Out of Africa
A few years ago, an African-American friend and I were discussing a popular black pastor whose doctrine of the Trinity just wasn't orthodox. My colleague thought Christianity Today should give the man a pass. After all, he was doing good ministry and the fine points of the Trinity were just more of that dead-white-European-male baggage.
I hadn't thought of it before that moment, but suddenly I had a flash: Athanasius, the architect of Trinitarian orthodoxy was African, not European. (So, of course, was Arius, the heretic who drove Athanasius to distraction.)
I took the opportunity to remind my colleague that orthodoxy arose out of the African context.
Indeed, many of the shapers of Christian orthodoxy were African. Names like Augustine, Tertullian, Origen, Clement, Anthony, and Pachomius were familiar from my undergraduate church history survey. But my professor had not presented them as Africans ministering and teaching in the context of an African culture.
The title of Oden's book suggests a parallel to Tom Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization. That's unfortunate, because readers may expect Oden to play the raconteur in the Cahill manner. Instead, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind is an outline and an agenda for research. (The agenda genre is classic forward-thinking Oden, who has devoted other books to outlining where theologians should be turning their attention.)
Classical African Christianity, claims Oden, has been ignored—or treated as something other than African. Augustine, Athanasius, ...