4 April 2017
As I will do a fair amount of international travel this year, I decided to write a blog on each trip, and this is the first. In 2002 Dr Opoku Onyinah graduated with his PhD from the University of Birmingham, one of my earliest PhD graduates and the first African one. At the time he was International Missions Director for the Church of Pentecost, the largest Protestant denomination in Ghana with well over two million members today. He went on to be the Rector of Pentecost University College and then in 2008 was elected Chairman of the church, the highest office in the church. He has led the church with distinction and has become a nationally well-known figure. The story of the Church of Pentecost can be found in the second edition of my Introduction to Pentecostalism, pp.128-9.
I visited Ghana for the third time for a week and am writing this on my last night here in Accra. Dr and Mrs Onyinah have been my hosts. Today I gave a lecture on methodological challenges and the dis/continuity debate at a seminar at the new facility of Pentecost Theological Seminary, on the massive new campus (opened in 2013) called the Pentecost Convention Centre. This was to around 40 postgraduates and academic staff. On Thursday, the day after I arrived, I gave another lecture on Global Pentecostalism, mainly to around 200 undergraduates and pastors gathered for an extension programme. Apart from this, I visited two churches with hundreds in attendance on Friday night and Sunday morning and experienced the vibrant (and loud!) African worship that I have been so used to and missed. I visited Trinity Theological Seminary and my old friend Dr Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, another Birmingham graduate, Regent University College and its Chancellor, Dr Kingsley Larbi, an Edinburgh graduate, and Pentecost University College and its Rector, Dr Dan Walker, another of my Birmingham PhD graduates. Great people and great reunions.
I have spent several hours travelling around the urban metropolis that is Accra. There does not appear to be any shortage of cars, universities, churches of all descriptions, and the ubiquitous street stalls and street vendors. People everywhere busy doing something. Temperatures go up to 34 deg C in the day and around 25 at night, so I am thankful for an air-conditioned bedroom for this week. I have also visited the Kwame Nkrumah Museum in the city centre, and have been treated to lunch at two different hotels, one on the beachfront. When I arrived at Accra airport last Wednesday, after most of the passengers had got onto a bus, there was a Mercedes-Benz waiting for me on the tarmac and I was whisked away to wait in the VIP lounge without having to personally queue for immigration formalities.
What has impressed me most has been the enthusiasm and hospitality that I have met everywhere. The Church of Pentecost is a highly structured and well-governed organisation. The many impressive buildings it owns have been built with Ghanaian money and Ghanaian enterprise. It plants new churches every week. I was told in 2017 they will provide finances for building 1,600 new church buildings each seating 200 people all over Ghana. Those will seat 320,000 people in churches in one year! There are now several of its leaders with PhDs from western universities, with others doing doctoral research now. The future is bright for the Church of Pentecost and Christianity in Ghana is in good health.
Friday, 16 December 2016
66 St Denis Road, Birmingham B29 4LR, UK Tel:+44 (0)7979 811 809
Dear family and friends
This year has flown and it is time to bring you my annual news, a tradition of over twenty years! After a tough 2015 with prostate cancer treatment, my health has returned to ‘normal’ and my blood PSA is still low, PTL. But now my attention has moved to increasing pain through osteoarthritis in my left ankle, the one that was not operated on in 2014! The orthopaedic surgeon will try me on an injection first in the hope of avoiding surgery again.
I was on study leave this year, first spending almost five months at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, where I shared a weekly graduate teaching seminar on World Christianity with the renowned Professor Lamin Sanneh. I was Senior Mission Scholar in Residence at the Overseas Ministries Study Center, a short walking distance from the Yale Divinity School, where I led a three day seminar for the scholars there (mostly Presbyterian Korean missionaries) and gave two public lectures. Because of misinformation provided on my need for a work visa, I had to leave the US after three months for a week in April when my friend Michael Wilkinson arranged for me to take a graduate seminar. I stayed with Michael and his family in Langley, BC and I also had opportunity to visit with Cam and Marg Connor, my aunt and uncle. Tragically, on the morning I left BC Michael and Val’s 19-year-old son Alex, died of an accidental drug overdose. Michael took me to Vancouver Airport early on 13 April and he discovered Alex on his return home. I learned the devastating news in a short note from Michael when I reached Boston that afternoon.
My trip to Boston was twofold: to visit with my former doctoral promoter Inus Daneel, now 80, and his wife Dana Robert. Inus had suffered a brain aneurism recently, but we had wonderful times together and it was very special to talk with him again after a very long time. Dana had also invited me to give a lecture at Boston University, which I did on the 100th anniversary of my mother’s birth, 14 April 1916. Then I returned to by train to New Haven for the last few weeks that included the annual workshop of the Oxford Studies in World Christianity (where my 2013 To the Ends of the Earth is published). This was followed by a happy few days’ visit to my sister Carol on Pine Island, SW Florida, with her husband Randy, my niece Janine and great-nieces Samantha and Sarah. Carol had just taken retirement the day I arrived. Then back to Birmingham for a few weeks in May and June, interrupted by a conference in Uppsala, Sweden.
The next event in July and August was a research trip to Soshanguve near Pretoria, where I followed up on my research of twenty years ago, in preparation for my new book The Spirit in a Spirit-filled World, contracted for publication by Palgrave-Macmillan. My study leave was supposed to get this finished but with all the other things I had to do, I now hope to complete the book by April 2017. It was also great to catch up with family and friends. Matt was with me for the first two of three weeks, and among other things we made a three day visit to Pilanesberg National Park. One of the highlights was a reunion with around twenty of the graduates of Tshwane Theological College on my final Saturday, where I was principal 1988-95. I had not seen most of them for over twenty years, and we had all changed slightly!
I was back in the office in September in preparation for a busy semester teaching. Nine of my PhD researchers are in the final stages of their thesis writing. Three of them have now submitted and passed their examinations in the past three months pending corrections, and others will submit in the next few months. My total PhD researchers will drop from seventeen to eight when they have all got through and I will have 44 PhD graduates by then. I have three new supervisees this year from Ghana, Kosova/US, and China. I now have to think and plan towards retirement in the next few years, probably in 2019 or 2020 when my financial commitments will have eased.
Matt hopes to complete his PhD in biochemistry (cancer research) at the University of Bristol by March, and has been busy sequestered in his room writing for the past three months since he returned home to save money! He wants to find a postdoctoral research post in Bristol, where his Spanish girlfriend will be working from February. Tami still works at the Hilton Hotel and has just moved into her own comfortable one bedroom flat, which she has been busy furnishing. We will again have Christmas Eve together, as Tami has to work on Christmas Day this year.
We wish you a blessed, peaceful Christmas and a happy new year.
With love from us all,
Allan, Matt & Tami
Wednesday, 26 February 2014
On Wednesday 26 February 2014 I was asked to participate in one of the Westminster Faith Debate in Whitehall on the subject above. Presiding were Charles Clarke, Home Secretary in Tony Blair's government, and Linda Woodhead, Professor in Religious Studies at Lancaster University. I sat next to Charles Clarke on the stage and next to him was a large bust of Winston Churchill. One wonders if he would have approved. An edited version of the debate will be podcast next week, but this was my introductory talk:
2. The Changing Character of Christianity
1. The Changing Demography of Christianity
Despite the secularisation of the western world during the last century and its effects, there has been a worldwide Christian resurgence, especially in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Since World War II, Christianity has become one of the principle religions of the global South. Regions that were once outside the main orbit of Christianity have become major centres of Christian impact, while Europe, once the religion’s heartland, is in noticeable recession. The strongholds of Christianity are no longer Rome and Canterbury, but Lagos, Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Manila and Seoul. In 1900 some 90% of Christians lived in Europe and North America, by 1970 this had dropped to 57%. Today only 35% of Christians live in Europe and North America, and two thirds of all Christians live in the global South. Soon, more than half of the Christians in the world will be Africans and Latin Americans, and Christianity is still expanding rapidly in Asian countries, especially China. These massive cultural and geographical shifts and realignments have enormous implications.
2. The Changing Character of Christianity
But it is not only the numbers that have shifted; it is also the character of Christianity that has changed. With these shifts have come massive cross-cultural patterns of religious encounter, affecting a great variety and diversity of Christianities, bringing about structural changes, variations of liturgies, theological views and ecclesiastical traditions, ideas of authority and leadership patterns, processes of indigenization producing new religious art, music, hymns, songs, and prayers—all these have fundamentally altered the face of Christianity today. In addition, at least a quarter of the world’s Christians are thought to belong to some version of Pentecostalism, including Charismatic renewals in Catholic, Anglican and Protestant churches, and this proportion is much higher outside the western world. This is because Christians in the South live in a spiritual universe that is not dichotomised; and they can with one breath speak about political, social or economic liberation, and liberation from supernatural evil forces. Some of this language sounds strange and sometimes offensive to western ears. The majority of Christians are also conservative in doctrine and behaviour, allowing the anti-gay laws in Uganda, Nigeria and Zimbabwe to receive widespread approval by a range of churches. We have witnessed the tensions in the worldwide Anglican Communion over similar issues, with these conservative forces led by the primate of the world’s largest Anglican church in Nigeria.
3. Networks of Churches and World Communions
Protestantism has a history of schisms, and these have continued into the twenty-first century. There are thousands of Christian denominations worldwide today. It is in the nature of Protestantism to schism because of the focus on the authority of the local church. But there are also ‘world communions’ of major Protestant denominations including Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists and Reformed. These communions are usually networks of independent churches that are predominated by churches from the South. Many of the new megachurches in the world are Charismatic, and are run by particularly gifted individuals. Notwithstanding the real dangers that their individualism and fierce independence brings, these churches often network together in ways that are non-hierarchical and decentralised. Just as the world has recoiled from colonialism, there is increasing opposition and resentment against any sort of ecclesiastical control from the North. The Anglican Communion is holding itself together precariously. The new Pope Francis, the first ever pope from outside Europe although with the familiar Italian ancestry, has breathed new life into the Catholic Church. But if Catholicism is to avoid increasing decline the Curia will need to decentralise further and give more independence to the various cardinals and archbishops in the global South. The latest appointment of cardinals has signalled Francis’ willingness to do this, with nine of the sixteen new voting cardinals from Latin America (5), Asia (2) and Africa (2). This bodes well for the future and one wonders whether there will ever be a European pope again.
So, my answer to the debate question is therefore for me a no-brainer. Whether we like it or not, the historic churches will be forced to devolve or they will continue to decline.
Friday, 20 December 2013
Greenfield Road, Birmingham B17 0EG, UK Tel:+44
(0)7979 811 809
Dear family and friends
It is time to make my annual contact again. Matt, Tami and I went away to Portsmouth for a weekend and visited the Mary Rose museum recently opened, the oldest restored ship in Britain and Henry VIII’s flagship. We also visited my mom’s cousin Joan and her husband Patrick Pearson in Milford on Sea, both well into their 90s and still relatively well. The picture above was taken in Portsmouth in front of Lord Nelson’s ship Victory.
I am still living in a flat in Harborne where I have now been for three and a half years. Matt makes his home here during his breaks. He is now at the University of Bristol doing his second year of PhD studies on a fully-funded scholarship. His research is on cancer, so he has gone into the biomedical field. He got distinctions for both his mini research projects that he had to do in his first year, and among other things, he now has a green belt in jujitsu and is treasurer of his club. Tami lives in Solihull and completed her training as a domestic in Birmingham with the charity Jericho, and has passed her maths and English exams. I see her just about every week. She is currently looking for a job, and also hopes to start college next September. We will once again spend Christmas together this year, Matt arriving back from Bristol tomorrow. Olwen is likely to return to South Africa during the next year once the financial settlement is confirmed.
I have had a busy year, especially as I had to take over the administration of our MA in Evangelical and Charismatic Studies programme, and this included the introduction of a Distance Learning version, which began at the end of September with five students: two in Canada, one in the USA, one in Kuwait, and one in Namibia. A lot of work went into getting this ready over the summer.
But it was also a time for book publications, as my new book To the Ends of the Earth: Pentecostalism and the Transformation of World Christianity (Oxford, 2013) came out in January (you can google it) and the second edition of Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge, 2014) came out in November, my best-known book and ten years after the first edition. I am still editor of the interdisciplinary journal PentecoStudies. No new book on the horizon yet as I have been too busy with other things. It is likely that I will not be able to retire at 65 and don’t have to either. I have taken on new PhD students this year, and have 14 altogether at the moment. If they all finish before I retire there will be over 40 PhD graduates under my supervision from all over the world, one of the achievements I am most pleased about. I have had two trips to the USA this year, in May at Yale and afterwards had another few lovely sun-filled days with my sister Carol and her husband Randy in their idyllic seaside house in St James, Pine Island, Florida. In October I had a conference on Chinese Pentecostalism at Purdue University, West Lafayetteville, Indiana. A lecture trip to Heidelberg, Germany in July and to Geneva, Switzerland a month ago.
The big event was the surgery on my ankle at the beginning of September. I had an ankle fusion done arthroscopically, with two titanium screws holding the ankle together. I have just been to see the orthopaedic consultant (specialist surgeon) today, and he is pleased with the mending process but wants me to have a CT scan to see what is causing pain at the back of the ankle (and possibly further surgery). But I am now allowed to walk without the air boot I have worn for almost two months (plaster cast before that). I am not walking without pain, but it seems to be better than it was before the operation, so that is good!
We said goodbye to Nelson Mandela last week, and within a week of that I also attended funerals of a former Nigerian PhD student, and a friend from the church we were part of for many years who was also a good friend to my Mom and Dad in their last years. And our dear Uncle Ralph, Dad’s elder brother, finally left us earlier in the year at the age of 96.
We wish you a blessed, peaceful Christmas and a happy new year. With love from us all,
Allan, Matt & Tami