on 10 July 2011
Rev Israel Olofinjana's book should have been an important one. The subject it discusses is certainly an important one - the history and ecclesiology of Black Majority Churches (BMC) in England. However, it fails on a number of levels. The first is that the subject seems to be treated like the subject of an undergraduate disertation. There is a great deal of food for thought, but much of it is left unexplored. There are also a number of unsupported suppositions which speak more of Olofinjana's own personal theology than they do of proper theological, historical or sociological method. Finally, the book is far too short for its price. The book (excluding bibliography and glossary is only 74 pages long, much of which is taken up with long biographical lists which add little to the text).
On the plus side, Olofinjana's book offers an interesting and readable introduction to the MBCs, their history and how they have become a part of the Church scene in England. This is an important area of work, as someone who works and worships in an area of London which has a high percentage of first generation west African immigrants, BMCs are an important part of the life of the Church. How congregation members interact (and utilise) the services provided by both the historical Churches and BMCs is an interesting area of study. However, Olofinjana only gives this area a cursory overview. Which to my mind is one of the principal failings of the text.
Theologically the book focuses on how BMCs differ from the hitorical Churches, emphasising such areas as a "prosperity gospel" reading of the Christian message, linking this to Liberation Theology and liberation struggles (a unsuported quantum jump I can see no reason to support). Olofinjana also falls into the right-wing narrative that the Christianity is somehow being sidelined in Western (and in particular British) society. This is an argument that owes more to the Daily Mail than it does to serious theological consideration. Historically Christianity has had a favoured status in Britain, over the past-100 years this status has gradually been eroded meaning that Christianity has become a faith in the marketplace, not a monopoly - a good thing in my opinion as it allows the Church to be able to do what is should be doing, sharing its message. It is not, as Olofinjana seems to believe a failure, in my opinion.
Finally the book ends on a case study of Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC) and its founder, Matthew Ashimolowo. Whilst KICC offers an interesting case study of how a BMC was planted and has grown over the past 19 years, the study ends up in partiality when reviewing the way in which the Charity Commissioners handled their investigation into Ashimolowo and KICC. This neither helps the narrative of the book or to understand KICC.
Sadly this book could have been so much better. Being such a big and important study it needs far more attention and space than Olofinjana has been able to give it and an much expanded text would be of far more use than the meagre fare we are given here. This is a fascinating and important subject which the historical Churches need to grasp if they are to work with the BMCs operating in their area. I hope that Olofinjana is able to take the opportunity to both expand this text and iron out some of the problems identified in the current text.