Reading How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind by Thomas Oden is eye opening. I am impressed with how the historic names (Augustine, Athanasius, Tertullian!), experiences and libraries that came out of North Africa, have influenced the world in significant ways. Classical Christianity has not owned the gems coming from this continent over the centuries. The impact of Oden’s text has great potential to challenge and change both the African and Western Christian mind if those minds are open to a new perspective that will shift their foundation. The question is, in my mind, how biased is Western Christianity against Africa as a primary contributor to their faith roots based on their current perspective of Africa? I also wonder at how much the African world (primarily Sub-Saharan Africa) will own this enlightened and honoring history with so much geographical, historical and cultural distance.
In thinking through the cultural and actual distance of Northern Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, or the rest of Africa, I can’t help but remember flying over the Sahara Desert in a huge jet. The Sahara is a massive and daunting piece of Africa to cross. I don’t know if many Africans south of the desert would ever truly identify with the heritage of North of Africa. As is happening through Oden, I suspect the West will do much to inform Africa of their heritage rather than Africa taking ownership of their historic accomplishments for African and global Christianity’s benefit.
I hope to be wrong in my suspicion. I would like to see Africa honored for the historic and modern contributions and value they bring to the Christian landscape.
One final note. As I read I kept thinking, ‘We are going to Africa!’ Then Asia and then Europe. We will get to see, even if not directly connected to the Middle East, from all three vantage points on Oden’s historic global Christian map. This is exciting to me as Christianity’s roots extend geographically to the Southern tip of Africa to the far east of Asia and to the United Kingdom. I have known this conceptually but being present to comprehend the lived experience of Christian history is thrilling.