TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
1.1.1. Three main views concerning PT
1.1.2. Calling for the right attitude
1.1.3. The importance of Scripture
1.2. My personal experience and motivation
1.6. Research Methodology
1.7. Limitations of the study
CHAPTER 2: EXAMINATION OF TERMINOLOGY, HISTORY, AND ESSENTIAL DIMENSIONS
2.2.1. Prosperity theology
2.2.2. Deriving the meaning PT from its proponents
2.2.3. The prosperity teaching as a “theology”
2.2.4. Definition of the poor
2.3. The historical background of PT
2.3.1. PT’s development in Namibia
2.4. The underlying reasons for the propagation of PT
2.4.1. Eschatological reasons
2.4.2. Pragmatic reasons
2.4.3. Cultural reasons
2.5. Reasons PT is appealing in Namibia
2.5.1. Economic reasons
2.5.2. Emotional reasons
2.5.3. Spiritual reasons
2.5.4. Social reasons
2.5.5. The giving of hope
CHAPTER 3: THEOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL IMPACT OF PT IN NAMIBIA
3.2. Christian and social environment of Namibia
3.3. Various areas of impact
3.3.1. Evangelism and church growth
3.3.2. PT and social engagement
3.4. Preliminary critical summary
3.4.1. Contrast between PT based church growth and its dangers versus biblical church growth
3.4.2. Contextual relevance examined
3.4.3. Other issues to consider
CHAPTER 4: CRITICAL THEOLOGICAL EXAMINATION OF PT IN NAMIBIA
4.2. Scriptural justification for PT
4.2.1. PT’s method of biblical interpretation
4.3. Examining Scriptures used in promoting prosperity teaching
4.3.1. Old Testament texts
4.3.2. New Testament texts
4.4. Prosperity teaching and the plight of poverty
4.5. Theological Examination
4.5.1. The unbiblical nature of PT
4.5.2. Trivialising human suffering
4.5.3. A drift towards materialism
4.6. Brief summary on biblical prosperity
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION
5.2. Practical recommendations for helping the poor
5.2.1. Preach the gospel realistically and applicably
5.2.2. Establish church-based relief funds
5.2.3. Provide community development training
5.2.4. Donate to Christian charity organisations
5.2.5. Help educate the youth
5.2.6. Social reformation
5.3. The now but not yet
5.4. Further research
APPENDIX I: PT POSTERS
APPENDIX II: A STATEMENT ON THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL
APPENDIX III: THE DANGERS OF PROSPERITY GOSPEL IN NAMIBIA
LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1: Corrugated iron huts without water and electricity in an informal settlement on the edge of the Katutura in Windhoek
Figure 2: A luxury house worth N$ 4.5 million in one of the upper class suburbs of Windhoek
Figure 3: Layers of poverty
LIST OF TABLES
Table 1: Gini-coefficient for selected countries
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
Much has been written and said about Prosperity Theology (PT), however, none of these works is written with the Namibian context in view. Therefore, this study will attempt to examine PT in the Namibian context with the hope that the church will start to engage in the discussion of this subject and perhaps take the time to rethink PT biblically and theologically.
As Christians, we acknowledge that poverty is a serious social concern and evil that affects large numbers of people around the world, however, how we respond also matters. Both the promotion of material prosperity or lack thereof as signs of godliness have no biblical validation and striking the balance on these issues is one of the church’s most serious challenges throughout the world (Taylor 2003:25-36). Moreover, both of these views in their extremity are too simplistic or offer very superficial solutions. However, the sad aspect is that the very Christians who ought to be the salt and light of the world are implicated in acts that push people further into poverty (Kunhiyop 2008:142). This should not be limited to political corruption because presenting a skewed or an imbalanced biblical teaching on the issue of poverty culminates in furthering poverty (Taylor 2003; cf. Kunhiyop 2008).
For example, there are Christians who believe that “good news to the poor is news of spiritual salvation” or “the church’s mission is exclusively spiritual and should concentrate on spiritual issues” (Taylor 2003:27). This kind of thinking excludes social concern especially towards the poor and eventually leads us to conclude that “poverty is bliss and godly.” On the other hand are those who believe that we are to live and enjoy the pleasures of the world to such a degree as to surpass the material prosperity of unbelievers (Avanzini 1989; Oyedepo 2007:39). Or because heaven is rich, all of God’s children ought be identified by material wealth and goodness (Oyedepo 2007:30-32). Poverty here is considered to be the result of a lack of faith, lack of giving, a lack of knowledge, or negative confession (speech) and thinking (Goroh 2009:41-82). While the research will deal with both extremes on the issue of addressing poverty, it is the latter version that will be the focus of this thesis. This latter version of Christian response has received various labels over the years such as “name it and claim it,” “wealth and health gospel,” “prosperity gospel” etc. However, for the theological aspect of this research, the researcher will settle with the label of prosperity theology (PT). (See details of this label in Chapter 2).
PT’s “widespread diffusion owes much to its pervasiveness in Christian broadcasting. However, it is not only its functionality but its general socio-economic context that is significant” (Gifford 1998:39-40; cf. Hackett 1998:258-277). Its “socio-economic context” has become an attraction to a great number of impoverished people and the upwardly mobile. While this is a growing theology attracting many people, there is no significant scholarly work yet that has researched this movement in the Namibian context. It is with this background that this research comes into play – as a seminal project in examining the issue in the Namibian context.
PT became popularised in Namibia during the 1990s, spearheaded by Haruna B. Goroh, especially through his ministry’s annual conference known as the Greater Love Faith Convention. The conference draws all its main speakers from outside Namibia. There has been no single conference in which a Namibian preacher has been the keynote speaker. All keynote speakers come from outside, for example, Myles Munroe (Bahamas), Joseph Imakando (Zambia), Abel Damina (Nigeria), Alan Bagg (South Africa), Ken Lukumba (Lesotho), James Ojuok (Kenya), Enoch Sitima (Botswana), Matthew Ashimolowo (UK), to mention a few. This appealing to “star preachers” has earned the conference great success in drawing Charismatics and neo-Pentecostals from across the country and beyond. Moreover, the conference has served in many ways as a platform to influence many other Charismatic and neo-Pentecostal leaders with PT concepts. Pastors (the majority of whom are non-Namibians) influenced by this conference have succeeded in establishing congregations that have become centres for propagating PT. They attract a number of young people and the poor who believe that they can now walk out of the bitter grip of poverty and attain an upper class lifestyle if they only practice the taught principles of prosperity (more of this development will be dealt with in Chapter 2).
With its ostensibly unsophisticated message that puts strong emphasis on material wealth, divine health and happiness made possible through faith, positive confession, faithful tithing and giving to the man of God (Gifford 2007) it appeals to various groups of people. Thus, it also draws non-Christians who believe that they stand a sure chance of becoming successful in life if they were first to take the step of believing in Jesus Christ (Piper 2007).
Since these proponents are indebted in various ways to their North American counterparts “their symbols, hymns, denominational organisation, networks, rituals, technology, order of service, use of the Bible, instrumental music, literature on sale and theology” (Gifford 1998:40) are quite similar. Those in Namibia have harnessed the power of modern technology for example, television, radio ministry with similar fundraising techniques and messages as those in America (this promotes also an imposed American culture upon Namibians). Very few have started publishing their books, however, a great majority do produce sermon CDs and DVDs and the latter have proven to be effective tools in gaining public recognition in a society, which is generally a non-reading one.
Considering the increasing percentage of unemployment standing at fifty-one per cent and people living below the poverty line standing at fifty-six per cent (CIA Factbook 2010; cf. Central Bureau of Statistics 2008:6-7 (CBS)), the poor are embracing this theology as a ray of hope. Since independence in 1990, the majority of Namibia’s wealth has been in the hands of the minority, and government reforms for distribution of resources is progressing at an enormously slow pace (CBS 2008). The CBS 2008 executive summary,
[R]eveals how unequal the consumption expenditure patterns are in Namibia. The 10 percent of households with the lowest levels of expenditure account for just over 1 percent of total expenditure in Namibia. The 10 percent of households with the highest expenditure account for more than 50 percent of total expenditure…in another way the wealthiest 10 percent in the country have consumption levels that are 50 times higher than the poorest 10 percent.
With such high poverty rates and inequality it is easy to see why PT would become an attractive intervention, appearing to offer hope and answers to the poverty problem. The Namibian context as with the majority of other African nations in which PT flourishes is thought to be contextually different from its American counterpart (Folarin 2007). Thus, the African PT is “need driven” and the Western as “greed driven.” Moreover, its critics have labelled the Western version of PT as promoting a faith of consumerism, materialism and hyper-capitalism. However, many other African critics of PT have labelled its African version with similar terms as the American PT (Akoko 2007; Chilongani 2007; Kigame 2010; Lioy 2007). Whether this is a fair generalisation must be examined in the context in which it is presented. However, it is also relevant that PT in Namibia may should be placed in its own category – mainly as a response to social injustice and especially rampant poverty. Perhaps what we need to concern ourselves with then is whether this response to poverty is biblically and theologically correct.
While it enjoys an attractiveness and wide acceptance especially amidst neo-Pentecostals, PT has in recent years come under criticism both by those within these denominations and those outside them. The criticism has come from several angles especially for biblical and theological reasons (Piper 2007; cf. Kigame 2010). Chacko (2010) criticises PT for its theology and hermeneutics and while he is pleased with the humanitarian acts of some of its proponents, he dismisses their methods of raising funds as unscriptural and unethical. The Institute for Global Engagement ((IGE) 2007) believes that PT’s growth cultivates a commercial style faith and serves as a platform for propagating the destructive consumerism, materialism and capitalism of the Western societies. In the course of this thesis, the researcher will look at either sides of the arguments (pro and con) and through careful biblical exegesis provide some conclusions.
As it is often the case, many who have written on the subject have aimed at addressing PT at its weakest points and in so doing have “shed far more heat than light” (McConnell 1995:ix). Michael Fortner’s (2011) book The Prosperity Gospel Exposed is one good example of works that have shed more heat than light on the subject. Although it has many helpful insights, it also has many negative aspects. For example, it uses various Bible versions and these versions are used subjectively to stress the point the author wants to make. In some places the book is just disrespectful and boastful in its approach, as it calls PT advocates stupid and the author praises himself of his ability to study and understand the Bible (2011:9). In other parts, the author makes many contradictory statements concerning biblical interpretation which are not helpful in advancing the cause. What makes the book generally worse is the author’s unkind and warring attitude that throws even the good away and is poor in providing solutions to the issue of poverty.
Although this technique of pointing only to the weaknesses seems to give these writers who disagree some sort of an upper hand over their opponents, their kind of victory must be celebrated with caution as it often fails to take the matter into proper perspective (McConnell 1995). Moreover, most of the arguments are confined to specific situations, which do not apply directly to the Namibian experience and as a result fails to answer PT’s impact here at home. Therefore, to initiate a meaningful and relevant discourse the researcher will focus on examining the stronger arguments for PT rather than the usual path of tackling the movement’s obvious weaknesses.
Prosperity teaching has been incorporated into the main doctrinal stands of some of Charismatic and neo-Pentecostal churches. This incorporation poses both a biblical and theological challenge. Thus, anyone who assumes that PT is an error needs to prove its error not by militant actions but from Scripture. Especially in a seminal project like this one, it is important that the researcher should start with the right attitude, with the hope that some dialogue may begin with those who endorse this theology. The common error in polemics and apologetics is that we drive away the people whom we wish to reach and then run after them in the hope that they will listen – the result is chasing after the wind.
As the thesis aims to address issues arising out of PT we need to be clear about certain issues. First, PT is neither a standardised movement nor does it hold a clearly expressed theological position (Chacko 2010:2) and although the majority of its followers are Charismatics and neo-Pentecostals (McConnell; cf. Akoko 2007; Chacko 2010) it is also expressed amongst other Christian denominations. Second, PT as a movement is fundamentally a hybridisation of various doctrines and philosophies promoted by multiple voices. Thus, its “teachings are neither systematic nor do all the proponents teach the same precepts of this theology. Depending on the persons, the teachings vary and there is no uniformity…” (Chacko 2010:2). This polymorphic theological expansion has made it difficult to hear its suppressed authentic meaning and message. However, this doctrinal-pluralism gives its proponents the freedom to add and subtract ideas at will in order to make their message of prosperity adaptable to their given context. Thus, every interpreter can come up with his own revelation-knowledge about passages of Scripture (Smalling 2010) and even the meaning of prosperity.
This is important to keep in mind, so that when we speak of PT we are aware that we are referring to a cluster of concepts that do not necessarily relate to each other. Knowing this may bring many to realise that we should not at first appearance scoff at PT and think that it is a theology of sinister men and women – for it is after all not such a simple issue. For example, when it is redefined in the Namibian context to address the social issue of poverty, those who would oppose PT must know how to respond because it is addressing an issue of great importance. Thus, there needs to be a well thought out biblical alternative.
1.1.1. Three main views concerning PT
The subject of PT has mainly produced three kinds of groups:
(1) Fierce proponents of PT
This group believes that the will of God for all Christians is to flourish in all areas of life. These proponents believe that those opposed to PT do so just to preserve their traditional theology and practices (Copeland 1999:11). According to this group, teaching PT means having a holistic approach to man’s needs including his material wellbeing. Moreover, those who oppose this theology are believed to be opposing the move of the Holy Spirit, just like the first century Pharisees did. Dollar (1999:12-13) argues in Total Life Prosperity that when God is with you, you are bound to prosper and prosperity is a sign of God’s presence abiding with you, that is, God being with you equals prosperity or total victory and mastery over circumstances of life. Therefore, to oppose PT is an indication of an unrenewed mind and allowing carnal ways of thinking to obdurate God’s blessings (Dollar 1999:31). Not only is it a lack of a renewed mind to oppose PT but it is also going against God’s will, for Avanzini writes that God wants believers to prosper and He also gives them the power to obtain wealth, and “God has a covenant with you. If you understand God and His Word, and if your life is one that abides in His will, then the Lord has a covenant of blessing for your life” (1989:119, italics added).
David Oyedepo (2007:63-65) argues in his book Possessing Your Possession that as part of God’s covenant, believers ought to prosper. This covenant is sealed by the death of Christ, that all who believe in the message of the gospel will along with the salvation of their souls obtain all good things in this world including wealth, health and total success. Thus, considering that God is a good God, only good things should happen to His children – referring to wealth, health and success. It is perhaps with this concept of goodness in mind that Avanzini (1989:69-86) writes in The Wealth of the World that because of the unchanging nature of God (using Heb. 11:8), He will give the wealth of the wicked to the godly so they will rule the earth in the last days (cf. Copeland 1997:229-248). These proponents stretch their argument further, that the said prosperity can only be realised on the condition that people believe in Jesus Christ. Further, they are to exercise undoubting trust in God’s promises of prosperity, meditate upon God’s Word, believe and trust unquestioningly in their “man of God,” live holy lives, and practice regular giving especially in financial forms. In addition they are to avoid speaking negative words and thinking negative thoughts, and consider things such as poverty, sickness etc as mere symptoms and focus on their inheritance of prosperity (Dollar 1999:44-62; cf. Copeland 1999:11-30; Copeland 1997:249-258; Price 1999; Oyakilome 2010).
For the Namibian context this first group is what is popularly known and accepted and the ideologies of the above mentioned people are also easily accessible through free to air Christian TV channels. While our context is Namibian, much of the motivation comes from the tele-evangelists who have also managed to gather television and cyber fans. Moreover, many of those who promote PT in Namibia draw much of their theology from the books and sermons of the American and Nigerian PT teachers, which make the above views the general view of PT here in Namibia. These similar views are promoted in publications of those who promote PT in Namibia as will be seen in the course of the thesis.
(2) Fierce opponents of PT
This group is composed of the likes of Hank Hanegraaff (1993; cf. McConnell 1995; MacArthur 1992) who believes that this kind of theology “poses one of the greatest contemporary threats to orthodox Christianity from within. Through it, cultic theology is being increasingly accepted as true Christianity.” While those who promote PT believe that this is a biblical message and the will of God (Copeland 1997:1-22; cf. Dollar 1999; Avanzini 1989), the opponents disagree with most of these biblical claims and say that this theology has its roots in the neo-Pentecostal denominations of the United States of America (Phiri & Maxwell 2007: cf. Akoko 2007:60). Robison (2003) said that PT is a theology that appeals to the “Western materialistic mindset.” MacArthur calls PT a product of the cargo cults, aimed at imposing Western ideology (1992). Piedra (2005:331) wrote, “principally, it must be recognized that this theology is a neopentecostal religious package” and because of its origins and theological position McConnell (1995:x,xx,186-213) goes on to state that PT is a cultic and heretic movement that systematically subverts the true Christian message.
Thomas Schirrmacher (2001:79-85) in his work The Persecution of Christians Concerns Us All dedicates a chapter in which he argues that PT does not match the reality of the persecution and suffering faced by the wider Christian community around the globe. He sees this as a theology that ignores problems, denies suffering and the instructions of Christ. He further, writes that presenting only a gospel in which there is no place for suffering or hardship, “robs the believer of several elemental applications and results of his faith” (2001:80). Schirrmacher’s view seems to be the general perspective of those who oppose PT (Piper 2007; cf. McConnell 1995; MacArthur 1992). These opponents believe that “it is a fallacy to equate Christianity with health, wealth, success and smooth sailing” (Alfred Yeo quoted in Schirrmacher 2001:81) or to “assume that man's [material] welfare is God's highest priority” (Smalling 2010).
The majority of these opponents agree that PT has its roots in North American neo-Pentecostalism and materialism and that the gospel is primarily to deal with the spiritual need of man (MacArthur 1992). Thus while believers are encouraged to strive to have better living standards, they are to live such lives that God is first, whether they be in the midst of lack or abundance. The approach of the second group then is that people should hear the gospel of salvation and part of the duties of believers is to reach out with humanitarian activities in helping those who are poor. This group is not opposed to Christians being materially wealthy.
The opponents argue that given the condition of man in this world PT promoters overlook the reality of the Fall that has affected all of creation. Moreover, that PT undermines the aspect of God’s sovereignty over creation, providence and redemption – as it insist that man can have absolute control over his circumstances and make God respond according to the desires and whims of man. The majority of these opponents argue that those who claim that PT is God’s will do so with “no adequate theological or biblical basis for this claim” (Chacko 2010:4). Because of this inadequate theological and biblical basis and the said cultic and materialistic origins, MacArthur (1992) calls us to reject this kind of theology because those who promote it are false teachers and make promises that are not taught in Scripture.
Numbers of Reformed and Evangelical and older Pentecostal churches do take a strong opposition to the prosperity gospel. However, they are also quite aware of the biting reality of the poverty situation in society and sympathise with the prosperity message especially where it seems helpful. Yet, they do not consider the prosperity message as the gospel (Horn 2011).
(3) The middle view
This group argues that those who promote PT have quite similar doctrinal stands to the majority of the Evangelical community. Therefore, regardless of this offshoot of Pentecostalism and having adopted non-Christian ideas – we have no logical reason to dismiss this as something that has nothing to do with Christianity because it does not originate from some non-Christian tradition. This view acknowledges some of the positive things in PT and says that this may also be a wakeup call to the evangelical churches especially on issues of faith (though they do not define faith as the PT proponents do) and social concerns. They state their disagreements with PT but proceed with caution in drawing conclusions.
However, on issues of PT, the middle view promoters also do take a stern stand. For example, Gordon Fee quoted in Chacko (2010:13) who embraces the middle view agrees with the second group that PT “seems far more to fit the American dream than it does the teaching of him who had ‘nowhere to lay his head.’” He does not simply end there but provides three other reasons about why he thinks that PT is a deficient-Christian theology: 1) it is a man-centred theology. 2) It teaches a counterfeit theology of giving. 3) It opposes social and economic equality and encourages materialistic excessiveness and by so doing, it sets up a theological superstructure of oppressing the poor and even taking from them (Chacko 2010).
The attempt for a balanced view is commendable and essential to avoid acclimatising to one view to such an extent that we throw away even the good and true part of other theologies. From experience, we know that humans are prone to go to extremes. However, we should realise that “too much sound deafens us; too much light dazzles us; too great [a] distance or proximity hinders our view” (Pascal 2002:12). As a result, the researcher will attempt to be as fair as possible, however, also aware that there is no such thing as a work that is utterly neutral or fully objective. Nevertheless, theological research should be subject to the authority of Scripture “and serve theological construction” (Peterson & Williams 2004:11).
These groups are introduced here to create awareness, as these views will be presented in many parts of the thesis in the following chapters. Taking into consideration the arguments and claims of all the groups, the researcher will endeavour to work towards establishing a biblical and theological concept of prosperity. While there are growing numbers of those who oppose PT, we should not ignore the fact that a larger number of Charismatic and neo-Pentecostal believers embrace PT, their belief does not rest on a whim but is based on certain portions of Scripture, and they do not consider PT to be a departure from biblical teaching. Thus, those who endorse this theology do not accommodate the charge of it being a theology that fails to “take a holistic perspective of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Institute for Global Engagement 2007). Rather its proponents consider it as the declaration of the full council of God, who desires to prosper those who believe in Him (Copeland & Copeland 1997; cf. Oyedepo 2007).
Therefore, the researcher will examine both the claims of the proponents and opponents of PT based on sound biblical exegesis. One property that makes Christianity unique is its inflexible character to human experience, human philosophy, popularity of TV evangelists or the growing or decreasing number of adherents to a specific theology (whether for or against PT). None of these things proves truthfulness, therefore, any theological claim must in the first place pass the test of Scripture and as believers, and we should examine with integrity the issue of pristine health, abundant wealth and happiness based on its Scriptural worthiness rather than on our preconceived ideas.
1.1.2. Calling for the right attitude
It is customary that the average paper, article or book on the subject of PT has an angry tone, meaning that the authors can be quite emotional. However, in the process, they confuse their convictions with the authority of Scripture – this clouded thinking often leads to newer forms of witch-hunting. The researcher too has been guilty of this kind of attitude in the past but in this thesis, he seeks to examine PT through the eyes of Scripture, rectify his errors made in previous writings and exercise the utmost love and kindness. Rather than embarking upon a militant approach, we will take the route of inquiry so we may correctly determine if PT:
- Is a theology based on erroneous biblical interpretation and hardly reflects true biblical values.
- Is a theology designed to arouse unhelpful human inclinations which contradict the teaching of Scripture (I Tim. 6:1-10) – motives of greed, love of money and materialism (Piper 2007).
- Is a theology that misconstrues and reduces faith in God by directing people’s faith to money and “a person does not have to be spiritually awakened in order to embrace it; one needs only to be greedy” (Piper 2007).
- Is a theology that embraces the full council of God and is the expression of the full gospel (Oyedepo 2007).
- Has anything positive which the church at present may be ignoring and may need to revisit in order to be socially relevant (Chacko 2010).
Having stated the above, the researcher would like to emphasise that the church in Namibia needs to seriously think through PT’s impact, work towards establishing a correct understanding of biblical prosperity and effectively address the issue of poverty from Scripture, which are the things that make PT attractive to its adherents. While there are many debates going on about PT, it may also be necessary to deem this as a worthy wakeup call for the church.
To achieve these goals of reaching a valid conclusion on the subject, the thesis will make a thorough examination of PT, both biblically and theologically. This will include the examination of terminology, history, theological and social impact, and a biblical examination of this theology (see more details in the Overview below). It is with this background that the author will provide some historical background about the originators of PT in the United States of America, Africa and Namibia. This is so the readers may be able to examine for themselves the original propagators’ ideas and in so doing may help them in constructing objective criticism and make informed decisions concerning PT.
1.1.3. The importance of Scripture
As we consider the issue of PT in this research, in order for it to be a truly evangelical paper, Scripture needs to be emphasised and given its proper place in the way we have our theological discussions. Heppe writes that:
H[oly] Scripture carries its certitudo (authority) in itself, since it is essentially a beam of divine light and divine wisdom. And since Scripture gives this account of itself, it cannot base its reliability upon any alien authority or allow it to be so based. H[oly] Scripture desires only such an acknowledgement of its certainty as is conceded to it purely because of its inspiration (1978:18).
Because the evangelical community of believers acknowledge and accept Scripture as God’s authority, we are also bound to live by its instruction. As J.I. Packer writes:
The Christian principle of biblical authority means on the other hand, that God purposes to direct the belief and behavior of his people through the revealed truth set forth in Holy Scripture; on the other hand it means that all our ideas about God [and life] should be measured, tested, and where necessary corrected and enlarged, by reference to biblical teaching (1993:16).
This tells us that basing our arguments upon Scripture is essential. Since both those who endorse and those who oppose PT claim to derive their ideas from Scripture – a whole chapter is exclusively reserved to examine these claims. We need to examine whether Scripture is treated as authoritative in matters of doctrine and whether the passages used to propagate or oppose PT are interpreted correctly in their context (enforcing the message of the Bible) or if it is interpreted erroneously to suit specific pre-conceived presuppositions (enforcing human ideas over Scripture). “[O]nly a return to the study and correct application of the principles of biblical hermeneutics will reduce the common tendency towards...spontaneity in the use of biblical passages” (Kigame 2010).
As we handle God’s Word, we want to avoid the theological disasters that come from misreading passages of Scripture, especially the disasters that come from ignoring biblical instructions in order to pursue prohibited lifestyles. There are several views we need to avoid concerning the subject of PT. First, that of widening the Christian message to living a life of unlimited material wealth as a sign of godliness. Secondly, narrowing the Christian message down to living a life of destitution as a sign of godliness. Thirdly, limiting our outlook only to spiritual salvation and therefore neglecting socio-economic factors. Fourthly, widening our outlook concerning socio-economic issues to the extent that we only pursue a social agenda. All of these extremes sentimentalises the biblical message (Kigame 2010). Therefore, the researcher will deliberately take a hermeneutical approach that seeks biblical fidelity on the matter. “[T]he hermeneutical precondition of Christian theology requires that Bible passages be treated in a balanced manner with clear appeal to the entire canon of God's revelation and not merely a citation of favourite portions” (Kigame 2010).
The advantages of consistent redirection to Scripture as the final authority in doing Christian theology are several. First, it will lead believers to the right biblical concept of prosperity. Secondly, it will help believers develop a proper New Testament (NT) understanding of prosperity. Thirdly, it will lead believers to biblical answers to help them to address social issues of poverty especially amongst believers.
It is the researcher’s wish: 1) That the research will assist those who promote or oppose PT theology to at least be able to reflect on issues of doctrine and grapple with what Scripture teaches concerning prosperity, wealth, poverty and suffering. 2) That the research will clearly present the impact of PT on people’s faith, economic standards and especially how its ideologies are affecting the poor. 3) That the research will clarify the attractiveness with which PT presents the ‘gospel’ offer, that is, why it attracts such large crowds and wields such a social impact. 4) That the research will equitably examine the effects of the PT upon the Christian community especially with regard to how it affects evangelism and Christian witness. 5) That the research will encourage the Church at large to hold in tension the gospel message with social concern. 6) That the positives in PT that deserve commendation will receive fair commendation and that which is not commendable will be addressed in love and in a spirit of seeking dialogue in order to achieve a biblical understanding.
Therefore, for there to be any form of fair presentation of either views (pro or anti-prosperity theology), it is best if we allow ourselves to be guided by the authoritative Scriptures. For in issues of theological disagreement only Scripture will be able to liberate people from theological misconception, deception, error and false teaching. As this thesis unfolds, Luther’s declaration concerning his conscience being captive to Scripture will serve as our Hippocratic Oath.
1.2. My personal experience and motivation
This thesis is also motivated by my personal experience of being involved over ten years in the Word of Faith Movement (WoF) and belonging to a church that pioneered PT in Namibia since the early 1990s. Not only was I a member but I was also one of the enlisted men who believed, supported and propagated this theology to hundreds of people.
Though I was not a staunch advocate of PT, I have witnessed this theology propagated in its different forms. However, my personal motivation stems from having witnessed a number of my friends’ faith destroyed by being exposed to this theology. For example, a young woman whom I go to know through my best friend had just joined my previous church. At this time, the church needed to construct a building as they were still meeting in a tent, so the leaders began to raise funds. As usual the fund raising always came with promises e.g. God will bless you double, give you a promotion, give you a bigger house, give you a husband etc. She gave away her only bed with the hope of receiving blessings from God; months passed by with no prospect of receiving the blessings she expected. She left the church and also the Christian faith thinking that God has disappointed her.
Two of my friends also left the church and abandoned the Christian faith altogether. One of them had given the church most of his money with the hope that God would give him a better job with a better salary. The other was told to practice certain “principles of faith” so that God would meet her desires; with many disappointments over the years, she abandoned the Christian faith altogether, even questioning the existence of God. There are numerous examples that I could mention but for the sake of space will limit myself to these few examples. These people have rejected Christianity thinking that the God of Scripture has abandoned them.
I have witnessed how the poor have been told over the years to give away their money and resources so that God will bless them or even turn them into millionaires within a period of three months. People have sacrificed their salaries, emptied their saving at the expense of their families, and neglected other duties for the benefit of the church.
My personal conviction on this subject began when I started teaching in the Bible school of the same church. The materials we used opposed every belief concerning prosperity that was promoted in the local church where I served. I thank God for exposing me to those materials. Prior to this experience, I had read a small booklet by John Ankerberg, but had been too narrow-minded then to accept any criticism. It was at this time that I began to critically look at Scripture and the practices of my then church. It was for me as if I were reading the Bible for the first time. I started to see that Christianity does not promise material prosperity nor absolute health and success in this world.
A number of my friends have also abandoned PT. However, a great number of people whom I know and their families continue to follow this deception. When I go to meetings or gatherings with some Charismatics and neo-Pentecostals I hear how they propagate this theology. Christian television, radio and print media are constantly flooded with PT and many people have just not realised the error of this theology. Sadly, there are only a handful of people who are speaking against the spread of this movement that is taking advantage of people and teaching unorthodox doctrines.
The general research question of the study: How can we effectively respond to the biblical, theological, and ideological problems raised by PT in Namibia, without overlooking the social issues of poverty and suffering, which this theology claims to be solving? Based on this question the following subsidiary questions are asked:
(1) What are the theological and biblical departures of PT?
(2) What are the hermeneutical issues or concerns of PT?
(3) What are the good and positive things that the church can learn from PT in order to make the gospel relevant to the everyday life of people in Namibia?
(4) What does the Bible say about the church and social responsibility, especially on issues of poverty?
The researcher will attempt to answer these questions by taking into consideration the various perspectives surrounding the subject. In addition, it is the researcher’s sincere hope that this study will add value and a better understanding in the Namibian context and therefore be a blessing to many in the body of Christ. More especially that it will be an appropriate response to those who follow PT unquestioningly and that it will be informative to those who criticise PT without proper analysis of the facts.
The objectives of the study are:
- To biblically examine the recent explosion of health and wealth theology within many Charismatic and neo-Pentecostal denominations in Namibia.
- To examine the biblical and theological basis for PT. That is, whether the message it propagates is in line with the overall message of the Bible.
- To provide a framework to listen to the voice of PT and not simply reject or accept it without careful examination and understanding of its claims.
- To establish a meaningful biblical and theological concept of ministry to the poor.
- To create awareness of the impact PT has on the growth of Christianity in Namibia.
The purpose of this thesis is to analyse the Biblical and theological assertions of the PT which are astronomically growing in Namibia (Hunt 1998:272; 2000:73). Towards the close of the 20th century after the development of African theology, theology in Africa adopted a newer movement imported from the North American neo-Pentecostal and Charismatic annex called the WoF movement (Jackson 1987:16). This imported theology has come to be known in our days as PT or prosperity gospel. The purpose of this study is:
- To examine whether PT is biblically accurate and theologically consistent; that is, to determine whether PT is relevant to everyday experience of human life in a fallen world (a systematic evaluation).
- To work towards providing a correct biblical and theological perspective concerning the issues of material prosperity and poverty.
- To provide a framework for further and refined discussions concerning PT and the issues of poverty and economic injustice.
1.6. Research Methodology
A plethora of books, articles, journals and websites are available today either supporting or opposing PT. These materials range from highly academic works to perfunctory ones. The researcher has had the privilege of reading many of these books, especially those written in favour of PT and has been part of those who previously endorsed PT; he, therefore, feels that he has attained a fair amount of understanding on the subject. Not that he claims to be an expert on the subject for this is just seminal work from a Namibian perspective.
Therefore, to get as deep an insight as possible into the issue of PT, the researcher has consulted various resources that deal with the subject theologically and academically. Much of the materials written by opponents of PT are from the internet, however, the researcher has used strict guidelines to ensure that he uses only credible sources such as online journals and websites (for example, www.bible.org, www.jastor.org, www.monergism.com and www.equip.org). To add some local content to the research, the researcher issued a questionnaire to various people, conducted brief interviews, did onsite observation of various congregations that promote PT and made use of some other resources such as sermons, short publications and books.
This research paper is a conceptual study. Its general design is that of literature study integrated with interactive and qualitative tools. Although there is a practical aspect of data collection through observation and a questionnaire, most of the information is from books, journals, and websites. This literature study is to provide a scholarly background and provides the motivation for the specific study. The study is:
(1) Observational: There will be data collection of several Namibian churches and Christian organisations to provide a statistical basis for the research. The author will observe (action research), use a questionnaire and hope to get interviews with church leaders who propagate and oppose PT to enquire into what is actually being taught in churches and theological seminaries. The reason for this practical approach is to provide an objective perspective on the subject of PT in Namibia, as there are no significant academic sources on the subject.
(2) Analytical: This method serves to give a clear understanding of what the proponents of PT mean when they speak of prosperity. The researcher will engage with the works of prominent PT proponents such as Kenneth Copeland (USA), David Oyedepo (Nigeria) and H.B. Goroh (Namibia) as well as others.
Moreover, I will examine the theological and biblical material on the subject and work towards a biblical concept of prosperity and ministry towards the poor. Thus, the author will commend aspects that are truthful and consistent with the biblical revelation and refute aspects that are not biblical. In order to make the subject relevant and also unique, the author will present the characteristic of PT in Namibia and its impact among the poor and how it affects the gospel.
(3) Epistemological: The epistemological aspect is aimed at analysing the core beliefs of PT, as this carries both philosophical and theological implications for those who pastor churches and lecture in theology in the Namibian context. The response to PT is a response to a specific worldview, which has borrowed concepts from various philosophical, cultural and religious groups and has incorporated such beliefs to create a theology of its own unknown Christianity.
It is imperative to keep in mind that the worldview promoted by PT needs to be challenged from Scripture as it has a serious bearing upon the truth of the Gospel and the life of the Christian. The burden then rests upon those who desire to teach the Gospel faithfully and at the same time be relevant to the social issues. PT is promoted as a solution to soul winning and addressing social issues. With these seemingly positive intentions and the movement gaining considerable numbers of adherents worldwide: how could this be a theology that departs from the gospel of Jesus Christ? If this theology is based on good intentions and contains many positive things, are the opponents perhaps not being over-zealous in labelling PT as a theology that is practically destructive to the faith of Christians? Moreover, the researcher would like to establish the validity of the claims made by PT’s opponents that its attempt to address social issues is based on marketing strategies, which fails to employ a biblical model and most of the time takes away from the socially and economically marginalised, rather than giving to them.
The researcher will provide from Scripture a concept of ministry to the poor and work towards removing any form of hermeneutics that might hinder the unity of Scripture and thus undermine its authority and truth on the subject of poverty and wealth. Since the Bible is the guide of the believer in all matters of faith and conduct, it is the author’s desire to redirect both the proponents and opponents of PT to the evidence of Scripture. It is my aim that we avoid creating a worldview that on one hand “breeds superficiality, serious misrepresents the gospel, and sets people up to believe, when evil and suffering come to them, that God has been untrue to his promises” (Alcorn 2010). On the other hand we are to avoid creating a worldview that breeds a misconstrued view as if God’s promises will never be realised in any way in this life and that we can attain certain levels of victory over evil, suffering and poverty.
Evangelical hermeneutics aim to clarify the message God has communicated through those He inspired, yet when such a message is contextualised and made practical, it should not distort the original message in order to fit the cultural and sociological context. However, it is possible to hold to a high confession of Scripture and yet distort its message which would eventually lead to a failed application of the revelation of God’s truth concerning issues of suffering, wealth, poverty, health etc. Sarles wrote earlier that many who proclaim prosperity have the tendency of misapplying the Bible, “Bible verses are quoted in abundance without attention to grammatical indicators, semantic nuances, or literary and historical context. The result is a set of ideas and principles based on [a] distortion of textual meaning” (1986:337-349). However, the same could be true for those who oppose PT, that in their attempt to respond to the issue they may simply be appealing to passages of the Bible that would only affirm their biases.
(4) Polemical: This research is written in defence of the truth of the Scripture. If PT is an erroneous theology, as is suggested by its opponents, could this be pointed out from Scripture in a way that will bring out the message of the gospel and yet provide a positive and strong approach towards helping the poor in Namibia? It is the researcher’s belief that Christians have a duty to safeguard the truth of Scripture and faithfully teach it to others who will in turn teach others (II Tim. 2:2). However, the orthodoxy needs to be accompanied by valid and strong orthopraxis.
If the existence of PT poses a great danger to the evangelical community in Namibia, how can this be countered without appearing as if opposing PT is to propagate a theology of poverty? Therefore, although PT may be said to be negatively affecting the young spiritual condition of the country, we cannot overlook the real need of addressing the material lack that is the plight of more than half of the population. In this case our polemics should be engaged with a perspective of being biblically sound and practical relevant.
Therefore, the researcher aims to discuss various passages of Scripture as used by both opponents and proponents but also to suggest practical ways of integrating the theory with the practice. Our polemical approach should help to settle differences of opinions on certain issues but it must be done in such a way that it will bring honour to God and edify his church.
1.7. Limitations of the study
This research is limited in various ways:
(1) Its context is limited to the situation in Windhoek (the capital city of Namibia). The assumption is that many of the churches in Windhoek have sub-branches across the country which teach similar doctrines to those propagated in their headquarters. Moreover, considering the size of Namibia, most of the activities in the capital city are reflected around the country since the population is small and there are a large amount of migration between towns making both news and theological views travel fast.
(2) PT advocates are generally hostile towards dissenting voices and will not give interviews to a researcher that will write a critical review about their theology and practices.
(3) The researcher will observe only a sample of the churches in Windhoek, which teach PT – these are churches, which I personally know from my previous interactions as a PT follower.
(4) There are no Namibian scholarly works on the subject and the researcher will use his personal experience and local resources produced by PT advocates.
Chapter 1: Introduces the subject of PT and the structure of the study.
Chapter 2: concerns the examination of PT, its history and other dimensions. This section will provide reasons why a specific term has been used e.g. why prosperity theology and not prosperity gospel or name it and claim it gospel. It is essential that the study should begin with the examination of terminology, history and the essential dimension of PT as this will clarify the problem and explain who are the key players (opponents and proponents). This chapter will mainly use epistemological and analytical methods.
Chapter 3: considers the theological and social impact of PT in Namibia. There is virtually no writing on this issue in Namibia, therefore the researcher will gather this information from sermons and articles by some leading PT promoters in Namibia as the sources of information. This chapter will use the analytical method by engaging and setting forth the ideas.
Chapter 4: considers the critical theological examination of PT in Namibia. In light of the information provided, especially in Chapter 3, the researcher will provide a theological examination of PT. This chapter will also examine the hermeneutical issues involved in the passages used to defend PT. These passages will be judged in their actual context, as they have been understood in the orthodox community of believers. This chapter will strongly make use of the polemical method.
Chapter 5: will summarise the research and provide the biblical concepts of prosperity and ministry to the poor.
CHAPTER 2: EXAMINATION OF TERMINOLOGY, HISTORY, AND ESSENTIAL DIMENSIONS
PT can best be understood when placed into its historical context and when its terms are clarified. This chapter will therefore examine PT within its larger historical context and its local context in Namibia. Because PT is not a creedal theological system, it is difficult to pin it down as its different proponents interpret it differently. These multiple interpretations are the reason why this chapter will examine the terminology of PT. In the study of biblical theology, words do matter and should be cautiously employed in defining something. In fields such as language, philosophy, theology, law and others, words can be easily used to mean different things and one meaning is not always agreed upon in academia.
This also calls for a careful examination of the words used by PT advocates and their opponents to be certain about what those terms mean before flaunting them for the purposes of labelling. Because of PT’s multiple voices, we find variant forms of PT whose advocates teach diverse doctrines (see 2.1.2). Therefore, we must be careful not to label all PT advocates in the same way but to place each of them in appropriate categories. For example, Joel Osteen’s (2009) message of prosperity is [significantly] different from that of David Oyedepo (2006) or Haruna Goroh (2009).
2.2.1. Prosperity theology
In the attempt to provide a definition to PT, the researcher would like to explore the various definitions of prosperity given by those who advocate it. Going along this route will allow us to deduce the meaning of prosperity from the “horses’ own mouths” rather than just drawing the meaning from the conclusions of their opponents. The definition the researcher will provide at the end of this section will be drawn from the various camps of PT promoters, in so doing we will have an inclusive definition.
As in expository preaching, we expect the message to come from the text of Scripture, so the definition of PT must come from the writings or interpretations of those who advocate it. This will give weight to the final definition of PT that the researcher will use throughout the research. The researcher will deliberately avoid the definitions of the opponents; else, it may be assumed that he is working from the same set of assumptions as the opponents. This is not to say that he disagrees with the definitions of the opponents but simply that he wants to avoid giving the impression of a fixed definition.
2.2.2. Deriving the meaning of PT from its proponents
As Prosperity Theology has spread round the globe, it has taken on numerous guises in such diverse locations as West and South Africa, Latin America, South Korea, and Western and Eastern Europe. Promoting organizations and preachers have developed relatively autonomous, idiosyncratic, and often diffuse spheres of influence, appealing in some contexts to urban middle-class constituencies, in others to the aspirant poor, and in yet others to ethnic enclaves situated in migrant diasporas (Coleman 2004).
In the opening chapter, the researcher mentioned three representative groups of PT. These three groups are not exhaustive. Those who advocate PT have some other subdivisions. However, there are two dominant forms in which PT is packaged by its advocates:
(1) The militant form of PT
The primary advocates of PT could be said to be dominantly militant. For example, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Fred Price, Benson Idahosa etc. The militant approach is not one that promotes violence but rather one that makes radical claims, such as “God’s will is healing,” “God’s will for you is wealth,” “poverty is of the devil,” or “God is a rich God and all His children ought to be rich” etc. Their basis for such claims is a few verses of the Bible such as:
- “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
- “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (II Cor. 8:9).
- “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (III John 2).
Yinka Yusuf (1999:11), who has been in Namibia several times through Goroh’s ministry, writes that prosperity comes through the creative force of faith and is a “life of supernatural abundance and [limitless] possibility.” Bible-Verse-Insights (2011), a pro-PT website, uploaded an article entitled Biblical definition of prosperity that states, “Biblical prosperity means literal wealth, success, and honor. Too many people try to explain away the basic meaning of prosperity in the Bible.” Another pro-PT article Biblical prosperity: more than enough says “prosperity is to go to a higher place in something desirable: the state of succeeding or flourishing, esp[ecially] financially” (2010).
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland (1997:vi) define prosperity as success or “gain in anything good or desirable.” While that definition may hold true to some degree in its general usage, the Copelands throughout their book limit the meaning of prosperity to redemption “from sickness, poverty, lack and all the curse” (1997:134). While the definition of the Copelands may appear to be neutral at face value, the two last chapters of their book clearly show what they actually mean. The emphasis is more on gaining material wealth. This gaining of wealth is expected to come in various ways: First, God will take the riches of sinners and give it to the church. Secondly, rich sinners will come to saving faith and give their resources to the church. Thirdly, the principle of hundredfold return. That is, “People who are increasing their giving as they grow will see ever-increasing returns on their giving – as the reservoirs that have held riches from unjust gain are tapped” (Copeland 1997:230-231).
The Namibian based PT preacher Goroh who has been greatly influenced by the teachings of the Copelands and the late Kenneth Hagin writes,
If you are a believer, abundant life is your birthright. The seed of the righteous are not meant to beg bread but to enjoy plenty…You are supposed to enjoy the best. Life is not supposed to be lived in crises when Christ is living in you. You are supposed to live an abundant life even during the season of famine (2009:36).
Billy Lubansa a friend of Goroh and a prominent proponent of PT writes along similar lines,
I…believe that the type of prosperity that Job enjoyed is what God designed for every believer to experience... People of God, you must believe that when the gospel is preached to the poor it helps them to grow rich. This is because that is how God intended to deal with the poverty issue. God…design[ed] the gospel…to teach [poor] people that He desires for them to prosper…the gospel is a prosperity building message (2007:17-19).
Ken Hammond (2004:1) also known as The success coach, a crusader of PT writes with vividness that “I’ve got Good News for the human race!...[it will] eradicate poverty from the face of the earth… GOD WANTS YOU TO BE WEALTHY!” (emphasis in original). He continues on another page “When poverty moves in, the Will of God moves out” (p. 4). Oyedepo (2006) takes the claim of Hammond further, basing his argument on II Corinthians 8:9. His concept of prosperity is linked to the message of salvation or rather he sees it as being part of the “salvation package” – thus he sees salvation as a means to wealth or deliverance from economic poverty. He writes, “Redemption is a cure for poverty, as it gives you access to the cure for poverty. When you were saved, you were redeemed from the plague of poverty, because your Father is very wealthy” (Oyedepo 2006:74). I will briefly interact here with Oyedepo’s view.
Oyedepo’s view sounds plausible as it seems to point out that Christ’s death had the entire human concern at heart. Moreover, that the whole incarnation of the Son of God actually proves that God has great concern over his creation – the human race. This is definitely something positive if we look at it from that angle. The fact that God gave his Son and came to live in the form of man amongst men surely serves as evidence of the great concern of the Creator. This is an admirable reality to note that the incarnation has both a material care and a spiritual care for the human race.
However, care is required before a passage is interpreted and applied. It is important to understand the historical background of the entire book of II Corinthians and the context of chapter eight. For example, it would be fair to look at what Paul is addressing in the eighth and ninth chapter: raising donations for the poor Jewish Christians and the poor Macedonian church, who gave regardless of their own lack. With this context in mind, Oyedepo may need to rethink the truth and application of his statement that “redemption is a cure for poverty.” How does this redemption plan to cure poverty apply universally if it appears that the early church was faced with such serious poverty to the extent of needing to receive donations from other churches?
Although Oyedepo may unconsciously be pointing out an important aspect of the incarnation and God’s concern for his creation, the historical, theological and practical context of this passage does not seem to agree with his conclusion about material wealth. There is a sense of prosperity this passage is advocating, however, the context tells us that this is not material wealth and health. Rather Paul is speaking of the riches of divine grace and the love of God which was made effective through the poverty of Christ. The poverty has to do with Christ leaving His heavenly glory by making Himself of no reputation and humbling Himself and dying on the cross (Phil. 2:6-7). Through this, self-abasing act believers have been made partakers of the glory of God and will share in the eternal kingdom. Wiersbe (1996; cf. Kruse 1987, Utley 2002) comments,
In what ways was Jesus rich? Certainly He was rich in His person, for He is eternal God. He is rich in His possessions and in His position as King of kings and Lord of lords. He is rich in His power, for He can do anything. Yet, in spite of the fact that He had all these riches—and more— He became poor.
The tense of the verb indicates that it is His incarnation, His birth at Bethlehem, that is meant here. He united Himself to mankind and took on Himself a human body. He left the throne to become a servant. He laid aside all His possessions so that He did not even have a place to lay His head. His ultimate experience of poverty was when He was made sin for us on the cross. Hell is eternal poverty, and on the cross Jesus Christ became the poorest of the poor.
Why did He do it? That we might become rich! This suggests that we were poor before we met Jesus Christ, and we were—totally bankrupt. But now that we have trusted Him, we share in all of His riches! We are now the children of God, “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Since this is true, how can we refuse to give to others? He became poor to make us rich! Can we not follow His example, as did the Macedonian churches, who out of their deep poverty abounded in liberality?
Because becoming materially wealthy is the emphasis of PT, it is necessary to clearly point out the message that Paul is trying to convey to his Corinthian readers. The comparison of Christ becoming poor so that believers may become rich has everything to do with the cross of Christ. Now that all believers are beneficiaries of the cross of Christ, Paul appeals to the then wealthy church of Corinth which was being slow to share the burden with the believers in Jerusalem. Far from describing how rich Christians ought to be, Paul argues that we are to learn from Christ’s example of self-sacrificing for our fellow believers. The message is that we are to be generous and this generosity is also indicative of the effects of the gospel of Christ working within us. So Paul is saying that, because believers have received and believed the gospel and have experienced the riches of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus, they ought to demonstrate this salvation also through showing compassion to the poor and afflicted members of God’s church. Thus, if there is a practical way of demonstrating our appreciation of God’s grace we should show it through sharing with fellow believers our material wealth. This in a sense advocates the concept of becoming rich, that is, the idea of meeting the needs of the needy seems to demonstrate a concept of wealth (I Tim. 6:6-7).
The interpretation of this passage as a cure from material poverty for believers contradicts what we know about the early church and the intentions of the apostle Paul. It does not correspond with Paul’s personal sufferings for the sake of the gospel (I Cor. 4:11-13) and many passages that tell us of the early church’s experiences of persecution and material need rather than prosperity.
This failure to read and understand the context of this passage has potential for detrimental outcomes when pushed to its logical conclusion. Although the doctrine of the incarnation resembles the reality of God’s concern for humanity and his desire to bless them, it must be interpreted in the context of the entire canon of Scripture, to avoid developing new worldviews that do not reflect both biblical and practical realities.
Because the biblical data is not dealt with in a coherent way that will provide a true and practical solution to address poverty, it is unavoidable that Oyedepo writes that riches will be given through what he calls “covenant practicing.” What is this covenant practice? Oyedepo explains it as follows,
Solomon loved the Lord, so he gave to the Lord. As a result, when the covenant was established, he was supernaturally empowered for inexplicable wealth. He gave, and then the heavens opened. If you are not a giver, the heaven over you won’t open, your ‘connections’ withstanding (2006:76).
This is the radical form of PT and is very easy to identify. It is not subtle in nature because its advocates clearly state that “God’s will is for you to be rich, healthy and always happy.” The radical form is easier to handle too as one can point out hermeneutical and pragmatic problems that it constructs. Those who have attained great wealth usually advocate this form of PT. For example, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, David Oyedepo and Chris Oyakilome are preachers who run multi-million dollar ministries. It is not only their ministries which are wealthy, they have also attained personal wealth running into millions of US dollars. They then use their personal wealth and that of their ministries as proto-types upon which all believers should claim riches.
(2) The diffused form of PT
This group does not make express statements such as “God’s will for you is health and wealth” or “poverty is a sin,” however the idea (of health, wealth and success) is implied. Their emphasis is more motivational and creating an impression of a world with limitless possibilities and victories, and without suffering. It goes something like this,
Break those chains [of despair and discouragement]. Become a prisoner of hope. No matter how long it takes, no matter how impossible it looks, your attitude should be: ‘I just can’t help it. I know it will work out. I know I will overcome. It may be taking a long time, but I know this too shall pass. It may be difficult, but I know that means I’m close to victory’ (Osteen 2009:6).
Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Thomas D. Jakes and Robert Schuller, are perhaps the most influential people in the 21st century who propagate this second form of PT. Basically the path to successful living is to ignore all external symptoms of sickness, problems, bankruptcy, pain etc. Instead of thinking about the problems, one should concentrate on the opposite of any challenge. The idea is that positive thoughts coupled with faith, hope and right actions are guaranteed to always bring forth the desired outcome in every situation (Osteen 2009:8) or “If you will keep believing…hoping…doing the right thing, and…stay strong for that final push, you will see the situation turn around” (Osteen 2009:9).
Those who advocate the militant form of PT also incorporate the notions of Osteen. Goroh writes,
I speak to that broken relationship to be restored. I command a change in that business. I speak open doors over your life and family. Your worst days are behind you. Your best days have just started. Wipe your tears, wash yourself, dress up and show God’s glory. Speak what you desire and not what you see. Every day you wake up; make a positive confession about your health…children…spouse…business and everything around you (2009:102).
Chris Oyakilome who is an ardent proponent of the message of health, wealth and success also takes the motivational approach. He believes that believers have power and anointing to excel in life, he writes,
[E]veryday, consciously declare that the grace of God is working in you and you’re increasing in it. Meditate on God’s Word everyday and let your spirit radiate the glory in the Word. Before long, that glow in your spirit will begin to show up outwardly and others will recognize the hand of God upon you, and necessarily do you good. Remember, the grace of God is already available to you, so grow in it; take as much of it as you can; and watch the power of promotion catapult you upward and forward as you make progress with giant strides! (2008:8th December)
John Akpami (2009) who has visited Namibia generally appears to be distant from PT advocates but reading in-between the lines he is actively one of them. He claims that there are hard times lying ahead for everyone. However, those who have God as their covenant partner will be spared. He writes,
To settle for an excuse for not making it [during the coming hard times] is to be caught in a trap of deception. Those who use covenant eyes to look at problems know that every problem is smaller than what you see. Every mountain is much less than the size you see. The truth is, no mountain is equal to the size of faith in your human spirit. Whatever that mountain is: Debts to pay; sickness in the body; projects to execute. They will diminish if you look well…The covenant will make available wisdom to enable you to tap honey out of the rock (2009:51-52).
Thus, the covenant with God would create a life of continuous victory for the believers in this life. The meaning of “covenant” in the above mentioned quote is not very clear. Which covenant is he referring to? There are various forms of covenants advocated in PT. One is the covenant established with God through sacrificial giving (Oyedepo 2006:76). However, this notion of the covenant is called the Abrahamic Covenant (AC). This view is strongly propagated by US based PT advocate Jay Snell in a series of his books for example, What Are Abraham’s Blessings Anyway?: Why Jesus Must Heal And Prosper You Now and How to Obtain Abraham’s Blessings.
The AC view advocated by PT skips over the central message represented in the AC – the message of salvation. God’s covenant with Abraham has come to be because of the Fall (Gen. 3). When God revealed Himself to Abraham the world was in a state of increasing ungodliness and the people of the world were serving idols. God, out of His own will, chose Abraham that through his line the Saviour of the world would be born. Through Christ all nations will be blessed by placing faith in His work on the cross.
One of the key passages used to advocate wealth for the believer through the AC is Galatians 3:13-14 that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ – so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (ESV; unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version). Prosperity preachers use this passage to say that the AC entailed material blessings to all of God’s people. Whilst acknowledging the importance of the AC, we need to keep the context of this covenant, which is the spiritual blessings provided through the atoning work of Christ. Failure to see the gift of salvation as the central blessing God has extended to all who will believe, would reduce God’s plan of salvation to that of obtaining of material things in this world.
Donald K. Campbell (1985) provides us with a helpful commentary on this passage. He tells us that the blessing being referred to here has to do with justification by faith in Christ Jesus. The passage then is an address on the subject of justification apart from the Law which is given to all who believe in the same way as Abraham (Campbell, 1985:598). This seem to have been the historic understanding of this passage by early theologians like Poole (1685) who wrote that “the blessing of Abraham, [are] those spiritual blessings of justification, reconciliation, and adoption, which came to Abraham upon his believing, and the imputation of righteousness thereupon unto him.” The nineteenth century theologian Adam Clarke (1825) also understood the blessing of Abraham for those who have believed as “justification or the pardon of sin, with all other blessings consequent on it, such as peace with God, spiritual life, and eternal glory.” Thus, our reading from history shows us that believers never considered themselves as eligible to material blessing through the AC but as heirs of God’s spiritual blessings because of what Christ has done.
This thought or interpretation of the AC stated by Wolvaard, Poole and Clarke is also maintained by many modern evangelical scholars. Falwell (1997) writes, “The blessing of Abraham is justification by faith…intended for the whole world, but it is only in and through…Christ”. MacDonald (1995) affirms with Falwell when he writes, “God had promised to bless Abraham and to bless all the world through him. The blessing of Abraham is really salvation by grace through faith.” So the AC’s greatest purpose was to reveal,
…[T]he plan of salvation with greater clarity than ever before. In both the post-fall promise and the covenant with Noah the saving grace of God is revealed, but the plan of salvation is still rather obscure. With Abraham the promise of the new covenant is considerably expanded, providing a much clearer vision of the future salvation. Thus the Abrahamic covenant became the “reference covenant” for the rest of the covenants in the old covenant era (Smith 2006:30).
While there appear to be two forms in which PT is propagated the core message remains unchanged. The language, emphasis and style may be different but it is saying the same thing in different ways. So, what do these two views have in common? They both claim that:
(a) God’s will for the believer is absolute success in all areas of life.
(b) God’s will is for believers to overcome all trials.
(c) Suffering is not part of the believer’s heritage.
(d) God wants us to have the best of everything in life.
(e) Our spiritual redemption is a guarantee of victory in all other areas of life.
(f) Jesus suffered in our place so that we can to live victoriously in every area of life.
(g) Being a Christian guarantees “smooth sailing” through life.
Having mentioned the above, how do we define PT then? PT is the theology that advocates that it is God's will for every believer to be prosperous (Oyedepo 2006; cf. Goroh 2009; Copeland 1978). Thus, God blesses those who are faithful with prosperous living (Price 1999:1-5). However, the said prosperity does not come automatically. To obtain this prosperity the believers must repeat certain prescribed prayers, make prescribed positive confessions and confess prescribed Scriptures, and by “sowing seeds” they will in turn receive almost anything they desire. The view infers that a sick, poor and suffering believer is outside the will of God because his life lacks sufficient faith, or he lives in some sort of sin or disobedience. In its emphasis on prosperous living being a reward for obedient and holy living, the will of God for the believer is remodelled in such a way that the followers of this theology feel guilty especially if they become terminally ill, or have financial, marital, or career struggles.
PT theology then, from the ideas we have gathered from its advocates is based on three pillars, which are:
(1) Divine healing
(2) Material prosperity and
(3) Positive confession.
In each of these areas, believers emphasize the goodness of God, alongside the idea that the faith of the born-again person can activate divine favour in predictable and tangible ways. The Old Testament covenant that made blessings available to the chosen people is said to have been extended to all peoples by virtue of Christ’s atonement on the cross (Coleman 2004).
2.2.3. The prosperity teaching as a “theology”
This research refers to prosperity teaching as a theology, however, this definition needs to be qualified. There are various kinds of theologies, especially under the brand of Liberation Theology (LTh), for example, Black Theology (BTh), Ethiopian Theology (ETh), Feminist Theology (FTh), Ecological Theology (EcoTh) to mention a few. “All of these theologies see liberation as a key concept in the Bible, and take it that one can formulate the entire gospel, or at least important aspects of it, in terms of the concept of liberation” (König 1998:12). PT may be categorised under LTh as its emphasis is on liberation from poverty, sickness and suffering.
What makes a specific view to be referred to as a theology? This is a difficult question to answer. It is much easier to label a view a theology but to qualify it is not that easy. Most of the scholarly works that deal with theology do not explain what makes a theology a theology. Rather they all answer the question: “What is theology?” Therefore, the branding of prosperity teaching as a theology will be derived from what is implied by the various definitions of what theology is. The researcher will use the following definitions to help categorise PT:
(1) Brian Gaybba
All theology is ultimately a reflection by Christians on their faith. This reflection can take many forms, and that is what distinguishes one type of theology from another. It can take the very basic form of a personal attempt to apply one’s faith to one’s own life. Or it can take the form of a very abstract, detailed and highly sophisticated analysis of a particular aspect of faith, utilising the latest philosophical insights or whatever other insights contemporary knowledge can give us (1998:27).
The above is a general explanation of the discipline of theology. Thus, it is the reflection of how Christians can apply their faith to everyday life. This reflection can be subjective, highly academic or philosophical. In this reflection, the reflector should consider the subject concerned under the scrutiny of Scripture. What separates bad theology from good theology in the evangelical community is that Scripture ought to govern our application. On this basis PT is surely a reflection of those who belong mainly to the WoF movement concerning issues of wealth, health and success. This reflection is raised by the social context of the people and although the Bible is used to propagate this sort of theology, there appears to be a great measure of subjectivity and hermeneutical dissension.
(2) Tite Tiénou
Theology is the reasoned statement of biblical revelation, in specific places and specific times, which makes possible the transmission of the Christian faith to future generations. We may compare the Christian faith to a beautiful song. Biblical revelation forms the words of the song and theology represents the music and rhythm. Both revelation and theology are needed. In our cultures, music and rhythm serve to support the transmission and instruction of the messages. Likewise, theology is the indispensable support of the revealed Word of God (1982:12).
Tiénou’s definition of theology takes the approach of doing theology from the message of Scripture. It is not just doing of theology for its own sake but in order to remain faithful to the revelation of God in Scripture. The emphasis is that theology should develop from Scripture and the context of Scripture should not be sacrificed at the expense of changing times. Thus, while theology ought to be practical and relevant it is only relevant if the context of Scripture is not corrupted in the process of application. It could be said of PT that it is a reasoned (although not systematic) collection of biblical material concerning the issue of prosperity. Whether this reasoning is done with the overarching message of the Bible in view is what many biblical scholars are in disagreement with.
(3) Millard J. Erickson
[Theology is] that discipline which strives to give a coherent statement of the doctrines of the Christian faith, based primarily upon the Scriptures, placed in the context of culture in general, worded in a contemporary idiom, and related to the issues if life (1985:21).
Although PT is represented by multiple voices and lacks congruity in definition by those who advocate it, it holds to an underlying belief concerning the Christian faith. That is, Scripture promises all who believe in Jesus Christ lives defined by prosperity (financially), health, success and happiness. It endeavours to be relevant to the contemporary issue of poverty but this attempt to address poverty can be said to be moving into hyper-capitalism, transnational-capitalism, materialism, abuse of Scripture and exploitation of people (Maxwell 1998:350-373; Meyer 2004:453-454; Piper 2010:15-32).
PT is a very recent development that has various features and may never find its way to being systematised as a theology except in the loose sense of the word. With this loose sense of the word “theology,” prosperity gospel qualifies to be termed as a theology in that it is an attempt of some Christians, reflecting upon the relevance of their faith, to address the issue of poverty in Namibia. This reflection is with reference to certain passages of the Bible. The conclusion from this reflection is that the central message of the Bible is redemption but it is a redemption not only limited to the soul but also including social and economic elevation. Thus, Christianity promises emancipation from poverty, sickness, failure and suffering because God who is the owner of this world can only give good gifts to His children. As a theology within LTh, it is concerned with the attempt to help people achieve emancipation from present struggles and have them experience heaven on earth. (That is, it may be considered an over-realised eschatology).
PT is a theology that promotes prosperity as the central or overarching message of the Bible. Although it lacks a symphonic message, there are key factors to which all its advocates hold, regardless of their different ways of expressing it. The underlying factor is that God desires to bless all believers with prosperity, which includes financial freedom, absolute health, wealth and success. Even where Jesus is said to be preached, He is presented as a giver of health, prosperity, protection, business success, etc (Oyedepo 2006:127-204; cf. Osteen 2009).
Theology is definitely important for the believer as it aims to enhance his or her relationship with God. However, it is important that our theology should be right. That is, we need to have a theology that stems from Scripture and is in agreement with the overarching message of the Bible (the grace of God shown in Jesus Christ). Any theology that departs from Scripture and improvises methods that are considered politically correct to our present day culture will result in incorrect beliefs about God. While PT may have some commendable aspects, it is generally constructed upon a defective theology.
While Prosperity adherents usually emphasize the importance of a literal interpretation of the Bible, they also stress the authority and inspiration of the spoken word, as deployed either by God or by believers themselves. Key to this assumption is the doctrine, based in part on Romans 10:8, that whatever is spoken by faith can address and have an influence on all situations. So-called positive ‘confession’ is therefore not an admission of sin…but rather a statement that lays claim to divine beneficence, giving prosperity to the person but also equipping them to be more effective in converting others to the faith. Inspired words are therefore seen as literally creative, so that the believer must be careful to speak positively at all times in order to avoid the dangers of ‘negative confession’ (Coleman 2004).
2.2.4. Definition of the poor
Seeing that this thesis focuses on the impact of PT among the poor, it is necessary to clarify what is meant by the poor and who the poor are. Poverty is generally described as a state of lacking the essential necessities of life. This would then mean that the poor are those people without adequate food and water, clothing and shelter (which are necessities or essential needs). These people
[A]re normally not seen as those who make a contribution to the economy because they lack. In fact, the poor are normally looked at as consumers through the eyes of the more affluent people. However, the poor are part of the make up of any economic system irrespective of their contribution or consumption (Reynecke 2006:56).
Moreover, this is not an economic rank or class but a description of the most vulnerable people of society (see Figure 3). They are described as “those surviving on less than one US dollar a day” (National Planning Commission (NPC) 2007:1). These people are generally uneducated, have few skills to make a living, bad health and have very low earnings, if any. Women, children and old people are the most vulnerable. These poor people are often isolated and marginalised from general society. For example, by locating them on the outskirts of towns, in houses made of tins, plastic, and carton boxes (see Figure 1 below). They lack choice, that is, they have to live here, they have to work etc. It is to such a group of people (the poor) that PT by its promises may be appealing to because it claims to offer hope of a higher quality of life (see Figure 2) (Gifford 1990; Harrell 1975; Hollinger 1991).
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Figure 1 : Corrugated iron huts without water and electricity in an informal settlement on the edge of the Katutura in Windhoek
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Figure 2 : A luxury house worth N$ 4.5 million in one of the upper class suburbs of Windhoek
The figure below (next page) provides the different layers of poverty and the poor of society are those who are most likely to experience many or all of these issues.
Since PT teaches that God wants people to be prosperous, especially financially, the poor then become an easy target of this theology. Their economic desperation is also fuelled by their lack of education, so it is much easier for them to accept PT without question. These poor people are told to deal with their lack of faith, which is said to be the cause of their poverty. This approach, while it may sound spiritual, is impractical in addressing the issue of poverty. The idea this faith teaching denotes is that our duty as Christians is to simply deal with the poor’s lack of faith but in reality do nothing about the poverty itself.
The poor, for the sake of this context, is not inclusive of every poor person but referring to the poor who are Christians. This is not to say that Christianity is not concerned with the non-Christian poor but because what is at stake is the interpretation of Scripture and faith in Christ, the subject is limited to those within the household of faith (for example Gal. 6:10). Because Scripture calls upon us to do justice, to share bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into our houses and cover the naked (Is. 58), it is therefore important that we should work towards a biblical concept of combating poverty.
Two extreme points come into play here. One is that of presenting a Christian message that encourages materialism and consumerism based on a misinterpretation of several biblical texts. The other is that of presenting a Christian message that regards poverty as a Christian ideal modelled on Jesus Christ. Neither of these extremes is healthy for those in poverty nor do they do justice to the spirit of Scripture. What we can be assured of as believers is that our faith demands that we should be able to respond to the needs of the poor. That is, as we serve Christ we should never forget the poor for “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Js. 1:27; cf. Matt. 25:36; Is. 1:17, Eph. 2:10, Mic. 6:8). This is to say that spirituality and active works of mercy go hand in hand because true “Religion in its rise interests us about ourselves in its progress, about our fellow creatures: in its highest stage, about the honor of God” (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown 1997). Moreover, true religion requires holy living before God. That is, those who claim to belong to God must separate themselves from the defilement of the world. But,
After we have seen ourselves and Christ in the mirror of the Word, we must see others and their needs. Isaiah first saw the Lord, then himself, and then the people to whom he would minister (Isa. 6:1–8). Words are no substitute for deeds of love (James 2:14–18; I John 3:11–18). God does not want us to pay for others to minister as a substitute for our own personal service! (Wiersbe 1996).
With Scripture commanding us to be concerned for the poor, the issue is not whether there is evidence of concern; instead, we need to ask what actions we need to take to deal with the reality of poverty. In opposing the prosperity gospel, we need to ask as to what hope the gospel offers to the poor both for the “here and now” and the future. John Stott (1992:27-28) provides us with practical wisdom of how to respond to the issue of poverty when he writes,
We listen to the Word with humble reverence, anxious to understand it, and resolved to believe and obey what we come to understand. We listen to the world with critical alertness, anxious to understand it too, and resolved not necessarily to believe and obey it, but to sympathize with it and to seek grace to discover how the gospel relates to it.
Thus, as this research aims at providing a biblical concept of dealing with poverty as Christians we are not just to resolve to have beautiful definitions and descriptions of poverty and the poor. Instead, as Samuel Kunhiyop (2008:138) writes “we must examine the biblical material, for it is the starting point for meaningful Christian discussion” in dealing with the poverty problem however, we need to critically examine the various approaches of dealing with poverty “before making recommendations for addressing it” (Kunhiyop 2008:138).
2.3. The historical background of PT
PT is definitely a very recent phenomenon although it has gained considerable numbers of followers and propagators just in a matter of decades. How the movement came to be is still a controversial point of discussion, however, the majority of scholars are of the same opinion that the movement began in the USA (Gifford 1994:516; cf. MacArthur 1992:322-323; Piper 2010:15-32). Initially the movement did not start as a purely Pentecostal or Charismatic division but altogether based on and borrowed from pagan religious concepts. E.W. Kenyon along with Vincent Peale could be rightly termed the fathers of PT with their roots in Christian Science and New Thought (McConnell 1995:15). There has been some disagreement about where Kenyon got his influences. What is evident is that his influences did not stem from one source but several. That is, he was influenced by various emerging healing ministers of his time, the Pentecostal movement and the American metaphysical cults (McConnell 1996).
However, Kenyon himself was not a Pentecostal and in fact he opposed much of Pentecostalism, yet he exerted great influence on “many of the post-war Pentecostal healers, the dominating influence on his theology is in fact the metaphysical cults which abounded at the turn of the [19th] century” (Jackson 1987:16). This influence has manifested itself strongly through the teachings of men such as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Frederick Price, Charles Capps, Paul Crouch, Benny Hinn, Benson Idahosa, David Oyedepo, Chris Oyakilome, Haruna Goroh, Wahl Abrahams and Fred Joseph, just to mention a few.
The historical and ideological roots of Prosperity Theology are complex and disputed, reflecting the controversial nature of its adherents’ claims. The influence of Pentecostal revivalism…seems evident, particularly through the activities of the North American healing movement of the 1940s and 1950s. Important figures in this post-War revival, such as William Branham, Oral Roberts, A.A. Allen and T.L. Osborn, promoted a prosperity message that eventually encompassed both physical and financial aspects of the believer’s life. Some of these preachers were later able to become high-profile participants within the burgeoning revival of independent charismatic ministries that marked the latter decades of the twentieth century (Coleman 2004).
While Kenyon might have pioneered the movement’s ideologies, however, they were remodelled and spread in a new form by the late Kenneth Hagin and other leading neo-Pentecostal revivalists (Oral Roberts, R.W. Schambach). However, Hagin was more instrumental in the spread of PT and came to be known as the father of PT, a title which in recent years was passed on to his disciple Kenneth Copeland (Atkins 2011). Hagin had initially started as a health preacher and gradually evolved into propagating the doctrines of material success especially financial prosperity. Both health and wealth have become earmarks of the movement Hagin started.
PT is found in various denominations but mostly in neo-Pentecostal denominations. It can therefore be seen that PT is analogous to classical Pentecostalism in its emphasis on the baptism of the Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues and charismatic gifts. What makes it somehow different from classical Pentecostalism however is the degree to which it emphasises divine healing, material prosperity and positive confession. Because God is a good God only good should come from God and by faith the believer can activate divine favour and cause circumstances to work for his good. This theology is propagated on the basis that the blessings God promised to the people of Israel in the Old Testament (OT) covenant (Abrahamic and Mosaic) have been extended to the church by virtue of Christ’s death on the cross. Thus, “the prosperity emphasis then makes a further extension to the theology of the cross. It is argued that if sickness is atoned for, then also other forms of human suffering are also atoned for, notably lack of finance or poverty” (Williams 2001:196; cf. Gossett & Kenyon 1981:53; Copeland 1974:51).
As Prosperity Theology has spread round the globe, it has taken on numerous guises in such diverse locations as West and South Africa, Latin America, South Korea, and Western and Eastern Europe. Promoting organizations and preachers have developed relatively autonomous, idiosyncratic, and often diffuse spheres of influence, appealing in some contexts to urban middle-class constituencies, in others to the aspirant poor, and in yet others to ethnic enclaves situated in migrant diasporas. This variant of conservative Protestantism has proved highly controversial in many of the contexts in which it has appeared. It has variously been accused of promulgating Gnosticism, undiluted forms of American capitalism, New Age…individualism, naïve trust in faith healing, and acceptance of, rather than revolt against, conditions of racial and economic inequality (Coleman 2004).
It is however, not the interest of this research to write a comprehensive historical background of this movement. The researcher would like to place emphasis on PT’s development in Namibia. But the above background is necessary because it is the same message being propagated in Namibia except that is redressed in African garments.
2.3.1. PT’s development in Namibia
There is no substantial written record of PT’s actual beginning in Namibia and it can therefore only be traced through those who have pioneered the movement. While Drs Buys and Nambala (2003) have written an insightful book on the history of the church in Namibia, they did not deal with the subject of PT under the Pentecostal developments. The reason for this is unclear.
At the time of independence (1990) the Namibian religious milieu was basically dominated by mainstream churches (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Dutch Reformed) and a small but significant number of African Independent Churches (AICs) and Pentecostal-like churches (Morriah, Eben Ezer, Back to God Assemblies of God, Apostolic Faith Mission etc). The Pentecostal-like groups were often ridiculed and seen as fringe groups consisting of people who were mentally disturbed or perhaps had committed some sort of “big sins” in their lives. These Pentecostal-like groups had their roots in holiness movements as they placed emphasised more on holiness and evangelism (Buys & Nambala 2003).
Emphasis on the charismata came as a post-independence phenomenon. While neo-Pentecostals in Namibia do hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible, much of the spiritual gifts were not emphasised, especially that of speaking in strange tongues. The early 1990s witnessed great revivalism that emphasised Spirit baptism and healing. Many new churches were also established in the process. None of these churches taught PT as they focused more on the revival of charismatic gifts and evangelism. Thus, PT was unheard of amongst early Pentecostal-like churches in Namibia. This phenomenon developed and gained popularity after independence.
The Namibian Broadcasting Cooperation (NBC) has been instrumental in promoting PT via its Sunday broadcasting of preachers such as Nevers Mumba, Myles Munroe, and Thomas D. Jakes etc. However, the researcher does not assume that NBC aired these preachers to knowingly deceive the public. He does not know what really motivated their airing of these tele-evangelists. However, this media exposure sparked a great awareness of tele-evangelism and more and more people began seeking the resources of these tele-evangelists.
However, the father of PT in Namibia can rightfully be said to be Haruna B. Goroh. He came to Namibia in the early 1990s claiming to be sent by God to do a quick work that has never been done before. The meaning of the quick work remains unclear; he interprets the quickness as referring not to time but the uniqueness and impact of the work. The early focus of Goroh’s ministry was strongly evangelistic, however, with time he developed into a fully-fledged PT exponent. The Greater Love Ministries headed by Goroh was the first to start hosting a national conference known as the Faith Convention importing prosperity preachers from across the globe (Fred Ado, Matthew Ashimolowo, Alan Bagg, Myles Munroe etc). These conferences mainly focused on issues related to financial breakthroughs, healings, discovering one’s hidden potential and personal success.
While the Greater Love Ministries could be rightly said to have paved the way for the spread of PT, as it was not only vocal about the subject but also publishing books, a group of other churches also adopted PT into their main teaching and preaching programmes. At times, it is subtle in some of these churches (for example AFM and PPC) while it is quite obvious in others (for example, Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), Christ Embassy, Kingdom Faith Builders, Forward in Faith Ministries etc).
These PT churches are divided into two main categories. First, there are those who operate amongst the poor of the Namibian society and are also involved in some humanitarian activities especially feeding projects. These humanitarian acts surely deserve to be applauded but the theological concern still remains about the doctrines they propagate in their local congregations. These poor people are continuously encouraged to give away their resources with the promise that God will bring them out of their condition and catapult them into immeasurable riches. Secondly, there are those who believe that God has called them to minister to middle and upper class people in the society. These churches are established in suburbs of middle and upper income earners. They are also involved in humanitarian activities but not amongst the people they minister to, these activities are carried out amongst the poor.
In recent years, there have been changes; both of these two groups are now establishing churches in poor and rich neighbourhoods. However, there are great distinctions made regarding how these two groups of people are treated. Ministries in the poor suburbs are often manipulative whereas those in the middle and upper class suburbs are run with great caution. Issues of time are not considered amongst the poor; they can come to church and be kept for five or more hours in church. On the other hand, those of the middle and upper classes have church services that run for only one or two hours. The common issue propagated in both of the groups is that God desires prosperity for His people and that they are to live good lives surpassing that of the ungodly. So the followers take note of this message encouraged by their leaders and “Confident that the Spirit empowers and protects them, they boldly progress into new opportunities presented by urbanization, higher education and globalization” (Born 2002:ii).