Preachers of a Different Gospel

I rarely read Christian books written by Nigerian authors. This is not because I think Nigerian authors have nothing to say, but because good indigenous books–books that are faithful to Scripture and clear about the gospel–are really scarce. My countrymen aren’t well known for their sound theology as they are for many other things (which I’d prefer not to mention here).

Imagine my surprise then to find two Nigerian authors on Thabiti Anyabwile’s list of diverse theologians to read in 2019. Femi Adeleye was one of them, and I finally read his popular book, Preachers of a Different Gospel: A Pilgrim’s Reflections on Contemporary Trends in Christianity, this month.

Femi Adeleye was born in Nigeria, and he grew up in Nigeria. He has been involved in student ministry with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) for over three decades. And he currently lives in Ghana with his family.

In his book, he urges his readers to consider the prevalent form of Christianity in the light of Scripture. As a man who experienced much of the decline of sound doctrine that has occurred in Nigeria in the past four decades, Femi contrasts the popular Christianity of today with that of the past.

Contrasting much of what passes as Christianity in Nigeria today to the Christianity of the past, he writes: “Our goal was to be like Jesus in all our life. Through the ministry of the Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS) and later the Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students (NIFES), we were well-schooled in the meaning of Christian commitment and discipleship. Now, you must realize those were the ancient days. These are modern days and things are quite different now. Really, really different.” (1-2)

Femi identifies four marks of the “spontaneous revivals,” which broke out in the 1970s among students in secondary schools and university campuses in the country: an emphasis on the Holy Spirit, the experience and exercise of spiritual gifts, devotion to prayer, and renewed evangelistic zeal. As a result of these revivals, Adeleye says, “Not only did our meetings change, but so did our lives. There was a sense of purity. Things were really different” (32).

One might wonder what happened to those revivals and how things got bad. According to Adeleye, “Trends of accommodation of worldliness . . .  emerged in the 1980s and contributed to the proliferation of prosperity preachers in the 1990s” (34). He mentions that excesses began to thrive because “insufficient teaching and a loss of focus on the more fundamental aspects of the gospel lead to a preoccupation with gifts and a definite shift away from the cross” (34).

Narrating his experiences across several well-known cities in Africa, Femi bemoans the irreverent worship and unholy lifestyle that accompanies the spread of the prosperity gospel in Africa. He identifies some of the leading figures in this movement in West Africa: the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa of Nigeria, Archbishop Duncan Williams of Ghana, and later Bishop David Oyedepo of Nigeria. Adeleye examines David Oyedepo’s theology in more detail than he does the other two (and he does a good job!).

Thankfully, Adeleye does not stop at diagnosing the problems with the strange gospel that continues to grow in popularity in Africa. He does his best to prescribe the true gospel as the antidote to the sickness the prosperity gospel brings. Adeleye’s book is warm, containing not only criticism of the prosperity gospel, but also strong pleas for his readers to return to the Bible if they are to understand the true gospel.

Perhaps the greatest strength of Adeleye’s book is his wealth of experience. I say this because I am a Nigerian who understands what he writes about. I attended the Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS) throughout my secondary school days. And I was part of many “revival meetings” throughout my university days. I completely left the movement only after my graduation, which wasn’t very long ago. While reading the book, I found myself smiling as Adeleye accurately described what I already know and have experienced.

Adeleye doesn’t write like an outsider. He writes like “one of us.” He writes for us. Better books have been written on the subject (and I have read a number of them), but Adeleye’s book comes home. For example, Adeleye scatters songs throughout his book. Songs are powerful indicators of what people believe, and, in showing his readers how the good songs which were once popular gave way to newer, problematic songs, Adeleye uses bright colors to paint a picture that can’t be ignored. I thoroughly enjoyed his employment of songs in this book.

However, Adeleye’s weakness is that he fails to adequately critique the charismatic and prosperity movement. For example, he states that “the charismatic renewal that began as a work of the Holy Spirit to renew the church and to impact the world with the gospel [was] hijacked” (39). I wonder if the movement didn’t have its issues from the very start. “Insufficient teaching,” as he describes elsewhere, and a faulty understanding of the true gospel, in my opinion, have arguably been the major characteristics of the movement from the start. The decline of the “revivals” Femi describes probably began from day one.

Also, Femi doesn’t sound Reformed. And I found myself disagreeing with him on some (hopefully, non-essential) issues.

In the end, Adeleye emphasizes that the true Gospel transforms men and women to serve God acceptably. He maintains that a holy life is a product of a true walk with God. He upholds a Christianity that is distinct from the world and has a clear impact on society.

I heartily recommend this book to all Christians in Africa. This book, in my opinion, was written for them.

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