Kenya is a country with 44.4 million people. Nairobi is a world class city of 3+ million souls with every amenity. Surveys indicate that fully 80% of Kenyans claim to be Christian of one sort of another. But when this church history professor went in search of the text books he assigned his Church History I and Church History II students to read (almost 50 students altogether), in Christian Bookstore after so-called Christian Bookstore, nothing. Blank stares. Zip. Nada. Not only did these bookstores not have N.R. Needham’s 2000 Years of Christ’s Power (Parts I, II and III), they didn’t have any books on any Church History topic. None. And these are the major Evangelical/Pentecostal booksellers in the country. Maybe I showed up on a bad day. Maybe I missed something. Maybe there are other enclaves of Christian History out there somewhere waiting to be discovered. If there are, let's just say they are not very seeker sensitive.
There was plenty of ‘Christian Fiction' (I’m trying to fathom the draw of Amish love stories in urban Nairobi). ‘Christian Living’ takes up the biggest amount of shelf space, full of books by ‘famous’ authors whose names take up more space than the titles do. One can see that the people in charge of deciding what books need to be written have done their job in terms of polling. These books are about the issues these authors and their advisors think people will buy (i.e. are hot) and so they write accordingly. Pandering comes to mind, as does the Apostle Paul’s even less flattering image of those ‘Christians’ who, in their shallowness, gather around themselves a great number of teachers [authors] to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3)
There is the ever popular ‘Relationships’ section in which book after book dishes out strikingly similar versions of the same advice, depending on one’s age, sex, and marital status. How many new angles can one possibly create in order to justify writing yet another shallow book on Twenty-two Ways to Better Love Your [Husband? Wife? Children? Parents? Cat?]
And it becomes immediately obvious that the people in charge of these bookstores care only about selling books, not about what the books actually say. Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Hagin, Reinhold Bonnke, Kenneth Copeland, TD Jakes, Joyce Meyers, Prophet Owour and their tribe sell LOTS of books (and videos) here in Kenya. But these books and their authors are the equivalent of the 1348 Bubonic Plague to the churches of Kenya (and all across this continent). Their so-called prosperity gospel is an open sewer that leads gullible Christians and seekers away from the Gospel of Jesus and the Apostles and after the gods of mammon, power and success, the Baal, Molech and Asherah of our day. The health and prosperity gospel is an invasive species that drives out the native faith and replaces it with a loud, glitzy, exciting, pep-rally sort of religion that is supposed to make one feel good and motivate one to give lots of money to support ‘the ministry’, which actually means to support the ‘successful’ lifestyle of the ‘minister’. Christianity has been hijacked and is being used by these people to promote their own agendas, not a Gospel agenda. And people here are drinking this Kool-aid up, not realising that it is endangering their very souls and gutting the churches. And these ‘Christian’ booksellers have their shelves full of this poison, and they are promoting it, and being very successful at getting it into the hands of prosperity wannabees. I have noted elsewhere that in a recent survey of the reading habits (such as they are) of Kenyan Christians, by far the most popular author is Joel Osteen. Imagine! Joel Osteen! The go-to diet for Kenyan Christians!
But no books on Christian history. None are being offered. None are being sold. None are being read. This explains a lot. In Kenya, there is a revival of just about every heresy that the Church of the Apostles and the Fathers battled against in the first five centuries of Chrsitianity. Read St. Irenaeus’ Against the Heresies, and it’s like reading contemporary newspaper accounts of Kenyan/African Christianity. It’s all here, in different forms and in different guises. But it’s the same weirdness, the same bizarre teachings, the same gnosticisms, the same dualisms, the same paganisms, the same making use of religion to justify what I want to do, the same self-appointed prophets, apostles and bishops running around gathering flocks to fleece. The only difference seems to be that the heresies pestering and plaguing the early Church didn’t have sound systems, while the ones today do. Lord have mercy. There are 5000 different denominations in Kenya and that number will only grow because as the Book of Judges said about Israel, it could be describing us: ‘In those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.’ (Judges 21:25)
Full disclosure: To it’s credit, my university book store had 2 sets of Needham on sale. I bought them both so that I could donate them to our library and put them on the reserve shelf and thus make them available for my students to do their assignments. The library also had a set. So that makes three sets of my text book on the reserve shelf for my students to access. And I have 50 students. Can you see my issue? This is why I went on a search this afternoon to see if there were any other volumes that I could get ahold of IN THE COUNTRY! And if that wasn’t enough, some of my students are complaining because they don’t like/want to read. I provoked gasps and murmurs when, in answer to a question, I said that I would not be providing outlines of my lectures. My reason was, if I give you an outline of the lecture, then you will lose all motivation to read anything, because you will think that all you need to do is memorise what’s on the outline and you can at least pass the exam. But I want my students to read. And I want them to read history. (But they don’t want to, and I’m having trouble finding things for them to read anyway.) Is this too much to ask?
To sum up, Christians here are not reading history. It shows.
|Sidewalk bookseller's wares across the street from St. Paul's Nairobi campus.|
Notice the titles and note the books in the upper left of the picture.