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

Inter-Varsity Press / 2008 / Hardcover

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Product Description

Once labeled the "Dark Continent," Africa's impact on Christianity is astonishing! From cultivating the modern university to maturing biblical exegesis and refining doctrine, it has dramatically shaped Christian identity from its earliest roots to contemporary expressions. Offering a fascinating portrait of African influence, theologian Oden uncovers historical insights that could serve to advance relations with Islam. 168 pages, hardcover from InterVarsity.

Product Information

Format: Hardcover
Number of Pages: 168
Vendor: Inter-Varsity Press
Publication Date: 2008
Dimensions: 8.25 X 5.50 (inches)
ISBN: 0830828753
ISBN-13: 9780830828753
Availability: Available to ship on or about 10/06/14.
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Publisher's Description

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.

Author Bio

Thomas C. Oden (Ph.D., Yale University), formerly Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology at The Theological School of Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, is now director of the Center for Early African Christianity at Eastern University, St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He is the general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and the Ancient Christian Doctrine series as well as the author of , a revision of his three-volume systematic theology.

Author Bio

Thomas C. Oden (Ph.D., Yale) recently retired as Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology at The Theological School of Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. He is general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and the author of numerous theological works, including a three-volume systematic theology.

Endorsements

"Rarely has a work of such brevity distilled so much vintage wisdom with such elan. How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind fills a crucial gap between the early church in Africa and Western Christianity, and represents a timely challenge to Christian Africans and to a post-Christian West. It will be impossible---and foolhardy---to ignore this book." —Lamin Sanneh, Professor of World Christianity and of History, Yale University

"How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind is a bold call to rehabilitate the earliest African contributions to the shaping of world Christianity. As such, it is a major resource for all people interested in the history of the Christian movement. Oden's focus on the intellectual dimension of Africans' role in the formation of Christian culture may surprise some, but it is a much-needed welcome corrective to the assumptions held by many. In my opinion, this book is one of the most significant contributions to the literature on world Christianity. Must reading!" —Tite Tiénou, Dean and Professor of Theology of Mission Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Publisher Description

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.

Publisher's Weekly

Where is the cradle of Christianity—Europe or Africa? After teaching historical and systematic theology, Oden is surprisingly just discovering what other scholars have argued for some time: that the earliest contours of Christianity can be easily traced to Africa. After all, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Plotinus and Augustine—to name only a few early Christian thinkers—were Africans. In this tiresome and repetitious book, Oden belabors the already well-established notion that Christianity’s roots can be found in Africa. He does draw helpfully on his work on the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series to demonstrate that the intellectual contours of Christianity—academics, exegesis, dogmatics, ecumenics, monasticism, philosophy, and dialectics—developed in Africa. However, Peter Brown (Augustine of Hippo) and other writers have clearly recognized this contribution, and Oden’s naïve and hyperbolic book is more embarrassing than enlightening. Oden’s study is most suited to those who are entirely new to the debate and who will benefit from resources such as a time line of early African Christianity and a reading list for further investigation of the subject. (Jan.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Editorial Reviews

"Rarely has a work of such brevity distilled so much vintage wisdom with such élan. How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind fills a crucial gap between the early church in Africa and Western Christianity, and represents a timely challenge to Christian Africans and to a post-Christian West. It will be impossible--and foolhardy-- to ignore this book."
" How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind is a bold call to rehabilitate the earliest African contributions to the shaping of world Christianity. As such, it is a major resource for all people interested in the history of the Christian movement. Oden's focus on the intellectual dimension of Africans' role in the formation of Christian culture may surprise some, but it is a much-needed, welcome corrective to the assumptions held by many. In my opinion, this book is one of the most significant contributions to the literature on world Christianity. Must reading!"

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Displaying items 1-5 of 6
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  1. Robert
    Africa
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: male
    1 Stars Out Of 5
    Wish I could be more positive.
    July 23, 2013
    Robert
    Africa
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: male
    Meets Expectations: 1
    I am sure that Dr Oden has the best of intentions in desiring to awaken interest in early North African Christianity. But he might have chosen a better way to do this than by attacking scholars who have worked for many years in this area.

    My problem with his book is his obvious ignorance of the vast amount of research and writing already accomplished on the early Christian history of North Africa. His bibliography makes no reference to the extensive work by French scholars, for example, nor to Frend on the Donatist Church, nor even to my own more modest contribution in "This Holy Seed: Faith, Hope and Love in the Early Churches of North Africa" (Tamarisk, 1992, 2nd edn. 2010).

    A theological school in New Jersey may not the best place from which to assess what is known and taught in Africa. Dr Oden admits to "residing on the other side of the earth from Africa." Those of us who actually live here may have a less romantic, fanciful and emotional view of the continent and its people and history. We may also have much more information about it. In Zambia, for example, I have found African lecturers well informed about the Christian history of the Maghreb. Has Dr Oden ever visited the region or spoken with scholars actually working on the ground? Is he aware of what is being taught here and in the theological faculties of France, Egypt and Jordan? It appears not.

    The problem is made worse by his tendency to condemn us with allegations such as, "It has become a distinctly modern European prejudice to miss this simple point" (page 58). He speaks of "European chauvinism" (p.23) and of "neglect" and "inattention" (p.30). He alleges that "Africa's ancient Christian heritage has languished for many centuries." He speaks of evidence being ignored and suppressed because we have "assumed the mental superiority of north to south" (p.31). These are racist allegations and highly offensive. They are also complete nonsense. European theologians have always held Augustine, Cyprian and other early North Africans in the highest regard.

    Throughout his book, Dr Oden writes as though no one except himself has ever given serious thought to North African church history. I understand that he is a theologian, not a historian or archaeologist. But when a scholar steps out of his own speciality into a new field of study, it behoves him to do so with a measure of humility and deference to those who have been there before him and have indeed devoted a lifetime to matters of which he is ignorant.

    In my view, his judgment is flawed on two very specific issues which he unfortunately chooses to emphasize. Firstly, he vastly overrates the significance of the Medjerda river as a means of communication. It is hardly equivalent to the Nile. In fact early Christian remains are scattered throughout the region, not restricted to the banks of this small seasonal watercourse.

    Secondly, he identifies as "African" the Latin Christianity of the colonial elite in the coastal towns. He says, "For the purposes of this discussion, if a text was written in Africa it will be treated as African" (p.69). This skews the discussion considerably. To call this urban literary Latin Christianity "African" is naive, to say the least. It is equivalent to calling the Dutch Reformed faith of the Boers a manifestation of African spirituality. But Dr Oden barely mentions the Donatists or the Circumcellians of the inland areas, who were far more authentically African. In cultural terms, the most "African" of the early writers was Arnobius, but I can find no reference to him at all.

    Dr Oden gives no indication that he asked any recognised scholar to read and critique his text before publication. Had he done so, he might have seen good reason to revise and extensively modify what he wrote. To sum it up, I think that the title of this book claims far more than it offers. It is a lavish production but has no index, no footnotes, and very few references to known authorities. It is more akin to a political tract than a work of serious scholarship. It is an impassioned plea rather than a balanced assessment. In consequence, it must be treated with great caution.

    Finally, although I clearly have reservations about his book, I hope that Dr Oden's desire to awaken interest in this subject will be well rewarded.
  2. Pennypincher
    St. Petersburg, FL
    Age: Over 65
    Gender: female
    3 Stars Out Of 5
    A call to scholarly reearch, not church history
    August 12, 2011
    Pennypincher
    St. Petersburg, FL
    Age: Over 65
    Gender: female
    Quality: 4
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 1
    It was a disappointment, because I was expecting to find out about the contributions of early African Christians and the story of the African Church. Instead, it was a repetitive call for more research by Africans. I got more out of the listing in the back of the book, than the text itself.
  3. IanR
    Wellington
    Age: Over 65
    Gender: male
    3 Stars Out Of 5
    June 22, 2011
    IanR
    Wellington
    Age: Over 65
    Gender: male
    Quality: 3
    Value: 3
    Meets Expectations: 2
    The topic is fascinating, but the writer presents it in a highly polemic manner. It is presented as a call for repentance by Western Christianity for their failure to acknowledge their debt to African Christians.

    I preferred Jenkin's presentation of the same topic.
  4. Tonya Fennell
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    May 24, 2010
    Tonya Fennell
    Not an easy read but a worthwhile one. I didn't know that so much of the happenings of the early church occurred in Africa. Dr. Oden explains church history using ancient maps not modern maps. It makes so much sense.
  5. David Roundtree
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    December 1, 2009
    David Roundtree
    This book was a breath of fresh air. Out of all the sermons, teachings, talks, and seminary lectures I have heard, no one wanted to talk about the 800 lb. gorilla in the room. It was nice to read an established minister and professor shed some light on this subject. The chronology in the back of the book should prove to be helpful to every serious pastor or teacher who wants to share biblical and historical insights. An excellent resource about a sensitive subject. Well done!
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