Contemporary Pentecostal Christianity: Interpretations from an African Context

by J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu

Wipf & Stock Publishers, 199 West 8th Avenue, Suite 3, Eugene, OR, 97401, pp. 232, 2013, $26.00.

Reviewed by Edwin Zehner, chair of PhD Program in Asian Studies at Walailak University.

The spread of Christianity in Africa has been accompanied by the spread of ministry styles emphasizing an expectation of supernatural experience and deliverance. These styles have become especially visible in the years since the late 1970s. Drawing both from classical Pentecostalism and from traditional African outlooks, these “pneumatological” forms of Christianity have crossed conventional denominational boundaries to become one of the most dominant forms of African Christianity today.

With special attention to Ghana, professor J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu explores several of the features of the newer Pentecostal churches, including their emphasis on prayer and ecstatic worship, expectation of signs of the Spirit, and emphasis on generous giving. He argues that although the leaders of these churches explicitly reject traditional African religion, in many ways their themes and practices reflect its spirit and concerns (pp. 23–24). Indeed, he suggests that one of the reasons for the rapid spread of contemporary styles of African Pentecostalism is because they address deep felt needs in ways that are locally meaningful.

Many of the book’s chapters focus on particular practices found in these churches, while also presenting the biblical frameworks in terms of which the practices are made meaningful, alongside the author’s own theological reflections and critiques.

Overall, Asamoah-Gyadu is supportive but sometimes critical of the contemporary versions of what he calls “pneumatic Christianity.” On the one hand, he has a “very positive” view (p. 15) of these churches, because of the strength of their ministries, the breadth of their reach among upwardly mobile young people, and the constant innovations they seem to experience. His theological and hermeneutical reflections also come largely from within the Pentecostal traditions.

On the other hand, he is concerned about overemphasis on the supposed material benefits of giving tithes and offerings, the degree to which these churches present an expectation of prosperity, and the way that people in material difficulty can consequently be assumed to be at fault for their own sufferings. As a corrective to the latter, the author suggests a richer theology of the cross, and as a corrective to the former he suggests reframing tithes and offerings as part of one’s total worship response to God rather than as a “transaction” hoping for material benefits in exchange for faithfulness.

In addition to its descriptions and critiques of contemporary Pentecostal practices, one of the most interesting things about this book is its juxtaposition of European and African authors within the Pentecostal tradition. Asamoah-Gyadu occasionally quotes relatively cerebral European Pentecostals in support of his critiques of particular African Pentecostal practices. However, many of the African authors also receive favorable treatment, including several authors whose styles and emphases are different from what European readers would expect.

This book therefore provides an opportunity to go beyond the surface of popular African Pentecostal practice to experience the thinking of contemporary African Pentecostal leaders themselves, while also sampling the thinking of an African theologian who is enthusiastic about the tradition but wary of some of its emphases.

EMQ, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 111-113. Copyright  © 2014 Billy Graham Center.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.


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