African Faith: Mile Wide and Half Inch Deep?

African Faith: Mile Wide and Half Inch Deep?


Religion in Africa

An often quoted phrase really raises my blood pressure.  It goes like this, “In Africa, faith is a mile wide and a half inch deep.”  I wish I could track down the exact origin of the statement.  I would question what the writer was really attempting to do.

Africans have used it to rebuke those who mix Christianity and African traditional religion.  Non-Africans use it to chastise Christian leaders for their lack of in-depth discipleship training.  It bothers me either way.  It is simply not a statement that characterizes the majority of African Christians.

There were a couple of articles that ran in Christianity Today a decade back that centered around the issue of some African Christians offering libations to ancestors and even a few pastors and priests endorsed the practice.  The articles I am speaking about are:

While there might have been some lively debate about these issues in Christianity Today, there is no debate among the majority of African Christians.  Far more African Christians have suffered some form of persecution for not offering such sacrifices, than those who would endorse them.

The faith of most of the African Christians I have known over the past forty years has challenged my own.

Syncretistic practices and religions (the mixing of Christian and traditional religion resulting in something different than either, do exist in Africa, just as they do in all parts of the world.  The are often spawned when Christian teaching and practice that predominantly deals with life after death and not successfully dealing with some crucial, pressing problem of life such as healing sickness, protecting from evil powers, or bringing rain.  It is a matter of allegiance to the Lord in all aspects of life, which is at times a challenge to all of us.

African teachers, preachers, and pastors should and do identify areas of life that try the allegiance of their flocks.  They speak out on these matters and attempt to be role models, just like the counterparts do in other parts of the world.A profession of faith in Christ not only brings some Africans under the judgment and condemnation of their families and peers,  but they often realize they are pitting themselves against other gods, ancestors, and other unseen forces.  They are courageous when they step out from decades and century old ways of dealing with life.Africans, and Christians everywhere, do not always live up to their confession that the Lord is Lord of all of their life.  Thank God that His grace not only covers past sins, but continues to cleanse us.

Even though there are still many unreached ethnic groups in Africa, those who have come to faith in Christ can be found in most parts of the continent.  Mile wide?  Even wider than that.  An inch deep?  That is one huge judgment that is simply incorrect.


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