How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianityby Thomas C. Oden
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 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.
He calls for a wide-ranging research project to fill out the picture he sketches. It will require, he says, a generation of disciplined investigation, combining intensive language study with a risk-taking commitment to uncover the truth in potentially unreceptive environments. Oden envisions a dedicated consortium of scholars linked by computer technology and a common commitment that will seek to shape not only the scholar's understanding but the ordinary African Christian's self-perception.
Where is the cradle of Christianity-Europe 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 Augustine-to name only a few early Christian thinkers-were Africans. In this tiresome and repetitious book, Oden belabors the already well-established notion that Christianity's 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 Christianity-academics, exegesis, dogmatics, ecumenics, monasticism, philosophy, and dialectics-developed in Africa. However, Peter Brown (Augustine of Hippo) and other writers have clearly recognized this contribution, and Oden's naïve and hyperbolic book is more embarrassing than enlightening. Oden's 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. (Jan.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Lamin Sanneh, Professor of World Christianity and of History, Yale University
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Meet the Author
Thomas C. Oden (PhD, Yale University), is the general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and the Ancient Christian Doctrine series as well as the author of Classic Christianity, a revision of his three-volume systematic theology. He is the director of the Center for Early African Christianity at Eastern University in Pennsylvania and he formerly served as the Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology at The Theological School of Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.
Oden is active in the Confessing Movement in America, particularly within the United Methodist Church and is president of The Institute for Classical Christian Studies. He suggests that Christians need to rely upon the wisdom of the historical Church, particularly the early Church, rather than on modern scholarship and theology and says his mission is "to begin to prepare the postmodern Christian community for its third millennium by returning again to the careful study and respectful following of the central tradition of classical Christianity."
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