A couple years ago, African theologians and church leaders got together at a conference. One of the realizations that came out of that conference was that there are two theologies developing among Christians in Africa. One is an official and academic theology. It is taught in Bible schools and theological seminaries. But it often doesn’t spread beyond those. The other is a people’s theology. It is found among ordinary Christians. The official and academic theology happens in the official language, but the people’s theology is created and discussed in local languages. So the two don’t interact. The people’s theology is created when people talk to each other about how to deal with issues coming out of their traditional beliefs such as spirits, sorcery, and their fears The official theology often fails to touch those issues or to take them seriously.
Unfortunately, few missionaries taught on such things other than to quickly issue a general condemnation. In that gap, people filled in their own theology. They sit in church and listen, and not hearing something that answers their questions, they may leave church and go to a practitioner of traditional religion where they do find answers, not good answers, but answers nevertheless.
My Congolese friend and theologian, Bungushabaku Katho, has been experimenting with what he calls “The Village Academy”. He gets ordinary people in Congolese villagers to read the Bible in their languages, then he and other theologians interact with them about what they read and what they think that it means for them. Of that experience he wrote:
“Very often we realized that the experience of villagers became much more enriching for our understanding of the Bible; well above the bookish methods of the seminary hall.”
The experiment of the “Village Academy” is teaching us that a theologian must keep his ear tuned to the community in which he lives.
What kind of Christianity will we find in Africa in 25 years, or 50? Will it be split in two with a academic part stuck in theological seminaries and a people’s part in the pews and the streets but which is less and less recognizable as the Good News taught by Jesus and the Apostles? I hope not.