May 13, 2009

Book Review: Theological Pitfalls in Africa

Since African Apologetics has picked up a large number of new visitors and subscribers, for the next few Wednesdays we will be re-running some of John's important book reviews.

Theological Pitfalls in Africa
Byang H. Kato, Theological Pitfalls in Africa (Nairobi, Kenya: Evangel Publishing House, 1975), 200 pp.
At a small Anglican bookshop in Uganda, my eyes stopped when I came across a book on a crowded shelf. Immediately the title struck me--Theological Pitfalls in Africa. Intrigued, I picked up a copy and purchased it. I had never heard of Byang H. Kato (you can read an informative bio here), but I am always interested in learning more about theological controversies where I will be serving my Lord.
Needless to say, I made a wise investment. Kato responds to two dangerous trends he saw emerging in Africa: the growth of universalism and the danger of syncretism within contemporary African theology. Through the continuing influence of ecumenicism and liberal Christian scholarship, Kato writes about the increasing compromise and even abandonment of biblical Christianity throughout the continent.
In this book the author singles out for critique African theologians John Mbiti and Bolaji Idowu, as well as the ecumenical All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC). Through several chapters, he analyzes and replies to numerous problems that have been produced by these Christian leaders. His primary objective is to demonstrate the uniqueness and exclusivity of biblical Christianity against attempts to find parallels and continuity with African Traditional Religions. Additionally, as he records the progress of the ecumenical movement in Africa, he points to the need for an uncompromising evangelical alternative.
I greatly appreciate Kato's wisdom and doctrinal insightfulness throughout this work. He gave me much to think about. However, I do want to mention two cautionary notes. First, I am not sure that Kato is always properly summarizing the views of those whom he disagrees with. Having read some Mbiti, while a lot of Kato's critique is entirely appropriate, I also wonder if Mbiti is always properly understood. Occasionally, I wonder if Kato has set up a straw man only to quickly tear it back down.
Second, this book is rather dated. Of course, its age is not the author's fault! He actually prematurely died not long after this book was published (1975). Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder about the last 30-plus years. How prevalent is the ecumenical movement in Africa today? Where does African liberalism stand compared to the growth of evangelical scholarship? Are there more pressing theological challenges faced by Christians today? Answers to these questions must be found elsewhere.
In spite of these minor concerns, I still heartily recommend Kato's book for anyone looking to learn more about some theological dangers present in Africa today. While I am not sure how easy this book will be to buy outside of Africa, I assure you that it is worth the effort. May we be ever vigilant in our commitment to the Word of God, refuting all attempts to overthrow God's revealed truth!