Archive for November, 2015

Is there a new reformation sweeping the Church today, a reformation as radical and important as the Protestant Reformation that rocked the world 500 years ago? According to a growing number of Christian leaders, the answer is emphatically yes.

Pastor Clark Whitten, author of Pure Grace: The Life Changing Power of Uncontaminated Grace, claims that, “Little has changed in the Protestant church in more than 500 years” – until now, that is. He believes that Luther and Calvin “got it right concerning justification, or how one is saved. . . . But they missed it on sanctification, or how one is perfected into the likeness of Christ.”

Whitten states that Luther and Calvin, followed by the Protestant Church ever since, taught a doctrine of “saved by grace but perfected by human effort,” an approach that has produced “a Church that is judgmental, angry, hopeless, helpless, dependent, fearful, uninspired, ineffective, and perpetually spiritually immature.”

Because of this, Whitten claims, we have failed to impact our culture and have become a laughingstock to most “casual observers.” And Pastor Whitten contends that this doctrine has also brought, “personal devastation” to countless believers who have consequently checked out on Church (or on God Himself).

John Crowder, in his book Mystical Union, claims that, “Just as there is a new mysticism on the rise, I believe it is coupled with a new reformation. The good news will be preached with such clarity that, even the days of Luther will seem utterly primitive in its concepts of grace and faith.”

Indeed, Crowder writes that “a clarity is coming to the preaching of the gospel like has not been heard since the days of the Apostle Paul.”

Other modern grace teachers share similar sentiments. In his book GRACE, the Forbidden Gospel, Andre van der Merwe writes, “Once again in the church there is a struggle for a theological reformation that will liberate believers to break free from the yoke of bondage that has been put on the children of God by people who may have had good intentions, but that have only taught the religious doctrines and traditions that they themselves have been taught.”

His prayer is that his book will “destroy the religious arguments and doctrines of demons forever,” referring to whatever teaching contradicts this allegedly new revelation of grace. That’s why the full title of his book is GRACE, the Forbidden Gospel: Jesus Tore the Veil. Religion Sewed it Back Up, and that’s why Pastor Joseph Prince, perhaps the best-known modern grace preacher, calls this a “Gospel Revolution.”

Could it be, then, that there really is a grace reformation sweeping the Body today? Could it be that the Church has been so stuck in legalistic religion for the last 500 years that nothing less than a radical reformation can get us out of the rut?

It seems clear that many believers have been caught up in externally imposed religion (which is the essence of legalism), seeking to please God by following an endless list of “do’s” and “don’t’s,” never being certain of the Father’s love and looking first to their own efforts rather than looking first to the cross. Consequently, they are always falling short and never walking in the abundant life that Jesus has for them.

Within a two-day span, I heard from two women, both friends of our family and former students in our ministry school, both married with children and active in God’s service. One wrote this: “I am one of many who have been changed drastically and fantastically by the ‘grace message.’ Judging by the amazing fruit of it in my life and my family’s life as we have gone through some very hard times, it is the fruit of the true grace message.”

Speaking of one well-known, modern grace teacher, she explained that while she only agreed with about 80 percent of what he taught, she said that “I feel like I have taken a bath and glimpsed the beauty of Jesus and what he did for me almost every time I hear him.” This is wonderful to hear, and I do not want to tamper with something so sacred and liberating.

The other ministry school grad wrote this: “I can say for me, I sure tried, and worked, and failed. Finally, almost three years ago, I finally had a ‘Grace encounter’ that changed my life. Can honestly say I’m freer, more confident, and more ‘sin-LESS’ than I’ve ever been. If that makes sense.”

This is from the Lord!

Sadly, I have met many believers who have struggled with legalism and performance-based religion, and when I hear today that, through a revelation of God’s grace, they are now living in intimacy with the Lord and overflowing with joy at His great love for them, I am thrilled.

That is truly wonderful news, and it indicates that, for many, there is a need for a fresh infusion of anointed teaching on the beauty and glory and wonder of God’s amazing grace.

At the same time, I constantly hear stories from believers and leaders concerned about the modern grace message, like this one: “I have seen the effects of this message on my own loved ones. It has ruined our family and caused many of them who loved the Lord to stray.”

And this, “We have seen this up close and personal with some of our family members. Very destructive things are going on.”

And this, from a pastor, who spoke of “the three close male friends I have had in the past, all three from the grace side; two were unfaithful and then left their wives and the third just left. I have had no one close in the grace group (forgive my terms) displaying good lasting fruit.”

One young man, who had served together with a well-known hyper-grace leader wrote to me at length, wanting me to understand just how bad things were: “I heard more ‘F’ and ‘S’ words in that movement than anywhere else in my entire life. After all, you’re ‘legalistic’ if you EVER tell someone to ‘not’ do something.”

Is this simply a matter of the modern grace message being abused?

Honestly, I wish that was the case, since I love the message of grace and it would be a shame if pastors and leaders drew back from preaching grace because it was abused.

But the truth is that the modern grace message is quite mixed, combining life-changing, Jesus-exalting revelation with serious misinterpretation of Scripture, bad theology, divisive and destructive rhetoric, and even fleshly reaction. And, in all too many cases, it is being embraced by believers who are not just looking for freedom from legalism but also freedom from God’s standards.

There is no doubt in my mind, then, that the notion of a “grace reformation” (or “grace revolution”) is highly exaggerated, that some of this new grace teaching is unbalanced, overstated, at times unbiblical, and sometimes downright dangerous – and I mean dangerous to the well-being of the Body of Christ.

In short, I do not believe that we are witnessing a new grace reformation. I believe we are witnessing the rise of a hyper-grace movement, filled with its own brand of legalistic judgmentalism, mixing some life-giving truth from the Word with some destructive error.

And that’s why I wrote Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message, a book for grace lovers, not grace haters, a book for those who embrace both grace and truth (John 1:14, 17). Does that describe you?

(Excerpted and adapted from Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message.)

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Many wonder why, if Africa is growing, as the “Africa Rising” story claims, large numbers of Africans are still desperate to escape to Europe at great risk to their lives.

The “Africa Rising” story is a tale that is being told virtually everywhere, and which even the Afro-sceptics are gradually coming to terms with.

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However, at the same time, it is a story that has its dark side, such as the growing levels of economic inequality that have accompanied Africa’s “rise”.

Africa is the second-most inequitable region in the world, after Latin America. According to a 2012 publication of the African Development Bank, “inequalities have not diminished over time. In 2010, six out of the 10 most unequal countries worldwide were in sub-Saharan Africa, and more specifically in Southern Africa”.

While the rich are getting richer, the poor are wallowing in need, and the backlash of this trend may threaten not only the little progress our continent has made, but our collective sense of humanity and decency which defines Africa’s ubuntu philosophy – of community solidarity, care and responsibility that seeks expression in the phrase, “I am, because we are; and since we are, therefore I am”.

The benefits of economic growth have been skewed and disproportionately shared. A tiny group of less than 4% captures a large chunk of the income and wealth in Africa’s changing tide of capitalist progress. In this landscape, a nouveau niche has arisen, a transnational capitalist elite class who are the primary beneficiaries of Africa’s economic growth.

Out of Nigeria comes Africa’s richest person, Aliko Dangote; while in South Africa, as Ben Turok rightly noted in his latest book (With My Head Above the Parapet), the number of dollar millionaires grows. From 2007 to 2013, the numbers swelled by 14% from 2007 to 2013 even as the value of the South African rand depreciated markedly.

Addressing inequality can be a win-win situation both for the powerful and powerless in society.

Africa’s bubbling white-collar middle class has not been left out in the growth trajectory. The new consumptionist culture in African cities, with the mushrooming of shopping malls and large supermarkets, suggests that purchasing power is increasing, if only for a small, yet important part of the population.

This is good news because without a national capitalist class, which in the Marxian parlance is referred to as a national bourgeoisie, and without a thriving middle class, neither capitalist transformation nor liberal democracy can be achieved or institutionalised.

But this is where the good story ends. Beyond this, the large majority of Africans are disconnected from whatever we call economic growth in our countries; they do not see it; they do not feel it; and they do not live it.

Many wonder that if Africa is growing, why are some Africans desperate to escape to Europe by sea, at great risk to their lives. To add insult to injury, some see the Western media reports of these desperate migrants as containing an element of sarcasm. If Africa is growing, one would have thought that the incentive would have been for its people to stay at home and contribute to its transformation.

If Africa is growing, why are conflicts escalating on the continent? In classical economic theory, growth is supposed to open up economic opportunities, stimulate economic and social empowerment, and thereby reduce tensions in society.

Conflicts in the Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, Libya, and Nigeria remind us that Africa is not yet out of the woods. Those conflicts, though mostly context- specific, have varied reasons, which include the growing problem of deprivation.

Deprivation and inequality

Spatial, gender and income inequalities all coalesce to deny people their basic socio-economic rights and a stake in the system, which sometimes fuels political conflict.

The warped motive of the Boko Haram insurgency may not relate to inequality, but its combustive elements may be. Ignorance and deprivation are two factors that may have made it possible for the terrorist group to recruit young people to kill and maim their fellow citizens.

With good education and decent jobs available, Boko Haram might have been denied the young foot soldiers that it deploys in its heinous crimes.

In the CAR, Christians and Muslims who have lived together for generations in relative harmony are suddenly at each other’s throats as enemies. Scarcity, deprivation and inequality, the triplet sisters, breed hatred, anger and conflict amongst friends, brothers and communities.

The problem of inequality in Africa is not an unregistered one – many important groups have acknowledged it. The African Progress Panel led by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, in its 2013 report had this to say: “Some resource-rich countries have made impressive strides in improving the lives of their people. But overall progress has been uneven – and in some areas it has fallen short of expectations.

“After a decade of strong growth, several of Africa’s resource-rich countries remain at the bottom of the international league-table for human development. Others register some of the world’s largest inequalities in wealth and in wellbeing, as captured by indicators such as life expectancy and education”.

Africa displays an uneven pattern in terms of the scale, trend, sources and impact of economic inequality by countries and regions on the continent. For some countries that experienced settler colonialism, the problem is more deep-seated, with the legacy of segregation and group denial, lingering on.

For some other countries that made great strides at addressing the problem at independence with huge investments in the public goods of education, health, and other social services, however, the years of structural adjustment in the 1980s and 90s not only rolled back the gains made, but also instituted a new logic that made social policy irrelevant in economic decisions.

Underpinned by a Hobbesian logic of “fend for thyself”, the state sought an exit from the provision of public goods and social safety nets. The consequences were dire; poverty intensified, inequality deepened, and the strong and powerful trampled on the weak in society.

Africa’s growth pattern, driven by a commodity boom, provides only limited opportunities for employment and inclusive economic progress. It enriches the state, but does not transform the lives of the citizens.

Indeed, de-industrialisation is the flip side of Africa’s growth pattern as more cash-fuelled greedy imported appetites, of goods from China, Brazil, Singapore, South Korea and other new emerging economies.

In South Africa, the textile industry is struggling to breathe, let alone survive, as the country is awash with cheap clothes from other parts of the world.

The textile industry had long collapsed in many other parts of the continent in the late 1980s under “structural adjustment programmes”.

Cheap imports dwarf, if not destroy, local industries, export jobs, stunt diversification, and exacerbate poverty and inequality.

The global phenomenon

But let’s concede that inequality is now a global phenomenon, and that it is not only an African challenge. Other parts of the world are equally grappling with it. The Occupy Wall Street campaign is no different from the agitations of young people in Tunisia and Egypt or the service delivery protests in South Africa.

The difference is that given limited resources and opportunities, Africa’s capacity to absorb those shocks and the pain of inequality is limited, hence, it is more visible, with greater impact on the continent.

As global capitalism grows, it breeds its own discontents. Global capitalism, in its unabashed neo-liberal form, continues to appropriate and consolidate wealth for a few, and poverty for the rest.

Capitalism, as Karl Marx once noted, is the most progressive social system ever invented by man, but it lacks a face, a conscience or a heart. It can be daring, ruthless and enslaving.

For it to recreate itself, it has to mitigate its negative consequences by expanding opportunities for the weak and powerless in society, showing care and affection to the vulnerable, and including everybody in its growth process, even while giving more to
some, than others.

This has been the strength of the Scandinavian model of capitalist development.

As Africa seeks to claim the 21st century, it must do more than the present. It should diversify its economies from commodity production to the industrial sector, and to small and medium scale industries that create jobs and add value to the production chain. The focus should be on unleashing creativity.

This should include the agro-allied sector and beneficiation in the natural resources industry. Training and skills development should also be attuned to the modern economy.

The educational system inherited from colonialism cannot keep pace with the drive and technology of the 21st century; it requires a drastic overhaul.

Finally, the state must take its rightful place not only in driving development by creating policies and regulatory regimes, it should be the force to mitigate poverty and inequality in society.

Inequality is not only an economic malaise; it is also a social and political liability to any society. If it is not tamed, it can consume whatever gains that the capitalist system might have accumulated.

Addressing inequality can be a win-win situation both for the powerful and powerless in society. It can create social harmony, mutual trust, and confidence between the haves and have-nots. It is a step towards a collective dream that another world – fairer and just – is possible and desirable for us all!

Prof. Adejumobi lives in Lusaka, Zambia. The views expressed here are personal and in no way represent the views or opinion of any organisation.