DMINLGP

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

Forgotten, Ignored, Recovered

Written by: on September 8, 2017

My first visit to Africa was in college, when I studied abroad in Cairo for two months. It’s very difficult to imagine Egypt as “Africa,” because we in the West, when we think of “Africa,” we are formed to imagine sub-Saharan (black) Africa. The author of course addressed this and defined the term “Africa” generically in the beginning to describe the entire continent. He continued to make a case for a deep rootedness in thought, experience, and worldview, which ties these peoples with seemingly divergent histories together, as a primary influence on the Christian mind throughout the world today.

 

The second time I visited Africa was to travel with Emmanuel Kopwe (from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania), who was working on reconciliation in conflict regions in sub-Saharan Africa. We met at the airport in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2005. The influence of colonialism was palpable, and the consequences could be experienced with all five senses. The church was caught up in the divisions and conflicts of the communities, villages, and government. I was invited to a gathering of denominational leaders and dignitaries. The clergyman were jockeying for position at the table, each wearing his own liturgical tradition’s version of ornate European vestments. Yet, poverty, enmity, hatred, and violence was ravaging the land and the church was mirroring the conflict. Emmanuel was trying to help bring reconciliation to the country via reconciliation in the church. Reflecting on this experience after reading this book causes me to share the conviction that the recovery of a true history of Christianity that is deeply African, is most beneficial for the future unity, identity and flourishing of the church in Africa.

 

The author was neither unclear nor shy about the premise of his book. Oden clearly states repeatedly throughout the book that Africa’s contribution to Christianity throughout history has largely been not just forgotten, but ignored. While the examples he gives to support his points are sparse, the passion with which he argues, along with the sense that his research is thorough, is evident in every chapter of the book.

 

His arguments would have been more convincing if he had shown his work a bit more. For example, in writing about how the ecumenical council model was shaped in Africa a century prior to the Council of Nicaea, he makes the simple assertion: “They debated disruptive issues through rigorous scriptural inquiry” (49). But he gives no mention of neither the content nor the character of the issues they debated. I suppose it’s beside the point, except that his argument would be more convincing if he showed the reader more of the history he has discovered or uncovered.

 

I also found particular interest in how the African desert gave birth to European monasticism. That’s not surprising to read, though I wonder if there were not earlier Christian communities practicing a way of monastic life in the Judean wilderness prior the African (Egyptian) monastic experience. Certainly there were even Jewish communities, such as Qumran, who practiced a similar way of life and may have had more of an influence than did Africa. I really do not know because the author did not speak to their earlier communities. Oden’s work here is broad in scope, with many names scattered throughout history, and very different African communities described generically as African, as intended.

 

In general, I found the content of the book unsurprising, which made it challenging to keep my interest. Still, I found myself, as I read the book, reflecting back on the many narratives I have learned to the contrary, that the author aptly identified as Euro-centric and historically biased, or completely false to begin with.

 

As a former Roman Catholic Christian turned Reformed Christian, with a Bachelor’s degree in Classical Rhetoric, I have particular interest in the influence of Augustine in both western theology and western thought. He writes: “This pre-Eusebian tradition of African historical observers became the predecessors of the even more influential Augustinian understanding of universal history. Augustine drew together these African and Mediterranean sources in the most sophisticated and complete way in his magnificent work, ‘The City of God,’” which made its way throughout early medieval Europe, and an eschatology that is finally being recovered in the West today (121).

 

Another of the many great contributions of Africa to the Christian mind throughout the world is the deep sense of the active work of the Holy Spirit, built upon an orthodox pneumatology that has been in the soil of Africa for thousands of years. The role of suffering in the formation of African spirituality could have been more developed in the book, but the following is worth noting regarding today’s African Christianity: “The growing vitality of African independent Christianity today is not simply about the privately emotive, charismatic or the here-and-now work of the Holy Spirit. It also embraces the history of the Holy Spirit at work over the millennia in Africa. African Christianity is grounded in this concrete and palpable sense of redemptive suffering in history. As in the incarnation of the Son, the Spirit works in and through the flesh” (121).

 

 

About the Author

Chris Pritchett

9 responses to “Forgotten, Ignored, Recovered”

  1. Chris,

    In one of your concluding thoughts, you referenced:
    “The deep sense of the active work of the Holy Spirit, built upon an orthodox pneumatology that has been in the soil of Africa for thousands of years.”

    While I am convinced you are correct, Oden doesn’t offer examples of the Spirit at work in the early African church, but instead urges others to do that research going forward. I believe that this is a worthy area for investigation. The here-and-now spirituality expressed in independent charismatic African churches would benefit from the unveiling of the Spirit’s faithful hovering over Africa since the beginning of the church age. It would connect them to the past, to the blood of the martyrs and fidelity of the saints, and to their long-suffering brothers and sisters within Coptic Christianity.

    (By the way, I think you missed tagging your post within the LGP8 cohort. If you do, it will appear with the rest of ours.)

  2. Dave Watermulder says:

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for this post– looking forward to seeing you soon in Cape Town. You need to tag our cohort on this post so we can find it 🙂

  3. mm Jay Forseth says:

    I appreciate your thought that Africa’s contributions have not only been forgotten, but “ignored” and I must admit I am guilty of just that. Thanks for the insights and it will be good to meet face to face.

  4. Greg says:

    Chris,

    I am sure seeing north Africa and one area of sub-Saharan Africa has given you a small taste in the diversity of these 2 distinct areas that Oden in working to draw together. I agree that there were areas that could have and should have been dug out a little more. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Chris! You make the statement – “His arguments would have been more convincing if he had shown his work a bit more.” I’m curious how you feel about Oden’s challenge to the people of Africa to own their role in history (and subsequently do the work to prove it)? I have read varying opinions on this throughout the other blogs. Looking forward to seeing you in Cape Town?

  6. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Chris! You make the statement – “His arguments would have been more convincing if he had shown his work a bit more.” I’m curious how you feel about Oden’s challenge to the people of Africa to own their role in history (and subsequently do the work to prove it)? I have read varying opinions on this throughout the other blogs.

  7. Your experience in Africa made your insights valuable and engaging and I appreciated how you questioned the author based on your knowledge and experience. The part about Egypt was confusing to me also and his point about monasticism intrigued me as well. Great post!

  8. Shawn Hart says:

    Chris, you brought up Oden’s perspective regarding Africa’s influence on European monastic practices, and I too found that interesting. I have among my library somewhere (I apologize for not citing it, because I have not re-located the book yet), a book that talked about the early spread of the Catholic monastic push into Africa. From that book’s perspective, it was of course, the other way around. Because of that previous study from a few years ago, I could not help but wonder which side had corrupted, fabricated, or perhaps just used poetic license in the telling of their historic account. For me however, it seemed easier to see the Catholic church pushing out toward Africa rather than seeing Africa push up as though they were meeting the church somewhere in the middle.

    You also mentioned your time in Africa, while in Cairo. It was strange to me how you said that, only because I too went to Cairo, but never thought about it as “Africa”; it was just Egypt to me. For some reason, the culture did not cry out to me the way in a way that I even thought about being in Africa; it just did not feel like that to me. For that reason, I could see Oden’s point regarding the indoctrination that we have encountered, or perhaps it is the various cultures in Africa that do not demonstrate a united front, and therefore, it is more difficult for us as outsiders to truly see the entire country as an impact to Christianity.

    Great post; I enjoyed your perspective.

  9. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Chris,

    It bothered me as well that Oden either refused or was not able to to the leg work necessary to prove his point. Your insight on the turmoil of the churches in the Democratic Rep. of Congo was interesting. I would love to hear more when we get to meet.

    Thanks
    Jason

Leave a Reply