Original Monotheism: The Mbaka

Following a post on the missiological aspects of orginal monotheism, I now look at a more specific theology: that of redemptive lore. Richardson changes our perspective on “perversions” of the gospel into something more suitable for doing missions.

The Mbaka were another group of people who were told that the messengers of the sky god were on their way. The only problem was that they didn’t know exactly what they were waiting for. The Mbaka knew the legends of Koro, the creator god. Not only that, but they also knew about his Son! They remembered that his Son had done something great a while back, but when asked, didn’t know what he had done. This information was lost over generations of apathy. They did know, however, that some white-skinned witnesses would come with the news to remind them of what happened.

When the missionaries came, the Yablangba tribe, a sort of priestly-Levitical tribe, converted in huge numbers: almost eighty percent of the tribe converted right away! They noted that the theology sounded similar to their rite of passage: after a sacrifice, men would be dunked in water, and told to act like newborns for a few days. This was their form of spiritual rebirth, including a real infancy stage!

Even stranger was their interaction with a stone. If they were to trip over a stone, they would thank the stone and pray, asking Koro what they were being protected from. Had they not fallen, they thought, they would have walked into greater danger. Richardson calls this a correct response to the Christian God, called a stumbling block.

He noted that the response to their work was tepid, saying that the missionaries should spend less time studying the culture and more time preaching. This was silly! There was more response to careful studies of the culture than coming in guns blazing. Richardson refers to these points of contact as “redemptive lore”. Not redeeming, as if they can be saved by their theology alone, but redemptive as it sets them on the path toward salvation. Rather than see these as perversions, he says we should see them as in-roads for gospel evangelization.

Looking at world religions through the lens of redemptive lore, we note the ripeness of the fields for the sowing of the gospel. We need not ignore other societies, and we may find it detrimental to do so!

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