Kwame Bediako (1945-2008) on (the) African pre-Christian Religious Tradition

Kwame Bediako (1945-2008) on (the) African pre-Christian Religious Tradition

One of my favorite theologians is the late Kwame Bediako (his full name is Manasseh Kwame Dakwa Bediako) of the country of Ghana. He was born in Accra, Ghana, in 1945. He is the author of three influential texts “Theology and Identity: The Impact of Culture Upon Christian Thought in the Second Century and in Modern Africa” (1999); “Christianity in Africa: The Renewal of a Non-Western Religion” (1995); “Jesus and the Gospel in Africa: History and Experience” (2000) and numerous academic articles. He is considered as one of the most respected and influential African theologians in the twentieth century.

Bediako received his first PhD from the University of Bordeaux (in France) in French Literature, and his second PhD in Theology is from the University of Aberdeen (in Scotland) under the supervision of Andrew Walls.

Bediako and I share a few things in common. His first PhD is in (French) Literature; my first PhD is in (English) Literary Studies. I also have a Master’s degree in French Literature. His second PhD is in Theology; my second PhD is in Systematic Theology and Ethics. He was an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana; I’m an ordained minister of the Baptist Church. After he had obtained his first doctoral degree and while he was in France, he converted to Christianity and went on to study Christian Theology as an academic discipline. Bediako had abandoned the secular academia to contribute to and strengthen Christian ministry and theological scholarship in Africa. As the good Lord continues to reorient my thinking and scholarship, I have seen the need to refocus my writings to Christian academic scholarship and church ministry. Finally, a lot of my friends and my African friends especially often think I’m from Nigeria or Ghana. Hey, that’s a plus 🙂

Interestingly, I discovered the writings of Dr. Kwame Bediako as a seminary student, perhaps in the year of 2003 or 2004, but have not really had a chance to focus on his theological writings because I was concentrating on finishing that degree and move on to doctoral studies. Nonetheless, I had promised myself to read everything he has written and to eventually write an article about his theological legacy. This is the historical context and intellectual curiosity that led me to revisit the works of Bediako, and began researching for this new essay.

As I’m researching for a future article on the pre-Christian religious tradition and African Christian identity in his writings and those of E. Bolaji Idowu (of Nigeria) and John Mbiti (of Kenya) (in previous writings, I have engaged both Idowu and Mbiti) I came across this important statement:

” …a widespread consensus that there does exist an African pre-Christian religious tradition heritage to be taken seriously, there has been also the realization that it is important to recognize the integrity of African Christian experience as a religious reality in its own right. The view here is that Christianity, as a religious faith, is not intrinsically foreign to Africa. On the contrary, it has deep roots in the long histories of the peoples of the continent, whilst it has proved to be capable of apprehension by Africans in African terms, as is demonstrating that Christ had effectively become the integrating reality and power linking the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ in the African experience. This perspective, therefore, seemed to offer the most hopeful signs for the development of a sustainable tradition of an African Christian thought into the future, having firmly taken on board the critical notion that the Christian faith is capable of ‘translation’ into African terms without injury to its essential content.”

The next paragraph is more revealing, informative, and celebratory about the success and redirection of African theological enterprise:

“It is no mean achievement, then, that African Theology, by the sort of agenda that it self for itself from the start, as well as by the method it evolved, managed to overturn virtually every negative verdict passed on African tradition by the ethnocentricism of the Western missionary enterprise; and it is a mark of that achievement that African Theology has succeeded by and large in providing an African re-interpretation of African pre-Christian religious tradition in ways which have ensured that the pursuit of a creative, constructive and perhaps also a self-critical, theological enterprise in Africa is not only viable but in fact distinctly possible, as a variant of the universal and continuing encounter of the Christian faith with the realities of human societies and their histories.”

When Bediako died in 2008, I wrote a short essay about him and posted on my blog one of his lectures/ interviews on African Christian identity. His daughter was very kind to leave a message on my blog on how much she appreciates my acknowledgement of the legacy of her father. I look forward to continue engaging Kwame Bediako.

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