«Pastures of Plenty»: Tracing Religio-Scapes of Prosperity Gospel in Africa and Beyond

by Andreas Heuser (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 374 Pages


Prosperity Gospel, a controversial strand in global Christianity, relates material wealth to divine blessing. Originating in American Pentecostal milieus, it is most successful in Africa. Authors from four continents present interdisciplinary, multi-sited and comparative analyses of Prosperity Gospel in Africa and beyond. Prosperity theologies adapt to varied political contexts and travel outside Pentecostalism into the wider religious arena. Its components trigger discourses within ecumenical Christianity and are transformed in transnational Christian networks of migrants; they turn up in African shrine religion and African Islam. Pastures of Plenty maps the evolving religio-scapes of Prosperity Gospel.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Authors
  • Religio-Scapes of Prosperity Gospel: an Introduction
  • Part I: Mapping Prosperity Gospel in Politics and Society
  • Political Architecture of Poverty: On Changing Patterns of ‘African Identity’
  • Pentecostal Improvement Strategies: A Comparative Reading on African and South American Pentecostalism
  • An Activist-Holiness Kenneth Hagin? A Case Study of Prosperity Theology in the Philippines
  • Part II: Embattled Theology of Prosperity
  • The Prosperity Theology of David Oyedepo, Founder of Winners’ Chapel
  • “Jesus became poor so that we might become rich.” A Critical Review of the Use of Biblical Reference Texts among Prosperity Preachers in Ghana
  • “Struggling with Africa”: Theology of Prosperity in and from Brazil
  • To Prosper and to Be Blessed: Prosperity, Wealth and “Life in Abundance” in Ecumenical Debate
  • Part III: Routing Religio-Scapes of Prosperity
  • Battling Spirits of Prosperity: The “Pentecostalized” Interreligious Contest over Money Rituals in Ghana
  • Rhetoric and Praxis of Ghanaian Salafi and Sufi Muslims: Analogies with Prosperity Gospel
  • The Ethics of Wealth and Religious Pluralism in Burkina Faso: How Prosperity Gospel is Influencing the Current Religious Field in Africa
  • Gender Dimensions of Wealth and Health in Ghanaian Indigenous Religious Thinking: Narratives of Female Clients of the Pemsan Shrine
  • Encountering ‘Prosperity’ Gospel in Nineteenth Century Gold Coast: Indigenous Perceptions of Western Missionary Societies
  • Freemasonry, Occult Economies and Prosperity in Tanzanian Pentecostal Discourse
  • Part IV: Enchanted Protestant Ethic
  • “Now I Dress Well. Now I Work Hard” - Pentecostalism, Prosperity, and Economic Development in Cameroon
  • Prosperity Gospel of Entrepreneurship in Africa and Black America: A Pragmatist Christian Innovation
  • Martin Luther, Wealth and Labor: The Market Economy’s Links to Prosperity Gospel
  • Part V: Sacred Economy of Exchange
  • A God Trap: Seed Planting, Gift Logic, and the Prosperity Gospel
  • Are Blessings for Sale? Ritual Exchange, Witchcraft Allegations, and the De-alienation of Money in Tanzanian Prosperity Ministries
  • Part VI: Diasporic (Dis)Illusions
  • Between Gutter and Gucci, Boss and Botho: A Relocation of ‘Prosperity Gospel’ by Nigerian Pentecostal Christians in Soweto, South Africa
  • Missing Prosperity: Economies of Blessings in Ghana and the Diaspora
  • “With Both Feet in the Air”: Prosperity Gospel in African Migrant Churches in Switzerland
  • Index

← 10 | 11 → Authors

David D. Daniels III, Henry Winters Luce Professor of World Christianity, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago. Research foci on African American Christianity, Pentecostalism, and World Christianity. He has lectured in universities and seminaries in over twelve countries across various continents.

Tomas Sundnes Drønen, Professor in Global Studies and Religion, School of Mission and Theology, Stavanger, Norway. He has authored publications on globalization, intercultural communication, and religious change in Africa including Pentecostalism, Globalisation and Islam in Northern Cameroon (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

Yvan Droz, Senior Lecturer, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva. Research foci on political and religious anthropology, migration and development, and the Pentecostal movement in Kenya. A recent co-edited volume is Retours croisés des Afriques aux Amériques: de la mobilité religieuse (Paris: Karthala, 2014).

Daniel Frei, a minister of the Reformed Church of Basel with a special ministry on migrant churches. Formerly a lecturer in theology in Chile, his academic work covers migrant Christianity in Switzerland and the history of Pentecostalism in Chile, see his Die Pädagogik der Bekehrung (Münster: LIT, 2011).

Drea Fröchtling, Professor for Practical Theology and International Diaconia, University of Applied Sciences for Intercultural Theology Hermannsburg, Germany. Research foci on intercultural diaconia, migration and gender in South Africa, see her co-edited volume Babel is everywhere: Migrant readings from Africa, Europe and Asia (Frankfurt: Peter Lang 2013).

Yonatan Gez, post-doctoral fellow, Glocal Community Development Program, Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Research foci on the sociology and anthropology of development, and the Pentecostal movement in Kenya, see his co-edited volume on Mobilité religieuse: Retours croisés des Afriques aux Amériques (Paris: Karthala, 2014).

Paul Gifford, Professor Emeritus of the Department for the Study of Religions in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London. He has written extensively on African religion, most recently Christianity, Development and Modernity in Africa (London: Hurst, 2015).

Päivi Hasu, Research Fellow on “Religion and Globalization: Evangelical Christianity and Development in Africa”, Helsinki University. Research foci on the anthropology ← 11 | 12 → of Christianity and African religions in Tanzania (see her classic Desire and Death: History through Ritual Practice in Kilimanjaro, Helsinki: Finnish Anthropological Society, 1999).

Andreas Heuser, Professor for Extra-European Christianity, Basel University. theologian and political scientist. Research foci on African Independent Churches in Southern Africa, Ghanaian Pentecostalism, and migrant Christianity in Switzerland. A recent publication is his guest-edited special issue of Nova Religio 18, 3 (2015) on African Pentecostalism and Politics.

Werner Kahl, Head of Studies at the Academy of Mission at the University of Hamburg; with research areas in synoptic Gospels, New Testament miracle stories, intercultural biblical hermeneutics, see his Jesus als Lebensretter. Afrikanische Bibelinterpretationen und ihre Relevanz für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2007).

Jens Köhrsen, Assistant Professor in religion and economics at the Centre for Religion, Economy and Politics, Basel University. His research focus is on local energy transition processes in Germany, religion in the public sphere, and the Pentecostal movement in Argentina, see his Inappropriate Spirits: Middle Class Pentecostalism in Argentina (Leiden: Brill, 2015).

Abraham Nana Opare Kwakye, lecturer of Missions and Church History, University of Ghana, Legon. His research interest covers mission history in Ghana, see his co-authored chapter on “Authentically African, Authentically Anglican”, in Trajectories of Religion in Africa (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014).

Katrin Langewiesche, Research Associate, Department of Anthropology and African Studies, Mainz University. With fieldwork in France and Francophone West Africa, her research includes theories of conversion and religious pluralism in modern Africa; see her recent “Missionnaires et religieuses dans un monde globalisé”, Special Issue of Histoire, Monde & Cultures religieuses. N° 30, 2014.

Martin Lindhardt, Associate Professor of cultural sociology at the University of Southern Denmark. His research focuses on Pentecostalism in Chile and on Pentecostal Christianity and witchcraft in Tanzania. His latest edited volume is on Pentecostalism in Africa: Presence and Impact of Pneumatic Christianity in Post-colonial Societies (Leiden: Brill, 2015).

Giovanni Maltese, Department of Religious Studies and Intercultural Theology, Heidelberg University. His publications include the following research areas: Pentecostal Studies, Christianity in the Philippines and Political Theology. He is co-editor of Handbuch pfingstliche und charismatische Theologie (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014).

← 12 | 13 → Genevieve Nrenzah, PhD candidate, Department of Religious Studies at Bayreuth University, Germany. Her research area is on neo-Indigenous African religious movements and gender in Ghana, see her Indigenous Religious Traditions in Ghanaian Pentecostalism: The Mame Wata Healing Churches of Half Assini (Saarbrücken: Lap Lambert, 2012).

Jeanne Rey, Anthropologist, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva. She conducted multi-sited fieldwork in Switzerland, Ghana and Canada, with research interests including religion, education, mobility and transnationalism; see her“Migration africaine et pentecôtisme en Suisse” (Paris: Karthala, 2015).

Rudolf von Sinner, Professor of Systematic Theology, Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue at the Escola Superior de Teologia, São Leopoldo, Brazil. His research covers public theology, religious pluralism and the secular state, see his The Churches and Democracy in Brazil: Towards a Public Theology Focused on Citizenship (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2012).

Rainer Tetzlaff, Wisdom Professor of African and Development Studies, Jacobs University Bremen. Research foci on theories of democracy and human rights; development policies of Word Bank, IMF and European Union; among his recent publications is Afrika in der Globalisierungsfalle (Wiesbaden: VS, 2008).

Sheik Seebaway Zakaria, Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. Research foci on Muslim healing and proverbs in Ghana, Islamic ethics and African philosophy, see his Muslim Healing Theory and Practice (Saarbrücken: Lap Lambert 2011).

Chr. Lucas Zapf, postdoc researcher at the Institute for Marketing and Communication Sciences, Università della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano. His research focus is on the economics of religion; see his recent book on Die religiöse Arbeit der Marktwirtschaft. Ein religionsökonomischer Vergleich (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2014).← 13 | 14 →

← 14 | 15 → Andreas Heuser

Religio-Scapes of Prosperity Gospel: an Introduction

Green pastures of plenty from dry desert ground

From the Grand Coulee Dam where the waters run down

Every state in the Union us migrants have been

We’ll work in this fight and we’ll fight till we win.

(Woody Guthrie, Pastures of Plenty)1

I. Pastures of Plenty from Dry Desert Ground

Religious language, ideas and imagery unveil a kaleidoscope of hope. Prospects of well-being are – though not exclusively – well stored in the deposits of diverse religions, often combined with appeals to renew individual and social life. In Judeo-Christian “theology of hope” (Jürgen Moltmann) such signals to transform the complexities of existence embrace diverse layers of meaning. Some strong threads interweave spiritual and material aspects of well-being and spin around themes of scarcity and fullness of life, of poverty and wealth in the eyes of God, of righteous living and grace. The Judeo-Christian choreography of salvation designs utopian horizons of change and sends messianic calls of intervention into daily routine. Such expressions of well-being and messianic concepts of life-changes triggered into occidental cultural memory and have been advocated by social movements of different kind.

In 1941, American folk music hero Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) composed a song that immediately grew into a hymn of the many destitute uprooted by the long shadows of the global economic crisis in the 1930s. “Pastures of Plenty” catapulted Guthrie’s fame as the “troubadour of the dispossessed”2 into the wartime struggles of workers to survive. The lyrics express the basic needs of deprived migrant workers, the visions of immigrants for a better future and the yearning of people for self-respect. The main line “Green pastures of plenty from dry desert ground” gives way to heterotopian dreams; it carries the emotive language of desire and draws a horizon of change characteristic for the song. The song’s dense texture resonates the motivational call for individual dignity and the tragedy of people in precarious walks of life; it senses the unsafe balance of enthusiastic hope for betterment and vulnerable identity amidst prevailing social, political and economic disasters; and it ← 15 | 16 → states such transformation in one’s life-time. Guthrie may not allude to paradisiac perceptions or even to biblical promises directly. Yet, the song, I argue, expresses the spirit of a theological construct that dawned in that very historical slot of time – a faith commonly indexed as “Prosperity Gospel”.

Although Prosperity Gospel cannot be reduced to a monolithic canon of ideas, ethics, or practises, it evolved as a cipher for one of the most talked about and most controversial strands in contemporary global Christianity. Prosperity Gospel has neither developed into a consistent theology nor can it be used to label a distinctive single movement within global Christianity. Rather, it is transformative in nature, adapting to contexts and traveling through history; its pathways are winding through local and transnational networks of churches and individuals; its messages are circulating in modern mass media and are meandering through disparate political spheres and cultural spaces.3 And, as I suggest here, Prosperity Gospel builds up theological sediments and ritual fragments in non-Christian milieus as well.

Yet, the Pentecostal origin of Prosperity Gospel generated meaning around compound terms that encircle specific fields of gravity. This cluster of terms is referring to “increase, enlargement, improvement, enhancement, multiplication, and success”4, its texture covers a sense of spiritual advancement but in most cases a material sense of prosperity too. In a political reading the Prosperity Gospel motives carry a subtext of counter-evidence against desperate visions of the world. Emerging in the American healing revival of the 1940s, Prosperity Gospel took its first breaths in the same historical setting that underlay Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty”. The breakthrough of Prosperity Gospel came in the post-war climate of the 1950s; it was theologically designed and popularized in looming cold war scenarios. The so-called Faith Gospel movement fused messages of divine healing, purity and protection with messages of prosperity for born-again believers. Still disparate and fluid, the theological complex of “health-and-wealth” contrasted with such highly politicized background. Innovative language of “positive confession” and “seed-faith” appeared and spread in radio programs and TV broadcasts, the new media of communication discovered by Pentecostals. “Positive confession”, the idea of a religious speech act that creates reality (Genesis 1; John 1), empowered a born-again to take directions in life. Its erratic codes of “naming and claiming” divine blessings merged with the idea of “seed-faith”. The imperative of “sowing and reaping” expected divine blessing in connection with giving financial means to God and the church; the more you sow the more you will reap. Those were the attributes characteristic of what became to be known as Prosperity Gospel. The ← 16 | 17 → gospel message cultivated prospects of faith-healing and well-being and counted on the self-motivation of a believer to act against all desperate reality.5 Just as “Pastures of Plenty” stored up American cultural memory and was performed over decades by numerous artists and recorded in multiple versions, the Prosperity Gospel messages were transported and altered over time and space.

The American genealogy of Prosperity Gospel in the post-war/cold war climate is part of the era in which “the Pentecostal movement (…) was invented for the second time.”6 This influential period of Pentecostal history has gained comparatively little academic attention so far. The Pentecostal reinvention went along with the establishment of independent ministries that helped to delocalise the movement by setting up global network structures. These networks facilitated the exchange of persons and the flow of concepts. New theological features of the North American Pentecostal movement around prosperity preaching exerted an enormous impact on international scale. In this eminent historical passage the Pentecostal movement de-localised from the North and re-localised in the Global South.7

By way of rough periodization, in Africa prosperity preaching was received in a post-colonial signature of time. The euphoria over independence from colonial rule was characterized by a strong emphasis on self-determination, self-rule and autonomous development to build up a nation. In this climate of optimistic activism and positive thinking the Pentecostal messages of prosperity took a “glocalized” African shape. The representative speakers of this new kind of Christian theology, such as Nigerian late Archbishop Benson Idahosa (1938-1998), or Ray McCauly (b. 1949) in South Africa, received their theological branding still in North American Faith Gospel milieus, all in about the same period of time (mainly in the 1970s). Over the years the African adepts of American prosperity teachers grew into Pentecostal megastars that reputedly inspired and mentored a variety of African prosperity theologians themselves.

Pentecostal Political Theology of Prosperity

The staging of prosperity teachings in Africa happened in the harsh environment of African political economy in the 1980s when, in Ogbu Kalu’s imaginative semantics, “the earth groaned”8. It is, in short, the era of fragile political systems that saw imploding state resources, the implementation of structural adjustment programs, ← 17 | 18 → and massive migration movements. In such precarious contexts of deprivation and growing poverty rates Prosperity Gospel emerged as an immediate message to fill the “bowls of the poor”9. The carriers of the message belonged to the Pentecostal movement that had been located at the margins of African Christianity before but started to unfold an enormous dynamic in the reshaping of African religious landscapes. “The competition for scarce resources intensified”, asserts Kalu, also “religious competition.”10 The religious competition forged a Pentecostal political theology of prosperity, as it were; a prosperity formula with political dispositions and hegemonial power in public sphere.11

Two examples from Nigeria and from South Africa suffice to introduce this specific theological concept that interweaves material salvation with political aspirations. On 29 May 2015, Oluyemi Oluleke Osinbajo assumed office as Vice President of Nigeria on the side of President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired General. Osinbajo, a former Professor of Law at the University of Lagos and Senior Advocate, belongs to the political elite that founded the oppositional “All Progressives Congress” (APC) in 2013. The APC manifesto designed a “Roadmap to a New Nigeria” that culminated in strong declarations on social justice and economic transformation to the benefit of disadvantaged poor. The manifesto entails statements recently generated by Nigeria’s largest and wealthiest Pentecostal church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG)12. For years, Osinbajo has supervised the social outreach projects of the church; he has commented on RCCG’s commitment to social responsibility in conventional terms of evangelism. Yet, he reformulated the evangelizing project of “winning the lost” from a perspective of poverty: “This means reaching out to the poorest members of our communities”, he stated, “even if they are not Christians. The point is trying to touch those in need in real and positive ways.”13 The wording ← 18 | 19 → is remarkable, as Osinbajo considers the General Overseer of RCCG, Enoch Adeboye, his spiritual father. The Nigerian church leader exhibits his gigantic financial resources in an extravagant, luxurious lifestyle. His habitus embodies a spectacular message in a country characterized by drastic dysfunctions of the political system and where the median income is about 500 € a year. More than that: Adeboye’s public fame catapulted him into a global elite of most influential persons.14 His status as a celebrity relies on his biblical hermeneutics that make him a prototype representative of an African Pentecostal Prosperity Gospel. His trademark is a characteristic linkage of faith and material prosperity, in which tangible physical, pecuniary and commercial well-being is reflected as an outward sign of inward grace.

The correlation between success in life, measured by conspicuous consumption and materialist worldviews, and divine grace translates into similar confessions of faith. A young preacher of the South African Rhema Bible Church, led by Ray McCauley, defies the misconception that a rich man cannot enter heaven (see for instance Lk 18,25). “Listen,” Pastor Sifiso teaches his audience in a Johannesburg suburb, “the Bible tells us that the streets of heaven are paved with gold. Where there is Jesus, there is gold everywhere.“15 Rhema Bible Church has expanded its influence into political domains since President Jacob Zuma of the African National Congress (ANC) came to power in 2009. Since then, Rhema has claimed membership of the President, who attended several church meetings, and a group of most senior ANC politicians. McCauley’s rising influence in South African society is indicated by his appointment in 2009 to preside the newly created National Interfaith Leaders Council (NILC), a national alliance of religious leaders meant to advise the government on its social policies. This body consisting mainly of churches in the wide spectrum of Pentecostal Christianity diminished the impact of the ecumenical South Africa’s Council of Churches, which played an instrumental role in ending Apartheid rule in the 1990s. In 2011 NILC developed into the National Interfaith Council of South Africa (NICSA). Again, NICSA was strongly supported by ANC leaders. In the “Minutes of Proceedings of the National Assembly” the foundation of NICSA is documented as “direct response to President Zuma’s call for the religious community to partner with Government to establish a cohesive and caring society, including establishing an enabling environment for sustainable development.”16

Obviously, Prosperity Gospel condensed into a confusing mixture of intense personal expectations of believers and ascribed effects on policy levels. Even though the corpus of Prosperity Gospel is nowhere designed in systematic-theological style, ← 19 | 20 → it has a common script: Prosperity Gospel goes along with a dramatic change in Pentecostal social analysis.

Paradigmatic Resignifications of Being in the World

The gospel of prosperity and well-being envisions the internal revision of Pentecostal ethics and born-again self-understanding of being in this world. For decades Pentecostal theology in Africa had promoted the retreat from worldliness, encapsulating an escapist motive to build up counter-societies of the selected few; Pentecostal identity advocated a strong internal cohesion hold together by rigid moral regulations to immunize believers against the vicious operations of the devil in society. The Pentecostal take-off in the 1980s redirected Pentecostal moral economy on the inner purity of a believer, who needs to be protected and saved from external temptations. As mentioned earlier, the African vanguard of this new script of Pentecostal readings of the world was inspired by American Word-of-Faith circles. This theological strand implied active notions of blessing and grace. The blend of central ideas of “positive confession” and “seed-faith” sought to transform a believer’s life in the here and now. The novel Pentecostal spirit redefined the former inward-looking and after-life perspectives by postulating the practical relevance of born-again belief.

The new pneumatic experience abandoned classic formulations of “sin” closely attached to materialism, infested by satanic power, and it considered inner worldly success as a legitimate desire and material blessing. Spiritual authority was no more interwoven with heroic aspirations of world-denial; divine “grace” was visible in material wealth as new secondary evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit. In a nutshell, the re-discovery of the world at large initiated a new Pentecostal culture based on the prosperity promises of the Gospel. It supported spiritual authorship to take possession of divine promises and claim material blessings.

Claiming domains of prosperity has since become a generic theme in African Pentecostalism. Inherently, as mentioned before, Prosperity Gospel does not delineate one single theological concept but relates to a variety of theologies.17 Besides, the diverse profiles of Prosperity Gospel change over time and historical contexts; and theological frames find different expression in changing Prosperity Gospel networks. Nonetheless, there have been attempts to reduce the complexity of current Prosperity Gospel in Africa to certain theological typologies. These taxonomies of Prosperity Theologies are not congruent as they imply differing parameters and indicators.18 Furthermore, any attempt to localize Prosperity Gospel ← 20 | 21 → within a certain segment of the Pentecostal movement faces the terminological uncertainty in categorizing Pentecostalism as such. The African milieus of origin are Pentecostal, and the initiating impulse to set free a Prosperity Gospel is anchored in the strong Pentecostal wave from the 1980s onward. Such milieus comprise a spectrum of “pneumatic” churches and single ministries termed “third wavers” by some, “neo-Pentecostal” and “Charismatics”, “Pentecostalite” or “Pentecostal-type” by others; yet, expressions of Prosperity Gospel are not restricted to so called neo-Pentecostalism and can be found in classic Pentecostal traditions as well.19 Given such theological, sociological and historical diversity this volume applies the general referent “Pentecostal” and classifies, for the time being, Prosperity Gospel within the broad movement of Pentecostal Christianity.20

However, given the fact that Prosperity Gospel is mediated in public sphere, its concepts influence the wider religious arena. Travelling outside Pentecostalism and transcending Christian discourses, meanwhile Prosperity Gospel constitutes a vibrant component in pluralistic religio-scapes.

Religio-Scapes of Prosperity

So far, the mapping of Prosperity Gospel in academic scholarship is restricted by and large to Pentecostal case studies; sometimes the scope of research is expanded to inner-Christian dynamics. This spill over is supported by some empirical findings on the role of religion in African life. Especially in certain African contexts statistics are volatile and cause challenges in methodological terms. The Washington based PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life offers more concise statistics highlighting several empirical trends in African religious landscapes. They evidence religion as a main source of hope for individual progress and societal life across Africa. In comparative terms, these data tend to be more optimistic within the Pentecostal movement which seems to be related to Prosperity Gospel. The PEW survey on “Islam and Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa” (2010) states that “in most countries, more than half of Christians believe in the Prosperity Gospel – that God will grant ← 21 | 22 → wealth and good health to people who have enough faith.”21 This main finding is remarkable in two directions: first, it acknowledges a core canon of Prosperity Gospel and belief, recognizable by African Christians; second, it reckons with a transmission of Pentecostal concepts into the wider relief of African Christianity.22

Therefore the following chapters trace the success narrative of Pentecostal ideas of material prosperity and spiritual well-being outside Pentecostalism. Prosperity Gospel connects with the long history of Christian mission and its concepts of social change. Aspects of material well-being form part of historic church traditions with no pneumatic affinity to outer signs of salvation; Prosperity Gospel incentives filter into theological terrains of ecumenical, i.e. non-Pentecostal Christianity.

This volume goes one decisive step further: Prosperity Gospel is a theological locus with porous boundaries to non-Christian beliefs and practices. The cartography of “Pastures of Plenty” and the “pursuit of happiness” and well-being belong to the heterotopian impulse of other religions too. Yet, inventive non-Christian agents activate such impulse by counting on Pentecostal rhetoric and metaphors, Prosperity Gospel formula and ways of ritual action. The Pentecostalization of non-Christian discourses on well-being and prosperity may be the most surprising insight into Prosperity Gospel “pastures of plenty”.

An indication of the trans-religious osmosis of Prosperity Gospel is the 2015 Easter message by Ghanaian Bishop Dag Heward-Mills of Lighthouse Chapel International. Heward-Mills accused prosperity preaching as “false religion and nonsense”. His critique was directed primarily against the economization of Christian faith but stretched out to other religions. Through an extreme emphasis on prosperity preaching, he contended, “most Christians have placed their businesses and politics above God. (…) Today when a Christian says ‚I am blessed‘ it means business is working – today a lot of Christians will sacrifice anything for business to work – you put aside Christ, (…) you cannot see the difference between Christians and non-Christians because of business.”23

The categorization of Prosperity Gospel as unchristian by one of the Ghanaian Pentecostal vanguard aroused a public debate in Ghanaian news and in international circles. Heward-Mills’ criticism engaged with the usage of biblical phrase and images in Prosperity Gospel. The heavy weight of Prosperity Gospel imagery is sometimes referred to in Ghanaian theological debate as “marketing a new African ← 22 | 23 → God”24, held together by concepts of material salvation. In reaction to this tendency, Heward-Mills’ Easter sermon highlighted internal Pentecostal debate about the loss of Christian identity. In his reading the success narrative of Prosperity Gospel is connected with a doubtful profile that levels Christian belief with other religions. This hints at the translations of Prosperity Gospel messages within a wider religious landscape, or religio-scapes of prosperity.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (August)
Pentecostal movement in Africa global Christianity African Religion African Islam Migrant Christianity
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 374 pp., 2 fig.

Biographical notes

Andreas Heuser (Volume editor)

Andreas Heuser is Professor for Extra-European Christianity with a focus on Africa at Basel University, Switzerland. He has done multi-sited fieldwork on African Instituted Churches in Southern Africa, the Pentecostal movement and mission history in Ghana and Tanzania, and migrant Christianity in Germany and Switzerland.


Title: «Pastures of Plenty»: Tracing Religio-Scapes of Prosperity Gospel in Africa and Beyond
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