Robert Kelleman reviews Thomas Oden’s “How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind”

Posted by Kendall Harmon

For Oden, and for "How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind," the "Africa" he speaks of is anything that happened on the African continent and anyone who lived and ministered on that continent. This avoids the endless debate, for instance, about which Church Father was or was not "African." How does one define that? By skin color? And by what amount of pigmentation? By nationality? Why wouldn't any nation in Africa be by definition African? By ancestry?

The ancestry issue coupled with geographical/cultural impact is Oden's most important contribution. In sum, he argues that even if Augustine, for instance, had a father whose ancestry was Greco-Roman, would that mean that Augustine, living his entire life in Africa was not African? Additionally, given that his famous mother, Monica, was almost definitely of Berber (north African) descent, would that not make Augustine African? And just as important to Oden, can we wipe out the impact on Augustine's parents and on Augustine of living in the African geography and partaking of the African culture?

So, for Oden, "African Christianity" is the Christianity of any person who was born and/or lived on the African continent. Thus, for Europeans to claim Augustine, Origen, Tertullian, and others is a robbery of immense proportion in Oden's thinking.

Given this perspective, Oden's entire book is actually a call for others to build upon his small start. It is a call to take seriously the oral and written tradition of material spoken and penned on the African continent. It is then a call to explore the past, present, and future impact of that legacy.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Culture-WatchBooks* International News & CommentaryAfrica

1 Comments
Posted April 25, 2008 at 11:47 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Alice Linsley wrote:

“So, for Oden, “African Christianity” is the Christianity of any person who was born and/or lived on the African continent. Thus, for Europeans to claim Augustine, Origen, Tertullian, and others is a robbery of immense proportion in Oden’s thinking.”

The same is done with contemporary figures such as Jacques Derrida, an Arabic speaking Jew from Algeria, who is always presented as a French speaking European.

Calling it “robbery” is probably too severe.  It is typically human to try to make the unknown fit a familiar mold. 

One problem with not recognizing the African context of such people is that we miss significant nuances in their thought.

April 25, 3:47 pm | [comment link]
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