The African spirit world is one area that has been, for a long time, neglected or overlooked by the traditional (western) Christian theology with disastrous effects (Pomerville 1985:77). Even though the African worldview is akin to that world of New Testament times (see Malina et al 1996:14; Mugambi 1989:56g).
The Holy Spirit – A subdued Person
Equally overlooked in western (traditional) theology is the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual and the community of faith. Menzies (1979:69) shows that until Reformation the doctrine of pneumatology developed only in terms of the essential being of the third person of the trinity.
Even in contemporary mission theology, the absence of the Holy Spirit is conspicuous. Melvin Hodges, a classical Pentecostal missiologist, describes the silence on the Holy Spirit as a neglect of an indispensable qualification for missions – the endowment of Pentecostal power (Hodges 1977:149). He links the relative success of Pentecostal missions directly with the place that Pentecostal give to the Holy Spirit – a place similar to that which New Testament believers gave to the Holy Spirit.
Deficiency in Missionary Training or is it?
The missionaries of the nineteenth century were well trained, equipped for all eventualities on the mission field. But from the recipients’ point of view, there was definitely a lack in their preparation, especially in the areas of the African spirit world and the pneumatological studies.
Due to the impact of the Enlightenment in the western culture, with its emphasis on a rational, word-oriented faith, this faith was ill-prepared to understanding and empathized with the African culture. It was also ill-prepared to respond to the African culture biblically in presenting the supernatural as represented by New Testament and pneumatology (see Pomerville 1985:28)
The Experiential Dimension of Faith
The neglect of the dynamic dimension of the Christian faith and the failure to articulate the biblical views about the spirit world in African society were disastrous, to say the least. An emasculated, rational western gospel that was free of the supernatural could not possibly have filled the social and spiritual world in an African.
The discovery of a dynamic, power-oriented expression of the Pentecostal Christian faith was like a “resurrection” for African Christians.
The discovery of New Testament pneumatology has come as a great blessing to Africans. There has been a fear, though, that allowing the expressiveness of faith may be a bridge to paganism (see Sundkler 1961:17,196) or a bridge to nativism (Oosthhuizen 1968). To respond to these concerns we can say that these are genuine efforts by Africans to contextualise the gospel for Africa, whether this is sufficient or not, is another matter altogether.
The Antagonistic Role of the Spirit
In the New Testament the Holy Spirit pursues the theme of antagonism against every force and power that seeks the allegiance and worship of human beings. In Africa, the Holy Spirit wages war against gods, spirits and ancestors that are opposed to the will of God. Even those agents of power religion that assume the place of God are opposed by the Holy Spirit. To participate in mission is quite impossible unless one also wages war against any form of opposition to God’s intentions wherever it be found, whether be it in the churches, the world of the nations, or one’s own life.
In the world of Spirits, the Holy Spirit champions the cause of God’s righteousness and holiness. He is not just any Spirit. He is the Spirit of Christ. He is charged with the responsibility of glorifying Christ in the world. The Holy Spirit ensures that Jesus Christ remains above all forces and powers in Africa and the world.
Dr Agrippa Khathide spoke about The Spirit World of Africa at the Seminar on the Holy Spirit held by ATS. The full text is available online.