Contemporary Pentecostal Christianity: Interpretations from an African Context

Article excerpt

Contemporary Pentecostal Christianity: Interpretations from an African Context.

By J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu. Oxford: Regnum Books International, 2013. Pp. 194. Paperback 26.99 [pounds sterling] /$26.

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In this study J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu provides an excellent introduction to the latest waves of Pentecostalism in West Africa. Each chapter--with one notable exception--examines a key characteristic of this new Pentecostalism. But unlike the arrangement familiar from treatises on systematics, Asamoah-Gyadu organizes his presentation by praxis, not according to doctrine or theology. This method allows him to do full justice to the strongly experiential and results-oriented faith of the new Pentecostals, in which power, victory over evil spirits, and prosperity are essential elements. These chapters single out key aspects and emphases of the new Ghanaian Pentecostalism for description and initial analysis.

After a first chapter on Spirit-filled Christianity, the author examines worship as experience (chap. 2), prayer strategies (chap. 3), ecclesiology, in effect the democratization of charisma that produces a new vision of church (chap. 4), giving and tithing (chap. 5), the concept and practice of anointing (chap. 7), Holy Communion (chap. 8), and the Bible (chap. 9). In all these chapters, Asamoah-Gyadu illustrates distinctive emphases, concerns, and practices, doing so from preaching, books, events, and the experience of believers, all the while noting the points of resonance with elements of traditional African religion. Noteworthy is the foundational character of dynamic worship: "Worship, as a continuous experience in the anointing of the Holy Spirit is ... the heartbeat of Pentecostal Christianity" (20). But distinctively, "in an African context, worship is also an engagement with the supernatural world of inanimate beings and ancestors" (25). In all these areas, the pioneer pastors have manifested a remarkable creativity as they have drawn from the Scriptures, their African heritage, and (perhaps least) the missionary inheritance to fashion a distinctively new and dynamic expression of Christian faith. Asamoah-Gyadu notes, "In their worship, ecclesiology, modes of incorporation into church community, and interpretation of the Bible, the new Pentecostals have truly reinvented Protestant Christianity in many ways" (159).

Asamoah-Gyadu's strength lies in his closeness to the subject matter and his attention to fine detail. For example, his observations on the distinctive role played by glossolalia in this African Pentecostalism could help to reinvigorate this gift more widely in the Pentecostal and charismatic movements and could cause it to be given greater attention in Pentecostal theology (see pp. 26-28, 48-51). In the African context, where prayer is typically a matter of wrestling against the powers of darkness, praying in the Spirit (tongues) is a prayer of power, of confident assertion of the lordship of Jesus, who saves and delivers now. In these milieus, speaking in tongues is not a distinctive doctrine but a distinguishing practice.

The author demonstrates a clear connection between these African Pentecostal emphases and the precariousness of life in a world of poverty and unstable government. He sees the focus on blessing, success, and prosperity as a new and Christian expression of the role of the African religion as strategies for survival. …