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Prosperity Gospel in Zambia: The Problems of Engaging African Theology Using English

My own methodological conclusion, drawing on the above observations, is to suggest that serious African theology must be engaged using African languages, using those languages as understood with respect to African ways of life. Continuing to engage African theology using Western English, as this book tries to do, may be a distraction from the important task of doing truly African research.

A member of the Alur tribe in Congo once explained to me that it was a tradition amongst their people, that their names should always be ‘depressing’. As a reflection of their take on life, they would call their children ‘Death is near’, ‘I am cursed’, ‘There’s no hope’, ‘Loveless’, and such like. Anyone who broke out of the mould, and dared call their child ‘Blessed’, or ‘Beloved’, or ‘Successful’, was mocked, scorned, disdained, ostracised. Thus the envious were kept at bay. When faith in Christ came to these people, that faith gradually enabled the Alur people to break out of the accursed prison of death-oriented naming. “Alur Christians [could be] identified by their Alur Christian names such as Pirwoth (because of the Lord), Uyirwoth (believe in the Lord), Mungujakisa (God is merciful), Munguromo (God is able), Kwiyocwiny (peace) and Merber (love in good),” (Atido 2015:22).

Let us rejoice: The Gospel has set Zambian people free! One person can be wealthy while another remains poor – and it doesn’t matter! He won’t be bewitched, fellow believers won’t drag him down, the blood of Jesus will protect him from witches’ power!

In the past, in much of Africa the fear of bewitchment, the impact of the envy of others on the life of an individual, was hegemonic and kept people down. No one would talk of positive ambitions, through fear that should they do so they would be taken as proud. To criticise each other and dress each other down (the needed negative terminology does not seem to be there in English!) was normal. They talked negatively, about death and suffering and sombre tropes that result from being bewitched, as a means of keeping each other in order. The prosperity gospel in Zambia then, as elsewhere in Africa, must be understood as a being a rejoicing by African believers over a newly found freedom. That is, a freedom to think positively, a freedom not to identify a witch to blame for every malady that occurs, and a freedom as a result of being washed by the blood of Christ, from being consumed by envy when someone else exceeds oneself. The Gospel has set Zambian people free! One person can be wealthy while another remains poor – and it doesn’t matter! He won’t be bewitched, fellow believers won’t drag him down, the blood of Jesus will protect him from witches’ power! The prospect that they might become wealthy, is an expression of Christian conviction that gives people much joy. When it actually happens, and their pastor or bishop climbs the ranks and begins to equal or surpass the wealth even of white Westerners, then African people know they have truly achieved faith in Christ.

Reviewed by Jim Harries


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Atido, Geroge Pirwoth, 2015, ‘Religious Identity and Mobility Among Alur Christians in Northeastern Congo,’ PhD Thesis, Africa International University, Nairobi.


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Category: Fall 2018, Ministry

About the Author: Jim Harries, PhD (University of Birmingham), is 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), and a novel African Heartbeat: And A Vulnerable Fool (2018). Facebook: Vulnerable Mission. Twitter: @A4VM.

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