All right, I will soon stop talking about Strange Fire (most of my Swedish Christian friends have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention the conference, John MacArthur or even cessationism – those things aren’t so hot over here) but I have to comment Conrad Mbewe’s lectures before I move on to funnier things. Being the only non-Western speaker at the event, Mbewe shared his opinions on the charismatic movement in Africa. Those opinions were negative, to say the least. You can find transcriptions of his lectures here and here.
Mbewe’s main argument is that the popularity of the “charismatic chaos” in Africa is caused by how well it fits with traditional African spirituality. They share the same worldview. In African animism, belief in spirits is prevalent, and people go to the witchdoctors to be healed, delivered from evil spirits and to have prosperous crops. African charismatics behave just the same – they go to the “man of God” to be healed, delivered from evil spirits and to prosper. Thus, Mbewe argues, charismatic preachers are just like witchdoctors.
When I saw how Mbewe talks about worldviews, I immediately got flashbacks to good ol’ Power Evangelism by John Wimber. He dedicates a whole chapter to worldviews and describes the African and other non-Western worldviews in the same manner as Mbewe does – it is a worldview where the supernatural is natural and where supernatural healing, prophetic messages and deliverance from spirits are part of normal life. However, Wimber rightly argued that this is the biblical worldview as well.
This is why I think Mbewe’s arguments look very strange. It seems to me that if he lived 2000 years ago he would accuse Jesus for being a witchdoctor. The Bible talks about men (and women) of God who do miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, Mbewe hardly refers to the Bible at all in his lectures. He qoutes John 17:17 to show that truth is important, and he tries to use 2 Tim 3:16-17 as an argument for miracles to be totally unnecessary in a preacher’s life since the Bible is all we need, which needless to say is a false interpretation of those verses (in that case, love, character and faith would be unnecessary as well, I guess). Thus, when Mbewe says that African charismatics are more like witchdoctors than Biblical Christians, he doesn’t use the Bible to prove it. And it’s not very strange, because it is impossible to prove.
Furthermore, Mbewe’s description of African charismatic theology is not very honest. For example, he argues that the charismatic use of the word “breakthrough” echoes an animist belief of God being very far away, with spiritual “layers” of angels, demons and ancestors that has to be pierced in order for healing and other blessings to come. This is a bit farfetched. To my understanding, charismatic theology contrast itself on this point with animism in that it says that we should pray to God directly. This is for example what Surprise Sithole claims to be one of the main differences between animism and Christianity. To charismatic theology, God is not far away. If Mbewe can find those who think He is, he is very welcome to criticize those for that, but to assume that this is how all charismatics think like that is very speculative.
Most importantly, cessationism does not offer a more biblical worldview than charismatic theology, but less. To say that charismatic preachers are like witchdoctors its like saying that evangelicals are like Muslims because they believe in God and a holy book. Now, there are some serious problems with African Pentecostalism that need to be adressed an criticized, just as there are problems with African evangelicalism. Mbewe’s critique is however not very honest, wise or biblical, just like the Strange Fire conference in general.
- Not All Charismatics Bark Like Dogs (sacredprofane.wordpress.com)
- Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and John MacArthur’s #StrangeFire Conference (morganguyton.wordpress.com)
- Strange Fire: A Refutation (part 1) (frankviola.org)
- To My Fundamentalist Brother John MacArthur: Grace to You Too (charismamag.org)