The prosperity gospel has reshaped Christianity in Nigeria. It rode off the back of Pentecostalism and was introduced largely through the ministry of the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa, who many (rightly) describe as the father of the prosperity gospel in Africa. Idahosa laid the framework for what Conrad Mbewe calls the “Nigerian religious junk” that is now exported from Nigeria to the rest of Africa. Conservative evangelical churches are now a shadow of their former selves, and the prosperity gospel is now the distinctive feature of Christianity in Nigeria.
In Nigeria there are Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals and Roman Catholics. But the prosperity gospel has achieved the colossal task of uniting these different traditions. The greatest ecumenical force has been prosperity theology. Our differences do not really matter when we come before the God who wants us all to prosper.
I grew up in Pentecostal churches and never heard my pastors talk about material wealth directly. Instead I was taught the importance of prayers and its necessity for life. I was taught that anything was possible through prayer. But I was also taught that I deserved a good life. I was never meant to fail because God never failed. I was as an extension of God on earth, one who was able to speak the things that were not as though they were. And that was the only form of Christianity I knew.
I grew up without being told that there was such a thing as bad theology, or that God’s word had to be the final authority to the believer in all matters of life. I never knew that salvation was all of God’s work. I never knew that God was in complete control of all that happened in the world. I believed that the Christianity I saw was the only form there was—filled with miracles, personal revelations, supernatural visitations and encounters, and promised prosperity. And it all made absolute sense at the time.
Contrary to what many of my Reformed friends say, I think the prosperity gospel actually makes plausible claims. Without reading the Bible to know the true nature of God, it seems sensible that a rich God would make all of His children rich. Or that an all-powerful King would want his loyal subjects prosperous and free from sickness. This is probably the major reason why so many professing Christians have been ensnared by the prosperity gospel. It makes sense. It provides hope. Yes, it is false hope. But it is hope to many.
For me, prosperity theology simply did not work. As I grew older and became exposed to greater levels of prosperity theology, I swallowed every lie. I attended meetings where we were told to expect major breakthroughs. I wrote down prophecies, used up bottles of anointing oil, made confessions, and uttered supposedly inspired words. But nothing changed. My academic performance slowly got worse in school. I was often in lack and, on some days, begged before I could eat. God never failed me. The prosperity gospel did.
When I look at how this false gospel continues to thrive, it brings sorrow to my heart. With its false claims and false hope, it thrives. The true gospel of Jesus Christ has lost its appeal to many. The self-proclaimed prophets have prophesied falsely and the people love to have it so.
Nigeria is in need of the gospel. The statistics might say we’re okay—that about 90 million Nigerians are Christians—but we’re not. We have large churches where the gospel is not preached, and the prophets who prophesy do so in their own names. I pray that the Lord blesses the work of the true gospel in Nigeria. The gospel I knew, which currently thrives in this country, is no gospel at all.