Secondary Resources on Sacrifice

While doing research for an encyclopaedia article on sacrifice in African theology, I have also found many valuable secondary resources, some of which are freely accessible online. The following text is a draft of the section that introduces some of the best examples.

There are no articles or books that provide an overview of the theme of sacrifice across the entire field of African theology, but there are a number of key articles that offer useful points of entry into different areas of discussion. Sawyerr 1969 is a classic that provides historical background to the discussion, indicates key questions that the practice of ritual sacrifice raises for African theologians and suggests ways in which African notions of sacrifice can contribute to wider discussions. Awolalu 1973 and Ukpong 1983 are exemplary contributions to the study of ritual sacrifice in African traditional religions. Awolalu shows the importance of paying close attention to African sacrificial terminology and making detailed descriptions of a wide variety of sacrificial practices. Ukpong demonstrates the need to understand ritual sacrifice in relation to African systems of thought rather than foreign frames of reference. Ekem 2007, Kalengyo 2009 and Oduyoye 1986 exemplify the study of sacrifice in three major areas of African theology: biblical studies, liturgical theology and systematic theology. Ekem stresses the need for constructive dialogue between biblical notions of sacrifice and African concepts, practices and stories of sacrifice in a dynamic and open-ended encounter. Kalengyo shows that such an encounter has important implications for how the Eucharist should be celebrated. Oduyoye offers a carefully nuanced articulation of Christian sacrifice, drawing a crucial distinction between making a sacrifice and being sacrificed.

Awolalu, J. Ọmọṣade. “Yoruba Sacrificial Practice.” Journal of Religion in Africa 5, no. 2 (1973): 81–93.


Access: Free

A well-organised and systematic presentation, based on fieldwork, by a Nigerian Anglican scholar of religion and clergyman, that deals with the purposes, materials, and object of sacrifice. Awolalu writes that sacrifice among the Yorùbá has both a positive and a negative side, is referred to using the single term ẹbọ, contra Mbiti’s distinction between sacrifice and offering, and is indirectly offered to Olódùmarè, the Supreme Being. Free via subscription from JSTOR.

Ekem, John D. K. “A Dialogical Exegesis of Romans 3.25a.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30, no. 1 (2007): 75–93.


Access: Paid

A pioneering article in the field of mother-tongue biblical theology by a Ghanaian Methodist biblical scholar and translator. Ekem presents a novel exegetical method called ‘dialogical exegesis’ and illustrates it with a case study on the term hilastērion in Romans 3:25a. He examines various translations of the verse in European and African languages and then analyses both sacrificial concepts and popular legends among the Abura-Mfantse of Ghana in order to propose a better translation.

Kalengyo, Edison M. “The Sacrifice of Christ and Ganda Sacrifice: A Contextual Interpretation in Relation to the Eucharist.” In The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology, edited by Richard J. Bauckham, 302–18. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009.

Kalengyo, a Ugandan Anglican priest and theologian, presents a clear and insightful example of liturgical inculturation. He uses a tripolar interpretive process, which involves first examining the biblical text (Hebrews 9:1-10:18), then analysing the context (the concept and practice of sacrifice among the Ganda of Uganda), and then addressing the question of appropriation (an inculturated understanding of Eucharistic sacrifice). He finally explores the implications for how the Eucharist should be celebrated.

Oduyoye, Mercy A. “Church Women and the Church’s Mission.” In New Eyes for Reading: Biblical and Theological Reflections by Women from the Third World, edited by John S. Pobee and Bärbel von Wartenberg-Potter. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1986.


Access: Free

An important contribution by a Ghanaian Methodist theologian and ecumenical leader. Oduyoye’s starting point is her experience of the sacrifice of women in the African. She explains her understanding of the close connection between mission and sacrifice, investigates ritual sacrifice and self-sacrifice in African social contexts, and calls on the whole church – both men and women – to follow the example of Christ in the scriptures and the sacrificial lives of African churchwomen. Free via subscription from Internet Archive.

Sawyerr, Harry. “Sacrifice.” In Biblical Revelation and African Beliefs, edited by Kwesi A. Dickson and Paul Ellingworth, 57–82. London: Lutterworth Press, 1969.

Sawyerr, a Sierra Leonean Anglican priest and theologian, famously describes sacrifice as “the open sesame of the heart of the African to Christian teaching” (p. 58). He gives examples of sacrifices offered in West Africa, discusses their structure and purpose, and relates his reflections to wider discussions about the origin of sacrifice, the use of blood and the debate about expiation and propitiation. This classic article placed sacrifice squarely on the African theological agenda.

Ukpong, Justin S. “The Problem of God and Sacrifice in African Traditional Religion.” Journal of Religion in Africa 14, no. 3 (1983): 187–203.


Access: Free A well-presented and sophisticated discussion, by a Nigerian Catholic priest and biblical scholar, that reassesses why some African peoples offer sacrifice to God only occasionally or not at all. He argues that both the Deus otiosus theory and the mediumistic theory are inadequate. Instead, he suggests that just as Ibibio etiquette demands that the king should not be approached often, so God is not given sacrifice frequently out of deference. Free via subscription from JSTOR.


African Public Theology

The following review will be published in an upcoming issue of Exchange: Journal of Contemporary Christianities in Context ( and is posted here with permission.

Sunday B. Agang, Dion A. Forster and H. Jurgens Hendriks (eds), African Public Theology (Carlisle: HippoBooks, 2020) xxvi + 422 pp. ISBN 978-1-78368-766-4 (paperback). Price: £ 19,99.

African Public Theology is a landmark in African Christian Theology. Edited by Sunday Agang, Dion Forster and Jurgens Hendriks, the volume is the result of a collaborative project organised by the Network for African Congregational Theology and generously funded by the Tyndale House Foundation. The book provides an introduction to African Public Theology in three parts: theoretical foundations (pp. 1-64), key themes (pp. 65-364), and the role of the church (pp. 365-400). It brings together contributions by thirty scholars, including thirteen Nigerians and six South Africans, as well as representatives from a variety of other countries. Intended as a handbook for academics, clergy and everyday Christians, each chapter contains questions for personal reflection and suggestions for further reading. The volume concludes with a brief appendix on the African Union’s “Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want” and a twenty-page bibliography. The book is published in hardback, paperback and as an ebook at very affordable prices.

The first part lays the theoretical foundations for the rest of the book. Sunday Agang presents a compelling case for public theology, arguing that a broader understanding of theology is needed to work towards the Africa that God wants. “Theology is not only the study of God; it also involves the study of how God interacts with his creation” (pp. 7-8). Such an understanding means that “Christian theology…is concerned with how all aspects of human knowledge, understanding, and faith in God can translate into a deep moral commitment to building a better society, one which is strong in faith, love, justice and wisdom” (p. 8). Dion Forster takes up this vision in his thorough treatment of the nature of public theology. After outlining three senses in which all theology is public theology, he argues that public theology is different from other theological disciplines in that it draws on both theological and other academic disciplines to address aspects of public life. He also discusses six important characteristics of public theology. The three remaining essays, dealing with the Bible, the Trinity and identity, are well-written, although Hassan Musa’s answer to the question of how the Bible should be used in public theology is rather vague. All hermeneutical approaches seem to be acceptable as long as they are ‘responsible’. On a more general level, two topics that merit more attention in this section are the history of African theological engagement in public life and the relationship between public theology and other forms of political theology.

The second part presents essays on a wide range of key themes. Interestingly, “Issues relating to the state are left until late in the section to avoid giving the impression that public theology is equivalent to political theology” (p. 65), but no further explanation of this distinction is given. Some of the essays are outstanding. For example, Ernst Conradie provides a sophisticated treatment of the relation between theology and economics, discussing Africa’s economic challenges and opportunities, Christian criteria for economic life, and the church and economic issues. Other noteworthy contributions include ‘rural community development’, ‘the environment’, ‘migration and human trafficking’, ‘land issues’, ‘leadership’ and ‘intergenerational issues’. Most of the essays in this section are well-written, but the quality of the contributions varies. Treatments of more political themes such as ‘democracy, citizenship and civil society’, ‘human rights’ and ‘the state’ leave something to be desired. The discussion of democracy offers little critique of Western notions of liberal democracy, the contribution on human rights fails to distinguish adequately between the human dignity and human rights traditions, and the essay on the state seems to subsume other forms of political theology in the category of public theology.

The third part focuses on the role of the church. Matthew Michael is given the gigantic task of assessing the state of the church in Africa, which would be difficult to do in a book, let alone a chapter. Given the impossibility of the task it is understandable that he can only make a series of sweeping generalisations about African Christianity. While these statements are interesting, they remain assertions with little evidence provided to support them. Alfred Sebahene gives a clear and well-written presentation of the church’s role in working towards “Agenda 2063,” emphasising the need to embrace the African Union’s vision but also to go beyond it if the church is to be faithful to God’s calling. Jurgens Hendricks concludes the section with a passionate call to African academics, clergy and everyday Christians to work towards the Africa that God wants. He emphasises the need for “tenderness of conscience” (p. 392) and calls for a Spirit-led movement that passes the three tests described by Andrew Walls: the church test, the kingdom test and the gospel test. On a more general level, this section seems very brief and would benefit greatly from concrete examples of how African Christians and churches have successfully engaged in public life. As a whole, the volume provides a valuable introduction to the subject at hand. Whether African public theology lives up to Forster’s characteristic of being “competent to provide political direction” (p. 21), remains to be seen.

Stories of Sacrifice from Below

My article entitled “Stories of Sacrifice from Below: From Girard to Ekem, Kalengyo and Oduyoye” has now been published in Stellenbosch Theological Journal 6, no. 4 (2020): 183-212.


In the Global North, the notion of “sacrifice” is highly controversial in contemporary discussion. In recent years, the influential work of René Girard has succeeded in putting sacrifice back on the intellectual agenda, but his story of sacrifice has primarily emphasised the theme of violence. Today, many theologians consider sacrifice inherently problematic and some would like to do away with it altogether. In Africa, however, the notion is highly popular across a wide range of theological traditions. The work of three African theologians – John Ekem, a Ghanaian mother-tongue biblical scholar, Edison Kalengyo, a Ugandan inculturation theologian, and Mercy Oduyoye, a Ghanaian women’s theologian – challenge Girard’s theory in three important ways. First, they challenge his traditional typological approach with a dialogical typological one. Second, they challenge his focus on violence by highlighting multiple themes. Third, they challenge his lack of an ecclesial dimension with fresh ways of appropriating Jesus’ sacrifice today.