African Heritage and Contemporary Christianity Summary

J.N.K. Mugambi


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

J. N. K. Mugambi places the Christianization of Africa in its historical context to make the point that African Christians led the movement and that Christianity was not imposed on the continent by outside forces. Beginning with the rise of Islam in the seventh century, Africans were subjected to the slave trade across the Indian and Atlantic oceans, and Christians viewed the trade as justified. Primarily nonmainstream Christians and non-Christians worked to defeat slavery. Not until the twentieth century did liberation theology arise.

The rise of the missionary movement in the nineteenth century accompanied the colonization of Africa. Despite its flawed origins, the movement had a positive impact across the continent, and when the postcolonial era arrived, many African countries chose to retain their Christian faith rather than renounce it.

Mugambi points to a new wave of missionary organizations that focus on imposing their cultural norms as well as their religion and have an impact that he calls “alarming.” He looks at the concept of mission, “going out to the world,” and notes that early Christian missionaries had preached Christianity as the logical successor to the prevalent faith in their land, Judaism. However, missionaries in Africa introduced Christianity as a faith that had no connection whatsoever to existing religious worship and supplanted those traditions. The initial African converts were the first to begin to connect the Gospel to their everyday lives and make it more meaningful in the context of African traditions.

Christianity reached the East African interior in the early nineteenth century. The faith had been difficult to establish in this region because of ill-conceived strategies such as baptizing large numbers of people without training clergy to minister to them. In the nineteenth century, missionaries became more concerned with “teaching” Christianity, seeing their mission as imparting civilization and economic well-being along with religion. An aspect of missionary activity that had immense...

(The entire section is 843 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Barrett, David B. African Initiatives in Religion. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing House, 1971. Describes the establishment of independent African churches in Nairobi and their struggle with traditional norms.

Desmangles, Leslie G. “Africa’s Syncretic Christianity.” Review of African Heritage and Contemporary Christianity. Cross Currents 42, no. 1 (Spring, 1992): 122-123. Review of Mugambi’s work examines the history of Christianity in Africa and notes that converts retain their African identity.

Gehman, Richard J. African Traditional Religion in Biblical Perspective. Kijabe, Kenya: Kesho Publications, 2001. Relates traditional African marriage practices, death rituals, and initiation rites to structures described in the Bible.

Imasogie, Osadolor. Guidelines for Christian Theology in Africa. Achimota, Ghana, West Africa: Africa Christian Press, 1983. Presents strategies for relating the Gospel to traditional African life, as well as listing places where the traditions reinforce each other.