Review of David Tonghou Ngong’s Expansive New History of African Christian Thought by Tim Hartman

September 14, 2018

In A New History of African Christian Thought: From Cape to Cairo (Routledge, 2017), David Tonghou Ngong has curated and offered insightful contributions to a much-needed new history of African Christian thought. The defining and unifying claim of the volume is that African Christian thought is geographical. As Ngong writes: “This book sees African Christian thought as Christian thought that has been generated through African engagement with the Christian faith from antiquity to the present. The purpose of doing this is to maintain clear geographic unity of the continent.”

To this end, Ngong challenges alternative definitions that suggest that African Christian thought can only be written by black Africans living south of the Sahara Desert and north of the Limpopo River. He expands the geography to include the region of North Africa and the country of South Africa (hence the subtitle of From Cape to Cairo), and he also enlarges the historical period to cover the patristic era, thereby including Augustine, Tertullian, and Origen among the early pioneers of African Christian thought.

Ngong began this project because he could not find an appropriate text for his introductory course in African Christianity. This volume fills that gap and I highly recommend it for anyone seeking an introduction to Christianity in Africa from theological and historical perspectives. With chapters on early Alexandrian theology, St. Augustine, inculturation theology, liberation theology, evangelical theology, and homosexuality, Ngong’s work is useful for readers with a variety of interests.

Overall, Ngong’s book is a careful work of scholarship with readable prose and carefully constructed footnotes that allow for further exploration.  Among chapters of varying quality, Ngong’s own contributions are particularly significant. The introduction, the first chapter on the theological significance of Africa and Africans in the Bible, and the fifth chapter on Africa and the Christian Doctrine of God, all written by Ngong, offer a useful assessment of the historical and theological developments within Christian thought on the African continent. Other important chapters by Laurenti Magesa, Gerald West, and Rothney Tshaka demonstrate the diversity of the contributors: historians, theologians, and biblical scholars, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, from southern Africa, East Africa and the diaspora.

The main shortcoming of the book is an omission that Ngong notes in the introduction: the lack of any essays on African Women’s theology or African Pentecostalism. Fortunately, there are many authors within the Circle of Concerned African Women who have written on the numerous contributions of women to African theology. Esther Mombo’s “Women in African Christianities” in Routledge Companion to Christianity in Africa provides a good recent overview of some of these contributions. For those looking to supplement their understanding of Pentecostalism, the fastest growing segment of Christianity in Africa, Kwebena Asamoah-Gyadu’s books are highly recommended, especially Contemporary Pentecostal Christianity: Interpretations From an African Context, which builds on Ogbu Kalu’s important book African Pentecostalism.

Ngong is to be commended for the foresight of this book and his significant contributions to it. Anyone with a specific interest in the development and growth of Christianity in Africa or anyone with a general interest in Christian thought would deeply benefit from this informative and perceptive book.

Tim Hartman is Assistant Professor of Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary