Theological typologies of development for African Christianity

The pluralistic spectrum of the African social landscape within which development is carried out indicates complexities that undergird a theology' of development. Though political, socioeconomic, religious, cultural, and ecological issues are typically not dissimilar across Africa, a theology of development is not monolithic. Nevertheless, there are fundamental social currents streaming across Africa, and one can speak generically of three typologies of an African theology' of development, which are proposed here as viable pathways for meeting some of the challenging issues and opportunities for human and cosmic flourishing. As we have demonstrated in this chapter, the definition of development is imbued with ideological underpinnings that often reinforce narratives of exclusion, marginality; and domination between the North and South, as well as social hierarchies and power differentials in the so-called developing nations. It is thus hard to privilege a particular definition. However, we propose that viewed through an African theological lens, one needs to look at development in terms of conditions that need to be present for human and cosmic flourishing appropriate to the African traditions of abundant life, in which the common good is promoted, preserved, and accessed by’ all people—especially' those who are poor and historically excluded. Development is, therefore, a dynamic historical process. It is within this dynamism that we propose these typologies as a theological roadmapto be followed, based on important theological developments in Africa concerning some of the issues of governance, social ministry in the church, aid intervention, social justice, the so-called prosperity Gospel, and the cries of the poor and the marginalized.

African theology of development as reflection on the praxis of hope and historical reversal

An African theology' of development seeks to show what hope will look like when mediated through the agency of Christians and peoples in daily praxis and their actual faith. It weaves the narratives of abundant life and reversal of history, by showing that the daily stories of resistance and new beginnings and practices of hope are concrete realizations of the footprints of God in African history. It is this recognition of Gods active presence at work in the daily commitments of Africans inspired by their faith in their struggles for survival and for a renewal of creation which offers African theologies of development data for reflection. During his maiden visit to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, Pope Francis acclaimed: “Africa is a land of hope.”60The words of Pope Francis reflect the soul of the African continent. A theology' of development in Africa must show why’ Africa is a land of hope—not simply through making assertions and claims about the unfailing courage of Africans, or the famed African Ubuntu, but rather by entering into what is going on in African history' through the agency of Christianity and demonstrating the intelligibility of these daily' habits—social ministry, poverty-eradication initiatives, the fight for human rights, and the rights of women—in meeting the most pressing needs of the people of Africa. Given the complex social issues that Africa faces today, the Second African Synod of Bishops spoke of the crisis of hope.61 A major task of an African theology' of development is to offer hope, hewn from both the personal and community stories of Africans, and their resilience amidst social challenges.62 An African theology' of development demonstrates how these stories shape the present African existential reality; how Africans respond to development, and how these stories contribute to the renewal of the cultural, economic, religious, and political landscapes of Africa.

In his work Born of Lament: The Theology and Politics of Hope in Africa, Emmanuel Katongole seeks to show the nature of hope in the concrete African historical context. He reveals through the narratives of community leaders in places like Congo and Northern Uganda that alternative sites of reversal of history' are emerging, even in the most hopeless situations in Africa, because people—particularly African women—are resisting the forces of entropy in particular contexts of brokenness and war, by creating oases of forgiveness, healing, and restoration, which shows the face of hope. Within the African context, Katongole writes that

hope takes the form of arguing and wrestling with God. If we understand it as a lament, such arguing and wrestling is not merely' a sentiment, not merely a cry of pain. It is a way of mourning, of protesting too, appealing to, and engaging God—and a way of acting amid ruins.63

In other words, hope involves thinking and feeling, understanding and acting, and being agents in creating new stories that show the footprints of God. It is also about how these stories help to bring light where there is darkness as performance and praxis. A theology of development must reassure the people of Africa that “the Garden of Eden in decay” can become again the face of a new creation through the faith and works of African Christians who must be challenged by such a theology to become “active actors” in the realization of the reign of God in African history.

An African theology of development initiates trajectories for the future, which inspires Africans to trust God’s graces. Consistently working through their concrete social situation, these graces strengthen them in becoming responsible agents of their destiny and creative dreamers for future generations. Such a theology offers hope that is not based on a vague utopia or an escape from space and time, but rather provides a firm assurance of the rich possibilities and prospects for Africa’s future. Hope is not based on tangible signs, the promises of political elites, confidence in institutions, or an ideology. According to Albert Nolan, to

put one’s hope and trust in God means that, while we might value and appreciate the contributions of princes, institutions, and ideologies, in the end, we simply do not treat them as the absolute and unshakable basis of our hopes for the future/'4

Christian hope is ultimately founded on the Triune God (Hebrews 10:23). Hope anchored on God enables Africans to recognize what God is doing in the present and promises for the future. As Maria Cimperman states: “Because our hope is rooted in God, it allows us to truly see the world as it is, to imagine more than what we see, and to work for what we sense is possible.”6’ Hope builds on the mission of Christ to liberate humanity from all that obviates human and cosmic flourishing, and on the promise of his loving presence in human history (Luke 18;John 10:10; Matthew 28:20). An African theology of development must articulate a hope based on God’s unconditional love, and God’s continuous presence in Africa’s history. Hope must express unwavering faith toward overcoming Afro-pessimism. Hope captures Africans dreaming and journeying with God toward their tclos. An African theology of development bears witness to hope in a way that recognizes Africa’s eschaton as belonging to God, and Africa’s destination as a creative vision of Africans. This calls for a deeper conviction—that Africans be committed to being transformed if transformation is to occur in Africa. Drawing from Pope Francis, an African theology of development constructs a hopeful future, one that “gives priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events.”66 Accordingly, the poor and marginalized are veritable voices of hope in Africa (Luke 6:20—21).Their stories reveal networks of hope seen at the grassroots, including basic Christian communities and sodalities.

Empirical data do not constitute the primary currency of hope.67 Instead, the hermeneutic of hope is “measured” in terms of fidelity to the building of God’s kingdom in the here and now of Africa (Mark 1:15). It proclaims the arrival and demands of God’s reign, calling Africans to an integral conversion and prophetic imagination: conversion from past inhibitions to present possibilities as well as articulating the deepest yearnings that have been denied and suppressed.68

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