Emerging African theologians in Britain
Who are the theologians reflecting, critiquing, and most importantly, writing, about African Christianity in Britain - and why aren't there more? By Israel Olofinjana
As I continue to reflect on the nature and development of African Christianity in Britain, I began asking myself the question: now that we have thousands of African Churches in Britain, who are the theologians reflecting, critiquing, and most importantly, writing, about African Christianity in Britain? In essence, who are the theologians of the African Church Movement in Britain?
This is not an easy task because while we have many African pastors with Masters in Theology or Doctoral degrees in Theology, there are very few African pastors and scholars writing.
There are several reasons why African pastors are not writing, or should I say not writing theological text books. There are many African pastors writing motivational and inspirational books which are targeted at an average believer than theological students. So why are African pastors not writing theological textbooks or books that demonstrate they are reflecting on their church and history?
Studying theology "not relevant"
Firstly, there is still a perception that studying theology is either not relevant or could lead to one losing his or her faith. Some have experienced theological institutions and were not pleased at how impractical some of their studies were. Some African pastors who went to study theology at one of the British theological institution mention to me that if they were to preach the way they were taught to preach, then no one from their congregation will return the next Sunday!
This sounds very shocking, but they were alluding to being taught by someone with a highly qualified theological degree in preaching and hermeneutics, but perhaps lacking in pastoral experience. Added to this is the ignorance of the dynamics and context of an African Church. Is this statement justified?
On the one hand, we need more African pastors to have theological training so as to be prepared to minister in a post modern British society. On the other hand we also need theological tutors who have current and relevant pastoral and ministerial experience who will be able to combine head and heart in a theological class room. Having theological instructors whose pastoral experience and ministries were in the 1960s/70s is not good enough!
In addition, we need more than just white British theological educators in our theological institution, because the face of the church in Britain is now multi-ethnic.
The publishing system
A second reason why I think African pastors are not writing theological text books is the nature of the traditional and academic publishing system. Academic publishing is obviously based on academic qualifications or being attached to a theological institution or centre. This means if you do not have a chair in a theological institution or at least attached to a college or University, you are likely not going to be considered.
For traditional publishing, you have to know people that matter in the world of Christian celebrities or have a good reference from someone inside the publishing house. This is partly why some African pastors and churches have established their own publishing companies to print their inspirational books.
Writing for those in their churches
Lastly, is the practical need of writing which many African pastors have adopted. African pastors seem to prefer to write about how to solve your financial problems than to write about the history of African Pentecostal Churches in Britain. This is partly driven by the needs in some of these churches, which range from immigration issues and visa restrictions, to marital and financial problems.
But it has to be said that while some of these motivational books are written with the practical and urgent needs of people in mind, some of the writings are from pastors with their own preaching agenda: Prosperity! The more books you write on success, the more people buy them, the more money you make!
African pastors must take the time to reflect on the nature of our churches, its doctrines and practices and write to help educate and disciple its followers.
So who is writing about African churches in Britain?
Having considered a few reasons why African pastors are not writing theological text books, it is important to mention the few in Britain who are writing and reflecting on the African Church Movement as it is unfolding. This is not an exhaustive list, so please do forgive me if you do not see your name!
Dr Afe Adogame: Afe is possibly one of the best known African scholars not only in Britain but in Europe, North America and Africa. He has written, contributed, edited more books and articles than any African scholar I am aware of in Britain. His bibliography is impressive authoring around 10 books and written countless articles in edited books and academic journals on African Christianity in Diaspora. Afe is lecturer in World Christianity and Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh.
Revd Dr Kate Coleman: Kate Coleman is a Baptist minister and theologian who is actively involved in developing strategic leaders. She is a Womanist Theologian who reflects on the issues that affect women in leadership with a particular focus on black women in leadership. Her book 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership was published in 2010, and she has contributed to a number of academic journals and book chapters. Kate also teaches at various theological institutions, including Cliff College. Kate is the director of Next Leadership, a cutting edge organisation involved in training and equipping leaders.
Revd Dr Chigor Chike: Chigor Chike is an ordained Anglican minister in East London and has written two books on African Christianity in Britain. African Christianity in Britain, Milton Keynes, Author House, 2007 surveyed the doctrines and practices of African Christians in Britain. Voices from Slavery: Life and Beliefs of African Slaves in Britain, Milton Keynes, Author House, 2007 considers the life of four African Christian slaves in Britain, drawing on their theological significance.
Revd Joe Kapolyo: Joe Kapolyo is a Baptist minister and scholar whose academic credentials combine Theology and Social Anthropology. Joe has the experience of leading theological institutions both in Africa and Britain. He has also worked with a lot of mission organisations. Joe has written books and has contributed book chapters as well as journal articles. Joe was one of the contributors of the African Bible Commentary and Dictionary of Mission Theology.
Dr Babatunde Adedibu: One of the emerging African missiologist in Britain is Babatunde Adedibu who is one of the pastors of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). Babatunde as the research and ecumenical officer of RCCG can be regarded as the RCCG Theologian. Babatunde has written two books up to date and has contributed both in academic journals and book volumes. His two books are: Storytelling: An Effective Communication Appeal in Preaching, London, Wisdom Summit, 2009 and Coat of Many Colours, London, Wisdom Summit, 2012. Coat of Many Colours documents the history, mission and theology of Black Majority Churches (BMCs). Babatunde is a research fellow at University of Roehampton.
Dr Harvey Kwiyani: Harvey is another emerging African missiologist in Britain who has experience of the Missional Church Conversation in North America and Britain. This experience is reflected in his new book: Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West, New York, Orbis Books, 2014. This book which builds on earlier scholarship brings us up to the date with the African missionary movement in the West. The strength of the book lies in the fact that it attempts to view in holistic terms the missionary work of Africans in the West and the Missional Church Conversation as it is unfolding.
Harvey is the brain behind Missio Africanus, an initiative designed to help the missionary work of Africans in Britain. This is done through the Missio Africanus conference and journal (work in progress). Harvey teaches missions, leadership, and African studies at Birmingham Christian College in Birmingham and at Church Mission Society (CMS) in Oxford. He is also research fellow at the Cuddesdon Study Centre at Ripon College, Cuddesdon.
Israel Olofinjana: Lastly, I have to include my name as I have done a fair amount of writing and reflection on African Christianity, history and mission in Africa and Britain. I have written three books: Reverse in Ministry and Missions: Africans in the Dark Continent of Europe, Milton Keynes, Author House, 2010, 20 Pentecostal Pioneers in Nigeria, Bloomington, IN, Xlibiris, 2013 and Turning the Tables on Mission: Stories of Christians from the Global South in Britain, London, Instant Apostle/Lion Hudson Publishers.
I have also contributed book chapters in academic text books: Olofinjana, I.O, 2014, Nigerian Pentecostals: Towards Consumerism or Prosperity? In A. Adogame ed. 2014. The Public Face of African New Religious Movements in Diaspora, Surrey, Ashgate Publishing Limited, pp. 233-254.
This chapter explores prosperity Gospel as articulated by Nigerian Pentecostals in Britain comparring the development of prosperity Gospel in the United States, Africa and Britain.
Olofinjana, I.O, 2014, The Significance of Multicultural Churches in Britain: A Case Study of Crofton Park Baptist Church. In R.D. Smith, W. Ackah and A.G. Reddie eds. 2014. Churches, Blackness and Contested Multiculturalism, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 75-86.
Olofinjana, I.O, 2014, Biography of the Revd Dr Mojola Agbebi. In G. Richards, 2014. Text and Story: Prophets for Their Time and Ours, Oxford Centre for Baptist History and Heritage Oxford, pp. 18-20. This contribution explores the life and legacy of the African nationalist and Baptist theologian, Dr Mojola Agbebi.
In addition, I am also one of the directors of Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World, an initiative established to train and equip missionaries from the Majority World.
In conclusion, while I have only focused in this article on African pastors and scholars writing in Britain, it is worth mentioning there are others who are not African but have nevertheless reflected and written about African Christianity and Churches in Britain. These are Dr Anthony Reddie and Dr Robert Beckford, both leading Black Theologians in Britain, Dr Joe Aldred, co-chair National Church Leaders Forum (NCLF), Mark Sturge, author of Look What the Lord Has Done! and Dr Richard Burgess, lecturer in Ministerial Theology University of Roehampton.
The Revd Israel Olofinjana is the minister of Woolwich Central Baptist Church and Director of the Centre For Missionaries from the Majority World. He blogs at https://israelolofinjana.wordpress.com/, from where this article is republished with permission