The Question of Identity: Ancient Parents and African Siblings
Two test cases: Early Church Fathers and African Theologians
Church Fathers– -church fathers interacted w/ both Judaism and Graeco-Roman culture. The question of Judaism concerns their religious past, seeking a dis/continuous relationship with it. So they appropriated OT and NT as the unified revelation of Christ. The question of identity in this is who are we is relations to our religious past. The question concerning Greaco-Roman cultural tradition is who are we in this place, and how can we understand this tradition through Christ.
i.Justifying Identity- or the Triumph of Barbarism
Tatian and Tertullian sought to vindicate Christian Identity against Hellenism. They wanted to show that Christianity in no way came from, or was indebted to Greek thought or life, and that Hellenism (its philosophical systems and religious life) were dangerous to Christian identity. In fact, Greek philosophy is really a misunderstanding of Moses, who is much before Greek philosophy, meaning that Christians are more ancient than Greeks. (Tatian). This vindicated the Truth of the Gospel outside of and before Greek criteria of acceptability/rationality. Also, Tertullian was still arguing for the right to exist and think as a Christian. His viewpoint is not the evaluation/engagement of culture, but a religious question of faithfulness amidst paganism. Yet, for both Tatian and Tertullian a defense of Identity loses its ability to be an effective witness within dominant culture. (see p. 140)
ii. Identity as Fulfillment- Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria
These theologians seek to establish Christian identity as not just the culmination of the Jewish tradition, but also as the apex of Greek tradition. Justin is not attempting to fuse Christian faith with Greek ideals, rather he attempts to show that the best and brightest of the Greek philosophical tradition, in thoughts, and in persons, was the work of the eternal Word, because Truth has only one source, and that is Christ. The fulfillment-culture Justin Martyr “But his spirit of wisdom was present in very man as his highest intellect, so that not only does Christ represent the culmination of the prophecy of a single religion, even though that is the most ancient religion, but He is the incarnation of the Universal Intelligence which it has been the hopeless struggle of every philosopher to understand.” The answer to the sneers of the philosophers that Christianity was not worthy of an intelligent man’s consideration was thus the counter-attack that philosophy had failed, and that only in Christianity was the end of philosophy to be found.
African Fathers– For African Theology it is who are we as African Christians in relationship to Missionary/Western Christianity (religious past) and Traditional African religions (cultural present). Concerning Missionary Christianity, instead of positively appropriating their religious past like the church fathers, they are needing to critically disentangle themselves from Western Christianity. They are de-westernizing Christianity in their process of self-definition as a means of dealing w/ their religious past. And concerning their cultural present, African Theologian see Christianity as fulfillment of Africa traditions.
i. Fulfillment of Africa– The theologian Idowu sees that God was already at work in africa, revealing himself as the one God. Africans are really monotheists. Mbiti sees Church as the fulfillment of aspirations of tribe, family, community. Aspirations are not destroyed, but fulfilled in the church.
ii. Indigenous Church: Idowu– Indigenization of the church. “We mean by it simply that the Church should bear the unmistakable stamp of the fact that she is the Church of God in Nigeria. It should be no longer an outreach or a colony of Rome, Canterbury or Westminster Central Hall in London, or the vested interests of some European or American Missionary Board…the Church in Nigeria should be the Church which affords Nigerians the means of worshipping God as Nigerians; that is, in a way which is compatible with their own spiritual temperament, of singing to the glory of God in their own way, of praying to God and hearing Hid Holy Word in idiom whih is clearly intelligible to them…She should be…the spiritual home of Christian Nigerians, a home in which they breathe an atmosphere of spiritual freedom.”
iii. Indigenous Church: Mbiti “Mbiti makes a distinction between Christianity on the one hand, and the Christian Faith or the Gospel, on the other. Christianity, which ‘results from the encounter of the Gospel with any given local or regional community/society,’ is always indigenous and, by definition, culture bound. The Gospel is God given, Christianity is a result from the encounter with the Gospel in a local cultures. African theologian John Mbiti says, “We can add nothing to the Gospel, for this is an eternal gift of God; but Christianity is always a beggar seeking food and drink, cover and shelter from the cultures it encounters in it never-ending journeys and wanderings.” Also, “To speak of ‘indigenising christianity’ is to give the impression that Christianity is a ready-made commodity which has to be transplanted to a local area. Of course, this has been the assumption followed by many missionaries and local theologians. I do not accept it any more.” This is Mbiti’s argument against contextualization (which assumes an unchanging essence of Christianity.
These are my summary notes of Bediako’s text/argument. In Part 3 I will look at an appropriation of this method of “theology and identity” based in religious tradition and cultural present for our postmodern, Wester context.