Mission lessons from Nigeria

Dr John Apeh, President of the Grace Christian Mission of Nigeria
Dr John E. Apeh, President of the Grace Christian Mission of Nigeria

I am very pleased to be able to announce that the following Ph.D. Thesis is now available for free download in PDF:

John Enejo Apeh, Igala World Views and Contextualization: A Diachronic and Holistic Study of Cultural Themes as a Vehicle for Evangelizing and Theologizing. D.Miss. Dissertation. Biola University, School of Intercultural Studies, 1988.

My thanks to Dr John E. Apeh for his kind permission to host this work.


Working on the assumption that the Igala culture was not suitable and conducive for evangelization, the Western missionaries came to evangelize the Igala and imposed their own culture on the people. This Western cultural imperialism led to the situation where the present form of Christianity among the Igala is labelled a “White man’s religion” by unbelievers.

The Igala Christians’ reactions against this cultural ethnocentrism have led to a conflict where some Christians advocate a complete deWesternization of the gospel. Others who are conservative are afraid that cultural renaissance might result in syncretism. This problem has generated hostilities among Igala Christians and no attempt has been made to deWesternize Christianity of the seeming Western cultures in which the gospel came wrapped in.

This dissertation is a diachronic and holistic study of Igala cultural themes. The dissertation presupposes that Igala world views when used as frames of reference for contextualization will enhance the communication process of the gospel message. The process of contextualization which involves the study and adoption of cultural themes is a de-culturalization of Western culture from biblical Christianity and theology.

The dissertation is divided into three parts. Part one examines the social organization of the lgala and especially analyzes social festivals and ceremonies and the institution of marriage and the entire kinship system. In this section, the influence and power of the ancestors are examined in relation to the activities of the living. The issue of political leadership in relation to kinship, authority, legitimacy, support and decision-making processes are also investigated. Furthermore, the analysis of social organization shows the dynamics of contemporary Igala society and cultural change. These structural changes affecting the family and social structures indicate that world view change are largely compelled by economic factors.

Part two of the dissertation takes a look at the religious beliefs and practices of the Igala. In these, the nature of sin, sacrifice, spirit world, salvation and death, are examined together with cases of Christians facing problems of traditionalism. Examined too are the nature of the traditional problems and how the Igala church responds to them. Analysis of data relating to the religious practices and beliefs of the !gala provides evidence for the religious content of their culture. Moreover, moral order in Igala society is taught by the use of myths, proverbs and stories which are used predominantly by the older people; the Igala believe that morality is not only a religious issue but social and cultural.

In part three, the cultural themes identified in parts one and two are applied to evangelism and contextualization of theology. The relevance of the cultural themes to evangelism and theological education are shown and highlighted. The application of selected cultural themes, having been biblically screened, shows justification for their use in evangelism and theological education.

The dissertation, while establishing the relevance and importance of cultural themes, reveals that there are cultural questions of significant theological importance and concern to the Igala that Western theology does not anticipate. Furthermore, this dissertation contributes to our knowledge of Igala culture in the followings ways, namely:

1) The threat of syncretism could be minimized as people are made aware of the dangers of complete reliance on culture for theologizing.

2) That contextualization can give credibility to the gospel message as people will relate better to the gospel that is not wrapped in Western culture.

3) There are significant volitional changes taking place in Igala society and most of these changes are economic in nature.

4) The process of theologizing will effectively replace the Western philosophical basis and premises upon which the present Christian theology was built.

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