Theology The Arts

Afrocentricity and the Church, Part 3

Irwyn Ince

Given the definitions of Afrocentricity and the Church (in part 1 and 2 of this series), it’s clear that the defined Afrocentric worldview should not be uncritically incorporated into the Black Church. To do so would inevitably lead to compromising aspects of Christ’s gospel. I would go so far as to say that doing so puts one on track to desert the One who called us and turn to a different gospel (Gal. 1:6). How could it be otherwise if we uncritically embrace a way of life intended to provide “salvation?”

It is tempting for all African-Americans­ (Christian and non-Christian) to be Afrocentric. As implied in Part 1, this is due to the devaluing and discarding of the relevance to any culture outside of European descendants. In essence, the common grace and image of God to all peoples had been ignored.[1] However, in Afrocentricity, the pendulum can swing too far in the opposite direction.

What Afrocentricity Does

[pullquote]Afrocentricity wants to elevate the history of African descendants to a “sanctified” and “deified” status.[/pullquote] It gets top place, above all else. But Jesus Christ is the only one worthy of that status. The gospel calls us to critically look at every culture, especially our own. When we do, we see that Afrocentricity and the gospel are irreconcilable if we try to give top place to both.

Pendulum Swings

One example of the overly swinging pendulum is in the uncritical celebration of Kwanzaa among African-American Christians. Kwanzaa, which is celebrated December 26-January 1, has grown immensely popular since it’s 1966 creation by Dr. Maulana Karenga. It is included in the holidays our children learn about in public schools and has also become popular in the Black Church.

The focus of Kwanzaa is the Nguzo Saba, the “Seven Principles” of blackness.[2]

Though there is nothing inherently wrong with the principles, they were created by someone hostile to the Christian faith, as is evident in his writings. Despite the assertion that the holiday is not religious but cultural, the celebration is undeniably religious:

[Y]ou should come to the celebration with a profound respect for its values, symbols and practices and do nothing to violate its integrity, beauty and expansive meaning. Secondly, you should not mix the Kwanzaa holiday or its symbols, values and practice with any other culture. This would violate the principles of Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) and thus violate the integrity of the holiday.[3]

God’s Sovereignty

[pullquote position=”right”]Some aspects of Afrocentricity distract, demean and even deny the gospel message.[/pullquote] Afrocentricity in its “raw” form, as described previously, cannot tolerate the sovereignty of God. It would reel against the fact that the sovereignty of God “demands acceptance that the kidnapping and subsequent enslavement of Africans in America was according to [God’s] sovereign will.”[4] However, far from making us disdain the God of the Bible, the sovereignty of God displays the Lord Jesus being delivered up for crucifixion and death according to the definite plan of God (Acts 2:23).

So, the sovereignty of God does not negate the human responsibility and culpability of enslavers, but it drives us to the ultimate realization that God is in control of his creation. His purposes will not be thwarted. He purposed that there would be a Black Church in the Americas, and that this church would rise up from the chains and degradation of dehumanizing slavery. No worldview that remains untransformed by the gospel has any room for this. And, I submit, falls short of providing an adequate explanation for this human atrocity.

But, Afrocentricity’s not all bad! Part 4 is coming.

[1] This sentence is a forward-looking hint to a useful aspect of Afrocentricity to be discussed in part 4.

[2] These principles are Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith)

[3] This quote comes from “The Celebration” page of the official Kwanzaa website,

[4] Anthony Carter, On Being Black and Reformed (P&R Publishing, NJ, 2003), p.87

4 thoughts on “Afrocentricity and the Church, Part 3

  1. iLL Holiday

    Thank you for sharing this viewpoint. I agree that Afrocentrism can not be the ultimate lens for viewing the world. Afrocentrism leaves little room for overlooking fault and forgiving cruelty. Therefore, there is limited healing that can occur. Some of strengths of Afrocentrism include: self actualization/ determination/ responsibility. Some of its hang-ups: reverse superiority complex, resentment, inter-racial/ cultural dis-unity.

    I am no advocate for white-washing the gospel, or abandoning one’s African-ness. I think it is never good to allow an outside culture to dictate one’s cultural identity or self-worth. Afrocentrism addresses this by reminding black people that they are the authors of many of society’s current pillars. It reaffirms the art and beauty of their skin, culture, way of thinking, and communication style. The thing that Afrocentrism can never provide is a living savior that makes all things new. It can not relate God’s unfailing love to us. While Afrocentrism can give us the power to pity or oppressors, it does not contain the power to help us forgive, and truly heal alongside our oppressors.

  2. Cinnabar Afar

    Kwanzaa is a cultural affirmation, and it is engineered to not transplant or usurp anyone’s religion, moslem, jew, buhdist, christian can participate without fear of the central focus of their theology being displaced … it is the festival of the first fruit, the holy ghost struck down folk for not selling all they had and put into a common lot … socialism if you ask me

  3. Irwyn Ince

    Thanks David. Well said.

  4. David Mitchell

    Really enjoying this series. I’m looking forward to the next one.

    Your description of the issues with celebrating Kwanzaa remind me of the large concerns with groups like the Freemasons in regard to the exclusion of religious symbols. In doing so it can’t help but make itself a religious group (and in the case of freemasonry a fairly pluralistic one).
    While there might be good morals and principles being discussed/celebrated in whatever group or cultural celebration we take part in, they will ultimately be for nothing without Christ.

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