Word and Witness: A Theological Account of the Life and Voice of Mercy Amba Oduyoye
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Theology is dense and multifaceted.
It is a dense foray into questions of faith and praxis; it merges multiple interpretations of spiritual wisdom with human expression and action. It holds the progression of relational life. These are a few of its gifts.
Its shortcomings, however, are nocuous. Christian theology is the crucible in which practices of racism and sexism can be and have been maintained and spiritualized for the benefit of a few in positions of power. Theology, in this form, must be refuted; this resistance must come from the voices from within it. Most prominent have been and continue to be the voices that have struggled and forced their way in to theological conversation and relevance. The people and communities held within these voices would not be silenced. These voices know and live Christian theology at critical junctures.
One such voice is that of Mercy Amba Oduyoye. One of interruption and interrogation Oduyoye unashamedly calls the church into account through theological truth-telling. An authoritative voice over the decades, her work is one that has impacted the nature of Christian theology towards fuller inclusion of those outside the status quo within the Christian church. Her voice is one worth knowing.
Thus, this dissertation is an exercise in listening to Oduyoye in order to know her on her own terms. It is an exercise in hearing and learning about her through her own words. It glimpses the journey of her doctrinal and theological positions and in this it pronounces that an African woman’s voice is essential to doing Christian theology with integrity and impact.
I introduce Oduyoye through what she means to Christian thought as a theologian of African decent with particular cultural convictions. She relentlessly questions the cultural and social messages and cues that aim to force African women into narrow versions of themselves under the guise of upholding theological principles. She forges innovative paths towards more theologically sound directions.
This dissertation, then, moves in three parts, the first focusing in on “voice,” the second attending to the notion of “word,” and the third examining the idea of “witness.” The conclusion illumines the interconnectedness between the notions of voice, word, and witness in Oduyoye’s theology.
Chapters one and two narrate Mercy Oduyoye’s formation through her kinship ties, cultural standpoint, and theological commitments. Here we learn Oduyoye’s name and the details of her life. We also learn of the progression of her voice: her life contours her voice, and her voice contours her elucidation of the word and witness of African women’s theology.
Chapters three and four offer Oduyoye’s doctrinal examination of the theology of God as well as explore the person and work of Jesus Christ through her explication of African women’s Christology. These chapters illumine the revelation of “word” in African women’s theological accounts. The foundation and purpose of God and Jesus Christ in Christian precept serves as a reminder that the words that formed Christians precede Christian witness.
Chapters five and six consider human relationships and their role in revealing the divine. They tackle the “witness” aspect of Oduyoye’s theological positioning through interrogating how human relationship independently and interdependently comprise the crux of relationality. Attuned to aspects of theological practice and custom, whether cultural, religious, or both, the notion of human relationship draws attention to divine workings in the everyday lives of those overlooked or forgotten.
This theology, rich with African women’s conceptions of life and their understanding of relationship, is holistic and well grounded. It recognizes life as the platform on which African women’s theology continues to gain prominence. A religious position attentive to the lives of others proves itself to be a theological instantiation of what God in Christ called the Christian church to be.
Mercy Amba Oduyoye