How Africa Shaped The Christian Mind

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Review: How Africa Shaped The Christian Mind

Dr. Thomas Oden, author of How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind

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When were the seeds of Christianity first sown on the continent of Africa? From a WELS historical perspective, one might recall the Synodical Conferences start of mission work in Nigeria in 1936 or Wisconsins Lutheran African MissionExploratory Expedition to central Africa in 1949. We, however, certainly were not the first to bring the gospel to Africa. Others might cite the 19th centurythe Mission Centurywhen concerted efforts in the West took the Gospel to the heart of Africa. The Gospel, however, had already been on the continent for centuries by that time. One could point to the Age of Exploration, when European explorers first navigated the coasts of Africa and other new territories. But even then there were already Christian communities on the continent that had been there since the earliest centuries of the Christian church.

Sadly, this historical reality has been often ignored or, at least, underappreciated by many in the Western Christian church for a variety of reasons. Many Christians in Africa are unaware of that ancient Christian heritage, as well. Thomas Odens How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind is an attempt to address that common ignorance or misunderstanding among so many in Christianity.

What People Are Saying About This

Lamin Sanneh

“Rarely has a work of such brevity distilled so much vintage wisdom with such élan. How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind fills a crucial gap between the early church in Africa and Western Christianity, and represents a timely challenge to Christian Africans and to a post-Christian West. It will be impossible–and foolhardy– to ignore this book.”Lamin Sanneh, Professor of World Christianity and of History, Yale University

Tite Tiénou

How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind is a bold call to rehabilitate the earliest African contributions to the shaping of world Christianity. As such, it is a major resource for all people interested in the history of the Christian movement. Oden’s focus on the intellectual dimension of Africans’ role in the formation of Christian culture may surprise some, but it is a much-needed, welcome corrective to the assumptions held by many. In my opinion, this book is one of the most significant contributions to the literature on world Christianity. Must reading!”

Tite Tiénou

How Africa Shaped The Christian Mind: Rediscovering The Africa Seedbed Of Western Christianity

Oden brings his patristic expertise and focused studies in African Christianity to bear in this pioneering book. Oden is the retired Henry Anson Buttz professor of theology at the Theological School of Drew University and author of numerous works including The Rebirth of Orthodoxy and a three-volume Systematic Theology . He is also the general editor of the twenty-nine-volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture , and the forthcoming Ancient Christian Doctrine series on the Nicene Creed. He was Dallas Seminarys 2009 Griffith Thomas lecturer.

The book includes an appendix that traces African Christian development from Mark and Apollos onward to Philotheos, patriarch of Alexandria in A.D. 1000. An excellent bibliography and six maps are helpful in visualizing the locations of Nilotic and Numidian Christian centers.

How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind is a helpful challenge to consider the primacy of African theology in the first centuries of the church. Repeatedly Oden chides academics for its Eurocentric assumptions. Even black nationalist advocates who have exalted every other conceivable aspect of the African tradition seem to have consistently ignored this patristic gift lying at their feet . Such repetition at times is belabored and, the point being made, detracts from the fertile content of the work. Yet the authors intent is to encourage the nearly half billion African believers.

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Where is the cradle of ChristianityEurope or Africa? After teaching historical and systematic theology, Oden is surprisingly just discovering what other scholars have argued for some time: that the earliest contours of Christianity can be easily traced to Africa. After all, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Plotinus and Augustineto name only a few early Christian thinkerswere Africans. In this tiresome and repetitious book, Oden belabors the already well-established notion that Christianitys roots can be found in Africa. He does draw helpfully on his work on the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series to demonstrate that the intellectual contours of Christianityacademics, exegesis, dogmatics, ecumenics, monasticism, philosophy, and dialecticsdeveloped in Africa. However, Peter Brown and other writers have clearly recognized this contribution, and Odens naïve and hyperbolic book is more embarrassing than enlightening. Odens study is most suited to those who are entirely new to the debate and who will benefit from resources such as a time line of early African Christianity and a reading list for further investigation of the subject.

Rediscovering The African Seedbed Of Western Christianity

Book Summaries
How Africa Shaped the Christian Mindpaperback

Africa has played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture from its infancy. Some of the most decisive intellectual achievements of Christianity were explored and understood in Africa before they were in Europe.

If this is so, why is Christianity so often perceived in Africa as a Western colonial import? How can Christians in Northern and sub-Saharan Africa, indeed how can Christians throughout the world, rediscover and learn from this ancient heritage?

Theologian Thomas C. Oden offers a portrait that challenges prevailing notions of the intellectual development of Christianity from its early roots to its modern expressions. The pattern, he suggests, is not from north to south from Europe to Africa, but the other way around. He then makes an impassioned plea to uncover the hard data and study in depth the vital role that early African Christians played in developing the modern university, maturing Christian exegesis of Scripture, shaping early Christian dogma, modeling conciliar patterns of ecumenical decision-making, stimulating early monasticism, developing Neoplatonism, and refining rhetorical and dialectical skills.

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