To Deepen Understanding

Concepts of God in Africa, by John S. Mbiti (Praeger, 1970, 348 pp., $9), and Religions of Africa, by Noel Q. King (Harper and Row, 1970, 116 pp., $4.50), are reviewed by Odhiambo W. Okite, journalist, Nairobi, Kenya.

African traditional religions have become the subject of intense, excited discussion among scholars and churchmen both in Africa and outside. But there is still quite a diversity of opinion as to what these religions really are, and what usefulness they have at a time when Africa is secularizing and modernizing at a breakneck speed.

Some scholars still see them as primitive, animistic religions, the very childhood of man’s religious instincts. Others regard them as the intricate thought and life patterns that made it possible for the African to laugh and dance in one of nature’s most oppressive corners of the earth. Some churchmen look upon these religions as abominations to the Christian mind and spirit, the powers of evil and darkness from which Christ has come to save Africa. Others call them the preparatio evangelica, the primal vision, the presence of God in pre-Christian Africa.

The discussion is being carried out at various levels. At the most elementary, it is bringing to the surface certain myths, proverbs, and legends that are helping to explain some Christian concepts and practices in a language Africans easily understand.

At another level it is revealing the basic points of conflict between Christianity and traditional concepts and practices. Such conflicts have hitherto been neglected, with the result that Christianity found it difficult to claim the whole man in Africa; African Christians found it far too easy to revert to traditional ways at times of crisis, when the Christianity ...

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