DMINLGP

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

An Exposed Truth

Written by: on September 7, 2017

Thomas Oden conveys passion for historical accuracy and spiritual justice in his book How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind:  Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity.  “Ordinary African Christian believers deserve to have a much more accessible way of understanding early African Christianity:  its faith, courage, tenacity and remarkable intellectual strength.[1]  Oden’s intent is not to prove Africa’s role in the beginnings of Christianity (however he presents plenty of evidence), but to challenge African scholars to seek truth, discover their contributions, and write and defend the “conciliar tradition of the African church”.

The undercurrent of Oden’s writings highlight a history of bias, racism and oppression towards Africa and their contributions to early Christianity.  “The generalization took hold that wherever there might have been any modest African influences, they are likely to be viewed as inferior and backward in relation to the unfolding positive developments of reason in history that flowed from Europe”.. “If good ideas appeared in Africa, they must be attributed to Europeans”[2]  Oden also explores the “heartbreaking African history of martyrdom”[3] “African blood on African soil”. [4] He tells of centuries of persecution of Africans – by the Romans, Arabs, colonial powers, jihadis, Nigeria and Somalia – and further questions the concept of orthodoxy which “has nothing to do with truth but only with power” which is simply a “powerful majority that has manipulated its way into durable power”.

I have never acclimated to our disturbing Christian history (violence, slavery, persecution, oppression, etc.) and I can’t help but bridge an analogy to the present racial tensions in the United States.   I would venture to say that mainstream Christians have spent centuries perpetuating our faith as “the White man’s religion”.  “The Christian faith occupies a complicated, often racialized place in the history of Blacks all over the globe because of how it was abused by White colonists and slave traders to subjugate Blacks.”[5]  Because Oden courageously exposed the truth of our Christian heritage, and we’ve digested his writings, we are now responsible to challenge and educate the “establishment”.  Who is the establishment?  Our schools of theology, our churches, historians, scholars, theologians, students and fellow Christians.  Biblically, our directive to expose truth is clear:  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”  John 3:19 (NIV) Therefore, it is each of our duties to raise these disparities in our understanding of Christianity – as much as it is our responsibility as Christians to denounce racism and advocate for historical accuracy to our own Christian story in the United States.

If you have never been oppressed, it may be challenging to recognize the significance of an altered truth (history).  However, that is a function of privilege – to have a safe and comfortable historical reality that feels very connected to whom you are.

My prayer is that Africa will seek the truth, and teach the truth.  The willingness to receive the truth will be on us.

 

[1]       Oden, Thomas C. How africa shaped the christian mind: rediscovering the african seedbed of western christianity. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2010. ebook location64

[2] Oden, How africa shaped

[3] Oden, How africa shaped, ebook location975

[4] Oden, How africa shaped, ebook location 975

[5]        Lincoln, Charles Eric., and Lawrence H. Mamiya. The Black church in the African American experience. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.

 

 

About the Author

mm

Jean Ollis

11 responses to “An Exposed Truth”

  1. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Hi Jean, I’m looking forward to meeting you in person!

    You do a great job of making this book personal and drawing out our responsibility in response to the reading. Do you foresee any opportunities for you to challenge or educate the “establishment” in your spheres of influence?

    I notice that you brought up the section of the book on Whether Classic Christian Teaching is Defined by Power (Kindle loc 983). This was one of my favorite sections of the book, but after reading your take, I’m wondering if I misunderstood what Oden was saying. I thought that Oden was trying to make the point that the history of African martyrdom was one of the best counter-arguments to those who claim that Christian Orthodoxy was the result of political power. By saying in that same section, “There is no conceivable sense in which Felicitas or Perpetua or Cyprian would be reasonably viewed as political winners or as economic victors in worldly terms,” I thought Oden was insinuating that these people were, indeed, victors in terms of their lasting contributions to Christian Orthodoxy despite the fact that they were martyred (Kindle loc 990). It seemed to me like he was arguing that Christian Orthodoxy won out in Africa, without the support of any political entities, thus proving that Orthodoxy is NOT just the result of political and economic coercion.

    It sounds like you understood Oden to be saying that the African martyrs give us cause to question the concept of orthodoxy because it was not the truth but the result of power. Can you say more about this?

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Good morning Jennifer (or good afternoon in France)! Thank you for your challenging feedback…I had to take some time to read those sections of Oden again to formulate my thoughts. I was approaching the concept of persecution and power between Europe and Africa – in that Europe has been able to lay claim on Christian history and create their own narrative. I think you’re absolutely right that within the African continent, martyrdom looked different than it did in Europe.
      If you view the scenario using social dominance theory, however, it says that power is always at play – a person or institution in power will always “rise to the top”. While I want to believe that isn’t the case in Christianity, unfortunately I’m afraid it is. I welcome more discussion…

  2. Dave Watermulder says:

    Hi Jean,
    Just a quick note to say, “thank you” for bringing the notion of “privilege” into the conversation here. Part of what Oden seems to be doing is pro-actively trying to reach people to say “there are things you didn’t even know you have been missing” and one of the reasons we’ve “missed them” is that we have a level of privilege where we don’t “need” them. We already have a narrative which leads neatly and nicely to our current stage of life– and yet, here is a disruptive book that challenges us to see things differently. Thanks for bringing that idea to the table.

  3. Jean, this is a good thread and I appreciate you bringing up the idea of privilege and how it distorts our perception of reality. They say that history is written by the victors, and we observe even in our own theological development as Western Christians that we’ve often been been blind to the African origins and influences in our faith.

  4. mm M Webb says:

    Jean,
    I really liked your “altered truth” comments in your post about Oden’s book. I never thought of it as privilege to have a “safe and comfortable historical reality” but I hear you. After reading and reflecting on Oden’s allegations against the Euro-Western take-over of Africa’s Christian tradition it made me wonder if there were more places in the world where this has occurred over time. I suspect it has, knowing how much Satan wants to divide, disrupt, and destroy Christianity and takeover any soul who would try to advance the truth of Christ. Praise God that despite the evil one’s best efforts, he is a defeated created being that can only function within the permissive will of God.
    Therefore, while academically I see the logic in Oden’s problem in trying to right the wrongs of the past, my spiritual gut says I am better off focusing on the present and future advancement of God’s kingdom and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I look forward to that challenge and calling with you and our LGP8 cohort.
    Stand firm,
    M Webb

  5. Greg says:

    Jean I appreciate you bringing in the idea of racial tension in the States. I was thinking about this as I read the book as well. The reality of our upbringing and what has been labeled “Christian behavior” is frightening. We do have a long way to go but should ourselves feel that we can challenged by the Word and not the World’s view. See you soon.

  6. I agree with your quote…”Therefore, it is each of our duties to raise these disparities in our understanding of Christianity – as much as it is our responsibility as Christians to denounce racism and advocate for historical accuracy to our own Christian story in the United States.” I was very much challenged to do my part to protect and advocate and your heart for this came through clearly in your post. It will be fun to have another MSW in the cohort. Great post!

  7. Shawn Hart says:

    Jean, great strong points, especially in regard to the ethical nature we are all responsible with in teaching the Gospel. However, my struggle with the direction of the text in regard to the “black” issue is that I am not convinced his accusation is entirely merited. I agree that there are racial problems in the world, but in all of my reading and studies, I cannot recall one time I actually felt as though history was discriminating against the black man or against Africa. I do however feel as though there have been way too many people in power position that seem to want to take credit for something that God is responsible for. When king Sennacherib walked across the land dominating every people he came in touch with he started to think that it was all about his own accomplishments. It was at that point that God is finally pushed to the point of telling him that all that he had accomplished was only because God allowed it in the first place. Oden keeps blaming others, as well as taking credit for something that race really had nothing to do with; in fact, the reason the Gospel spread across the globe was because God made it happen. The very story of Stephen’s stoning taught us that even in fear and threat of death, God could spread the Gospel even though men tried to extinguish it. My belief is that Oden is teaching the wrong lesson to the people of Africa if he truly wants to see them united.

    However, with all that said, you are completely right in the fact that all of us are privileged, and for that reason, we have a responsibility.

    Great post.

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