Friday, July 20, 2007

The Prosperity Gospel in Africa: Another Contextual Gospel

At its height in 1970s Latin America, Liberation Theology rocked the Vatican. It focused not only on Jesus Christ’s saving powers (a spiritual redemption), but also His liberating powers (a physical redemption). The gospel was not just about saving sinners, but freeing the oppressed. Some liberation theologians taught one’s actions towards the oppressed were more important than having right beliefs. Given the immense poverty in Latin America, it is no surprise that such a theology would a arise. It also makes sense, that some would criticize it as a socialist form of Christianity, given its Cold War context.

The Social Gospel that arose in the United States and Great Britain in the late 19th and early 20th Century was, in some ways, a precursor to Liberation Theology. Leaders of the movement believed it was Christianity’s responsibility to solve the ills caused or exacerbated by industrialization. Alcoholism, child labor, poverty, gender inequities, racism, and unhealthy living areas were all examples of such ills. Advocates of the social gospel believed until society was made right, Jesus Christ would not return.

Now, in Africa we see another contextual gospel emerge, The Prosperity Gospel. The premise behind the Prosperity Gospel is that prosperity, blessing, and success are evidence of God’s favor. The Christian Century has an excellent piece on this new gospel in Africa (click here for the article). An excerpt:
The success motif fits very well with Africa's traditional religious imagination of fertility, abundance and wholeness. Amid poverty and marginalization, prosperity Pentecostalism is a thoroughly contextualized Christianity that directly addresses pressing needs. But the way it is expressed is heavily influenced by North Americans like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, John Avanzini, Creflo Dollar, T. D. Jakes, Joel Osteen and Mike Murdock.
The point here is not to criticize the prosperity gospel, the social gospel, or liberation theology, rather to recognize their emergence within certain contexts. Had I been a Mexican man oppressed 35 years ago, a British single mom living 100 years ago, or even a Nigerian villager living today, would my version of the gospel, or brand of Christiantiy be any different? I don’t know, but when I consider another’s context, it opens the door for grace and understanding.

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