The Primal Vision is widely regarded as one of the most important books ever published on the subject of African Christianity. In a sympathetic and warmly empathetic style, John Taylor tellsof his encountrs with many different African people, and reflects theologically on the conversations he has shared with men, women and children in a wide variety of circumstances. By suggesting that the missionary should listen and learn from indigenous culture, and appreciate his status as a guest, the book points towards a revisionist understanding of Christian mission. John V. Taylor was Bishop of Winchester from 1975-85 and General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society from 1963 to 74. He died in 2001.
Unfortunately, as far as the world of anthropological theological readers goes, this is a widely unknown book. Why it is so unfamiliar is beyond me. I read this book four years ago and attribute a lot of my critical understanding about faith and culture to this book. I am reading another book by John V. Taylor now, and still find that same revelation of ideas that challenge my knowledge as I found in this book many years ago. He writes with gusto about meeting Christian theology with African worldview in very radical terms, yet so beautifully communicated.
Since I haven’t read the book in years, I wouldn’t be able to give a full account on exactly how the read was, or if I have certain criticisms about it, but I will admit that it was a very transforming, break-through type book. Anyone who is interested in either African anthropology or Christian theology in both a both subjective and objective sense should read it.
It’s really a book written by a European for the “European”, or Western, audience and begins by noting how little we really know. From there he takes us on a course of understanding the African concept of self and relationships, how Europeans have patronized myths and imagination, how Christianity is often thought of “white man’s religion”, which finally leads us to learning that true African theology is not syncretism , as we might know it, but understanding. It’s a whirlwind of concepts and a challenge to comprehend at times, but Taylor floods his arguments with references and examples and therefore provides, I think, the simplest way for Westerners to understand African thought.
I was astonished by how far ahead of its time this book seemed, considering it was written by a priest of the established church of an imperial power, at the fag-end of the British Empire in Africa. The author's aim over years of research in (I think) several African countries (colonies then), was to get inside the African view of the cosmos in general and Christianity in particular, rather than to impose the theology of the Church of England. I found it fascinating.
Dense book about Christianity and Africa. Helps to sort through issues of ancestor worship, polygamy, sin and presence. Interestingly, John Taylor lived in Mukono (where I live now) about 40 years ago, so the book talks a lot about Uganda.