Book Review: Theological Pitfalls in Africa

Book Review: Theological Pitfalls in Africa


Byang H. Kato B.D., Th.D., is the author of the Book Theological Pitfalls in Africa. The book’s third printing, 1987, was published by Evangel Publishing House, Nairobi, Kenya. It is a 200-page book with 13 chapters that provides an update on the “unhealthy trends in theology.” The background of Dr. Kato, the author, as an African with impeccable theology, qualified him to write this kind of book. His evaluation of the theological problems unmasks some of the practical ramifications promoted by liberal Ecumenism in Africa today, and he, therefore, presented in his book positive proposals for the survival of Biblical Christianity in Africa.

The Book:

Chapter 1 treated “Rising Universalism in Africa” The challenge in Universalism, according to Kato, is believing that all men will eventually be saved whether they believe in Christ. He then gave the factors that promote this challenge:

  • Prevailing wind of Universalism in the homeland of the missionaries working in Africa.
  • The universal search for the solidarity of the human race.
  • The relatively new political awareness in Africa.
  • The search for political solidarity.
  • The search for personal identity makes the Continent fertile soil for Syncretism.
  • The emotional touch out genuine love for the ancestors who died without knowing the way to Salvation.
  • The reformation of African religions as practiced today.
  • The new garb that African Traditional religions are putting on.
  • Biblical Ignorance in the Churches in Africa today and inadequate emphasis on theological education on the part of missionaries.
  • The gregarious nature of the African.

As enumerated in this Chapter, the purpose is to alarm Christians about the dangers of Universalism. He wants Christians to focus on the relationship between Christianity and African religions and contribute positively to the issue.

Chapter 2 clarifies specific terms regarding African Tradition Religions; these include:

  • Animism, which is derived from ”anima” meaning breath. It stands for any doctrine with Soul or Spirit and, later, with Souls or Spirits.
  • Idolatry (according to Webster, is “a representation or symbol of deity used as an object of worship”).
  • Paganism and Heathenism are used for believers in other religions or none.
  • Fetishism; Witchcraft; and Magic, are defined as positive acts performed to manipulate supernatural power or beings.
  • Juju; Primitive Religion and African traditional religions, which is the most comprehensive title for the religions of Africa.             

Chapter 3 examines the “ATR Case Study of the Hahm or Jaba people.” The author refers to Hahm as the name the Jaba people of the North Central State of Nigeria call themselves. From Dr. Kato’s investigation, Jaba called the Supreme Being Nom, a name also used for the Sun. Jaba people claim that the united voice of rebuke by the religious leaders is the voice of Nom (God). Jaba’s concept of Salvation is “what one is saved from determines the nature of the Salvation.” Jaba describes sin in terms of significant and minor sins with their respective degrees of punishment.

Chapter 4 focuses on “ATR Relation to Theological Systems.” Theology is polarized according to geographical and ideological descriptions though not all people in a given geographical area accept the so-called theology of the given region. The author cited examples like:

  • Black Theology is found in the United States and Southern Africa.
  • Ethiopic Theology based on Psalm 68:31
  • Theology of Decolonization; a synthesis of Ethiopian Theology in Africa and Black Theology in the USA.

African Theology is distinct from the preceding systems of theology yet has some striking similarities, i.e., the assertion of Negritude or African personality: purifying Christianity from its Western association.

Chapter 5 highlights “African Theology as Described and Rejected.” The author refers to the three major books of Dr. John Mbiti:

  1. African Religions and Philosophy;
  2. Concepts of God in Africa, and
  3. New Testament Eschatology in an African Background. 

He concludes that Mbiti’s Universalism threatens Biblical Christianity in Africa. That Mbiti’s great enthusiasm in “Africanizing” Christianity, while done in good faith, poses a threat to the faith, which was once and for all delivered to the Saints (Jude 3). In the Philosophy of Time, the author says, “future time is significant in the Bible,” in contrast to Mbiti’s primary concern of Time as past and present.

In Chapters 6 to 9, the author was in severe dialogue with Mbiti and, at times, Idowu in arriving at his convictions and belief. In Chapter 6, Kato looked at Concepts of God in Africa: Problems of Interpretation.” Chapter 7 deals with “Eschatology in Africa: Problems of Hermeneutics.” In concluding Chapter 7, he makes it clear that:

The death of Christ makes Salvation possible for all men potentially. But to benefit from it, the sinner must actively partake of it through faith in Jesus Christ. The absolute heaven is the eternal destiny of believers, and the absolute hell awaits the un-penitent as their eternal destiny.

Chapter 8 reviews the Implications of the ORITA Journal of Theology. The author affirms that the humane proposition of Orita is contrary to reason and the Scriptures. The thesis that they are monotheists in the Biblical sense cannot be sustained. The only monotheism Christians can recognize in the New Testament is the one described by Apostle Paul in 1 Cor.8:4-6.

The term Ecumenism is the Anglo-Saxon transliteration of the Greek word oikumene. The word means the inhabited earth as per Luke 4:5; 21:26; Rom 10:18. Early Church Councils were called Ecumenical Councils, i.e., Councils of Nicaea (325). The modern use of the term gives an idea of a ”brotherhood” gathering, which brings together Roman Catholics and Protestants. The other aspect of Ecumenism is a drive for Christian Unity, which envisages bringing all Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, under one Ecclesiastical Tent. Ecumenism now becomes religio licita, a re-organized religion. According to Kato, it is a religion of hope, not because of Spiritual Values, but because of what it will do for the African materially. The author then concluded that the three possible choices confronting the Evangelical Christian in Africa are:

  1. Unity in the Dark: This Unity is desirable but not at the expense of the truth.
  2. No Unity needed: to the author, remaining in isolation does not suit the African mentality, and also, it is a questionable Christian Position.
  3. True Unity in Diversity: he sees Unity in Diversity as strength. This kind of Unity among those who genuinely know the Lord and seek to serve Him is a Biblical Unity, promoting Biblical Truth’sTruth’s emphasis.

Chapter 9 is on “Implicit Monotheism: Ramifications.” Chapter 10 describes Ecumenism, while Chapters 11 and 12 deal with how rooted and mature Ecumenism is in Africa. The final Chapter 13 recaps the entire Circle of History. In his last Chapter, Dr. Kato advanced a Ten Point Proposal to safeguard Biblical Christianity in Africa. They are:

  1. Adherence to the basic presuppositions of historic Christianity.
  2. Expression of Christianity in a truly African Context by allowing it to judge the African Culture and never allow the Culture to take precedence over Christianity.
  3. Concentrating effort on training men in the Scriptures and employing the original languages to facilitate their ability to exegete the Word of God.
  4. Studying ATR carefully as well as other religions but only secondarily to the inductive study of God’s word.
  5. Launching an aggressive evangelism program and missions to prevent a fall into the error of the doctrinal strife of 3rd-Century Christianity in North Africa.
  6. Consolidating Organizational Structures based on doctrinal agreements.
  7. Carefully and accurately delineate and concisely express terms of theology as a necessary safeguard against Syncretism and Universalism.
  8. Carefully present apologetics towards unbiblical systems creeping into the Church.
  9. Showing concern in social action but bear in mind at all times that the primary goal of the Church is the presentation of personal Salvation.
  10. Following the steps of the New Testament Church (Phil. 1:21)

Personal Comments of the Reviewer:

In this book, each Chapter was placed in its setting and outlined for the reader to discern the author’s main line of thought. His line of thought sometimes could be termed argumentative, but he seems to be grounded in his opinion that he desires to push forward. Kato aims to place at the reader’s disposal a guide to the essential facts he sets to present. The theological and critical perspective is evangelical and orthodox. I find the book very good in appraising theological problems in Africa. The title Theological Pitfalls in Africa given to it by the author is very apt. and commendable. 

Therefore, I recommend this book as a theological study resource to Seminarians and Christian religious students.

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