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Genuinely Ghanaian: A History of the Methodist Church

Ghana 1961-2000. Trenton, NJ and Asmara: Eritrea: Africa World Press, 2010. Pp. xliv+292.

Reviewed by:

J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, Professor of Contemporary African Christianity and Dean of Graduate Studies, Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon. Accra. Ghana.


Genuinely Ghanaian is a work in mission history that discusses the ministry of the Methodist Church in post-colonial Ghana.  Perhaps the most significant ambition that Genuinely Ghanaian fulfills is that it makes the Methodist Church Ghana the only historic mission denomination in the country with a complete, systematic and academically documented history of its origins until the end of the 20th century. 


The Book

Although it is not supposed to be an official mission history of the Church, Rev. Dr. Casely B. Essamuah builds impressively on the foundations laid by F.L. Bartels in his seminal work, Roots of Ghana Methodism published in 1965.  That the immediate past and incumbent Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church Ghana—both of them accomplished theologians in their own right—endorse this work is testimony to what it means to the Church.

The incumbent, Most Rev. Prof. Emmanuel Asante refers to the volume as representing ‘a significant milestone in the study of the history of Ghana Methodism that fills a void in the scholarly literature in the area of Methodism in Ghana.’  Many have lamented our inability to complete the foundation laid almost half a century ago by Bartels.  We must be deeply grateful to God for the encouragement, resources and commitment that has made the publication of Genuinely Ghanaian possible.


On the material itself, Rev. Dr. Casely B. Essamuah, merits our commendation for avoiding a triumphalist approach to his work.  He does this by discussing not simply the successes and joys, but also failures and pains of the church including some very difficult historical incidents some involving his own family.  At several points in its post-autonomy history, the Methodist Church Ghana was in real danger of breaking up and Dr. Essamuah does well in drifting from the populist arguments that blame ethnocentricism for the Church’s difficulties.  The immediate past Presiding Bishop, Most Rev. Dr. Robert Aboagye-Mensah commends the book for offering a broad portrait of the church’s mission history, including issues of division undergirded by church politics, and ethnocentricism (p. xxiv).  Myopic ethnic divisions have played its part in whatever problems the church has had over the years.  In my judgment however, the unbridled orientation towards denominationalism, moral permissiveness, clericalism, and the neglect of Wesleyan spirituality at the deeper levels have done more to weaken the Methodist witness than anything else.  The bottom line in the failure of the Methodist Church to carry forward the seeds sown by its forebears is human sin.  Dr. Essamuah has been courageous in pointing that out.  It is his ability to capture the triumphs and failures of their ministry that makes the stories of the Apostles credible and Rev. Dr. Essamuah has followed that method in the documentation of the mission history of the Methodist Church Ghana. 


On the whole, Dr. Essamuah gives a very hopeful account of the ministry of the MCG.  He points out that following its autonomy from the British Conference in 1961, the Methodist Church Ghana channeled its efforts into a long process of contextualization.  If we take our eyes off that observation we will miss the heartbeat of this impressive work.  For the thrust of the work, as he mentions in the introduction, ‘is to show that Ghanaians accepted Methodism on their own terms and reworked it to fit their own needs’ (xxix).  This thesis, I am happy to add, fits my own observation that Methodism must never be defined in denominational terms.  Rather, it must be seen as a form of spirituality comparable to Pentecostalism or Conservative Evangelicalism.  Thus in the appropriation of Wesleyan Methodism, local Ghanaian Methodists belonged to a Church, but in the same breath, they adopted a form of Christian spirituality that put a lot of emphasis on scripture, prayer, fellowship, holiness and the sort of revivalism that comes through singing locally composed songs such as we have through the Ebibindwom.  The Ebibindwom for example has remained part of the Ghanaian Methodist heritage almost two centuries after missionary work began in Cape Coast and is a major hallmark of the camp meetings in contemporary Methodism.


The book, originally a PhD dissertation written under the supervision of one of the most accomplished mission scholars of our time, Prof. Dana L. Roberts of Boston University, is made up of eight chapters of average length each with very important appendices.  Every book has its central theme and Genuinely Ghanaian succeeds in sustaining its central argument that ‘Ghanaian Methodism is the product of indigenous efforts’ (p. xxvii).  In doing that, the book identifies with Lamin Sanneh’s argument that ‘translation empowers vernacularization’, and with Andrew Walls’ point that ‘conversion need not be culturally discontinuous’, and further with Robert Schreiter that ‘in constructing their own local theology, Ghanaian Methodist Christians have demonstrated a lively and concrete response to the gospel’ (xxxvi).  Following these observations, Dr Essamuah carefully provides ample proof using concrete examples that underscore the ways in which Ghanaian Methodist Christians came to own a form of spirituality birthed through the ministry of John and Charles Wesley and mediated in our part of the universe through Wesleyan missionaries from Great Britain towards the middle of the 19th century. 


An observation made by a Methodist historian, one David N. Hempton and cited extensively on page 6, gives an idea of the basic understanding of what we refer to in this review as Methodist spirituality.  Hempton wrote in part:


Methodism’s attractiveness lay in its ‘anti-clericalism, anti-Calvinism, anti-formalism, anti-confessionalism, and anti-elitism.  Empowerment was from God, knowledge was from the scriptures, salvation was available to all and the Spirit was manifested, not in structures and ecclesiastical order, but in freedom and heart religion.


The Methodist Church in Ghana has always been an indigenous church and so as the book points out, ‘in requesting autonomy MCG was attempting to legalize what was already the case in practice’ (p. 38).  The MCG, because of its impressive intellectual Christian tradition, has always carried on its shoulders the hopes and aspirations of the country.  That a leading member of the tradition, Dr. Kofi A. Busia became the Prime Minister of Ghana, albeit for a short time, is testimony to the central role that the church has played in the life of the nation.  The book documents these contributions by Ghana Methodism to the socio-political order (chapter 4).  In addition considerable attention is paid to how a number of the leading circuits of the church came into being.  In all this the lay involvement has been very evident.  The reflections on the adoption of the Episcopal tradition just at the point where the book terminates is a matter that we must keep our eyes on for the future.  The adoption of the Episcopal system, although recognizes that ‘ministry is not the exclusive preserve of the ordained’, has the potential to change the original ecclesiology of the MCG as an anti-elitist and anti-clerical church.  The system, if not properly managed, could thus lead what we call clericalism in ecclesiology.  Clericalism in the context of church life refers to situations in which the clergy become custodians of ministry to the exclusion of the laity whose work then become marginal to church life although they are in the majority.  Mercifully, the example of Nigeria where the adoption of Episcopacy seems to have been retrogressive is there for us to learn from.  Given the many challenges that the church has faced, how the MCG manages its Episcopal system, discussed in chapter 6, will determine the future direction of the Church as a leading player in the indigenous missionary enterprise.


There are a number of things that in keeping with its chosen title, makes Rev. Dr. Casely B. Essamuah’s book, ‘genuinely Ghanaian’.  First the book is written by a son of the land who had all his pre-university education in Ghanaian Methodist Schools.  Second, Dr. Essamuah is also a child of the manse who at the undergraduate level at the University of Ghana, was an active member of the Ghana Methodist Students’ Union.  Third, as his brief biographical sketch indicates, he has an impressive Ghanaian Wesleyan heritage behind him and Dr. Essamuah also belongs to the more evangelical stream of Ghanaian Methodism.  For those who want to remain faithful to the tradition, the Evangelical orientation is significant if any reflections on Methodist missions are to be put in its right perspective.  Additionally, Dr. Essamuah has been a personal friend, even a brother, for many years and I do not know of any Methodist minister living abroad who shows as much interest in the life of the church in Ghana, as he does. 


My point is that this work is the result not simply of a PhD dissertation but one that flows out of the life and experiences of one who is himself a genuine Ghanaian Christian and a dyed-in-the-wool Methodist of the Conservative Evangelical stock.  These observations are evident in the material contained in the book.  There is no doubting the fact that Pentecostal/charismatic Christianity has become the representative phase of African Christianity but in Ghana, as elsewhere on the continent of Africa, it is impossible to talk about that stream of Christianity without reference to the work of the Methodist Church.  The emphasis on lay participation in ministry and the revivalist approach to mission ensured that the seeds of pneumatic Christianity were sown very early in the land and helped with the emergence of such movements as the one led by Africa’s indigenous prophets, William Wade Harris and Samson Oppong.  Their ministries are discussed from pages 24 through 35 and there Dr. Essamuah draws attention to the positive role that they played in the spread of Methodism in Ghana.  This book should be read as a sequel to Roots of Ghana Methodism and those with interest in the mission history of the church, especially historic mission history, cannot afford to ignore the contents of this volume.   


Copies are available from the author at






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