Leaders with a Vision:
How Christian leadership can tackle the African crisis
B J van der Walt
Potchefstroomse Universitet vir Christelike Hoer Onderwys, 1995.
This 101-page book started life as the lectures for the Pan African leadership Assembly II in Nairobi, 22-30 November 1994. B J van der Walt is no stranger to the African situation; he is a South African Christian philosopher and founder of the Institute for Reformational Studies based at the Potchefstroom University in South Africa (he retired in 1999). He writes about Africa from first-hand experience.
Although this book’s context is Africa its value extends beyond that continent. The four main chapters deal with: the nature of office, authority, power and responsibility; the structuring of society; social involvement and change; and the nature of the state. Important and crucial issues for Christians wherever they may live and work.
Vand der Walt is a clear and insightful writer. He applies reformational thinking to important cultural issues. I particularly appreciated the tables and diagrams that served to summarise and illustrate the main points made in the text.
He sees leadership as being a key to the African crisis. However, he rightly maintains that it will mean much more than leaders who are Christians. It needs Christian leaders with a clear vision that they can communicate and inspire others.
The first main chapter (Ch2 – chapter 1 is a brief Introduction) examines a Christian perspective on office, authority and power. As the author states’ If one does not know what office, authority, power and responsibility means, one cannot be a real leader’ (p 8). He sees office as God’s mandate to render service to the members of the societal relationship. Authority is the right to render this service, which requires insight into and obedience of the God-given norms for the specific relationship. Power is acted-out authority and is dependent on insight and obedience to god’s norms; and finally responsibility is towards God and the people of the societal relationship. This is important for Africa and equally so for the church everywhere.
Chapter 3 looks at the structuring of society. Here he looks at three biblical perspectives: from the perspective of the image of God, the perspective of different offices and from the perspective of diversified love. Individualim, communalism and pluralism are then examined. A Christian view is a pluralist view: it wishes to do justice to both individuals (individualism) and society (communalism).
In ‘A Christian perspective on social involvement and change’ (Ch 4) three models are mentioned and critiqued. The first two the dualist-pietist view – common among many evangelicals - and the revolutionary views are found wanting and the biblical reformational view is briefly expounded. The reformational view is radical – God transforms the world – and positive – it seeks to be obedient to God for the sake of God’s world.
Chapter 5 examines a Christian perspective on the state. Here the African background comes to the fore and he uses this turbulent context to draw out some biblical perspectives, including a useful discussion on civil disobedience. He discerns four viewpoints radical passivists, partial passivists, partial militarists and radical militarists. He concludes ‘In the final instance it is the duty of especially Christians to keep on talking, trying their best to convince the government that it has to change’ (p 90).
In the final chapter – the conclusion – he looms briefly at the different leadership models that have shaped Africa: the paternalistic elder tradition (Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah), the sage tradition (Leopold Sedar Senghor or Mwalimu Julius Nyrere), the arrior tradition ( (Gadafi or Idi Amin), the charismatic style of the inspiring personality (Kenyatta, Nyere or Amin) and the monarchical style (Nkrumah, who was sometimes known as Osagyefo, the Redeemer). He concludes that what is needed in Africa – and we might add everywhere – is responsible servant-leaders.
This is an excellent book and one that should be read by all leaders and aspiring leaders wherever.
Details of how to obtain Bennie van der Walt’s books are available here.