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How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind

Chapter 1

Introduction

Key Names, Locations, and Terms

Thesis Africa has played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture from its infancy. Decisive intellectual achievements of Christianity were explored and understood first in Africa before they were recognized in Europe, and a millennium before modern North America.

Christian mind points to Christian intellectual history. This includes the history of exegesis, literature, philosophy, and psychological analysis.

African mind points to ideas and literary products produced specifically on the continent of Africa during the first millennium of the Common Era (CE).

Early African Christianity refers to all the past history of Christianity in the first millennium in the millions of square miles of Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, and possibly further south than we now know. The geography of the continent shaped the fact that African Christianity happened first north of the Sahara in the first millennium, and then its second millennium saw exponential growth in the south. Both north and south have been blessed by an enduring heritage of centuries of classic Christianity. Early African Christians spoke many indigenous languages, and were not limited to the major commercial languages along the Mediterranean coast.

The ancient maps and Christian memory: three land masses—Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Asia: in the ancient sense we refer to Palestine, Syria, Anatolia and all that lies east. The term Asia was used by the Greeks long before the Turks were there to refer to the people inhabiting the western edge of the peninsula we now call Turkey.  Gradually the term Asia became extended to refer to the great Anatolian plain and as far east as anyone could see or imagine.

Africa in its ancient sense we refer to the massive continent that lies silently to the south of the Mediterranean. Geographically Africa is a continent. Culturally it is a vast medley of diverse cultures and languages. Among historic cultures known in ancient North African times: Nilotic, Berber, Libyan, Numidian, Nubian, and others dating back to prehistoric times.

Europe in the ancient sense we refer to the territory north and west of the Straits of Byzantium, still considered the division between east and west. Europe stretches all the way from Thrace to Ireland, from Sicily to Scandinavia.

African Traditional Religions: An important source for the expression of the Christian gospel in an authentically African manner of thought and way of life. Though there are a vast number of religious and practices in Africa, there are some common features: a belief in a Supreme Being which is above a number of spirit beings and divinities, a belief in ancestral spirits, and the idea of sacrifice, often involving death to ensure divine protection and generosity.

Questions:

  1. What are your initial reactions to the central thesis of the book: Africa has played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture from its infancy?
  2. Do you think it is reasonable to define Africa continentally? How do you define Africa? Or African?
  3. “Most African theologians see the presence of Christianity in three stages: the infant Jesus as a refugee in Egypt; Christianity in Africa under Portuguese prowess of the fifteenth to the seventeenth century; and, finally the dramatic nineteenth-century awakening.” Gwinyai Muzorewa, The Origins and Development of African Theology. The missing link in this chronology is Early African Christianity. Why is the recovery of this missing link important to African identity and theology?
  4. For much of European history ancient African writers whose ideas were formed on Africa soil were regarded as essentially Roman, European, or Western but not African. Oden argues this is a distortion of history? What do you think?
  5. As we think through this thesis we will need to question some of our historical assumptions.
    • Assumption: No culture or civilization existed before the colonization of North Africa by Rome. As a result, the entire Mediterranean region became Greco-Roman with colonization.
    • Assumption: because these writers composed their theological works in Latin or Greek, the language of the Empire, and not the local languages, their ideas do not reflect the thought patterns of the local culture.