January 7, 2013

Made in Zambia: Meet Conrad “The Spurgeon of Africa” Mbewe

by Clint Archer

Zambia is not a country known for its exports; it’s not like you encounter “Made in Zambia” stickers skulking under your kids’ toys or your iPhone. But if Zambia only shared one product with the world, it should be Conrad Mbewe.conradmbewe

This statesman, scholar, preacher, writer is Africa’s premier expository export. He ranks as one of the most influential Reformed preachers and writers to come out of Africa since Augustine “I may not look African, but I am” of Hippo. (Little known factoid: JRR Tokein was born in South Africa, but since The Hobbit is technically fiction, not theology, he doesn’t count.)

After working in the copper mines of Zambia, Mbewe felt called to the full-time pastoral ministry. Swimming against the cultural current that flows lazily along the path of least resistance, the young Mbewe jumped through the bureaucratic hoops and trappings of red tape to study internationally, and acquired the MPhil (Practical Theology) and MA (Pastoral Theology). His then resisted the siren call of comfort abroad, and returned to his beloved country to pastor Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka. His undeniable giftedness and contagious passion soon catapulted him to prominence in the African Reformed Baptist circles.

Mbewe’s fearless confrontation of the shallow theology and unbiblical practices endemic to African denominations has been credited with (blamed for) the widespread migration of Zambian Christians from their erstwhile Arminian, Pentecostal, seeker-sensitive allegiances, to the bourgeoning Calvinistic, Cessationist, expository ministries. What Al “While you sleep I read books, and write some too” Mohler did for the Southern Baptist Seminary, and by extension the theological landscape of American Evangelicalism Mbewe did for the country of Zambia and by extension the Evangelicals of Central and Southern Africa.

World Magazine ran an article in 2003, which examined the parallels in his ministry that earned him the affectionate sobriquet of “The Spurgeon of Africa.” Here is an excerpt,

Mr. Mbewe isn’t sure why listeners compare him to the British “Prince of Preachers.” Perhaps it is because Mr. Spurgeon too toiled to the point of collapse, ministering to a congregation of 4,000, delivering sermons 10 times a week, managing an orphanage, and running a preachers’ college—all of which culminated in exhaustion and gout.

Or perhaps it is because Mr. Mbewe shares Spurgeon’s love for writing. Spurgeon edited and wrote for his monthly magazine, The Sword and Trowel; Mr. Mbewe has been writing two columns a week for the last 10 years in the country’s Daily Chronicle newspaper. One is a sermon, while the other examines popular social questions and is tailored for the ordinary man, similar to Spurgeon’s selection of parables, John Ploughman’s Talk.”

His preaching is featured on monergism.org, sermonaudio.com, and gospelcoalition.org, and his conference schedule has him hobnobbing with the likes of John “I can land a plane with these gestures” Piper, CJ “my letters are before, not after my name” Mahaney, Mark “I think and speak at Mach 9” Dever, and other objects of our Evangelical hagiolatry.  Check out The Gospel Coalition video where Don “Call me D.A.” Carson interviews Conrad here.

I first encountered this living Puritan when he shared the pulpit with John “I can preach like an African too” Piper at the 2010 Rezolution Conference in Johannesburg. I scribbled his name on my mental bucket list of preachers to interview. When I heard he would be the keynote speaker at the African Pastors Conference, hosted by our church, Hillcrest Baptist Church, I began to salivate.  Last night I lured him into my Q&A clutches with the promise of choice South African steak.

Conrad MbeweI asked him, among other things…

1) What information would be helpful for Evangelicals in the West to know about the state of the African church?

2) What would you want to tell the Evangelical church in America and the UK about how best to be involved in God’s Kingdom work in Africa?

3) What advice can you give pastors who want to pursue a ministry beyond their local church, e.g. writing and/or conferences?

His penetrating insights were jaw-dropping, and his thoughtful and thorough answers left me with a cramp in my hand from note-taking, and a cold medium rare fillet.

Next Monday I’ll share what I gleaned from the interview.

If you have any pressing questions you want to pose to Mr Mbewe, let me know; I’m seeing him again in the next couple of days, and unless he’s careful, I’ll corner him again.

[Clint “annoyed by these yet?” Archer]

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.