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Living on the Seam of History 2: God in Africa

Categories Theology

God, does he exist? And who is he anyway?

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“Africans regard debate about the existence of God as ridiculous. They take it as a given. God is the foundation and explanation of all creation and existence. If he did not exist, nothing else would exist.” (Kunhiyop, African Christian Ethics, HippoBooks 2008, p.17)

In much of the western world the debate about the existence of God is not so easily dismissed as ridiculous. “New Atheists” and others frequently and openly challenge God’s existence and those who believe in him.

Though belief in God according to Kunhiyop is not a problem in Africa, we cannot look at God from a truly African perspective without butting heads with Islam. It has been said that “in the 20th Century Islam has gained more converts in Africa than has Christianity.” ("Islam in AFrica" September 10, 2008, http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-IslaminA.html)

With Africans so readily believing in God, and with so many Muslim converts, one question is frequently raised: Is the Allah the same God as the Christian God? Or otherwise asked: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

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Dr. Tim Tennent devotes an entire chapter of Theology in the Context of World Christianity to this question. After outlining numerous factors that must be addressed to adequately answer, including “The Ontology of Monotheism and the Predicates of Revelation,” he says “no”:

The result of this survey has concluded that although “Allah” and “God” are etymological equivalents and, as monotheists, we only believe in one God, it would fragment our very identity as Christians to accept the statement that the Father of Jesus is the God of Muhammad. The reason is that the statement is not essentially an etymological or an ontological statement, but an attempt to identify the predicates associated with the Islamic and Christian use of the words “Allah” and “God” respectively. The phrases “God of Muhammad” and “Father of Jesus” are spoken by communities of faith with important books or revelation that provide hundreds of predicates, all helping to set forth the full context for the meaning of these two phrases. From this perspective, I must conclude that the Father of Jesus is not the God of Muhammad.” (Tennent, Theology in the Context of World Christianity, Zondervan 2007, p.48)

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In My Neighbor’s Faith, African scholar Dr. John Azumah disagrees saying: “…There is no linguistic justification for suggesting Allah is different from the Christian God.” (Azumah, My Neighbor's Faith, HippoBooks 2008, p. 140) He then addresses the concerns beyond linguistics:

“But there is another important precedent in the Bible that we cannot afford to ignore when answering the question as to whether the Muslim God is the same as the Christian God. It has to do with Paul and the altar to the Unknown God erected by the people of Athens (Acts 17:22-23)…it must not be forgotten that Paul’s basic motivation in this context was purely missionary and evangelistic. He was using the Unknown God of the Athenians as a stepping stone to present them with God the creator of the universe and the Father of Jesus Christ. In the same way, Allah or the Muslim God is a crucial stepping stone for sharing the Christian witness to God with Muslims.” (Azumah, 140) (Note: Tennent addresses “evangelistic and pastoral” concerns as well but still arrives at his negative answer, p.46.)

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Despite the differing opinions, Barnabe Assohoto and Samuel Ngewa’s powerful words from the Africa Bible Commentary ring loud and true from across the Atlantic as an encouragement to Africans everywhere:
"No matter what God ordered to come into being, gather or separate, it came to be. He has the power to create and the power to order his creation. We can rely on this same power in our circumstances. The God of creation is still the God of history. If we listen to his word and submit our plans to his will, he can speak to raise Africa to great heights!” (Adeyemo, Africa Bible Commentary, Zondervan 2006, p.11)

Next Wednesday we will examine African Christology but first, what do you think: Should Christians “use” Allah as an evangelistic in-road? Or not?

--Andrew

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