Previous | Next

July 1982 · Vol. 11 No. 3 · pp. 38–39 

Book Review

Readings in Dynamic Indigeneity

ed. Charles H. Kraft and Tom N. Wisely. Pasadena, CA: William Carey, 1979. 548 pages.

Reviewed by Peter M. Hamm

My “preparation” for reviewing this collection of essays could not have been more relevant. I was getting ready for a field trip in which I would visit a new church which looks very Muslim, a thirty-year-old church which is beginning to wrestle with its second-generation identity, and an eighty-year-old church beset with problems resulting from third-generation institutionalization.

In a stimulating “Foreword”, Harview Conn points to the recurring cultural questions that arise in translating the Gospel into different languages, cultures, and theologies. He attempts to “diffuse the potentially high risk of misunderstanding evangelicals often bring to the topics raised.”

In its four sections, the book successfully conveys a dynamic understanding of indigeneity, somewhat less successfully attempts to measure the process, significantly wrestles with the theory of indigenous theologizing, and very practically demonstrates the application of such theory within the African setting.

Section I contains six chapters which provide the theory for “Structural Indigeneity.” Besides assessing the well-worn “three-self” formula (by Melvin Hodges and Peter Beyerhaus) and surveying indigenous church principles through missiological history (Hans Kasdorf), this section takes the reader into a new understanding of the dimensions of indigeneity (William Smalley and Alan Tippett). Kraft then introduces the notion of the “dynamic equivalence church.”

In a series of six previously unpublished essays, Section II attempts to measure such “Structural Indigeneity” practically. Kraft sets the stage by developing scales, which presumably measure indigeneity, derived from the analytical constructs of form, function, and meaning. David Price then develops a diagnostic instrument to measure Kraft’s somewhat dubious categories. Then follow four case studies which illustrate dynamic indigeneity through the use of the established models. An introductory chapter on the utility and meaning of such diagnostic techniques could have avoided the uncritical use of Kraft’s measures.

If it contained nothing else, the essays of Section III, “Theological Indigeneity: Theory,” warrant purchase of the book. Kraft’s lead chapter on dynamic equivalence theologizing is much more convincing than his earlier one on “measuring indigeneity.” Buttressed by Robert McAfee Brown’s ten propositions on theologizing, Kraft avers that

theology is a dynamic discovery process engaged in by human {39} beings according to human perception. It is not simply the passive acceptance of a doctrinal product “once for all delivered”.

It proceeds according to rules of Spirit-led human interaction with God, rather than by means of simple indoctrination. Rene Padilla affirms the same in non-anthropological language, and among other astute insights advises “sociologists” who study the “fabulous growth” of the church in the Third World to include a survey on those who leave the church. Daniel von Allmen’s “The Birth of Theology” (IRM, 1975) and Charles Tabor’s “Limits of Indigenization in Theology” (Missiology, 1978) are two helpful reprints to explain the theologizing process. Two further chapters by V. E. Devadutt and R. H. S. Boyd reflect this process in the Indian setting. Alan Tippett helpfully concludes the section by wrestling with the tension between preserving the “pure faith and essential gospel” and giving an “indigenous garment.”

Section IV provides instances in the application of “Theological Indigeneity” to cross-cultural situations. Ralph Covell reviews W. A. P. Martin’s answer to ancestor worship in China. Wayne Dye posits an interpretation of New Testament eschatology in the African milieu, while another African, the late Byang Kato, responds with an evangelical hermeneutic to safeguard biblical Christianity. Finally, Bengt Sundkler, in bringing the book to a fine conclusion, asserts that theology, in the last resort, is translation, “an ever-renewed, reinterpretation to new generations and peoples of the given Gospel, a representation of the will and the way of the one Christ in a dialogue with new thought-forms and culture patterns.”

This is not a novel with an unfolding plot which sustains the reader’s interest. It is a book of readings, with a diversity of essays differing in theme, quality, length and utility, but loosely held together by a common purpose—to serve as a source book on dynamic indigeneity. And therein lies its strength. But therein also lies it weakness. The reader should anticipate different viewpoints and different styles of writing. By gleaning essays from different journals and books, the authors have lifted themes out of context to fit the larger subject of the book. Many acronyms remain unexplained. Unfortunately, the special bibliography does not even include numerous references not included in the authors’ footnotes. The volume further suffers from a hasty editorial process, for the text is replete with spelling and typographical errors. Despite these drawbacks, the authors need to be commended for bringing together essays which missiologists, missionaries, and Western theologians cannot afford to ignore.

Previous | Next