Festo Kivengere: Keswick Theology Matures in East Africa

Theologically, the influence of Keswick theology upon the East Africa Revival cannot be overstated. For Joe Church, the team approach to evangelism was performed in little ‘Keswicks’ across East Africa.[1] More has been said about this in my previous post. Still, while there is reason for critique of Early Keswick Theology in Europe or America,[2] there are at least two positive effects of Keswick theology on the East African movement.

First, the emphasis on personal and public confession of sin led to a perceived atmosphere of humility. More than anyone, the missionaries were in need of this. One of the hallmarks of missions in the high imperial period was an air of superiority and paternalism from the missionaries towards “primitive” peoples. Had this attitude remained, the people of East Africa may have spiraled back into paganism. Keswick theology begins with human sin and moves individuals toward introspection, repentance, and daily consecration. The most obvious sins of the missionaries were pride, prejudice and racism. The public confession of these sins to the nationals not only humbled the missionary but elevated the national. A sense of equality emerged. Christianity moved from being perceived as a European religion to an African religion (really, a global religion).

Second, prior to the revival, many of the “Christians” of East Africa were but baptized pagans. Paternalism breeds weak Christians. This has been increasingly documented by missiologists. The Enlightenment driven missiology, that emphasize external conformity rather than worldview change, encouraged this type of syncretism.[3] The implementation of Early Keswick Theology exposed these falsehoods. Personal salvation was emphasized; furthermore, a certain level of Christian fruitfulness was expected. Right or wrong, there a clear dividing line between filled/unfilled, saved/unsaved was being drawn. Legalism aside, baptized paganism was no longer an option.

On the other hand, negatively, Keswick theology led to all sorts of other legalisms, elitisms, and excesses. These have been roundly identified, though not always blamed on the views of Early Keswick Theology. The excesses have been blamed on the Africans’ culture, not on the theology that drove the movement. That is unfortunate.

Joe Church, William Nagenda, Festo Kivengere

Sermon: The Triumph of God’s Glory — Festo Kivengere

Festo Kivengere and the Maturing Global Movement

Nonetheless, the Revival movement did not settle for an imported theology. Particularly with Festo Kivengere, the movement matured. John Senyonyi identifies three emphases in Festo’s preaching: (1) the Cross of Jesus; (2) the Love of Jesus; and (3) the Holy Spirit.[4] Festo became an international advocate for the love of Christ, exemplified in the cross. The Cross is where the love of God is exemplified, in that Jesus paid for sin. At the cross, all sinners are seen equally. The love of God was demonstrated in the cross because that is where Jesus died on behalf of sinners. The Holy Spirit testifies to the Jesus through the word. It was Jesus who went to the cross to conquer sinners’ sin. Rather than preaching “Revival” or about the revival, Festo preached Jesus. Senyonyi argues that this is where Festo excelled over the revival, in that he focused so much on the love of God through the cross.[5] The revival message was not that revival had come; rather, the revival message was that Jesus had come, died on the cross for each sinner, and raised from the dead. The revival quickly matured because of this christo-centric focus. This also led Festo and other revival leaders to fight against splinter movements within the revival that tried to add another step in the gospel, such as the “reawakening” movement.[6] That the revival leaders took these steps without outside intervention demonstrated the maturity of the revival. Therefore, the revival may have begun as Keswick, but as its leaders matured, so did its theology.

Another key element of the revival was that it was trans-denominational. The Keswick Ruandan mission found more in common with the various Protestant Alliances than with the Anglican Church. The ‘balokole’ never split from the Church of Uganda, to its credit, but the revival was not solely among Anglicans. Brethren, Seventh Day Adventists, Mennonites, Baptist, Methodists, etc, were all touched by the revival both within and without East Africa. Festo Kivengere, though an Anglican Bishop, ministered largely in the broader evangelical world, through the East African Evangelistic Association, and through the global ministries of Billy Graham. Therefore, the revival had a definite global evangelical flavor.[7]

HT: Richard Bewes

[1] Church, Quest, 157, etc.

[2] Naselli, “Early Keswick Movement”, 5–6.

[3] See the works by Paul Hiebert, particularly, Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008).

[4] John M. M. Senyonyi, “Bishop Festo Kivengere’s Philosophy of Evangelism”, MA thesis, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1992, 126–32.

[5] Ibid., 133.

[6] MacMaster and Jacobs, Gentle Wind, 190–1.

[7] Richard Gehman lists seven positive results of the revival, many of which have already been discussed, as he also notes the Evangelical nature of the revival as a strong point. Richard Gehman, “The East African Revival”, East Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology 5.1 (1986): 46–7.



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  1. Wes,

    Your research on the East Africa Revival (as well as other revivals you have posted on in the past) is interesting to me, as well as a blessing.

    I am wondering if you are planning on commenting in an upcoming post on the relationship/disconnect between the revival and the subsequent tragedy/genocide in Rwanda. That is something that has bothered me for some time, and about which I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

    • Hey David, How are you brother? I hope you and your family are doing well. I certainly miss the conversations we were able to have last winter.

      I need to think about and research a little more on the relationship of the revival to the tragedy. Right now, I don’t have enough sources. After the revival spread into Uganda, and into the rest of East Africa, my research started focusing on Festo Kivengere. He is one of my favorite heros of Christian History now.

      Its interesting that in the 60s and 70s, that Uganda went through its own turmoil, under the genocidal, paranoiacal maniac Idi Amin. The influence of the “revived ones” persisted, and Festo’s responses to the dictator are legendary, but the turmoil changed the sociopolitical landscape. Uganda unlike Rwanda, though, was more pervasively influence by the revival.

      As the revival began in Rwanda, there seemed to always be tension between catholic and protestant, colonial government and mission. The sociopolitical climate was much more complex there. Its my understanding that in the NE part of Rwanda, revival fellowships continue to celebrate the annually the revival. It would be interesting to see how the revival influenced which peoples, etc. As I’m writing this, I’m trying to think of when I can do this research…perhaps after I finish this semester…hmmm. You’ve got me thinking! Let me get back to you on this one!


  2. Wes,

    I am doing well. I am hoping to get back on track with my studies soon. Hopefully, we can reconnect there in W. F.

    I’ll be looking for any further comments you have to share about this topic. There are a couple of interesting articles in back issues of EMQ analyzing the reasons behind the inability of the Church in Rwanda to do anything to prevent the killing. If you haven’t seen them, you might be interested in looking them up.

  3. Dear David and Wlh,

    Am writing on 11. November 2010. The original article was posted in March 2010.

    I am Rwandan and the questions you ask have been in my thoughts since i came across this revival story back 10 years ago. I heard it for the first time from Kenyans in our church (i live in Johannesburg, South Africa).

    At the time i had no training on researching these kinds of things. But i checked among Rwandans and i may say almost half of Banyarwanda (people speaking the Kinyarwanda language living in Rwanda and in neighbouring countries) have names that testify to a strong belief and faith in the Living God. This is an indelible mark the Revival left among the Banyarwanda.

    As a Rwandan i can understand why this movement seems not to have been relevant to the political leaders of the country. My answer is that the movement came as a challenge to the socio-political order of the time. As father Joh Baur wrote it, this Holy Spirit movement was easily embraced by the people in the north, and north east of Rwanda where a local god/cult called Nyabingi, expressed mainly through women, challenged social inequalities that favored an elite few. You have to remember that one of the features of the EA revival was the egalitarian status given to women (compared to men) and to blacks (compared to white masters).

    The local elite (whose mistakes were wrong blamed on those dubbed tutsis) as well as the colonial rulers and the church all feared this movement, especially considering the bitter experience the Belgian colonial masters had had with a similar movement in Congo started by a certain Simon Kimbangu. This is why there is a total black out with regard to the EA revival among french speaking writers of Rwanda’s history (secular and christian).

    Let me put a few examples of the enduring legacy of the revival on Rwanda (and Burundi):

    * The Rwandan president who was killed in a plane in 1994, an incident which sparked the genocide, was called Juvenal HABYALIMANA (This name, Habyalimana, means in Kinyarwanda that GOD GIVES BIRTH. The full explanation is HABYALIMANA ABANTU BAKARERA meaning that GOD GIVES BIRTH AND PEOPLE RAISE THE CHILDREN). He was born in 1937 in north west Rwanda, just two years after the known start of the revival.
    * The presidential candidate, who challenged current President Paul Kagame in the 2003 election is Faustin TWAGIRAMUNGU (Twagiramungu means WE HAVE GOD, Mungu is the swahili word for God. But actually this name is a statement that says “…We are grateful we have God, otherwise we would not make it…”). He was born in the mid 1940s in the south west of the country.
    * The current president of Burundi is Mr Pierre NKURUNZIZA (Nkurunziza means The Good News or the Gospel “about God or Christ”). He is much younger in his late 40s.

    These names are strong statements of faith by the parents of these people. They testify about the beliefs of the parents of these guys and others. I have found only recently that my own name is UWIMANA which means A CHILD OF GOD and i am trying to understand why i was not told that name in my growing up.

    The danger is that most Rwandans took these names for granted. But by them it seems that God, through the revival, pointed to the future, judging that the socio-political upheaval that has characterised Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, East of DRC and recently Kenya (sparing Tanzania) is only temporary; that eventually the future of this region will be marked by a deep yearning to know God, serve Him and live by His principle. In this case Tanzania would be an example for hope and future peace in the region. And as the lives of the pioneers of the revival demonstrated, change will lead to development for the whole region.

    The case of Rwanda ( Burundi) shows that the EA revival was a bottom up movement, starting at grassroots level in the 1930s and reaching the summit of the indigenous rwandan leaders in the 1940s (when King Rudahigwa dedicated his kingdom to Christ in October 1946). This indicates, at least to me, that revival is still possible in Rwanda (with the potential to engulf the whole region all over again) starting with the ordinary rwandan person. If the Gospel of Love can penetrate the hearts of ordinary rwandans and convict us of our sins, then the political situation which leads to the cyclical killings you know about would be halted.

    I have decided that i must work on this, by reserching the strengths and weaknesses of the revival and encourage rwandans to take back their heritage. In this light i have to thank God that the country was forced to get rid of the french language. Hopefully learners who are forced to study in english will stumble one day upon information about this revival, their heritage, and be stirred to regain it.

    I hope i am not wrong.

  4. Gabriel,

    I am humbled and honored by your response. Thank you very much for sharing about this and I pray that one day I will have the joy and privilege of reading your work and research on the legacy of the East African Revival.

    May God bless you!


  5. thanks be to God for that post. may God continue blessing abountantly because atleast i have got something to occupy me during my free time on addition to reading the bible “okuzukuka”

    • Yateesa, my brother,

      Thank you for your response. May God bless you abundantly! I pray that you will have the opportunity to learn more about the revival, but more importantly that the spirit of the revival, whose name is the Holy Spirit, will filled you completely each day!

      With love and respect,


  6. Norman Paul Desire February 16, 2013 — 13:30

    Am thankful to God for sharing this .As Rwanda and an evangelist feel that when some us though young when we heard Bishop Festo’s preaching his message frankly speaking his message was Christ centric but what we hear today is another gospel as the scriptures say within that gospel the power of God is reveled .There must be a return to the true gospel .

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