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Pentecostal Theology in Africa

Clifford R. Clarke, ed., Pentecostal Theology in Africa, African Christian Studies Series (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2014).

This compendium of articles put together by Clifton Clarke excels in being a clear, carefully presented and carefully argued account, taking a variety of different theologically-rooted angles on AP (African Pentecostalism). As would be expected, the tone is optimistic and positive to the effect that AP has important significant contributions to make to the wider field of theology, both within Africa, and in the world at large. Being a compendium that includes a variety of work by different authors makes it hard to draw too many conclusions about the whole. I will endeavour to give an enticing flavour of the book below.

The claim aptly made and articulated by Gallegos, that APs being rooted in ‘primal’ ways of thinking gives them advantages in Biblical interpretation over perhaps highly educated but ‘modern’ people, rings true. Pentecostalism in Africa is in some respects a ‘coming of age’. This is a very valuable comment: theological theorists’ search for indigeneity in African Christianity can find many of their answers in AP. AP churches are, in many instances, self-governing, and ready to be outspoken beyond what they have been told by their Western instructors must be right. AP is a part of a great revolution for Africa!

African Pentecostalism is a part of a great revolution for Africa!

Ngong points us to a key need for AP to leave space for the modern world. What good, after all, is a theology that cannot recognise or advocate for science and technology that profoundly dominate modern times? Landfair considers APs orientation to eschatology. Some scholars consider AP to be very this-worldly, despite its emphasis on God’s Spirit. Landfair unpacks apparent contradictions to such presuppositions. Gifford’s contribution is primarily cynical. That is a welcome compliment, giving us a non-believers’ perspective, challenging scholars on AP to consider how practices rooted in the countering of witchcraft can at the same time lead to socio-economic progress. A chapter by Ogungbile on the prosperity gospel points to ways in which what may seem ‘clearly wrong’ from the West, is not necessarily so for APs, for whom poverty after all is a kind of sickness, and who read frequent accounts of Jesus’ healing in the Gospels. This discussion highlights a set of evident contradictory relationships between AP and modernity.

How do Africans see the ‘prosperity gospel’ differently than Westerners?

Frahm-Arp gives us a refreshing and articulate account of AP view on gender. Her straightforward laying out of AP views related to gender could be of great help to people in the West wondering why the behaviour of women and men in AP contexts differs from Western norms. In the latter part of the book, Fleming and Ngong throw new insights onto social action and religious pluralism with respect to APs. A weakness in the approach of both of them, is that they seem to take a dominant Western view and to ‘Africanise’ it, rather than to explore AP practice on its own terms.

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Category: In Depth, Summer 2018

About the Author: Jim Harries, PhD (University of Birmingham), is professor of religion with Global University and adjunct faculty with William Carey International University. He works closely with a wide variety of churches in western Kenya in informal theological education. These include many African founded churches, Pentecostal churches, and the Coptic Orthodox church. Jim uses indigenous languages, and local resources in his ministry. He chairs the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission and is the author of Vulnerable Mission: Insights into Christian Mission to Africa from a Position of Vulnerability (William Carey Library, 2011), Three Days in the Life of an African Christian Villager (New Generation Publishing, 2011), Theory to Practice in Vulnerable Mission: An Academic Appraisal (Wipf and Stock, 2012), Communication in Mission and Development: Relating to the Church in Africa (Wipf and Stock, 2013), Secularism and Africa: In the Light of the Intercultural Christ (Wipf and Stock, 2015), New Foundations for Appreciating Africa: Beyond Religious and Secular Deceptions (VKW, 2016), The Godless Delusion: Europe and Africa (Wipf & Stock, 2017), and a novel African Heartbeat: And A Vulnerable Fool (2018). Facebook: Vulnerable Mission. Twitter: @A4VM.

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