This well-written book surveys the activities of revivalists (known as the “Balokole”) of East Africa in Uganda during the first part of the twentieth century (1935-1955), and how they “developed through the revival movement a new way of life, and that this interest was the larger goal to which their dissenting tactics ultimately were directed” (23). Drawing from a variety of historical and contemporary minds as sources, Jason Bruner analyzes soteriological convictions, life experiences and practical activities of the revival movement. He moves through six major chapters, showing that through the concept of salvation, focusing on sin, confession, and conversion, the Balokole had a great impact in their personal and family lives within the Church of Uganda, and in education, social, and political spheres of East African society.
Bruner’s argument that the revivalists’ understanding of salvation was “less focused upon religious institutions, texts, and doctrines; instead, dress, manners, style, performance, and quotidian activities come to the fore” (23) is not only fascinating and remarkable, but also an eye-catching insight for an African reader. The African understanding of salvation is not so much focused on the futuristic, spiritual, and heavenward destiny. It is a practical and lived religion in the now and normal way of life within the community of which one is part. Therefore, for one to have a meaningful comprehension and appreciation of how Africans view theological concepts such as salvation, it is crucial for any scholar to display a keen interest in the daily practices and experiences of life in homes, streets, schools, churches, market and work places, suburbs, funerals, and weddings. These dimensions will largely inform and help such a scholar discover the premise of real contemporary and contextual African theology. Bruner has uniquely managed to achieve this reality by lifting up the African blood-stream conceptualization of salvation among the Balokole of East Africa. What clearly emerges in Bruner’s argument is that the East African revival in Uganda of the late colonial era understood and practiced salvation as a way of life. With this, Bruner makes his thoughts relevant and appealing to the African readership in general.
One wonders, however, whether this historical inquiry would interest and appeal to the contemporary African technological mindset. The contemporary African mindset, which to a large extent is formed by youthful Africans, might find the revival movement concepts and practices of salvation unattractive because their worldview is more influenced by globalization and technological advancements than by late colonial thought-patterns. Another insight worthy of reflection and further consideration is the pursuit of a balance between discontinuity from an older way of life and continuity in aspects of confession and conversion, as the Balokole articulated, so as to avoid “the holier than thou” syndrome and the dichotomy between “in” and “out” with regards to salvation as a theological concept.
Nevertheless, despite these “gray areas” and the slightly uncritical approach to the revivalists’ concepts and practices of salvation, this is an insightful and rewarding investigation of the revival movement of East Africa in Uganda. It is an important contribution to African historical and religious scholarship, and indeed to contemporary soteriological discussions; it is useful for graduate students, and every seminary library should acquire a copy.
Lameck Banda is Professor of Systematic Theology, Ethics, and African Theology at Justo Mwale Univeristy in Lusaka, Zambia.
Date Of Review:
January 8, 2018
Jason Bruner is assistant professor of global Christianity at Arizona State University.
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