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Transmission Trouble: Clashes in English Language Theological Education in Africa

Conclusion: Theological Education in Africa: what happens?

For all that Western theologians might talk about contextualisation being appropriate for Africa, if they at the same time carry a foreign curriculum in a foreign language to Africa, then they clearly cannot be in favour of contextualisation as I described in option three above. The person functioning according to option three will not pass the examinations. Hence, he will be side-lined and excluded from the ongoing theological-education system. If this person comes to the West to study, he or she will fail.

The options we remain with are one and two. That is, either the theological education system will transform Africa in terms of their Christian practice into a pseudo-Europe. Alternatively, in order to succeed in the system, the African student will be forced to be less than honest.

Image: Ruben Bagues

Many question whether it is advantageous to make our aim to transform African people into pseudo-Europeans. Even if it is the goal, it is not entirely possible. Even if it were possible, it might take many generations, and it might take more effort than is currently being made to separate people from their original contexts. On the other hand, this is likely to be happening to a degree. To a certain extent, African people will be becoming Europeanised, whatever that means.

In simple terms, given the situations we mentioned at the start of this article, and the three possible scenarios we have looked at, to the extent that African people have not become Europeanised, they remain under immense pressure to talk as if they have. When theological education comes from the West, then answers are expected to be with respect to Western culture. I consider it problematic when, in order to become theologically accredited, African people are forced to lie.

This problem has no easy solution. The way towards a solution is to allow people to express themselves with respect to their own culture. In Figure 1 above, the exercise between groups A and B, illustrate that this would require the discourse of the two groups to remain separate, or distinct. Fortunately or unfortunately, the use of English in Africa, with Africa’s borrowing theological education from the West, makes it effectively impossible to maintain such a distinction. The best means, effected really throughout the history of humankind, to maintain such distinction, is use of different languages. That is, for people to use a language that follows the contours of their culture or way of life. That is, for African people to do their theological education using an African language, and for Western people to do their theological education using a Western language. The process of translation between the two must then take into account the kinds of difficulties we have described above, which are illustrated by the exercise between groups A and B in Figure 1.





Oyéwùmi, Oyèrónké, 2002, ‘Visualising the Body.’ 456-486 in: (Eds.) Coetzee, P.H. and Roux, A.P.J. The African Philosophy Reader. Second Edition. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.



[1] I John 1:9 tells us that: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (NIV).


[3] Shaul Bar, “Burning the Bones of the Dead” IBS 30/1 (2012).

[4] There are clear parallels between my three options, and those mentioned by Sharifian; Farzad Sharifian. 2016. “Glocalisation” of the English language: A cultural linguistics perspective. KEMANUSIAAN the Asian Journal of Humanities 23(Supp. 2): 1–17, 3.

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Category: Fall 2019, In Depth

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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