A few months ago, as part of the Mystery Worshipper project, I visited a church a couple of miles up the road from me that I pass most days on my commute but which I had never previously visited. I went in, observed the Sunday service and went to do my write-up, which you can read here. As all first time visitors are herded into a room before a fairly burly looking chap stands by the door to make sure that nobody can leave, it was a fairly unwelcoming welcome. But they did give us a little bag of bits to take away with us, including a Benny Hinn DVD (which I haven’t watched, but do use as a coaster) and this little book by the pastor of the church, Andrew Adeleke.
He begins by looking at 7 things that people commonly worry about. In short, these are:
- Material possessions
- Physical, emotional or spiritual losses
- The wicked and those who do wrong
- Basic human needs (clothes, food, shelter)
- Perceived helplessness
One could look at this list, wonder about the order of how these are prioritised (later on, he does refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) and whether there has been some artificial splitting of these. For example, why would number 1 be material possessions and number 5 basic needs? Clothes, food and shelter are a sub-category of possessions after all. So it would seem as though the differentiating factor is between those things that we need and those that we don’t, but desire anyway. For the latter to be placed at number 1 seems to be a case less of rigorous sociological testing and more a matter of the author projecting his own desires onto those of others.
But if one reads this book, one gets a strong sense that material possessions are highly prized in Adeleke’s eyes. Indeed, if you look through some of his other publications, one may see one book entitled “Prosperity capsules”. If one looks further at the teachings of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, then further evidence of this kind of mentality is prevalent, whereby promotions, wealth, etc. are seen as tokens of reward for one’s faithfulness. Yet there are instances in the book where the author seems to try to distance himself from this viewpoint. Such contradictions make for a bit of a muddled read.
With half the book devoted to chapter 1, as outlined above, the second half of the book is comprised of saying in as many ways as possible: “[don’t worry, it’s not Godly]”.
Since this is a rather negative review, I ought to justify this with some more specific examples. On page 29, he states “The ideas of freedom and pro-humanity now take precedence over biblical teachings.” This certainly indicates where our theologies diverge, as the bible I have portrays God as the most pro-human being ever, who longs for us to be free from the captivity of sin, a God who sides with the oppressed and who calls us to welcome the foreigner and look after the sick and the elderly.
On page 40 he states: “Recent events in world market [sic] triggered by the American mortgage market further prove that no matter how much we try as humans to ensure a secured future, we are bound to fail without God’s stamp of success.” There is a point here to be made about the greed that is the heart of capitalism and why such right-wing views are incompatible with the christian faith, but that’s not what Adeleke seems to be saying. This is just one instance (of which there are several) where he speaks of “success” as a desirable thing, yet he only ever speaks of it in materialistic terms.
There’s an intriguing medical claim on page 56: “Worry is associated to heart disease and some other life threatening physical ailments.” Unfortunately he doesn’t provide any references to back up this claim. I couldn’t help but speculate that he may have meant “stress” instead of “worry”. If he is conflating the two. I can’t know for certain, but if he is then it shows that the whole premise of the book is a bit squiffy.
Perhaps one of the most hurtful and misleading things he says comes on page 68: “Seasons of uncertainty will definitely come but it shall be well with you.” He attempts to back up this claim by using Isaiah 3:10. Yet he never defines what he or what Isaiah actually mean by “well”. Incidentally, the word translated here is the Hebrew tob which has rather a long and multi-faceted definition in my concordance (Strong’s) – but it is essentially a word of moral goodness, not of material prosperity. The word can also be translated as “good” in the sense of “[what she did was good]” where this meant to denote upstanding, Godly, righteous behaviour. The verse comes in parallel with prophecy over what will happen to the guilty, though Adeleke chooses to ignore this.
The way the whole book is laid out is to include lots of short passages from across the books of the bible, with little or no context given to them. Andrew then either paraphrases them or makes a rather non sequitur remark to try to link the passage to his point. The ways he refers to the bible are indicative of a fundamentalist mindset, whereby the English translation chosen is taken as unquestionable and meant directly for the modern reader. As a classic example of the prosperity gospel which he espouses, he rips Jeremiah 29:11 out of its place, its audience and implies that this is a promise written by God to you and me today, with no reference to the human author of the book, the historical context in which it was written or the hope that it was necessary to give to those in exile.
Possibly the most frustrating thing about the whole book is that Andrew at no point attempts to define precisely what he means by worry. He takes it as a given that everyone has the same understanding of the word that he does. But he is unclear over discerning the different between a more obsessive concern and merely planning for the future, or anywhere between.
In conclusion, I cannot say that I recommend this little book to anyone. It is theologically shallow at best, misleading in others. While I would not doubt Adeleke’s faithfulness to the gospel he preaches, I am far from convinced that this is a true and fair view of the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth.