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January 18, 2008

Book: How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity
Author: Thomas C. Oden
InterVarsity Press. Downers Groove, IL. 2007. Pp. 204

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

The thesis of this book can be stated simply: Africa played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture. Decisive intellectual achievements of Christianity were explored and understood first in Africa before they were recognized in Europe, and a millennium before they found their way to North America.

Christianity has a much longer history than its Western or European expressions. The profound ways African teachers have shaped world Christianity have never been adequately studied or acknowledged, either in the Global North or South.

My question: How did the African mind shape the Christian mind in the earliest centuries of Christianity?

The challenge that lies ahead for young Africans is to rediscover the textual riches of ancient African Christianity. This will call for a generation of African scholars to reevaluate prejudicial assumptions that ignore or demean African intellectual history.

An Excerpt from the Book:

How the History of African Martyrdom Shaped Christian Views of Universal History

The meaning of the struggle of early African martyrs begs to be understood in modern Africa. It was a countercultural, risk-laden, sacrificial, pre-Constantinian struggle for integrity in the face of overwhelming political power. It is a history of hagiography and martyrdom that would later turn into a history of exegesis and rigorous discipline.

It was amid that period of martyrdom that the teachings of African orthodoxy were decisively refined. It was in that context that Africa gave birth to the enduring ecumenical doctrines of creation, providence, sin, atonement, resurrection and the church ó its liturgy, eucharistic life, teaching, and discipleship, refined by the fires of African experience.

Living toward eternal life through death became the experiential basis for translating the Christian gospel into African terms. They were formulated with much greater nuance and defended against early distortions in pre-Constantinian Africa more than elsewhere.

Early Christian views of universal history arose more directly out of this African Christian history than from Europe. This is documented in the Western literature on the meaning of human history. Africa produced the greatest texts in early Christianity on the interpretation of universal history. The African writers were very early in addressing it systematically and thoroughly. Major African reflections on the whole course of human history are seen in the early African writings of Minucius, Felix, Arnobius, Lactantisu, Tertullian and Origens. All these preceded the synthesizing historical work of Eusebius who took their sources and made them available to the churches of the East and North in Asia and Europe. Without Africa, Eusebiusís library would be very thin.

Table of Contents:

Part One: The African Seedbed of Western Christianity

1. A forgotten story

2. Seven ways Africa shaped the Christian mind

3. Defining Africa

4. One faith, two Africas

5. Temptations

Part Two: African Orthodox Recovery

6. The opportunity for retrieval

7. How the blood of African martyrs became the seed of European Christianity

8. Right remembering

9. Reshaping the relation of Christianity and Islam through historical insight

Appendix: The Challenges of Early African Research