Power, Poverty and Prayer: The Challenges of Poverty and Pluralism in African Christianity, 1960-1996

By Maxwell, David | African Studies Review, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Power, Poverty and Prayer: The Challenges of Poverty and Pluralism in African Christianity, 1960-1996


Maxwell, David, African Studies Review


Ogbu U. KaIu. Power, Poverty and Prayer: The Challenges of Poverty and Pluralism in African Christianity, 1960-1996. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2006 xxvi + 258 pp. Maps. Tables. Figures. Notes. Index. $29.95. Paper.

A criticism of much of the work on African theology written north of the Limpopo is that it has been too culture obsessed. It has focused more on the affronts of ethnocentric missionaries to African sensibilities than on more pressing material concerns. Another weakness is that African theo- logians have not drawn from history and political science but instead have worked within the idealized and essentialist models of the past derived from cultural nationalists. Ogbu Kalu's engaging volume, which interacts with a range of literatures as well as with his own West African experience, is a use- ful antidote to such tendencies: "A mature church can engage no longer in missionary-bashing but rather in self-criticism. The history of Christianity in Africa is not what the missionaries did or did not do, but what Africans did with the gospel entrusted to their care" (247). And when it comes to self-criticism he observes: "the church in Africa, has for the most part, failed to produce an adequate theology and institutional force to oppose the approaching power of the state or deal with the problem of pauperisation" (xv) . For solutions he looks not to the "pronouncements of church leaders and institutional organisations" but among "the huge body of believers and to popular forms of Christian beliefs and practices" (xv) . In particular, he believes that connection should be made with the sizeable and vital Pentecostal and charismatic movement which has swept the continent since the 1970s.

Kalu sees within Pentecostalism the capacity to mobilize women and youth, two marginal categories in African society. He also argues that the Pentecostal contribution to political culture is more productive than other scholars have acknowledged. Pentecostalism rebuilds the individual by creating new sources of empowerment and personal security, and it produces models of responsible leadership through biblical models founded on the biographies of figures such as Cyrus and Mordecai (ch. …

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