Book Reviews -- By: Matthew S. DeMoss
BSac 167:665 (January-March 2010) p. 112
By The Faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary
How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the Africa Seedbed of Western Christianity. By Thomas C. Oden. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007. 204 pp. $22.00.
Oden brings his patristic expertise and focused studies in African Christianity to bear in this pioneering book. Oden is the retired Henry Anson Buttz professor of theology at the Theological School of Drew University and author of numerous works including The Rebirth of Orthodoxy (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003) and a three-volume Systematic Theology (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006). He is also the general editor of the twenty-nine-volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998- ), and the forthcoming Ancient Christian Doctrine series on the Nicene Creed. He was Dallas Seminary’s 2009 Griffith Thomas lecturer.
How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind argues that the formative flow of early Christian thought was from south to north, rather than the commonly assumed belief that Christianity is a European transplant on African shores. Oden sets forth seven ways that African Christianity informed Western and world Christianity: (1) the Western concept of the university; (2) Christian exegesis of Scripture; (3) early Christian doctrine (Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Athanasius, Augustine); (4) modeling conciliar patterns for ecumenical decision-making; (5) birth and development of monasticism; (6) Christian Neoplatonism; and (7) the development of rhetorical and dialectical finesse. The book asserts the indigenous nature of African Christianity that developed along the Nile and Medjerda valleys and extended through Ethiopia and Sudan, possibly moving southward into sub-Sahara Africa through Bantu migration. Repeatedly the author affirms that “African Christianity has arisen out of distinctly African experience on African soil” (p. 13), that is, North Africa is as fully African as is southern Africa (p. 79). Indeed, the very term “Africa” was first applied to the Tunisian peninsula and gradually evolved to include the entire continent.
Oden invites a new wave of scholarship regarding African Christianity in that much is literally buried under the sand or may exist deep within sub-Sahara African traditions. It is easily forgotten that Alexandria was once the intellectual center of the world and a major location for both Jewish and Christian populations. The work opines that now is the time for the recovery of African orthodoxy, especially given the rapid expansion of African Christianity, the new hunger for intellectual depth,...
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