Review of Clarke, “Pentecostal Theology in Africa”

00_PICKWICK_TemplateIt is widely acknowledged that Pentecostal and charismatic influences are a powerful force in African Christianity. The late Ogbu Kalu accomplished much in describing Pentecostal origins and history on the continent. In Pentecostal Theology in Africa, editor Clifton Clarke aims to continue and expand the study of Pentecostalism in Africa through theological analysis. The volume includes contributions from African and Western scholars, and is divided into two parts: the first analyzes theological currents, the second addresses pragmatic concerns and implications.

The book as a whole is more descriptive than prescriptive, which can be frustrating as contributors rarely disclose their own judgments of the trends they explore. The various contributors examine various ways in which Pentecostalism has been contextualized in Africa, as well as how and why this branch of Christianity gives greater agency to African churches and why Pentecostalism is appealing in an African context. For example, several authors note that the holistic view of Pentecostalism coheres well with traditional African worldviews, such as its acknowledgement and address of spiritual forces at work in the world. The authors offer varying views on how Pentecostals have dealt with African traditional religion. Pentecostal Theology in Africa is more theological than historical in focus, and tends to focus on West Africa without adequately representing other parts of the continent.

Standout essays in the book include Clifton R. Clarke’s tribute to Ogbu Kalu and Clarke’s methodological proposal, John Gallegos’s “African Pentecostal Hermeneutics,” David Ngong’s “African Pentecostal Pneumatology,” David Ogungbile’s assessment of the prosperity gospel in Pentecostalism, and Maria Frahm-Arp’s contribution on how biblical texts form Pentecostal evangelical charismatic views of gender. Unfortunately, Frahm-Arp’s essay provides one of the only instances in the book of engagement with biblical bases for Pentecostal positions.

This book is most suited to graduate students, or readers with some familiarity with Pentecostalism in Africa and African theology. The volume’s strength is the wide range of topics it examines; a weakness is that the majority of the contributors are still Western or located in the West. Was there no way to include more voices from Pentecostals on the ground?

Overall, the volume is a helpful contribution to the field, deepening understanding of the theology underlying African Pentecostalism, deserving 3.5 out of 5 stars. Thank you to Pickwick for the review copy.

About Stephanie Lowery

I studied systematic theology at Wheaton College Graduate School, studying under Daniel Treier and writing my dissertation on ecclesiological models in Africa. I grew up in East Africa, and am happy to have returned at long last!
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