Christian Missions and Colonialism

"The saints are responsible for the structure of the social world in which they find themselves. That structure is not simply part of the order of nature; to the contrary, it is the result of human decision, and by the concerted effort, it can be altered. Indeed, it should be altered, for it is a fallen structure, in need of reform. The responsibility of the saints to struggle for the reform of the social order in which they find themselves is one facet of the discipleship to which their Lord Jesus Christ has called them."

-- Nicholas Wolterstorff, Until Justice and Peace Embrace

  • First, we should admit that Christian missions played a large role in the Colonial process of cultural and political hegemony in Africa, India, and the Caribbean. Very often Christian missionaries cooperated with European political rule, depending on the governmental power to maintain their own status. Likewise, quite often Christian missionary schools assumed the superiority of European education, language, and ideas; and as a result, they downgraded local indigenous culture.
  • However, this was not always the case. Christian missionaries sometimes opposed the oppressive colonial rule, worked to maintain the rights of the colonized, and at least strove to fully respect and understand elements of the local culture.
  • As the twentieth century progressed, many missionaries began to move to a more incarnational model, one that sought to work within the language, customs, and cultural structure of indigenous peoples and that, equally, sought to downplay their own Westernized understanding of matters.
  • In addition, Christian missionary education also provided a solid Biblical education, one that exposed local leaders to Biblical ideas of justice, mercy, and peace. In particular, many native activists adopted the language of Exodus, Jesus, and the Apocalypse in order to convey the need for socio-political change.
  • Eventually, third-world theology grew out of local Christian churches, some of which stressed liberation and justice (cultural, political, and economic) for all the oppressed.
  • Increasingly, Western Christianity has come to learn from Third World Christians how to better understand often overlooked aspects of Christianity, Scripture, and Theology.

Cyril Okorocha on Igbo View of Salvation

Ezi ndu: the desirable, superior life or salvation

  • A viable, enviable, full life.
  • Concerned with total well being.
  • Holistic–no sacred, secular, dichotomy; no distinct material and spiritual realities.
  • Concerned with moral rectitude and fair play.
  • Communal in structure--seeks order in a tranquil community.


reciprocity ----------------------------------- altruism


  • The power to accomplish or provide this life.
  • Stresses the continuation of posterity and children.
  • Wants peace with the gods.
  • Experience of blessing NOW.


How does Okorocha's discussion of Igbo notions of salvation cast new light on the reasons why certain segments of Igbo culture so readily embraced Christianity?