How Africa Shaped The Christian Mind
Who knew? Christianity did not begin and was not primarily shaped in the West! The culturally insensitive would think that it did and that it was – that we are at the centre of the universe; that Christianity moved North to South and that it is a recent import to Africa. Not so, argues Oden. In fact, as he edited the 28-volume Ancient Commentary on Scripture, of which I have a couple of exemplars on my shelf at home, he and his fellow scholars were struck by the richness and depth and extensive range of African scholars and theologians, such as Augustine and Athanasius, who had contributed so greatly to exegesis of the Scriptures. Indeed, he argues, Africans have contributed to the development and growth of Christianity in seven particular areas: the Western idea of the University, exegesis of Scripture, dogmatics, conciliar patterns of ecumenical decision-making, monasticism, neo-platonism, and rhetoric.
Oden also argues that, in the face of the rise of Islam on much of the African continent, and the onslaught of Western popular culture and intellectual influence, it is the orthodoxy of early African witness to the apostolic faith that will prove to be vital for the coming generations. This work is a call to arms for scholars to mine the rich archeological, historical and theological depths of Africa to create the resources for a new kind of ecumenism – a bastion of orthodoxy against these relative newcomers of the West. It is interesting to observe that, in an Anglican context, it is often the conservative African bishops who are now standing up for orthodoxy against their more liberal British and American counterparts.
“Whether from Catholic, Protestant, Coptic or charismatic perceptions, believers arc growing ready to listen to the uniting voices of classical consensual African Christianity. It is amazing to see the new energies that are emerging out of this uniting work of the Spirit – the vital communities of prayer, scholarship, preaching, teaching and discipleship” (p. 108).
Oden also raises the predominance of Pentecostalism in Africa in recent decades and the inherent challenges of this:
“The rising charismatic and Pentecostal energies in Africa are stronger emotively than intellectually. They may not sufficiently sustain African Christians through the Islamic challenge unless fortified by rigorous apologetics.” (p. 99). Oden believes that the intellectual resources necessary for African Christians to meet the challenges of contemporary Christianity are all available in abundance within early African Christianity.
Oden holds little hope in the abilities of Western modern relativism to preserve truth and is calling for African theologians and scholars to stand up and be counted. From what I have seen in the British context, I would say a loud “Amen” to that.