Evangelical Theology In Africa: Byang Kato’s Legacy -- By: Paul Bowers

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 01:1 (Spring 1980)
Article: Evangelical Theology In Africa: Byang Kato’s Legacy
Author: Paul Bowers

Evangelical Theology In Africa:
Byang Kato’s Legacy

Paul Bowers

Wheaton, Illinois

For those interested in Christianity in Africa, and especially for those interested in evangelical Christianity in Africa, it would be hard to over-emphasize the significance of Byang Kato’s Theological Pitfalls in Africa (Nairobi: Evangel Publishing House, 1975).

Byang Karo was a young Nigerian theologian of unusual ability and vitality, with a profound concern for the continuing growth of biblical Christianity in Africa. In this study he has focused on what he takes to be major theological pitfalls threatening the very survival of such Christianity on the continent. His thesis is that a pernicious syncretistic universalism is being promoted, almost unnoticed, within African Christianity. He seeks to call the evidence for this development to the attention of African Christians and to show how far it departs from true biblical teaching.

It must be said at once that Kato is by no means opposed to a legitimate contextualization of the Christian message in Africa. To the contrary, he says that an indigenous theology is a necessity. To fail to recognize—as some have—that this is fundamental to Kato’s theological perspective is to fail to understand the man. I well remember Dr. Kato igniting a large evangelical congress in Nigeria, at the conclusion of a notable address, with the ringing appeal: “Let African Christians be Christian Africans!” He wanted a Christianity that was, as he put it, “truly African and truly biblical.”

It is to the second element of that presciption, the biblical element, that Kato directs attention in Pitfalls. Kato begins by describing factors which are proving conducive to the emergence within African Christianity of a syncretistic universalism. He singles out the theological issue of the relation of African Christianity to Africa’s traditional religions as that feature of the current trend which he wishes especially to explore. An overview of traditional religions is then furnished, made more vivid and concrete by a careful description of the religious beliefs and practices in which Kato himself was reared, namely those of his own tribe, tire Jaba of Nigeria. (The chapter on Jaba religion is of independent value as an addition to the descriptive literature on African traditional religions.)

The central section of Pitfalls contains an examination of the writings of two prominent African theologians, John Mbiti of Kenya, and Bolaji Idowu of Nigeria, and of major pronouncements from the influential All Africa Conference of Churches. Kato seeks to expose those elements from these three sources which either explicitly or implicitly promote a positi...

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