The Holy Spirit in African Christianity: An empirical study
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WHEN I was ordained more than 40 years ago, it was generally expected that the Church in the inner-city was on its way out. Instead, today it is more vibrant than in many suburban areas.
There is a street near Millwall Football Ground which is said to have more churches than any other in the country. Some are traditional denominations that have been revitalised by Afro-Caribbean and West African immigration. More are store-front assemblies or meetings in community halls, the so-called “African Initiated Churches”. Almost all would describe themselves as Spirit-filled.
This study, using inductive and then deductive research, is empirically based, while rejecting the claim that anthropology must be theologically neutral. It shows how African Christians experience and speak about the Holy Spirit, and roots that in the African world-view and concept of God.
The African God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. In a world of spiritual warfare, he is the Victor and Provider. The Holy Spirit empowers Christians to take part in this battle and to experience victorious living. While Western thinking sees a dichotomy between the material and spiritual, African cosmology emphasises the unity of body and mind, seeing the spiritual realm — and so the presence of the Holy Spirit — in the whole of life.
Chigor Chike says that it is because they regard the world as a spiritual theatre that African Christians (unlike other Pentecostalists) see the Spirit in the more mundane aspects of daily life. He thinks that the “African Initiated Churches” may have moved away from these roots to more inward thinking and the supremacy of the spiritual. He also suggests that those churches with a stronger doctrine of the Trinity, and more attention to the Bible, perhaps because of their formation in the missionary era, are more likely to see the Spirit as a person rather than just a spiritual force. They will also be less dependent on Spirit-filled leaders.
He rightly emphasises the part played by experience in African pneumatology, in worship, and in direct communication with God, but there is strangely very little said about speaking in tongues. Also missing is any reference to the “prosperity” that some African churches and businessmen enjoy, supposedly as a direct gift from the Holy Spirit in daily life.
But this book contributes usefully to our understanding of what is now a significant part of British church life, and a growing one: Chike’s research indicates that secularism and post-modernity are having little effect on how younger African Christians in Britain see the world.
The Rt Revd Michael Doe is Preacher to Gray’s Inn, and a former General Secretary of USPG (now Us.).