I’ve just read a fascinating book by Thomas Oden on how Africa became the seedbed for western Christianity entitled, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind.
Having just returned from Africa and going again this September, my interest was peaked about this topic. Oden’s premise is that Africa has played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture (p. 9). Often, westerners think that out missionaries brought the gospel to the heathen in Africa. Quite the opposite is actually true, the seedbed for our faith spread west from Africa. We’ve ignored the contributions Africans have made to Christianity and so have many African scholars and church leaders (p. 11). It’s the story of the children of Abraham in Africa; Joseph in Africa, Moses in Africa; Mary, Joseph and Jesus in Africa, and shortly thereafter Mark and Perpetua and Athanasius and Augustine in Africa (14).
I must confess that in my ignorance, I have often thought the same thing. I’ve just never taken the time research the spiritual treasures Africa has offered the rest of the world. Our modern day view is to look at the continent and see all of the destruction, wars, poverty, orphans and disease, especially HIV/AIDS.
That’s our view of Africa. In our short-sightedness, we’ve viewed Africa as only two or three centuries deep not two or three millennia. According to Oden, this is a narrow, modern view of history that ignores Christianity’s first millennium, when African thought shaped and conditioned virtually every diocese in Christianity worldwide (25).
Chapter 2 is of particular interest outlining 7 ways Africa has shaped the Christian mind:
1. How the birth of the European university was anticipated within African Christianity
2. How Christian historical and spiritual exegesis of Scripture first matured in Africa
3. How African thinkers shaped the very core of the most basic Christian dogma
4. How early ecumenical decisions followed African conciliar patterns.
5. How Africa shaped Western forms of spiritual formation through monastic discipline
6. How Neoplatonic philosophy of late antiquity moved from Africa to Europe
7. How influential literary and dialectical skills were refined in Africa
I guess there’s just one thing left to say: THANK YOU AFRICA for the rich legacy you have brought to the Christian faith. For more information on Oden’s Center for Early African Christianity, click this link.