Missionary of Reconciliation, by Alfred Olwa

The short version: a helpful study of the preaching of a fascinating and inspiring figure. Because this is the published version of Olwa's PhD thesis, most of it makes for fairly tough reading. The first three chapters have broader appeal but if you want a brief introduction to Kivengere, you are probably better off with one of the short biographies which are floating around. Unless you have specialist interest in Uganda, Kivengere, or African preaching you can probably skip this one. 

“Simply, but irrefutably put, no one has ever come close to matching (Festo Kivengere) in the physical and spiritual rehabilitation of Uganda.”

“Kivengere’s preaching shows him as a preacher with a single message: reconciliation.”

Festo Kivengere looms large not just in a consideration of Ugandan history but also in Global Christianity through the later part of the 20th century. As the subtitle of this book lays out, it is a study of the theme of reconciliation in the bishop’s preaching from 1971-1988. This period straddles the tyranny of Idi Amin and the decade of recovery and reconstruction afterward. Due partly to his exile, this period also represents the height of Kivengere’s international ministry.

The dominant feature of this book is Kivengere himself. He was a man gripped by a gospel which permeated his life as well as his preaching. Olwa should be commended for having so much of Kivengere shine through here as this kind of work could leave the figure in the shadows behind the analysis.

One of the most interesting features to me was the connection to Karl Barth. I’ve read a bit of Barth and find him a compelling figure and writer. It was fun to unexpectedly encounter him here and compelling to see Barth’s emphasis on reconciliation bear remarkable fruit in a disturbing period of East African history. This connection is brought out by Olwa as he discusses Kivengere’s influences. Setting the Ugandan’s preaching in the context of his influences is one of valuable contributions of the study.

But with this said you need to know that this a published PhD thesis. As such, it does not make great reading for the most part. The first few chapters are a very well done introduction to Kivengere and the Ugandan situation which formed him and then was the arena of his main work. But the bulk of the book is about 200 pages where Olwa summarizes and analyzes Kivengere’s sermons on reconciliation from this period. As I said earlier, the author does let the preacher shine through and there are valuable nuggets scattered through these chapters. (A fun example is when Kivengere says that he wears his robes as an Anglican bishop not because it is strictly necessary but because it is good for “fishing purposes in certain waters”!) But frankly, this becomes tedious and repetitive and I found myself skimming sections as it went along.

Let me mention two ways I think the book could have been improved. First, as an academic study I feel like the analysis could have gone deeper. Olwa does some interesting work with the material in pointing out the traces of Kivengere’s influences as well as showing some of his shortcomings and distinctives. But I think more layers could have been peeled back. More comparative work would have allowed us to see Kivengere himself more clearly. What are his other sermons about? What parts of the Bible did he come back to or not get to at all? How does he compare to other Ugandan preachers? To others with a similar emphasis or set of influences?

Second, for this book I wish that Olwa and Langham had significantly repackaged this study. My main concern is that Olwa’s valuable material will be missed because of its academic constrictions. As it stands, Missionary of Reconciliation should probably only be picked up by those with specialist interest in Kivengere, Uganda, or African homiletics. Instead of 200 pages of summaries we could have had a few full sermons (just transcribed by Olwa for the first time!) which represented the broader collection. This is especially the case because many of these sermons were quite similar to one another.

Festo Kivengere still has much to teach us. From this book he does not strike me as a profound theological thinker or an impressively careful exegete, but his strength was in a courageously full grip on a core piece of a grand gospel. Kivengere is unquestionably worth knowing more broadly and this book’s contribution is to increase the possibility for us to just that. I can easily think of half a dozen projects that would be worth investigating using Olwa’s work in Missionary of Reconciliation as a springboard and I sincerely hope that the sermons on which this study is based become more readily available.

You can purchase this book directly from Langham Literature here. I purchased it though a Logos package of Langham Monographs (which was on a great sale at the time!).

(Note: it does appear that Moore Theological College has some of Kivengere’s material online. This link is for a series of audio files. They also have a number of sermon manuscripts but I’ve not taken the time to see if Olwa’s transcriptions are here.)

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One thought on “Missionary of Reconciliation, by Alfred Olwa

  1. Steve horton

    Thank you for sharing this information. I have been moved by the impact of God’s love through His people through the tapes of Bishop Kivengere.


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