Christians from across the UK gathered on 21 October to celebrate the launch of a landmark new book, African voices: towards African British theologies. Representing a range of churches, organisations and Bible colleges, those present were treated to an array of contributions from African and Caribbean Christian leaders and theologians, including many who contributed to the book itself.
African Voices, published by Langham, features contributions from twelve scholarly African pastors engaged in ministry and theology in Britain, and is a unique expression of theology from African Christians, contextualizing the gospel for a multicultural British society. Under three key areas of missiology, contextual constructive theology and transformative practical theology, the contributors interact with topics such as reverse missiology, African pneumatology, prosperity gospel, and urban mission.
The book’s editor, CMMW founder Israel Olofinjana, described how the two year project had come about. “As I came across various African students of theology, I saw they were theologically talented, but had very few opportunities to publish. They were frustrated by the lack of opportunities to get their thoughts out there, so I thought ‘why not create a platform for other African scholars to write?’”
Wale Hudson-Roberts, Racial Justice Enabler at the Baptist Union of Great Britain, described the book as “a compelling text from a racial justice perspective”, with its use of the same technique as the gospels – employing stories from a particular cultural context to help people understand key truths. He described the book as “attending to the drowned out voices of the marginalised – this book says: “we have a robust theological voice”.
In Wale’s words, the book also “points to an African God – it says that Christianity does not just relate to a privileged culture, and reminds us that God should never be defined by a particular race or class”.
Israel described how the book also aims to counter the stereotypes of African churches and leaders, which often focus on big churches and loud expressive music. Israel explained: “I wanted to show that there are theological talents in the African Church in Britain – there is an African theology here too, and African theologians who are doing this thinking.” The book also pioneers a new academic field, asserting that African Christianity in Britain is worthy of being studied in its own right.
Dulcie Dixon-McKenzie, Tutor in Black Theology and Ministries & Leadership at The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, gave the keynote address, drawing on her rich Christian heritage rooted in the African-Caribbean Pentecostal Church in Britain. She described Israel’s research, including this latest book, as making a noticeable difference to the discourse of black theology, with a commitment to capture black voices of the past and present in a creative and visionary way.
Explaining how theology was considered a white middle class arena until recently, Dulcie described how liberation theology helped put the record straight, by asserting that scriptural interpretation can be done from different perspectives and contexts, and that there are theologies rather than one theology.
Dulcie offered her definition of black theology – namely a critique of traditional theology, offering a new mode of theological understanding from the perspective of people of African descent (including African-Caribbeans). With 2006 marking 10 years of Black Theology in Britain, its pioneers include Anthony Reddie and Robert Beckford, who were remembered and honoured during the event.
Referring to her own Caribbean Pentecostal heritage, rich with traditions including choruses sung in repetition, Dulcie spoke of her real concern that the stories and histories from this tradition are being lost, as the generation which founded these churches passes on. She described black British history as an “urgent agenda”, with African-Caribbean and African British theologies having different but equally valuable things to say.
The event also heard from contributors to the book, including Michele Mahon, Eben Adu, Valerie Nkechi Taiwo and Chigor Chike. Israel offered a special tribute to Freddie Adorkorbidiji, author of the book’s final chapter which critiques African church growth. Freddie sadly passed away in 2016, just a few months after submitting his contribution.
African Voices, published by Langham, is available to buy now.