Gospel Riches & Globalization Print
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 06 July 2007 10:29
A fascinating article in Christianity Today about the globalization of American inspired prosperity gospel in Africa.

"prosperity-tinged Pentecostalism is growing faster not just than other strands of Christianity, but than all religious groups, including Islam. Of Africa's 890 million people, 147 million are now "renewalists" (a term that includes both Pentecostals and charismatics), according to a 2006 Pew Forum on Religion and Public life study. They make up more than a fourth of Nigeria's population, more than a third of South Africa's, and a whopping 56 percent of Kenya's.

Cars in many African cities display bumper stickers like "Unstoppable Achiever," "With Jesus I Will Always Win," and "Your Success Is Determined by Your Faith," says University of London professor Paul Gifford in his 2004 book New Christianity: Pentecostalism in a Globalising African Economy. Gifford notes how these renewalists move beyond traditional Pentecostal practices of speaking in tongues, prophesying, and healing to the belief that God will provide money, cars, houses, and even spouses in response to believers' faith—if not immediately, then soon.

In its 2006 survey, Pew asked participants if God would "grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith." Eighty-five percent of Kenyan Pentecostals, 90 percent of South African Pentecostals, and 95 percent of Nigerian Pentecostals said yes. Similarly, when Pew asked if religious faith was "very important to economic success," about 9 out of 10 Kenyan, Nigerian, and South African renewalists said it was."


Allan H. Anderson, professor of Global Pentecostal Studies at the University of Birmingham, says African renewalists are, indeed, eclipsing denominationally based churches and missions. "The older churches," he says, "are struggling to keep up with the jet-setting entrepreneurs who head up these new organizations."

"If you're not willing to play that [prosperity] game," says Vince Bacote, associate professor of theology at Wheaton College, "get ready to get steamrolled."


Why is this happening? A confluence between traditional African values and American lifestyles. And the staggering global reach of evangelical media.

"As Pentecostal-charismatic programming has flooded Africa, renewalist numbers have risen from 17 million in 1970 to 147 million in 2005. The continent's largest religious broadcaster is Santa Ana, California–based Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), followed by Europe's GOD TV.

As TV sets grow common in African cities, these broadcasters are gaining huge audiences. People who lack a TV often watch with neighbors, and viewing options are limited. In Zambia, only three stations click on: MUVI TZ, which airs reruns of U.S. shows and old movies; ZNBC, the Zambian National Broadcasting Company; and TBN. Television is becoming the continent's religious classroom.

"People turn it on and assume that TBN is American Christianity, and Americans know everything, so why not listen to it?" says Bonnie Dolan, founder and director of Zambia's Center for Christian Missions, a Reformed school for pastors. "[W]e have Zambians looking to the West for direction, and they associate TBN with the West. And it's killing our churches."

Since TBN has always given me the creeps, its hard to grasp its fascination for people from other cultures. But I know that CT is describing a reality we need to grapple with.

When we were in Indonesia, we discovered that most fervent Indonesian Catholics had attended the evangelistic crusades of American Pentecostal preachers like Benny Hinn. They sang (in two languages and with a beautifully dressed choir that changed clothes between afternoon and evening) global praise and worship standards like Shout to the Lord which was written by an Australian evangelical.

Evangelicals are masters of the global media and English is the linqua franca of large parts of the world.

Read the whole piece. How can Catholics of our generation respond besides saying "in three centuries they'll be gone and we'll still be here".