A comparative and theological evaluation of the interface of mission Christianity and African culture in nineteenth century Akan and Yoruba lands of West Africa.
Olabimtan, Kehinde Olumuyiwa.
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This study explores the dynamics at play in the nineteenth century interaction between European mission Christianity and the peoples and cultures of West Africa with Akan (Gold Coast) and Yoruba (Nigeria) lands serving as the model theatres of the interaction. It appreciates the fact that in a context such as West Africa, where religious consciousness permeates every aspect of life, the coming of the Gospel to its peoples impacted every aspect of the social and religious lives of the people. Chapter one sets the agenda for the study by exploring the dynamics involved in the transmission of the Gospel as it spread from Palestine to the Graeco-Roman world, medieval Europe, Enlightenment Europe and, later, Africa in the nineteenth century. It also defines the limits of the study to the period 1820-1892. Chapter two explores the religious and the cultural environments that gave shape to the modem European missionary movement. It highlights the features of the European Reformation that were factors in defining missionary methods in West Africa. It also emphasizes the subtle infiltration of Enlightenment ideals-the primacy of Reason, the way of Nature, and the idea of Progress-into missionary consciousness about Africa and its peoples. Chapter three delineates the religious and the cultural milieus of West Africans in contrast to that of European missionaries. It underscores the integral nature of religion to the totality of life among West Africans. It also contrasts the socio-political conditions of Akan land and Yoruba land in the nineteenth century while appreciating the rapid changes impinging on their peoples. Chapter four explores how the prevailing realities in Akan and Yoruba lands defined the fortunes and the prospects of the missionary message among the people. In doing this, it draws from four model encounters of mission Christianity with West African peoples and cultures. In Mankessim, the deception associated with a traditional cult was exposed. At Akyem Abuakwa, the contention between missionaries and the royalty for authority over the people led to social disruption. The resistance of the guild of Ifa priests to Christian conversion and the assuring presence of missionaries to the warrior class created ambivalence at Abeokuta. Ibadan offers us an irenic model of interaction between mission Christianity and West African religions as Ifa, the Yoruba cult of divination, sanctioned the presence of missionaries in the city. Chapter five reflects on the issues that are significant in the interaction of the Gospel with West African cultures. It appreciates the congruence between the Gospel and West African religious worldview. It assesses the impact of missionary methods on the traditional values of West Africans, appreciating the strength and the weaknesses of the school system, the value of Bible translation into mother-tongues, and the contextual relevance of the mission station method of evangelization. It also explores the meaning of Christian conversion in West Africa using the models of A.D. Nock, John V. Taylor and Andrew F. Walls. Chapter six concludes with Andrew Walls' three tests of the expansion of Christianity. The conclusion is that in spite of the failures and weaknesses of some of the methods adopted by European missionaries in evangelizing West Africa, their converts understood their message, domesticated it according to their understanding and appropriated its benefits to the life of their societies.