voice of positive dissent’ at a time when ‘despair, deprivation and frustration are taken for granted’ in Africa.76 ←31 | 32→Richard Gray recognises Bediako’s contribution in view of ‘serious inadequacies of the Eurocentric approach’.77

In a number of reviews of debates on African (and Black) Theology and on Africa’s place in World Christianity in recent years, the work of Kwame Bediako features prominently: Already in 1990, even prior to the publication of Bediako’s books, William A. Dyrness in his representation of African Theology extensively quotes Bediako as an important protagonist.78 Tinyiko Sam Maluleke, irrespective of his disagreement in vital aspects, calls Bediako and Lamin Sanneh ‘two of the most innovative African theological thinkers’ who have produced ‘two of the most brave and far-reaching proposals’ by focusing on the translatability of Christianity and on ‘Christianising of the pre-Christian tradition’.79 In line with Jesse Mugambi, Kä Mana and Mercy Amba Oduyoye he regards them as ‘encouraging voices’ at a time of fatigue particularly in post-apartheid South Africa.80 For Diane Stinton’s research on African Christologies, Bediako is one important reference.81 Articles and papers by Bediako are included in numerous anthologies of missiology and African Theology,82 dictionaries on African and World ←32 | 33→Christianity,83 and documentations of conferences.84 Robert L. Gallagher and Paul Hertig include Bediako’s Manifesto85 in their collection of the 15 most influential essays in contemporary missiology.86 Bediako has written articles and book reviews for a wide range of journals, mostly missiological, but also secular.87 Finally, an edition of essays in honour of Kwame Bediako, edited by Gillian M. Bediako et al.,88 contains contributions from four continents, and illustrates Bediako’s impact on debates across continents.

In 2012, the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies launched the annual Stott-Bediako Forum. The first forum under the theme A Portrait of Catalysts was dedicated to seven outstanding Christians ‘who served as catalysts bringing the transforming power of the gospel to people in their specific social context’, one of them Kwame Bediako.89 A number of doctoral theses on Bediako have been ←33 | 34→submitted in Norway, New Zealand, the US, the Netherlands and the UK focusing on aspects of Christology in conversation with other theologies,90 notably with that of Karl Barth.91 Other monographs dwell on Bediako’s Christology as well.92 Remarkable about these authors is not only the wide range of national and cultural but also of denominational backgrounds, from Presbyterian and Methodist to Charismatic and Pentecostal.

Compared to this rather impressive list, little has been published in Germany and translated into German so far: The German translation of the conference report edited by V. Samuel and Ch. Sugden (1983) contains Bediako’s paper on Biblical Christologies.93 The Jahrbuch Mission 2002 includes a portrait of Kwame Bediako by Andrea Pfeiffer.94 Bediako’s paper on Co-Workers in Mission (2003), ←34 | 35→presented at the EMW Annual Conference 2002, was published by the EMW.95 The only German books explicitly acknowledging and discussing Bediako’s theological contribution appear to be Detlev Kapteina, Afrikanische Evangelikale Theologie (2001),96 Heinrich Balz, Der Anfang des Glaubens (2010),97 and Werner Kahl, Jesus als Lebensretter (2007).98 In view of the limited attention he has received in Germany so far, this study intends to fill a gap and to give Bediako the place he deserves.99

Bediako enjoys a high reputation as an ‘outstanding African theologian’ due to various factors and dimensions in his contributions: Walls lists ‘five great motive forces’ that ‘are manifest in all his work and […] shaped his thinking. The first, and most crucial, was his Christian discipleship. […] The second force was his love and understanding of the Scriptures. […] The third was his love for, and loyalty, to Africa and its peoples, and his conviction that the Divine Word was at work in Africa, using African languages and calling Africans to Christian discipleship within African culture. The fourth motive caused him to embrace the highest ideals of the scholarly life. […] The fifth great feature of his work is its catholic spirit. […] his heart was open to all who loved Christ’.100

These highly appreciative records do not mean, however, that his arguments are undisputed. The most articulate critic is Maluleke: He charges Bediako with a ←35 | 36→‘simplistic view’ of the Christianisation of the African past,101 an ‘overwhelming optimism about the prospects of Christianity in Africa’,102 and an ‘almost triumphalistic outlook of African Christianity and theology’.103 He criticises Bediako’s ‘boldness and projectiveness’ as relying on ‘dubious distinctions’, viz. Gospel versus Christianity, and ‘equations’, viz. Bible and the Word of God.104 Maluleke suspects a ‘search for an unideological Christianity’105 and a ‘hidden proselytizing agenda’,106 and brands him a ‘diluted bibliologue’.107 Whether this harsh assessment does justice to Bediako, and how far it is based on selective reading and on interpretations influenced by the South African context, will have to be discussed.

Critical voices, however, are raised from the opposite perspective as well: Being firmly rooted in the evangelical movement himself, Bediako has not been spared charges by fellow evangelicals. Keith Fernando, reviewing his book Theology and Identity (1992) states: ‘A theological agenda drives the discussion, but the absence of a carefully stated biblical basis for the conclusions he draws inevitably raises questions as to their solidity. […] It is questionable whether his approach […] has a sufficient biblical foundation, and whether its theological response to the issue of identity concedes more than it should to the validity and worth of pre-Christian African religions’.108 Kevin Howard, following Fernando, criticises ‘his lack of clarity on the gospel itself. […] he never takes the time in his dissertation to state clearly the details of the good news of Jesus Christ. […] Our challenge to all Christian Africans interested in serious theology is to critique Bediako’s theology with the Bible open’.109

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Bediako’s claim to write about African Christianity and its place in World Christianity is critically commented by Jack E. Nelson in his review of Christianity in Africa: ‘Polarizing the African traditional worldview and the Western worldview remains a popular theoretical scheme, but a model that better portrays the subtleties and multifaceted layers of change is much needed to advance discussions such as this one. […] the author does not dwell on the diversity of religious experience both in Africa and the West. […] Stalled in a pattern of theorizing that deals more in tensions between ‘ideal types’ than the dynamics of change, this book offers […] no significant breakthroughs’.110 John Parratt sees in Bediako’s dialogue of African Christian theology with the West ‘exaggerated and undemonstrable claims for African spirituality over and against that of the rest of the non-Christian world. […] [and a] sweeping dismissal of ‘modern theology’ […] [He] has allowed his agenda to be set by a deeply flawed western missiological theory’.111

These general assessments and critical methodological remarks need to be investigated. The following critical questions posed to Bediako by various authors will be subject to further examination in particular:112

What are the criteria employed in Bediako’s biblical hermeneutics and the understanding of the authority of the Scriptures responding to his critics from opposite sides?

Vernacularisation and translation: Is the paradigm of appropriating the Gospel in local idiom with the effect of renewing cultures coherent enough to capture the dynamics of change and the intricacies in translation processes?113

Is Bediako’s understanding of African Traditional Religion (ATR) and the ‘pre-Christian African past’ capable of appreciating the vast diversity and the dynamics in religions and cultures in Africa?114

Is Bediako’s interest in continuity with the pre-Christian past pursued at the expense of an inevitable discontinuity and break with the past? Is the charge ←37 | 38→justified that he addresses the reality of destructive and evil forces insufficiently? Does the paradigm of ‘transformation’ prove more appropriate than the dualism of continuity-discontinuity?115

Ancestor Christology: Is the centrality of the ‘ancestor’ category relevant and meaningful enough to serve as Christological image in the transformation of cultures? Is it biblically sound and plausible enough to be adopted as expression of faith by African Christians at grassroots level?116

Is ‘primal religion as the substructure of Christianity’ a viable proposition to address the diversity of religion and spirituality both in Africa and the ‘West’ and a model for the recovery of Christianity in the ‘West’?117

Do observations do justice to Bediako by stating that he neglects or even ignores socio-political and economic realities in favour of cultural and of doctrinal arguments?118

Are comments justified that charge Bediako with overemphasising the role of ATR and AICs in the recent history of African Christianity, underestimating pentecostal and charismatic movements and external influences on African Christianity?119

Pursuing these questions, it is important to recognise the nature and character of Bediako’s publications. Apart from his doctoral thesis, his books and articles are ←38 | 39→to a great extent lectures and papers presented at conferences and workshops,120 thus very much ‘work in progress’ with a good amount of overlapping. They are a fruit of the ‘laboratory’ that had been his vision. In theological scholarship Bediako perceived himself more as a church historian with a deep interest in practical hermeneutics, who saw his task in seeking Christian answers to culturally rooted questions. He expected that systematising would be the work of later generations building on the results of his formative explorations.121 Some expositions are therefore fragmentary in character, and some questions may remain unanswered. However, Bediako as an ‘African World Christian’ has passionately paved the way for fresh and creative approaches of understanding and communicating the universal, translatable Gospel in its engagement with local cultures and languages in a polycentric World Christianity.

Structure of the Book

Chapter 1 addresses the methodological challenges of analysing, discussing and interpreting the work of a Ghanaian scholar by a German theologian and the epistemological implications of an intercontextual theology engaging in different cultures and languages. Methodology implies more than the analytical instruments and tools for interpretation. It includes the reflection on the historical frame of the discourse itself. The complex nature of language and the production of knowledge and meaning in different contexts and in intercontextual relations require the discussion of fundamental epistemological presuppositions.

Chapter 2 gives an account of the life and work of Kwame Bediako, of his biography, of his involvement in international and ecumenical networks and cooperations, and of The Akrofi-Christaller Institute (ACI) as his legacy. An Excursus on the venue Akropong-Akuapem and of the two persons honoured as ‘patrons’ of the ACI elaborates their significance for Bediako and the ACI, and serves as a case study providing criteria for the discussion of local agency and African-European relations.

Chapter 3 describes the context of African Theology as frame of reference for Bediako’s work, giving an overview of the debate on African Theology, on African Traditional Religion, on African expressions of Christianity, and on recent ←39 | 40→developments in Ghanaian Christianity. It analyses and summarises Bediako’s place in the debate.

Chapter 4 focuses on Bediako’s significance as an African Christian scholar in relation to theological discussions on the African continent. Four issues are portrayed and discussed as characteristic and relevant: Bediako’s understanding of the history of African Christianity, the role of christology and biblical hermeneutics in his work, his reflections on the Gospel as ‘public truth’ and its relevance in society, and his understanding of theological scholarship and ministry as a vocation.

Chapter 5 addresses Bediako’s significance as a ‘World Christian’ for inter-contextual encounters. Three salient areas are identified as featuring prominently in Bediako’s work: The concept of ‘primal’ religion, world view or imagination, the ‘infinitely translatable Gospel’ and the issue of the Bible in vernacular, and Bediako’s critical view of ‘the West’, of the legacy of ‘Christendom’ and of the European Enlightenment, exploring creative potential in the relationship between Christianity in Africa and Europe.

Chapter 6 concludes with a recognition of Bediako’s work and of his distinct contribution to theological scholarship in Africa and World Christianity, and summarises criteria and perspectives for much needed intercontextual encounters between Africa and Europe.

1 Walls, Andrew F. (1995): Christianity in the Non-western World: a Study in the Serial Nature of Christian Expansion. In: Studies in World Christianity 1 (1), 6.

2 The concept of ‘the West’ and of Christianity as a ‘non-Western’ religion will be discussed in Chapters 1 and 5. The term ‘non-Western world’ has been popularised by the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World (CSCNWW), established by Andrew F. Walls in 1982 in the Department of Religious Studies of the University of Aberdeen. In 1986 the CSCNNW moved to the University of Edinburgh, in 2009 its name was changed to Centre for the Study of World Christianity (see Stanley, Brian (2011): Founding the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World. In: William R. Burrows, Mark R. Gornik and Janice A. McLean (eds.): Understanding World Christianity. The Vision and Work of Andrew F. Walls. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 51–59).

3 Cf. Walls, Andrew F. (2000): Of Ivory Towers and Ashrams – Some Reflections on Theological Scholarship in Africa. In: Journal of African Christian Thought 3 (1), 1–4; Walls, Andrew F. (2001): Christian Scholarship in Africa in the Twenty-First Century. In: Journal of African Christian Thought 4 (2), 46.

4 Walls, Andrew F. (2008): Kwame Bediako and Christian Scholarship in Africa. In: International Bulletin of Missionary Research 32 (4), 192.

5 This corpus includes three books and numerous articles and papers published in a wide range of journals; see Bibliography.

6 Bediako, Kwame (2002): Toward a New Theodicy: Africa’s Suffering in Redemptive Perspective. In: Journal of African Christian Thought 5 (2), 49.

7 Cf. Chakrabarty, Dipesh (2000): Provincializing Europe. Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press; Mudimbe, Valentin-Yves (1988): The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy and the Order of Knowledge, Bloomington: Indiana University Press; Bediako, Gillian M. (1997): Primal Religion and the Bible. William Robertson Smith and His Heritage. Sheffield: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 246, 20–45.

8 Referring to Wittgenstein’s ‘language games’, A. Polaschegg reconstructs e.g. the use of the ‘Orient’ in 18th- and 19th-century Germany as a ‘performative product of its common denominator’, in connection with overlapping conceptions of ‘Africa’ and ‘Asia’; see Polaschegg, Andrea (2005): Der andere Orientalismus, Berlin-New York: De Gruyter, 63–101.

9 The discussion of ‘the West’ as a construct of hegemonic power and of Christianity as a ‘non-Western religion’ plays a vital role in this study. Referring to my own role and position, I preferably use the signification ‘European’, or more specifically ‘German’ in order to acknowledge the significant differences within ‘the West’.

10 Quoted in: Bediako, Kwame (1995): The Significance of Modern African Christianity – A Manifesto. In: Studies in World Christianity 1 (1), 55; Bediako, Kwame (2002): Toward a New Theodicy, 47.

11 Rodney, Walter (1972): How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Dar-es-Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House.

12 Davidson, Basil (1980): Black Mother. Africa and the Atlantic Slave Trade (revised and expanded ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 271, quoted in: Bediako, Kwame (2002): Toward a New Theodicy, 49.

13 Curtin, Philip (1964): The Image of Africa. British Ideas and Action 1780–1850. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, quoted in: Bediako, Gillian M. (1997): Primal Religion and the Bible, 61.

14 See e.g. Bediako, Kwame (2000): A Half Century of African Christian Thought: Pointers to Theology and Theological Education in the Next Half Century. In: Journal of African Christian Thought 3 (1), 5.

15 Gayatri Ch. Spivak uses this term to describe the ‘production of the post-colonial subject’ through colonial and neo-colonial power structures (see Castro Varela, María do Mar; Dhawan, Nikita (2005): Postkoloniale Theorie. Eine kritische Einführung. Bielefeld: transcript, 56).

16 Bediako, Kwame (1996): ‘How Is Jesus Christ Lord?’ – Aspects of an Evangelical Christian Apologetics in the Context of African Religious Pluralism. In: Exchange – Journal of Missiological and Ecumenical Research 25 (1), S. 27–42.

17 On 31st December 1981, the civilian 3rd Republic government of President Hilla Limann was toppled in a military coup led by Flt. Lt. J. J. Rawlings, installing the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) as government, and pursuing a revolutionary policy, directed against the locale elite and against ‘imperialist’ powers. This policy, coupled with records of human rights violations, led Ghana into international isolation, until the PNDC-government submitted to the conditions of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and later embarked on a process of working out a new constitution and of preparing for parliamentary and presidential elections.

18 For further details see Schnellbach Jörg; Dinkelaker, Bernhard (2012): 40 Jahre EMS-Gemeinschaft. Mission in Solidarität. Stuttgart: EMS. The EMS shares this self-understanding as an international mission association with the Council for World Mission (CWM) and the Communauté Evangélique d’Action Apostolique (CEVAA), who were pioneering this approach in the 1970s, and with the United Evangelical Mission (UEM) and mission 21.

19 Cf. Smith, Linda Tuhiwai (2012): Decolonizing Methodologies. Research and Indigenous Peoples. 2nd ed. London, New York, New York: Zed Books, 219–220.

20 Grau, Marion (2011): Rethinking Mission in the Postcolony. Salvation, Society and Subversion. London, New York: T & T Clark, 288.

21 Ibid., 6.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (June)
African Theology African agency Akan Culture Translation Primal Religion Enlightenment
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 578 pp.

Biographical notes

Bernhard Dinkelaker (Author)

Bernhard Dinkelaker studied Theology and Educational Science at the Universities of Tübingen, Münster/Westf., Birmingham and Heidelberg. He served in diaconal work and in parishes in Germany, in an ecumenical programme in Ghana, as General Secretary in an international mission association, and as a lecturer in Cameroon.


Title: How Is Jesus Christ Lord?
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580 pages