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There are plenty of books describing the rapid growth of African churches. Those who can't travel to witness this growth firsthand, though, can find it difficult to grasp. But now we have a set of impressive films: James Ault's new series, African Christianity Rising. It is a superb resource for anyone who wants a front-row seat to the explosion of this part of global Christianity.
Ault, whose acclaimed 1987 PBS documentary, Born Again, set a new standard for covering American fundamentalism, began filming in African churches in the late 1990s. Funding hurdles made the process agonizingly slow, although the opportunity to revisit his subjects over several years gives us interesting insights into how their stories have developed.
In its final form, African Christianity Rising comprises two DVDs, one each on churches in Ghana and Zimbabwe. (An educational edition includes a treasure trove of additional materials.) The films cover a wide spectrum of churches, each with its distinctive historical background and worship style. We see independent evangelical congregations, a classic African initiated church (Zimbabwe's Zion Apostolic Church), and a surging Pentecostal megachurch, Ghana's International Central Gospel Church, founded by Mensa Otabil. We also learn about Ghana's Roman Catholic Church and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe.
Much of the material, though, concerns what North Americans would regard as mainline Protestant congregations—Grace Presbyterian in Akropong, Ghana, and St. James United Methodist in Mutare, Zimbabwe. So initially familiar to North Americans, the "mainline" setting makes the differences all the more startling when they emerge.
What makes the series so powerful is the believers we meet. Yes, Ault does present learned experts, including the late and much-lamented theologian Kwame Bediako and Ghana's former Catholic archbishop Peter Sarpong. Both discourse eloquently on "inculturation," ...