Red Letters

Red Letters

How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind

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.

Comments read comments(7)
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Heidi DeMaio

posted June 13, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Fascinating stuff … can’t wait to read it. Thanks for the synopsis!

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Tom Davis

posted June 13, 2011 at 1:10 pm

My pleasure Heidi. You’ll love the book!

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Tania Daniels

posted June 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I totally agree Tom! I have been learning these same truths over the last few years. AND…as you well know, Africa is now one of the leaders in the Christian world again with more Christians in Africa than in the US and incredible growth this last century. It’s wonderful to see what God is doing in every continent. Who are we (myself definitely included) to ever have thought that we were the end all, be all of the Christian world.

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Debbie Titus

posted June 15, 2011 at 8:30 am

Interesting. Thanks Tom

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Tom Davis

posted June 26, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Deb, (not Debbie),

Your comment was removed, not only b/c it was in the wrong spirit, also b/c it was entirely false. You are looking at the net assets of the entire organization.

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Deb Blalock

posted June 27, 2011 at 9:40 pm

I take offense to your reply. I do not think it is in the “wrong spirit” to be informed of the charities before I donate. If your personal compensation is incorrect then Charity Navigator is the one in error. I am researching all CEO salaries of Christian charities and they place yours at 4%. If that is not correct then I would be interested in supporting you.

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Tom Davis

posted June 27, 2011 at 9:48 pm

You should absolutely research and make an informed decision. I was trying to say that your decision was based on inaccurate information. Go back and look. Happy to discuss this with you personally via phone or email. Thanks!

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