How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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.)

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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."
Tite Tienou
"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 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!"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780830837052
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press
  • Publication date: 7/23/2010
  • Series: Early African Christianity Set
  • Pages: 204
  • Sales rank: 1,192,363
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas C. Oden (Ph.D., Yale University) recently retired as Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology at The Theological School of Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. He is general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and author of numerous theological works, including a three-volume systematic theology.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Toward a Half Billion African Christians An Epic Story Out of Africa The Pivotal Place of Africa on the Ancient Map Two Rivers: The Nile and the Medjerda—Seedbed of Early Christian Thought Affirming Oral and Written Traditions Self-Effacement and the Recovery of Dignity The Missing Link: The Early African Written Intellectual Tradition Forgotten Why Africa Has Seemed to the West to Lack Intellectual History InterludePart One: The African Seedbed of Western Christianity1 A Forgotten Story Who Can Tell It?
Pilgrimage Sites Neglected Under Sands: The Burial of Ancient Christian Texts and Basilicas2 Seven Ways Africa Shaped the Christian Mind How the Western Idea of a University Was Born in the Crucible of Africa How Christian Exegesis of Scripture First Matured in Africa How African Sources Shaped Early Christian Dogma How Early Ecumenical Decision Making Followed African Conciliar Patterns How the African Desert Gave Birth to Worldwide Monasticism How Christian Neoplatonism Emerged in Africa How Rhetorical and Dialectical Skills Were Refined in Africa and Introduced to Europe Interlude: Harnack's Folly Overview 3 Defining Africa Establishing the Indigenous Depth of Early African Christianity The Stereotyping of Hellenism as Non-African Scientific Inquiry into the Ethnicity of Early African Christian Writers The Purveyors of Myopia The African-Priority Hypothesis Requires Textual Demonstration The South-to-North Hypothesis A Case in Point: The Circuitous Path from Africa to Ireland to Europe and Then Back to Africa A Caveat Against Afrocentric Exaggeration4 One Faith, Two Africas The Hazards of Bridge Building The Challenge of Reconciliation of Black Africa and North Africa Overcoming the Ingrained Lack of Awareness The Roots of the Term Africa Excommunicating the North Arguing for African Unity Defining "Early African Christianity" as a Descriptive Category of a Period of History How African Is the Nile Valley?5 Temptations The Emerging Task of Historical Inquiry The Catholic Limits of Afrocentrism The Inflexible Habit of Ignoring African Sources The Cost of the Forgetfulness Overlooking African Voices Already Present in Scripture How Protestants Can Celebrate the Apostolic Charisma of the Copts The Christian Ancestry of AfricaPart Two: African Orthodox Recovery6 The Opportunity for Retrieval Surviving Modernity The Steadiness of African Orthodoxy The New African Ecumenism Pruning Undisciplined Excesses Burning the Acids of Moral Relativism Orthodoxy: Global and African Historic Christian Multiculturalism Reframing Modern Ecumenics Within Classic Ecumenics7 How the Blood of African Martyrs Became the Seed of European Christianity Whether Classic Christian Teaching Is Defined by Power How the History of African Martyrdom Shaped Christian Views of Universal History Recalling the Exodus as an African Event Amassing the Evidence The Challenge of Young Africa8 Right Remembering Remembering the Scripture Rightly Through the Spirit The Heart of African Orthodoxy Transcending Material Worldliness Avoiding Racial Definitions of Apostolic Truth 9 Reshaping the Relation of Christianity and Islam Through Historical Insight The Risks Scholars Take Empathizing With Sub-Saharan Suspicions of the North Conjointly Studying the History of Islam and Christianity The Rigorous Language Requirements of African Research Arabic Christian Studies Learning from Primary Sources Appendix: The Challenges of Early African Research Three Aims of Future Research The Precedent The Scope The African Center of the International Consortium The Consortium of Scholars Assembling the Pieces of the Puzzle Academic Leadership Maximizing Digital Technologies Publishing Outcomes ConclusionLiterary Chronology of Christianity in Africa in the First MillenniumBibliography

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    "African" or "African"?

    Thomas Oden's motivation for writing How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind is two-fold. First, he hopes to present an African tradition of Christianity that will both encourage the growing African Christian population today and counter claims that Islam naturally has stronger ties with the African people. Second, he hopes to convince Western Christians of the important contributions that African theologians made to the development of Western Christianity. On the second point, I believe he makes a convincing case, although another more in-depth analysis is needed. On the first point, he's extremely weak.not on combating Islam, since that's easy enough to show that it's not an indigenous religion, but on giving Africans their own ancient Christian heritage. Oden dismisses race as irrelevant and bemoans the schism between the Coptic Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox traditions of North Africa and the Western traditions of Sub-Saharan Africa, presenting it more as an accident of Westernization rather than anything tied to the realities of the ancient past. He prefers geographical identification based on the modern definition of "continent" rather than actual social contact. Were Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, and others "African"? Sure, if you want to define it that way. Should Christians study the works and lives (martyrdoms) of these "Africans"? Of course! But is there a special meaning for Christians of "Negro," "black African," "Niger-Congo," or Sub-Saharan heritage? No. And that was Oden's central claim.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2010

    "tip of the iceburg"

    I recommend this book to anyone who likes to be one of the first to learn about untapped, future world movements.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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