Preachers of a Different Gospel
by Femi Adeleye
(Nairobi, Kenya: Hippobooks & WordAlive Publishers, 2011)
Preachers of a Different Gospel is a deep reflection by an evangelical on contemporary trends in Christianity in Africa. Femi Adeleye writes convincingly with facts and biblical justification on contemporary issues that have surfaced within contemporary Pentecostal Christianity, and which are undermining the evangelical faith in Africa. From a deep understanding of the Scripture and leadership in the evangelical students’ movements in the colleges and universities, Adeleye sounds a note of warning to the Church in Africa to remain faithful to the Scriptures.
Contemporary Christianity in Africa as promoted by the Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal spirituality has largely focused on miracles, healings, on the success of preachers and tele-evangelists, and on the doctrinal emphasis on prosperity rather than on repentance of sins, Christ-likeness, holiness and faith in Jesus Christ. According to Adeleye, there is a new gospel promoting a trial-free life for Christians, emphasizing that God blesses financially and materially those who could exercise faith, that the preacher, i.e. ‘the man of God’ is very important in God’s scheme, that God can be commanded to respect our wishes, and overall that the Church in Africa has been made to accommodate worldly values to the detriment of biblical Christianity. It is true that neo-Pentecostals also claim the Scriptures as their authority, but according to Adeleye, they have promoted certain emphases that the Scriptures do not intend, and thereby distorted the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Among these new emphases are the promotion of materialism and prosperity as markers of true Christianity, the deification of ministers instead of directing the attention of converts to Jesus Christ, the deification of objects such as anointing oil, handkerchief, the elements of the Eucharist to effect miracles and bring blessings, the promotion of a gospel of vengeance on one’s enemies – whether real or perceived, the search for power by all means, and the glossing over of sins.
According to the author, Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal movements were the products of the Charismatic Renewal of the 1970s, which was built upon the rich Christian heritage inspired by evangelical Western missions in the 19th and early 20th centuries in Africa, a heritage which centred on the Gospel of the Cross, i.e. Christ died to redeem anyone who accepts Him. However, as the Charismatic revival waned in the 1980s, it produced a ‘worldly’ Christianity. The author traces the cause as due to lack of adequate biblical teaching, as the attention of the revivalists shifted from repentance, restitution and holiness to gift of tongues, signs and wonders, lively worship, the establishment of personal ministries likened to personal economic empires, the promotion of a faith in which moderation has given way to extravagance, sobriety has given way to pride, the taking of titles that became an obsession for Pentecostal pastors, and the creation of ministers who became celebrities or successful businessmen rather than humble servants of God. These doctrinal emphases and practices, Adeleye termed, ‘the strange gospel or fraudulent Christianity’ (page 3).
In twelve chapters, Adeleye discusses some of the doctrinal deviations and practices of neo-Pentecostalism from the evangelical faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ in contemporary Africa. The first three chapters set the tone of the discussion. According to the author, he did not set out to criticise or judge any neo-Pentecostal pastor, but to examine the claims of various shades of the different gospel in the light of the Scripture (page 4).
Chapter Four highlights the beginnings of neo-Pentecostalism from the Charismatic renewal in the 1970s, and factors that have made the revival to go sour and moved away from its biblical moorings to a material-centred faith. Chapter Five discusses the modern preachers of this ‘different Gospel’ who have large followership because they centred their emphases on miracles, healing and prosperity, but lacked integrity, and failed to direct the faith of followers to themselves rather than the Lord Jesus Christ. Chapter Six explains how neo-Pentecostal ministers interprete Scriptures which has made them prone to error or exaggeration. The major method is ‘proof-texting’ i.e. ‘verses of the Bible are isolated and interpreted out of their literary context’ (p. 52.). Copious examples are given from the publications and sermons of neo-Pentecostal ministers to highlight this error.
Chapter Seven titled ‘Counterfeit Faith’ discusses how the faith of young believers could be manipulated by Pentecostal preachers when subjective experience become normative, how faith could be misplaced when it focuses only on miracles and not God, and how faith could be misunderstood when preachers teach that faith must do extra-ordinary exploits all the time. ‘Faith is abused when we assume it is a magical force that makes virtually anything possible simple because we “believe”’. (p. 70). The author then submits that God should be the object our faith, we must seek to please him by our obedience and lifestyle’. (p. 73)
Chapter Eight discusses ‘the delusion of prosperity’. He traces the origin of Prosperity Gospel to North American faith preachers of the 1950s through 1970s who interpreted tithes and offerings as investments that God will bless to yield hundredfold to believers who give. While this emphasis has contributed to the rapid growth of neo-Pentecostal churches in Africa as people seek financial empowerment, it has promoted materialism, ‘earthy inheritance’, ungodliness, and it has side-tracked simplicity and moderation, and created the impression that the Christian gospel is all about the rich and not about the suffering poor, who abound in millions in Africa.
Chapter Nine is devoted on how neo-Pentecostals understand and view God. Neo-Pentecostalism has trivialised the transcendence of God, insisting that God is only interested in prosperous Christians. In addition, in prayers, Christians are led to believe that they can command God to obey the wish of believers and do according to their wishes.
The last two chapters throw a challenge to Christianity in Africa that will promote godliness and accountability; a faith that will address the corruption and injustice in the land, that will seek to eliminate the overwhelming evil in the continent, that will deepen the faith of believers in God and promote holiness rather than searching for miracles all the time, and that will minister hope and the transforming power of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.
The book represents one of the strong voices promoting evangelical Christianity in Africa in the face of the popularity of and media-hype on Pentecostal Christianity. In addition, the book mark as an important interpretative account of the doctrinal emphases and practices of contemporary African Pentecostalism. His examination of the teachings and practices of Pentecostal Christianity is deep, reflective, accurate and illuminating.
Overall, the book is inspiring and makes an interesting reading. Definitely, the book deserves to be read by all those seeking a revival of evangelical Christianity in Africa.
Book review by Matthews A. Ojo, PhD, Professor of Religious Studies Obafemi Awolowo UniversityIle-Ife, Nigeria