Afrocentricity and the Church, Part 4
In this series, we’ve defined Afrocentricity, the church and briefly examined incompatible parts of Afrocentricity and Christianity. However, we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Even though the Bible is not an a-cultural book, the gospel does critique every culture and cultural expression. And the critique is not only negative! So, I’d like to ask the question: How can Afrocentricity benefit the church?
In James Cones’ Black Theology, Howard University School of Divinity professor Cain Hope Felder wrote an essay titled “Cultural Ideology, Afrocentrism and Biblical Interpretation.” Leaning on Asante’s work, he says the following about Afrocentricity:
Afrocentricity is the idea that the land mass that the ancient Romans routinely called Africa and the persons of African descent must be understood as having made significant contributions to world civilization as proactive subjects within history, rather than being regarded as merely passive objects of historical distortion.
Rather than cause the black church to focus on the sanctification and deification of African history as a means of saving the black community, there is a more redeeming, biblical way of understanding Afrocentricity and the church. It is far more important than wearing African clothes, or giving children African names (which my wife and I have done with three of our four children). When Christians of African decent want to turn their attention to an Afrocentric idea, the focus should be on how God’s common and special grace has been manifested in the history of our people, and how they are being manifested today.
The diligent search for answers to these questions turns our attention in the right direction—toward God. It helps us see how God has been actively working in the history of our people. And it results in greater streams of praise and glory for him, not only on the part of African Americans, but also in the wider Christian community.
Theologically speaking, this has to do with what it means for us to be made in the image of God. The Afrocentric critique of a Eurocentric ideal in Western culture is spot on. Much of Afrocentricity is the inevitable push back against the lessening of dignity offered to people of African descent. [pullquote]Ethnic and cultural distinctions should actually move us to celebrate and glorify God for his creative power.[/pullquote] Yet, sinfulness results in fear, mistrust, ignorance, oppression, etc. A focus on Afrocentricity helps remind us that there are no people groups who are merely “passive objects of historical distortion.” That must be so if we are all image bearers. My favorite statement on the image of God comes from theologian Herman Bavinck:
The image of God is much too rich to be fully realized in a single human being, however richly gifted that human being may be…Only humanity in its entirety – as one complete organism, summed up under a single head, spread out over the whole earth, as a prophet proclaiming the truth of God, as priest dedicating itself to God, as ruler controlling the earth and the whole of creation – only it is the fully finished image, the most telling and striking likeness of God.
When we are mindful of not making it a religion, an Afrocentric focus can help us see and appreciate the beautiful diversity among people of African descent. It can help us wonder at the story God is writing and how he sees fit to image himself. The second commandment prohibits the making of images of God because he’s already take care of that himself! And we get the blessing of seeing it lived out live and in color as we see humanity in its rich diversity bearing witness to the majesty of God.
[pullquote position=”right”]Afrocentricity, in service to God, isn’t limited to black people.[/pullquote] No particular “ethno-centricity” in service to God is limited to that particular ethnicity. I’m not talking about becoming someone else, but about humbly embracing the work of God in the cultures of this world and rejoicing in his preserving and sustaining power.