Thomas C Oden in his educational book How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind is an advocate for the recognition of Africa as a contributor to the history and future of Christianity. The phrase seedbed of early Christian thought is throughout and Oden makes a strong argument for the foundation of key principles straight from Africa. His intentions in writing is to give a great foundation for the youth of Africa to have a resource to interact with to learn of their own history that adds to the oral traditions that are passed on to them. “Africa can’t wait to discover its own rich history.” One of his phrases about learning of this rich heritage was very pointed and descriptive, “Pilgrims to Africa bring an empty cup to a full spring.” There is a lot to be learned by examining Africa.
How did Africa shape the Christian mind? Seven ways that this has happened.
- The birth of the European University.
- Exegesis of Scripture first matured in Africa.
- Christian dogma was shaped by African thinkers.
- Ecumenical decisions followed African conciliar patterns.
- Africa shaped Western forms of spiritual formation through monastic discipline.
- Neoplatonic philosophy of late antiquity moved from Africa to Europe.
- Africa redefined influential literary and dialectical skills.
The one highlight was the influence on the canon of scripture. Developing the conciliar process for giving clear leadership to the divided faithful them, despite their cultural differences toward consensual decision making. Theses councils were widely utilized in African synods before proceeding to the first ecumenical council at Nicaea. The conciliar movement was well established in Africa before being widely employed elsewhere.
Biblical Africa by the Name of Egypt?
The book is full of connections that I had not previously made concerning the involvement of Africa into the broader Christian world view. First, I had not considered Egypt to be Africa. I know that sounds really narrow in view point but this author brings that to full view. So, the fact that slavery originated in Africa and that the deliverance from it was from God is truly amazing. Jesus with Mary and Joseph escaped death be going to Egypt and the witness to the Ethiopian eunuch makes a clear connection to this land mass as a part of the biblical narrative. I am sure that this is part of the reason for reading this book is for those who are geographically challenged like I have been would make a reconsideration. I had always viewed Egypt as part of Asia. This also raises the question is Israel in Asia? It is located there but not well received. Exploration of this geography has made me reconsider how I view scripture and how I view things in our world today.
The Impact on Discipleship.
Africans have faced major potential divisions that threaten unity of the body of Christ. They have had to figure out no agree to disagree. This has been a very difficult process and lesson. They have learned about conflict resolution. “From that history they learn that not every difference of opinion is demonic and not every union is of God. They also have learned that God is more patient than we are.” These lessons have not always come easy and discipleship even through there is a deep heritage is sometimes strained by all of the different tensions within the continent. One of the pointed messages from this author concerning this is about the Holy Spirit. “There is a need for them to listen emphatically to the dialectical unity that the Holy Spirit is actively creating through those differences. The Spirit filled life is the basis for the recovery of the unity that the body of Christ already enjoys and possesses in the risen Lord….It is amazing to see the new energies that are emerging out of the uniting work of the Holy Spirit—the vital communities of prayer, scholarship, preaching, teaching and discipleship.” Within the move of the Holy Spirit is the same finding from our reading this year, social processes are being transformed. Where there is a move of the Spirit there is a change in the unity and in the social process. This was really encouraging to read once again. There is hope for change within Christianity based on the genuine move of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostal or Charismatic would be the other words associated with the change but I want to hold to the Holy Spirit moving. When He moves people change and are changed. This is once again a very encouraging finding from those who are “practitioners” of the ministry. Discipleship even within the struggles that are part of Africa is still able to bring change with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
The struggle that has come from the influence of the West of consumerism, materialism, hedonism and individualism trying to fill the void that only God can fill is real. Out of this struggle the author points out that the Holy Spirit is manifesting differently. Instead of merging through strategy, the Holy Spirit is through grace awakening true faith. “That faith is surely manifesting itself in the works of love, for love is what faith does.” Emerging unity is the real mark of what the Holy Spirit is enabling in Africa. A deeper relationship with Jesus is what is starting to break the other influences. This is a very enriching viewpoint as it points to finding true faith in Jesus may at times require the messenger who brings along his viewpoint but eventually the real message gets held on to for “real life change.” This picture of discipleship is very encouraging because I am sure even within our own culture at times we present Jesus differently than the Holy Spirit does. Through the frailty of human communicators and pastors the message still gets across for life change.
This book has really made me think deeply about the Holy Spirit. About the origin of slavery and the part that Africa has played in it. About the geographic location of Israel and Egypt and what that has meant to the nationalities and traditions that have been passed down. How my perspective can be molded by those who have taken a deeper and longer look at things and then take the time to explain them in such a way that I gain understanding. The Holy Spirit continues to show up around the world and to bring faith, hope, love and unity. This thread that has run throughout our reading and I have grabbed ahold of it from so many different perspectives. I am learning still as we get prepared to journey to Africa ourselves. Great book!
 Thomas C. Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007), 37.
 Ibid., 38.
 Ibid., 49.
 Ibid., 107.
 Ibid., 109.
 Ibid., 110.