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The African worldview contains the idea of limited good, where there is a finite amount of good to go around. Therefore if someone has a lot of good, less remains for others. When someone is seen to be doing well, the only way for others to do well also is to pull them down. Much of this is done using curses, witchcraft and witch doctors. Into this worldview comes the good news of the gospel that our God is a God of infinite goodness, abundances and resources. As we proclaim this God it dismantles this stronghold.
But there are some wrong ways of responding to this fear and suspicion within the culture. One way is to consider them nonsense: that curses, witches and ancestors aren’t real. This is a materialist and secular worldview rather than a biblical one. Another way is to become fascinated with witchcraft and the occult, and to engage with the supernatural by means other than the name of Jesus. A third wrong response from the church is to become fascinated with prophecy, healing and deliverance ministries where if someone can heal the sick or give accurate prophetic words, then they gather a crowd and can create an unhealthy fascination with these things.
In Africa dismissal of spiritual realities is not a common response, but syncretism is: where people take what they need from Christianity and what they need from witchcraft and ancestral worship in an attempt to marry the two together. The reason for this is a gap in the church’s mission.
Often people will come from outside and present a gospel of the removal of guilt, where Jesus comes to forgive your sin, to set you free from living with guilt and afterwards to go to heaven. None of this is untrue, but the problem is that Africans don’t generally go around feel guilty. An African heart may respond that this is good to know, but they weren’t feeling guilty beforehand! However they may say that I did and still do feel fearful, vulnerable, anxious and powerless. If the Christian gospel does not address these things, then people will make sure that they are addressed elsewhere. Syncretism arises from a deficit of the preaching of the gospel.
Tools For Challenging These Issues
1- Biblical Worldview
Colossians 1:15-16 summarises the story of the Bible: ‘The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.’
To the materialist it says that there is a world that you can see and a world that you can’t see. It continues with Jesus as the firstborn over all creation, and so if you want to worship and give respect to the oldest ancestors, then the one who deserves ultimate respect is the firstborn of all creation. And in the invisible world there are thrones, powers, rulers and authorities, all of which have been made through him and for him. This dismantles the dualism in our spirituality, where for example in Africa there are good and bad ancestral spirits. Instead it says that while there are evil, demonic spirits they are created beings, and we worship the creator.
In Exodus 7 Aaron is commanded by God to throw his staff down before Pharaoh, and it becomes a snake. When Pharaoh’s sorcerers proceed to do the same things by their secret arts, Aaron’s staff swallows up their staffs. The biblical worldview addresses reality of the supernatural and evil. These stories can be difficult for western commentators because they lack categories for these things, but they make perfect sense to the African mind.
The book of Ephesians has been helpful in addressing these issues in a Zimbabwean church context. When Paul arrived in Ephesus he saw people baptised in the Holy Spirit, he taught and gave good theology, there were miracles and the supernatural, then demonisation, and those who practiced sorcery came together to burn their scrolls. This provides a window into the African worldview and spiritual warfare. We begin to see why when Paul then writes his letter to the Ephesians he had an emphasis on the power that raised Jesus from the dead, and that they would know and be strengthened by this power. He also writes about our identity in Christ, and gives practical advice, because part of demolishing strongholds is worked out in the practical ways that we need to live. Ephesians 6 then speaks directly to spiritual warfare and the armor of God.
The bible is full of these things, and only when we read it through the eyes of a culture that has experienced the supernatural do we see them more clearly.
2- Gospel of Victory
Part of the biblical worldview is a gospel of victory. We don’t just say that there is a spirit world and that there is a God, but the gospel is the gospel of Christus Victor and his victory over demonic forces.
Colossians 2:15: ‘And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.’
This is good news to the African heart: not just the gospel as court room or the prodigal coming home, but as battlefield.
3- Demonstration of Power
The kingdom of God is not just a matter of words but of power. Paul demonstrated this power by setting free a slave girl from a pythonic spirit who could accurately predict the future. We need to grow in this area and to grow in our faith for it. We must demonstrate the gifts of revelation and power so that we proclaim not just a gospel of victory in word but demonstrating it in power also.
In Africa nothing just happens, and it has created a culture of fear and suspicion, but we can challenge those through a biblical worldview, a gospel of victory and a demonstration of power.