We are Jews, Gentiles, and Africans. “This is what the book is about: to state the African seedbed hypothesis in a measured way and begin to sort out the facts that support it” (p. 31). Oden’s intent is to challenge each reader to appreciate Africa’s role in shaping Christianity. He believes Africa’s role was significant and that “Well-meaning European and American historians have a tilted perception of the relation of African and European intellectual history in the third and fourth centuries, and thus at the apex of African influence” (p. 31). To prove that “Africa played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture,” the author divided the book into two parts (p. 9).
In “Part One: The African Seedbed of Western Christianity” (chapters 1-5) Oden sets the tone for the book. We are reminded of the pilgrimage sites that we often neglect and the need to recover ancient texts in Africa. However, we learn “Seven Ways Africa Shaped the Christian Mind” (chapter 2). Oden argues for his definition of “African” by rejecting the idea that skin color should be the determining factor, but rather “if a text was written in Africa it will be treated as African” (p. 69). For e.g., I was born in Jamaica but my passport says I am an American citizen, which makes sense because I live in America. When the author surveyed the theologians, monastics, and bishops, if they were from Africa (whether North African or Sub-Saharan), he considered them Africans.
In “Part Two: African Orthodox Recovery” was important to Oden who pointed out the retrieval of early African Christianity. “It is precisely from the ancient African sources that global Christianity can relearn that the church guided by the Spirit is never irretrievably fallen away from the truth” (p. 103). Such rediscovering of early African Christianity can also be instructive for emerging African Christians because “they now have the benefit of learning about conflict resolution from their ancient African mentors. From that history they learn that not every difference of opinion is demonic and not every union is of God” (p. 107). Also, “The brilliant instruction and guidance of early African Christian texts and witnesses stand ready to nourish this regrounding” (p. 109).
Oden’s task was to “show that the classic Christian mind is significantly shaped by the African imagination spawned on African soil” and that “it bears the stamp of philosophical analyses, moral insight, discipline and scriptural interpretations that loomed first in Africa before anywhere else” (p. 10). Was this task accomplished by the author? We could argue that the author provided limited evidence to support his claim but he tugs at the hearts of a new generation of African scholars who will prioritize studying early African Christianity. There are many references in scriptures regarding Ethiopia and the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:13. However, there are four potent verses that the author could’ve expanded on to support this claim.
- Nahum 3:9 speaks about the infinite strength of Ethiopia and Egypt
- Genesis 10:6-20 tells us that the kingdoms were founded by families of the founders of Ethiopia
- Amos 9:7 says that Israel was brought up out of the land of Egypt
- Acts 8:27 tells us that the Ethiopian government accepted Christianity in Jerusalem and brought it back to Ethiopia under the rule of Queen Kandake (Candace)
Countries such as Jamaica has a great presence of Rastafarianism in its culture and the people credits Ethiopia for its religious influence. The Ethiopian presence is so great in Jamaica that many outsiders struggle to differentiate the Jamaican national colors and Ethiopian colors (because of Rastafarianism). This provocative read challenges us to defy religious ignorance and not accept some accepts of Christian history. While many often believe that the African heritage stands out because of slavery or race, it was the Christian influences that shaped the character of these slaves.
This book is a great reminder that Christianity has many influences and that it is our responsibility to expose these influences. As scholars and ministry leaders, we can use this history to bridge cultural diversity. The bible provided examples to show Africa’s presence and it’s a reminder of the inclusive and integrative nature of God and that should never be a “Forgotten Story.” We are all African Christians.