Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Adegbola, Ebenezer Adeolu


Ebenezer Adegbola Adeolu Adegbola was the founding principal of Methodist Lay Training Institute, Sagamu, and the director of the Institute of Church and Society, Ibadan.

He was born on December 26, 1918, at Igan Okoto, Ogun State, Nigeria. His parents, Daniel Adegbola Olurinu and Janet Odufunke Abake Adegbola, were both Christians. His father was a Methodist lay preacher in Igan Okoto and was among those who established the Wesleyan School in the town in 1911. His mother was a Yoruba Christian poet who composed traditional poems in God’s praise. [1]

Adegbola attended the Wesleyan school at Igan Okoto from 1928 to 1931 and proceeded to Abeokuta to complete his primary school education at Ogbe Methodist Primary School in 1934. He returned to his people in Yewaland to teach for two years, from 1935 to 1937, at Methodist School, Igbogila, as a pupil teacher. In 1937, he gained admission to Wesley College, Ibadan, where he obtained a higher elementary certificate in December 1940. He immediately began to prepare for the Christian ministry by enrolling in the sub-pastor’s course in January 1941. [2]

In 1942, he served as a junior tutor at the Wesley College, and the following year he was posted to Imesi Ile as a pre-collegiate minister for a year. He returned to the college in 1944 to begin training in divinity. He completed the course, and he was awarded the Intermediate-Bachelor of Divinity (Inter-BD, London) in 1946. He immediately returned to Igbogila as a circuit minister in the Egbado Division of Western Region of Nigeria. Two years later, he proceeded to Richmond College in the United Kingdom for a degree program in divinity. He was to be ordained in the UK at the end of his course in 1949, but he pleaded that it be deferred until his return to Nigeria so that his mother could witness the occasion. His father had died in 1941 while he was studying at the Wesley College, Ibadan. The ordination took place in 1950 at Ago Ijaye Methodist Church, Ebute Metta, Lagos. [3]

Following his ordination, Adegbola was assigned by his denomination, Methodist Church, Nigeria, to set up the Methodist Laymen Training Institute at Sagamu. It afforded him the opportunity to begin to sharpen his skill in Christian education and management. He remained there for the next eleven years. But they were not years of stagnation. He met a young schoolteacher, Obasola Olojo, at Ilesha in 1950, and they married two years later at Trinity Methodist Church, Lagos, on February 3, 1952. Towards the end of his time at Sagamu, the church gave him a leave of absence, from 1960 to 1961, to pursue a year-long program in advanced religious studies, at Union Theological Seminary, New York, leading to a Master of Sacred Theology (STM) degree. With the towering influence of Reinhold Niebuhr at the American seminary, Adegbola developed an intellectual leaning towards ethics. [4]

Journey into Ecumenism

Adegbola’s ecumenical journey began in 1952 when he attended the youth congress of the World Council of Churches (WCC) at Travancore, India. At the conference he was elected chairman of the Youth Committee of the council. His reputation grew with his successful organization of the All Africa Christian Youth Assembly held in Nairobi, Kenya, from December 28, 1962 to January 7, 1963. He had requested that his church give him a year’s leave so that he could carry out this assignment as the organizing secretary of the youth movement. Adegbola successfully drew from the resources of the Youth Department of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the World Student Christian Federation, the World Alliance of YMCAs, the World YWCA, and the World Council of Christian Education and Sunday School Association.

After successfully organizing the assembly, under the theme “Freedom Under the Cross,” Adegbola was able to declare the conference “the most representative pan-African gathering of any kind yet to take place.” [5] Oduyoye observed that The International Christian Youth, published in Collingswood, New Jersey, covered the proceedings of the assembly under the title “Conquest of Africa Begins” and noted that “the ecumenicals who met in Nairobi…surpassed in sheer boldness any other youth meeting they have sponsored.” [6]

Three months later, in April 1963, Adegbola attended the inaugural assembly of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) in Kampala, Uganda. He was named the convener of Committee 111 that was saddled with the issue of Christian education and youth. The assembly eventually elected him a member of the General Committee of the conference and he served in this capacity until 1969.

After successfully organizing the Nairobi youth conference in 1963, Adegbola became the principal of the ecumenical training institution, Immanuel College of Theology and Christian Education, Ibadan. The college was going through a period of transition at the time. First, the name was changed from Melville Hall to Immanuel College. The former derived from the English missionary, Melville Jones, who helped to relocate the CMS Training Institution from Lagos to Oyo in 1894. [7] The school later moved to Ibadan under the name of Melville Hall and was operating in a compound adjacent to St. David’s Church, Kudeti when Adegbola became its principal. The second change was the relocation of the school from its remote site at Kudeti to Samonda, adjacent to the University College, Ibadan. Adegbola led the institution through this period of transition, ensuring the completion of the buildings. He did not just sustain the ecumenical spirit behind the institution; he drew from his connection with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Theological Education Fund (TEF) to equip Emmanuel College, like its Ghanaian counterpart institution, Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon, Accra.

The year following his appointment as principal, Adegbola had to define the objective of the college in view of a development that took place in the University of Ibadan. Dr. Bolaji Idowu had succeeded his teacher, Professor Geoffrey Parrinder, and had become a professor and head of the department in 1964. Oduyoye explains the situation that necessitated this institutional self-definition:

When the University College became the University of Ibadan in 1964 and changed the Bachelor of Divinity degree to a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies in response to the criticism of those who accused a government-funded institution of spending tax-payers money in producing priests for the church, Immanuel College had to define its own objectives in spite of its affiliation to the University of Ibadan for the Diploma in Religious Studies. Dr. Adegbola sent two students of Immanuel College (Matthew Utaegbulam and Noah Amadi) to Yale Divinity School to enter the postgraduate B.D. course. [8]

Evidently, the transformation of the program of the university from theological formation to a general and detached study of religion would not serve the purpose of ministerial formation for which Immanuel College was primarily established. Adegbola had no desire to continue to lead the college in such an unfruitful affiliation.

As a result, in 1969, he was seconded by his church to the Institute of Church and Society (ICS), which is under the umbrella of the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN); he began his service there as a honorary research fellow. The move afforded him the opportunity to begin his doctoral studies at the University of Bristol in England. [9] He completed his thesis, “Ifa and Christianity among the Yoruba,” in 1976 under the supervision of Rev. F. B. Welbourn. [10] During this period of study, he was appointed the director of the ICS in 1972, succeeding Canon John Fowler.

During Adegbola’s seven year service as ICS director, he initiated many ecumenical interactions and promotions. “He rendered leadership services within the Association of Christian Lay Centers in Africa (ACLCA). For example, the encouragement of mutual emphasis by ACLCA and the Conference of African Theological Institutions (CATI), on the validity of non-formal education, the importance of Christian social ethics, and the relevance of culture for theology.” [11]

However, his years of service were not all bliss, particularly with the controversies that dogged his denomination, the Methodist Church. The church’s adoption of patriarchal leadership, introduced by Prof. Bolaji Idowu, created controversies that affected his service. In the midst of the controversy, he was elected bishop of Ibadan at the 1975 Jos conference of the church. This election was made possible by a group in the church that favored the old presidential system over against the patriarchal model. Adegbola could not function as a bishop under a patriarchal leadership, so he did not take the offer. The church withdrew his posting to ICS and thereby brought his directorship to an abrupt end in 1979. [12]

Adegbola immediately established the Centre for Applied Religion and Education/ Christians for a New Society (CARE/CANS) in Ibadan and used it to continue to promote his ideas on ecumenism and the church’s responsibility in the civil society. He eventually accepted the office of bishop in 1984 and became the president of the faction of the Methodist Church Nigeria that opted for the presidential rather than the patriarchal leadership. He retired four years later at the age of seventy and his faction reunited with its patriarchal counterpart. He continued to express his intellectual concerns on the platform of CARE/CANS until his death on January 27, 2004.

Ecumenical Thought and Practice

Adegbola’s ministry spanned the entire period of the emergence and decline of the ecumenical movement in Nigeria. If the 1950s may be regarded as the decade during which he began to register the country’s presence in continental and global ecumenical movements, the 1980s showed that his own national movement, the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN), had waned. Unfortunately, its successor movement, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), has shown no sign of commitment to active Christian witness and ministry in the Nigerian public sphere. Rather, its chief goal is to secure for the Nigerian Christian populace their share of the so called “national cake” in competition with their Muslim counterparts.

It may be stated, however, that the CCN itself escaped the dead end in which its successor movement was trapped only because its intellectual arm, the Institute of Church and Society, kept the focus on the church’s responsibility in Nigerian society, thanks to Adegbola. He was aware of the weakness of the parent body, the CCN, and its tendency to go the way CAN later went, hence his usual criticism of the parent body that “The Christian Council of Nigeria is being reduced to the level of administrative trivia.” [13] For him, ecumenism was not an end in itself, but a means to pull efforts together to move society towards a better future, in anticipation of the kingdom of God.

Adegbola’s thought and activities were informed by the currents of his times. When he began to participate in the activities of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the council was addressing the future of the new nation states of the global south in the aftermath of the World War II and the demand of the people for independence from their European colonizers. This emphasis was soon followed by a new one that aimed at moving Christian thought away from wholesale condemnation of primal religions to a more conciliatory view called “Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies.” Adegbola participated in these international discussions while also engaging his local realities. In this vein, the political fermentation in the Nigerian state, which led to the thirty month civil war and its attendant challenge of human and infrastructural developments courted his attention as an officer of the CCN and later as ICS director from 1972 on. On all these issues, he continued to write, organize and participate in conferences, and cooperate with other Christian denominations and public agencies in working towards a better society.

During the Nigerian civil war of 1967 to 1970, the Daystar Press, which was the Literature Department of CCN, began to publish the monthly periodical, The Nigerian Christian, with Adegbola as the chairman of the department. He was convinced that Nigerian Christians must not be silent regarding the war, so he used the periodical to express his views. [14] When the war ended in January 1970, and the CCN’s Department of Social Action transformed into the Department of Relief and Rehabilitation, he was no less involved in the post-war healing process that saw a generous inflow of resources from the WCC. It is significant that he succeeded, though only for a time, in arguing that the donated funds be used specifically for the purpose for which they were given. Later, those who thought they had a more creative idea on how to manage the funds prevailed. [15]

When he became the director at ICS in 1972, he tailored the program of the institute to the issue facing the country: post-civil war reconciliation, reconstruction and development. Development issues especially engaged his intellectual powers throughout his tenure as the director of the institute and afterwards. In 1974, he argued at a conference in Jos that:

To denude…churches of their direct involvement in social service will be to them spiritual deprivation. After all, a Christian church does not exist simply for erecting houses of worship (chapels, cathedrals) and filling them on Sundays. And to organize national development planning by concentrating the whole administration in the hands of paid civil service is social suicide. Hence, the role of voluntary agencies in national development, especially the Christian churches which claim a biblical imperative to serve man, must be given due recognition. [16]

Adegbola saw religious institutions, being voluntary agencies, as well positioned to contribute to the growth and wellbeing of society. His logic was that “Community development is the development of the masses of the people. These religious groups are the masses as already organized with the volition and consent of the individuals concerned.” [17] Although his argument may be taken for granted today, he was speaking in a transition milieu where the mission of the church in the world was being reconceived by the WCC in light of the political, economic and social upheavals that had erupted in much of the global south in the aftermath of the worldwide dissolution of European colonial schemes and empires. He wrote then that:

It used to be suggested that the “Word of God” had reference only to heavenly matters and spiritual affairs, but now no longer. It is now widely accepted that the gospel speaks to the “here and now,” that salvation is not only for the soul but for the whole man, that the world has to dictate the agenda in the sense that the Christian has to learn to read and understand the signs of the times he lives in, and that as such he should not concern himself with only other-worldly interests and the hope of gaining a “pie in the sky” bye and bye. Christians accept more and more to be told that they have a responsible role to play in society, and that Christian civic responsibility is not exhausted by casting the vote at election times and having a representative in parliament. [18]

From his argument, it is obvious that Adegbola believes that the mission of the church in the world is shaped by the matrix in which it is functioning, and the consequent social responsibility of the church may not be considered extraneous. It belongs to the vocation of the people of God in the world, hence it is important to understand that wherever and whenever it is omitted this represents a serious religious lapse:

The 1928 alternative to the general confession in the morning prayers of the Church of England Book of Common Prayer has placed a suitable emphasis on sins of omission, unrealized intentions and unfulfilled accomplishments. But it is not enough to pray for God’s forgiveness in these things. He is ready and willing to forgive… It is religious people of all faiths who now need to examine their religious life in relation to social tasks and the things which they ought to have done but have omitted to have done. [19]

Adegbola was no mere theoretician of the church’s responsibility in human society. His conviction proved very useful for both the church and Nigerian society under military rule. Oduyoye aptly described one of his initiatives that proved valuable for Christian witness in Nigeria:

When the military government…began to take over the control of primary and secondary schools, Dr. Adegbola decided that the Institute of Church and Society must give some direction in this matter between the church and the society. First, he advised the churches not to adopt a “what we have we hold attitude”… Then he invited the director of the Roman Catholic Pastoral Institute, Ibadan, to jointly organize a workshop to produce a joint syllabus for religious instruction in government-controlled primary schools in Nigeria. This was published by Daystar Press… The syllabus proved so useful that the need to go beyond curriculum development to provision of textbooks was felt. Dr. Adegbola got the two institutes to run a two-week text book writing workshop which produced six texts which were eventually joint published by Daystar Press and Oxford University Press, Ibadan, as Together in God’s Family, books 1 & 2 for teachers, books 3, 4, 5 and 6 for pupils….Dr. Adegbola then led church leaders to present the series to the ministries of education as what the churches had agreed to teach in the schools. He advised the churches not to ask for any compensation when giving up their schools. [20]

As it can be implied from above, lay training and adult education featured much in Adegbola’s education priority. When the AACC, at its Salisbury session of 1962-1963 came up with the priority of promoting Christian education in Africa, Adegbola offered Immanuel College as the regional base for the program in West Africa. Some of the graduates of this program returned to their home countries as youth workers, music ministers, and publication officers. [21]

His final years showed that he kept himself current and remained enthusiastic at the cutting edge of theological formation. In 2002, the WCC organized in South Africa a conference on “Theological Education and Laity Training in Africa in the 21st Century.” Several ideas were canvassed at the conference but the relationship between theological formation and development was of utmost interest to Adegbola and his forum, CARE/CANS. Adegbola led his forum to prepare a prospectus in response to the assignment given his forum to prepare a “5-year plan of action, 2004-2008.” He titled the four-page prospectus “Nigerian Forum for Theological Education and Human Development.” A senior colleague in the Anglican Communion, Bishop Seth Kale, once observed him and said poignantly, “Nse ni ori Adegbola ns’ise bi aago,” meaning: “Adegbola’s head is just working like a clock.” [22]

His concern in Christian education was the formation of human character that is consistent with the vision of God’s kingdom. In this vein, he stated two “strategic objectives” for the BMin (Bachelor of Ministry) degree program he designed for CARE/CANS, as a member organization of WCC’s Commission on Churches’ Participation in Development (CCPD). The first objective was “to encourage individual Christians to exhibit a personal life-style demonstrating support generally for justice, peace and integrity of creation and for the Church’s solidarity with the poor in particular.” The second was “to encourage also the educational program of the whole people of God, with the adoption of appropriate psycho-social methodologies to achieve a massive identification with the collective struggles for the poor and to sustain their ultimate vision for victory.” [23]

Hence, in Adegbola’s reckoning, education, whether formal or informal, has value only when it engages the realities of the human condition and equips individuals to effect the desired change. And when it concerns adult learners, it must reckon with their innate powers to effect that change. At a time when the Nigerian government ran a top-down method of education for adult learners, called “extension service,” Adegbola argued that the lay and adult education he was promoting at ICS was based on his belief that:

[T]he the blockages in the way of a fuller participation of people in their own development are to be found not just in illiteracy, but in our bureaucratic planning process, a capitalist elitism, a benumbed social conscience, the persistence of the colonialist attitude which fails to recognize and accept the personal worth of a human being for what he is in spite of ignorance, poverty or abode. [Therefore] the churches, with a greater appreciation of the implications of the gospel of Jesus for the liberation of man can use their position as voluntary agencies to develop more thoroughly and humanize the methods of extension service. [24]

This submission underscored Adegbola’s laborious efforts to see Nigerian churches seize the opportunity as communities of individuals, capable of harnessing their potential for the building of a just and humane society.

On African Religion and Christianity

The 1960s and the 1970s witnessed continental and global initiatives in the WCC and the AACC in the attempt to understand the primal religions of the world. Adegbola participated in some conferences on this issue. In 1966, as the principal of Immanuel College, he co-hosted with Prof. Bolaji Idowu at the Department of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, the first consultation of African theologians on the subject. The proceedings were published as Biblical Revelation and African Beliefs, edited by Kwesi Dickson and Paul Ellingworth (Lutterworth Press, 1969). [25]

In September 1973, as the director of ICS, he hosted an exploratory consultation on primal worldviews under the auspices of the WCC, the AACC, and the Theological Education Fund (TEF). The consultation “was envisaged as a first step in seeking to identify the genuine issues at stake and the right methods of approach for dialogue with what are popularly called ‘tribal’ but here ‘primal religions.’” [26] He presented a paper at the conference, titled “Primal Worldviews in the History of Thought,” in which he explored the shifting attitude in Western Christianity towards “the faith of peoples of other religions and ideologies.” [27] Identifying the Edinburgh 1910 World Missionary Conference as the modern beginning of the discussion, he explored the changing terrain of the discussion over the sixty years that followed the Edinburgh conference.

Adegbola had no problem with the efforts that have been exerted in Western scholarship on this subject, but he was of the view that “as much explanation and interpretation as has been attempted has been couched too much in alien categories.” [28] Obviously, that raises the question of correct interpretation. While he does not see any impossibility in a foreign scholar being able to draw from his own language background, he remained resolute that “the risk of misinterpretation must be kept in mind.” For him, “the better way of valor is for the [foreign] scholar to steep himself so much in the other culture that he can truly see things with the eye of the culture-carriers themselves.” [29] Adegbola added, rhetorically, “Is this not the meaning and extension of the requirement of language study in missionary preparation? [30]

However, for the indigenous explorer involvement is a given requirement:

[He] has no excuse for not so getting himself educationally re-tribalized so that he can be an accurate and incisive interpreter of his own culture and of his own people. One way of checking accuracy of interpretation is to have it written or formulated first in the local language and shared with the people themselves. Another…is to involve various levels of partners in dialogue. This is a new trend in missionary studies; no longer a debate among scholars of missiology, no longer an organized intra-tribal monologue, but a dialogical exploration of new worlds together. [31]

Adegbola then went on to list “four interpretive emphases which needed to be variously considered and further explored…” Perhaps the most interesting is the fourth suggestion, which shows that Adegbola was not just interested in the academic exercise of this exploration as an end in itself. He felt the need “to call attention to combine the question of goal with that of interpretive procedure.” With this in view, he warned that “Missionary studies on the search for a rediscovery of primal worldviews could become a diversion from the evangelistic and missionary task of restoring social justice and the setting free of social captives.” For him, therefore, Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa experiment, at that time in process in Tanzania, and Albert Luthuli’s reconception of “Tambaram Controversy” for his South African context as a struggle between top dogs and the under dogs were constructive moves that underscored the kinship between African primal religions and the African social system. [32] In this way, Adegbola sought to hold in place the moorings for the dialogue-mission and evangelism-before it lapsed into meaningless discussions. For him, if dialogue is to be meaningful, it must go beyond rhetoric to engage the reality of the fullness of life after which African religion gropes. This is the churchman in Adegbola.

It can be seen here that, as a man with a passion for social justice and transformation, he took the dialogue between Christianity and African religion beyond his counterpart Bolaji Idowu who had, at this time, established himself in the field as a pure academic and theoretician of African religion. [33] Idowu’s conclusion at the end of Olodumare–God in Yoruba Belief and in his Towards the Indigenous Church shows that he had become ambivalent in deciding what to make of the presence of Christianity in Africa. [34] But in Idowu’s further exploration of African religion, he came to the conclusion in 1973 that “African Traditional Religion must [his emphasis] be the religion of every African.” [35]

In view of Idowu’s final position, Adegbola’s caution was timely in his evaluation of the second interpretive emphasis that was gaining ground in the study of African religion; that is, “the method of the linguistic analysis of themes selected from local myths and concepts of popular philosophy.” His caution was “that care has to be taken that the analysis does not fall into the trap of folk etymology nor get sucked into an easy identification with seemingly parallel patterns of thought in other cultures.” [36] Obviously, such “easy identification” could become a quicksand in the fervent environment of African nationalism in which the intellectual exploration was taking place.

The “linguistic analysis of themes…local myths and concepts of popular philosophy” was germane to Idowu’s method, and it took Adegbola another seven years to be direct in his critique of his colleague’s work, Olodumare–God in Yoruba Belief. He did this while concluding his 1983 essay, “A Historical Study of Yoruba Religion,” as he wrote that:

[I]t is more realistic to treat the objects of worship and cults of the Yoruba in the light of the social history of the people rather than to regard the whole as one intellectually logical complex in which the “gods and goddesses” became the ministers of the Supreme God, Olodumare, or evolutionary emanations of divinity belonging to a hierarchical order populated with a high god, nature divinities, ancestral ghosts and charms and amulets in a descending order. The former is a theological myth: the latter is a history-of-religion myth. The matter bears further discussion. [37]

In saying that “the matter bears further discussion,” Adegbola was actually being modest. He had made clear his position seven years earlier, when he upheld the efforts of Nyerere and Luthuli as social implications of studying African religion in contemporary Africa. [38]

In view of Adegbola’s caution against easy identification of African primal religion with patterns of thought in other cultures, it may not be surprising that he found, at least on this point, a soul mate in Okot p’Bitek, the Ugandan author of the Song of Lawino and African Religions in Western Scholarship. It is possible that Adegbola had read p’Bitek’s works and had taken his cue from the iconoclastic author without sharing his atheism. For the Ugandan poet had in African Religions in Western Scholarship protested against what he called the hellenization of African religion in the emerging scholarship on it and had prematurely gone on to predict the demise of religion in postcolonial Africa. [39]

In 1977, Adegbola invited Okot p’Bitek to make a presentation at the Catholic major seminary in Ibadan, SS Peter and Paul, where he was teaching Protestant theology as an adjunct faculty. The Ugandan had come to Lagos to participate in the Second Black Festival of Arts and Culture when Adegbola brought him to Ibadan. Okot p’Bitek did not fail to exhibit his trade mark as he proved profane enough for the rector of the seminary to stop him in the midst of his lecture and demand his immediate exit from the seminary. [40] Beyond the fact that Adegbola absorbed the embarrassment, the event showed the toughness of his mind as one who could discuss and see eye to eye with those who are extremely opposed to Christianity, especially where he could find a certain affinity of thought with his own.

Conclusion: Nigerian Christianity after Adegbola

Adegbola represented a moderate intellectual tradition that sought to address the changing milieu of African peoples in the postcolonial era. Unlike its extreme but romantic counterpart that got carried away by the euphoria of political independence without much thought for the predicament of the people, Adegbola’s school recognized in the opportunity of independence the challenge of nation building. For him in particular, education is only useful when it brings about transformation in the life of the people, not as a gift bestowed by an external agent but as a quality of life realized in community.

Adegbola’s vision for social transformation did not survive the Nigerian society he sought to transform through active Christian social witness. It does not appear anyone was listening to him beyond his immediate circle at ICS and CARE. His observation about the “administrative trivia” that was dogging CCN shows that the seed of imminent failure had been present all along. And, in retrospect, the rapid and absolute deterioration of the Nigerian state, from the second half of the 1970s, would not have surprised him. For when the sudden inflow of petro-dollars into the nation’s economy introduced wide scale ethical chaos, the Nigerian church was effortlessly swept along. The emergence of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, with a political rather than a ministry agenda, and the consequent shriveling of vision and purpose in the CCN, systematically rendered the Nigerian Christian populace irrelevant as the nation sank into moral, political, and religious crises in the face of mounting foreign debts.

The comprehensive nature of this decay of vision is underlined by what has happened to the two institutions on whose platform Adegbola promoted active Christian witness, the Institute of Church and Society, ICS, and the Centre for Applied Religion and Education, CARE. A personal visit to ICS in December 2010 in the attempt to follow the footprints of this contextual theologian only yielded a shadow of an institution whose day has long passed. The sight of decayed infrastructures speaks volume. Adegbola’s own institution, CARE, has also fizzled out like several other private initiatives across the African continent. [41] Perhaps the greatest tragedies to befall Nigeria’s ecumenical movement that he sought to mobilize for national transformation are the lack of vision for a better society and unreflective spirituality that numb the conscience of Christian leaders to the extreme privation that is now the lot of most Nigerians. Only a people afflicted with such a loss of vision could join in the mindless scramble for the wealth of Nigeria as it is today.

Kehinde Olabimtan


  1. Funeral Program-“Ecumenical Service in Celebration of the Life of Ebenezer Abiodun Adeolu Adegbola Held at Immanuel College Chapel, Ibadan, on Thursday, February 19, 2004,” 10.

  2. Funeral program, 11.

  3. Funeral program.

  4. Modupe Oduyoye, Adeolu Adegbola–His Ecumenical Pilgrimage (Ibadan: Centre for Applied Religion and Education, 2004), 5, 6.

  5. Oduyoye, 1.

  6. Oduyoye.

  7. The CMS missionaries in Lagos could not resist the attraction of new exploits in the Yoruba country after the seventeen year war of 1877 to 1893. While they were considering relocating their headquarters to Ibadan, Oyo proved favorable for the relocation of the Training Institution. “The object of removal among other things [being] to make it more directly evangelical, industrial, economical & to avoid working for Government Exams.” Minutes of the finance Committee meeting, July 12, 1894, Archives of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, G3/A2/O(1894)/134.

  8. Oduyoye, 2, 3.

  9. Funeral program, 12.

  10. Oduyoye, Adeolu Adegbola-His Ecumenical Pilgrimage, 29; Adrian Edwards, “A Nigerian Theologian at Work,” New Blackfriars, 59, no. 696 (May 1978): 221.

  11. Funeral Program, 13.

  12. Funeral Program.

  13. Oduyoye, Adeolu Adegbola–His Ecumenical Pilgrimage, 17.

  14. Oduyoye noted that some of Adegbola’s views on the war are contained in the publication he edited, Christian Concern in the Nigerian Civil War (Ibadan: Daystar, 1970). I have not been able to lay my hand on this publication. Oduyoye, Adeolu Adegbola-His Ecumenical Pilgrimage, 7.

  15. Some members of the CCN argued that the funds be invested and that the interests be used for service. This group eventually carried the day. Years later, one of them secretly sold the most profitable of these investments and never paid the money to CCN. The case was in court when the fellow died in 2009. Oduyoye, 7, 8.

  16. Adeolu Adegbola, “Voluntary Agencies as a National Resource for Adult Education and Community Development-Paper Submitted to the National Seminar and Third Annual Conference of the Nigerian Council for Adult Education Held in Jos, July 7-14, 1974,” 3.

  17. Adegbola, 4.

  18. Adegbola, 4, 5.

  19. Adegbola, 5, 6.

  20. Oduyoye, Adeolu Adegbola-His Ecumenical Pilgrimage, 4, 5.

  21. Oduyoye, 3.

  22. Oduyoye, 9, 10.

  23. Oduyoye, 15.

  24. Adegbola noted that “Extension programs are based on the principle that superior knowledge is available from somewhere, that the receptive people, like jugs, can be filled up with the knowledge to their own advantage. Community development, on the other hand, works on the principle that the people themselves have it in them to a large extent to become agents of their own change.” Adegbola, “Voluntary Agencies as a National Resource…,” 8.

  25. Adegbola’s essay in that publication is titled, “The Theological Basis of Ethic,” 116-136.

  26. J. B. Taylor ed., Primal Worldviews: Christian Involvement in Dialogue with Traditional Thought Forms (Daystar Press, Ibadan, 1976.), i.

  27. Adeolu Adegbola, “Primal Worldviews in the History of Thought,” in Primal Worldviews: Christian Involvement in Dialogue with Traditional Thought Forms, John B. Taylor, ed. (Ibadan: Daystar Press, 1976), 63-69.

  28. Adegbola, 68.

  29. Adegbola.

  30. Adegbola.

  31. Adegbola.

  32. Adegbola interpreted the attitude of Western Christians at the Tambaran International Missionary Conference (IMC) of 1938 as a pronouncement of the verdict on African religion as having no relevance to God’s revelation, therefore making it necessary to break it down and replace it with Western individualism. But he noted that Albert Luthuli returned from the conference to his South African context “with a sense of mission to break down the system there too but on another basis, that of social justice.” Adegbola, “Primal Worldviews in the History of Thought,” 65.

  33. Bolaji Idowu published in 1962 his doctoral dissertation, Olodumare–God in Yoruba Belief, and followed it with his African Traditional Religion in 1973, the same year Adegbola was making this critique.

  34. Bolaji Idowu, Olodumare–God in Yoruba Belief, rev. ed. (Ikeja, Nigeria: Longman, 1996), 227; Bolaji Idowu, Towards an indigenous Church (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 1.

  35. Bolaji Idowu, African Traditional Religion–A Definition (London: SCM Press, 1973), 207.

  36. Adegbola, “Primal Worldviews in the History of Thought,” 69.

  37. Adeolu Adegbola, “A Historical Study of Yoruba Religion, “in Traditional Religion in West Africa, ed. Adeolu Adegbola (Ibadan: Daystar Press, 1983), 418.

  38. Three years after the conference at ICS, Adegbola concluded his doctoral work on “Ifa and Christianity among the Yoruba,” drawing from the earlier research of Moses Lijadu, the CMS catechist at Ode Ondo at the turn of the twentieth century.

  39. Okot p’Bitek, African Religions in Western Scholarship (Kampala: East African Literature Bureau, n.d.) 40, 41.

  40. Oduyoye, Adeolu Adegbola–His Ecumenical Pilgrimage, 4.

  41. In a personal discussion with Adegbola’s close associate Modupe Oduyoye in August 2010, the latter does not see anything tragic in this outcome. For him, CARE provided Adegbola a platform for continuous intellectual expression and relevance after retiring from the Methodist Church and thereby prolonged his life.


Adegbola, Adeolu. “Voluntary Agencies as a National Resource for Adult Education and Community Development-Paper Submitted to the National Seminar and Third Annual Conference of the Nigerian Council for Adult Education Held in Jos, July 7-14, 1974.

——–. “Primal Worldviews in the History of Thought.” In Primal Worldviews: Christian Involvement in Dialogue with Traditional Thought Forms, ed. John B. Taylor, 63-71. Ibadan: Daystar Press, 1976.

——–. “A Historical Study of Yoruba Religion.” In Traditional Religion in West Africa, ed. Adeolu Adegbola, 408-418. Ibadan: Daystar Press, 1983.

Church Missionary Society (CMS) Archives, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, United Kingdom.

Edwards, Adrian. “A Nigerian Theologian at Work.” New Blackfriars 59, no 696 (May 1978): 221-230.

Funeral Program, “Ecumenical Service in Celebration of the Life of Ebenezer Abiodun Adeolu Adegbola Held at Immanuel College Chapel, Ibadan, on Thursday, February 19, 2004.”

Idowu, Bolaji. Towards an Indigenous Church. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.

——–. African Traditional Religion–A Definition. London: SCM Press, 1973.

——–. Olodumare–God in Yoruba Belief, rev. ed. Ikeja, Nigeria: Longman, 1996.

Oduyoye, Modupe. Adeolu Adegbola–His Ecumenical Pilgrimage. Ibadan: Centre for Applied Religion and Education, 2004.

p’Bitek, Okot. African Religions in Western Scholarship, Kampala: East African Literature Bureau, n.d.


Photos with an * were taken from the Funeral Program, “Ecumenical Service in Celebration of the Life of Ebenezer Abiodun Adeolu Adegbola Held at Immanuel College Chapel, Ibadan, on Thursday, February 19, 2004.”

This article, which was received in 2011, was written and researched by Dr. Kehinde Olabimtan, Coordinator of educational ministries, Good News Baptist Church and Adjunct Teacher, Akrofi-Christaller Institute, Ghana, and a recipient of the Project Luke Scholarship for 2010-2011.

Photo Gallery

Adegbola in 1964

Adegbola and Oduyoye