How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, By Thomas C. Oden alt

How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind

Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity

Early African Christianity

by Thomas C. Oden

How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind
  • Length: 204 pages
  • Published: August 20, 2009
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 7556
  • ISBN: 9780830875566

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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.


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

Part One: The African Seedbed of Western Christianity
1 A Forgotten Story
Who Can Tell It?
Pilgrimage Sites Neglected
Under Sands: The Burial of Ancient Christian Texts and Basilicas
2 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
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 Exaggeration
4 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 Africa

Part Two: African Orthodox Recovery
6 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 Ecumenics
7 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 Africa
8 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

Literary Chronology of Christianity in Africa in the First Millennium


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Thomas C. Oden

Thomas C. Oden (1931–2016) was 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. His books also include The African Memory of Mark, Early Libyan Christianity, and How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind. He wasthe director of the Center for Early African Christianity at Eastern University in Pennsylvania and he also served as the Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology at the Graduate School and The Theological School of Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.