For most Africans, there is no dichotomy between sacred and secular realms. While this holistic approach to life has great merits, it can also serve as a sponge, soaking up all kinds of spirituality. Christian apologetics acts as a gate to lock out syncretism and false teachings.

As 1 Peter 3:15–16 reminds us, we should be prepared to defend the faith while “keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” In other words, apologetics is a gentle conversation about faith, not a fight to be won. Apologetics in Africa: An Introduction offers answers to both believers and skeptics on a continent where Christians remain largely unequipped to respond to attacks on the faith they embrace.

This is by no means the first book on apologetics in Africa, but it is long overdue, distinguished by the diverse authors’ unique perspectives on selected topics in apologetics. In a continent where the danger of syncretism is very real, effective apologetics is desperately needed, not just as an academic topic but in the daily lives of believers.

Hailing from Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria, and Uganda, the contributors to Apologetics in Africa approach Christianity as a faith that has been widely accepted throughout the continent but requires contextualization. These 16 essays on cultural and practical issues give direction for the integration of faith and life in the African Christian church, which has been influenced by African traditional beliefs, colonization, Western thought, and contemporary global trends. (Despite its title, the book primarily speaks to issues in sub-Saharan Africa, and all of its contributors hail from Anglophone countries.)

Christian theology in the African context must be complemented by apologetics, because believers need a faith they can explain. Moreover, faith grows when it is open to examination. Therefore, apologetics can be considered a crucial subset of African theology, and this work rises to the task—even though it is modestly titled an “introduction,” as an invitation to further discussion. After all, the task of apologetics never ends.

The historical plot

The Kenyan gospel musician and apologist Reuben Kigame wrote, “Christian apologetics has its deepest roots in North Africa.” In a way, this book is revisiting the topic of apologetics in Africa after a long hiatus, but with a focus on contemporary issues. Suitably, editor Kevin Muriithi Ndereba, the head of practical theology at St. Paul’s University in Kenya, opens Apologetics in Africa by looking back to Augustine, Tertullian, and others who lived in North Africa when the “default mode of missions” was apologetics.

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Ndereba describes apologetics as multidisciplinary and as a beneficiary of other disciplines—which is an important observation because the questions people ask about faith are not confined to a particular category. When an academic curriculum includes a course on apologetics, it is typically an upper-level course. That’s because students need a strong reservoir of background information to enable interdisciplinary integration in their work on apologetics.

The book’s arrangement into four issue categories (biblical, philosophical, cultural, and practical) implies the development of a wide-ranging discourse that can guide scholars and others engaging in African apologetics. Of course, biblical issues are a good place to start, because there can be no defense of the Christian faith without a biblical foundation. In that section, Kenyan New Testament scholar Elizabeth Mburu’s article “Is the Bible Reliable? Biblical Criticism and Hermeneutics in Africa” is particularly well articulated. Mburu’s approach combines two perspectives—classical questions and contextualized hermeneutics—for the purpose of a believer’s transformation.

Pertinent doctrinal topics for a diverse Africa

Africa is a diverse continent with 54 countries, more than 3,000 tribes, and enormous variations in cultural beliefs and practices. Accordingly, though African readers may find areas of commonality in this book, they will also need to reflect theologically on their unique interests and contexts in order to engage in apologetics effectively.

In the face of this cultural diversity, it is imperative for African believers to understand some key biblical doctrines to build a firm foundation for their inferences. To me, three doctrines stand out as particularly central. The first is well covered in this book, the other two less so.


This key topic, especially the person of Christ, does not have close parallels in African traditional belief systems. But as South African theologian Robert Falconer writes in his chapter “An African Apologetics for the Resurrection,” the historical truth and reliability of Christ’s resurrection is what makes Christianity worthy of our exclusive affiliation.

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In an application of Christology to an African cultural context, Ndereba contributes a chapter on “The Doctrine of Christ and Traditional Eldership Rites: mbũrĩ cia kiama.” Mbũrĩ cia kiama can be translated as “goats for the council.” The term refers to the traditional Gikuyu practice in which a man who has qualified for the status of eldership gives goats to the council of elders.

Ndereba commends this tradition for recognizing the value of mentorship but also raises a dilemma: How should Christians approach the practice? Do African Christians still need to perform animal sacrifices in order to take status and responsibility seriously? How can they align that practice with Christ’s redemptive sacrifice? The process of contextualization cannot simply imbue African traditional practices with Christian significance, because their meanings may not align.

Christian apologists in Africa should examine their own culture closely and discern appropriate analogies for their setting. However, converts to Christianity should be taught the whole counsel of God even where there are no obvious similarities to their culture.

It is common for authors contextualizing their theology in Africa to highlight aspects of Christology that find similarities in African traditional beliefs—mostly the work of Christ—and shy away from unfamiliar concepts such as the person of Christ. Yet the doctrine of the person of Christ is central to Christianity and attracts key apologetic questions: How can God have a son? Does Christianity have more than one God? How can three gods be one? How can Jesus be both human and God?

When we are explaining the person of Christ, adaptations of or analogies to African traditional beliefs are inadequate and must be referenced with a disclaimer. Here are two examples.

  • Christ as the ancestor: Christ is often presented in this way in Africa because he is the mediator between Christians and the God of the Bible. But Christ is also God himself, and he is alive, whereas the ancestors are considered the “living dead.” Furthermore, we can communicate with God through Christ, but communication with or through African ancestors would be considered divination and therefore unbiblical.
  • Christ as an elder (or elder brother): As Ndereba appropriately explains, the position of an elder in Africa has historically been a significant role. But many of those considered elders today may not attract as much honor as previously; moreover, many in the younger generation are detached from their traditional background and need different analogies they can relate to. Additionally, in African tradition, the elder brother is considered equal to the father, and he takes over the father’s responsibilities in differing degrees depending on the community. But the analogy between Christ and the eldest brother would not be pleasing to all African Christians, as its impact would be influenced by people’s experiences. Many elder brothers are enemies to family progress, and Christ does not fit that description!
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Whereas Christology receives thoughtful treatment throughout the book, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology) does not receive prominent attention in the biblical issues section. It would have been a useful addition, as this doctrine has been abused in church and cultic circles, or sometimes unfortunately neglected.

In some instances, people struggle to discern the difference between demon possession and the power of the Holy Spirit. This problem has made the whole topic of spiritual warfare difficult for most African Christians, and many of them trek from church to church looking for a prophet to rescue them. As a result, these believers are living in bondage, not liberation. There is a pressing need to discuss the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of African believers, so as to distinguish it from the role of demons and other spirits as understood in traditional African beliefs.


With regard to the doctrine of the church, important issues arise when African Christians try to align their practices on church ordinances with the ways in which African communities have traditionally recognized rites of passage such as birth, puberty, death, and burial.

One rite of passage this book does scrutinize is marriage, especially the cultural practices involved with it. As Zimbabwean theologian Primrose Muyambo explains in her chapter, African dowry practices (known as lobola) can easily cause Christians to compromise their faith, since marriage is considered a huge milestone in an individual’s life and becomes a status symbol within the community.

Although lobola may affirm the value of women, in modern Africa it has become materialistic, often causing bitterness and conflicts. Muyambo points out that parents of educated young women are demanding large amounts of money or expensive items such as houses, water tanks, or cellphones as dowry payments. Due to the high costs, some couples have resorted to cohabitation, despite the church’s opposition. The African church must align this rite of passage with Christian practices so as to help parents adapt and to support young Christian couples who seek to marry.

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Similar problems arise around other rites of passage not discussed in this book. Since some church ordinances seem mysterious in their symbolic meaning and could appear to have parallels to traditional African rites of passage, magic, and occultism, addressing these matters is crucial for African apologetics. Church leaders must identify primary areas where compromise of one’s faith can occur due to cultural demands and contemporary worldviews, because syncretism is thriving in the African church and creating major apologetics dilemmas. Believers need biblical principles that enable them to know what to discard and what they can appropriately transfer from their culture to Christianity. Ugandan pastor Rodgers Atwebembeire’s chapter “Apologetics and Cults in Africa” demonstrates what is happening too often and provides a warning for the danger that Christianity in Africa faces if the church is not established on sound doctrine.

Overall, despite the noted omissions, this book should encourage further research and reflection on practical apologetics issues in Africa. (It would be wonderful if the book also sparked the development of more accessible and affordable apologetics resources as well.) The authors’ contributions are an antidote to intellectual and emotional barriers to faith, and the contextualizing approach to hermeneutics prepares believers to give an answer for the faith they profess in their contemporary cultural setting.

Agnes Makau is dean of the School of Theology at Scott Christian University in Machakos, Kenya.

Apologetics in Africa: An Introduction
Our Rating
4 Stars - Excellent
Book Title
Apologetics in Africa: An Introduction
Release Date
January 31, 2024
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