I love reading the many wonderful works our fathers in the faith have written, whether Bavinck, Calvin, or Augustine. In fact, as Chesterton and Lewis have noted, when we read authors from other ages our blind spots are revealed in ways that often don't happen when we stick to contemporary theological conversations. We see how our culture, and our assumptions, have shifted over time precisely because of the distance between our day and the author.
What a gift all that work is to us and the global church throughout the ages! But we must ask, how readily applicable is it for people from an entirely different intellectual and cultural background? The answer is that the writings which are meaningful for us often don't address the realities and questions our brethren face in Africa, Asia or Latin America.
One thing that often escapes our notice is how much of our theology to date has been a response to the predominantly Greco-Roman intellectual background in which the church first matured. Calvin, sadly, does not spend much time addressing demon possession, spiritual warfare, or the outworking of a biblical view of church government in a culture dominated by tribalism.
In the interview below, I asked Rev. Julius Siwenda what he needs he saw for theological education, imagining that he might say something about the teaching happening in the churches. Instead he addressed the way in which theology is done in the African context.
There is a double reality here: We benefit from reading people outside our context, but we also need to learn from people who are applying the gospel to our own context. So we can benefit from reading Augustine and Ignatius often times precisely because they inhabit a different cultural setting, just as our African brethren can benefit from reading Western theology because of its distance from African realities. However, just as we in the West have continued to produce our own theological works responding to the critical questions and hot topics of our day, so our African brethren need to produce and have access to theological works addressing their own realities.
This is one of the main reasons we believe we should invest in theological education in Africa. We want to see the growing African church thrive, and begin producing their own theological works addressing their own questions. We haven't yet discovered how much we have to learn from them. What blind spots do we have in which they could help us? What assumptions do we need to be freed of by learning from our African brethren?