DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World


Written by: on June 1, 2017

How Africa Shaped Christianity


To my generation, the stories of the white missionaries going into an uncivilized world of Africa to share Jesus have always been the truth told; and the only book the white slave owners allowed their black slaves to read was the Bible has always been the truth told.  Those truths led some Black Americans not to believe the Bible was inspired by God but a tool to control the slaves. Dr. Thomas C. Oden thesis “Africa Shaped the Christian Mind,” though not directly addressed, challenges those truths. Could it convert those individuals that those truths may be traditional stories and encourage them to seek the truths of the kingdom?  Before I expressed my views on this thesis, I wanted to learn something about the author. He is a white male and a Methodist theologian. One author referred to him as “one of the most consequential evangelical scholars and theologians of our time.” [1] In reading about him, I found him to be a respected scholar.

Oden shares many thoughts, support, theories and points on the effects of Africa on Christianity. He wanted African scholars to do their research to bring forth the truth of Africa’s seed in Christianity. He defined seven ways on how African Christianity informed the Western and World Christianity. They are:

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. [2]

Oden felt that the above were essential in the transfer of intellectuals from Africa to Europe. He supports his theory saying the Canon and the first Christian psychology were written in Africa. He further states “Africa had a major hand in crafting the basic Latin and Greek views of sin and grace, creation and providence, atonement, eschatology, baptism and the life of prayer.” (Kindle, location 475)  Book reviewer Bryan states in his reviews that “Oden’s support for his thesis was an outline for an argument.  It raises Oden’s point that African Christianity is ancient and predominant theological processes of early Christianity were not to Africa but from Africa.” [3] It is a pilot light to ignite other scholars to begin research on the effect of Africa’s seeding Christianity. There’s a wealth of information here that should be addressed further.

As an African American preacher, his comments on the black preachers promoting to the African American congregation that their life and ancestors struggles and oppression is similar to the Hebrew slaves (Exodus). Okay maybe not in those exact words, he referenced it as ‘African Exegesis.’  Many African American Christians relate the African slaves in American to the struggles of the Hebrew slaves. One could say the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, relating to the freedom of American slaves was similar to God freeing of the Hebrew slaves from Pharaoh. God prepared the Promised Land for the people and punished Moses by not allowing him to enter. In his speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr used a similar expression in his speech, ‘I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, which we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!’[4]

My thoughts: This theory that Africa is important in the development of Christianity may be considered blasphemy for some Evangelical Christians in our current climate. Is it truth or tradition according to the African exegesis that the freedom paths of the African slaves are similar to the Hebrew slaves? Are the American slaves Promise Land a world of turmoil?


[1] George, Thomas, Reversed Thunder: A Tribute to Thomas C. Oden (1931-2016), Christian Today, accessed June 1, 2017,

[2] Horrell, J. Scott, Bibliotheca Sacra, Jan-Mar 2010 vol.167 no. 1 issue, accessed June 2017,

[3] Oden, Thomas J., Book Review of ‘How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the Africa Seedbed of Western Christianity,’ African Journal of Evangelical Theology 27.1 2008, accessed June 1, 2017,

[4] King, Jr., Martin Luther, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, American Rhetoric, accessed June 1, 2017,

About the Author

Lynda Gittens


  1. Mary Walker says:

    “This theory that Africa is important in the development of Christianity may be considered blasphemy for some Evangelical Christians in our current climate.
    I wonder too, Lynda. No one ever told me in our church history class that Augustine, Athanasius and all the rest were from Africa. Hopefully it is not being done deliberately but out of ignorance of history.

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      Oden would argue it was deliberate, at least from the influential German tradition of the 19th & 20th centuries. Harnack, Hegel, Schleiermacher, etc.
      “…a specific prejudice of Hegelian idealism to assume that everything of intellectual importance that happened near the Mediterranean is really at heart European and therefore hardly could be imagined to have had an African origin” (58). This is DEEPLY ingrained (as you’ve discovered in your studies) and requires deliberate deprogramming.

      • Lynda Gittens says:

        I agree with you, Katy. Many of the African and the African-American investments in the fruits in Christianity and American inventions were covered up. In our church, our founding pastor educated us and impressed upon us that blacks were in the Bible and key in many parts of the Bible history.
        We only had a Black Jesus. He wanted us to know that we matter to God.

  2. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Lynda appreciate your reflections. I would say that the many within the African American experience in the United States would feel as though we were never freed. With documentaries like “13th” by Ava DuVernay it is clear that the origins of our justice system and particularly our prison system has become the “new” form of slavery.

    Not that anyone wants more reading but theologian Howard Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited and Black Liberation Theologian James Cone’s book God of The Oppressed both address this similar topic.

    • Lynda Gittens says:

      Thanks for the reference Christal. South Africa is a great opportunity. Please include West Africa on you bucket list.

  3. Stu Cocanougher says:

    This is more of a side note. One thing that surprised me on my trip to Zambia. Zambians are aware of the slave trade that happened there over a century ago. Arabic slave traders captured and sold many Zambians. Yet, it was missionaries like David Livingstone and other British leaders who opposed the slave trade in Zambia.

    My Zambian friends told me “white people” are held in very high regard as those who FOUGHT AGAINST the slave trade in their country (there is still some bitterness towards Arabic people).

    Men and women in Zambia do not identify with Moses in the same way that U.S. African Americans do. Zambians simple do not know anyone who is the descendent of a slave.

    In Zambia (and many African societies) it is the TRIBE, not the color of one’s skin, that denotes class. Many Africans would rather have a white person over to their home for dinner as opposed to an African from another tribe.

    (South Africa is an obvious exception).

    • Lynda Gittens says:

      HI Stu,
      Your comment regarding them more acceptable to having white people come to their home than their own is because they know the nature of their own. When the white people come to the mission, they are on their best behavior and do not show their prejudices. There were many who fought against slavery and true to their call from God. The natives believe that all white people are good. But we know that is not true. If fact, my experience in Ghana was, I was an American, therefore I was white. That is not true.
      It is interesting tat they have a concern about Arabic.
      The Zambian’s are not the only African’s that reject the Black Americans. They say we are not African so they take kindly to the term African American. That’s why many of us use the term Black.

      • Stu Cocanougher says:

        Labels are certainly confusing, no matter where you come from.
        The Bantu word for “white person” (Mzungu) is sometimes used to refer to anyone not from Africa… including African Americans. I have a white friend from South Africa, who is now a U.S. citizen who refers to herself as an African American.

  4. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Those who label European missionaries in Africa as complicit with slavery should read this…

  5. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    “Those truths led some Black Americans not to believe the Bible was inspired by God but a tool to control the slaves.”

    It seems they were both right and wrong on this. Yes, unfortunately, history shows slave owners using “biblical” arguments to justify their ownership of other people and taught submission of slaves to masters based on scripture. Perhaps Oden’s book can redeem the Bible and the faith for many Africans (both on the continent and in the diaspora), as African scholars support his theories that much of our faith’s early scholarship emerged from the continent and spread outward.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *