As a general category, southern Africa calls itself Christian. In Jason Mandryk’s 2010 edition of Operation World here are the numbers of people who claim to be Christian in southern African countries.
- Angola 94%Christian
- Botswana 66% Christian
- Namibia 91% Christian
- Malawi 76% Christian
- Mozambique 47% Christian
- Swaziland 85% Christian
- South Africa 75% Christian
- Zimbabwe 78% Christian
- Zambia 87% Christian
Yet overwhelmingly this “Christianity” is a strain of the theological disease from the Prosperity family. After many years of evangelism, I have found it much easier to find an African “Christian” who believes he must “speak prosperity over his job” than to find one who speaks of the Son of God dying for his sins. I have heard numerous preachers on TV, books, and rural crusades tell their audiences that they have power to create reality like a god, but I have never heard even one speak merely about the themes around God giving righteousness to wicked men by faith in Christ. I have heard a “pastor” say that “It’s boring in Heaven.”
African Christianity is a fatal mixture of ATR with Christian terms. It is not like mixing a bowl of mashed potatoes with a sprinkling of cyanide—potentially deadly to some. Rather think of it as offering an ice-cold glass of bleach or drain cleaner with a half-teaspoon of sugar to improve the taste.
This kind of dilution between two religions is called syncretism. History and Scripture offers many examples. God’s chosen people were often syncretistic.
He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt. 5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” Exodus 32:4-5
So while these nations feared the Lord, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day. 2 Kings 17:41
In the NT, Simon the Sorcerer tried to mix his traditional voodoo beliefs with Christianity. He “believed” and was baptized, and yet he loved power and thought God was for sale (Acts 8:12-22).
Syncretism is common in Brazil where they mix traditional animism and Catholicisim. In North Africa, Islam is commonly blended with ATR creating “folk Islam.” The ancient Romans did not mind adding gods to their religion as long as the Emperor maintained the highest authority.
Syncretism fits with ATR. Like many false religions, ATR can absorb other religious ideas without changing much because they have no absolute standard. There is no law in ATR requiring men to speak the truth because they have no Christ who says, “I am the Truth.” The earliest Venda kings who had contact with Christianity eventually acquiesced to allow the new religion as long as they could keep their own customs and religions. The earliest missionary efforts among the Vendas were constantly met with syncretism (See Kirkaldy’s first chapter). Today, many men are pastors, but they still share a fear of spirits, and their ministries are often dominated by discussions of what the spirits have done, and how to get around the spirits. (The majority of books by African pastors that I have seen all are dominated by discussions of spirits.) Their public teaching centers on freedom from the spirits and their efforts to impoverish the common man. Just turn on a religious TV show from this continent and you won’t have to listen very long.
Prosperity theology is largely syncretistic. As ATR deals with issues affecting this life, so too does prosperity theology.
- The goal of ATR is Sola Comfort contra Soli Deo Gloria, the same as the prosperity religion: health, wealth, and comfort.
- The authority of ATR is Sola Experience contra Sola Scriptura, the same as the prosperity religion: traditions, visions, personal impressions.
- The means of ATR is Sola Speaking contra Sola Fide, the same as the prosperity religion: certain rituals and words.
- The mediator of ATR is Sola Pastor contra Solus Christus, the same as the prosperity religion: powerful men who have a special connection with the spirits.
- The power of ATR is contra Sola Gratia, the same as the prosperity religion: good works.
Prosperity preachers shot out Christian words, but they have changed the sum and substance of the religion in order to fit it with the useless way of life they received from their forefathers (1 Pet. 1:18). This is the most common kind of Christianity in southern Africa today, but it is really just ATR with new clothes. The glasses have not been changed. The worldview is largely left untouched. The same fears of witchcraft, voodoo, and evil spirits still dominate daily experience. Now the witchdoctors simply wear suits, carry Bibles, and shout “Hallelujah.”
Syncretism is not Christian. In Bunyan’s Holy War Mr. Loath-to-Stoop comes out to negotiate with Emmanuel offering 8 different compromises, yet the Golden Prince rejects them all. He will have all or none.
“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Luke 14:33
Peter said that Simon was bound in sin, needed forgiveness, and would die because of his syncretism (Acts 8:20-23). Mark Minnick captures the heart of Isaiah’s message with this syncretism-damning summary of the book of Isaiah: “Trust only in the Holy One of Israel, for He alone is salvation.” Syncretism has no more saving faith than fornication has of true love.
Africa’s Christianity is not Christian because it is largely syncretistic.
Other articles in the series on African Traditional Religion:
African Traditional Religion 1: Africa’s God
African Traditional Religion 2: The Gods Never Sleep
African Traditional Religion 3: Similarities with World Religions
African Traditional Religion 4: African Christianity has the Same Theology as ATR.
African Traditional Religion 5: ATR is Uniquely Used by Satan