Canon Professor Dr. John Samuel Mbiti, a prominent and respected African theologian, was born in Kenya in 1931. Dr. Mbiti attained a doctorate from the University in Cambridge in England. He taught Theology and Religion at Makere University in Uganda. Mbiti served as the Director of the Ecumenical Institute Bossey of the World Council of Churches near Geneva, Switzerland from 1972-1980. He is a visiting professor at many universities in Africa, Europe, USA, Canada and Australia. Currently, Professor Mbiti is teaching Christianity and African Religions at the University of Bern and serves as the Parish Minister in Burgdorf, Switzerland. Dr. Mbiti is married with four children.
Dr. Mbiti has published over 400 articles, reviews and books on African Theology, religion, philosophy, literature and Christianity. Some of his most distinguished works includes African Religions and Philosophy (1969), Bible and Theology in African Christianity, Introduction to African Religion (1975), Concepts of God in Africa (1975), and a dissertation "An African Views American Black Theology".
The term "African theology" originated from a 1950s major discussion in Rome involving African and Haitian priests studying how to adopt indigenous traditional African religious beliefs, practices, rituals, history, and culture into the Christian message of Christ for the African people. Mbiti defines African Theology as a "theological reflection and expression by African Christians".1 During the independence movement from European colonialism of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, African Theology transformed the biblical faith of Christ and Christian truth from a Euro-centric expression. The bible became the foundation document for African Theology and African Christianity. Dr. Mbiti emphasizes, "The bible is the basic source of African Theology, because it is primary witness of God's revelation in Jesus Christ. No theology can retain its Christian identity apart from Scripture." 2
According to Professor Mbiti, there are three main areas of African Theology: written theology, oral theology, and symbolic theology. 3 Written theology provides theological reflections centered on traditional African religious beliefs, practices, values and morals. Oral theology reflects the oral traditions handed down through generations of African people in many African languages found in songs, sermons, teachings, prayers, proverbs, myths, and conversations. Symbolic theology expresses the rich African culture through African arts, sculptures, dramas, dances, rituals, music, and symbols. African traditional religion is another source for African Theology. Dr. Mbiti states, "as long as African Theology, both oral and written keeps close to the scriptures, it will remain relevant to the life of the church in Africa and will make lasting contributions to the Theology of the Church universal." 4
Black Theology is a theological movement in the 1960s that focuses on the central theme of black liberation of the poor and oppressed African American people in the United States. Black Theology also called Liberation Theology applies biblical interpretations relevant to African Americans' daily struggles under the burden of White racism and oppression from social, economic, educational, cultural and political inequalities. This theology used methods of social sciences based on class and capitalism to discern the causes of African American oppression as well as interpretations of Christ teachings that provided a justification for black emancipation. Renowned African American theologian, Professor James H. Cone published his books, Black Theology and Black Power in 1969 and A Black Theology of Liberation in 1970, which introduced the Black Theology movement in the United States. Black (Liberation) Theology symbolizes Jesus Christ as the Black Messiah, Strong Deliverer and Liberator that took upon himself the suffering of all oppressed people and transformed oppression to triumph through his resurrection. Black Theology affirms "blackness" as a theme for Christ through God reveals himself in his blackness and liberating black humanity from the powers of White racism and oppression in America. The effects from Black Theology were instrumental to the downfall of Apartheid in South Africa, the rise of nonracial democracy in South Africa, and the political works, writings, and teachings of leading South African theologians and Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu.
Anthony Simmons is a student attending St. Xavier University in Chicago, Illinois. He is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and New Faith Baptist Church in Matteson, Illinois.
1 John Mbiti, "The Biblical Basis for Present Trends in African Theology," in African Theology, 83
2 John S. Mbiti, Bible and Theology in African Christianity (Nairobi, Kenya: Oxford University Press, 1986), 59.
3 Mbiti, 46.
4 Mbiti, 62.