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Why It's Hard to Learn from African Christians

New research spotlights what the continent’s believers (and those worldwide) are missing.
Why It's Hard to Learn from African Christians

Want to learn from an African Christian leader? There’s Augustine, Cyprian, and many other African theologians from the church’s first centuries. But you’re unlikely to find a living author in your library or bookstore.

Now, a new study, polling more than 8,000 Christians in four languages across three countries, has found that African Christians aren’t reading African Christians, either.

In the Africa Leadership Study, a quarter of Central Africans, a third of Angolans, and half of Kenyans named a preacher or pastor as their favorite author. Majorities in Angola and Kenya named authors whose writings were explicitly Christian. High percentages also named African writers.

However, “overlap between the two was low, with relatively few respondents identifying favorite authors [who] were both African and Christian,” said Robert Priest, a professor of international studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, who presented the findings to the American Society of Missiology.

The lack of prominent indigenous authors was also evidenced by the library holdings of five major Christian higher education institutions in Kenya, where only one African Christian (John Mbiti) ranked among the top 15 authors with the largest presence on the shelves. Kenyan Christian bookstores had a significantly different top 15, but only one African author (Dag Heward-Mills) cracked their lists. Other commercial booksellers and street vendors didn’t have any African Christian authors among their top 15.

Demand is one major reason for the paucity. While 38 percent of the world’s evangelicals are in sub-Saharan Africa, many “see products, including books, from the West as superior and ...

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