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The Preeminence of Life: Towards an African Christian Cosmology in Intercultural Context


This article exposes the legitimacy or otherwise of the tendency for Western missionary practice to root itself in the benefits of scientific knowledge, that is itself founded in dualistic philosophy. Science is exposed as incompetent in its handling of real life-issues. For many African people, we are told, life is central to their values. Acceptance of the claims of science is an additional pragmatic means of social advance. The fact that life is extra-scientific, outside of the realm of science, is used as a basis of defence for African worldviews that give credence to mysterious spiritual powers; why after all should life, which like gravity science does not understand, be dependent on organic materials that it neither consumes nor produces? The above insights help to articulate why African worldviews are monistic. They are used to challenge widespread contemporary wisdom that advocates the holistic gospel and holistic mission. They indicate that ‘holistic mission’ is not all that it claims. Finally, a case is made for an inherent value for dualism, as an integral part of true faith in Christ, that is best communicated through a ‘vulnerable’ approach to Christian mission.




Blunt, Robert, 2004, ‘Satan is an imitator: Kenya’s recent cosmology of corruption.’ 294-328 In: Weiss, Brad, (ed.) 2004, Producing African Futures: ritual and reproduction in a new liberal age. Leiden.Boston: Brill.

Horton, Robin, 1993, Patterns of Thought in Africa and the West: essays on magic, religion and science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Iteyo, Crispinous, 2002, ‘An Analytical Study of the Doctrine of Materialism: with reference to selected African conceptions of reality.’ PhD thesis, Maseno University, 2002.

Magesa, Laurenti, 1997, African Religion: the moral traditions of abundant life. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa.

McKay, Sandra Lee, 2002. Teaching English as an International Language: rethinking goals and approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Weber, Max, 1930. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.



[1] In terms of the Bible, I am using the English term ‘life’ instead of the normal ‘soul’ to translate the Hebrew nephesh and the Greek psuche.

[2] My allusion here is to the theory of evolution, Copernican thinking in which the earth and man are no longer the centre of the universe, and more generally to mechanistic modern worldviews.

[3] I am here assuming that Weber was correct in his well-known thesis that certain forms of Protestant Christianity were a necessary part of the development of modernism, which contributed to a massive expansion in the hegemony of science, in Western Europe.

[4] See also:

[5] A garden implies the existence of a gardener.

[6] Note that chuny in Dholuo is actually the liver. Because the liver is by the Luo considered to be the seat of the emotions, I take chuny as being metaphorically equivalent to the English term heart.


[8] See recent research by Davies and Walker:

[9] Scientists propose the existence of gravitons, which are yet to be observed. They are thought to be “massless particle[s] having no electrical charge” ( ).



[12] For example, the gravitational pull of the moon affects the level of oceans on the earth.



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Category: In Depth, Summer 2015

About the Author: Jim Harries, PhD (University of Birmingham), is 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), and a novel African Heartbeat: And A Vulnerable Fool (2018). Facebook: Vulnerable Mission. Twitter: @A4VM.

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