In this article I want to attempt to reconstruct Prosperity Gospel as a viable theology that has liberation at the heart of its agenda. In order to do this, we must first recognise that there is a thriving Black British theology community in the UK, but it is very much distanced from the Black Majority Pentecostal Churches (BMPC hereafter) due to differences of purpose and opinion. These differences can be seen in their point of departures so that while Black theology starts with the Black experience, BMPCs starts with the Scriptures as God’s Word. Black theology’s agenda is to bring liberation to the Black marginalised community through engaging and critiquing structures that oppress. It also advocates for the Black community economically, politically and socially. On the other hand, BMPCs’ agenda is to do missions, that is, spreading the Good News of Jesus. While the purposes are not opposed to each other (on the contrary they compliment each other), it seems there is tension between both exponents. One reason for this is that the BMPCs in Britain do not have a sense of ownership of Black British theology or to put it another way they are not involved in the formation process of such theology.
One way forward in BMPCs owning a theology is to bridge the gap between Black British theologians and Black Pentecostal Church leaders so that there can be a dialogue between both camps. The BMPCs can greatly benefit from the work of Black British theologians such as Dr Anthony Reddie of Queens Foundation in Birmingham, Dr Robert Beckford who is articulating a Black Political Pentecostal theology (The Dread Thesis),[i] Dr Joe Aldred’s theology of Respect which brings an ecumenist perspective to the scene,[ii] Dr David Muir’s Theology of Ascent which asserts that Black theology must move away from oppression/liberation dialectic to one of personal acceptance and affirmation of radical equality in God[iii] and a host of others.
A further development that has to be noticed and taken seriously in the construction of a theology for BMPCs in the UK is Prosperity Gospel. I have chosen the term, ‘Prosperity Gospel’ because this conveys the heart of its practitioners. It is considered a Gospel because; it is Good News of redemption lift to those who have experience extreme poverty. This redemption lift is a holistic mission in that it asserts forgiveness of sins, education for the mind, deliverance from spiritual forces, health for the weak and material blessings for the poor. The critics of Prosperity Gospel uses the term, ‘Prosperity Theology’ but many prosperity preachers do not accept this term or recognise it. Many articles and books have been written by both Black and White scholars to critic and condemn the preaching of prosperity messages in Churches. This is rightly justified because some Prosperity preachers have become wealthy at the expense of exploiting the poor. There are Black Pentecostal preachers that have bought private jets, luxurious cars and expensive mansions through Church funds donated by the poor. Western Capitalism which is manifested through consumerism, materialism and individualism seems at the heart of this Gospel. Without condoning or excusing the greed of the perpetuators who abuse this Gospel, I think there is an element in this Gospel of Wealth that can be constructed positively and there are theologians such as Dr Dwight Hopkins, Dr Robert Beckford, Dr Amos Yong, Dr Gideon Byamugisha, Dr Shayne Lee and Dr Loius Ann Lorentzen among others who have argued passionately about the contributions this theology could bring. I have begun to reconstruct Prosperity Gospel in the British scene as a viable response to migrant needs in my book.[iv] There I argued that Prosperity Gospel must be understood as a contextual Liberation Theology responding to the socio-economic needs of migrant communities in Britain. A further construction here will be to ask the question, can Prosperity Gospel speak for the oppressed and the Black community? Can the wealth generated from Prosperity Gospel be used to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is plaguing Africa and the Caribbean? Can it help to end poverty in Africa and be used as a viable alternative resource for economic development in Africa and the Caribbean? This will mean that BMPCs must move away from prosperity message that is individualistic to a more robust one that articulates blessings for the community. At present, many prosperity preachers seemed to encourage their Church members to prosper in all areas of life. After prospering what comes next? This question is not often asked and this is why so many people prosper only for themselves. This is why prosperity message is self centred and inward looking. What if prosperity preachers start articulating that the reason God prospers people or will prosper them is so that they can be a blessing to their community. I have definitely heard this version of prosperity preached before, but the problem is that it is not a popular one. This type of prosperity message aims to be a blessing to the community by advocating for marginalized people and empowering and resourcing the poor. This version can be appropriately referred to as; “Prosperity Gospel of Liberation” Liberation because it will consider political freedom and socio-economic development of the oppressed community as part of prospering. In order words at the heart of it will be the prosperity of the community in political and socio-economic terms. While Prosperity Gospel of Liberation will be politically conscious it will not reduce salvation just to politic and economic freedom (a mistake often made by Liberation Theology). It will rather be holistic as in the original.
This truer version of Prosperity Gospel must see individual’s success as a means to an end and not an end in itself. This will mean that BMPCs buy into the Biblical vision of a communal prosperity has practiced in Acts of the Apostles (see Acts 2: 44-47, 4: 32-37). Trinitarian theology will also become very useful in this instance because the Godhead shares life and function in a communal sense. In addition the Godhead also shared life with humanity through the Incarnation of Jesus. This is not an intellectual dogma but rather a practical one that has implications for how the Church shares its resources to benefit its community and the society at large.[v] This communal nature of the Godhead and the Church of the New Testament is similar to the community spirit (Ubuntu as used and expressed in Southern Africa) rooted into the fabric of African and Caribbean societies and this should be annexed for the welfare of humanity. The hermeneutic lens through which Scripture is read and reinterpreted will be the community and this will be valid as it resonates with the culture of the Israelites in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. This paradigm is also resonant with African and Caribbean solidarity concepts where the community comes first before individuals. Prosperity Gospel of liberation will give hope to its community and it will definitely move the Black community from an image of oppressed people to a people of power and responsibility. In essence this theology has an element of Respect and Ascent as expressed by Aldred and Muir respectively. Prosperity Gospel must be considered by Black British theologians as a contribution from the BMPCs because many of them identify with its central thought therefore it will be a good point of departure for any meaningful partnership. If this collaboration can be achieved, BMPCs will feel a sense of ownership of a theology and Black British theologians will be involved in critiquing it constructively.
[i] Robert Beckford, Jesus is Dread, London, Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 1998 and Dread and Pentecostalism, London, SPCK, 2000.
[ii] Joe Aldred, Respect, Werrington, Peterborough, Epworth Publishers, pp. 180-184.
[iii] David Muir, Theology and the Black Church, The Black Church in the 21st Century, London, Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 2010, pp. 23-24.
[iv] Israel Olofinjana, Reverse in Ministry and Missions: Africans in the Dark Continent of Europe, Milton Keynes, Author House, 2010, pp. 54-55.
[v] John Parratt, Reinventing Christianity: African Theology Today, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company Cambridge, UK and African World Press, Inc, Trenton, NJ, 1995, pp. 147-148.