In Hearing and Knowing: Theological Reflections on Christianity in Africa, Mercy A. Oduyoye brilliantly reflects on African Theology at its (this refers to the earlier edition in 1986; This is a reprint in 2009) current state. The task of theology in the third world connotes a theology of the oppressed and marginalized. For Odoyuye, developing an African theology consists of this definition, but defines it also by the sources which shape it.
The first part of Oduyoye’s book details the sources for where African theology has developed. The first source is from church history. Beginning from the middle of the 4th century there are missionary campaigns that build churches in Ethiopia. What becomes more apparent is the colonization into a “Roman” African culture, slowly replacing other African religions. What happens with Christianity, however, is rather interesting. Christianity does not replace the African religions, but enter into a hybrid form of religion where, in one form God and Christ enter into the mixture of their current gods, while another form have Jehovah replacing their god, while another holding syncretistic views (19). Out of this forming of religion, three insights emerge. The first, martyrdom became an important distinction in christianity that showed the loyalty one had before God. The second, deeds, which when in times of in times of emergency, by which christians were called to serve in practical ministry. The third came in the form of strict adherence to the sacraments and to being “saints” rather than sinners (20-23).
The second source arises out of their African History. This includes there social, political and economic realities as well as the exploitation of land and the oppressed. It is this “experience of the conquest, the appropriation of authority by non-natives, of slavery and of cooption” that make for an African theology because it is also a part of the African experience (52).
The third source is from the Bible. The bible is the common source from which they theologize precisely because of the connection of Biblical story to their own experiences. Christianity and Christian theology both spring forth from the well of stories found in the bible and the reflection on the events and narratives in combination with the African experience (53). These sources have developed into the acculturation as well as inculturation of Christianity in “black Africa” (69). In finalizing a working definition of Third World African theology, it is the theological insight by Africans into Christian theology, and the African insight comes from the underside of history, the third world perspective. This, however, does limit the efficacy of their theology. In the words of Odoyuye, “To treat them as exotic additions would be to sin against the Holy Spirit, and that would be Heresy” (76).
The second part of Hearing and Knowing concerns with constructing theology that considers the salient issues in the African experience. Odoyuye considers the exodus event in light of speaking as well as acting out against colonialism. One important category to consider is feminism as an addition to the discussion of the study of Christian Anthropology, so as to have a fuller understanding of humanity and to work towards their liberation.
As a constructive, liberative theology, Hearing and Knowing provides the methodology and sources that have engaged christian thought. It opens pathways for understanding theology as rooted in the hearts of the people. Theology is a communal practice; it requires the stories of the people, their testimonies of the success of following the Bible. This means that theology is also historically influenced, showing how the community in the past have appropriated the bible for use in liberation.
However, I have questions that arise from the historical beginnings of African christianity. If christianity led to the colonization of Africa and the displacement of African religion, would not a truly african theology attempt to de-colonize christian theology? Isn’t the problem of christianity the fact that it has taken on the clothing of empire? Odoyuye’s work, although is aware of empire, and seeks liberation from a political perspective, has yet, in my opinion, to liberate it from the Romanization of Christianity. And this is true of many of the liberation perspectives I have read thus far. Within history lies the problem that repeats itself, the power of colonization, of empire. Nevertheless, Odoyuye finds the counter to empire, found in the exodus narrative, in the creation account of God, as well as the Christ event, as appropriated for use in African theology.
Hearing and Knowing provides an introduction to the history, methodology, and sources of an African theology. It provides impetus for thought as one finds correlations to the stories of the african experience.