Category Archives: Contextual Theology

Christian, What Do You Believe? An African Creed

At the very end of Christianity Rediscovered, Vincent Donovan records the following creed, presumably an English translation: “We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on earth. We have known this High God in the darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the bible, that he would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

“We believe that God, made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing that the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

“We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen”[1]

[1] Vincent J. Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered: An Epistle from the Masai, 3rd ed (London: SMC Press, 2001), 163.

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What Is True Faith? A Masai Answer

Ever wondered how a Masai might answer Q & A 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism? Here is the wonderful answer that Vincent Donovan was blessed to hear: “I was sitting talking with a Masai elder about the agony of belief and unbelief. He used two languages to respond to me – his own and Kiswahili. He pointed out that the word my Masai catechist, Paul, and I had used to convey faith was not a very satisfactory word in their language. It meant literally ‘to agree to.’ I, myself, knew the word had that shortcoming. He said ‘to believe’ like that was similar to a white hunter shooting an animal with his gun from a great distance. Only his eyes and his fingers took part in the act. We should find another word. He said for a man really to believe is like a lion going after its prey. His nose and eyes and ears pick up the prey. His legs give him the speed to catch it. All the power of his body is involved in the terrible death leap and single blow to the neck with the front paws, the blow that actually kills. And as the animal goes down, the lion envelops it in his arms (Africans refer to the front legs of an animal as its arms) pulls it to himself, and makes it part of himself. This is the way a lion kills. This is the way a man believes. This is what faith is.

“I looked at the elder in silence and amazement. Faith understood like that would explain why, when my own was gone, I ached in every fiber of my being. But my wise old teacher was not finished yet.

“‘We did not search you out, Padri,’ he said to me. ‘We did not even want you to come to us. You searched us out. You followed us away from your house into the bush, into the plains, into the steppes where our cattle are, into the hills where we take our cattle for water, into our villages, into our homes. You told us of the High God, how we must search for him, even leave our land and our people to find him. But we have not done this. We have not left our land. We have not searched for him. He has searched for us. He has searched us out and found us. All the time we think we are the lion. In the end, the lion is God.’”[1]

[1] Vincent J. Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered: An Epistle from the Masai, 3rd ed (London: SMC Press, 2001), 51.

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Vincent Donovan on Intercultural Theology

Vincent Donovan highlights the important shift from missiology to intercultural theology in his preface to the second edition of Christianity Rediscovered: “Mission is not a one-way street moving away from the home church to the foreign mission field. The new, the young, and the particular churches of the Third World, spoken of by Vatican II, have something to say, in turn, to the church at large.”[1] Yet, in Donovan’s view, it is clear that missiology is not simply to be replaced by intercultural theology (as is the case in much liberal Protestant thought). On the contrary, “The premise of this book is that every theology or theory must be based on previous missionary experience, and that any theory or theology which is not based on previous experience is empty words, of use to no one.”[2]

Nevertheless, as a deeply contextual theologian, Donovan is cautious about the possibility of intercultural theological dialogue: “[My] experience, lived out in the lonely pastoral setting of the Masai steppes of East Africa, is far removed from the spreading urban-technological society in which we live. Can the experience of one world be of any value to the other? I do not know. I can only say that the cry of hopelessness I heard then in that desert setting is not much different from the cry I hear today in the wasteland of our cities.”[3]

[1] Vincent J. Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered: An Epistle from the Masai, 3rd ed (London: SMC Press, 2001), xvii.

[2] Ibid., xx.

[3] Ibid.

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Filed under Contextual Theology, Intercultural Theology, Missiology