BOOK REVIEW: Kumuyi: Defender of the Faith

BOOK REVIEW: Kumuyi: Defender of the Faith
Kumuyi and his book

Being full text of Professor Ayodeji Olukoju’s review of Kumuyi: Defender of the Faith, written by Banji Ojewale, Segun Babatope, Emeka Izeze and Tunde Opeibi (Ope-Davies). The public presentation of the book was held in Lagos on Friday, September 17, 2021.

Biography is a genre of historical writing that deals with the lives and times of great men and women. It was justified by the English historian, Thomas Carlyle, who declared that history is more or less the story of great men (and women). However, scholars have criticized this view for overstating the importance of the individual in shaping history. That said, biography is different from autobiography, which is self-authored biography, though many autobiographies are, in fact, ghost-written. In all, biographies are rated in terms of content and quality of execution along a spectrum, with hagiography and hatchet jobs at both extremes.

Kumuyi: Defender of the Faith is the first biography of Pastor William Folorunso Kumuyi, the Founder and General Superintendent of the Deeper Christian Life Ministry (DCLM). The book, consisting of 336 pages, is authored by a formidable team of three frontline journalists (Banji Ojewale, Segun Babatope and Emeka Izeze) and a literary scholar of international repute, Professor Tunde Opeibi/Ope-Davies. Its subtitle, “Defender of the Faith,” derived from his name William. The book consists of fourteen chapters, which are appropriately titled to reflect events in chronological, thematic and expository orders. The authors skilfully deployed the literary strategies of flashback, repetition, silence and anonymity of sources in their presentation. The language is accessible and spiced with alliterative expressions typical of Pastor Kumuyi himself, while the narrative is laced with Scriptural exegesis and doctrinal exposition. Each chapter is prefaced by an epigram, a Scripture passage that captures the essence of the chapter, and the narrative is situated in the dynamics and currents of church history, contemporary developments and the Scriptures.

The book is not merely focused on Pastor Kumuyi as a person. It faithfully documents and explains the peculiar practices, innovations and milestones that constitute the Deeper Life brand.

In addition to the substantive chapters, the book contains the Foreword, Introduction, a compilation of Milestones, References and a comprehensive Index.  A total of 106 photographs document significant events and personalities in the life and ministry of Pastor Kumuyi from early adulthood to the present time.  Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, who shares a common Ijesha ancestry and secular career as a University Mathematics teacher with Pastor Kumuyi, wrote the book’s very profound Foreword.

In the Introduction, the authors declared that the book ‘is not a “commissioned” biography [and it is] … neither an academic critique nor a platform to praise-sing Pastor Kumuyi.’ It is rather “a plain account of the life of the man … put together by people that are close to him” and “demystifies the revered man of God” (p.1).  The book is based on several sources. The first are written testimonies of 48 members and non-members of the DCLM, both Nigerian and non-Nigerian, who have interacted with Pastor Kumuyi over the years. The second are books written by Pastor Kumuyi himself, such as The Blessedness of Believing: Great Testimonies from Africa-wide Crusade (2005) and Power for Youths, from the Power as of Old Crusade, 1996. The third are books by various authors about Deeper Life and Pentecostal Christianity in general.

The storyline in the book is as follows. Born on 6 June 1941 at Erin-Ijesha, Osun State, his paternal hometown, Pastor Kumuyi was raised by his parents, Mr. Gabriel Kumuyi Akinfenwa and Mrs. Comfort Idowu Kumuyi Akinfenwa in Orunwa in the Ijebu North-east Local Government, Ogun State. After completing primary school education at Orunwa and Owu-Ikija, Ogun State, he attended the famous Mayflower School, Ikenne. He then went on to the University of Ibadan and graduated as the overall best student with a First Class Honours degree in Mathematics in 1967. Earlier in 1964, he surrendered his life to Christ and from that point he never looked back.

Kumuyi: Defender of the Faith details the ancestry and upbringing of Pastor Kumuyi, his initial academic struggles, his somewhat epiphanic decision to change his negative attitude to learning with dramatic results, his journey through secondary and university education, the impact of home and school, great Christian leaders and the life-changing encounter with Christ in 1964. The book makes it clear that he was shaped by several influences: a principled and disciplinarian father; a doting mother, a spartan teacher in Dr. Tai Solarin (whose atheism ironically reinforced Pastor Kumuyi’s faith, but who nonetheless financed Pastor Kumuyi’s university education); the discipline and self-reliance inculcated at Mayflower, the world of books, especially, the writings and personal examples of his great mentors (John Wesley, Charles H. Spurgeon, Charles G. Finney) and his own personal principles. Various sources in the book, documented in Chapters 12 and 13, highlight his passion for holiness (sanctification) and evangelism, the sound and clear teaching of the Word of God, his emphasis on practice rather than mere profession, his exemplification of the power of personal example by Christian leaders and ministers, and his insistence on perfection in both spiritual and secular life.

Pastor Kumuyi’s challenging lifestyle and ministry are laid bare especially in chapters 9 and 10. It is shown that his primary calling is the ministry of the Word, which he teaches and preaches with uncommon authority, simplicity, clarity, profundity, passion, and alliterative elegance. He believes that great ministers “are made, not born” (p. 215) and that “no prophetic pronouncement is greater than the word of God” (p. 228). “All Scriptures,” an informant declared, “are not recommendations or suggestions to him, but mandates, commandments and covenants” (pp.220-21). Pastor Kumuyi’s ministry of the Word is accompanied by spectacular, verifiable miracles, both working together to lead souls to salvation. It is significant that he performs miracles both by the gift of Word of Knowledge and authoritative utterance rather than laying hands. For effect, he regards the salvation of souls as the ultimate miracle. “After several decades of … his own conversion,” we are told, “he still tells the story of his experience with fresh zeal and a happy twinkle in his eyes” (p. 229). Pastor Kumuyi does not rely on drama and rhetoric as props; he opposes eye service, self-pity, slothful service, insubordination, indiscipline, favouritism, retaliation and self-defence, and the company of angry persons. He avoids ostentation, does not earn a salary and never handles money. On one occasion, he reportedly could not distinguish colours of the new currency notes months after they went into circulation. Pastor Kumuyi’s travails, including the early loss of his father, his poor academic history up to junior secondary level, excommunication from The Apostolic Faith Church, physical assault and a dislocated ankle while on preaching tours, and harsh criticism from antagonists are well documented. However, none of those deterred him and he even considered his critics as God’s instruments to sharpen and toughen him.

Pastor Kumuyi maintains a pious composure and lifestyle, detached from any political or socio-cultural leanings. Living what he preaches, he “believes in holiness to the point of almost becoming ascetic” (p.177). For example, he has no female confidential secretaries, and, for him, “examples speak louder than words and practice impact more than precepts” (p.177). The American Professor of Theology, Peter C. Wagner, after studying him at close quarters, remarked that Pastor Kumuyi truly deserved the title of “Man of God” (p. 178). Described as “a self-starter … and a tenacious pursuer of excellent things” (p.174), he taught himself music and piano, and has “a remarkable knack for learning new ways of doing things … in furtherance of the gospel.” He is also endowed with soft skills, and special grace for untiring physical exertion in undertaking non-stop teaching and preaching, church administration, and incessant journeys to anchor programmes in Nigeria and overseas. His voracious reading is evident in the breadth and depth of his teaching and preaching, and the number of books that he authored. Famous for his short and powerful public prayers, Pastor Kumuyi must be a man of intense private prayers. A rare peek into his prayer life is provided on pages 306-307.

The book is not merely focused on Pastor Kumuyi as a person. It faithfully documents and explains the peculiar practices, innovations and milestones that constitute the Deeper Life brand. These include the codification and exposition of the 22 cardinal doctrines of the Bible, the modalities and standard for Christian marriages, from knowing God’s will through courtship to wedding, the famous Monday Bible Study that has run for almost 50 unbroken years, the Christian Women Mirror, Campus Pearl and Children magazines, the Sunday Home Caring Fellowship for adults, youth and children, the Easter, December and Workers’ Retreats, Church Growth and Ministers’ Conferences, the Leadership Strategy Congresses, the Decentralization of 1990, the creation of Language Churches, satellite transmission of church services, special programmes for youth, especially the massive Success Academy for Youths (SAY, 2001), annual Success Camp meetings and the Young Professionals Fellowship (YPF). Indeed, the book highlights the distinctives of the Church and its members.

Kumuyi: Defender of the Faith ends with an agenda setting final chapter entitled “The Years Ahead.” The authors note that even though Pastor Kumuyi is ageing gracefully, he is not “scaling down, toning down or signing out” (p.292). Hence, they projected that he would continue to do more of the same: preaching, writing books and “still answering to his name, William, Defender of the Faith.” As they conclude, “He will not retire from preaching. And he most certainly will not retire from praying either, nor will he abandon teaching the Word” (p.307).

The expectation of the authors that it “will be a tremendous blessing and inspiration to all” (p.4) is fully justified.

Like any other book, this volume is not flawless. There is no mention of the identity of the fifteen pioneers of the Bible Study Group that metamorphosed into the global ministry. There is also no reference in the text to the monumental work at the Deeper Life Conference Centre Campground along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. A source cited in the text (Wagner, 1988) is not listed in the Bibliography. The book reveals that Pastor Kumuyi was an avid early morning jogger (with his brother) as a youth but gives no indication as to how he has managed to keep fit when he could no longer do so.

These observations notwithstanding, this book speaks to a wide array of situations and circumstance in the life and ministry of the subject, to which any reader could relate: the travails of a struggling student, the emergence of a brilliant scholar, a young convert’s deep thirst for God while facing intensifying persecution by both unbelievers and fellow believers, the imperative of self-development, the divine call and challenges of birthing a ministry, instituting the ministry’s doctrinal grounding, raising a family and managing the home front, and superintending explosive growth and consolidation of a global church. In the end, each reader of this book will come to a better understanding of the man Kumuyi and his ministry.

I submit that Kumuyi: Defender of the Faith is a compelling account of the phases and facets in the life of a truly remarkable Minister of the Gospel of Christ. “Pastor Kumuyi,” a source noted, “has reproduced after himself a great army of dedicated ministers, profound preachers, Christian writers, devoted missionaries, and various professionals in almost all facets and disciplines.” (p.245). This book presents him as a man who submitted himself to God’s will to be changed and to be used to change other people’s lives. A man “subject to like passions as we are,” he has, by dint of personal resolve, perseverance, discipline, faith and application, fulfilled his God-ordained purpose of transforming generations under his direct and indirect ministry. A consensus about him is that nobody remained the same after hearing him preach or teach.  Curiosity about how two young proteges suddenly got transformed led this reviewer to Gbagada on Sunday, 20 March 1988. The rest is history.

Kumuyi: Defender of the Faith is an authoritative biography of one of the most influential Christian ministers of our time. The expectation of the authors that it “will be a tremendous blessing and inspiration to all” (p.4) is fully justified. The book is warmly recommended to all readers for its illuminating insights and didactic value.

I thank you for your attention.

Ayodeji OLUKOJU

Distinguished Professor, University of Lagos, Akoka-Yaba, Lagos

Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Chrisland University, Owode, Ogun State

Lagos, 17 September 2021