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

Has Africa been Cheated?

Written by: on September 11, 2017

Last year I had the great privilege of taking a Holy Land  tour of Egypt, Jordan and Israel. During the time I spent in Egypt, my tour guide was emphatically attempting to declare that the Egyptians during the time of Moses were not actually the bad guys that we see in Scripture. He continued to express his belief that the way we understand their involvement in Scripture is simply a misunderstanding of the facts as we have had them presented to us. In Thomas Oden’s book, I was very anxious to see how he might support some of the claims that were expressed by my tour guide, but to my dismay, his arguments were for the most part, more full of conjecture and hypothesis rather than facts. As I read through each of his arguments, though there was the potential for some firm solid fact finding, instead all I found were road blocks throughout his reasoning. It is my belief that the following three struggles are what interfered with the goals of Oden; prejudice rather than evidence is not really an argument, scripture shows a different reality, and confusion between theological arguments and societal arguments.

First, Oden seemed to write more as one who had a grievance than one who was trying to demonstrate a scholarly point. Though he did make efforts to use big words and drop many names and regions in his report, what he failed to do on nearly every account, was to verify those claims with actual support. Instead it seemed that the primary goal was to merely make claims that he hoped someday someone else would be able to claim. At one point he made the comment, “My purpose here is to state the legacy in summary form rather than present a detailed explanation for each arena[1],” and yet had previously stated that “this attempt should be understood only as an early embryonic attempt for others to nurture and improve upon[2].” Though Oden had great passion by which he attacked this topic, it was his own coyly placed admissions regarding his own ignorance or lack of evidence that seemed to destroy his claims. As a result of his constant complaints using the word “prejudice” to describe the actions of the European and American cultures in regard to their treating of the African nation, sadly, the author seemed to be more present more prejudice himself, rather than authoritative.

The second road block Oden faced with making his point was that though he impressed in the introduction of his book that “Christianity would not have its present vitality in the Two-Thirds World without the intellectual understandings that developed in Africa between 50-500 c.e.”[3], he failed to notice that the scriptural precedence for the growth of the church cannot be ignored. The fact remains that even his reference to the Ethiopian Eunuch must have the recognition that in that story, Philip was the teacher, not the Ethiopian. The three different missionary journeys of Paul specifically demonstrate Paul taking the Gospel further than many others seemed to travel. Though it can surely be warranted to make a claim that through these journeys, the Gospel made it to Africa, and even prospered there; it does not seem a fair claim to say that it was Africa that was responsible for that initial growth. Furthermore, on my own personal level, I felt that the author failed to recognize that God was responsible with the Holy Spirit in the spreading of the Gospel; not Origen.

The third major road block Oden faced was that he himself seemed confused as to where he was taking the argument; was he grieved that the Christian movement in general seemed to overlook the contributions of Africa on the spiritual growth spectrum, and if so, was there a way to get that recognition? Or, was he grieved that in the over-all societal views of things, Africa seems to be the continent that cannot seem to get respect from anyone else. The reason this second issue seemed to present itself was due to the fact that the author not only seemed to place disdain on Christianity, but rather also on Islam and a host of other countries as well. If his arguments are historically based in the spreading of Christianity, then demonstrate that through evidence; in some areas, he tried to do that by showing the heritage of key theologians throughout the years. However, at one point he basically seemed to ask for a new look at all archeology that had ever been done, someone suggesting that history had a tainted view of things and needed to change their perspective. A claim like that can only be valid if there is already preexisting evidence to suggest it has merit, however in this case, there was not quoted.

History has always fascinated me, and for that reason, I was looking forward to the evidence I thought would be presented in this book. Sadly though, too often it seemed that Oden was just venting rather than actually supporting his claims throughout the text, which definitely distracted severely from his emphasis. The fact was that in the beginning I was eager to actually see history and the scholarly foundation shaken a little, but that was not the case. Instead it was the speculations and for the most part, unsupported hypothesis that worked against the initial impact of the book. I do believe that as Oden seemed to imply on numerous accounts however, that perhaps his attempt here was merely to spark the interest of some other scholar that would be motivated to prove his hypothesis sometime in the future; that would be a book worth reading.

[1] Thomas C. Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 1, Kindle.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

About the Author

Shawn Hart

4 responses to “Has Africa been Cheated?”

  1. mm Jay Forseth says:

    We need to talk! This past year I also went to Israel and Jordan. I didn’t get to go to Egypt, but I went to Rome on the same trip to study Paul’s final days.

    Looking forward to meeting you face to face.

  2. Shawn Hart says:

    I might not be able to stop talking. The trip was incredible, enlightening and for no better word, AWESOME! I look forward to sharing my stories with you and getting better acquainted. The history and culture and special little nuances that I learned and took part in will never be forgotten.

  3. mm M Webb says:

    Shawn,
    First off, thanks for your service. I hope we get a chance to discuss where you served. Maybe our paths crossed over the years in some austere downrange location?
    Regarding your post; nice job jumping into the class late and pushing out such a well thought out critical review of Oden’s work. I read several book reviews where his argument for Africa met with unfavorable evaluations.1 Despite the negative reviews, I think it is a good primer for our cohort before we get to Cape Town. While Oden may be a confusing and frustrating read, I think we will see much of the same when it comes to integrating our lives and research into the global Christian leadership context.
    See you there!
    M Webb

    1 “How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity.” Publishers Weekly 254, no. 41 (October 15, 2007): 57. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 6, 2017).

  4. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Shawn,

    Your post was an insightful read. I struggled as well with the lack of hard facts put forth. I felt as if Oden was angry about something but wanted others to do it. On the other hand I don’t know if his premise was completely wrong. Many of the early church fathers and writings came out of N. Africa, no doubt spurred on by the Holy Spirit as they tried to flesh out the idea of be a Christian.

    Look forward to meeting you.

    Jason

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