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Uncompleted Mission: Christianity and Exclusivism.

In discussing the perennial question about the relationship between culture and the message and practices of Christianity, the author is searching for a convincing path beyond adaptation, contextualization, and inculturation. He is aware that such a journey requires an adequate hermeneutical procedure and therefore makes a number of short sorties into areas long since marked out inside the vast and diverse African continent.

Most of the discussion, however, is prolegomena--preparing for the journey. It begins with a survey of some of the material deemed relevant to message and medium in the Old Testament (chapter 1) and the New Testament (chapter 2). Then a short statement summarizes how the biblical material has, can, and should influence mission in its contact with a new culture, before Dickson briefly explores the impact of the Reformation and some modern European scholars (Barth, Troeltsch, Schleiermacher, and Harnack) on missionary strategy.

The fourth chapter is almost wholly taken up with an assessment of official and unofficial approaches within the Roman Catholic Church to questions of faith and context. It ends with a short plea for viewing salvation less in terms of ridding the individual of sin and more in terms of the restoration and maintenance of wholeness. The final chapter looks fleetingly at some ways in which Christian traditions and African beliefs have been brought together, and the author begins to probe an African approach to the Scriptures.

The author's main thesis is that in the missionary encounter between the Western church and African traditional convictions, the former has operated from an exclusivist position. As a result, the faith and culture of a Christianity shaped by Western culture has been imposed unimaginatively on the African people.

No doubt, Kwesi Dickson's thesis is substantially correct, although perhaps Christianity in Africa is more African than he allows, not so much by the conscious reflection and action that might typify the educated person as by osmosis. However, I have to say that, in my judgment, though the intention of the book is good, its execution is very problematic. There is much confusion. Why, for example, is exclusivism equated with being closed to culture, rather than to discrimination and discernment? Why does Luther's understanding of justification mean a necessary divorce between the sacred and the profane? Why does the author seem to think that exclusivism is inimical to social concerns? The map that is used to prepare for the journey is either too defective in a number of its details, or too bare in topographical identifications to be of great help in reaching the required goal. The book does, however, point to the inadequacy of other maps--if that is much help.

Andrew Kirk is Dean of Mission at the Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, England. He has been Theologian Missioner with the Church Missionary Society. Prior to that, he served in Argentina for twelve years.
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Author:Kirk, Andrew
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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