Jake Meador

Book Notes

Emmanuel Katongole's gift to the church.

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Emmanuel Katongole has given the church a great gift. In his latest book, The Sacrifice of Africa, the Ugandan priest and Duke scholar has provided us with an accessible guide to Africa's future that manages to walk the fine line between idealism and practicality. His robust "political theology for Africa" melds political theory, literary scholarship, historical study, and theological reasoning into a single work that should be on the reading list of anyone with interests in African history, politics, or culture.

Katongole begins his critique by describing three prevailing approaches amongst western Christians to "fix" Africa: the bottom-up approach of evangelism, which hopes to build a just society via mass conversion; the top-down approach of political and legal transformation, which seeks to reverse the cycles of war and poverty; and the increasingly-popular activist approach that promises to resolve social injustices.

All these approaches, Katongole argues, are deficient because they relegate Christianity to the "religious" sphere when it should permeate all public spheres: politics, law, culture, the arts, and so forth. Alternatively, he proposes a narrative approach that dislodges Africa from the colonial story—in which a plutocracy enriches itself by impoverishing the masses and empowers itself by oppressing the masses—and relocates it in the gospel story. Political liberation did not close the book on the colonial story. Leaders like Idi Amin of Uganda and Joseph Mobutu of Zaire continued to author the pages of a story written by their European predecessors. Indeed, Katongole goes so far as to suggest that such leaders are the heirs of the colonialists.

Against colonialism, Katongole insists that the Christian story has the capacity to develop a new social imagination in Africa, principally through the doctrine of the Trinity, which offers a model of community, and of the Incarnation, which offers a model of leadership. For the African church to live into these doctrines, it must "sacrifice the elegance and magisterial authority that comes from distance. It has to come down within the confused mess of everydayness and risk being less and less churchly, so as to nurture and gestate … 'a different world right here.' " Such an undertaking will take decades to pursue, but the reader catches an uplifting glimpse of this future as Katongole ends his book with memorable examples of Christians in Sudan, Uganda, and Burundi who are successfully relocating Africa in the gospel story.

Jake Meador is a writer and editor living in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is doing a chapter-by-chapter review of The Sacrifice of Africa at his blog.

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