Abundant Life – on African Soteriology

I met him in Egypt. He surprised me by saying that he always watched the Egyptian soap operas with great interest. I was not prepared for a pentecostal-charismatic leader to say such a thing; where I come from, born-again Christians often shun popular culture, trying to stay away from anything deemed ‘worldly,’ or ‘un-biblical.’ Then he surprised me even more, for the reason he watched them with such interest was that they revealed the emotional and spiritual needs of his culture.  To him, they were a way to get to know the deepest cries of his people and to find ways to respond to them. As I got to know him better, I learned that he was involved in a team that offered medical assistance in remote areas of the country. They travelled to villages with a team of medical staff, and in conjunction to the somatic treatments, they also offered free Bibles, counselling, prayers for deliverance from spiritual bondage, and food items to the poor. During their tours, they invited both Muslims and Christians to seek help, and although they hoped and prayed that the love of God would shine through their deeds, they did not explicitly preach the Gospel or invite people to become born-again. Later, as the Arabic spring broke out, he was one of the key leaders in a newly-launched democratic party, one of very few that organized both Muslim and Christian citizens in his city. All this, with the help of soap operas.

Choir outside of Kiremba Pentecostal church in Burundi. Image: Martina Prosén

African holistic understanding of salvation

What is this story an example of? To me, it is an example of how salvation is understood in a holistic manner in many African contexts. Many times, the essence of Christ’s gift to humanity on the cross is explained by reference to John 10:10, where Jesus says: “I’ve come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (ISV). The life that Jesus gives is abundant, it is life in its fullness. This understanding of salvation comes close to the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ and the Zulu word ‘ubuntu.’

Salvation here and now

For many African Christians, salvation starts here and now, in this world, and it includes physical aspects such as health and material blessing, emotional aspects such as inner healing, relational aspects such as reconciliation or the gift of having children, and sometimes socio-political aspects such as democracy, justice and peace. At the same time, it involves spiritual aspects such as experiencing peace with God, forgiveness from sin and freedom from the power of evil spirits. And, of course, it involves also the eternal hope of life in a different kind of world, once this earthly life has come to an end. Thus, salvation is thought to include both this-worldly and other-worldly aspects and so involve the whole of human life.

However, the point is not to separate these different aspects, but rather to keep them together. By recognizing the needs of humanity on several different levels, Christian soteriology is allowed to speak of life as a whole. Here the Church universal has much to learn from African theology and practice. The church leader watching soap operas, and others like him, can provide us with good examples.

The views presented in this post represent only the author’s and are not Lund University or GCIR seminar official positions

I have written more on this theme in a chapter on Pentecostalism in an upcoming volume on African Christian Theology. The book can be pre-ordered from:

That chapter was previously published in a Swedish version; “Överflödande liv – holistisk soteriologi som motivation för sociopolitiskt engagemang.” You find full-text using this link:  https://www.pingst.se/content/uploads/2018/01/07_Teologi-f%C3%B6r-hela-skapelsen_IPS_forapport.pdf

Both chapters draw on my MA thesis, “Abundant life – Soteriology and Socio-Political Involvement in African Pentecostal Theology,” where I put African Pentecostal theology in dialogue with Liberation theology. Interested readers are referred to my page on Academia.edu.


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