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The dramatic growth of non-Western Christianity across Africa is due largely to the flourishing New Pentecostal Churches. Why has the prosperity gospel, imported from the West and preached in these churches, found such fertile soil in Africa? In the second installment of the Global Conversation, Ghanaian seminary professor Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu explains how these churches' peculiar emphases resonate with tribal religious backgrounds. Unfortunately, the prosperity gospel leaves behind the rural poor and other marginalized people who have little access to wealth and success. The gospel of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, glorifies neither poverty nor prosperity, but instead offers deliverance, forgiveness, grace, and restoration.

For thousands of believers in Ghana, Jericho Hour is the place to be if you are looking for a breakthrough. Founded in 1998, the prayer meeting—where, according to its slogan, "giant solutions await your giant problems"—is hosted by Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams and his Action Chapel International in the Prayer Cathedral on Spintex Road in Accra. On Thursday mornings 3,000 people make their way to the cathedral, where they are encouraged to pray for breakthroughs in business dealings and employment, international travel, money to build houses and buy cars, help with finding a spouse or bearing a child, and, when experiencing setbacks, vengeance on those spiritually responsible.

Founded by Duncan-Williams in 1979 as Christian Action Faith Ministry International, the church was the first of a new stream of Pentecostal churches that have since flourished in Ghana and across Africa. Duncan-Williams's mentor was the late Nigerian Benson Idahosa, who, before he died in the late '90s, conferred upon himself the titles "Professor" and "Archbishop." Duncan-Williams's own transition—from "Pastor" to "The Rev. Dr." to "Bishop" and now "Archbishop"—reflects his growing influence, though these elevations must be understood as vivid examples of the blessings he promises to those who exercise faith.

Duncan-Williams's "blessings" are not just nominal. Though his 26-year marriage ended in 2005 (after American pastor T. D. Jakes tried to mediate much-publicized efforts at reconciliation), he married a prominent African American diplomat turned entrepreneur in 2008. Their lifestyle, including a home many describe as palatial, might not be exceptional in the United States, but in Ghana, lavish displays of wealth are usually the domain of politicians believed to achieve their material success by stealing from the public purse. Rumors about where the couple's wealth comes from are probably inevitable.

The Marks of Faith

The New Pentecostal Churches (NPCS) of Africa emphasize prosperity of all kinds. Wealth, health, success, and ever-soaring profits in business are coveted, cherished, and publicly flaunted as signs of God's favor. In this new type of Christianity, success and wealth are the only genuine marks of faith.

Just as Christian movements elsewhere in the world have their favorite Scripture verses, the NPC movement finds support from selected passages. Prosperity preachers quote 3 John 2: "Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go ...

Read MoreRead J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu's complete article
The Conversation Begins
Selected writers respond to J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu from around the globe.

In Africa, where neo-Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement are exploding, the Old Testament is central to the church's spirituality precisely because of its narrative aspects. The first thing that ...

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The article by Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu represents a view of the so-called "prosperity gospel" that has become conventional in wide circles of mainstream churches as well as among secular intellectuals and ...

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"Is anyone here poor? No; surely not! We are children of the King of all riches! But I am poor, you murmur? Then, in the name of Christ, cast away all sin! Claim the blessing God has in store for you ...

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The Conversation Continues: Readers' Comments

Displaying 1–3 of 38 comments

Oun Kwon

August 18, 2012  12:51am

Dawns to me this - how easily accepted are charismatic shows of ecstasy by African people who used to their shamanic rituals of frenzy.

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Oun Kwon

August 18, 2012  12:46am

Prosperity Gospel (like a smile on the peddler Joel) is a satanic verse sweet to hear.

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Apostle Paul J. Nel, South Africa

May 06, 2010  5:15am

The Bible teaches that human wisdom is foolishness with YHVH Elohim. The Bible teaches that endless arguments serve no purpose in building the Kingdom of YHVH. The Bible also teaches that it is to be the ONLY yardstick by which we measure. The Holy Spirit has revealed to me the truth of John 8:32 & 44 - the Bible = the written Word of YHVH = (2+2=4). You see, when you add 2 objects to another 2 objects, you will have 4 objects. It doesn't matter what you or I believe - there will still be exactly 4 objects. The original God-breathed Scripture is what it is and it says what it says. It doesn't matter what you or I believe - it doesn't change what YHVH has written. I can often just shake my head ut us "high & mighty" human cleverness (foolishness in His eyes). Shalom

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