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David Hoekema: Missions and Modernity in Colonial Africa


David Hoekema, “Missions and Modernity in Colonial Africa: Most of what you think you know is wrong” Books & Culture (September/October 2014), pages 32-33.

Hoekema’s short article considers the role of 19th Century missionaries to Africa, especially West Africa. Missionaries were good, but colonialists were bad, is in a nutshell his conclusion. Missionary-style subordination was self-limiting according to Hoekema; it was a kind of subordination of African nationals that had a clear end in view. The colonial way of working though, that has now become the ‘aid model’ engaging with Africa, “substitutes its own agency for that of the subordinate group and proceeds to exercise it on the latter’s behalf” (quote is of Táíwò cited by Hoekema).

How Colonialism Pre-empted Modernity in Africa is the title of the book by Táíwò that Hoekema draws on heavily in this article. The article could almost be a review of the book. Hoekema tells us that for Táíwò, modernity is rooted in subjectivity and individualism that arise when redeemed sinners acquire a new Christian identity. The key to modernisation is, according to this understanding, to promote missionary activity which engenders such subjectivity. The philosophical underpinning that underlies this understanding apparently comes from Hegel.

This article’s subtitle; “most of what you think you know is wrong”, shows that the author assumes his reader to start out with a negative valuation of missionary activities in Africa. He wants to correct this view. To Táíwò, and Hoekema, missionary work is the preferred model of intervention into Africa.

Reviewed by Jim Harries


Read “Missions and Modernity in Colonial Africa” at

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Category: Fall 2014, In Depth

About the Author: Jim Harries, PhD (University of Birmingham), is professor of religion with Global University and adjunct faculty with William Carey International University. He works closely with a wide variety of churches in western Kenya in informal theological education. These include many African founded churches, Pentecostal churches, and the Coptic Orthodox church. Jim uses indigenous languages, and local resources in his ministry. He chairs the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission and is the author of Vulnerable Mission: Insights into Christian Mission to Africa from a Position of Vulnerability (William Carey Library, 2011), Three Days in the Life of an African Christian Villager (New Generation Publishing, 2011), Theory to Practice in Vulnerable Mission: An Academic Appraisal (Wipf and Stock, 2012), Communication in Mission and Development: Relating to the Church in Africa (Wipf and Stock, 2013), Secularism and Africa: In the Light of the Intercultural Christ (Wipf and Stock, 2015), New Foundations for Appreciating Africa: Beyond Religious and Secular Deceptions (VKW, 2016), The Godless Delusion: Europe and Africa (Wipf & Stock, 2017), and a novel African Heartbeat: And A Vulnerable Fool (2018). Facebook: Vulnerable Mission. Twitter: @A4VM.

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