Before the Throne of God Above, Rock of Ages, And Can it Be: these are some of the hymns I sing to Elliot as I rock him to sleep. They are the hymns I love because their themes stir my heart. They’re about the work of Christ on the cross, and about knowing that I am no longer an object of condemnation in the eyes of God. They swell to include the fantastic hope of being face to face with God one day.
Consider how these themes play in a Tanzanian context.
John Mbiti, writing generally about African indigenous worldview, says:
Belief in the continuation of life after death is found in all African societies, as far as I have been able to discover. But this belief does not constitute a hope for a future and better life. To live here and now is the most important concern of African religious activities and beliefs. There is little if any concern with the distinctly spiritual welfare of man apart from his physical life… There is neither paradise to be hoped for nor hell to be feared in the hereafter. The soul of man does not long for spiritual redemption, or for closer contact with God in the next world.
Those very themes which are so dear to me, and so prominent in my reading of Scripture may be ho-hum to Tanzanians, or even seem irrelevant. In this context, liberation theology seems to have a lot to offer, and I’m still trying to work out how I feel about that!
This brings me to one of the questions that’s been simmering for me as I’ve worked at listening to Tanzanian voices and African theologians: how do you talk about the atonement in a Tanzanian context? Maybe a question before that is even should you talk about the atonement in a Tanzanian context, but as I read the gospels, and Jesus’ own preoccupation with his death and resurrection, I feel that we must!
I’m a long way off having answers on this question, but the ideas that I currently have are:
- to emphasise the victory elements of the cross
- to think about accessing a King Jesus gospel rather than a ‘Plan of Salvation’ gospel
- to develop a practical theology of the cross, kind of like Death By Love, but aimed at Tanzanian life and culture
- to remain hooked into the Mission as Transformation discussion to see where and how the atonement features there.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.