Evangelical theology: its contributions and challenges
- Evangelical theology: its contributions
- Spiritual and economic transformation of communities
- Advocacy for political and religious freedom
- Evangelical theology: its challenges
- The problem of context
- The problem of diversity in evangelicalism
- The problem of postmodernism
- The problem of poverty and economic exploitation
- The problem of church and state relations
- The problem of spiritual and theological depth
- The problem of theology and culture
- The problem of globalization
- Theological responsibility
Evangelical theology: its contributions
Spiritual and economic transformation of communities
African evangelical theology' affirms most of the doctrinal beliefs central to the teachings of the Bible and the historical church. Evangelical theology, due to its contextual nature, is raising many socio-economic, cultural, religious, and political issues facing society by attempting to speak to them. Consequently, evangelical theology is providing a prophetic voice, challenging the status quo, and demanding a high moral standard for society. Their commitment to evangelism is helping to free people from sin, and demonic and evil forces that are holding many as captives. Their active service to communities and their advocacy for equity and social action are helping many African communities to develop and therefore enhancing the well-being and the flourishing of the people.
These tenets of evangelical theology have social, political, and economic implications for Christian engagement in society.1. Evangelicals’ understanding of the Gospel as good news and as the power of God to break the power of sin and to bring liberation from oppression (Luke 4:18) has played a seminal role in fighting for social, religious freedom and economic and democratic space in many African countries where there have been injustice, religious oppression and bondages, economic exploitation, and political oppressions.
Besides fighting for human dignity and freedom from oppression, evangelicals have engaged in transformative projects such as schools, hospitals, vocational training centers, and community development projects that have empowered many marginalized communities in Africa. These projects have benefited and enhanced the lives of many people. Evangelicals will continue to engage in these activities by proclaiming the Gospel and engaging in developmental activities, hoping and trusting these communities will come to experience the love of Christ, and many marginalized people will experience economic and social transformation in their lives.
Advocacy for political and religious freedom
So evangelical theology has contributed to the African evangelical Christians and churches’ roles in advocacy for just economic and social order, religious freedom, and political and democratic space for citizens to engage the government and participate in the governance of a nation’s resources for the common good and initiate transformative community development project that improves the living conditions of marginalized communities in Africa.
Evangelical theology: its challenges
The problem of context
Having mentioned some of the contributions evangelical theology has made to African Christianity and society, it will be good now to address some challenges that evangelical theology in Africa is poised to face or is facing. For example, since the 1970s, African theologians have tried to develop an African evangelical theology that is truly biblical and truly African.This has been a rewarding phenomenon, but a very difficult project.The challenge lies in being faithful to the Scriptures, maintaining our loyalty to Jesus Christ, and being faithful to the Gospel and the faith that is passed on to us by the apostles as we take seriously the African cultural, religious, socio-economic, and political contexts.
As society and culture change, our desire to make the Gospel relevant to address the existential issues and the questions being asked by people in relation to the Christian faith will always be a challenge. We must always commit ourselves to be loyal to the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ. There will be pressure from the world to conform to the patterns of the world. Evangelicals must stand firm and defend the faith that God has “entrusted once and for all time to his holy people” (Jude 1:3). Evangelicals today can learn from the Apostles and the early Church Fathers, whose commitment and loyalty to the integrity of the Gospel, the Word of God, and the Lord Jesus Christ were uncompromising. Evangelicals today must keep that legacy.
The problem of diversity in evangelicalism
Another challenge with evangelical theology is the different perspectives that exist in the evangelical faith that emerge in the actual practices of evangelicals. Gabriel Fackre gives six perspectives on evangelical faith18 that tend to divide evangelicals into fundamentalists, who tend to be polemical and conservative, or separatists, who hold the strictest form of beliefs; old evangelicals who emphasize personal conversion and mass evangelism; the new evangelicals who acknowledge social responsibility and apologetics;justice and peace evangelicals who are socio-political activists; charismatic evangelicals who stress the work of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, healing, and worship; and ecumenical evangelicals who are concerned with unity and cooperation.
These diverse perspectives of the evangelical faith pose a great challenge to evangelical Christianity, and it can become a source of conflict and division within the evangelical community. This, if it is not handled with care, can create tension and disunity within the evangelical movement and weaken our witness to the world.There are accusations, competition,and disunity within the evangelical community. Because of these different perspectives, cooperation with other evangelical bodies is often elusive. Competition among evangelical churches is threatening the unity of the body of Christ in Africa. This has frustrated our effort to work together and present one voice or a strong Christian witness on the continent. There is tension between the ecumenists and evangelicals. In many African states, this tension is real, and it has fragmented the voice of the Church. Evangelical Christians in Africa must work hard to overcome our disunity if we want to see a powerful and effective witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the continent of Africa.
The problem of postmodernism
The distinguishing characteristic of postmodernism is an approach to scholarship that critically questions received traditions that have dominated discourse in different fields, making the case that there are no “master narratives” that offer uncontested truths. Scholars have pointed out that postmodernism offers a critical method of questioning past claims. However, some evangelicals tend to think that it might lead to a denial of truth claims, especially if one takes the Biblical Scriptures as the foundation for faith and practice. Some Evangelicals argue that the full meaning of postmodernism for some might pose problems for Christians who want to address questions on human sexuality. A case in point is the fact that in the African Evangelical theological context, some leaders have opposed same-sex relations because biblical teachings condemn it. These scholars and leaders then fear that a postmodern understanding that might undermine the authority of the Bible would reject the Evangelical position on same-sex relations. Evangelicals are also concerned by the position of some Governments who have linked foreign and development aid to the fact that recipients of aid would support alternative sexualities. Evangelicals argue that such views of the postmodern that would insist that churches accept same-sex relations are a misrepresentation of the idea of the postmodern, which broadly understood is a theoretical approach that recognizes the multiplicity of thought, ethics, and practice.
The evangelical Christian community’s response to human sexuality in Africa is very critical. The cultural and sociological issues associated with homosexuality and the HIV/AID pandemic in Africa, and the resultant socio-economic impact on society, are a few of the challenges facing the evangelical church. Evangelical theology must address human sexuality in Africa. The Church should not shy away from this issue any time it comes up. To foster balance in ensuring and upholding biblical moral values and those of society can cause some tension. Often evangelical Christianity has been accused of not being sensitive to the human plight; they are dogmatic when it comes to human sexuality. Evangelicals must hold firm to the integrity of God’s word as the source and foundation for humanity’s moral discourse and practice.
The problem of poverty and economic exploitation
Poverty and unemployment on the continent are critical issues for the church, whose members are very poor. For example, national statistics in Kenya show the youth form 70 percent of the Kenyan population. The majority of the youth in Kenya are unemployed. This is true of many
African nations. This poses a challenge for the church. Evangelical theology must also strive to balance the proclamation of the Gospel by word and deed. This means African evangelical theology must remain contextual by addressing the existential issues facing Christians and the communities they are preaching the Gospel to. Questions of development and holistic mission will always be a challenge for evangelical Christianity. Evangelical theology' must always engage in holistic ministry. Speaking prophetically to the social, economic, political, and environmental concerns the African continent is facing would not only give a powerful witness to the Gospel, but it would also give credence to the nature of the Gospel, which is good news. Taking social justice issues seriously in evangelical theology will always be a challenge because evangelicals hold diverse views regarding social engagement.
The problem of church and state relations
The question of the church and its involvement with politics has come to the fore in recent years in many African nations. This was true in many African countries where evangelical Christians are getting actively involved in politics by either seeking an elected position or campaigning for a political party. For the first time, Christian leaders, bishops, pastors, and others vied for political positions. The nature of the Gospel demands that evangelicals must give leadership in matters relating to social justice, liberation, empowerment, and economic emancipation for the poor and the marginalized by maintaining its prophetic voice in denouncing exploitation and injustice in society, just as the Old Testament prophets spoke forcefully to denounce the inappropriate behavior of the leaders in exploiting the poor and the weak and the marginalized in the community. The evangelical community knows they need to do this, but they do not know how to do it. Evangelical Christianity wants to engage civil society and advocate for good governance. What informs how such engagement should be is always a problem.
Consequently, evangelical Christianity has not given clear direction in this area. This can be frustrating for many. Dealing with dictators and national leaders who have lost their moral authority will always be a challenge because African leaders do not want to be criticized. One can lose his or her life by criticizing a political leader. Evangelicals should not lose their prophetic voice.
The problem of spiritual and theological depth
Another critical challenge of evangelical theology is to ensure that the faith is passed on to faithful men and women who will teach it to future generations (2 Timothy 2:2). Although evangelical Christianity is growing in Africa, there is a lack of theological depth and understanding of the Gospel and its implication for our daily life. This speaks to the question of Christian discipleship. The challenge comes when the majority of African Christians living in rural communities do not read and write. Many of our young people do not like reading things that could challenge them to rethink their beliefs or theological positions.They like listening to things.This will require that we think of innovative ways of passing on the faith to the next generation of believers. This will require doing theology in vernacular language and making audio for those Christians who cannot read or write. This will be a difficult task, since most theologians are not fluent in speaking and expressing themselves in their vernacular languages. We must find a way of doing this if the faith is to be transmitted to the future generation.
African church does not have many well-trained pastors and teachers in the church. They pose a big challenge for the church in Africa. We need to take theological training seriously. Theological education is fundamental in training pastors and Christian educators to engage in the work of equipping Christians in the faith. We should find ways of training pastors where they are taught with solid theological materials like the ones used by Theological Education by Extension (TEE), to help our rural pastors to get some good theological training to be able to teach and pass on the faith to the next generation. Lack of discipline in Christians can lead to a lack of genuine Christian commitment on the part of the believer.
In addition to training, we need to develop good teaching materials that are context-relevant to discipleship. We lack good discipleship materials written in Africa and that address some of the social, cultural, political, and economic issues that would help us live as followers of Christ. The materials available are not often helpful for our context.
The problem of theology and culture
Issues relating to theology and culture have moved to the center stage of evangelical theological reflection on the continent. The issue of Gospel and culture is always a challenge when the Gospel encounters any culture. In order to address the Christian faith so that it is not seen as a foreign religion, serious attention must be given to the context and culture into which the faith is planted. For Africans to contextualize or inculturate the Gospel in another culture, clear guidelines must be given to make sure the process is faithful to biblical Christianity. The dilemma African evangelicals are facing is to develop an African Christianity that is authentically African and truly biblical. The concern to relate theology to culture without accommodating or losing the essential core of evangelical theology can be a challenge if this is not done with care and integrity in handling God’s word. It is important we give theological direction on the complex issues culture raises for theology. The desire to develop a theology’ that is relevant as well as truly biblical and theologically sound is a challenge. African evangelical theologians must do work that addresses some of the key theological subjects in Christian theology.
The problem of globalization
It is important for evangelical theology' to foster unity, integrity, and faithfulness to the evangelical faith in a pluralistic religious society so that the evangelical faith is not lost. In this case, evangelical theological institutions can play’ a critical role in ensuring the purity of the evangelical tradition. This requires that care must be taken to hire professors who are committed to the essential tenets of the evangelical faith, as we have outlined earlier. Along with globalization come the incipient materialism and the consumerism culture creeping into the church. The evangelical community must respond to these cultural values of the West that are gaining deeper roots in the African church.
Christianity in the West is declining, and the evangelical church in Africa has a role to play in preserving evangelical Christianity for future posterity. There are not many institutions in African to train Christian leaders and workers for the future Church. Where such training is taking place, there are no adequate resources for the training to be credible. There should be cooperation between the West and African institutions to help with resources for them to be successful in this mission. African evangelicals and others from the “south” must live up to this theological responsibility.
Religious pluralism, liberal secularism, prosperity Gospel, issues of postmodernity philosophy raised, new theological hermeneutics, and other issues developing on the continent would be challenging for evangelical Christians. We must reflect, think, and provide guidance for evangelical Christians to respond to the issues raised by these ideologies. We must contend for the faith.
African evangelical theology is evangelical, trinitarian, revelatory, Christological, and eschatological.The Gospel is central to evangelical theology. It stresses the place of the Cross and the need for personal conversion or personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to receive forgiveness of sins. It upholds the Bible as the supreme authority for faith and practice. It is missional. It advocates for an active sharing of the Gospel through evangelism. Although evangelical theology has many benefits and has contributed to African Christianity, it also has many challenges which African evangelicals must address to sustain the gains of evangelicalism in Africa.
- 1 http://www.aeafrica.org/ about/.
- 2 Jonathan Hildebrandt, History of the Church in Africa: A Survey (Achimota, Ghana: Africa Christian Press, 1987), 1-8.
- 3 Hildebrandt, History of the Church in A frica, 1—8.
- 4 Hildebrandt, History of the Church in A frica, 6—10.
- 5 Richard Gehman, “The East African Revival.” Accessed from https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ajet/ 05-l_036.pdf, 36.
- 6 Gehman, “East Africa Revival,” 37.
- 7 Gehman,“East Africa Revival,” 43.
- 8 http://wwww.aeafrica.org/about/. See James Nkansah-Obrempong, “Evangelical Churches and Movements in Africa,” in Anthology of African Christianity (Oxford: Regnum Books International, 2016), 425-430.
- 9 Nkansah-Obrempong, “Evangelical Churches and Movements in Africa,” 426.
- 10 Hildebrandt, History of the Church in A frica, 38.
- 11 Hildebrandt, History of the Church in A frica, 39.
- 12 Bruce Hindmarsh, “Evangelicalism,” in Walter A. Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1984, 291.
- 13 “What is Evangelical Theology?” https://www.gotquestions.org (accessed January 05, 2019).
- 14 Hindmarsh, “Evangelicalism,” 291.
- 15 Chicago: Rel212week7.docx — Running Head Christianity 1 .., https://www.coursehero.com/fil e/27170657/REL212WEEK7docx/ (accessed June 08,2019).
- 16 Hindmarsh, “Evangelicalism,” 292.
- 17 Nkansah-Obrempong, “Evangelical Churches and Movement,” 427.
- 18 John Stott, Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plead for Unity, Integrity and Faithfulness (Downers Grove, IL: I VP, 1999), 22-23.
Gehman, Richard. “The East African Revival.” East A frica Journal of Evangelical Theology, Issue 5.1 (1986): 36-56.
Hildebrandt, Jonathan. History of the Church in Africa: A Survey (Achimota, Ghana: Africa Christian Press, 1987).
Hindmarsh, Bruce. “Evangelicalism.” In: Walter A. Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1984), 102-118.
Nkansah-Obrempong, James. “Evangelical Churches and Movements in Africa.” In: Isabel Apawo Phin, Dietrich Werner, Chammah Kaunda,and Kennedy Owino, eds. Anthology of African Christianity (Oxford: Regnum Books International, 2016), 425—430.
Stott, John. Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea for Unity, Integrity, and Faithfulness (Downers Grove, IL: I VP, 1999).
“What Is Evangelical Theology?” https://www.gotquestions.org. Accessed March 10,2020