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Book Review: Pentecostalism and Orthodox Christianity

Review of Tibebe Eshete’s Book, The Evangelical Movement in Ethiopia

By Messay Kebede

Published by Baylor University Press (2009), the book is a well-researched and abundantly documented account of the {www:inception} and spread of evangelical Christianity in Ethiopia. With special emphasis on {www:Pentecostalism}, the book goes beyond an eventful account of the evangelical movement; it provides a theoretical explanation for its rapid spread in a country reputed for its long-standing commitment to Orthodox Christianity. It must be said that the book is remarkably up to the challenging task of combining a descriptive account of important events with theoretical insights whose explanatory power is impressive, even for a skeptical reader.

The thorough appreciation of the book requires that the reader be fully cognizant of the various purposes of the book. Tibebe does not indulge in a laudatory discourse on the evangelical movement; nor does he present a disparaging portrait of Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church. Even if we find here and there praises and blames, the book remains a scholarly work intent on providing understanding rather than eulogy. This restraint to an objective account is all the more remarkable, given the personal dimension of the book to the author, who is himself a convert from Orthodox Christianity to evangelical faith.

The first purpose of the book is Tibebe’s intention to correct the dearth of scholarly studies on the evangelical movement in Ethiopia. Misinformation and bias explain the neglect: many Ethiopianists still consider the movement as marginal and foreign-inspired, which is typically summed up by the Amharic term of “mete haymanot.” The label of “imported religion” gave the justification for covert persecution during Haile Selassie’s reign and overt persecution after the establishment of the Derg and socialism. Through its cadres, the Derg used all means, including violence and coercion, to eradicate the movement. The tangible result of this systematic attempt to eradicate was, however, a phenomenal growth of the movement. From one percent of the population in the early 1960s, the movement grew to 6 million in 1994 (some estimates put the number at 12 million). Hence the main question of the book: what explains this remarkable expansion in a country fraught with adverse forces to the faith?

The other important purpose of the book is the removal of the bias against the evangelical faith in Ethiopia, which Tibebe wants to accomplish by forcefully displaying its native character. Without denying the role of foreign missionaries and the international support of evangelical churches, Tibebe argues that the movement has powerful native sources and has always followed one dominant motto, namely, “the Gospel for Ethiopians by Ethiopians.” His argument significantly weakens the “foreign paradigm” through the suggestion that, without the decisive impact of indigenous factors, the phenomenal growth of the movement is utterly incomprehensible.

One cannot but admire Tibebe’s attempt to show the native sources of Pentecostalism. Notably, his view that practices such as healing through prayers, exorcism, display of emotional expression, etc., are just reviving suppressed practices, allows him to speak of Pentecostalism as a renaissance of Ethiopian Christianity. To quote him, “viewed from a historical and analytical perspective, the evangelical faith as embraced by Ethiopians does not signify desertion or denial. Rather, it is an expression of the latent dimension of an already existing faith. Significantly, for those who tuned into the faith from the Orthodox background, Christianity simply took renewed emphasis and meaning” (p. 314). Some such approach definitely goes a long way in dismissing the accusation of foreign religion. Far from being desertion, Pentecostalism, Tibebe insists, is the expected, the longed-for revival of Ethiopian spirituality.

The depiction of the native sources of the movement introduces the third important purpose of the book, namely, the call for acceptance and mutual appreciation. Tibebe asks Ethiopian Evangelists to appreciate and inherit the rich tradition of Ethiopian Orthodox Church and its eminent national character and role both in defending Ethiopia against foreign invasions and in nurturing a home grown Christianity. In return, Orthodox Ethiopians should recognize the native roots of the evangelical movement in Ethiopia and engage in interface activities rather than animosity. Tibebe firmly believes that a change of this nature will be beneficial to both congregations and a significant contribution to the consolidation of democratic spirit in Ethiopia. Witness: the challenge of Pentecostalism has stimulated reformist activities within the Orthodox Church, as shown by the popularity of the revival movement known as “Amanuel Menfesawi Maheber.”

To fulfill these purposes, Tibebe adopts the appropriate method, to wit, the use of historical analysis by which he traces the major events marking the spread of the evangelical movement. The inquiry offers an ample documentation on the growth of the movement since the seventeen century. In particular, it gives a detailed account of the status of the movement during the reign of Haile Selassie and the tumultuous rule of the Derg. We learn that, even though persecutions were by no means absent, the reign of Haile Selassie was “the heyday of missionary activity in Ethiopia” (p. 75). As to the situation under the Derg, the account reveals how the use of systematic repression and brutality only strengthened the resolve of followers, which became a cause for an accelerated expansion of the movement.

To explain the resilience of the movement, Tibebe combines historical research with theoretical explanations. He thus advances the thesis that, in addition to the properly religious need, sociopolitical factors were active in making evangelism, especially in its Pentecostal form, attractive to many Ethiopians. A word of caution: one would totally misrepresent the content of the book if one loses sight of the primacy of the religious factor. Tibebe nowhere reduces the expansion of evangelism in Ethiopia to a political protest against the autocratic rule of Haile Selassie or the brutality of the Derg. Not that sociopolitical conditions were inconsequential; rather, they were only contributing factors to the principal need, which was religious.

The primacy of the religious need fully transpires when Tibebe explains why Pentecostalism seduced so many educated Ethiopians who came from firmly established Orthodox background. For him, the seduction has its roots in the failure of the Orthodox Church to reform itself in accordance with new needs arising from the exposure to Western education and the modern world. Indeed, modernity assumed for Ethiopians the form of an immense challenge to their legacy and became the cause of a deep cultural disorientation and existential anxiety. While many among the educated elite attempted to find answers in the then dominant ideology of Marxism-Leninism, others looked for a renewal of their religious faith, thereby increasingly paying attention to evangelism. In effect, those who went over to evangelism could listen to “qualified speakers on various subjects, like the relationship between science and faith, creation and evolution, or spirituality and rationalism and logic” (p. 138). These were topics that the Orthodox Church was not ready to tackle, as shown by the fact that demands from within the Church to renovate and modernize the faith—the most important being the movement known as Haymanote Abew—repeatedly fell on deaf ears.

Granted the primacy of the spiritual need, the fact remains that the tendency to look for answers to new needs outside the authority of Orthodox Christianity would not have gained momentum without the sociopolitical realities of Ethiopia under Haile Selassie and the Derg. Such is Tibebe’s sophisticated approach. It was already obvious that the success of evangelism in the southern part of the country, notably in Wollega and Wollaita, was a form of protest against the southern Neftegna Gebar system. As Tibebe puts it, “the new faith brought for the believers not only salvation, but also liberation from traditional oppressive structures, healing, and a sense of worth in a sociopolitical milieu that sustained social inequalities” (p.86). Clearly, what particularly hampered the missionary work of the Orthodox Church in the south, besides the use of inappropriate methods, was the close link of the church with the detested Ethiopian state. The lack of independence associated its teachings and missionary efforts with the oppressive structure of the imperial state or the Derg.

This same lack of independence explains why evangelism made such impressive inroads, especially Pentecostalism, in areas traditionally committed to the Orthodox Church. The evidence for this is that the expansion of evangelical movement was essentially an urban phenomenon that involved young educated Ethiopians coming from Orthodox background. To the question why many modern educated Orthodox Christians felt the need to convert to Pentecostalism, in conjunction with the primary reason of being unable to find in the traditional church the answers they needed to the challenges of modernity, one must refer to their inability to reform the faith, owing to its close tie with the Ethiopian state, and their increasing dissatisfaction over the sociopolitical realities of Ethiopia under Haile Selassie and, with greater reason, under the Derg.

While Tibebe does an excellent job in articulating major themes with relevant events and back them with sound arguments, questions pertaining to clarifications as well as to theoretical developments come to mind. Granted that one cannot but praise the attempt to remain as objective as possible, still one cannot avoid the feeling that Tibebe’s understanding of the Orthodox faith remains external in that it is viewed from an alien religious stand considered as normative or superior. He draws the explanation for the conversion of many educated Ethiopians to Pentecostalism from the disabilities of the Orthodox Church, thereby suggesting that evangelism is not only superior, but that it has also effective answers to the challenges of modernity to religious faith. One can reasonably contest the assertion if only because no religious doctrine is immune to the assaults of science, evolutionism, and the debunking of fideism. The commitment to a specific faith is more a matter of choice than doctrinal superiority.

The use of an alien normative stand, otherwise known as Eurocentrism, misses the particularity, the unique nature of the Orthodox faith. The lack of theological sophistication, the use of crude methods of conversion, the alliance with the Ethiopian state, etc., turn into defects only in the eyes of alienated Ethiopians who use Western religiosity as a prototype. To this approach, one can oppose the idea that Ethiopian religiosity should not be judged by the norms of doctrinal refinement and theological sophistication. Instead, one should bring out its cultural nature, which is such that Christianity in Ethiopia is like the air we breathe. In Ethiopia, God is everywhere; His presence is felt not only in churches and holy places, but in any personal or social manifestation. God is not so much conceptualized as felt like the immovable background of everything. Christianity in Ethiopia has never been an issue of doctrinal conversion, but a native attribute that one acquires for being member of a distinct and messianic polity, the very one flowing from the definition of Ethiopia as God’s favored nation. Accordingly, as an extension of divine election, missionary work is perceived as integration into a privileged, restricted polity, less so as a doctrinal allurement.

Doubtless, as Tibebe convincingly argues, when Ethiopians became exposed to Western education, the need for a rationalized faith transpired, which need started to paint the traditional religion in negative terms, that is, as not being as doctrinal and speculative as Western religions. Equally true that the Orthodox Church proved unable or reluctant to satisfy the doctrinal needs of the educated elite. Still, it makes little sense to put the blame on the faith, since it amounts to saying that it should be other than what it became as a result of a protracted and native historical development. The religion had a long history and resisted the powerful assaults of Islam and colonial incursions, not because of its doctrinal power or purity, but because of the powerful sentiments agitated by the sense of divine favoritism as enshrined, for instance, in the popular belief that Ethiopia is the guardian of the Arch of the Covenant.

Tibebe is absolutely right to say that the Orthodox Church failed to address the concerns of modern educated Ethiopians. Unfortunately, as he himself admits, the latter were alienated people and, as such, little able to make sound judgments or choices. A culturally disoriented generation is certainly unfit to provide norms by which Orthodox Christianity should be criticized or to select the religion by which it should be replaced, especially in light of its glorious accomplishments in preserving the independence and identity of a polity in a hostile environment and for such a long time. Since the assumption is that the religious response was healthier than the political radicalism imparted by the adoption of Marxist-Leninist ideology, Tibebe is hereby asked to provide the reasons for the beneficial effects of evangelical spiritualism.

All the more reason for asking the question is that Tibebe does not hesitate to conceptualize the attraction of Ethiopian students to Marxism-Leninism and Pentecostalism in the late 60s and early 70s as different responses to cultural disorientation and political frustration. Even though disagreements and clashes soon irrupted between the two movements—the radical students accusing Pentecostal students of being CIA agents conspiring to politically demobilize the youth by luring it into religious ecstasy—there is no doubt that both movements shared the character of being extreme. The question is then: why extremism, be it in the form of political radicalism or religious fundamentalism? Whether it was a counter-response to the spread of Marxist atheism among the students and educated elite or the expression of frustration over the socialism of the Derg, since religious fundamentalism clings to the faith by intensifying it, the dissonance between the response and the premises of modernity stands out.

To be sure, it is not clear how religious intensification can be construed as a modern response. In particular, rationality goes in the direction of accommodating faith with the scientific spirit, not in the direction of introducing into the faith beliefs and practices that clash with science. What all this means is clear enough: the attempt to rank one religion above the others in the name of modernity is a risky business since in the eyes of science all religions without distinction belong to the sphere of the irrational. Let us admit it, the development of modern ideas and the diffusion of the scientific spirit have turned religious conversions into obsolete practices.

Similarly, while the great value of the book lies in the linkage it establishes between religious conversion and sociopolitical concerns, it is not clear in what sense Pentecostalism can be classified as a protest. For the pioneers of the movement, the conversion must be explained in purely religious terms, that is, as expression of God’s revelation, and not as an outcome of impersonal forces resulting from economic or political hindrances. Tibebe rightly objects that the purely religious account cannot explain why the movement expanded at a particular time and with such a rapid pace. In thus saying that social conditions favored the expansion of evangelism, Tibebe posits the movement as a component part of social protests. Some such assumption goes against the prevailing view describing the movement as apolitical or, according to the radical students of the 60s, as frankly reactionary. People saw the movement as an incitement to withdraw from politics through an all-consuming pursuit of otherworldly goals. In other words, Tibebe has yet to convince us why this type of religious fundamentalism is not a reaction, a flight from the harsh reality of politics, just as he has to show us how it encourages modern and democratic forms of thinking.

One critical issue conspicuously absent from the book is the standing of the evangelical movement in relation to the other important and established religion, namely, Islam. Tibebe exhaustively analyzes the inroads of evangelism in the southern part of Ethiopia where primal religions mostly prevailed and in regions traditionally populated by Orthodox Christians. But he nowhere deals with the legitimate question of the status of evangelism in Muslim-dominated regions. Is evangelism making any progress in these regions as well? If yes, why? If no, why not? Being able to answer these questions certainly helps provide a more general and specified account of the progress of evangelism in Ethiopia.

Lastly, one issue that needs further clarification is Tibebe’s analysis of the attitude of Haile Selassie. He advances the view that Haile Selassie wanted to reform and modernize the Orthodox Church despite its resistance. Yet, he also maintains that he blocked reformist movements within the Church: for instance, the movement of reform initiated by Haymanot Abew failed because it was ultimately controlled by him, which control deprived it of dynamism and autonomy. Was Haile Selassie’s policy an attempt to subdue the Church or a genuine desire to modernize it? A more rigorous analysis of Haile Selassie’s attitude would be helpful to understand the impediments of the traditional religion. Moreover, Tibebe asserts that Haile Selassie was tolerant to the evangelical movement while at the same time viewing the tolerance as a component of his strategy to bolster his international image. Our understanding of the situation would acquire greater clarity if these imperial contradictions, which were real, were conceptualized in specific terms.

To conclude, Tibebe’s book is highly informative and enlightening, in addition to inviting new reflections on issues that most people either misconstrue, ignore, or find baffling. The questions that I have raised in no way diminish the value of the book; on the contrary, they are appeals for Tibebe to further expand his inquiry in the direction of finding some answers. The truth about the book is that it is a must-read for all those who want to understand the changing face of Ethiopia.

(Dr Messay Kebede can be reached at [email protected])

32 thoughts on “Book Review: Pentecostalism and Orthodox Christianity

  1. Very biased and one sided opinion. Modernity and Belief doesn’t go together. The strict code the Ethiopian Orthodox orders that says females to cover their hair, avoid short skirts that show their body etc is surely a pain to some modern wannabe elements. For the Record, the bible orders female to be modest and cover themselves during congregations. You can’t modernize belief by taking some and removing some. Mr. Mesay Kebede has very little knowledge on the rich Orthodox christianity and the infant Pentecostalism

  2. I am absolutely dump founded when Dr. Messay conviniently ignored the main reason for the success of Pentecostalism in easterand southern Ethiopia. The fact that early evangelists preached in local languages (Afan Oromo and Wolaita) was the main factor. I haven’t read the book and I am not in a position to comment to whta extent the author has covered language as a major factor of success, but Dr. Mesay’s utter ignorance as if it contributed nothing is not short of amazing.

    Especially his assertion that early success of Pentecontalism in Wollega as a means of protest against “neftegna gebar sytem” doesn’t hold water at all. Compared to the rest of Ethiopia, the parts of Wollega, like Gimbii and Dembi Dolo, where pentecostalism, was much accepted, were the least affected by the neftegna gebar system.

    The thing is people naturally want to be preached by their own language. By ignoring the the natural will of the people Orthodox christianity became an extension of the oppressive systems. Let’s not behave like the ostrich hiding its head in the sand; recognise the problem and tackle it. It is better to go ahead and argue that orthodox church contributed towards unity by expanding amharic/geez as cohesive factor, and that is appreciated…

  3. Deder, Arba Gugu, Asosa , these were places in which the Derg persecuted the protestants most. If you google it, you will find that the protestant churchs in those places were closed and its pastors told to leave in the 1980s.

  4. I am happy to read this article though I did not the book. I hope this writing touched all corner of the book. I was born Orthodox and I knew nothing about Bible until I became Pentecost. This was after I joined university where I had so talk on the topic. Actually Philosophy 101 course at AAU is the course that ignited the question of religion and give some answer too. It was after that I became a believer in Jesus. I cannot claim my case is similar to what has been said in the book but, I believe they are similar. But I strongly disagree with the Idea of “mete hayimanot” given to Protestantism only since all of the religion whether the first comer or the last comer. I also oppose to the idea of only Orthodox faith as to related to nationalist and other as none nationalist ones. This the reflection or the acceptance of the blind believe that has been in the country that only northern Ethiopian are more nationalists than the southern Ethiopian. This does not help to build Ethiopia, it is a very bad poison that can destroy our country and identity if not acted on. Today many Ethiopians are dying and many suffering in prison to make Ethiopia a good place to live together peacefully.
    Thank you

  5. To: Dr. Messay
    To be honest, the review has wide opened my appetite to read the book no matter what. So before reading the book myself, I do not dare to comment on your opinions and the issues that you seem to disagree with the author. That, I guess, would be pretty much unfair.
    But if you don’t mind I would like to raise one point up on which I need your candid reflection in any manner; either by sending me a personal email or by posting your views on web sites. Assuming how busy you could be by a fast-paced life in America, it may be too much to ask you to share your views. My points, however, is; what really are the reasons why many Southern Ethiopian people ( I mean the native ones) have this reservation to embrace Ethiopian Orthodox church?
    What always comes to my mind whenever I try to understand this point is the tragic history of African Americans following their enslavement. I think the conversion of many African-Americans to Islam during the time of Malcolm X can be a perfect parallel to the case in Ethiopia.

    I hope you will have a lot to say on this.
    Thanks again for your insightful review of Tibebe’s book.

  6. In areas i grew up outskirts of addis ababa particularly south eastern part of the city, it was a common knowledge that during the catastrophic drought of 1977, locals were given food, oil and clothing on condition that they attend protestant congregation. The movement of Pentecostalism is not native at all. it was coordinated from America and Canada through Aid during that dire situation.

    Regarding western Ethiopia particularly Wellega and southern regions, Missionaries gave education opportunities for the locals to increase their footage to spread Pentecostalism. Therefore the writers claim that says pentecostal movement as native one is bogus. What is worse is Dr. Messays’ propagation of one sided message that paints one colorful and the other with dirt.

  7. Anonymous #4,

    Preaching in the native languages was indeed a valuable strategy for the evangelical churches. On the other hand here 3 main reason that explain why Orthodox Church has difficulty keeping its follower base:

    1/ Cabalistic approach: Liturgical ceremonies are conducted in Geez, a language very few people understand. There are no bible study sessions offered to followers. Most of the time, low ranking priests don’t fully master the doctrine.

    2/Fuzzy doctrine: The Tewahedo church has never been forthcoming in preserving a “doctrinal purity”. It doesn’t do much to prevent some paganistic rituals and superstitious beliefs to creep into some of the religious practices.

    3/ Doomsday strategy: The sole strategy used by the church to expand and consolidate its follower base has always been fear-mongering. What is preached is the dreadful desert God of the prophet Ezekiel rather than the more “human” God of Jesus. Followers are told to surrender to this angry God or face the consequence. Believers are kept captive through fear instead of conviction. I think this is the very reason why pentecostalism has been more attractive to young educated urbanites.

  8. I am worried the pente religion is spreading like wild fire. The orthodox church is defintely losing ground to pente. Part of the reason is that the orthodx faithfuls are following the religion because they are born into it as opposed to learning the faith from the bible and practicing it. The orthodox church is exceptionally weak in bible outreach. I remeber at one point the church was attacking anyone carrying the bible as pente. This was partly because the priesthood is highly uneducated even with the core bible they are supposed to teach others.

    The second reason for the continued decline of the orthodox church is the fight among the different groups in the church. Mahebere Kidusan wants to dominate the church at any cost while wants to get some space. The leadershp is aggravating the problem by siding this or that group instead of creating an aminable environment for all to serve the church.

    The third problem the evanglicals who have been spreading animosity against the orhtodox church and buying people to convert to thier faith. The author seems to suggest that the animosity is emanating from the orthodox church while in fact the source of the animosity is the evangelical church. Evangelicals have sponosred various groups to inflitrate and weaken the orthodox church.

    If at all we want to create peace between the two churchs, evangelicals need to stop their defamation of the orthodox chruch and stop sponsoring revolts in the church. At the same time, the orthodox church needs to reassess itself and reform what needs to be reformed, instead of thinking as if we were in the early apostolic times. The cannon can be reformed to suit the current generation while some of the awalid books that historicallly inflitrated the chruch can be corrected or shelved altogether. Inaction on the part of the orthodox church can eventully decimate the church beyond repair.

  9. I really find it very insulting and backwarded to attribute the role of education in promoting foreign religion. We know all religions are related to pure survival rather than pure spirituality. Islam in Ethiopia can be considered as the most pure form of spiritually influenced religion far away from the effect of modernism /materlialism/ideology etc. People believed in Islam because of they believed in the faith. TO SUGGEST THAT PENTOCOSTALISM IS RELATED TO NATIVE SEARCH FOR SPIRITAULISM IS VERY SIMPLISTIC ANALYSIS. i KNOW THE AUTHOR AND HE IS NOT HAPPY WITH ANY THING.

  10. Well doctor Mesay I think you have missed the point why the Orthodox church does not change the reason is because God’s work and word does not need to be changed since it does not get old according to the age and development of man kind as you know your field and Protestantism as well as computers, cars get old so they change every time to give confert to there users. Do you know when Luther started there was one protestant religion which is Lutheranism to day there are over 2,600 protestant religion sects.
    if you can check the next links then judge for yourself the difference between the 2 religions, by the way I myself have been countless times to the protestant religion churches.

  11. In the beginning there was one: Orthodox.
    Then it splintered into two: Orthodox and Catholic, still collectively known as Eastern Religion among the churches.
    Catholic begat hundreds of illegitimate churches, starting with Protestant and continuing it’s illegal multiplication to the 21st-century headless Religion Lite found in hotel meeting rooms and shopping centers near you. In Ethiopia, the Orthodox Church is not only the first born that St. Peter founded under the order of the Prince God, Christ Himself, but from Moses and Aaron as well, handed down from generation to generation, to a chosen people, as the true foundation, recognition and worship of the creator. In the 50’s and 60’s, missionaries, who were not successful during the previous several centuries, began importing various forms and versions of the Cult from places like Minnesota, Michigan, Sweden, German and Norway – all cold places – and the rest, as they say, is history. The Orthodox Church is so rich and so representative of the only living Amlak, it needed not an altered import from anywhere. It could very well be said that Ethiopians’ self-degradation and by now all too familiar and prevalent fall started with the apostasy. The great deception is of course that, to the contrary, religion is equated with worldly success. While he illegitimates continue to multiply along with their demons, the straight and Fitsum original denomination, with it’s Tabot, Meskel, Kidist Mariam and Kidusan, despite the challenges posed temporarily to it, stands tall, true and gold. Short cuts, convenience and compromises do not go hand in hand with Faith. True worship house has the bearded priest, the Etan and the Kidase. Do not short change yourselves. Comeback!

  12. Protestantism has a negative effect on every individual who practiced it for a while. It has already cause enormous human distress in the brain in which many after 5-10 years of practice either abandon the religion, commit suicide or live a very depressed life. The very reason why this happen is due to the persuasion technic and the brainwashing conducted when one enters the group. In the United States, there are quite a lot counseling for ex-Pentecostals. The following links are forums where ex-pentecostals discuss the miserable time they spent during their membership in the group to try to find a peaceful life after the mind slavery and abuse they took for a considerable time. A constant spiritual abuse with hypnosis and threats if they leave the church makes Pentecostals vulnerable to post traumatic disorder that makes it difficult to recover from such situation. The following link on how hypnotism is used to create the illusion of miracle and its following discussion amongst ex-pentecostals shades light on how Protestantism manages to spread in many parts of the world now

  13. First of all, the Orthodox church is MUCH MORE theologically organized and consistent that the evangelists. And it has been so for two thouthand years…. it is not just a matter of pride or year counting, but this is evident for any scholar.. Secondly, the ideology of evangelic Pentecostals does not produce induce any better enlightenment that what the Orthodox church can for the so called ‘Educated elite’.
    What answer can an evangelist provide to questions such as ‘what is the evidence for the existence of God?’ ‘ How do you know that the bible is true?’ and so on… The thing is the so called ‘educated elits’ do not really think in their own minds and ask critical questions. Instead, they tend to emulate the white man and his actions… including his theological discourse….
    It is sad that we, a nation that inspires the entire black race of the planet, end up as first class admirers of western doctrines …

  14. Doctor Mesay I disagree with you because it was during the Derg that protestantism expanded in Ethiopia because the youth first tried the Marxism by read Oromay if you read this book will tell you because Yegazeteghaw girl friend Roman was almost protestant before she came to orthodox so your generation first tried Marxism then when it fail it went to protestantism because from the start everything which is Ethiopian was rejected as a backward even the respect for old and father and mother disappeared or was watered down during the Derg time. About the Ethiopian orthodox church contribution to Ethiopia’s advancement beside language, writing, music, art, medicine, literature, forest by the way today most of the lost tree speciouses are found in the Ethiopian orthodox church compounds, the Ethiopian orthodox church gave us also pride today no Ethiopian feels inferior except Meles. I also would like to remind you most of today’s pastors were communist before they became pastors. In addition the expantion of protestantism is based on food aid as well as other economic benefits. Let me give you one example what I saw during my visit to Ethiopia 7 years ago there were 2 friends who are a day laborers living together and they went to some kind of aid organazation for help and they were asked to change their religion and one of them changed and got the aid and the other person was not changing and he was not given the help this was in Addis Ababa now if this happen in Addis think what is going to happen outside Addis.

  15. Folks: It is completely fruitless to argue about the merits and demerits of religious beliefs since they are simply beliefs and as such takes care of thee spiritual and moral sides of human group’s needs.

    All religions are equally important emotionally and spiritually as well as being useful to their respective faith communities.

    So, if we are even remotely claiming that we are democrats and humanists then we have to treat and respect all religions as equal and let them take care of the spiritual affairs of their respective faith communities as along as they may NOT violate human rights and or found guilty crimes against any citizen.

    The debate and discussions on religion dates back to thousands of years immediately when religion itself happens to appear among the human communities in order to explain the world and its meanings with out having any conclusive universal one single common understanding to this very day.

    So, why shouldn’t we leave religion simply as a one dimension of those human cultural value diversities that produces creativity and innovations and from there move on to the real and common burning issue of positive political, economic, social, etc. changes.

    It is even in a democratic and pluralist societies that religion is also democratized and left in peace to serve the societies and communities it is supposed serve.


    A ESKIMO: “If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?”
    PRIEST: “No, not if you did not know.”
    ESKIMO: ” Then what is your motive of preaching me about God and sin?”

    ~Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker creek, 1975) :)

  16. Dr. Messay, your critique of the book is very insightful and very detail. Even though I did not read the book, yet, it is my understanding that, from my experience with pentecostal followers arguments which mostly emphasize on the ‘rigid an backwardness of the orthodox church’ is the main reason for its stagnation and loss of followers. To me religion is always an instrument of control of the human spirit. It does not matter what religion you follow it is an effective instrument of control. That is why all religious denominations weather it is christianity,islam or judaism have tremendous apple to politics and politicians. This is the same in Ethiopia or America or any other place in this world. One important point in my opinion you missed is poverty and social destitution and religion. Wherever the poverty level is up you always witness high levels of religious conversion and this is not by accident but religious groups find it easy to persuade and convert by shire advantage of being themselves better off than their converts. Sure religious groups have responded tremendously to the suffering of population all over the world. Specially during times of catastrophe, example our own devastating famine of the 1984, religious groups have special places. Another good examples are muslem religious groups like hamas from palstine and hizbullah from Lebanon have extensive social net works where they provide goods and services to the poor and destitute but also have unchallenged political control on the same population. But when we examine the same issue in well of countries like western Europe we see a different picture. Followers of religion is declining in an amazing rate. So, for better or worse religious conversion has its most important factor as poverty.

  17. What everyone here seems to miss is that Dr. Messay reviewed a book on religious history of Ethiopia by Dr. Tibebe. This is a scholarly exercise and nothing more. If one of you feels they could do a better job or have a different take on it, please go ahead and do that. If you feel a book on Ethiopian evangelical Christians should not have been written then you are onto something unusual; I thought any one can write what they like [and I or you have the choice to read it or not]. Which brings me to the point that many who comment herein have not even read the book!! Some forget Ethiopia is for evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox Christians, and for the Muslim and traditional religions. If you, however, feel Ethiopia should be only for the Orthodox, then you should present it in such a way that others will be convinced of its teachings to be part of it. If you, on the other hand, want to force everyone to join in, then you are onto something silly and despicable and misrepresenting a beautiful and ancient faith tradition. I don’t believe those who think this way even understand what their faith is all about. That is what is the problem with Orthodox church losing ground – not, as you argue, “pentes” taking over! People are not idiots most of the time – they take chances when the chances are good; they join a group when the group promises to satisfy their deepest needs!

  18. Beletu, You have no idea about the bible do you? what are you talking about brain washing please this is a fabrication of Orthodox people like you Pentecoste is a peaceful realigion, tell me drinking, parting and doing drug is the one that will put you in a risk and end up with depression, give me one good point why is not drinking alchol and not doing drug will put you in risk, give me a break to tell you the truth you Orthodox belivers are the one who party all night long sleep whom ever you want and Sunday you go to church business as usual, baby this is not the rightteous way to live your life don’t fool your self Jesus is the way the truth like it or not I was Orthodox my self until I found out the truth and thank God I converted for the last 25 years I am happy as I can be with my Jesus on my side, teach the truth as you may see a lot of your people are converting and check the net the most fastest growing religion in our country is Pentecostal, you know why we teach the truth and people are coming willingly. Wake up and smell the coffee.

  19. the world’s oldest surviving illustrated Christian Bible has been found in an Ethiopian monastery. The Garima Gospels, printed on goatskin and written in the ancient Ge’ez language, is also said to be the oldest surviving book anywhere that still has the original binding.

    So how old is this thing? The Garima Gospels have been dated back at around the Fourth Century A.D.

    Sixteen hundred years old. And the illustrations – depicting the writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as well as the earliest known Christian rendering of a building (possibly the Temple of Jerusalem)- are still as vivid and colorful as when they were first drawn.

    This is turning into quite an exciting time for biblical archaeology. Late last month the earliest known icons of Peter and Paul were announced as being discovered in the catacombs beneath Rome (they used lasers to uncover them: wicked kewl aye?), and now this. Unfortunately whether that alleged thingy on the slopes of Mount Ararat really is Noah’s Ark is still anybody’s guess. But hey: there should be some things we can’t know for sure with just our physical senses…

  20. The King James bible contains 39 books in the old testament. The Ethiopian bible contains a total of 51 books. The only book of the old testament found in the King James bible, which is not in the Ethiopian bible is the book of Lamentations. There are however 13 books in the Ethiopian bible which are not to be found in the King James bible. It is not surprising the Ethiopian bible contains almost the entire old testament from the King James bible, since Ethiopia had a very strong Jewish presence. The books of the old testament which appear in the Ethiopian bible but not the King James are:

    2 Ezra
    Ezra Sutuel
    1 Maccabees
    2 Maccabees
    3 Maccabees
    Book of Joshua the son of Sirac
    The book of Josephas the son of Bengorion

    New Testament

    The Ethiopian new testament contains the same 27 books of the new testament from Matthew through the book of Revelation. Unlike the King James bible, however, the Ethiopian bible continues past Revelations with an additional eight books. These books include;
    Sirate Tsion (the book of order)
    Tizaz (the book of Herald)
    The 1st book of Dominos
    The 2nd book of Dominos
    The book of Clement

    Canon of the Ethiopian Church

    While many of the books found in the old testament of the Ethiopian bible are absent in the King James version, there are some interesting facts surrounding these books. One such example are the books of Enoch and Jubilee which are ancient Jewish texts. While they do not appear in the old testament of the King James bible, they are quoted in the King James new testament. Ethiopian scripture is based on some of the most ancient transcripts and records in existence, which gives the Ethiopian bible a broader content than any other version of the bible, and some feel a truer and more complete telling of the word of God.

  21. It should be noted that we live in a curse phase. Like AIDS and other diseases, scourges, starvation, wicked governments, poverty, inflation, lost wars, exile and all other threatening and fearful existence [confer Deuteronomy], Menafeqenet a.k.a Doubtfulness is byproduct of the curse times. Even within the Tewahedo Orthodox Church, there are false teachings and people who use and abuse the church for their personal and tribal needs; events that unfolded during the last 37 years are unlike the Orthodox of old. Menafeqenet could be a mental and personality disorder as well like hoarding for example. Willful interpretation and alteration of the bible and the doctrine and and the resulting fragmentation of the church are the mainstay of the Menafeqans and, to some extent, in the Orthodox Church itself. The Church of Mormon is considered a cult not a legitimate denomination in the United States, so are the majority of the churches who are break aways.

  22. I’m so sorry to read some comments that have no valid evidences. Most of you are commenting from your traditional/cultural background. When was it that our Orthodox priests teach us from the word of God? the Bible. We traditionally learned that Ethiopia is a “Christian Nation”. It was obvious that the priests were more political gurus, insead of educating and equipping our innocent people with the word of God. Remember, every sundays whenever we go to kidst marian, we heard that liflefa no single word from the Holy Book. The evangelical believers’ is based on the Bible. Talk to them and learn how they explain and expose verse by verse. Our Orthodox people have been fooled for century, it seems now is the time to reflect and challenge our priests. There is mental change with modernity. Think analytically, do your survey and learn more about the Ethiopian History.

  23. To number 24

    “I can be with my Jesus on my side, teach the truth as you may see a lot of your people are converting and check the net the most fastest growing religion in our country is Pentecostal, you know why we teach the truth and people are coming willingly. Wake up and smell the coffee.”


    Matthew 24:11 “And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many.”

    Do’t you think Pentecostal is from the misleading one.

  24. The attempts to present facts based on “objective” research as well as reviewing such studies are much helpful to enlightened discussions in whatsoever topics. I personally appreciate such endeavors as Tibebe and Dr. Messay did. But on the already raised topic, I agree on some of the reasons why Pentecostal faith has penetrated much to the Southern part of Ethiopia and some to the West. I have witnessed sociopolitical factor has been prominent in this regard. I once have been in Gambella where I have been informed that the local people have been told to convert to Pentecostal faith since Orthodox is a faith of the Amharas and Tigreans (“the Degas”). On the other hand, Pentecostal faith preachers are depicted as “friends of bad weather” who especially help the poor. It is a recent history that many people have been converted to the faith due to such helps as a bottle of oil and a bag of wheat. For example, we can cite Compassion-a relief organization working on educating children of the poor and providing them with some welfare services- in and around Shashemene.

    The other point: faith/religion is not something we change as time and conditions change. The so called “modernizing the Orthodox faith” is a wrong assumption from the beginning if it takes reforming the very theological assertions of the faith. But, we can modernize the system, as in the management. The Orthodox faith, I believe, has all the answers to the questions raised against its theological stances. Those who been Orthodox Christians converted “pentes”, I think, have not even tried to know what they believe in; they remained simply followers of the religion not believers. Belief requires an assertion which is the result of firm “knowledge” on the subject. Yes, the “fathers” of the Orthodox Church have failed to deliver the proper teachings of the Bible and assuredly preach the “elites” as a form of addressing questions which might be posed as a consequence of secular knowledge. However, this doesn’t make the religion devoid of truth about Christ and Christology. Let you go to the study of the Church; it has much to give you not only the religious but also the secular knowledge!

  25. God Bless Ethiopia
    Do you really believe that protestants care about the word of God? If you do, you are wrong. Why don’t they go to India with 78% of Hindus, Arab countries with almost the entire country of muslims, even in western world with a huge number of gay protestant preachers? But Ethiopia? the oldest Christian country in the world? do we really need their preaching? please folks work your minds. It is not about the word of God it is about emptying Ethiopians pride of having our own of everything. Wake Up people. I was so saddened when I heard the pastors are raping young guys in the Wollo region of Ethiopia. This was what our brilliant fathers(the so called uneducated and backward) fathers warned of. In America, Protestantism among young is declined by 4% in the last four years. If it is growing in Ethiopia, it will soon start declining because the truth always prevails. For all protestant Ethiopians, please wake up. When we say you are wrong, you say it is the voice of jealus Orthodox Christians. Before you learn it in the hard way, come back to your mother. In washington, a pastor with his 84 followers was baptized and became orthodox. Why do you think that is? When they try to take Ethiopian Orthodox followers, we , the true Orthodox followers are increasing our numbers without even going around and preaching. A big number of westerners are coming to our church by reading about the history themselves. GOD BLESS!!!

  26. Some people enjoy in creating havoc. In the first place in my opinion, this book review has to be placed in the so called “Academic Review” that can invite intelectual discussion for the benefit of the academicians and not necessarily in Ethiopian Review. Messay Kebede is one of Dergs opportunist and used say there is no God and everything is evolution. I’m so surprised to read his book review. Well good for him, what a change and life transformation. It is my hope that will never go back to his unstable life style that he used to lead with the communist regime that has devastated our beautiful nation and claimed precious young lives. I do believe we learn from our past mistakes and take a right path for the betterment of our innocent people. Having said that, I have read the book authored by Dr. Tibebe. I fully commend him for taking this bold step to explore the very root of our Christian heritage and the amazing protestant movement in Ethiopia. The truth is that almost all pentecostals have had endured tribulations incurred by the derg and remained faithful to the nations. Others like Messay and many more have been wavering away from their fathers’ beliefs declared that there is no “God”. Now some of you are saying that Ethiopia is the oldest Christian nation, ask Messay, where does stand now? As for me, I remain Orthodox and be faithful to my tradition.

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