To be honest, I feel a little sheepish. It has never, not even once, crossed my mind which continent shaped the Christian mind. I don’t think I intentionally cut Africa out of it, nor did I intentionally think Christian thought came mainly out of Europe. I might be a tad bit racist, or just not that smart. On second thought, for sure, I am not that smart (just ask my kids).
Sure, I heard the Bible stories of folks who were from Africa. For instance, I knew the Exodus was from Egypt as well as Joseph taking Mary and baby Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath. I was taught Simon of Cyrene probably had colored skin. I didn’t know what a eunuch was but I read he was from Ethiopia, Africa, etc.
As I started to read Oden’s, “How Africa Shaped The Christin Mind”, it took me a while to realize just how significant Africa was in forming my thoughts about Christianity. However, I am not sure I understood the full breadth of this until I cheated and went to the back of the book and read the appendix of African Christianity listed out by each century. Then it hit me, Africa is VERY significant throughout early Christianity in spiritual formation.
Therefore, I was able to go back and read the main sections from Oden where he made his point-by-point case. I was immediately impressed I probably had slighted Africa many times in my life and not given them proper credit for spiritual formation for so many. This point was really driven home when I read with interest the number of Martyrs who paid with personal blood to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel. Now I feel more than a little badly for not giving credence to an entire continent of Saints.
Is it possible that Africa also has some responsibility in this lack of credit where credit was due? I have been to Africa on Mission Trips, and noticed often there the feeling of a significant lack of confidence. I am quite sure it has not always been this way, and for sure the tortures of slavery may have contributed mightily over the centuries to being beaten down, or maybe the ravages of disease with starvation have kept them down as well.
So, when I think honestly about Africa shaping the Christian mind, I have to take responsibility for simple European/American arrogance. Our histories, especially in the West, are full of expressions of power or attempts at domination over entire people groups, including Africa. Why is it that I think we are full of winners where other places in poverty should be labeled as losers. Please forgive me Lord for thinking such ways.
I am reminded that every time I went on a trip to a third world county, I started out thinking I was going to be a superhero and minister to “the least of these” like an American savior, but upon returning to the “land of plenty” realize they actually ministered more to me. I will never forget a pastor in Kenya telling me that they are praying for America because we have so much material stuff keeping us from God. That shook me to the core for sure. He was right. We might be wealthy in goods, but poor in what really matters.
I want to be a little transparent here. I hope you don’t think less of me. As I was reading Oden, I had the thought of UH-OH, the more I learn the less I know. For instance, I had to go back and review what BCE and CE stood for. On a recent trip to Israel, I saw these abbreviations and wondered why worldwide dates had changed away from BC and AD. It took me a little while to understand what “Before Common Era” and “Common Era” were referring to.
I also had to go back and relearn what COPTIC, ORTHODOXY, RELATIVISM, ECUMENICAL and AFROCENTRIC. I am not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, but my simple vocabulary hasn’t used words like these since my Master’s program. Some of the scholars in this cohort are certainly going to be more learned that me.
This is why I am so excited to visit and study in South Africa. It is going to stretch me in ways I do not now realize. Simply by being in the faraway land we will learn much. I can hardly wait.
I admit I am a little bummed that we have lost a few people from our cohort who were from distant places, who had different skin colors and voices that disclosed English was not their first language. I found myself yearning for more diversity of dialects in our group. It is not anyone’s fault. I simply assumed we would get more nationalities in our program. Please know, I am thrilled that some of my classmates are checking in from computers in distant countries like France and China, even Canada (sorry, I had to throw that dig in there).
Eventually, I would assume that some of our discussions will include Islam and how that shaped thought patterns in early Christianity, either in a positive or negative light.