What my African teacher taught me



Kwame Bediako is from the West African country of Ghana. He is a Christian I never met, but he’s helping me understand Africa through his book  Jesus and the Gospel in Africa  (2004).

This week Kwame taught me about traditional African thinking.  There’s a big question for many people who live within traditional, tribal communities in relation to the gospel: Why should we be concerned with Jesus if he’s not from my tribe, from my clan or my language group? We revere our ancestors as individuals who represent the best of our culture and life together. So, why should we be interested in an outsider, like Jesus Christ? And, even if we should be (a big if), then how does he relate to us?

Now if you live in a suburban, middle class neighborhood in North America or Europe, this might not be such an issue. But if you’ve been raised to think that “my tribe” is unique and that only insiders can understand or connect with “my people”, then you’re probably unsure, possibly skeptical or even hostile, towards an outside person like Jesus Christ. And that’s probably just as much due to cultural and ethnic reasons as it is to anything religious or spiritual.

Kwame points out that Jesus’ priesthood is from Melchizedek rather than Aaron (Hebrews 7-8). That sounds pretty abstract. However, for traditional peoples, this is astonishing. Why?

Though Jesus is from the tribe of Judah, he’s not bound to the Jewish people or to the Levitical tribe. He’s not limited by the ethnic distinctions traditional (and modern) societies hem people in with. In effect, He’s not a tribal priest or an ethnic deity. Within traditional societies, there are numerous rules and regulations about who can become a priest or a religious leader. Only those within the tribe need apply.

In contrast, Jesus is the high priest for all ethnic groups. “ Therefore”, Kwame observes, “the priesthood, mediation, and salvation that Jesus brings to all people everywhere belong to an entirely different category from what people claim for their clan, family, tribal and national  priests and mediators.” That’s good news for traditional peoples who are not yet reached with the gospel. Also, perhaps it provides  a new perspective for those of us who live in an ethnically diverse, multicultural society.

To read more about Kwame Bediako, click here.

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