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This is Why He Came

Stories of Salvation and Transformation from Around the World

A Gospel that is Christian and African: The Story of Kwame Bediako

by Dr. Michael Whiting, DBU Staff

While the movement of Christianity in the later twentieth century was becoming stagnant or declining in the Western world, it was blossoming on continents that make up the Two-Thirds World. Africa, touched by the Gospel as early as apostolic times, was witnessing its most extraordinary expansion of Christianity south of the Sahara.

According to renowned missionary historian and theologian, Andrew Walls, it was Ghanaian Christian Kwame Bediako more than any other voice who led the way in communicating to Christians of the Western world that the growth of Christianity and the theological contributions of Africans was “an essential component in a developing global Christian discourse” (Dictionary of African Christian Biography.) 

The grandson of a Presbyterian evangelist, Kwame Bediako was born in Accra in 1945 in what then was the British colony of the Gold Coast. Following World War II, the new nation gained its independence and was renamed Ghana.

Bediako received an excellent secondary education and went on to attend the newly established University of Ghana, quickly acquiring a reputation for an astute academic mind. He also excelled in French and was awarded a scholarship to study in France, which led to achieving both master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Bordeaux.

At this stage in his life, Bediako was not following after the faith of his grandfather but rather was influenced by atheistic French philosophy. However, personal conversion to Christ radically changed his life, and he even pondered forsaking academia to become an evangelist. Yet, Bediako became convinced that he was called to remain in the field of scholarship and to make it his life mission to reflect deeply on what it means to be truly Christian and African and to contribute a uniquely African perspective to the global Christian conversation.   

Bediako completed a theological degree in London before returning to Ghana to become ordained in his grandfather’s Presbyterian denomination. At this time the Gospel was spreading in greater numbers throughout Africa, but Bediako observed that the Western form of Christianity planted by missionary seeds was not adequately speaking to the daily issues, concerns, problems, and fears of Africans in their own culture. 

In his second doctorate, this time at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, Bediako devoted himself to studying the history of early Christianity, being convinced that Africa’s future renewal, much like the Greco-Roman world, lay not in the wholesale rejection, but redemption, of its culture.

Bediako built a strong network of relationships around the world: as a visiting lecturer at the University of Edinburgh at its new Centre for the Study of World Christianity; with other scholars on the African continent that became the Africa Theological Fellowship; and with Christian theologians in India and South America in the formation of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Mission Theologians. 

Bediako also pastored Ridge Church in his hometown of Accra, Ghana, believing that theological scholarship of the academy must be connected practically to the ministry needs and challenges of the African churches. This relationship developed into the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission, and Culture, which was later granted status as a postgraduate institution by the Ghanaian government. The Institute, sensitive to Africa’s past and present cultural realities, stimulated research and learning among African scholars and pastors as well as training for lay Christian workers throughout Ghana.

Bediako passed away from an illness in 2008, but not before seeing the fulfillment of his spiritual journey, calling, and passion: seeing the Gospel of Jesus Christ being applied uniquely to the context of Africa’s transformation and lifting Africa into the center of global theological conversation. 

Through the humble advent of the Christ child in Bethlehem – a community small among the clans of Judah (Micah 5:2) – the transforming reign of God would extend throughout the earth, not to create one nation of disciples but to make disciples of all nations. The story of Kwame Bediako embodies God’s love for the unique continent of Africa and of the mission of His Kingdom to redeem Africans as Africans.

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