It has become very popular recently to submit personal DNA to ancestry.com in order to explore one’s origins. Should the Church wish to engage in this process the search through our theological DNA must begin with How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, written by Thomas C. Oden.
Oden’s research question is, “How did the African mind shape the Christian mind in the earliest centuries of Christianity?”  He states, “My task is to show that the classic Christian mind is significantly shaped by the African imagination spawned on African soil. It bears the stamp of philosophical analyses, moral insight, discipline and scriptural interpretations that loomed first in Africa before anywhere else. The seeds spread from African north.” 
This book makes a strong case for the depth of our theological and ecclesiastical origins in the work of African scholars and leaders. Oden gives at least strong beginnings for the historical validity of early theological influence flowing from South to North, not the opposite. “The Christians to the south of the Mediterranean were teaching the Christians to the north. This flow of intellectual leadership in time matured into the ecumenical consensus on how to interpret sacred Scripture and hence into the core of Christian dogma.”  He discusses seven arenas of mental influence flowing from Africa: academia, exegesis, dogmatics, ecumenics, monastic communities, philosophy and dialectics. 
Oden demonstrates that there is a long history of sophisticated God-focused people’s in Africa. “Many Jews had lived multiple generations in Africa, especially in the great international city of Alexandria, for two or three centuries before the coming of Christianity. This is evident from their extraordinarily influential translation into Greek of the Old Testament, the Septuagint.” 
Corroborating witness for the longevity of African cultural and intellectual substance is found in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders To Better Understand the Bible. In this volume Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien write about a common misunderstanding of the problem of Moses marrying a Cushite woman. “It is clear that her ethnicity is the source of [Moses’] siblings’ disapproval. [But] The Cushites were not demeaned as a slave race in the ancient world; they were respected as highly skilled soldiers. It is more likely that Miriam and Aaron thought Moses was being presumptuous by marrying above himself. 
An experiential case-in-point regarding the depth of African Christian origins is embodied in Chief Peter, a Christian leader from Nigeria. When I met him in Uganda, the summer of 2016, I learned that he can trace is lineage to the sons of Noah. The farthest I can trace my own family is to the 19th century A. D. in Ireland. The Irish may have saved civilization,  but Africa contributed to its foundation.
(After writing the previous comment I read further in Oden, “How the Irish wold take the lead in this movement [of monasticism] is itself a longer story than I can tell here, but it has been told winsomely by Thomas Cahill in How the Irish Saved Civilization. The threads of evidence of African liturgical and exegetical influences in Ireland need to be carefully unpacked by astute historians…” )
Leadership and Global Perspectives? How is this for perspective: The West owes far more of a debt and of respect to our African theological roots than what is typically assumed. The new perspective is that the respect-highway typically runs backwards.
With the many themes and threads that might be traced through this book, I focus briefly on hermeneutics. “Hermeneutics is the art of understanding”  It is frequently thought of in the context of understanding literature, in general, and the Bible, in specific. Cross-cultural hermeneutics involves the engagement of this process with people of cultures different from our own. In the research for my dissertation, which is focusing on creating an international learning community, I have explored the value of cross-cultural hermeneutics. Several of the statements made by Dr. Oden reinforced the high value given to studying and interpreting Scripture with people of other cultures, and valuing the exegetical work done by ancient African Christians.
We in the West would like to believe that we are the scholastic leaders in the hermeneutical effort. But Thomas Oden makes a strong case for hermeneutics, as well as many other aspects of the Christian faith and tradition, being conceived and given birth in Africa. “Global Christianity has benefited [sic] incalculably from these meticulous works of African exegetes and moral theologians (notably Athanasius, Augustine and Cyril).” 
“The rules and methods of interpreting Scripture were decisively shaped not only by Africa’s greatest scientific investigator of sacred texts, Origen, but also by fourth- and fifth-century African exegetes like Didymus the Blind, Tyconius and Augustine of Hippo.” Oden also says, “The normative early Greek and Latin Bibles before Jerome (the Septuagint and the Old Latin Bible versions) were both products of Africa…patterns of interpretation became decisive for later studies in…exegesis.”  It was also the hermeneutical work of African scholars that set the course for how the Church debates and settles disagreements.
The deep wish of Thomas Oden was for thorough research into the African contribution to Christendom, and that young African scholars contribute significantly to this effort. “Ideally it should be an international consortium of scholars, which is what the website on early African Christianity (earlyafricanchristianity.com) seeks to encourage and supply with a steady flow of active research information.”  If his wish is ever fulfilled the results would be at least as substantive as Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age.
The final comment in this blog is about the author himself. Until mid-life Thomas Oden’s tent was pitched in the liberal camp of Christendom. But his life was changed by and in Patristics. In an interview with Al Mohler Oden said, “…by my 40th year, I became deeply invested in listening carefully to the classical Christian consensus … of the ancient Christian writers and their interpretation of Scripture.”  His growth brought him to appreciate classical Christianity through ancient Christian writers. He pulled up his tent stakes and moved into the Evangelical Christian world.
1. Thomas C. Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2007), 9.
2. Ibid., 10.
3. Ibid., 28.
4. Ibid., 42-59.
5. Ibid., 47.
6. E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders To Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2012), 60-61.
7. Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization (New York, NY: Nan A. Talese, Doubleday, 1995).
8. Oden, 74.
9. “Gadamer’s Hermeneutics.” T-Space. A web site captured and archived for the University of Toronto Libraries. Accessed April 9, 2017.
10. Oden, 51.
11. Ibid., 45.
12. Ibid., 74.