Clifton Clarke has also written a book on African Christology so it’s not surprising that he wrote the chapter on christology in Pentecostal Theology in Africa. He argues that the Pentecostal understanding of Jesus is primarily that of Healer.
The christology of Jesus as healer is a result of African harmatiology (doctrine of sin) which is holistic.
Although we are now familiar with the idea of Africa being the center of gravity for Christianity, having the fastest growing number of converts to Christianity in the world, it is still a continent plagued with the poverty, famine and political and economic chaos. The African Pentecostal integrated and holistic theology of healing highlights the inherent contradiction of a people that is ‘spiritually well’ but ‘socio-economically sick’.
The economic health of the nation is contingent on the spiritual health of the nation and, therefore, the socio-economic dysfunction is connected to moral and spiritual behaviour. This approach provides us with a vision of overcoming the social ills caused by the ‘anti-life’ forces controlling the economic and structural dimensions of society.
In African worldview, the powers that be are capricious and people are powerless. Anything that befalls you is a matter of fate. In this context the message of Jesus as Healer is radically counter-cultural:
In a world that is vastly coming to terms with the perceived constancy of suffering, famine, injustice, misery and the structures of death on the African continent, the theology of healing and wholeness propounded by African Pentecostals exposes this situation as being radically incompatible with the plan of God.
African Pentecostals, by asserting the supremacy of Christ over the forces of sickness and death, propound a theology that abandons the idea that sickness is a matter of fate – the invasion of an imaginary ‘adversary’ beyond human responsibility or beyond the reach of any strategies.
Where previously people may have gone to witch doctors or to appease ancestors, in Christ the Healer there is the potential to overcome evil forces, not just to ‘fix’ one particular issue:
Jesus should be identified as the one who dominates evil forces working against the socio-economic well-being of society. In this respect, the gospel of Christ is the enemy of corruption, injustice, poverty, and all who work against the well-being of society as a whole.
For me this made sense of why the theology of Jesus as Healer interacts so strongly with the wisdom tradition in Tanzania. It’s been Pentecostals whom we’ve observed working hard at practical life teaching. Far from being a reason to buy out of ‘the world’ and just let Jesus do it all, the Pentecostal christology of Jesus as Healer is the source of this practical bent in Pentecostalism.
Indeed, it has been in Pentecostals that we have seen energy and optimism rather than helplessness and homeostasis:
By placing healing and wholeness at the heart of their salvation in Christ and viewing sin as that which violates harmonious living within the world (visible and invisible), African Pentecostals have opened up the possibility for a whole new starting point for theological reflection in Africa.
Such a redefinition of African holistic living will bring order and integrity into African politics and socio-economic life as well as providing a measure of African self-hood.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.