Nimi Wariboko, The Depth And Destiny Of Work An African Theological Interpretation (Trenton, NJ Africa World Press, 2008). Vii + 274 Pp. $29.95 Paper.

Nimi Wariboko, The Depth And Destiny Of Work  An African Theological Interpretation (Trenton, NJ  Africa World Press, 2008). Vii + 274 Pp. $29.95 Paper.

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Book Reviews / Pneuma 33 (2011) 427-466


Nimi Wariboko, Te Depth and Destiny of Work: An African Teological Interpretation (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2008). vii + 274 pp. $29.95 paper.

Nimi Wariboko is the Katherine B. Stuart Professor of Christian Ethics at Andover Newton Teological School in Newton Center, Massachusetts. In Te Depth and Destiny of Work, he constructs a pneumatological theology of work which goes beyond Miroslav Volf’s Work in the Spirit: Towards a Teology of Work (Oxford University Press, 1991) in terms of thinking specifically in dialogue with African religions and engagement with contemporary eco- nomic theories. Te interconnecting systems of human labor from around the world, Wari- boko calls “globalization” (2, 243). He views work as meaningful activity not merely on account of the products it generates but rather because of its capacity to reflect divine action in the world. His aim is to show how human work arises from and returns to spirit, which he claims is the creative force of divinity in the universe (ix, 239). Te reader should not assume that Wariboko’s use of “pneumatological” means “classical Pentecostal.” As a Nige- rian minister in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, he is influenced by Christian as well as African religious thought.

Wariboko’s conception of spirit is based on African traditional religion, namely the reli- gious beliefs and cosmology of the Kalabari people of Nigeria. Among the Kalabari, spirit is called “teme.” When personified as deity, spirit is known as Teme-oru, the mother of all things (68-69, 227). She is divine creativity. But seldom is this Kalabari notion of spirit restricted to its personification in Teme-oru.

In African traditional religions, deity is a community of gods united in spirit, a pervasive force, in the universe. Spirit is not one entity; it is a multiplicity. Spirit is the underlying reality for all beings and things as well as the principle ordering of relations between them (67, 194-195). Everything emerges from spirit. In addition to the gods, humans and other living things with capacity for agency participate also in this force (51). Te movement of spirit is observable in the relationships it influences. Tus, in African religion, process, rather than substance, is the fundamental feature of reality. Tat there is any substance presupposes the dynamic operation of energy.

According to Wariboko, spirit is at its greatest manifestation and functionality in harmo- nious relationships (117). Spirit intensifies and adds complexity to social life and commu- nal structures (x). Spirit flows through human social life in three paths: communality (social structure), participation (communication and exchange), and possibility (new modes of relationship that replace older ones) (80-92, 216-238).

As being in the process of becoming, the human person is actualized through relation- ship, giving, and receiving (96-97). Te health and well-being of the person is contingent upon maintaining balance and harmony in relations between her and other entities (100- 101, 110-111). Involvement in community is vital for the development of the human person (128). Te principal means of involvement is work. Work builds community and makes possible a person’s legacy, that is, a stable identity and secure position of value in the community while living and after physical death (153-156, 169-171).

Wariboko rejects the reduction of spirit possession to catharsis and escapism. While he admits that spirit possession is ecstatic, he broadens the meaning of ecstasy to include all moments of fulfillment. Ecstasy includes intense emotion and feeling of delight, a kind of

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/157007411X602943



Book Reviews / Pneuma 33 (2011) 427-466

satisfaction derived in the course of a person’s work and life in community. In addition, it is indicative of human participation in divine creativity.

According to Wariboko, Christian teachings about the immortality of the soul, the end of the world, and heaven conflict with the African idea of legacy (159-168). Work is spirit, that is divine creativity, leaving behind a legacy for persons as it builds community (188). African religion offers no life in another world; it offers life and remembrance in this world.

Tough Wariboko interprets work and globalization as operations of the spirit, he strives to maintain a critical perspective on these manifestations of spirit that are also human activities. In a positive sense, he says that globalization “is an avenue for self-expression, transformation of relationship, between persons, and re-creation of the [labor and eco- nomic] systems of the world” (13). However, as he admits that work and globalization, in either’s ideal sense, does not happen for all persons in the world (234). He says that, when imposed and commodified, persons experience work as a “negative otherness,” “an alien- ation from the [authentic] self” (8). A theological perspective, that is, having a basis of value beyond secular institutions, is crucial for discernment of how work contributes to civil life, how human moral and social action coheres with the movement of spirit in the world, and how humans may become one with God (196). In addition to theology, Wari- boko proposes four norms for assessing globalization: stimulation, integration, transforma- tion, and sociality (248-250). Te norms expressed in questions are: Does globalization stimulate economic development? Does it bring people together and harmonize social sys- tems? Does it result in desirable change? Does it improve social organization and quality of life?

For Pentecostal scholars, Wariboko’s Depth and Destiny of Work is a challenge, maybe an inspiration, to interpret work and globalization as activities of the Holy Spirit. Tis chal- lenge is real and urgent. Globalization affects persons all over the world. Pentecostalism is a global phenomenon and is experiencing its greatest growth in underdeveloped nations desirous of a share of the potential prosperity of global market activity. It is imperative that Pentecostals began to reflect theologically on the practices of globalization and cultivate a sense of the Holy Spirit’s work in secular settings. Wariboko’s aim is to find within Africans’ own religious and ethical system an intellectual framework to encourage and negotiate their participation in economic and globalization (251-253). For Pentecostal scholars, the ques- tion is: What beliefs and norms in Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity enable persons to participate in and, at the same, maintain a critical perspective on globalization? If Pentecos- tal scholars take up this question, there is another issue which they will face. How will they integrate indigenous peoples’ understandings of spirit with Christian pneumatology?

Reviewed by Frederick L. Ware

Associate Professor of Teology

Howard University School of Divinity, Washington, DC


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