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Never Crossed My Mind Which Continent Shaped The Christian Mind

Written by: on September 8, 2017

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.

About the Author

mm

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

9 responses to “Never Crossed My Mind Which Continent Shaped The Christian Mind”

  1. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Jay,
    Thank you for being vulnerable in your post! I do not have a Theology background so I will be learning the acronyms and terms with you. You had some insightful thoughts – but the one I want to focus on is your statement “Is it possible that Africa also has some responsibility in this lack of credit where credit was due?” It is a thought provoking question and prompts me to do research on why Christian history hasn’t been represented accurately. According to The Story of Africa Christianity (http://www.bbc.co.uk), “Christianity was an agent of great change in Africa. It destabilised the status quo, bringing new opportunities to some, and undermining the power of others. With the Christian missions came education, literacy and hope for the disadvantaged. However, the spread of Christianity paved the way for commercial speculators, and, in its original rigid European form, denied people pride in their culture and ceremonies.” The last statement of the quote seems to be a plausible explanation for why Africans have not been able to take ownership for their heritage. When a powerful, rigid group takes “control” (ie. the Europeans), Africans may have felt powerless (and were consequently oppressed) in the direction of their “story”. As you mentioned in your blog, westerners believe they have so much to offer Africa in terms of missions – when in fact, westerners have much to learn from Africa’s deep faith. Just a theory…

    • mm Jay Forseth says:

      You are WAY smarter than I will ever be Jean. Thanks for your comments and I can hardly wait to talk about MVNU when we get together in Cape Town.

  2. Greg says:

    Jay,

    I think there are several of us that have either been out of the theological academic world for a while or have never been in it. You are not alone in your admission of reading while looking up the definitions to various concepts. Thanks for your openness. It is disconcerting that it is easy to not think about this issue of Africa and its relationship to our history. We see our journey and our history through glasses made by our traditions. I too am looking forward to continue being challenged to see life, work, and ministry from another’s point of view. How do we continue to help those around the world without the “superhero” mentality that is so easy to fall into? There was Miss. Trip with a group of people that when the plane landed in the states they cheered and began to sing the national anthem. I wondered, “was there 2 weeks so bad that they were relieved to be home?” We (me included) so often come to our work as though we are bringing all the wisdom of creation rather than coming ready to learn what God can teach us through the situation we are placed in. Looking forward to get to know you in a week or so.

  3. I appreciated your vulnerable post. This will truly be an adventure in learning, especially with the global positioning of the course.

    You commented: “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.” This resonates with me deeply as I witness the challenges and temptations of wealth and materialism. Philanthropy is one way to counteract this, but if it’s just a transaction, it’s only shifting around capital. My interest is in helping people be transformed, with a philanthropy of the heart as well as the wallet.

  4. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thank you for this post, Jay! Looking forward to meeting you soon and finding out what we have in store.

  5. mm M Webb says:

    Jay,
    I agree with you that our kids are a great source of wisdom… before they grow up.
    Kenyan people are amazing, I am glad you could go on mission to that country. Did you go anywhere else during your mission trips in Africa. It is one thing to visualize Africa as three times the size of the United States on a map, but quite another to travel to and thru Africa to appreciate the massive size of the continent.
    You will love South Africa I am sure. It is a large country with a mix of urban and bush, desert and mountains, technology and poverty, and many religious influences from Christianity to paganism. And finally, there is no doubt we will study the universal conflict between Ishmael and Isaac.
    Great post!
    Stand firm,
    M Webb

  6. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Thanks so much Mike. The conversation you refer to, where we discuss Ishmael and Isaac, is going to be HUGE. I can hardly wait.

    I have only visited Kenya in Africa, but have been to several other places in our world for missions. Sounds like you have been there muchly. I look forward to your perspective.

  7. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Jay,
    I really appreciate your insight into your own heart. I never really gave much thought to the Oden’s thoughts until I read his book. I know just how you felt when you spoke of relearning how to speak “academia” (my emphasis). I really look forward to meeting you.

    Jason

  8. Shawn Hart says:

    Jay, great thoughts. I must say, I do not believe your intelligence should be questioned here; I will leave that to your kids. I had the same struggle with the perspective of this entire book, in that I kept trying to figure out why any country would deserve to have the credit for spreading Christianity. In our morning bible studies at church, we have been working through the book of Romans, in that we have seen Paul struggling so hard to change the perspective of those Jews that kept wanting to be the “special people”; so much so that they had missed the point of Christianity almost entirely. I kept feeling that same way about Oden. All through the book he seemed more content with credit with the Christians, credit with the Muslims, and credit from other countries, that not once do I recall him giving credit to God.

    I guess part of me wanted to rally together with him, but that factor kept preventing me from doing it.

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